This page is dedicated to the controversy, and I will post all Marc's pieces here on this page. I have started from the beginning, so everything should be here, in order. Any links in his posts will not be published here, except his fourth, which he will publish here as a guest. You must go to the sources for links (I will link to the originals only).
Here we go...
Here is the now deleted post that got Marc in trouble (link):
Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?Here is his reaction to the deletion and his subsequent firing:
I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources - the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education's competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3). Secretary Duncan needs to head this off now, by admitting that he and his team have potential conflicts of interests with regard to their roles in grant making, recognizing that those conflicts are widely perceived by potential grantees, and explaining how grant decisions will be insulated from interference by the department's political appointees.
Over the last several months a national education reporter, a senior manager at a national education research organization, and the head of a national nonprofit working in the field all volunteered that the Department's senior officials know exactly who they want to get RTTT and I3 money - in brief, the new philanthropies' grantees and the jurisdictions where they work.
These three hold positions of some responsibility. None have been prone to exaggeration in the past. They are not colleagues. They run in entirely different circles, live in entirely different parts of the country, and work in very different parts of the K-12 education space. They all relayed conversations with colleagues about the problem.
We do know that the Secretary benefited from a strong relationship with the new philanthropy in Chicago. We know that the Secretary is high on charter management organizations and the new teacher development programs that benefited from the new philanthropy. We know that RTTT czar Joanne Weiss was senior staff member at New Schools. We know that Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton was a senior program education officer at the Gates Foundation and NewSchools. We know that both managed investments in the organizations' Duncan favors.
Anyone who remembers the Reading First fiasco is familiar with the pattern. A Secretary inclined towards a particular education reform solution, subordinate political appointees with a personal investment in the same solution, connected to organizations practicing that solution - organizations with incredibly thin files of reliable evidence consistently demonstrating an educationally significant contribution to improvements in student performance in the schools where they work today. The last time education reformers saw this pattern, the organizations with the best evidence of efficacy were pushed aside in favor of those who met a tortured definition designed to produce the desired outcome. Given history, concerns that a repeat is in process are neither unreasonable, nor unwarranted.
Whatever is or is not going on at the Department, the principled response is for the Secretary to address the fear head on, explain how the feared outcomes cannot take place, and then make sure he and his people keep several arms lengths removed from the process.
TWIE Readers: If you have evidence for or against the concerns I've relayed, or if you've heard the same stories, heard the opposite, or haven't heard a thing, please post it here.
Marc Dean Millot said...Here is his first of five posts exposing more information (original at link):
At 1:45 Friday afternoon, I posted a brief commentary in This Week in Education, where I have been a guest columnist. "Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?" was one of many appearing in the edu-blogosphere over the last two week's expressing concerns over the lack of transparency in the Department of Education's implementation of the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation discretionary grant programs. Within a few hours the commentary generated a modest amount of interest from some of our community's leading bloggers.
A little after 5 pm that day it was taken off the site by TWIE editor Alexander Russo. Russo informed me that he had been directed to do so by TWIEs sponsor, Scholastic as the result of a call from Andrew Rotherham to someone at the firm that Russo thought might be Rotherham's friend.
Over the weekend Russo struggled mightily to fix the problem. He emailed me, "Please be assured that this isn't really about you or the substance of your post." I agreed to sit tight till Monday. Sometime around 10:15 Monday evening I was fired by Russo or, to be more precise, he activated TypePad software on TWIE prohibiting me from publishing. The act was in breech of a six-month contract giving me "complete editorial control" over my columns as well as the princely sum of $200 a month.
I've been asked by my readers to explain what happened. I'm posting here because Kenneth Libby was the first. I intend to tell my story from start to finish. Yes, I have something at stake here. Yes, I intend to draw on materials that don't normally see the light of day - like emails and private conversations. But this situation is also an opportunity for readers to gain some insights into the personal side of Washington policy debates, the ways people with influence use it, the challenges faced by those who seek a commercial model for the new media, and the role of the blog in public discourse over education policy. These are worthy goals, rarely pursued.
I could go out and start my own blog, but I ran one for a year at edweek.org and prefer to be a columnist. I would be grateful for perhaps five days access to an edublog as a guest blogger. In return, I can only offer my best efforts to provide the facts, a good faith interpretation, and the full record in my possession for readers can come to their own conclusions.
Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE? (I)Here is the email chain between Millot and Russo:
"I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources - the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education's competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3)."
Substantively, This Week in Education Editor Alexander Russo's determination to pull "Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?" last Friday and terminate my contract on Sunday turns on Andrew Rotherham's charge on his blog, Eduwonk, that I "call out senior government officials as corrupt on the basis of anonymous third party hearsay and no evidence." (Rotherham's emphasis.) The sentence above, the first of my post, lies at the core of his outrage.
This essay addresses the validity of Rotherham's three-pronged charge: Was my inclusion of "anonymous third party hearsay" unethical;" does Rotherham subscribe to the generally accepted meaning of "evidence;" and did I "call out senior government officials as corrupt?"
In a word, no.
This essay will be the first in a series, so I begin with my decision around noon Friday afternoon to write what was (for me anyway) a brief column on implementation of the RTTT and I3 grant programs, and specifically the question of transparency. Readers who know me from RAND, New American Schools, edbizbuzz, or my the column in TWIE, may have focused on my past more than my present. But I haven't made a secret of the way I've earned a living for the past six years, and it's directly relevant to my decision. In January of 2004 I started K-12Leads and Youth Service Markets report, an information service that covers federal, state and local grant and contract RFPs for commercial and nonprofit organizations providing goods and services around teaching and learning. It is literally my business to keep up to date on federal grants, and talk about them with my clients and the media.
It is in my interest that these kinds of competitions are both based on the merits rather than relationships, and perceived as such by providers of school improvement products, services and program. One of the biggest hurdles to marketing my services, especially to the entrepreneurs leading smaller businesses and nonprofits, is the belief that the RFP process is a sham, that contracts are "wired." Some may be sore losers, but I decided to draw on my experience with "indications and warning" from my Cold War days at RAND and elsewhere to see what I might learn from the open source data - the vast number of RFPs I monitor. Federal and State law and district practice vary widely, and some are much closer to best practice in government procurement than others. Over time I developed a list of worrisome indicators, for example: very short deadlines for very complicated projects, the use of a contract number rather than a descriptive title in an announcement, descriptions that seemed far more tailored and specific than required to do the job, the release of rfps the day before holidays likely to entice many people from their office for several days, and relationships between buyers and sellers. For a time, I reported suspect RFPs in my weekly reports. After procurement scandals in Texas and Maryland reporters called me to discuss the potential for a story in their locales, but "smoking guns" are hard to find, and disappointed providers fear retribution.
"Anonymous third party hearsay"
On Friday afternoon it struck me that I ought to write something about the unsolicited remarks on RTTT and I3 I have heard from contacts I consider responsible: two senior managers from organizations with stakes in the federal competitions, one from a reporter covering grants programs. They are people with every incentive not to make rash charges. All told me pretty much the same thing - based on their interactions with the Department they were not sure investing the considerable resources required to write these federal grant applications was wise because the winning organizations were already known to the department, and/or that in order to have a chance at winning they would have to bring those organizations into their proposal. I identified these individuals and organizations in my post.
None of these people would want their concerns made public, all feared the consequences of taking this head on. What I found striking about the conversations was the fact that they almost certainly arrived at their conclusions independently. I didn't prompt their remarks, they don't know each other, they work in very different segments of public education, they live thousands of miles apart, and their jobs don't leave them with vast amounts of time to follow internet debates on transparency. Yet their experiences led them to say the same things. This struck me as indication and warning, Not proof, but reason for concern.
The ethics of citing these people and stating their beliefs in writing depends entirely on how they were used. Employed as evidence to bolster a direct charge of corruption would be unethical. Used as one piece of evidence in an argument for for a perceived conflict of interest is not. The first case runs against the idea that a man has the right to confront his accusers. The second is meant to warn the man that he may have a problem. If writers could never rely on hearsay to provide warning, society would be denied the opportunity to head off problems before they become disasters, Yes, the allowance does make public officials uncomfortable, but it's the same policy rationale that limits the rights of public figures to respond to even very intense personal criticism. A century of court rulings have made clear that thing less would cripple free speech.
I'm leaving discussion about the objective of my post to last.
Given the full content of my post, I have to conclude that Rotherham's definition of "evidence" is confined to the smoking gun: a memo laying out an illegal plan, an eyewitness to the meeting where the perpetration of corrupt practices was discussed, wiretaps to the same effect, a confession, or testimony where the perpetrator explains everything to a would-be victim while the district attorney hides behind the curtains. It's surprising how often this evidence does come to light, but there are plenty of people sitting behind bars based entirely on circumstantial evidence. A series of actions can be considered a pattern meeting all three standards of legal culpability - more likely than not, a preponderance of the evidence, and beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act, which can apply to agencies of the federal government, the evidentiary bar can be surprisingly low. In sum, "evidence" extends well beyond the smoking gun, the weight given to any evidence is a matter for those who receive it.
In my view, the emerging edublog debate over the Department's transparency in RTTT and I3 has left one shoe dangling - if the decision process is being hidden, to what end? Or put another way, what do those who are not satisfied with the current state of transparency in the process fear the Department is going to decide substantively? The remarks of my contacts offered a view into one possible answer. The facts I laid out about in my post relationships among Department appointees responsible for the grants, the new philanthropy, and their grantees are circumstances relevant to the transparency debate.
I am not a niaive stranger to the implementation of discretionary federal grants. I was engaged in the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program as COO at New American Schools, in the multi-million dollar Department grant that allowed me to form the Education Entreprenurs Fund. I followed and wrote about Reading First in edbizbuzz and in an Education Week Commentary. The Reading First example is relevant because the pattern is similar, and because those involved in RTTT and I3 are aware of the parallels and might reasonably conclude the pattern is similar.
"Call out senior government officials as corrupt"
I am responsible for the words I choose, adherence to generally accepted conventions of grammar, the sentences I construct, how I put those sentences together into paragraphs, and the order in which I present those paragraphs to readers. But I can only be responsible for the plain meaning of what I write. No author can be held responsible for the inferences of readers; certainly not the inference of one reader. The plain meaning of my first sentence "I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources - the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education's competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3)" is beyond dispute. I heard these things from three people I consider credible; i.e., believable, trustworthy, reliable, plausible.
From here Rotherham makes the inference that I agreed with the three. Yet, nowhere in the post did I write I agreed with them. As a lawyer, I know that the appearance of a conflict can be just as damaging to confidence in government as an actual conflict. I explained facts that might lead them to believe it, I added a request that those with something to say for against the fears, and for or against the existence of those fears, leave comments to that effect at the bottom of my post.
The thrust of my comments was summed up in my penultimate sentence: Whatever is or is not going on at the Department, the principled response is for the Secretary to address the fears head on, explain how the feared outcomes cannot take place, and then make sure he and his people keep several arms lengths removed from the process. The plain meaning of this sentence is that I don't know if there is corruption, but I do know the Secretary should address the fears directly, and take actions to reassure the public that the process will be on the merits.
In the common law of torts there's the case of the "eggshell thin skull." If you engage in a fist fight, land a blow to the head that should only bruise - and only intended to land such a blow, but kill the man with the eggshell thin skull, you've committed homicide. There's no analogue warning authors against peculiarly sensitive readers. Writers are not responsible for offending the man with the "eggshell thin temperament," and certainly not when the man is not even in mentioned by the writer. Editors receive complaints from all manner of outraged observers and one telephone call doesn't generally serve as the basis for a serious editorial decision.
In this respect, the broader evidence of how other readers interpreted my post is relevant.
TWIE Editor Russo notified me that he had pulled the post around 5:20 Friday evening. Here's the complete email:
chase is still giving me the runaround but i'm putting a check in the mail tomorrow for the past two months -- no reason you should wait if the previous checks haven't gotten where they should.... more about blog stats, etc. as i can get them -- last but not least, i am taking down your post about the fix being in at the usde for reasons i can better discuss on the phone than here -- please call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX if you want to discuss. it's part of a larger, ongoing issue not at all targeted towards you or this post alone.... i appreciate your keeping this between us for the time being, though of course anyone who's already read your post or who has an RSS reader or a google cache can still see it.
There's nothing here suggesting he believed I accused anyone of anything. Given that I had complete editorial control of my posts, it's not like he had been part of an editorial process investing him in the defense of the post. His gut reaction was that this was really about , "larger, ongoing issue."
A review of reactions to my post across the blogs before it was pulled is also useful. Of the bloggers who commented, only Rotherham stated that I was accusing anyone of anything. Of the individuals who posted comments on the bloggers' posts only one agreed with Rotherham - on Eduwonk, and the site saw a brief debate with some commenter who took my post at face value.
Finally, over the weekend, Russo offered my post to his colleagues for comment and advice. He updated me on the results by email at quarter to four Monday afternoon:
checking in as promised, dean -- but no real news. i've been doing lots of temperature taking among media and industry types -- lots of aggravation directed at andy but i'm not getting a clear or strong response re upset at scholastic.
The defense rests
Russo did not pull the post on substantative grounds. There are no substantive grounds. TWIE's editor pulled it because of Rotherham's influence over a colleague at Scholastic, and that Scholastic employee's order to Russo.
Next: the pressure-cooker Rotherham created for Russo. Watch for me at EdNotes.
Note: I have a history of proving reader with the primary source information required to decided for themselves. But for one telephone call, all the "behind the scene" communications I engaged in over the course of this incident were via email. Later today I will release a complete record of these communications, and provide copies to the education press.
Here is part II, hosted with links at EdNotes:
Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE (II)Here is part III (sans links):
Please be assured that this isn't really about you or the substance of your post. ?Issues of transparency and accountability have been raised by several folks including hess and edweek…
you try and make it seem to yourself like this is about some higher issue, but it's really just ego and refusing to acknowledge your role.
Readers might reasonably guess that the first quote is from someone who supports the argument I made on February 10 in School Matters http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2010/02/millot-sound-decision-or-censorship-at.html; the second from someone who does not. Both quotes can be found here. In a sense they would be right. The first is part of This Week in Education (TWIE) http://www.thisweekineducation.com/ Editor Andrew Russo’s email to me of 11:06 AM (Saturday the day after he pulled “Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?” . (http://borderland.northernattitude.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/millot_warning.pdf) from his blog. The second, his email of 11:55 PM Monday, sent after firing me from TWIE. (A complete email record can be found here. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/26695687/Millot-Russo-Email-Communications-February-5-9-2010)) A new man can emerge over 60 hours – especially when he’s under pressure.
Why did Russo pull the post? The short answer, at least the short answer Russo offered over the phone Saturday, lies in his contract with Scholastic. TWIE is not editorially independent. Scholastic decides what will remain on his blog. On Friday afternoon, Russo’s point of contact at Scholastic (I was not taking notes and can’t remember his name) received a call from Andrew Rotherham with the charge he made on Eduwonk (LINK NOW BROKEN) (http://www.eduwonk.com/2010.02/hogworts-on-the-hudson.html)). Russo thought the relationship might have a personal dimension. The contact called Russo and told him to pull the post, a call Russo had received three times since he moved TWIE to Scholastic in late 2007. This was Friday afternoon, Russo was on his way to a mountain weekend, so he did what he was told, hoping to walk the cat back by Monday.
Why did Russo decide to keep my post off TWIE on Friday and fire me Monday? That’s a longer story.
As I’ve admitted before I have an interest in the case. This is why I released a complete record of our email communications to the education media and posted on the web. With the exception of a Saturday morning phone call - that I will do my best to recall in this post, email constitutes the complete record of our discussions. I also believe that there’s more at stake than my reputation. This case offers an unusual opportunity for readers to look at the sausage factory of debate over federal education policy, the role of the new philanthropy in education reform, and the idea of commercially viable, editorially independent “grass roots” or “small business” sites for news and commentary in public education – sites that are not the web extension of mainstream print media.
I’ve known Alexander Russo for several years. Our relationship has been conducted almost entirely by email. We’ve never met face-to-face, and rarely used the phone. We are not social acquaintances, but business colleagues, and asynchronous communications have worked well. We are different, yet similar. Aside from the usual differences in age and experience, our styles differ. Alexander once described his blog style as “snark,” I’d call it “edgy.” He didn’t define snark, but based on observations of his blog, I’d characterize it as brief comments, narrowly tailored “zings” that hit the best or weakest substantive point of the object of his writing and the very button of the object most likely to elicit pleasure or pain. I’d describe myself as more linear and formalistic, and more inclined to nail every point to the floor with every argument, form every perspective I can think of.
We manage to share something of a “bad boy” image, although he’s probably more in the style of Billy Idol (to date myself). There’s an insider quality, but also a flavor of the guy who slipped into the party through the back door, and allowed to stay because no one has to accept responsibility for his invitation. He’s the guy who portrays himself as part of the establishment but independent of it. I too have an inside/outside image. I’ve held reasonably senior positions in some well-established institutions on matters of market-based school reform since the early 1990s. I’ve been called “pugilistic.”
Russo and I also share a real interest in the commercial possibilities of web-based media in public education, its potential for opening up the communications infrastructure affecting policy decision fora, and enormous skepticism in what I’ve called the new philanthropy’s keiretsu.
(http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edbizbuzz/2008/02/deconstructing_a_social_keiret.html) I am not entirely sure of the basis for Russo’s doubts. Mine are based on strong doubts about the financial viability of the organizations and models that have received their investment, the broad implications of their failing investment strategy for the kind of market in public school improvement I’ve worked for and – strongly related to my business assessment, the social implications of their top-down centralized management philosophy.
Russo’s and my experimentation with business models led to different outcomes. Based on my experience at New American Schools, I started K-12Leads and Youth Service Markets, a low-cost (and of course high-quality) RFP reporting service for organizations providing school improvement and similar niche-market services. Russo developed This Week in Education into a web-based news and commentary business, ultimately sponsored by Scholastic.
Start: Friday, April 13, 2007
Move to Edweek, September 10
I tried to get a k-12 news and commentary business going, tried School Improvement Industry Weekly,” a web-enabled publication, tried a podcast, and wrote a market-oriented blog on my own (http://archive.edbizbuzz.com/blog ) and for edweek.org called edbizbuzz. (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edbizbuzz/2007/09/) I enjoyed them immensely, but my style of blogging is simply too costly to be a hobby. In the end I could not find a plausible financial model, and wasn’t as savvy about the business as Russo.
I admire Russo’s entrepreneurship, and the way he’s built a business around his “edgy” style. The difference between TWIE and every other k-12 news aggregator has been Russo. I’d say he is edgy, chose to cultivate an edgy personae, attracted a growing readership that likes him edgy, and found a source of competitive advantage in the media business in the perception that he is edgy. Scholastic’s decision to invest in him surely had something to do with the fact his edgy approach has appealed to the demographic of young, internet-dependent educators that will be making the big purchasing decisions within the next decade.
I moved edbizbuzz to edweek.org in September 2007..When Russo announced his move from edweek.org to Scholastic in 2008, I posted a comment,
What Russo has done, in effect, is to launch what I think is the first independent commercial blogsite sponsored by a direct relationship with one advertiser. … Over the next several years a teaching force that got its information via paper media is being replaced with one that relies far more on the internet. Buying into a blog like TWIE is cheap. If it takes off, the investment will have a disproportionate payoff….. (Uncompensated) unaligned bloggers' value-add/competitive advantage has been adopting the independent strategy. As the first professional k-12 blogger to choose free agency in our market, Russo has a special responsibility to stay on the straight and narrow.Little did I know that I’d be a test case.
Over the years Russo and I read and occaissionly cited and commented on each other’s blogs. I stopped blogging in October of 2008. My one-year agreement with edweek was up, I had several family issues taking a great deal of my energies, and the time required to maintain a daily blog had hurt my business. I decided to stop for a while, but Russo and I stayed in touch.
My agreement in November, 2009 to write a weekly or so column for TWIE was prompted by the fact that the original draft of Tom Toch’s report on CMOs for Education Sector had come into my possession. The differences between Toch’s draft and the final report issued by EdSector were so vast, the events leading to the second draft so unethical, and the fact both so well-hidden that I felt obligated to make the original draft public. I emailed Russo intending to provide him with a scoop, and ended up agreeing to his offer to write a weekly column, over which would have complete editorial control, for $200 a month, for six months.
Did I mention that I’m a lawyer? My view is that if people intend to do what they say, they’ll put it in writing. The monthly payment was relevant to me in that I did not want to write for free, but it was important to me to reinforce that we had a contract that gave me editorial control. The six-month period was enough time to see how this arrangement would work, and not long enough to stick one of us in a position we didn’t like. In my view, Russo’s willingness to do this was based on a sense that I might help keep his blog interesting with original content, that he knew my approach and trusted my judgment, and that it was another manifestation of his edgy style.
I proceeded to write a series of [stories] on problems in the charter school markets the academic fraud of EdSectors CMOs report, Imagine Schools violation of state laws concerning charter a nonprofit governance, and the Massachusetts Board of Education’s abuse of the chartering process. All were pretty aggressive. I was under no illusion that opponents of charter schools, privatization, and Edsector would use them to advantage. But I’ve never thought that pretending bad actors don’t exist served a helpful role with the vast majority of people who have no made up their minds. Moreover, I don’t want a market dominated by bad actors, and I’m not going to sit on my hands and let it happen. None of my work led Russo to suggest he should have a formal role in the editorial process. And neither Russo nor I were niaive – we expected push back from the subjects of my posts.
This lengthy discussion provides a context for Russo’s decisions during the February 5-9 period. They are not isolated events, but a predictable point in the trajectory of his business model.
TWIE readers and I had every reason to believe Russo retained editorial control under his contract with Scholastic. He didn’t publish the contract, but TWIE seemed to operate pretty much as it had at edweek.org and as a standalone blog before. And there’s this November interview with Scholastic Administr@tor Executive Editor Kevin Hogan in Publishing Executive’s INBOX (http://www.pubexec.com/article/scholastic-administr-tor-enters-blogosphere-executive-editor-kevin-hogan-adding-popular-blogger-his-team-83070/2) column:
INBOX: What contractual/payment arrangements were made with Russo?
HOGAN: His arrangement is essentially the same as you would find for contributing editors in the print world.
INBOX: What process have you established for comments on the blog? Are they moderated by someone on the magazine staff, or does Russo handle the moderating/posting of comments?
HOGAN: People are free to leave comments, anonymous or not, on the blog page. Russo handles any moderating that needs to happen. Also, it’s important to note that Alexander is his own editor, and his blog is completely independent from the opinions of the rest of the magazine staff or of Scholastic at large. (Millot’s emphasis)
So why did Russo keep my post off TWIE and fire me from the blog? As a business matter he had no choice. His contract required him to pull it. He could not persuade his contact at Scholastic to change his mind. Forced between two contractual breeches, economics required him to breach mine. As he approached that point of decision he began to reconsider the substantive merits of the matter.
I understand his business decision. There’s a moral element to all this, but in so far as Alexander Russo is concerned I’m prepared to set that aside. I think he made a bad business decision. Russo cultivated an “edgy” independent image. TWIE’s popularity is based on Russo. Taking my post down on Scholastic's orders rather than the merits undermines Russo’s “bad boy” personae. People might see him as someone who did not demonstrate independence when it mattered, and gave way to Rotherham’s charge without a fight. That image offers no competitive advantage to TWIE.
Next: on Tuttle SVC (http://www.tuttlesvc.org/) – Andrew Rotherham’s role or, the tip of an iceberg.
Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE?And here is Part IV:
I am at turns, flattered, amused, confused and annoyed at Andrew Rotherham’s decision to call on a colleague at Scholastic and force This Week in Education's editor, Alexander Russo, to pull “Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?" within hours of its posting. I’m flattered that Education Sector’s departing founding would give the effort that kind of priority. I’m amused that he would be sufficiently sensitive on behalf of his colleagues at the Department of Education to leap to their defense within moments of the slightest provocation, but remain completely silent when confronted with my direct accusation that he was complicit in academic fraud three months ago. I am confused by this articulate and well-read University of Virginia Ph.d candidate’s failure to distinguish between the plain meaning of my sentences and his own inferences. I am annoyed that someone who I know personally wouldn’t just contact me, or even my editor, before taking action, when he’s had satisfaction before.
I know what I did and have explained as best I can. I know what Russo did, what he told me, and I have provided a complete record of our communications.
Enough time has passed for Rotherham to deny what Russo told me, so don’t doubt that I know what he did. What I don’t know is why. All I can do is lay out all the circumstantial evidence at my disposal, and offer my best assessment. Readers can decide for themselves.
Rotherham might be just another disgruntled reader – who happens to know the publisher.
There are lots of readers of lots of publications who read something and get very upset. Most don’t know the author - let alone the editor or publisher, and most media don’t make pulling the story practicable. They write a letter to the editor and maybe cancel their subscription. In the blogosphere. they write a comment under the offensive post and/or write something in their own blog.
Rotherham knows me and Russo. In November, 2007 he contacted me to say I was wrong about some post. He was right. I corrected the post and credited him with the change. No big deal. Had he called me in this instance, I would have clarified my point - admittedly out of an abundance of caution. Even more likely, had he contacted Russo, Russo would have asked for the same, and I’d have done it. There is simply nothing in my past relationship with either to suggest otherwise. It happens that Rotherham is the only person with his interpretation, but there would be no skin off my nose for humoring him.
So why he didn’t call? I see two plausible reasons:
The first, what lawyers call a “sudden impulse.” On reading my post, Rotherham was “provoked” or “overcome with emotion” and without “opportunity to reflect” picked up the phone or blasted off an email to his contact at Scholastic. A “crime of passion.”
The second theory is deliberate decision. For some reason Rotherham did not want to communicate with me or Russo. He did not want to give either of us a chance to respond or clarify. He wanted, or had to, talk with his publisher colleague.
The first theory needs a reason for Rotherham to get so upset. The column was not about him. He was not named. It’s possible, but odd, that he might be a die-hard fan of senior department officials, imagines “attacks” on them as attacks on himself and acts like someone under attack.
The second theory needs a reason for Rotherham not to call. Maybe he “forgot.” But that leads to the first theory. Maybe he lost our email addresses and/or phone numbers. Maybe he figured we’d tell him to take a hike. Or maybe he had reason NOT to communicate directly.
Some facts relevant to either theory: Both Russo and I have been engaged in debates with Rotherham for some years. There’s plenty of what Russo’s called “snark” directed at Rotherham on this This Week in Education. Rotherham and I have had several extended debates on and between his blog eduwonk and my edbizbuzz. My remarks were more formal and intellectual, but the tension of a contest is evident.
More important, in late November I started a series on This Week in Education accusing EdSector with academic fraud (starting here) - and Rotherham with complicity - regarding a report on CMOs drafted by Thomas Toch, but appropriated, edited and released by the think tank with vastly different findings and conclusions. To my direct charges the normally voluble Rotherham has remained silent – no reply, no explanation, no comment. Nada.
If Rotherham had contacted me or Russo, we would have asked why he had not responded to my TWIE series. Rotherham would be forced to give an explanation or be on the record of refusing to answer a direct question from his accusers. If he really wanted to get my post pulled, he had to call his colleague at Scholastic. Alternatively, given this history, Rotherham flew into rage and/or thought he “had us” and called his contact to deny us the opportunity to respond or edit the post.
Either way, it seems pausible that he wrote his post on Eduwonk to note his “victory” - at least to Russo and me, and “lock in” Scholastic’s decision. Unfortunately, the post was already circulating the web. Once again, amid the modest hubbub Rotherham is uncharacteristically silent on his role, and I expect no response to this.
Update: I should also refer back to the "man with the eggshell thin temperament" in my first post on this topic. Rotherham has a particular loathing of arguments from anonymous sources, that falls somewhere between pet peeve and obsession. His response pattern tends to focus more energy questioning the source than addressing the substantive issues - the eduwonkette saga offers readers a start on that inquiry. Readers might consider the ironic juxtaposition of Rotherham's hostility towards anonymity on questions of substance with his willingness to go behind closed doors to squelch debate. Editors might as well.
Now, my view is that “every bully is a coward in disguise”. But that’s for readers to decide. [layout edited]
Millot: Sound Decision or Censoprship at TWIE (IV)Marc Dean Millot has written his last post in the series. Here it is without links:
By Marc Dean Millot
I've posted three essays. So What?
I am not the first person to see his column ("Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?") pulled for arbitrary and capricious reasons. Alexander Russo is not the first editor forced to choose between a rock and a hard place. Andrew Rotherham is hardly the first bully to pull some strings. There’s no news there.
Like the "series of series" I wrote in This Week In Education about Education Sector's fraudulent Charter School Management Organization report, the gross abuse of charter and nonprofit law perpetrated by CMO Imagine Schools, and the incredible disregard for chartering law by Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville, Commissioner Mitchell Chester, and several State Board members, this story is important because it offers readers a rare opportunity to confirm something many suspect, that there’s something very wrong happening here. Inevitably, those opposed to charter schools or introducing public education to market mechanism will use these stories to condemn both concepts.
That’s regrettable, but inevitable, and no moral basis for remaining silent. I hope these stories are wake up call to the vast army of good people in the market, the centrist legislators who support it, and the moderate foundations that ceded this arena to a small clique that this part of school reform could use some itself. Silence has allowed a kind of "anti-blob" to gain far too much influence, on far too little evidence.
There would be no story if I had gone along with Russo decision’s to keep the post off. Just another of the blogosphere’s one-day mysteries. Most people in my situation would have remained silent - and I wouldn’t blame them. I’ve noted comments in the blogosphere noting my “bravery” or “courage” in taking matters this far, but there was no courage involved. Were I a young analyst, tied into the social keiretsu I’ve described (and its damn hard for anyone with a market-orientation to be independent of it) then I’d be brave – and almost certainly foolhardy.
The keiretsu parted company with me years ago. In 2003, the handful of foundations supporting the emerging charter movement – at least the West Coast part of the "new philanthropy," cut long-time charter leaders out of the loop and off from funding. This included Eric Premack in California, John Ayers in Chicago, and Shirley Monestra in DC – people who played important roles passing and implementing their states charter laws’ These were experienced pro-market reformers, but preferred to harness business discipline to mission, rather than nonprofit tax advantages to corporate style; doubted the financial, educational and social viability of the Charter Management Organization model; and pressed their points with vigor. Above all they constituted the grassroots independent community-based charter movement’s “policy wonk connection” to federal and state government, the national education conversation, and the local media.
The remaining “leaders” of organizations in and around the charter movement saw the massacre, and decided discretion was the better part of valor. Consistent with the golden rule, many fell into line, most remained silent. The National Charter School Alliance, the bottom-up “membership” organization representing charter school associations that I led was strangled at birth. I was fired for using my own money to explore legal questions related to the withdrawal of a promised grant, and then cut off from education think tank publishing channels I had enjoyed for years. After the situation settled, the keiretsu formed a top-down “leadership” organization, the National Alliance of Charter Schools. (I think I have the emails to and from the key figures documenting this period on one of my old computers.)
Like many victims of the massacre, I found another way to make a living. Mine kept me involved in the emerging market, built a teeny-tiny business, and found various outlets for my writing. During that period I got some (important) crumbs from colleagues who sympathized with me but relied on keiretsu funding. Eventually I found the blogosphere offering the independent writer access to the market for ideas.
So I was throwing nothing away when I did not accept Russo’s decision as the last word. No one tossed from that club is going to be let back in. Russo might have been brave inviting me to write my column for TWIE – I know he regrets the decision. But the keirtsu had already pulled my financial and publishing plugs. Indeed, Rotherham’s move has only increased my readership - and even added to my client base. So I’m not brave.
What’s at issue here? At one level the social outlets for two groups of people:
The first, mostly young, idealists who believe in a market where local community-based organizations can operate public schools, where nonprofits apply concepts and techniques of operation developed by business, and where they purchase support services from the private sector.
The second, business entrepreneurs who took state and federal interest in “what works” seriously, built research and development into their classroom products and services, understand that their programs cannot work without educator support, and hope to sell their offerings to public schools to improve teaching and learning.
The behavior of the keiretsu gives both these groups a bad name, and makes it that much harder for them to play a constructive role in public education
What the keiretsu does not represent is “k-12 business.” The large multinational publishers have a very profitable business selling content to a school districts, and are very happy leaving superintendents with the impossible job of managing the large systems. The last thing they want is to operate public schools and see their profits disappear. The next to last thing they want to see is their manageable market of 15,000 odd sales channels (i.e. school districts) atomized into 100,000-plus schools. The experiment with EMOs discouraged investors from that business anyway, and only philanthropy – with its capacity to subsidize its ideas for a better world - could consider it viable.
So the future of some market concepts and the people who favor them are at stake. Important to me and them, but not likely to invigorate the many people who have supported me in this series even as they oppose any introduction of public education to the market place.
What should energize all well-meaning citizens is the keiretsu's abuse of power, how they’ve operated over the years, how they operate now, and the great potential for doing it with billions of dollars of federal education spending. Do we really want federal education policy to be whip-sawed with every new President or Secretary of Education? Whatever your philosophy, don't we need some stability, and shouldn't change at least be based on some kind of objective evidence?
This is why I wrote my column. I know what this group has done. I still believe that implementing complete transparency in the RTTT and I3, keeping officials with clear conflicts of interest completely out of the decision processes, and having the Secretary address the issues I laid out publicly, will lead to a competition based on the merits. Absent these features, I have my doubts.
Next: Finally, what to say about the reactions?
Update: See my last post on this fiasco on Borderland (http://borderland.northernattitude.org/) next week.
Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE (V)
-Marc Dean Millot:
This last post is not about This Week in Education editor Alexander Russo’s decision to pull “Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning” because Andrew Rotherham suggested a colleague at Scholastic should make it so. It’s simply a list of my reflections on reactions to this series.
Thank You. I must thank five independent educator-bloggers who offered their hands in friendship for open debate. My posts can be found at Jim Horn’s Schools Matter, Norm Scott’s EdNotes Online, The Frustrated Teacher, Tom Hoffman’s Tuttle SVC, and here at Borderland. The complete record resides at TFT. I could not have responded as quickly or broadly if they had not lent me their platforms and credibility with their readers – and done so even though we disagree on some important policy matters. They are the ones who took risks.
Now that this series is ended, I will end my guest column status on their sites and return to the school reform blogosphere sometime in the future. In the meantime you will undoubtedly see a few of my comments on others’ sites.
Effect. Convincing these unknown colleagues to borrow their blogs offered me a quick response to Russo’s decision and Rotherham’s blog posting. One upside of the “five-blog” strategy was the potential to reach a larger audience. The downside might have been that it was harder to follow the series, yet most of my colleagues reported higher than normal traffic when I posted on their sites.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I had hoped to generate some interest in the mainstream education media. Diane Ravitich and Anthony Cody did post on their blogs in edweek.org, but I have no reason to believe the national media is interested. If you think they should be, let you favorite education reporter know. Reader suggestions can have influence.
Silence. Before I go deeper into the blogosphere’s reactions, readers have probably noticed that neither Russo nor Rotherham recognized any of my posts on their blogs, or any blog. For both it was probably the best “communications” strategy. From their perspective, any response would simply add fuel to the fire and keep the story going. Neither has a credible rejoinder on the merits, and the blogger’s usual knee-jerk reaction – the snide remark, was unlikely to go over well. Accepting responsibility and fault was never in the cards.
However, we do know that someone with Education Sector has spent hours reading my series – see here and here, so ignorance is not a valid plea for Rotherham.
General Trend of Comments. When I had edbizbuzz.com on edweek.org I found that: comments were made by a tiny proportion of readers, opponents were far more likely to comment than “allies,” a good portion of negative comments were ad hominem, and that edwonks who might be the targets of my posts were well-defended by their “blogroupies.”
This was the opposite experience: a much higher ratio of commentators to readers, more vociferous agreement than disagreement, ad hominem attacks directed against Russo or Rotherham, and no comments from either’s entourage. My guess is more “destination readers” followed the series than might follow a typical site.
Russo and Rotherham: Both have had several years of non-stop edublogging; plenty of time to make friends and enemies. No one expressed great admiration for Russo, but there were few real attacks on him. Rotherham was a different story; he has a great many detractors. There are the usual suspects, like the Klonsky brothers, but quite a few people who do not blog expressed similar sentiments.
Conspiracies. The series definitely became fodder for those inclined towards conspiracies around Scholastic, the Gates Foundation and for-profit education. As I’ve written before I’m not inclined in this direction because I don’t think people are sufficiently disciplined.
I would say that Scholastic was the unwitting accomplice of a friend or colleague of Andrew Rotherham – no executive of any standing had anything to do with ordering Russo to pull the post. Maybe someday I’ll remember or figure out the guy’s name.
As for Gates, New Schools, their grantees, EdSector etc., my own experience with very large nonprofits is that senior staff can leverage their organizations in ways their presidents and boards can’t dream of. Instead, see a network of people – Shelton, Smith, Rotherham etc., with a similarly focused view of school reform from a similar subculture of philanthropy, similarly invested – psychologically or otherwise – in a specific group of grantees, working towards the same ends. It’s not a conspiracy so much as an open secret. They’ve never hidden themselves from the public, they’ve spent a decade daring people to challenge their positions. They are a case of emperors wearing no clothes.
Finally there is nothing like a coherent “for profit education industry.” It’s kind of like talking about the “United Nations.” The industry is divided at least between the multinational publishers, their local consultants and everybody else selling products, services and program. The first two groups want no change to the status quo and would be happy to repeal NCLB. The few, mostly weak, trade groups have badly fractionated the broader industry’s Washington presence. And within any segment of the industry there are literally hundreds of small for- and nonprofit organizations motivated by every force known to man.
Very few in the for-profit world are interested in running public schools – it’s a very unprofitable business. Having reviewed the economics of both the charter management and teacher training businesses, I would say the new philanthropy actually wants to push the burden of their own subsidies onto the government, via RTTT and I3. Finally, there’s just not a lot of exchange going on between the for-profits and the nonprofit represented by the naked aristocracy. Sure it exists, but its not very likely that anyone at for-profit Scientific Learning knows anyone at nonprofit KIPP knows anyone at for-profit University Instructors knows anyone at nonprofit Success for All knows anyone at Scientific Learning. With a foot in both worlds, I can say they are two different worlds and cultures – although they share the fee-for-service revenue model.
Hearsay. I did not explain the term in my first post because there was enough jargon as it was and, although I am a lawyer, I felt I could make my point without still more. But as reactions to the series progressed Rotherham’s post demonstrated the risks policy wonks face when they forget the limits of their expertise by managing to confuse a lot of readers. What follows is the best, simple discussion on point that I found online http://www.lectlaw.com/def/h007.htm :
[A] statement introduced to prove something other than its truth is not hearsay. For example, testimony may be offered to show the speaker’s state of mind.
Example: Dana and Bruce were fighting, and Dana shouted “Bruce, you are a lousy bastard.” Marla heard the argument and was asked to testify at Dana and Bruce’s divorce trial. Marla was permitted to repeat the statement “Bruce, you are a lousy bastard,” because it is not hearsay. It was not introduced at the trial to prove that Bruce has lice or is an illegitimate child, but rather to show that Dana was angry.
What I wrote was not hearsay at all. I introduced the information, not to prove “the fix is in,” but to show the state of mind of people interested in the RTTT and I3 grants program. If Rotherham, or maybe his contact at Scholastic, had looked the term up in a dictionary and reflected on its application to my column, you probably would not reading this post.
Censorship. There also seems to be some confusion about this word. At least one commentator suggested that Russo’s decision was not censorship. It was not “government” censorship, which is how most people think of the term. After reviewing various dictionaries on the web, Wikipedia offers a fair summary of its meaning:
Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor.
Readers can decide who the censor was: Rotherham, the Scholastic employee, or Russo. The net result was censorship.
Millot. No great opposition to me, actually a great deal of personal support. Some commentators had a very hard time accepting that I’m pro-market. Frankly, I think there is more common ground between those who share my view of a school improvement market and teachers than many educators believe. This would be a useful area for discussion and at least one blogger – Anthony Cody, has extended an invitation to have such a dialogue. We shall see.
Other complaints included too much detail, too much legalese, talking too much about me, and my use of the Millot-Russo email record.
Without going on and on (any more), some quick responses: The detail, legalese and autobiography were deliberate choices. I did not want to engage in a running, sniping, indecisive blog battle. Short items leave too many openings for misleading counterargument. I decided to take “one bite at the apple” with each segment of my argument; I wanted readers to have all the facts relevant to making up their own minds. Printing the email transcript was the hardest decision, but absent it, this would all be “he said, she said.” Russo’s termination of the contract without public explanation left me no choice, and he never disputed the record.
Would I do this again? Absolutely. And if you ever face the decision to sit this out or dance – I hope you’ll dance.