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Jeanne Allen and Her Center for Education Reform (CER)

May 19, 2019

Jeanne Allen is founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform (CER). I have written about her on occasion, the last time (prior to this post) being in October 2017, when she was upset to discover that a quote of hers was used as the final title for the film, Backpack Full of Cash.

On May 10, 2019, I read a tweet Allen posted in which she intentionally promoted misinformation about education historian and public school advocate, Diane Ravitch, with Allen insinuating that Ravitch used money from the teachers union to pay for her home (that Ravitch purchased 40 years ago, by the way) because, in Allen’s apparently narrow experience on such a front, book sales could not possibly account for such a purchase, and (again, limited Allen) if that money wasn’t generated exclusively from book sales, the only other explanation must be a Walton– I mean, a union– purchase.

The meanness of Allen’s tweet was off-putting (I chose not to post it here), but her willingness to promote false information in a public forum irked me. Allen has the means and ability to know that what she wrote is patently false, yet she chose to promote a lie anyway.

I had not seen Allen do so before. (Not that she hasn’t; it is possible that she has and that I’ve just not seen it.)

IMG_1515

Jeanne Allen

So, I thought it time to get to know Allen and her CER better. However, Allen’s CER bio reads more like a promotional ad than a comprehensive detailing of her credentials and professional experience.

One bit of glossed info that caught my attention has to do with Allen’s nebulously referring to herself as having been “a senior official in the US Department of Education from 1983-88.”

Ravitch was also “a senior official” at USDOE, and there is no guesswork there because Ravitch’s bio  specifies, “From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

In contrast, Allen offers no bio detailing a specific “senior office” at USDOE.

As far as I was concerned, the search was on. I decided to do some research on Allen’s background, including some on CER, which I distill in this post.

Let me begin my Allen elucidation by offering numerous archived links to Allen’s CER bios from years past, from 1996 to 2017, excluding 2016 (no archive available; there is also no archived copy from 2018):

Examination of all of Allen’s archived bios provides a pretty good idea of her professional background and ed reform involvements. However, the same comprehensive picture is not available as a single document.

Of particular interest to me were the references in Allen’s bio to her experiences in DC. While my search focused on the “senior official” mystery, some other details are worth noting. Here we go:

1996, 2000 – 2001, 2011: No mention of DC experience.

1997 – 1999:

Before founding CER in 1993, Allen served as an official of the United States Department of Education, and began her career as a policy analyst on Capitol Hill.

2002 – 2004:

Allen received her bachelors in political science from Dickinson College and went on to work on Capitol Hill and the U.S. Department of Education in senior posts.

2005:

Throughout her career, which included time on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Department of Education and prominent policy foundations, Allen discovered a void in the country for effective leadership on education reform. CER was created to fill that void.

2006 – 2008:

Her experience from Capitol Hill, the U.S. Department of Education, prominent policy foundations, and graduate studies inform her perspective and leadership role nationally in education reform.

2009 – 2010:

Jeanne’s deep knowledge of the legislative process, her reputation as an influencer on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and in statehouses around the country, as well as her immensely successful grassroots work in local communities, keep her in demand as a keynote speaker and presenter before groups throughout the United States.

2012 -2013 marks a brief shift in Allen’s bio. She no longer identifies as CER “president” (more about that to come), and she offers the most detail in the form of a first-person narrative. The excerpt below includes her only reference to DC, and it also includes her simplistic justification for her anti-public-school bent:

It was 1993 when I started the Center for Education Reform. I had 3 children and had left the security of a premier research institution that gave me my formative training. I had spent five years as one of the youngest appointees in the US Department of Education before that, and while pursuing a masters cut my teeth on Capitol Hill (where I quickly learned that people do indeed make policy and unless Congress hears from its constituents it does what it wants). I had graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA with a BA in poli sci, but I’d learned as a freshman to my chagrin that my great education in my great school district in my great suburb in New Jersey was sorely lacking. Those straight “As” that made Mom and Dad so proud had either been inflated, or worth very little, which, sadly, is an all-too-familiar story even today. I wrote my principal then, and when I arrived in Washington some 4 years later, I began to understand why even my own parents didn’t realize we were lulled into the “great school mythology” by real estate and relationships. So by the time I’d worked in the federal government and been at Heritage, I knew something else was needed to bridge the gap between policy and practice, between what policymakers perceive, and what we actually need.

So I left, raised $33,000 to start CER (thanks to a good friend who was willing to take a chance on the first 3 months of CER.

It is possible for high school students to earn A’s and for those same students to be rudely awakened by the increased rigor and discipline required in college without the A’s in high school being inflated. It is also incredibly narrow to believe that school choice ends once and for all any such rude awakenings.

Just thought that needed mentioning.

By 2014, Allen was back to the third-person bio, but still without referring to herself as “president” but instead as “senior fellow, president emeritus” because she was no longer CER president:

Jeanne Allen is considered among the nation’s most accomplished and relentless advocates for education reform. She has earned recognition and credibility as a forceful leader and businesswoman and is a compelling writer and public speaker.

She founded The Center for Education Reform in 1993 and served as its president through 2013. Prior to founding the Center, Jeanne served in prominent roles at the US Department of Education, The Heritage Foundation and on Capitol Hill. Jeanne is now senior fellow, president-emeritus, and a member of CER’s Board of Directors.

By 2015, here comes the USDOE “senior official” language:

Jeanne Allen is considered one of the nation’s most accomplished and relentless advocates for education reform, and a recognized expert, speaker and author in the field. She is senior fellow and president-emeritus of the Center for Education Reform (CER), which she founded in 1993. …

She began her career on Capitol Hill and was a senior official in the US Department of Education from 1983-1988.

By 2017, Allen refers to herself as CER CEO (not president, not president emeritus, not senior fellow), and she backs away from USDOE “senior official” to offer the following:

Jeanne Allen has been on the front lines of education policy development and innovation for more than 30 years. She served for five years at the Department of Education during the Reagan Administration, where she was responsible for policy development and implementation in the areas of student financial aid, accreditation, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. …

Twenty-three years after its founding, CER remains a leader in a wide variety of efforts to innovate and improve education at all levels, and across all learning venues. Jeanne is its CEO.

Finally, from Allen’s current, 2019, bio CER CEO (not president) and USDOE “senior official”:

Jeanne Allen is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform (CER), the nation’s premiere leader in advancing innovation and opportunity in education. …

Jeanne Allen began her career first on Capitol Hill and then as a senior official in the US Department of Education from 1983-1988….

Two issues to address: Some distilled info on Allen’s background, including the USDOE “senior official” embellishment, and her nonprofit, CER, including financials and Allen’s exit as CER president and re-entrance as its CEO.

First, Allen’s background:

Jeanne Abate graduated from Northern Highlands Regional High School (Allendale, NJ), in 1978. She then attended Dickinson College (photo here from 1980), from which she graduated with degree in political science around 1983. In her early 20s, she began her five years (1983-88) on Capitol Hill as a policy analyst and was perhaps promoted to a USDOE senior policy analyst at some point during those five years.

To call oneself a USDOE “senior official” is little more than a stretch of technicality if one cannot also clearly and consistently identify oneself by a specific professional title.

In 1987, Allen married her husband, John C. Allen III, who was a US Department of Health and Human Services senior official with a title, and who, sadly, died of throat cancer in May 2003 at the age of 57, leaving Jeanne Allen widowed with four children:

John Clayton Allen III, 57, deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the Administration for Children and Families, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, died May 24 at his home in Bethesda. He had cancer.

Mr. Allen joined HHS in 2001. Earlier, he held government public affairs and communications positions and started the Allen Co., a public affairs consulting business specializing in government relations and education system evaluations.

He was a native of Santa Monica, Calif., and a 1968 graduate of San Jose State University. He did graduate work in political science at Stanford University.

His paternal grandfather was Rep. John Clayton Allen (R-Ill.), and the younger Mr. Allen was involved in California Republican politics as chairman of state and national campaign committees and statewide ballot initiative campaigns. He also became president and chief executive of his family’s Santa Monica-based Allen Business Machines.

He settled in the Washington area in 1982 and worked at the Office of Personnel Management, the Education Department, the Justice Department and the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.

He was a child actor on television shows in the 1950s, including “I Love Lucy.” Over the years, he wrote song lyrics and books of poetry and hosted a morning radio program on WNTR-AM in Washington.

His memberships included Kenwood Golf and Country Club and Catholic Church of the Little Flower, both in Bethesda, and the Knights of Columbus Rock Creek Council.

Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Jeanne Abate Allen, and four children, John C. Allen IV, Theodore Allen, Anthony Allen and Mary Monica Allen, all of Bethesda.

In 2007, Allen married music teacher, Kevin Strother.

And now, we shift our focus more toward CER. In 2003, CER marked its tenth anniversary, and in November 2003, EdWeek profiled Allen, including her tendency to put people off with her manner. Some excerpts:

It would be hard to find a more outspoken champion of alternatives to regular public schools. Through the Center for Education Reform here, which [Allen] founded 10 years ago, she has supplied an arsenal of ammunition in the battle for charter schools and vouchers and a steady stream of jabs at teachers’ unions, school boards, and others she collectively dismisses as “the blob.” …

Her work has won her friends in high places. At a black-tie event held here last month to celebrate the CER’s first decade, Ms. Allen drew gushing praise from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wal-Mart heir John Walton, and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the Republican who chairs the Senate education committee. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige called her “an American hero.”

Others can’t stand her. They bristle at the way she equates “school reform” with school choice, and at how she pounces on anyone who expresses skepticism toward charters and vouchers.

“Nobody’s ever called her subtle,” said Gerald W. Bracey, an Alexandria, Va.-based education researcher who has been skewered on the center’s Web site. “She’s mean. She really goes for the jugular.”

Even some within the charter movement say privately that her confrontational style and conservative views don’t help at a time when they’re trying to build new alliances. …

She founded the Center for Education Reform in 1993 with a $33,000 gift from Jerry Hume, a former member of the California state board of education. She now has a $2 million budget and a staff of 14. …

Last year, she won a $3 million grant from the Bentonville, Ark.- based Walton Family Foundation for a three-year effort to jump-start charter advocacy at the state level. The gift is the biggest in the Center for Education Reform’s history. …

According to the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) grants search engine, the $3 million to which Allen alluded in 2003 appears to be spread across two years (2003 – 2004). And, as it turns out, over the years, Walton funding for CER has dwindled, with the last recorded grant for $100,000, in 2016:

WFF Funding for CER by Year:

  • 1994:       $85,000
  • 1995:        $82,500
  • 1997:        $77,500
  • 1998:        $75,000
  • 1999:        $75,000
  • 2000:    $100,000
  • 2001:     $115,000
  • 2002:     $116,699
  • 2003:  $1,177,709
  • 2004:  $1,632,055
  • 2005:     $968,414
  • 2006:     $631,027
  • 2007:     $550,000
  • 2008:     $499,450
  • 2009:    $500,000
  • 2010:      $518,272
  • 2011:      $930,661
  • 2012:     $809,209
  • 2013:      $541,855
  • 2014:     $200,000
  • 2015:     $200,000
  • 2016:     $100,000
  • 2017:           $0
  • 2018:           $0

It is interesting that WFF funding for CER begins its marked journey toward zero in 2014, right in the midst of the three years in which Allen handed the CER presidency over to someone else. Sort of.

On February 11, 2013, CER posted this press release, entitled, “Jeanne Allen Announced Leadership Transition”:

Jeanne Allen, Founder and President of the Center for Education Reform (CER), today announced she will be stepping aside as President of the Center, effective November 1 of this year — the organization’s 20th anniversary — a move that signals a nod to the next generation of education reformers. Through October, Ms. Allen will continue to serve full-time as president, advancing the organization’s many strategic goals and setting a course for the future. Ms. Allen is working with The Center’s staff and Board of Directors on leadership transition, and related announcements can be expected in the coming months. …

After October, Allen will remain involved in the organization, on the Board, coaching new leadership and continuing to provide guidance and strategic counsel.

On July 01, 2013, CER announced that it had found its new president, Kara Kerwin– and executive vice president, Alison Consoletti Zgainer:

In spring 2013, Allen announced that she was stepping down as CER President and today she and the CER Board of Directors put in place a succession plan that will set the organization up for continued success in the years — and decades — ahead. The two main elements of that plan are the appointments of Kara Kerwin as President, and Alison Consoletti Zgainer as Executive Vice President. Both are protégés of Allen, and together they have served with distinction at CER for nearly two decades.

Kerwin, who will become CER President on November 1, 2013, has been a key deputy to Allen for 13 years and currently holds the title of Vice President, External Affairs. Consoletti Zgainer assumes the newly created role of Executive Vice President of CER on November 1, moving up from her current position as Vice President of Research, and has been with the Center since 2006.

“I am both professionally proud and personally thrilled that the CER Board of Directors approved my enthusiastic recommendation that Kara Kerwin and Alison Consoletti Zgainer be promoted to these top leadership roles at our organization,” said Allen. “Kara has been part of creating and promoting every major accomplishment of CER since she stepped through the doors of our building in 2000, and Alison has provided the research integral to those efforts. I know that they will take CER to even greater heights in the coming years, as they understand fully there is much work to do, and are very capable of making it happen.”

Allen, who will step down as the Center’s President on October 31, will remain on the CER Board of Directors and support the organization as a Senior Fellow….

In 2019, the CER bios for both Kerwin and Consoletti Zgainer fall into CER’s “people retired” category.

CER no longer has a president or executive vice president– just a CEO.

Jeanne Allen.

And here is where CER’s tax forms come in handy. (ProPublica has made them available, to date, from 2001 to 2017.) In this post, I will not take a deep dive into CER’s tax forms. But I will point out some interesting info, including the leadership transition and attendant revenue and spending:

  • 2012: Jeanne Allen, President (40 hrs/wk; $235,669); Alison Consoletti, Vice President (40 hrs/wk; $113,477); total revenue: $2.4M; revenue less expenses in the black ($392,552). Net assets $900K.
  • 2013: Jeanne Allen, President Emeritus (10 hrs/wk; $190,833); Kara Kerwin, President (40 hrs/wk; $122,701); Alison Consoletti, Vice President (40 hrs/wk; $109,167); total revenue: $1.6M; revenue less expenses in the red (-$361,662). Net assets $530K.
  • 2014: Jeanne Allen, President Emeritus (10 hrs/wk; $115,000); Kara Kerwin, President (40 hrs/wk; $160,000); Alison Consoletti, Executive Vice President (40 hrs/wk; $158,499); total revenue: $1.2M; revenue less expenses in the red (-$399,040). Net assets $131K.
  • 2015: Jeanne Allen, Founder/President Emeritus (10 hrs/wk; $95,000); Kara Kerwin, President (40 hrs/wk; $134,256); Alison Consoletti, Executive Vice President (40 hrs/wk; $156,878); total revenue: $1.4M; revenue less expenses in the red (-$168,018). Net assets $300K.
  • 2016: Jeanne Allen, Founder and CEO (40 hrs/wk; $217,497); Juliet Falsafi, Chief Operating Officer (40 hrs/wk; $75,567); Kerwin and Consoletti gone without replacement; total revenue: $4.1M; revenue less expenses in the black ($1.6M). Net assets $1.9M.
  • 2017: Jeanne Allen, Founder and CEO (40 hrs/wk; $249,996); Lesley Albanese, Chief Operating Officer (40 hrs/wk; $122,019); Timothy Sullivan, Chief Communications Officer (40 hrs/wk; $141,667); total revenue: $1.1M; revenue less expenses in the red (-$1.2M). Net assets $650K.

The tax information above tells an interesting story. First of all, it seems that Allen is the major driving force behind CER, which does not bode well for the survival of her ed reform nonprofit, much less its growth. Allen has a reputation for being overbearing (and mean, as her Twitter behavior attests), which begs the questions of whether she is able not only to hand over leadership of CER but also whether she is able to cultivate potential future CER leaders. In short, one wonders if Allen’s manner drives away the requisite ed-reform “talent.”

Once Kerwin and Consoletti were gone, there was no more CER “president” and “executive vice president.” Was there no more talent from which to select? Had possible, promising candidates run for the hills? Were Allen’s high marks as CER founder inflated, concealing inadequate preparation for turning over those CER reins?

At any rate, Allen is truly CER’s “senior official.” Whether such leads to CER’s undoing remains to be seen.

Secondly, it seems that key billionaire ed reform funders like the Waltons might view CER as an ed reform org whose time has passed. Allen started CER in 1993, and since that time, the number of ed reform nonprofits has mushroomed and continues to do so. And it seems that CER is falling victim to the very corporate model it espouses; if CER cannot reinvent itself into the new-improved CER that offers something viewed by the likes of the Waltons as ed-reform “cutting edge,” then CER might join the defunct ranks of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and the Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ).

Still, some might insist, “At $4.1M, CER had its greatest reported total revenue in 2016. CER isn’t going anywhere.” Indeed, CER did have a major fundraising year once Allen took over CER leadership again (as CEO) in 2016. However, one year later, the fundraising honeymoon was over (2017 total revenue, $1.1M, down $3M from 2016), but CER spending continued to be high ($2.5M in 2016 and $2.4M in 2017). The result is that CER spent $1.2M more in 2017 than it took in, which zapped CER’s net assets ($650K in 2017, down from $1.9M in 2016).

Having $650K in net assets is fine so long as the next year’s expenses are equal to or less than the next year’s total revenue plus that $650K.

So long as.

For now, let’s just leave it at “so long.”

IMG_1517

Jeanne Allen

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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?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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4 Comments
  1. I’ve always liked the part of her bio where she focuses on her precociousness– “when I became the youngest political appointee to serve at the pleasure of the president, Ronald Reagan, at the US Department of Education.”

    Because of course her age at the time is an important factor.

    http://www.jeanneallen.net/about-jeanne/the-why/

  2. Jack permalink

    Ahhh, Jeanne Allen.

    I remember when she had a conniption fit in response to the John Oliver charter school expose, putting a bounty on Oliver’s head and instituted a contest for videos from charter schools that could counter Oliver’s piece. Peter “Curmudgucation” Green tells that story here:

    http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2016/08/charter-fans-put-bounty-on-john-olivers.html

    Here’s the Oliver piece again: (which will hit 11 Million Views some time this week)

    Oh, and don’t forget the time when Allen went all in defending now-disgraced former-CEO / co-founder of KIPP, Mike Feinberg.

    Background: KIPP officials, responding to reports and accusations from alleged victims, hired a law firm to do a 12-month investigation as to whether Feinberg had 1) sexually molested middle school students (ages 11-14); and 2) had extramarital affairs with former KIPP students, who grew up to work in the KIPP organization, where, again, is when Feinberg then allegedly had flings with them.

    A year later, the investigating law firm found “credible evidence” backing these charges, including the fact that in 1997, one child accuser sued him, and the KIPP bosses, including co-founder Dave Levin, authorized a six-figure out-of-court settlement to be paid to her. The settlement also had non-disclosure terms that effectively shut both the child victim and her parents up. Mind you, in the aftermath of this, KIPP officials incredibly put NO LIMITS OR RESTRICTIONS PUT ON FEINBERG REGARDING HIS ACCESS TO OR ABILITY TO INTERACT WITH STUDENTS.

    On top of that, parents were never told of the settlement, nor of the risk to which their children were subjected as a result of KIPP’s failure to restrict Feinberg’s access to children. This, in turn, caused KIPP parents to go thermonuclear when this was finally disclosed at the time of Feinberg’s firing was fired last year, after the conclusion of the law firm’s investigation.

    In the aftermath of this, Jeanne Allen horrified even her closest allies when she publicly castigated the KIPP bosses for what she considered their unfair and ill treatment of Feinberg, arguing that his years of past work in privatizing schools through charter school expansion should earn him a pass, as it were, for the above transgressions, whether or not the accusations are true.

    In a now-classic Twitter exchange, even Allen’s allies in the corporate ed. reform world were utterly aghast at Allen’s clams and defense of Feinberg, and at Allen’s appalling disregard for the suffering of both Feinberg’s victims and Feinberg’s victims’ parents, then proceeded to let her have it.

    The pro-corp.-ed.-reform org CHALKBEAT covered this here: (in the latter part of the story BELOW)

    https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2018/02/23/how-kipps-observers-and-allies-are-reacting-to-co-founder-mike-feinbergs-firing/

    Here’s the Twitter exchange:

    Two of the tweets attacking Allen were later deleted, but thankfully they remain Chalkbeat article.
    You can mentally insert them when re-reading the above Twitter exchange.

    X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
    “I’m heartbroken & angry that you think an independent investigation that confirmed ‘credible evidence that is incompatible with the mission and values of KIPP’ isn’t enough to NOT give someone the benefit of the doubt,” responded Kate Duval, the head of external relations for the group 50CAN.

    “Neither good work nor service entitles a man to the benefit of the doubt when accused of sexual assault or harassment. No matter who they are,” wrote Matt Richmond of EdBuild.
    X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X

    Interesting. The (now-deleted) tweet from Duval got an approving response from one “Rich Abate,” who, in his own Twitter page, bills himself as “a Lancaster, PA public school teacher.” “Abate” is Allen’s maiden name before she married the Allen guy. Could that be a relative of Allen’s? Her brother? Her nephew?

  3. Christine Langhoff permalink

    Jeanne Allen was joined in that Twitter attack on Diane Ravitch by one of our local Walton fundees, Keri Rodrigues. The Waltons and DFER are funding Rodrigues’ faux parents’ group, Mass Parents United (MPU). This comes on the heels of her previous group, Families for Excellent Schools, being fined $425,000 for campaign finance violations during Question 2 in 2016, which would have eliminated a cap on charters. FES was also banned from doing business in Massachusetts for four years, so Rodrigues moved on to her current scam. Like Allen’s, Rodrigues’ demeanor is mean and spiteful; quite unprofessional. Hard to win friends and influence people like that.

    Julian Vasquez Helig had this to say about Rodrigues:

    “The president is supposed to be Keri Rodrigues Lorenzo, a White woman from Boston. She is not Latina although she purposely misleads everyone to think she is. Rodrigues Lorenzo is founder of Mass Parents United, that was created in 2017. She is the former Massachusetts state director for the defunct, AstroTurf, Families for Excellent Schools. The ones responsible for the biggest, most expensive, education reform defeat in history. It was epic. Not only did the parents and people of Massachusetts see through and reject their hypocrisy, but the chicanery, corrupt, unethical and illegal actions of the education reformers resulted in historic huge fines and banishment from Massachusetts.”

    https://cloakinginequity.com/2019/04/22/waltons-funded-reformers-stealing-union-from-black-parents/

    Birds of a feather flock together. Dime con quien andas y te digo quien eres.

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