Friday, October 11, 2013

When Will Wealthy People Stop Trying to Run Public Education?

The answer looks like, not anytime soon.   UW College of Education professor, Ken Zeichner, had a column at the Washington Post's The Answer Sheet this week about legislation in Congress to "reform" teacher preparation programs.  It's called "The GREAT Teachers and Principals Act" and naturally, it is nothing of the sort.

During the last few years, The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF), a major private funder of K-12 charter schools, has been intensely involved in creating and promoting a bill (the GREAT Act) in the U.S. Congress. This bill, if passed, would lead to the establishment of teacher and principal preparation programs that would not be subject to the same level of accountability as other state-approved programs. The bill is a part of a broader movement to disrupt the current system of college and university teacher education and replace it with deregulation, competition, and a market economy.

We should be concerned over the lack of public discussion about the assumptions underlying the proposed legislation for it would have a major impact on how teachers and principals are prepared.  The questions of whether or not deregulation, competition and markets are the ways to improve teacher education, how to assess the quality of teaching and teacher education programs, and what the peer-reviewed research shows about the impact of different pathways into teaching – these are all matters that remain unsettled among serious scholars. They warrant trenchant public discussion and debate.

Note that Professor Zeichner says "serious scholars" and not just the next wealthy person who read a white paper on education and is now an "expert." 

Those of us who have been in the trenches know The New Schools Venture Fund as something of a junior Gates Foundation.  

NSVF was founded in 1998 by social entrepreneur Kim Smith and venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers.  According to its 2012 annual report NSVF operates 331 charter schools that enroll 130,500 students (83 percent of whom are low income). If these schools were put together they would make up one of the largest 20 districts in the United States. To date, 350,000 students have been taught by teachers trained in NSVF ventures. Its K-12 ventures include ASPIRE, the Achievement Network, KIPP, MATCH, Rocketship, Uncommon Schools and the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

Although NSVF’s role in teacher education has been relatively minor to date, it has provided funding to a number of the most visible entrepreneurial programs including Teach For America (TFA), The New Teacher Project (TNTP), Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE), the Urban Teacher Center, and MATCH Teacher Residency. The goal of NSVF’s investments has been to promote deregulation and privatization in K-12 and in teacher education so that there will be opportunities for new entrepreneur-developed programs to emerge in what would be a market economy.

Professor Zeichner outlines, in detail, the whole sorry tale of this legislation.  It's complete nonsense. What is troubling is that it was included in the NCLB reauthorization legislation.

Why do I say it's nonsense?  It's not because our teaching colleges don't need some revamping or new thinking.  I have seen change happening.  I have toured Seattle University's department and saw great things (and great students)  A quick fix is of a production line of new teachers, in and out of schools and in and out of students' lives will not help.  It's practically magical thinking. 

It is also nonsense because it degrades the profession at the very time our country needs to elevate it.  We need to support, fully-train, pay an above-decent salary and honor our teachers and those who want to learn to be teachers.  That's how we will get better teachers and teachers who want to teach in difficult circumstances.  Not a revolving door of teachers.

And again, just like charters and testing, there is NO country in the world emulating what passes for "ed reform" in this country.   

UPDATE:  this person is precisely the type I'm talking about.  It's not "help" to further education but to further an agenda.


mirmac1 said...
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mirmac1 said...

Is he mad because the NSVF did not give money to his Seattle Teacher Residency project?

Instead it was:

Stanford Endowment $206,403
Bezos Family Foundation $100,000
Runstad Foundation $ 15,000
Boeing $ 90,000
Philanthropic Partners for Public Education $ 75,000
4 Private Gifts $ 90,000

I think there were wealthy people involved....

Dave said...

Not a huge deal, but don't you think you're painting a bit of a broad brush with that title? Some of us wealthy people have our kids in public schools, donate heavily to PTAs, volunteer a lot, vote to increase our taxes to increase funding for public education, and oppose both charters and the so-called reform movement. Not all wealthy people are the enemy and most the ones who are big problems aren't in Seattle Public Schools (or even in Seattle for that matter).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dave, are you uber-wealthy? Because clearly if I'm talking Gates, I'm talking very big money.

I've been pretty clear who I mean and I apologize if you felt this was directed at you.

I have NEVER said all wealthy people are the enemy (not even Bill Gates - bless him for his health initiatives). But the ed reform movement is another story and yes, they ARE in SPS.

Anonymous said...

There are those who can't see anything except through the market/supply-side lens. And today, many of themselves call themselves democrats, when in fact, they are instead simple aristocrats who've completely lost touch with democratic ideals.

DEFR, Stand for Children, TFA, and NTP are just special interest groups seeking to monopolize education for their own profit and destroy the last vestiges of unions in the teaching profession. It doesn't matter that I walked away from curriculum night last night completely impressed with the passion and professionalism of my kid's teachers, despite their long hours and modest pay. Where there'e money to be made, souls will be sold and if kids become guinea pigs or cannon fodder, oh well.

I found myself growing angrier and angrier at the known lies Ed Reformers tell to get what they want, such as maligning teachers unions and feeding the anti-union forces when they know full-well the "bad teacher problem" or "teacher quality" problem is in the single digit percentages, at best. But their agenda is so ambitious, growth-driven, and profit-driven, that it matters not that their rhetoric undermines great teachers and throws innocent, hard-working, caring, excellent people under the bus every day.

Dave: As MW notes, it's not you or like folks, but "certain" wealthy individuals. My kids go to school with lots of children of deep-pocketed families, and I think its a testament to our good public schools that they send their kids to them, serve on PTA's and volunteer when they could easily afford private schools. This isn't class warfare - we've had enough of those threads, haven't we? This is certain individuals with so much wealth and influence that they monopolize the conversation to such a degree that honest criticisms and concerns are completely marginalized and ignored. Good ideas can't win out in that type of "democracy" where money is always the strongest vote.

Too much of a good thing can always turn bad, and that's what we're seeing with Big Ed Reform. By the time people realize the damage and failure of many well-intentioned, well-funded, but simply bad & wrong-headed reforms, many kids will have suffered greatly in their educations. But we'll rarely hear about them.

I'm a broken record to respect teachers, support them, stop joining hands with or doing the bidding of truly evil anti-union forces, who wish to crush all unions, good or bad, and work within our existing systems to replicate many of the fantastic ideas and successes we see every day.

Unless and until enough people read "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein, or at least understand Milton Friedman's "Disaster Capitalism," they'll continue to give groups like Ed Reformers the benefit of the doubt, instead of seeing the opportunists many truly are.


Charlie Mas said...

The message of the Occupy movement - for those who missed it - is that the wealthiest 1% of our population not only hold a grossly disproportionate amount of the wealth but that they use that wealth to influence the political process so that it serves their narrow self-interests.

The democratic process, with the ideals of one person-one vote, a fair market of ideas, and a meritocracy of ideas has been subverted by the uber-wealthy.

Control of the political system by oligarchs isn't necessarily bad if they used that wealth to defend the ideals, if they showed magnanimity and had a sense of noblesse oblige, but they don't. Instead they exploit their control of the system to further enrich themselves.

The Education Reform movement - as supported and promoted by millionaires and billionaires - serves only two purposes. It is either working to reduce the cost of public education (and thereby reduce taxes, disproportionately to the benefit of the wealthy) or to direct public education expenditures into the hands of private, for-profit corporations (owned by the wealthy).

Their campaign to de-professionalize teaching is a cost reduction effort. Their campaign to break the teachers' unions is a cost reduction effort. Their effort to make teaching a job that college graduates take for a couple years while they look for work in their real career field is a cost reduction effort. Their focus on removing experienced teachers from the payrolls is a cost reduction effort. Their campaign to increase class sizes is a cost reduction effort. Their interest in automating education by putting it online is both a cost reduction effort and a business effort. Their focus on assessments is driven by the profit motive.

They are not interested in anything that helps students if it doesn't also directly help the wealthiest 1%.

Sad, but true.

Dave said...

It's not a huge deal. I'm just trying to point out that there are some, perhaps even many, people in the wealthy 1% who are on your side.