Saturday, December 3, 2022

PA: The Shapiro Transition Team (Education Division)

Now that Pennsylvania has rejected the crazy guy running for the governor's seat, we can turn our attention to the guy who won and who did, in fact, say some scary things along the way, including expressing his love for school vouchers

Shapiro's people just dropped their transition team listings which are plenty expansive, with seven separate Transition Advisory Committees. So we're just going to look at education.

The Education/Workforce Committee is headed up by Patrick Gallagher, Chancellor at the University of Pitsburgh. And its header is a not-particularly-reassuring vat of verbiage:

The Advisory Committee for Education and Workforce will be chaired by Pat Gallagher, Chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh, and will be comprised of teachers, former school administrators, and education policy experts. Josh Shapiro believes that every child in Pennsylvania – regardless of race, class, or zip code – deserves access to a quality education and the opportunity to shape their own future, and this committee will advise the transition on how to carry out Governor-Elect Shapiro’s vision to ensure every student has access to the “thorough and efficient” education. The committee will work to develop recommendations to prioritize mental health, invest in vocational, technical, and computer training throughout our education system, ensure our teachers have the resources they need, and give parents a real voice in their children’s education.

Emphasis mine. The "regardless..." line has long been a staple of choicers, as has the "access to..." The access to formulation is particularly annoying. The Titanic didn't have enough lifeboats, yet everyone on board the ship had "access to" lifeboat seats. There are two ways to make sure that children in every zip code can get a good education-- you can move some of those children to where the good education is, or you can make sure that every zip code includes a well-supported fully-funded good school. Only one of those approaches provides every student with a good education. Do not promise "access to" a good education; promise that every child will have a good school.

And "give parents a real voice"? What do they have now-- a fake voice? And should taxpayers and employers and the people in communities who don't currently have school-age children-- should those folks also have a say?

There's a lot of choicey school privatization language here. Yuck.

So who's on the committee? The early takes keep mentioning that wealthy donors, lobbyists, Republicans are in the mix. This is not a new thing. Not a great thing, but not a new thing (well, except for the GOP part; I support trying to cast a wide net for an administration).

So let's see who's on the Pre-K-12 subcommittee. 

Lisa Nutter, Founder and Managing Partner, Community Impact Investments. Philadelphian Nutter is in the "impact investing" biz; not clear if she's into the troubling world of pay for success, but her business's website includes lots of argle bargle like "the mechanisms and actionable information needed to harvest, share and bring community-based solutions to scale." Fun fact: she's also a competitive track cyclist with the USA Masters Track Cycling and holds a world record for her age group. Another fun fact: wife of a former Philly mayor.

Jim Vaughan, Executive Director, Pennsylvania State Education Association. He's been in that job since 2015; previous jobs include lobbying for the association.

Laura Boyce, Executive Director, Teach Plus Pennsylvania. Teach Plus is part of the Bill Gates reformy octopus that was, at one point, charging money to give people access to lawmakers; they focus on creating teacher-lobbyists. Boyce has plenty of reformy credentials, including stints in charter schools in Philly and Camden. She graduated from Princeton ()2007) with a BA in Public and International Affairs before going to work in a turnaround charter in Philly. Her LinkedIn profile says "Visionary educational leader with experience achieving impact at the classroom, school, and policy levels."

Joel Greenberg, Founder, Susquehanna International Group. Greenberg is a co-founder of SIG, along with Jeff Yass (one of PA's richest men and a huge proponent of school privatization). SIG is a "trading and technology" firm, founded by a bunch of college poker buddies. There is no reason to believe that Greenberg knows Thing One about education, but he knows plenty about money and giving it to politicians. All based in Bala Cynwyd, an address that will turn up again.

Kathy Christiano, Board Chair, Stoneleigh Foundation. Stoneleigh is a "positive social change" foundation in Philly with education one of their focuses. Christiano's background includes a degree and work in early childhood education, as well as youth hockey.

Sean Reily, President & CEO, Roscommon International. Reily is a bit of a mystery. Neither he nor his company, Roscommon International, have much of an internet footprint. They might be a consulting firm, or a lobbying group, but one withoput many clients, though one client was, in 2017, Wadsworth Academy, a private Philly school that closed down after a special needs student died. School, corporation and Reily all appear to be based in Bala Cynwyd.

Daniel Weidemer, Director of Government Relations, Pennsylvania State Education Association. 11 years in the job, after a background in political jobs in Harrisburg.

Art Steinberg,
President, American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania. Steinberg started his career as a special ed teacher in Philly. He's currently vice-president of the national AFT.

Amy Sichel, Former Superintendent of Abington School District. What a story. Sichel worked in the Abington district for 42 years, starting out as a guidance counselor, and eventually spent 18 years as superintendent. She became the president of the Superintendent's association. Along the way she apparently acquired some swanky friends, like Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, who goes to places like Davos and proclaims that we should stop throwing money at education. He's also a buddy of Donald Trump, so when Sichel attended Schwarzman's Palm Beach 70th birthday party she may have met some important folks. At any rate, she asked Schwarzman to throw some money at Abington schools, which he did, with the understanding that the high school would be renamed after him, plus a few other considerations--none of which were shared with the public. All hell broke loose, people complained, the terms were changed, and soon thereafter Sichel retired. Not sure what she's been doing since, but she certainly brings a unique perspective. Abington, I will note, is just a hair NE of Philly. 

Turea Hutson, PhD candidate in the Drexel University School of Education. Former school board member (Norristown Area--just a bit NW of Philly) and "multifaceted independent consultant" and PR person. Did graduate from BA in Elementary Ed and Teaching from Arcadia University , though she doesn't seem to have ever used it. [Update: Hutson did comment on this post to note a variety of accomplishments. I should have more accurately said that she doesn't seem to have used her degree much as a classroom teacher. She has clearly been plenty busy in other areas of education.]

Rich Askey, President, Pennsylvania State Education Association. Retired music teacher, God bless him. Member of PA's Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.

Sharif El-Mekki, CEO, The Center for Black Educator Development. El-Mekki has a history with the privatized sector, having served as a principal of charter schools. For the last three years, he's been doing some impressive work with the Center for Black Educator Development.

Christopher Goins, President, Girard College. Goins is only just barely the president of Girard, a unique Philadelphia institution--a boarding school for poor, orphaned or fatherless boys. Before that, he's been working in Chicago, first in the Noble Network of Charter Schools, then in Thrive Chicago, which in turn worked with the Obama Foundation's My Brothers Keeper.

Tracey Hart, Educator, Franklin School District. Yes, that's my home district, and Tracey is a veteran working elementary public school teacher, an active voice for the union and public schools, a former colleague, and a friend of the Institute. So that's pretty cool.

Nathan Mains, CEO, Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Mains has been in that job for almost a decade. Lots of background in government and business.

Robert Mitchell, Educator, Pittsburgh Public School District. It appears that he teaches at Westinghouse Academy, a 6-12 school in Homewood. Maybe for almost 30 years, teaching foreign languages.

That's sixteen members, plus chair. Two working teachers, one rural and one urban. Four union officials. 

Of the sixteen, nine are from the greater Philly area. That's unfortunate, because Philly's issues are not generally representative of any other portion of the state. But Philly's school problems are a common go-to excuse for school privatization across the state (e.g. "We must have charters because those poor Philly kids and their terrible failing public school system"). And while Shapiro may be working hard to embrace diversity of some important types, in this case he's largely ignoring geographic diversity, an issue that is often on the minds of Pennsylvanians who don't live in Philly, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh. 

There are some people from outside of the classroom who do some important work for children and education. But the committee includes several people who come from the school choice world (far out of proportion to the number of Pennsylvanians who actually use school choice). There are several members of the committee whose connection to education is tenuous at best, and at least two who have no business being within 100 yards of discussions of education policy. 

So my position on the upcoming Shapiro administration remains somewhere around cautious dread. Maybe the unions will be able to steer him away from his espoused education policies, which are for the most part exactly what we'd expect from right-leaning GOP legislators and anti-public ed privatizers. Maybe he'll pick a secretary of education who's not going to try to expand charters and vouchers and support the already-GOP-proposed super-voucher Education Savings Accounts. Or maybe public education in Pennsylvania is about to get hammered. 

We'll just have to wait and see what comes next. I'm going to cross my fingers, but I'm not going to hold my breath while I do it.


  1. Interesting that Shapiro sent his kids to a public school--right: Lower Merion? So now all of a sudden public schools aren't good enough for everyone else's kids? Please, Josh: with 90% of PA's students attending public schools, choose a public school teacher or administrator to be your secretary of education--be bold and honest--public schools work and are closer to equity than charters ever will be! No Vouchers with my public dollars!

  2. Good afternoon. My name is Turea Hutson, M.Ed. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Drexel University School of Education, and was honored and humbled to be selected for the transition advisory committee. I would like to address your comment that I "don't appear to have ever used my degree[s] in education." I assume you based that assumption on the clearly cursory skim you did of my LinkedIn page, which only alludes to the classroom experience I had early in my career. Your blog post clearly does not take into account that I am using my degrees in education in my current program, where my focus is Education Leadership and Policy. Your post does not mention the fact that I have published on the intersection of race and disability in an international journal, I served as the president--not just a member--of a school board, I actively research bias in assessment, have been an invited speaker to regional education conferences, and have experience with navigating the school and social service system as a caregiver of both a child and adult with special needs--all before the age of 40. It is both disappointing and disheartening to read that you choose to use your platform to minimize the skills and accomplishments of someone who decided to put their money where their mouth was and attempt to impact educational change instead of sitting on their laurels and criticizing others. If you have questions about my skills and experience, please do not hastily publish your assumptions--I encourage you to take the time to do the research and ensure what you say is accurate. If you would like me to send you my curriculum vitae so that you can get a clearer picture of what I have done in my career that makes me an asset to this position, please do not hesitate to send me a message on LinkedIn. It is clear you know how to find my page. Have a nice day and be well.