On the malign influence of Eli Broad in education

This is a good summary by Wendy Lecker on the results of billionaire Eli Broad’s strenuous efforts to reshape American education. Even though Broad’s rhetoric is a lot more progressive than that of the Koch brothers, Broad’s results have not been good at all – not only in human terms, but even on his own terms and using his own benchmarks. I might add that in terms of Broad’s failures, Lecker could have included the Broad-financed reform effort under Michelle Rhee here in Washington DC had a 98% failure rate in reaching its own goals. (See here for a link to my analysis thereof.)

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Putting a price tag on public schools

By Wendy Lecker|January 5, 2020

When it comes to using one’s fortune to influence American policy, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch stand out.

The Kochs have spent a fortune pushing American politics and policy to the right. Their secretive organization, Americans for Prosperity, is a major player in anti-labor activities, such as Wisconsin’s slashing of union rights, and fighting minimum wage increases nationwide. The Kochs poured money into the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) a stealth lobby organization that writes bills that advance Koch industries’ interests specifically and the Koch’s extreme free market ideology in general, and then gets legislators all over the country to introduce them.

They have also donated millions of dollars to establish research centers at universities to push their brand of unregulated capitalism. They impose conditions and performance obligations on the donations, interfere in hiring decisions, and make curriculum and programming decisions. The Kochs often demand pre-approval of any public statements and include anti-transparency provisions in donor agreements. This research is then cited as the scholarly basis for Congressional decisions favoring the Kochs’ interests. The Kochs are proud of their integrated strategy to build a pipeline of influence. The president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation boasted that “(n)o one else has this infrastructure.”

Eli Broad, a billionaire who made his fortune through real estate and insurance, seeks to build a Koch-style infrastructure to push his education reform ideology. Broad recently announced that, with a $100 million donation, he is bringing his Broad Center to Yale’s School of Management (“SOM”).

The Broad Center trains school district leaders and those who seek to influence education policy. The center emphasizes applying business principles to running school districts and de-emphasizes education. In seeking candidates, the Broad Center prioritizes “a strong and direct alignment with specific (Broad Center) reform priorities” — which include school privatization and weakening labor protections. The Center openly aims to reshape American public education according to Broad’s ideology.

Eli Broad is a major player in some of the most aggressive — and controversial- education reform policies in America. Like the Kochs, Broad employs an integrated strategy of influence. For example, he bankrolled the education reform slate in the Los Angeles 2018 school board election. His star beneficiary, charter operator Ref Rodriguez, later resigned from the board and pled guilty to felony election fraud conspiracy. Broad also poured millions into Broad alumnus and charter operator Marshall Tuck’s 2018 unsuccessful campaign for California State Superintendent.

Broad used his money and influence to push the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) to run Detroit’s public schools. He provided significant funding and even summoned Broad alumnus and then Kansas City superintendent, John Covington, to be its first chancellor. Covington had wreaked havoc on Kansas City, firing hundreds of teachers and replacing them with inexperienced Teach for America members, and imposing other disruptive reforms. After his chaotic departure, Kansas City’s school district lost its accreditation. It then abandoned Covington’s reforms to regain its footing.

Covington left the EAA abruptly after charges of questionable spending, and the Broad Center hired him. The EAA was a devastating failure, plagued by financial mismanagement and abysmal academic failures.

A succession of Broad alumni ran Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, which was also plagued by financial mismanagement and poor student achievement — worse than in schools under local district control.

Broad alumni were forced out of Seattle and Los Angeles amid financial impropriety, and Barbara Byrd Bennett, a Broad executive coach, is in federal prison after pleading guilty to a bribery scandal in which she engaged while head of Chicago Public Schools.

These scandals reflect poorly on Broad’s emphasis on applying business practices to school districts.

Much like the Koch’s foray into higher education, Broad’s move to SOM seems like an effort to profit from Yale’s name and perhaps sanitize the questionable track record of Broad alumni. Since Yale has no school of education — unlike other universities in New Haven — Broad’s interest is not to bolster any knowledge of how children can learn successfully.

In an effort to discern how much of the Koch playbook Broad is employing at Yale, I asked SOM about Broad’s involvement in the governance, curriculum, programming and hiring at SOM’s new center. After first indicating they would run these questions by SOM’s dean, SOM now fails to respond, despite my request for follow-up. Apparently, SOM’s Broad Center is adopting the Koch’s lack of transparency.

It is disturbing that a major university is helping enlarge the Broad pipeline, which has funneled scandal and upheaval across American public schools.

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Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center

If the tests by which all of education is to be measured by are garbage, then so are the results

On this blog I have reprinted examples of what I see are crappy test items and dissected them, hoping to show readers that those items neither made sense nor measured what they are purported to measure.

However, I never worked inside the testing industry itself, so I don’t have direct experience of making up BS test items on an industrial scale.* My own experience, however, is that EVERY test — no matter how good — has validity and reliability problems. This passage shows that the tests on which all US educational decisions are supposed to be based are, in fact, ridiculously badly made from the beginning, and cannot possibly measure what they pretend to measure, are unreliable, and thus utterly invalid.  (Plus the tests are snatching at least potentially valuable class time away from our students, while enabling a handful of big corporations like Pearson (more on which below) are raking in huge dividends because they control almost the entire education market.)

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This comes from an interview published by Diane Ravitch ( http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/27/11990/ )

Rebecca Rubenstein: Since your book was published in 2009, has the “standardized” testing industry improved?

Todd Farley: Not the slightest bit. There was a story in The New York Times in 2001 about how test-scoring was a wildly out-of-control industry, which quotes various employees—not me!—as saying that they faced “too little time, too much to do, not enough people.” It implies the industry was doing a terribly suspect job. Since then, the industry is about a hundred times bigger, but those problems mentioned in the Times article or in my book have never been addressed. The industry has simply grown exponentially, and there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be earned by companies that are completely unregulated—to repeat, completely unregulated, so whatever Pearson et. al. tell us, we’re supposed to say “thank you very much” and just write them a staggeringly large check—but of course things haven’t gotten any better.

In my time in test-scoring, we never had enough temporary employees to do the work; we always had too much to do and too little time to do it; and there were always financial punishments looming over our heads if we didn’t get things done. We cut whatever corners we could to get it done (I’m sorry to say). Today the work load is a hundred times bigger and the money to be made is a hundred times bigger, but the system didn’t work to begin with and of course it doesn’t work now.

The same is true in the test development business. When I worked for one publisher as a test developer, it was always a madcap race to get tests written on time, and we faced absurd deadlines and pressure to do so. The reality is that quality was always secondary to the bottom line when developing tests, and then when the Common Core standards were introduced, and tests and products needed to be written for them, our deadlines became laughably absurd; I was once involved in the development of 200 tests in two months, which I think is literally more tests than ETS has produced in its entire existence. With the Common Core standards released, all the companies knew all the other companies were racing to finish their tests and products first, so quality became even worse than secondary. It became tertiary, or “fourthiary,” or whatever. Subcontractors who had been fired for poor work were rehired; item writers were hired off Craigslist; test developers with neither teaching experience nor test development experience were given full-time jobs. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, companies like Pearson are for-profit enterprises. They want to make money. They want to make money, so of course they do a crappy job, because the quality of the work is never anywhere near as important as their desire to make a profit, and there’s always too much work and too little time to do it.

continue reading …

A comment: I was at first skeptical of the “200 tests” mentioned being more that the ETS has created in its entire existence. But I think he may be right: The SAT is essentially one, or two, or three tests, depending on how you look at it; it just gets revised a little bit each year. Reading, Math, and Writing. Plus, there perhaps a couple of score different Advanced Placement (AP) tests and Achievement tests in different subjects; they get revised every year, at least they do in the field of math (which I follow, of course) and others.

But what Pearson is doing now is essentially trying to replace the teacher in every single grade level, for every single course, by making the entire curriculum driven by the tests and pre-tests and practice tests and test prep material provided by them.  Yes, I do mean all of third grade. Yes, I do mean 6th grade science, music appreciation, and geography and PE. Every class. And if you count every single course or subject area that a student might be measured by from Pre-K-3 all the way up to graduating from high school, that might in fact be roughly 200 brand-new test series! Not just end-of-course tests, by no means. A different corporate multiple-choice test every month or two!

All this corporate educa-crap is just that: crap forced down the throat of public school kids and ONLY kids in public schools.

And it won’t improve a damned thing. Except for corporate bottom lines.

Of course the children or grandchildren of Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg, Arne Duncan, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, and Barack Obama will never, ever be subjected to such a poor excuse for an education.

Oh, no.

That’s just for the poor black and latino and white kids who are in high-poverty regions; the only way they can opt out is to go to a charter school which might be doing any damned thing and is almost sure to be even more segregated than the nearest public school, if that’s even possible.

This is progress?

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* My students and I often found mistakes on tests and quizzes and assignments I made up. I used to congratulate the student and give him/her/them a point when they pointed out an error. ETS and Pearson’s responses have been rather different. Remember the famous talking pineapple question? And do you recall that essentially no-one has ever been able to explain, line by line, number by number, exactly how ANY single teacher’s VAM numbers were calculated? Has any school district ever released data showing how well VAM and supposedly ‘scientific’ classroom observation data correlate with each other? (Hint: they don’t!!)

Once again, let me urge the leadership of the Washington Teachers’ Union, and teacher unions elsewhere, to enlist a good statistician with his/her feet on the ground, and poke holes in VAM. It’s all a tissue of fabrications.

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