Friday, March 11, 2011

Zeke Vanderhoek, relentless self-promoter

Zeke Vanderhoek gets more publicity for failure than most people do for success.

He got four articles in the New York Times before he even opened his charter school, The Equity Project; bragging how he would get better results with larger classes by paying teachers more, at $125,000 per year, plus bonuses if their students did well enough.

Though the test scores at his school turned out to be terrible, he still manages to score a profile in 60 Minutes this weekend.

He is clearly a genius at self-promotion, if nothing else.

First, there was a front page story in the NY times, on March 7, 2008, when he announced the idea of his charter school:

I would much rather put a phenomenal, great teacher in a field with 30 kids and nothing else than take the mediocre teacher and give them half the number of students and give them all the technology in the world,” said Mr. Vanderhoek, 31, a Yale graduate and former middle school teacher who built a test preparation company that pays its tutors far more than the competition….“This is an approach that has not been tried in this way in American education, and it opens up a slew of fascinating opportunities,” said Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “That $125,000 figure could have a catalytic effect.”… Mr. Duffy [head of DOE’s charter office] said the school could have a “tremendous impact” throughout the country.
If that wasn’t enough free publicity, there was a New York Times profile one week later, in which he was quoted as follows:

“The money is a signifier. Because money, in our culture, is a signifier of how jobs are valued, and right now schools are telling teachers that they are not valued.

The NY Times opinion blog posted a piece by a teacher and TEP board member, promoting the school in October 2008. In December, the Times magazine section featured him in an article by Paul Tough (chronicler of Geoffrey Canada and Harlem Children’s Zone) focused on the “new ideas” of the year:

Zeke M. Vanderhoek, the founding principal of the Equity Project Charter School, opening next fall in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, says he wants to attract “highly qualified individuals” to teach at his school. To be hired, according to the school’s Web site, you need to be able to prove you have “expert subject-area knowledge,” present a “portfolio of achievement of past students” and score above 90 percent on the verbal section of a graduate-school entrance test. In exchange, every teacher gets a starting salary of $125,000, plus an initial annual bonus of up to $25,000: high pay for high expectations.

The Times ran yet another front page story on the school, before it was even launched, in June 2009:

The school, called the Equity Project, is premised on the theory that excellent teachers — and not revolutionary technology, talented principals or small class size — are the critical ingredient for success….Over the past 15 months he conducted a nationwide search that was almost the American Idol of education — minus the popular vote, but complete with hometown visits (Mr. Vanderhoek crisscrossed the country to observe the top 35 applicants in their natural habitats) . [His teachers] are members of an eight-teacher dream team….I have tremendous confidence that the staff is going to be excellent,” he said.

Vanderhoek was also interviewed on WNYC on the Brian Lehrer show in March 2008 and again on the national NPR show, the Takeaway in June 2009.

He was yet again featured this fall in a highly deceptive article by Justin Snider of the Hechinger report, reprinted in papers around the country, about how the very existence of this charter school proved that teacher quality is more important than class size:

The reality, though, is that of all the things we should worry about in providing a quality education to our children, class size isn't high on the list. Teacher quality matters a lot more. Zeke Vanderhoek, the founder of The Equity Project Charter School in New York City, knows this. His teachers are the most highly compensated public-school educators in the country, earning minimum salaries of $125,000 per year. How does the school afford such salaries? Because Vanderhoek decided he'd much rather have the nation's top educators teaching classes of 30 students rather than mediocre folks teaching classes of 20 students.

Yet Snider conveniently forgot to mention that despite all that huge pay and stellar recruitment, the test scores of the school’s students had bombed, with some of the worst in the city. As Mona Davids of the NY Charter Parents Association pointed out on our list serv:

He should fire himself now. Equity Project only had a 31% pass rate. Where's his accountability?”

Even the NY Charter Center , the well-funded charter school booster, admitted such in its latest report:

“By the same token, charter schools that are attempting to pioneer innovative approaches but have posted low scores will be important for authorizers and observers to monitor over time. Examples include The Equity Project …”

Yet now, Vanderhoek gets another free national publicity boost, featured on 60 Minutes on Sunday! Why, you might ask?

Because he apparently says he will fire many of the “star” teachers he just hired. And because this message of firing teachers is aligned with the corporate reformers, they will promote his hare-brained ideas.

Imagine, how much free publicity he’s getting, despite (or because of ) his failures.

Can you see the headlines if he had succeeded in getting good test scores? More front-page articles about how his school had proven that class size doesn’t matter, and that all is important is teacher quality and merit pay? Lots of money to promote all his wrongheaded ideas, from Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates and others?

I also wonder why it’s considered heroic that he apparently says on the show that he will quit if his school doesn’t succeed in four years. Onwards and upwards! Perhaps he’ll be awarded a cushy job in a Gates-funded think tank or a Broad-sponsored superintendency. Because in the world of corporate education reform, failure clearly is not an impediment to success.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn’t you say you are jumping to conclusions? The school has only been in existence for 1.5 years and you are already claiming it has failed. Quality education takes time and measurable changes in student learning/performance do not happen overnight. How about giving a novel idea the chance to succeed?

Leonie Haimson said...

I agree that it takes time to prove the wisdom of an idea. That's why the huge PR cascade of puffery and attention for his ideas -- before the school even began -- and which continues even now, was entirely unjustified.

Anonymous said...

Faulty logic on your part. The PR was/is due to excitement about the idea. People are really excited by a school that actually values its teachers by paying them a decent wage. However, this PR is unrelated to whether or not the idea will actually work. Time will tell/prove if this idea is viable. So I beseech you, please give the school some time to prove itself before claiming it has failed.

Leonie Haimson said...

If Vanderhoek promises to stay out of the limelight, I will promise to leave him alone. I really don't think he should be able to promote his school and his wrong-headed ideas in the major media, but that somehow no one should be allowed to counter them.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Anonymous 3:53 PM,

Coming as he does out of the "No Excuses!" faction of the education reform debate, why on earth should Vanderhoek not be held to the same standards that are getting him so much media face time?

Or is accountability only for the little people?

Anonymous said...

I doubt Mr. Vanderhoek has the capacity to manage people! I remember him from his early freshmen years as a teacher...very dedicated, with big ideas-beyond that I don't know. Maybe it helps he is not the "little people." Probably the long name helps.

Yahswe Sukuyugi said...

Managing people is very difficult even his a genius man.

Josh said...

It's hypocritcal for a commenter to criticize the blog for jumping to conclusions when Mr. Vanderhoek clearly has. The guy is already firing teachers for bad test scores and engaging in a new PR blitz. Clearly he expected some sort of 1-year miracle and can't figure out why his teachers aren't as good as Michelle Rhee. :p

On the face of it, it's certainly an interesting idea -- I mean, what's not to like about paying out great salaries to hire an all-star cast of teachers? The problem is that his premise is a false one -- there are a lot of factors that go into student success, including family life, health, and other factors. Shoot, at least Geoffrey Canada tries to look at the whole child.

Unknown said...

Who is 'anonymous' and does he/she have any financial interest in charter schools in general or Vanderhoek's venture specifically?

Bill Gunlocke, a city reader said...

You might find insight in this blog about NYC schoolkids and reading:


Leonie Haimson said...

See video of last night’s 60 min: segment on TEP Charter school,

The segment featured Joel Klein's attack on tenure and celebrated the fact that Zeke Vanderhoek fired two of his teachers that he had so carefully recruited.

One was a sped teacher from Arizona who had moved to NYC to take the job.

Strangely, the segment never mentions the large class sizes that he promoted and others had promoted, that supposedly allowed him to pay $125,000 per teacher; instead Katie Couric says the trade off was that teachers had to take on additional administrative responsibilities.

Not sure whether the school has changed their line on this and if so, why.

Anonymous said...

Most of us who are employed in public education, particularly in NY suburbs feel that we are fairly compensated. I would be leery of anyone who went to TEP just to make some more money. Doesn't speak well to their mindset as educators.

125K is not far off the top of the scale for most suburban NYC area districts.

Anonymous said...

I think that you are jumping to conclusions. It is ridiculous to think that students who came from failing schools would be able to perform at grade-leve in a year's time. Give the man a break. At least he's trying, which is more than we can say for many educators in this country. As for promoting his idea, I think it's great that this man is passionate about education reform.

RR said...

Well, Leonie Hamison, it appears that you have a flawed understanding in the difference between being a magnanimous person and a schemer. First, Vanderhoek has the right intentions because he cares for the community. (I know you would not know about that since you probably have never lived in Washington Heights.)

Secondly, one has to praise a person who implements a new, innovative way of improving the public education system in New York City because few become a success story in my neighborhood.

Thirdly, why do you not find something better to do in your life besides trying to bring a person down who is trying to help. You seem to be too concerned with the success of a person and you perhaps might have a little bit of envy. Clear yourself from that. Then maybe you can start trying to contribute towards a better public education system.

Vanderhoek was my 6th grade teacher in Washington Heights, and I know him pretty well. Do not jump to conclusion about a person's character that you do not know, but I guess that what people such as yourself do from your part of town.

Anonymous said...

RR: "but I guess that what people such as yourself do from your part of town."...Judging by your grammar, I don't think Zeke is such a great teacher. Maybe that's how people talk in "your" part of town. Also your thought of applauding someone who comes up with a "new, innovative way of improving the public education system," is great, but the key word is "IMPROVING." If he would have improved the system, I would love to hear his story and ideas. Since his idea was a failure, I think the writer's opinion is that he should spend more time trying to fix his failed project, instead of parading around for self promotion. While it does seem that this article is a bit spiteful, it has quite a few interesting facts. The thing that stands out to me most is that not only were these teachers paid $125k(A retarded amount), they also performed worse than teachers getting paid less than $60k. Maybe Zeke should have found teachers that were willing to teach for little to nothing, and not teachers that were teaching for the money.

Anonymous said...

Why would you question any educator's mindset as such? Do you not want to be compensated for above and beyond contributions the field you are most passionate about? We are human beings and therefore desire support and recognition of our efforts in order to motivate us to achieve greater things! Intrinsic motivation does not pay the bills, put your child through school, put food on the table or allow you to purchase those extra supplies for that incredible project you'd love to try in your next class lesson. Would it make sense to say, "Boy, it doesn't speak well to that physician's medical mindset because they in part chose the profession due to the high monetary compensation doctors recieve"? Would you refuse their talents and passion for healing because they took the job that pays them accordingly? Shame on you! Think before you speak.

Anonymous said...

oh please idiot... it was clearly a typo. get a life.

Anonymous said...

Additionally, "retarded" is an adjective used by a person with limited vocabulary prowess. Way to be effectual!