Sunday, November 22, 2015

OH: Raking in Consultant Money

Education reform has spawned a variety of new money-making opportunities, including a burgeoning field of education consultants.

That's because one of the new steady drumbeats is that superintendents, principals, and most especially teachers-- in short, all the people who have devoted their professional lives to education-- don't know what they're doing and possess no expertise in education whatsoever. No, for real expertise, we must call in the High Priests of Reformsterdom.

That takes us to Cleveland, Ohio. I love Cleveland; I did my student teacher at a Cleveland Heights middle school while living in an apartment at the corner of East 9th and Superior, and those, indeed, were the days. But Cleveland schools have a long history of difficulty. Back in the day, Ohio schools had to submit all tax increases to voter referendum; Cleveland voters routinely said no, and Cleveland schools repeatedly shut down around October when they ran out of money.

Now, in the reform era, Cleveland schools have embraced charters and privatization with a plan that stops just short of saying, "We don't know what the hell we're doing or how to run a school district, so we're just going to open it up to anybody who thinks they can run a school or has an opinion about how to run a school. Except for teachers and professional educators-- they can continue to shut the hell up." This is Ohio, a state that has developed a reputation the charter school wild west, where even people who make their living in the charter biz say, "Oh, come on. You've got to regulate something here!"

Given this climate, it seems only likely that Cleveland schools would call on a consulting firm like SchoolWorks. If the mashed-together name makes you think of other reformy all-stars like StudentsFirst and TeachPlus, you can go with the feeling. SchoolWorks started out helping charter schools get up and running and had a close relationship with KIPP schools. Their CEO's bio starts with this:

Spencer Blasdale considers himself a “teacher by nature,” but found early on in his career that his passion was having an impact beyond the four walls of one school.

And may I just pause to note how well that captures the reformy attitude about teaching-- you are just born with a teachery nature, and you don't need training or experience and you certainly don't need to prove yourself to any of those fancy-pants teacher colleges or other professional educators. The entry to the teaching profession is by revelation, and once you "consider yourself" a teacher, well then, what else do you need?

You will be unsurprised to learn that Blasdale's "career" consists being a charter founding teacher, rising to charter administration, and then deciding to jump to charter policy. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he did teach a couple of years at a private day school back in the nineties. He has never taught in a public school. He's a product of the Harvard Ed grad school. Based on all that, he and his company are prepared to come tell you what you're doing wrong at your school; you can sign up for just an evaluation, or they will provide coaching as well.

Which brings us back to Cleveland.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that SchoolWorks has already been to the district. They visited ten schools. They visited each school for three days. Based on three whole days at the school, they evaluated the school in nine areas.

For this they were paid $ 219,000. Seriously.

The reports were not pretty. "Not all educators convey shared commitments and mutual responsibility," they said (which strikes me as a pretty incredible insight to glean in just three days). Another school was slammed for "rarely -– only 11 percent of the time –- letting students know what the goals were for class." This would be more troubling if there were, in fact, a shred of evidence that sharing the goals had any educational benefits. Security officers were careless and the schools were messy and unclean. Good thing they hired a consultant-- I bet nobody in the district is qualified to tell if a school is messy or not.

The whole SchoolWorks package is like that. They come in to give one of four ratings on nine questions.

  1. Do classroom interactions and organization ensure a supportive, highly structured learning climate?
  2. Is classroom instruction intentional, engaging, and challenging for all students?
  3. Has the school created a performance-driven culture, where the teachers effectively use data to make decisions about instruction and the organization of students?
  4. Does the school identify and support special education students, English language learners, and students who are struggling or at risk?
  5. Does the school's culture reflect high levels of both academic expectation and support?
  6. Does the school design professional development and collaborative supports to sustain a focus on instructional improvement?
  7. Does the school's culture indicate high levels of collective responsibility, trust and efficacy?
  8. Do school leaders guide instructional staff in the central processes of improving teaching and learning?
  9. Does the principal effectively orchestrate the school's operations?
Now, some of these are crap, like #3's focus on data-driven instruction and decision-making. And many of them are really good goals in general, but it's going to come down to, for instance, exactly what we think "intentional, engaging and challenging" instruction looks like.

But on what planet are any of these-- even the iffy ones-- better checked by strangers with no public education expertise in the course of a three-day drive-by then by your own in-house experts? Do your superintendents and principals check none of this? We can take care of item #7 before the consultants even get to the school. Does the school's culture indicate high levels of collective responsibility, trust and efficacy? If you have just paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to come look at what your own people can see with their own eyes, the answer is "no," or maybe "hell, no."

But Cleveland schools say, "May we have some more." SchoolWorks will be driving by twenty-five more schools for a price tag of $667,000. Which-- wait a minute. Ten schools for $219,000 is $21,900 per school. And twenty-five times $21,900 is $547,500. Apparently the additional cost is so that SchoolWorks will provide a "toolbox of solutions."

If this seems pricey, SchoolWorks also offered Cleveland a one-day drive-by package which would have covered the thirty-five schools for $219,000.

If there's a bright spot anywhere in this picture, it's that Cleveland school leaders recognize that simply soaking test scores in VAM sauce won't give them a picture of their schools' effectiveness. But if I were a Cleveland taxpayer, I'd be wondering why I was forking over a million dollars so that some out-of-town consultants could come do the job I thought I was already paying educational professionals in my district to do.


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  2. Great stuff as always...but please re-read and consider revising the second sentence of paragraph three. (Or not...still chuckling at my end!!!)

  3. Palm Beach County's new Superintendent is doing the same thing!

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  5. This teacher prep consulting model is the direction headed for all of teacher education if the Obama administration & the federal DoEd gets its latest Higher Ed "reform" initiated. Duncan/King is pretending their plans are to reform for-profit universities but they're instituting a Race to the Top funding model on all public universities. One poison pill deep in the fine print is that Federal dollars are contingent on the salaries of university grads. Guess where that leaves education? and most female professions? liberal arts? All those courses white men in silicon valley & Fox News bidness hold in contempt.

    In the mid 2000's I read a document from the Milken Foundation, I think (or another so-called philanthropy org) that outlined a plan to train teachers in schools- on-the-job- rather than in University Colleges of Education. They were recommending all training & support be provided by school staff & administrators. At the time, I thought this is a way to dumb down the profession & turn all teacher prep into a 5 week type apprenticeship. Now that Obama & the Clinton Dems are on board with privatizing higher ed, the new edu-experts see new opportunities for draining the public coffers.
    The Milken Foundation has already received millions directly from Arne for evaluating & doing professional development in low test score schools. Check out convicted felon MIchael Milken's currency of ideas.
    Here's their TEAM/TAP program that all of TN adopted:

  6. This just scratches the surface of the millions paid to outside firms by the district and individual schools for things that often contribute very little to improving teaching, learning or the lives of our students.