Monday, November 28, 2011

Winerip on Principal's Protest in NY

Principals Protest Role of Testing in Evaluations

Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Through the years there have been many bitter teacher strikes and too many student protests to count. But a principals’ revolt?
“Principals don’t revolt,” said Bernard Kaplan of Great Neck North High School on Long Island, who has been one for 20 years. “Principals want to go along with the system and do what they’re told.”
But President Obama and his signature education program, Race to the Top, along with John B. King Jr., the New York State commissioner of education, deserve credit for spurring what is believed to be the first principals’ revolt in history.
As of last night, 658 principals around the state had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.
Their complaints are many: the evaluation system was put together in slapdash fashion, with no pilot program; there are test scores to evaluate only fourth-through-eighth-grade English and math teachers; and New York tests are so unreliable that they had to be rescaled radically last year, with proficiency rates in math and English dropping 25 percentage points overnight.
Mr. Kaplan, who runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, has been evaluating teachers since the education commissioner was a teenager. No matter. He is required by Nassau County officials to attend 10 training sessions, as is Carol Burris, the principal of South Side High School here, who was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State.
“It’s education by humiliation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”
The trainers at these sessions, which are paid for by state and federal grants, have explained that they’re figuring out the new evaluation system as they go. To make the point, they’ve been showing a YouTube video with a fictional crew of mechanics who are having the time of their lives building an airplane in midair.
“It was supposed to be funny, but the room went silent,” Ms. Burris said. “These are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about.”
Last year New York was awarded $700 million as one of 11 states, along with the District of Columbia, to win a Race to the Top grant. The application process was chaotic, with Dr. King’s office making the deadline by just a few hours. To win a grant, states had to pledge to follow policy priorities of the Obama administration, like evaluating teachers by student test scores, even though there were no implementation plans yet.
New York committed to an evaluation process that is based 60 percent on principal observations and other subjective measures, and from 20 to 40 percent on state tests, depending on the local district.
In written responses to questions, Dr. King said while there are bugs in the system, “we are confident that as the state law on teacher evaluations phases in over the next couple of years, those educators charged with ensuring its successful implementation will do so professionally.”
 Asked if he was surprised by the number of principals who had signed, he wrote, “It’s not at all surprising” that the introduction of a new evaluation system “would produce anxiety.”
Although testing is central to the education reform movement, the word “testing” is considered crude in elite education circles, and in a three-page response to questions, the commissioner never actually used the t-word. However, he did include multiple euphemisms like “data on the growth in student learning.”
“A significant body of research,” he wrote, “demonstrates that an educator’s past impact on student learning is a strong predictor of that educator’s future impact on student learning and a useful component of a fair, transparent, and rigorous multiple measures evaluation system.”
Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said that because of the new “scientific, objective” evaluation system, the public would see that teachers were being held to a rigorous standard and would not dislike them so much. “I’m seeing a much more positive focus about teaching, and I like that,” she said.
It is hard to overstate how angry the principals who signed are. Mario Fernandez, principal of Stillwater High School near Saratoga, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking.”
“My gosh, it seems to be slapped together,” he said. “They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”
Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County. said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”
“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”
She said one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the state education department.
Several interviewed said the most reliable way to evaluate teachers was to make 5-to-10-minute “walk through” visits to their classes several times a month. “My principal is frequently in my class, and that’s the way it should be,” said Marguerite Izzo, a fifth-grade teacher in Malverne, on Long Island, who was the 2007 state teacher of the year.
Ms. Izzo calls students up to her desk, one by one, every day to discuss their work. “It’s the same for children or teachers: immediate feedback is best, while it’s still fresh in their minds,” she said.
The principals’ letter was drafted last month by Ms. Burris and Sean Feeney of the Wheatley School. “We tried and tried to talk to the state, but they don’t listen to us,” Ms. Burris said.
In his responses, Dr. King wrote, “The principals do raise some legitimate concerns that we are carefully addressing.” But he also wrote, “The structure of the evaluation system — including the use of data on the growth in student learning — is set in state statute.” (Translation: Testing full speed ahead.)
About 300 principals out of 4,500 in the state had signed by early November, when Newsday wrote a front-page story about the letter. There has been steady growth since. Three-fourths of Long Island principals have placed their names on the list.
Outside of Long Island, Westchester County has the most principals on the letter, 31.
Only 18 out of 1,500 from New York City have signed. Ms. Burris is not sure if the principals are not aware, or if they fear retribution from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is a big supporter of using data to calculate growth in student learning.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The NYPD has discredited itself

Occupy Wall Street

Thursday, Nov 17, 2011 4:30 PM EST

The NYPD has discredited itself

Tough tactics and intolerance favor the rich and flout the rule of law

An Occupy Wall Street demonstrator is arrested
An Occupy Wall Street demonstrator is arrested by New York City police.  (Credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)
In early stages of Occupy Wall Street, I sometimes encountered people who harbored a legitimate concern: Wouldn’t prolonged media attention to altercations between police and demonstrators distract from the movement’s message?
This apprehension always struck me as misguided. What could be more central to Occupy’s guiding philosophy than the idea that the rule of law has been subverted by corporate interests? In collusion with government functionaries and beyond meaningful accountability from the public, these interests have created a separate realm of law for themselves — one that orients the financial and political systems in their favor, to the detriment of everyone else. If this is indeed true, and the law itself is marred by a systemic corruption, then law enforcement —  manifested physically in the form of police officers — is an  appropriate focus for a social movement seeking redress of grievances.
As Occupy Wall Street grew, the New York Police Department’s “crowd control” tactics became increasingly bizarre and aggressive: historic mass arrests, motor scooter attacks, destruction of booksramming horses into demonstrators, putting New York Post reporters in choke holds – to name only a few.  And following Tuesday’s brazen raid of Zuccotti Park, carried out in the dead of night, the NYPD indicated that de-escalation is not on the horizon. Quite the opposite, in fact. Police officials at the highest ranks, under the direction of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, have taken to simply making up the rules as they go along.
In the same way that financial elites rig the political system, law enforcement elites like Bloomberg and Kelly have rigged the criminal justice system. Occupy Wall Street is hardly the only victim. The NYPD is on pace to make 700,000 extralegal “stop-and-frisks” this year alone, while its own officers skirt accountability for their misconduct. Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, who was sanctioned by NYPD Internal Affairs for pepper-spraying at least four demonstrators without provocation, received a maximum punishment of 10 lost vacation days on account of his actions.
If you’re an ordinary citizen, and you get caught on video dousing people with noxious gas like Bologna did, you get summarily locked up. And if you’re young and black, expect to receive the law’s full wrath. But when you’re an NYPD commanding officer responsible for all of Manhattan below 59th street, like Bologna was at the time of his attack, you get essentially a free pass.
Additionally, throughout my coverage of OWS, various police officials in plainclothes have refused to identify themselves upon request — a violation of NYPD patrol guide procedure 203-09, effective June 27, 2003, which states that all “members of the service” are required to “courteously and clearly state [their] rank, name, shield number and command, or otherwise provide them, to anyone who requests [they] do so. [They also must] allow the person ample time to note this information.”
Among the men who violated this directive are Lt. Daniel J. Albano, described in a 2009 court document as a “Lieutenant in the NYPD legal bureau and a high-level policy-making official for the NYPD.” When I asked Albano whether he was even with the NYPD, he replied, “I’m the plumber.”
Another is Sgt. Arthur Smarsch. On Tuesday morning, demonstrators were allowed back in post-powerwashed Zuccotti Park for a short time. Within what seemed like a half hour, officers began to force people out again. There was much confusion. Someone finally prodded Sgt. Arthur Smarsch to explain what was going on, and I heard him say that there was a “suspicious package” in the park. He then told an NBC4 reporter his last name upon request.
Smarsch was misinformed, because no other official ever mentioned anything about a “suspicious package,” nor was any search of the park ordered.
I recalled first seeing Smarsch at an early-morning march on Oct. 14, when he was unusually violent with demonstrators — even by NYPD standards — for no real discernible reason. He would not provide me (or several others who asked, including members of the National Lawyers Guild) with his name. I later retrieved it by other means. Smarsch is the director of Manhattan South Borough.
During the Zuccotti Park eviction, the NYPD enforced a strict no-public-access policy in both the park and its surrounding area, ensuring reporters would be virtually prohibited from observing the raid. Press, credentialed or not, were repeatedly barred from proceeding past the newly formed police line. Journalists associated with the Associated Press, the New York Times, the New York Daily News and other outlets were arrested.
At one point that morning, I got stuck in a chaotic mass of people, and was nearly battered with a baton while attempting to record video. Some NYPD officers seemed to enjoy all this immensely, especially Police Officer Toussaint — one of the several who laughed as they pummeled everyone in their path. I saw one man get smashed in the face with a riot shield; another was knocked over the hood of a taxi.
When I asked one officer why it had suddenly become unlawful to stand on that portion of the sidewalk, she answered, “You’re blocking pedestrian traffic.”
Someone called out, “We are pedestrian traffic!” The officer responded, “So are we.”
The officer’s remark, of course, was senseless. Taken at face value, it would presumably mean that those of us being impeded from standing on this normally open sidewalk were ourselves responsible for the ensuing obstruction of pedestrian traffic. As if the hundreds of amassed riot cops or newly erected metal barricades had nothing to do with the blockage that she so dryly referenced.
It is not good that NYPD officers now live in a world where coherency of argument is no longer even an aspiration. Having spoken to over a hundred police officers throughout Occupy Wall Street, about 70 percent respond to queries by saying nothing at all, another 15 percent grunt or mutter something inaudible, 10 percent make some kind of dismissive remark, and the remaining 5 percent are willing to have a human conversation.
If this is the reality of police behavior at a political demonstration in downtown New York City, what has happened to the reality of policing? The NYPD, ostensibly tasked with maintaining public order, has proven that it cannot handle political dissent without exerting anything less than military-style force. For two months, it has continuously abridged the rights of citizens to peaceably assemble, and of journalists to document these assemblies. It has lost its claim to legitimacy.

Michael Tracey is a writer based in New York. His work has appeared in The Nation, Mother Jones, Reason, The American Conservative, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @mtracey More Michael Tracey

New Yorker on Charters

Private Money for Public Education

NOTE In April 2011, Matthew McKnight was an intern at The New Republic, writing False Choice: How private school vouchers might harm minority students. In this New Yorker piece, good for him for highlighting Joanne Barkan's article. More questionable is his casual conclusion that KIPP produces "admirable results." This is still an open question.

by Matthew McKnight

For all the contention brought about by the O.W.S. protests, most observers and commenters agree that the movement’s one success has been to shift the national conversation—inasmuch as there is one—to words like “poverty” and "inequality." Still, since the early occupations, calls for the protesters to give specifics to underline their shouting have resounded. And in the months of occupation, the financial and political structures that created and support such drastic inequality have been widely reported on and scrutinized.

One, though—the privatization of public education, in the name of reform—has received less attention. On Monday, the Walton Family Foundation announced its plan to donate twenty-five and a half million dollars to the Knowledge is Power Program (K.I.P.P.), a national network of charter schools that many believe to be among the best in the nation. Surely, a lot of good can come from that amount of money. With its latest grant, the W.F.F. aims to "double the number of students attending K.I.P.P. public charter schools," reaching fifty-nine thousand students by 2015. More broadly, the foundation, according to its press release, seeks to help K.I.P.P. "transform public education in our nation."

But what is the nature of that transformation? In its Winter 2011 issue, Dissent magazine published an in-depth look into the control that three prominent foundations (Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad, and the Walton Family) exert over the substance, direction, and quality of education "reform."

In that article, Joanne Barkan writes:

Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher.

The education-reform methodology that Barkan describes can be seen in major school districts throughout the country, including New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. She concludes:
"The imperious overreaching of the Big Three undermines democracy just as surely as it damages public education.' As many school districts—and members of Congress--push to privatize public education, the money and foundations behind such crusades often gain considerable control and face little backlash if their plans fail.

More to the point, though, poverty poses difficult challenges for education in America, and as poverty figures grow, those challenges stand only to grow more complex. One wonders: Who are the nearly thirty thousand students that K.I.P.P and the Walton Family Foundation hope to attract? Already, nearly eighty per cent of students populating K.I.P.P. schools qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch (the education reform movement's euphemism for “poor”). A study conducted by Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University, says that thirty per cent of K.I.P.P. students and forty per cent of its black male students leave the schools between grades six and eight. The study continues:

The departure of low-performing students helps K.I.P.P. improve its aggregate results. Unlike local school districts, K.I.P.P. is not replacing the students who are leaving. When a student returns to a traditional public school after the autumn head count, K.I.P.P. retains all or most of the money -- allocated for educating that student during that school year.

K.I.P.P. responded with its own pair of studies to rebut those findings: "Our impact estimates reflect the effect of ever having enrolled at K.I.P.P., even if a student subsequently withdraws" and "if struggling students who leave K.I.P.P. are replaced by incoming struggling students from other schools -- there will be no selection effects arising from attrition/retention." At the same time, the schools tend to admit fewer "late-entry" students than those who leave before graduating. The studies, commissioned by K.I.P.P. did not, however, respond to the claim that K.I.P.P. retains funds after a student leaves the school network.

Looking at charter schools in general, it is far from certain whether or not charters perform better than public schools. Studies by Stanford University (2009) and the Institute of Education Sciences (2010) have yielded mixed results when comparing the two. But, even such a comparison is too myopic. The better question: Why do some schools—or types of schools—perform better than others? Foundation grants—however much they might help one, or a particular set of schools—are neither sustainable nor scalable enough to address the growing inequalities in education.

So, at the very least, it's worth asking if, in doubling its student population in roughly three years (the network was founded in 1994), K.I.P.P. is biting off more than it can chew. But the dollars from the Walton Family Foundation don't only enable K.I.P.P.; they also contribute to the notion that private institutions--schools, hospitals, banks—universally perform better than public ones, an idea that feeds rhetoric and policies, but may ultimately make it more difficult for generations to climb out of poverty.

Update: K.I.P.P.'s public affairs director, Steve Mancini, points out that, based on a survey of all hundred and nine K.I.P.P. schools conducted yesterday, eighty per cent "lose funding immediately for students who leave during the school year," while the others only count students once a year and "would keep funding if students leave during the school year."

Second, K.I.P.P. schools receive public funds just as traditional neighborhood schools do and should not be considered to be "private schools." K.I.P.P. schools also receive philanthropic donations, and often in large sums, that help to fund professional development programs, building costs, and teachers’ salaries.

The broader issue, though, is that however well the K.I.P.P. model works--and they do produce admirable results--economic inequality reverberates through the American educational system. There are many more children in America who are unable to attend K.I.P.P. or other charter schools. The Walton Family Foundation donation aims to increase capacity, which may end up being wonderful for future K.I.P.P. students. But what is America to do with the other children?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


NYCoRE is excited to announce that we are once again Organizing an
UNDOING RACISM WORKSHOP (URW) for December 9-11, 2011 in NYC- Undoing
Racism training in New York City.
We would love for you to join us!

The URW is facilitated by the People's Institute for Survival and
Beyond through the northeast organizing arm called The Antiracist
Alliance. Here is a description of the workshop, from the Antiracist
Alliance's website

"We work to undo structural racism from a common understanding as
presented by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond Undoing
Racism workshop. The People's Institute is recognized as one of the
foremost anti-racism training and organizing institutions in the
nation. It moves beyond a focus on the symptoms of racism to an
understanding of what racism is, where it comes from, how it
functions, why it persists and how it can be undone. In the New York
region, The People's Institute organizes not only with social work
educators and human service providers but with school teachers,
parents and youth, health care providers, criminal justice advocates,
and the faith community."

NYCoRE invites all educators, to join us in this work--continuing to
analyze the role of racism in the educational system and in the social
justice struggles that we engage in everyday!
REGISTRATION: If you are interested in joining us, please email by November 30th. Once we confirm your
registration via email, we will send you payment instructions.
COST: The regular cost for adults is $350 per individual adult BUT if
you register with NYCoRE, you can attend for the group rate of $250.
NYCoRE hopes to provide scholarships for anyone who needs one...but we
could use your help! Some suggestions include:
1. Since this is a form of professional development, some people have
been successful at petitioning their supervisors, principals, etc to
cover the workshop at the full cost of $350. Getting your employer to
pay your full fee would mean that the remaining $100 could be used to
subsidize someone else's fee!
2. Help us fundraise! We would love to hear your ideas!
To request a scholarship, help us fundraise, or find out more about
the event please contact
3.  If you have already done this workshop and are interested in doing
it again, please contact me at, and help us
spread the word to anyone who you think might be interested!

This workshop will be taking place at:
City College
160 Convent Avenue
Room 5206
New York, NY 10031

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools

The Nation
This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida. It was one of the first states to undertake a program of “virtual schools”—charters operated online, with teachers instructing students over the Internet—as well as one of the first to use vouchers to channel taxpayer money to charter schools run by for-profits.

But as recently as last year, the radical change envisioned by school reformers still seemed far off, even there. With some of the movement’s cherished ideas on the table, Florida Republicans, once known for championing extreme education laws, seemed to recoil from the fight. SB 2262, a bill to allow the creation of private virtual charters, vastly expanding the Florida Virtual School program, languished and died in committee. Charlie Crist, then the Republican governor, vetoed a bill to eliminate teacher tenure. The move, seen as a political offering to the teachers unions, disheartened privatization reform advocates. At one point, the GOP’s budget proposal even suggested a cut for state aid going to virtual school programs.
Lamenting this series of defeats, Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush, spoke to fellow reformers at a retreat in October 2010. Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”
If Levesque’s blunt advice sounds like that of a veteran lobbyist, that’s because she is one. Levesque runs a Tallahassee-based firm called Meridian Strategies LLC, which lobbies on behalf of a number of education-technology companies. She is a leader of a coalition of government officials, academics and virtual school sector companies pushing new education laws that could benefit them.
But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”
Despite the clear conflict of interest between her lobbying clients and her philanthropic goals, Levesque and her team have led a quiet but astonishing national transformation. Lobbyists like Levesque have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.
In Florida, only fourteen months after Crist handed a major victory to teachers unions, a new governor, Rick Scott, signed a radical bill that could have the effect of replacing hundreds of teachers with computer avatars. Scott, a favorite of the Tea Party, appointed Levesque as one of his education advisers. His education law expanded the Florida Virtual School to grades K-5, authorized the spending of public funds on new for-profit virtual schools and created a requirement that all high school students take at least one online course before graduation.
“I’ve never seen it like this in ten years,” remarked Ron Packard, CEO of virtual education powerhouse K12 Inc., on a conference call in February. “It’s almost like someone flipped a switch overnight and so many states now are considering either allowing us to open private virtual schools” or lifting the cap on the number of students who can use vouchers to attend K12 Inc.’s schools. Listening to a K12 Inc. investor call, one could mistake it for a presidential campaign strategy session, as excited analysts read down a list of states and predict future victories.
Good for Business; Kids Not So Much
While most education reform advocates cloak their goals in the rhetoric of “putting children first,” the conceit was less evident at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, earlier this year.
Standing at the lectern of Arizona State University’s SkySong conference center in April, investment banker Michael Moe exuded confidence as he kicked off his second annual confab of education startup companies and venture capitalists. A press packet cited reports that rapid changes in education could unlock “immense potential for entrepreneurs.” “This education issue,” Moe declared, “there’s not a bigger problem or bigger opportunity in my estimation.”
Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education. His consortium of wealth management and consulting firms, called Global Silicon Valley Partners, helped K12 Inc. go public and has advised a number of other education companies in finding capital.
Moe’s conference marked a watershed moment in school privatization. His first “Education Innovation Summit,” held last year, attracted about 370 people and fifty-five presenting companies. This year, his conference hosted more than 560 people and 100 companies, and featured luminaries like former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, now an education executive at News Corporation, a recent high-powered entrant into the for-profit education field. Klein is just one of many former school officials to cash out. Fenty now consults for Rosetta Stone, a language company seeking to expand into the growing K-12 market.
As Moe ticked through the various reasons education is the next big “undercapitalized” sector of the economy, like healthcare in the 1990s, he also read through a list of notable venture investment firms that recently completed deals relating to the education-technology sector, including Sequoia and Benchmark Capital. Kleiner Perkins, a major venture capital firm and one of the first to back and Google, is now investing in education technology, Moe noted.
The press release for Moe’s education summit promised attendees a chance to meet a set of experts who have “cracked the code” in overcoming “systemic resistance to change.” Fenty, still recovering from his loss in the DC Democratic primary, urged attendees to stand up to the teachers union “bully.” Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, likened the conflict to war, according to a summary posted on the conference website. “There’s an air game,” said Hage, “but there’s also a ground game going on.” “Investors are going to have to support” candidates and “push back against the pushback.” Carlos Watson, a former cable news host now working as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs specializing in for-profit education, guided a conversation dedicated simply to the politics of reform.
Sponsors of the event ranged from various education reform groups funded by hedge-fund managers, like the nonprofit Education Reform Now, to ABS Capital, a private equity firm with a stake in education-technology companies like Teachscape. At smaller breakout sessions, education enterprises made their pitches to potential investors.
Another sponsor, a group called School Choice Week, was launched last year as a public relations gimmick to take advantage of the opportunity for rapid education reforms. Although it is billed as a network of students and parents, School Choice Week is one of the many corporate-funded tactics to press virtual school reforms. The first School Choice Week campaign push earlier this year featured highly produced press packets, sample letters to the editor, a sign in Times Square and rallies for virtual and charter schools organized with help from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. The blitz got positive press coverage, providing “grassroots” cover for newly elected politicians who made school privatization their first priority.
A combination of factors has made this year what Moe calls an “inflection point” in the march toward public school privatization. For one thing, recession-induced fiscal crises and austerity have pressured states to cut spending. In some cases, as in Florida, where educating students at the Florida Virtual School costs nearly $2,500 less than at traditional schools, such reform has been sold as a budget fix. At the same time, the privatization push has gone hand in hand with the ratcheting up of attacks on teachers unions by partisan groups, like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity, seeking to weaken the union-backed Democrats in the 2012 election. All of this has set the stage for education industry lobbyists to achieve an unprecedented expansion in for-profit elementary through high school education.
From Idaho to Indiana to Florida, recently passed laws will radically reshape the face of education in America, shifting the responsibility of teaching generations of Americans to online education businesses, many of which have poor or nonexistent track records. The rush to privatize education will also turn tens of thousands of students into guinea pigs in a national experiment in virtual learning—a relatively new idea that allows for-profit companies to administer public schools completely online, with no brick-and-mortar classrooms or traditional teachers.

* * *
Like many “education entrepreneurs,” Moe remains a player in the education reform movement, pushing policies that have the potential to benefit his clients. In addition to advising prominent politicians like Senator John McCain, Moe is a board member of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-privatization think tank that issues policy papers and ads to influence the debate. Earlier this year, the group dropped $70,000 on an ad campaign in Pennsylvania comparing those who oppose a new measure to expand vouchers to segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, who blocked African-American children from entering white schools.
Moe isn’t the only member of the Center for Education Reform with a profound conflict of interest. CER president Jeanne Allen doubles as the head of TAC Public Affairs, a government relations firm that has represented several top education for-profits. Allen, whose clients have included Kaplan Education and Charter Schools USA, served as transition adviser to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on education reform.
Corbett, a Republican who rode the Tea Party election wave in 2010, supports a major voucher expansion that is working its way through the state legislature. The expansion would be a windfall for companies like K12 Inc., which currently operates one Pennsylvania school under the limited charter law on the books. According to disclosures reported in Business Week, Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School—K12 Inc.’s online school, which allows students to take all their courses at home using a computer—generated $31.6 million for K12 Inc. in the past academic year.
Thirteen other states have enacted laws to expand or initiate so-called school choice programs this year. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has pushed the hardest, enacting a law that removes the cap on the number of charter schools in his state, authorizes all universities to register charters and expands an existing voucher program in the state for students to attend private and charter schools (in some cases managed by for-profit companies). Critics note that Daniels’s law allows public money to flow to religious institutions as well. Twenty-seven other states, in addition to Pennsylvania, have voucher expansion laws pending. And states like Florida are embracing tech-friendly education reform to require that students take online courses to graduate. In Idaho this November, the state board of education approved a controversial plan to require at least two online courses for graduation.
“We think that’s so important because every student, regardless of what they do after high school, they’ll be learning online,” said Tom Vander Ark, a prominent online education advocate, on a recently distributed video urging the adoption of online course requirements. Vander Ark, a former executive director of education at the influential Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now lobbies all over the country for the online course requirement. Like Moe, he keeps one foot in the philanthropic world and another in business. He sits on the board of advisors of Democrats for Education Reform and is partner to an education-tech venture capital company, Learn Capital. Learn Capital counts AdvancePath Academics, which offers online coursework for students at risk of dropping out, as part of its investment portfolio. When Vander Ark touts online course requirements, it is difficult to discern whether he is selling a product that could benefit his investments or genuinely believes in the virtue of the idea.
To be sure, some online programs have potential and are necessary in areas where traditional resources aren’t available. For instance, online AP classes serve rural communities without access to qualified teachers, and there are promising efforts to create programs that adapt to the needs of students with special learning requirements. But by and large, there is no evidence that these technological innovations merit the public resources flowing their way. Indeed, many such programs appear to be failing the students they serve.
A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools. For White Hat Management, the politically connected Ohio for-profit operating both traditional and virtual charter schools, the success rate under NCLB was a mere 2 percent, while for schools run by K12 Inc., it was 25 percent. A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.
“Why are our legislators rushing to jump off the cliff of cyber charter schools when the best available evidence produced by independent analysts show that such schools will be unsuccessful?” asked Ed Fuller, an education researcher at Pennsylvania State University, on his blog.
The frenzy to privatize America’s K-12 education system, under the banner of high-tech progress and cost-saving efficiency, speaks to the stunning success of a public relations and lobbying campaign by industry, particularly tech companies. Because of their campaign spending, education-tech interests are major players in elections. In 2010, K12 Inc. spent lavishly in key races across the country, including a last-minute donation of $25,000 to Idahoans for Choice in Education, a political action committee supporting Tom Luna, a self-styled Tea Party school superintendent running for re-election. Since 2004, K12 Inc. alone has spent nearly $500,000 in state-level direct campaign contributions, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. David Brennan, Chairman of White Hat Management, became the second-biggest Ohio GOP donor, with more than $4.2 million in contributions in the past decade.
The Alliance for School Choice, a national education reform group, set up PACs in several states to elect state lawmakers. According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, American Federation for Children spent $500,000 in media in the lead-up to Wisconsin’s recall elections. AFC shares leaders, donors, and a street address with ASC. Bill Oberndorf, one of the main donors to the group, had been associated with Voyager Learning, an online education company, for years. A few months ago, Cambium Learning, the parent company of Voyager, paid Oberndorf’s investment firm $4.9 million to buy back Oberndorf’s stock. Cambium currently offers a fleet of supplemental education tools for school districts. With the recent acquisition of, a smaller online learning business, the company announced its entry into the virtual charter school and online course market.
Allies of the Right
Lobbyists for virtual school companies have also embedded themselves in the conservative infrastructure. The International Association for Online Learning (iNACOL), the trade association for EdisonLearning, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., American Virtual Academy, Apex Learning and other leading virtual education companies, is a case in point. A former Bush appointee at the Education Department, iNACOL president Susan Patrick traverses right-leaning think tanks spreading the gospel of virtual schools. In the past year, she has addressed the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a group dedicated to setting up laissez-faire nonprofits all over the world, as well as the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Two pivotal conservative organizations have helped Patrick in her campaigns for virtual schools: the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network. SPN nurtures and establishes state-based policy and communication nonprofits with a right-wing bent. ALEC, the thirty-eight-year-old conservative nonprofit, similarly coordinates a fifty-state strategy for right-wing policy. Special task forces composed of corporate lobbyists and state lawmakers write “template” legislation [see John Nichols, “ALEC Exposed,” August 1/8]. Since 2005, ALEC has offered a template law called “The Virtual Public Schools Act” to introduce online education. Mickey Revenaugh, an executive at virtual-school powerhouse Connections Learning, co-chairs the education policy–writing department of ALEC.
At SPN’s annual conference in Cleveland last year, held two months before the midterm elections, the think tank network adopted a new push for education reform, specifically embracing online technology and expanding vouchers. Patrick opened the event and led a session about virtual schools with Anthony Kim, president of the virtual-school business Education Elements.
SPN has faced accusations before that it is little more than a coin-operated front for corporations. For instance, SPN and its affiliates receive money from polluters, including infamous petrochemical giant Koch Industries, allegedly in exchange for aggressive promotion of climate denial theories. But SPN’s conference had less to do with policy than with tactics. Kyle Olson, a Republican operative infamous in Michigan and other states for his confrontational attacks on unionized teachers, gave a presentation on labor reform in K-12 education. Stanford Swim, heir to a Utah-based investment fortune and head of a traditional-values foundation, ran a workshop at the conference on creating viral videos to advance the cause. He said policy papers wouldn’t work. Tell your scholars, “Sorry, this isn’t a white paper,” Swim advised. “You gotta go there,” he continued, “and it’s because that’s where the audience is.” “If it’s vulgar, so what?” he added.
Since the conference, SPN’s state affiliates have taken a lead role in pushing virtual schools. Several of its state-based affiliates, like the Buckeye Institute in Ohio, set up websites claiming that unions—the only real opposition to ending collective bargaining and the expansion of charter school reforms—led to overpaid teachers and budget deficits. In Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute’s “news crew” laid the groundwork for Governor Walker’s assault on collective bargaining by creating news reports denouncing protesters and promoting the governor. In March, while busting the teachers unions in his state, Walker lifted the cap on virtual schools and removed the program’s income requirements.
State Representative Robin Vos, the Wisconsin state chair for ALEC, sponsored the bill codifying Walker’s radical expansion of online, for-profit schools. Vos’s bill not only lifts the cap but also makes new, for-profit virtual charters easier to establish. As the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based liberal watchdog, notes, the bill closely resembles legislative templates put forward by ALEC.
Although SPN’s unique contribution to the debate has been clever web videos and online smear sites, the group’s affiliates have also continued the traditional approach of policy papers. In Washington State, the Freedom Foundation published “Online Learning 101: A Guide to Virtual Public Education in Washington”; Nebraska’s Platte Institute released “The Vital Need for Virtual Schools in Nebraska”; and the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based SPN affiliate, equipped lawmakers with a guide called “Thinking Outside the Building: Online Education.” SPN think tanks in Maine, Maryland and other states have pressed virtual school reforms. Patrick visited SPN state groups and gave pep talks about how to sell the issue to lawmakers.
Meanwhile, ALEC has continued to slip laws written by education-tech lobbyists onto the books. In Tennessee, Republican State Representative Harry Brooks didn’t even bother changing the name of ALEC’s Virtual Public Schools Act before introducing it as his own legislation. Asked by the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey where he got the idea for the bill, Brooks readily admitted that a K12 Inc. lobbyist helped him draft it. Governor Bill Haslam signed Brooks’s bill into law in May. The statute allows parents to apply nearly every dollar the state typically spends per pupil, almost $6,000 in most areas, to virtual charter schools, as long as they are authorized by the state.
SPN’s fall 2010 conference featured the man perhaps happiest with the explosion in virtual education: Jeb Bush. “I have a confession to make,” he said with grin. “I am a real policy geek, and this is like the epicenter of geekdom.” Bush shared his experiences initiating some of the nation’s first for-profit and virtual charter school reforms as the governor of Florida, acknowledging his policy ideas came from some in the room. (The local SPN affiliate in Tallahassee is the James Madison Institute.)
Bush: Man Behind the Virtual Curtain
Jeb Bush campaigned vigorously in 2010 to expand such reforms, with tremendous success. About a month after the election, he unveiled his road map for implementing a far-reaching ten-point agenda for virtual schools and online coursework. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, a Democrat, has barnstormed the country to encourage lawmakers to adopt Bush’s plan, which calls for the permanent financing of education-technology reforms, among other changes. In one promotional video, Wise says it is “not only about the content” of the online courses but the “process” of students becoming acquainted with learning on the Internet.
The key pillar of Bush’s plan is to make sure virtual education isn’t just a new option for taxpayer money but a requirement. And several states, like Florida, have already adopted online course requirements. As Idaho Republicans faced a public referendum on their online course requirement rule last summer, Bush arrived in the state to show his support. “Implemented right, you’re going to see rising student achievement,” said Bush, praising Idaho Governor Butch Otter and school superintendent Tom Luna, who was elected with campaign donations from the online-education industry. Bush also claimed that making high school students take online classes would “put Idaho on the map” as a “digital revolution takes hold.” Bush was in Michigan in June to testify for Governor Rick Snyder’s suite of education reform ideas, which include uncapped expansion of virtual schools, and he was back in the state in July to continue to press for reforms.
In August, at ALEC’s annual conference in New Orleans, the education task force officially adopted Bush’s ten elements agenda. Mickey Revenaugh, the virtual school executive overseeing the committee, presided over the vote endorsing the measure. But when does Bush’s advocacy, typically reported in the press as the work of a former governor with education experience advising the new crop of Republicans, cross the threshold into corporate lobbying?
The nonprofit behind this digital push, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is funded by online learning companies: K12 Inc., Pearson (which recently bought Connections Education), Apex Learning (a for-profit online education company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft and McGraw-Hill Education among others. The advisory board for Bush’s ten digital elements agenda reads like a Who’s Who of education-technology executives, reformers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, including Michael Stanton, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Blackboard; Karen Cator, director of technology for the Education Department; Jaime Casap, a Google executive in charge of business development for the company’s K-12 division; Shafeen Charania, who until recently served as marketing director of Microsoft’s education products department; and Bob Moore, a Dell executive in charge of “facilitating growth” of the computer company’s K-12 education practice.
Like other digital reform advocates, the Bush nonprofit is also supported by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s foundation. The fact that a nonprofit that receives funding from both the Gates Foundation and Microsoft pressures states to adopt for-profit education reforms may raise red flags with some in the philanthropy community, as Microsoft, too, has moved into the education field. The company has tapped into the K-12 privatization expansion by supplying a range of products, from traditional Windows programs to servers and online coursework platforms. It also contracts with Florida Virtual School to provide cloud computer solutions. Similarly, Dell is seeking new opportunities in the K-12 market for its range of desktop products, while the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the charitable nonprofit founded by Dell’s CEO, promotes neoliberal education reforms.
Through Bush, education-technology companies have found a shortcut to encourage states to adopt e-learning reforms. Take his yearly National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
At the most recent summit, held in San Francisco in mid-October, a group of more than 200 state legislators and state education department officials huddled in a ballroom over education-technology strategy. Rich Crandall, a state senator from Arizona, said to hearty applause that he had developed a local think tank to support the virtual school reforms he helped usher into law. Toward the end of the discussion, Vander Ark, acting as an emcee, walked around the room acknowledging lawmakers who had recently passed pro–education tech laws this year. He handed the microphone to Kelli Stargel, a state representative from Florida, who stood up and boasted of creating “virtual charter schools, so we can have innovation in our state.”
Throughout the day, lawmakers mingled with education-technology lobbyists from leading firms, like Apex Learning and K12 Inc. Some of the distance learning reforms were taught in breakout sessions, like one called “Don’t Let a Financial Crisis Go to Waste,” an hourlong event that encouraged lawmakers to use virtual schools as a budget-cutting measure. Mandy Clark, a staffer with Bush’s foundation, walked around handing out business cards, offering to e-mail sample legislation to legislators.
The lobbying was evident to anyone there. But for some of those present, Bush didn’t go far enough. David Byer, a senior manager with Apple in charge of developing education business for the company, groaned and leaned over to another attendee sitting at the edge of the room after a lunch session. “You have this many people together, why can’t you say, ‘Here are the ten elements, here are some sample bills’?” said Byer to David Stevenson, who nodded in agreement. Stevenson is a vice president of News Corporation’s education subsidiary, Wireless Generation, an education-technology firm that specializes in assessment tools. It was just a year ago that News Corp. announced its intention to enter the for-profit K-12 education industry, which Rupert Murdoch called “a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”
As attendees stood up to leave the hall, the phalanx of lobbyists surrounding the room converged, buttonholing legislators and school officials. On a floor above the main hall, an expo center had been set up, with companies like McGraw-Hill, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., proud sponsors of the event, providing information on how to work with politicians to make education technology a reality.
Patricia Levesque, a Bush staffer speaking at the summit and the former governor’s right hand when it comes to education reform, does not draw a direct salary from Bush’s nonprofit despite the fact that she is listed as its executive director, and tax disclosures show that she spends about fifty hours a week at the organization. Instead, her lobbying firm, Meridian Strategies, supplies her income. The Foundation for Florida’s Future, another Bush nonprofit, contracts with Meridian, as do online technology companies like IQ-ity Innovation, which paid her up to $20,000 for lobbying services at the beginning of this year. The unorthodox arrangement allows donors to Bush’s group to avoid registering actual lobbyists while using operatives like Levesque to influence legislators and governors on education technology.
Levesque’s contract with IQ-ity raises questions about Bush’s foundation work. As Mother Jones recently reported, the founder of IQ-ity, William Lager, also founded an education company with a poor track record. Lager’s other education firm, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is the largest provider of virtual schools in Ohio. ECOT schools have consistently underperformed; though the company serves more than 10,000 children, its graduation rate has never broken 40 percent. The company was fined for billing the state to serve more than 2,000 students in one month, when only seven children logged on during the same time period. Nevertheless, after Levesque spent at least two years as a registered lobbyist for Lager’s firm, Bush traveled to Ohio to give the commencement speech for ECOT. “ECOT proves a glimpse into what’s possible,” Bush said with pride, “by harnessing the power of technology.”
* * *

Levesque is no ordinary lobbyist. She is credited with encouraging the type of bare-knuckle politics now common in the wider education-reform movement. In an audio file obtained by The Nation, she and infamous anti-union consultant Richard Berman outlined a strategy in October 2010 for sweeping the nation with education reforms. The two spoke at the Philanthropy Roundtable, a get-together of major right-wing foundations. Lori Fey, a representative of the Michael Dell Foundation, moderated the panel discussion.
Rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level?” Berman asked. “Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts.” He then answered his own question: “We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.” Berman’s glossy ads, which have run in Washington, DC, and New Jersey, portray teachers unions as schoolyard bullies. One spot even seems to compare teachers to child abusers. Although Berman does not reveal his donors, he made clear in his talk that the foundations in the room were supporting his campaign.
Levesque ended the strategy discussion with a larger strategic question. She pointed to the example of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donating $100 million to Newark schools. She then asked the crowd to imagine instead raising $100 million for political races where we “could sway a couple of seats to have more education reform.” “Just shifting a little bit of your focus,” she added, noting that new politicians could have a greater impact.
Levesque’s ask has become reality. According to author Steven Brill, ex–DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee’s new group, StudentsFirst, raised $100 million within a few months of Levesque’s remarks. Rhee’s donors include Rupert Murdoch, philanthropist Eli Broad and Home Depot founder Ken Langone. Rhee’s group has pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.
A day before he opened his education reform conference to the media recently, Bush hosted another education meeting. This event, a private affair in the Palace Hotel, was a reconvening of investors and strategists to plan the next leg of the privatization campaign. Michael Moe, Susan Patrick, Tom Vander Ark and other major players were invited. I waited outside the event, trying to get what information I could. I asked Mayor Fenty how I could get in. “Just crash in, come on in,” he laughed, adding, “so what company are you with?” When he learned that I was a reporter, he shook his head. “Oh, nah, you’re not welcome, then.”
An invitation had billed the exclusive gathering as a chance for “philanthropists and venture capitalists” to figure out how to “leverage each other’s strengths”—a concise way to describe how for-profit virtual school companies are using philanthropy as a Trojan horse.

Schools Under Attack by DOE Fight Back

Parents, Elected Officials Representing 15 Schools Targeted for Closure to Continue Season of Protests With Rally at DOE HQ

Targeted middle and high schools serve almost entirely low-income Black and Latino families, lost tens-of-millions to budget cuts over past 3 years

Many schools represented were founded, moved or co-located by Bloomberg Administration; most house large numbers of high-needs students

For months, hundreds of mostly low-income, Black and Latino parents and students from across the City have separately held rallies outside of their beloved middle and high schools in an effort to stop the Bloomberg Administration’s march to close them.  They have argued that their schools are struggling because of factors beyond the control of the community or the school: massive budget cuts, large concentrations of high-needs students, or a push to re-purpose their school’s building.

On Tuesday, parents and elected officials representing 15 of these schools will rally together outside Department of Education headquarters in a final push to take their schools off the block before the list of recommended closures is released next month.

The ralliers will give the DOE an “F” for failing to provide struggling schools and schools serving large numbers of high-needs students with the supports they need, citing the State’s own recent rebuke of the Bloomberg Administration’s closing schools policy and the addition of 350 new City schools to its list of schools in need of improvement.  The protesters will also point to New Yorkers’ general discontent with such administration policies, clearly represented in the recent polling of likely City voters.

The following are summaries of some of the schools that will be represented at the rally (a full list of schools is below):

-       PS 161, Brooklyn. “The Crown” (PS 161) was a top-performing school just two years ago, with nearly all of its students passing the state’s ELA exam.  But the City then cut more than $700,000 and nine educators and other staff members, sending scores into a tailspin.
-       MS 587, Brooklyn.  The “Middle School for the Arts” (MS 587) was founded under Bloomberg to replace the “Mahalia Jackson” school (IS 391), which was closed in 2006 under the mayor’s phase out policy for struggling schools.  Just five years later, 587 continues to struggle without the resources to better-serve its high-needs student population—and the City is targeting the school for closure yet again.
-       PS 137, Manhattan.  Just five years after DOE made a controversial decision to move PS 137 in with PS 134 so that its former building could house the Shuang Wen Academy, 137’s letter grade dropped from an “A” to an “F”.  The school has also experienced significant budget cuts despite a DOE pledge to increase support to assist with the move.
-       IS 71, Brooklyn.  Juan Morel Campos (IS 71) middle school was given an excellent performance report just three years ago.  Since then, the school has experienced more than $1 million in budget cuts and seen its percentages of special education, homeless and English Language Leaner (ELL) students all reach about double the citywide averages.
-       Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep, Queens.  CHCP was opened by the Bloomberg Administration, and has graduated just two classes so far—yet has been targeted for closure already after losing nearly $350,000 to City cuts.  The student population graduated at a 58 percent rate over the past two years—just three points below the citywide average.

WHEN:           Tuesday, November 22nd – 12:00 PM

WHERE:         Outside Department of Education headquarters – 52 Chambers St., Manhattan, NY

WHO:             Parents and students angry with DOE move to close their schools; Council Members Letitia James, Stephen Levin, Margaret Chin and James Sanders; Assemblyman Karim Camara; and public education advocates.


-PS 181, Jamaica
-PS 298, Brownsville
-General Chappie James Elementary and Middle Schools, Brownsville
-PS 19, Williamsburg
-Juan Morel Campos Secondary School, Williamsburg
-PS 137, Lower East Side
-PS 256, Bedford-Stuyvesant
-PS 22, Crown Heights
-PS 161, Crown Heights
-Frederick Douglass Academy II, Harlem
-IS 171, Cypress Hills
-Samuel Gompers High School, Bronx
-Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep, Cypress Hills
-JHS 296, Bushwick
-MS 587, Crown Heights

Monday, November 21, 2011

Far Rockaway Student Protest

English class at Frederick Douglass Academy in Queens hasn't had a regular teacher in three months

Irate parents say children are being cheated

Originally Published: Sunday, November 20 2011, 3:15 AM
Students at Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School donÍt have English teachers and protested in front of the school.
Victor Chu/
Students at Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School donÍt have English teachers and protested in front of the school.
Seniors at a struggling Queens high school have gone the first three months of the school year with no English teacher, the Daily News has learned.
About 75 students at Frederick Douglass Academy VI in Far Rockaway have been warehoused in a bunk class with a different substitute each week and no coherent lesson plan, they say.
For weeks, students begged administrators at the C-rated school for a steady instructor, but their request was denied — until Friday, when they protested and refused to go to class until their demands were met.
“We deserve to have a proper English teacher, not just a bunch of subs,” said senior Dominique Boatwright, 17, of Far Rockaway.
Dominique said that instead of getting a coherent English class, she and her classmates have spent 45 minutes each day aimlessly clicking around an “iLearn” web site with little direction.
When Dominique had a question about an essay assignment, a sub told her to try Google, she said. Instead of getting a letter grade for the first of the class, she received only a “P” for pass.
Parents aren’t satisfied with that level of instruction either, said Dominique’s mom, Shay Hollis, a retail worker.
“It’s terrible that our kids are sitting in class without a real teacher — they’re not getting what they need,” said Hollis, who called 311 to complain about the situation twice last week but got nowhere.
Education officials said that the school — where 27% of students graduated ready for college last year — is part of a citywide online learning initiative called the iZone.
Computer-based classes are a key component of the iZone program, which is used by more than 160 schools around the city.
But students said that they still need a teacher who’s familiar with the course work, even if they’re using computers to deliver instruction.
The fedup teens decided to take matters into their own hands and stage a protest outside the school on Friday morning to demand a teacher for their English classes.
Senior class president Shamia Heyliger of Far Rockaway organized the rally, which began at 7 a.m., before classes were scheduled to begin.
“We needed to get the message across that we need a teacher,” said Heyliger, who has a 93 average and wants to be a lawyer.
The spunky teen used Facebook to spread word about the rally, and about 40 kids turned out before class for the protest.
Kids held signs reading, “We need teachers” and some banged on pots and pans while Heyliger led them in a chant of “No teachers, no students!”
After about an hour, school administrators met with a delegation of students and agreed to hire an English teacher to serve the students who don’t have one.
The school’s principal didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on this story, but Education Department officials said that administrators will begin interviewing candidates for the position on Monday.

Read more:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Using Illegal Drugs to Fund Charters

Leonie Haimson on

the dangerous elixir of charter schools and its funders

Jonathan Sackler is one of the founders and main contributors to the pro-charter organization ConnCan, that has now expanded nationwide and merged with Joel Klein’s vanity  project, Education Equity Project. 

His daughter, Madeline Sackler, made a pro-charter documentary called “The Lottery” (fortuitously funded by her wealthy family) and did countless interviews implying she had no connection to the charter world but her interest was simply piqued watching a news story on TV about Harlem Success lottery.  (Here’s a typically disingenuous puff piece  in the WSJ which omits her connection to ConnCan, and where she claims that she just “stumbled” by accident on the charter school issue. )

The Sackler family is also the owner of the immensely profitable, privately held drug company, Purdue Pharma, headquartered in Stamford Connecticut.  On Monday,  I happened to hear an expose on NPR about the company, which is the nation’s leading manufacturer  of Oxycontin and has been convicted repeatedly of criminal activities in hiding the dangerously addictive properties of its most profitable product. 

Here’s an article from the NYT about these convictions, and  the account of a blogger who has tied together the sins of the company to their illustrious owners.

Here is a recent article in Fortune; the interview with its author on WNYC, Oxycontin: Painful Medicine, and a summary  from Wikipedia:

In May 2007 the company pleaded guilty to misleading the public about Oxycontin's risk of addiction, and agreed to pay $600 million. Its president, top lawyer, and former chief medical officer pleaded guilty as individuals to misbranding charges, a criminal violation, and agreed to pay a total of $34.5 million in fines.[10][11] In addition three top executives were charged with a felony and sentenced to 400 hours of community service in drug treatment programs.[12]

On October 4, 2007 Kentucky officials sued Purdue because of widespread Oxycontin abuse in Appalachia. A lawsuit filed by Kentucky then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo and Pike County officials demands millions in compensation.[13]

So not only are the ill-gotten gains from Oxycontin helping to fund the charter school movement, and to buy up many of our elected officials, but a better metaphor for the false advertising and hype around the dangerous elixir of charter schools could not be found.

Teacher/Parent Outrage at Queens Metro HS as DOE Ignored Problem - HS Supt Juan Mendez on Hot Seat - Network Too

My son is a 10th grader at Queens Metropolitan High School.  I am blind copying many different groups on this e-mail; parents, teachers, and other BOE officials.  Please rest assured that your e-mails will remain confidential with me.  I know that many are speaking to me on the condition they remain anonymous (mainly some teachers) and I intend to keep that promise.     

To start off, an article was written up today about our school   Please find the article here:

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, we are all frustrated and fed up with the administration at QMHS.  Teachers, please understand that we know your hands are tied with the situation.  We know exactly where to place the blame.  We thank you for doing all that you can to make sure our children’s basic core standards are being met and we beg you to continue to do so. 

I like to bring everyone up to speed on what I have been doing.  For the past several weeks I have been reaching out to as many BOE offices as I possibly can.   I’ve reached out to Queens High School Superintendent Juan Mendez, to the District 28 CEC, to the Citywide Council on High Schools, and I have been trying to reach DOE Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott.  Many of you know that Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and her staff have been working hard on getting the proper authorities aware of our situation.  We thank Ms. Crowley and Katherine Mooney for their efforts.

Until now, the responses that I have been getting back from the above groups have been few and what I do get back is very vague.  “We are currently investigating the matter”.  Today, November 16th we hit a bit of luck.  My husband spoke directly to Senior Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky, who is second in command to DOE Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott.  My husband went over the various issues, the pressing issue being the inaccurate schedules and lack of a Chemistry teacher.  Mr. Polakow-Suransky patiently listened and was not happy with what he was hearing.  He acknowledged that it sounded like we have major issues and his response was “You are going to get the help you need.”  His other concern was the lack of response from the Queens High School Superintendent office.  He asked that I e-mail him describing in detail what has been going on.  You can see my e-mail to him below which begins the outline our situation.  The attached two documents are the supporting documents I supplied to him as well.  One is my e-mail with Queens High School Superintendent office representative and the second is my notes from the PTA meeting held November 15th.

For those who are unaware, there was a PTA meeting held on Tuesday, November 15th.  You’ll find my notes attached with a lot of information.  Many parents were speaking out to Principal Levy-Mcguire and no one was happy with her responses to the various questions.  She either denied knowledge of said issue or she blatantly lied.  The parents pointed out issue after issue and asked for answers from Principal Levy-Mcguire.  No answers were provided.  No plan was developed on how to she plans to address our concerns.  At the end of the meeting the parents were left frustrated and angry.

Tomorrow I plan to call Senior Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky to get his opinion of my e-mail.  I want him to tell me what action he plans to take, what results I may see, and a timeframe for these results.  I will give him one week to outline a plan to me.  If I can not get a satisfactory response then I am going to the major media outlets.  This is where I need your help.

PARENTS- I am asking your help to reach out to as many parents as you possibly can.  Pass them my e-mail address and phone number and ask them to e-mail me.  If I go to the media I can not go alone, we need to stand many and we need to stand united.  It is the only way we will get any action.  So please start reaching out to other parents. I also want to hear from each of you regarding your story.  What other issues do you want to be addressed?

TEACHERS-  I am understand you may be hesitant for fear of repercussion.  But I seriously need eyes and ear within the school.  What results, if any, are you seeing?  I need to know I am pushing the right buttons.  I need to know if I need to push harder.  Please rest assured that any teacher who wants to speak to me their identity will remain with me and me alone.  But I beg you to reach out to me.  If you have contact information for other frustrated parents please have them get in touch with me.    

I will send out another e-mail once I get a response from the Senior Deputy Chancellor and will continue to be in touch with any information I have.  But please feel free to contact me at any time.  I work until 5pm but I will reply quickly to an e-mail. 
Thank you all,

Dear Mr. Polakow-Suransky,

Before I begin I want to direct you to an article that was published November 16th which briefly touches on some of our school issues.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with my husband John Sadowski earlier today regarding Queens Metropolitan High School.  Our son is currently a tenth grader.  As you know QMHS opened its doors for the first time in September of 2010 and unfortunately this school has been a disaster since Day 1.  Many parents tried to be patient, with the understanding it was a new school and it would need time to work things out.  Month by month things progressively got worse.  By the end of the school year parents were frustrated.  We could only hope that the administration would work over the summer understanding where they went wrong and begin to improve.  We found out on day one in September 2011 that we were sadly mistaken.  

On the first day of school Sept 2011 the student schedules were not yet ready.  My child did not receive a schedule until day 3 or 4.  Some parents have told me that there child had to wait longer.  What soon followed after this was schedule change after schedule change.  On October 31st my son received his ninth schedule change.  On some of those schedules he had five or six blank spaces and nowhere to go during those times.  On one of the schedule changes he was not given a lunch period.  Some parents have told me that their children still have blank spaces and they are pulling their children from the school during those times.  Teachers and parents have told me that hallways and stairways are crowded with students with no place to go.  One schedule my son had was filled with obvious errors.  He repeatly went to the main office to report these errors and he was finally directed to the Guidance Counselor.  The Guidance Counselor told my son to “find someone with a similar schedule and then just follow that student’s schedule.  I was horrified to learn that this was the schools response.  I later found out from other parents that their children were told the same thing.  On October 28th I was at the school and Vice Principal Lambert called me and my son over.  She asked my son what schedule he following, because they could not find him the past week or so.  I find this very alarming!!!!  He is following the schedule the school provided and they can not find him????  What if he was hurt in the halls, would no one know?  Ms. Lambert answered this with a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes.  On November 15th Principal Levy-Mcguire acknowledged that they schedules are still not correct and does not expect to have them resolved until sometime in December.

On October 26th my son’s Chemistry teacher quit with no notice.  We currently do not have a replacement teacher.   Instead we have substitute after substitute and no one is providing Chemistry lessons.  Instead the children sit there and do nothing.

Parent Teacher Conferences took place on October 28th.  Last year Parent Teacher Conferences were ran the traditional way.  You went in at met one-on-one with each individual teacher.  This year, an e-mail about  Parent Teacher Conferences went out from Parent Coordinator Kim Ramazan.  The e-mail states: We hope to see all parents at Parent Teacher Conferences on Friday.  Your child's advisor will have his/her report card and will be prepared to discuss your child's progress.  If you will be attending conferences and have not received a scheduled appointment with your child's advisor, please contact me and I will make arrangements.  I took a half of day off from work so I can start the conferences during the afternoon session.  When I met with my son’s advisor I was given his report card and told that I would not be meeting one-on-one with the individual teachers.  It was the advisor’s role to review all of the report card with the parents.  There would be a 30 minute “meet and greet” session involving all of the parents and all of the teachers in the lunch room that I could attend instead.  Ironically, the Advisor I met with was not my son’s advisor but a substitute.  When asked, she could not explain why my son received the grades he did, or what he was lacking in and needed further work on.  When I voiced my concerns with Vice Principal Lambert, upset that I took off of work to attend, I was given an indigent reply that Kim’s e-mail was self explanatory.  Her tone implied that I was stupid to think I would meet with teachers during Parent-Teacher Conferences.

My son currently has one text book; a Chemistry book, even though he has no Chemistry lessons.    Principal Levy-Mcguire was surprised to learn this and instant that he should have text books for Global History and Geometry yet I promise you he does not.  Other parents have mentioned that they have the Geometry book but not the Chemistry book.

Although the children are getting Gym, they are not having a gym lesson.  Instead they sit in the gym without changing into uniforms and do nothing.  Yet my son received a 75 on the report card while other students received 55s or 100s. 

There is after school tutoring for the core classes however children are being turned away for lack of teachers.

Blackboard is the school’s program of choice for students and parents to log into to see the student classes and assignments.  It has not been working at all this year as of yet.  Last year it had nothing but problems with many parents voicing concerns that it was to confusing, not clear cut, and lacking classes.  Basically, there is no way for a parent to track what is going on within a class or what assignments students should be working on.

Frustrated with the school, On October 28th I began reaching out to the BOE for help.  Here is a list of the people I have reached out to and there response:

Queens High School Superintendent Juan Mendez:  Selena South is the contact person who has been corresponding with me, with Mr. Mendez being copied on every single e-mail exchange.  Her initial response was that she took my e-mail and forwarded onto Principal Levy-Mcguire to address my concerns with me.  When I questioned why my e-mail, which outlines problems with the administration of the school (ie- principal and vice principals), has now been referred back to said principal her next response was that they would look into it.  After two weeks of no reply back I followed up with her to be told “The claims are being investigated by the Network leader. All allegations are being addressed at this time.”  There is no evidence of this and I asked her for further details and she has declined to respond. 

District 28 CEC:  After three e-mails to them which no answer was received I was finally told on November 16th by Sandra Williams that I would have to contact Citywide Council on High Schools and she provided me with the contact info for Paola de Kock.

Citywide Council on High Schools:  Before receiving the recommendation from District 28 CEC to contact them I was already in touch with Joanne Bouillon-Middleton from the CC of HS however have not heard from her since 11/3.  I left her a follow up voicemail on 11/15 and a follow up e-mail on 11/15 as well.

Queens Council Member Elizabeth CrowleyI have been in contact with Ms. Crowley and her staff since March or April of 2011.  Ms. Crowley has two children within QMHS and sees first hand the problems.  She is also getting feedback and complaints from many other parents.  Her staff member Katherine Mooney has been trying to get involvement from the BOE and Superintendent Juan Mendez for months now but having to go through proper channels she has yet to seen results.  I implore you to contact Kate at her office, they have been very helpful.  Her contact information is and phone 718-366-3900.

Teacher Contact:  I have been in contact with many teachers who wish to remain anonymous which I plan to upheld.  They want to communicate freely without fear of repercussion.  The teachers are just as upset as the parents are.  From what I understand, Gillian Smith from the Children's First Network was brought in the week of November 7th to work on fixing the schedules.  The schedules Gillian arrange were just as full of errors as all of the other schedules that have been produced thus far.   A group of teachers provided feedback on the errors to Principal Levy-Mcguire who asked the teachers to wait it out.  Later that day an e-mail went out to the teachers from Gillian Smith thanking them for taking ownership of correcting the schedule; something the teachers did not volunteer for.  Further, Principal Levy-Mcguire offered the teachers release from their classes to give them time to work on the schedules.  I saw evidence of this on Monday, November 14th when the student body was placed in the auditorium for three full periods with nothing to do.  When the teachers went to Principal Levy-Mcguire to decline and state that they would rather teach classes Principal Levy-Mcguire retaliated by pulling all comp time positions – no grade team leaders, no advisory coordinator, no testing coordinator, no ESL coordinator, and no IEP coordinator – and this even though the teachers involved were already doing these jobs without receiving the comp periods off for them!

I am attaching the following supporting documents for you:
·          My notes from the PTA meeting held November 15th.  You can see that all of these issues were brought to the attention of Principal Levy-Mcguire and she provide no answers or constructive comments.
·          Copy of my e-mails with Selena South on behalf of Superintendent Juan Mendez.  You’ll notice that Mr. Mendez is copied on every single e-mail.

The parents are currently forming and gathering support from as many parents as we can and this journey has now led me to you.  We are now asking for your involvement on behalf of our children.  We would like an emergency meeting held between your office, the parents, and the school administration so you can see and hear first hand what our complaints are and how the school is handling it.  We would like an official statement outlining what is the cause of these issues and a written plan on what steps will be taken to correct these issues.  And we would like a reasonable time frame placed on the school to correct this as well as the school to be held accountable if these deadlines are not met.  Parent frustration is building daily and we feel that our voices are not being heard.  As tenth graders, we feel that these problems are overshadowing our children’s education and they are not meeting basic standards.  With the college application process right around the corner we feel that urgency is of the uttermost importance right now.

I thank you so much for your time and I will eagerly await your reply.  You can e-mail me here or call my husband John at