Friday, November 19, 2010

Big Fish and Little Fish: Corporate Reform is Everywhere

I never quite understood why so many teachers in NYC felt so negatively about Mayor Bloomberg until I moved here.  I mean, he always seemed so sensible on the Daily Show.  What I didn't quite realize is that behind all of his liberal talking points there doesn't seem to be much interest in real democracy.

As you may know, Bloomberg is attempting to appoint Cathie Black (a corporate manager with no meaningful experience in public education) as chancellor of New York City Public Schools.  In order to do this, he will need a waiver from the state, as Ms Black (surprise, surprise) does not have the legal qualifications (you know - those things people agree to through some version of the democratic process in order to safeguard public services from cronyism) to be chancellor.  Black has refused to meet with parent groups (but Oprah has endorsed her), and Bloomberg, possibly feeling some pressure from the public (although I suspect his ego is usually a pretty good barrier against the heat) has said that finding an alternative to Black would be very difficult, and the state should clear Black to be the next chancellor as soon as possible.  I'm sure it would be very difficult, Michael; people know you're looking for a new chancellor now.  They might (gasp) want to be involved in the process (double gasp)!

The more I investigate the degree to which the corporate reform movement (CRM) has gained traction in the US, the more it scares me.  Many of my fellow bloggers have expressed hope lately that the movement has begun to lose its footing.  They point to Fenty's loss in DC and Rhee's departure, to ongoing research that consistently proves merit pay is a stupid idea and charters are not a silver-bullet solution, and to Diane Ravitch's attempt to spread common sense.  I, on the other hand, am MUCH more skeptical.  It's my guess that this movement is just beginning, and that we'll be stuck with it for at least a few decades, or at least until the next politically amenable dumb idea with lots of common sense sounding talking points and zero practicality in real classrooms comes around to help candidates win elections.

It's people like my former superintendent, Mary Alice Heuschel, who just won Washington State's Association of School Administrators' award for best superintendent, that I'm alluding to when I say the movement is everywhere. It's also people like Jim McIntyre, the superintendent of Knox County Schools in Knoxville, TN (the district in which I completed my teaching internship).

Earlier this year, Heuschel penned an op-ed for The Seattle Times in which she did an exquisite job parrotting the CRM's most commonly used talking points: teachers are the only factor that matter (at least she said "school-based"), RTTT is a great program, and we should tie teacher and principal evaluations to student test scores.

And then there's McIntyre.  I've recently been in conversation with a few teachers in Knoxville and have heard stories that remind me of my time in DC.  Teachers in Knoxville tell me they are not allowed to speak negatively of the superintendent for fear they may lose their jobs.  They tell me McIntyre's approach is completely top-down, which makes sense since he went to Eli Broad's academy.  One teacher in Knoxville, who refuses to identify him/herself for fear of losing his/her job writes,

"What makes this guy even worse is his constant courtship of Knoxville's political elite and the connections he's made in hopes of securing himself a state-level position in Nashville (God help the whole state if this occurs).  It is very frustrating as well that he has ingratiated himself to our corporate-controlled media who are entirely unreserved in singing his praises without question - serving as an echo chamber for his public-relations staff and serving to rile up the locals against those greedy, tenured teachers."

In another email, the same teacher says,

"I have worked in Knox County Schools for 13 years and have NEVER seen morale so low.  The sense of fear and uncertainty among front-line staff is absolutely palpable.  Veteran educators are leaving in droves or retiring early and are being replaced by low-aid replacements from 'alternative' teaching programs - one of whom SHOT two administrators at Inskip elementary - leaving one of them paralyzed for life.  And as I mentioned, we are forbidden from speaking about what is happening."

I find this to be really frustrating.

Whatever it is about this country that allows us to believe that treating schools like factories is a good idea...

Whatever it is that allows the public to believe that putting inexperienced teachers in the toughest classrooms is a good idea...

Whatever it is that makes it novel and inspiring to claim that we've just figured out that poor black kids in Harlem can learn (as if there was ever evidence that they couldn't) if you only give them a chance...

Whatever it is that makes us believe that parents, communities, students, teachers, and administrators deserve no voice in how their schools are run...

Whatever it is that has society convinced that teaching is something you only do when you're young unless you're somehow inept or unmotivated to do better for yourself...

Whatever that thing is, it's disgusting.


  1. Welcome to NY. They all seem reasonable until you see them up close and personal.

    I agree that we may have decades to see the end of zombie ed deformers but the fact that we have more test cases of their failures give us hope. The best example of the counter reaction is Chicago where Real Reformers took over the union. Here in NY we have a union that uses internal PR to try to convince the members they are fighting for them and external PR to try to convince the deformers they really agree with them. I don't know if you have gotten involved in the union in your time in NYC but take a shot for a true surreal experience. Their use of Rhee to defend their not taking a position on Black is pitiful.

    And you can always jump in with the Real Reformers as they stand at the barricades. Next GEM meeting Dec. 7 at CUNY.

  2. We are beginning to see this in Prince George's County Public Schools, MD , where our CEO (superintendent) Dr. William Hite, Jr and his second in command , Dr. Bonita Coleman-Porter are Broad Academy acolytes. Dr. Hite signed onto that odious post election Washington Post op-ed by Rhee and Klein. I questioned him, but he has not respopnded.
    Donald Briscoe, president of the Prince George's County Educators' Association, is actively supporting such things as expanded testing (all grades all subjects) for the money.

  3. Much of what you have said is the same here in Albuquerque Public Schools. Ugghh!

  4. It's everywhere. If you want to get ahead in the ed leadership game, you have to parrot the talking points. There are no rewards for superintendents for being different.

  5. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. This deform will stop when the philanthropists and hedge fund managers get tired of investing money in schools. But by then it will be too late. In the next five to ten years, you won't find anyone going into teaching - at least not anyone dedicated to education.
    I believe they are purposely running PUBLIC schools into the ground, by placing inept administrators, running veterans out of the system, taking the arts away, class sizes going up, substandard curricula, ignoring parents etc. so that parents get fed up and DEMAND charters open in their area. I can't believe the "crappy" education these public schools are getting.
    I GUARANTEE kids in charters are NOT getting this kind of education.

  6. THANK YOU for shining a spotlight on McIntyre. What you wrote is true, and is only the tip of the iceberg. McIntyre has repeatedly diverted public funds into the hands of private, politically-connected corporate investors in the name of "education", seeking to build schools in corporate-owned facilities (Knoxville Center Mall, Historic L&N Station) while long-standing school buildings such as Carter Elementary - FILLED with mold and asbestos - continue to sink into ruin despite public demand for action to be taken. He has grown his personal staff immeasureably, including two Broad Academy cronies, while laying off teachers, unilaterlly instigating pay freezes, cutting programs, and coopting the media for his personal use as a kangaroo court for front-line educators to be publicly castigated (yet teachers were told within his first week here that it was his "expectation" that we, if asked, were to "speak positively" with with regard to any / all of his policies lest we be "disciplined". He is a true vulture, dressed up in an expensive suit , his true intentions barely concealed behind his obsequious public image and scripted talking points. Aided and abbetted, by a complicit media, an inept school board, a corrupt Central Office organization, an inept and toothless "union", and a deliberately-misled public, McIntyre's reign of terror shows all signs of getting MUCH worse.

  7. Oops. Sorry about the typos above. McIntyre gets my blood boiling and fingers shaking to such an extent that I can't even proofread my own work before hitting the enter key.

  8. A look into the Central Office "kingdom" over which McIntyre presides in Knoxville:


  9. Time to take this to this battle to the streets?

    Or maybe to look for work in a private school.

  10. Efavorite: Sadly, that is the choice so many teachers are being forced to make. And for those of us with families and lives outside of education, taking it to the streets is just not worth it.

  11. The horror show will continue as long as people who know better (Real Reformers) fail to come up with a counter-narrative as easy-to-state and intuitively plausible as the "get-rid-of-the-bad-teachers" narrative (and before that: "force schools to compete and they'll have to improve").

    Real reformers will never turn the conversation by pointing out where the ed deformers are wrong. We need to say, "If you want struggling kids to improve you have to give them more help: smaller classes, not bigger ones; more targeted intervention, not less; more time, money, and attention on teaching and less on testing." And we have to repeat it as relentlessly as the deformers chant their mantra.

    It will help that test scores, if left uninflated, cannot possibly rise if we continue to follow the deformers' agenda. Trouble is, that comes at the expense of a generation of students.

  12. Why do you think just anyone can run a school system? Schools are not a BUSINESS! There are so many problems in a school that non-educators are totally unaware of. A typical problems teachers of all grades face: students who are underachievers because} parents are working two, or even 3 jobs just to get by, students are raising themselves, parents who are at war with each other, parents who are non-English speakers and have no clue how to get their children help. Students who are children of drug addicts. Students who are in foster care. Students who have learning problems: LD, ED, ADD, ADHD, Austic etc. and parents are in denial. Teachers lack supplies. Computers that are 8 to 10 years and printers old and IEPs must be written on them. Special ed. classes are being reduce to excess good and qualified teachers. Programs such as Dual Language, are promoted but are not successful while special needs students are not being referred to save money by the city. This is why schools in NYC and elsewhere are having problems. Don't blame the teacher but blame the people you have elected who created the mess. Mr. Bloomberg has not hired a person who is an educator to do the job as the CEO of our schools. Who you hire a teacher to represent you in a criminal case? Of course not? Why? He/she is not qualified. That is why both Mr. Joel Klein and Ms. Cathie Black are unqualified to be the leaders of the largest school district in the US.