Sunday, April 13, 2014

Failed Los Angeles 'Education Entrepreneur' Tries To Make A New Start In New Jersey

The latest round of charter applications have been announced, and as NJ Spotlight's John Mooney points out, New Jersey charters have become entirely an urban affair, with an ever increasing number of state and national Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) throwing their hats into the ring.

It hasn't escaped Mooney that this is a whole lot of applications - 40 to be precise - even though the last round of 38 yielded only three approvals. Let's hope a change of Commissioner doesn't bring a return to the early days of the Christie administration when 23 applications were approved in a single round.

As I peruse the list of applications, and compare it with the last years circus-like spring applications, this round is not nearly as controversial. There is no Pastor McDuffie laying hands on the Governor and no return of former Assemblyman and Washington Township Mayor Gerald Luongo, who served time in federal prison for diverting campaign funds and charity money into his own pockets. 

While this year's applications may not be full on Big Top material, there is one that caught my attention in the last application cycle, and has come back for a second try.

College Achieve Central Charter School

Mooney listed the application submitted by College Achieve as one of many "larger education management organizations," but College Achieve does not have a single operating charter school in New Jersey, or any other state for that matter.

In fact, College Achieve applied for a charter for the first time in 2013. But I will concede that the lead founder on the application, Mike Piscal, has been around the charter block a time or two, and has been involved with other CMOs.

Mike Piscal in Los Angeles

Piscal has Jersey roots, but his greatest claim to fame came in Los Angeles. His first gig in LA was at the prestigious Harvard-Westlake School, "the destination for many children of L.A.'s business and entertainment elite."  

According to Caitlin Flanagan, one of Piscal's colleagues from Harvard-Westlake, Piscal was convinced he could recreate the education experiences of the children of LA's elite for the children in the toughest neighborhoods of South Central LA. A laudable goal, for certain.
I viewed the subject of American public education as complex; he saw it as simple. It would have been an endless conversation between two friends if he hadn't taken matters out of the realm of the theoretical. He quit his job, put $40,000 of debt on his credit card and started something called the Inner City Education Foundation, which has become one of those charter school miracles that makes you question everything you've ever believed about the intractable nature of poverty in urban America.
Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) charters have been held up as miracle schools that close the achievement gap and send almost all kids to college, and Piscal has been heralded as an altruistic miracle worker with a big heart.
Consisting of 15 schools in a once academically blighted area of south Los Angeles and with an 88% African American enrollment, ICEF has done what we are always told is impossible. All five of its elementary schools have eliminated the achievement gap in reading for its African American students. Eliminated it. That fact alone should cause the Department of Education to send a team of researchers to ICEF this afternoon and to keep them there until they learn what Mike's doing.
This Good Morning America segment about Piscal/ICEF demonstrates just how hard this supposed LA miracle story was being sold on the national stage.

@ 4:55 - Mike Piscal: We can't fail - no matter how tough the times are - they might slow us down a little bit, but we can't fail.
But sadly for Piscal, as we've seen time and time again, miracle schools not only can fail, they often do, usually because they were never truly miraculous to begin with.

In September of 2010, after reading Flanagan's Piscal/ICEF love fest, Aaron Pallas, Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, who also happened to be a statistician at the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education, thoroughly debunked the ICEF miracle school claim.
I’ll admit it: When I hear the phrase “charter school miracle,” my antennae go up. It’s not that I think that charter schools can’t possibly be good schools, or that they cannot surpass traditional public schools in the measured achievements of their students. The evidence is pretty clear that there are many fine charter schools, just as there are many struggling charter schools.
No, it’s that I think miracles are exceedingly rare phenomena. And the current narrative about miracles in school reform relies heavily on a “great man” theory, replete with outsized personalities.
But no one looking at this figure would conclude that the ICEF elementary schools have come close to eliminating the achievement gap that separates the test scores of African-American and Latino children from white children in Los Angeles. Test scores are, to be sure, a very narrow representation of what children are learning in school, and I would never want to base a judgment about the quality of ICEF schools, or any other schools for that matter, solely on test scores. But Flanagan flew the achievement-gap flag, and her claims don’t hold up under scrutiny.
I like a good story as much as the next guy. But when it comes to swaying opinion on important matters of public policy, we should demand more. Perhaps Caitlin Flanagan has access to other data that provide more support for her claim that all five of the ICEF elementary schools have eliminated the black-white achievement gap in reading. But until she goes beyond a bald, unsupported assertion, she’s got a credibility gap. (emphasis mine)
In the very same month Pallas wrote this piece it became very clear that not only were ICEF schools not the miracles they were portrayed to be, there were very real problems at ICEF that threatened their very existence. The downward spiral was chronicled by Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume. 
A group of the city's leading philanthropists, including billionaire Eli Broad and former mayor Richard Riordan, rallied Monday to save ICEF Public Schools, one of the nation's largest and most successful charter school companies, which was teetering on financial insolvency.
ICEF, which operates 15 schools in low-income minority neighborhoods of Los Angeles, was virtually out of cash, unlikely to meet its Oct. 1 payroll. The nonprofit faced a $2-million deficit in the current budget year as well as substantial long-term debt.
The collapse of ICEF would have been a blow to the charter movement and to the 4,500 students and several hundred employees of an organization whose results have impressed many observers. Charters are independently run public schools that are free from many regulations that govern traditional schools.
ICEF representatives and others said the group's budget problems were caused by insufficient reserves; an overly ambitious expansion — 11 new schools in three years — that resulted in costly debt; and a reluctance to make cuts affecting students. These factors were exacerbated by the recession, which sharply reduced state funding to schools, and this year's late state budget, which has delayed payments to schools.
The rescue plan that emerged Monday was less disruptive than one under discussion as recently as Sunday. That plan would have broken up ICEF, distributed schools and students among other charter schools and forced out founder Mike Piscal.
Instead, Piscal will remain to oversee academic programs.(emphasis mine)
Well, so much for Piscal's theory that ICEF was infallible. 

Another report detailed the extent of ICEF's financial troubles.
Young said there was no evidence of malfeasance but substantial bad judgment and a lack of transparency with ICEF’s finances.
ICEF’s board of trustees sensed there were financial problems and hired an accounting firm last winter, but was given only an oral report and not fully aware of the severity of the problems, Young said. The telltale sign was that ICEF ended up borrowing against state revenues beyond the current year – “a terrible idea,” she said. (emphasis mine) 
Kind of sounds like Piscal was less than forthright about the downward spiral ICEF was in, and the ICEF board had to unearth the dysfunction for themselves.

And while it may have appeared for a short time that Piscal was going to ride out the storm, he ultimately resigned, and it became clear that ICEF's troubles were not just financial. 

School Board member Steve Zimmer stated LAUSD would not pledge financial assistance until ICEF "serves more disabled students and English learners." Parents complained that ICEF's operations were "too secretive" and employees reported there were supply shortages and they were asked to work extra time without compensation.

The bottom line - Piscal had to leave a charter chain he built up and then ran into the ground, and without a bailout from Eli Broad and others, it would have gone belly up completely. 

Mike Piscal in Las Vegas

Piscal's chartering days were far from over. He made his way to Las Vegas, where in his infinite wisdom Andre Agassi made Piscal the Executive Director of his controversial charter school. 

Agassi has big plans; Diane Ravitch has reported that Agassi has amassed 750 million to create a chain of charters nationwide. This despite a laundry list of scandals at Agassi's Vegas charter, from troubling allegations of excessive teacher and administrative turnover, to more run of the mill cheating accusations to unbelievable charges that a teacher was the leader of a prostitution ring.

Mike Piscal in New Jersey

It's unclear when or why Piscal cashed in his chips and left Vegas, but as recently as May of 2013 he was still reportedly running the show at Agassi Prep but in October of 2013 he applied to open College Achieve in New Jersey.

While the application made it through the first round, it was ultimately denied, much to the chagrin of Piscal, who posted a letter to prospective parents on the website he started for the fledgling charter.
Dear Parents of Plainfield,

We received notice from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) that our application to open a charter school in September 2014 was denied.  As difficult as this is to believe, we have explored the appeal option and decided that it is not viable.  As much as we disagree with the NJDOE's decision, we must respect the process. 

This does not mean we are giving up.  In our meetings with you, formally at the Plainfield library, and informally as we have canvassed the entire city, we have heard over and over again that Plainfield parents want more choice, and that your children need more options.  Inspired by this, we are reapplying on March 31, 2014 for a September 2015 opening.  We will find out September 30th, 2014 if we have been approved for September 2015.  

Please feel free to e-mail me or Rachelle Nelson, our founding principal, with any questions you have or to express support for our application at or 


Michael Piscal
College Achieve Central Charter School
Perusing the website is telling. 

Piscal relies heavily on his time at ICEF to sell the idea that he has the right stuff to open a charter in New Jersey. There are pictures of Piscal with Magic Johnson, and links to glowing stories of ICEF's miracle school status.  
Well, if he knows Magic Johnson he should be a shoo-in
to get a charter, right?

But of course there is no reference to or mention of the financial upheaval at ICEF which lead to his ouster.

In my research into Piscal's history and new venture I found some very interesting documents, including the incorporation papers for his new non-profit. The document reveals not only that Piscal is not going into the next chapter in his career alone, but that he's brought the central cast of characters from ICEF along for the cross-country ride.

Piscal's Partners in.... charters

Listed on the incorporation papers are the names of three individuals who will be the "initial board of trustees." Two of the three are John J. Piscal and Stephen C. Smith. 

Not hard to guess that John Piscal is related to Mike Piscal. What you have to dig around to find out though is that John worked for Mike at ICEF. In fact, he was the CFO from 2001 to 2007, and later served as the "Chief Development Officer."

In 2008, John stepped into the role of Chief Development Officer tasked with the role of developing new streams of income from private and public sources; developing an annual fundraising campaign that equals no less than 5% of ICEF’s annual budget; and launching an endowment drive of $30 million. 
Remember that ICEF's rapid expansion, dwindling reserves, and a decline in philanthropic investment were central to their financial failings. Mike's brother John sure seems to have helped steer the ICEF ship into the financial iceberg that eventually sank it. 

And who is Stephen C. Smith? 

This is where it starts to get really interesting. Smith is a co-founder of the Seaport Group, a "boutique investment bank." Smith also just so happened to be the Chairman of the Board of ICEF. Smith is still listed as a "supporter" of ICEF on their website, having "donated" over $500,000, but ICEF's 2010 990 seems to indicate the money was less of a gift and more of a loan.

Almost 1 million from Smith, 3 million from former LA Mayor Riordan (who is now 
Chairman of the ICEF Board), and 120,000 from another Piscal relative.

Seems maybe Smith, then Chairman of the Board, knew the financial mess ICEF was in, and wasn't willing to throw money in without making sure he was going to be able to get it back out.

For his efforts Smith was showered with gratitude at a "star studded gala" to raise funds for ICEF and Success Through the Arts Foundation, which was co-founded by Jackson Browne, who is also on the ICEF Board.
"No single artist has done more for arts education and public education in general for more years than Jackson Browne," say Michael Piscal, ICEF's co-founder and CEO, and Fernando Pullum, board member of Success Through the Arts Foundation.
"Stephen Smith has helped pioneer and fund an education revolution and in the process gave birth to the 'education entrepreneur'," the duo added. (emphasis mine)
Well, good to know we have Smith to thank for the birth of the 'education entrepreneur', isn't it?

College Achieve is the brainchild of the three men at the heart of the financial downfall of ICEF, Mike and John Piscal, and Stephen Smith, and the combined resumes of these three gentlemen certainly leads me to believe that College Achieve is far more of a business venture than an educational endeavor. 

And while Smith may be willing to help finance the re-birth of Piscal in New Jersey as an 'education entrepreneur' after his fall from grace in Los Angeles, I'm not sure the taxpayers of New Jersey will be so willing to forgive and forget now that they know the cold, hard facts about their checkered pasts.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Parent Fights Principal Who Uses Common Core To Deny A Teacher's Request For A Holocaust Speaker

Below is a guest blog from a dear college friend of mine. I've known for quite some time that she is passionate about Holocaust education, both speaking to students herself and also arranging to bring Holocaust survivors into schools. And I've always known that she is one tough cookie.

I was shocked when a little more than a week ago she started posting on Facebook about a principal who denied a teacher's request to have a survivor speak to 8th graders, and used the Common Core as the rationale for his frighteningly bogus decision. I was not shocked that she decided to put up a fight. I immediately asked her to consider writing up her experience as a guest blog, and she graciously accepted.

I want to thank her for her steadfast resolve in bringing this rich curricular experience to students. Without people like her, who have sincere passion for such a vitally important topic, I fear strict adherence to the Common Core standards will deprive our nation's public school students of experiences that make them not just good test takers, but caring, compassionate citizens.

Here is her story.

Guest blog by Andye Daley

My name is Andye Daley. I am a mother, an educator, past vice president of The Holocaust Education Center of the Delaware Valley Board of Directors, and on the Board of Directors of Jewish Family Services of Delaware. I am also a strong believer in Holocaust Education. I feel it is vitally important as it pertains to teaching our young middle school and high school students.

I have been weighing out my feelings on the Common Core Standards for the past few
Meet Andy Daley
months.  I thought perhaps the standards could be beneficial to our people, but now I have seen first hand how the implementation of the Common Core is slowly taking the humanities out of our schools.

Just last week I had to push back firmly on the misguided actions of a principal. An Appoquinimink district teacher asked me to see about getting a Holocaust survivor to speak to the 8th grade student body at her school as I had done the year before. I was very excited to help. Imagine my surprise to get an email an hour later saying I should hold off on securing the speaker because she got "shot down about having a survivor to come” by her principal.

The principal’s reasoning was, “What Common Core Standard are the kids learning by listening to her?”  

The teacher pleaded and was denied. She felt it was no longer about the life lesson or experience, but rather about the Common Core. The principal went on to say that they were not there to teach about the Holocaust because ”they will get that in high school.” The teacher also wanted to show Oprah at Auschwitz, a 45-minute video, and while the principal felt there was no applicable standard associated with this activity, he ultimately approved it while still denying the speaker.

There was no way I was going to let this principal’s interpretation of the Common Core Standards stop a survivor from speaking to students.

My first call was to the Delaware Department of Education, where I spoke with the person
 in charge of ELA Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development for the state, and therefore oversees Common Core. She told me that each district can "interpret" Common Core and that it seems the principal took the most literal interpretation he could find.

I asked what oversight the DOE had over a district's interpretation of Common Core and while she said that if she feels a district is misinterpreting the standards she could intervene, she stopped short of offering to make a call. She did say she would call me back to see what happened, but as of now I have yet to hear back from her.

I then contacted a dear friend of mine who not only trains principals and supervises them, but is also the child of survivors. Here's what she had to say:

I rarely do this kind of thing but I have to give a shout out to my friend 
Andye Daley. As many of you know, my parents are Holocaust survivors. Time is passing, the years are taking their toll on the survivor community. In the not too distant future, we will no longer have eyewitnesses who can share their experiences, and in doing so, make the most important impact on educating future generations. It is so important to do this now, to engage young people in genuine conversations with those who were there. Andye is a mother, an educator, an activist and a truly passionate person. She is fighting a very good fight right now against a very ignorant, uninformed and misguided principal in her Delaware school district, who, among other things, thinks that having a guest speaker come to his school is "not common core aligned." It is literally making me nauseous, as an educator, a Jew, the child of survivors, a principal, a teacher and a lover of authentic, rich curricular experiences for students, to imagine that there is a school leader out there who interprets common core this way. There are layers and layers of issues here…but I just have to thank Andye. This daughter of a Dachau survivor is beyond moved that she is standing up for what is right. Thank you Andye for doing what needs to be done to make sure the stories are told before it is too late.

Two nights later the principal contacted the teacher, fearful that I had been posting about the matter “all over Facebook.” This felt to me like the principal’s attempt to get me to back down.

“Not gonna happen” I informed the teacher.

The principal then requested a meeting with me. I agreed, but only if either the superintendent and/or the assistant superintendent was also in the meeting with us.

He agreed.

I met with the principal and the asst. superintendent for about an hour and a half. I asked him to explain, 
in his own words, what had happened. It was apparent to me that there was a lack of judgment on his part when he told the teacher that she could show a video of Oprah interviewing Eli Wiesel at Auschwitz, yet not give her the approval to have the survivor come to speak to the entire 8th grade. He said he thought the video would suffice for "historical reference."

Really? Oh My!

I asked why this was his choice over an actual first hand account with a person who could hold a question and answer period on the subject. "How is a video able to answer questions that come up better than someone right in front of them?" I asked. After hearing the speaker, the students could ask questions, write an account, do research - all Common Core Standards.

This went on for some time.

I then took the opportunity to bring up his interpretation of the Common Core Standards and how our administrators need to do a better job in relaying to principals and teachers that while there may be good aspects of Common Core we need to couple them with the ability to reach outside the standards to make sure the humanities are not lost.

Churning out Common Core compliance
Both agreed. This also went on for some time.

I am really struggling with how the Common Core can be used to squash the passion of our teachers. How it can create roadblocks that inhibit teachers from maintaining their love of teaching. How can you have students who are passionate about learning if you have teachers who are told not to be passionate about teaching? One has a direct effect on the other. 

As we left it, the principal was to reach out to the 8th grade team of teachers. It was my hope that I would quickly get a call telling me to go ahead and schedule a Holocaust survivor to come and speak to the 8th graders.

The next day at about 1pm that call came!

This is a great outcome, and I am hopeful that the principal has learned from this experience. Below is the email I sent to him, cc'd to the superintendent and asst. superintendent. 

“Thank you for agreeing to have the Holocaust speaker address your 8th grade. I know that the students will get so much out of this experience. I want to just go over a few details. I have given you the contact information below on who to call to set up the speaker. I have also agreed to help in the transportation of whichever speaker you get, as they are up in age and do not drive. 

Understand that this is quite an undertaking for these survivors and speaking more than once a day is really out of the question. Therefore, having them speak to the entire student body at your school will not happen. That is one of the reasons I initially said that she or he would only be speaking to the 8th grade. 

Let me know as soon as you have a confirmed date so I can free up my calendar so that I can pick up and drop off the speaker. 

Thank you again I look forward to helping facilitate this very beneficial event for your 8th grade students.

Andye Daley

I see the Common Core Standards as a guideline for educators, but when interpreted too literally we lose the very idea of how standards are to be used. Teaching about the Holocaust can teach our youth so much; everything from tolerance and the dangers of stereotyping, to inspiring them with the heroic actions taken by those in dire straits.

If we take the humanities out of our teaching we are likely to take the humanity out of our future! A dangerous precedent if you ask me!

UPDATE: In less than 48 hours this post has been shared over 100 times from my original Facebook post, and has been viewed on this blog over 4,500 times. This kind of reach may be typical for Diane Ravitch or Jersey Jazzman, but not for my little blog. 

Clearly, this post strikes a chord. 

The idea that the Common Core could be used as the rationale for denying a teacher's request to bring a Holocaust survivor into a school, is unnerving. Some have pointed out that the principal was wrong, that the Standards could and do relate to such lessons. 

To me, this misses the point. 

That the principal used the Common Core Standards, rightly or wrongly, to deny this vital experience to students, an experience that will all too soon not be possible as survivors age and their numbers dwindle, is significant. 

It is an extreme example of what many fear we will lose when we "standardize" what our children are expected to learn. As Andye so rightly said, we are likely to take the humanity out of our future. A dangerous precedent, indeed.

Thanks to Andye's hard work and determination, Holocaust survivor Anne Jaffe will be speaking to 8th grade students in the Appoquinimink school district in Delaware. Here is a video of Anne giving a lecture to Villanova students. 

Anne's story must be told.

Friday, March 28, 2014

We All Stand Together! Statewide Advocates Turn Out To Support Newark Public Schools

It was a great honor to participate in yesterday's NJ Ed March, which brought together education advocates from all over the state, a fact the Star-Ledger failed to mention, instead choosing only to report that "(s)everal hundred Newark parents, teachers, students and community activists rallied in Trenton." The event was intended to highlight the resistance to the haphazard One Newark plan, to lend support to those pushing back against Cami Anderson and Chris Christie, and to bring the message directly to Trenton. 

Hundreds heeded the call on a blustery, cold, not-very-Spring-like day. The districts I personally saw represented were too numerous to list, but included both urban and suburban districts from all corners of the state, from District Factor Group A to I. The Ledger's failure to report this part of the story is, quite frankly, irresponsible.

I want to tell you a story about why it was so important to me to be there to support the people of Newark as they fight back against the top-down edict that is One Newark.

Back in 2012 my district was riding high after putting the brakes on a charter that seemed destined to open its doors. The charter would have decimated our small budget, but the application had the support of the USDOE in the form of a $600,000 federal grant. My community staged a massive pushback campaign, including a Town Hall style meeting and a subsequent Occupy the DOE event when NJDOE staff, including then Commissioner Cerf, refused to participate in our Town Hall. We got tons of state, local and even national press coverage, which put much needed pressure in all the right places. Without the publicity drawing attention to our plight the outcry of my community was being ignored by the NJDOE.

Yup, I was so blown away to be there
I asked Diane to autograph
the flyer as a momento.
After it was all over and the application was denied for the final time I was still hooked. I kept blogging, I kept advocating; the immediate threat to my district may have been over but the education reform threat was still very real all across New Jersey. I felt obligated to use what I had learned to help other communities and to lend my voice to the fight.

In May of 2012 I was asked to participate in an Education Law Center panel with Diane Ravitch, entitled "What is School Reform?" I was gobsmacked to be there with Diane. After her lecture came our panel, followed by questions and answers from the audience. 

And I'll never forget who stood up and asked a question, directed at me. It was Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, the now President of the Newark School Advisory Board. 

Her question was polite but firm. I don't remember her exact words, but the gist of her question has stuck with me for the last two years. Antoinette congratulated me on how successful my community and other communities like mine had been in pushing back against reforms like charter schools, and on all the media coverage we had gotten, but she wanted to know why Newark wasn't getting the same kind of coverage for the travesty unfolding in that city.

I honestly have no idea what I said. What could I say, really? She was totally right, and her question so perfectly highlighted the inequities embedded in this state. Wealthier suburbs with access to the media and the legislature able to effect change, and poorer urban districts experimented on and all but voiceless.

Well, no more. 

Finally the state and national spotlight is squarely on Newark, and it's not looking good for beleaguered state appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson and her One Newark Plan. Listen to the speeches Antoinette and mayoral hopeful Ras Baraka delivered yesterday. They were filled with passion for and commitment to the public schools in Newark, the students and parents who rely on them, and the teachers and staff who work in them.

Cami Anderson, State District Superintendent, must go. 
Not only because she disrespects us, but because we have something valuable to say. You can not hate me and love my child. That is impossible. And we must have local control now. Not in a couple of years when there are only 10 or 15 schools left, we must have it now. 
Because Superintendent Cami Anderson refuses to come to school board meetings, refuses to let her senior staff come to school board meetings, is planning to dismiss one-third of the teachers in Newark, is planning to close or alter one-third of the schools in Newark, and we say no. 
If Cami Anderson gets away with her One Newark Plan, and we will not let her, because if she does it will be One Paterson, One Jersey City, One Montclair, One New Brunswick, One Perth Amboy, One Highland Park, One Princeton and we will not let that private mess happen all over this country.
(Ras Baraka) Whose schools? (Crowd) Our schools!

Ras Baraka:
That's right, not the governor's, not Cami Anderson's, but the families and the people of Newark. We have a right to govern our own lives. We have the right to govern our own school system. We have a right to determine what our kids learn and what they don't. We have a right to determine who's in our kids schools and who's not. We have a right to keep our school buildings open. 
They belong to the people and not the corporations. They belong to the people and not the governor. In fact, the governor should belong to the people. They don't have a right to come in our city and tell us what to do. They don't have a right to come in our city and tell us they're going to close our neighborhood schools and then tell you it's reform.
Reform today means close your schools. Fire your teachers. Lay off cafeteria workers. Get rid of custodians. Lay off attendance officers. Get rid of truancy officers. Fire guidance counselors. 
That doesn't sound like reform to me, that sounds like dismantling of public schools. 
That's what is sounds like to me too, Ras and it breaks my heart for the people of Newark. And in case you think Ras is exaggerating the threat to the Newark public schools for effect, allow me to remind you of the words of former NJDOE Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick. What happens when Smarick's dreams come true?
Said simply, chartering can replace the district. And it can happen in Newark. 
Charters already have a 17% market share in Newark. Extremely successful charter networks like KIPP and Uncommon Schools operate in the city, and they are prepared to expand. The district has numerous under-enrolled buildings, meaning charters have space to grow. 
Since the state has complete control of the district and the state Education Department is New Jersey’s lone charter authorizer, the state, at the governor’s direction, could lead the transition from a district-based to a charter-based system. (emphasis mine)
What say you parents of New Jersey? Do you want the state and this governor to have "complete control" over your schools? How much "market share" are you willing to give up to privately managed, publicly funded charters in your district? 17%? 50%? 100%? 

0% (Please read this mind-blowing Bob Braun piece.)

Really think about your answer. Are you willing to give up "complete control" over the governance of the schools in your district?

If you are not willing to hand the schools and children in your community over to the state and charter operators that demonstrate time and time again that they are not truly public schools, why would you sit back and let it happen in Newark? Because as Antoinette so rightly points out, today One Newark, tomorrow One Princeton.

It was a question very like those above that chased Cami Anderson away from public school board meetings. It was the unforgettable moment when Natasha Allen, the parent of a Newark public school student, asked Anderson, “Do you not want for your brown babies what we want for ours?”
Me and Natasha Allen at NJ Ed March
Allen said afterward Anderson “attacked” her child and all Newark children by requiring them to attend school in the midst of a snow emergency last week when all other schools in the county–including Newark’s charters–were closed. Allen also said Anderson’s school closing plan “will hurt children throughout the city–my child–because she is bulldozing their schools and their neighborhoods.” Allen said she was upset by Anderson’s actons, as if the state official were “personally attacking my child.”
As Allen spoke,  Anderson gathered up papers in front of her and gestured toward her staff members sitting with her at a table on the stage and in the front row of the audience. She led the parade of central office staff from the stage to a rear entrance while the audience roared its approval and mockery of her leaving.
And Anderson has yet to return.  

Natasha, I, and many others across this state, want the same for your brown babies that we want for all babies, brown or white, and I was proud to come to Trenton to help you fight for just that. We all stand together, and now that districts across the state are united and speaking with one voice on Newark's behalf, Christie and Anderson don't stand a chance. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Would Pete Seeger Perform At An Eva Moskowitz Rally?

I seriously can't believe I just had to write that title.

Please, don't blame me, blame Laura Waters.

In her latest opinion piece for NJ Spotlight she posits that Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka may activate the reformy base in New Jersey as she claims Mayor Bill de Blasio has in New York City. 

She cites the recent Eva Moskowitz rally as proof positive that de Blasio has "unified and energized" the school choice movement.
Parents, children, teachers, and community members who value school options other than their assigned neighborhood schools are unified and energized. If Pete Seeger were still around he’d be writing ballads about Eva Moscowitz and singing “We Shall Overcome.”
(Let's all just ignore that Waters spells MosKowitz's name incorrectly throughout her entire piece, OK?) 

We've all seen Waters engage in this type of inane rhetoric before, most notably when she invoked the late Albert Shanker and claimed he'd be a supporter of New Jersey's school choice movement.
Here's a fact. 
If Albert Shanker was alive today he'd still be an education reformer and would support NJ's efforts to expand school choice for poor urban students.
I guess Waters didn't learn not to just make sh*% up about iconic figures, even after she was called out by Albert Shanker's daughter Jennie, who informed her in no uncertain terms that her assessment of Shanker's position was preposterous.
As his daughter, I treasure the testimony of individuals who knew my father and his work.  Lately, it has been, frankly, dreadful to find his name associated with school "reform" that undermines public education.  Without exception, these articles offer a few short quotes in evidence, always inappropriately pulled out of the context of his true mission and life's work. 
I can tell you, absolutely and unequivocally, if my father was with us today he would be fighting side by side with Diane Ravitch to preserve and improve public education. The Washington Post re-published an excellent post from Ravitch's blog this week which very clearly articulates the differences between his vision of charter reform and the for-profit version championed by Chris Cerf and others in New Jersey. (emphasis mine)
Now, I don't expect any of Pete Seeger's relatives to come out of the woodwork and clarify Seeger's politics, and quite frankly it's not really even necessary. It is simply ridiculous for Waters to posit that Seeger would have "sided" with Eva Moskowitz.

Seeger has been called a Troubadour for Truth and Justice, and in this Democracy Now piece we learn about when it was Seeger first sang "We Shall Overcome." 
Pete met another target of FBI surveillance and intimidation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in 1957. Seeger helped King and other civil-rights activists incorporate song into their organizing tactics. It was at Highlander that Seeger first sang for King what would become the anthem of the civil-rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.” (emphasis mine)
Is Waters really implying that, if alive, Seeger would be "writing ballads for Eva Moskowitz" to help her organize the school choice movement like he helped King in the civil-rights movement? Does she really think he would sing "We Shall Overcome" along side Moskowitz as he did Martin Luther King?

Is she therefore implying, that school choice is the civil rights movement of our time? 

I'm in very good company in thinking that this is utter claptrap.

As a child that was born and raised in the Bronx, I have seen first-hand the inequity of public education for a community of color. We need to make sure every child gets a quality education, not just a few. 
Real civil rights issues were about the fundamental notion that separate is unequal -- separate bathrooms for blacks, riding the back of the bus, being denied the right to vote, the right to hold good jobs and take part in everyday life as equals. Moskowitz is attempting to perpetuate a separate but unequal system that disadvantages children in traditional public schools and those with special education needs. That is the civil rights issue.
With the heightened attention on Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy charters some interesting things have come to light. Primarily that Moskowitz's rally and expensive ad campaign are being bankrolled by a group called Families for Excellent Schools. 
... Late last month, days before the education department announced it would keep a few new charter schools from opening, supporters registered the domain name At the same time, local television stations started airing slickly-produced ads. 
Behind the multimillion dollar ad campaign and website is the same group—a nonprofit called Families for Excellent Schools. If their message wasn’t clear, they also helped organize Tuesday’s rally in Albany where thousands of charter school advocates turned out.
Who are Familes for Excellent Schools?
Families for Excellent School’s most recent tax filings are from 2012, so it’s unclear how much they’ve raised in recent years or where that money is coming from. The organization is technically two entities—a standard charity and a tax exempt group that can accept anonymous contributions for advocacy.
Families for Excellent Schools shares an address with the New York arm of StudentsFirst, a national education reform nonprofit led by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. schools chancellor.
The Walton Family Foundation, of Walmart fame, has given more than $700,000 over the past two years. That foundation recently hired a deputy schools chancellor from the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Another Bloomberg official—the mayor's former spokesman, Stu Loeser—is handling press for Families for Excellent Schools.
A spokesman for Bloomberg says he hasn’t donated to Families for Excellent Schools.
According to the records that are available, other large donations to the organization include $200,000 in 2012 from the Broad Foundation; $200,000 from the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation in fiscal year 2012-13; $100,000 in 2012 from the Moriah Fund; $25,000 from the Ravenel and Elizabeth Curry Foundation in fiscal year 2011-12; $19,000 in fiscal year 2011-12 from the Tapestry Project; $50,000 in fiscal year 2012-13 from the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program; and $1,000 in 2012 from the Dalio Foundation. (emphasis mine)
As if this isn't all the evidence anyone needs that Moskowitz's attack on de Blasio is astroturfing at it's finest, Success Academy teachers are starting to speak up about the tactics used to get so many bodies at the rally.
The teachers and staffers who spoke to The Nation said that although they were never told they would lose their jobs if they did not attend the rally, they didn’t think they had much choice and were afraid to ask for an exception. “An option was not presented. The schools assigned everyone with a job, so you were either going to be an instructional coach or a bus captain,” one teacher explained. “They weren’t really asking us if that’s what we wanted to do. They were telling us that that’s what we were going to do instead of teaching for the day.” 
“Our parents have been led to believe that we are the answer for their children,” one said. “We’re definitely capitalizing on that whole notion.”
Another said that she didn’t believe all parents were fully aware of what they are participating in. “I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I mean that the info presented is not necessarily accurate and it’s entirely one sided. This is being framed as a second or third civil rights movement, and I think that’s a racially charged power play—considering our demographics—to manipulate people.” (emphasis mine)
So it's not just Waters hijacking civil rights icons, language and messaging to advance the school choice movement - this seems to be pervasive among reformers. Moskowitz is using the money and power behind her charter chain to manipulate her staff and parents into being unwilling and/or unwitting pawns in her quest for omnipotence in New York City's charter realm.

Kind of hard to see this as the kind of thing Pete Seeger would have gotten behind.

But I will concede that Waters may be partially right about one thing. 

Maybe, just maybe, Seeger would have performed at Moskowitz's rally, because he seemed genuinely eager to play for all people, no matter their political beliefs.
I have been singing folksongs of America and other lands to people everywhere. I am proud that I never refused to sing to any group of people because I might disagree with some of the ideas of some of the people listening to me. I have sung for rich and poor, for Americans of every possible political and religious opinion and persuasion, of every race, color, and creed.
But to claim he would "be writing ballads about Moskowitz" seems disingenuous at best, especially when you consider the big money and pressure tactics Moskowitz employs to get what she wants. 

My new friend and fellow education blogger Russ Walsh wrote an eloquent piece after Pete Seeger's passing, titled What Would Pete Do?
Pete Seeger was the quintessential American optimist. He was the Johnny Appleseed of folksong. He was a believer in the power of good people to do good work together and to overcome oppression.  I can think of no better role model for us all as we work to stop the corporate takeover of public education.
And Russ pulled another fantastic quote from Seeger:
Singing with children in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my life. –Pete Seeger
Call me biased, but I think Russ has a better read on Pete Seeger's legacy. And I think Waters should stop speaking for men like Shanker and Seeger after they're no longer here to speak for themselves.