Friday, April 13, 2012

Meeting President Obama

I had one of the most interesting days of my life on Wednesday: I flew to Washington DC at 6am, shook President Obama's hand and chatted briefly with him about education reform, stood behind him at a press conference, was interviewed on national TV three times, published an op ed in theWashington Post and, in a particularly surreal exclamation point at the end of the day, yukked it up with the Hermanator – all on less than 24 hours' notice. If you have a minute, pull up a chair and let me tell you the story…

On Wednesday morning, President Obama hosted a press conference to call on Congress to pass the Buffett Rule, a proposal inspired by Warren Buffett that would require anybody (like me) whose income exceeds $1 million a year to pay a minimum federal tax rate of 30%. You may recall that Buffett's secretary was in the audience during Obama's State of the Union speech in January, highlighting the absurdity that one of the world's richest people pays a much lower tax rate than his secretary.

To make the same point at yesterday's press conference, the White House asked members of a group I'm part of called the Patriotic Millionaires to participate in the press conference, and about 30 of us were able to make it down on short notice. Four of us with our assistants provided the backdrop, as you can see in this picture:

(That's me in the back left and Kelli next to me with the flag behind her; the other three Patriotic Millionaires on stage were filmmaker Abigail Disney (Pray the Devil Back to Hell), former Google engineer Frank Jernigan, and real estate investor Lawrence Benenson; to see the video and transcript from the press conference,, and for more background on the Buffett Rule, see the document I posted at:, which also includes this email in case you want to link to it.)

Just before the press conference started, he stopped by the nearby room where we were all waiting and shook hands with everyone. When it was my turn, I said, "Hi Mr. President, I'm Whitney Tilson of Democrats for Education Reform. We were early supporters of yours, and I just want to thank you and [Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan for the incredible work you're doing."

His eyes lit up and he said (as best I can recall), "I remember your early support. We're making progress, but we still have a lot of work to do."

I said, "We'll keep fighting for you," and then he was hustled out of the room to start the press conference.

My Washington Post Op Ed
In going public with my views on such a controversial topic, I knew that I was going to catch a lot of flak, so I wanted to write down my thoughts in an email that I could send to anybody who contacted me. My hope was that people who disagreed with me might say, "Well, I'm certainly not convinced, but I respect the fact that you make a calm, rational argument – a rare thing in today's poisonous atmosphere."

As I kept writing and writing on Tuesday afternoon, the idea occurred to me that this might make a good op ed in the Washington Post, so I contacted a friend there. He liked it and, to make a long story short, my column ran on the Post's web site just as the press conference was getting under way Wednesday morning. Obama pushing for the Buffett Rule was a big news story, so my column generated lots of hits and comments (775 at last count) – so many, in fact, that the Post ran it in the paper yesterday. Here's the beginning and the full text is included at the end of this email:

I am part of the 1 percent of the 1 percent. By that I mean that I am fortunate to be a wealthy American, and I say, "It's okay to raise my taxes."

This morning I was at the White House supporting President Obama in his call for Congress to pass the "Buffett rule." The rule — inspired in part by Warren Buffett's exasperation in learning that his assistant was paying a greater percentage of her income in taxes than he was — would require anyone whose income exceeds $1 million a year to pay a minimum 30 percent in taxes. It would hit me hard. I haven't finished my taxes for 2011, but in 2010, my federal tax rate was 21.4 percent; if the Buffett rule had been in effect, my federal tax bill would have been 40 percent higher. Some years, my taxes would likely be more than 50 percent higher.

Why am I okay with this? The answer has to do with simple math and basic fairness…

Why I Did It
So why'd I do it, especially when the Buffett Rule – and me supporting it so publicly – is directly contrary to my self-interest? There are a lot of reasons, but it really just boiled down to: it's an obviously good idea whose time has come, and I felt that publicly saying so was the right thing to do.

I don't like the idea of my taxes going up any more than the next guy, of course, but there are certain basic things that make this country a better place to live than other countries and those things need to be paid for. In addition, I believe that our federal budget deficit has reached dangerous levels ($1.3 trillion this fiscal year, with spending of $3.796 trillion 54% higher than receipts of $2.469 trillion). Other than improving our public schools, I think getting our deficit under control is the most important long-term challenge facing this country.

Spending cuts alone aren't going to do it. Every well-informed person capable of doing basic math, if they were being honest (I realize that these three criteria exclude most of Congress), recognizes that the solution is a grand bargain along the lines of Simpson-Bowles that both cuts spending and raises taxes – say, $2-$3 of cuts for every $1 of tax increases. Make no mistake: this is going to be painful and most Americans will have to make sacrifices, with tens of millions of people getting smaller entitlement benefits, for example, and tens of millions of people paying higher taxes.

But somebody has to go first – raise his hand and say, "I'm willing to do my fair share – in fact, more than my fair share – to help rein in our deficits and put this country on a more sustainable path." It's not class warfare to say that people like me – who aren't suffering at all in these tough economic times, who are in many cases doing the best we've ever done, and who can easily afford to pay more in taxes with no impact whatsoever on our lifestyles – should be the first to step up.

My Assistant and I Compare Our Tax Returns
In preparation for Wednesday, Kelli and I compared our 2010 federal tax returns (I haven't finished my 2011 one yet) and we discovered two things:

1) My adjusted gross income was 39x hers – not 39%, but 39 times higher; and

2) My federal tax rate was 24.6% and hers was 33.4%, so hers was 36% higher than mine despite the fact that she made an order of magnitude less than I did.

We were both shocked. How can it be that I made 39x what she did, yet she paid a much higher tax rate??? It struck both of us as so obviously unfair.

Nor are we alone. Most famously, Mitt Romney paid a mere 13.9% in federal taxes on $21.6 million of income in 2010. Or consider the 400 Americans with the highest adjusted gross income. Not only have they been doing astonishingly well in recent decades (their average taxable income soared more than five times from 1992-2008, from $42.2 million to $227.4 million), but their tax rate also fell dramatically over this period, from 26.4% to 18.1%. A third of them paid less than 15% in 2008. (Here's the

This is madness. Every single one of these people – and many more not-as-wealthy-but-still-doing-well folks like me – could easily afford to pay 30% without any impact on their lifestyles.

TV Interviews
Kelli and I did two interviews on Wednesday at the White House with CNBC and ABC World News With Diane Sawyer and, after I flew back to NYC, I was a guest on CNBC's Kudlow Report. Here are the links:


      ABC World News With Diane Sawyer: (2:53)

      CNBC's Kudlow Report: (8:04) (I engaged in a spirited debate with both Kudlow and the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore; I think Kudlow almost fell out of his chair when I admitted that what I was advocating for would cause taxes to go up for people in my industry – and my own to go up as much as 40%.)

Meeting Herman Cain
Last but not least, things went from wild to surreal Wednesday when I showed up at the CNBC studios for the Kudlow Report and who should be in the green room but Herman 'the Hermanator' Cain! While I don't think he's Presidential material (to say the least), he's a really funny and easygoing guy so we chatted up a storm. Here's a funny thought: I think I might be the only person to ever shake his hand and Obama's on the same day! Here is a picture of us:

Below are five of my pictures from Wednesday, followed by my answers to 14 questions I've received, including: isn't this just a political carnival around a gimmick; why don't I just shut up and write a check; isn't this just class warfare; and what did you and Kelli say to the President?


PS—I've discovered that a lot of people want to debate these issues. If so, I ask that you first carefully read my column in the Post and the Q&A section (both below), and please forgive me if I'm too swamped to reply personally.
My Photos

This is the room in the Executive Office Building where the press conference took place.

Maybe 30 of us – all Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength – waited in a nearby room for President Obama to stop by before the press conference.

He shook hands and chatted briefly with each of us.

After the press conference, Kelli and I were interviewed by the White House press team.

Kelli and I about to go in a side door of the White House.

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Cheating our children: Suspicious school test scores across the nation

STOP THE PRESSES!!!  The Atlanta Journal Constitution, which uncovered the widespread cheating in Atlanta's public schools by analyzing data for highly unusual anomalies, applied the same methodology to 69,000 schools across the country – and found compelling evidence of widespread cheating.  I'm not at all surprised to learn that there are pockets of cheating, but I'm stunned at how widespread it appears to be – this means we reformers have to make this a TOP priority, or we risk undermining everything we're achieving (see further comments below):

Suspicious test scores in roughly 200 school districts resemble those that entangled Atlanta in the biggest cheating scandal in American history, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

The newspaper analyzed test results for 69,000 public schools and found high concentrations of suspect math or reading scores in school systems from coast to coast. The findings represent an unprecedented examination of the integrity of school testing.

The analysis doesn't prove cheating. But it reveals that test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools.

A tainted and largely unpoliced universe of untrustworthy test results underlies bold changes in education policy, the findings show. The tougher teacher evaluations many states are rolling out, for instance, place more weight than ever on tests.

Perhaps more important, the analysis suggests a broad betrayal of schoolchildren across the nation. As Atlanta learned after cheating was uncovered in half its elementary and middle schools last year, falsified test results deny struggling students access to extra help to which they are entitled, and erode confidence in a vital public institution.

"These findings are concerning," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an emailed statement after being briefed on the AJC's analysis.

He added: "States, districts, schools and testing companies should have sensible safeguards in place to ensure tests accurately reflect student learning."

In nine districts, scores careened so unpredictably that the odds of such dramatic shifts occurring without an intervention such as tampering were worse than one in 10 billion.

In Houston, for instance, test results for entire grades of students jumped two, three or more times the amount expected in one year, the analysis shows. When children moved to a new grade the next year, their scores plummeted — a finding that suggests the gains were not due to learning.

Overall, 196 of the nation's 3,125 largest school districts had enough suspect tests that the odds of the results occurring by chance alone were worse than one in 1,000.

For 33 of those districts, the odds were worse than one in a million.

A few of the districts already face accusations of cheating. But in most, no one has challenged the scores in a broad, public way.

The newspaper's analysis suggests that tens of thousands of children may have been harmed by inflated scores that could have precluded tutoring or more drastic administrative actions.

The analysis shows that in 2010 alone, the grade-wide reading scores of 24,618 children nationwide — enough to populate a midsized school district — swung so improbably that the odds of it happening by chance were less than one in 10,000.

This is what I wrote last July ( and 


Defenders of the status quo will surely try to use this scandal to try to roll back any type of accountability system, but (as always) they'll be wrong.  Of course adults who are lousy at their jobs will try to cheat if they worry about being exposed and possibly losing their jobs – we reformers need to be VERY aware of this.  But the answer to this is to make sure that cheating is difficult – and the consequences for doing so severe.  For example, I think every teacher who cheated should be fired immediately and charges should be brought against Beverly Hall…


…But schools (and school systems) cheating on tests isn't new and didn't originate with (or because of) NCLB.  Obviously, when accountability is introduced into any system, the incentive to cheat goes up – but the solution isn't to abandon accountability, but rather to take measures to combat cheating.


I don't think I've ever written these words before, but Diane Ravitch has it exactly right: "To say that tests create cheating is wrong.  What creates cheating is people who cheat. If we spent as much time teaching kids as showing them the answer, they might have learned to read."


OK, OK, pick yourself up off the floor – Ravitch didn't really say this about the Atlanta scandal: she said it about a NYC scandal in 1999 (, before she went off on a crazed personal vendetta, lost her marbles, and became a spokesperson for the unions.  While it's hard to believe now, she really used to be top notch.


And here's what RiShawn Biddle wrote last July (

what education traditionalists are doing is simply trying to let teachers and principals off the hook for actually doing their job: Ensuring that every child gets a high-quality education, is proficient in reading and math, and has the skills they need to succeed in traditional and technical colleges, and in the working world. Certainly, teaching is a difficult career, and becoming even more challenging; there are plenty of teachers who are learning that they lack the subject-matter knowledge, instructional competence, entrepreneurial drive, zeal for improving the lives of children and empathy for kids of all backgrounds needed to be high-quality instructors.  There are also principals who now realize that they cannot handle the complexities of leading schools in an age in which using data to support the work of good-to-great teachers, get rid of laggards, and revamp school activities, is more critical than ever. They should leave the profession. Supporting efforts to cheat kids out of accurate and honest assessment of their achievement — and denying them a high-quality instruction — is unacceptable and should not be used by anyone to justify their opposition to reform.

Meanwhile the Atlanta cheating scandal, massive as it is, pales in comparison to the pervasive practices in American public education that deny far too many children the high-quality education they deserve.


Cheating our children: Suspicious school test scores across the nation

By Heather VogellJohn Perry and Alan Judd and M.B. Pell

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Cheating our children: The story behind the story

Here's the backstory on the how the journalists got the data and did the analysis.  Shame on the states (and DC) who balked at providing the data!


A team of three reporters and two database specialists spent five months collecting databases of standardized test scores in those grades for 69,000 schools, in 14,743 districts in 49 states. (The 50th, Nebraska, didn't have usable data because it didn't give a statewide standardized test until last year.)

The law requires school districts to give parents an annual "report card" on school performance, and all states have laws requiring disclosure of public information. We thought that would expedite data collection.

Some states, including Texas and California, post online the data we needed. Most states sent data within days or even hours. A few were more challenging. We called state education departments and made formal open records requests. Some states required months of negotiating and multiple requests before they sent data.

New Mexico said the request was "burdensome" and took two months to send data.

Nevada called it an "annoyance" and took almost three months. When a reporter told an assistant attorney general that Nevada was the only state that hadn't provided data, the attorney quoted TV's "Seinfeld": "Yada yada yada."

Alabama education officials insisted they had posted the scores online. When they realized that was untrue, they offered to provide the data for $3,200, but finally sent it without charge two months after the original request. In the end, no state charged for the data.

District of Columbia education officials didn't answer many of our weeks of daily phone calls; emails describing the data requested were repeatedly shuffled to other employees. After three months, officials sent incomplete data. The district is not in our analysis because of methodology issues (see "Analysis limitations" below).


Cheating our children: The story behind the story

By AJC staff

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's analysis of test scores led to the state investigation and 2011 findings of widespread cheating in Atlanta schools, a national testing expert suggested we could do the same thing on a nationwide scale. We were intrigued.

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DFER lunch and AJ Duffy

I spoke at a DFER ed reform lunch last Thursday, organized by Gloria Romero, head of DFER-CA, and much to my surprise, A.J. Duffy, the former head of UTLA (yes, the guy Steve Barr called a "pig fkr" – sort of), showed up.  As I wrote in January (, Duffy is starting a new charter school, Apple Academy in LA, with ed warrior Caprice Young, that will use a thin contract – and he's really talking like a reformer.  He said two things that particularly caught my attention: A) That "seniority is over – it might take a while, but it's over"; and 2) "My greatest regret when I was head of the UTLA is that I didn't support breaking up the district."  I took that last comment and ran with it, saying "I agree with you.  But let's go further and do the ultimate break up and fully charterize the district, as New Orleans has done.  There, the central office doesn't run schools at all – and thus only consumes 1.75% of the total K-12 spending.  Instead, it evaluates and approves applications for new schools, runs enrollment, and then evaluates (and, if necessary, puts on warning or shuts down) existing schools."

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U.S. Education Reform and National Security

 Here's more on the Council on Foreign Relations report, Education Reform & National Security, which can be download at:

U.S. Education Reform and National Security

Chairs: Joel I. Klein, News Corporation and Condoleezza Rice, Stanford University
Director: Julia Levy, Culture Craver

Download Now


The United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role, finds a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)–sponsored Independent Task Force report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security.

"Educational failure puts the United States' future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk," warns the Task Force, chaired by Joel I. Klein, former head of New York City public schools, and Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state. The country "will not be able to keep pace—much less lead—globally unless it moves to fix the problems it has allowed to fester for too long," argues the Task Force.

The report notes that while the United States invests more in K-12 public education than many other developed countries, its students are ill prepared to compete with their global peers. According to the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment that measures the performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science every three years, U.S. students rank fourteenth in reading, twenty-fifth in math, and seventeenth in science compared to students in other industrialized countries.

Though there are many successful individual schools and promising reform efforts, the national statistics on educational outcomes are disheartening:

·         More than 25 percent of students fail to graduate from high school in four years; for African-American and Hispanic students, this number is approaching 40 percent.

·         In civics, only a quarter of U.S. students are proficient or better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

·         Although the United States is a nation of immigrants, roughly eight in ten Americans speak only English and a decreasing number of schools are teaching foreign languages.

·         A recent report by ACT, the not-for-profit testing organization, found that only 22 percent of U.S. high school students met "college ready" standards in all of their core subjects; these figures are even lower for African-American and Hispanic students.

·         The College Board reported that even among college-bound seniors, only 43 percent met college-ready standards, meaning that more college students need to take remedial courses.

The lack of preparedness poses threats on five national security fronts: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion, says the report. Too many young people are not employable in an increasingly high-skilled and global economy, and too many are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have an inadequate level of education.

"Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America's security," the report states. "Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy."

The Task Force proposes three overarching policy recommendations:

·         Implement educational expectations and assessments in subjects vital to protecting national security. "With the support of the federal government and industry partners, states should expand the Common Core State Standards, ensuring that students are mastering the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard the country's national security."

·         Make structural changes to provide students with good choices. "Enhanced choice and competition, in an environment of equitable resource allocation, will fuel the innovation necessary to transform results."

·         Launch a "national security readiness audit" to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results and to raise public awareness."There should be a coordinated, national effort to assess whether students are learning the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard America's future security and prosperity. The results should be publicized to engage the American people in addressing problems and building on successes."

The Task Force includes thirty-one prominent education experts, national security authorities, and corporate leaders who reached consensus on a set of contentious issues. The report also includes a number of additional and dissenting views by Task Force members. The Task Force is directed by Julia Levy, an entrepreneur and former director of communications for the New York City Department of Education.

The Task Force believes that its message and recommendations "can reshape education in the United States and put this country on track to be an educational, economic, military, and diplomatic global leader."

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The Council on Foreign Relations’ Stand for School Choice — and Randi Weingarten’s Disingenuousness

 Here's RiShawn Biddle's critique of Randi's disagreement with the CFR report:

But don't think that Weingarten (or for that matter Darling-Hammond, whose general thoughtfulness on teacher quality reform is limited by her unwillingness to challenge her traditionalist colleagues) signed on to any of that. Declaring in her dissent that choice options "have not proven themselves to be sustainable or systemic ways to improve our schools", Weingarten tosses out the zero-sum-game argument, proclaiming that vouchers, charters, and other options will do little more than "deplete badly needed resources from our public schools" as well as (she insinuates) divide society and the common good. From where she sits, any championing of school choice and Parent Power (along with efforts to overhaul the traditional systems of teacher compensation and performance management that have long-sustained the influence and coffers of the AFT and National Education Association) will lead to the end of public education and American democracy. Wrote Weingarten: "A move away from that public system could do greater harm to our national security and common bonds than nothing at all.

Certainly Weingarten neglects to mention that charter schools are just as much public schools as traditional district counterparts; the fact that they are managed by non-profit and for-profit operators (including AFT affiliates in Boston and New York City) means little since they are often subjected to similar levels of oversight (and, unlike traditional district schools) can be shut down for academic and fiscal failure. But that's to be expected. Just because the AFT likes to play up the fact that its legendary leader Albert Shanker helped launch the charter school movement doesn't mean they actually want charters to exist in any meaningful way.

The bigger problem with Weingarten's argument is logically false argument that somehow school choice can't be allowed in American public education at all. From Weingarten's perspective, public education should remain a system of district bureaucracies that control where students go and the quality of education they receive (with AFT and NEA locals influencing how districts operate through collective bargaining agreements, the spending of their campaign largesse, and lobbying in statehouses). But it plenty of industrialized nations, public education is more about funding a wide array of educational opportunities from which families can choose than about maintaining failing and mediocre bureaucracies. In Canada, provinces such as Ontario, Catholic schools are fully funded out of state coffers, while Alberta has embraced the charter school concept. In Ireland, the government funds Catholic schools as well as multi-denominational private schools. Belgium and the Netherlands has long ago moved to a system of public financing of educational options; in the former, "free schools" operated by groups affiliated with the Catholic Church serve larger number of students than government-run schools. Australia also partially funds private schools, with families of children attending them paying the remainder of the costs out of their own pockets.

Meanwhile Weingarten's argument that somehow school choice harms "democracy" and frays "common bonds" falls flat on its face. Forget her ignorance of the reality that the United States is a pluralistic society in which, save for common agreement over liberty, freedom, and a Democratic republican form of government, there is plenty of diversity of — and disagreement over — everything from culture to religiosity. A system of publicly funding educational options through school choice would do little to harm democracy because federal, state, and local governments — all elected by citizens who also benefit from choice — would still be in charge of how those dollars are spent. While the schools may offer their own approaches to providing students with high-quality education, state and federal governments would still be able to hold those schools accountable for results.

This can already be seen in Milwaukee, home to the nation's oldest school voucher program. Since the launch of the Milwaukee voucher program 21 years ago, Wisconsin officials adopted rules that required private schools accepting voucher students to meet state curriculum standards, and use the state's assessments to monitor student (and school) performance. This had results. As noted in the University of Arkansas' latest study on the Milwaukee voucher effort, students using vouchers saw even greater gains in student achievement than earlier generations of students funded by it; it may have also improved the overall quality of educational options throughout the city.

Meanwhile Weingarten's argument that choice will somehow fray common bonds is also off-target. If anything, by expanding choice, states can actually create systems of educational financing that can foster truly public schools that serve the public and deal with the diversity within American society.


The Council on Foreign Relations' Stand for School Choice — and Randi Weingarten's Disingenuousness

March 23, 2012 No Comments by RiShawn Biddle

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The Relationship School

David Brooks profiles a unionized elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which is doing some innovative stuff.  I've heard good things about this school, and it'll be interesting to see if it can replicate its success:

Usually when you visit a school you walk down a quiet hallway and peer in the little windows in the classroom doors. You see one teacher talking to a bunch of students. Every 50 minutes or so a chime goes off and the students fill the hallway and march off to their next class, which is probably unrelated to the one they just left.

When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.

The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.

The New American Academy is led by Shimon Waronker, who grew up speaking Spanish in South America, became a U.S. Army intelligence officer, became an increasingly observant Jew, studied at yeshiva, joined the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, became a public schoolteacher and then studied at the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the former New York Schools chancellor, Joel Klein, founded to train promising school principal candidates.

And here's a letter to the editor from the founder of the school:

To the Editor:

Re "The Relationship School" (column, March 23):

It was an honor to have David Brooks visit our pilot school and share his insights on our model. The components of our model have been explored in different schools.

In many ways, what we are doing is not new; instead, we bring a renewed commitment to exploring how the research-based elements of our model can best function in classrooms, and how we can bring the model to scale without increasing school budgets.

Together with our partners at the New York City Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers, we have created a unique contract that allows for a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio and higher teacher salaries on a standard public school per-pupil allocation.

As Mr. Brooks described, the cornerstone of our model is relationships — particularly between teachers and students and within the teaching teams. We are firmly committed to proving this relationship-based model, which includes exploring how this educational structure works in other environments, with different teachers and a different principal.

We are very optimistic about our future and remain deeply dedicated to working within the system to change education for our nation's young people.

The New American Academy
Brooklyn, March 23, 2012


March 22, 2012

The Relationship School


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For-Profit Education Scams

It's great to see states taking action to rein in the widespread abuses in this sector – and let's hope Congress changes the insane law that treats student debt differently than every other kind of debt in bankruptcy.  I've long felt that there's a simple solution to the problems in this sector: make each school (whether for profit or nonprofit) pay the government a meaningful amount of any losses the government takes on defaults from any debts incurred at that school:


NYT editorial

March 23, 2012

For-Profit Education Scams

Attorneys general from more than 20 states have joined forces to investigate for-profit colleges that too often saddle students with crippling debt while furnishing them valueless degrees. The investigations have just begun. But it is already clear from testimony before a Senate committee that Congress must do more to rein in the schools and protect students.

For-profit colleges are typically more expensive than public colleges, which means students graduate owing more. They account for nearly half of student loan defaults, even though they enroll a little more than 10 percent of higher education students.

State prosecutors are uncovering unconscionable examples of fraud. Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois, testified this week that she had recently filed suit against a for-profit school that had saddled individual students with up to $80,000 in loans while promising employment with law enforcement agencies that do not recognize the school's credentials as valid.

Jack Conway, the attorney general of Kentucky who leads the multistate group, has identified two schools that went bankrupt, leaving students with loads of debt and worthless credits and still on the hook for those outstanding loans.

A bill introduced by Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, would permit students to discharge their private student loans when they declare bankruptcy. Congress should also allow borrowers to have their private loans discharged when a school closes, preventing completion of the degree. (The federal loan program already allows this.) Lastly, Congress should require private lenders to make every effort to see whether students are eligible for affordable federal loans before trying to sell them more expensive private loans.

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Interview of Bob Bowden with David Gergen

A very interesting interview Bob Bowden did with David Gergen (link and transcript below) – I especially like his analogy about the Marines INCREASING the rigor and selectiveness, which led to INCREASED sign-ups (which he notes is similar to how TFA attracts top college graduates into teaching – which raises the question, why isn't EVERY district doing something similar???)  (For more on Bowden, see this 5-min interview with him:

BB: The example of Teach For America, there are a number of teachers for whom union membership is not the motivational force behind their decision to get involved in education.

DG: Right, many of the young people who go into Teach For America are idealists. And, I would say, a great number of them are Democratic in their party leanings. It was said long ago, 'If you're 20 years old and not a liberal there's something wrong with you. If you're 40 years old and not a conservative there's something wrong with you.' So they tend to be more liberal.

BB: You don't have a heart. You don't have a mind.

DG: I run into a number of them who say, "I'm an Obama-type person. I like the president but the Republicans have some better ideas on education." They're more drawn to the notion of choice, of innovation, of reform. And so they're challenging the orthodoxy. They're signing up for Teach For America, I think, for all the right reasons. That is, they want to be change agents in a system that they believe is not fundamentally working. They do very much want to close the equity gap. And Teach For America rejects the mythology that children from broken homes, who may happen to be African American or Hispanic or have some other background and live in tough conditions in a city, can't learn. They just reject that. And there is a lot of evidence that says they're right, that these kids can learn, we're just not teaching them very well. And Teach For America motivates young people to go in and say, "Hey come and give a couple of years after you graduate from college, to teach in the toughest urban or rural schools in the country. You're gonna get beginning wages, this is not gonna be glorious, it's gonna be tough!" It's a little bit like signing up for the Marine Corps. And some kids just respond to that challenge. It's not the union that contracts them. If anything, they struggle with their natural favoritism towards unions in general vs what they conceive of as, or perceive as [2:17] union intransigence, which has slowed-down change. Now when some of them get there, frankly, they become more pro-union. And some of the charter schools are unionized schools. We shouldn't write off teachers' unions. If anything, I think the challenge is, how do we enlist teachers in teacher's unions so that they become change agents too. We show them the respect. They get the professional development, and they can move on. I have seen schools in Harlem that are charter schools that actually don't tap into Teach For America, they tap into people who are in the existing teaching system in the unions. They ask them to come over to these charter schools, and they turn them into a terrific team. They're getting wonderful results.

BB: This has been the union argument tough. To some extent as you know that without lavish benefits you'll never attract good people. In Wisconsin, with Governor Scott Walker's recent reforms. That's what the other side is saying. They were saying you really have to give us these benefits. 

DG: Well, let me give you an example of why that is not always the case. A few years ago, before 9/11, the military services were having a very a hard time attracting top-flight recruits. The economy was doing well, a lot of jobs. All the Services but one said, we're gonna increase your pay, we're gonna increase your benefits, we're not gonna have you away from home as much, we're gonna make it easier to make it more attractive and they're recruitments didn't go up at all. The Marine Corps did it just the opposite way. They said, we're gonna make this tougher. This is gonna be only for the toughest and they added something called a crucible at the end of the Marine Corps training experience. And it is hard as hell. It's 72 hours of sheer hell. At the end of it, you gotta climb this hill and that's when they pin the ensigna on you and say, "OK, you've joined the Marine Corps." And what happened? The people who offered the softer course, didn't do anything. But the MC recruits went up like this [points straight up] and what young people are looking for that they're not looking for a lot of money. Of course they need enough to support a family, they're not looking for security. What they're looking for is adventure and a chance to make a difference.

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Hundreds of teachers forced to switch schools through seniority-based process unless union agrees to major reforms quickly

This article from Boston shows the insanity of the seniority-driven union hiring model:

Hundreds of teachers forced to switch schools through seniority-based process unless union agrees to major reforms quickly

Dispute over amount of salary increases continues to block needed reforms

Contact Information: 

BPS Communications Office

March 20, 2012

BOSTON – A report out this morning from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau (BRMB) finds that unless reforms to the Boston Public Schools (BPS) hiring process are put in place by early April, up to 244 current teachers will have to move out of their classrooms and into new schools this fall through a seniority-driven process that includes little or no input from the school principal or, in many cases, even the teachers themselves.

Last year, this process placed at least one new teacher in every Boston Public School.

"The teachers' contract forces us to put teachers in classrooms through an antiquated system designed to protect seniority and nothing else," said Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. "It means high school teachers might move to elementary schools even though we have a great elementary teacher who would have been a perfect fit. Our failure to reach an agreement on the contract means we are about to be blocked – again -- from matching the right teachers to the right classrooms."

The BMRB report indicates the Boston Teachers Union has tentatively agreed to the Superintendent's proposal, which would end the use of seniority as the primary driver for the annual hiring process.

However, union leaders have repeatedly refused to allow BPS to implement the needed change until the district agrees to a $116 million salary increase – which would trigger a 10.3 percent pay raise to take full effect just before Labor Day weekend.

The district has proposed a $32.6 million raise for teachers through FY14. The current average BPS teacher salary is $81,633.

Superintendent Johnson is calling on the BTU to immediately agree to implement to major reforms in the teacher transfer process, which begins in less than a month for the next school year.

"It's critical that we be allowed to implement these needed changes right away, and not at a price that threatens all the other progress we are making," Johnson said. "We cannot let our students go another year under a system that moves teachers to different classrooms in this bureaucratic way. The BTU's demand for more money without needed reforms continues to stand in the way."

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The Democrat Who Took on the Unions

Gina Raimondo rocks!  (And shows that Democrats can successfully take on the unions, even in Democratic-leaning states.)

So this is Gina Raimondo? The state treasurer who single-handedly overhauled Rhode Island's pension system and has unions screaming bloody murder? I had imagined her a bit, well, bigger. If not larger than life like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, then at least life-size. Ms. Raimondo couldn't be much taller than five feet, which may have caused some to underestimate her. That isn't the only thing that may have surprised people.

The former venture capitalist is a Democrat, which means that she believes in government as a force for good. But "a government that doesn't work is in no one's interest," she says. "Budgets that don't balance, public programs that aren't funded, pension funds that are running out of money, schools that aren't funded—How does that help anyone? I don't really care if you're a Republican or Democrat or you want to fight about the size of government. How about a government that just works? Put your tax dollar in and get a return out the other end."

Yes, that would be nice. Unfortunately, public pensions all over the country are gobbling up more and more taxpayer money and producing nothing in return but huge deficits. It's not even certain whether employees in their 20s and 30s will retire with a pension, since many state and municipal pension systems are projected to run dry in the next two to three decades.

That included Rhode Island's system until last year, when Ms. Raimondo drove perhaps the boldest pension reform of the last decade through the state's Democratic-controlled General Assembly. The new law shifts all workers from defined-benefit pensions into hybrid plans, which include a modest annuity and a defined-contribution component. It also increases the retirement age to 67 from 62 for all workers and suspends cost-of-living adjustments for retirees until the pension system, which is only about 50% funded, reaches a more healthy state.

Several states have increased the retirement age or created a new tier of benefits for future workers, but reforms that only affect not-yet-hired employees don't save much money. A lot of "people say we've done pension reform when all they've done is tweaked something," Ms. Raimondo points out. "This problem will not go away, and I don't know what people are thinking. By the nature of the problem, it gets bigger and harder the longer you wait."

The problem was particularly acute in Rhode Island since there are more retirees collecting pensions than workers paying into the system. Plus, as Ms. Raimondo says, "it's a small state with not a lot of growth, an expensive cost structure in government, and it's not a good combination." Making the state even more expensive by raising taxes would have caused many Rhode Islanders to leave. When the now-bankrupt town of Central Falls raised property taxes to finance worker pensions, many residents fled, sending the city into a tailspin.


The Democrat Who Took on the Unions

Rhode Island's treasurer Gina Raimondo talks about how she persuaded the voting public, labor rank-and-file and a liberal legislature to pass the most far-reaching pension reform in decades.


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Gay Marriage Effort Attracts a Novel Group of Donors

We reformers need to closely study and adopt the methods of the same-sex marriage movement – also a civil rights issue (and kudos to the Republicans who have broken with them stuck-in-the-Middle-Ages-party and gotten behind this issue):

Mr. Geffen asked few questions as they sat in the dining room off his screening room, with a sweeping view down his sculptured estate. He agreed before the dessert arrived to raise the money. "I said I'd give them half the money and raise the other half," Mr. Geffen recalled. Mr. Geffen wrote a check for $1.5 million and asked Steve Bing, a friend and producer, to make up the rest.

That lunch was a milestone in the dramatic evolution of a behind-the-scenes fund-raising network whose goal is to legalize same-sex marriage from coast to coast. This emerging group of donors is not quite like any other fund-raising network that has supported gay-related issues over the past 40 years. They come from Hollywood, yes, but also from Wall Street and Washington and the corporate world; there are Republicans as well as Democrats; and perhaps most strikingly, longtime gay organizers said, there has been an influx of contributions from straight donors unlike anything they have seen before.

Mr. Griffin, who this month was named president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay advocacy group, recalled being at a September 2010 fund-raiser for the Proposition 8 legal fund at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, organized by, among others, Wall Street financiers and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

"I knew literally no one in the room," said Mr. Griffin, whose fund-raising activities on behalf of the Obama campaign helped earn him a seat at President Obama's table at the state dinner at the White House last week. "It was a very bizarre moment for me. It was really a turning point."

Money does not always translate into political success, of course. While the network has bankrolled the legal case that led two courts to throw out Proposition 8 and also helped power a same-sex marriage bill to law in New York State, tough battles may lie ahead with marriage initiatives on five state ballots this year: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington.


Gay Marriage Effort Attracts a Novel Group of Donors

Published: March 23, 2012

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KIPP Empower Academy Elementary school in LA

I visited KIPP Empower Academy elementary school in LA yesterday and met the school's Founding Principal Mike Kerr.  It's the first blended learning KIPP school, so I was especially eager to see it.  It's in its second year with kindergarteners and first graders – four classes of 28 students in each grade – growing to K-4.

There's a very interesting story about how this school came to adopt blended learning that I think will become increasingly common in these times of tight budgets and education funding cuts:

This was not originally going to be a blended learning school, but just before the school opened, charter school funding was slashed in California, forcing Kerr to substantially increase class sizes to 28 students.  Kerr felt that this would be unmanageable for many subject areas, so he adopted blended learning, which allows half the students to work on computers, overseen by a junior teacher (typically a first- or second-year TFA corps member, who can roam between two classrooms if needed), while the senior teacher does a lesson with a much smaller group of 14 students (see pics 4-6 below).

The school is off to a great start, so the blended learning appears to be working, but there's still a lot of experimentation and learning going on, both at this school and across the KIPP network (KIPP NY is launching a new blended learning school this August, and KIPP Newark is experimenting in this area as well).

Below are pics from my visit (which are also posted at:  The last three pics and a video I posted at are of the KIPP Empower first graders practicing their break dancing and stepping in preparation for a show at the KIPP School Summit in Orlando in August – I can't wait to see it!  They are being taught by TFAers Justin Myles and Hoang Pham (formerly a professional break dancer) – you can see them in the video.

The school needs to raise funds for these 21 students to go to Orlando, so please support them by making an online donation and/or attending a fundraiser in LA on Saturday, May 19th (I just donated $100).  Here's Mike Kerr with the details:

KIPP Empower Academy First Graders Got Talent! …And Need Your Help 

Do you want to help 21 talented six year-olds have the experience of a lifetime? Our first grade group of steppers and break dancers were selected to perform before 2,500 people at the KIPP School Summit in Orlando, FL, this August. However, we need your help to get them there. With your support, we can fund their air travel and accommodations and help make this an experience they won't soon forget! 

As you will see from the video, our dance group, "StepUP --- BreakDOWN," has got rhythm and skill. Not to mention, they are truly adorable. While they have worked hard to master their dance steps, these students from KIPP Empower Academy (KEA) also work incredibly hard in the classroom so they can go to college. In fact, every member of our dance group has had to maintain good grades and demonstrate positive character at our South-Central Los Angeles elementary school in order to remain on our team. 

We are so proud of them and think you will be too. Your support would provide our deserving students with a tremendous learning experience—it will be their first time on a plane—and will give them an opportunity to show people from all over the nation that with hard work and perseverance, they can do anything… and they can do it with style!


Here is the link to watch their video, learn more, and make a contribution:


KIPP Empower Academy Talent Show


We are also raising money for our students by hosting a talent show at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 19, 2012.  The show will take place at St. Mary's Academy, 701 Grace Avenue in Inglewood, CA.  We will feature performances from our students' families, other KIPP LA schools, and professional break dancers from along the West Coast.  This will serve as not only a fundraiser, but also a dress rehearsal for our students so that they can have practice performing before a large crowd.


We will hold a raffle at this event, as well.  Thus far, we have secured two iPads for our raffle.  Admission is $10 per adult, $5 per child, or a total of $20 per family.


We cannot wait for you to share this event with the KIPP Empower Academy team and family.


The first-grade building (the regular public school Empower shares the school with is on the left)


The kindergarten building


A regular kindergarten classroom


A blended learning classroom – a regular science lesson for half the class is taking place on the right, and the other half of the class is on the computers on the left



Each student is doing something different, based on their level


First graders practicing break dancing and stepping in preparation for a show at the KIPP School Summit in Orlando in August – I can't wait to see it!




My wife, my two younger daughters and me with Founding Principal Mike Kerr


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