Thursday, September 16, 2010

Leonie Smackdown Redux- Updated

UPDATED Sunday, Sept. 19, 11:30pm

See Leonie's account of the meeting at NYC Parent blog.

My debate with Shael Suransky of DOE

As many people have asked for it, she posted her powerpoint here, part 1 and part II. If you would like Leonie to present it to your organization, please email her at
The email exchange between Lindsey, the very testy VP for PR at NY Law School, and Leonie.

See my post game video interview with Leonie on you tube:]

Original posting, Thurs Sept. 16:
I wrote late last night about the New York Law School event featuring Class Size Matters' Leonie Haimson and the NYC Department of Education's Chief Accountability Officer Shael Suransky. But it was late and this piece, Leonie Haimson KO's Tweed in a Knockdown, didn't do justice to Leonie's spectacular work in  laying waste to the ed deform movement and BloomKlein as she took a wrecking ball and kept smashing it into their faces - boom, one blow after another until the virtual Tweed was not left standing.

Poor Suransky. He tried his best to defend Tweed but if this room semi-filled (more on this later) law students were a jury, BloomKlein would have been sent to the hangman's tree.
UFT/AFT Sidebar
How a one woman operation can accomplish such a feat while a hundred million dollar (or is it two hundred?) union operation flails helplessly does make people scratch their heads. But not me since I view the UFT/AFT as a virtual arm of the ed deform movement - whether they agree philosophically or not they take the position that it is here and they have to work within the framework. Thus my comparing them to the mentality of Vichy. (See UFT/AFT: Think Like Vichy)
 Ahhh, that felt good. Back to our program.
 As you all know, I am not a reporter and my scatterbrain mentality makes it hard for me to take notes, plus I can never read my own handwriting - think it's time for an Ipad? But here is what I have until I coral Leonie to do a voice over her presentation - and I should point out that she had to rush through it in her 15 minutes so a lot was skipped. One witness came over and suggested we do it as a series.

The symposium was titled "NCLB and the Effects of high stakes accountability systems (NYC and elsewhere)". I thought it interesting that Tweed was even willing to send one of their top people to get in the same arena with Leonie but maybe it is a sign of their desperate attempts to spin their side of the story after this summer's testing fiasco. It wasn't that Shael is not competent to defend them (I wish he were on our side) but that he has so little he can defend. However, he does seem to drink the Kool-aid.

His presentation went after Leonie and people were so wowed there was little he could do. He pointed to his experience at Morris HS where he claimed they graduated only 70 kids out of a cohort of 700 - when I challenged him later on this 10% grad rate he hedged, saying that some kids went to other schools and came up with a 25% figure. He claims that the 4 new schools, one of which he ran, had 75-80% grad rates with the same type of kids. Sorry, I don't believe it. That rivals Michelle Rhee's claims she performed miracles, raising her class' reading from 10% to 90% in a year. No don't get me wrong here. I do believe we can reverse the numbers. But Real Reformers (our new code name) know what it will take - smaller teaching groups to start - but I won't do the drill again.

Leonie talked about how the high stakes testing game has so totally distorted education. She laid waste the Tweed's report card system, how schools that got F's one year got A's the next, quoting Aaron Pallas, "A monkey could do a better job by randomly picking schools."

She devastated the value added approach, pointing to research that showed how the same teachers measured on student performance on different tests could turn up as the best on one and the worst on another. (See new Sean Corcoran study - link on my sidebar.) How high school grad rates were distorted by the pressure on teachers to mark up on Regents exams and credit recovery. And oh, those discharge rates. Campbell's Law in action.

Leonie went into the data that shows that lower class size is one of the 4 measures proven to have an effect on student performance - an obvious fact to anyone who spent time in the classroom. (Where does Suransky who says he was a teacher stand on this?)

She repeatedly returned to Campbell's Law
"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."[1]
Yes, give people incentives to cheat based on rewards (bonus pay) and punishment (closing schools, loss of jobs) and people will do what it takes to assure high scores.

When asked later what was her prescription for the ills of schools? Reduce class size and do what it would take to cut the attrition rate of teachers - these are related, of course.

One very interesting interchange took place between Leonie and Shael over a question about how the international standing of the US has fallen. Shael fell into this trap by talking about the higher standing of European schools - how teachers are so much more respected than here.

Duhhhh! European teachers have some of the strongest teachers unions in the world. Maybe that has something to do with how they are respected while also calling out our own AFT/UFT as bearing a major share of the blame for the lack of respect in the US.

In Finland he said, the top quarter of college grads went into teaching while in the US it is more like the bottom third.

Leonie pounced. Finland is the highest performing nation in the world. No high stakes testing at all, though there are some tests.

And how about those teacher unions there? Think that has an impact on luring the top college grads into the profession as opposed to the US where the lure is to go into finance so you too could take part in destroying the economy?

After burn: NY Law Mopes
I won't go into it in depth because we finally got in. But the PR person from the Law School and the NY Law School Assistant Dean were some of the nastiest people we have met.

When I arrived I was surprised to see Lisa Donlan there as I thought she was still in Paris. But she had flown in the night before – there is dedication to the cause. She told me we would not be allowed in without reservations, which we didn't know we needed. Worse of all Lisa said, when she asked if there was room could we come in, she received a firm "no." That this event was for students and they expected it to be filled. And besides,  they ordered pizza. "I won't eat," I chimed in (but I managed to sneak a slice later - na, na, na, na, na, na.)

[This section updated and clarified]
I tried to get in as press and was told I needed a reservation. Just them someone without a reservation came up and said he was with Tweed and was there at Suransky's request. He was Deputy Press Secretary Matt Mittenthal and he seemed like a nice guy but got caught in my tirade once it was clear he would be allowed in. I raised a ruckus: if Tweed can have someone come why can't Leonie have people even if they don't have reservations? I was at my most obnoxious and during our interchanges I was threatened numerous times - "leave this lobby immediately," the PR person screamed at me. More than once (I had tried to take a picture of the sign at the entrance that talked about justice). I told her to call security and I would go kicking and screaming, taping all the way. Matt told me that if other press was upstairs he would argue to get me in (yes, there are some likable people at Tweed even with my pal David Cantor gone.)

Anyway, as more and more of Leonie's people arrived, few with reservations, the Law School people got more and more nervous, finally relenting and saying they would count seats and let us in. So we got in. And the joke is the place was half empty. Lisa did a chair count and came up with these numbers give or take a few: 62 attendees, 46 empty seats at around 1:30 (the numbers varied as people came and went). 16 of these were FOL - Friends of Leonie. Poor Shael only had a few friends, including one of my faves - James Merriman, uber charter school pusher. I love to tweak Merriman. "How did that Perkins/Smikle thing work out?" "Incumbency" he harumphed. He later told Leonie that Sam Hoyt was winning big in Buffalo as a sign of the charter school lobby influence. See Leonie's comment on this in Postscript below.

Did Tweed make demands?
We have info that the Law school was contacted by the DOE to keep press out. NY 1's Lindsey Christ was told she could not tape and was apparently not happy and didn't show (Leonie posted emails between Lindsey and NY Law that upset these mopes no end - I'm getting a feeling she won't be asked back.)

I heard through someone connected to the Law School who was present and not happy with the way we were being treated by the Law School officials that Kathleen Grimm had told them that Leonie was advertising the event as a smackdown - not true as Gotham's Elizabeth Green had done that - and the press should be kept out. NY Law people seemed so nervous we wondered whether there is some funding coming from Bloomberg.

Postscript from Leonie 
Hoyt is a big favorite of the charter school lobby and beneficiary of the hedge hog dollars. He outspent his rival by 4-1 and only is ahead by 250 votes out of more than 10,000 cast.  His opponent wants a recount. Bloomberg gave Hoyt big $, and he was one of DFER’s Hot List. He also briefly subscribed to this list serv, for reasons I could never figure out.

Hoyt Wins, But Golombek Wants A Recount

Postscript 2: After the event I walked Leonie home and interviewed her in her garden for our film. I'm heading for the city now to cover the Diane Ravitch/Eva Moskowitz panel at The Economist event at Chelsea Piers. If I can get a few sound bites from Diane for the film that would be awesome.


  1. good show! bless you both! and the struggle continues...

  2. thanks for the kind words Norm; but one minor correction. I said there was no standardized testing in Finland; of course the schools there have regular classroom tests.

    Your point about the teacher's union in Finland is very interesting. Shael went on about how Finland was successful because it attracted the best students to teaching; I talked about how in Finland they give alot of respect to teachers,and alot of autonomy. And I contrasted that w/ the total lack of respect that this administration gives teachers, and Klein's very low approval rankings in teacher surveys. I said if this administration and the Obama administration really respected teachers, they would listen to their prescriptions for education. Over and over in national surveys, teachers respond that reducing class size would be by far the best way to increase teacher quality and teacher effectiveness, over salary increases, teacher performance pay, more professional development, or anything else. And yet they don't listen, because they don't respect teachers or care what they think.

    Nor do they respect parents or care what we think either!

  3. Thanks Norm. It's really incredible how the DoE did not want any press. And the fact this was held at a law school that should in fact back freedoms--incredible.

  4. Same issue, different arena...

    Over the past 48 hours, I've been involved in a little dance with NBC.

    My problem with the fake national education "SUMMIT" NBC is hosting next week is that the 'invitation-only' panel is stacked with pro education privatisation reformers and not a parent in sight.... nor any working teachers...

    The guest list is here:

    Guests range from Michelle Rhee to Joel Klein to Arne Duncan; the guests are all Broad or Gates Foundation people or charter school chain owners.

    National education system reform under discussion - where are the parents?

    And look at the Sponsors...

    All have a vested interest in making sure this education 'deform' agenda implementation is completed.

    I challenged NBC on why its leaving out of the discussion the biggest stakeholders in this equation, and so far, no response....

    I pointed them in the direction of highly informed, articulate people who were well qualified to participate in this 'dialogue' - no response except to block me....

    Yesterday they were trying to buy my silence by offering an op ed space on the Education Nation website, today they've unfriended me and taken all my critical comments (and the research and references supporting those comments) off their pages...

  5. PART TWO:

    Here's the chronology, starting yesterday morning (Wednesday 15 Sept)...

    Just finished an interesting (power and control) phone conversation with Ryan Osborn, the producer of this website/programme....¬if_t=feed_comment_reply

    I couldnt get him to agree to put parents on the panel (he said they tried to get Diane Ravitch but she wasnt available - I suggested Prof Zhao as an alternative) but to buy me off and shut me up they've offered me an op ed piece on their website...

    Who has anything they want to say??????? No limit, just no slander!

    Here's what I wrote back (on the Education Nation facebook page):
    I'd like to thank Ryan at NBC for contacting me and having a telephone conversation a few minutes ago. Ryan and I have something in common - we are both journalists with an ethical responsibility for providing both sides of an discussion/issue.

    While Ryan said he/NBC had heard our concerns he could not offer parents (the largest stakeholders in this education reform equation) and other critics of the education 'reform' agenda a place on the panel.

    He said that Diane Ravitch had been invited but was not free on these dates... I suggested he invite Professor Zhao - he did not give me an answer one way or another.

    He did very generously offer me the opportunity to write an op-ed piece for the Education Nation website, which I will gratefully accept... though I did point out that an op-ed hidden somewhere on a website that people have to search to find, is no match in terms of airing contrary perspectives for the public exposure the very wealthy education reformers will be getting from this summit.

    Sadly, most of us parents around the country do not have the billions of dollars that the Gates, Broad and Milken Foundations and Raytheon, Phoenix University and Microsoft etc have to throw at this effort to mould and control the discussion... But I will take what I can get, albeit a very small bone....

    Ryan did give me some feedback I shall bear in mind - he felt my many posts were repetitive, intimidating and shutting out of other points of view... I will think on that - though how that is possible on a facebook page, which has no limit on comment postings, I dont know....

    And I then added the comment:
    I just had feedback from someone in contact with Diane Ravitch that while she is in California on the dates of the Summit, she did offer to provide a taped segment as her contribution to the debate... apparently that was not good enough... quite sad, really...

    Then this morning, I got this message from Ryan:
    We are getting complaints from other users that you are dominating conversation. Please consider this is a warning. If your tone continues, we will have to block you. Moderation is a necessary part of keeping a civil discussion online. Thank you.

    If you want to write an op-ed for our website you can submit it to my email.

    Thank you.

    I wrote back and asked who was complaining, saying it was only fair that I know my accusers - anyone can google me and find out all about me, but anonymous complaints, not made directly to me are rather hard to prove and not quite playing fair.

    I noted that there were first amendment issues at stake here, that NBC as a 'news' organisation had a public duty and ethical responsibility to present both sides of the issue and it currently was not... and that, as a fellow journalist, I was concerned about that....

    I posted a list of links of material that people might like to check out that put forward a view alternative to the panellists - such as the film Race to Nowhere ( and also listed some individuals and parent groups around the country NBC could approach, who would be more than happy to give the parent voice to this 'SUMMIT'...

    No response - just unfriended...

    I note the several financial conflicts of interest NBC is caught in by hosting this summit..

  7. I interviewed Diane at the Economist conf today. And Eva Moskowitz too. They should just have Leonie on and have her wipe the floor with Gates. he doesn't have the guts to face her.

  8. Norm,
    That panel is stacked against us.
    Now they are saying they are having parents, but not giving names. LH has been on their case as have others. I even told them LH would be the perfect candidate because she lives and breathes this issue. Personally, I think Bloomberg is behind who gets on. And Randi is on the panel too, but IMO she should be sitting with Bloomberg/Klein/Duncan/Rhee/Gates/the LA Superintendent and all the other pro-teacher people. Arthur has just posted that he would like to be on the teacher panel. I hope they accept him.

  9. Norm--I'm jumping into this quite a bit late, but: thank you. Blogs like this are an important part of keeping dialogue flowing and information out there. Your posts with your account of this event have been interesting, to say the least: the apparent DOE pressure to ban taping, Nancy Guida's attempts to kick you out, her attempt to cover up the ban by asking Leonie to take down the e-mail's all very illuminating, if a bit depressing.


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