In Part I, I focused on Campbell Brown.
In Part II, I’m focusing on David Boies.
David Boies, Star Trial Lawyer, Education Reformer, and Limousine Liberal
John Thompson, an award-winning historian and inner city teacher, wrote an article about David Boies last week for Huffington Post. According to Thompson, Boies, one of America’s most well-known lawyers and the attorney who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court, is now “shilling for the decade-long, test-driven, scorched earth campaign that demonstrates its pro-student commitment by imposing nonstop test prep on kids, and crippling teachers’ power to resist mandates for soul-killing, bubble-in accountability.” Thompson said that “dilettantes like David Boies” used to be called “Limousine Liberals.” He said today liberals like Boies are “known as corporate reformers.”
Last week, Mitoko Rich (New York Times) reported that Boies would be heading a group that is challenging teacher tenure in a lawsuit filed in the state of New York. Boies, “the star trial lawyer who helped lead the legal charge that overturned California’s same-sex marriage ban,” has become chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice, “a group that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown founded in part to pursue lawsuits challenging teacher tenure.” Rich said that Boies, in “aligning himself with a cause that is bitterly opposed by teachers’ unions,” has become “emblematic of an increasingly fractured relationship between the Democrats and the teachers’ unions.”
The son of two public school teacher, Boies doesn’t appear very knowledgeable about the main causes of the problems facing public schools in the United States today. He seems to be drinking the anti-teacher/anti-tenure Kool-aid of people like Michele Rhee, Campbell Brown, and charter school prima donna Eva Moskowitz.
In an interview in his firm’s offices in Manhattan, Mr. Boies said he viewed the cause of tenure overhaul as “pro-teacher.”
“I think teaching is one of the most important professions that we have in this country,” he said. But, he added, “there can be a tension” between union efforts to protect workers and “what society needs to do, which is to make sure that the social function — in this case teaching — is being fulfilled.” Mr. Boies, who said he viewed education as a civil rights issue, is offering his services pro bono.
This is not Mr. Boies’ first engagement with efforts to overhaul public education. He is on the board of StudentsFirstNY, the New York chapter of the advocacy group led by Michelle A. Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, which also supports teacher evaluations based on test scores and the expansion of charter schools.
Teachers’ unions say the lawsuits against tenure demonize educators and ignore real problems. “The bigger issue is how do you attract and retain great teachers into schools and how do you address the many issues that are created by poverty?” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second largest teachers’ union, who called the lawsuits “smoke screens.”
As John Thompson noted, “Boies claims no experience with public school teaching.” Thompson added that he doubts that Boies “actually knows and loves any individual poor students of color.” Thompson continued by saying that the famous lawyer loves poor students of color “in the abstract”—but probably doesn’t realize “how much harm his agenda would do to actual students.” Thompson contends that Boies would be helping to “drive teaching talent out of schools where it is harder to raise test scores.”
I wonder if Boies fully realizes that the lawsuits he is fronting for are merely props in assault on the teaching profession, as well as unions and the democratic governance of public schools. Whether he knows it or not, Boies is fronting for a market-driven agenda which, as Karen Lewis observes, seeks competition-driven schools that would turn out Masters of the Universe and Walmart greeters.
David Boies and the Anti-Tenure Public School Reform Gang
The thing that I find most troubling about Boies being a part of this effort that attacks tenure and due process for teachers is that—as Thompson wrote—he “gives no hint of having read the vast body of social science that argues against the test and punish policies that his allies would impose.” Thompson even said he wonders if Boies “has even studied the five papers cited as research by the Partnership for Educational Justice website, much less the evidence that fellow corporate reformers presented in Vergara v California, the first of these legal campaigns against the rights of teachers. I would be shocked if he understood how the top Vergara expert witnesses presented evidence that argues against his New York case.”
Thompson also said he thinks it’s “virtually inconceivable that Boies has taken the time to understand the common, questionable methodology of the small group of narrow papers that supposedly support Brown’s, Rhee’s and his claims, and how irrelevant it is to the complexities of school improvement.” He wonders if Boies is even “curious about why data-driven reformers have created an echo chamber that ignores the lessons of the long history of successful and failed school improvements.”
Mark Weber—aka Jersey Jazzman— is a teacher, education researcher, and musician. He wrote about Boies’s appearance on Morning Joe last week. Boies was there with his anti-tenure co-conspirator Campbell Brown. Weber said that Joe Scarborough and Mike Barnicle appeared to be “blown away that a “liberal” icon like Boies is getting behind an anti-union jihad against tenure.” He guessed that the two MSNBC talking heads hadn’t heard that “other ‘liberals’ like Rahm Emanuel and Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy and Arne Duncan and lord knows how many other neo-libs have been spouting reformy nonsense for years. Boies has a well-known school privatization pedigree; getting him to lead this foolish lawsuit to overturn New York’s tenure laws is hardly a big surprise.”
As noted earlier, Boies is a member of the Board of Directors of the anti-teacher group StudentsFirstNY. He serves on the board along with Michele Rhee (founder and CEO of StudentsFirst), Success Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz, Joel Klein, and Dan Senor—who just happens to be Campbell Brown’s husband. It’s interesting how certain names keep popping up in the groups leading the charge to eliminate due process for teachers and to establish more charter schools. It appears to be almost incestuous.
A little breakdown for you:
– Adrian Fenty is a member of the Board of Directors of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Fenty was the mayor who hired Michele Rhee to manage the schools in Washington, D.C.
– David Boies serves on the Board of Directors of Campbell Brown’s group Partnership for Educational Justice—as does Joe Williams who is the Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).
– David Boies, Michelle Rhee, Eva Moskowitz (CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools), Joel Klein (former New York City schools chancellor, chair of the Broad Center and, head of Amplify—the education division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.), and Campbell Brown’s husband Dan Senor all serve as members of the Board of Directors of StudentsFirstNY.
– Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein also serve as members of the StudentsFirst National Board of Directors.
– Campbell Brown Serves on the Borad of Directors of Moskowitz’s Success Academy.
– (Note: Joel Klein also serves on the National Board of Directors of Teach for America.)
Boies and the “Enthusiastic” Educational Stars of Teach for America
According to Thompson, Boies and his wife have hosted Teach for America teachers at their home. Boies has been impressed “with their enthusiasm.” (Note: After graduating from college, inexperienced TFA teachers work in troubled schools for two or three years. After that, most move on to better paying jobs outside of education in more prestigious professions.)
Excerpt from Boies’s appearance on Morning Joe:
Boies, 5:20: “You look at a program like Teach For America — every summer, we have the Teach For America volunteers up at our house for a picnic — and they’re just great, and they’re enthusiastic, and yet some people want to keep Teach For America out of New York City schools. It doesn’t make any sense, if what you primarily concerned about…”
Scarborough (interrupting): “Why do they want to keep them out?”
Boies: “Because they view them as competition for people who are already teaching there. I think they’re, listen, maybe disruptive in the sense, they have new ideas, enthusiasm… and that’s what teaching’s about!”
Campbell Brown and David Boies on Morning Joe
So…Boies hosts TFA teachers for picnics at his house and has become enamored of them because they’re enthusiastic…and they have new ideas! To be sure, no “regular” public school teachers are enthusiastic and have new ideas. To be sure, no “regular” public school teachers with years of experience can hold a candle to the TFA educational ingénues! To be sure—all public school teachers with years of experience lose their enthusiasm and never EVER innovate in their classrooms.
As Weber noted, David Boies can’t understand why some people don’t want to staff “our most difficult schools with young people who’ve had five weeks of training!” Weber added that Boies was so impressed by the TFA teachers with whom he talked when he hosted them at his house that he’s convinced that “they’re great teachers!” How does Boies know this to be a fact????? I wonder: Is that how one performs teacher evaluations…by having conversations with teachers at social events?
I have to ask: Why is Boies such a strong supporter of TFA when “more than 80 percent of its members leave teaching after their third year?” Weber wondered why Boies thinks that “a policy of replacing experienced teachers with neophyte, poorly-trained, constantly churning, recent college graduates would be good for schools serving at-risk students.” I have to wonder too. Has Boies even taken the time to think through what he is doing?
Abolishing tenure so we can staff schools full of at-risk students with inexperienced teachers is perhaps the most inequitable education policy anyone could conceive of — yet it appears that this is exactly what David Boies wants to do.
From his experience, Thomspson has learned that “once TFAers spend some time in the classroom they usually realize that the inequitable distribution of teachers is not due to tenure, but due to attrition.” He added that if Boies “had the time and inclination to listen to educators, Boies might have felt compelled to lead a campaign for full-service community schools where teachers could better help overcome poverty.” But that would be too complicated. There is no easy fix for poverty. It’s better to attack teachers and their right to due process.
Thompson said he’d love to have an “equal” opportunity “to school Boies on education research and what it really takes to create equity.” He doesn’t expect, however, that Boies would “take the time to study the ‘Billionaires Boys Club’ hypotheses on how to improve schools, or how and why their agenda has caused so much damage to teachers and students in high-poverty schools.” Thompson added that it would not be too much to ask Boies, a lawyer, “to look into both sides of the biggest legal issues.”
As Education Week’s Steve Sawchuk writes in the context of Whoopi Goldberg’s “rant,” and other high-profile personalities recruited to the corporate reform campaign, “tenure laws–which prevent teachers from being dismissed without cause, typically established in a hearing–are actually complex, obscure, and context-specific.”
For every complicated problem, there is an answer that is quick, simple and wrong. It’s great that Boies likes socializing with current and former TFA instructors, and it is also great that he loves yachting. But, I doubt he would trust his boat to sailors or mechanics who have no experience on the water or fixing boats. And, that raises some questions.
How much time do elites like David Boies invest in consequential decision-making before investing in a yacht or another hobby? How little effort do they invest in understanding public schools before they impose their hunches on society?
Educational Research and Teacher Experience
Anti-tenure proponents like Boies and Brown have an excellent PR machine and a gullible mainstream media that is only too happy to broadcast their anti-teacher and anti-tenure rhetoric. Research, however, doesn’t support what they are peddling. Research has shown that teacher experience is an important factor in student achievement. In its article How Teaching Experience Makes a Difference, Parents Across America wrote the following:
Even as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and others around the nation are arguing for experienced teachers to be laid off regardless of seniority, every single study shows teaching experience matters.
In fact, the only two observable factors that have been found consistently to lead to higher student achievement are class size and teacher experience, so that it’s ironic that these same individuals are trying to undermine both.
Generally speaking the corporate reformers argue that only the first few years of experience matter, though you can see from these charts from a study by Thomas J. Kane, now at the Gates foundation, Jonah E. Rockoff and Douglas O. Staiger that at year five, effectiveness is still going up for all categories other than uncertified teachers.
Of course, most Teach for America recruits are gone by then, which is why their dotted line vanishes at year three.
Actually, there are many studies that show that teaching experience matters, for 15-20 years – with each year in the profession leading to more student gains, especially in reading.
Addendum: Encouraging the “Youth Cult” in Public School Teaching Ranks
Excerpt from my Turley Blawg post Should the High Teacher Turnover Rate in Charter Schools Be a Cause for Concern? (September 7, 2013)
In a recent New York Times article titled At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice, Mitoko Rich wrote of how charter schools seem to be developing something of a “youth cult” in their teaching ranks. She reported that in the charter network “teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable.”
Teachers in the thirteen YES Prep Schools, which are located throughout Greater Houston, have a reported average of two and a half years of experience. The teachers who work for Achievement First—which has 25 schools in Connecticut, Brooklyn, and Providence, R.I.— “spend an average of 2.3 years in the classroom.” And the individuals who teach in the KIPP schools and the Success Academy Charter Schools stay in the classroom for an average of four years. This youth culture—or culture in which most classroom practitioners have little teaching experience— differs from that of our country’s traditional public schools where teachers average nearly fourteen years of experience…and where public school leaders have made it “a priority to reduce teacher turnover.”
In the NYT article, Jennifer Hines, senior vice president of people and programs at YES Prep, was quoted as saying, “We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, ‘O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing?’ There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.” (Note: New teachers at the YES Prep schools receive just two and a half weeks of training over the summer before arriving in the classroom.)
Rich says it was Teach for America (TFA) that was mostly responsible for introducing the idea of a “foreshortened teaching career.” TFA is an organization that recruits “high-achieving” college graduates and places them in some of our neediest schools. In a piece for Policymic, Benjamin Cosman wrote about TFA recruits. He said that after just five weeks of training, “Teach for America participants lead a classroom for two years, slap it on their resume, and leave the school with a bevy of opportunities.”
Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, contends that “strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers. The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.” (Question for Wendy Kopp: Are you sending your teaching recruits into the “strongest” schools?)
I suggest that the esteemed David Boies start visiting some inner city schools and begin talking to the “regular” school teachers who work in them. He might get new ideas about some excellent ways to improve public education for the poorest and neediest students in this country.
Limousine Liberal David Boies Wants to Fix Our Schools (Huffington Post)
Summertime Celebrity Education Ignorance: David Boies (Jersey Jazzman)
Celebrated Trial Lawyer to Head Group Challenging Teacher Tenure (New York Times)
How Teaching Experience Makes a Difference (Parents Across America)