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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda– Part XI

February 8, 2013

UPDATE 06-20-13: Deborah McGriff is no longer a member of the NCTQ advisory board.  Her NewSchools Venture Fund, however, is very much alive and well in corporate reform.


In writing this series on NCTQ, I have read hundreds, perhaps now thousands, of pages of corporate reform documents over the past couple of weeks.  It occurs to me that what permanently separates me from the reformers I write about is financial motivation.  I teach chiefly because of the intrinsic rewards from doing so.  Sure, money is important to life; however, money (and power, and prestige) is not life to me.  Nor will it ever be.  But to the corporate reformers, well, that is quite a different story.  To them, the money (and power, and prestige) is all-consuming.  It shows in both what they grasp and what they discard.

And now, I set aside my lofty musings and offer to you, complete with NCTQ bio, Deborah McGriff.

Deborah McGriff

Deborah M. McGriff has been called “one of America’s premier educators.” She is a Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund.  Deborah has a long history in urban public education, most recently spearheading external relations and teacher training efforts and expanding charter school work at Edison Schools.  Previously, she served as superintendent of Detroit Public Schools, deputy superintendent in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and assistant superintendent in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In each city, Deborah worked extensively across school district departments – as well as with community, business, government, higher education, and other civic partners – to improve public education opportunities for urban students.

Let us consider the organization with which Deborah McGriff is identified as a “partner”: NewSchools Venture Fund.  Here is their mission statement/core values.  Notice the reformer language (bolded):

NewSchools is committed to transforming public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children — especially those in underserved communities — have the opportunity to succeed. … We focus on measurable outcomes and the discipline to improve continuously. (Emphasis added.)

Donors to NewSchools include the Broad, Carnegie, Casey, Dell, Gates, and Walton Foundations; Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, Mitch Kapor of Lotus/Mozilla, and Josh Bekenstein of Bain Capital.

NewSchools is taking in some serious money in order to promote its clearly-reform-based agenda.

McGriff also sits on the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in which the Broad, Fisher, and Gates foundations are represented.

In 2003 McGriff signed this Broad education leadership manifesto that advocates placement of “talented” leaders from outside of education into educational leadership positions.

And consider this interconnectedness: McGriff is on the Broad Prize Review Board. Wendy Kopp sits on the Broad Board of Directors.  Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice (who co-authored the report whereby our schools were declared a national security risk) both sit on Broad boards, as does Mortimer Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World Report, which publishes the Broad-supported NCTQ grades of traditional teacher prep programs.

That right there places McGriff pretty deep in the entrails of corporate reform.  But there’s more.

To give readers a greater sense of the depth of the corporate reform sellout for which Deborah McGriff stands, I would like to offer some details from a 304-page document in which McGriff’s NewSchools is featured, written by the investment group GSV Asset Management.  This report is the most comprehensive justification that I have read to date for the corporate reform movement.  It is also by far the most thorough documenting of the corporate reform investors and their companies that I have yet examined, and I have been reading A LOT of reformer material of late.

The document undeniably attempts to market corporate reform.  However, in the name of neutrality, the authors deny any attempt to market the educational companies that they painstakingly feature:

This paper contains case study information about education and related technology companies, including certain companies in which GSVC has invested. The formation contained herein provides only general and summary information regarding any such companies, and contains no material non-public information. This paper is not an offer, a recommendation, or a solicitation to buy or sell securities.

This report begins with the staggering money spent on education both nationally and globally. Remember, however, this report is not a sales pitch for GSV.

The flight is to high quality human assets rather than financial assets and in this new reality, knowledge is the tangible currency.

Financial assets. Tangible currency.  But, remember, not a sales pitch.

Importantly, we are not advocating the elimination of effective teachers. In fact, our strong belief is that technology will be a great tool for great educators. Whether it is freeing up time, reaching more students or helping quantify student progress, technology is the friend of the education professional. The flip side is there are few places to hide for the ineffective teacher as we increase transparency. [Emphasis added.]

You caught that, eh?

A diagram on the previous page shows a number of human occupations that have been effectively replaced by technology.  But we’re not trying to replace teachers.

Morevoer, this “not an effort to influence investors” report is highly anti-union; on page 47, it shows a diagram of the “unions (status quo) vs. parents, politicians, businesses, minorities, and teachers (change agents). Tenure is the enemy. Transparency is avoided. The unions are holding back the students, who are “pushing for college and career readiness.”  On subsequent pages, TFA and KIPP are noted to be solutions. Waiting for Superman is the wake-up call.

Then there is discussion of “return on education” (as in “return on investment”):

The corporate structure (i.e. being for-profit or not-for-profit) becomes irrelevant as the focus goes where it should: on student outcomes. The key fundamentals that will drive return on education include lowering costs, improving access, improving student outcomes, increasing professional capacity of instruction and providing real-time assessment.

In a similar way that NYSE allows stock to be a currency given the deep liquidity of the exchange, we see the knowledge and labor market becoming a similar place where people with the appropriate skill-set and knowledge base can succeed regardless of their official degrees [i.e., TFA/Broad placement of “talent”].

The implication of KNAAC [knowledge as a currency] is very disruptive for traditional learning institutions and very empowering for the individual. We envision a new disaggregated learning model where the student will pick and choose courses from a variety of colleges and other non-traditional learning sources to build their knowledge portfolio. [Emphasis and commentary added.]

Next is the list of “education mavericks and pioneers,” including Wendy Kopp (TFA), Don Fisher and Richard Barth (KIPP), Marjorie Scardino (Pearson), Elliot Sainer (Aspen Education Group), and Jeb Bush (Governor of Florida and “initiator of significant education change and innovation”).

Now comes the extensive discussion of successful educational businesses and the highlighting of a number of such businesses that are “riding the [chiefly technological] megatrends” and details of the size of the global educational market. In 2012, the K12 portion was 2220 billion dollars (they wrote it this way), expected to be 2930 billion in 2017.  There is also a “growth in investment” chart for education.

But this report is not a sales pitch.

It is a global, obscenely-grand-opportunity-to-cash-in sales pitch.

Next is the listing of educational investment opportunites associated with NewSchools Venture Fund, which “helped to create the charter management organization market.” NewSchools’ investment portfolio includes NCTQ advisory board member Michael Goldstein’s Match Charter Schools; the controversial Rocketship Education; New Schools for New Orleans; Khan Academy, DC Preparatory Academy, and DC School Reform Now! NewSchools is also designated as part of the Edison Schools “family” (Chris Whittle, CEO of Edison).

In addition, the report highlights the investments of Bain Capital, Kapor Capital, and itself (GSV). It also highlights the ALEC-connected nonprofit, Center for Educational Reform.

The GSV report continues by noting that education is “the new civil rights issue,” and the way to bring about equality is via the reforms supported and promoted by upstanding reform leaders such as Michael Bloomberg, Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Bob Wise, Adrian Fenty, and Rahm Emmanuel.  The document even includes a chart of the specific “claim to fame” reforms each promotes (page 199).

Though it is difficult for me to stomach in its idiocy and callousness, let me add that the authors of this report laud Arne Duncan’s saying that “the best thing that happened to the education sysrem in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina” (page 203). Utter destruction of the Gulf Coast is worthwhile afer all if it enables corporate reform to sweep in and seize a school district in the midst of unprecedented chaos.

In addition to its promotion of Duncan, the document lauds John White and Leslie Jacobs for their “battle plan” to have charters outnumber traditional schools 7 to 1, a resulting new-found emphasis on innovation” in the Big Easy.  Too bad it didn’t work.  Both Leslie Jacobs and John White have nothing substantial to show for their Recovery School District (RSD) efforts at corporate reform in New Orleans.  It is all a mirage.

It’s difficult to admit a mirage when soooo much money is riding on the concept:

The Gates, [ALEC-entrenched] Walton Family, and Broad Foundations, along with many others, have approached education with market-based goals like choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. They’ve used charter schools, standardized testing, merit pay for teachers, and performance data as means to achieve these goals. While good intentioned and with many positive things to point to, the outcomes weren’t conclusive enough to sway the Flat Earth Club [i.e., anyone who sees corporate reform for the farce that it is].

For sure, the cheerleaders for status quo (which ensures the disastrous situation to perpetuate) has their own research to promote their indefensible position. Stanford’s 2009 study of charter schools, called “the most comprehensive study ever done”, concluded that 83% of charters perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools. A 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students. A National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show that standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately. After years of experimentation in large school systems such as New York and Chicago, Gates and Broad and others haven’t shown enough progress or new models for success to end the debate and scrap the old model.

Well. There’s some refreshing news.  However, the report continues with the greatness of charters and then, the wonder of NCLB:

While NCLB has succeeded in raising scores for young minority students (and white students), critics claim that since both groups progressed, the “achievement gap” wasn’t closed. We are not making this up. [Emphasis added.]

Shifting the gap should serve as closing the gap?

If I move my food around on my plate, should I be credited with eating my dinner?

Not to worry: TFA will ride in on Ivy League horses and make all well:

TFA recruits and nurtures individuals who have demonstrable leadership and achievement, patience and tenacity in the face of challenges, strong critical thinking, strong interpersonal skills to motivate and lead, and creative problem solving skills – all of which are the characteristics of innovative leaders. TFA’s entrepreneurial organizational structure has equipped TFA corps members with the skills and drive needed to solve complex problems and maximize the impact of their efforts. [Emphasis added.]

Translation: “Skills and drive” = an ideology and five weeks of training.

Nevertheless, in closing, TFA is again singled out as a solution:

We make Teach for America even more celebrated and scaled by enrolling the nation’s brightest college graduates to teach for two years. We engender a sense of service-to-country, akin to military service. The top 10% of college graduates across America should view it as their duty to serve their country by teaching in public schools. We provide funding to support the additional placements. [Emphasis added.]

I have yet to meet a military veteran who after serving a tour of duty expected to be propelled into a six-figure salary.

Other report suggestions:

To start, we adopt the Common Core in all 50 states and create incentives for innovators to develop disruptive, high-impact content.

We outlaw the terms “for-profit” and “not-for-profit” as they represent corporate structures and thus have no bearing on the effectiveness of a particular program or product. Return on Education (”ROE”) becomes the objective measurement to determine if an education program is good or bad.

We eliminate locally elected school boards, recognizing that the process by which they are elected doesn’t correspond with either strategic planning or longer term results.

We tear up the old academic calendar both in K-12 and higher education. Summer breaks will be supplanted with “ski weeks,” while quarters and semesters are replaced by unit modules.

Longer term, we adopt a completely transparent merit system for teachers. Compensation will be 100% aligned with teacher effectiveness, performance of students, and market demand. In other words, a great math teacher won’t get paid the same as mediocre physical education teacher just because they’ve taught the same number of years. [Emphasis added.]

There you have it: A concise examination of an investment summary that not only includes McGriff’s NewSchools Venture, but goes incredibly beyond in outlaying current corporate reform efforts. This GSV report might offer the disclaimer that they are not intending to market reform via such a comprehensive, clearly-corporate-favoring report, but don’t you believe it.  And rest assured, Deborah McGriff and her NewSchools is very much at home in such a reform-entrenched document.

Reform entrenchment always leads to ALEC, and ALEC involvement surrounds McGriff.  In 2011, she was part of Jeb Bush’s and Bob Wise’s Digital Learning Council, associated with the ALEC group, Foundations for Excellence in Education (FEE). Other members included ALEC-entrenched NCTQ advisory board members Michael Johnston and Joel Klein; Michael Petrilli (Fordham Institute), and John White (then NYC DOE; now, Louisiana DOE).

FEE’s Patricia Levesque was also at this meeting.  As is turns out, today I just happened to be reading some recently released emails in which Levesque wrote to the membership of Chiefs for Change in 2011 to solicit their assistance in placing John White in the Louisiana state superintendent position:


An article on Louisiana state board of education races– that will impact the selection of next chief in Louisiana. Gov. Jindal wants John White as next state chief. Governor Bush is lending his support/endorsement to the candidates Gov. Jindal is supporting for the State Board of Ed.


The article to which Levesque alludes is one in which the Louisiana State Board of Education (BESE) candidates are listed along with their financial backing for the race.

McGriff is travelling with some big reformer money and highly connected reformers like Jeb Bush, who, via folks like Levesque, “get the job done.”

Incredible money flowed into that BESE election. The Jindal picks won the majority of the seats.  John White, with his two years (maybe three?) of TFA “teaching” and his Broad superiendent’s endorsement now sits as Louisiana state superintendent. He is even a current member of Chiefs for Change.

These are the people with whom McGriff associates.

So, to recap:  McGriff is Broad, Broad, Broad, splash of Gates, Dell, Carnegie, doused in ALEC, ALEC ALEC, crossing paths with Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush….

I think you get the point.

It is clear the Deborah McGriff cannot step out of corporate reform for even a moment in order to advise any traditional teacher prep program assessment.


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

Part VI:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Joseph Hawkins,  Frederick Hess, Paul Hill, and E. D. Hirsch

Part VII:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Wendy Kopp

Part VIII:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Michelle Rhee

Part IX:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Joel Klein

Part X:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Michael Johnston

  1. lindathomas724 permalink

    Reblogged this on Restore Reason and commented:
    I was at the Arizona State Capitol yesterday as part of the Arizona School Board Association Lobby Days. In sitting in on the Senate Education Committee meeting, it was clear that for the most part, the Republican Senators are all about privatizing education and the Democratic Senators primarily supported traditional public education as the default. I felt compelled to repost this blog because it provides teeth to an assumption I’ve been making about how the privatization effort is all about profit. Please note the GSV Report notes that education is “the new civil rights issue.” I suspect this reference comes from ALEC-connected framing and it caught my eye because Senator Melvin has said many times that education is “the civil rights issue of our time.” Really?

  2. I think it is time to retire the term Corporate Reformer — which sounds almost like someone who wants to reform corporations — and start referring to these operators as what they are, Corporate Raiders of Public Education. They operate no differently than any other brand of corporate raiders we have seen over the years in other spheres.

  3. Great work as usual, Mercedes. The venality, cupidity and hypocrisy of these eduDEformers knows no bounds. At expensive, prestigious private schools where Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Obama, and therest of these edushysters went and send their own kids, teachers are free to teach as they see fit, there are small classes, and every student gets art, music, drama, sports, drama, student government, etc etc. teachers do not teach from a scripted curriculum. The kids’ parents are wealthy or the kids themselves are incredibly smart, hard-working and lucky. Kids’ every test or quiz score isn’t multiple-choice (and written by distant, minimum-wage temps working for Pearson or some other hugely profitable edushyster corporation) so that it can be instantly fed into a computer system that turns out useless reams of charts and graphs.
    No, that sort of micromanagement and minute-to minute assembly-line devaluation of teachers’ work and the value of students’ minds and lives is being rammed down the throats of communities with public schools populated by students from poor, working-class and minority families.
    Civil rights issue? Yes. But the educational DEfirmers and shysters are on the wrong side of history.

    • Kate Naples permalink

      So true. A two-tier system in a two-tier world. Thank so much to Mercedes Schneider for the vigilance. We’re in for it now. I’m interested in how easily they can convince those living below the poverty level to go on “ski weeks” and give up summer vacation. That may be the hardest hurdle this corporate fantasy has to jump.

    • Ishmael permalink

      One of the reasons why teachers in wealthier areas are allowed to teach as they see fit in more or less autonomous ways is that their students and the families they come from are already indoctrinated into the state/corporate apparatus, or are indoctrinated enough to continue the process. Any family that pays $20,000 or more a year for elementary education is heavily indoctrinated and strives for a return on investment. Such a family will never question too deeply the disparities of educational opportunities in America (or, for that matter, the disparities of anything), for to do so would call into question their own culpability in the ideological structure.

      These students can read _Brave New World_, _1984_, _The Great Gatsby_, etc., discuss them and write about them with a great degree of insight and questioning, because that is part of the necessary packaging of a “proper” education, along with philosophy, art, history, science, etc. However, the purpose of this “proper” education is not to reinforce deep abilities to challenge and question ideological structures (which is what those works of literature do) but to allow the students and their families to believe truly that they are “good” citizens in a democratic society and that they deserve their mobility in society through meritocratic achievement. Their continued education, and especially the battery of standardized testing, is the process of constant refining of this psychological and sociological mindset. Arne Duncan, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, and their ilk are such “good” citizens; Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Diane Ravitch, and Mercedes Schneider are not “good” citizens (and kudos to them). The ideological apparatus, of which education is vitally important, selects and reinforces through a 16- or 20-year process individuals who will function along certain predictable segments of the ideological spectrum.

      So what is the point of all this? Ideological conditioning is a very long process that starts from birth and is reinforced through every waking hour at home, at school, at play, at work. It is most effectively at work for the first 25 years of an individual’s life. The educational process, with a rather small degree of error, selects for individuals who are willing, able, and capable of intrinsically absorbing ideological paradigms, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and habits.

      Quite simply put, the ideological apparatus needs a two- or three-tier system of education to weed out undesirables. Children from poorer backgrounds or backgrounds that are not fertile for ideological planting are not useful/malleable enough for a first-tier education. Providing such students with the best possible education more often than not will not yield a high enough return on investment for the ideological apparatus. Students who are not indoctrinated properly cannot be trusted later in their working careers with information and decision-making powers that affect other segments of the ideological state/corporate apparatus in ways that are expected. This is why at one time in U.S. history it was illegal to teach slaves how to read. It is still illegal to teach slaves how to read and think today, but only the mechanisms for invoking this rule have become more complex, less direct.

      What I have written above is simply the nature of humans living in a society. Ideology and the structures of ideology cannot be avoided in a civilization, nor should avoidance be desired. Rather, ideology and its structures should be embraced, pinched and prodded here and there to see what they reveal about who we are as humans living in a particular society. Real education in a democratic society should endeavor to accomplish no less. But this then begs the question: Has compulsory education in a “democratic” society ever been truly about educating an informed citizenry?

      While some of John Taylor Gatto’s ultimate conclusions may seem to go too far, his _Underground History of American Education_ is, nonetheless, a well researched history of the evolution of compulsory education in America and its ideological function. Where I strongly disagree with Gatto is his one-sided call for the dissolution of public education. Where he calls for the destruction of public education, I see the need for strengthened public education that encourages students to see how power works in society, past and present, through the study of science, history, literature, art, music, philosophy, all the things of a first-tier education. Kids love to tinker in places they are told they do not belong.

      Another good book that looks at the ideological nature of education is Jeff Schmidt’s _Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-battering System That Shapes Their Lives_

      • Some excellent observations here, Ishmael. Thank you for your contribution.

        Charter school “success” certainly depends upon the tiered system you describe. In general, there must be a public “catch all” below the charters in order for charters to appear “better” than traditional public education.

        I find that the charters that truly care about the kids and do not play the selection games tend not to last long.

  4. Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more hard evidence to show that these “corporate” reform efforts are simply another way for greedy, private corporations to bilk the government/taxpayers out of money that’s supposed to be used to educate children here it is. Nice work Mercedes – keep it up! I just hope more people begin to take notice that public education is being dismantled in front of our eyes!

  5. David permalink

    One piece missing is her relationship with Howard Fuller, her husband. He is pretty much involved in the running the City of Milwaukee’s charter authority, including recruiting Rocketship schools, for which he or she has a financial relationship– if I understand this correctly. Fuller is known to be heavily involved in Louisiana. Moreover, Fuller started a national advocacy organization called BAEO, which is at the forefront of much of the early efforts in privatization in urban areas.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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