Friday, November 27, 2015

Human Relations, Charter School Style

My Inbox for October 27, 2015, contained the usual collection of SPAM, ads, and offers to transfer millions of dollars to the U.S. from a prince in Nigeria. But one letter was most unexpected and not in the least routine. A teacher at Challenge Charter School in Glendale, Arizona, wrote, not to ask for help, but to let me know what is going on at one of the area's celebrated educational institutions.

I had written previously about this charter school:

A man named Greg Miller is president of the Arizona State Board of Education. There is also a man named Greg Miller who is CEO of Challenge Charter School in Glendale, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix. Matching up photos of the Board president and the charter CEO leaves no doubt that these two individuals are one in the same Greg Miller. Mr. Miller, a civil engineer for 25 years, founded Challenge Charter School in the late 1990s and for a while served as principal. His current title is CEO. ... [D]aughter Wendy Miller was appointed Principal of Challenge Charter School the same year in which she earned her MBA.

Greg Miller, the CEO of a school "system" with about 650 students, is being compensated to the tune of $145,000 annually. His wife receives the same salary, though her duties are never enumerated at the website and her position is only described as "Executive Director/Vice-PR" .... Wendy, who has degrees in Public Administration and Business, receives a salary of more than $120,000 for acting as Principal/Secretary. Basically, the Miller family, while working assiduously 60 hours a week each as reported on their IRS form, is taking about $425,000 a year out of the coffers for salary.

End of my blog post from February 2, 2015

A roughly half-million $ annual salary to three family members might be a great investment for educating 650 students in the world's greatest school. But my correspondent's letter of October 27th and other information lead me to believe that perhaps the Millers are not operating one of the world’s greatest educational institutions.

Herewith, my correspondent’s experiences:

‪Hello Dr. Glass,‬

‪I read with interest your article about Greg Miller and Challenge Charter School. I would add more to it if I may. I was employed as a sixth-grade teacher at CCS from July to September 25, 2015. I was originally hired in March because they were going to move a long-time employee to the position of vice principal. The woman's husband was then offered a job out of state and she was moving with him. ‬

‪I began my work with CCS in July and they loved me. The week of September 21, 2015, my job appeared to unravel. The Millers kept a constant eye on me with the video cameras they have in every classroom that are meant for student and teacher protection , not evaluation. On one occasion that week, I was having my students stretch at the end of our class session and Greg Miller came into my classroom yelling at me and the children. He told me to "get back to your job." After school that day, he called me into his office to tell me a parent had called to complain; her child had reported that I "looked scared" when Mr. Miller was yelling at me. He denies that he was yelling at me; he stated he was yelling at the children.‬

‪The Millers called into question my certificate, which I had and gave them a new copy. Systematically the Millers began digging into my personal life. On Friday, September 25th , the morning I received feedback on my first evaluation and after a change to their policy handbook (which I did not get to see) I was called in front of the Millers, all three of them. The assistant to Wendy Miller told me that I had three choices. I could be terminated, resign, or take a three-month leave of absence to keep my medical insurance. They accused me of being drunk on the job and refusing to take a drug test. I have been sober for more than 20 years. They continued saying I was mentally unstable and did not disclose a major medical illness on my application. I was told not to fight them as they had hours of video-tape on me and my inability to teach. They went further saying they had "called around about me" and said I was on heavy-duty medication. I was shocked. I took the leave of absence and was told to leave campus. ‬

‪I am writing to tell you this because people are afraid of Greg Miller. He is a bully, and he and his family have created a hostile work environment, firing teachers at will. The irony is the teacher who has taken my place was the one whom I replaced. She just happened to be on campus September 25th. It was announced in a staff meeting that I was gone "dealing with my problems" and that this teacher was gracious enough to return for the rest of the year.‬

‪My career in teaching is over — 16 years of doing what I truly loved. They have ruined my name. I want people to know what the Millers are, and how horribly they can treat people to get what they want. ‬ ‪

‪[Name withheld]

I wrote back immediately to this teacher to ask if she was willing to have this episode made public. She said that she was and that it was important to bring to light how this charter school was operating. I suggested that she remain anonymous when I reproduce her letter in this blog. She replied that she had no wish to remain anonymous.
‪I do not wish any level of anonymity. I am to report back to the school on January 4, 2016, to be reassigned or terminated. Needless to say, I am sending my resignation January 3, 2016. ‬ ‪You may use my experience as much as you would like. There is another teacher they have done this to as well, but she walked out. They have served her with a demand letter from their attorneys, stating she needs to pay them the rest of her salary. ‬ ‪

I forgot to add that the Millers make all students wear uniforms from one company. Teachers are to check students’ tags to make sure they are from that company. It is my understanding that they receive a kickback from the company.‬

‪I am sure this is just the beginning of the battle that I am going to engage with them.‬ ‪Thank you for helping me get the word out so other teachers are not taken in and spit out by the Millers.‬

‬ ‪[Name withheld]

I continue to think that this teacher could be retaliated against, and that her anonymity in this venue is wise. However, if someone has good reason to contact her, I will forward that request to her email address. You may contact me at

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
San José State University

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

For-Profit Education as Corrupt as the Worst Corporations?

Charlie Munger is the partner of Warren Buffett and the co-creator of the sensational holding company Berkshire Hathaway, which has made multi-millionaires of thousands of patient investors. I have written here about Buffett and Munger and their very productive view of investing and life.

Munger was recently quoted on the occasion of the centre temps of the drug company Valeant. Valeant's stock dropped more than 50% in price between August and November 2015 as its shady dealings in attempts to deceive auditors became known. Among its other alleged misdeeds has been the practice of buying up small pharmaceutical companies to acquire the patents to their drugs, then hugely increasing the price of the drugs. Munger called this practice "deeply immoral" and said that it was "similar to the worst abuses in for-profit education."

It is simply shocking to see a sector of the country's education system being used as a simile for the corrupt practices of private corporations. Shocking, but apt.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Becoming a Teacher in the Age of Reformation

Susan M. Tran is a young, second generation Vietnamese-American woman who completed a Bachelors degree in Spanish at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2010. She will soon complete a masters program and be certified as an elementary school teacher at the University of Northern Colorado. Susan is mature and intelligent; she recognized early in her career that becoming a teacher in the Age of Reformation is forcing idealistic young teachers to resolve contradictions — contradictions between 1) messages from reformers who believe that teaching is a low level trade that has no right to organize on its own behalf and for which six weeks of indoctrination are adequate training, and 2) messages from university-based teacher trainers who believe that good teaching is rooted in children's unique interests and capabilities and treats them as individuals, not as replicates of a governmentally defined template.

Here, Susan speaks for herself:

Throughout my education to be a teacher, one of the biggest questions that has arisen for me is “How do I meet the expectations and standards of the state and district, while also meeting the true needs of my students?” One of my biggest fears coming into the teaching profession is that we have started to confuse the acquisition of knowledge with the process of learning. In an effort to meet numeric goals and score high on standardized tests, we have become obsessed with how to get our students to perform in a way that satisfies a checklist, or a numerical score, or a national standard. I'm fearful that we have forgotten about instilling passion, excitement, and curiosity in our students. It is becoming less important to us to create better people, who care about each other and the world around them and think of ways to deal with the problems that they see in front of them. We discuss world problems only in so far as they fit into our standardized curriculum, but we don’t address the difficult yet inevitable issues that our students will eventually find themselves confronted with in the very near future.

I do understand the need for progression in a student’s knowledge. I see why it's important that our students are exposed to and encouraged to master a large variety of topics. However, I do not understand why we have begun to think that the best way to do this is to have them fill in a bubble sheet, or sit in front of a computer for an hour and take the exact same test. We’ve become immersed in this notion that there is a "standard," which then implies that there is a norm. There's a 'normal' level that a student must attain at a certain time, and that the best way to get them there is to maintain the same timeline across the board.

In spite of the fact that our methods classes certainly cover the topics of differentiation, and "meeting the needs of each student," we see classrooms all around us that teach to the same set-in-stone standards, which translates into more information and less context, relevance, and appeal to students' interests. This may all sound like a long rant criticizing the methods of current teaching, and that is absolutely not the point that I am trying to make. I think that teaching and teachers should be one of the most highly valued professions. I think that many schools do their very best to create well-rounded students who will enter the world as functional citizens who can contribute to society. I am simply trying to express the fact that we are in danger of getting lost along the way. We have focused too much on the numerical scores that we are producing rather than the wonderful, creative, and inspired individuals who we are helping to shape.

I know that I am entering this profession at a time of great change. There are shifts occurring within the standards, the expectations, and the focus of what we are teaching. I constantly wonder how I am going to be the teacher I imagine myself to be during this time of reform. I wonder how I am possibly going to adhere to these state and national standards with each class that I have, since I know that every single student, and thus every classroom, is unique. The state declares that a class must be at a specific point in the curriculum at a specific time, but what if we need more time? What if we need less? How can I possibly fit in all of the projects and support and guidance that my students will need to fully understand why what they’re learning is important and applicable to the real world? How will I foster minds that love learning, instead of ones that dread testing and begin to believe that they are "too stupid" to learn because they're not categorized in the "correct" numerical column? These are all things I've seen already, and it would be a lie to say that I'm not overwhelmed and terrified.

At the end of the day, what I put my hope and belief in is my students. As adults, we tend to follow the rules and the expectations that society has laid out for us. But from what I’ve seen, kids are resilient, and strong, and independent; and they don’t see the obstacles that we've so forcefully erected around them. I hope that although I may have to teach an ordained curriculum to a dictated set of standards,that I can somehow foster growth and creativity in my students that will help them grow into a new generation of learners. I believe it's possible that many of the teachers being trained in this day and age have similar feelings; and maybe if we can genuinely put our hearts and souls into this craft, our students, with their vibrant tenacity, will carry with them a passion for learning long after they’ve left our classroom. I hope that we won’t forever be caught up in a world that "normalizes" and standardizes, but instead in one that celebrates differences and fosters better people, rather than better scores.

~Susan M. Tran

Confronted with these contradictory pressures and expectations, some teachers grow cynical, some conform, and some exit the profession. And a few find safe places to give children what they know is right.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.