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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

UFT Will Enter The Anti-Tenure Lawsuit On Behalf of Members

I love Sam Pirozzolo's comment: "The UFT is not a part of this case,” Pirozzolo said. “By the UFT sticking their nose into parents’ business, it once again shows that the only thing they care about is themselves and their membership.”

He is half right, I mean about "themselves" - the UFT do not defend the membership as they should.

I guess Mona Davids is upset she received only $10,000 from the UFT.

The Frivolous Case of NYC Parent Mona Davids v Tenure.

Once Again, The Teacher Tenure Debate: It's About Who Will Get the Billions In Public Money, not Teacher Effectiveness

Betsy Combier

 
 Teacher's Union Steps Into Legal Battle Over Tenure, Against a Former Ally
CHALKBEAT
Updated 4:00 p.m. The United Federation of Teachers is officially jumping into a legal battle against advocates who are challenging New York’s teacher job protection laws.
The union announced on Tuesday that it would file a motion to intervene in a parent lawsuit that seeks to scale back tenure, which the advocates say makes it too hard to fire ineffective teachers. The lawsuit is only against the city and state education departments, but the union is arguing it should also be permitted to argue on behalf of its 100,000 members, since they would be affected by the judge’s decision.
The filing mostly covers the union’s reasoning for being involved in the case, which attempts to “undermine the quality of education in New York,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote in an affidavit. It holds back on arguing the legality of teacher tenure at this point, other than to outline its general merits.
The lawsuit also pits the union against a former ally, Mona Davids, who is among the parents suing to undo the tenure laws. Davids heads the New York City Parents Union, which consulted with the UFT on a union-sponsored parent advocacy group two years ago.
“The union’s interests are not necessarily in the best interests of the kids,” said Davids, who said she worked with the UFT because she wanted parents to be more involved in legislative affairs. “I don’t have to agree with them on everything.”
Sam Pirozzolo, another of the parent plaintiffs, said the UFT’s involvement has little effect.
“The UFT is not a part of this case,” Pirozzolo said. “By the UFT sticking their nose into parents’ business, it once again shows that the only thing they care about is themselves and their membership.”
Davids’ group is one of two that is arguing that more than three years of experience are needed for teachers to receive lifelong job protections, as state law dictates, and that it’s too hard to remove ineffective teachers once they’ve been granted tenure. Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who has lobbied for more flexible teacher firing rules for years, is planning to file a separate but similar lawsuit in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

From South Bronx School Blog: PS 28 Principal Sadie Silver is Arrested



NYC Principal Arrested, Plans Imminent Career Advancement
LINK
The Daily News is always the first paper I read everyone morning without fail. As soon as I pick it up I check the back page (Sports) first and then check out the front page. Well lo and behold, my eyes bounced out of their sockets when I saw the headline (No! Not the new dolts on the left). 

It's nice to see yet another principal of the NYCDOE take advantage of the free and easy to usecareer advancement plan offered for administrators through the DOE and the CSA. Get arrested, get caught in unethical activity, get a raise and career advancement. Just don't murder someone. The DOE must draw the line somewhere. 

The Daily News reported today that Sadie Silver, principal of PS 28 in Bushwick was arrested;
"...Friday with Michael Acosta, 34, after cops caught the educator and her partner carrying heroin and prescription drugs into Coxsackie Correctional Facility."
Oops! Wait, there is more!

While at Coxsackie to visit an inmate at the maximum security prison, the News reports;
"Silver and Acosta face felony charges of promoting prison contraband and criminalpossession of a controlled substance, as well as a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child, since they had a 10-year-old with them when they were collared."
Promoting contraband? They were smuggling heroin into the prison. Was this for the prisoner's personal use or for him to sell to the other inmates? And how was this heroin and suboxone (Used to fight opioid addiction), which which was also one of the drugs named, being smuggled into the prison? 

The Crack Team posits an opinion. Since both Silver and her boyfriend were arrested, it would be safe to assume that the drugs were hidden on the person of the 10 year old, Silver's daughter, as the News reported. 

Silver was subsequently hauled off to the Greene County Jail, made bail, and was immediately reassigned by the DOE. 

But this is not Silver's first brush with taking advantage of the career advancement plan offered by the DOE. A few years ago, the News reported;
"...Silver was slapped with a $1,500 fine by the city Conflict of Interest Board for using her position to land her brother a data-entry job at her school."
Good thing she is a principal or she would be forced to follow Chancellor's regulation and New York State Criminal Law. 

But be sure, even though what she did was heinous, especially with a child involved, we here at SBSB will expect that she has due process and that all procedures are followed.

But several things are under the collective skins of The Crack Team. Of course the seemingly turning their head, going through the motions of doing something to administrators (Here, here, here, here,here, and here of the many scandals). But where are the deformers jumping all over this story?

Nary a word from The Three Stooges of New York State attempting to separate teachers from due process. Nothing to be found here, here, here, or here! 

Imagine if this had been a teacher in Coxsackie. How fast would those three be jumping up and down screaming that this teacher must be fired, to heck with due process? How fast would they be complaining about the system? How fast would they be tweeting about this?

Teachers are given too much power but the deformers. Is it not time these people start looking at management? They have the power, the make the decisions.







 

The Sad, Misinformed Campaign of Campbell Brown To End Tenure Rights of Teachers


Setting the record straight on tenure 

We're not attacking teachers


NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Monday, July 21, 2014, 4:30 AM
 
LINK
The tenacious New York parents who are challenging the state in court have one goal in mind: ensuring that all of our public school children have good teachers. They know that research confirms the single greatest in-school factor in a child’s academic success is a good teacher. They believe that the state’s guarantee of a sound education for all is absolutely dependent upon — you guessed it — good teachers.

So when opponents claim this lawsuit is an attack on teachers and their rights, that argument is more than disingenuous. It is disrespectful to the parents. And it is dead wrong for our kids.

It is time to stop seeing due process and due progress as competing goals. Here is the reality.

Under New York law, schools must decide after just three years whether teachers are granted tenure — a supreme level of job protection that can amount to permanent employment. State law makes it nearly impossible to dismiss teachers who have been identified as ineffective. And in times of layoffs, the teachers who get priority to keep their jobs are those with seniority, regardless of how well they teach.

Put together, those three provisions hurt our ability to ensure that every child in the state has an effective teacher. Yes, there are other important steps to improve strong teacher quality and equity, including better starting salaries and higher pay for teachers in the most in-demand fields. But what has driven parents into action is a system of laws that knowingly undermines success.

So let us dispense with the absurd: Seeking good teachers for all does not mean you are somehow going after teachers. It means you are working to end laws that are not in the interests of children. In fact, some of those who feel strongest about removing incompetent teachers are other teachers themselves.

This legal case is built on the premise that our New York schools have many outstanding teachers who succeed under extraordinary pressures. They should not be treated like interchangeable parts, and they should not be asked to make up the academic shortfalls of those who are not doing their jobs.

We should also move beyond another false line of attack. The lawsuit is not intended to erode any teacher’s right to due process. And it will not.

For starters, all teachers, with or without tenure, have a baseline of due process rights. And for those who have the added due-process protections of tenure, the goal here is only to make sure that system actually makes sense, without undercutting our kids’ constitutional rights.

Consider what happened last month in the groundbreaking case of Vergara vs. California, in which a state court threw out similar state laws on tenure and seniority. The judge agreed that due process was entirely legitimate, but not the “uber due process” that had led to a tortuous process of trying to remove bad teachers. The same could be said in New York, where dismissal attempts can take years.

The nation’s top school official, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has summed it up well: Tenure itself is not the issue. Job protections for effective teachers are vital to keep teachers from being fired for random or political reasons. But “awarding tenure to someone without a track record of improving student achievement doesn’t respect the craft of teaching, and it doesn’t serve children well.”

What’s more, many state tenure laws have become obsolete because civil rights legislation passed over the last 50 years already protects teachers from unfair dismissal, according to a review by the Center for American Progress. And tenure laws do not assure quality teaching.

Even teachers agree with that. A 2011 survey of teachers by Education Sector found a startling 63% of teachers said the awarding of tenure was “just a formality” and has little to do with a teacher’s effectiveness.

The parents behind the New York case are fighting for effective teachers. No one should undermine them by misrepresenting their motivations.

Brown is a former anchor for CNN and NBC and founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Resigned Teachers Sue UFT For Retro Pay

EXCLUSIVE: Ex-teachers will sue union for retroactive pay under new contract

Educators who resigned before the new teachers contract was ratified will sue the United Federation of Teachers on Monday for their share of retroactive pay. These former educators argue that they're owed retroactive pay from 2009 to 2011, which is when the union was without a contract. Up to 9,000 former employees resigned during that two-year span.


LINK



Educators who resigned prior to ratification of the new teachers contract will sue Monday to get their piece of retroactive pay.

 
Dianna Morton, 54, is a former paraprofessional who resigned prior to ratification the new teachers contract. She and others are preparing to sue to get their piece of retroactive pay.
 
 
Lawyer Daniel Shimko said he will file a class action suit against the United Federation of Teachers seeking retroactive pay for teachers and other eligible Education Department employees who quit their jobs between Oct. 31, 2009, and June 30 before their eligible retirement.
He will argue that the union did not properly represent members when it agreed to exclude educators who quit during that period from some $3 billion in retroactive pay to be doled out under the new contract.
 
“If you’re going to try and get retroactive wages for retirees, why exclude resignees? They were part of the UFT’s workforce, they paid their dues, they weren’t fired for cause,” said Shimko, who will file in Manhattan Supreme Court.
 
More than 6,800 teachers quit of their own volition between the 2009-10 and 2011-12 school years, according to a January 2013 article in the union’s newspaper. If similar attrition patterns held for the subsequent year, the number of teachers potentially eligible in the class action suit could approach 9,000.
 
One of the four initial plaintiffs in the suit, Dianna Morton, 54, said she resigned in 2011 after 14 years as a paraprofessional due to a disability.
“That’s the raise we should have gotten all along — and now we’re not getting it. We deserve it!” said Morton, who worked with special education students, mainly at Public School 73 in Brooklyn.
 
Morton said she earned about $25,000 when she quit, meaning she’d be eligible to receive $2,040 in back pay if the suit prevails in court.
A spokeswoman for the teachers union would not comment on the potential lawsuit.
 
The new nine-year contract includes a 4% bump for both 2009-10 and 2010-11 — years teachers went without a contract and other city unions got raises.
 
Both 2012-13 and 2013-14 come with 1% raises.
 
With Ben Chapman
 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Canty v NYC DOE: Government Action Must Be Grounded on Established Legal Principles and Have a Rational Factual Basis

There has to be a rational factual basis or a reasonable justification for governmental action.  So, if observation reports do not contain "statistical or factual tabulations or data," then where's the "factual" basis or the "justification," let alone, "rational" or "reasonable", for teacher dismissals or adverse ratings based on the contents of lesson observation reports??? 

Canty v Board of Education

CANTY v. BOARD OF EDUCATION, CITY OF NEW YORK

312 F.Supp. 254 (1970)

Leslie CANTY, Jr., Plaintiff,v.The BOARD OF EDUCATION, CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendant.

No. 70 Civ. 303.

United States District Court, S. D. New York.

May 4, 1970.


Leslie Canty, Jr., pro se.
J. Lee Rankin, Corp. Counsel, New York City, for defendant; Charles D. Maurer, Asst. Corp. Counsel, of counsel.




OPINION
MacMAHON, District Judge.
Plaintiff moves for a preliminary injunction under Rule 65, Fed.R.Civ.P., which would direct defendant, the Board of Education of the City of New York, to reinstate him as a teacher in Junior High School 136 and to pay him the entire amount of his salary that has not been paid since his dismissal on October 10, 1969.
This action is erroneously brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Title I, Section 2B, a statute concerned with fair housing, riots and civil obedience. In substance, however, the complaint charges a denial of the constitutional right to due process and presumably seeks money damages and a permanent injunction directing defendant to reinstate plaintiff. The action is, therefore, cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and jurisdiction is based on 28 U. S.C. § 1343.
Plaintiff's present motion for the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction is directed to the sound discretion of the court. The court's exercise of discretion usually turns on four factors: (1) the probability of success on the merits; (2) the immediate and irreparable harm to plaintiff if the preliminary injunction is denied; (3) the injury to defendant if the preliminary injunction is granted; and, if applicable, (4) the affect the decision will have on the public.1
The party seeking the motion for a preliminary injunction has the burden of establishing a likelihood of success on the merits, that is, of raising "questions going to the merits so serious, substantial, difficult and doubtful, as to make them a fair ground for litigation and thus for more deliberate investigation."2 The latter three criteria are satisfied if the moving party can demonstrate that the harm inflicted by denying the injunction is immediate and irreparable and outweighs the harm that will be caused by denying the injunction. We turn, now, to consider if plaintiff has made a sufficient showing of a likelihood of ultimate success.
Plaintiff's claim in this action is rather narrow. He does not allege that the dismissal procedures or any applicable state statutes or local ordinances per se violate due process. Nor does he allege an irrational classification under the equal protection clause. Rather he limits his claim to the allegation that his dismissal was arbitrary and capricious
[ 312 F.Supp. 256 ]

and hence violated his right to due process.

The terms "arbitrary" and "capricious" embrace a concept which emerges from the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and operates to guarantee that the acts of government will be grounded on established legal principles and have a rational factual basis. A decision is arbitrary or capricious when it is not supported by evidence or when there is no reasonable justification for the decision.3
Thus, in order for plaintiff to establish a likelihood of success on the merits, he must be able to demonstrate to the extent, at least, of a reasonable probability that the decision to dismiss him was without evidentiary support.
The affidavits and exhibits presented by defendant, however, indicate that there was substantial, if not overwhelming, evidentiary support for the Board's dismissal.
Plaintiff was a substitute teacher from early September 1969 to October 10, 1969 at Junior High School 136 in Manhattan. He was dismissed on October 10, 1969, and the school principal, in a letter sent to plaintiff dated October 14, 1969, explained the reasons for the dismissal. According to the principal, there were complaints from parents protesting plaintiff's holding children in class after hours and claiming that he physically abused one particular young girl. The principal, himself, on complaints from certain of plaintiff's pupils, attempted to observe plaintiff's class-room conduct on September 17, 1969. Plaintiff was not, however, in the class and was instead found sleeping in the teachers' room.
Plaintiff was also absent on October 6 and 7, 1969 without giving any prior notice or subsequent explanation.
The crucial event occurred on October 10, 1969 when some of plaintiff's pupils brought to the principal's office a young girl in tears, the same one who previously complained of being physically abused by plaintiff. The young girl now claimed that plaintiff pushed her and consequently injured her. The other youngsters corroborated her claim.
The principal then went to plaintiff's classroom, which he found to be in total disorder, and relieved plaintiff of his duties.
Plaintiff, after being informed of the specific reasons for his dismissal, initiated grievance proceedings pursuant to the applicable collective bargaining agreement. At the hearing, held on November 7, 1969, plaintiff claimed that he should not have been immediately dismissed because the situation was not an emergency.
The principal, in response to a question by a teacher representing plaintiff at the hearing, stated that he considered the situation an emergency because of the complaints of physical abuse and the disorder he personally observed in plaintiff's classroom. The young girl who charged plaintiff with physical abuse testified and the statements of the two pupils who accompanied her to the principal's office were read.
The principal, on November 10, 1969, mailed plaintiff a memorandum in which he summarized the evidence presented at the hearing and decided that the claim of "no emergency" was unjustified. The principal also notified plaintiff that he now had a right to appeal to the local Deputy Superintendent.
Plaintiff, then, took such an appeal and another hearing was held on November 18, 1969, before Edwin J. Haas, the Acting District Superintendent. Mr. Haas, in a letter dated November 21, 1969, informed plaintiff that he upheld the dismissal particularly because of the
[ 312 F.Supp. 257 ]

evidence as to plaintiff's "difficulty in maintaining class control." He did not, however, completely agree that an emergency existed and therefore awarded plaintiff ten days' additional salary.

The record is unclear as to whether or not plaintiff presently has a right to appeal to the Superintendent of Schools, but for the purpose of this motion, we will assume that he does not and that he has, therefore, exhausted all available administrative remedies.
Considering the foregoing reasons defendant presents and particularizes for dismissing plaintiff, it is highly unlikely that plaintiff can prove that his dismissal was so irrational and so lacking in evidentiary support as to be arbitrary and capricious. Plaintiff's rambling and at times rather unintelligible statement, and a fellow teacher's equally confusing letter submitted in support of the motion do not offer a sufficient basis for finding that it is reasonably probable that plaintiff can establish that his dismissal violated constitutionally guaranteed due process.
Since plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of establishing a likelihood of success on the merits,4 his motion for a preliminary injunction is properly denied without having to balance the harm inflicted on plaintiff by denying the injunction against the harm inflicted on defendant and on the public by granting the motion.
Were we to weigh the potential harm to both sides, however, it is far from clear that the scale would tip in plaintiff's favor. Plaintiff claims a denial of federal constitutional rights and this has often been held to establish automatically immediate and irreparable harm.5 This is offset, however, by the potential harm to defendant and to plaintiff's pupils if we were to reinstate plaintiff pending the outcome of this action. The equitable balance leans even further in defendant's favor when we consider that plaintiff is seeking mandatory relief on this motion, almost identical with the ultimate relief he would obtain if he were to prove his case on the merits, namely, reinstatement and back pay. Finally, plaintiff, if he does eventually succeed in establishing his claim will be reinstated and obtain money damages reflecting his entire loss of earnings, and thus is not irreparably injured, at least in a professional and financial sense, by denial of this motion.
The foregoing constitutes the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, as required by Rule 52(a), Fed.R.Civ.P.
Accordingly, plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is denied.
So ordered.

Footnotes


1. See Unicon Management Corp. v. Koppers Company, 366 F.2d 199, 204-205 (2d Cir. 1966); Hosey v. Club Van Cortlandt, 299 F.Supp. 501, 503 (S.D.N.Y. 1969).
2. Unicon Management Corp. v. Koppers Company, supra; Hamilton Watch Co. v. Benrus Watch Co., 206 F.2d 738, 740 (2d Cir. 1953).
3. O'Boyle v. Coe, 155 F.Supp. 581, 584 (D.C.Dist.1957); East Tex. Motor Freight Lines v. United States, 96 F.Supp. 424, 427 (N.D.Tex.1951); Ford Motor Co. (Delaware) v. United States, 97 Ct.Cl. 370, 47 F.Supp. 259 (1942).
4. Brass v. Hoberman, 295 F.Supp. 358 (S.D.N.Y.1968).
5. Henry v. Greenville Airport Comm'n, 284 F.2d 631 (4th Cir. 1960); Brass v. Hoberman, supra, 295 F.Supp. at 361.

A Select Few Make A Profit Off of the California Vergara Lawsuit on the End of Tenure Rights For Teachers

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bill Raden and Gary Cohn: The End of Tenure in California Brings Financial Benefits To A Select Few

National Public Voice
Editor Betsy Combier


Bonanza! Silicon Valley Sees Gold in Corporate-Driven School Reforms

July 17, 2014 in California Expose
When Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down the tenure rights of the state’s public school teachers last month in Vergara v. California, his decision was hailed by Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., lead attorney for the plaintiffs, as “a terrific, wonderful day for California students and for the California education system.”
The lawsuit, which had been brought on behalf of nine California schoolchildren, argued that the retention of “grossly ineffective” teachers through five due-process statutes violated the students’ civil rights.
Vergara lawsuit backer David Welch
Vergara lawsuit backer David Welch
The suit and its accompanying public relations blitz had been bought and paid for by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch under the umbrella of Students Matter, Welch’s personal Menlo Park education reform nonprofit. Welch made his fortune designing large-capacity fiber optic transmission systems for the global service-provider market.
“I have not devoted my career to education policy,” Welch admitted when launching the  Vergara campaign last summer, “but I do believe I’m an expert on what you need in an environment to get the most out of people.”
Welch’s obsession with restructuring public education hardly marks him as an outlier among Silicon Valley tycoons. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, sits on the boards of Microsoft, KIPP and CalCharters (the California Charter School Association), and is a founding funder of Green Dot and a co-founder of NewSchools.org, Aspire Public Schools and EdVoice.net. Hastings summed up his vision for transforming education last March, when the newly minted billionaire called for the end of locally elected school boards and announced a goal of moving 90 percent of America’s public school kids into charter schools over the next 30 years. That’s a tall order, especially in light of a 2009 Stanford University study showing that when averaged across all schools, the impact of attending a charter has a slight — but statistically significant — negative impact on both math and reading gains.
Netflix's Reed Hastings
Netflix’s Reed Hastings
Judge Treu’s decision not only marked a significant legal victory against teachers and their unions. It was also an important public affirmation for Welch, Hastings and other well-heeled Silicon Valleyites and their revisionist narrative of progressive public education. By placing the blame on teachers for poor student outcomes, the Vergara ruling ignored decades of research establishing families’ socioeconomic background as the predominant factor affecting how children perform in school — research that also singles out small class size and experienced teachers as being directly beneficial to learning.
The reasons why tech titans like Welch and Hastings have decided that they know how public education can best be “fixed,” and why they are backing those hunches with big money, have been a matter of some speculation. In celebrating Vergara’s nullification of public school teacher job protections, however, Los Angeles schools superintendent John Deasy may have inadvertently dropped a clue when he declared, “Every day that these laws remain in effect represent an opportunity denied.”
The precise nature of that opportunity was immediately grasped by those who stand to gain the most from Vergara. In an ecstatic, post-verdict op-ed piece published on TechCrunch, the online news site that serves Silicon Valley’s tech-startup community, writer Danny Crichton gloated over what he described as “a key opening for startups to begin thinking about grade school in a post-tenure world” now that teachers were out of the way.
When they speak to the general media, Silicon Valley ed reformers sound much like Welch, talking altruistically about the underserved and the right of the state’s children to a quality education. But when they speak to each other they are more apt to talk in the language of money – that is, about the potential gold rush represented by the $638 billion spent on K-12 education between 2009 and 2010 by American taxpayers.
The stakes are high. For Silicon Valley venture capitalists and “ed tech” prospectors, mining the high-grade ore of the U.S. public education market is only the beginning, a test bed to develop a tech-based education model capable of tapping the real mother lode  — the emerging middle classes of China, India and Africa. That’s a global ed tech market, estimates venture capitalist Jon Sakoda of New Enterprise Associates, currently worth $4-6 trillion.
Ground zero for this ed tech bonanza may well be Oakland’s NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit venture capital fund known for its financing of both ed tech startups and charter school management organizations (CMOs), including Aspire Public Schools, KIPP and Redwood City-based Rocketship Education. The fund has drawn money from high-profile foundations created by Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the Walton family, as well asfrom Welch’s own David & Heidi Welch Foundation and Reed Hastings’ Hastings/Quillin Fund.
Rocketship co-founder John Danner
Rocketship co-founder John Danner
In its 2012 annual report, NewSchools speaks of its mission as investing “in education entrepreneurs who can transform public education in America.” What that murky intersection of entrepreneurship and altruism looks like in action might best be exemplified by Rocketship Education. The smart money began pouring into “blended learning” charters — whose classroom time is split between traditional teachers and online learning — earlier this century. By the late aughts, blended learning’s rising star was the K-5 Rocketship Education.
Co-founded in 2006 by online ad-surfing mogul John Danner, Rocketship quickly rose to national prominence by claiming stellar test scores from poor and immigrant students in San Jose through its near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and a model that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day. Danner also announced aggressive plans to expand Rocketship into a national online school district with an ambitious goal of enrolling one million students in 50 cities — rivaling New York City’s public school system, the nation’s largest. (Rocketship did not respond to requests for comments for this article.)
Reed Hastings was impressed enough with Rocketship to put his money down on both the nonprofit and on the for-profit ed tech company, DreamBox Learning, which supplies Rocketship’s computer labs with their “adaptive learning” math games.
Brett Bymaster is a Silicon Valley electrical engineer who, through his website Stop Rocketship Education Now!, has been fighting Rocketship’s planned 30-school expansion into San Jose’s low-income neighborhoods.
“One of the things that’s going on behind the scenes,” Bymaster explains, “is that it’s getting harder and harder to get [new] big-growth businesses in Silicon Valley. It’s getting harder and harder to get the big wins that [investors] need. And [these] people are starting to look towards [public] education, because there’s a tremendous amount of money to made in education, but it’s all locked up in teachers. The districts are spending85 percent of their budget on teachers.”
According to Bymaster, the big secret to making charters profitable is reducing teacher costs. “If you’re going to break that market open,” he says, “you have to run a high student-teacher ratio. And so if you look at the Rocketship model, it’s completely built around this 40-to-one student-teacher ratio. And they want to increase it. They wanted to take it to 50-to-one. The ugly side of that is that it’s really clear that these high student-teacher ratio models are not good for kids.”
Rocketship CEO Preston Smith
Rocketship CEO Preston Smith
Alicia Serrano was a San Jose Unified School District veteran when Rocketship co-founder (and now CEO) Preston Smith recruited her as a first grade math teacher for Rocketship #1 for the 2007-08 school year.
“This was something that was full of innovation,” Serrano recalls. “It was different. It was thinking outside of the box and it was exciting to be a part of that.”
Her excitement was short-lived. By the following year, as Danner put his expansion plans into overdrive, what began as a modest laboratory for innovation had changed.
“It started becoming a monster that I could not connect with on a personal or professional level,” says Serrano. “And I started to see things that just did not square with who I am as a person and what is right for children.”
What Serrano found was that Rocketship’s rigidly test-focused culture had eliminated the “human part” of education.
“Preston or the principals,” says Serrano, “would stop kids randomly [and ask] ‘What’s your test score? What did you get on test? What did you get on your benchmark test?’ Instead of connecting with the child in terms of, ‘What did you do yesterday when you got home from school?” or ‘What sports do you like to play?’ or ‘What do you do with your family on Sunday afternoon?’ or any other question to get to know kids. It was all about the number. It was all about the test score.”
The pressure to produce scores was felt by both students and teachers, whose salaries are directly tied to test scores. “I would see so many young teachers,” Serrano remembers, “even some that were TFA [Teach for America] teachers — and this was their second year — that were just crying in their classrooms. It wasn’t a happy place.”
Those indications that the Rocketship edifice might be unsound were confirmed last month when Smith announced that due to plummeting test scores, Rocketship would be scaling back its expansion. “We didn’t deliver,” the CEO admitted.
John Danner had already jumped Rocketship last year to devote himself full-time to his latest venture, which this time sidesteps teachers entirely — a smartphone ed-app startup based in Palo Alto called Zeal, which Danner’s Twitter site describes as “putting school on a phone.”
But if blended learning suffered a black eye, Bymaster cautions that the model of pairing large-scale CMO nonprofits with the for-profit companies that supply them with their education software and lease them their classrooms is not about to go away.
“People need to understand,” he says, “that there’s tons of money in nonprofits, first of all. Second, nonprofits can kind of become containers for for-profit organizations . . . and a lot of that is tax money going into rich people’s pockets.”