Where in the World is Karran Harper Royal? Maryland and Across Louisiana

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Editor’s Note: This is the latest in an occasional series documenting where the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association sends Karran Harper Royal.

It’s been a while since we checked in on the union-funded travels of our old friend, Karran Harper Royal. If you’ll remember, last winter, Royal was busy flying across the country – from Los Angeles, to Boston, to Chicago – to share her distorted portrayal of charter schools in New Orleans, courtesy of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

As winter turned to spring, however, things seemed to die down for the Big Easy’s preeminent anti-charter school activist. Apparently, AFT stopped calling and had turned their attention elsewhere. While Royal maintained an unusually low profile for most of the summer – and the rest of us enjoyed a vacation from her incessant lies about education reform – it was only a matter of time before she jumped back into the fray. All she needed was the right opportunity and the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provided it.

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ESSA, which was signed into law by President Obama in December, represents a significant shift away from the strict accountability measures of its predecessor, No Child Left Behind, by giving states much more flexibility in how they measure school performance and address failing schools. Now that states are preparing to adjust their policies to comply with the new law, the teachers unions – in particular, the National Education Association (NEA) – have launched a nationwide campaign to water down state accountability standards and promote community schools as an alternative to charters.

In Louisiana, NEA is attempting to shape public opinion through a series of community forums on ESSA that their state affiliate, Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), is hosting in cities across the state. Moreover, the union has hired Karran Harper Royal to assist in their propaganda efforts to perhaps give them a veneer of grassroots authenticity.


Over the past two weeks, Royal has appeared at LAE’s ESSA forums in Shreveport, Lafayette, and Lake Charles, where she urged community members to reject charter schools and embrace the community schools model.  At the meeting in Lake Charles, for example, Royal told audience members that the proliferation of charters in New Orleans had been a disaster for the city’s children, whereas community schools promised to “catalyze the revitalization of not just the student, but of the whole community.”

From LAE's ESSA forum in Lafayette.

From LAE’s ESSA forum in Lafayette.

But Royal’s work on behalf of NEA isn’t limited to Louisiana. On Friday, she was in Rockville, MD to share her lies and misinformation about charter schools at a NEA training session for union leaders and educators from across the Northeast.


Where will Karran Harper Royal shill for the teachers unions next? Only time will tell, but rest assured that we’ll be following her exploits here on Citizen Ed!

A note to my frenemy Edu$hy$ter about the other plutocracy

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Dr. Martin Luther King reanimator week is almost over. Before we close it out, let’s acknowledge one of the more penetrating questions asked during this solemn season of remembrance.

Education comedian and union contractor Jennifer “Edu$hy$ter” Berkshire asks…

Hilarious.

It isn’t a weekday if someone funded by unions isn’t suggesting the only reason to reform America’s awesome public schools is for greed. To suggest that schools can do better, and teachers can be better matched to students, is to be exposed as a doltish automaton for the 1%.

If unionists on Twitter are to be believed, I am said to be just such a robot.

My opponents see themselves as the online proletariat fighting an altruistic battle for the soul of educational democracy. The rest of us are mere digital prostitutes working on the Mustang Ranch of corporate bazillionaires.

The money funding a nation of organizations to speak with one voice and one mind in defense of poor quality public schools is invisible, odorless, and tasteless.

When Edu$hyster was on my Rock The Schools podcast I told her that former employer (the American Federation of Teachers) spends a lot of money on communications and marketing.

She pushed back:

“I have spent the last three years trying to find money for myself and for others that are doing important work and there is literally no one to even ask.”

I said the money is out there. Maybe she just wasn’t searching very hard.

She said:

“I’ve been doing this for three years, I think I know about as much as anyone does about this world and I’m telling you there are no places to go to find money. There’s a huge funding imbalance. This is not a matter of opinion. There are a handful of foundations that fund the kind of organizing work that I’m interested in.”

Was she joking? Did she really not know about the cascading waterfalls of funding for a national strategy against school accountability, teacher evaluation, school improvement, and charter schools?

Doubtful.

But, if she can’t see the money for the trees, she should ask her friend Jeff Bryant. He’s a successful for-profit communications consultant hired by labor aligned organizations to send America one message: teachers are perfect; schools need more money and less accountability; and charter schools invented the concept of fraud.

In past blog post I pointed out Bryant is big pimpin’. He’s made over a million dollars from just one client, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

In 2013 he made over $260,000. That won’t put him in the 1%, but it isn’t exactly working-class either.

Read the list of “articles” he has done for Salon.com and you’ll see a guy capable of incredible message discipline, if not logic, reasoning, argumentation, or writing.

Bryant sells class warfare schtick through Salon.com, a publicly traded publication that tells investors its readers are…

“affluent, well-educated and highly influential”

$92,000 household income

76% college educated

Median age is 36

lured by luxury brands like Cadillac and Lexus

Bryant’s employer, the Campaign for America’s Future, is at the center of even bigger money makers. They’re not transparent about their donors, but they get money from folks with names like Soros, Rockefeller, and Getty.

Their parent organization, the Institute for America’s Future, even gets money from the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund, the Arca Foundation (tobacco money), the Ford Foundation, and The Stewart Mott Foundation.

There’s a whole bunch of 1% capitalism cash going into these organizations that rail against both the 1% and capitalism. It’s kind of like teenagers raging in their parent’s basement about not having cable.

If you “follow the money” upward you’ll eventually end up at a private club of ultra-wealthy “progressives” who hold secret meetings out of the view of regular people. They decide what The Agenda is going to be for all of us, and who will get their money. It’s all the things their grantees down stream say they’re against: top-down reform, billionaires trying to buy government, and end runs around actual democracy.

Now, Berkshire is not about that life. She isn’t rubbing elbows with financial titans. Yet. But, as a writing fellow under Jeff Bryant at The Progressive, she’s getting closer. Even that hyper-lefty publication gets funding from the 1%.

Let’s answer her question “If MLK came back today, which billionaires would fund his important work?”

That’s easy: I suspect a lot of corporate donors would line up as they do for Jesse Jackson (you know, the civil rights leader who sent his kids to private school but marches with teachers unions against school choice).

His sponsors include Citigroup, Coca-Cola, AT&T, General Motors, IBM and Boeing.

I’m confident the Ford Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, Arcus Foundation, Tides Foundation, Mott, Casey, and many others would fund Dr. King too.

It’s true that very rich people invest in school reform and believe it will change education for the better.

It’s also true that folks like Berkshire and Bryant are beneficiaries of the other plutocracy.

Ms. Clinton, you can’t Wobble away from better schools

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A story posted on Roland Martin’s website, News One, asks “Want to know how Hillary Clinton will win the Black vote?”

Ok, I’ll bite. Tell me, how?

The answer: “By learning how to do “The Wobble” of course.”

The Wobble is line dancing for black folk. It apparently can be used as a bridge to help white candidates humanize themselves with black audiences. It might also be an ironic dance that politicians do to win black votes while betraying black trust, as Hillary Clinton is doing with recent comments downplaying her past support for charter schools.

Politico’s story announcing her school reform backslide has a sensationalist headline, “Hillary Clinton Rebukes Charter Schools.” The piece tracks her support for charter schools (and Bill Clinton’s) going back to the mid-1990s, and then serves her current beef, cold and unseasoned.

Charter schools “cherry pick” their students and fail to serve students in the toughest circumstances, she says.

When President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1998 encouraging the increase in charter schools he praised lawmakers for putting “progress over partisanship.”

Now it appears the latter Clinton seeks to reverse the order of the quote and put partisanship before progress. Let’s not be surprised. Her endorsements from the two national unions representing teachers, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, should have signaled a looming sea change that would involve a self-serving mea culpa. The NEA and AFT are America’s largest, most powerful and moneyed opposition to educational options outside of the traditional school district where unions dominate.

Charter schools have no such organization, nor a nation of active foot soldiers.

Back in the day Hillary Clinton said “The president [Bill Clinton] believes, as I do, that charter schools are a way of bringing teachers and parents and communities together.”

Today more than a million parents are on waiting lists. Thousands of teachers work crazy hours to reverse the correlation between poverty and low levels of student learning. As predicted, people have come together.

Who could have known 17 years later Ms. Clinton would run against Mr. Clinton’s biggest achievement in education, one with the best payoff.

Indeed, President Clinton’s 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act poured billions of dollars into several education strategies intended to improve outcomes for kids in poverty, including $11 billion for magnet schools, district desegregation efforts, improved technology, school safety, and progress in special education.

All these years later magnet schools enroll 1.5 million students and produce generally positive (if not mixed) results, but, if their purpose were to reduce racial segregation, they have failed. Most American students attend racially redundant schools, and for children of color, and the poor, these schools have lousy results.

After decades of trendy technology spending, public schools might as well be run by Luddites.

School safety and special education are still an issue.

That leaves one educational innovation in the Clinton arsenal. Charter schools.

This is what she told Roland Martin at a recent town hall about her new concerns:

The original idea, Roland, behind charter schools was to learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools. And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

You would be hard pressed to find any sunlight between that position and what union leaders say. Adopting this stance may help Clinton politically, but it’s a calculated move that is tragic for poor families and students.

Charter schools have made progress

Since 1998 charter schools have grown from 1,000 to more than 6,100. They now serve 7% of public school students.

In keeping with the original vision for these schools, they educate more students of color living in poverty than the traditional public schools. For instance, black students are 29% of charter school enrollment, but only 16% in regular district schools. Latino students are 27% versus 23% in district schools. Low-income students make up 53% of students versus 48% in districts.

When it comes to student outcomes, there are signs of hope. According to Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) urban charter schools, on average, produce “significantly greater student success in both math and reading, which amounts to 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading.”

Sure, charter school opponents will roll their eyes at all of this. They have the best research studies union money can buy. Truthfully, they aren’t always wrong (who is?) when they say charter schools are not all they’re said to be. Many perform poorly. Some states have such weak charter school laws there seems to be a charter school financial scandal daily. Discipline practices in some charter schools would make the army cry uncle.

It’s all true.

So let’s close charter schools that suck, but only if we do the same with nearby district schools suffering the same lack of performance.

But, let’s not ignore the fact that charter schools have proven immensely popular for black and brown students in low income families. And, on average, they deliver academically for those families. They want small, safe, tuition-free public schools that prepare students for good jobs and good lives.

Assuming that people of color and the poor are still major constituencies of the Democratic party, we have to ask why Ms. Clinton would throw black and brown students under the politically expedient school bus?

As Juan Williams points out, it could very well be that “The price of a union endorsement is too high for school children.”

Ms. Clinton can’t Wobble her way out of that one.

Maybe I was too hasty in trusting Bruce Baker’s anti-reform ‘scholarship’

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When I took a full-time education policy job in 2010, I was not current on the latest research. I’d received my Masters in Public Policy, with a focus in education, a full 15 years earlier. Back then I paid close attention in my classes with Professors Jim Hines and Tom Loveless. It was widely accepted in scholarly literature that “inputs” such as money and teacher qualifications had not improved the quality of American public schools. Like many left-of-center observers, I found this scholarly conclusion disappointing, but it appeared robust, withstanding repeated attempts at re-analysis from the Coleman Report in 1966 to a 1986 survey by Eric Hanushek who is now at Stanford.

Twitter, of all things, provided me with news to the contrary in August of 2014. Mark Weber, a sincere reform skeptic and public school teacher in New Jersey, goes by the Twitter handle “Jersey Jazzman,” and is a part-time doctoral student at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. Weber pointed me to publications written by one of his professors, a fellow named Bruce Baker. Although I had never previously heard of Baker, Weber was not the only person who recommended him. Ben Spielberg, who graduated from my undergraduate alma mater told me flatly that Baker’s “research is legitimate.” Spielberg, Weber, and other reform skeptics cited Baker often, and indeed Baker was described by AEI’s Rick Hess as the 40th-most cited education scholar in America. Even better, it seemed that Baker was willing to engage folks I knew to be smart and careful, such as Ulrich Boser at the Center for American Progress and Rebecca Sibilia at EdBuild.

I thus read Baker’s research with an open mind.

 
Surprise! Decades of economic research, taught at Harvard as the consensus, had been wrong!

Baker’s papers blew me away. They totally reversed the narrative. For instance, Baker pointed me to a 2012 piece he wrote called “Does Money Matter in Education,” which concluded that school spending is important and impactful for students.

This conclusions was the opposite of the consensus in academia when I had been a student in the 1990s. How had the prior research been so wrong? What had happened in the previous 15 years? Well, Baker cited Northwestern University’s Larry Hedges, who re-reviewed Hanushek’s 1986 survey of evidence using “quality control measures” to exclude some studies and change some interpretations. According to Baker, this settled the matter: “by the early 2000s, the cloud of uncertainty conjured by Hanushek in 1986 had largely lifted in the aftermath of the various, more rigorous studies that followed.”

I was surprised, but frankly relieved. As I wrote in response to Baker at the time, “Thank heavens. Someone who actually talks evidence.” Shortly thereafter, I read another piece from Baker regarding implementation of high-stakes testing, and frankly his analysis was solid. I assumed that this level of analysis was typical of Baker’s work, and was further relieved that a high-profile reform skeptic was taking the time to do careful research. As I wrote to him, “Bruce, your facts & analysis R best I’ve seen on UR side. Wish AFT/NEA pushed you, not smears.” I circulated Baker’s work to elevate that approach.

But wait, something smells fishy

 Something was starting to smell fishy

The first clues that something was fishy came as I dove deeper into Baker’s body of work. The highly respected Ulrich Boser had written a report on waste and inefficiency in school spending, and Baker had written a rebuttal. Baker’s rebuttal was, as I wrote to him, “More strident, less compelling than UR usual.” I was being delicate; Baker’s rebuttal was full of personal insults and exclamation points. Disappointing for an alleged scholar.

Then, I read a Baker critique of Mathematica policy research regarding the effectiveness of KIPP charter schools. Baker’s critique was terrible, a long list of hand-waving attacks that seemed to call into question the very possibility of actual empirical research in education. As I wrote to him, the methodology of his approach seemed like that of climate denialists, whose attacks often are a “kritik” of the very idea of research.

Things got worse still when I started to read Baker’s work about teachers’ unions, a subject about which I had substantial personal exposure from visiting state legislators in places where unions were active. As I wrote to Baker in response to a blog of his on the subject, his thumb appeared to be on the scale of the internal workings of his models. His methodology on unions was so sloppy it seemed deliberate.

Boy, was I a sucker

Yes, I actually believed Bruce Baker was a scholar

In 2015, Rucker Johnson and others published an NBER analysis of the impacts of school spending. The NBER report was broadly sympathetic to Baker’s 2012 claims that money can matter, so I read the report with interest.

Wait a minute . . . the 2015 NBER report, entirely focused on the question of “does money matter in education,” did not once mention the Bruce Baker publication from 3 years earlier with the title “Does Money Matter in Education?”

That seemed odd. Even more odd, the NBER paper referred to studies from 1995 and 1996 that showed school spending doesn’t lead to better results.

Wait, what? Wasn’t that the period of time that Baker reviewed, when he wrote that the “cloud of uncertainty” created by Hanushek in 1986 had lifted based on subsequent work? Why didn’t Baker mention those 1995 and 1996 studies by other scholars?

With my antennae finally up, I dug into Baker’s 2012 claims more fully. As it turns out, Baker omitted so much context from his report that his conclusion borders on outright mendacity. For instance, Baker chooses not to mention that Hanushek wrote several peer-reviewed rebuttals to Hedges’ work, including that they engaged in “statistical manipulations … to overturn prevailing conclusions,” and that they “misinterpret the implications of their analysis [and,] through a series of analytical choices, systematically bias their results toward the conclusions they are seeking.” Baker wrote a conclusion that “uncertainty” created by Hanushek “lifted” after 1986, without even deigning to mention that Hanushek didn’t agree? Baker’s presentation of this conclusion was so skewed that later scholars on the exact same subject didn’t even mention Baker’s paper?

Giving Baker a taste of his own medicine

Although Baker’s attacks on Ulrich Boser and others have been filled with insults and sloppiness, we do not need to go to that level to properly assess Baker’s voice in the education reform debate. After all, serious education researchers tend to not even mention Baker. Instead, Baker’s arguments should be taken for what they are: raw advocacy, rather than academic research. Thus, when he makes fair points, they can be discussed on the merits. But no self-respecting writer should ever cite Bruce Baker’s conclusions without carefully reviewing all of his hyperlinks and details, and also doing a quick Google search to see if he’s omitting crucial information.

If I had done my research, I would have known this. Dropout Nation editor RiShawn Biddle pointed out  four years ago that Baker’s so-called “analyses” are designed to achieve his intended results by making subjective and one-sided decisions about what to include and what to ignore. This may be expected for expert witnesses at trials, but is disturbing for someone who pretends to be an academic, and is not transparent that he gets paid for reports by parties with a direct financial stake in his outcomes. Indeed, going forward, jurists, litigators, and policy-makers should be careful when Baker is called in as an expert witness in contentious proceedings.

The problem with Baker was further underscored in a 2011 tape-recorded conversation in which Baker said he would play with data, manipulate the questions he asked, and “pull things in and out” of his models “to tell the most compelling story” in exchange for a substantial research grant. This telephone conversation, including Baker’s own partially exculpatory comments, appears in full at about the 3-minute mark of this video clip. [Baker offers a rather lengthy explanation and defense of what happened.]

I am disappointed in the folks who encouraged me to read Baker, but I’m even more disappointed in myself for being so gullible. None of this automatically invalidates Baker’s conclusions, but most of his research suffers the same kinds of glaring deficiencies just mentioned regarding his 2012 Shanker Institute paper. Some day, someone may decide to write a point-by-point review of Baker’s editorials, but for now the main point is to take his sweeping anti-reform conclusions with a heaping of salt.

How to whitewash education history like Diane Ravitch

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Dmitri Mehlhorn has a lot to say about Diane Ravitch’s activism. So much that we must break it up into several blog posts. In this one below he confronts the selective way that Ravitch writes history and how she ignores the racist girding of public education systems.

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Diane Ravitch casts herself as an education historian. In that, she is welcome to her biases; like me, she is a Jew who often celebrates America as a “melting pot” in which Europe’s Old World ethnic rivalries became less virulent. That said, case law is clear that a true historian may not mislead by selectively cherry-picking evidence, and must take the motives of historical actors into consideration.  

This matters because Ravitch has used the badge of “historian” to become perhaps the most influential education policy celebrity in America. She uses this platform to vilify the bipartisan education reform movement as promoting institutionalized racism, white racism and white supremacy, because it “seeks to eliminate the geographically based system of public education as we have known it for the past 150 years.”  

It’s a bizarre claim. Public schools opposed white racism for 150 years? And now, extending parent choice to parents of color is a racist plot?

To explore how this claim violates the ethical standards of her self-proclaimed profession will require a few different columns.  This post will address the first part of the Ravitch “150 years,” from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.  

The basic structure of American primary and secondary education was hammered together in the forge of white-hot national racism during the decades from the Civil War through the early 1900s. During this era, major categories of coordinated government efforts were anchored in white supremacy. This includes the Indian Wars that wiped out most Native American nations west of the Mississippi, and the Jim Crow regime that violently reconstituted many elements of black slavery.  The Progressive Era of government reform was not primarily about race, but it was led by whites who “not only read exposés of capitalistic barons and attacks on laissez-faire economics by muckraking journalists, they also read racist tracts that drew on the latest anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, eugenics, and medical science.” Leading progressives such as Carter Glass and Benjamin Tillman all described blacks as an inferior race and sought in various ways to keep them disenfranchised.

The system forged during this period, unsurprisingly, had racist beliefs at its core. The new model included compulsory education; local political oversight of both content and pedagogy; a tightly controlled workforce managed with lockstep pay and tenure; and racial segregation. Together, these policies sought to make America’s public schools into a tightly controlled factory that could produce precisely calibrated skills and values by race and class. Massachusetts, an early adopter of this model, was approvingly cited in the United States Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision as demonstrating the rationality of racial segregation. This model expanded nationally as part of an anti-Catholic movement that was described by Professor Douglas Slawson in his masterwork on education politics in this era. Slawson documents that the two white Anglo-Saxon Protestant lobbies that led the charge for this new model of public education were the National Education Association (NEA) and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).  

In other words, during the first half of the “150 years” that Ravitch defends so forcefully, the core elements of the public system were explicitly constructed by a white supremacist power structure as a machine that would help wipe out Native American nations, keep African Americans subservient, and eliminate the distinctive and heterogeneous cultures of ethnic immigrants (especially Catholics and Jews) from Europe. THIS is the system she’s defending against the “white racism” of giving more choices to poor parents of color?  

Ravitch is welcome to celebrate America’s contributions to the world.  But to ignore our nation’s “original sin” is morally blind and historically ignorant. As Sojourner magazine wrote in 1987, “The historical record of how white Europeans conquered North America by destroying the native population and how they then built their new nation’s economy on the backs of kidnapped Africans who had been turned into chattel are facts that can hardly be denied.”

Perhaps Ravitch rests the claim on the political developments that happened after the Progressive Era?  If so, her reference to “150 years” is misleading at best, and her claim is still a-historical as we will address in future posts.  

For now, let’s see if Ravitch has any apologies to offer about her hagiography of an ugly period.