“Our major universities are now stuck with an army of pedestrian, toadying careerists, Fifties types who wave around Sixties banners to conceal their record of ruthless, beaver-like tunneling to the top.”
There’s serious money to be made in public education.
If you’re not an educator.
Sure, in Massachusetts, a lot of teachers make a decent living, enjoy good benefits, and look forward to a reasonably good retirement, if they last that long. A school superintendent can to make up to twice as much as the best paid teacher. But the real money, and the real future is in the private sector.
Don’t believe me? Check out these salaries.
How do you get on board this gravy train? The easiest way is to graduate from an Ivy League college. Like everything else, it’s easier to get to the top if you start there. The next step is either creating your own educational foundation or working for Teach for America. Jonah Edelman (Yale) started a foundation seeking donations from well-heeled philanthrocapitalists. It certainly helps to have well-known parents like Peter Edelman and Marian Wright Edelman. Jonah pays himself a relatively modest salary, but I’m guessing that like the rest of these edu-preneurs, he hits the speaker circuit (all of the people above are listed with different agencies that provide speakers) and collects some hefty sums talking about your accomplishments.
Teach for America, which has, at the moment, 170 teachers to Massachusetts, is the farm system for these folks. Wendy Kopp (Princeton) founded TFA. See her salary above and what looks like a bold-faced lie below). Her husband Richard Barth (Harvard) of KIPP, America’s favorite charter school CEO, started out as a teacher for TFA. Michelle Rhee (Cornell, Harvard), the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public started with TFA, and when she got the boot from D.C., went on to start Students First. It’s not clear who exactly has donated to Rhee’s organization, but Rupert Murdoch has been rumored to have given her $50 million. The CEO of Amplify, Murdoch’s education technology company, is Joel Klein, who is on Students First’s board. He was the CEO of the New York City public schools.
Making education a business means treating it like a business. Check out their websites and you’ll find they talk about increasing test scores like fund managers brag about making a profit. And this is where the problem Like Moody’s 2007 rating of a hedge fund, what these edu-preneurs claims about their success may not be completely accurate. For example, Michelle Rhee, according to Michelle Rhee, was phenomenal as a teacher. In her three years in the classroom, her
students had national standardized test scores that were initially at the 13th percentile but at the end of two years, the class was at grade level, with some students performing at the 90th percentile. Earlier she had said on her resume that 90 percent of her students had attained scores at the 90th percentile. In 2010, a retired math teacher unearthed test score data on Rhee’s Baltimore school which indicated that her students’ scores went up during the 2nd and 3rd years, but that the percentile gains were less than half what Rhee claimed: In Math her scores went from 22 percentile to 52 percentile, an average increase of 15 percentile annually. In reading, her scores went from 14 percentile to 48 percentile, an average increase of 17 percentile annually. Rhee claimed that the discrepancies between the official test scores and the ones she claimed on her resume were because her principal at the time had informed her of the gains but those results may not have been the official state tests that were preserved.
A slight exaggeration to advance her career? Maybe. It’s possible for lightning to strike twice in the same place. As it did when Rhee’s tenure as education chancellor in Washington, DC, she was dogged by allegations of cheating in schools allegedly showing great progress::
Investigations have questioned some of Rhee’s accomplishments in increasing test scores in D.C. schools. In 2008 the Office of the State Superintendent of Education discovered that 103 schools, over half of DC schools, were flagged by third parties for suspiciously high wrong-to-right answer changes. These include 8 of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out TEAM awards “to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff.”
At Phoebe Hearst Elementary, Winston Education Campus, and Aiton Elementary, 85% or more of classrooms were identified as having high erasure rates in 2008. At four other schools, the percentage of classrooms in that category ranged from 17% to 58%. In return for increased test scores in D.C. schools, Rhee gave performance awards and increased compensation to the teachers and administrators totaling over $1.5 million.
During Rhee’s tenure, CTB/McGraw-Hill informed her office of abnormally high rates of answer changes at Noyes Elementary. Answers were consistently changed from wrong to right. The gains in test scores made at Noyes Elementary School earned the school recognition as a Blue Ribbon School. Rhee promoted the school as a model for her education reform movement.
Statisticians, including Professor Emeritus Thomas Haladyna, stated to USA Today that “the odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance.” Haladyna suggested that the answer sheets had been tampered with and that an investigation was needed.
Rhee, unfortunately, isn’t alone in playing fast and loose with the truth. More recently, Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, was caught in a similar
lie exaggeration. In an interview with the Huffington Post, she claimed “On average, our corps members stay in the classroom for eight years.” This statement contradicts everything she has said in the past as well as independent research. Bear in mind, 50% of all new teachers leave the profession in the first five years of teaching. Skepticism abounds among the knowledgeable. In Education Week, sort of the newspaper of record in education, blogger Andy Cody asked TFA to provide the study or data to support this claim. He was told that Kopp’s “estimate” was drawn from a TFA survey its alumni. You know those surveys. The ones most people don’t fill out because they’re too busy. They don’t qualify as research any more than those surveys the local news puts up for its bored audience.
Anyway, it’s a great racket. You’re not really accountable to your donors, and you’re carrying out their .1% agenda. They don’t care about research. They’re too busy recrafting education in their own image. As the Artful Dodger sang in Oliver!, “If you don’t mind having to deal with Fagin, it’s a fine life!” And nice work if you can get it.