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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda– Part I

January 26, 2013

On January 24, the Baton Rouge Advocate ran an article entitled “Teacher Prep Receives a ‘C'”.  Similar articles appeared in papers throughout the nation because the issuer of the letter grades did so via “national report.”

Letter grades to anyone but individual students is a reformer tactic. (Much more to come on the thread of “reformer tactics.”)

As I read this propaganda, two flags immediately waved.  The first was reading this quote by Broad-trained, TFAer-gone-superintendent John White: “…[BESE and the Board of Regents] would be well advised to revisit the way that we prepare our teachers.”

The dripping irony of those words from that mouth might just short out my keyboard.

“Revisit the way we prepare our teachers”??  John White himself holds no degree in education.  He has a bachelors in English and a correspondence-program masters from NYU in Public (Public??) Administration.  As a former TFAer, White was trained for five weeks and went into a classroom in New Jersey for two (could it be, three?) years to “teach.”

It is difficult to pin White down to the two or three years since even his “full bio” as promoted on the press release for his state appointment includes only the following sketchy statement regarding his so-called “teaching experience”: “John White began his career in education as an English teacher at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, New Jersey.”  That’s it. That’s all the public gets regarding info on its Jindal-appointed “state superintendent.”

The same Advocate published an article in August 2012 in which BESE Board President Penny Dastugue wholeheartedly supported a $968,000 grant to TFA, calling it “an excellent investment to train some of the nation’s top college graduates to work in Louisiana’s hardest to fill teacher jobs. ‘Who doesn’t want a rich (ironic word choice) talent pool to draw from?’ Dastugue said.”

So, which is it? Traditional training of teachers over the course of years, or fly-by-night, five-week prep?  If traditional training has White proclaiming that he is “well advised to revisit the way that we prepare our teachers,” why, then, did he and BESE approve that nearly-one-million-dollar grant to TFA in BESE’s October 2012 meeting?

Keep in mind that it’s only the words that contradict.  White’s actions follow his true intent.

I mentioned that two flags went up for me as I read the “Teacher Prep Receives a ‘C'” article.  The second flag concerns the group conducting the rating, the National Council on Teacher Quality.  Who, exactly, is this group?  The assigning of letter grades to teacher prep programs put me in mind of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst assigning letter grades to the states.

Could it be…?

Hold that thought.

Funny how tight-knit a group these reformers are.

The Natonal Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) came onto the scene in 2000, right around the time of No Child Left Behind (that ought to make true classroom teachers suspicious).  As I began reading documentation on NCTQ, I found certain pieces of information particularly telling.  In order to do justice to what I have learned about NCTQ, I will have to present the information in separate blog entries. Consider this Part I.

The first telling piece of NCTQ information is a School Matters blog entry from 2005 discussing the manner in which NCTQ and another entity planned to “help state policymakers make the necessary reforms to their licensure systems.”  The tactic was to use op/eds and, if necessary, letters to the editor”:

[W]e will tailor our writing to the issues that a particular state or community
is currently debating … Our preference will be to persuade newspapers to publish
our writing as op-eds but, if not, we will also submit letters to the

According to the grantees’ monthly progress reports, they were able to publish
op-eds in at least 11 newspapers. We
[the Office of Inspector General] have been able to obtain copies of only three. Kate Walsh, the president of NCTQ, authored the three op-eds published in
the Mobile Register (Alabama) on 11/21/04, in the Grand Island Independent
(Nebraska) on 12/02/04, and in the Sacramento Bee (California) on 02/06/05. Each
focused on proposed changes in teacher reform and NCLB.  The op-eds can be
construed as advocating a particular point of view. In the op-ed published in
the Mobile Register, Walsh states that the NCLB requirement that all teachers be
rated “highly qualified” in the subjects they teach “is not overly demanding or
unfair.” She later states “[t]he inability to reach consensus over these minimal
requirements signals a resistance, however unintended, to putting the needs of
children first.”

I will return to the goal of altering licensure requirements in subsequent posts. For now, let me focus on reformer language and the use of op/eds:

Note the reformer language of “putting the needs  of children first” and of dissenting opinions being labeled as “signaling a resistance” to helping children. Compare both language and tone to John White’s letter to the editor in the Advocate in April 2012, right in the midst of punitive education “reform” legislation being rubber-stamped in the Louisiana capitol at record speed:

He begins, “The Advocate has recently published several letters to the editor on public education. I have to say as an educator (did you catch that?), I’m disappointed with the prevailing tone and content of those letters opposing change.” Sounds like Walsh’s “signals a resistance… to putting the needs of chidren first” eh? White goes on to chastise the Advocate for printing opinions contrary to his “bold reforms”: “Even The Advocate editorial board used the number of teachers showing up at the Capitol during a weekday as evidence to prove teachers’ collective objection to change.”

What do you think it shows, Mr. White, when either district superintendents decide to give teachers a day off or teachers must choose to use one of their few personal days to protest being railroaded by a legislature that knows full well they are conducting business crucial to the teaching profession on a day when teachers are forced to choose between being in their classrooms and speaking out regarding their profession? I think it does, indeed, show a “collective objection,” not to change in general, but to the railroaded mockery a man with two or three years in the classroom would term as “change.”

Reformerspeak: If you object to our agenda, you musn’t want to improve education. 

Back to the use of the op/eds:  There are advantages for “reformers” to using the opinion sections of a paper.  First, through op/eds and letters to the editor, these self-styled reformers can promote their slanted agendas without question.  In a newspaper article, the reporter must concern him-/herself with verifying facts and presenting, to some degree, opposing viewpoints.  Such is not an issue for opinion pieces.  Papers are able to rest on the disclaimer that “opinions do not necessarily relfect those of the publication,” thereby absolving themselves of responsibility for the truthfulness and accuracy of what they are printing.

That is why the Baton Rouge Advocate opinion pages are an excellent place for BESE President Penny Dastugue’s letter to the editor defending the decision to spend millions on PR and saying (even though his August evaluation had been postponed following his July exposure of “Vouchergate”):

“Earlier this year, we appointed Superintendent John White (despite his incrediby obvious lack of credentials) to lead the Department of Education in implementing bold reforms (there’s that term) that will transform education (hand it over to corporate interests) for the 21st century. He has met the challenge with integrity (hide the emails), energy and a sense of urgency (catch the real educators off guard by using the ALEC tactic of rushing a number of changes through with no thought to their consequences)  that demonstrates a core belief (in the corporate reform agenda) in the power of education to change the lives of children” (commentary added).

The opinion column is also an excellent venue for former BESE member and self-declared reformer Leslie Jacobs to promote the lie that New Orleans has “closed the achievment gap” despite LDOE statistics showing otherwise. At the end of her article, Jacobs boasts, “Then [before Katrina], we were warehousing children. Today, the education reforms in New Orleans are working, and we are providing our students greatly improved educational opportunities.”  If the educational opportunities are “greatly improved” and are “working,” why are the children of New Orleans’ state-run RSD protesting? Could it be, Ms. Jacobs, that the “warehousing” of children continues despite reformer denial, that the well being of children is being sacrificed for the sake of Jindal’s national agenda, in which he lies about RSD sucess and uses words like yours rather than actual data as “evidence” of success?  Could it be that yor propaganda is also useful for promoting a false image whereby John White gets a favorable annual evaluation for the nebulous “percentage of schools with growth in the performance scores” despite the RSD-LA receiving an F for its district score?

Op/eds are certainly useful for promoting a veneer of success necessary to advance the reformer agenda and, ultimately, the reformers themselves.

A second inportant use of the op/eds for promoting the reformer agenda is that opinion pieces make it appear that the corporate-driven reforms are a local, “grassroots” effort.  The only problem for the reformers is that anyone with internet can google reformer language and see that these “reforms” are anything but local.  I googled the term, “bold new school reforms,” and the first three hits were for Cleveland and Columbus, OH; Canada’s charter schools that they run in New York (??), and Texas.

Is NCTQ nothing more than a reformer-driven outlet?

Kate Walsh, President of NCTQ,  Louisiana State Superintenent John White, (now former) BESE Board President Penny Dastugue, and former BESE Member Leslie Jacobs sure sound a lot alike.  There’s a reason for that, and it connects to names like Broad, Gates, Pastorek, and, you guessed it, even Rhee.

It’s a big bed, folks.

More to come in my next post.

From → John White, LDOE, NCTQ, TFA

  1. Great analysis! It doesn’t take much investigation to discover that Michelle Rhee and Wendy Kopp are both on NCTQ’s advisory board. They have a lot of nerve telling Teacher Education how to prepare teachers when they promote placing thousands of “teachers” with only 5 weeks of training in classrooms with our most at-risk students.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider Investigates NCTQ Letter Grades: Part 1 « Diane Ravitch's blog

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