Monday, August 11, 2014

Can ConnCan con Conn?

I apologize for the title -- I just couldn't help myself.

In this Monkey Cage piece (Vergara vs. California: Are the top 0.1% buying their version of education reform?), I talked about how a few CEOs and ex-CEOs influenced that highly publicized trial through subsidized research, cozy relationships with officials and high-priced PR and legal teams. The case provided an interesting and very topical look into the relationship between big money and the education reform movement but it was a small part of the picture.

ConnCAN (Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now) is a powerful movement advocacy group. Their priorities closely follow the big three: privatization; scientific management; and elimination of pretty much all job protections for teachers. After Vergara, they pushed for similar moves in Connecticut despite the fact that, unlike California, Connecticut already has a  tough tenure granting process and dismissal procedures that both teachers and administrators seem to be happy with.
Danbury's Deputy Superintendent of Schools William Glass also said the California ruling won't have an effect on the educational community in Connecticut.

"We have a very effective process for dismissing a teacher with cause," Glass said.

"It takes time and we provide support for a teacher to see if they can improve. But if they can't, we are now down to a 10-month process for dismissal," he said, referring to the new reduction in due process.

Glass also said most teachers who are not a good fit will voluntarily resign.

No one wants an ineffective teacher because the principal, the school and the district all are held responsible for that teacher's ineffectiveness in teaching students, Glass said.

"Accountability has never been as clear as it is now," Glass said. "The days of hiding are gone. It's all very visible."

In California, tenure can be earned after only two years in front of a classroom. In Connecticut, it takes four years to earn employment protection.

Connecticut also recently added language to its tenure laws that allow ineffectiveness -- as determined by new teacher evaluation procedures -- to be a cause for dismissal.
Just to be clear, California's tenure system was, by almost universal agreement, deeply flawed. One of the most pervasive defenses of the Vergara decision was that something needed to be done. Connecticut is, by almost every measure, on the other end of the spectrum. When an organization makes reducing teachers job protections in Connecticut a priority, you have to suspect it's not really about the students.

To get a better fix on ConnCAN's priorities, it helps to look at where the organization came from. Jonathan Pelto, guest blogging for Diane Ravitch, fills in the details:
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) was formed in 2004 by Jonathan Sackler, who served as the founding chair. However, the role of ConnCAN’s Board Chairman was then transferred to Brian Olson, the co-founder of Viking Global Investors. Viking Global Investors is a hedge fund which currently manages over $10 billion. In addition to being a long-time member of ConnCAN, Olsen presently serves on the Leadership Council of the Newschools Venture Fund.

Following Olson’s tenure as the Chairman of ConnCAN, the position was given to Will Heins, the former Senior Vice President of Greenwich Capital Markets.

Of the twelve present members of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors, at least nine are or were “hedge fund managers,” including Art Reimers, a former partner and managing director of Goldman Sachs.

Three months after Sackler and his allies formed ConnCAN, they also incorporated Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), which was originally designed to be the lobbying and public relations arm of ConnCAN. The number two spot at ConnAD went to Alexander Troy, who lists his occupation as “private investor.” Troy worked for the hedge fund, Perry Partners during the 1990s and eventually created his own hedge fund company called Troy Capital in 2003.
There's a particularly rich vein of chutzpah in having a group of hedge fund managers calling for more accountability and performance-based pay. Here's Barry Ritholtz spelling out the context:
The numbers cited above are eye-popping: The average hedge fund is underperforming the S&P 500 by more than 2000 basis points this year alone. That is an astonishingly poor showing. As Saijel Kishan & Kelly Bit point out in the Bloomberg News article, hedge funds have “underperformed the S&P 500 by 97 percentage points since the end of 2008.” The last time the fund industry outperformed U.S. stocks was in 2008. That year, they lost (depending on what industry data you use) somewhere between 19 and 29 percent; the S&P 500 declined 37 percent. Prior to 2008, you need to go back to 1993 to find similar outperformance, when they were up 31 percent versus a 10 percent increase for the S&P.
And how much accountability have we seen? Catherine Mulbrandon of Visualizing Economics (also via Ritholtz) has a handy chart.

Add to that the myriad tricks that these managers use to cook their books, tricks that, not coincidentally, have been showing up in the charter school sector.

No comments:

Post a Comment