Really? We're Winning? It Doesn't Seem Like It

Reader Caroline commented on this post by Alexander Russo at This Week in Education (late December, 2011).  It's a pretty funny lament over how the ed reformers can't seem to sell their message.  These two lines made me laugh:

In contrast, reformy folks have lacked a SWAT team of feisty and prolific school-level champions defending articulating their message.  

The now middle-aged reform movement seems to have relied on institutional and organizational voices -- Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, et al -- and mainstream news outlets, where they dominate.

You mean feisty and numerous people on the ground (instead of those at 10,000 feet) actually work harder and are able to engage more? 

And those institutional and organization voices - you mean, the Broad Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation?  Yes, you do find yourself wondering what they truly know about public education that they didn't learn from a white paper or quick and orchestrated school tour.

He seems to think the battle will be won via social media. 


It's funny how people up the food chain forget how personal this fight is.  And those on the ground - the parents, the teachers, the staff - know the challenges better than anyone.  That's why their voices resonate in a way that Bill Gates' never will. 


Tired said…
It could also be that education reform really benefits groups of people who are typically forgotten. Most middle class families will get a decent education for their children. Most readers of this blog will get a decent education for their children.

Ed reform is really about bringing high quality education to those who don't have it. It's time to stop blaming families and start increasing teaching and administrative quality.
Anonymous said…
To 'Tired said ...'

Is there part of your mind which holds senior management accountable for systemic problems, or, is it just us nobodies on site who are the cause of systemic failure?

I wasted about 30 minutes of my life on digging through a few 990's, (2010 or 2009, whichever was most recent) and, from schedule J, page 2, column "E" -
Teach For America
9 people > $200,000 a year.
4 people > $150,000, less than 200k.

Kipp in Brooklyn
1 people > $200,000 a year.
7 people > $150,000, less than 200k.

Kipp Foundation, San Fran
1 people > $300,000 a year.
2 people > $200,000 a year.
7 people > $150,000, less than 200k.

Kipp Houston
2 people > $200,000 a year.

Kipp D.C.
1 people > $150,000, less than 200k.

Statistical Abstract of the United States - table 692, Money Income, Households, 2009

appx. 23,749,000/117,538,000 households over $100,000 ...

and about 90,000,000 living on a lot less than these out touch pirateers.

If we ditch out out of touch, barely accountable publicly paid edu-crats with completely out of touch completely un-accountable highly paid privateers ... pirateers ?

yeah ... that will fix things!

Anonymous said…
$200,000/year will certainly fix my poor and tired family. Where can I sign up?

-Ready to lie my refuse at your golden door
David said…
I am surprised by the heavy-handed way the Gates Foundation is pursuing reform here in Seattle. Rather than run grants to test alternative programs in the existing public and private schools to learn what is most effective, rather than work with the parents, teachers, and schools, they try to buy the school board elections and push unproven solutions like charter schools. The backlash could create a lot of ill-will in Seattle for the Gates Foundation, and it surprises me that is the path they are picking.
Anonymous said…
Buy the school board elections? The SEA gave something like $9000 to McLaren for her run at the board.

Please. Everyone does what they can to get an empathetic voice on the board. Both sides do. This blog was instrumental in getting two board members elected, and I think we can say that this blog is on a very obvious side in the debate over ed reform/deform/freeform/me-form.

AntagonistsFoesVillians, what the heck? I'm not sure what you're trying to accomplish by that string of (I'm assuming) salaries, but there are plenty of principals in Washington districts who earn that much and have NOOOOOOO reason/incentive to do their job well. You can be a lousy principal and still earn your hugely inflated salary.

At least those who earn that salary at Kipp and Gates (or McDonald's or Kinko's) will get their butts fired if they don't do a good job. Only in public education can you be a horrible manager and keep your job and, in fact, earn a little more every year just for staying alive and not having sex with a student.

Remember Joe Drake? I do. That jerk lost his job only when the newspaper toured his school and found a wasteland of missed opportunity. He'd been earning a six-figure salary for years before the district was shamed into letting him go.

I'm tired of my tax dollars going to failing teachers and failing schools and hearing this one-sided rhetoric that charter schools pay too much. I'm tired of horrible teachers saying they'd do better if they were paid more.

And this constant whining about TFA? Come on. Jonathan Knapp himself entered the classroom through the private sector. He's not traditionally certified, if he's certified at all.

Sick of Wasted Funds
seattle citizen said…
Sick of wasted funds,
Could you tell us again what a "failing school" is? I'm still confused. Are the bricks falling off the walls? Are the pipes rusty?

Or do you mean EVERYBODY in the school - staff, students, everybody - are failing?

It's confusing because I thought individuals had successes and failures. I thought ALL schools had highly successful individual teachers and highly successful individual students, yet you say their schools are "failing"?

Please explain.
Anonymous said…
To "Sick of Wasted..."

You should read this CNN article "Ex-Coast Guard chief: Captain failed in every way" -

You write as 1 of the inhabitants of Rush Limbaugh's fantasy world. The number of American senior managers who are truly accountable is minuscule, but, part of the Great Limbaugh Lie is pretending that American managers are accountable! Rush got a $400 million dollar contract by convincing people like you that people like Gates are accountable - so ... trash away on the nobodies!

You are correct that Principals can make over 100K a year - IF you had any idea of what their job is really like - whether they have 500 k-5 kiddies or 1500 14 to 18 year olds - you'd know that the good ones are getting ripped off...

ooops! except you seem to value the charlatans setting legal scams such as up standard oil of ohio, standard oil of new jersey, standard oil of pennsylvania ... kipp of CA, kipp of DC, Kipp of NYC ... over people who actually drive the boats or run the schools - vote for Rodney Tom and vote for his garbage legislation!

Anonymous said…
"Sick of wasted funds" said:

"At least those who earn that salary at Kipp and Gates (or McDonald's or Kinko's) will get their butts fired if they don't do a good job. Only in public education can you be a horrible manager and keep your job "
That has got to be the most inane, preposterous, fact-challenged statement imaginable. I saw so many incompetent middle and upper managers during my working life in the private sector that I wondered how some companies ever stayed in business.

-- Ivan Weiss
"I am surprised by the heavy-handed way the Gates Foundation is pursuing reform here in Seattle. "

My dream was always that the Gates Foundation would want to work to make Washington State THE education state. Work with parents and teachers and administrators in districts and pay to try new things (or pay to shore up things we know work).

The Gates Foundation spends a lot of money. I'll bet if they gave (with oversight, of course) 10% of what they are spending to better schools in Washington, they might be surprised at the outcome.
Anonymous said…
Ivan Weiss - Ha! Good point. You're right.

Thank you. I mean it.

Seattle Citizen - by "failing school" I mean a school that no one wants their child to go to. No one would pick it, so local parents do what they can to go private, go alternative, homeschool, or whatever, and the only kids in the school are families not aware enough to look for a better option. Of course there are little successes and failures in each school. But look at the list of schools in Seattle. Imagine sending your child to each one. Which ones would you think, "No way in hell." about? In my opinion, when the informed parents no longer consider a school an option, it's failed.

AntagonistsFoesVillians - I would love to experience Rush Limbaugh's fantasy world. WTF? I don't even know what you're talking about, but keep saying it. Trying to see into the cracks of your mind is a little intoxicating to me. Keep it up. Your syntax is my wardrobe into Narnia.

Sick of Wasted Funds

Sick of Wasted Funds.
Disgusted said…
Gates doesn't have enough dollars to fund educational proposals. Instead, he chooses to put his dollars in policy and use our children as subjects of human experimentation.
Anonymous said…
Only in public education can you be a horrible manager and keep your job and, in fact, earn a little more every year just for staying alive and not having sex with a student.

Only in public education? Really? Not on Wall Street? Not presiding over banks? Power companies? Here today, gone tomorrow technology companies? Solyndra? Not in the courts? On the police force? In Congress? Need I go on?

Regardless of the arm-chair quality of that statement, it isn't going to get us any closer to where we need to be. And I can't believe that in the post Goodloe-Johnson era, we're still hearing these Ross Perot "run-it-like-a-business" anecdotes.

I hate wasting money too, and I'm 100% on board with getting rid of bad leaders, and bad teachers, at any level. But first, we really need to dispense with the anecdotes and tired slogans about "bureaucrats" and such. As in any large organization, public or private, some people suck, some are great, some are indispensable (IMHO), and some are mediocre. It comes down to the individual performer.

There are no quick and easy solutions, and for all KIPP might save, they do cherry pick, and their attrition rates are terribly high.

Why are charters with 50 to 60% attrition rates never called failures? Why are we seeing legislation to support a school model that only 17% of the time outperforms what we already have, but does worse than what we have 33% of the time? Where is the net savings in that, SOWF? How is that not a huge waste of money?

Show me a better, workable, sustainable charter model, and a community that wants it, and I'm behind it all the way. Is that too much to ask? WSDWG
caroline said…
@Tired tried to show us all that it wasn't true and that corporate ed reform can be quick on its online feet too.

I'll just point out how eye-rolling it is to try to portray billionaires as the advocates for "groups of people who are typically forgotten" -- while we in the 99% are too busy setting up tax havens in the Caymans to think about the less fortunate, right? W/e, as my kids would say.
Anonymous said…
Check out Seattle Education 2010 and how Dora cut off some people
(the same 2 or 3 usual suspects)
who were trying to state a packaged case--ie union busting at its core, under the guise of helping the "poor children" while being financed by Gates. Isn't that so very special!

I'm glad this blog is so open. I'm also glad Dora cut them off since they were trying to use the blog in a clearly orchestrated (2 or 3 people) effort to spread the corporate message, rather than speak as a grass roots person.

But don't forget--people like me post anonymously-and so do others.
However, linguistic patterns do persist. I won't tell you what they are!

Keep posting and insulting people!
The rest of us get exactly where you're coming from (and who's footing the bill)! We also get to hone up on our linguistic skills.

--enough already (to understand AntogonistsFoesVillians requires analytical skills)
David said…
The facts are that Marty McClaren was outspent 3:1 and Sharon Peaslee 5:1 in the last election, largely due to money coming from the Gates Foundation. Jeff Raikes, who is the CEO of the Gates Foundation, and his wife gave $5k each to Peter and Stephen. Steve Ballmer gave money to both as well, as did many other friends and colleagues of Jeff Raikes and the Gates Foundation. The fact is that the Gates Foundation did try to buy the last Seattle School Board election.

If you want the details, you can access the public database on campaign donations. Jon has an old comment on how to do that. Go to

If you go and look at the database, make sure the year is set to 2011. Otherwise, you get no results when you try to add the filters so you can see just the Seattle school board candidates.
Jack Whelan said…
A couple of points: First, large corporate and governmental bureaucracies function very similarly when they are rigidly hierarchical. They are cumberson, tone-deaf, and slow to adapt to reality on the ground. The American auto industry learned that when they started getting their butts kicked by Jaapanese automakers who implemented Deming's quality philosophy, and devolved more problem solving responsibility from upper management to the people on the ground. The best organizations, whether they be in the private or public sectors, find ways to empower the people on the ground, not treat them as if they were cogs in some machine.

Second, the people who think Bill and Melinda are in it for the money are wrong. They're in it because they want to make a differrence. The people at the Gates Foundation believe they are doing god's work--everybody tells them so. And with all the adulation comes a certain hubris, and with that hubris, a species of 'best and brightest syndrome'. We're super-smart and successful and well-intentioned, and we only hire those who are super-smart, successful, and well-intentioned--so why should we listen to people on the ground, who are not as successful as we, nor so smart, and who don't really see the big picture with the same Jovian, disinterested benevolence. The Gates mentality: We know better; you're an obstructionist nuisance. Get out of our way so we can do god's work.
Charlie Mas said…
I don't think anyone is winning.

I don't think the Education Reform folks are doing a good job of sharing their message. While I suspect they actually do have some thoughtful and reasonable things to say, their message is very poorly expressed in the form of segregation, privatization, and union-busting. I really don't think that is what they want to communicate. I really don't think that is their position.

On the other hand, those who oppose Education Reform are presented as entrenched bureaucrats supporting a failed status-quo. I know that's not what they want to communicate and I know that isn't their position either.

So how can these two sides express themselves more clearly and find common ground when the for-profit media wants to sell high conflict drama?
Jack Whelan said…
A third point. A lot of people sincerely believed that we invaded Iraq to depose a dictator who was developing a nuclear threat. Even if we believed it then, we see it now for the propaganda that it was. Propaganda works because it appeals to our deepest fears and aspirations.

Propaganda tells us what we want to believe. And the propaganda behind ed reform is that it's about helping the disadvantaged and closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap has become the ''mushroom cloud" of our worst fears. We are bombarded with continuous messaging about how our public schools are a disaster, how they have to be blown up and start from scratch.

Yes, there are serious problems, but the achievement gap isn't something new and its primary cause is not a failed education delivery system. There are things schools can do better to help close the gap, but the gap will always be with us to the degree that structural poverty in this country remains a significant problem.

If the corporate reformers were serious about helping the disadvantaged, they'd work on reforming the tax code, so that our political institutions could attack the root causes of child poverty in this country. But they'd rather spout the propaganda about how teachers and unions are the root cause of the achievement gap, and too many people are all too willing to believe such self-serving b.s.
seattle citizen said…
Sick of Wasted Funds writes,
"by "failing school" I mean a school that no one wants their child to go to. No one would pick it"

So the school has "failed" to attract parent/guardians? How is this the school's "failure"?

Is it the failure of the school itself, the failure of individuals in the school, of students and/or staff, of admin, of the board? I don't understand your response.

Not trying to be snarky, but in my mind "failing school" is an abrogation of responsiblity and, in Reform parlance and code, an attempt to provide opportunity to "restructure" a school (in a way that is profitable to Reform.)

It's an abrogation of responsibility precisely because it ignores successes and individuals in the school by generalizing about the school itself (which is, of course, a collection of individuals.) This seems to be The Way of Reform: Ignore individual students and propose grand, sweeping reforms that throw out the good along with the bad.

Look at it this way: If there are "failing schools" and they are restructured into some sort of school that purportedly "helps" struggling students (with what, just Math and Reading scores?), what happens to the students and staff that were in that building that had great success? Additonally, what happens to students who are failing but are not in "failing schools"? Students struggling in a school that isn't identified as "failing should be getting support, but in the "failing school" model would not.

This is one of the main problems I have with "Reform": It treats students as if they were all in manageable little groupings, and is thereby classist and, perhaps, racist.

"Failing school" in a poorer part of town gets restructured: "Those" students (all grouped together, as is Reform's wont) get Reform while other schools get to carry on with what is (by implication) "success."

There is no such thing as a "failing school." That parent/guardians don't pick a school is no fault of the school, no fault of the staff, no fault of the students (unless parents aren't picking the school because "those" kids are in the building...

I wish people would stop using that term: What must a student (or staff member) think when people continue to call their school "failing"? Are they, then, failures too?
David said…
The goal of a school is to educate children. A failing school is failing to educate children. Schools where the vast majority of children are not meeting standards are failing. Not sure why that is complicated or controversial.
Anonymous said…
Meantime, Crosscut has published yet another of its "if you aren't a business person don't get involved in Seattle School Board matters" tripe.

And good ol Jon Bridge is right there in the comments applauding that perspective.

The (bad) beat goes on.

Anonymous said…
I was going to mention the Crosscut article too, interested in what people here thought of it, but looks like the comments there are already up and running.

I wonder if all districts have this kind of mess with their school boards?

Jack Whelan said…
A fourth point: Go Sharon.

Until the district has proved that it has its act together, the board has to be aggressive and independent exactly in the way DeBell is trying to prevent. This idea that the district has to be run like a corporation with a CEO has to end.
The Crosscut piece is innuendo and falsehood. Dr. Enfield has NEVER said why she is leaving and unless she said it to David Brewster or Michael DeBell and told them to say, they really are working off conjecture.

It was also very disrespectful to Directors Smith-Blum and Patu and paints them as inept.

(Mr. Brewster also makes it sound like the policy around governance is brand-new and Michael just thought it up to check the new Board members. Not so.)

I am saddened that Crosscut has now taken the lead from the Times. I don't get it and I have expressed to them (as someone who occasionally writes for them).

But it's a busybody piece with no solutions. It stirs the pot when the pot is not boiling.
seattle citizen said…
David said,
"The goal of a school is to educate children. A failing school is failing to educate children. Schools where the vast majority of children are not meeting standards are failing. Not sure why that is complicated or controversial."

David, please explain how the entire school is "failing." HOW has the entire school failed?
Anonymous said…
The crosscut commentator David_Smith blames all bad in the district on people like Ivan and Charlie and DistrictWatcher!

IF you work at Microsoft, and you need to keep the mortgage & student loans paid, you do whatever you need to do around all the various Bill Gates shrines and Bill Gates worshiping. IF you don't work there and you're into this (disgusting, to me) servility, are you aspiring to be a supplicant and toady? IF you don't work there, and IF you're not aspiring to be a supplicant and toady - gosh - c'mon!

Stand Up! Get Off Your Knees! Have A Spine! YOU can be MORE than a pawn, a doormat and a boot licker!

seattle citizen said…
And, David Said, if an entire school is "failing", and then restructured, what happens to those students in the building that were successful?

And if engery is focused on entire schools, without the nuanced attention to individuals, what happens to unsuccessful students in "successful" schools?

My point is that the broad brush approach, "entire school: failing!" itself fails to address the individual needs of the students within schools. Or staff, for that matter.

It is the broad brush (based largely on a couple of simplistic data points) that brushes away the good with the bad and doesn't address individual student need. In this way it is more damging than helpful.

We need individualized supports, not massive systemic restructuring.
peonypower said…
thank you Seattle Citizen. What is ignored in sweeping "failing schools" and "achievement gap" statements is the idea of the individual. Vygotsky believed that the best education gauged what level a student was at and taught just enough above that level so that the student could move to the next level of understanding. Education is an individual experience and the best private schools recognize this with brochures that advertise exactly that "individual attention." Working on the individual level is hard, it is expensive, and it works. Trying to lump any group together and say that x method will work is foolish and a waste of money. Divining what resources individual students need and providing that does work but will cost way more than charter schools. When we recognize that students are individuals and treat them as such then we will see results.
Ballardite said…
Jack - you are a wonder with words - thank you for your thoughtful comments - really puts things in perspective for me personally
Anonymous said…
@Jack: too many people are all too willing to believe such self-serving b.s.

Willing because it is easier to sit in front of your TV set and told that someone else is the problem while the people telling you are enriching themselves.

Society's child
Charlie Mas said…
@David on 1/19/12 at 9:22am,

I don't know if you are still following this thread, but I hope you are and that you will read this with an open mind.

The academic gap is present on the first day of kindergarten. That's according to a study by the CRPE. It is not created in schools, but in students' homes. The gap actually shrinks over the course of the school year and then expands again in the summer. Which is just further proof that it is created at home, not at school.

The pass rates on state tests at Aki Kurose and the pass rates at Eckstein are primarily a product of the neighborhoods from which these schools draw students and are not - at least not to any significant extent - a reflection of the work done in the schools.

Seriously, David, if the student from generally affluent homes now at Eckstein were re-assigned to Aki Kurose and if the students from generally low-income homes now at Aki Kurose were re-assigned to Eckstein do you believe that the northeast Seattle students moved to Aki Kurose would suddenly start failing the tests? Do you honestly believe that the southeast Seattle students moved to Eckstein would suddenly start passing the tests?

Let me know if you believe that.

If you recognize how absurd that would be, then you need to acknowledge that the pass rates at a school reflect the student recruiting pool for the school much more than they reflect the quality of the school or the work done there.

Before someone suggests that I'm saying that students from low-income homes can't learn, let me clarify. All students can learn. Students from low-income homes simply aren't as commonly provided with the tools and resources needed to learn. It's not the students' fault. It's not their families' fault either. It just is the way of the world that people without money have fewer opportunities than people with money.

It is not an achievement gap; it is an opportunity gap.

And that's what the CRPE study found.

So schools with a lot of struggling students are not necessarily failing schools and - let's remember - schools with a lot of high performing students are not necessarily successful schools. Pass rates on state tests are simply a dreadful way of measuring school success. We might as well measure school success by the average height of the students. It would be just as meaningful.

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