In the Future, All the Seats Will Be High Performing

I talk to Andy Smarick about the urban school system of the future…

future 8EduShyster: Let’s talk about the future. In your vision, urban parents will choose between their choice of high-performing charter schools. But one can’t help but observe that the cities that seem to be hurtling towards the future at the greatest velocity don’t seem to have all that much choice about where they’re headed.

Andy Smarick: I don’t agree with that at all. I believe that the systems that are going in that direction are places where families, communities and organizations have the most say. They’re places that have the longest charter school wait lists, or in some cities they have the longest scholarship or tax credit wait lists. What I do agree with you about is that in these systems where there are more and more autonomous schools, we don’t have a system yet for ensuring that there is democratic control of the entire system. I think these cities are showing us that parents desperately want a different kind of system, they want choices, they want to be able to exercise their options. But now it’s up to us to ensure that there is democratic control as well. 

littledipperEduShyster: Let me ask what is essentially the exact same question but using different words. Other than the power to get on a waiting list or *vote with their feet* if they don’t like the charter choice they’ve chosen, what power do parents actually have in your vision? It doesn’t feel like a lot of power to me.

Smarick: I think it’s the ultimate control. We had the illusion of democratic control in places like New York City or Chicago. If you have an elected member of a school board who represents hundreds of thousands of citizens, yes, technically there is democratic control, but how responsive is that system to the needs of families and to neighborhoods? I think that where you have neighborhood charter schools and independent boards and a wide array of options for families, that’s actually the way that you can exercise control. 

omgrobotEduShyster: Since you *went there,* let’s talk about democratic control. In recent elections, voters in both Chicago and Philadelphia basically shouted that they want more say over their schools.  Is it just me, or does it seem like if you give voters a vote over whether they want an actual vote vs. the vote with their feet kind of vote, they always seem to vote for the *vote vote*?

Smarick: I think it’s absolutely essential that if we are really going to have community empowerment and sustainable change in cities, that the city as a whole feel like they own their system of schools. What I’m trying to push maybe you, and definitely other people on, is that we can have democratic control but not believe that is synonymous with the elected school board that we’ve had for 100 years. We just assumed that democratic control meant that a city had a single school board and that that school board owns all public schools in the district, makes decisions about all of the contracts, makes decisions about all of the principals, makes decisions about where kids go to school based on these residential zones. That is one form of democratic control. What I’m saying is that we could have a different set of rules that govern these boards so that you don’t give one board all of that authority. I don’t think you can have the kind of elected school board we’ve had for 100 years and simultaneously have community and parental empowerment.

I think it’s absolutely essential that if we are really going to have community empowerment and sustainable change in cities, that the city as a whole feel like they own their system of schools.

EduShyster: This time I am literally going to ask the exact same question again. It’s really hard for me to look at places like Newark, NJ, or Camden, that are operating beneath multiple levels of state control, and see parents being empowered.

Smarick: I totally agree with you. State takeovers of urban districts are sometimes necessary but they absolutely have to be temporary. It has to be a way to decentralize power to give parents more choices. It can’t be something that exists in perpetuity because then what you get are disempowered communities that are even more disempowered. And that’s no way to have these cities thrive in the way we want them to.

EduShyster: The question that I keep coming back to is, if you’re so convinced that you know the choice parents will choose, why not give them the opportunity to choose it?

brazil_imageSmarick: You’re saying that maybe parents don’t want to choose their schools?

EduShyster: I’m saying that it’s hard to know what they would choose when they have no choice about the choice.

Smarick: I’m having a hard time understanding what the alternative is. It’s like saying: you can choose your schools or you can have a system where your child was assigned to a persistently underperforming school. We know how that turns out. Parents do everything they can to find schools that work better for their kids. They’ve been showing us that in charter waiting lists and scholarship waiting lists and demanding intra-district choice. I mean millions of families have told you what they believe.

EduShyster: But if it’s so clear that this is the choice that parents would choose, why is there so little parent and community involvement in determining what the choices are going to be?

Future 2Smarick: You’re right. I think this is a failure that I and lots of other people who have done this work are guilty of. We’ve had this urgency about changing things and have done too little to go into these places and have long conversations about, say, what does a new school board look like? I mean there still isn’t a local school board (for RSD schools) in New Orleans. Or what does it look like when charters are 75% of the school system? States had to intervene in a lot of places so they did, and I’m trying to get us to a place where it’s not viewed as either the state takes over or we have these schools boards that didn’t work for way too long. There has to be something in between those two things.

We’ve had this urgency about changing things and have done too little to go into these places and have long conversations about, say, what does a new school board look like?

EduShyster: I’m going to pause here briefly because I am exhausted. Also, I want to savor that bit where you say that I’m right, then go on to concede failure… Still savoring… OK—I’m back. I want to move on to the kinds of schools that seem to be key to your vision of the future: the high-performing seats, if you will. There is an authoritarian quality to no-excuses charter schools that makes me wonder about the place of democracy in the urban future. In other words, what kinds of demands are kids who march through their education in straight silent lines going to be prepared to make upon their state?

Smarick: I’m not enamored of that kind of school. But I believe school choice means I don’t get to decide what schools are right for everyone else’s kids. I’m willing to say that other families should have choices over the kinds of jetsonshighschools that are available. I think that there needs to be a diversity of schools so that families can make real choices. But if a family decides that, say, Success Academy is right for them, I think it would be as wrong for me to say they’re wrong as it is for the school district to tell a family that because you live at 123 Main Street you have to attend Kennedy Elementary. We need to empower families and sometimes that means they make decisions that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with. As long as those schools are safe and they’re teaching the kinds of values that we want, we’ve got to empower families to make those choices.

EduShyster: No-excuses charters are rapidly *scaling up* in cities across the country. Part of what concerns me is that no one seems to have any idea what the long-term effect of this kind of schooling is on kids. I’m actually in search of academics who will do this research. 

Smarick: That is such an important and interesting question. You could get lots of school reformers, certainly people on the right, to say: if it’s wrong for the government to tell you where you have to go to school based on where you live, it’s no better if you have a system of choice—and I’m using air quotes here—but there are in fact no choices because all of the schools look the same. Choice is only choice if there are options. What’s the Henry Ford line? *You can have any color Ford you want as long as it’s black.*

Choice is only choice if there are options. What’s the Henry Ford line? *You can have any color Ford you want as long as it’s black.*

EduShyster: Let’s dwell here for a moment, shall we? This feels to me to be a major contradiction at the heart of the Smarick vision. That on the one hand, parents are going to be empowered to choose their own choices, but on the other hand, all of the choices will be part of an accountability system that rewards a single definition of success. Am I wrong?

Smarick: That’s where you and I will probably agree and I disagree with a lot of reform folks. I think that we have systems that focus on a narrow set of metrics, inevitably we get schools that respond just to those metrics.

Future 9EduShyster: I’m tempted to relinquish things here, as this is turning out even better than I’d hoped. But that would mean disappointing anyone who is still reading this… I have a serious soft spot for a utopian vision, but as any utopienne worth her salt can attest, utopia has a way of never quite arriving. How do you explain to people in, say, Chicago or Philadelphia, who have been on the receiving end of a grand education reform experiment for two decades, that the next iteration of the future will be better than the one that has already arrived?

Smarick: I think that why Chicago and Philadelphia and Baltimore aren’t real reform is that they conceded everything to the way things currently are. They invested all of the power in the old school district that wasn’t working. Rather than truly decentralizing power like Washington DC has done, they stuck with that decision and what we see is toxic politics. We see communities that really aren’t empowered, schools that can’t grow the way they’d like to. I think that one of the saddest narratives from my point of view is that Chicago and Philadelphia had the courage to try reform five or even ten years ahead of other cities and they made a couple decisions that were the wrong ones.

EduShyster: I’m a huge fan of James Scott’s book Seeing Like a State, about why various schemes to improve the human condition have failed. I’ve tried to force everyone I know to read it, but you are the only person who has ever taken me up on my insistent offer. I look at the urban school district of the scottForestryfuture and I see what Scott would call a *Prussian forest.* (Note that I am leaving this tantalizingly undefined in hopes that people will rush to get the book).

Smarick: I see the exact opposite. The biggest lesson from Seeing Like a State is that if you get central administrators who have no appreciation for the complexity at the local level, who have no appreciation for the needs of people who live in communities they’re tinkering with, they make these decisions at the central level that inevitably are simple because they need simple solutions to administer from a far away state capital. They end up gutting the heart of what’s happening in these neighborhoods.

EduShyster: Wait—did you mean to describe New Orleans?

Andy Smarick is a partner at Bellwether Education Partners and author of The Urban School System of the Future.  He has worked on education policy for the federal government and the state governments of Maryland and New Jersey.

Contact Jennifer at Like my work? Your financial support will help me do more of it. 



  1. You must have to bathe in bleach after you’re done interviewing these slippery rephormsters. Thanks for doing it so the rest of us don’t have to. I might have to donate to your bleach fund.

    Anyway, when I think of “high-performing seats”, I get a vision of school desks doing tricks on a high wire. Is that something like what Smarick’s talking about?

    1. Unlike Smarick’s rosy characterization of school districts being replaced by charter chains or put under the control of for-profit corporations, we can see from this link—here it is again—how this works in practice:

      Smarick backed Michigan Governor Snyder’s decision to give entire districts, such as Highland Park (ABOVE) and Muskegon over to for-profit corporations, and this is how it turned out. In contrast to Smarick’s belief, these parents and community “own” NOTHING, and have absolutely NO CHOICE.

  2. Holy wine box, Batman!

    Andy should know that choosey parents choose JIF, not charter take-overs of entire cities where parents actually pay taxes, while non-profits are exempted (like 51% of Boston’s real estate).

    The non-profits, like Bellwether, just know better than the rest of us. We need to learn to accept that.

    1. Smarick of Gates-funded Bellwether, where children are “an underdeveloped human capital pipeline” ?
      Does the family of Smarick have the same value, fit the same profile and deserve “pipeline” treatment or, are they special like the Gates kids, who attend Lakeside?

  3. spitting out my coffee: “I think that why Chicago and Philadelphia and Baltimore aren’t real reform is that they conceded everything to the way things currently are. They invested all of the power in the old school district that wasn’t working.” Has he ever been to or read anything about Philly?!? The “old school district” hasn’t been in power here since 2001! I presume he means our problem is that we still have a public school system, battered and bruised though it is. Funny he doesn’t seem to notice that parents here WANT public schools; we just want them adequately funded. When we get to vote–e.g on charterizing Steel and Munoz-Marin, on electing a mayor who is for public education vs. one who is identified with privatization, we do NOT vote for elimination of public schools. Why don’t those parental voices ever count with these folks?

  4. “you can choose your schools or you can have a system where your child was assigned to a persistently underperforming school.”

    I really doubt Andy or anyone else in the reform crowd knows what this means anymore. It’s not even a talking point, it’s a reflex.

  5. “But I believe school choice means I don’t get to decide what schools are right for everyone else’s kids. ” That’s exactly what these edupreneurs are doing. It’s always somebody else’s kids that are the receipients of their reform vision of education. Does he have kids? If so, where do they go to school? Not to the “choices” he would offer to the poor children of color for whom he cares so passionately.

  6. I recently spoke with a 6th grade teacher from a public middle school in South L.A. Per the current zeitgeist, they’re phasing out suspensions. The most severe punishment they can give is a 10 minute after-class teacher detention; there are no centrally-administered hour -long detentions. His classes are regularly rocked by off-the-hook behavior like a kid jumping up on a table and leaping from it on to nearby chairs. Regardless he is grateful to be teaching 6th grade and not 7th or 8th because, he says, by the end of 6th kids finally realize that they don’t have to follow the rules at all –there are no consequences for rule breaking. He has obtained his credentials to be a counselor and is actively seeking employment in that field.

    1. That’s only a problem if you think that punishment actually does anything besides instill temporary (resentful) compliance. The fact that the same kids end up getting punished over and over and over tends to refute that idea. Maybe now your friend will have to focus on working with his kids to gain their trust, respect and cooperation. Novel idea – not beating kids into submission. Hope he’s able to have more empathy as a counselor.

      1. I am finishing my 9th year teaching. I do not have a particularly domineering personality, and I am not a big believer in punishment. I do not know whether you are a teacher or not; if you are a teacher and are consistently able to calm and motivate extremely disturbed and unruly children and prevent them from disrupting classes so that other students cannot concentrate, my hat is truly off to you. If you can do that all by yourself in a room of 20, or 30, or even 40, you are amazing!What I have observed is there is nothing like the amount or type of support services in most schools that would be necessary for an ordinary, decent classroom teacher to successfully address the needs of students that would engage in the behavior described above. When a child is extremely disruptive in my class on multiple occasions, I do feel obligated to at least try detention. Unfortunately, it is true that punishment is most likely to be effective for students who have other, positive influences in their live that are beyond my control. Teachers such as the person described above are on the front lines of dealing with the consequences of profound social problems. Many who style themselves education reformers seem intent on blaming “bad” teachers for all the ills of society. Your comment seems to imply that a 6th grade teacher who would contemplate detention for a student leaping about on the furniture is a “bad” teacher who has no compassion or empathy and does nothing to try to build a rapport with his or her students. That assumption strikes me as unfair.

  7. Sorry, but I’m making a really long post. Skip it if you wish.

    Smarick loves that sleazy politicians and corporate reformers from Louisiana exploited the Katrina tragedy in New Orleans, ramming through legislation that wiped out public schools there. He laments that there aren’t more Katrina’s in every big city so the process can be repeated nationwide.

    His solution: why simply induce a crisis where none exists—a crisis that will create similar post-Katrina-like conditions that, in turn, will enable corporate reformers to wipe out all the public schools, and replace them with privately-run charters, as was done in New Orleans after Katrina.

    Smarick even details all this in a plan. He let the cat out of the bag as to their secret game plan… still available on-line. (link BELOW) In districts where there is still an elected school board, people like Reed Hastings, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, etc. finance the campaigns of corporate puppets like LAUSD’s newly-elected Ref Rodriguez to carry this plan out.

    BELOW Smarick details this plan of using a slow, stealth charterization to cause the collapse of public school districts and public ecudation overall:

    (If any privatization ever tries to claim that they want charter schools to complement the public school system, or co-exist with public schools to provide parents with “a family of different school options—public, charter private”… RE-READ THIS BELOW. The privatizers don’t want co-existence; they want to conquer and devour all… and don’t you forget it—check out New Orleans… THE WALL STREET PRIVATIZERS / CHARTERIZERS WANT IT ALL).

    (CAPS MINE and parentheticals () mine, Jack)

    “Clearly we can’t expect the political process to swiftly bring about charter districts in all of America’s big cities. However, if charter advocates carefully target specific systems with an exacting strategy, the current policy environment will allow them to create examples of a new, high-performing system of public education in urban America.

    “Here, in short, is one roadmap for chartering’s way forward:

    “FIRST, commit to drastically increasing the charter market share in a few select communities until it is the dominant system and the district is reduced to a secondary provider. The target should be 75 percent.

    “SECOND, choose the target communities wisely. Each should begin with a solid charter base (at least 5 percent market share), a policy environment that will enable growth (fair funding, nondistrict authorizers, and no legislated caps), and a favorable political environment (friendly elected officials and editorial boards, a positive experience with charters to date, and unorganized opposition).

    “For example, in New York a concerted effort could be made to site in Albany or Buffalo a large percentage of the 100 new charters allowed under the raised cap. Other potentially fertile districts include Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

    “THIRD, secure proven operators to open new schools. To the greatest extent possible, growth should be driven by replicating successful local charters and recruiting high-performing operators from other areas (see Figure 2).

    “FOURTH, engage key allies like Teach For America, New Leaders for New Schools, and national and local foundations to ensure the effort has the human and financial capital needed.

    “LAST, commit to rigorously assessing charter performance in each community and working with authorizers to close the charters that fail to significantly improve student achievement.

    “In total, these strategies should lead to rapid, high-quality charter growth and the development of a public school marketplace marked by parental choice, the regular start-up of new schools, the improvement of middling schools, the replication of high-performing schools, and the shuttering of low-performing schools.

    “AS CHARTERING INCREASES ITS MARKET SHARE IN A CITY, THE DISTRICT WILL COME UNDER GROWING FINANCIAL PRESSURE. The district, despite educating fewer and fewer students, will still require a large administrative staff to process payroll and benefits, administer federal programs, and oversee special education. WITH A LOPSIDED ADULT-TO-STUDENT RATIO, THE DISTRICT’S PER-PUPIL COSTS WILL SKYROCKET.

    “At some point along the district’s path from monopoly provider to financially unsustainable marginal player, the city’s investors and stakeholders—taxpayers, foundations, business leaders, elected officials, and editorial boards—are likely to demand fundamental change.


    “If the district has progressive leadership, ONE OF TWO BEST-CASE SCENARIOS WILL RESULT:

    “THE DISTRICT COULD VOLUNTARILY BEGIN THE SHIFT TO AN AUTHORIZER, developing a new relationship with its schools and reworking its administrative structure to meet the new conditions.

    “Or, believing the organization is unable to make this change, THE DISTRICT COULD GRADUALLY TRANSFER ITS SCHOOLS TO AN ESTABLISHED AUTHORIZER.

    (In other words… Bye, bye, traditional public schools—the ones accountable and transparent to the citizen-taxpayers! Hello, total privatization of schools where the public loses all input and decision-making power to the private sector! Andy Smarick’s wet-dream-come-true!)

    “A more probable district reaction to the mounting pressure would be an aggressive political response. Its leadership team might fight for a charter moratorium or seek protection from the courts. Failing that, they might lobby for additional funding so the district could maintain its administrative structure despite the vast loss of students. Reformers should expect and prepare for this phase of the transition process.

    “In many ways, replacing the district system seems inconceivable, almost heretical. Districts have existed for generations, and in many minds, the traditional system is synonymous with public education.

    “However, the history of urban districts’ inability to provide a high-quality education to their low-income students is nearly as long. It’s clear that we need a new type of system for urban public education, one that is able to respond nimbly to great school success, chronic school failure, and everything in between. A chartered system could do precisely that.”

    That’s the billionaire privatizers’ gameplan that, now that he’s been elected, a useful (and well-paid) idiot like LAUSD’s Ref Rodriguez will execute as he follows the orders of his corporate masters.

    In short, there’s no New Orleans’ Hurricaine Katrina to go all “Shock Doctrine” on the public school systems in cities like Los Angeles, so what’s a privatizer to do?

    Just follow the Smarick plan, and deliberately induce a financial and political crisis—where none yet exists—that will eventrually destroy the public schools (re-read Smarick’s plan above). Again, it’s straight out of The Shock Doctrine.

    Eventually, as the percentage of traditional public schools shrinks, and the percentage of charter schools within a district grows, the cost of maintaining the district’s salary, health benefits, retirement, etc. will cause the district to collapse from within.

    The end game is then to replace current school boards (and democratic governance systems) with a small pseudo-“board” whose sole function is to rubber stamp charter school authorizing… and which has no actual control over charter schools’/charter chains’ functions after doing so… no transparency to the public, no accountability to the public, and no enforced or enforceable requirement that these charters educate all of the public—i.e. those who are expensive or difficult to educate, and who will not produce high scores on tests… special ed., English language learners, recent immigrants, homeless, foster care.

    That’s why out-of-state billionaires, Wall Street hedge fund charter proponents, etc. are pumping millions into campaigns of school board candidates committed to carry out Smarick’s plan of privatization.

    Again, for a short video summary of Smarick’s plan, watch the Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ speech to the California Charter Schools Association convention:

    (Each time I listen to this, I think, “Are these guys so clueless and arrogant to consider that someone in the room could videotape this?” Like when Mitt Romney told a business luncheon that 47% of Americans are moochers off the government…)

  8. Speaking of, Ed., –are you going to be in New Orleans (June 21-24) for the National Charter Schools Conference?
    (Y’all can Google it to look at the schedule, Keynote Speakers–one of whom is none other than–John White!!)
    &–a one-day pass is ONLY $375!!! But–look it up & see for yourselves. If you can come up w/the $$$$, sure you’ll get an eye-popping education!

    1. I will be there. They declined to grant me press credentials this year because they didn’t like what I wrote last year 🙁 But where there’s a will there’s a way!

      1. Great interview, Jennifer. I love how your persistence paid off in getting Andy to almost get to what he really means. I also love the idea that most people would rather vote with their vote than with their feet, as they have done in Philly and Chicago. I wish Andy could expend his considerable energy and intelligence on helping all parents get the choice of a clean, safe, well-resourced local neighborhood public school. Glad you will be in New Orleans and look forward to your reporting.

  9. Choice? Is that what communities have after Walmart’s competitors close down and, after Walmart drives manufacturing of their products, offshore?
    Choice, is that what Americans have with the American oligarchy? (Princeton Prof. Gilens’ research)
    Just 6 Walmart heirs have the same wealth as more than 40,000,000 Americans. When concentrated wealth preys, in this case, Silicon Valley and hedge funds targeting students and taxpayers, the result is impoverished communities. The 0.2% create greater opportunity for the 99.8% to live and die poor.

  10. He’s selling snake oil. He is also incapable of learning from what happened in Chile and Sweden when they privatized public education. Both countries are trying to get their schools back now, as profiteers resist, and countries like the US and England have been misguided by money loving neoliberal “reformers” to blindly follow their lead.

    In Yesterday’s Guardian, they reported that in Sweden, privatized education resulted in lower quality education, including declining tests scores, & higher stratification. “Instead of breaking up social differences and class differences in the education system, we have a system today that’s creating a wider gap between the ones that have and the ones that have not.” Read how Sweden’s Education Minister describes the privatization debacle as “a political failure:”

  11. “I think that one of the saddest narratives from my point of view is that Chicago and Philadelphia had the courage to try reform five or even ten years ahead of other cities and they made a couple decisions that were the wrong ones.”


    So…..Much…..Wrong. I….I Just Can’t Even.

    THIS is what Maryland’s new governor has gifted us with here in MD, along with Checker Finn.

    My family is accelerating our exit plan, either from public schools or from the state entirely, earlier than we’d already been considering.

  12. “As long as those schools are safe and they’re teaching the kinds of values that we want, we’ve got to empower families to make those choices”: Teaching the kind of values that we want? Didn’t he say that immediately after you had described an authoritarian state?

  13. Smarick does not know what he is talking about in regard to Chicago. We have NEVER had an elected school board. We have also been under mayoral control for 20 years. What we do have, which was instituted before mayoral control, is decentralization and elected Local School Councils (LSCs). We used to have one LSC at each school, however, the mayor has worked vigorously to disempower LSCs and reduce their numbers, because he does not want to work with them, so whenever he could, he has circumvented the law and opened up new schools that don’t have LSCs.

    The Taylorist business model has been implemented here for decades, accompanied by dictates from above, such as to eliminate popular curricula like vocational ed and project-based programs. That, and an elitist appointed school board which rubber stamps whatever the mayor wants, combined with punitive federal mandates and continued implementation of Duncan’s school “turnarounds” and the expansion of privatization, as if the Duncan puppet never left our city, has made many Chicagoans fed up with top down control. THESE are the reasons why we voted for democracy through an elected school board!

  14. On a smaller scale, this same “close-unprofitable-charters-as-a-business-decision” thing happened 5 years ago in Los Angeles. Witnessing all of this riveting drama unfold remains a memorable and pivotal event in the evolution of my own thinking on school privatization, and my decision to join the fight against it.

    Without any forewarning or even input from the public, Green Dot made a profit-and-loss-based decision to close one of its schools, Animo Justice, located in the northern end of L.A.’s South Central region. I attended a forum where parents and students were railing against being treated as commodities instead of human beings, and their schools as a McDonald’s franchise that wasn’t selling enough Big Macs, so hey… too bad…we’re closing it, folks.

    To their credit, Green Dot had allowed the students to vote to choose their school colors, uniforms, mascot names, etc. three years earlier when the school first opened. As a result, the closing hit the kids hard, who responded with sadness and incomprehension at first, then rage and civil disobedience later (VIDEO BELOW). This was all to no avail, however, the school closed, and the kids were unceremoniously dumped back into nearby Jefferson High, from which the kids were lured initially… (this is not necessarily a bad thing, or a slight to Jefferson, which has made some major strides in the last decade, and has many excellent faculty members whom I know personally.)

    Green Dot CEO Marco Petruzzi told the protesting students they simply had no money—“no rich guy to write them a check”—to continue operating the school, to which students replied with a question that Petruzzi failed to answer, “Then how is Green Dot able to open six new schools next fall?” Part of the reason is that those new schools were in nicer parts of town… i.e. a Green Dot co-location at Venice High School.

    Los Angeles’ Robert Skeels and San Francisco’s Caroline Grannan covered this at the time:

    From Skeels article:

    “As Leonard Martin, a candidate for the California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, commented, ‘Like an employer closing a branch plant to save money, Green Dot decided to close one of its many ‘subsidiaries’ in LA. That decision was taken without input from those most affected by the closure: students, teachers and parents.’

    “It isn’t surprising that Green Dot, like other corporate charter management organizations (CMOs), is far more concerned with its bottom line than it is about the education of its students. For CMO boards–stacked with businesspeople, hedge fund managers and investment bankers–and their executives culled from Wall Street and large corporations, children are mere commodities and a means to channel public money into private hands.

    “We need to fight for the resources to insure that our schools are fully funded and serve our communities, rather than corporations. While we have a long way to go, the fact that families at charter schools are willing to fight shows that people are tired of billionaires and politicians undermining public education.”

    And from Neon-Tommy’s Kevin Douglas Grant:

    “(High school junior) Mario Silva told a fledgling coalition of 70 parents, students, teachers and activists Friday evening that he believes Green Dot, a company that has been praised often by national media for its role in reshaping L.A.’s public schools, is putting profit motive over the needs of Animo Justice’s students:

    ” ‘As soon as we failed to rake in enough for Green Dot to profit and prosper, we were pushed aside.’ Silva said. ‘Thrown aside like products in a supermarket.’ ”

    For some video coverage, go to YOUTUBE, and do a search for Animo Justice (there are students marching miles to the Green Dot offices, and staging an ultimately futile sit-in):

    (The footage is kind of raw and unpolished, but it gives a good idea of what went on. Some of these kids are now in their early 20’s… I wonder whatever became of them…)

  15. I’m going to be charitable here. Smarick is envisioning that everyone could have what private-school parents have, in terms of choice: the ability to pick from the military school, the progressive school, the Montessori school, the classical-education school, the school that specializes in children with autism, and so on. Whatever suits the family and the child best. Sounds great. But even in urban areas, this is unrealistic: what if the school I like is two hours and three bus transfers away? Am I supposed to move? If I could do that, couldn’t I also just move to the neighborhood school I like best? In small towns, the premise is even sillier: a town with one or two elementary schools can’t offer more than one or two choices (unless we plan to double or triple our spending on schools — in which case, why not spend the money efficiently by making those one or two schools really fantastic?). And for parents of students with special needs, choice becomes really problematic: what if the school is allowed *not* to choose my expensive-to-educate child? Or what if I just moved to the city, but the school I like does not take transfer students? I think reformers are coming at “choice” from the wrong angle. Parents would be glad to send their children to Kennedy Elementary, which has the great virtue of being walking distance from 123 Main Street, if they had the choice to increase its funding, the choice to help set its educational priorities, and the choice to evaluate its success or failure on their own terms, not those of government bureaucrats. Because basically, what poor parents would like to choose is just what rich public-school parents in fancy-pants suburbs get: beautiful and safe tuition-free schools with small classes, experienced teachers, and plenty of enrichment and support services, right in their own neighborhoods. There you go, problem solved.

  16. Fantastic interview here.

    I hope Andy is reading these comments because I’m interested in elaboration/response to a few questions I have about some ideas he shared.

    First, “[when] we have systems that focus on a narrow set of metrics, inevitably we get schools that respond just to those metrics.”

    Having taught in both KIPP and Green Dot, as well as one of the Internationals in the South Bronx, and a San Francisco Mission District Dream school (transformation schools under Arlene Ackerman), I’ve experienced a variety of urban school settings at the ground level and seen first-hand the degree to which the combination of teacher-evaluation systems, “data-shaming” presentations given by leadership (a term I picked up at Green Dot but also experienced in KIPP but NEVER in SF or at the Internationals) basically lead to exactly what you’re suggesting, Andy. A lock-step curriculum (some teachers are discouraged from learning how to develop what they teach, told/asked instead to teach/adapt lesson plans that aren’t designed for their students,) that emphasizes day-to-day assessment of standardized test aligned learning objectives. It’s a method of banking education, and for the young teachers, either TFA/Intern or straight out of their credential program, the model provides little room for PD/coaching around authentic, talk-centered student collaboration, tech-integration, project-based learning, unit-design that intentionally integrates content and learning objectives, critical pedagogy, social justice instruction or social-emotional learning.

    Coaches and principals spend 1-2 years helping teachers master the writing of learning objectives, CFU, and creating measurable “proving behaviors” (usually a close-ended multiple choice question that leaves little/no room for argument or justification, though I’m sure this is changing with the new tests.)

    So yeah, I agree with you. Narrow metrics sometimes appear to be part of a system of “multiple measures” yet the variety of measures (evaluation tied to lesson-plan/instruction that focuses on measurable learning objectives, benchmark/summative test-scores) emphasize information banking for inexperienced teachers.

    As you know, turnover for many charter schools is quite high. Instructional leaders inside these systems are forced to focus on basic elements of instruction/classroom management when they aren’t fighting fires around classroom management and toxic school culture.

    For experienced teachers (and how do you create a space for authentic experiences that drive real learning. What schools have coaches leading inquiry based PLC for teachers?) unit design is typically both hard-work but really so much fun, and collaborating with peers and receiving feedback about this design makes the entire experience constructivist and recursive. It also builds teacher community through collaboration. Strong teachers know how to backwards plan, parse out a unit into learning objectives, how to authentically measure them while keeping instruction student-centered and built on student-strengths.

    Based on the professional development experiences I had in San Francisco and at the Internationals, the CRTF was a breeze. But that’s because the PD I’d received before coming to the CMO was based on research based practices around academic language and literacy development (The National Writing Project, Stanford’s Understanding Language, Constructing Meaning, years of SIOP/SDAIE, Kinsella and Kagan PD) – stuff you won’t find in Teach Like a Champion (the manual to which the CRTF is tied).

    What do parents know/understand about this form of banking instruction? Besides students in incredibly well-funded philanthropic programs like KIPP-through-college, what is the college completion rate for students graduating from CMOs that emphasize the 5-step lesson plan, who have been taught by many inexperienced/TFA/intern teachers grades 6-12?

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