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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda– Part VI

January 30, 2013

UPDATE 06-20-13:  Paul T. Hill is no longer a member of the NCTQ advisory board.  The other three persons discussed in this post– Joseph Hawkins, Frederick Hess, and E.D. Hirsch, remain.


Writing these posts about the NCTQ advisory board takes quite the time investment.  These folks evidence such incredible bias and conflicts of interest, and it is my determined purpose to expose them for the opportunists that most of them clearly are.  Nevertheless, some are not, and I must be careful not to condemn those who are simply associating with the wrong crowd.  It’s a research tightrope.

For my next act, I give you four more NCTQ advisory board members, complete with their own bio promos followed by the results of my investigation:  Joseph Hawkins,  Frederick Hess, Paul Hill, and E. D. Hirsch.

Joseph A. Hawkins

Joseph A. Hawkins is a Senior Study Director at Westat in Rockville, Maryland.  Prior to his Westat employment, Mr. Hawkins was an evaluation specialist in the Department of Educational Accountability at the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where he managed school-based research and evaluation studies.  During his 19-year career with the school district, his research covered a wide variety of topics, such as student discipline, curricula, teacher training and induction, graduate follow-ups, technology, and school reform.  Mr. Hawkins was also an elementary school teacher in the Peace Corps, and a preschool teacher and community youth organizer at a Washington, DC, settlement house.  He has also taught developmental reading at both Howard University and Prince George’s Community College (Maryland).

His publications include newspaper columns, book chapters, and journal articles on equity, racism, and intolerance.  “Teaching Tools”, a column written by Mr. Hawkins for Teaching Tolerance Magazine and published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, won the 1994 EdPress Association of America Distinguished Achievement Award.  Additionally, he served on the Board of Directors of the Montgomery County Education Association (an affiliate of the National Education Association), and he currently serves on the Board of Directors of TransCen, Inc., a national nonprofit organization that helps adults with disabilities find and maintain meaningful employment.

Have you noticed that almost every member of this advisory board has either a connection with or a vested interest in some company that benefits from the corporate-driven reform movement?

Have you noticed how many of those companies are “favorably connected” to the teaching temp agency, TFA?

Here’s yet another.

TFA employed Westat to do a “study”of the miracle effectiveness of TFAers versus those other, “poorly qualified teachers” that we “know” are in the DC Head Start classrooms.  How do we know those other, non-TFA teachers are “poorly qualified”?  TFA tells us so:

Nationally, we know [see that? we KNOW] that disadvantaged children get poorly qualified teachers, and disadvantaged young (under age five) children – who could benefit the most from excellent teachers – get the least qualified teachers of all. CityBridge’s investment into TFA was aimed at re-vectoring some of the nation’s most talented college graduates into pre-K classrooms – first here in DC, and then across the country.

And what is the solution for DC? Why, TFA, of course:

CityBridge engaged Westat, a nationally recognized research service organization, to measure the impact of TFA corps members on pre-K students in DC. The TFA early childhood corps members’ students, most of whom came from low-income families, were assessed at the beginning and end of the year in key early reading and math skills. Westat found that most of the students knew their letters by the end of the year, a key milestone on the path to literacy. By contrast, low-income children in Head Start classrooms knew 10 of their letters by the end of the year. TFA’s students also made stronger gains in vocabulary and early math than is typical in Head Start classrooms.

Is anyone asking whether pushing young children to make these “stronger gains” is actually good for the children?  And if it isfound to be good, is anyone tracking whether the gains are sustained?

I am writing this entry after having just read this Diane Ravitch post regarding the developmental inapproporiateness and firsthand, detrimental emotional consequences of depriving young children of their real “work,” free play, in favor of the “rigor” of the Common Core.  Apparently, no one composing the Core thought to consult with those trained in early childhood before disseminating these “standards” as mandated truth.

Are the “stronger gains” Westat measured in the TFA classrooms necessarily better for a child’s development in the long run? Are we harming children by pushing them too far, too fast, all in the name of documented quantitative “gains”?

TFA doesn’t ask such questions.   Apparently, neither does Westat.  Count the letters learned; add ’em up and compare them to the number of letters learned by Head Start children– proof enough of TFA superiority, and fodder enough to promote this glossy, TFA advertisement:

TFA has more than 1300 alumni living in the DC region serving as leaders in the classroom, in education more broadly, and across all sectors. Together, they are making educational equity a reality in the DC Region.

Never mind that DC test scores remain embarrassingly low.  Outcomes only matter when in line with the promo materials.  Move along, move along.

Another arena in which Westat and TFA are connected is in the employ of their members as evaluation staff for the Walton Family Foundation.  The Waltons pride themselves on”infusing competitive pressure into America’s K12 education system”‘ on “investing 158 million in K-12 education reform in 2012”; on “shaping [there’s that reformer word] public policy” and “promoting parental choice [more reformerspeak].”

Is Hawkins biased against traditional teacher prep?  It’s a good question.  Hawkins is a member of the research roundtable of the Education Writers Association, an organization that produces some thoughtful, balanced articles on educational issues, including this one cautioning against overreliance upon assessment of young children in making high-stakes decisions. Whereas Hawkins did not author the article, he does associate with those who assume a balanced perspective on educational issues.

However, my concern is in his other, more newfound, associates. The company where he holds a high office, Westat, is clearly connected to the corporate reform movement via TFA and the Walton Foundation.  Therefore, I see Hawkins as being in a position similar to that of fellow NCTQ Advisory Board member McKinley Broome, that of a well-intentioned, education professional who, over time, could yield to the corruption around him.

Frederick M. Hess

Frederick M. Hess is resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He has authored influential books on education including The Same Thing Over and Over, Education Unbound, Common Sense School Reform, Revolution at the Margins, and Spinning Wheels, and pens the Education Week blog “Rick Hess Straight Up.”  His work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, and National Review. He has edited widely-cited volumes on education philanthropy, stretching the education dollar, the impact of education research, education entrepreneurship, and No Child Left Behind.  He serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, on the Review Board for the Broad Prize in Urban Education, and on the Boards of Directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 4.0 SCHOOLS, and the American Board for the Certification of Teaching Excellence. A former high school social studies teacher, he has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University, and Harvard University. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Government, as well as an M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum, from Harvard University. 

Hess refers to himself as a “scholar.”  To those less adept in the new educational reform lingo, let me say her that the title of “scholar” is a corporate reform keyword.

Hess also serves on the review board for the Broad Prize in Urban Education. As in Eli and Edythe Broad, as in Broad Superintendents Academy, as in the unaccredited credential “earned” by select former TFAers in order to “qualify” them to promote the corporate reform agenda while simultaneously collecting salaraies obscenely huge in comparison to both their actual formal training in education and their experience in the classroom.

Hess is a corporate reformer.  In this video clip (, Hess advocates for more lawyers to be involved in the educational reform movement, and he notes that there are lots of lawyers hailing from TFA available to moderate the reform. He also notes the need for “an increased mix of people going in” to reform education, including “great financial minds” to be involved (Gates? Walton? Broad?), and “smart technology leaders who are excited about this work” (online education companies? testing companies?). Hess also advocates “bringing in” HR people, as opposed to having teachers go back to school to earn administrative degrees and rise through the ranks. Hess notes that the teachers are rising above their training (??) and likely do not make good administrators. It is the same logic as is reflected in this 2003 Broad education leadership manifesto on which Hess advised.

It’s easy to see where this reformer is going:

Let’s just send some kid with two years in the classroom, one who holds a poli-sci degree, to the Broad (or some other such) Academy and “place” him/her in that leadership position not suited for that former teacher.

Hess says, “We need to figure out how to get people who are great in managing talent… in district and state offices.”

‘”Talent” is another TFA/Broad/reformer catchword. In Louisiana, we now have an Office of Workforce Talent, a Talent Policy Director, and a Talent Statute (the subject of an ongoing lawsuit).

(As an aside: I don’t think Hess realized what he was doing with his left hand as he was comparing ther “place” of the classroom teacher to the “place” of this “new HR talent.”  When talking of the classroom teacher, Hess moved his hand back and forth, in a pushing-away motion, at chest level. In contrast, when speaking of the “new HR talent,” Hess moved his hand up more to shoulder/head level, and his hand made more of a fist pointing.  Very telling.)

Frederick Hess advocates an educational caste system where the “have nots” follow traditional routes into the classroom without thought to administrative promotion, and the “haves” assume the higher-paying positions to which their college majors outside of education entitle them.

It gets better: Hess goes on to say that state departments of education (you know, the ones who will hire this “new talent”) need to “rethink their salary caps” because “if your maximum salary in the state department of education is 130,ooo dollars… you can’t even bid good talent away from big school districts in your state.”

Gotta infiltrate those state departments of education with the new, non-classroom-suited-because-after-all-their-degrees-are-in-other-areas “talent.” And better make it worth their while.  Funnel some more of those already-tight classroom funds into their privileged pockets.

Hess continues by saying that these talented new leaders need mentorships “outside of K12” so that the talent can model “corporate re-engineering or total quality management” to “find out what worked and what didn’t work… outside of ed and leadership”; that what is needed in addition to policy changes such as the opening of charter schools is the establishment of “leadership institutes” nationwide.

We certainly could help advance the careers of those noble TFAers who sacrificially deferred their power salaries by making it easier to network them into the leadership positions not suited to classroom teachers, who, after all, are pursuing positions above their rank in administration in the first place.

And now, via NCTQ, Hess contributes to the rating of tradtional teacher prep programs, programs that train teachers who should know that their “place” is not in earnng those for-talent-inadequate-$130,000-ceiling state education admin salaries.

Forget about the teacher prep programs he “oversees” in his role with NCTQ: Hess is staunchly, undeniably, and unbashedly biased against tradtional teachers. ( I’m just saying, though I know I don’t qualify as “talent” and therefore should not even think to voice such a definite view.)

Paul T. Hill

Paul Hill is a Research Professor in the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, and Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which studies alternative governance and finance systems for public elementary and secondary education. His recent work on education reform has focused on school choice plans, school accountability, and charter schools. Dr. Hill is also a non-resident Senior Fellow of the Brookings and Hoover Institutions.

As the now-former director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) (a very telling title), Paul Hill, like other corporate reformers, wants to “close the gap” via “bold changes” in public education. Doing so requires that “we must take significant action” (there’s the “urgency”) and “encourage innovation” and “attract and develop talented [ there it is again] teachers and leaders.” Hill is a charter and voucher man; as such, he promotes “a wide range of high-quality public school options.”

CRPE further identifies itself as “a self-sustaining organization affiliated with the University of Washington. Our work is funded entirely through private philanthropic dollars, federal grants, and contracts.”

Like Hanushek’s Texas School Project, Hill’s CRPE gains credibility simply via its connection with a university.

How about those “philanthropic dollars” funding CPRE? Not difficult to guess whose money is behind this organization: Broad, Carnegie, Dell, Gates, Walton, Rodel, Kauffman, Joyce, Casey. Interestingly, the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards was once a supporter yet is no longer.  Bigger names have stepped in, names with an agenda that CPRE is fulfilling.

It’s always the same names.  Always the same money.  Always the same corporate educational game plan.

The CPRE site showcases info from its twitter feed.  Lots of congratulating about “mplementing “bold new reforms” and “charter school laws.”

New CPRE Director Robin Lake wrote a guest blog for the Fordham Institute on the value of incubating charter schools.

Fordham Institute. Another name.

It comes as no surprise that TFA finds the CPRE research valuable in its efforts, efforts about which Eli Broad notes in cliched fashion, ““We believe that this infusion of high-quality teachers, coupled with strong management in our urban schools, will improve the education of all children and narrow achievement gaps”:

As public policy debates rage in K-12 education reform… an unusual coalition of education philanthropies underwrote a study of charter schools by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. The study found that American charter schools enroll students with disabilities and low-income students in nearly the same proportions as schools in surrounding districts, thus refuting the contention that charter schools “cream off” the easier-to-teach students. Robin J. Lake, associate director of the center, and its director, Paul T. Hill, co-edited the study and released the findings at an Urban Institute forum.

The study was commissioned by the Achelis & Bodman Foundations, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Daniels Fund, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Heinz Endowments, Jaquelin Hume Foundation, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Pisces Foundation, Rodel Charitable Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation.

Of course, it was.  Compare the overlap in big money:

Teach For America (TFA) recently announced a fundraising drive to support a major expansion over the next five years. TFA, whose 2005 budget was $38.5 million, has set its goal at $60 million in one-time capacity-building grants. Half of this goal has already been pledged by Doris and Don Fisher and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (both pledging $10 million), and by the Broad Foundation and the Robertson Foundation in New York (each pledging $5 million).


In the early years, TFA nearly collapsed several times from insolvency. Then it began to land grants from corporations and foundations. Among its biggest funders: the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune.  A tax exempt nonprofit, TFA reported annual operating surpluses of $35 million, $114 million and $37 million in its last three federal filings.

Based upon CPRE’s associations, its financiers and publicized mission, one can know that Paul Hill is the corporate reform movement.  As such, he comes to the NCTQ table with a clearly-oulined, unarguably-well-financed, preset agenda. And that agenda is not amenable to traditional teacher training programs.

E.D. Hirsch

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. was a professor of English and education for many years at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books, including Cultural Literacy and The Schools We Need. From the mid eighties on, Hirsch has devoted himself to the mission of educational reform, concentrating his efforts on developing a curriculum that would provide coherence and rich content in the foundational years of a child¹s education. In 1986, he established the Core Knowledge Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia to design this curriculum and support its implementation. With all levels combined, there are more than 700 schools in 48 states and three foreign countries.

On his Core Knowledge website, Hirsch considers the Common Core Standards a “not to be missed opportunity.” However, Common Core is untested.  Furthermore, it is not truly a “core,” but a negotiated Frankenstein of practice. As Jim Martinez notes:

There are many researchers cited in the Common Core, with many research agendas, using many methodological approaches across many disciplines. There is no cohesive theoretical framework or agreement on what constitutes the best approaches from a scientific research perspective to teaching and learning being represented in the document.

Given the ambition of a national educational policy it seems that the best policy makers could come up with are some “best practices” that have achieved some success. It is very helpful to publicize that kind information, however, we have to ask: Is it useful to claim that a patchwork quilt of research underlying a set of standards is a framework for a solution to the educational challenges this country faces?

The Common Core standards are derived, in part, from an abstraction (the patchwork quilt of research) and are being pushed on to practitioners. The research strands that I examined tended toward the notion that knowledge acquisition is the endgame of school-based learning.

Nevertheless, Core Knowledge is adamant:  Common Core is here, and Core Knowledge is the company to enable school districts to align the curriculum to the Common Core.

Based upon her firsthand knowledge of Hirsch, Diane Ravitch asserts that Hirsch truly believes in Common Knowledge.  He even donated his royalties from the best seller, Cultural Literacy, to start the Common Knowledge Foundation.

Common Knowledge is faring well finanacially; here is an excerpt from Core Knowledge’s 2011 Financial Summary:

Net Foundation assets totaled $6.6 million at the end of 2011, up from $5.8 million a year earlier. The unrestricted asset balance (operating funds) remained steady at approximately $4.2 million on December 31, 2011, up from $4 million at the end of 2010. …In addition, the Foundation’s restricted endowment stood at approximately $1.4 million at the close of 2011.

There is the matter of the company one keeps, however.

In 2011, the Walton Foundation was Core Knowledge’s largest donor: $107,161.

Also, Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute is is a member of Core Knowledge’s Board of Trustees. And Hirsch did sign that 2003 Broad educational leadership manifesto on which Hess advised.

Nevertheless, Ravitch maintains that Hirsch is genuinely concerned about curriculum and that he supports Common Core because Common Knowledge aligns with it.

It is clear that Hirsch and Ravitch differ on key issues surrounding corporate reform, including the success of charter schools and the utility of testing.  Hirsch’s 2010 review of Ravitch’s then-newly-released book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, offers an excellent and concise discourse on Hirsch’s thoughts regarding corporate reform issues, including the following:

One effect of Ravitch’s criticisms, however, is to make her seem dismissive of the successes of charter schools. The effective ones have helped thousands of students. Moreover, it is hard to see how the intellectual monopoly of the educational world—which Arthur Bestor called an “interlocking directorate”—can be broken unless there is resistance from below in the form of charter schools as well as from above in the form of intelligent legislation that will improve regimes of instruction and testing.

I asked Ravitch for her thoughts as to whether Hirsch might be more aligned with corporate reform than not based upon the above citation, especially as concerns Hirsch’s sympathy to charter schools and legislation regarding testing. Once again, Ravitch mentioned Hirsch’s allegiance to Core Knowledge above any alliance either for or against corporate reform.

Now, to the question of whether or not E. D. Hirsch could offer a fair and unbiased assessment of traditional teacher training programs in his role as a NCTQ advisory board member.

It does not seem so.  However well-intentioned, Hirsch’s assessment could be clouded by his view of whether or not the assessed program agrees with the tenets of Core Knowledge.  Though I do believe Hirsch endorses corporate reform as a movement, I do not believe Hirsch would intentionally manipulate or hide data in order to promote his own agenda.  Based upon Ravitch’s firsthand knowledge of Hirsch, I believe that Hirsch’s standard of measure for all things education is Core Knowledge (even above the general tenets of corporate reform).  I do not believe this placing Core Knowledge above all else is fair to the teacher prep programs being assessed.


Previous posts in this series:

Part I: NCTQ 2012 Letter Grades and Louisiana; reformer use of the op/ed

Part II:  NCTQ Alternative Certification publication

Part III:  NCTQ Adivisory Board members Steven Adamowski, Michael Barber, Roy Barnes, and McKinley Broome

Part IV:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Cynthia Brown, David Chard, Andrew Chen, and Celine Coggins

Part V:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Pattie Davis, Michael Feinberg, Michael Goldstein, and Erik Hanushek


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