• Author Deb Mayer

Corporate Reformers Bare Their Teeth in Portland

UPDATE March 19, 2017: Members of the Portland Public School Board trekked to Atlanta to engage in an itinerary planned by Dr. Dickey. It should come as no surprise that they heard compliment after compliment on such a tour. This was the last step in their vetting of him for PPS Superintendent. Bethany Barnes writes for the Oregonian:

It is hard to imagine a more glowing picture of Portland Public Schools' pick for superintendent than the one district officials saw on their visit to this Deep South capital intended as the final check for flaws.

A serious search for information about Dr. Dickey would include going behind the scenes to interview people who employed Dickey -- those above his pay grade, not just those who worked for him. Below is information that PAA Oregon has received from a trusted, credible source from Philadelphia (where he worked prior to Atlanta) who chooses to remain anonymous:

Aside from the fact that Mr. Dickey, should he get the Portland position, will have jumped from three jobs in 18 months, he was not a highly-regarded curriculum and instructional leader and there were questions about his operating a Common Core-focused side business while in his academic leadership role in Philadelphia.

He spent two unremarkable years in Philadelphia during the worst of the budget crisis, during which time the state documented significant violations of the curricular code, including the (illegal) elimination of requirements around gifted ed and foreign language: http://www.pilcop.org/phillycomplaintsupdate/. He was not an advocate in my opinion, of curriculum and instruction, particularly with regard to special education and vulnerable communities. And there are strange anecdotal stories from principals about what seemed to constitute poor judgment.

Several journalists from the Philadelphia Daily News and the Notebook, spent a decent amount of time doing an investigation into a side business Mr. Dickey was either a principal in or had some significant role in, called Educational Epiphany: http://educationalepiphany.com/

Educational Epiphany peddled in Common Core materials for schools - "lousy test prep" according to one teacher whose son used the materials - and Mr. Dickey was promoted for a while on Educational Epiphany's website as someone who visited school districts around the country for training. This raised significant questions about his use of time considering his prominent role as both an asst. superintendent and as Chief Academic Officer. It is my belief that once reporters started inquiring into the situation, the District reined in Mr. Dickey's extracurricular activities, but I have no proof of that. Educational Epiphany now does not mention Mr. Dickey as they used to.

Mr. Dickey also had allegedly "encouraged" principals in Philadelphia to use his materials, but no evidence was found that he was coercive or forced schools into contracts.

One additional note from a colleague: Donyall was a divisive, polarizing force within administration. He was bullying, played people off one another, and poorly regarded by those under him. The Portland School Board should do its due diligence and talk with a wide variety of principals and asst superintendents who had to serve under Dickey. There is a reason he jumps from job to job!

I would have hoped for someone significantly better for Portland Public Schools. You deserve it.

At this point, the PPS search committee chooses to ignore warnings from people who may be the best sources of information about Dr. Dickey. PAA is a network of parents and educators from across the nation. We know each other. We trust each other. We are doing the work to keep corporate reformers out of our public schools. We have information to share about Dr. Dickey. It seems the board has sacrificed its due diligence for a quick fix. The truth well may be that Dr. Dickey is the only finalist because no one else will take the job. PPS has real problems and until we get our house in order, i.e. -- the issues of leaded water, the bond, a newly elected board, and the ever-present equity problems, our district is not an attractive one for prospective leaders. Wouldn't it be better for PPS to wait until May for election results to determine the bond issue and new board members, at least -- before blindly charging forward under the leadership of the only candidate who would take the job?

At this point the appointment of Dr. Dickey seems inevitable. I wish him nothing but success, but I predict his tenure will be rocky and short-lived. A corporate wolf does not don new robes just because he moves to new territory. He will be in a position to do real damage with a leg-up from the state. (But that's another story.) A corporate reformer is a corporate reformer. We can't say weren't warned.


On March 4, 2017 Diane Ravitch sent out a heads-up to Portlanders on her blog. The headline read: Portland, A Reformer Is Coming Your Way. The text of the post was short and sweet.

Portland parents, if you want to learn more about the person who is going to be your next school superintendent, please contact Ed Johnson, a watchdog over the Atlanta Public Schools.

Edward Johnson: edwjohnson@aol.com

So, I did.

I had already contacted Sacramento State professor and moderator of Cloaking Inequity, Julian Vasquez-Heilig, who had sent a similar query to Ed Johnson. I received a response from each in minutes. Below is what Ed had to say about Donyall Dickey, the finalist for the top job at Portland Public Schools (printed with Ed's permission):

Hello, Deb.

Following below is what I shared with Julian V-H in an email just this morning. Indeed, raise the red flags, especially given the African-American TFAer running for a seat on the school board. The combination of her running and Dickey as PPS superintendent warrants deep concern. Honestly, it blows my mind that African-Americans are so much at the forefront of destroying public education.

Ed Johnson

Advocate for Quality in Public Education

Atlanta GA

First, it is interesting Portland would even look in the direction of Atlanta Public Schools. After all, once before they hired someone from APS to be their superintendent only to, in short order, find fit to force him (sic) out. See here.

I have not seen Dr. Dickey’s resume. Absent that, the bio blurb here says “Dickey is the author of 32 published books on the new international Common Core State standards for English/Reading, Social Studies, Science, the Technical Subjects, and Mathematics.” However, only one book by Dickey seems available, which is The Integrated Approach to Student Achievement: A results-driven model for improving performance, leadership, and the culture of instruction at your school.

Now, strictly my take: Several months ago in a meeting with a small number of community members, Dickey boasted his approach relies on “support but with pressure.” He boasted in such a way – arrogantly, said one parent – so as to suggest to me carrots-and-sticks. So wanting to learn what he meant, I invited Dickey to a walking meeting out on the nature trail in the backyard of an elementary school (about that, here). Dickey accepted my invitation but didn’t show up at the agreed to time and place. Instead, an Atlanta policeman did. Coincidence? Perhaps. Next, I broached with the school board in a monthly community meeting my wanting to know what Dickey meant by “support but with pressure,” as it was that kind of top administration behavior that gave rise to the Atlanta test cheating scandal due to too great a focus on gaining quick, one-off results at the expense of developing sustainable and resilient pedagogy. Following that, Dickey went virtually unseen in the community. When he did once appear in a community meeting, it was with [superintendent] Carstarphen and his demeanor clearly had been “transformed” – to use the word – to one of subservience to and fear of Carstarphen. Thus it seems Dickey exposed an aspect of the underside of Carstarphen’s superintendence, Carstarphen retaliated, and now Dickey is seeking to escape Atlanta Public Schools.

Perhaps more importantly, state standardized test results the past few years suggest Dickey’s results-focused approach hasn’t turned out so well especially for Black kids: when the tests changed, results for Black kids got worse.

--Ed Johnson

Ed's story about "support but with pressure" reminded me of former Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Ron Saxton who in 2013 spoke in a similar vein. See the video here. He said:

Do you know what the description of a great education leader is?

It’s an S.O.B. with a kindly manner . . . I’m an S.O.B. with a kindly manner . . . You gotta be an S.O.B with a kindly manner.

It was the beginning of the end of Ron Saxton's tenure as Deputy Superintendent and the OEIB. Oregon has had enough of the carrot-and-sticks approach from corporate reformers. We do not respond well to it. If Dickey is to be out next Superintendent, Portland needs an answer to that question. What does he mean by "support but with pressure"?

Mr. Dickey isn't the only reformer on Portland's horizon. Jamila Singleton Munson has announced her candidacy for Portland Public School Board, Zone 4. She got her start from the teacher-bashing organization, Teach for America and was a principal at a KIPP charter school.

According to Willamette Week:

But the press release announcing her candidacy and her website make no mention of those credentials, nor of her recent position as chief of staff for Teach for America, an organization that places previously untrained teachers from elite colleges in low-income public and charter schools.

Her campaign manager says the reason for the obvious omissions was that Portlanders don't know much about those organizations. The more likely reason is that people who do know about those organizations will voice strong objections to a school board candidate who represents the vision and mission of those organizations.

If you are not familiar with Teach for America and KIPP and the disastrous effects these two organizations have had on mostly poor children of color, here are some links that will give you a quick study: Don't Teach for America, Resistance to Teach for America, Is Public School for Sale? The Cost of KIPP, and Cloaking Inequity TFA.

Reformers have been quietly going about the business of promoting their agenda in Oregon since the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) was established (under then Governor Kitzhaber) and then quietly dismantled under Governor Kate Brown. Regrettably, African American Rudy Crew was hired as Chief Education Officer during that time to push the OEIB agenda and left in a year.

It was also around that time that Stand for Children's Jonah Edelman decided to take his education advocacy group in another direction as Susan Barrett notices in this Rethinking Schools story: For or Against Children? The problematic history of Stand for Children:

This past year, Oregon Stand staff wanted us to press our legislators to pass a “bipartisan education package,” which basically tied the release of much-needed school funding to the expansion of charter schools, online learning, and other so-called “reforms.” Stand also pushed to lower the capital gains tax.

With the passage of Measure 98, Jonah Edelman and Stand for Children have a shot at controlling about $150 million dollars of the state education budget a year -- forever. Unless the legislature does its job, adheres to our Oregon constitution, and funds the Quality Education Model as it is required to do, the billionaires will have won another coup. Stand for Children raised over five million dollars to promote its deceptive M 98 campaign and stands to control over a billion dollars of Oregon's education budget over the next decade. That's how the billionaires operate.

Are African-Americans so much at the forefront of destroying public education?

I would argue that African Americans are taking the fall for the billionaire class. We need to have this conversation, especially in Portland. Many African American reform leaders have been groomed by Teach for America (Munson) and the Broad Foundation (Dickey) to further their agenda of owning our public schools and the tidy real estate packages attached to them. Most don't see the bigger picture and some may even be true believers, having drunk the corporate kool-aid. John King, Second U.S Secretary of Education under President Obama and Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children's Zone have done quite well for themselves by promoting the privatization agenda. They are highly visible, highly successful African Americans who have led the way to segregating millions of poor children into charter schools. But are they leading the way or are they merely puppets for the powerful?

What do all reformers have in common? MONEY! Money and power and lots of it -- money from private foundations and donors; and funding in the form of grants and contracts from the government. Nonprofit oreganizations like Stand for Children are funded by billionaires and millionaires with an agenda to privatize our public schools and de-professionalize teaching by destroying teachers unions. A lot of it is our money -- yours and mine in the form of tax dollars issued as grants and contracts-- billions of dollars that would normally go to public schools. Private charter schools like KIPP would not exist if it weren't for our generosity. Of course, some schools and nonprofits receive both government and private funding. The billionaire trifecta of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton Family plus the U.S. federal government have been front-and-center in public school privatization and will be tenacious in adding Portland Public Schools as a win.

African Americans aren't funneling money into this privatization scheme. They just want a quality education for their children. Likewise, African Americans aren't developing policies that serve up our public schools to private interests on a silver platter. The position of Superintendent of Public Instruction, sometimes referred to as the State Superintendent of Schools, was a constitutional office within the executive branch of the Oregon state government from 1872 to 2012, when it was eliminated by state law. As part of an education overhaul, a 2011 state law eliminated the elected office of superintendent and made the governor the superintendent, with the responsibility of appointing a Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction. The appointee must further have at least five years of experience as a school administrator and is subject to approval by the Oregon Senate. It was the enactment of that law that opened our state up to privatization by corporate reformers.

Of Oregon's top five education officials (pictured below), only one is an educator. It is doubtful that he would be except the law requires it. This group of ill-informed visionaries is playing with the future of our children. Over the past several years they have been influenced by the billionaire class through Stand for Children, The Chalkboard Project, the federal government, and other generously funded organizations that know little about teaching and learning. They have been hostile to educators. They are planning the most ill-conceived, unstable economic future imaginable for our children without the knowledge or consent of , well, any of us. (More on that in a future post.)

As you can clearly see, not one is African American, but they do have much in common with the PPS superintendent and school board candidates. They are in power because they dutifully fulfill the bidding of the wealthy elite. But unlike the African Americans, they will not do the dirty work. They will not be the catalyst to the controversy that will erupt. They will not be scrutinized or marginalized or found lacking. They will be invisible in the fight that is to come.

Just as many of us were marginalized and manipulated by the enigmatic recruiting firm that hired Dickey, we are again being pitted against each other as we try to make sense of how to deal with the choices before us. We as a community are being played. This is about much more than choosing African Americans to be education leaders. I hope my black friends can see past that. I expect that relationships will be tested, and friendships will be damaged as we navigate this contentious situation.

This same scenario has been played out time and again in city after city, state after state, across the country for years. In that way, Oregon is lucky. We can see what has come before us if only we open our eyes and pay attention. We don't have to give in to corporate reformers. We can chart our own path. We can opt for quality public schools that belong to all of us, or we can give them away.

Oregon's Top Education Officers


State Superintendent of Schools



Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, K-12



Chief Education Officer



Executive Director, Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission



Director of Early Childhood Learning


#DonyallDickey #JamilaMunson #JonahEdelman #ReformersPPSSuperindent #PPSSchoolBoard

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