Cracks Starting to Show in Ed Reform's Veneer

It's not entirely surprising to see this slippage happening in the ed reform world; indeed, with the deep and moneyed pockets they have, it's almost a surprise.

But my theory is that they tend to believe that they 1) know all the answers and so 2) they exist in an echo chamber.  As I read my Twitter feed daily, I'm astonished at the same 10 subjects, rehashed and repackaged over and over.

All of what I want to discuss in this thread will be leading to another thread on what the new "story" is for ed reform and it comes around "equity."

Here's the latest news on this front.

From The Washington Post, Reformers ‘disrupted’ public education. Now an Ivy League dean says the consequences for kids can be ‘devastating' by Pam Grossman, dean of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and a specialist in teacher education and development.
But in education, disruption that ignores research about what works can disrupt children’s lives and opportunities.  As we have seen in the cities where these experiment are being tried on the biggest scale — Detroit, New Orleans, Philadelphia — when disruption fails, the consequences for children are devastating.
Many education reformers touting disruption ignore the very things that research shows will make the greatest difference in student performance — hiring and retaining strong teachers and principals. Often the actual educators seem to be an afterthought in grander plans to change the structure or technology of schooling.
There are certainly elements of American education that would benefit from disruption. 
  • Halting the flight of educators from the profession or reversing the declining number of teachers of color in our schools would be well worth the disruption. 
  • Re-investing in public education so that schools serving our most vulnerable children aren’t forced to compete over scarce resources would also be a welcome disruption. 
  • We should certainly disrupt the trend of providing less and less preparation for teachers entering the most challenging schools and districts.
But reformers should take research into account and focus on strategies that are proven to work. That starts with taking the recruitment, development, and retention of teachers and leaders much more seriously. It’s not as sexy as iPads for all, but it’s much more likely to succeed in the long haul.
I did already do my charter news round-up but here's another story where one state's auditor calls them out.  From Newsworks:
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a scathing report damning the state charter law Tuesday, and he blamed many of the School District of Philadelphia's fiscal woes on state lawmakers who have not revised the nearly 20-year-old measure.

"Our charter school law is simply the worst charter school law in the United States," said DePasquale at a news conference at Philadelphia's district headquarters.
Why is this happening?
He blamed recent failed efforts in Harrisburg to reform the charter law on special interest lobbying.
"What else could it be?" he said, citing the popularity of reforms in preliminary votes.
Often a booster of the charter sector, School Reform Commissioner Farah Jimenez supported DePasquale's findings, and specifically criticized the fact that charters have a perverse fiscal incentive to enroll special education students with less costly needs.
And here's this on the heels of my thread on charter schools and the huge issues over the Gulen charter chain.

From Jersey Jazzman via Diane Ravitch:
We know that there are many of them, at least 160. That makes it the second largest chain in the nation, behind KIPP.  We know that they operate in many states under different names.  We know that a number of them have been raided by the FBI and that questions have been raised about their awarding contracts to Turkish contractors, even when they were not the low bidder.  We know that they are not financially transparent.
 Look, I won’t pretend we haven’t had problems — in some cases, big problems — with fiscal opacity in public district schools. But charter schools, because they are not state actors, are not subject to the same standards of transparency as public district schools. Once the money flows past the non-profit shell of a charter school and to its aligned management organization or property lease holder, all bets are off.
We are now seeing a very real and very serious consequence of this lack of transparency. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say our national security interests may have been compromised by allowing this network to flourish within our borders — and, again, for what?
If the Gulen charter chain finds itself in even more trouble (beyond the FBI raids and investigations by both the Department of Education and Department of Labor), you could see a lot of charter schools in trouble.

Another interesting item is the unity of Republicans and Democrats over the new Every Child Succeeds Act.  Between chairs of the committee, Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Patty Murray, they managed to get everyone on-board which, as we all know from watching President Obama get almost nothing done in Congress, is quite a feat.  But what would a President Clinton do (she's wavering on charters) or (God forbid) a President Trump?

What's also fascinating is the tug-of-war over narrative about public education and reform and who gets to own it.  (It doesn't seem to occur to some that we all own this discussion and no one gets to decide - not even Bill Gates - the form of that discussion.  More on him in a minute.)

The New Schools Venture Fund - a very high-powered ed reform group - had their annual meeting in San Francisco in April and apparently, some were quite taken aback at the heavy veer to social justice.  Now this is odd because many ed reformers used to say reforming public education WAS "the civil rights issue of our time" and now, not so much.  (I do suspect the on-going killings of black people by police and the rise of Black Lives Matter may have made ed reformers rethink trying to take over the mantle of civil rights.)

From Flypaper (a blog at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), The Left's drive to push conservatives out of education reform (long but worth the read):
At the opening plenary session of the New Schools Venture Fund meeting in San Francisco earlier this month, CEO Stacy Childress promised attendees that the meeting was going to “push” them to explore issues of race, equity, and education.

“There were moments when I wondered, ‘Are we going to talk about anything but personal narratives and how terrible structural racism is?’” asked this attendee, a senior executive at a national education nonprofit. “When are we going to talk about education?”

Like the proverbial frog in a pot, education reformers on the political right find themselves coming to a slow boil in the cauldron of social justice activism. At meetings like New Schools Venture Fund and Pahara (a leadership development program run by the Aspen Institute), conservative reformers report feeling unwelcome, uncomfortable, and cowed into silence. There is an unmistakable and increasingly aggressive orthodoxy in mainstream education reform thought regarding issues of race, class, and gender. And it does not include conservative ideas.
Some will surely dismiss this as mere whining by “voices of privilege” who find themselves on “the wrong side of history.” But that would be a serious strategic mistake, as ideas from the right have a lot to contribute to the reform conversation. Conservative theories of action are based on strong evidence of two claims: that markets have taken more people out of poverty than any force in history, and that full membership in civil society gives individuals and their groups power, builds social capital, and enables communities to thrive and express themselves fully. These are ideas that need no apology and merit a full hearing. “We conservatives do not cede the moral high ground,” one reformer told me.
Haidt’s phrase—a tribal moral community less hospitable to dissenting views—is an apt description of the brand of reform on display at gatherings like New Schools and within Pahara. “You only get to go to those things if you’re invited. And you’re only invited if you know people who are in the clique,” notes a senior executive at an education policy nonprofit.  
And here's the editor's note from that article:
Editor's Note: Comment have been turned off for this essay because they were getting unnecessarily acrimonious and threatening.
So what is Bill Gates up to now?  Well, what he and the Gates Foundation do best; throw more money to create faux education groups.  From Mercedes Schneider, Education Leaders of Color: Same Reforms, Newly Packaged and Gates Funded

The Gates Foundation is funding a brand-spanking new corporate reform nonprofit (that happens to be stuffed with veterans from two very familiar corporate reform nonprofits): Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC).
Purpose: to support the staffing and general infrastructure necessary to develop a new organization of talented leaders of color who are uniquely positioned to transform the national and local education landscape to achieve improvement on a scale that we all seek in the education and lives of underserved children of color
Turns out that Mark Zuckerberg was also sending money to EdLoC even before EdLoC had its own website.

This *talented* group is set to put a new, not-so-white face on the worn-out wonders of test-centric, privatizing reforms propagated by the likes of Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP).

In fact, if EdLoC were to remove all of its team wit TFA and TNTP connections, well, there wouldn’t be much of an EdLoC.

That Bill - such tenacity in the face of so many dollars wasted.

From The American Enterprise Institute and Alexander Russo, The Empire Strikes Back: The Sudden Rise and Ongoing Challenges of Democrats for Education Reform:
Conflicts with teachers unions and other traditional education stakeholders steadily heated up over the years, thanks in part to DFER’s dogged focus on charter school expansion (and charter school funders), challenges to sitting incumbents, and reform implementation challenges.

DFER became increasingly exposed when unions and others shifted their support for Common Core and began attacking the organization as part of a “corporate reform” movement led by white elites. Meanwhile, DFER was slow to broaden its agenda to include immigration, school discipline, and other social justice issues.

The backlash against “corporate reform” nationally and in places like Newark would surprise DFER and its allies with its power and suddenness. They found their ideas—such as common standards for all children—used as a proxy to fight back against them.

Could DFER—founded to create a “safe place” for pro-charter, reform-oriented Democratic politicians to make much-needed changes to the education system—find ways to deepen and expand its successes without such a close ally in the White House as it had enjoyed during the Obama administration? Could DFER find new ways to influence the political process at the state and local levels, as it had done for a time federally?
DFER seems to losing their footing in the Democratic party.  What's always interested me about DFER is there are no numbers on them.  Who IS part of DFER?  As a Dem, I only know the people who head WA DFER but no one else who claims to be part of their group.  Sometimes I ask people at my LD meetings about DFER and get a blank stare.  I think DFER is a small group with deep pockets who thought they were golden because of Arne Duncan and his reach to the ear of President Obama.  It does not appear to be the same now with Hillary Clinton.

A very good article form Education Next about both the George W. Bush years and the Barack Obama years and school reform (but keeping in mind they are mostly conservative ed reformers.)
A new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has unraveled most of the federal red tape. Although the mandate for student testing continues, the use of the tests is now a state and local matter. School districts and teachers unions are rubbing their hands at the prospect of reasserting local control.

With districts beset by collective bargaining agreements, organized special interests, and state requirements, choice and competition are the main levers of reform that remain. Vouchers and tax credits are slowly broadening their legal footing. Charter schools are growing in number, improving in quality, and beginning to pose genuine competition to public schools, especially within big cities. Introducing such competition is the best hope for American schools, because today’s public schools are showing little capacity to improve on their own.
Local control?  That's a bad thing for communities that know their regions, their districts and their student populations to want to shape education for those needs?

Are charter schools "improving in quality?"  Hard to tell and after 25 years, you'd think it would be really clear.

They whine about the gap in the PISA scores which, if you understand who is taking the test in these countries, is fairly easy to explain away.  But more on NCLB:
As the goal was to make all students proficient by 2014, the explanations proliferated with each passing year. The utopian goal set for 2014 was never meant to be taken seriously. After all, NCLB, like many other federal laws, had a five-year expiration date, and it was generally assumed that a new piece of legislation would be on the books by 2007, long before the full-proficiency deadline was reached.
Wait, what?  They were kidding all along?   I missed that somehow and it sounds like some back-pedaling to explain why NCLB didn't have better outcomes.
But as Martha Derthick wrote at the time, waivers “undermine the rule of law,” raising “a concern that extends well beyond the field of education.” Secretary Duncan had left himself badly exposed by constructing an education policy on a series of questionable administrative maneuvers rather than a solid piece of congressional legislation. Political opposition began to arise to two of the waivers’ key recommendations—establishing higher state standards and tightening teacher evaluations. Tea Party activists attacked Common Core, objecting to what the Heritage Foundation called the Obama administration’s intent to nationalize “the content taught in every public school across America.” And teachers unions tightened the screws by balking at unfair evaluations of teacher performance.
And the outcome?
As an education reform strategy, federal regulation is dead. The regulations had little long-term effect, and the political opposition crescendoed.  
And the future?
If reform is to take place as the rest of the 21st century unfolds, it will happen because more competition is being introduced into the American education system.
Introducing competition is slow, arduous, disruptive, upsetting, and politically divisive. Benefits come slowly. Losses are painful. The politics is messy at best, disastrous at worst. Winners are ingrates who feel they deserve any benefits they enjoy. Losers blame not themselves but changes in the rules of the game. But the long-term consequences of competition for consumers and society as a whole can be amazingly beneficial, as deregulation of the airlines and telecommunications industries has shown.  
It's hard to even know how to comment on that paragraph, it is so fraught with issues of "who gets hurt" while all this competition is going on.  The article goes on to extol the virtues of vouchers,  charter schools,
Thirty-five years after these words were penned, Wisconsin enacted a voucher program for the city of Milwaukee. 
And when was the last time you saw Milwaukee held up as a shining star in public education? The article says these plans are not "at scale" but heck, I think a whole city is a fairly big scale and they've had a program for 35 years. You'd think it would be possible to know if vouchers make for better outcomes for all students
Charter Schools
In other words, charter schools compete with district schools for students. The greater the number of charter schools, the more intense the competition. Admittedly, charter schools have had difficulty penetrating rural communities. There, a public school, no matter its quality, is perceived as a valuable community institution.  
I grew up in a rural area so I know what they are saying about the magnitude of schools to a rural area but you know what?  Those kids in Detroit who lost their schools lost much for their communities and that's why closing schools is so hard.   I don't think there is any "perceived" about it.
Will the competition between charters and standard, district-operated public schools intensify over the next decade? Is this competition the new reform wave that will sweep over American education? Is there a tipping point at which the demand for charters will force a reconstruction of the educational system more generally?
That's a great question but much of that has less to do with how good charters versus how they are regulated and sold.  


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