Fourteen Years Later, Andrea Gabor Examines the Meaning of the 2005 Seizure of New Orleans’ Public Schools

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in September of 2005, I was serving in the Justice & Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination, as the point person tracking and staffing work in UCC congregations to support justice in public education. My job was to help our churches support equal opportunity and access to quality education and to ensure that members of our congregations understood the importance of the First Amendment separation of church and state in public schools.

In the autumn and winter of 2005, our office worked with partners in New Orleans to advocate for policies that would protect New Orleans’ most vulnerable citizens during the hurricane recovery.  Early in the fall of 2005, it wasn’t apparent that the city’s public schools would be affected, but weeks later the state intervened to take over the majority of the schools under a Louisiana law that had been amended to permit the broad takeover. All of the school district’s teachers were put on disaster leave, and on March 24, 2006, all of the school district’s teachers were dismissed or forced to retire.

My job included writing a September, beginning-of-school resource for UCC congregations. Its purpose was to highlight primary challenges to justice in our nation’s public schools. To research the 2006-2007 Message on Public Education, I traveled for a week in July, 2006 to New Orleans to learn what was happening in the public schools of a devastated city. I talked with the Rev. Torin Sanders, a member of the Orleans Parish School Board, sidelined in the state takeover. I spoke for more than an hour with Brenda Mitchell, the president of the United Teachers of New Orleans, which had been rendered—by state fiat—incapable of protecting even long-serving, tenured teachers. I drove past the former Alcee Fortier High School—previously a public neighborhood high school with open admissions—now seized by the state and turned over to Tulane University to become the selective Lusher (charter) High School, which privileged admission for the children of the staff of Tulane and other universities. And I visited Benjamin Franklin High School, formerly a selective magnet high school, and now a selective charter high school.  While charter schools in the rest of the country were required to accept students through non-selective lotteries, in New Orleans, the emergency had created a rationale for exceptions that created a group of exclusive, selective charter schools.

What I learned during that week was that the majority of public schools in New Orleans—one of the poorest communities in the United States—had been deemed “failing” because of low test scores and that, due to that designation, the state and all sorts of players I did not understand were conducting a disruptive experiment with a new kind of school reform on a group of children whose lives had just been upended in every other possible way.  In October of 2006, Leigh Dingerson, for The Center for Community Change, published a profound resource exploring the same issues.  She called it Dismantling a Community. Later Kristen Buras published Pedagogy, Policy and the Privatized City and other research that helped explain, from the point of view of New Orleans’ teachers and students, what had happened.  But at that time none of us really had the language accurately to characterize what we had watched happening as public education was intentionally collapsed into some kind of experiment.

Naomi Klein helped with the definition in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, in which she described the sudden takeover of the public schools in New Orleans as the defining metaphor for neoliberal economic reform: “In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.  Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just 4… New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired… New Orleans was now, according to the New York Times, ‘the nation’s preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools’…. I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, ‘disaster capitalism.’” (The Shock Doctrine, pp. 5-6)

This month In the November, 2019, Harper’s Magazine, Andrea Gabor examines the New Orleans school takeover fourteen years later, from the perspective of history.  Who were the real players in the seizure of the city’s schools? How did the experiment work? Did the New Orleans state takeover improve the schools? And how has neoliberal school reform in New Orleans impacted what has happened across the United States in the ensuing decade and a half.  Gabor, a professor of journalism at Baruch College, also examined the history of corporate school reform in a 2018 book, After The Education Wars.

Who were the real players? Gabor explains: “The transformation of New Orleans into an all-charter city was spearheaded by a handful of large philanthropic organizations, and cultivating relationships with these institutions is often essential to a school’s survival.” Gabor identifies New Schools for New Orleans as the local pass-through agency, the gatekeeper for distribution of funds from philanthropies outside the city. And in New Orleans the big funders were the same foundations which have underwriting disruptive, neoliberal school reform ever since: “Since about 2000, the model’s chief proponents and funders have been three big philanthropies: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. (The Walton Foundation, which recently announced another $1 billion investment in K-12 education, may be the single largest charter-school benefactor in New Orleans, typically providing grants between $100,000 and $350,000 to startups.)”

Gabor describes how this sort of school reform works in New Orleans: “The system operated on a bottom-line approach known as the portfolio model, which seeks to manage schools like stocks in a Wall Street portfolio: the model rewards high performers (as measured primarily by test scores) with further investment and punishes poor performers by cutting off funding or by shuttering them. The promise of this model was that idealistic technocrats would run schools like businesses, emphasizing competition, financial incentives, and accountability…  Over one third of charters are run by large management organizations such as the San Francisco-based Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which operates hundreds of schools across the country, including eight in New Orleans.”

What about eliminating the teachers’ union?  In New Orleans, explains Gabor, “The silencing of teachers was facilitated by Teach for America… Typically, new T.F.A. staffers were handed canned curricula and detailed rules on classroom management… While the new teachers were willing, initially, to work fourteen-, sixteen-, and eighteen-hour days, close to half came to the city with less than three years of experience. And in the schools that served the poorest students, most teachers lasted no more than a year or two. Ironically, today New Schools for New Orleans blames its declining test scores in part on what it calls a teacher attrition ‘crisis.'”

Authentic community engagement was undermined in New Orleans by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (B.E.S.E.): “In fact, the chartering process was designed to deny input by community groups.  Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, then-governor Kathleen Blanco signed executive orders suspending key provisions of Louisiana’s school law, including the requirement to consult with, and obtain the votes of affected faculty and parents before converting an existing public school into a charter school. Granted the authority to take over ‘failing schools,’ B.E.S.E. handed most charter-authorization decisions to the Chicago-based National Association of Charter School Authorizers.”

Gabor examines years of test-score evidence and concludes that even based on test scores alone, the New Orleans experiment didn’t work: “The latest state data confirms that New Orleans test scores have stagnated or declined since 2013. This year, only four charter high schools in New Orleans scored above the state average in English and math—of those, three were selective schools. The vast majority of nonselective schools performed well below average for the state….”  Gabor also describes the limits of test scores as the measure of school quality: “The portfolio model’s approach emphasized test scores at the expense of other crucial educational goals, including nurturing children and fostering their creativity and citizenship. Charter schools responded to this pressure by subjecting students to intensive test prep, including spending thousands of dollars on private tutors, and by weeding out students who didn’t test well.  And some schools cheated.”

The New Orleans state takeover quickly became a model for other states to experiment with the seizure of low-scoring school districts, and Gabor updates the story to what’s happening right now. The list of philanthropic players has expanded to include Laurene Powell Jobs, John Arnold—once a commodities trader for Enron, and Netflix’s Reed Hastings: “Hastings and Arnold… went on to launch the City Fund, a $200 million effort to spread the New Orleans portfolio model to forty cities across the country. With Neerav Kingsland, an erstwhile head of New Schools for New Orleans as its managing director, the City Fund is building on familiar alliances and strategies. One of the City Fund’s first beneficiaries was an Indianapolis-based gatekeeper called the Mind Trust…. With the help of Gates funding, Mind Trust created a nationwide network of local gatekeepers and like-minded organizations to advance the education-reform agenda.”

During my own week visiting New Orleans back in 2006, I found what had happened to the schools extremely disturbing, but I struggled to see the big picture and to name what was happening.  It is important that writers like Gabor are putting a decade and a half of New Orleans-style school reform into historical context.  In January, Diane Ravitch’s new book, Slaying Goliath, will surely continue this analysis.

In her new Harper’s Magazine article, Gabor identifies the key players in neoliberal, corporate-style, accountablity-based school reform; shows how their ideology and their money undermined public education in New Orleans; and demonstrates how  school reform modeled on the New Orleans takeover has grown into a multi-state wave.  She also shows that the movement has been a failure.

Delegates Assembly of Chicago Teachers Union Ends Strike, Agrees to New Contract

The beloved former president of the Chicago Teachers Union who has been sidelined by a brain tumor, Karen Lewis released a statement on Tuesday night to urge Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, to find a way to resolve the then nine-day teachers’ strike. Lewis concluded her statement with the words of Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will.”

The primary issues underneath the recent Chicago teachers’ strike, tentatively ended around midnight on Wednesday, were shockingly inadequate services for children and two decades of the disempowerment of school teachers in Chicago. To fully ratify the agreement, all 25,000 members of of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) must vote within ten days.

Just as teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Los Angeles and Oakland publicly exposed deplorable conditions in underfunded public schools and in school districts where sizeable portions of the budgets have been diverted to charter schools, Chicago’s strike focused on the conditions in which Chicago’s teachers are forced to teach and their students are expected to learn.

The Chicago strike was never really about teachers’ pay.  Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially offered teachers a 16 percent raise over five years, and the teachers eventually accepted that offer. Some people criticized teachers, because Lightfoot’s original offer seemed generous. So why did they strike?

You have only to look at what teachers—in the final contract—accepted as an improvement in school staffing to grasp the deficient conditions Chicago’s leaders have ignored during years of austerity and disruptive corporate school reform.  From the Chicago Sun-Times: “The union received a guarantee that there will be a full-time dedicated nurse and social worker in every school by July 2023 with staffing ramping up from now till then. On class size, a new joint council will be created to address overcrowding. The council will get weekly updated data and will have $35 million per year to address situations on a case-by-case basis. Overcrowded classrooms will only get relief, however, when they hit certain hard caps. Those limits are: 32 students in a K-3 class, 35 kids in grades 4-8, and 32 students in core high school classes. The district’s guidelines for normal-sized classes—ones it says it ‘shall aspire to stay within’—are 32 for K-3, 31 for grades 4-8 and 25 for core high school classes.”

Chicago’s top school reporter, WBEZ‘s Sarah Karp describes the real subject of this Chicago teachers’ strike: “The strike… did something else, beyond just producing a contract that includes language on and money for lower classes and more staffing.  It shined a light on the barebones conditions common in many Chicago schools. Sharkey (CTU president Jesse Sharkey) declared at one rally that the strike was a revolt by all the people who work in or are impacted by Chicago Public Schools. He often said the strike was about educational justice.  For decades, Chicagoans had gotten used to schools with the bare minimum numbers of nurses, social workers, counselors, librarians, even teachers.  And in the last decade of budget cuts and austerity, these staff became more scarce at many schools… In press conferences and at rallies, teachers, social workers, special education teacher assistants and even athletic coaches talked passionately about how their schools lacked resources commonplace in most other school districts.  Many teachers talked about having 40-plus students in their classrooms and they did not have any recourse. The teachers talked about how they often had to serve as nurses or social workers because these staff were only available one or two days a week. One preschool teacher talked about how having too many children in preschool classes left some students sitting in urine for hours. Other teachers talked about how they had no help for traumatized students. Athletic coaches said needed equipment was so sparse they often used their paltry stipends to buy bats and bases. One softball coach said her team picks up broken glass and other trash before starting practice… And to perhaps the surprise of Mayor Lightfoot, many parents stood by the teachers. Parents said they knew firsthand how bad conditions were because their children were living it.”

It is easy these days to extract a particular event out of its historical context. The 24/7 news shifts the focus to sensational details, disagreements, and rancor. But Chicago’s teachers made it clear from the outset that remediating the 25 year  disempowerment of Chicago’s teachers was also a primary goal of this strike. Chicago teachers have been pawns again and again as politicians enacted plans that undermined Chicago teachers’ control over the circumstances in which they teach and their students learn.

In 1995, Mayor Richard M. Daley got the legislature to grant him mayoral control and, in the same law, a provision that has banned the right of Chicago’s teachers to strike over any issue apart from salary and fringe benefits. In 2004 the same mayor, along with appointed corporate reformer CEO Paul Vallas and his assistant Arne Duncan, disrupted the Chicago schools with Renaissance 2010 to close schools and open charters. Mayor Rahm Emanual intensified corporate school reform by instituting student based budgeting, which combined school choice with a plan to let the money follow the child. This sort of policy is central to what is known as “portfolio” school reform, in which a district sheds its weakest schools and opens new ones.  As children choose schools perceived to be winners, student based budgeting begins a downward spiral in schools that are losing students, as principals with ever-decreasing budgets shed the counselors and librarians  they can no longer afford and increase class size. University of Chicago sociologist Eve Ewing documents widespread community grieving on Chicago’s South and West Sides for the closure of institutions long valued as anchors of their neighborhoods.

In last week’s negotiations, CTU demanded that Mayor Lightfoot agree as part of the contract to support legislation in Springfield to return Chicago’s schools to an elected school board, and to support legislation once-again to permit Chicago’s teachers to bargain about the conditions in their schools and not merely salary and benefits.  Lightfoot refused. While, Mayor Lightfoot agreed to the kind of staffing changes now prohibited by state law as permissible in CTU negotiations, she delayed settling the strike when she refused to agree to the union’s demand that she throw her support to state legislation to undo the 1995 law that established a mayoral-appointed school board and limited the CTU contracts to salary and benefits.  Sarah Karp explains: “(T)o her credit, she did not pursue this legal argument once the strike started and never moved, as her predecessor did, to have the walkout declared illegal. This, she must have realized, was a strike on moral issue and fighting it in a courtroom would not reflect well, especially on a mayor who ran as a progressive. After all, she agreed the school district needed more support staff.  But she said putting these promises in the contract would lessen the flexibility the leadership needed.”

Fortunately Chicago’s powerful leaders in Illinois’s state legislature grasped that one of the strike’s primary goals was to undo at least some of the history aimed at disempowering the Chicago Teachers Union. The Sun-Times reports: “On Wednesday, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton signaled support for both measures. That led the union to drop its demand that Lightfoot publicly support the measures.” Later, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker added his support for the legislation demanded by CTU.

Chicago has served as a microcosm where we have all watched the operation of accountability-based, test and punish school reform. Chicago’s history has mirrored the imposition of the same kind of reforms mandated nationally in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Corporate-accountability reformers have embraced evaluation of schools by test scores alone, competition among schools (public school competition and competition from charter schools), punishments for teachers when test scores are low, and school closures for so-called “failing” schools. The experiment has been going on in Chicago for nearly 25 years since mayoral governance was imposed in 1995.

What Chicago teachers showed us during their ten day strike is that corporate reform has not worked.  Chicago’s children have been trapped in schools where too many classes have 40 students and not nearly enough support staff.  Parents and students have been rallying with their teachers now for nearly two weeks. We have all watched an open display of schools whose funding and resources have become shockingly inadequate.

Betsy DeVos Held in Contempt. Department of Education fined $100,000. What’s Going On?

Last week should have been a bad week for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, but one wonders if it is possible to create a really meaningful punishment for somebody like Betsy DeVos—a punishment for allowing her staff to neglect their responsibility to protect vulnerable student loan borrowers who were defrauded by Corinthian Colleges.

Although last week it was announced that Betsy DeVos was being fined $100,000 for the Corinthian Colleges loan forgiveness disaster, it turns out that the agency—the Department of Education—is really being fined.  And even if DeVos had been personally fined, she is among the wealthiest members of President Trump’s cabinet, and the fine wouldn’t have made much of a difference given the size of her family’s fortune.

But the students who were defrauded are not so lucky. DeVos is responsible for causing what has to be financial misery for at least 16,000 students and parents who were billed for loan payments which had supposedly been cancelled.  These people were hounded by loan collectors, and some of them had their tax refunds and wages seized by the contractors who handle loan collections for the Department of Education.

For the NY Times, Erica Green and Stacy Cowley report: “Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim of the Federal District Court in San Francisco ordered the Education Department to pay a $100,000 fine. The money will go toward various remedies for students who are owed debt relief after President Barack Obama’s Education Department found they were defrauded by the chain, Corinthian Colleges, which collapsed in 2014. The ruling is a victory for the more than 60,000 students who have been on a financial roller coaster since Corinthian imploded, after state and federal officials found that it lured students through deceptive recruitment practices and falsified job placement rates.”

Green and Cowley further explain the legal history of the case. DeVos has tried to implement a system by which ‘borrowers defense to repayment’ claims would be paid only in cases when borrowers were found to be without a living wage: “Last year, Magistrate Judge Kim found the system illegal, ruling that the Education Department had violated borrowers’ privacy by obtaining and misusing their earnings data from the Social Security Administration.  She issued an injunction ordering the department to stop using the data and collecting the debts of Corinthian students. The department appealed the decision to the United States court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and is waiting or a ruling.”

Early in October, Politico’s Michael Stratford reported: U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim said in a hearing she was ‘extremely disturbed’ and ‘really astounded’ that the department and Secretary Betsy DeVos had sought to collect on the student loans in spite of her May 2018 order to stop doing so. ‘Whether it’s contempt or whether it’s sanctions, I’m going to entertain them,’ Kim said during the hearing… She added: ‘I’m not sending anyone to jail yet but it’s good to know I have that ability. There have to be some consequences for the violation of my order 16,000 times.'”

Last week Judge Kim followed through on her threat to hold the Department of Education accountable. The Washington Post‘s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel explains: “A federal judge on Thursday held Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in contempt for violating an order to stop collecting loan payments from former Corinthian Colleges students… In September, the federal agency revealed in a court filing that former Corinthian students ‘were incorrectly informed at one time or another… that they had payments due on their federal student loans’ after Kim put a hold on collections in May 2018.  Although the agency has since stopped pursuing nearly 15,000 of those borrowers, it is still working to resolve the problem with the remaining borrowers.  About 1,808 people lost wages or tax refunds as a result of the department’s actions.”

Douglas-Gabriel adds that apparently the Department’s instructions to the contractors who handle collections lacked clarity: “The Education Department has said it sent emails to the loan-servicing companies it pays to manage the federal student loan portfolio, directing them to postpone the payments of Corinthian students and halt collection of their debts.  But the agency did not send specific instructions to the companies to postpone the payments indefinitely. Two department officials have since been disciplined, while the agency reprimanded loan servicers for their failings.”

Perhaps the Department of Education’s failure to cancel the debt collection from students at Corinthian Colleges is related to dogged efforts by DeVos’s department to rewrite the Obama era rule that should have protected the students.  In a report in early September, Douglas-Gabriel explained the history of the ‘borrowers defense to repayment’ rule, under which  the debts of students enrolled at Corinthian Colleges were forgiven:  “A 1995 law known as “borrower defense to repayment” gives the Education Department authority to cancel the federal debt of students whose colleges misled them about graduation or job placement rates to get them to enroll. The Obama administration updated the regulation to shift more of the cost of forgiveness onto schools, after the closure of for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges ushered in a flood of claims. The Trump administration Friday (August 30, 2019) finalized its rewrite of the Obama-era rules, after two years of trying to delay and then scuttle the regulations. Those efforts have spawned lawsuits, with the courts forcing the Trump administration to implement the 2016 rules and process a backlog of applications for debt relief. Still, more than 180,000 borrowers await answers.”

Douglas-Gabriel describes the new rules, as updated by DeVos’s Department in late August, 2019: “The Trump administration is asking students to jump through more hoops…. Borrowers will have to show their school engaged in actions or made statements ‘with knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature or with a reckless regard for truth.’ Even if students convince the department that they were defrauded, they must still prove financial harm before loans are canceled… Borrowers will have less time to apply for relief—three years from graduation or withdrawal from college… The new rules also kill an Obama provision that barred colleges from requiring students to sign agreements during enrollment forcing them into arbitration if there is a dispute.” “The Trump administration estimates the rules will save the federal government $11 billion over 10 years—loan payments that would have gone uncollected under existing rules.”

The new rules won’t formally take effect until July of 2020.

Last week, by holding Betsy DeVos in contempt and fining the Department of Education $100,000, federal Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim tried to stop the U.S. Department of Education from trying to collect repayments from the former students of Corinthian Colleges on their previously cancelled loans. The Department, of course, claims it was all a mistake.  But the NY Times‘ Green and Cowley suggest that the Department’s failure to enforce the law may instead result from inaction while DeVos and her staff wait for the appeals court to rule: “The department has essentially stopped evaluating borrower defense claims—leaving borrowers in limbo, sometimes for years—while it waits for the courts to resolve its appeal.  The agency had 210,000 pending claims awaiting a decision as of June, up from the 106,000 claims it had sitting in its queue a year earlier.”

Enough Basic Staffing and More Community Schools: Two Important but Different Issues

The NY TimesDana Goldstein published a story last week about the Chicago teachers’ strike. While Goldstein should be commended for supporting the efforts of the teachers in the nation’s third largest school district to bargain around their students’ needs for smaller classes, more counselors, school psychologists, nurses, and librarians, her article is misleading.

Goldstein conflates two important but separate issues when she writes: “These demands have risen as activists promote a broader mission for educators: a vision of schools as community centers that offer an array of health and social services to children, especially those from low income families. In Chicago, it has become clear that teacher pay is not the primary sticking point in the negotiations; after all, the city has already agreed to a raise. The Chicago Teachers Union is asking that the district enshrine in its contract a promise to hire more counselors, health workers and librarians, and to free them from tasks outside of their core duties.”

Yes, the Chicago Teachers Union has demanded that the union contract cover students’ learning conditions.  But the teachers’ primary goal in Chicago has been to rectify years of neglect for their students’ basic needs.  The union’s central focus was not for a newer—and also very important—idea for wraparound Community Schools.

Here are the two issues Goldstein conflates:

  • First, in many underfunded public school districts today—especially in urban school districts with extreme concentrations of student poverty and in isolated rural school districts without significant local taxing capacity—there is an acute shortage of he most basic services needed for schools to operate smoothly. Staffing and services in many public schools have been seriously curtailed since, decades ago, many of us attended schools where we took for granted the presence of the librarian or the school nurse, or enough counselors to serve the hundreds of adolescents in most any high school. Financial shortages were exacerbated during the 2008 recession when state and local tax revenues dropped precipitously in many places. And these problems have intensified in states where tax cuts have been the policy of choice.
  • Second, in an important development, in communities where family poverty is concentrated, pressure has been growing over the past decade to turn schools into community centers where families can access necessary social services and medical services and other supports. The movement to turn public schools into what have been termed “Community Schools” has been building up steam.

Teachers and their students need basic support staff.

Restoring funding for the most basic services—the kind of staffing by nurses, certified school librarians, certified school counselors, and school psychologists is essential, along with the restoration of manageable class size. The restoration of essential school services has been at the heart of the teachers’ strikes in the past couple of years in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, and most recently Chicago. The teachers in these strikes have been demanding a basic level of the kind of public school support staffing students simply take for granted in more affluent communities.

In Chicago, the site of the most recent teachers’ strike, the problem has been made worse by more than two decades of disruptive reform.  The district operates with widespread public school choice along with the expansion of charter schools.  School choice in Chicago operates in combination with student-based budgeting, whose damaging consequences were recently documented by researchers at Roosevelt University. It is a toxic combination, because students exiting to another public school or a charter school carry away funding.  At a school, for example, where two classes of second graders fall from 25 students to 23, the principal might possibly create one class of 46, or perhaps the principal could keep two second grades at 23 students if the librarian or the nurse or a counselor were let go. As services diminish due to the loss of funding, the school becomes less and less attractive to school choosers, thereby establishing a downward spiral, until, in Chicago, the school would close because it would be identified as “under-utilized.”

What does it mean for a school when essential staff are eliminated?  When a counselor must serve hundreds of students, the counselor’s work may be reduced to making presentations about college applications, or in a district like Chicago, explaining high school choice options to hundreds of students or simply handling students’ requests for schedule changes and other necessary but routine functions. When there are too few school psychologists, the job becomes reduced to testing students who are being referred for special education, sitting on on committees making Individual Education Plans for special education students, and handling a few crisis situations when students act out.

It is common these days for school nurses to rotate across several schools despite that school nurses are needed to administer injections, to help with diabetic and chronically ill students, and to deal with a wide range of medical issues too frequently handled these days by the office secretary.

Chicago teachers also made school libraries and the presence of school librarians an issue in their contract negotiations. In many schools, the library door has been locked or if the library is open, it is staffed by volunteers.  The presence of a certified school librarian can be transformative for a school’s literacy program and can infuse the best children’s literature into the lives of all the children in a school.  Last year, for Education Week, Sara Sparks and Alex Harwin reported: “Chicago public schools have gone from more than 450 librarians staffing libraries and media centers at more than 600 schools to fewer than 150 in a four year period, according to South Side high school librarian Sara Sayigh, whose positions at the historic DuSable High School and later the Bronzeville Scholastic Institute and Daniel Hale Williams Prep School of Medicine have been cut four times in the last 14 years.”

Community Schools are an important idea.

What about the growing cry for more wraparound Community Schools—the other issue mentioned in Goldstein’s recent story?  In some of their strikes across states and school districts, teachers have also bargained for the expansion of full-service, Community Schools.  Here is the definition of a Community School according to New York City’s Children’s Aid Society, currently the lead partner in many of New York City’s Community Schools: “The foundations for community schools can be conceptualized as a Developmental Triangle that places children at the center, surrounded by families and communities.  Because students’ educational success, health and well-being are the focus of every community school, the legs of the triangle consist of three interconnected support systems: a strong core instructional program designed to help all students meet high academic standards; expanded learning opportunities designed to enrich the learning environment for students and their families; and a full range of health, mental health and social services designed to promote children’s well-being and remove barriers to learning… Community schools are the products of explicit partnerships between the school and other community resources… Nearly all models of community schools employ a site-coordinator, whose role involves joint planning with school staff and subsequent recruitment, management and coordination of partners.”

I was once privileged to visit a Community School in New York City. The school was a collaboration of the public school district and the Children’s Aid Society.  I could feel the way this school and its staff, teachers and medical and social service personnel alike, embraced the children, their families and the community.  It was a chilly autumn day, and we had to walk quite a distance from the subway to get to the school, but inside, the atmosphere was warm and sunny.  Parents were around in the hallways, and it all felt very welcoming.

As visitors we were greeted in a room used for parent education programs—English as a Second Language and various job training classes. There were huge commercial sewing machines there, for example. We visited the early Head Start (for toddlers) right in the building. We also visited the Head Start classes for preschoolers located there. Again, right in the school building, we visited the dental clinic, where a child was having a tooth filled. We visited a medical clinic, where students receive vaccinations, where they have eye exams, and, where someone checks sick children for strep throat and ear infections. We stood outside the room used for the mental health clinic, where both children and parents can get help. We visited a huge 21st Century Learning Center afterschool program where some children were engaged in folk dancing, some were working in a school garden that had been funded by a grant from the Bette Midler Foundation, and others were cooking with ingredients they had harvested from their school garden. Many of the children in the school participate every summer in an enrichment day camp. All this was in addition to a well-staffed academic program, where class size is reasonable.

Two important issues: ensuring necessary school staffing and expanding Community Schools. It is important to recognize that neither one can substitute for the other. Community Schools, where family medical and social services and extended learning opportunities for children are located in the school building, are now enriching communities across the United States.  But this month’s strike by teachers in Chicago has been primarily to demand that the most basic services—once provided in most every U.S. public school, but now lost in many places—will be restored in the Chicago Public Schools.

Wealth and Power Undermine Equity and Democracy Across Ohio’s Public School Districts

The operation of wealth and power has never been more evident in Ohio school politics than it is this month.

HUNTING VALLEY   In an op-ed this week, the retired editorial page director of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Brent Larkin describes  an attempted state budget amendment that would have let residents of wealthy Hunting Valley in greater Cleveland off the hook from paying school taxes: “There are few wealthier towns in the country than Hunting Valley, a lovely little place with meandering streams, dense forests, winding roads and gorgeous homes, snuggling along and across Cuyahoga County’s eastern border. With a mean household income of $507,214 and average home value of about $1.3 million, the Higley 1000, using 2010 Census data, ranked Hunting Valley Ohio’s most affluent place and the nation’s 17th richest community… What a small minority of the 700 or so who live in Hunting Valley want is special treatment so recklessly selfish it would devastate the Orange public school system. Worse yet, it might just ignite a backlash in the 615 school districts throughout Ohio, perhaps harming 1.7 million public school children in the process.”

Last spring, Hunting Valley hired former speaker of the Ohio House and now lobbyist, Bill Batchelder to insert a tiny amendment into the huge Ohio budget to permit Hunting Valley to limit payment of school taxes to the Orange school district of which it is a part only to the amount required to cover the tiny number of the village’s children who enroll in Orange schools. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, alerted to Hunting Valley’s search for a way to help its residents avoid paying taxes, vetoed the amendment, but Larkin reports that some of Hunting Valley’s residents haven’t given up.

What alarms Larkin is the absence of civic responsibility among some of Hunting Valley’s privileged residents: “Millions of Ohioans with no children in the school system in which they live pay these property taxes—not necessarily because they like it, but because they understand it is the right thing to do, because they embrace the notion that educating our children is an essential element of sustaining our democracy.”

HILLS AND DALES   Then there is the amendment that did make it into the Ohio budget without a veto.  The Plain Dealer‘s Andrew J. Tobias reports this week that, “Ohio has lowered the bar communities must meet if they want to break away from their assigned school district and join another one. The little-noticed change was added as an amendment to the 3,000-page state budget bill signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in July. It’s drawing sharp criticism from public school officials lobbying to repeal it, and prompted a lawsuit from a Stark County school district that’s pledged to fight it from taking effect… Under the new law, people who live within a township containing more than one school district now can hold a vote on which district they want to send their children to. It supersedes the existing system that requires approval from the state board of education, which used to have to consider factors including the impact of the transfer would have on students.  School officials say the change will lead to more inequality in how schools are funded by making it easier for richer communities to break away.”

Tobias fills in the background of this new provision quietly slipped into the state budget: “(T)he request seems to trace back to Hills and Dales, an affluent Stark County village of about 200 people that for years has fought to change districts from its current Plain Local Schools to nearby Jackson Local Schools.  A group of Hills and Dales residents, including W.R. Timken, the politically connected ex-chairman and CEO of the Timken Company, in July wrote a letter backing the change to six lawmakers tasked with finalizing the state budget… (V)illage council minutes show Hills and Dales began its latest push to change school districts in February 2018.  They wanted an alternative to the existing process for changing schools, under which the State Board of Education in 2005 denied the village’s request to switch to Jackson Local Schools.  A state hearing officer ruled the move from Plain schools, where student enrollment was 74% white and 15% black, to Jackson Local Schools, which was 87% white and 2% black, would harm students because it would increase racial and socioeconomic isolation and financially hurt Plan schools.”

Tobias quotes Will Schwartz of the Ohio School Boards Association raising concerns about Hunting Valley’s and Hills and Dales’ attempts to change the law on behalf of powerful local residents: “These things are kind of popping up, sidestepping those good-government due process provisions… And we’re concerned.”

YOUNGSTOWN CASE HEARD THIS WEEK BY OHIO SUPREME COURT      Ironically other recent Ohio headlines capture urgent problems for school districts whose residents are less powerful. On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court held oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s 2015 law that set up state takeover of the state’s school districts with persistently low standardized test scores.  Despite that decades of research and a simple set of graphs from the Plain Dealer‘s data wonk Rich Exner demonstrate conclusively that a school district’s aggregate standardized test scores are a poor way to measure school quality because of their almost perfect correlation with the community’s median income, the state of Ohio has for four years now been punishing low scoring school districts with autocratic state takeover. Describing the case considered on Wednesday by the Ohio Supreme Court, the Associated Press reports: “At issue is a state law that shifted operational control of such districts from locally elected boards to unelected CEOs hired by state-appointed academic distress commissions, starting with one in Youngstown.  The Youngstown school board and school employees’ unions challenged the law, arguing it violates the Ohio Constitution by stripping school boards of their authority.  They also contend lawmakers violated a procedural rule—the “Three Reading Rule”—and skirted more thorough debate about significant changes made to the divisive House Bill 70 when it was pushed through the Legislature in one day in 2015.”  We will await the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision, but even as the Court is considering the constitutionality of the law creating state school takeovers, the consequences in Youngstown and Lorain continue to play out.

STATE NOW TRIES TO REMOVE ELECTED SCHOOL BOARD IN YOUNGSTOWN     Earlier this month we learned about one more extension of autocratic state power, hidden in the fine print of HB 70 when it was passed in 2015. Even though HB 70 sidelines the locally elected school board when the state takes over, in Youngstown and Lorain, the law has permitted the election of a locally elected local school board. But there is another provision in HB 70 that has gone unnoticed until now: At the end of four years of state takeover, because the Youngstown school district earned another “F” on the state report card, the state will now replace the elected school board in Youngstown with a state-approved, mayoral-appointed school board.  This is to punish Youngstown for not raising its grade to “C” during four years of state takeover, a period when, ironically, the locally elected school board has had no role to play in the operation of Youngstown’s schools.  Since 2015, the state has been running the district through a state appointed Academic Distress Commission which appointed a CEO to lead the school district.  The state’s operation of the school district has earned four years of “F” grades on the state report card, but HB 70 now triggers the state’s elimination of the locally elected school board.

LORAIN’S STATE TAKEOVER CEO, DAVID HARDY, IS BEING TERMINATED—FINALLY     The HB 70 state takeover has been a disaster in Lorain, the other Ohio district now four years into state takeover. Last week, members of the the state-appointed Academic Distress Commission in Lorain announced that their appointed CEO, David Hardy is being fired after four chaotic years. There have been problems from the start. The chair of the Lorain Academic Distress Commission quit last winter.  Last spring, after the state appointed a new chair of the Lorain Academic Distress Commission, the Elyria Chronicle Telegram‘s Carissa Woytach explained: “Per Hardy’s contract, the commission was required to evaluate him after his first 180 days in the district, 365 days in the position and thereafter on a yearly basis.  None of those evaluations were completed.” The new Academic Distress Commission chair formally evaluated Hardy over the summer, and Woytach reported last week: “In August, Hardy received an ineffective rating from the commission for the 2018-19 school year.” His termination is currently being negotiated.

SCHOOL CLOSURES ANNOUNCED IN CLEVELAND     In the Cleveland school district, under another form of two-decades-old state takeover—state established mayoral governance and an appointed school board—the district announced a downsizing plan this week, a plan based on closing the storied Collinwood High School and ten other schools. Under-enrollment is the rationale.  The District says its schools now have 7,000 unused seats. At a hearing, Ohio state school board member Meryl Johnson raised concerns about the imbalance of closures affecting the city’s historically black East Side.

EQUITY CONCERNS ARISE AS NEW STATE BUDGET RADICALLY EXPANDS SCHOOL VOUCHERS     Buried in the new Ohio state budget is explosive growth of school vouchers for students to carry to private and religious schools. Students qualify for EdChoice Vouchers by living in the neighborhood school zone of a public school posting a low grade on the state’s report card. The number of such schools has ballooned, explains the Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell, from 218 last year to 475 this school year.  Because Ohio’s EdChoice vouchers deduct the voucher directly from a school district’s budget, and because the new state budget expanded eligibility to include all of the state’s high school students enrolled in EdChoice designated schools—even students who have never previously been enrolled in a public school, some school districts are assuming an unbearable burden imposed unexpectedly in the state budget.

A new report from the Heights Coalition for Public Education, with information verified by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission, describes the plight for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School district, where many families who were already using religious schools are taking advantage of the new rules established in the budget.  The problem is made more serious because the school district’s state funding is capped at the 2019-2020 level due to revenue restrictions also set by the new state budget. The Heights Coalition’s report explains:  “The 2020-2021 biennium budget froze budgets at the FY 2019 level. Inadequate state aid will be stretched to cover a growing number of public school students and an avalanche of new voucher students. In CH-UH district, vouchers increased by 600 in FY 2020, of whom only 25 students left (were previously enrolled in) the CH-UH system.  At a minimum, the unfunded cost of vouchers for FY 2020 will be $7.28 million, an increase of $2.92 million in one year. This is not sustainable.”

Ohio operates four statewide voucher programs that eat up state and local funding for public schools. The Heights Coalition’s report explains how the funding mechanism for the EdChoice Vouchers program raises equity concerns: “The deduction method counts voucher students as if they are enrolled in the district where they reside. They generate for that district the same amount of state support as public school students. In CH-UH and most other districts in the state, the cost of a voucher is significantly more than the per pupil funding that voucher students generate. To cover the ‘unfunded’ part of each voucher, payments are transferred from state funds generated by that district’s public school students, creating an over-reliance on local property tax.”  This is complicated further when, as in the new budget, so many school districts’ state revenue is capped at last year’s level due to a state school funding formula which, most people agree, has been underfunded for so many years it has become unworkable. This year, without any additional money from the state, the
Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district will suddenly be paying for private school tuition vouchers for hundreds of new students who have always attended private schools.

Ohio’s school funding challenges are overwhelming. Funding from the state has been inadequate for years. But it isn’t merely a lack of investment in the state’s public education system. Dangerous challenges result from manipulation of power in Columbus and policies imposed autocratically to deny democratic participation in the school districts serving families in poverty. Communities with wealth and power have also been shameless in trying to protect their own interests.

Elizabeth Warren Releases Strong, Comprehensive Public Education Plan

The education plan Elizabeth Warren released on Monday is urgently important. Today, I am not going to focus on the math—whether Warren’s plan can be funded by the wealth tax she has also proposed. Neither am I going to speculate about whether, politically, she might be able to get Congress—and in the case of some of her proposals, the fifty state legislatures—to enact her ideas.

The paper she published on Monday matters, I believe, for a very different reason. Warren articulates a set of principles that turn away from three decades of neoliberal, corporate school reform—the idea, according to The American Prospect‘s Robert Kuttner, that “free markets really do work best… that government is inherently incompetent… and an intrusion on the efficiency of the market.”  Competition is at the heart of the system, all based on high-stakes tests, and punishments for the schools whose scores fall behind.

In her education plan, Warren endorses the civic and democratic principles which, from the nineteenth century until the late 1980s, defined our nation’s commitment to a comprehensive system of public education. Her plan incorporates the idea that while public schools are not perfect, they are the optimal way for our complex society to balance the needs of each particular child and family with a system that secures, by law, the rights and addresses the needs of all children. And she acknowledges the massive scale of the public commitment required to maintain an equitable education system that fairly serves approximately 50 million children and adolescents across cities and towns and sparsely populated rural areas.

I urge you to read Elizabeth Warren’s education plan.  Here I will highlight what I believe are her most important suggestions for overcoming the bipartisan, neoliberal, corporate reform agenda, formalized in 2002 in the No Child Left Behind Act, but dominating policy for more than a decade before that. Corporate education reform has driven federal policy in education during five recent administrations—Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump.

Warren emphatically demands that school privatization and the corruption that has accompanied the expansion of vouchers and charters be stopped.  This is an improvement from the position Warren advocated fifteen years ago. The NY TimesDana Goldstein reminds readers that in a book she published in 2003, Warren suggested a universal voucher program to expand choices for parents, but in recent years, Goldstein points out, Warren seems to have paid more attention to the impact on public schools of the expansion of school choice: “(I)n 2016, Ms. Warren, then in her first term as a senator from Massachusetts, spoke out against a ballot referendum that would have raised the cap on the number of charters that could open each year in her home state.”

In the plan she released on Monday, Warren begins the section on school privatization by condemning the ways charter schools and vouchers damage public schools: “To keep our traditional public school systems strong, we must resist efforts to divert public funds out of traditional public schools. Efforts to expand the footprint of charter schools, often without even ensuring that charters are subject to the same transparency requirements and safeguards as traditional public schools, strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind, primarily students of color… More than half the states allow public schools to be run by for-profit companies, and corporations are leveraging their market power and schools’ desire to keep pace with rapidly changing technology to extract profits at the expense of vulnerable students. This is wrong. We have a responsibility to provide great neighborhood schools for every student. We should stop the diversion of public dollars from traditional public schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits—which are vouchers by another name. We should fight back against the privatization, corporatization, and profiteering in our nation’s schools.”

Warren names the reforms needed to rein in school privatization:

  • She is the only candidate so far who explicitly advocates ending the federal Charter Schools Program, which has used tax dollars as a sort of venture capital fund to stimulate the expansion of charter schools with grants to states and charter management companies. Her declaration is emphatic: “End federal funding for the expansion of charter schools: The Federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), a series of federal grants established to promote new charter schools, has been an abject failure… As President, I would eliminate this charter school program and end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools.”
  • Like other candidates, Warren proposes to ban for-profit charter schools, but she goes farther by opposing all the arrangements by which nonprofit charter schools are now, quite legally, managed by huge for-profit ventures: “Ban for-profit charter schools: Our public schools should benefit students, not the financial or ideological interests of wealthy patrons like the DeVos and Walton families. I will fight to ban for-profit charter schools and charter schools that outsource their operations to for-profit companies… Many so-called nonprofit schools—including charter schools—operate alongside closely held, for-profit service providers. Others are run by for-profit companies that siphon off profits from students and taxpayers… (M)y plan would ban self-dealing in nonprofit schools to prevent founders and administrators from funneling resources to service providers owned or managed by their family members.”

In her new plan, Warren also addresses the funding crisis in the public schools which serve our nation’s poorest children. She begins by acknowledging the efforts of schoolteachers—on strike this year from West Virginia to Kentucky to Oklahoma to Los Angeles to Oakland and ongoing right now in Chicago—to call attention to their underfunded schools that cannot afford to provide the basics that more privileged American public school students take for granted: “(O)ur country’s educators have taken matters into their own hands—not only in the classroom, but also in the fight for the future of our country. Teachers have been battling for public investment over privatization, and for shared prosperity over concentrated wealth and power. Educators… across the country have carried the #RedforEd movement from the streets to state capitol buildings, striking not just to get the compensation they deserve, but to condemn the diversion of funding from public schools to private ones, to increase funding to reduce class sizes and improve their schools, and to expand services that will make their students’ lives safer and more stable.”

Warren’s proposals for school funding equity are extensive.

  • Warren would quadruple the federal investment in Title I to better support public school serving children in poverty.  And, in contrast to programs like Race to the Top which incentivized the expansion of charter schools, Warren would offer federal funding incentives to states if they would make their own school funding formulas more equitable.
  • She would federally fund 40 percent of the cost for school districts of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Education Act. That is what Congress promised in 1975 when the law was passed. Last year, writes Warren, Congress funded the law at a paltry 15 percent.
  • Warren endorses the goal of making 25,000 public schools into full-service, wraparound Community Schools by 2030. “Community Schools are the hubs of their community. Through school coordinators, they connect students and families with community partners to provide opportunities, support, and services inside and outside the school. These schools center around wraparound services,” incorporate medical and social services, and provide expanded learning time and after school programs.
  • She commits to expanding the capacity of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to ensure that all students are treated fairly under the law.  She also commits to providing federal funding for the kind of magnet school and transportation programs which three decades ago enabled school districts to voluntarily integrate, both racially and economically.
  • Warren commits to strengthening public school programs for the 10 percent of American students who are English language learners, to ensuring that the needs of immigrant students are fully addressed, and to supporting American Indian students in public schools.

As part of a section of the report devoted to, “providing a warm, safe, and nurturing school climate for all our kids,” Warren buries one of her most important principles: “As President, I’ll push to prohibit the use of standardized testing as a primary or significant factor in closing a school, firing a teacher, or making any other high-stakes decisions, and encourage schools to use authentic assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning in multiple ways.”

It is difficult to imagine how Warren would accomplish this goal, because high-stakes testing as the measure for school quality is, thanks to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, embedded to varying degrees in the fifty state laws. It is, however, refreshing to have a Presidential candidate strongly advocate for eliminating high stakes testing as the way we evaluate schools and schoolteachers across the United States. Half a century of academic research, most recently culminating in a new study by Stanford University professor, Sean Reardon, has demonstrated that a school’s or school district’s standardized test scores do not measure the quality of a school or the teachers in a school.  Instead standardized test scores correlate almost perfectly with the median income of families in the school or district. No Child Left Behind mandated that all public school children be tested in grades 3-8 and once in high school, that their scores be used to judge their schools, and that the schools unable quickly to raise scores be punished.  Race to the Top then demanded that states tie teachers’ evaluations to the same test scores. Although the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, eased some of this, a test-and-punish regime based on mandated high-stakes testing still drives school accountability across the United States.

Warren is proposing to turn around decades of policy that punishes public schools and the nation’s poorest students and their teachers. None of the other Democratic candidates for President has released such a comprehensive plan. I hope the release of Warren’s new plan will stimulate discussion of these issues among Democrats running for President.  In the debates so far, none of the moderators has asked the candidates about their policies regarding  public education.  It’s time for some serious conversation about the public schools.

(This blog recently named seven important principles candidates for President ought to embrace to address the many ways charter schools damage our public schools.)

Ongoing Impact of the School Leadership Pipeline Created by Eli Broad’s Superintendents’ Academy

I think it is hard to discern what history will make of what’s going on right now. And it is especially difficult in the domain of education, because newspapers and their investigative reporting are fading. Education reform has also been dominated by powerful philanthropists and ideologues who operate out of the public eye—in the world of think tanks and training institutes and ideas festivals.

That is why I’m grateful this week for Jeff Bryant’s fine new article about Eli Broad and his Broad Academy for urban school superintendents, which has created a pipeline feeding its graduates into urban school districts and then promoting their careers even when things are not going well.  Bryant tells the story of John Covington, the unsuccessful school superintendent in Kansas City, who, in 2011, moved at Broad’s bidding to run Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority.  After a couple of years, when Covington was fired from the Michigan job, “(H)e was hired with a contract for $300,000 to start a new school reform initiative—for the Broad Foundation.”

If you are a Broadie, Bryant explains, you don’t have to be successful; you just have to be connected: “Covington’s story… sheds light on how decades of a school reform movement, financed by Broad and other philanthropists and embraced by politicians and policymakers of all political stripes, have shaped school leadership nationwide. Charter advocates and funders—such as Broad, Bill Gates, some members of the Walton Family Foundation, John Chubb, and others who fought strongly for schools to adopt the management practices of private businesses—helped put into place a school leadership network whose members are very accomplished in advancing their own careers and the interests of private businesses while they rankle school boards, parents, and teachers… The actions of these leaders are often disruptive to communities, as school board members chafe at having their work undermined, teachers feel increasingly removed from decision making, and local citizens grow anxious at seeing their taxpayer dollars increasingly redirected out of schools and classrooms and into businesses whose products and services are of questionable value.”

Here’s how John Covington’s tenure worked out in Kansas City and Michigan: “During his tenure in Kansas City, Covington generally angered teachers and parents and focused on leadership imperatives more familiar in the business community, such as ‘right-sizing.’  Student scores on standardized tests declined under his tenure, and after he left, the Kansas City district lost its accreditation due to continuing low achievement… Covington also left his Michigan position under a cloud of controversy over the lack of academic progress in the schools and questions about tens of thousands of dollars a month spent on travel expenses by his administration. The state-operated district he led was regarded as a failure and was shut down in 2017. But what Covington brought with him from Kansas City to Detroit was his connection to Broad and his relationships with private businesses—most notably, a software company called Agilix, its Buzz learning platform, and the School Improvement Network (SINET) consulting firm… Covington’s efforts to advance the interests of education-related businesses, while disrupting the community and accomplishing little on improving academic achievement, are recurring themes of many Broad network school leaders.”

Quoting Thomas Pedroni, an education professor from Wayne State University, Bryant divides the corporate school reform and school privatization movement into two groups. The first, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, are ideological privatizers who want to cut government out of education, slash taxes, and expand freedom of choice for parents. The second group, like Eli Broad, want a publicly funded school system but also, according to Pedroni, “want to limit who can make decisions about how that money is spent and to keep those decisions behind a managerial curtain.”  Bryant explains: “Broad-inspired school leaders are seen by Pedroni to be working to increase their collective power by disrupting community-based governance, creating mutually beneficial relationships with private businesses, and limiting the supply of leadership ideas that are acceptable for transforming schools.”

Specifically, writes Bryant, “Broad’s efforts to transform school governance and management include conducting a training center for school leaders; advocating for school governance models that emphasize business methodologies rather than democratic engagement; circumnavigating traditional teacher preparation programs by funding Teach for America; and supporting charter schools and organizations and political candidates that promote charters.” Most important, through the urban superintendent’s academy, Broad has created a pipeline of educational leaders who look out for each other through a network of consultants, education publishing companies, and even superintendent search firms which promote candidates who favor disruption as the way to turn schools around.

Bryant profiles Robert Avossa, a 2011 graduate of the Broad Academy, who went on to be the school superintendent in Fulton County, Georgia, then superintendent in Palm Beach County, Florida, where, “After serving a little over three years, Aavossa abruptly resigned in 2018 to join publishing company LRP Media Group that specializes in the school leadership market.  LRP publishes District Administration, a long-running magazine distributed for free to qualified subscribers. The publication generates most of its revenues by selling advertising to companies that market education-related products. The same year Avossa joined LRP as senior vice president and publisher of education products, a short article in District Administration announced LRP had also acquired the National Superintendents Academy, a leadership professional development business previously owned by Atlantic Research Partners, the company owned by fellow Broad graduate Joseph Wise. The article includes a quote from the former managing director of the National Superintendents Academy, Peter Gorman, who was Avossa’s boss at Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools in North Carolina, where Gorman served as superintendent and Avossa as chief strategy and accountability officer.  Gorman is a graduate of the Broad Academy, class of 2004.  LRP’s events business includes professional development ‘summits’ for school leaders and a graduate style academy, al la Broad, where ‘motivated participants’ can learn from highly successful superintendents and executives. The events often feature speakers who are Broad Academy graduates….”

Bryant briefly quotes Diane Ravitch’s 2010 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, a book in which Ravitch identifies the Gates, Walton, and Broad Foundations as a Billionaire Boys’ Club investing in corporate school reform. It is worth returning to a longer section of Ravitch’s book, in which she describes exactly who Eli Broad is: “Eli and Edythe Broad attended Detroit public schools. He received a degree in accounting from Michigan State University. With his wife’s cousin, Broad entered the home-building business and later bought a life insurance company that eventually became a successful retirement savings business called SunAmerica. That business was sold to AIG in 1999 for $18 billion, and Eli Broad became one of the richest men in the nation. He promptly created the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which invests in education, the arts, and medical research… Having been trained as an accountant and having made his fortune as an entrepreneur, Broad believes in measurement, data, and results. He created training programs for urban superintendents, high level managers, principals, and school board members, so as to change the culture and personnel in the nation’s urban districts…  In 2006, Broad invited me to meet with him…. He explained his philosophy of education management. He believes that school systems should run as efficiently as private sector enterprises. He believes in competition, choice, deregulation, and tight management. He believes that people perform better if incentives and sanctions are tied to their performance. He believes that school leaders need not be educators, and that good managers can manage anything if they are surrounded by smart assistants.” (The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 212-213)

It wasn’t very long ago when Diane Ravitch exposed the problems of the No Child Left Behind Act and corporate education reform in that book. But it is too easy to forget exactly who continue to be the big philanthropic investors in public education policy and management. That is why Jeff Bryant’s new review of Eli Broad’s creation of a pipeline of corporate reformers is so important. The corporate reformers have not for the most part been people who know a lot about the civic purpose of America’s system of public education and they were, for the most part, not themselves educators. We are, however, living with the way they have remade our public schools through their philanthropic investments.