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Will Fordham Institute Tenure Die?

April 22, 2017

On April 19, 2017, former president and board member emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham (TBF) Institute, Chester Finn, published a piece entitled, “Will Teacher Tenure Die?”

Below is an excerpt:

Tenure arrived in K–12 education as a trickle-down from higher ed. Will the demise of tenure follow a similar sequence? Let us earnestly pray for it—for tenure’s negatives today outweigh its positives—but let us not count on it. …

It’s no secret that the HR practices of private and charter schools—neither of which typically practices tenure—work far better than those of district schools from the standpoint of both school leaders and their students. That’s because the leadership team can generally employ (and deploy) the instructors they deem best suited to their pupils and they’re not obligated to retain any who don’t do a satisfactory job. They can be nimble in regrouping, restaffing, and redirecting their schools—and everyone who works there knows that’s how it goes. Nobody has a right to continued employment untethered to their own performance and the school’s needs. The employer has the right to change the shape, nature, and size of the organization, to redeploy human resources, to substitute capital for labor, to replace elbow grease and sitzfleisch with technology, and to hire and fire according to shifting pupil needs and organizational priorities. …

Though often framed in term of “making it easier to fire bad teachers,” that’s not the main point of such reforms, nor should it be. The main point is to make it possible to run the kinds of schools that kids deserve to attend at a cost the taxpayer can afford to pay—and to bring the profession of school-teaching into the twenty-first century.

Finn’s piece is much longer. In it, he confuses K12 teacher due process rights with postsecondary tenure. In her April 20, 2017, post, education historian and former TBF board member, Diane Ravitch, addresses Finn’s confusion, including his error concerning K12 tenure copying postsecondary tenure. She also notes the following:

What Checker [Finn] doesn’t show is the alleged benefits of eliminating job security. …

At a time of a growing national teacher shortage, does it make sense to eliminate job security for teachers, the promise that they will not be fired capriciously?

The challenge today is how to recruit, support, and retain teachers. Checker offers no suggestions to answer these needs.

But Finn has his own tenure, 20 years of a handsome paycheck rolling in, from his TBF nonprofit.

  Chester “Checker” Finn

Finn is a (more than) double-decade think-tanker. As such, his fiscal well being is untouched by his own market-centered ed reform opinions.

He sits in a well-financed armchair calling football plays.

He advises on health and nutrition because he once took some vitamins.

He writes and promotes recipes simply based on his experience of once using an oven.

You see, Finn was once in a classroom. It was a brief “once”: Finn taught social studies as a full time intern teacher in Newton High School (Massachusetts) in 1965-66. He decided at that time that teaching was not for him. (See page 56 of Common Core Dilemma.)

Indeed, Finn decided he was much more suited to telling others how K12 education should be run.

He sits in the armchair.

He once took the vitamins.

He once used the oven.

So, let’s put him in charge of a remodeled,now-ed-reform think tank in 1997; keep him in charge until 2014, at which time Finn chooses to retire and hand the TBF presidency to faithful sidekick with zero classroom experience, Michael Petrilli (though Petrilli’s Linkedin bio reads as though he has been TBF president July 2005 – present”).

However, Finn did not leave TBF. No need. He is now emeritus. And in his TBF emeritus role, Finn continues to receive an annual income that no K12 public school teacher realistically expects to touch– and all for selling corporate ed reform, including writing opinion pieces like “Will Teacher Tenure Die?” and “studies” like this propaganda promoting Common Core.

Finn’s is a low-risk tenure, folks. He faithfully promotes the corporate reform agenda, and the philanthropic money continues rolling in.

According to the TBF funding and finances page, “recent funders” (not including individuals) are

Bloomberg Philanthropies/America Achieves
Brookhill Institute of Mathematics
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation
CityBridge Foundation
Collaborative for Student Success
College Board
Doris and Donald Fisher Fund
Education Reform Now
GE Foundation
Hertog Foundation
Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace
Kern Family Foundation
Laura and John Arnold Foundation
Leona B. and Harry M. Helmsley Trust
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Nord Family Foundation
Noyce Foundation
Overdeck Family Foundation
Searle Freedom Trust
The Achelis and Bodman Foundations
The Bernard Lee Schwartz Foundation
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
The Houston Endowment
The Joyce Foundation
The Koret Foundation
The Kovner Foundation
The Louis Calder Foundation
The Lovett & Ruth Peters Foundation
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
The Randolph Foundation
The Searle Freedom Trust
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation

The TBF funding and finances page also includes TBF tax forms from 2011 to 2015, for two nonprofits: TBF Institute and TBF Foundation.

Note that TBF the Institute appeared in 2002. Prior to that, only TBF the Foundation existed. The Foundation still exists, but the primary TBF nonprofit is TBF Institute. Note also that TBF Foundation and TBF Institute share a board. The big funding for the Foundation came in 1995 when the founder, Thelma Pruett, died without an heir and $40-50 million went to the Foundation. Finn’s grandfather was Pruett’s attorney, and his father preceded him on the Foundation board. Finn’s father is a trustee on a number of the tax forms; also, one can read about this in chapter 22 of Finn’s book, Troublemaker.

For those who wish to peruse them, I include TBF tax forms from 2001-2015 (Foundation) and 2002-2015 (Institute) at the end of this post.

For now, let us briefly consider the money available to Finn and his think tank, TBF, with focus on both Institute and Foundation when it comes to some general revenue figures as well as both Finn’s and Petrilli’s compensation.

Both Finn and Petrilli have what one might accurately term “TBF tenure”: Soft, think-tank employment blissfully exempt from any negative outcomes related to the reforms they peddle.

Handsomely paid.

In for life.

TBF Foundation:

  • 2001: End of year total assets: $39.8 million ($32 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2002: End of year total assets: $32.5 million ($27.1 million in corporate stock)
  • 2003: End of year total assets: $40.8 million ($40 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2004: End of year total assets: $44 million ($40.3 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2005: End of year total assets: $45.3 million ($40.3 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2006: End of year total assets: $50 million ($39.7 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2007: End of year total assets: $58 million ($38.3 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2008: End of year total assets: $40.5 million ($21.2 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2009: End of year total assets: $45 million ($15.6 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2010: End of year total assets: $48 million ($15.8 million in corporate stocks)
  • 2011: End of year total assets: $45.9 million
  • 2012: End of year total assets: $48.3 million
  • 2013: End of year total assets: $50 million
  • 2014: End of year total assets: $52.8 million
  • 2015: End of year total assets: $49.8 million

TBF Institute gross receipts:

  • 2002: $7.8 million
  • 2003: $1 million
  • 2004: $903,000
  • 2005: $1.7 million
  • 2006: $2 million
  • 2007: $2.3 million
  • 2008: $2 million
  • 2009: $2.7 million
  • 2010: $2.8 million
  • 2011: $3.4 million
  • 2012: $2.9 million
  • 2013: $4.5 million
  • 2014: $3.7 million
  • 2015: $4.9 million

Finn’s compensation (Institute and Foundation):

  • 2001: $147,715: $128,000, plus $16,320 to employee benefits plan, plus $3,395 expense account
  • 2002: $215,272: $189,997, plus $21,428 to employee benefit plan, plus $3,847 expense account
  • 2003: $225,219: $200,000, plus $24,000 to employee benefit plan, plus $1,219 expense account
  • 2004: $226,683: $200,000, plus $24,000 to employee benefit plan, plus $2,683 expense account
  • 2005: $248,590: $224,590, plus $22,000 to employee pension plan, plus $2,590 expense account
  • 2006: $246,000: $224,000, plus $22,000 to employee pension plan
  • 2007: $248,000: $224,000, plus $24,000 to employee pension plan
  • 2008: $227,617: $203,106, plus $24,414 in “other compensation”
  • 2009: $224,000: $200,000, plus $24,000 in “other compensation”
  • 2010: $224,984: $200,000, plus $24,984 in “other compensation”
  • 2011: $222,368: $197,954, plus $24,414 in “other compensation”
  • 2012: $226,808: $201,954, plus $24,854 in “other compensation”
  • 2013: $236,235: $210,000, plus $26,235 in “other compensation”
  • 2014: $251,911: $223,958, plus $27,953 in “other compensation”
  • 2015: $214,169: $190,000, plus $24,169 in “other compensation”

Petrilli’s compensation (Institute and Foundation):

  • 2005: $67,416: $65,118, plus $2,298 expense account
  • 2006: $148,270: $134,260, plus $14,010 to employee pension plan
  • 2007: $163,120: $147,810, plus $15,310 to employee pension plan
  • 2008: $174,821: $150,000, plus $24,821 in “other compensation”
  • 2009: $182,200: $163,750, plus $18,450 in “other compensation”
  • 2010: $198,616: $168,626, plus $29,990 in “other compensation”
  • 2011: $205,775: $175,732, plus $30,043 in “other compensation”
  • 2012: $213,411: $183,956, plus $29,455 in “other compensation”
  • 2013: $237,375: $200,000, plus $37,375 in “other compensation”
  • 2014: $258,921: $220,833, plus $38,088 in “other compensation”
  • 2015: $316,984: $270,750, plus $46,234 in “other compensation”

So, here’s a question:

Will TBF tenure end?

Let’s borrow (and slightly modify) Finn’s words:

Tenure arrived at TBF Institute as a trickle-down from TBF Foundation. Will the demise of tenure follow a similar sequence? Let us earnestly pray for it—for the corporate ed reform think-tankery negatives outweigh its positives—but let us not count on it.

So long as there are funders, there will be a corporate ed reform market for authoritative emptiness and the corresponding ignorance that it breeds.

That’s all right.

I’m not planning on going anywhere.

I have public ed blogger tenure.


TBF Institute tax forms (2002 – 2015):

TBF Foundation tax returns (2001-2015):


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. “I have public ed blogger tenure.”

    Love it!!

    • Laura H. Chapman permalink

      Wonderful punch line for really superb research.

  2. Lisa M permalink

    Unfortunately, Finn (and his buddy Smarick) sit on the MSDE Board…..and my children attend public schools in the state of MD.

  3. Christine Langhoff permalink

    Mercedes, thanks for a great post exposing the hypocrisy of the Make Education Great Again (MEGA) plutocrats at Fordham.

  4. Excellent article Mercedes as usual. It’s absolutely sickening how much money these “non-profit” heads/chiefs are hauling in. But then again – these billionaires open these foundations to avoid paying taxes.

  5. Interesting misrepresentation of ‘teacher tenure’, which only means a hard-fought right to due process.

    I actually had ‘tenure’ at a private school because I was there long enough to build a following among old students and their parents before a stupidly ‘efficient’ headmaster took over. He couldn’t fire me, even though he knew I thought him to be a fraud. Eventually, after six years, I got tired of his BS (and that of the sycophants who ‘kissed up’) and asked for ‘permission’ to move to another position at a very late date (a week before school opened). Naturally, my request was instantly granted. The headmaster lost his job at the end of the year.

    In another venue, I began by teaching Physics and some math. In those days, teachers actually determined their own curriculum (can you imagine!) After two years,l because of a problem with staffing, I found myself teaching remedial math instead of physics (as it turns out, this was perhaps my favorite class of all time, because I learned so much from my students, however I’m really a ‘science guy’). Two years later, one of my former students who had gone to a fairly upscale engineering college returned to ‘sit in’ on classes. He ‘sat in’ on the current physics class (no longer taught by me, but, rather, being taught from a standard text by someone who had no deep understanding of science). That student then told another student, “Boy, am I ever so glad I had Mr. (me)!”. He didn’t say that to me, but to another student who relayed the information. But, you know, word gets around, not only to other students but to their parents.

    The key to ‘job security’ is only partially the shield that gives young teachers the right to due process (a very necessary protection from incompetent administrators). Instead, the true security comes from the the students and their parents as they look back after a few years.

  6. Denis Ian permalink

    Excellent … and properly toned. This man needs a pomposity-drain.

  7. Linda permalink

    No mirrors in the offices of the reformers? Thanks Mercedes for this info. and, the perspective that makes it profoundly enlightening
    I was originally troubled by the appearance of a lack of diversity in the photo array of Fordham Institute management, about which I commented at the Ravitch blog. V.P. Pondiscio later noted the same concern which Diane posted. More recently, I’ve been troubled by the public university degrees of the Fordham team.
    Paying it forward should lead those who benefitted from the public’s sacrifice, to do the same for the next generation. “Getting yours” and, then working to expand the richest 0.1% ideology/agenda to concentrate wealth should be difficult for an ethical man to explain to his family.
    Also difficult to explain should be, adding a research finding to the foreword of a paper and misleading the public in a media-published opinion by further promulgating the absent finding.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider on Tenure at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute | Diane Ravitch's blog

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