Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Green Dot Offers View of Alternate Universe

Say hello to Marco Petruzzi, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools. Today he made his first blog entry at Green Dot's Website of Bloggy Goodness.

If you're unfamiliar with the Green Dot charter chain, I can tell you that it's one more fine example of the modern charter movement, depending on student skimming, political connections, and the pushing aside of public schools, as well as demonstrating the ways in which a non-profit can be used to generate profits. Petruzzi himself came to the charter world from a partnership at Bain, and makes sure that he himself is well paid for his great-hearted work for the poor. If you want a long, hard look at Green Dot from an insider, try this piece which notes both their liberal use of TFA staffing and their spectacularly bad teacher retention issues. Read here for a discussion of their "issues" with students with special needs.

So the fact that he bills himself as the CEO of a "public" school lets us know right off the bat that we have entered some sort of alternate universe. I must be sure to let my superintendent know that she is missing out by not calling herself "CEO" and setting her own ginormous salary.

Petruzzi, contemplating his entry into blogland, decides that he will tackle some Big Questions. So let's see how these Big Questions are answered in Petruzzi's alternate universe.

A Very Little History

Before the 1980's, public education and the economy fit hand in glove. Manufacturing and service jobs provided "reasonable, if not lavish" middle class lives (thanks to those unions). Upper class students went to college. Poor students did not. And poor, lower class students often ended up in crappy jobs.

In our universe, these sorts of trends were the result of many socio-economic trends, from a loss of cheap energy to the outsourcing of jobs to save corporate a buck. In Petruzzi's universe, there was only one reason for the spread in inequity-- "We failed to ask why a public school system intended to create equal access to opportunity consistently failed low-income students and minorities." Yuppers-- in Petruuziverse, nobody was screwing with access to opportunity except those damn failing schools.

The Birth of "Ed Reform" (I once went out with his sister, Susie Reform)

Blah blah blah "Nation at Risk."

By 2020, two-thirds of jobs will require a college degree. Yet our education system maintains a college completion rate well below 40%, with clear and dramatic differences between ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. Despite all our advances, the historic concepts of “class” and “race” still predetermine a student’s outcomes.

Again, in this universe this might be a good prelude to a serious discussion about growing income gaps, the unbalanced distribution of wealth, the move from a Maker economy to a Bean Counter and Investment Bankster economy, not to mention of a deep and difficult conversation about how class and race shape the American experience. But no-- there's only one factor to discuss.

So why is it so controversial to readjust our education system to give our students a real shot at succeeding in the rapidly emerging knowledge-economy? And why is it still so controversial to challenge the clear socio-economic inequity of access to those opportunities?

Answer in our universe: it's not, really, unless you insist on pretending that the education system is somehow the cause of the tidal wave of inequity and not one of the many institutions that's caught in the crushing watery wall of onslaught.

A Call for Unity

Can't we all just get along. Petruzzi thinks we should stop saying that union members only care about their jobs and reformsters only want to make a buck. It is not clear whether he is trying to argue that both those things are actually true.

Aren’t we all “reformers” to some degree? Don’t we all want to improve the system for the benefit of students? Can’t the continuing debate about methodology be one of honesty and mutual respect?

These are good questions. Unfortunately, in this universe it certainly appears that the answer to the second question is, "no." When you're using political connections to smash public schools and doing your best to turn teaching inside your own schools into a low-paying low-skills temp job, it's hard to feel the waves of love and respect.

I agree that an atmosphere of mutual respect is a good thing, and there are reformsters I actually respect even as I believe they're wrong about almost anything. But too many reformsters have displayed an attitude of zero respect for teachers from the first moment they showed up on the scene, shouldering aside teachers with accusations that public schools sucked and teachers were the problem. And Green Dot's record of love and respect for public education and the teachers who woirk there is not great. So pardon me for being standoffish until I have reason not to be.

The Challenges of Reform

Oh, boy. In the Petruzziverse, reform "has unleashed a wave of innovations that have jolted the current system and forced it to confront some hard truths." Um, name one. Charters were billed as laboratories of educational innovation, like a scholastic space program. But as yet, we cannot point to a single solitary development, not so much as a jar of educational Tang, that made the rest of the education world sit up and say, "Wow! Slice us off a piece of that." Nothing.

There have also been, apparently, "talented and passionate individuals," and I think it's just as well he didn't name names. Petruzzi admits that some ideas didn't pan out (in his universe "some" and "all" are apparently synonyms). And here's a fun quote: "Some talented individuals have failed to make the announced progress with students." I bet back at Bain, when corporate bosses of companies they were invested in "failed to make the announced progress," that was an occasion for laughter and parties.

Petruzzi objects to having these failures called failures.

Or, even worse, there is an outcry that we are “experimenting” on children’s futures. Nothing infuriates me more. Allowing low-income students of color to languish in a system that fails them generation after generation is NEVER a preferable choice to the uncertainty of a noble attempt to change such students’ life trajectories!

See, when the public school does it, it's okay to call it a failure. And experimenting on poor kids is okay because A) they're poor kids and B) you're thinking noble thoughts while you do it.

The Charter Movement

Now here's a fun new argument. See, in Petruzziverse, he's learned a cool thing- students are not all the same. And I'm trying not to be too dismissive, but seriously, dude-- this is like being back in a freshman dorm room listening to Melanie Potter explain how she suddenly realized that an atom could be like, you know, a little solar system. And did you ever realize that water is, like, wet?

This is the most entertaining brand of ego-- if I just figured something out, I must be the first person to ever figure it out!

The idea is that charters can provide variety better than a big school district. This must be another way that things are backwards over there, because over here, the fact that a large school has ten English teachers means there are ten ways to learn English in that building; unless, of course, you force them all to teach to the same stupid script and follow the same cementified standards, so thanks for helping argue against Ed Reform's Common Core, Mr. Petruzzi.

Petruzzi is once again claiming that charters are engines of transformational innovation, so I will once again ask-- name one. Just one.

Embrace Complexity

In the Petruzziverse, Green Dot has "always embraced the complexity and messiness of ed reform," and I don't want to diss complexity and messiness (I'm very attached to them, as students in my room can tell you) but do you suppose that reform has been so messy and complex is because so many of the people running it don't know what the hell they're doing but just figured that because they could be a partner in a hedge fund they could certainly manage a school after all how hard can it be?

But he is proud that Green Dot has focused on the big problem schools, because I guess they did that out of nobility and not because low performing schools are low hanging fruit for privatizers, like in this universe. He thinks LAUSD and the President totally got it right when they called on charters to focus on the lowest schools and so that's why they took on those schools and this is where I would expect the stories about how they totally turned those places around, but, um, no... nope. No such story here. Probably a first-time blogger rookie mistake. Oh, hell, I'll give him a break here. He could have just lied to us, and he didn't, so that's kind of a win for both universes.

Join Us

This is the work that Green Dot is interested in doing. This is how we’re interested in speaking about the complexities of education and sharing the lessons as we learn from them. This is the point of our blog.

We hope you join us as we explore our successes and our struggles, with honesty and transparency.

I probably won't. Alternate universes are hard on my brain (they make it all ouchy) and this particular alternate universe seems pretty far removed from our own. But it's always fun to have a new neighbor in the edubloggoverse. We'll see what these folks come up with next.


  1. My daughter worked by a Green Dot charter in Los Angeles (we have the most, ugh, Green Dot and all charters of anywhere). She was recruited out of graduate school where she had gone after trying TFA for a month and realizing what a disservice it was to the students. Strangely her particular school had the lowest scores of all the Green Dot schools -- because the principal and AP had come from LAUSD and wouldn't turn away any student. Other than this one aspect, they acted in every way as charters do -- teachers were not to have personal lives, new teachers were given four preps or more, plus extra classes, and after school clubs. And so much more. She did have a union -- but my impression was that her benefits were not as good as LAUSD benefits despite the fact that the 'union' was AFT. Green Dot has taken on some of the most difficult schools in Los Angeles, but without success. I can't understand how they can open their mouths and pretend they have made a difference. As far as I know, teachers leave as fast as they can.

  2. Ugh. Green Dot is sliming their way into Memphis through the Achievement School District. Except they aren't "achieving" anything except big paychecks for themselves. The track record of the ASD in Memphis so far is worse than the public schools they took over.

  3. Excellent piece. With many of Green Dot schools "graduating" students that require remedial classes for 98% of their "graduates," there's not much good to say about Petruzzi, or anyone else associated with these CMOs.

  4. Wow, Peter, you've outdone even yourself with the biting satire. I love it. I'll be thinking noble thoughts all day. (gag)

  5. The operation Parent Revolution, which is behind the "parent trigger," started as part of Green Dot. The parent trigger was a "thing" in L.A. Unified before a state law was passed allowing it in California schools (and then before it tried to expand nationwide). Green Dot's Parent Revolution was targeting schools it called "failing" with the parent trigger, and so I compared the achievement of the targeted parent trigger schools to Green Dot schools (based on California's then-accountability system, the Academic Performance Index, or API). I found that 14 out of 15 Green Dot schools were "failing" by its own definition. I was blogging on at the time and blogged about it here.