Last year when I started reading educational missives from the Chiefs for Change, for a minute or two I wondered what it takes to be a member of Chiefs for Change. In case you didn’t know, Chiefs for Change is a national organization made up of seven current state education superintendents and then six more Members Emeritus. Which as far as I can tell, emeritus means guys who were once state superintendents but are now just citizens trying to make a buck off of education. According to their web site, they are committed to putting children first through bold, visionary education reform that will increase student achievement and prepare students for success in college and careers . It’s pretty heady stuff.
I don’t need to tell you that they are big supporters of Common Core, TFA, Charters Schools and accountability. They are such big supporters of accountability that one member, New Mexico’s Education Commissioner Hanna Skandera, recently penned a press release on it. Quite obviously they’ve spent a lot of time on this accountability thing, however it seems they are using a rather skewed definition of accountability.
Did you know that New Mexico has an Indian Education Act? In this Act is a provision calling for the recruitment and training of Native American teachers and the maintenance of native tongues. In the middle of last decade the Indian Education Division partnered with the University of New Mexico and established the Native American Teacher Training Program. It was a program that has very successfully trained Native American Teachers and Administrators and helped address the needs of school districts with large Indian populations. It is something New Mexico should be very proud of. It was also compliant with the law.
Skandera apparently decided that the law was for other people. She took $800k from the Indian Education and gave it to….Teach for America. TFA spent 1% of that, or $8000, on recruitment of Native American Teachers. Now they probably spent an additional 8k to hire someone to tweet out love for Cochise or Crazy Horse, but that’s another story. The story here is about ignoring the law and rewarding the players who follow your own agenda. That contract by the way was a sole-source contract.
Speaking of contracts, New Mexico is also involved with a potential law suit over the awarding of $240 million contract to Pearson. The best part of this one is that it allowed the New Mexico Commissioner to spread her will to 14 other states, as New Mexico was in charge of the bidding process for a consortium of states. Of course the state claims the potential suit has no merit, but last month a judge disagreed. Judge Sarah Singleton put the contract on hold until further review.
Manipulating bids seems to be a common thread with this group. Lets look at Paul Pastorek, another Emeritus member. If you listen to a former LDOE employee, Pastorek had a practice of manipulating qualification requirements for several New Orleans Charter Schools so that they could get millions in federal grants. Even though these were brand new schools he instructed them to present the data to make them eligible for federal grants. Now this is all just alleged but once again, it appears the rules are for other people.
Do we need to even mention another emeritus member, Tony Bennett? He decided the very system he created wasn’t intended for him. He allegedly “corrected” school grades to reflect positively on a large donor. Read the referenced article and tell me that math doesn’t sound like post-equating, but what do I know, I’m no chief for change.
This brings me to my two favorite members, John White and Kevin Huffman. These two gentleman have had a very bad week. White’s boss, though White contends he doesn’t have the authority to do so, withdrew Louisiana from PAARC and is looking for an exit to Common Core. White has been loudly protesting this to whomever will listen.
Here’s a fun game I’d like you to play with me. Pick a policy at work your boss has recently changed. Now walk into his office and tell him he doesn’t have the authority to change it. Better yet, skip his office and just go to the break room and loudly proclaim to everyone that he doesn’t have a right to make that change and your not going to follow it. Let me know how that works out for you.
Apparently Mr. White is also a fan of the way New Mexico does things because as Mercedes Schneider outlines, he likes the manipulation of a contract as well. Add to this, Mr. White also has his hands full explaining the failings of his assessment department. There are accusations ranging from incompetence to outright corruption. Once again the prevailing theory seems to be, we make the rules so we get to decide how they are interpreted. Let’s see how long it takes Mr. White to move to that Emeritus status.
Another candidate for emeritus status, Kevin Huffman and the Tennessee Department of Education portend to understand the nuances of legislation better then the people who wrote it. He claims that when he screwed up getting TCAP results out on time, recently passed legislation gave him the power to waive those scores as part of students final grades. At least that’s his interpretation. Unfortunately for Mr Huffman, fifteen republican legislators disagree. They’ve submitted a formal request for his resignation based on the fact that he broke the law.
I’m thinking his fellow Chief Cerf can help him get a nice lucrative job in the private industry. I know this seems like piling on, but Cerf was New Jersey’s Commissioner until a couple of months ago when he took a job with educational software company Amplify. Apparently he fended this job off for a number of months but now couldn’t resist. Who could with the recent growth in the education market. Growth brought on by policies advocated by Chiefs for Change. I particularly like Cerf’s quote, “I have based policy decision on what I think is the best interest of students,” Cerf said. “Sometimes that is not consistent with consensus or a lack of controversy.”
One incident is not indicative of a whole organization, but two, three, four….as my mother used to say, you are the company you keep. It doesn’t seem like this is a good crowd to hang with. In fact, if my kids came home from school and told me this was their posse, I think we’d be having a conversation about picking friends. I think all of the Chiefs, and especially Mr. Huffman and Mr. White have a little explaining to do. The question being, what happens when all of an organizations members are considered emeritus?
When I was younger I took some training to work with children. The point was driven home that kids will emulate what you are doing when you don’t think they are looking or listening. I’ve always tried to keep that in mind as I went about my daily routine. My question though, is do the Chiefs of Change understand that their actions speak as loud as their words? Do they realize that in their zeal to prepare kids for success in college and career, they are modeling behavior that will undermine that success? The children are watching and we owe it to them to make sure that the definition they get of accountability is an accurate one.