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Whittling away at public education

Chris Whittle is a real danger to public education. It would be easy to dismiss him, since so many of his ventures fail, but he has a genius for staying afloat. As Jim Horn writes in his review of Whittle’s new book, Crash Course: Envisioning a Better Future for Public Education, Whittle’s frequently-failing Edison Schools Inc. survived its own stock crash in 2002 thanks to a bailout by the Florida state pension fund engineered by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Whittle has continued to sell his Edison private-management company to large public school systems that should know better, including Philadelphia and Baltimore. He was soundly defeated by parents and teachers in NYC’s District 5 a few years back when he offered to manage schools in Harlem, but now Chancellor Klein appears enamoured of him.

Here’s part of what Horn has to say:

“Whittle attempts to sculpt a vision for a hybrid American school, a new alternative to the “public school monopoly” that conservatives have railed against for the past 25 years. In this bravado new world of educational corporate welfare that Whittle projects out to the year 2030, the public school will remain public, in that public dollars pay the bills for personnel, transportation, food service, maintenance, and, of course, the contracting fee to Edison, Inc. or its MacSchool counterparts—yet private, in that education corporations organize, manage, hire principals who hire teachers, consult, assess, make merit pay recommendations based on those assessments, and, of course, get paid with public dollars that, in turn, make a 10% profit for the shareholders for the company. If this doesn’t sound good enough to get you to spend the $25 for this kind of visionary thinking, then add to this emerging educational utopia the need to increase class size, severely reduce the number of teachers, turn students into part-time clerical workers; and I am sure that you will agree that Whittle’s book will be required reading, at least by every reform industry lobbyist on K Street who is sure to get goose bumps at Whittles’ recurring focus on the 400 billion dollars that Americans spend on K-12 education every year.”

Thanks to the Public Education Network‘s “Weekly NewsBlast” for calling attention to this. They publish on Fridays–summaries and links to interesting education stories–and there are always gems in their mix. You can subscribe yourself on their left toolbar.

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30 Comments:

  • 1 Chaz
    · Dec 16, 2005 at 6:09 pm

    no_slappz;

    I think you found your calling, the Edison schools seems perfect for you. You can have 40+ students to a class, teach 5 different courses, work from 7:30 am to 5:30pm, including Saturday school, suck up to the principal for your merit raise, and make a 10% profit for the stockholders?

    Why haven’t you applied already?

  • 2 redhog
    · Dec 16, 2005 at 8:05 pm

    I think the leadership positions within those schools are being held vacant pending adjudication of legal matters affecting Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skillings, etc. Too bad Bernie Ebbers had to withdraw his application as Dean.

  • 3 no_slappz
    · Dec 16, 2005 at 9:04 pm

    Chaz:

    In the public school system, as it’s currently configured, some classes are populated with more than 40 students. My nieces — one at Midwood, one at Hudde — are enjoying such overpopulated classes.

    Thirty kids or more kids in a class isn’t even newsworthy. Meanwhile, teachers in public school are routinely drafted into teaching subjects for which they have no training — social studies teachers coerced into teaching science, etc.

    Moreover, I think Midwood is running more shifts than the XBox factory.

    What’s interesting about your comment is its focus on the work experience of the teacher. There’s not a hint of concern about the students. Your perspective, once again, confirms my view.

    You see education, and the business of education, only from the perspective of the teacher. You, like most public school teachers, can’t grasp the simple fact that a single bureaucratic monopoly cannot manage the education of over a million students. You are deeply troubled by the fact that a huge bureaucracy cannot meet the needs of a million students.

    But rather than admit that no single system can do the job, you fight against change and experimentation. You stand for maintaining the status quo, which, by everyone’s estimation, is failing far too many students. You don’t want educational success for all students. You want the school monopoly to retain its dominance to protect you and your position. However, it’s clear you’re not willing to admit you fear that changes brought about by a free-market school system frighten you.

    It’s hard to understand why, however.

    First, if an education voucher system ever arrives, the number of teachers will increase, not decrease.

    However, in the private sector, if salaries are not sufficient, workers leave. While every worker in America claims to be overworked, you can be sure that if a better teaching opportunity is available, an overworked teacher will accept it.

    Under the current regime, however, that’s virtually impossible. Fixed pay schedule and limited job mobility.

    Furthermore, Edison operates in some tough neighborhoods. What do you think it takes to shove a little knowledge into the heads of the less motivated students?

    And as far as providing some social services goes, don’t you think the kids are better off if they are made to stay in school for more hours?

    They may not spend all those extra hours learning much, but if they’re in the school building, they’ll have less opportunity to toss education for street life.

    Is teacher burnout a problem for Edison? I’m sure it is. So what? Another operator will improve the model for the benefit of employees.

    As every survey and analysis of the school system shows, teacher turnover seems high. But is it? If teacher turnover is truly high, it is the result of two factors — people entering the wrong profession and poor management of the teaching workplace.

    Both are easily changed for the better. However, the unionists are, as always, opposed to real change. Thus, all current occupational problems will remain, and, most probably will worsen.

    As for your derision of Edison earning a 10
    % return for stockholders, well, if such a thing happened, what’s the problem?

    The Department of Education WASTES billions of dollars every year. Far more than 10% of the education budget is WASTED every single year. That’s taxpayers’ money down the drain.

    Would you object to knowing where every educational dime went during the year? Would you object to comprehensible financial statements? Would you object to accountability for the manner in which funds are spent?

    There is no exact profit margin an educational organization should produced. Profit margins vary widely from company to company and industry to industry. To suggest Edison should earn investors a 10% return is nothing more than an act of guessing.

    Supermarkets typically have profit margins of one or two percent. Microsoft, meanwhile, enjoys a profit margin of around 20%. Schools? Most members of the education sector are barely profitable. More like supermarkets than Microsoft.

    Anyway, if one alternative doesn’t work as well as hoped, another will soon appear.

  • 4 Chaz
    · Dec 17, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    no_slappz;

    The equation is really simple. Children do not learn unless you have a dedicated, motivated, and caring teacher. Yes, in the classroom, the teacher is first, if you want the students to learn! As a teacher (if you are really one) should know this.

  • 5 no_slappz
    · Dec 18, 2005 at 8:05 am

    Chaz:

    I agree the education equation is simple enough. Given the simplicity, why do you insist on obfuscating and dissembling when it comes to discussing the failure of the existing education system to meet the needs of all kids?

    The other simple point is this: the state- and union-controlled education monopoly reflexively fears real educational experiments the same way dictatorships fear free speech, plurality and the rights of individuals.

  • 6 Schoolgal
    · Dec 18, 2005 at 9:49 am

    Blogmaster,

    I too am an advocate for the TWU. However, I am concerned when a decision is made by the UFT that doesn’t allow us to post a comment.

    It speaks volumes.

  • 7 NYC Educator
    · Dec 18, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    There’s a very simple explanation for that.

    Edwize is very concerned with keeping on topic. That’s why it is written largely by Unity hacks who assiduously avoid bringing up topics of interest to real teachers, like the startlingly negative consequences of the contract they bent over and accepted.

    And why should they care? The consequences affect only working teachers.

    Unity prefers to have its 6 figure, non-teaching,double-pensioned sycophants set the topics. That way they can simply delete comments from undesirables, like high school teachers, who fail to promote their narrow, self-serving agenda.

    Let them speak, and the next thing you know, they’ll be calling the sixth class a “sixth class,” and demanding to democratically elect their own leaders.

    Perish forbid.

  • 8 Chaz
    · Dec 18, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    NYC Educator;

    How dare you insult our Unity hacks! Leo Casey and Company have made it clear that Darfur and Wal-Mart are more important than DOE’s attack on the classroom teacher.

    For Leo and company the problems of the classroom teacher does not concern them because they haven’t seen a classroom in years!

  • 9 Schoolgal
    · Dec 18, 2005 at 5:52 pm

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank the following blogs for allowing a forum on the TWU:

    NYC Educator
    Ms. Frizzle
    and the Icebergs.

    I can’t wait to post my thoughts on Edwize. (or, would they rather I do some last minute Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart?)

  • 10 NYC Educator
    · Dec 18, 2005 at 6:24 pm

    Chaz,

    I apologize to the Unity hacks and will make an effort to refocu my energies. Of course I’d support Leo Casey’s effort to accomplish whatever it is he’s trying to accomplish if only I could understand what it was he was talking about.

    Schoolgal,

    Don’t let them drive you to Wal-mart. (But you may soon need someone to drive you, regardless.)

  • 11 realitybasededucator
    · Dec 18, 2005 at 10:10 pm

    Why is the UFT showing up at a rally for the TWU?

    Is Randi looking to draft the terms of surrender for the TWU?

    Cuz’ that’s all she’s good for.

    BTW, 48 teachers out of 104 at my school received potty patrol for next semester.

    I used to use my professional period to tutor kids, help them with college/scholarship essays, etc.

    Now I’m sitting outside a fucking bathroom!

    What a joke – Randi and the rest of the UNITY appartachiks are enjoying their raises in comfort while I’m sitting outside a bathroom and teaching a sixth class.

  • 12 CityTeacher
    · Dec 18, 2005 at 10:37 pm

    What are we doing at a TWU rally? If I was TWU I’d want us far, far away, lest the stench of a weak union overtake them, too, and they find themselves having to escort passengers to the potty and driving another shift a day (but let’s not call it a shift, you’re only driving a route and are responsible for passengers, like, um, a shift).

  • 13 Schoolgal
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 12:10 am

    UNITY is standing behind the TWU and showing support. In fact, they are sending NYC teachers (some from the new UFT Charter School) to clean up the dirty, disgusting bathrooms that TWU employees must endure since Randi and her team are experts at anything “potty”!

    It’s late and I just finished writing out my Christmas cards and realized I didn’t send UNITY a holiday greeting.

    May UNITY have a Joyous New Year….

    Joyous Potty Patrol…(in my school a new teacher was already assigned PP before the February start date–and Unity and my CL has done nothing to rectify that)

    Joyous extra teaching period…(with teachers doubling up even though Leo said it shouldn’t happen.)

    Joyous Bulletin Boards…(because Admins are not allowing changes.)

    Joyous loss of vacation time…(there goes my Labor Day plans!)

    Joyous loss of seniority transfers, and
    Joyous loss of SBO Tranfer input.

    Joyous loss of an excessed teacher’s right to a position…(oh, I forgot, now you can become a super sub!)

    And while they are having a joyous New Year on our dime, I lift my glass to the TWU and wish them the very best.

  • 14 no_slappz
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 6:40 am

    Schoolgal:

    A competitive education system — a voucher system — would eliminate the problems and shortcomings of the monopolistic system in which you now work.

    No bureaucratic monopoly in history has ever succeeded on your terms.

  • 15 Maisie
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    I want to say something about the tone and content of these comments. Basically, the commenters have nothing to add on the topic of private management, the subject of the post. No-Slappz’s comment does address private management, but mostly as a way to repeat his/her standard provocations vs. the union. Most of the rest sound like little kids delighted to be using bad words and getting away with it.

    Do you know anyone who works in an Edison school or another one with private management? What should be the compensation for working extra long hours? Are larger classes in some subjects a reasonable tradeoff for smaller classes in others? Can kids in MS or HS handle a “lecture” format in any subject?

    Perhaps I shouldn’t have quoted Jim Horn, as he can be incendiary without shedding real light. (I enjoyed his railing because Whittle really rubs me the wrong way, but I think it was a mistake.) Anonymous comments, like anonymous sources, are only as good as the thinking behind them. The commenters above mostly dump junk on the pile–it’s of no use to anyone. Go have a restful holiday.

  • 16 no_slappz
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 2:39 pm

    Maisie:

    There is no question that I have a point of view. But claiming that I’m merely “provoking” other posters suggests you believe there’s no other perspective but that of the union. As we know, that’s hardly the case.

    Anyway, as you rightly noted, Horn is a ranting polemicist who knows little or nothing about how profit-making businesses function. In my view, his railing was a waste of effort because it revealed his agenda and his contempt rather than providing any useful understanding of education issues.

    Meanwhile, Randi, when expressing her 10-point plan for “School Enterprise Zones”, stated her support for lengthening the school day in schools serving troubled districts. Thus, she’s already admitted she thinks parts of Whittle’s strategy is good.

    Further, as you suggested, experience has shown that many kids function well in large classes while others don’t.

    For instance, gifted-program classes are often quite large at many schools. Yet results are good. One of my kids was in a gifted kindergarten class of 30. My nieces — in gifted programs in middle school and high school — have had classes larger than 40. No ill effects.

    Meanwhile, it’s unlikely — more likely impossible — to manage such large classes if they are populated with low-performing students.

    What’s more interesting is your view on tailoring classes to the needs of students.

    Since you believe school hours should match student needs and — more shockingly — that paychecks should also match teachers’ workload, why would you oppose the concept of vouchers, which would tackle these issues and others at street level, where education meets the student?

    Edison/Whittle may not have developed the optimum education formula, but obviously some of his ideas have already received acceptance in union circles. Given that validation, how can educators refuse to test them?

    For whatever it’s worth, Montessori Schools are individually owned and operated ventures. They are also profit-making schools. They are not non-profit enterprises. One of my kids attended a Montessori School for a couple of years. We were very pleased with our child’s experience and intellectual gains.

    In fact, we have always recommended this particular school to interested parents considering the private school alternative. And, as it happens, the tuition is less than the public-school per-student allocation in the NYC system. Thus, these schools already demonstrate that it’s possible for unregulated private schools to provide an excellent education for less than the amount spent by the DOE.

    Private schools are way past the experimental stage. Why fight the facts?

  • 17 NYC Educator
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 3:51 pm

    “Most of the rest sound like little kids delighted to be using bad words and getting away with it.”

    Yes, shame on us for expressing our concerns. You set the topics, in a blatant effort to preclude us, the UFT, from discussing what what’s on our minds.

    If, God forbid,we do so anyway, respond with snide, ad hominem nonsense.

    Because you can’t do any better.

    But we sure can.

  • 18 Schoolgal
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    For awhile, no one was commenting on this subject until I brougt up the TWU. If we were allowed to post on the above blog like we were for Wal-Mart situation, then there would be no need to have to post here.

    No-slappz,

    I can only imagine the public school you now teach in has only one good teacher–you.
    Have you applied to any Edison schools or are you staying with the DOE?

    Tell me more about the students who attend these schools. Are they well-behaved, respectful and carry out their responsibilites? If so, sign me up!

  • 19 Chaz
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 6:14 pm

    Maisie;

    Shame on you. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. When Edwiz starts publishing articles from classroom teachers with dissenting views, then you have a right to complain.

    How come you aren’t complaining about Leo Casey’s unreadable articles that has nothing to do with education?

    I guess there is a double standard. The Unity educrats who have unlimited access to publish anything that comes into their minds and the classroom teacher who can only try to respond to them.

  • 20 northbrooklyn
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 7:41 pm

    Here are some ideas. Let’s make 15 students per regular ed. class the number one issue for our next round of contract negotiations; bring down the number in special ed/pre-k etc. to 10 with no loss of personnel in the classrooms.
    Let’s walk out if we don’t have a contract when this turkey is roasted and done.

  • 21 no_slappz
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 7:46 pm

    Schoolgal:

    You wrote:

    “I can only imagine the public school you now teach in has only one good teacher–you.”

    You’re right — you can only “imagine”. It seems that “imagining” is the chief source of what passes for thinking among many contributors to this site.

    I have no illusions about my teaching skills. I’ve seen plenty of good and bad — pardon me — effective and non-effective teachers. Whether one individual teacher is effective or non-effective has no bearing on the structure of the education system.

    It is the structure of the school system — its monopoly — that leads to its shortcomings, not the quality of a few teachers.

    You asked:

    “Have you applied to any Edison schools or are you staying with the DOE?”

    I don’t know of any Edison schools near my Brooklyn home. Thus, my resume is not awaiting review. However, I am interested in an inside peek at an Edison school.

    Schoolgal, why are you so defensive and derisive about the prospect of an Edison school operating in NYC?

    Maybe every Edison School that opens in NYC will fail. But by showing your glee at that possibility you are admitting that Edison will do no better than the existing public schools operating in the tougher districts. Since you’re acknowledging the impotence of the public schools, I would hope your first concern would reflect your concern for the kids rather than your desire to see another organization fail at the task that has stymied the DOE.

    You asked:

    “Tell me more about the students who attend these schools. Are they well-behaved, respectful and carry out their responsibilites?”

    Aren’t these kids the same kids attending failing schools? Assuming they are, what likelihood is there that they are well-behaved, respectful and ready carry out their assignments?

    Actually the odds are pretty good the kids who land at an Edison school are more likely to have some positive traits.

    The Edison students are likely to benefit from parents who care enough to have enrolled them in Edison.

  • 22 no_slappz
    · Dec 19, 2005 at 7:54 pm

    Northbrooklyn:

    You wrote:

    “Let’s make 15 students per regular ed. class the number one issue for our next round of contract negotiations; bring down the number in special ed/pre-k etc. to 10 with no loss of personnel in the classrooms.”

    Why not try this: quit the public school system to work for the private school that comes closest to sharing your education ideals?

    YOu also wrote:

    “Let’s walk out if we don’t have a contract when this turkey is roasted and done.”

    If you didn’t work for a monopoly service provider that was more or less the only employer in town, you wouldn’t have to “walk out”.

    If competition existed, you could walk across the street to another employer operating in a manner that suited you.

    But, because you work for a monopoly, when you “walk out”, there’s really no place to go.

  • 23 northbrooklyn
    · Dec 20, 2005 at 8:02 pm

    no_slappz:
    I believe that the most important moment in a child’s life is when the child walks into the American public sphere. 88% of the children in America are educated in a public school. The NYC public school system is the largest in the country and probably the world. It is amazing that this system works, but in many ways and many places, it does. Good teachers are always searching for ways to make it better…one of the reasons, I thought, for this blog.
    In so many ways this system is the ballgame-what we do makes a difference everywhere. Is it a monopoly? I don’t think it is; anymore than blue jeans are a monopoly. As for striking [another word for walking out] the purpose of a strike is to disrupt the day-to-day in order to bring the other side back to it’s senses.
    But, enough about me…tell me about your teaching experiences.

  • 24 no_slappz
    · Dec 21, 2005 at 7:12 am

    northbrooklyn:

    You wrote:

    “Is it a monopoly? I don’t think it is; anymore than blue jeans are a monopoly.”

    Clearly you never took an economics course. The public school system is a monopoly because the funding of it eliminates choice.

    You cited the chief monopoly statistic — 88% of US kids attend public school.

    Do so many parents send their kids to public school system because its better than the private-school alternative?

    Why such a high percentage? Because parents must either send their kids to the government-backed school system, where tuition is ZERO, or PAY, sometimes a lot, to send them to private school.

    When consumers must choose between a “free” service or a similar service available at sometimes great expense, which path will they take? What quality will they get?

    Since so many NYC families simply do not have an extra dime for tuition at private schools, no choice is possible. Most parents have NO CHOICE because they can’t PAY private school tuition. This situation defines “monopoly.

    As for the blue jean business, well, introducing an example of one of the most competitive segments of the garment industry is a further indication that you aren’t looking too deeply into the workings of competition.

    What you probably don’t know is that behind all the various brand names of jeans there are only a handful, perhaps three makers of all the denim in those jeans.

    Despite the sometimes high prices for brand-name jeans, the denim-makers earn very small margins. Over the years, most have gone bankrupt. But that hasn’t slowed the production of denim a bit.

  • 25 CityTeacher
    · Dec 21, 2005 at 6:21 pm

    Typical of no-slappz. Ask about teaching and he’ll ramble on and on about anything BUT teaching. And I don’t care for the insinuation that parents are forced to send their kids to me as some sort of last resort. I am proud of my job and considering the size of the population we deal with we do a hell of a job. We city teachers are not inferior or second rate to anything, something no-slappz would know if he himself was a teacher. We have to stop responding to slappy guys comments. Let’s just ignore and maybe he’ll go away, he knows nothing about our job.

  • 26 northbrooklyn
    · Dec 21, 2005 at 8:18 pm

    no_slappz:
    You are not a teacher? and you get on this blog and babble away about monopolies and economics? Tell you what-take a course in ethics and then try to come back and babble your foolish nonsense.

  • 27 no_slappz
    · Dec 21, 2005 at 9:52 pm

    City Teacher and northbrooklyn:

    Teachers per se are not what ails the public school system. I have no doubt almost every overworked teacher in the public school system would be welcomed at the city’s private schools.

    It isn’t that public school teachers lack anything but a venue in which to do their best work.

    What seems to escape every critic on this site is the fact that the government-controlled public-school monopoly will NEVER reconfigure itself into a form that pleases most teachers. It can’t. It can’t because its monopolistic power prevents the change every critic seeks.

    But teachers continue to hope for a future that will never be.

    And yes, I am a teacher, but I was on Wall Street for the previous 20 years.

  • 28 northbrooklyn
    · Dec 22, 2005 at 9:04 pm

    so this is your first year? second? you are either a fellow or a catholic school teacher…tell me I am wrong…

  • 29 CityTeacher
    · Dec 25, 2005 at 10:35 am

    no-slappz, do tell. Where do you teach? In what capacity? I personally don’t believe you are a real teacher and are calling yourself one by really stretching the definition or lying outright. You love to preach and give long nonsensical disjointed speeches, but when asked a simple question you clam up real fast. So enlighten us as to your teaching experience. Do share.

  • 30 northbrooklyn
    · Jan 3, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    tick-tock tick-tock no-slappz