Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Caprice Young: You can define me however you'd like and it still won't change the fact that we both want students to succeed

Caprice Young took issue with my recent article about her on Schools Matter. She asked for an opportunity to publish her account of her career, and with quite a bit of misgiving, I relented. One thing about her rebuttal, she conflates my writing in the beginning of the my recent article with the anonymous letter that appeared in the second part of my article. The entire section of my article in block-quote that discusses EnCorps is, as explained in the original article, a letter from one of my readers. Although I do make some observations following that letter, the letter itself is not my prose, which should have been evident to Young by the change in narrative and style — alas. So wherever Young says "you say" in that section of her essay, she's really referring to the author of the email as opposed to me. As with the recent fact-free polemic against me by Mike McGalliard, I will have to wait to respond to Young's piece here since I have several other writing deadlines to focus on. Unlike the corporate deformers, who get paid to destroy the public commons, I actually have a day job and do all of my education activism for free on my own time. That said, there are many things in Young's essay I'm astonished at, like the inference that Gloria Romero is anything other than a rank opportunist or that monsters like Fisher, Walton, or Poizner have redeeming qualities of any sort. It's clear by the tenor and tone of Young's writing that she accepts the fatalism of class society, and that she actually believes that the ruling class shares some common interests with the working class. More on that and this whole essay in the future. — Robert D. Skeels

You can define me however you'd like and it still won't change the fact that we both want students to succeed 
Your quote:
"We are told that this 'reform' alliance of everyone from Rupert Murdoch to the Walton family to leading hedge funders spends huge amounts of money pushing for radical changes to public schools because they suddenly decided that they care about destitute children, and now want to see all kids get a great education." — David Sirota
They’ve tried for decades to get things done through the existing hierarchies and have seen no improvement. Anyway, what is wrong with people wanting to see all kids get a great education?

I knew John Walton well and consider myself lucky to be able to call him a mentor. He worked tirelessly for decades to improve the lives of inner city kids. He was a Ranger and a medic who served selflessly in the Vietnam War—as a medic, he rescued fallen soldiers and brought them home. I remember him best for his basic purpose: to ensure that children from poverty have the same educational opportunities as rich kids. He believed that the divide in this country between rich and poor, and between those with educational opportunities and those locked in terrible schools, is destroying our democracy. He never made a penny from his work in education. On the contrary, he gave away hundreds of millions to community based non-profit organizations serving low-income families. I am proud to be able to call him a mentor.

I was raised by a special education teacher and a juvenile probation officer/Unitarian Minister who took in more than 24 foster kids before I went to college. Childcare in our family was licking stamps for McGovern. I learned organizing and protest by the time I was six. After serving as a US Senate Page for SI Hayakawa, I received a letter of recommendation for college from Democrat William Proxmire, a man I greatly respected. After I graduated from college and completed my Coro Fellowship (during which I did not work for Riordan because he hadn’t yet been elected Mayor), I was the Director of a community non-profit program serving high risk kids. A Coro mentor convinced me to come work in transportation instead of going to law school (I had been accepted to the Carter Center at Emory). Making lots of money has never been my primary motivation. I have moved consistently into positions where I could make the biggest positive difference for the community. If I had wanted to make a ton of money, I would have stayed at the MTA, where by now I would be making $150,000+ and have more than 20 years into a pension system that would pay me my full salary and health benefits from the time I reached 55 on. Then, I could have a whole extra career with no financial worries. If I were to save enough money to have an equivalent pension, I would need more than $5 million in the bank… Clearly the life of a serial do-gooder hasn’t gotten me anywhere close.

I did work for Mayor Riordan later on and am proud of the work I did to put city information online and to provide the political support for smart career civil servants to get their ideas implemented. Later I was the board president of a home for abused and neglected children and a principal consultant for IBM when I decided to run for the school board. I ran because I was enraged at the lousy treatment foster children were given in the schools and horrified at the tremendous overcrowding and long bus rides endured by LAUSD students. I quit my job at IBM just as I was getting out of debt (my condo collapsed in the Northridge earthquake) in order to serve as a board member. It was a huge financial hardship for my family. I gave birth twice while serving on the board and never missed a meeting. I did vote against teacher raises in 2000 because I knew the economy was moving into the first recession of the decade (I worked in the tech sector so it hit all our jobs first). I didn’t want us to repeat the mistakes of 1988 when teachers were given huge raises only to see them rolled back when the economy tanked in 1991. I’ve never been anti-labor. I do believe that you can’t spend money you don’t have—to do so would weaken our vital institutions. The past 10 years have proven my point, unfortunately.

I’ve never been pro-privatization. I have enough experience in the private sector to know that the grass there isn’t necessarily greener than government run institutions. However, I do believe that an education that prepares students to be successful economically and to participate thoughtfully and actively in democracy is a basic civil right—and if it takes collaboration among the various sectors of our society to ensure that right, I’m for it. To believe otherwise is to accept a deeply racist, classist and defeatist condition in our cities. Our children deserve better.

For my vote against the teacher’s contract, the union got me completely redistricted from an urban seat into a West Valley seat. They left me with fewer than 15% of my original constituents and then spent more than $1.1 million dollars to vilify me. They never bothered to note that because I served, we ended school overcrowding and forced bussing, or that I insisted on funding for the arts and college counselors, or that we radically expanded afterschool programs, supported school site health centers, and taught hundreds of thousands of elementary students to read that wouldn’t have been successful otherwise. Did I end poverty in Los Angeles? no—although I would like to have done that. I suppose if I had stayed in the private sector longer I could have made more progress creating meaningful jobs. I had tremendous support from the business community and families—but it could not overcome the outright lies (which were documented in the Daily News) of John Shalman, my opponent’s campaign guy—who later had the nerve to ask me how to get his kid into a charter school. The deepest pockets were the union’s, and they won—that saved my marriage and kept us from losing our house because I could go back to a full time job.

I was approached by charter school leaders running non-profit organizations on shoe-string budget serving kids from high poverty neighborhoods with failing schools, and the philanthropists who backed their work, to start CCSA in order to keep charter schools focused on student success. You can say what you want about those philanthropists: Don Fisher, John Walton and Steve Poizner—but I know that their focus was completely on ensuring that students got high quality public schools. All of them had spent years making contribution to school district projects, only to see nothing get better. My job was to create the space for talented educators to get the support they needed to create great schools for kids. I was proud then to do that, and still am. There is nothing stopping traditional schools from being brilliant in their education of children—they choose to accept the limits of tradition, bureaucracy and hopelessness. Some of us don’t.

I did get paid well. By then I had a master’s degree, experience raising millions of dollars for good causes and a solid managerial track record. If someone else had been willing to take the job, I could have happily gone back to IBM, but I wanted to serve. And I worked hard. I worked 80-90 hour weeks and traveled up and down the state constantly seeking out educators and parents who wanted to create great schools. I am proud to have been able to develop resources for them and to be their political shield while they served the kids.

My board was carefully balanced to include school leaders, community leaders and funders. The give and take was fierce and very valuable. The give and take led to kid-centric strategies. We made tough calls to hold our own charter schools accountable for their ability or inability to educate kids. And, we advocated for all charter schools to be fully funded and fairly treated.

After five years, I went to work for Knowledge Universe because I wanted to work in education internationally and because it gave me the opportunity to integrate my two loves: technology and education. I took a small failing company and made it profitable by improving student outcomes. Principals like implementing programs that help students succeed so that’s what we did. Among the hundreds of thousands of students we served, more than 1,000 students graduated from the Chicago Public Schools that wouldn’t have without our help. It seems so simple, serve kids well, work closely with educators and you win the right to stay in business. When the company was transferred to K12 in a stock swap, I didn’t get rich because I had no ownership stake in the company. I won’t make that mistake again. Live and learn. I was happy to return to Los Angeles to help save the ICEF public schools. We sent hundreds of seniors to college last summer because we refused to let the schools go under financially.

I did work as a guest lecturer and teacher in the Broad program for school boards and was once a guest speaker for the Broad Residency. It’s great to meet talented people, and preparing them for public service in schools is insanely difficult.

The fact that you believe my husband has made “boatloads of cash” because of my career is ridiculous. His career has consistently suffered because of mine. He has had to turn down great job offers to lead in his field—land use planning and public affairs—because my work caused him conflicts of interest. He is enormously talented and under-appreciated. My career choices have rarely been in his best interest and I owe him a great debt because of that.

You reference that entities like Goldman Sachs and other major financing enterprises are attracted to the charter school movement. I wish more were because charters are running their schools on far less money that traditional schools—even including very respectable philanthropy. The real money is in financing school districts, where they have made billions, but you don’t seem concerned about that.

I am really glad that Democrats for Education Reform (on whose founding board I served) was lucky enough to attract Gloria Romero. She is a fighter for the rights of inner city and rural families, especially immigrant kids, and a constant fighter for their right to a high quality public education. She has proven that improving public education is not just a concern of Republicans. That's a Kids first agenda.

You expressed concern that I have de-professionalized the teaching industry. I believe I have done just the opposite. Teachers choose to teach in charters because they have a real say in the management of the school and the instructional strategies, and are willing to take responsibility for educating their kids. The charter leadership teams that have failed to keep that promise to teachers have found it increasingly difficult to recruit teachers and have sometimes seen their schools close. Charters are not just schools of choice for families, but also teachers. I am working right now with AJ Duffy to extend that collaboration to union represented teachers. That’s a volunteer thing for me and I am happy to support him and the teachers creating the Apple Academy schools.

I also am CEO of EnCorps—we recruit and train new math and science teachers who we find among scientists, finance people, techies and engineers looking to switch to a career where they can make a more direct positive impact on their communities. The teaching layoffs have not been a barrier because there is still a shortage of qualified math and science teachers, and that shortage will get worse as our current generation of math and science teachers retire. Our teachers serve in LAUSD schools (Westchester and West Adams HS, for example) as well as charters. Our teachers earn the same wages as other teachers in their schools once they reach a similar level of seniority. Our non-profit doesn’t work on labor contract issues. We just help talented professionals with relevant experience get their teaching credentials so they can teach.

Our teachers are anything but “desperate, compliant, cheap labor that can teach those hard-to-place subjects of Math and Science.” They are seasoned professionals who know how hard it is to find engineers, mathematicians, scientists and techies with creativity and strong technical skills to invent the products and solutions our word needs. They have left often high paying positions to start over as newbie teachers to learn a new craft and help train the next generation.

We are not TFA, although I have great respect for TFA and have hired TFA teachers over the years. Our program is supporting the development of teachers who want to teach as a career, not “just a community service stint like the peace corps.” You stated that we are sending unqualified people with no experience to teach and chided me for not accepting people who already have teaching certification into the program. If you already have a teaching credential, you don’t need to be an EnCorps fellow because the whole point of being a fellow is to GET A TEACHING CREDENTIAL and experience to be a great secondary teacher in inner city schools. I’m sorry you find that shocking, but, as you say, “WTF???!!!” If you know anyone who is a qualified math or science teacher who knows how to teach inner city kids well, I’d be happy to help them find jobs—but most likely they already have jobs because of the shortage.

You say,”There are thousands of fully-credentialed MATH/SCIENCE teachers without a job right now in California.” Well, there are plenty of schools looking for them so send them my way and I’ll see what I can do. I can’t get them a job, but I can put them in touch with schools that are hiring. Lots of schools are looking for special education teachers too.

At our Boot Camp training, we focus of helping the future teachers to learn classroom management skills, to set high expectations, to hold students’ interest and to help students to succeed. We help teachers to lead their classrooms of students to academic success. When we use the metaphor of training teacher to be the "CEO's of their classroom,” we mean that they are in charge and responsible for student learning. Is that a bad thing? As a parent, I want my kids to be taught by expert teachers with real life science experience. That means that the more we can get teachers supported by science industries and get scientists to become teachers, the better. It’s a chocolate and peanut butter thing. We also work with math and science teachers with no industry experience to help them get access to science and math professionals as guest teachers, as well as to industries and labs to enrich their teaching.

And, our program lasts two full years, although some can do it in 18 months. They have to do the same university courses and internships as any other teacher AND another 20 weeks of specialized pre-service.

As for Dr. Diane Ravitch, I was really bummed that she called in to speak at your event and then wasn’t allowed to speak. I’ve heard so much about her since I now sit in her former seat on the Fordham board. I was looking forward to hearing her. 
My point is simply this. I am not your enemy. I care about education all students and am frustrated that our 120 year old industrial education system isn’t up to the task anymore. We’re in the information age now and our kids shouldn’t be held back. They understand that many of the schools are simply obsolete—not working for kids, families or teachers. I believe that the talent we have in public education should be teaching a broad, rigorous curriculum in new and old ways doing whatever works to educate kids. I do think it is a problem that the institutional reaction to testing is a narrowing of the curriculum. That doesn’t need to be the case—just read Dr. Seuss’ last book if you don’t believe me. No great conspiracy theory, just education.
We should all be working together wherever we can find common ground. Life is short.


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