I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rich People Telling Poor People How To Educate Their Kids

What else should we call this?
The Gates foundation, deeply embroiled nationally in its own version of education reform, has ponied up $3 million to be used to create "a talent management system." Its website said the money was designed to "support the planning and implementation of a data system for the Newark Public School District that will support accountability and include data measures for data driven instruction, teacher evaluation and growth models."
Similar models — including some receiving support from the Gates foundation — have spurred controversy and lawsuits elsewhere. The litigation — in New York, for example — has focused on disclosure of which teachers produce what sort of results.
There’s irony there because, if there’s one thing the Gates foundation and its partners in Newark want to avoid, it is full disclosure of its operations in New Jersey’s largest city.
"I have some questions about that money," says Deborah Terrell, Newark’s interim superintendent. "I don’t know anything about it. I was never told about it."
The new teacher evaluation system is coming to Newark in much the same way as private money brought a controversial reorganization plan to the Newark schools — through private funds channeled through a third party to a private consulting firm. That firm — Global Education Advisors — was founded by acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, although he says he cut ties to the profit-making company after he was named to New Jersey’s top school post. 
In the case of the evaluation system, the Gates money will be channeled through the NewSchools Venture Fund, which describes itself as a "venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education by supporting education entrepreneurs." It either will produce the teacher-evaluation system for the Newark schools or pay someone else to do it.
The fund’s partners, among them hedge fund managers and venture capitalists, include John Doerr, who personally gave $10 million to the foundation controlled by Newark Mayor Cory Booker to raise money for education reform. Doerr repeatedly refused to answer questions about his donation and connection to NewSchools, but spokespeople for both the fund and Booker deny the arrangement represents a conflict of interest.
"The Gates foundation’s funds are completely separate from the $10 million donated by John Doerr and there is no conflict of interest inherent in these two separate donations," says Esmeralda Diaz Cameron, a spokeswoman for Booker.
But neither Gates, nor NewSchools, nor Booker, nor Doerr will release any information about who wrote the grant proposal for the evaluation system or what it will do.
How dare Bob Braun or any of the rest of us peons ask such questions! Don't they understand that these people are both intellectually and morally superior by virtue of their great wealth? Why should they have to answer to the communities that they are affecting?
"It’s a cesspool," says Paul Tractenberg, a professor at Rutgers Law School and director of the Institute of Education Law and Policy at the university. "The lack of responses are proof positive of the utter lack of transparency in this shadowy private education reform network."
The Gates foundation gave contradictory answers to questions about the money for the teacher-evaluation system. First, it said the $3 million was part of the matching funds Booker needed to raise to meet the requirements of a $100 million grant from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, a gift rolled out with much fanfare on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." But the money didn’t go to Booker or his foundation, but rather to NewSchools — an entity Williams called a "trusted partner in the work we have supported around the country."
NewSchools funds profit-making educational firms, but its spokesman, Jonathan Schorr, insists it is dedicated only to "improving schools." Schorr, who refused to release documents on the grant, says the fund will be "entirely public about the recipients and uses of these funds."
Anyone else smelling the money? When they build Halliburton High School, I say it should go right next to Cory Booker's house.

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