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It is true that they have a lot of money–Gates, Broad, Walton, Dell, Wasserman, Arnold, Helmsley, and about two dozen other foundations. Maybe more. And they have the U.S. Department of Education. But none of their big ideas is working. Study after study shows that charters on average do not produce higher test scores than public schools; many are far worse than even the lowest-performing public schools. New Orleans is just so much hype and spin. The Tennessee “Achievement School District” is far from reaching its ambitious goals; it may never meet them. More hype and spin. Vouchers put kids into religious schools without certified teachers, where they will learn the religious version of history and science. Does anyone think that moving more students into religious schools to study creationism is a winning strategy for the 21st century? The latest study from CREDO shows that online charters are a disaster and kids actually make no progress at all in math in a year of “instruction.”
Then there is the big bet on teacher evaluation by test scores. It has fallen flat everywhere. No one can say with assurance that the test scores weed out bad teachers and identify the best. Mostly, the test scores identify who is in the class. Gates showered hundreds of millions of dollars on a handful of districts to prove his pet theory, but thus far there is no proof. One of the Gates’ favored districts, where he pledged $100 million to try out his pet ideas, Hillsborough County in Florida (Tampa), abandoned the project after realizing that it was draining the district’s reserves with nothing to show for it (Gates eventually put up $80 million, but the evaluation plan cost about $250 million). The American Statistical Association warned against the use of value-added scores to rate individual teachers, as did the American Educational Research Association. VAM is dead man walking.
The Common Core standards were supposed to be the mechanism to standardize all of American education: The standards were supposed to align curriculum, instruction, assessment, teacher education, professional development, technology, and textbooks. Bill Gates boldly proclaimed that common standards were like a common electrical system, but children are not toasters, and teachers are not robots. States are backing out of the testing, and a few have rebranded the Common Core because the “brand” is toxic. However the Common Core shakes out, it will not be the basis for national standards and national tests. It will not create a single marketplace for vendors of products, as its sponsors hoped. Some will use it, some won’t. No one knows what part of this Grand Experiment will survive. The big gamble on stitching U.S. education into a seamless garment that was standardized from sea to sea has already failed. Some states will continue to use the Common Core standards, others will not. Most states have dropped out of the two federally-funded tests, PARCC and Smarter Balanced.
And oh my goodness! Where are all those reformer stars of yesteryear? The debut year of 2010, when they launched with “Waiting for Superman” to a breathless media, seems long, long ago.
Michelle Rhee has stepped away from the national stage, into apparent obscurity, even though her organization continues to fund rightwing anti-public school state-level candidates (and her book bombed).
Wendy Kopp has gone into seclusion, running TFA international, while her heirs continue to manage TFA here. As more and more ex-TFA go public with their critiques, the bloom is off the rose. TFA recruitment has fallen by 25-30%, because all that teacher-bashing unleashed by the reformers hurt TFA as well as every legitimate teacher preparatory institution. Is there anyone who still believes that children need inexperienced teachers who will be gone in a little while?
Joel Klein went to work for Rupert Murdoch, selling technology for schools; his division, called Amplify, accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, because its tablets and chargers melt or break (his book bombed, too). After Amplify had lost over $500 million, Murdoch sold it to the highest bidder (Joel Klein and friends). The bid may have been $1.
Geoffrey Canada, the superman of the privatization movement, retired from the Harlem Children’s Zone and now apparently spends his time lecturing about the glories of privately managed charters, although few have or ever will have the resources of HCZ or two billionaires on the board to make sure that every class is no larger than 15 with two teachers, that every student gets personal tutoring, that every student gets free medical care, and that prizes for performance include trips to Disneyland and even the Galapagos. Other charters–and public schools–can only dream about that kind of financial largesse.
Tony Bennett, the state superintendent in Indiana, once acclaimed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute as the reformiest of all the reformers, was beaten in 2012 by Glenda Ritz; Bennett then became state chief in Florida, where he quickly resigned when news broke about a grade-changing scandal to benefit a campaign contributor and charter school founder during his tenure in Indiana.
Kevin Huffman resigned from the state superintendent’s job in Tennessee.
John White, the state superintendent in Louisiana, soldiers on, but his future is in doubt since Louisianans elected a Democratic governor who declared that he wants to get rid of White.
Deborah Gist, hailed as a national leader for mass firings at the high school in Central Falls in 2010, was not reappointed as state superintendent in Rhode Island and is now superintendent of schools in Tulsa.
John Covington abruptly resigned from the floundering Educational Achievement Authority in Michigan, which has been mired in scandal and produced no results for the students.
Cami Anderson resigned in Newark.
Mike Miles resigned in Dallas.
The Broad Superintendents Academy used to post on its website the names, photos, and bios of their “graduates, to show their significant roles, but that page has not appeared since 2011, probably because so many of the “stars” have been fired or resigned.
Arne Duncan is leaving the U.S. Department of Education. The new “Every Student Succeeds Act” strips future Secretaries of Education of any authority to tell districts or states what to do. His major legacy has been a bipartisan loss of confidence in the federal Department of Education to address the needs of American education. His successor, John King, inherits the bully pulpit and a much diminished role under the new Every Student Succceds Act.
Janet Barresi, the state chief in Oklahoma who was both a dentist and charter school founder, was beaten by Joy Hofheimer, a Republican who strongly supports public education.
Eva Moskowitz is going strong, having crushed Mayor Bill de Blasio and having a firm grip on Governor Cuomo. Her reputation took a hit when John Merrow showed on national television that she believes in suspending five- and six-year-olds.
Jeb Bush, the puppet master of corporate reform, is faltering in single digits in his quest for the Republican nomination for president.
Hanna Skandera hangs on as State Superintendent in New Mexico, despite her lack of teaching credentials (which state law requires), but a state judge struck down her punitive use of VAM to fire teachers.
Not an impressive track record. The stars and celebrities of corporate reform have faded, and no one with star power has come to the fore to take their places. How many are on the bench? Many states remain in the grip of privatizers bent on destroying public education, starving it of funding while demanding higher performance. Think Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana. Did I forget some others? Yet in all of these states, there is a growing resistance to the privatizers.
I don’t mean to imply that the corporate reform movement is on its last legs. It isn’t. As long as there are hedge fund managers and other billionaires ready and willing to fund efforts to privatize public education and to de-professionalize teaching, there will be people ready to do their bidding. The hedge fund managers and billionaires aren’t going away. But they may get tired of losing. They may find that it is no longer fun. They say they care about results. They say they are data-driven. If they are, there will come a time when they stop funding failure. How embarrassing it would be for them if students from the Newark Student Union or Journey for Justice or other grassroots groups picketed their homes or offices and discredited their claims that they are civil rights leaders.
In the meanwhile, across the nation, teachers keep doing their jobs every day, doing the work that the reformers do not appreciate and could not do themselves. This will be a long struggle, but in the end the reformers and their movement will fade away. The annual PDK-Gallup poll shows that the American public has little confidence in public schools (thanks, reformers, for 30 years of defamation of public education!). But the same poll shows that parents hold their own public school and their own teachers in high esteem. Reformers think that parents don’t know how bad their schools really are, but parents know their local public schools better than the reformers do; they know their principal and the teachers. They don’t want to close them or turn them over to a charter chain.
It is best to be on the side of children and their families, not on the side that attempts to use children as political pawns and to set children against their teachers. “Corporate reform” is a mean-spirited venture that has spread disruption in the schools and disruption in the lives of children and their teachers. Some of its backers are there because of their worship of the free market; some are enjoying the novelty of being on the board of a school, “their” school; some are in it for profit, making money from charter leases or technology; some are naive innocents, not aware that they are in league with the anti-union, anti-worker Walton Family of billionaires, ALEC, and the rogues’ gallery of rightwing governors.
The corporate reformers think that disruption is good. But disruption is not good for children or schools. The corporate reformers think that choice will improve education. It doesn’t, and it hasn’t. It turns parents into consumers, not citizens. It undermines any sense of responsibility for the common good. And it will not prevail.