Monday, October 21, 2013

Coleman, Gates, Gladwell, Rhee, Failures, But Bully Teachers Around

There is an interesting common thread: Titans of education policy or generalists of pop-philosophy gab, and yet when you poke back in their personal history, they were failures. An interesting dynamic is at play. The common thread: either wealthy parents (definitely upper class in the Gates case, and merely upper-middle class in the Rhee case) or university parents (the Coleman and Gladwell cases, a university president parent in Coleman's case, and a university professor in Gladwell's case.)

Bill Gates, Harvard College drop-out, devises operating system allowing personal computers to run software with easy start-up use by consumers, rips off essential features of Corel's WordPerfect word processor and Lotus' 1-2-3 spreadsheet, kills them off by monopolistic bundling, evades ant-trust prosecution (by the way, Joel Klein's Bill Clinton era prosecution of MS was too little --the emphasis on a web browser-- too late); and voila, as head of Microsoft, becomes one of the world's greatest millionaires. (For the short version read "Rise of Monopolies: Making of Microsoft"; for a more detailed account read Office Wars 3 - How Microsoft Got Its Office Monopoly and Office Wars 4 - Microsoft's Assault on Lotus and IBM.) Oh, by the way, he shoved his co-founding collaborator Paul Allen out of the way, as evident in this 60 Minutes interview; yes, Allen's living comfortably, but Gates shafted Allen out of billions in the process. So what does this college drop-out do during the 2000s and the 2010s? He bullies education policy, earlier with his initiative to break apart comprehensive high schools shedding them of nuisances such as arts, foreign language, or costly things such as guidance counselors or librarians; and lately by directing the Common Core States Standards Initiative, better named, Common Core Gates Standards Initiative, using his puppets from David Coleman, on over to Arne Duncan, down to your local superintendent and principal. Have you ever considered how all of the metrics to analyze student and teacher performance will run on Microsoft-run main-frame computers? Macs as mainframes? Don't make me laugh.

Next, we have Michelle Rhee. Failed with hallway management of young elementary students. So badly that she resorted to taping their mouths. Their lips bled; more recently, she has recounted the incident on stage with the applomb of a standup comic. And she touted her test score improvement, which after some sleuthing of a teacher, turned out to not be so illustrious.  This followed with her chancellorship of the Washington D.C. schools. Again she touted her metrics. Well, in too many instances far too many test scores got erased, which she knew more of than she let on to the media. Her career fall-out? --a rubber room? --a life of marginal survival after infamy? --Campbell Brown scolding on TV? No. Endless media fawning, overlooking her speeding sacking by the new D.C. mayor, a best-selling book and still endless media time as the head of her own teacher bashing empire StudentsFirst.

Then there's David Coleman. Smart and athletic enough to get a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University. Yet, failed to get a teaching job. That's right. With all the schools in the U.S. available to pursue for a job, no teaching experience. Nobody would take a Yalie or an Oxford grad? Or maybe he wanted to teach only in Stuyvesant or a District 2 school (the Manhattan district that covers most of the borough's wealthiest sections). What does he do? Work his connections to leverage his way to write the national English standards, with typical elitism he shuts out open inquiry and discussion of the Common Core process. "Participants" are required to sign non-disclosure agreements, agreeing not to disclose any writing or discussion on the CCSS creation process. His pay-off? He sells his assessment baby the Grow Network for a cool $14 million (at least), gets picked by the College Board to be president, allowing him to continue to his plan to direct English education --all the while having no teaching experience or supervision training-- as he becomes positioned to rewrite the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to fit his kooky Common Core concept, and get travels the media circuit telling the world what kids need to succeed. This from a man who could not get hired, who publicly has used profanity to ridicule students' personal expression.

Most recently we have Malcolm Gladwell. Smart, smart, smart. But unable to get into graduate school. So what does he do? First, fail then to break into the advertising field, a field suited to glib, but convincing writing. At last resort he works for a succession of two well-bankrolled right-wing news magazines (if they can be called such), American Spectator, and then Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church cult's Insight on the News. Today, he's attempting to shake up the education discussion by implicitly pedaling Michael Bloomberg's slash the teaching force dream, attempting to sell Brian Lehrer (WNYC radio) his idea that many teachers tell him that small classes in the mid-teens of headcounts hurt students, and that all that kids need is a great teacher (which is determined by tests I presume?), claims that are not supported by research.

(And of course, we could continue this further with the out-going mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who the New York Times reported was a middling student in middle school. For Horatio Alger fans, they can rest happy that his failure at Salomon Brothers led to the rosiest future afterward.)

What hypocrisy, people that failed at school or failed to keep or retain a teaching position, people with little personal experience with life outside of the privileged upper or upper-middle class bubble, declaring what can and should work with the working class. What a shameful irony in the latter two cases, Coleman and Gladwell, children of academics, yet actively disparaging the school teaching workforce. Shameful also is how the corporate media just parrot their aggressively ideological statements as though they were commandments from above, with no parallel time from actual experts in the field, let alone statements by people that will be affected by such policies.  The sad thread is that if you wish to bash those working in the teaching field you will get ample support, whether in a foundation position or in lucrative publishing contracts. Experience or talent not needed.

UPDATE: Quite appropriately, Huffington Post has run the piece, "These 11 Leaders Are Running Education But Have Never Taught."

The list is a quite instructive reminder of the people that are ill-equipped to dictate "best practices" to actual classroom teachers. Note also, how many of these people are "progressive" Democrats or "moderate" Republicans:

Arne Duncan
Bill Gates
David Coleman
Michael Bloomberg
Tom Harkin
Janet Napolitano
Kevin Johnson
Wendy Kopp
Rupert Murdoch
Cory Booker
Mark Zuckerberg