“Superintendent” Sullivan’s Education Summit — What is the Goal?
In a previous post on the “Anti-Public Education Agenda”, we discussed how corporations and right-wing radicals were driving the “school choice” and education reform movements nationally and statewide. However, no one has played politics in this arena quite the way that Mayor Dan Sullivan has here in Anchorage:
— Throughout his term, Sullivan has continued a pattern of putting hand-picked highly-partisan candidates in major appointments and to outwardly support them in supposed non-partisan races against people who disagree with him. One such scenario occurred when Sullivan appointed divisive, anti-gay right-winger, Dave Bronson to the School Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC). The Assembly rejected the appointment. Agains supported by Mayor Sullivan, Bronson then went on to an unsuccessful run for an Assembly seat. Now, the friends and allies of the mayor are attempting to combine the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) that contains “>several of Mayor Sullivan’s sponsored candidates for Assembly with the SBAC. In examining the make-up of both committees, such a combination would give Sullivan more influence over the School Budget process.
— Claiming fiscal crisis, when in actuality he simply refused to tax to the cap, Mayor Sullivan took a machete rather than a red pen to the Anchorage School District budget this year. This caused the District to initially put summer school, sports activities and a number of administrative jobs on the chopping block. They eventually had to delve into their emergency fund, slightly increase class size and increase student sports fees to offset some of the cuts.
— The Mayor shifted almost $2 million in fees from the Municipality of Anchorage to the Anchorage School District — fees never before charged to the District since its inception.
— The Mayor very publicly supported candidates for Anchorage School Board (financially and/or philosophically) who pushed for “school choice,” who campaigned to teach Creationism in science class right along with Evolution, and who have a passing relationship with the truth.
Last week, Mayor Sullivan publicly announced that he will be conducting the “Mayor’s Education Summit” in November. He has managed to collect a large chunk of private money:
The Mayor’s Educational Summit has raised private funds to underwrite the costs of the two summits and citizen conversations. They include: ACS, Alaska Airlines, Alaska Regional Hospital, AT&T, Carlile Transportation Systems, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, First National Bank, GCI, Gillam Foundation, Lynden, Northrim Bank, Providence Hospital, Shell and Wells Fargo.
He believes this allows him to plan and organize this Summit with no oversight and minimal input from the School District.
In theory, the residents of Anchorage should rejoice that the Mayor is taking such a hands-on interest in the future of their children’s education. However, the above-mention history of his Administration gives many of us pause. Not the least of the concerns is Mayor Sullivan’s tendency (like the candidates he supports) to play fast-and-loose with the facts when it comes to the Anchorage School District. Take the first paragraph from his initial Overview of the proposed Summit (called the “Mayor’s Education Summit) that he sent out to various Municipal employees (but not the general public):
“Mayor Sullivan has launched an initiative to improve education reform standards for all students in the Anchorage Public Schools. Increases in education spending in each of the last five years has not resulted in much, if any, increase in student performance, improved graduation rates, or reduced dropout rates.”
This statement is absolutely not true.
1) The dropout rate has declined from 5.10% to 3.59%
2) The graduation rate has increased from 63.02% to 69.69%.
In his June 1 press release, Mayor Sullivan listed the presenters they were inviting so far. In a discussion at the June 3, 2011 Quarterly Meeting between the Anchorage School Board and the Anchorage Assembly, he mentioned that the School Board was welcome to contribute additional names. Here is the entire discussion from the meeting:
Several invitees interest me greatly, like Timo Lankinen, Director General, Finnish National Board of Education. I would love to discuss with him Finlands’ educational success in light of his country’s universal health care, free day care, tuition-free schools including university-level and a 100% unionized teaching force. As for the others, I have done a cursory investigating of the names that most concerned me:
• Dr. Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
Right-wing think tank AEI is well known as a recipient of large grants from the Koch Brothers. It is probably best known for leading the charge against climate change science and its colorful cast of neocon characters. (i.e. Board Member Richard Cheney)
The DeVos family is recognized as one of the top national contributors to the Republican Party, free market policy institutes, and Religious Right organizations. Many of their previous attempts at using voucher initiatives to privatize the nation’s public schools have been transparent. Recent campaigns have been more covert and are camouflaged behind local efforts described as grass roots and bipartisan.
Mr. Hess makes it more-than-clear that he wishes business to take charge of our schools. From a Press Release titled ” How Business Can Transform–Not Just Subsidize–Education Reform” on the American Enterprise Institute website:
“Business must play a more forceful role in school reform and drive harder bargains with state officials and school district educators,” write American Enterprise Institute (AEI) director of education policy studies Frederick M. Hess and researcher Whitney Downs. In a new US Chamber of Commerce report entitled Partnership Is a Two-Way Street: What It Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform, Hess and Downs explain that, in return for their support, businesses must insist that educators use new resources and tools to transform–not merely subsidize–public education in the United States.
He also proves to be an effective spin-meister when studies from long-term school voucher programs show that they did not make a difference in test scores.
• Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO, StudentsFirst
Rhee rose to the highest education position in Washington D.C., Chancellor, on a sterling resume of impressive performance which took place in a very short amount of teaching time. However, her tenure in the job is marked by wide-spread cheating on standardized tests (where her own investigation found no wrongdoing – sound familiar?), a bull-in-a-china-shop approach to teacher reform, which shut out input from parents and other educators and exposure on the exaggerated if not completely nonexistent accomplishments in her career before the Chancellorship:
I think it’s important for the public to know that the main spokesperson for the movement for additional dumb standardized testing, for teaching to the test, and for firing teachers based on those dumb tests, would herself have been fired under those criteria.
As if that wasn’t enough, Rhee admitted from her own mouth of inappropriate discipline to her former 2nd grade class (the type that gets most teachers fired):
Rhee had poor class management skills, she said, recalling that her class “was very well known in the school because you could hear them traveling anywhere because they were so out of control.” On one particularly rowdy day, she said she decided to place little pieces of masking tape on their lips for the trip to the school cafeteria for lunch.
“OK kids, we’re going to do something special today!” she said she told them.
Rhee said it worked well until they actually arrived at the cafeteria. “I was like, ‘OK, take the tape off. I realized I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand…The skin is coming off their lips and they’re bleeding. Thirty-five kids were crying.”
Unsurprisingly, Rhee tried to walk back a bit from that story:
Rhee said in an e-mail Friday that the students’ mouths weren’t covered. “I was trying to express how difficult the first year of teaching can be with some humor…
The following amusing video shows Ms. Rhee’s lack of popularity among educators.
Ms. Rhee’s time as Chancellor ended after her boss the Mayor of D.C. was voted out. Many believe it was her unpopularity that caused him to lose. Now the organization she founded, Students First, is partnering with far-right Governor of Florida, Rick Scott.
• Dr. Clayton Christiansen, Professor, Harvard Business School
Dr. Christensen (MOA spelled it wrong), whose degree is in Engineering and the sum total of his education experience is as a Harvard Professor, is best known for applying his business theory of “Disruptive Innovation” to education. In essence, he’s promoting an idea that, like Walmart replaced Department Stores, Retail Medical Clinics are replacing doctor’s offices and community colleges are replacing four-year colleges, the same will happen to public education…if we treat it like a business, of course. However, looking at those examples, one wonders whether quality even comes into the picture.
“Leave your child’s education to the experts…at Walmart.”
I acknowledge the Mayor’s point at the Quarterly Meeting, that these are only invitees. We do not know which of them will be attending, nor do we know what other names are being submitted and invited by the Administration. However, more from the Mayor’s non-public Education Summit Overview gives me pause:
“The first summit is focused on efforts that have successfully reformed education.”
…and, under “Recommendations”:
“A two-day summit, attended by key education and policy decisionmakers, to hear from those who have successfully championed reforms that resulted in increased student performance.”
Besides the expert from Finland, none of the invitees I mentioned above have indisputable data to show that the methods they push have provided a long-term foundation for reform.
The Summit is scheduled for November so we will keep you updated.