Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Turnaround and About and Inside Out: Then Die

Publication Date: 2014-05-14

The not-so-strange alliance of big media, charter schools, private foundations, and the US Department of Education. And from time-to-time the AFT.

I was going to call this Bombs Up Your Asses, Teachers, but this is (mostly) a family website.

This whole thing started at 7:15 a.m. with an e-mail announcement from the US Department of Education--or as their Twitter handle has it @usedgov. I blink every time I see this: They admit they're used.

The US Department of Education Daily Digest Bulletin dated May 12, 2014 but arriving at 7:15 a.m. March 13, features the weekly e-newsletter of School Turnaround Learning Community, including a Grant application reminder for the U.S. Department of Education's Turnaround School Leaders Program.

Usedgov just won't give up on this corporate concept of Turnaround. They considered Steve Barr a specialist. And you should be concerned about Steve Barr's exploits--even if you don't live in Los Angeles or New Orleans. It's a pity that when he appeared on Democracy Now, March 13, 2014, nobody asked him about New Orleans. Or challenged this remark:

I listen to the teachers. This is a player's league now -- I'm going to support them every way I can, and we're going to be subservient to their work."

Steve Barr does not exactly have a track record of listening to teachers. More about this later.

The media has long been in love with Steve Barr. So have Oprah and Arne Duncan. In
The Instigator, The New Yorker, May 11, 2009, we read:

Education Secretary Duncan revealed that he was interested in committing several billion dollars of the education stimulus package to a Locke-style takeover and transformation of the lowest-performing one per cent of schools across the country. . . "You seem to have cracked the code," Duncan told Barr.

A few billion here, a few billion there--that's the power the Used.gov. At used.gov they crack things. But mostly break them.

School Improvement Grants: Examples of Successful Efforts, August 26, 2009
Strategies for Community Engagement in School Turnaround

Green Dot incorporates parent engagement as a critical part of its turnaround strategy, including a five-week summer introduction program for families, required parent volunteer time and workshops to help parents better support their students.

This authorless report from Reform School Network touts Green Dot's work in Los Angeles over and over. No mention is made of fact that Alain Leroy Locke College Preparatory Academy scores 2 out of 10 in academics at Great Schools.

But wait?! You say you don't know who/what Reform School Network is? The US Department of Education selected ICF, a consulting outfit, to manage the Reform Support Network, which was designed to "help states implement sweeping reforms in education policy and practice." You can see the Executive Leadership bios here. Former vice president at General Dynamics and so on. Just what we've come to take as normal. Education practitioners need not apply.

The report makes this claim for the Recovery School District:

The Louisiana State legislature created the RSD as a special school district of the Louisiana Department of Education. The RSD turnaround strategy centers on developing a portfolio of high-performing, autonomous, public charter schools with increased flexibility and accountability. Responding to confusion about enrollment and school choice options, and concerns about the role of outside organizations in the operation of public charter schools, the RSD created a central council of parents and community leaders to guide the vision and long-term plan for school choice and improvement in New Orleans

Love Letter to Steve Barr

When the New Yorker published a love letter to Steve Barr, I posted an excerpt, along with a commentary (which appeared in the May 2009 print edition of Substance. I draw on a bit of that for what follows.

The Instigator: New Yorker Profile of Charter School Chief Steve Barr is Propaganda, not Reporting

by Susan Ohanian

The May 11, 2009 New Yorker magazine offers a profile of Green Dot (charter schools) founder Steve Barr written by Douglas McGray, a newcomer to The New Yorker. The technical aspects of accessing this article turn out to be of some significance. You can see the article online for free -- New America Foundation. And, you guessed it, here's the major source of New America Foundation funding:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Lumina Foundation
Eric and Wendy Schmidt
US Department of State

Steve Barr, head of Green Dot, the first charter-school-management organization in the country to seize a high school, is "a revolutionary," Nelson Smith, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools told The New Yorker.

Just to keep track of things as we move forward, then-U. S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige appointed Nelson Smith as one of 21 negotiators who developed federal regulations for the No Child Left Behind Act. Among the Board of Directors for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools were Joshua Edelman Director,then-Executive Officer in the Chicago Public Schools' Office of New Schools, and Joel Klein, then-Chancellor, New York City Department of Education.

Ask your Chicago and New York teacher friends how that leadership worked out. Ask yourself the reasoning behind the newly appointed Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan's enthusiasm for committing several billions of dollars of taxpayer money to a Barr-style takeover (or, as Duncan calls it, "turnaround") of schools across the country.

In the Substance piece I offered some details about Barr, including the fact that he met his twenty-years-younger wife at a Burning Man festival and called the head of the union a "pig fucker."

What fascinated me most was Barr's frequent quoting from "Man on Fire," a movie critics described as "conventionally dopey," "sadistically violent," "mean-spirited," "fascist aesthetic"--turning the multiplex into a two tours of a hate movie of "apocalyptic vengeance." Here's how Rex Reed sums it up: "Suffice it to say nothing about this pumped-up, hyperthyroidal revenge flick makes sense, but it takes two hours to kill off as many people and demolish as many vehicles as Charles Bronson used to do in 30 minutes."

Surely it is jarring that the fellow who has taken over the Alain LeRoy Locke High School in Los Angeles, a school named for a believer in the Bahá'í faith, the first African-American named a Rhodes Scholar, a the man known as the father of the Harlem Renaissance, to use this movie as a point of reference. Inspired by the movie, Barr points to the scene where the alcoholic former CIA operative/Force Recon Marine officer turned bodyguard doesn't get the answer he wants from the Mexico City police chief and "sticks a bomb up his ass."

Quite a vision of school management.

That's what Steve Barr did to teachers at Locke High School. "Turnaround" meant firing all the teachers, and not rehiring 70%.

Be that as it may, don't miss the way The New Yorker piece shows how American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten stands up for teachers.

Or doesn't. Note that posted on the United Federation Teacher website from 2007 is this Steve Barr quote: "Randi Weingarten is one of the most progressive labor leaders in the country." An article [no longer available at the UFT site] trumpets that "Green Dot was able to achieve these reforms by establishing a relationship of mutual trust with the teachers union . . . ."

What kind of trust is it when you fire all the teachers?

Had UFT checked up on Barr, they would have seen this tidbit from LA Weekly, Dec. 7, 2006:

"Says Barr, in his classic no-nonsense style: 'Where are these shitty teachers going to go? Where are these lifetime benefits going to go? What will happen to all of these groups protecting their interests and their jobs and their construction contracts? The political puzzle of this is really fascinating. But I have no doubt that within five years, youâre going to see our impact. And it's going to be huge.'â

Bombs up your asses, teachers.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times in August 2008, Ralph E. Shaffer, professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona, pointed out that Barr wants to make a particular imprint on the curriculum: "In Locke's social studies and history courses, 'students will demonstrate an understanding of .... and a belief in the values of ... capitalism.'"

NOTE: The New Yorker article names Ted Mitchell as president of the California State Board of Education; he's also the CEO of the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF), whose East Coast operations are headed by Jim Peyser. New Schools Venture Fund is, of course, deeply involved with Broad Foundation largesse. Take a look at the close connections in all this:

Douglas McGray, the author of this piece on Steve Barr, is a Fellow at the New America Foundation. It's a small world for foundation folk: Steve Coll, then-President and CEO of New America Foundation and also formerly a staff writer at The New Yorker. James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic, is on the Board of Directors of New America Foundation. Douglas McGray penned an article for the January/February 2009 Atlantic. Sara Mead is Senior Research Fellow, Education Policy Program and Workforce and Family Program at New America Foundation; formerly at Progressive Policy Institute where she remains a nonresident fellow. On my website I issue periodic warnings about this outfit. Maybe it's enough to say they are welded to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Mead told PBS's John Merrow, "New America has joined with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in advocating high-quality voluntary national standards." Camille Esch, Director, California Education Program at New America Foundation, was previously a senior policy and data analyst at The Education Trust-West.

Barely the top of that melting education iceberg.

"You seem to have cracked the code," U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Barr, in offering several billions of our taxpayer dollars in a Barr-style school stimulus package. Indeed. Green Dot offers no tenure and no lifetime benefits. Teachers, you need professional dignity. And one day you will be old. You will need the "benefits" accrued from a lifetimeâs work.

Just watch out for those "bombs up your asses," teachers.

Steve Barr in New Orleans

All this is prelude to the Recovery School District January 2014 announcement that the John McDonogh High School will close. The Recovery School District took over this school in the name of reform. Without any community discussion,they put Steve Barr in charge.

And then, in an incredible act of--what to call it--brass? hubris? chutzpah? --Barr struck a deal with Oprah to film a TV show about his turnaround effort. Oprah's Blackboard Wars premiered February 16, 2013. Here's the 'sell':

Blackboard Wars centers on the dramatic transformation of New Orleans' John McDonogh High School. With metal detectors at the door, brutal fights in the hallways and teachers getting pushed around by students, it is one of the most under-performing high schools in the country. More than half of its students fail to graduate. In the new OWN docu-series, cameras go inside the school and follow education maverick Steve Barr and no-nonsense principal Dr. Marvin Thompson as they embark together on an unpredictable mission to reinvent and revive the struggling school.

I barely have a TV so I havenât a clue what went on in this cable show. But what person in his right mind would let Oprah--or anyone else--film a reality show during the first year of his management? The result of kids going to school--& seeing themselves being described as the worst school in America on TV--was that John Mac's School Performance Score actually declined 24% after Barr's outfit assumed control from the Recovery School District.

Barr said the problem with this New Orleans turnaround is that the school is too small: "It's not management. It's not we don't know what we're doing. You can't run a high school with 300 kids." John McDonogh had 311 students as of Oct. 1, 2013, down from 389 the year before.

What kind of nonsense is that?!!!!

I once taught in an alternative high school with 43 students, kids the district was required by law to keep in school but didn't want to allow in their regular school. I was assigned to start this school as punishment--when I defied the new assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum. What a punishment: getting to start a school. I'll just relay one detail. When students were asked what they hated most about regular school, without exception, they replied, Changing classes. As George put it, "You just get interested in something, the bell rings, and you have to stop and go somewhere else." At our school, a student tended to work on the same subject not just all day--but all week or all month. Then he'd find something else to get immersed in.

But all that is another story. Let's just say I levitated at Steve Barr's "too small" claim. Too small to carry the financial burden of lots of administrators but not too small to educate kids.

Barr also complained about the projected move while the school was being rebuilt: "How do you compete in trailers?" Barr said. Our high school was in an old bank. We found it a wonderful place to be. Kids loved the vault.

The Lens reported, Dec. 11, 2013, that Barr was recruiting students door-to-door. The 9th grade principal, hired in July 2013, told The Lens To help students achieve teachers and administrators were testing students three times a year -- in October, January and April -- to get varying data points, so that the school could start to monitor student progress ahead of state testing time.

To get students to achieve, you change the curriculum. Giving more tests is definitely not the answer.

Barr's plan to increase numbers was to send
school officials to the houses of eighth grade families to push the new ninth grade program. "Weâve got to sell that thing door to door."

Steve Barr hasnât changed how describes himself as head of Future is Now (Described by Education Week as a sort of national spin-off of Green Dot): Steve is among the most accomplished school reformers in the United States, but he has created school change differently than others. He has listened to teachers and empowered them to lead.

FIN board member Noah Wepman is a portfolio manager in the College Ready program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, overseeing strategy and implementation in states, districts and charter networks. Future is now has received $3,925,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They all make this claim:

Date: July 2012
Purpose: to support and organize public school teachers in the pursuit of educator-led actions that improve their schools, districts, and unions
Amount: $3,000,000

Green Dot has received $21,258,334 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, four grants in just 2013.

The Future is Now's John McDonogh High School in New Orleans received $150,000 from the New Schools Venture Fund, and $800,000 in a federal i3 startup grant.

But it wasn't enough.

The only question is: Where will Steve Barr pop up next? And who will celebrate him first?

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.