Diane\'s Blog

A Jaded “Reformer”

Professor Ravitch,

I finally read The Death and Life of the Great American School System.  It’s rare that I find myself agreeing with almost everything in a book — thank you for such an important work.

I spent several years working as a Program Officer at New Visions for Public Schools.  I joined NVPS inspired by what appeared to be a substantive movement for progressive change in our schools. I had attended a small public high school myself, and felt it was important that more youth had similar opportunities.  I left New Visions baffled by the vapidity of an organization that was devoid of any substance, and largely driven by the desire to grow for growth’s sake.  New Visions, the NYCDOE, and the Gates Foundation moved in lockstep in activities that were not based on evidence or research.

As Program Officers (POs), we were given a “portfolio” 8-12 new schools to “support.”  We were given no direction of what to do with these schools, nor did we have much in the way formal or informal (I had never worked full-time in a school before) authority with the schools’ principals or staff.  I engaged in some type of substantive (and I believe, helpful) activities (facilitating professional development sessions, helping making connections to local community-based organizations, organizing parent outreach events, etc.) with about 5-6 schools, because 12 was too many to do any actual work with.  This was the case with most of the POs.  About halfway into my first year, the CEO of New Visions sent the ten Program Officers an email with a spreadsheet that ranked our performance, based on the average school attendance of our portfolios.  This ranking was accompanied by no analysis or discussion.

I was the 6th-best Program Officer, because my 10 or 11 schools had a combined average attendance that was 6th-best among all the PO portfolios.  Mind you, I did nothing more than make monthly visits to half of “my” schools, I had no idea of what the other Program Officers were doing at their schools, and the activities that I engaged in had little direct relationship to short-term attendance.  But we were being data-driven, and that was important.  Unfortunately, the data was meaningless.

A Jaded “Reformer”