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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda– Part XV

February 15, 2013

UPDATE 06-20-13: Ellen Moir is no longer listed as an NCTQ advisory board member on the NCTQ website. Still, her involvements make for an enlightening read.


I feel the need to begin this post with an oft-used phrase in my classroom, one that usually prefaces an excuse for a student’s not having fulfilled some obligation to me:

“You see, what happened was….”

I had planned to do this last post on the two remaining NCTQ advisory board members. But you see, what happened was I encountered so much information I thought should be discussed in some detail that I thought it best not to add discussion on a second advisory board member in this already-lengthy post.

Allow me to present, complete with NCTQ bio, the second-to-last advisory board member about whom I will write: Ellen Moir.

Ellen Moir

Ellen Moir is Chief Executive Officer of the New Teacher Center (NTC), a national organization dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. She is recognized as a passionate advocate for our nation’s newest teachers. Ellen founded NTC in 1998 to scale high quality teacher induction services to a national audience. NTC strengthens school communities through proven mentoring and professional development programs, online learning environments, policy advocacy, and research. Today NTC has a staff of over 150 who work closely with educators and policymakers across the country. NTC seeks to insure that the nation’s low-income, minority, and English language learners, those students most often taught by inexperienced teachers, have the opportunity to receive an excellent education. Ellen is widely recognized for her work in beginning teacher development and school reform. She has extensive experience in public education, having previously served as Director of Teacher Education at the University of California at Santa Cruz and worked as a bilingual teacher. Ellen is a recipient of the 2011 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Other major awards include the 2010 Civic Ventures Purpose Prize Fellow, 2008 National Staff Development Council Contribution to the Field award; the 2008 Full Circle Fund Impact Award; the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. 2005 Prize in Education; and the 2003 California Council on Teacher Education Distinguished Teacher Educator Award.

From November 30 to December 1, 2010, Jeb Bush and his Foundations for Excellence in Education (FEE) hosted its third annual National Education Summit in Washington, DC.  Jeb Bush and FEE are very much the corporate reform machine.  As it turns out, ALEC model legislation from the same year in the same place at an overlapping time as this summit (December 1 – 3, 2010, DC) promoted Florida’s solution to panicking the public into buying into the need for corporate reform by instituting letter grades for the schools.  Other model legislation included the parent trigger for enabling these panicked parents to hand over their public schools to corporate charter takeover.  In the ALEC 35-day mailout to legislators, ALEC offers some helpful notes regarding implementation of their education reform materials (see page 46 out of 133).  ALEC showcases Florida (i.e., Jeb Bush’s Florida) as a model of reform and offers FEE assistance in promoting reforms in other states:

Florida lawmakers have continued to update their reforms over time. Those interested in the latest policy innovations in Florida can contact the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The Foundation can assist with technical issues, provide sample rules created by the Florida State Board of Education and other assistance.

Florida’s School Report Card system assigns all schools and districts a letter grade based upon an elegant but powerful formula grading schools one half on overall scores, one quarter on the gains of all students, one quarter on the gains of the bottom quarter of students.

People instantly and intuitively understand letter grades, and this system served as the lynchpin for the reforms by increasing community support and interest in improving schools.  [Emphasis added.]

In this writing, ALEC admits the crucial importance of assigning letter grades to schools. Though they gloss the language, the intent is clear: Parents will react if their schools have a grade designation that looks like a grade they wouldn’t want their children to have on a traditional student report card.

And FEE is there to spread the Jeb Bush virus into other statehouses.

Recall how FEE’s Patricia Levesque “encouraged” members of the newly-formed, Jeb Bush-endorsed superintendent group, Chiefs for Change to assist Jeb Bush in “supporting” Jindal’s desire to have John White installed as Louisiana state superintendent.

But why write this info here, in an examination of NCTQ advisory board member Ellen Moir?

Ellen Moir was a panelist for this 2010 Bush-sponsored summit.  I read the entire transcript, and there is a strong push for top-down change where “stakeholders,” such as teachers and teacher unions, are essentially being given “the agenda” and limited room to negotiate. Yes, there is also talk of “true partnerships,” but my mind kept returning to the loudness of the top-down actions of Mr. Bush over the sometimes-soft discussion of “we’re all in this together.”

I will not present the entire transcript, though I encourage all to read it. I will offer details on some of the more illiminating conversation excerpts.  Consider this advice by panelist Harry Hillenbrand:

First of all, keep the agenda simple. If the effort is about teacher quality, and we’re in a budget cut, as you’re potentially in, how do those two things work to help one another? And if we can’t really explain that to people, well, then we’re not going to sell our own agenda right now.

… When you’re dealing with the unions, or when you’re dealing with other organizations, if you don’t already know who the leaders are of those organizations, you can’t effect change. So that means you need an example there. If you were making a curriculum reform, and you were teaching a preparation program, and you don’t know who the leaders are on the university curriculum committee and you don’t have a plan in place for a way you can get your own leaders on the committee you’re destined for failure because you don’t understand how change works in the organization. You have a Bush agenda for change, but you have to do simultaneous translation into the languages of several different cultural organizations to get that feedback.  [Emphasis added.]

This panelist is advising, not regarding true stakeholder negotiation, but the appearance of negotiation because the “non-negotiable given” is that, “You have a Bush agenda for change.”

Consider the advice from the next panelist, Jim Fraser, on how to throw the Bush name around to “get things moving” on an arrangement already negotiated at the top but apparently not negotiated at the lower (teacher/instructor) levels:

because of our leverage — because this is for the Bush [??] Foundation — we were able to call the provost and say, “That’s not the deal you cut with us.” The provost could insist that they go back to the agreement, at which point the associate dean of education called me and said, “Thank you so much, I couldn’t bring about that change.” [Emphasis added.]

I have a real problem with this exchange.  If all who were to be affected by the change were included in the planning, there would be investment– if the proces were truly negotiated.  However, top-down is quicker, and having a big name to throw around is critical, according to top-down reformers.  In fact, it seems that leadership at different levels (i.e., the associate dean) is inept in the top-down view.  Thus, leadership should have no true tiers of authority and instead consist of those who simply carry out orders or serve as enforcers of the orders that come from “the Chief.” All that matters is the single person at the top.  Jim Fraser advises as much:

To say this most starkly, if curriculum reform and teacher education in a university is limited to the school of education or the department of education, it will fail. We need external partners. [Emphasis added.]

Translation: We need Jeb Bush to force his version of education reform on education institutions since he knows what is good for them. Top-down, and the “top” must be “external”– outside of the field we wish to alter.

It is interesting that this group wants to dismantle unions and at the same time, they admit the potential power of the union, but only in its leader:

The president of the union had been brought into the planning, from the very earliest days when we tried to launch this reform. And they became our key ally at every step. So that when teachers in a school were wondering about things, when the district superintendent was wondering about things, having the union at the table from the very beginning — not just asked to sign off along the dotted line — was absolutely critical.

What I find interesting is the reformer view that the union leader IS the union.  The speaker (Jim Fraser) does not even consider that perhaps there was a relationship, a trust, in place between the union leader and the union members even though the situation was tense. To Fraser (and to top-down advocates), the “top” is all in all.

Jim Fraser speaks again later on, and he talkes of the “urgency” to change, and “how change does not happen incrementally. Change happens sometimes very quickly.”  It’s the reformer rush job. The sales pitch. The “you can’t afford to miss this opportunity” push for manipulated action.

Some panelists appeared to genuinely want change while realizing the importance of including all stakeholders in the process of true negotiation.  One panelist, retired Rochester, Minnesota, Superintendent Jerry Williams, spoke candidly about the importance of not just token input from stakholders but genuine partnership:

…I think we need to have very legitimate partnerships. I’ve been looking at this for the past day, and reading some of the materials that were sent to us; I’m excited, but I’m also concerned about the level – the legitimate level – of some partnerships. … And I think people working together, both the school boards, the local teachers’ groups, having them at the table as true partners, is going to help define the conversations locally. [Emphasis added.]

Panelist Colleen Callahan asks for responses to the following:

Think about how together you can use that information (data) to strengthen your preparation programs; you can together think about what you can do to help at a school level to increase student achievement (test scores?). [Emphasis and comment added.]

Given that this post is about Ellen Moir and her suitability as a member of the NCTQ advisory board, I have reproduced her entire response at this point in the panel discussion.  I find her advice very telling.  I will present it in parts, followed by my own commentary:

I just want to add one or two quick points. It is really, I think… When I think back to my own time in teacher education, I’m not being rude and you have to trust that I care deeply about improving the quality of education for kids [more on this later] and I think teacher preparation and partnership with school districts is the way to do it. But I’ll just use myself as an example. [Emphasis and commentary added.]

As a faculty member at UC Santa Cruz, bringing together and leading initiatives to transform teacher preparation, I am not the one around the table that is close enough to practice to actually be able to link theory and practice, who’s able to actually look at data and come up with a set of interventions. The only way that teacher education in America is ever going to be strengthened, in my mind, is when practitioners and researchers and faculty come together and blend the roles and build honestly off each other’s knowledge. And until you all do that, I don’t think you’re going to have much difference. [Emphasis added.]

If Ellen Moir sees herself as too removed from practice to link theory and practice based upon available data, how is it that she is suited to advise on the quality of teacher training programs?  If I am to rate a teacher prep program, should I not have some view as to what constitutes suitable classroom practice and be able to connect theory to that which I actually observe?

I agree with the concept of multiple practitioners coming together to “build honestly off each other’s knowledge.” However, isn’t there a tacit admission that single-person, top-down leadership cannot work since it does not capitalize on such collaboration?  Bush agenda aside, does NCTQ really view the teacher training programs it labels as equal to NCTQ and “coming together” to negotiate best practice and improvement?  Should such negotiated arrangements result in letter grades for corporate bodies?

I’ll let those questions hang in the air.

Back to Moir’s response:

That’s one point. Could you raise your hand if you’re in school districts in the region, in the area? Raise your hand really high. Okay, look around the room at all the people here that are here. Okay, so what I want to say is to all of you: You should be demanding a partnership with the IHEs where you recruit students from. And you should be together doing a backward map of what it is you expect. [Emphasis added.]

The idea of “demanding a partnership” reminds me of a shotgun wedding.  Should we turn the pursuit of quality education into a marriage of theory and practice/outcomes forced at gunpoint? Can I really be in partnership with anyone if I “demand” it?

Not being removed from practice myself, let me note most assuredly that I cannot  effectively run my classroom if I “demand” it.  That would move me from an authoritative leadership style to an authoritarian one (i.e., top-down).  The resulting environment would be the same as the product of top-down “leadership” in numerous school districts across the country:  A fear-based atmosphere, or one with simmering or open resentment, and ultimately loss of ownership/investment in the educational process. Defeat, flight, anger, and despair.

Let’s continue with Moir:

To Colleen’s point, what you need to say…I will not take your graduates any longer. Our district won’t take your graduates unless we see these kinds of changes. And the university needs to say to the provost and to the deans and to the presidents, “We can’t run teacher education in this region unless we have clinical faculty paired with our outstanding research faculty who can deliver to improve teacher quality in this area. This has to be a change, something different, a partnership.”

Again with the “demanding a partnership.”

And, you know, we’re good at saying “partnerships” and anyone here could check off that we have a lot of people, practitioners here today. But in the end of this effort, this organization, all of you have to be transformed. It sort of goes back to John (Goodlad’s) [name correction added] time of when we reform teacher preparation, we’re reforming the school districts and the systems of higher ed, together.

Can I “transform” myself simply by saying that I “need to be” transformed?  Not likely.  And even then I am taking ownership.  But to do like Moir and tell others that they have to be transformed, that is even further removed.  It’s top-down.  It’s “you people.”

Addiction recovery would be revolutionized if all one needed in order to overcome was to have some other person say, “You need to change.”

Moir then speaks of the need for partnerships between the teacher prep programs and schools in order to foster new teacher development and continued professional growth.  This speech sounds good, except that heeding Moir’s previous advice would likely have alientated teacher training programs from the school districts “demanding a quality product in their graduates” and could even contribute to a hostile placement environment for the trainee or new teacher, who would invariably be caught in the middle as the one with the least amount of leverage in the situation.

So, which is it: demand or support?

Here are Moir’s closing remarks from later in the discussion:

I think that we need to rethink how do new student teachers, how do teachers learn to become teachers? It’s not generic. It’s very contextualized and situated. And I think that by placing cohorts in schools, and having the schools become hubs of learning together, experienced teacher with new teachers, and then the school thinking about hiring some of those top-notch candidates into the jobs, I mean this is what this partnership could be doing, where you’re building off the talents and with the talents of experienced teachers, in school settings, and contextualize the learning.

The next point I want to make is working conditions: teaching and learning conditions matter.  [Keep this statement in mind.]  And it’s really critical that as you build out placements for your student teachers, that together with the school districts that we’re sure that these are the right places to be engaging new candidates in the profession. That principals are prepared to reach out and extend and build professional learning communities.  [Emphasis and comment added.]

And the third point I want to make actually goes back to the prior conversation we were having. I think test scores do matter, and I think most important that we should still hold on to the importance of preparing young people to have a great life, and to be part of the democratic society. And the point that I haven’t heard today that I really want to insert is I want young people to be inspired by your graduates. I want every child to be noticed in classrooms. I want to know that when a teacher goes in, he or she can lift the lives of young people, just the way I had someone lift my life.  

And it’s too easy to get into schools and become technicians or mechanistic, and looking at just filling in the bubbles.  [Keep this in mind.] And truthfully, across this country, the most underprivileged kids have had the most opportunities to fill in bubbles, and the least opportunity to engage in what’s a thoughtful and rich curriculum that will indeed give them, each child, a life of opportunity and hope. So I beg you, as you build up these partnerships with school districts, that we’re all transformed, that we all do work differently to improve the quality of education for the students that we’re reaching. [Emphasis and comment added.]

I read this, and I feel the disconnect between what Moir is saying and the conditions created by big reformer money like Jeb Bush’s.  And I wonder to what degree Moir is connected to the reality of classroom teachers across the nation.

For example, Jeb Bush continues to promote reforms that place my job squarely on the test scores of my students. Why, then, would I want to have a student teacher under my tutelage? Why would I “hand over” my very livelihood to a novice?  Am I being treated like an experienced teacher when all that matters in the end is the very “bubbling in” with which Moir alternately agrees and disagrees?

And what of that “thoughtful and rich curriculum”? Is it supposed to be the unpiloted, piecemeal-negotiated Common Core, a curriculum into which I had none of the “partnership” supposedly promoted in this Bush-funded event? Jeb Bush and Joel Klein have declared that the “Common Core State Standards define what students need to know. …We must insist on standards that will prepare our high-school graduates for the demanding challenges they will face.”  This unexamined proclamation “from above” is to be taken as law.  And, indeed, it is law, in most states.

Then comes the issue of the Bush-supported placement of noneducators in key educational leadership roles.  How can a man like Louisiana’s John White truly lead in an area completely alien to his experience?  He has never attended a traditional teacher prep program.  He has never even achieved enough years in the classroom to know what being an “experienced teacher” feels like. And he is not alone.  Powerful and well-positioned reformers like Joel Klein are depositing the likes of John White all over the nation.

Is Moir a corporate reformer?

Let’s follow the money.

Moir’s New Teacher Center is very well funded. Contributors include, at the $10 million plus mark; Hewlett Foundation; $2 to just shy of $10 million: The Gates and Joyce Foundations and Carnegie Corporation, among others; $1 to just shy of $2 million: NewSchools Venture Fund and Goldman Sachs, among others; ALEC-connected corporations: Hewlett-Packard; Boeing; Microsoft, and Wells-Fargo.

The New Teacher Center’s statement of purpose is an interesting mix of corporate reform language and decent practice:

Teacher effectiveness is recognized as the most important school-based determinant of a student’s success. Yet the schools that need the best teachers are often staffed with a disproportionate number of beginning teachers. These new teachers may be well educated and enthusiastic, but they lack the experience to be truly effective. Many of them will not survive the trial-by-fire of their first year.

New Teacher Center seeks to reduce the achievement gap in our nation’s schools by accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers through comprehensive mentoring and professional development programs. By focusing on teachers—improving their abilities to challenge, instruct, and inspire their students—we address inequities in our nation’s schools. In addition to accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers, comprehensive mentoring improves teacher retention and reduces district recruitment costs. [Emphasis added.]

Parts of this statement almost make me believe Moir can be trusted.


How is it that someone who views “teacher effectiveness” as “the most important determinant of a student’s success” can also sit on the advisory board to Joel Rose’s New Classrooms? This is the same Broad-Superintendent-graduate Joel Rose, who also founded School of One, which Rose describes as, “an initiative within the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) that uses a mix of live, collaborative, and online instruction in order to provide students with instruction customized to their unique academic needs and learning styles.”

What’s so bad about that?

Here’s what Leonie Haimson discovered on a site visit to School of One:

We then entered a large room, converted from the school’s library, with about one hundred 7th and 8th graders seated at tables, most of them staring at computers and doing multiple choice math problems. I watched as one girl, seemingly in a trance, looked at the screen, and hit A, B, C, D keys in turn, until she got the right answer to a multiple choice question and moved onto the next one. Sadly, no adult but me seemed to be paying any attention to this student to make sure she was trying to think the problem through.  [Emphasis added.]

Okay. Let’s compare what Moir writes is important to student success,

Teacher effectiveness is recognized as the most important school-based determinant of a student’s success,

to what actually transpired at School of One:

Sadly, no adult but me seemed to be paying any attention to this student.

Joel Rose is yet another noneducator assuming the role of educator and collecting big money from foundations including Broad, Carnegie, Gates, and NewSchools Venture Fund (notice the financial overlap between Moir’s New Teacher Center and Rose’s New Classrooms?), and Moir is choosing to associate with him. On the one hand, Moir says well-trained and supported teachers are critical, and on the other, she associates with nonteachers and accepts money from foundations and corporations that not only support nonteachers but actively position such people in education leadership roles.

And what do the kids get?

Whatever the person in charge of the money decides to offer them.

And what does the field of education in general get?


Should Ellen Moir sit on an advisory board for traditional teacher prep programs?

Maybe at one time.  But I think her credible time there has been spent.

Or, perhaps, bought.


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

Part XI: NCTQ Advisory Board member Deborah McGriff

Part XII: NCTQ Advisory Board members Daniel Willingham, Suzanne Wilson, Amy Jo Leonard, and Michael Podgursky

Part XIII: NCTQ Advisory Board members Barry Kaufman, Frank Keating, Martin Koldyke, and Jim Larson

Part XIV:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Tom Lasley and Stefanie Sanford


  1. Linda permalink

    I think we have group think here with a token comment in support of teaching and learning. Does anyone really think they listen to each other with the goal of learning? It seems the one with the most money and power is the winner.

    The education debate has been sharply polarized and their “reform” movement has undermined any efforts to improve teacher quality and elevate the profession. I can’t even stomach the term corporate reformers since they have hijacked and destroyed the word.

    Bush and his ilk are eroding the profession and they will never have buy in from the front line workers. I don’t even agree with their definition of education and the purpose of schools…so how can we even move on from there? They may have money and power, but we are in the classroom. We have experience and we have human relationships with our students. They do not and they never will.

  2. Oh my goodness, I know Ellen Moir from way back, when she first started out as ambitious junior faculty at UCSC. That’s where she lifted the part of her rhetoric would sound okay, until you heard the dissonance with the programs she actually promotes.

    The thing is, the position she backstabbed and politicked her way into at UCSC wasn’t hers to sell. Yes, it’s partly a personal grudge, because she abused her first position of power to accidentally miscalculate the points of social justice educators, in an attempt to exclude them from the student teacher program. That was reversed at the time, because there was still an education committee to whom we could appeal her math. Supposedly, it was just an error due to her inexperience, but she continued to build her own base within the program fiercely, and this entailed relentless pressure against the activist Chicano students pursuing the bilingual concentration. Her goal, even then, was to recruit “better” students into the program. One personal memory was an orientation meeting she chaired, and how she applauded vigorously every time any white guy said he was considering entering the program. Then,she sat with her hands in her lap, scowling at my brilliant friend and colleague Marta, who told of her determined struggle to reach the university so she could teach in her own community.

    I was gratified to see that the social sciences department bestowed its 2011 Emeritus Faculty Award on Art Pearl, indicating a desire keep the faith with the real reform movement. Ellen stole and sold out our reputation for integrity, without ever earning it.

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