Huffpost Education
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dora Taylor Headshot

The Battle for Seattle

Posted: Updated:

In the comment section of a post that Eli Broad wrote recently on this blog, I had mentioned a Broad Academy graduate who is now working within the Seattle Public School system as Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment. Per the school district's website, "The Department of Education Technology REA is primarily responsible for official student statistics for the Seattle School District. This includes statistics on enrollment, student demographics, evaluation, standardized testing and surveys." The REA department, and Mr. Bernatek specifically, is responsible for the implementation of a test referred to as the MAP, Measures of Academic Progress, test in Seattle that is now not only to be used to test students and track them from kindergarten to ninth grade but is also to be used to evaluate a teacher's performance. Mr. Bernatek had told several of us in a meeting earlier this year that the test was not designed to be used as an evaluation tool for a teacher's performance and yet our Broad trained superintendent has determined that the MAP test will be used for that purpose.

It was numbers provided by Mr. Bernatek that started the wheels in motion for our superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, to head towards the edicts of ed reform which includes merit pay, closing schools, firing 50 percent of teaching staff at "low performing" schools or replacing the principal and turning "low performing" schools into charter schools. Now we have recently found out that the numbers were misleading and that Mr. Bernatek was aware of this all along. There has been a reaction of anger and disbelief that students and families have gone through so much upheaval and unnecessary changes based on misinformation.

And why is this relevant to anyone reading this post? Because this is happening around the country as seen in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington, DC and now is happening in Seattle of bringing ed reform to cities in different parts of the country.

There are the same key players in every city and they arrange and rearrange themselves like pawns on a chess board but they are always the same individuals and highly profitable "nonprofit" organizations in each town. You can take a look at The Lines of Influence for an introduction to these players.

The best place to start is with the presence of the Broad Foundation in Seattle and carry you through to the present. The Broad Foundation's goal is to privatize our public school system by way of charter schools. Eli Broad has become influential over the years, beginning in 1999, in transforming school districts around the country to his vision of what education should be. As Mr. Broad makes clear in his post, he does not see the need for educators to necessarily be part of our public school system; rather people with a background in business, law or the military would make far better choices to run our schools. That viewpoint is fine to have as long as it is not forced on an unsuspecting public but unfortunately it has been with, at best, mixed results.

The people of the state of Washington have voted down charter schools twice so far but there is an effort for that to change with the next legislative session which begins in January, 2011. That campaign began several years ago.

I will begin with Don Nielson, a person who has been on the scene as well as behind the scenes in Seattle since 1992.

Mr. Neilson began his foray into education after retiring as CEO of Hazelton Labs, a business that he had successfully developed over the years. Don Nielson received his MBA from Harvard Business School and has been active as an alumnus with the Seattle Harvard Business School Alumni Association. He is also a member of the Board of Advisers with the University of Washington's School of Education where he had received his BA.

Upon his retirement as CEO of Hazelton Labs, he traveled around the country, looking at different schools and school districts and decided upon his return to Seattle that he would become actively involved in education by running for school board director. His bid was successful and he began his first term as a director on the Seattle school board in 1992.

Don Nielson became President of the Seattle school board in 2001. He handled running the school board like running a business. As a previous board member said to me, "If you were chosen to be on the board by Don Nielsen, you would be sent back east for this corporate training." That training was done by the Broad Foundation.

According to one board member who had gone through the "corporate training" when asked why the board was not more receptive to parent input, she said that at the Broad training they were told that as board members they would get thousands and thousands of ideas from the public but the only ideas they should pursue were those from "professionals" at national conferences and at Broad meetings.

Mr. Nielson was also part of the faculty of The Broad Center for Superintendents. One of the graduates of the inaugural class in 2002 was Don McAdams, founder of the Center for Reform of School Systems. Mr. McAdams in 2010 lead a Seattle school board retreat that was to discuss the State Auditor's Report on Seattle Public Schools. The auditors' report included the fact that there had been inadequate oversight by the school board directors over the decisions that had been made by the superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Many people questioned why a board retreat had to be attended by McAdams and the superintendent particularly when it was discovered that Mr. McAdams was a representative of the Broad Foundation. That retreat, as well as others, had been funded by the Alliance for Education which receives the majority of its' funding from the Broad and Gates' Foundations.

This is the first post in a multiple post series. Next up, Part 2: Joseph Olchefske, our first Broad trained superintendent in Seattle.