Monday, December 31, 2018

How corporate reformers have become embedded in the Office of District Planning

Recently Stacie Johnson, a sharp-eyed NYC parent, pointed out to me in an email how the DOE Office of District Planning (originally the Office of Portfolio Planning) is populated by many administrators who were formerly associated with charter schools.  She wrote:
I was planning to reach out to someone about enrollment at my daughter's school and came across the name of a few people in DOE's strategic planning department and noticed a trend. It seems like the people who are in charge of planning, at least in my area, are all coming from a Teach for America and/or Charter School background. I've read about how the TFA and their affiliate Leaders for Educational Equity (LEE) are working to infiltrate their members into elected and policy positions, but I didn't realize this was so pervasive in Brooklyn. Is this news to you?
I hadn’t noticed this but decided to look into it.
District Planning was originally called the Office of Portfolio Planning under Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, and was headed at various times by officials who, after a short stint of teaching,  jumped onto the fast track towards power and influence.  Two former heads of Portfolio Planning were John White (now State Superintendent of Louisiana) and Marc Sternberg (now head of Education for the Walton Family Foundation.)  Their main qualifications for this job seemed to be able to portray no emotion during contentious and emotional public hearings, when teachers, students and parents begged them not to close their schools or force them into smaller spaces because of co-locations.
The office was created to pursue the portfolio model  of school improvement, first developed by Paul Hill of the Gates-funded Center for Reinventing Public Education.  It is based on the notion that parents should be given a wide “choice” of different types of schools, including charters and district public schools.  The district will then decide which schools should be closed depending on their test scores, parent demand,  or enrollment, with other schools created to take their place, many of them privately-run charter schools, in a process of continual change  and disruption, like the buying and selling stocks in an investment portfolio.   
There is much controversy as to this strategy’s effectiveness and rationale, as can be seen in a recent debate between Linda Darling-Hammond  of the Learning Policy Institute and Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education.
After Bill de Blasio was elected Mayor, and Carmen Farina appointed Chancellor, they changed the name of the office to District Planning, presumably because de Blasio had promised to focus his efforts on improving the public schools under his control, rather than closing them and encouraging charters to take their place. Yet school closings and charter co-locations continue under his watch, if at a somewhat slower pace than under the previous administration.
The Office of District Planning, according to its homepage, is supposed to create “annual strategic plans for all 32 Community School Districts through ongoing conversations with input from school communities and stakeholders.” In general, they analyze and help decide which schools should be closed and which buildings can be used to co-locate additional schools. 
To help determine sites for co-locations, they create an annual list of schools that have “underutilized space” and an annual report on “overutilized space” that the office began to produce after the DOE was revealed by a 2014 audit by the NYC Comptroller not to have any actual plan to alleviate school overcrowding.   (The latest version of this report still shows that there has been little or no progress in this area since then, as there were 720 overcrowded schools out of 1,749 schools in In the 2016-2017 school year, and 54 overcrowded high schools were still forced to have split sessions.) 
Another key responsibility of District Planning is to respond to the requests of charter schools looking for space in DOE buildings.  On its homepage it includes a request form:.
State Education Law provides certain new and expanding charter schools with access to facilities.  Charter schools requesting space in a DOE facility, must fill out the Charter School Space Request Form.” 
Given how these officials oversee the response to charter school requests for space in public school buildings, it would be concerning if many of them came from the charter school sector.
After I received the email from Stacie, I discovered fairly quickly that many of the current DOE administrators in District Planning are alumni of a training program run by an organization called Education Pioneers.  On its website, Education Pioneers lists NYC Department of Education as a “partner” since 2006. 
One of the “fellows” they prominently list from the class of 2010 is Yael Kalban, Executive Director of  the NYC DOE Office of District Planning, whose bio shows that she has steadily risen through the ranks at DOE since working as a TFA recruit in the Bronx.  Here she is quoted in a story about Teach For America in the NY Times from 2005:
… Yael Kalban, who helped organize campus recruiting as a senior at Yale last year and now teaches second grade in the Bronx, said that even a two-year commitment was daunting to many of her classmates.
"We'd tell people we thought they'd be great, and they'd say they didn't know if they were ready to commit two years," she said. "So we would get alums to come in and say they'd done Teach for America, and now they were in medical school, law school or architecture school, and that those two years weren't that much, and had actually helped them get into those schools."
Yael went from teaching for two years to working in the Leadership Learning Support Organization  (remember those?) to becoming Director of Portfolio Planning under Marc Sternberg.  She then headed Portfolio Planning briefly until it was renamed District Planning in June 2014, and still runs the division as its as its Executive Director.
Here is an article from EdWeek about Education Pioneers, which was founded by Scott Morgan, formerly legal counsel of Aspire, a chain of charter schools based in California.  The organization selects and trains bright young professionals over the course of a few days, before placing them in internships and educational management positions:
Applications to Education Pioneers, a nonprofit group that brings high-performing leaders—particularly those from outside education—into K-12 administrative internships, are rising steadily, putting the 10-year-old organization in line to follow in the footsteps of other nontraditional talent recruiters such as Teach For America.
Education Pioneers places early-career professionals in paid noninstructional leadership and management internships—such as administrative, analytic, and operational positions—in a variety of education-related organizations, such as charter schools, educational technology companies, school districts, and support organizations. The average fellow comes with about five years of professional experience….
The fellows complete a two-day training session introducing them to some of the big-picture challenges in education, plus five full-day workshops with their cohort to focus on such topics as education technology or human capital in education. They also receive one-on-one coaching throughout the program to evaluate their progress.
Seventy percent of fellows continue to work in education-related jobs after finishing the program, a recent survey indicates….Some of the major funders include the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. …
In 2011, the organization received $7.6 Million from the Gates Foundation to “Increase the Leadership Pipeline in K-12” and  “help attract top-notch professionals for careers in public education leadership positions.  The grant announcement described the sort of work that these individuals would focus upon:
This award showcases the emerging trend of attracting and placing more talented professionals into education leadership positions-a priority that was until recently overlooked.  The selected individuals will use their unique skills and prior work experience on projects such as using student-level data to pinpoint areas for teacher intervention, analyzing data and researching best practices to improve curriculum and instruction, developing a strategic plan for a teacher evaluation pilot, and rigorous classroom observation protocols to provide meaningful feedback to teachers. Other projects include expansion plans for quality charter schools that have proven academic success.
A 2014 report, co-authored by the Harvard Business School, the Boston Consulting Group and the Gates Foundation, entitled Lasting Impact: A Business Leader's Playbook for Supporting America's Schools, praised the organization, claiming that Education Pioneers has “funneled hundreds of highly skilled data analysts into districts and state agencies to enable a culture of data-driven decision making.”
(On the same page, the authors described the Gates-funded teacher evaluation initiative in Hillsborough County in Florida as having “improved their teacher development processes by relying much more on data to recruit, train, and retain effective teachers.”  Yet a multi-year RAND evaluation showed how that effort led to near-bankruptcy for the district, resulted in lower achievement rates and less access to effective teachers for low-income and minority students.)
After a bit of searching on LinkedIn, I found the following staffers at District Planning who came through the Education Pioneers pipeline:
Max Familian, Director of District Planning for Brooklyn North and Staten Island, who before that, worked at Community Roots Charter School for several years.
Theodore (T.R.) Pearson, Associate Director of District Planning for Queens.
Will Candell, Associate Director of District Planning (formerly TFA and Leadership for Education Equity – theTFA-linked organization)
Sarah Turchin, who now works in preK expansion and previously was a Director of District Planning.
Yet the staff at District Planning doesn’t seem to be entirely limited to alumni of Education Pioneers, at least according to their Linkedin profiles.  Here are other current District Planning officials who came out of TFA and the charter school sector:
Jamie Dollinger, Senior Director of District Planning (formerly TFA and Achievement First charters)
Michael O'Gorman, Associate Director of Planning (formerly TFA and KIPP charters)
Jess Meller, Director of District Planning (formerly of Uncommon Charter schools and a member of “National Charter Schools Professional Networking” )
Kelly Krag-Arnold, Associate Director of Planning (Formerly TFA and Leadership for Education Equity)
There are other DOE offices which also pull from the Education Pioneers program, such as the Office of School Enrollment, whose First Deputy is Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon.  She was a Broad Foundation resident as well, a more publicized training program for incipient corporate reformers. Before coming to DOE, she headed the Newark Office of Student Enrollment, where she instituted a controversial common enrollment system. According to Chalkbeat, Ms. Ramos-Solomon left Newark schools  last November, when a new Superintendent took over, selected by their newly empowered elected school board.
 She oversaw the universal enrollment system, called “Newark Enrolls,” which lets families apply to most of the city’s traditional, magnet, and charter schools using a single application. After a chaotic launch that outraged many parents, the system today gets high marks on user surveys. Yet it remains controversial among critics of charter schools who view it little more than a ploy to funnel students into the privately managed schools.
 The common enrollment system has been pushed hard by the Gates Foundation through their Gates district-charter compacts and CRPE, and was considered for adoption by the de Blasio administration in 2015, according to FOILed emails.  .
In all, the Education Pioneers website reports that the NYC Department of Education has hired 202 Fellows over the years, and currently has 65 alumni on staff, including but not limited to staffers at DOE’s Division of Early Childhood Education, Division of Human Capital, Research and Evaluation, and many others. Among the various projects that they are described of having worked on are promoting the use of technology in schools – another Gates Foundation priority – and a communications strategy to improve the charter schools’ “engagement” with parents and communities:
Assessed business practices of technologically advanced schools, wrote case studies, and developed a communications plan for principals around technology practices to create 21st century-ready schools. 
Developed an external relations strategy for the Charter School Accountability & Support team to help families navigate their options while improving charter school engagement within NYC communities. 
All this suggests that the corporate reform/charter school adherents have successfully embedded the higher echelons of several divisions of DOE, even under an administration that ran for office as being less charter-friendly than Bloomberg administration.  Indeed, many of these individuals appear to dominate the primary office that’s supposed to deal with critical issues that will determine the future of the entire school system: overcrowding, space utilization and charter school co-locations.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Please give so we can continue our fight for smaller classes and student privacy!

Dear friend:
2018 is nearly done, but our fight for  smaller classes and student privacy continues.  We rely on your support to make this happen; please make a tax-deductible donation to Class Size Matters today.
Our organization can survive only because of the generosity of individuals like you, who understand that all children deserve classes small enough to enable them to receive real personalized learning from their teachers.  Please click here to contribute; if you’d like your donation to go to our privacy work, you can indicate that on the line which says “designate your donation to a specific program or fund.”
This fall, our Parent Coalition for Student Privacy released an Educator Privacy Toolkit, along with the Badass Teachers Association, that has already been downloaded more than 1500 times. Take a look and join us for a webinar on January 20, where we will provide practical tips on how teachers can better protect their students’ data and their own.
Two weeks ago, I co-authored an op-ed showing that the deal that NYC made to put a new Amazon headquarters in Long Island City will likely lead to more school overcrowding, with two potential sites for schools given away to this corporate giant.  
Ten days ago, we released a new report, showing how the Mayor’s expansion of preK in NYC has caused worse overcrowding in 352 NYC elementary schools enrolling more than 236,000 students. We continue to press the mayor and the Chancellor to provide equity for NYC children. which can only occur if more schools are built and class sizes lowered to averages that prevail in the rest of the state.   
Please show your support, so we can continue our fight to improve every student’s opportunity to learn next year and in the years to come.
Happy Holidays, Leonie

PS I have posted my personal list of the best of 2018  – in books, education and politics.  Take a look!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Highlights of 2018 in books, education policy and political activism

Here is my collection of bests from 2018 – in books, education policy, and politics.  This is far from an exhaustive or authoritative list but merely one from my perspective, sitting here in NYC and glimpsing encouraging and even inspiring events elsewhere across the nation and the world.

First, I’d like to highlight three terrific books I read this year, each with special relevance to education:
Adequate Yearly Progress,  a novel by Roxanna Elden, a veteran teacher, is set in a struggling Texas high school and is  a hilarious satire of the all the trendy buzzwords and supposedly innovative transformational “reforms” that teachers and schools have been subjected to since NCLB.  Check out the review by Gary Rubinstein here and an interview with the author here.
Ghosts in the Schoolyard, a brilliant study of school closings by Eve Ewing.  It tells the story of how students, teachers and whole communities were devastated by the closing of 50 plus schools in Chicago by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013. Diane Ravitch writes about this amazing book here Many of Ewing’s findings were also reported in a more purely academic way by a report from the University of Chicago Consortium, which confirmed how students from closing schools experienced long-term negative educational effects.  As to Ewing’s book, I can only read a little at a time because it makes me relive in my mind the traumatic hearings on the 100 plus NYC school closings carried out during the Bloomberg years and now the de Blasio administration.  It also makes me regret that with all the scholars and authors in the NYC area, no one has written a similar book about the damage down by the NYC school closings.
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou was probably the most enthralling work of non-fiction I read this year, about Theranos, the start-up blood testing company, whose worth was estimated at one time at a billion dollars – an evaluation built solely on exaggeration, fraud and outright lies.  Though not about education per se, the book reveals how much of the corporate culture in Silicon Valley is based on hype and overly credulous reporting by the media.  This unearned hype is similarly reflected in the popularity of online or “personalized learning” ed tech products in schools throughout the country, despite the lack of any independent research showing they work to improve student outcomes, the risk to student privacy involved, and the growing evidence that they undermine the essential human relationships necessary for real learning.

 Education policy:

The corporate education reform movement in retreat.  All their so-called solutions to the problems of struggling schools have failed, including teacher evaluation based on test scores, the implementation of the Common Core, and charter school expansion.
The recent RAND report on the massive Gates-funded teacher evaluation project in  three school districts and four charter management organizations (CMOs) showed that despite spending millions in taxpayer funds to evaluate and compensate teachers based in part on their students’ test scores, these initiatives showed no positive results.  In one district in particular - Hillsborough County school – these policies led to near bankruptcy of the district,  lower achievement and less access to effective teachers for low-income and minority students.
The Common Core standards have been shown to be a disaster as well.  The standards have led to a “lost decade” in which student achievement has not increased for the first time since the NAEPs have been administered.  Even the Fordham Institute, the chief Gates-funded cheerleaders for the Common Core, released the results of a national teacher survey, showing that, as many of us warned would happen, the Common Core has indeed driven out classic works of literature, including novels and plays, from the English curriculum, in favor of a rigid quota of “informational texts” .  In addition, teachers report that students’ writing skills have worsened,  and the Core’s emphasis on “close reading”, with teachers told  to refer solely to the assigned text rather provide any factual or historical context, has caused curriculum with real content to be sacrificed to hours of content-free test prep. Their conclusion:

Between 2012 and 2017, the percentage of teachers who said they organized their instruction around “reading skills” increased from 56 to 62 percent, while those who said they organized their instruction around “specific texts” declined from 37 to 30 percent. That’s no way to systematically build students’ content knowledge. It’s high time that teachers (and preferably schools) adopt content-rich curricula.” 
Sorry, guys, you and Bill Gates should have thought of that first, before pushing these deeply flawed so-called standards on the nation.
The Pushback against charter schools strengthened as a result of widespread corruption, too frequently push out students and violate their civil rights, drain public schools of critical resources, and exacerbate segregation. 
Student Privacy as a dominant concern:  From being ignored by most policymakers, student privacy has emerged as one of the  most important issues in education since the defeat of inBloom in 2014.  With the continued spread of unsafe and unproven data-mining ed tech products, the proliferation of data breaches and the continued lax security practices of schools and districts, even the FBI released a public service announcement in September, warning how the “rapid growth of education technologies (EdTech) and widespread collection of student data could have privacy and safety implications if compromised or exploited. …and could result in social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means for targeting children.” 

 In October, our Parent Coalition for Student Privacy released an Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy in collaboration with the Badass Teachers Association that’s already been downloaded more than 1500 times. A plug: we’ll be holding a webinar on the Toolkit with Marla Kilfoyle of the BATs and Rachael Stickland of PCSP on Jan. 20 at 6 PM EST, sign up here.

Teacher activism:  From West Virginia to Oklahoma, from North Carolina to Arizona, teachers made their voices heard in grassroots strikes and walkouts, fed up with a decade or more of  low salaries, cuts to pensions, large class sizes, and the lack of respect provided  to the profession. Wearing “red for ed”, they created a sea of crimson in protests throughout the country, and emerged as a vital force for real education reform.

The Blue Wave sweeping the midterms.  So many new progressive candidates were elected in November, so many of them with young women of color, committed to strengthening rather than dismantling public education.  In New York state in particular, we now have a majority of progressive Democrats in the Senate for the first time in decades, who joining with the Assembly, will be pushing the education policy envelope in many ways – on school funding, stronger accountability for charter schools, and hopefully by ensuring stronger checks and balances to Mayoral control.
Inspiring youth movements –as brilliant and eloquent young people, with endless energy and commitment, increasingly take charge and lead the way.
From the amazing Parkland High School students leading a national movement against gun violence after the mass shooting at their school, to the Brooklyn students from the Secondary School of Journalism walking out in protest against Summit online learning and writing a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to stop stealing their personal data, to the Sunrise Movement – an organization seemingly appearing out of nowhere and achieving prominence in the halls of Congress and Capitol Hill, advocating for an ambitious “Green New Deal” to stem climate change, these young activists have shown the rest of us the changes that must be made.
The best speech: Finally, I wanted to share with you what I think was the most eloquent address of the year, made by 15 year old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist who also happens to be on the autism spectrum.  At the UN climate conference last month in Poland, she exhorted world leaders to take action before we run out of time to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming.  Greta’s own protests outside the Swedish Parliament each Friday have inspired student walk-outs throughout the world.
Thanks to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now for broadcasting Greta’s speech – and for an interview with Greta and her father, Svante Thunberg, who are coincidentally descendants of Svante Arrhenius, the first scientist to estimate how increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase global temperatures, more than a century ago. Take a look.