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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda– Part XVI

February 16, 2013

Well, here it is: My last post where I individually examine the credentials and actions of the NCTQ advisory board members. But it is not the last post of the series.  I have one more.  And, as the title of this series suggests, the finale post has much to do with letter grades.

Nevertheless, let me not get ahead of myself.  I am pleased to offer you, my readers, the 33rd of 33 NCTQ advisory board members, complete with NCTQ bio: Robert Pasternack.

Robert H. Pasternack

Robert Pasternack is Sr. Vice President for Special Education at Cambium Learning Group, the nation’s largest provider of intervention to struggling students. Prior to joining Cambium Learning Group he served as Vice President of Education Services at MAXIMUS. Prior to that, Dr. Pasternack served as the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at the U.S. Department of Education. Before being asked by President Bush to serve that Administration, Dr. Pasternack was the State Director of Special Education in New Mexico. He has been a teacher, a Superintendent, a University Professor, a local administrator, state and national leader during his more than 40 years in education and special education.

Some additional detail on Robert Pasternack’s formal education:

Born in Brooklyn, New York, he holds a Ph.D. in special education, with a minor in neuropsychology, from the University of New Mexico, a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from New Mexico Highlands University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of South Florida. He is a nationally certified school psychologist, certified educational diagnostician, licensed special education teacher for grades K-12 and licensed school administrator.

Though Pasternack includes the statement in his NCTQ bio, “He has been a teacher,” I find no definite, solid record of Pasternack’s serving as a classroom teacher for any apppreciable amount of time. According to Forbes, Pasternack “has over 40 years in public education” and “served as a first grade teacher” and is “a certified K12 teacher.” However, his undergraduate degree is in psychology, and his graduate degrees have followed more of a counseling/psychology/clinician track than a pedagogical track.

The question is whether Pasternack has had the experience of a teacher training program. Based on his bio, it seems that Pasternack is heavy on administration and not so much on classroom experience.

I must defer to what I know, even if I wish I knew more.  Pasternack is a certified teacher (K12), and I therefore will conclude in his favor that he has gained this certification via a recognized teacher prep program.

What does Pasternack advocate?

Like the corporate reform set, in this 2011 presentation, Pasternack promotes ( the idea that “the teacher matters MORE than anything else in the school.” [Emphasis his.] Technically, this statement is correct; however, the influence of factors external to the classroom, especially poverty and, by extension, family and community value placed upon education, play a stronger role in student academic success than does the teacher alone.  In isolation, the statement that “the teacher matters more thn anything else in the school” places an unrealistic burden on the teacher to overcome issues that arrive with students at the classroom door.

Pasternack also advocates Race to the Top, including adopting the Common Core and “removing ineffective teachers.” He favors “REMOVING firewalls between student achievement and teacher evaluation. [Emphasis his.] This “student achievement” means “student progress data”/”test scores.”  Pasternack also promotes “disruptive change” and sees incremental change as inadequate; he speaks to the “urgency” of the situation and the need for “ambitious” change. He concludes that what education needs is the “Three Rs: Restructure, Reform, Reinvent.”

In Pasternack’s statement above are the echoes of the corporate reformer mindset.

And Pasternack offers no concrete plan for achieving these “Three Rs.”

Unlike the corporate reform set, Pasternack does not appear to promote charter schools (he notes that they do not outperform public schools and often underperform by comparison), nor does he promote temporary solutions provided via Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP).

Having written thus, Pasternack’s Voyager Learning encourages districts to apply for federal money earmarked as Charter Schools Program. (In order to promote his product, Pasternack advises programs that fit the description of charter school, which he is against because they often do not do as good a job as traditional public schools, to apply for federal money.) And Voyager will also direct districts to purchase a service to help them “find foundations” to fund them.

We will return to Voyager shortly.

Here’s a curiosity: Pasternack quotes Arne Duncan, who said, “Many, if not MOST of the 1450 Colleges and (University) Departments of Edcuation are doing a MEDIOCRE job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom.” [Emphasis his.]

How is it possible for Duncan to know ANYTHING about teacher preparation? [Emphasis mine this time.]

Has Duncan conducted a survey on the issue? Has the U. S. Department of Education?

Does Duncan know, or is he merely capitalizing on an opportunity to insult the education training institutions because he feels like it?

I am concerned that Pasternack is willing to take the word of Arne Duncan, a man who himself was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education but who never earned a teaching certificate or taught a class. Duncan’s “education career” consists of direct placement into administration without ever having taught.

Arne Duncan knows nothing about teaching or preparing teachers.  And Psternack is willing to quote Duncan as though Duncan is an expert.

Ponder THAT for a moment.

Now back to those “Three Rs.” Well, at least one of them:

“Restructure” is connected with G. W. Bush, who Pasternack served under in his appointment with the US Department of Education. According to education historian Diane Ravitch, the term “restructure” as it concerns education is a term from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and was meant as the ultimate punishment a school was to receive if it failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for five years in a row, including converting to a charter; replacing principal and staff; relinquishing control to a private management group; handing control over to the state, or the nebulous “any other major restructuring of the school’s governance.”

Those who have suffered over the past decade under NCLB “restructuring” might not take so kindly to Pasternack’s use of the word.

Now back to Voyager Learning and the business of education:

In this era of corporate reform, education is business, and, well, Pasternack is now an education businessman. And Voyager is big business– shady business. Voyager Expanded Learning, a subsidiary of Voyager Learning and company formerly owned by Randy Best and where Pasternack is a senior vice president, has been allegedly involved in paying anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000 in campaign contributions to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, who earmarked $2 million dollars for Voyager:

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing questions over a $2 million education earmark she authored in 2001 that benefited a Texas company whose executives and associates gave her $30,000 in campaign contributions. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the relationship between the Democratic senator and Voyager Expanded Learning, a company founded by Dallas businessman Randy Best. The Justice Department did not respond to an inquiry this week regarding the request. The earmark was inserted by Ms. Landrieu in a spending bill for the District of Columbia and provided funds for use of the Voyager reading program in kindergarten and first-grade classes in the D.C. school district.

On Oct. 19, 2001, Mr. Best held a fundraiser for Ms. Landrieu. On or about Nov. 2 of that year, Ms. Landrieu received $30,000 [later recalculated at $80,000] from Mr. Best, company employees and their relatives, according to Federal Election Commission records. At the time, Ms. Landrieu was the ranking Democrat and chairwoman of an appropriations subcommittee for the District of Columbia. By Oct. 15, 2001, she had included the $2 million earmark in a spending bill for the District of Columbia; that legislation was approved by the Senate on Nov. 6. But her interest in seeing the Voyager program funded for D.C. schools dated to at least May 2001. On May 15, she wrote a letter to the D.C. appropriations subcommittee chairman, asking him to provide the school district with $3.5 million for the Voyager program. [Emphasis and commentry added.]

The connection between Voyager profits extend to the Bush administration, not only for lucrative education contracts but also for the hefty $360 million Best garnered when he sold the company:

[Randy Best is] a Texas businessman listed as a major fundraiser for President George Bush [and] has made millions of dollars in profits from a federal reading program that critics say favored administration cronies at the expense of schoolchildren. A company founded and owned by Randy Best, who is listed by the nonprofit group Public Citizen as a Bush “Pioneer” during the 2000 presidential campaign, received the lucrative contracts under a Bush administration initiative called Reading First. Only those who pledged to raise $100,000 or more are considered “Pioneers” by the Bush campaign. Best told the Blotter on that he did not raise $100,000 and personally gave only the legal limit of $4,000. After receiving the Reading First contracts, Best was able to sell his company, Voyager Expanded Learning, for $360 million. According to his critics, the company was valued at only $5 million a few years earlier, a figure Best disputes.

… In a report earlier this year, the inspector general for the Department of Education found repeated instances of conflict of interest in the Reading First program. For example, one of the educators who advised states on reading programs, Edward Kame’enui, was receiving consultant fees from Best’s company and also received $400,000 in royalties from publisher Scott Foresman, which produced reading programs.  [Emphasis added.]

Now, here is a fact at which I marvel:

Pasternack chose to join Voyager in 2006,  as the Landrieu scandal and questionable Bush connections continued  to make headlines.

Voyager Learning is part of Pasternack’s Cambium Learning Group. Interestingly, the home page advertises the value of its stock.

Now to the question of whether Pasternack could offer a sound advice regarding traditional teacher training programs:

I don’t advocate that teacher training programs automatically should not change. The question is whether those reviewing such programs might do so fairly and whether they are qualified to judge teacher training programs.  I will assume in good faith that Pasternack has himself experienced a traditional teacher training program.  I will also assume in good faith that he has had enough teaching experience in the classroom to connect the two.

I am concerned about Pasternack’s willingness to so readily accept Duncan’s statement regarding teacher prep mediocrity. I think this could bias Pasternack against teacher prep programs.  Duncan is biased against teacher training programs, and Pasternack accepted his opinion uncritically.  I am also concerned about his speaking against charters on the one hand yet helping distribute charter school federal funding to those who would buy Voyager’s products, on the other. My concern is that money seems to triumph over Pasternack’s conviction.  And I am tired of seeing money call the shots.

Based upon what I have read of Voyager Learning, money indeed calls the shots.

That cinches it for me.  Given his association with Voyager Learning, an association Pasternack chose despite its subsidiary, Voyager Expanded Learning, being implicated in questionable-at-best andf corrupt-at-worst, highly lucrative business arrangements, I have to say, no way does Pasternack belong on an education advisory board.


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

 Part XV: NCTQ Advisory Board member Ellen Moir

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