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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Derrell Bradford Takes Manhattan!

Hey, New York! Yeah, I'm talking to you! You and me, we got a beef:

See, you guys are always shipping your reformy types across the Hudson to us here in New Jersey and, frankly, we're all sick of it. We're up to our necks in these corporate education reformers, with their "no excuses" and "think-tanky research" and Joel Klein-enhanced resumes.

ChrisCamiPaymonJanine. They've infested the NJDOE and the school district central offices and the lobbying outfits and the press. Their op-eds are plastered all over the newspapers; their policies have warped the minds of too many gullible legislators and school board members. They're opening charters and selling us unproven software and testing our kids like maniacs. And they just keep coming...

Well, it's time for a little payback, Jersey-style!
New York, NY. –Derrell Bradford has been named executive director for NYCAN: The New York Campaign for Achievement Now. Derrell has spent more than a decade on the front lines of the education reform movement and has emerged as a leading voice on the issues, from his work leading E3 (Excellent Education for Everyone) and Better Education for Kids (B4K) to his appearances on local and national television and his writings on educational improvement, choice and policy change.
“I’m delighted and grateful to have the opportunity to support the work of so many people doing great things for children in New York City and New York State,” said NYCAN Executive Director Derrell Bradford. “I spent fourteen years of my life living in New York, and look forward to driving change there in a way that continues what I have learned and done working in New Jersey and in other states across the country.” [emphasis mine]
Derrell Bradford is leaving New Jersey. I think a little part of me just died inside...

Folks, I've never met Derrell - but we go way back. I believe I was pretty much the first moderately well-known voice in New Jersey to point out that Chris Christie's appointment of Bradford to the now-infamous Educator Effectiveness Task Force made the entire enterprise a joke. Bradford has never been an educator, holds no degrees in any relevant field, and came into education lobbying having been a nightlife magazine editor.

I'll always remember the night when the invaluable @stopthefreezeNJ (a fellow NJ teacher) and I tried to get Bradford to give us one good reason why he should have been on that task force:

Dyrnwyn Derrell Bradford
@jerseyjazzman never said that. Been working in Ed policy in NJ for almost a decade. Work with state and usdoe often. I am just not a tchr

jerseyjazzman Jersey Jazzman
@Dyrnwyn "Working in ed policy" could mean anything. Why should I, a working teacher with more than a decade actually teaching, trust you?

Dyrnwyn Derrell Bradford
@jerseyjazzman but tore asking why I was picked. Like unsaid. You'd have to ask the Gov.

jerseyjazzman Jersey Jazzman
@Dyrnwyn I'm not asking why you were picked - I'm asking why you are qualified to set policy. You have no practical or theoretical exp.

It went on that way for way too long. The truth is there was no answer: Derrell Bradford is as unqualified a man as you could possibly find to sit on a panel in charge of overhauling teacher evaluation. He knew it and we knew it: there was nothing to debate.

Bradford's sole experience in anything remotely having to do with education was working at the now-a-ghost-of-its-former-self voucher lobbying shop, Excellent Education for Everyone, or E3: first as a director of communications, and then as Executive Director. E3's mission was to bring "choice" in the form of opportunity scholarships vouchers to New Jersey's urban children.

Bradford is always happy to use his personal story to sell the idea of "choice": he claims he just wants for every child what he himself had. What he fails to acknowledge is that he went to an extremely expensive and elite private school (not that there's anything wrong with that) that spends twice per pupil what the local public schools spend. Yet he questions whether New Jersey schools spend too much on "bells and whistles," and the opportunity scholarships vouchers he promoted wouldn't have come close to providing children with the "hoity-toity" (his words) education he enjoyed. Derrell Bradford's "personal story" has nothing to do with his preferred policies.

It is a testament to Bradford's "effectiveness" as an advocate that after his nearly a decade of service at E3, the Opportunity Scholarship Act has disappeared from Christie's policy agenda and isn't being discussed seriously by anyone. But I guess we can't blame Derrell entirely: it was always a bad idea, designed solely to court a very specific constituency and impractical as a large-scale "reform" (it's worth noting that when it came time to move up the food chain, Bradford was happy to curb any passion he had toward vouchers).

Bradford's service on the task force produced a disaster of a report, which led to a disaster of a teacher evaluation scheme (AchieveNJ, aka Operation Hindenburg). But it also opened up new possibilities in reformy advocacy -- for Bradford, that is. When the Christie administration needed someone to serve on the secret charter school review panels of 2010, they called Bradford. When they needed someone to take a cheap swipe at then-NJEA President Barbara Keshishian, they called Bradford:

I go up against the president of the teachers union in New Jersey all the time, right? She's got a bad haircut and terrible fashion, right?
Golly, how hilarious. And don't you also love the glib way Derrell dismisses the idea that people who work in schools and/or study them might have more expertise than he does? I mean, he's watched Dangerous Minds! HAHAHA!

It was on the basis of stunts like this that Derrell reeled in his biggest fishes yet: two hedge fund managers with millions to blow and a hankering to enter the world of education reform, just like all the Wall Street big shots over in Manhattan. David Tepper and Alan Fournier set up Bradford with his own lobbying shop: Better Education For Kids, or B4K (What is it with the mixing of letters and numbers? You might have missed it, but it's not the '90s anymore...).

For pundits like Tom Moran, the thought of a counterweight to the evil teachers unions was the stuff of dreams...

Yes, that really is supposed to be a lean, mean David Tepper, fighting off a gorilla in a red Speedo and boxing gloves embroidered with the initials "NJEA." And Tom's sucking up in print was actually worse than this cartoon.

And so began the Age of B4K, a truly nutty time in New Jersey's education history. Highlights include:

 - The tenure overhall law, TEACHNJ. B4K loves to claim they had a role in its creation: the truth is the final law was nothing like what they had proposed. They had no authority in the debate, and were pretty much ignored, if we judge the results.

- The "partnership" with Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst (intercaps -- seriously, what's the deal with the names?), which was going to shift the NJ Legislature to reforminess but instead led to the groups spending an obscene amount of money to keep one real teacher out of the Assembly.

- But that's been par for the course. Fournier put a ridiculous amount of money into the Perth Amboy school board race, and managed to get only one seat out of the deal. These guys throw around a lot of dough, but ultimately it doesn't get them very much, does it?

- Why did Founier care about Perth Amboy? The explanation goes back to B4K's truly bizarre defense of Janine Caffrey, the beleaguered former superintendent and New Jersey's deposed Queen of Tenure. B4K rushed to put out a public relations campaign for her when her job was at stake. Unfortunately, they put her in a compromised position that ultimately did her no favors.

- When Caffrey was finally dismissed, B4K -- in what I have described as the most cynical thing I've seen in my four-plus year of blogging -- pulled money for a vaunted literacy program in her former district. And yet B4K and its sugar daddies had plenty of money to dump into Jersey City politics. So much for "it's all about the kids..."

Allow me to get a little personal here. Because all this time, I was one of the few voices out there who was calling attention to all this. We hadn't yet seen the explosion of bloggers and social media voices standing up for education in New Jersey we're witnessing now (which is, by the way, a beautiful thing). There was just me and a few others in the blogosphere: Darcie, @stopthefreezenj, Blue Jersey, SOSNJ, and not much else*.

But here's the funny thing: even though I was just a loudmouth teacher-blogger with no connections, no clout, and no funding source, I became something of an obsession for B4K. They banned any mention of me on their Facebook page:

What's really weird is that they then wrote an entire piece on their website trying to rebut my critique of their analysis of education data to show New Jersey's outstanding public schools weren't really all that great. Their rebuttal was amateurish and ill-informed, but that's not what really struck me as cra-cra.

No, the true wackiness was that Bradford and B4K were absolutely determined to sell us teachers all an idea that they were angels from on high, come to save us from our own baser instincts:
"The one really important difference is that the people we represent are the kids and the families," said Derrell Bradford, executive director of the policy arm of the group [B4K]. "I know everybody says it's all about that. We have no financial interest in public education, at all. Every other group does. I don't say that in a way that's meant to disparage anyone. We can be about pure activism because we don't have anything to gain from the success of the agenda other than that kids get better educational opportunities." 
B4K's founders are two hedge-fund managers: David Tepper, a Democrat, and Alan Fournier, a Republican. Neither had been deeply involved in education policy issues before they started the organization this year. [emphasis mine]
"I don't say that in a way that's meant to disparage anyone." I mean, how is any teacher supposed to take that? Derrell Bradford, pulling down more change than any New Jersey teacher could dream of, is somehow more pure of heart than the people who are actually in the schools every day doing the job?! Does he really believe this?

As part of research for my master’s degree, I interviewed [XX], whom I had gotten to “know” over Facebook. XX leads a local branch of StudentsFirst, funded by David Tepper and Allen Fournier, the billionaire hedge fund boys. By his own admission, XX fell into ed reform when he was unemployed. 

He’s not in this because of any deep abiding conviction to make schools better (though he may have developed an interest). He’s in this because he needed a job, is a private-school educated African American who speaks well and now controls a SuperPAC. It’s a chess game for him, and is quite addictive. He hangs out with Rhee and has addressed ALEC on several occasions.

He said two interesting things to me in our meeting. “I’m here because you’re not.” Translation – if the education establishment had taken on the issues, or at least been less complacent about messaging (the REAL problem in my opinion) there’d be no market for the “reforms.”  The second thing he said was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Reform 1.0 was school choice. Reform 2.0 was tenure (for NJ). Reform 3.0 is we have a SuperPAC – we can elect candidates.

As I said, he’s developed an interest in education but he’s hanging with the wrong guys, and i told him as much. His real interest is in the chess game of politics, which is fascinating, especially when you have the resources to play for real. [emphasis mine]
This is from one of Diane Ravitch's readers, who contacted me after this post was published and confirmed it was all accurate. And there's not a shred of doubt who [XX] is.

"OK, look", you might say. "That's one quote from a second-hand source. You can't really believe that Derrell thinks this movement is about himself and not about the 'reforms' he is advocating for!"

But it's not just me saying it, or the author above: it's Bradford himself.

This is from Bradford's speech which is excerpted in the video above (Interestingly, the original source of the video is no longer available to the public. But don't fret: copies exist). "Growing your movement is about advancing the people that advance the reforms, not the reforms themselves." 

It's a quote for the ages: a perfect encapsulation of the spirit of reforminess. They are superior people, so if it's all about them, that's just fine. Those of us who show up at school every day to teach kids might be plain, simple folk, but we're compromised by our desire to be treated like professionals, earn a decent middle-class wage, see the government keep its promises to us, and have a say in how public schools are run. Obviously those are all desires that run counter to the interests of children (oy).

Folks like Derrell Bradford, however, are unencumbered by such unimportant things as experience, training, or education. He has, after all, seen Dangerous Minds. HAHAHA!

I doubt very much this will be the last mention of this man on this blog: the Empire State is just an EZPass charge away. But I have to admit: New Jersey education policy just won't be the same without Derrell Bradford around.

He's all yours, New York. Good luck.

* I don't put Bruce Baker in this group because that's not what he does; people who think he belongs with us have obviously never read him.

Also: if I left you out of this list, don't take it as a slight - I just forgot. Email me and I'll fix it.


Anonymous said...

Cuomo is amassing his campaign chest from the corporate reformers. The "reformers" are swarming in NY awaiting his re-election!

Russ Walsh said...

I had the unique pleasure of meeting Derrell Bradford when I testified against the use of VAMs to the Governor's Task Force as a part of the EqUATE group. A remarkably arrogant and clueless young man was my first impression. It has not changed since. Glad the GWB wasn't blocked when he made his way over to NYC.

P. Grunther said...

No fair...Russ Walsh stole my line about hoping that Christie wasn't blocking the GWB when Darrell crossed over to NYC! Just wanted to say to the JJ - this is how we like you! Keep slinging those zingers their way...especially since you back yours up with facts and data and the Ed Deformers never do.

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