Friday, April 22, 2011

School "Reformers" most went to private schools

In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private Education

by Michael Winerip  New York Times  April 18, 2011

Ten years ago, the No Child Left Behind bill was passed by
the House of Representatives, 384 to 45, marking the first
step toward a major transformation of public education in
. The law has ushered in what its supporters like to
call the "reform movement."

No longer did a person with a clipboard have to spend days
observing a school to determine whether it was any good.
Because of the law, it is now possible for an assistant
secretary of education to be sitting in his Washington
office and, by simply studying a spreadsheet for a few
minutes, know exactly how a school in Juneau is performing.

Each year since then, researchers have found new things to
assess. The New York City Department of Education, a pioneer
in the science of value-added assessment, can now calculate
a teacher's worth to the third decimal point by using a few
very long formulas. (No word yet on whether department
researchers have developed a very long formula to assess
chancellors and mayors.)

For a while it appeared that the Republicans were way ahead
on the reform front, but in 2007, Whitney Tilson, a hedge
fund manager and Democratic fund-raiser, founded Democrats
for Education Reform to help his party catch up. By all
accounts, it has worked. Today, the consensus is that there
is little difference between President Obama and former
President George W. Bush
 when it comes to education policy.
Nor is it easy to distinguish differences between the
secretary of education under Mr. Bush, Margaret Spellings,
and the current secretary, Arne Duncan.

Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men
and women of every political stripe and of every race and

But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly
large number of the people who are transforming public
schools: they attended private schools.

Which raises the question: Does a private school background
give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to
better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does
it make them distrust public schools - or even worse -
poison their perception of them? Or does it make any

Your call.

Following is a list of some of these national leaders and
the private schools they attended:

*  Senators Judd Gregg (Phillips Exeter, Exeter, N.H.) and
Edward M. Kennedy (Milton Academy, Milton, Mass.) and
Representative John A. Boehner (Archbishop Moeller High
School, Cincinnati) were three of the four Congressional
sponsors of the education legislation, which was signed into
law by Mr. Bush (Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.) on Jan.
8, 2002. (Representative George Miller was the fourth

*  Mr. Obama (Punahou School, Honolulu) will be remembered
for his signature education program, Race to the Top. This
program rewards states with hundreds of millions of dollars
in grants if they develop systems to rate teachers based on
their students' test scores and if they agree to fire
teachers and principals based on those scores. In contrast,
Michelle Obama, who attended public schools (Whitney Young
High, Chicago), has frequently spoken out against the
education law's reliance on testing. "If my future were
determined by my performance on a standardized test," Mrs.
Obama has repeatedly said, "I wouldn't be here, I guarantee

Michelle A. Rhee (Maumee Valley Country Day School, Toledo,
Ohio), the former Washington schools chancellor and a
founder of StudentsFirst, an advocacy group, is probably the
No. 1 celebrity of the reform movement. She is education's
Sarah Palin.

*  As governor, Mitt Romney (Cranbrook School, Bloomfield
Hills, Mich
.) brought accountability to Massachusetts.

 Bill Gates (Lakeside School, Seattle) has donated
billions of dollars to public schools with the proviso that
they carry out his vision of reform, including tying teacher
tenure decisions to students' test scores. In November, Mr.
Gates and Mr. Duncan (University of Chicago Laboratory
School) called on public school leaders to increase class
size as a way of cutting costs in these hard times. The two
men suggested that schools could compensate by striving to
have an excellent teacher in every classroom. The private
school Mr. Gates attended has an average class size of 16,
according to its Web site. The home page says the best thing
about Lakeside School is it "promotes relationships between
teachers and students through small class sizes." Mr.
Duncan's private school has an average class size of 19.

 Jeb Bush (Phillips Andover), the former governor of
Florida and the founder of the Excellence for Education
, is responsible for making Florida a pioneer in
the accountability movement by issuing report cards for
every school based on test results. In the process he had to
overcome many obstacles, including how to explain why his
state's rating system was so badly out of whack with the
federal government's rating system. One year the state
report cards
 gave two-thirds of Florida's schools A's or
B's, while the federal system rated two-thirds of Florida
schools as failing. As a result, there was widespread
confusion among parents who couldn't tell if their child's
school was succeeding brilliantly or failing miserably.

*  Chester E. Finn Jr. (Phillips Exeter) is the president of
the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow of the
Hoover Institution, two of the country's leading
conservative research groups. Mr. Finn is the scholarly
counterpart of Ms. Rhee. Early on, he supported the
privatization of public education, the use of vouchers and
the development of a national core curriculum, which could
possibly mean every public school would be teaching the same
thing at the same time. His recommendation for reforming the
public school system: "Blow it up and start over."

*  David Levin (Riverdale Country School, the Bronx) is a
co-founder of KIPP, the nation's biggest charter chain.

*  Cathleen P. Black (Aquinas Dominican High School,
Chicago), the former chancellor of New York City schools,
had just 95 days to put her reform agenda into place before
she was asked to leave.

*  Merryl H. Tisch (Ramaz School, Manhattan), chancellor of
the New York State Board of Regents, along with David M.
Steiner (Perse School, Cambridge, England), the New York
state education commissioner, have fine-tuned the state's
extensive testing system pioneered by the former state
commissioner, Richard Mills.

*  Steven Brill (Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Mass.) is
perhaps the charter school movement's most literary
advocate. He is working on a book about public school

*  Marc Sternberg (Episcopal School, Baton Rouge, La.), a
New York City deputy chancellor, has been a path finder in
the practice of moving charter schools into district school

 Davis Guggenheim (Sidwell Friends School, Washington) is
the producer and director of "Waiting for Superman," the
widely acclaimed 2010 film that championed charter schools
and dismissed traditional public schools as dropout
factories. Mr. Guggenheim's film begins with him driving his
children to their private school and feeling guilty about
all the bad Los Angeles public schools he is passing. This
is not the first time this happened to Mr. Guggenheim. As a
child, he passed bad Washington public schools on his way to
Sidwell Friends.

When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind
legislation, he expressed his hope that it would combat the
"soft bigotry of low expectations." Indeed, the law could
not have higher expectations: every child in the nation is
required to be proficient in math and English by 2014.
Schools that do not meet their proficiency goals, which are
raised every year, are labeled as failing.

Last month, Mr. Duncan predicted that by the end of this
year, 82 percent of schools will miss their goal. At this
rate, it is highly likely that in a few years, every single
public school in the United States will be labeled a

This article has been revised to reflect the following

Correction: April 20, 2011

The On Education column on Monday, about leaders of the
public school "reform movement" who attended private
schools, misstated the name of the advocacy group founded by
one such leader, the former Washington, D.C., schools
chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. It is StudentsFirst, not
Sunshine First. The column also misstated the name of the
organization founded by Whitney Tilson, a hedge fund manager
and Democratic fund-raiser. It is Democrats for Education
Reform, not Democrats for Educational Reform. In addition,
the article misspelled the given name of the chancellor of
the New York State Board of Regents. She is Merryl Tisch,
not Merryll Tisch.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 18,
2011, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline:
In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private

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