New TNTP President Among the First to Have Her NYC School’s Charter Revoked
In February 2015, TNTP (used to be The New Teacher Project, but now is just the letters TNTP) announced that effective summer 2015, TNTP will be making some executive-level changes (euphemistically named a “long-term growth strategy”) by dumping its previous CEO and president in favor of two other TNTP faithful:
BROOKLYN, NY – TNTP, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving educational quality, today announced plans for CEO Ariela Rozman and President Timothy Daly to step down as part of a long-term growth strategy. Two widely respected TNTP veterans, Daniel Weisberg and Karolyn Belcher, will become the organization’s new leaders by summer 2015.
Rozman and Daly have both served at TNTP for 14 years. They assumed their current leadership roles in 2007, after the departure of Michelle Rhee….
Two senior TNTP executives, Daniel Weisberg and Karolyn Belcher, will lead TNTP going forward. Weisberg will become the organization’s CEO, overseeing its executive team. Belcher will report to Weisberg as President, overseeing TNTP’s projects and programs.
TNTP is a Teach for America (TFA) spinoff-type of corporate ed reform organization, and one that is often associated with TFA. (For example, in Louisiana’s TFA contracts, TNTP is included to offer TFA’s temp teachers a sort of professional development.)
TNTP was established as a nonprofit in September 1995 by TFA alum, Michelle Rhee. According to TNTP’ s 2000 tax filing, the TNTP’s “statement of program accomplishments” is that it exists to “improve the methods by which teachers in the United States are recruited, selected, trained and supported in order to build a better teaching force.” In 2000, TFA founder Wendy Kopp served as TNTP president to Rhee’s CEO, but by 2001, Rhee became both president and CEO, and Kopp remained on the TNTP board as a director who was available “as needed.”
The same year that Rhee left, 2007, is the first year that Karolyn Belcher appears on the TNTP tax form, under the heading of “five highest paid employees other than officers, directors, and trustees.”
Belcher’s official title was “VP human resources”; her compensation was $157,530 for a 50-hour work week. In 2008, Belcher’s title changed to “VP of human capital,” still for a 50 hr/wk, at 159,717. In 2009, Belcher was still “human capital” VP, 50 hrs/wk, for $169,427… then $184,414 in 2010.
In 2011, Belcher had another title change: executive vice president of talent and operations– and a salary jump to $228,479 for those 50 hrs/wk. Her title changed again, in 2012, to executive vice president of new teacher effectiveness, and her salary rose again, to $239,240.
By 2013, TNTP stated its mission as being “to end the injustice of educational inequality by providing excellent teachers to the students who need them most and by advancing policies and practices that ensure effective teaching in every classroom.”
Note that “advancing policies” sounds like lobbying” and “advancing effective practices” has at its center the raising of student test scores. By 2013, the TNTP board of directors included Kopp (whose TFA is known for its presence on Capitol Hill), Kati Haycock of Education Trust, who believes that children who aren’t tested “do not count”; former Louisiana superintendent, Jeb Bush “Chief for Change,” and future Broad Foundation charter pusher, Paul Pastorek, and billionaire corporate education philanthropist, John Arnold. Thus, to conclude that as a TNTP exec, Belcher promotes a test-centric vision of teacher effectiveness is not unfounded. (For more details on TNTP and the individuals mentioned in this paragraph, see my who’s-who on individuals and organizations in corporate ed reform, A Chronicle of Echoes, or perform a keyword search on my blog.)
In 2013, in her position as exec VP of new teacher effectiveness, Belcher was compensated $250,821.
Belcher’s actual classroom experience is limited to two years as a TFAer, from 1990 to 1992. That is no problem in the corporate reform world, where talent in producing high test scores trumps all.
The February 2015 TNTP press release notes that TNTP is promoting Belcher to president in an effort to expand TNTP “by offering analysis, advice and hands-on support to school systems on other factors that support excellence in teaching and learning, such as strong instructional strategies and supportive school environments.”
No mention of the test score worship, but it is there… which makes a bit of info about Belcher’s background particularly interesting.
The TNTP bio blurb on Belcher includes a quick mention of her as founder of a New York City charter school:
Karolyn Belcher was one of TNTP’s first employees after its founding in 1997. After leaving for several years to found the John A. Reisenbach Charter School, one of the first three charter schools in New York State, she returned to TNTP in 2007.
What Belcher’s TNTP bio blurb does not mention is that Reisenbach, which operated only three years, from 09.2000 to 06/2004, has its charter revoked for its low test scores, teacher turnover, and financial issues. As April 2004 Columbia News Radio reports:
The Reisenbach Charter School opened in Harlem five years ago as one of the first of its kind. It was praised as a pioneer in independent education. But when the charter came up for renewal this year, the state board voted to close its doors. …
Earlier this year, the Charter Schools Institute released a 75-page negative report recommending its closure. It is based primarily on poor eighth grade state test results from last year. It also cites high teacher turnover and fiscal problems.
The Institute issued the report to the State University of New York Board of Trustees. Based on this report, the board followed the recommendation. …
Karolyn Belcher is Reisenbach’s school director. She admits to shortcomings at the school and has even offered her resignation. She says the school should have been granted a two-year probationary charter.
[Belcher] “There’s a lot of faith that the report represents a picture of what the school is and that the rubric used to evaluate the school is what’s happening here, and I think that that’s disappointing because I think there’s more here than meets the eye.” [Reporting format altered.]
She says the report overlooked many of the school’s assets. It is located in a newly renovated building with 432 students in grades K through 4 and 8. Parents value the close teacher-student relationships and extended school hours to 4 p.m.
Belcher’s statement is interesting given that corporate reform closes traditional public schools in favor of opening charters based on test scores. Yet Belcher says that Reisenbach was more than its scores.
Reisenbach’s scores were really low. As the January 2004 New York Daily News reports:
A once-heralded Manhattan charter school has gotten such dismal results that state evaluators want it closed down at the end of the year, according to a report released yesterday. The John A. Reisenbach Charter School on W. 117th St., one of the first three charter schools in the state, should not have its five-year charter renewed, SUNY’s Charter School Institute said in a 75-page report. “Classroom instruction has not been and continues not to be sufficiently rigorous to enable students to achieve the school’s academic results,” the report stated. The 432-student school, named for a slain television executive whose family helped found it, saw just 15% of last year’s eighth-graders pass the state reading exam and only 7% pass math, the report states.
So, even though charter proponents blast traditional public schools for low test scores– and push to close such schools– when it comes to the extremely low test scores at Reisenbach, Belcher says there’s “more than meets the eye.”
Parents of Reisenbach students formed a group with the mission of keeping the school open– and even then-City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz– who is known for hard-line, test score obsession– supported the effort. As the Columbia News Radio interview continues:
One of the group’s biggest supporters is Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. She is the chair for the Education Committee and she actively organizes campaigns to represent families who will suffer from the closure.
[Moskowitz] “Education is my particular thing, and I feel a tremendous empathy for these parents. They’re just being thrown to the wolves, and I feel that’s unacceptable.” [Reporting format altered.]
As a side note, here’s a 2010 New York Magazine tidbit on how Moskowitz treats parents:
For Moskowitz, success is a family affair and a shared obligation. Parents must sign the network’s “contract,” a promise to get children to class on time and in blue-and-orange uniform, guarantee homework, and attend all family events. “When parents aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Fucaloro says, “we get on their behinds. Eva and Paul Fucaloro are their worst nightmares.” Infractions can range to the trivial: slacks that look worn at a child’s knees, long johns edging beyond collars. Recidivists are hauled into “Saturday Academy,” detention family style, where parents are monitored while doing “busy work” with their child, the ex-staffer says. Those who skip get a bristling form letter: “You simply stood up your child’s teacher and many others who came in on a Saturday, after a long, hard week.” At the last staff orientation, according to one Success teacher, Moskowitz reported telling parents, “Our school is like a marriage, and if you don’t come through with your promises, we will have to divorce.”
But enough about charter school stage mother Moskowitz. Let us return to Belcher.
Sure enough, Reisenbach closed in 2004. According to Belcher’s Linkedin bio, she landed as TFA induction coordinator in NYC for less than a year before becoming program coordinator of the Klingenstein Center (Teachers College) for the three years before her lucrative ladder-climb at TNTP.
Some info on Klingenstein:
In 1977, The Klingenstein Fund established the Joseph Klingenstein Fellowship at Teachers College, Columbia University, the first university based leadership training for those in the independent school field. The Fellowship began with twelve participants and over the years Klingenstein Center offerings have grown to include four programs serving early career teachers, mid-career teachers and administrators and heads of schools. The Center currently has more than 3,500 alumni from 44 states and 23 countries working in schools around the world.
Through carefully designed programs that are continuously evaluated and improved, cutting edge knowledge and skills for effective practice and well chosen faculty, the Center has sustained a reputation for developing more informed and better prepared leaders to confront independent and international school challenges and possibilities in a rapidly changing world.
And some more info:
The Klingenstein programs have been designed to meet the challenges specific to independent and international schools. This fact distinguishes the Klingenstein Center from other graduate programs throughout the country, which tend to focus on public schools. While all educators share some common goals, the public and independent environments are also quite different, requiring different skills and knowledge in order to succeed. (Many of the requirements for public school educators, for example, are framed by state laws.)
So, Klingenstein is a privately-funded, alternative program that offers ed leadership degrees right up the alley of one whose classroom teaching experience involves two years as a TFA temp teacher prior to becoming TFA leadership and then running a shuttered charter school.
Klingenstein apparently considered Belcher worthy of the term “well chosen faculty,” for that is what she became. However, her archived Klingenstein faculty bio also glosses over Belcher’s failed leadership at Reisenbach:
After graduating from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in Biological Science, Karolyn Belcher joined the charter corps of Teach For America and taught middle school life science in New Orleans, Louisiana. After completing her two year commitment, Karolyn joined the staff of Teach For America and led the pre-service training institute for new corps members. In 1998, Karolyn left Teach For America to help launch The New Teacher Project, a consulting organization that works with districts and states to recruit, select, and train alternative teaching candidates. Karolyn then served as the School Director of the John A. Reisenbach Charter School in Harlem, one of the first three charter schools to open in New York State. She recently earned her masters degree in Private School Leadership at Teachers College, and is currently working on her doctorate.
What is a bit confusing is that Belcher’s Linkedin bio notes that she left her TFA institute director job in 1998 and was with the nonprofit that ran Reisenbach, the Learning Project, from 1999 to 2004, the same time that she was school director at Reisenbach. Belcher’s Linkedin bio does not mention TNTP in 1998. Then again, “leaving” TFA for TNTP isn’t necessarily “leaving” TFA. In fact, TFA CEO Kopp even belonged to the Learning Project board.
However, it is 2015, and Belcher is in the big time at TNTP, and she’s here to “offer advice and hands-on support” on “strong instructional strategies” not based on a career in the K12 classroom and “supportive school environments” in spite of her former, hidden distinction as the school director of one of the first charter schools to be closed in New York City based on abysmal test scores, high teacher turnover, and financial woes.
The TNTP long-term growth strategy.
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published in June 2015.
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