To John Merrow, Who Quit
On September 19, 2014, New York teacher and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) chapter leader Patrick Walsh published the following review of my book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education, on the online news site, Truthdig.
Patrick Walsh, 2012
My heartfelt thanks to Patrick for his interest in my work. Below is an excerpt of his review, which is cross-posted on his blog, raginghorse.wordpress.com.
Image from themillions.com
By Patrick Walsh
“A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education”
A book by Mercedes K. Schneider
Like every American teacher working in the public school system over the past 10 years or so, I have both witnessed and experienced the relentless and reckless experiments performed upon my students, my profession and, indeed, the entire American public school system itself in the name of “education reform,” a phrase that has become synonymous with privatization. Ten years of massive upheaval and dislocations later, nothing has improved—much has worsened—and still the privatizing reforms go on. The reforms, we are told endlessly by the mass media, are desperately needed. American public schools are “broken.” American children are ill-equipped to compete with their international counterparts in the savage new global economy. Indeed, in March 2012, former New York City Chancellor of Education Joel Klein and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released a report that stated that our schools are so wretched they now pose nothing less than a threat to national security.
The privatizers’ experiments share common characteristics. All strip classroom teachers of autonomy and some, like the deceitfully named and privately owned Common Core State Standards Initiative, move the power of the federal government straight into the classroom. All are punitive and have resulted in the firing of teachers and the closing of schools, which, in turn, have led to the proliferation of publicly funded charter schools, beloved by Wall Street. All reduce education and educators to data points (which in turn are linked to data mining), the better to hold the latter accountable for their “performance.” All are linked to high-stakes standardized tests which, in the one-dimensional thinking of the reformers, are the hallmark of teacher accountability, even as the reformers wouldn’t dream of subjecting their own children to such tests. Finally, almost all the reforms are the work of non-educators—and not only non-educators, but non-educators who look upon traditional educators with undisguised contempt. Those few reformers who did teach, like Michelle Rhee, Frederick Hess or the founders of the much ballyhooed KIPP charter schools, did so for only two or three years before, like the God of Genesis, they set out to remake American education in their own image and that of their billionaire backers.
As I write, they are succeeding. Consequently, the U.S. public school system, the backbone of American public life, could well be but a memory in another 10 years. The noble art of teaching, which has sustained civilization since the days of Socrates, could well be reduced to a temp job or, at best, a micromanaged performance both scripted and judged by an international corporation like Pearson—which has, over the past decade, evolved from publishing textbooks to producing curriculum, making and grading tests, and in some states is involved in teacher certification—or worse.
Who are these people? How did they amass such power over a “public” institution of such magnitude?
In “A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education,” Mercedes K. Schneider sets out to answer those questions. She does so with fierce intelligence, wit, an ocean of unearthed facts, and a vengeance. Schneider, who in very short order has established herself as one of the nation’s most profound and prolific education bloggers, has taught for 19 years in many grades in four states and is currently teaching high school English in St. Tammany Parish, La.
You can sense her pride in her profession in every word she writes, as well as her righteous rage toward those who would defile it. Schneider is also a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods, which, for people who like to bury information and obscure reality with numbers, makes her a force to be reckoned with.
Considering merely the breadth and depth with which Schneider covers the privatization campaign, “A Chronicle of Echoes” is, by any measure, an extraordinary achievement. That she does so in such detail and with so much illuminating evidence makes it that much more so. By telling the tales of its major players, Schneider reveals a kind of secret history of education reform. Along with Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools” and Lois Weiner’s “The Future of Our Schools: Teacher Unions and Social Justice,” “A Chronicle of Echoes” is one of the three most important books yet written about the privatization campaign. It is essential reading for anyone wanting to know what is really happening in and to our school system and, indeed, in and to our political system, as the two are intrinsically linked.
To continue reading the rest of Walsh’s review, go to
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BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Education Reformers’ Playbook
Want names of and motives for public school reformers? Read A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education by Mercedes K. Schneider.
The author has skin in this game. She is a public school teacher against the corporate conquest of community-based public education. Schneider opens with a chapter on Joel Klein, former head of New York City’s Department of Education, now on the payroll of Rupert Murdoch, a billionaire media owner. In an era of growing income inequality, such corporatists and reformers are two sides of the same coin, according to Schneider.
Her evidence for this assertion is compelling. The implications are chilling.
Klein is not a former teacher. On his watch, the Big Apple’s public schools fell prey to reforms that benefit private interests, a trend that runs a red line throughout Schneider’s whistleblowing book.
She follows the pattern of reformers’ high-minded words and profit-driven deeds doggedly. Not trained as an investigative journalist, Schneider shines bright lights on the acquisitive structure of the deception and misrepresentation that is today’s reform of public education.
What accounts for the reformers’ success is not actual facts but copious greenbacks from wealthy interests. Schneider tracks these dollars that buy political influence, with 88 pages of Endnotes.
Call this class war. And according to billionaire investor Warren Buffet, his class is winning. Funding this conflict are venture philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad, and the Walton Family foundation. They fund Democratic and GOP lawmakers, think tanks (Fordham Institute) and advocacy groups (National Council on Teacher Quality), a partial list of recipients.
These three billionaire funders are powerful interests. In a capitalist society, they have the dollars to get what they want and want what they get.
To read the rest of Sandronsky’s review as it will appear on the August 1, 2014, in the Progressive Populist, click here.
Seth Sandronsky is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Race and Class, Review of Radical Political Economics, Sacramento News & Review and Z Magazine, among other publications. He lives and writes in Sacramento, Calif., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anthony Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high-needs middle school. A National Board- certified teacher, he now leads workshops with teachers on Project Based Learning. He is the co-founder of the Network for Public Education. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning.
Follow Anthony Cody on Twitter.
Book Review: Mercedes Schneider’s “A Chronicle of Echoes” Offers Tools for Defense Against Corporate Reform
Fans of Harry Potter will recall the most valuable class at Hogwarts: “Defense Against the Dark Arts.” With her new book, “A Chronicle of Echoes,” Mercedes Schneider has provided those of us working to defend public education with a work that could be called “Defense Against Corporate Reform.”
A short year and a half ago a new blogger appeared, writing from Louisiana, with a flair for following the threads of corporate reform back to their sources. Mercedes Schneider’s Deutsch29 blog brought us research of everything from the state of New Orleans schools, to the funding of the Common Core standards, has uncovered information not often disclosed voluntarily.
Communities across the country are experiencing similar manifestations of well-funded “reform.” School board and legislative candidates willing to close public schools and expand charters, willing to undermine due process for teachers and impose test-score driven evaluations, receive unprecedented donations from billionaires thousands of miles away. Teachers organized into newly-formed and well-funded “teacher voice” groups show up to testify at legislative hearings, in support of the elimination of due process. Reports issue at regular intervals from supposedly non-partisan “think tanks,” proclaiming the public schools broken, schools of education hopeless, and calling for “disruption” via market forces.
Who are these people and organizations, and where did they come from? This spring, Mercedes has released her first book, A Chronicle of Echoes, which is a sort of handbook for understanding all the players in the corporate reform “movement.” She takes them on one by one, and leaves none unscathed.
Mercedes Schneider is unusual in being both a classroom teacher and a skilled statistician with a PhD in applied statistics.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. Joel Klein is introduced as “The man from which nothing good comes.” Schneider perceives a public education system under assault by powerful, well-funded organizations and individuals. Her purpose is to equip those who wish to defend public schools with much-needed understanding of what we are up against.
Schneider does not limit her research to the main pages of the New York Times. She delves into emails, income tax forms, dissertations, web pages and more to uncover details of the characters in her story. This is not a sympathetic treatment. It is an exposé – or more accurately, a collection of them.
To read the rest of Cody’s review, click here to read it on his blog, Living in Dialogue.
Mr. Merrow, my name is Mercedes Schneider. You answered my post on your accepting Gates funding and the connection between such funding and two decisions you have made: 1) ceasing your investigation of Michelle Rhee and 2) proclaiming New Orleans schools as “reborn” in your documentary. You did not address me by name, but at least you responded.
In the past, I have emailed to you my research on numerous problems with considering New Orleans schools a “rebirth.” You never bothered to read and reply.
I suppose a national posting in which I called your motives into question was what was necessary to prompt a response from you. However, in that response, you stated that it would take a “credible” source to get you to reconsider your position on Rhee. How about my documented work on number blurring and fiscal corruption and mismanagement that is RSD now?
Even though I have written over 30,000 well-documented words on current problems with New Orleans “reform,” you ignore them. I can only conclude that to you, my work is also not credible.
Perhaps you might close your eyes and pretend someone in the business of education wrote them.
In your response to me on Chalkface, you justify your position in dropping the story of Michelle Rhee’s cheating.
You defend your right to quit.
As for the situation with New Orleans’ schools, I publicly offered to personally show you the school situation that exists but that you apparently have not been allowed to view.
No response from you.
I realize now why you are done with examining New Orleans.
You have decided that New Orleans measures up to your standard.
You decided to grade New Orleans’ schools; you gave them a C minus.
You view them as “a damn sight better” than they were pre-Katrina.
You think you know now because of what you saw then.
Forget the millions squandered following Katrina to cons such as Alvarez and Marsal. (Remember your 2005 piece on A & M in New Orleans? You said you would “continue to follow the story.” You followed RSD, but not the A&M scandal. As it turns out, A&M has a habit of garnering millions and leaving chaos in their wake. In New Orleans, Pastorek and Vallas had to bring in the National Guard because A&M took over $50 million without building the schools. C minus for A&M, too?)
No A&M expose from Merrow.
You quit then and once again, you quit.
Your documentary is made. End of story.
I find it a real curiosity that today on your blog you decided to philosophize about heroism. You haven’t followed through on the truth behind Rhee, and you haven’t followed through on the truth behind New Orleans.
Did those supporting privatization pressure you to quit on both fronts?
You argue that doing one’s “everyday job” is not heroic.
Under duress, it is.
But the more important issue here is that you chose not to do your job when the pressure was on. You didn’t follow through.
Heroes follow through.
When I read your piece on heroism, I wondered why you wrote such a post. Then I understood:
This post allows you to affirm to the reformer set that you are truly “one of them.”
Like answering a dare to gain adolescent club membership, you present the reformer “we need to work together” argument, even quoting Dave Levin of KIPP, a charter chain run by Teach for America founder, Wendy Kopp’s husband, Richard Barth.
(Did you know that Louisiana Superintendent John White is his own corporation and that he bought a building so that he could add five KIPP schools to RSD? Yep. Apparently the originally declared purpose of RSD as a “turnaround” district has changed to one of not only permanence but also expansion. Did you also know that John White is paying TFA up to a $9000 fee per temporary TFA recruit in addition to a regular teacher salary? I wrote about these issues in some of those non-credible blog posts.)
And you must have taken the reformer “double dog dare” in going out of your way to insult Diane Ravitch’s “heroes of public education” postings.
I guess Ravitch’s posting my questioning the million you received in Gates funding hit home to someone whose opinion matters to you.
You see, Mr. Merrow, it is an “us” and “them.” I didn’t create it. As a traditional public school teacher, I am in the middle of it. And with today’s post, you have officially declared yourself as part of the problem.
On one point from your post I agree with you:
I will not be referring to you as a hero.
You refer to Ravitch as being “on the left.” I think you’re onto something. After all, once Ravitch realized that privatization was not living up to its claims, she “left.”
Ravitch lost longtime associations for her decision to abide by her conscience. As your corporate reform boot-licking post demonstrates, she continues to take hits for her stand.
Heroism has a cost.
Did you know Ravitch’s book exposing the corporate reform with which you have chosen to align yourself is now number 10 on the New York Times bestseller list?
Did you also know that two weeks ago I finished my own book exposing key individuals and organizations in the push to privatize American public education? Did you know that I had a publisher for the book before I had even started writing?
I must be credible, after all.
I’m not quitting, Mr. Merrow.
I am sorry that you have.
Enjoy your chosen set of friends.