Thursday, July 13, 2017

NY: Warm Bodies for Charters

Travel with me to a board meeting at Giant Imaginary Hospital.

Board Member #1: We are still unable to fill several openings in the surgical department. What shall we do?

Board Member #2: We'll just have to offer a more competitive package, with better pay and better perks. I mean, that's how the free market works, right?  

Board Member #3: I have a better idea. Let's just promote Sven.

Board Member #2: Sven Svenberger? From the kitchen at the GIH cafeteria?

Board Member #3: Sure. He uses knives. Surgeon use knives.

Board Member #2: But we're talking about surgery on actual humans. He's a cook, Jim. Not a doctor.

Board Member #3: Fine. We'll give him a week of training.

Many starts have been having versions of this conversation as they pass their own version of warm body legislation, legislation that puts pretty much any warm body in the classroom.

But New York is considering a particularly special warm body rule that's especially for charter schools. The State University of New York (SUNY) is one of the main authorizers of charters in New York, and they've proposed that their charter schools be allowed to hire unqualified warm bodies for their schools. These warm bodies might have just thirty hours of classroom experience and training. That's almost a week.

Why do this? Because charters are too damn cheap to pay teachers a decent wage or offer them attractive working conditions. Or as Times-Union coverage of the story puts it:

Charter school advocates say the proposal would help schools that are struggling to find quality teachers who are certified in New York.

Okay, I could go up to $10.95

Sigh. Why do we have to keep explaining to free market fans how the free market works. If I can't buy a Lexus for $1.95, that doesn't suggest either an automobile shortage or that I "struggling to find quality automobiles." It suggests that I am offering an inadequate "bid" for the goods and services that I want.

Is that impossible to accomplish? Well, Success Academy (one of SUNY's chains) reportedly employed 1,000 staffers in 2014, and their boss, Eva Moscowitz makes almost $5 million  a year, which means taking a cut of $1 million would yield a $1K without having to cut anything but Moscowitz's personal fortune. SA has about 2700 seats, yet Moscowitz makes about twice the salary of NYC school chancellor Carmen Farina, who is responsible for many, many more students. In other words, charters could up the ante if they really wanted to.

But as writers and former charter teachers like Rann Miller suggest, charter staff turnover is significantly higher for a reason. Charter operators actually prefer to burn and churn their teachers, keeping their personnel costs low and their actual personnel more compliant and agreeable.

In other words, this warm body rule is being pursued as a solution to problems that charters created for themselves. On purpose.

Beyond the fact that there's no good reason for this charter warm body rule, it's a bad idea.

As Daniel Katz points out, these warm bodies will arrive in classrooms with significantly less training than real New York teachers. This is doubly problematic because 1) it's hugely insulting to professional teachers who actually get actual professional training and 2) it sets these warm bodies up for failure.

But Jersey Jazzman points out even more troubling implications. This sort of training is not so much about helping people switch careers as it is giving charters carte blanch to do their own training in house. In fact, the proposal seems to suggest that these warm body certificates will only be good in SUNY charters, making these warm body jobs the very definition of dead-end employment. There will be no getting a warm body charter teacher certificate and then moving on to other schools. And since these warm bodies will not have widely marketable skills, they will have even less bargaining power with their bosses. And if everything we've heard so far doesn't make us worry about the quality of these warm bodies, let's ask the other question-- what kind of dope would sign up for this in the first place?

As is often the case, we are looking at the kind of 'reform" that rich families will never tolerate. Proponents may say, "Look, some of the most prestigious private schools use teachers who aren't properly certified." I'm going to reply, "Yes, and those people at the top of their field are recruited by schools that offer great packages to make the job attractive, so that they always have their pick of top people. That is different from paying bottom dollar for a lousy job in order to recruit disposable warm bodies."

But then, these places aren't looking for top talent, because many of these charters don't believe in great teaching so much as they believe in content delivery units who follow the script and work through the approved materials in the charter-approved manner. That's one more reason this will look like a good idea to these charter operators-- instead of trained professional teachers whose heads are filled with ideas about good pedagogy and a variety of instructional techniques, you get to work with people who don't know anything about teaching except what they've been taught. Tired of hiring teachers who have been filled with nonsense about the importance of student voices in the classroom? Just hire people who have never heard about that, and don't tell them about it. You can talk about folded hands and speak when spoken to and eye contact and subservient obedience and instead of having staff make doubting faces or actually questioning you, in this happy magic world of warm body meat widgets, they'll just smile and nod and accept that what you say must be the truth about education.

You can see why many people have pushed back on this, and if you want to push, too, the Network for Public Education has a letter you can send, saying that the least that all students in New York deserve is an actual trained professional teacher in their classroom. Warm body rules do not serve students, and New York would do well not to had down this road.


  1. Maybe the purpose is to make the whole teaching profession go away. Who will teachers anyway when computers will deliver content and canned curriculum to students sitting quietly at a cubical earning badges in the name of a decent education. I think it's all very well planned out by the Silicon Valley Billionaire's Club. Teachers better wake up and start fighting for what is important to them and they better make sure that their Union is standing there fighting with them instead of against them. CBL is right around the corner.

  2. A few years ago, I discovered Success Academy's entry in the Glassdoor website, a site where current and former employees can kvetch or gush anonymously to their heart's content about what it's like to work at a certain place of employment. Glassdoor promises that any postings will be left up permanently, which leaves this website outside the control of either Success Academy management's non-disclosure agreement with current/former employees, or of Eva's multi-million-dollar, Madison Avenue P.R. leviathan. Prospective teachers read this, and opted not to work for Eva.

    Bob Skeels over at Schools Matter moved over a post of mine to that effect (originally posted on the Ravitch Blog ... Skeels calls me "Citizen Jack"):

    I posted a cut-'n-paste of what was then the first 25 entries. Unsurprisingly, immediately after this was posted, Glassdoor was then inundated with positive reviews from (COUGH! COUGH!)actual Success Academy teachers gushing about how wonderful it was to work for Eva, with these new reviews using verbatim language presumably originating in talking points dictated by Eva. (CONS: "I just love teaching at S.A. so much that it sometimes hurts." ... not too convincing.) This also has an impact on credentialed teachers choosing not to work for Eva, and has created the current problem, which this legislation seeks to fix.

    One of the motifs that I noticed was the "Hotel California Effect" --- you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave ... or to be precise, you can never leave and then continue your teaching career elsewhere. Glassdoor contributors/ex S.A. teachers tell of Success Academy administrators' policy of refusing to write letters of recommendation to teachers who want to ditch S.A. in favor of the traditional public schools --- or other charter schools, for that matter.

    This latest news just takes this strategy to a whole new level. Forget not getting a letter of rec in pursuit of teaching elsewhere ... you can't move PERIOD because the "certification" is totally meaningless outside of SUNY authorized charter schools (which are all the Success Academy schools and vice-versa).

    1. "the "Hotel California Effect" --- you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave ... or to be precise, you can never leave and then continue your teaching career elsewhere ..."
      I see your point regarding teachers being annoyed by these types of retention strategies. It's not unique to teachers. In my profession, it's very common to have extensive non-compete clauses. I work in commodity software sales. It's a niche field. Not only am I prohibited from working for a competitor for 3 months, but I also cannot talk to any existing client for 2 years. Again, it's a small field - so not being able to talk to a client (like BP for example) is incredibly restrictive.

      So I agree that this is problematic for employees - and is increasingly questionable legally in several states such as NY. But again, how is this an issue for the education of students ? District schools mainly employ teachers certified exogenous to their employer. So how does this affect them ? And if your point is that such practices will dissuade the best teachers from working for charters, then this may be valid. But it doesn't seem to be hurting performance at places like Success, does it ?

  3. Low socio-economic kids “need a different type of teacher”… i.e. a graduate of the Relay G.S.E. (Graduate School of Education)… according to one of Relay’s proponents.

    Sometimes it is within an article’s COMMENTS section that corporate ed. reformers reveal themselves “not wisely but too well,” to quote The Bard.

    (In one COMMENTS section, Dmitry Melhorn owned up to the fact that, yeah, we ARE, IN FACT, out to wipe out all traditional public schools .. something denied repeatedly by corporate reformers such as Secretary Devos, who instead lie their heads off and claim that they seek an idyllic “family of schools” — private, traditional public, public charter — all co-existing in peace and harmony. Yeah, right. You mean like they have in New Orleans?)

    For example, a Relay G.S.E. supporter got into it with Denver’s Jeanne Kaplan — and one other person calling himself “CONCERNED EDUCATOR” — in the COMMENTS section of an article covering Relay’s expansion into Denver. Alas, this Relay person deleted all of his/her COMMENTS before I arrived at the article and its COMMENTS section.

    This article included quotes from both Relay G.S.E. supporters and opponents:

    First of all, in the COMMENTS section, this “Relay Proponent” kind of let some cats out of the bag with what he/she posted, then deleted everything that he or she posted (with quote remnants present in the Comments responding to him or her. I’m calling this poster “Relay Proponent” as her or she deleted her on-line handle along with his/her posts.)

    Check out this doozy (an actual quote) that includes Relay Proponent’s claim that Relay pedagogy should only be used in poor communities, not in wealthy communities:

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    “Kids from less affluent areas are typically raised in a much different household than those in affluent households. Moreover, those kids raised in affluent households in most cases need less teaching and structure and more flexibility.

    “If they’re in an affluent family, they likely have educated parents, and are being afforded opportunities in their family life to learn.

    “Kids from impoverished areas? Not so much. They need structure in their classroom. They need to be reminded to track and listen to the teacher most likely.

    “They need a different type of teacher.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    Oh boy, this got Relay critic CONCERNED EDUCATOR riled up:



  4. x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    “I want to just point out that, by placing students of low socio-economic status in this light, you have highlighted a very important gap that we are perpetuating by allowing the language of Relay (G.S.E) to continue.

    “Yes, students who grow in homes with severe trauma need specific psychological structures and interventions in place, because their brains function differently, and have been altered by the toxic stress.

    “However, NOT ALL STUDENTS IN POVERTY HAVE GROWN UP IN TOXIC STRESS ENVIRONMENTS. Making this assumption lowers our expectations, and devalues those students. You are making assumptions that devalue children, and Relay perpetuates that.

    “We can value the culture of our students without assuming that culture is negative.

    “In addition, assuming that our impoverished children ‘need’ a negative, controlling structure creates prison-like environments, where we do not teach critical thinking skills or self-awareness, but lock children into negative patterns of thought and behavior.

    “We also perpetuate the opportunity gap, because we are denying students the opportunity to have the education that wealthy white students have, simply by making the assumption that ‘those students need structure.’

    “ALL CHILDREN NEED STRUCTURE. ALL children also deserve the opportunity to have an education that prepares them to excel to their greatest potential, which does not mean treating them like prisoners.

    “Relay perpetuates this cycle of creating sub-par education for students, based on the excuse of ‘those kids’ (always meaning children in poverty and non-white children) needing more ‘structure’. SOME students with trauma need more specific interventions, but ALL children deserve the chance to be a child.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x


    1. Look, I understand the point that reform critics do not like "no excuses" brand of charters (like Success) which are fairly rigid and insist on conformity. However, many families (including poor ones) want this. Are you suggesting that these families are unaware of the practices of these schools ?
      Second, the severe insistence on following the rules reminds me of certain Catholic schools growing up. One of the best was CBA (Christian Brothers Academy). A good friend of mine attended. This was neither focused on the poor (tuition was pretty high) nor minorities - counter to your assertion that such no-excuses schools are racially biased. But they were strict ! On one occasion, my friend (who is male) wore an earning to school counter to clearly posted rules. One of the teachers (who were all Jesuit priests and referred to as "Brothers") saw this and tore the earning from my friend's ear. As you can imagine, it was bloody and painful. I asked my friend if his father complained ? He said, "Of course not !". His father (a doctor in the military) commended the school.

      Of course, I'm not advocating this kind of corporal punishment in public school My point is to agree with you. " ALL CHILDREN NEED STRUCTURE." And maybe the issue is not that "no excuses" schools provide too much structure, but rather than district schools provide too little.

      And yes, 40% of poor children grow up in a single-parent family. So maybe such structure that more affluent families get at home is simply not being provided except by schools for some poor families. That's not the case for everyone. But that's why maybe it's a good idea that families can choose what kind of school is best for their child ?


    RELAY PROPONENT, in another deleted COMMENT of his/hers, then incorrectly claims that Relay students attend Relay G.S.E. “to earn their Master’s Degrees.”

    Jeanne Kaplan’s replies that Relay G.S.E. most certainly does NOT award accredited “Master’s Degrees.”

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    ” ‘To earn their master’s degrees…’

    “Teachers (attending Relay G.S.E) cannot acquire a Master’s Degree because the ‘Relay Graduate School of Education’ is not a certified Graduate Program.

    “The (Relay G.S.E.) ‘degree’ is bogus.

    “Students are being taught by unlicensed people.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    In another deleted comment (which I’m reconstructing, using inferences drawn from Jeanne Kaplan’s reply to her … sorry no exact quotes this time) RELAY PROPONENT replies to Kaplan’s accurate statement — Relay G.S.E. is not accredited, and thus can issue not legitimate “degreets” — by saying that traditional teaching programs are all failures according to the data, and that research proves that Relay alone works with low income children. RELAY PROPONENT claimed that Kaplan has “no research” proving the efficacy of traditional teaching programs, and that any data that Kaplan could offer to the contrary comes from “biased resources”, again, according to RELAY PROPONENT.

    Again, from Kaplan’s response, it can be inferred that, in making his/her point, “RELAY PROPONENT also called Kaplan names, and insulted Kaplan (again, no quotes, just reasonable inferences from what Kaplan replied … I’d love to know exactly what “names” that RELAY PROPONENT called Kaplan… if you’re reading this, Jeanne, please chime in.)

    At this point, Jeanne Kaplan simply ain’t havin’ it.

    Kaplan also wants to know if Relay is paying rent at the Denver public school building where it holds it courses:

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    “Who are you?

    “Identify yourself, at least. I could say the same about you. I could also call you names. That is the MO of most ‘debates’ in America today.

    ” ‘Biased resources.’ Only you ignore data that shows repeated failure.

    “As for no research — I beg to differ. I have actually talked to people who have undergone the Relay (G.S.E.) indoctrination. Some have quit. Many have ended up in great debt.

    “I ask again : is Relay paying rent?

    “And please don’t take the chicken way out and not identify yourself. Transparency is another trait lost in ‘education reform.’ ”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    RELAY PROPONENT didn’t just “take the chicken way out” and not identify himself/herself. He/she deleted everything which he/she had earlier posted.

  6. One more thing:

    this de-professionalization of teaching goes hand-in-hand with this privatization of schools via the expansion of privately-managed, so-called "public charter schools" such as Eva's Success Academy chain. To Eva and the rest, teachers are not professionals, such as a doctor or a dentist or a lawyer or an engineer you might hire when needed.

    No. To Eva and the charter school operators, teachers are just "the help" ... more akin to the housekeeping staff, or landscaping grunts that rich folks like Eva hire to clean their house, or tend their lawns and gardens.

    … as the less professional, less trained, and less qualified that “the help” is required to be …

    … the less you have to pay them … and …

    … the more the bosses can pay and/or keep for themselves, and also …

    … the more money they have on hand to these expand and open even more and more of these privately-managed charter schools.


  7. A larger point--a huge point--is being missed in the reporting about this proposal. One of the advantages of a traditional public school is that its teachers are certified. Now the charter school can negate that advantage by claiming its teachers are certified, too, and the EQUIVALENT of a state-certified teacher, because said charter teachers lasted 30 hours in the classroom. It is a FALSE EQUIVALENCY, but the charters are betting that the public won't know the difference. It's all about the marketing and the PR.

    1. Gregory,

      In New York charter school teachers must largely be state certified. There is no advantage for traditional public schools in this respect.

    2. Did you miss the point of the article, TE? SUNY authorized charters now *don't* have to hire state certified teachers.

  8. One more incredible teacher shortage story out of Arizona that I have to share:

    An Arizona state Assemblyman and State House Majority Leader is sick of teachers quitting their jobs and whining over low pay. He's also fed up with having to endure teachers' and others' pressure to increase taxes to fund a raise in teacher pay.

    Furthermore, he's sick of claims that he and other lawmakers are "torturing" teachers with the alleged low pay that supposedly leaves them "struggling", and drives them to quit teaching, or leave to teach in a neighboring state.

    Last month he told one newspaper his solution / message to those teachers:

    *"Quit whining and go take on a second job."*

    You see, in his the-sky-is-purple world, teachers with second jobs are not doing so because they're having financial problems caused by their state having among the lowest pay in the country.

    No, those "enterprising" teachers are doing it to buy "a boat," or "a bigger house," or a more luxurious "better lifestyle."

    *"Good for them!"* he argues to a disbelieving journalist.

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    Teachers in Arizona are getting second jobs not because they’re struggling to survive on their low pay, but because they want to enjoy the finer things in life, like boats, according to House Majority Leader John Allen.

    *"They’re making it out as if anybody who has a second job is struggling. That’s not why many people take a second job. They want to increase their lifestyles. They want to improve themselves. They want to pay for a boat. They want a bigger house. They work hard to provide themselves with a better lifestyle.*

    ‘*That’s America. The idea that we are somehow torturing somebody if they have a second job is just ridiculous. And* (teachers) *have a long summer. What a great opportunity for people like us and teachers to go out and get a second job.*

    "*Let’s all get a second job this summer,’* he said.

    "*Not everyone who takes a second job does it because they’re borderline poverty.*’

    --- John Allen, Arizona Republican State Assembllyman
    and House Majority leader.
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    Here's more from that same article:

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    Allen, a Scottsdale Republican, made the remark as an explanation for the controversial comments he made during a vote Tuesday on a bill to *allow more people without formal teacher training to teach at K-12 schools.* The bill, SB1042, passed the House and is awaiting Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature.

    During the vote, Allen said *the fact that some teachers have to hold a second job to make ends meet doesn’t mean lawmakers don’t care about them. Instead, it shows teachers are enterprising Americans*, like many lawmakers, he said.

    ‘Most of us in this room have a second job. Good for them,’ he said, adding he likes it when people use their ‘God-given talents’ and try to make themselves better.

    ‘That’s America. *The idea that we are somehow torturing somebody if they have a second job is just ridiculous.* And (teachers) have a long summer.

    "*What a great opportunity for people like us and teachers to go out and get a second job. Let’s all get a second job this summer,’* he said.

  9. @edblisa - I recognize that you likely believe that when "computers will deliver content and canned curriculum", that's worse for educating students than having traditional teachers do so. And I don't want to argue this point - in large part because we may not agree on what "worse" means. But just for a minute, let's say that based on whatever metric that you would use for measuring the extent to which a child was being educated, computers did, in fact, do a better job. Again, it's just an a premise. At that point, would you then support computer-based learning ? Whether the answer is yes or no, would you at least then recognize the inherent conflict between teachers' interests and students' interests. Your last line is revealing. " Teachers better wake up and start fighting for what is important to them and they better make sure that their Union is standing there fighting with them instead of against them." That line appears geared to making sure that teachers unions are fighting for teachers' interests - and the implication is that they should resist computer-based learning because of the inherent threat to teacher livelihoods. And in a lot of ways, that makes perfect sense. But can we just be more candid about that ?

    1. "But just for a minute, let's say that based on whatever metric that you would use for measuring the extent to which a child was being educated, computers did, in fact, do a better job. Again, it's just an a premise. At that point, would you then support computer-based learning ?"

      Well, let's just say that aliens land in my back yard. At that point, would you say .... Wait, you say that aliens landing in my back yard is completely unlikely (not to mention irrelevant)? Well, so is the possibility that computers will ever be able to "measure" (sic) education. That's like trying to "measure" (sic) a pound of friendship or an inch of integrity. (I'll admit I stole that line, but I'm not sure where.) Would computers or humans be better at "measuring" a gallon of love? You see how ridiculous the question is? Education is the same. It can only be assessed (and that, only very roughly), never measured.

  10. A little different twist in Wisconsin. We're using the "teacher shortage" to justify the warm body strategy.

    1. As I've said again and again, people need to look to Utah as a "canary in the coalmine" of these things. Utah started allowing basically anyone with a degree to teach last year:

      And now, a Utah district is using the teaching shortage to force first and second graders into "blended learning."

      See what Utah is doing, everyone. Because it will hit you in a year or so.