Michael Bloomberg Says He May Run for President: Why He Won’t Be my Choice

New York City’s former three-term mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a multi-billionaire businessman, is exploring whether to join other Democrats running for President in 2020. It is said that he would be a Democratic centrist, and we know that he has contributed positively to the national conversation promoting gun control and an aggressive response to climate change.  But, as usual in this political season, his record on public education has been neglected by the press.

Michael Bloomberg does have a long education record. Bloomberg served as New York City’s mayor from January of 2002 until December of 2013. In 2002, to accommodate his education agenda, Bloomberg got the state legislature to create mayoral governance of NYC’s public schools. In this role, Michael Bloomberg and his appointed schools chancellor, Joel Klein were among the fathers of what has become a national wave of corporate, accountability-based school reform. Bloomberg is a businessman, and Joel Klein was a very successful attorney. Neither had any experience as an educator. They took aggressive steps to run the NYC school district, with 1.1 million students, like a business. Their innovations included district-wide school choice, rapid expansion of charter schools, co-location of a bunch of small charter and traditional schools into what used to be comprehensive high schools, the phase out and closure of low-scoring schools, evaluation of schools by high stakes standardized test scores, the assignment of letter grades to schools based on their test scores, and a sort of merit pay bonus plan for teachers.

In her 2018 book, After the Education Wars, Andrea Gabor, the New York business journalist and journalism professor, comments on Bloomberg’s educational experiment: “The Bloomberg administration embraced the full panoply of education-reform remedies. It worshiped at the altar of standardized tests and all manner of quantitative analysis. The Bloomberg administration also had a penchant for reorganizations that seemed to create more disruption than continuous improvement among its 1.1 million students and 1,800 schools.” ( After the Education Wars, p. 75)

Gabor describes Bloomberg’s expansion of charter schools: “Harlem, in particular, has become the center of an unintentional educational experiment—one that has been replicated in neighborhoods and cities around the country.  During the Bloomberg years, when close to a quarter of students in the area were enrolled in charter schools, segregation increased, as did sizable across-the-board demographic disparities among the students who attended each type of school. An analysis of Bloomberg-era education department data revealed that public open-enrollment elementary and middle schools have double—and several have triple—the proportion of special needs kids of nearby charter schools. The children in New York’s traditional public schools are much poorer than their counterparts in charter schools. And public schools have far higher numbers of English language learners… In backing charter schools Bloomberg and other advocates pointed to one clear benefit: charters, it was widely accepted, would increase standardized test scores. However, years of studies showed little difference between the test-score performance of students in charter schools and those in public schools.” After the Education Wars, p. 95)

A Leadership Academy for school administrators taught business management principles. Gabor explains: “The Leadership Academy, launched in January 2003, was a cornerstone of the new Bloomberg administration’s education-reform strategy for public schools, one focused on breaking up both the central bureaucracy and New York City’s large, factory-style high schools…  The Leadership Academy’s mission was to recruit and train six hundred new entrepreneurial principals by the end of Bloomberg’s first term, in 2006, to help run the many new mostly small schools that the new administration hoped to establish.  Like many of the Bloomberg-era reforms, there was much that was controversial about the Leadership Academy.  For one thing, the academy boasted the ideal of a public-private partnership and the promise of helping to run both schools and the education bureaucracy more like businesses….”  (After the Education Wars, p. 76)

Perhaps Gabor’s most abiding criticism is that Bloomberg and Klein distrusted experienced educators. And this attitude has been part of the corporate reform movement they helped launch across America’s big cities during the past two decades: “The business reformers came to the education table with their truths: a belief in market competition and quantitative measures. They came with their prejudices—favoring ideas and expertise forged in corporate boardrooms over the knowledge and experience gleaned in the messy trenches of inner-city classrooms.  They came with distrust of an education culture that values social justice over more practical considerations like wealth and position. They came with the arrogance that elevated polished, but often mediocre (or worse), technocrats over scruffy but knowledgeable educators. And, most of all, they came with their suspicion—even their hatred—of organized labor and their contempt for ordinary public school teachers.” (After the Education Wars, p. 4)

In her 2010 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch examined all this while it was an ongoing experiment: “In the first decade of the new century, New York City became the national testing ground for market based reforms.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his chancellor, Joel Klein, applied business principles to overhaul the nation’s largest school system, which enrolled 1.1 million children… They reorganized the management of the schools, battled the teachers’ union, granted large pay increases to teachers and principals, pressed for merit pay, opened scores of charter schools, broke up large high schools into small ones, emphasized frequent practice for state tests, gave every school a letter grade, closed dozens of low-performing schools, and institutionalized the ideas of choice and competition (albeit without vouchers).  (The Death and Life of the Great American School System, p. 69)

School closures were among the most problematic of Bloomberg’s reforms.  Ravitch explains: “As it elevated the concept of school choice, the Department of Education destroyed the concept of neighborhood high schools.  Getting into the high school of one’s choice became as stressful as getting into the college of one’s choice… Students were expected to list their top twelve preferences. Most got into one of the twelve, but thousands got into none at all. Neighborhoods were once knitted together by a familiar local high school that served all the children of the community, a school with distinctive traditions and teams and history. After the neighborhood high school closed, children scattered across the city in response to the lure of new, unknown small schools with catchy names or were assigned to schools far from home… As a high school for 3,000 students was closed down, it would be replaced by four or five small schools for 500 students.  What happened to the missing students?  Invariably, they were the lowest-performing, least motivated students who were somehow passed over by the new schools… These troublesome students were relegated to another large high school, where their enrollment instigated a spiral of failure, dissolution, and closing.” (The Death and Life of the Great American School System, p. 84)

In a stunning 2013 report, Over the Counter, Under the Radar, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University tracked what happened to students who arrived in the district too late for that year’s school choice competition.  Others did not speak English, or for some reason did not participate in the choice process. These students who just showed up at school trying to register were dubbed in NYC, “over the counter students”: “Every year, some 16,000 students who enroll in New York City high schools without participating in the high school choice process are labeled as ‘over-the-counter’ or OTC students and are assigned a school by the New York City Department of Education. These young people are among the school system’s highest-needs students—new immigrants, special needs students, previously incarcerated teens, poor or transient or homeless youth, students over age for grade… OTC students are disproportionately assigned to high schools with higher percentages of low-performing students… OTC students are disproportionately assigned to high schools that are subsequently targeted for closure or that are undergoing the closure process.”

Under Bloomberg’s watch, several large comprehensive high schools, deemed failing for low test scores, were phased out one grade per year.  New ninth graders stopped being enrolled; then tenth grade was eliminated, then eleventh, and finally  the school closed.  Ravitch quotes education sociologist Pedro Noguera: “Pedro Noguera of New York University observed that the Department of Education failed to provide the large schools with the support and guidance they needed to improve. ‘They don’t have a school-change strategy… They have a school-shutdown strategy'”(The Death and Life of the Great American School System, p. 87)

In a stunning 2015, New Yorker magazine profile of Jamaica High School, in Queens, Jalani Cobb recounts the story of his own alma mater, its demise brought on by increasing residential segregation, poverty, and Bloomberg school reform: “Jamaica High School, in Queens, was once the largest high school in the United States… One evening in June of last year, Jamaica students wearing red and blue gowns gathered with their families and teachers and with members of the school staff at Antun’s, a catering hall in Queens Village, for the senior-class commencement ceremony, but it carried a particular significance on this occasion, because it was as applicable to the faculty and the staff, some of whom had been at the school for nearly three decades, as it was to the students.  After a hundred and twenty-two years, Jamaica High School was closing; the class of 2014, which had just twenty-four members, would be the last.  The New York City Department of Education had announced the closure three years earlier, citing persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty percent.  Accordingly, the department had begun to ‘co-locate’ four newly created ‘small schools’ in the old building… The schools tended to operate like siblings competing for bathroom time. Access to the building’s communal spaces was at a premium. Unable to secure the auditorium for a graduating class of two dozen, Jamaica High School found itself both figuratively and literally, pushed out.”

Cobb explains how the Bloomberg-Klein New York Department of Education phased out the school: “In 2004, in the name of greater choice, the Bloomberg administration revised the districting rules to allow students to attend any high school in the city. Given the realities of residential segregation and of school quality as a determinant of real-estate values, there was something almost radical in that idea.”  But the universal high school choice plan didn’t desegregate New York City’s public schools. “The demographic balance that characterized Jamaica during my years became impossible to maintain. In 2011, the year that the city formally decided to close the school, fourteen percent of the student population had disabilities and twenty-nine percent had limited English proficiency. In the year before the school closed, it was ninety-nine percent minority, a demographic that would not in itself be a concern were it not also the case that sixty-three percent of the students qualified as poor… The tacit belief that large schools were unreformable meant that Jamaica’s sliding numbers looked to some experts like predictable educational failure; to the faculty, those numbers looked like what happens when a school is asked to educate a challenging population without the necessary tools.”

Among the Democrats running for President in 2020, I’ll be looking for a candidate who respects professional educators and who understands the importance of supporting the public schools, designed to serve the needs and protect the rights of all children. Public schools need our ongoing attention and support. My choice for President couldn’t possibly be Michael Bloomberg.

Bob Herbert Explains “How Millionaires and Billionaires Are Ruining Our Schools”

Did you see Bob Herbert’s wonderful new article, The Plot Against Public Education, in Politico Magazine?  If not, you should read it.  Bob Herbert was a regular New York Times columnist between 1993 and 2011, when he left to join Demos and to write the book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America, from which this article is excerpted.  The book was published this week.

Herbert’s subject is the role of money and the power of elites to shape education policy in America these days.  Herbert skewers Bill Gates: “When a multibillionaire gets an idea, just about everybody leans in to listen.”  And he notes that when  Bill Gates’ “small high schools” experiment utterly failed, there weren’t the kind of consequences we might see if a public school district, for example, failed in a similar school restructuring. “There was very little media coverage of this experiment gone terribly wrong. A billionaire had an idea. Many thousands had danced to his tune. It hadn’t worked out. C’est la vie.

“This hit-or-miss attitude—let’s try this, let’s try that—has been a hallmark of school reform efforts in recent years… But if there is one broad approach… that the corporate-style reformers and privatization advocates have united around, it’s the efficacy of charter schools…  Corporate leaders, hedge fund managers and foundations with fabulous sums of money at their disposal lined up in support of charter schools, and politicians were quick to follow.  They argued that charters would not only boost test scores and close achievement gaps but also make headway on the vexing problem of racial isolation in schools.  None of it was true. Charters never came close to living up to the hype. After several years of experimentation and the expenditure of billions of dollars, charter schools and their teachers proved, on the whole, to be no more effective than traditional schools.  In many cases, the charters produced worse outcomes. And the levels of racial segregation and isolation in charter schools were often scandalous.”

Acknowledging Bill Gates’ good intentions, Herbert then tells the story of a number of school “reformers” who have been in it for greed—including Ron Packard the CEO of K12 on-line learning, a company whose founding was underwritten by Michael Milken, the junk-bond king.  And there are others.  “It was easy to lose sight of the best interests of children as corporations throughout the country did all they could to maximize profits from public education. Consider for example, the Rupert Murdoch-Joel Klein connection.”  And there is Jeb Bush, who with former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, “started an organization called Digital Learning Now!, which took on the task of persuading state legislators to make it easier for companies to get public funding for virtual schools and for the installation of virtual classrooms in brick-and-mortal schools.”  We are also reminded about Cathie Black, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hapless schools chancellor, a socialite who served for 91 days until it became clear that running a school district with 1.1 million children might be complicated. “Black had had no previous experiences with the public schools.  She hadn’t attended them… She hadn’t taught in them.  She hadn’t sent her children to them.  In one of her first public appearances after the appointment, she said, ‘What I ask for is your patience as I get up to speed.'”

Herbert concludes: “The amount of money in play is breathtaking.  And the fiascos it has wrought put a spotlight on America’s class divide and the damage that members of the elite, with their money and their power and their often misguided but unshakable belief in their talents and their virtue, are inflicting on the less financially fortunate.  Those who are genuinely interested in improving the quality of education for all American youngsters are faced with two fundamental questions: First, how long can school systems continue to pursue market-based reforms that have failed year after demoralizing year to improve the education of the nation’s most disadvantaged children?  And second, why should a small group of America’s richest individuals, families, and foundations be allowed to exercise such overwhelming—and often toxic—influence over the ways in which public school students are taught?”

Co-Location of Schools in NYC Denies Services to Students

In New York City, due to school “reforms” undertaken during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s three terms, all high school students now participate in school choice; there are no longer comprehensive high schools with attendance zones. Many smaller high schools and elementary schools were opened, and many are now co-located, which means that several schools share space in what were once larger public schools.  While the mass of small high schools created under Mayor Bloomberg have received largely positive press, a new study demonstrates serious problems with many of the schools.

Even academic researchers have viewed Bloomberg’s policies as a help for struggling students.  For example, Greg Duncan, professor of education at the University of California at Irvine and Richard Murnane, economist in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, endorse the creation of New York’s small high schools.  In Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education, Duncan and Murnane accurately identify the educational implications of rising economic inequality in America’s metropolitan areas—accompanied by growing residential income segregation.  These authors then devote several chapters to what they consider promising educational responses.  One of the reforms they endorse is New York City’s “systemic initiative that has made it possible for tens of thousands of low-income New York City youth to obtain a higher-quality secondary education.” (p. 85)  However, despite supporting the “personalized attention, academic rigor and relevance, and abundant learning opportunities” (p. 106) available in the small high schools they examine, they note that “even the ambitious effort to create a system of effective small high schools left one in four disadvantaged New York City youth without a high school diploma.” (p, 107)

The new report released last week by the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, The Effects of Co-Location on New York City’s Ability to Provide All Students a Sound Basic Education, graphically explains why New York City’s small schools—many crowded together in shared space in what were once larger public schools—are not working as well as they were supposed to.  The researchers warn: “We do not claim that all small and co-located schools have these deficiencies, but the deficiencies that we have found in the high-need schools we studied are substantial, and evidence that students’ educational rights are being violated in any school must be taken seriously… We are encouraged that Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina has convened a task force to study co-location and another to discuss the utilization report upon which school-building utilization decisions are made.”

“In 2013,” report the Teachers College researchers, “1,150 (63%) of the city’s 1,818 schools were co-located.  Charter schools made up 10% of co-located schools (115); the other 90% were traditional public schools.”  The researchers estimate that formulas used to allocate space in the city’s public school buildings seriously underestimate needed space for reasonable class size, for the operation of sufficient services for all children, and for required programming for students with special needs.  “NYC DOE policy for allocating resources to co-located schools in the years of our study did not provide these schools sufficient space or staffing to afford students the full range of resources to which they are entitled and that they need in order to succeed.”  Here are some of the reported violations:

Violations in Access to Facilities:  When schools are co-located, many students lack access to a shared library, a shared auditorium, and a shared gymnasium.  Sometimes the physical education facilities are inappropriate for the age and size of the students in each of the small schools sharing a building. “In some schools as a result of co-location, specialized physical-education spaces—such as swimming pools, dance studios and weight rooms—were off limits to students in their own school buildings.  Some schools lacked adequate access to their building’s shared yard.” Special education students and English language learners were being taught in closets and storage spaces. “Schools also lacked adequate and appropriate space for student-support services like counseling, speech therapy, and health services…. In one school, the guidance counselor met with students in the stairwell landing.”

Oversized Classes: The physical capacity of shared spaces has left large numbers of students in classes well above the contractual maximum class size and without the capacity for required small group supplemental instructional support.

Violations in Access to Curriculum: “Some small, co-located schools lacked a sufficient number of teachers and classrooms to teach even the basic required curriculum, curtailing access to social studies, science, and physical education…. Many schools were unable to provide the full Regents-required curriculum.”  “In middle and high schools, as a result of a lack of space and personnel, some schools were unable to provide even the minimum required instructional time and course offerings in math, social studies, and science.”  Some high schools lack basic chemistry and physics classes and provide only limited instruction in foreign languages.  Many middle schools and high schools lack art and music programs.  Many of the small schools lack sufficient guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists.

Violations in the Provision of Special Education Services: “Most egregiously, for lack of adequate staff, space, and other resources, schools adjusted the individualized education programs (IEPs) of some students with special needs in order to fit the available resources in the school, rather than the needs of children.”

Diversion of Scarce Resources: “The creation of small schools requires that the system hire more principals and other administrative staff…. One building housing a number of small, co-located schools had 28 administrators making six figure salaries.” “Office space for principals and other administrative staff reduces the number of available classrooms and spaces for student-support services.”

The researchers challenge New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio and the new schools chancellor, Carmen Farina to investigate these shortfalls in the services to which all students are entitled: “It is incumbent upon city and state education officials to assess the extent to which all students in small and co-located schools are being afforded the educational rights and opportunities to which they are entitled.”

Universal Access and Public Ownership: Charter Schools Don’t Meet These Criteria

This past weekend a friend, realizing some of my concerns about charter schools, said, “Look.  You should go visit my friend’s charter school. He is doing a terrific job. You shouldn’t write off charter schools.”

Let me take this opportunity to go on record: I realize there are a whole range of charter schools including some that do a fine job of providing opportunities for their students.  There are quality charter schools.

But I also know that public school policy must be systemic.  Society can never balance the needs of each individual child and the rights of all children one charter school at a time.  Nor can we possibly achieve justice by creating a set of “escapes from the public schools,” charter school by charter school.  There is a problem of scale for one thing.  Public schools in America educate 50 million children.  The more promising alternative is to set about improving the public schools that struggle.  Struggling public schools are usually located in the poorest neighborhoods of our big cities, and they are almost always underfunded by their state legislatures.

Let me outline more specifically my concerns about relying on charters for school reform. My first concern is about access.  Charter schools serve about 6 percent of our students.  Quality charter schools that provide excellent education are doing so for a tiny percentage of the children who need opportunity. The great advantage of public education is that it is systemic.  No matter where you live—whatever state, city, suburb, small town, or rural area—you are promised a public school for your child.  Yes public schools have reflected the racism and economic inequality of the society in which they are set.  But as public institutions, they have been amenable to improvement by those seeking to make our society more just.

Charter schools are not so amenable to reform… which raises my second concern: public ownership, the right of the public to regulate the institutions that depend upon tax dollars. The public has the capacity to improve institutions that are publicly owned, publicly managed, and publicly regulated.  But charter schools, while they often call themselves “public charter schools,” are public only to the degree that they receive public dollars to operate.  In legal cases when charter schools have been sued, their attorneys have successfully argued that because they are private institutions, they are not publicly accountable.

As institutions funded primarily with tax dollars, charter schools ought to be accountable for protecting the children being educated at public expense, and they should be accountable for careful stewardship of the public dollars being spent.  Yet in too many places public oversight is missing.  While the federal government has been providing huge incentives for states to expand the number of charter schools through programs like Race to the Top, the federal government has no capacity to regulate charter schools.  Regulations must come from the fifty state legislatures, which are affected by politics and the gifts of political supporters.  My state, Ohio, is notorious for poor oversight of charter schools.  Here is the text of an e-mail blast this morning from William Phillis, Executive Director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding:

“Charter schools sponsor, St. Aloysius Orphanage of Cincinnati, approved eight new charter schools for this school year. St. Aloysius contracted with Charter School Specialists of Pickerington to manage whatever responsibility the official sponsor has under law. These eight charter schools, named Olympus, applied for funding based on 1,600 students. Ohio Department of Education approved funding (deducted from public school district budgets) for 700 students rather than 1,600. These charter schools received $1.17 million of school districts’ money as of the end of October.  (It would be interesting to know how much of the $1.17 million went to St Aloysius and Charter School Specialists of Pickerington.)  All eight charter schools, with a combined enrollment of 128 students, have closed.  Three of the eight schools had a total of 15 students for which these charter schools received $29,200 per student for two months of instruction or the equivalent of over $130,000 per student per school year.  The spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) was asked by a Dispatch reporter if any of the funds could be recovered. The ODE response was that he didn’t know if any individual could be held financially responsible for any overpayment.”  The details of Phillis’ comment are confirmed by the Columbus Dispatch.

For many of us across Ohio, for years there has been a sense of mystery about St. Aloysius Orphanage. How did  this former orphanage get so much power from the legislature to authorize charter schools all across the state?  Whoever ensured that organizations like St. Aloysius Orphanage got approved as Ohio’s charter school authorizers continues to ensure that the same favored authorizers continue to operate.

The Washington Post recently examined incoming New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s education platform as a challenge to the education policies of outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  DeBlasio has expressed concern about public stewardship of charter schools.  One of the things DeBlasio has promised is to begin charging rent when well-heeled charter schools occupy public school buildings. DeBlasio has flatly stated that “programs that can afford to pay rent should be paying rent.”  Earlier this fall  Success Academy charters, which have attracted additional state grants as well as private money, led a protest across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest DeBlasio’s proposal that such charters begin paying rent.  Eva Moskowitz, a well-connected former member of the NYC city council, is being paid $475,000 to run Success Academy’s charter schools.  According to The Washington Post, that is “more than twice the salary of the city’s schools chancellor.”

Excluding “Over-the-Counter Children” to Protect Elite High Schools

The first time I heard the term “over-the-counter” children, I was with a group visiting New York City, where we were listening to a presentation on school choice in New York from a researcher who used the term in an off-hand way.  We visitors looked at each other and someone asked, “What are over-the-counter children?”  “They are the children who don’t participate in school choice,” we were told.  “Their parents don’t fill out the high school application, or they arrive after the school year begins, or they are homeless.  They just come to the school and try to register.”

My mind jumped immediately back to January of 1960, when my family moved to Havre, Montana on a day that I clearly remember was 35 degrees below zero.  We spent our first night in the Siesta Motel because our furniture had not arrived.  In the morning my mother took me to the Havre Junior High School to register me for the second semester of the seventh grade.  I was sent immediately to class while my mother went off to get us settled.

I was an over-the-counter child.  So were most of the members of the group at our meeting that afternoon in New York City.  We talked about that term, “over-the-counter children,” during dinner that night.  Isn’t that a derogatory term, a term that commodifies children—sort of like aspirin, something you can buy over-the-counter without a prescription? Shouldn’t parents be able to show up to enroll their children in school?  Isn’t that what “the public” in public education is supposed to be about?  For most adults across America, if we moved as children to a new place, our parents took us to school to get us registered.  I had not realized that the term had become an official designation in New York City until I read a report published last week by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform: Over the Counter; Under the Radar.  The report exposes shocking details about how these children fare in the system despite that it ignores my own concerns about the term itself.

“Every year, some 36,000 students who enroll in New York City high schools without participating in the high school choice process are labeled as “over-the-counter” or OTC students and are assigned a school by the New York City Department of Education (DOE).  These young people are among the school system’s highest-needs students—new immigrants, special needs students, previously incarcerated teens, poor or transient or homeless youth, students over age for grade, and students with histories of behavioral incidents in their previous schools.”  The report explains that the challenge of placing such students has grown under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as the number of zoned high schools where neighborhood students could enroll by default has been vastly diminished.  Under Mayor Bloomberg school choice at the high school level has become virtually universal.

School choice plans always do the best job of serving the students who understand or whose parents understand the way the application process works and have the emotional, social, financial, and linguistic capacity to learn the options and complete the application process.  In a report several years ago, the New School Center for New York City Affairs documented that a serious problem for eighth graders in New York City is that middle school counselors struggle to master the vast array of high school options, and anyway case loads for middle school counselors are so large that students who can best navigate the high school choice process tend to be those whose parents are able to guide them actively as they learn about high school options and fill out the application.

In the new report, the Annenberg Institute examines whether students classified as “over-the-counter,” who are assigned by the system to available seats, are being sent to high-scoring high schools or to schools with lower test scores and most especially to schools that have already been identified for school closure.  Here is what the Annenberg researchers describe in their findings:

“OTC students are disproportionately assigned to schools with higher percentages of low-performing students, ELLs, and dropouts.” “Large and medium-sized struggling high schools had, on average, a more than 50 percent higher rate of OTC student assignment than the rest of the high schools.”  “Assignments of such massive numbers of OTC students can quickly destabilize schools’ instructional efforts and dismantle long-established, supportive academic cultures.”  And finally, as New York City has begun phasing out large comprehensive high schools, “During each year of the phase-out process, teachers and support staff leave as the closing school’s student population declines… In seven of these thirteen phasing-out schools, the OTC assignment rate was more than 25 percent.”   The scathing report charges that the New York City Public Schools continue to assign students classified as “over-the-counter”—students who bring enormous needs—to schools that are ill-equipped to serve them. The school district has been protecting the test scores of higher-scoring high schools by neglecting to assign high-needs, “over-the-counter” students to the more prestigious high schools.  At the same time the school district continues to phase out and close low-scoring high schools, where ongoing assignment of the most challenging students further diminishes the test scores and virtually ensures these schools will be deemed “failing.”

The Annenberg Institute report is particularly timely this week in the context of the emergence of an intense conversation in the blogosphere about the morality of what has become a national, corporatized school reform strategy premised on providing escapes for the students who are most motivated or whose parents can successfully negotiate school choice to get them into high-scoring magnet or charter schools.  Michael Petrilli spawned the conversation in his recent post at the Education Week blog, Bridging Differences, The Especially Deserving Poor.  Anthony Cody pushed back, also at Education Week, in his Living in Dialogue post, Social Darwinism Resurrected for the New Gilded Age.  Finally Richard Rothstein at the Economic Policy Institute contributed to the conversation with Does “Poverty” Cause Low Achievement”?  I urge you to read carefully all of these pieces along with the new report from the Annenberg Institute.

Together these thoughtful reflections raise the central moral concern about today’s school reform that devalues all the many children who might be broadly described as “over-the-counter”—society’s least precious—the children we can discount because, we might imagine, they aren’t so likely to amount to much. Once educational opportunity depends on competition for choice slots, the most able children win while those who are most vulnerable are likely to be left out and left behind.  For a vision that lifts up opportunity for every child, check out the new Principles that Unite Us, also released just last week, by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign and nearly one hundred allied organizations.  And consider the very profound words of the Rev. Jesse Jackson: “There are those who would make the case for a race to the top for those who can run.  Instead ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”

NBC’s 2013 Education Nation: Look at Who Will Be Featured and Who Is Missing

It is, of course, impossible to foresee exactly how a TV news program will go, but one worries when the sponsors of the supposed “news” about public education include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the for-profit University of Phoenix.

NBC, which will present its fourth annual Education Nation Summit early in October, has published a disclaimer:  “While all of our sponsor organizations are actively engaged in the education issues in various ways, we choose our programming with the general public in mind – hoping to foster thought-provoking conversations with a wide range of participants.”  Despite these words, viewers should remember to think about the impact of the Gates Foundation on the development of the Common Core Standards, the enormous push for evaluation of school teachers by students’ test scores, and the Foundation’s partnership with the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington and its District- Charter Collaboration Compact that encourages privatization through the development of new charter schools in big city school districts.

NBC has published a list of confirmed panelists, presenters and interviewees, and some trends seem to emerge.  There is a smattering of public school professionals and supporters: a number of school superintendents including Dr. Joshua Starr of the highly respected Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools; David Kirp, the Berkeley professor who recently published Improbable Scholars, the story of the extraordinary revitalization of the Union City, New Jersey Public Schools; Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, who has led an innovative program to engage African American college students in the hard sciences as president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.

But the mass of speakers are associated in one way or another with what has become known as “the corporate school reform model.”  Here are New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (known for closing public schools and expanding school choice, charter schools, and co-location of public and charter schools) and his current Chancellor Dennis Walcott, along with Bloomberg’s former Chancellor, Joel Klein, who is now leading Rupert Murdoch’s school technology and electronic tablet division, Amplify.  Indiana’s former governor Mitch Daniels and current governor Mike Pence will both appear; they led Indiana to develop a voucher program.  At the same time Glenda Ritz, the public school teacher who got herself elected as the leader of Indiana’s education department on a pro-public education platform is conspicuously absent.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Melody Barnes, the former domestic policy chief who had everything to do with developing Race to the Top and other programs to turn the Title I formula into a competition, will both be speaking.  Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Excellence in Education is pushing hard for privatization, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, supporter of privatization and founder of a large and radical voucher program, are included along with Paul Pastorek, who helped lead the charterization of New Orleans and who is prominent in the far-right Chiefs for Change. Then there is Jonah Edelman, director of Stand for Children, a national astro-turf organization that has made its name opposing teachers unions.

Jeff Bryant, who edits the weekly newsletter for the Education Opportunity Network, affiliated with the Campaign for America’s Future, directs his skepticism this week toward one particular confirmed speaker, however: Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman of Goldman-Sachs.  Bryant writes:  “While many of Education Nation‘s guest panelists have troubling track records on education—particularly Joel Klein—none of them rises to the level of the direct harm that Blankfein has meted out to the nation’s youngest citizens… In presiding over a culture of corruption that helped fuel the nation’s slide into the Great Recession, Blankfein has had a special role….”

Bryant reminds us that Blankfein has also been a cheerleader for sequestration, the federal deficit reduction program that operates to reduce federal budget allocations by a flat percentage without regard for the importance or merits of the programs being cut back.  Sequestration, Bryant notes, has particularly hurt programs for vulnerable populations—students whose Indian Reservation schools depend on federal impact aid, Head Start programs, the Title I formula, and allocations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Writes Bryant: “As a collaborator in the Wall St.-created campaign called Fix the Debt, Blankfein lectured Americans on ‘lowering their expectations’ and accepting ‘shared sacrifice’ of the across-the-board cuts.”

If you watch Education Nation, you might want to remind yourself about who is missing from the roster of confirmed speakers: any of the over three million public school teachers who lead our nation’s classrooms; Carol Burris, the articulate, prize-winning school principal from New York; elected members of the local school boards that oversee the nation’s roughly 15,000 public school districts; any of the very competent staff at New York’s Children’s Aid Society who could talk about the full-service, wrap-around community schools they help develop; well-known scholars at our nation’s universities who are conducting research about improving the public schools including Kevin Welner and Bill Mathis at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado; Gary Orfield or other researchers at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA; or any of the academics who have recently published respected policy books that support public school improvement  including Diane Ravitch, and Mike Rose.

If you are watching NBC’s Education Nation in early October, please do think carefully about what you are hearing and what is missing from the conversation.