Archive for April, 2014

Who is min(d)ing Baltimore City Schools? Lately it appears to be Baltimore Citizens on Baltimore Schools (BCBS).


The group is inviting parents and community members to get involved. They state, “Our work focuses on developing, implementing and sustaining district effectiveness that leads to increased student achievement in Baltimore City Public Schools.”

But wait, there’s more!! If you are a parent, teacher or community member genuinely interested in helping support Baltimore City public schools you might want to read the fine print before joining. What hides beneath the surface of this grass-roots organization is astroturf, The group is part of a larger reform effort focused on corporate and privatizing interests.

BCBS is part of Achievement First which was founded in 1998 by Fund for Education Excellence. The Achievement First model was developed by Fund for Educational Excellence. This model is a turn-around model that trades in public schools for McCharters.

Fund for Educational Excellence (FfEE)

The Fund For Education Excellence is a privately held company in Baltimore, MD founded in 1984 defined as a non-profit because it receives substantial part of its support from government unit or from the general public. It has $6.16 million in estimated annual revenue.

FfEE CEO Roger Schulman is a TFA graduate, who previously worked for The New Teacher Project which is driven by corporate CEO’s and a corporate model of education. “The majority of TNTP’s revenue comes from its work with clients on a fee-for-service basis.” This model is being replicated in Baltimore. And the Fund creates and promotes its charter school model. In 2012 he received annual salary of approx. $157,000.

FfEE is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated $100,000 to FfEE in 2011.

Their website states, “With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and 11 local foundations, the Fund expanded our scope of services, playing a significant part in Baltimore City’s High School Reform movement including the introduction of school choice for all high school students.” So funding from Gates goes to “choice” (aka privately run charter schools) to replace public schools. We’ve seen the influence Gate’s monies have had in other areas of the country. Some of us believe this does not bode well.

And FfEE donates money to other non-profits, cycling the money to and from other predatory reformers. Including Center on Reinventing Public Education. CRPE appears to perform the tasks that FfEE does. Its website states its task is to conduct “research and policy analysis CRPE seeks ways to make public education more effective, especially for America’s disadvantaged students.” Apparently there are millions of million dollar ways for corporate interests to “improve schools.”  Their major funding is also brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Rather than shuffling monies between themselves to promote corporate-driven reforms, wouldn’t that money FfEE gave CRPE have been better served providing library books, art supplies or air conditioning to the city schools FfEE promises to serve?

In 1998 FEE introduced the Achievement First reform model, placing full-time professional developers in schools to build the capacity of teachers to deliver high-quality literacy instruction.

In fall 2005, under the leadership of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Achievement First expanded into Brooklyn. They have Achievement First charter school chain in NY, CT and RI. It appears that Baltimore is next in their lists of places to colonize. Here is a list of Board members for AF:


William R. Berkley, Chair
Chairman and CEO, W.R. Berkley Corporation

Doug Borchard, Treasurer
Managing Partner and Chief Operating Officer, New Profit, Inc.


Carlton L. Highsmith
CEO (retired), Specialized Packaging Group

James Peyser
Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund 

Jon D. Sackler
President, Bouncer Foundation

Elisa Villanueva
Co-CEO, Teach For America 

Ariela Rozman

How is replacing Baltimore City public schools with charter schools an improvement given the tenuous record that charter schools have.

According to Alan Singer:

Currently, there are approximately 2.5 million students enrolled in publicly funded charter schools in the United States. These charter schools are operated by both profit-making companies and “not for profit” organizations. In New York City every charter school is operated by what is known as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In New York State, only 16 out of 209 charter schools are operated by for-profit companies. In other states, particularly Michigan, Florida, and Arizona, for-profit companies dominate the charter school movement. In Michigan, about 65% of the charter schools are run by for-profit educational management organizations

Achievement First set out to create a public charter schoolsAchievement First has grown into a network that includes 25 schools in five cities. In 1999, Amistad Academy opened with 84 fifth and sixth graders. Now, in the 2013-14 school year, Achievement First is serving 8,100 students in grades K to 12.

The faux “choice” narrative driven by predatory philanthropists is coming to Baltimore. But what if WE CHOOSE to support, to reclaim, and to advocate for our public schools? Who will help us financially support models driven by real evidence that smaller class size, experienced teachers, rich and meaningful curricula, and adequate funding? After all, it’s what the private schools (where reformers send their own kids) provide for their students. The best money can buy.

But Baltimore City Schools and the families living there will get more tests, more monies spent on data infrastructure and Common Core training. They get mediocre profit-driven corporate run charter schools. Less recess, less art, fewer teachers, fewer resources for anything not driven by the tests. And when all else “fails” (or the kids “fail”) Maryland reform policy makers can just sell their community schools to the highest bidder, which seems to be Achievement First.


Go and tell them what YOU think. Left unchecked and unchallenged their model to privatize schools and privately manage our children will not stop.

Tell Common Core to Get Lost

Posted: April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Get Lost

I’ve been groping my way along … I’ve been concentrating so long on my vision that I lost sight … You see, it’s not the vision. It’s the groping, it’s the yearning, it’s the groping and the yearning, it’s the moving forward. I was so fixated on flinging that cow that when Ed told me that Monty Python had already painted that picture I thought I was through. I had to let go of that cow so I could see the other possibilities …and this is most important: It’s not the thing you fling; It’s the fling itself.

-“Chris” from the television series Northern Exposure

This past Friday I was excited to be joining a group of parents, teachers, and grad students for a Teach In discussion about corporate reform and opting out being held at Columbia Teachers College.

I was amongst strong resistance advocates including Daiyu Suzuki, Jason Wozniak, Sue Schutt, Jean McTavish, Denny Taylor, Rosalie Friend, members from Change the Stakes and others.

I had never been to Teachers College (TC) before and therefore I needed to find out how I was going to get there from my sister’s house in CT.

I used Map Quest to see what they had to say. The directions felt confusing and hard to picture in my head.

I looked at maps of the area and tried to envision the number of blocks I might need to walk if I got off at 125th St train station to get to 121st Street. Or how far from Grand Central?  How much might a cab cost? What if I took the subway? Which stop? Which subway line?

I asked Jason, who gave me good directions. My sister called her boyfriend who works in the city and knows the terrain well. I called the help desk at TC. Everyone had a different suggestion. Because there was more than one way to gtet there.

I made it there without incident (i.e winding up in Hoboken). We had a fabulous and powerful discussion that will lead to more opting out actions in the NY and NJ areas.

But as I rode the train from CT to NY, the Grand Central shuttle and then the number 1 subway to 116th St I began thinking about how my journey paralleled the issues we face in an education landscape colonized by the Common Core and high stakes testing. More than once, when I asked “How do I get to TC?” different people said to me, “Well, it depends on how quickly you need to get there.” Or, “How much do you like to walk?” I realized there were many ways to get from here to there…much depended on what my time frame was, my purpose, and the kind of journey I wished to have. Did I want to walk and sight see? Or was I on a mission? What about variable costs of a taxi versus the subway? There were so many questions, and so many options.

That is what education is supposed to be about. Learning is a journey. Common Core treats it as a destination—with one right way to get there. I don’t care that the “new math” supposedly encourages students to problem solve and remain open ended as to how to solve a problem. That’s like dropping me in middle of Manhattan and saying “Go find TC.” And then demand that the journey be direct (via standardized testing), and the destination fixed (“measured progress” that defines every child’s readiness for career and college). And then fail me for arriving late. Maybe I stopped to visit Central Park. Giving children opportunities to be confused by saying “figure it out” but then exacting asnwers on one fixed set of questions to measure their “progress” is just harfmful. It is not the same things as allowing them and their teachers to embrace learning as a journey constructed by them, and to be evaluated by them as the journey-takers.

Common Core creates a set of prefixed predetermined outcomes, measured in only one way, and tracks students along the way, to make sure they’re “on track”–God forbid they wander. But not all children learn the same way. Or at the same pace. Or with the same interests. Sometimes you want the subway, sometimes you want a cab. Learning as a journey is far less about the end point and focuses more on the process…and is valued for more than simply arriving at the end point by the fastest route. Imagine the limitations we place on the journey of learning when we tell all students there is only one place to go and only one way to get there. Career and college readiness –whatever that means to begin with—can be defined in more ways than a narrow set of Common Core standards and progress that’s measured in one way…and not “how was the trip?” Or “What did you see along the way?” Rather the only thing we demand is that you get here as soon as possible. But why? What are we rushing to? Why race to the top? What’s up there anyway? Profits for testing companies, and empty promises for children.

I’d rather take a cue from Alan Block who writes, “(Real) education … has nothing to do with marked paths and coming home. Rather (it) has more to do with meandering: with getting lost.” We need more wandering, more exploration…more getting off the pathway being forced upon us. Common Core has got caution flags, flares, orange cones, maps and security guards marking off every possible exit ramp. Reformers are afraid we might discover the road less travelled is indeed the preferred one.

In a reform era increasingly marked by concepts such as predictability, accountability, measurability, and homogeneity, more creative risk taking practices are being watered down or filtered out altogether. The journey through this terrain, using the birds-eye map view of the world as a metaphor here, is one staked out with push point pins, which exact the journey to be traveled. This is especially true for beginning teachers terrorized by the thought of “getting lost” as they begin their teaching quest. Common Core related policies and outcomes discourage teachers from knowing the landscape of teaching and learning so that they might be able to begin and end the journey from a myriad of locations, to embrace the idea of “wandering” at times. Common Core teacher “training” demands they become consumers of the curricular “map” with all the directions scripted out ahead of time, rather than asking students and teachers to be the creators of the journey.

If I had been more familiar with NYC, you could drop me anywhere and I could find six ways to get to where I was going. But not knowing the terrain, I had to follow one set of directions and feared the slightest mistake. What if I end up on the subway line #2 instead of #1? Empowered experienced teachers can begin anywhere and go anywhere by any sorts of ways appropriate to the needs and desires of their students.  Teachers who are new to education are given one map…one set of instructions…and like me travelling to TC not knowing the terrain, have a fear of getting “lost” because they have been told there is a fixed arrival time and they will be evaluated on each step of the journey. Under such immense pressure there is no time to allow students to stop anywhere along the way and have a moment of curiosity. There is nothing of value in experience except to have accomplished it. And where will students even be when they’ve arrived?



Here’s the basic rule of practice for reformers. When the truth is no longer is their favor, they resort to silencing and fear tactics to win their battle. After all, if you knew the truth, you might do something about it. Case in point: sometime over the weekend of March 29th-31st, during our Denver event, our United Opt Out website was hacked in such a wholesale fashion that every part of the website database was trashed,. Given that I need my nine year old to help me with my iPhone 6 you can imagine how much I understand about the world of hacking, but our tech savvy friends working on the problem have concluded that given the size and scope of the hacking job that “it is purely malicious…” The hacker crippled every single SQL table and left them unrepairable. The site is frozen more or less and inaccessible to administrate.

In spite of the headache this gives to us as the site administrators it does not deter us from our goals to take education back from the grips of federal and corporate interests, and to build a democratically-led effort for public education founded on human and civil rights for all children. When we started as a group three years ago, we had a simple goal in mind: Help parents opt their children out of high stakes standardized testing. As the political and educational landscapes became more rabid with harmful policies, bullying practices, and oppressive billionaire interests calling the shots, our movement has grown. We defined ourselves simply as “six pissed off radical educators with fifty dollars between us.” What we lacked in financial sponsorship, or political savvy, we made up for in knowledge and a passion for meaningful and sustainable education for all children. We still have little more than fifty dollars between us, but we are wiser and more pissed off than ever. Whomever hacked into our site is a fool if they think this little stunt deters us in any way. We eat adversity for lunch. (…we have no money or time for real food anyway). In fact, all headaches aside we find it par for the course. After all, we are fighting against education hackers every day.

This type of tacit seems only fitting for any person, organization or corporation involved with predatory-style education “reform”  given that their entire approach to privatizing public education (which appears to be the end goal looking at the way the puzzle pieces fit together) is to HACK THEIR WAY into public education. Hacking into someone’s database, computer or website is done invisibly. And with self-serving ill intent. The goal is not to be known, but to achieve certain ends which include gathering private information and/or dismantling the distribution of information from that source. Predatory reformers seem to be pulling from this playbook. Like a hacker, they snuck their way into public schools seemingly innocuous or completely unseen. Their strategies are intimdation, deception, and silencing dissent.

Take for example model legislation crafted by ALEC last fall called the Student Achievement Backpack Act, and Course Choice Act which discreetly and somewhere in the fine print inserts the language that:

No later than {insert date}, an authorized LEA user shall be able to access student data  in a Student Achievement Backpack, which shall include the data listed in Section 7 (A) (1) through (4) and the following data, or request the data be transferred from one LEA to another:  (1) section attendance; (2) the name of a student’s teacher for classes or courses the student takes;  (3) teacher qualifications for a student’s teacher, including years of experience, degree, license, and endorsement; (4) results of formative, interim, and summative computer adaptive assessments administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code};  (5) detailed data demonstrating a student’s mastery of core standards and objectives as measured by computer adaptive assessments administered pursuant to {insert  applicable state code}; (6) a student’s writing sample written for an online writing assessment administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; (7) student growth scores for {insert state} performance assessment; (8) a school’s grade assigned pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; (9) results of benchmark assessments of reading administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; and  (10) a student’s reading level at the end of grade 3.

The new authorized LEA’s include third party private companies who will be contracted to provide education delivery systems in public school classrooms in lieu of face to face learning with an actual teacher. Like the real hacking job to our website, the knowledge created and emanating from real places or moments of learning will be frozen or locked out.

The Course Choice Program created by this Act would allow students in public schools and public charter schools to enroll in online, blended, and face-to-face courses not offered by the student’s school, and would allow a portion of that student’s funding to flow to the course provider. This Act creates an authorization process for providers and identifies provider and course eligibility criteria

Let’s not forget how corporate interests and hedge fund companies have worm-holed their way in via new testing mandates, as well as the profit driven motives of organizations using Common Core as their point of entry. They are non profts sprung up to “help” schools manage new Common Core materials and processes. Sometimes their entry seems benign, like the new person you add to a member list, or the small mindless click to download something onto your computer-it seemed like such a nice download, or person…and they’ve been “pre- approved” by what we once thought of as trusted and credible sources like so-called research or education-based entities. For example, The Wall Street Journal “reported” a story about edu-tech companies involvement in school-based data collection, but it wasn’t as much “reporting” as it was free advertising for New Classrooms Innovation Partners trying to assuage the fears of communities that their involvement in data collection was “safe”—like a “trusted” link on your computer. The report FAILS to mention that this company is funded by a host of ALEC-affiliated corporations with links to the creation of new testing mandates and Common Core, including Gates, Bezos, Carnegie, New Schools Venture, and Broad Foundation. They sneak in the front end and profit out the back end. Take a moment and read the bios of their board of directors while you’re at it.

Even the title of the WSJ article: “Big Data Enters the Classroom,” has hacker written all over it in my opinion. The report states, “The amount of data collected is expected to swell as more schools use apps and tablets that can collect information down to individual keystrokes, or even how long a student holds a mouse pointer above a certain answer.

One reason that education hackers are as successful as they have been thus far (beside the billions of dollars being pushed via Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Walton and others) is because the average teacher or parent doesn’t even know they’re there.  In the endless hours of Common Core training, how many teachers are made aware of the corporate interests that created Common Core, or the lobbying efforts of Pearson for new testing legislation?

At how many back-to-school nights are parents informed of who really wrote the new Common Core standards, or how much of their children’s private data will actually be collected and stored by companies such as inBloom? And if those parents and teachers knew they were there, they’d promptly want them out. Except that once they’ve gotten in it’s hard to track them and remove them. They’ve all snuck in like hackers, and once inside the metaphorical walls of public schools and every classroom in America, they will have behind the scenes control to redirect the system as they see fit.   And the average teacher, parent, student and community member will cease to have any control.

They are in fact a virus.