Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Dissenter

STOP THE PRESSES!!!  This article by Kevin Carey is the most insightful, thoughtful – and damning – about Ravitch I've ever read (and I think I've read them all).


First, he lays out the clearest evidence yet of what I've been saying for years: that far from a true intellectual conversion based on new facts and evidence (as Ravitch claims), her switching sides in this debate is rooted in a personal vendetta against Joel Klein because he didn't hire Ravitch's partner to run the new principal training program at the DOE – and then things spiraled downward from there.  The emotions are too strong and the timing is too perfect for there to be any other explanation (emphasis added):

Over the next two months, Klein and Ravitch exchanged a series of e-mails. Their contents were almost entirely redacted by the department when it responded to the FOIA request. But several people who worked for the department at the time, including one who saw the e-mails personally, say Ravitch aggressively lobbied Klein to hire Butz to lead the new program—and reacted with anger when he didn't.

Ravitch disputes this, saying she did not ask for Butz to be put in charge of the program, was not angry, and only urged Klein to call upon Butz for her deep knowledge and experience. She also told me she was glad Butz was no longer at the New York City DOE, because it had constrained her own ability to criticize the department. 

During the course of 2003, Ravitch met with former high-ranking Klein employees who were critical of his administration. And she began to question the Bloomberg administration's efforts at reform, at first in private, and then very publicly. In early 2004, she went on the offensive. "Joel Klein is not an educator," she told The New York Times. She also co-authored an anti-Klein op-ed in the Times with UFT President Randi Weingarten, accusing the Bloomberg administration of running schools as if it were "selling toothpaste." Her alliance with Weingarten was significant: While Ravitch had never indulged in the strident anti-labor rhetoric common among educational conservatives, her reform views were far from the union agenda. 

Ravitch clearly got under Klein's skin. Over dinner with New York magazine's John Heilemann, Klein said, "You got a couple of pundits, like Ravitch, who knows nothing, she's never educated anyone." Ravitch fired off an e-mail to Klein: "Your nasty comment about me in the new article in New York magazine was unwarranted. I have never attacked you personally as you now attack me. Shame on you." Klein apologized, but Ravitch still fumed. One longtime reformer says that, at national policy meetings, Ravitch would "obsessively" turn every conversation toward her grievances with Klein. 

The Klein administration felt that many of Ravitch's charges amounted to open hypocrisy. A staffer attended several of her public appearances, recording her remarks. "From the start, the chancellor seems to have deliberately engaged in a process of destroying the culture of the school system," she told an audience at St. John's University in 2007. Ravitch was incensed by these recordings—and still is. She told me the taping amounted to an abuse of power. "I'm a dissident," she says. "I felt intimidated." 

At the same time, Ravitch began distancing herself from her previous convictions.


Second, Carey makes a compelling case that Ravitch's arguments are intellectually bankrupt: the "use of evidence to support her new positions is often dubious, selective, and inconsistent" and there is no "consistent intellectual point of view in her work" (emphasis added):

SINCE HER INTELLECTUAL conversion, Ravitch has become fond of John Maynard Keynes's apocryphal quote: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" Indeed, it would be a sign of extreme dogmatism for someone to spend four decades engaged with education policy and never change her mind. When Ravitch first voiced enthusiastic support for private-school vouchers, they were largely untried. As she now observes, the results of long-term voucher experiments have been disappointing. Ten years after No Child Left Behind, a lot of children are still behind.

These are reasonable points. The problem is that Ravitch's use of evidence to support her new positions is often dubious, selective, and inconsistent. 

International comparisons are one example…

…Or, she picks and chooses which facts to cite

…One locality that has done a good job with charter schools is New York City. At least, that's the clear implication of a subsequent study performed by exactly the same Stanford researchers using exactly the same methods. In math, 50 percent of New York City charter schools outperformed regular public schools while only 16 percent were worse. Ravitch is surely aware of the second Stanford study, yet never seems to cite it.

Sometimes Ravitch's critiques seem to reflect a kind of willful amnesia

…Similarly, when Ravitch writes, "Vouchers are a con, intended to destroy public education," it raises an interesting question. Ravitch was there, in the conservative inner circle, when the voucher agenda was being developed. Was it, in fact, her goal to destroy public education? If so, it is a story she has somehow forgotten to tell.

Ravitch's transition into full-time, anti-reform crusader has not served her writing well; her style has become increasingly dismissive and strident. In a review of a book by Steven Brill—Class Warfare, which was deeply critical of the UFT—she wrote, "Brill is completely ignorant of a vast body of research literature about teaching." She began one speech, "I am here today because Arne Duncan, Davis Guggenheim—the director of Waiting for Superman—Oprah, Bill Gates, and a bunch of other very wealthy, powerful people have launched a campaign to slander and demonize American teachers and American public education."

Given this, it was probably inevitable that Ravitch would find her own way to Twitter. Some weeks, she sends hundreds of 140-character missives to her 20,000 followers, such as "NCLB = The Death Star of American Education" or "Let's have a contest: what name for those who oppose teacher-bashing, privatizing, test-loving deformers?" In August, she tweeted, "I no longer think in sentences longer than 140 characters." This may be truer than she realizes.

…But another side of Ravitch appears when she puts words to paper. It is the Diane Ravitch who left a polarized history profession in her wake and who has no trouble accusing those who disagree with her of utterly betraying the ideal of public education and the lives of children along with it. This Diane Ravitch makes people who have never been her friend nervous and guarded. 

Ravitch, unsurprisingly, does not see herself this way. "I try not to be ad hominem, as many people are ad hominem about me," she told me. "I haven't seen a lot of honest engagement with my ideas. I've seen personal attacks." She also told me, "I have been singled out as the one whose head has to be cut off." 

At times, her righteousness can be breathtaking. "This is where I differ certainly from all the reformers," she said. "I want for America's kids what I had for my kids. I think that, if Barack Obama wanted for America what he has for his kids, we'd have a very different education policy." I asked her if she was really saying that President Obama doesn't want American children to have the same kind of quality education his daughters receive at the well-known Sidwell Friends School. Ravitch reiterated the point. 

…I asked James Fraser if, as a historian, he could locate any consistent intellectual point of view in her work. He thought for a while before saying: "No. And that's an interesting 'No.' I can't really think of anything at this state, beyond her ability to use historical narrative in illustrating various points—sometimes hugely contradictory points!—about current debates in education." 

The most consistent thing about Ravitch has been her desire to be heard. In many ways, she has never left the cramped, argumentative office of The New Leader in the 1960s. Her genius was in the construction of a public identity of partial affiliation—a university-based historian who never wrote an academic dissertation, a former government official whose career in public service lasted less than two years, an overseer of the national testing program with no particular expertise in testing, and a champion of public school teachers who has never taught in a public school. She enjoys the credibility of the sober analyst while employing all the tools of the polemicist.

For more on Ravitch, see my web page at:


The Dissenter

What happened when the education world's most prominent intellectual switched sides.

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When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?

Happy Thanksgiving – and STOP THE PRESSES!!! for the best political article I've read all year, about how the Republican Party has been hijacked by extremists and lost touch with reality.  This is not a new theme – NYT columnist David Brooks wrote in July that the Republican Party "may no longer be a normal political party [because it] has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative" ( – but what makes this article in the latest issue of New York Magazine particularly compelling (in addition to its cogent arguments) is its author, David Frum, who describes himself as follows:


I've been a Republican all my adult life. I have worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, at Forbes magazine, at the Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes, as a speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration. I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. I voted for John ­McCain in 2008, and I have strongly criticized the major policy decisions of the Obama administration.


In other words, this article is written by an insider with impeccable conservative credentials, who hasn't abandoned his party but rather is fighting to save it.


So why am I sending a purely political article that doesn't once mention schools to my education reform email list, risking the wrath of thousands of my readers who are Republicans?  Because the Republicans on this email list are among the most powerful and influential in the country and I'm throwing down a challenge to them: step up, speak out and take back control of your party – because the future of our country depends on it.  As Frum writes in the last two paragraphs of his article:

This is, unfortunately, not merely a concern for Republican voters. The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society. The American system of government can't work if the two sides wage all-out war upon each other: House, Senate, president, each has the power to thwart the others. In prior generations, the system evolved norms and habits to prevent this kind of stonewalling. For example: Theoretically, the party that holds the Senate could refuse to confirm any Cabinet nominees of a president of the other party. Yet until recently, this just "wasn't done." In fact, quite a lot of things that theoretically could be done just "weren't done." Now old inhibitions have given way. Things that weren't done suddenly are done.

We can debate when the slide began. But what seems beyond argument is that the U.S. political system becomes more polarized and more dysfunctional every cycle, at greater and greater human cost. The next Republican president will surely find himself or herself at least as stymied by this dysfunction as President Obama, as will the people the political system supposedly serves, who must feel they have been subjected to a psychological experiment gone horribly wrong, pressing the red button in 2004 and getting a zap, pressing blue in 2008 for another zap, and now agonizing whether there is any choice that won't zap them again in 2012. Yet in the interests of avoiding false evenhandedness, it must be admitted: The party with a stronger charge on its zapper right now, the party struggling with more self-­imposed obstacles to responsible governance, the party most in need of a course correction, is the Republican Party. Changing that party will be the fight of a political lifetime. But a great political party is worth fighting for.

I feel very comfortable throwing down this challenge because I and a small group of like-minded Democrats faced a very similar challenge in our own party, which had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the most powerful interest group in the country, the teachers unions.  Our great party had become so corrupted by the unions that it was betraying its core principles and throwing its most loyal and vulnerable constituents – low-income minorities – under the bus, again and again.


So did we sit there and bemoan what had happened to our party?  Hell no – we took action!  We created Democrats for Education Reform and a number of other organizations with the explicit goal of breaking the stranglehold of the teachers unions on our party so that the Democratic Party could return "to its rightful place as a champion of children, first and foremost, in America's public education systems" (from DFER's Statement of Principles).  It's worked beyond our wildest dreams, as Steve Brill documents in Class Warfare (


So what are you waiting for?  Get going – to save your party and our country!


PS—Here are a few excerpts from Frum's article, starting with my favorite paragraph:


It's clearly true that the country faces daunting economic troubles. It's also true that the wrong answers to those problems will push the United States toward a future of too much government, too many taxes, and too much regulation. It's the job of conservatives in this crisis to show a better way. But it's one thing to point out (accurately) that President Obama's stimulus plan was mostly a compilation of antique Democratic wish lists, and quite another to argue that the correct response to the worst collapse since the thirties is to wait for the economy to get better on its own. It's one thing to worry (wisely) about the long-term trend in government spending, and another to demand big, immediate cuts when 25 million are out of full-time work and the government can borrow for ten years at 2 percent. It's a duty to scrutinize the actions and decisions of the incumbent administration, but an abuse to use the filibuster as a routine tool of legislation or to prevent dozens of presidential appointments from even coming to a vote. It's fine to be unconcerned that the rich are getting richer, but blind to deny that ­middle-class wages have stagnated or worse over the past dozen years. In the aftershock of 2008, large numbers of Americans feel exploited and abused. Rather than workable solutions, my party is offering low taxes for the currently rich and high spending for the currently old, to be followed by who-knows-what and who-the-hell-cares. This isn't conservatism; it's a going-out-of-business sale for the baby-boom generation.


My second-favorite part:

Many hope that the tea-party mood is just a passing mania, eventually to subside into something more like the businessperson's Republicanism practiced in the nineties by governors and mayors like George Pataki and Rudy Giuliani, Christine Todd Whitman and Dick Riordan, Tommy Thompson and John Engler. This hope tends to coalesce around the candidacies of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, two smart and well-informed former governors who eschew the strident rhetoric of the tea party and who have thereby earned its deep distrust. But there are good reasons to fear that the ebbing of Republican radicalism remains far off, even if Romney (or Huntsman) does capture the White House next year.

1. Fiscal Austerity and Economic Stagnation

2. Ethnic Competition

3. Fox News and Talk Radio

Extremism and conflict make for bad politics but great TV. Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment—and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel). As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much. As a tool of political mobilization, it backfires, by inciting followers to the point at which they force leaders into confrontations where everybody loses, like the summertime showdown over the debt ceiling.

But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he's a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) "the only place in the world where it doesn't matter who your parents were or where you came from."

We used to say "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts." Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.

When contemplating the ruthless brilliance of this system, it's tempting to fall back on the theory that the GOP is masterminded by a cadre of sinister billionaires, deftly manipulating the political process for their own benefit. The billionaires do exist, and some do indeed attempt to influence the political process. The bizarre fiasco of campaign-finance reform has perversely empowered them to give unlimited funds anonymously to special entities that can spend limitlessly. (Thanks, Senator ­McCain! Nice job, Senator Feingold!) Yet, for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they're gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base. In funding the tea-party movement, they are ­actually acting against their own longer-term interests, for it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable. If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair.

Finally, here's Frum on how he was ostracized by daring the challenge Republican orthodoxy:

On the day of the House vote that ensured the enactment of health-care ­reform, I wrote a blog post saying all this—and calling for some accountability for those who had led the GOP to this disaster. For my trouble, I was denounced the next day by my former colleagues at The Wall Street Journal as a turncoat. Three days after that, I was dismissed from the American Enterprise Institute. I'm not a solitary case: In 2005, the economist Bruce Bartlett, a main legislative author of the Kemp-Roth tax cut, was fired from a think tank in Dallas for too loudly denouncing the George W. Bush administration's record, and I could tell equivalent stories about other major conservative think tanks as well.

I don't complain from a personal point of view. Happily, I had other economic resources to fall back upon. But the message sent to others with less security was clear: We don't pay you to think, we pay you to repeat. For myself, the main consequences have been more comic than anything else. Back in 2009, I wrote a piece for Newsweek arguing that Republicans would regret conceding so much power to Rush Limbaugh. Until that point, I'd been a frequent guest on Fox News, but thenceforward some kind of fatwa was laid down upon me. Over the next few months, I'd occasionally receive morning calls from young TV bookers asking if I was available to appear that day. For sport, I'd always answer, "I'm available—but does your senior producer know you've called me?" An hour later, I'd receive an embarrassed second call: "We've decided to go in a different direction." Earlier this year, I did some volunteer speechwriting for a Republican contemplating a presidential run. My involvement was treated as a dangerous secret, involving discreet visits to hotel suites at odd hours. Thus are political movements held together. But this is not how movements grow and govern.


When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?

Some of my Republican friends ask if I've gone crazy. I say: Look in the mirror.

"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together [his actions]?"  

(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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The legacy of Ted Forstmann

The ed reform world lost one of its great warriors on Sunday with the passing of Ted Forstmann.  I regret that I never had the chance to meet him, but know the Children's Scholarship Fund and its fabulous President, Darla Romfo, well, and it has been an amazingly impactful organization.  Here's John Kirtley's tribute to Forstmann:

The legacy of Ted Forstmann

by John Kirtley on 21. Nov, 2011in GeneralParent empowermentParental ChoiceSchool Choice

When I graduated college and was lucky enough to get a job at a new venture capital firm, I heard about an emerging kind of investment, the "leveraged buyout." Unlike today, back then there were no business school courses or "industry" publications on the topic — it wasn't yet an industry! I had to learn about this investment technique by reading obscure government filings by the few firms that were practicing this financial art. One of the most prominent was the firm started by Ted Forstmann. I read everything I could about his investments.

Little did I know that years later, Mr. Forstmann would influence my life in even a bigger way. In late 1997, I decided to start a privately funded scholarship program for low-income families in Tampa Bay. I wanted to see how many of these parents would choose a private school for their children, if they had some financial assistance. I hadn't done as well as Mr. Forstmann, so I could only offer 350 scholarships worth $1,500 a year.

As I was preparing to announce the scholarship program, I read in the paper about an effort launched by Mr. Forstmann and John Walton, of the Wal-Mart family. I couldn't believe it — they wanted to partner with local funders to create scholarship programs in major cities! I actually flew to New York without an appointment, went to the offices of the newly created Children's Scholarship Fund and said, "I am your partner in Tampa Bay." The staff, literally still unpacking boxes, said, "Um, okay … I hope all the other cities are this easy."

Forstmann and Walton each contributed $50 million to the national CSF effort, and they allowed me to double the number of scholarships in Tampa Bay. With little publicity, we received 12,000 applications for our 700 scholarships. Similar incredible responses were seen in other cities. In Baltimore, over a quarter of the eligible families applied!

This response was, to me, the great accomplishment of CSF and a great legacy of Mr. Forstmann, who died Sunday at the age of 71. Prior to CSF, opponents to parental choice would say, "Poor parents don't want vouchers. They want more money for their childrens' public schools." CSF demolished this lie forever.

As we fought in Florida to expand choice for low-income families, nothing was more powerful than this response from parents. I will never forget one committee meeting when the state Senate was considering the tax credit scholarship bill. A Senator from Miami scolded the bill sponsor: "Senator, I know my constituents, and they don't want this voucher program." He didn't know we had brought up 15 parents from his own district to give testimony during public comment. I will never forget the Senator's face as parent after parent came to the podium and said "Senator, I am from your district, and I want this scholarship." The politics of choice had changed forever.

Since the tax credit scholarship program was created by the Florida Legislature in 2001, more than 200,000 low-income children have attended the private school of their parents' choice, using over $900 million of donations from companies. CSF has become the spark for tax credit and voucher programs in many other states, and hopefully soon many more. Mr. Forstmann's generous contribution made that possible. On behalf of all those families, and all those to come, I say thank you, Mr. Forstmann. May you rest in peace.

Below is the CSF's tribute to him and here's what I posted about a recent WSJ article about Forstmann:

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A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day

You may recall the cover story in the NYT Magazine in mid-September entitled "What If the Secret to Success Is Failure?", about which I wrote (


Below is a lengthy article from this coming Sunday's NYT Magazine about the importance of character and how KIPP and Riverdale (an elite private school in NYC) are working with researchers to figure out how to instill it in students.  I cannot emphasize enough how important this is – I've been pounding the table on this for years – and this article captures this topic beautifully.


It reminds me of one of my favorite KIPP t-shirts: it's a circle with two halves, one of which says "49% academics" and the other "51% character".  This is no cliché – KIPP understands that if the goal is for its students to ultimately lead happy, successful lives (rather than, say, just get high test scores), then there needs to be a strong culture that instills character (this isn't unique to KIPP of course – I've found it to be true of nearly all successful schools I've observed, whether the student body is poor kids, rich kids or anything in between).  (Note that this is NOT about instilling "middle-class values" (whatever that is) – these are UNIVERSAL values.)


The reason I bring this up is that one of the key character traits is gratitude, and this NYT article highlights the astonishingly powerful impact it has.  This is REALLY important stuff – every educator should be asking, "In addition to traits like grit and zest, how can I instill an attitude of gratitude among my students – especially if they come from disadvantaged backgrounds and thus, at first glance, might not appear to have much to be grateful for?":

Cultivating an "attitude of gratitude" has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked, which helps explain why so many brothers-in-law survive Thanksgiving without serious injury.

But what if you're not the grateful sort? I sought guidance from the psychologists who have made gratitude a hot research topic. Here's their advice for getting into the holiday spirit — or at least getting through dinner Thursday:

…Share the feeling. Why does gratitude do so much good? "More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship," Dr. McCullough says. "It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did."

Try a gratitude visit. This exercise, recommended by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. "You will be happier and less depressed one month from now," Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book "Flourish." 



A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day

Published: November 21, 2011

The most psychologically correct holiday of the year is upon us.

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Kira Orange Jones elected to BESE

 I've been highlighting the tidal wave of reformers coming into positions of leadership in the education world across the country for quite some time (most importantly, President Obama and Sec. Duncan), and there's more good news on that front.  TFAer Kira Orange Jones "was elected to represent most of Orleans Parish on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Saturday."

Kira Orange Jones, the young Teach for America leader, was elected to represent most of Orleans Parish on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Saturday. Her victory was part of a near sweep of this year's board races for allies of the school reform movement that has remade the city's public education system.

Kira Orange Jones, left, and Louella Givens

Saturday's runoff, in which Orange Jones toppled incumbent Louella Givens, amounted to the first definitive referendum on the city's mass experiment with autonomous charter schools, which now educate more than 80 percent of public school children in New Orleans. And taken together with the results of last month's primary and two other runoffs, it marks a shift in philosophy on the 11-member board that could usher in stark and controversial changes in the way all of Louisiana educates its children.

Two other second-round votes on Saturday went in favor of candidates who positioned themselves as proponents of revamping the way public education functions statewide.


Kira Orange Jones elected to BESE

Published: Saturday, November 19, 2011, 10:55 PM     Updated: Saturday, November 19, 2011, 10:55 PM

By Andrew Vanacore, The Times-Picayune

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Pryor Comes Home, Promises Charter Boost

Great news from CT as well: here's an article about Stefan Pryor, one of the founders of the pioneering Amistad Academy in New Haven (which has grown into the Achievement First network of charter schools), returning to Amistad 12 years later as the CT Sec. of Education, something I'll bet nobody even dreamed of…:

It was a familiar chant for the students and for Pryor, one of the founders of the school, which first opened in 1999 on James Street. The public school, which began with 84 students in 5th and 6th grade, has grown to serve 734 kids in grades K to 8.

Pryor was part of a planning group that lobbied the state for more charter school seats, then created what is now one of the oldest and most well-established charter schools in the state. He started the planning process while working as an aide to Mayor John DeStefano then left to finish Yale Law School and launch the school. Pryor said he traveled North America with Achievement First CEO Dacia Toll to look at effective urban schools before the founding group decided on the charter model.

Achievement First, Amistad's parent company, now runs a network of 20 schools in New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport and Brooklyn, NY.

"None of us could have possibly dreamed" that the experiment would take off as it did, Pryor said. The most surprising development, he said, is that he's now found himself in charge of the state's education system.

He credited Amistad with "the attainment of the allegedly and apparently impossible"—teaching low-income kids to excel and defy the achievement gap. Connecticut still has the worst achievement gap in the country, Pryor noted.

He called for Amistad's model to be replicated to further close that gap.

Amistad's $34 million rehab project was paid for by 80 percent state funds. It was the first charter school in Connecticut to be rehabbed as part of the state school construction program, which previously was reserved for non-charter public schools.


Pryor Comes Home, Promises Charter Boost

by Melissa Bailey | Nov 16, 2011 3:24 pm 

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Boston City Councilor At-Large John R. Connolly reacts to win

 Finally, great news from Boston, as DFER's Ed Reformer of the Month, John Connolly, coasted to a Boston City Council victory on an ed reform platform, in a "historic partnership" with Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman to serve on the Council:

Boston City Councilor At-Large John R. Connolly reacts to win

At-large Boston City Council member John R. Connolly was among the six candidates to attend an editorial board meeting on Monday, Oct. 24 at GateHouse Media's Needham office to meet with Wicked Local editors and reporters.

Posted Nov 08, 2011 @ 10:20 PM

Roslindale/West Roxbury —

Boston City Councilor At-Large John R. Connolly is celebrating a strong re-election victory in today's city election.

Connolly was also thrilled about the overwhelming re-election of City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley. In what many described as an historic partnership, Connolly and Pressley joined campaigns in October to highlight their shared vision of a Boston with great schools and healthy families. The joint campaign included over 25 joint campaign events (including 8 in Connolly's base of West Roxbury), two joint mail pieces, almost $10,000 in donations to Pressley from Connolly supporters, and dozens of joint appearances at public events. 

Connolly also took Pressley door-knocking with him in his home precinct in West Roxbury as well as the Roslindale precinct in which he was raised. Pressley made tremendous gains over her 2009 election results in Connolly's base of West Roxbury and Roslindale, in particular. For example, in Ward 20 (West Roxbury and Roslindale), Pressley ascended from a 5h place finish in 2009 to a second place finish in 2011.

Connolly also finished the campaign with approximately $100,000 remaining in his campaign war chest.

"I'm thankful to so many across the city who have given me the chance to keep working for great schools and safe, healthy neighborhoods. I'm overjoyed that voters wanted an Education Councilor because I've gone to City Hall each day doing my best to be a voice for improving our Boston Public Schools," Connolly said.

"I'm ecstatic that voters have returned Ayanna and me to the Council," Connolly said. "We campaigned together in every corner of the city and talked about her work for strong families and my work for great schools. I'm glad voters felt you cannot have one of us on the council without the other. Having her voice at the table is so critical to the work we do. I look forward to continuing our work together for great schools and healthy families."

Connolly also congratulated Felix Arroyo and Steve Murphy on their election as At-Large City Councilors. "I've enjoyed working with each of Felix and Steve in the past and I look forward to working with them in the upcoming term," said Connolly. 

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Teacher Evaluation Systems

Below are two articles related to teacher evaluation systems, the topic of one of DFER's most downloaded reports ever, entitled "Built to Succeed? Ranking New Statewide Teacher Evaluation Practices" (; I attached it to my email of 10/23/11).  Here's how the report ranks 19 states: 

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Walcott: City won’t strike evaluation deal just to get federal funds

Kudos to Dennis Walcott for standing strong on NY's teacher eval system – also, a good quote from DFER's Charles Barone, who says Duncan should rescind the RTTT money NY received if it doesn't deliver on what it promised in its RTTT application (ditto for any other state).  Without this credible threat, all the promises made in RTTT applications won't be worth the paper they're printed on:

The city won't strike a deal on new teacher evaluations just to get millions of dollars in federal funding, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said last week.

The city and teachers union are supposed to settle on new teacher evaluations by the end of the school year. An agreement would bring the city into compliance with state law and also enable it to receive millions of federal dollars that have policy strings attached to them.

… "The U.S. Department of Education has said it will stop dispersing money to states that are not complying with their Race to the Top plans," said Charles Barone, director of policy research at Democrats for Education Reform. "They haven't done that yet, but it seems New York is a top candidate."

Promised reforms face an added execution challenge in New York, which requiring districts to negotiate evaluation deals at the local level, according to Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a group that advocates for changes in schools' human capital policies.

"Other states have been much more direct in saying that this is the system," Jacobs said, referring to statewide systems set out by other Race to the Top winners.

Barone said the state is right to insist on only distributing Race to the Top funding to schools that have new teacher evaluations in place, even though that policy severely limits the pool of eligible schools. But he said the policy could set the state up to lose out.

New York "won the money for than a year ago, and if all they have to show in the entire city of New York is 30 schools, then it seems that they might not be able to deliver on their promise and are reneging on the agreement they made with the feds," Barone said.

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A clearer picture

 Here's an editorial in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, which cites the DFER report:

Better student performance depends in large part on more-effective teaching, and a key to achieving that is in improving the way teachers are evaluated and compensated. Efforts are under way in Ohio to do that, but some important pieces of the puzzle have to be filled in.

…And eventually, those evaluations should factor into decisions such as promotions, placement of teachers and principals in schools, tenure, firings and budget-related layoffs.

Ohio got low marks from a group called Democrats for Education Reform because teachers' performance evaluations generally aren't a part of such critical decisions.

But that's a matter of teachers union contracts as much as educational policy. In future contract negotiations, school boards should demand the right to make the personnel decisions that will serve students best, rather than agreeing to be bound largely by who has been employed the longest and earned the most education credentials.


A clearer picture

To improve education, Ohio needs comprehensive teacher evaluation

Columbus Dispatch editorial

Saturday November 19, 2011 6:10 AM

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Most 2-Year Students Quit

 A WSJ article about a study showing the horrific dropout rates in NYC's community colleges:

Most City University of New York community college students drop out before graduating, squandering the system's resources as enrollment soars, according to a report set to be released on Monday.

The study by the Center for an Urban Future, a Manhattan think tank, highlights a problem with national implications: Too many students arrive at community colleges without having learned basic reading and math concepts. Most must take developmental courses that provide no credit toward a degree but still cost as much as college-level courses.

Community college students' "chances of dropout are far higher than students who test into college-level courses immediately," the report said.

About 51% of the city's community college students leave school before earning an associates or bachelor's degree within six years of enrollment, the report said. Another 12% transfer out of the community college system, but there are no data on how many finish school.

Only 28% get associates or bachelor's degrees within six years, the report found. Nationally, 26% get degrees, a number that has been essentially flat for several years. This statistic helped spark a $35-million effort by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to boost community college graduation rates.

A CUNY spokesman said in a statement that the system had made efforts to boost graduation rates. But he noted that "almost four out of every five freshman who arrive at its community colleges with a high school degree require remediation in reading, writing and mathematics."

Lest you think NYC's community colleges are unusually bad, they're actually par for the course.  Here's an excerpt from page 51 of my school reform presentation (


Lack of preparedness leads to nearly half of all students beginning higher education by attending a community college, which has negative consequences:

·         One study showed that 73% of students entering community college hoped to earn four-year degrees, but only 22% had done so after six years (and only 35% had earned a college degree of any sort)

·         41% of students at public two-year colleges drop out after their first year and only 28% have earned a two-year degree after three years

·         A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that three-quarters of community college graduates were not literate enough to handle everyday tasks like comparing viewpoints in newspaper editorials or calculating the cost of food items per ounce


The biggest problem isn't the community colleges – though there's no doubt a TON of room for improvement – but rather the terrible education so many students get in their K-12 years.


Most 2-Year Students Quit


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$75,000 grants mean longer days at 36 CPS charter schools

 The latest on the brouhaha in Chicago over extending one of the nation's shortest school days – charter schools yet again leading in innovation:

Chicago Public Schools announced Sunday it will give $75,000 grants to 36 charter schools so they can lengthen their school days in January and be studied before all traditional CPS schools switch to a longer day in the fall of 2012.

The announcement comes after CPS agreed Nov. 4 to stop asking schools represented by the Chicago Teachers Union to join the longer-school-day pilot program.

…Thirteen traditional CPS schools already have or will go to the longer day for the 2011-2012 school year and received the same teacher stipends and grant money.

The remaining traditional CPS schools will continue to have 300 minutes of instruction until the 2012-2013 school year, when all CPS schools will be required to go to the 390-minute day.


$75,000 grants mean longer days at 36 CPS charter schools

By MICHAEL LANSU and MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporters November 21, 2011 12:02AM

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Emanuel’s Point Man on School Closings

Speaking of Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has brought in a charter school leader to lead the politically difficult task of trying to close chronically failing schools:

Closing down underperforming public schools in Chicago has historically been a traumatic process, with battle lines drawn between affected communities and district leaders.

School closures take on an even greater significance this year, because they are designed to be the first step in the strategic plan of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school administration to overhaul the struggling system.

The Chicago Public School district, which has closed about 50 schools in the last decade, this year is expected to increase the number of schools being turned around and to expand the number of charter schools. Officials must release the list of schools they plan to shutter by Dec. 1.

The leader of the process is Oliver Sicat, 32, the district's new chief portfolio officer, a newly-created position focused on providing, in the words of Chief Executive Jean-Claude Brizard, a "high-quality seat" in a good school for every child. Sicat is a former teacher and principal—positions Emanuel said would be on the resumes of his new district leaders.

The son of Filipino immigrants, Sicat grew up in Santa Ana, Calif., where he said his parents had to game the system to get him into a good public school.

"I learned early on that there are different inequities based on where you live," Sicat said, noting that at one point, his parents used a different address to get him into a better school.

"Looking back now, I see exactly why my parents were doing that," he said. "But I think there's something really unfair about it. There's no reason why families and parents should have to do that."

If Sicat is successful in the task handed to him by Emanuel and Brizard, families will not have to gamble on where their children go to school. After low-performing schools are closed, Sicat and district leaders say they plan to reorganize or replace them with schools managed by both public and private operators that have proven track records of success. ------------------

Emanuel's Point Man on School Closings

CPS Chief Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat is leading the district's school closing and turnaround efforts. The list of schools targeted for closure next year will be announced by Dec. 1.

by REBECCA VEVEA | Nov 22, 2011

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The Pledge: Grover Norquist's hold on the GOP

I saw this 60 Minutes segment on Grover Norquist on Sunday and while I have very different political views, I have to admit that he's been HIGHLY effective – the only thing close to it is the teachers unions' hold on the Democratic party.  Some good lessons for school reformers on having a very focused agenda and playing hardball…

As head of Americans for Tax Reform since 1986, Grover Norquist has transformed a single issue - preventing tax hikes - into one of the key platforms of the Republican Party. As Steve Kroft reports, his biggest coup was getting more than 270 members of Congress, and nearly all of the 2012 Republican presidential primary candidates, to sign a pledge promising never to vote to raise taxes. But some opponents say the pledge may be hindering a solution to America's debt crisis.

To watch the video, go to:, and below is the transcript. 


For the opposite point of view, here's Erica Payne of Patriotic Millionaires, of which I am a member:

I am sending along a link to a meeting held last week (Nov 16th) between the Patriotic Millionaires and Grover Norquist, President ofAmericans for Tax Reform.  You can see an un-edited video of the meeting HERE.  I think it should be required viewing for anyone engaged in the public debate around taxes.   

Grover is one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington and is almost single-handedly responsible for the gridlock in Congress.  A recent60 Minutes piece explored his influence on Washington Republicans in depth.  According to a recent article in the Guardian, Grover hassecured a written pledge from 238 out of 242 Republican House members and 41 out of 47 Republican senators that they will not vote for a single tax increase. Any Republican who fails to sign the pledge is highly likely to face a grueling primary challenge.  All six Republicans on the Super committee were signatories.

As you are likely aware, the Super Committee failed to reach an agreement about how to find $1.2 trillion to pay down the national debt.  As is often true in politics (and in business for that matter), no deal was the best deal possible.  However, much of the reason no good deal was possible is that Republicans are locked into this anti-tax pledge - even when it comes to the 0.1% of the country who make more than $1 million a year.

The Patriotic Millionaires believe that any long-term fiscal plan must include an increase in taxes on people (like themselves) with annual incomes of over $1 million.  Specifically, they would like to see tax rates on incomes over $1 million return to 39.6% - the level they were before we had our current problems.  They met with Grover to share their perspective on taxes with him, but were ultimately unsuccessful in convincing him that raising taxes on millionaires was the right thing to do.


November 20, 2011 7:32 PM

The Pledge: Grover Norquist's hold on the GOP

Watch the Segment »

I encourage you to take a few minutes out of your Thanksgiving to watch the exchange between Grover and the Patriotic Millionaires.  And then maybe take a moment to be grateful that Democratic members of the Super Committee were smart enough to understand that no deal was the best deal for America – given that their Republican counterparts on the committee care more about their pledge to Nordquist than their pledge to the United States Constitution.

Take care,


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NOT Your Mother’s PTA

Bruno Manno, senior advisor for K–12 education reform at the Walton Family Foundation and former U.S. assistant secretary of education for policy, with an article in Education Next which highlights the demise of PTAs and rise of advocacy groups such as the three he profiles: Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children:

Truth be told, few in today's K–12 education reform movement look to the PTA to fight for dramatic change or engage in direct conflict with the public education establishment. Education historian William Cutler explains in Parents and Schools that "educators and most school board members prefer to think of the parent-teacher association as an extension of the educational establishment, 'an auxiliary to the public school,' as the Los Angeles County Board of Education put it in 1908."

Among today's advocates for young people are nonprofit insurgent groups that challenge the education establishment by organizing, educating, and mobilizing parents in a variety of roles and in different ways, empowering them to engage in K–12 reform efforts. This organizing generates collective, durable power that advances the interests of K–12 education consumers—especially parents—rather than education producers.

Some organizations direct their activities only to district and/or charter school issues, such as improving teacher quality and effectiveness, developing new public charter schools, or closing and transforming failing district schools to create new high-quality schools of choice. Other organizations focus on the private school sector and issues such as using taxpayer-funded scholarships, or vouchers, or tuition tax credits to enable children to attend private schools. Still other organizations undertake cross-sector approaches like educating and mobilizing parents so that they are empowered to choose a quality school for their child, whether it be district, charter, or private.

In short, these advocacy groups empower parents to make their voices and choices a primary catalyst of school reform.

This piece limits its focus to three organizations that use parent mobilization and advocacy to catalyze district sector and charter sector reform: Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children. I do not consider others engaged in private school parent mobilization and empowerment or those using other approaches to educate or mobilize parents, e.g.,, which provides information to parents on school quality and rankings.

These three organizations are similar in many ways, but differences in their legal structures affect the scope of their parent mobilization and advocacy strategies, activities, and tactics. The piece closes by presenting a framework for thinking more generally—one might say strategically—about different operating models for parent advocacy and organizing and by raising some key questions about the future of these efforts.


NOT Your Mother's PTA

Advocacy groups raise money, voices, hopes

By Bruno V. Manno

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Winter 2012 / Vol. 12, No. 1

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