Murdoch Firm Snags $94K For Principal Training

Amplify PhotoNew Haven principals are learning how to use a new Web tool to analyze how teachers spend their time, thanks to Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein.

The training follows a school-board vote last month to approve a $94,000 contract with Amplify Education, Inc., to “provide consulting services, software license, and technical assistance training” to the New Haven public schools. The contract, which runs from March 24, 2014 to June 30, 2014, is being paid for with part of a million-dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for teacher-to-teacher professional development.

Click here to read the contract.

The contract raised eyebrows recently in the teachers union because of the people associated with the company: Amplify is owned by billionaire Murdoch’s News Corp. and run by former New York Schools Chancellor Klein. The pair, and the Amplify venture in particular, have become flashpoints in national school reform debates. Murdoch has been both lauded for increasing access to technology—and painted as a villain who profits off the backs of schoolkids.

Melissa Bailey PhotoTeachers union President Dave Cicarella (pictured) said he has asked his vice-presidents to look into the company’s associations.

“We just want to check it out,” Cicarella said. “Just as I don’t want to do business with Achievement First [charter school network], I don’t want to be doing business with Joel Klein, either.”

Superintendent Garth Harries, who served as a top adviser to Klein before joining New Haven schools in 2009, replied that the deal was approved by a panel of teachers and administrators; is being paid for by an outside grant; and is a small contract for a limited purpose—not an invasion of city schools by Murdoch and Klein.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoJustin Boucher (pictured), a teacher who is administering New Haven’s Gates grant, said the contract has a narrow focus: To help principals at nine schools analyze school schedules to find more time for teacher-to-teacher collaboration. He said Amplify is training principals on how to use the Web-based tool to analyze teachers’ schedules. Amplify will not make recommendations on how to change those schedules, he said.

Boucher said that through a license to Amplify’s Web tool, school administrators will be able to plug in school schedules and answer questions like: How many students are in a class? How much time does each teacher spend teaching, prepping, and doing other duties?

That’s “largely information that we already have, but not information that’s easy to aggregate,” Boucher explained. With Amplify’s technology, principals and their staff can take a birds-eye view of their schedules. According to the grant, the analysis has one specific purpose, Boucher said: To find time during the school day for newly appointed “teacher facilitators” to meet with their peers and conduct teacher-to-teacher training.

Amplify “won’t suggest anything” in terms of how to change the schedules, Boucher said. “They’ll train” principals, but the company’s contract explicitly states that the company won’t be making any suggestions, Boucher said.

So far, nine schools have signed up to pilot the new technology: Barnard, Hill Central, Truman, Fair Haven, Nathan Hale, Columbus Family Academy, Sound School, New Haven Academy, and Hyde Leadership Academy. Principals at that school will be trained in upcoming weeks, Boucher said.

With the Amplify technology, principals may also be able to set to work on another goal: To figure out what to do with an extra half-hour per day of teacher time that will be set aside for teacher collaboration starting next school year.

The new teachers contract, which takes effect July 1, adds 15 minutes to teachers’ workday and allows schools to assign teachers duties during another 15-minute period teachers had before school, effectively creating a new half-hour block of time per day. The contract leaves it up to staff in individual schools to vote on how to use that time.

Schools have a wide range of options: They could have teachers show up early every day; stay late every Monday; or even start the school year as many as 15 days early. Teachers in each school are supposed to vote on a new schedule; if they can’t come to agreement, the school will follow a “default option” set by the school district.

The Amplify contract has provoked some fear that Klein and Murdoch’s company will set the terms of that “default option.”

Amplify has nothing to do with the default option, Harries said. He said the default option will be determined in collaboration with the teachers and administrators unions, as per the New Haven Federation of Teachers contract.

That union-management relationship represents a departure Harries has taken from his former boss, Klein. As Klein’s chief executive for portfolio development, Harries oversaw the closure of hundreds of “failing” schools in New York. In New Haven, he designed a version of school change that hard-line reformers consider “soft” because it centers around collaboration, not conflict, with the teachers union.

So far, the unions have yet to settle on a default option, Harries said. He said he hopes schools will come up with their own plans so they don’t reach the point of a default option.

“I want schools to own it,” he said.

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posted by: Elm City Resident on April 30, 2014  11:28am

Finally a useful tool—anything that gives teachers the ability and time to collaborate is a good thing—that supports teaching and learning… plus it’s not on the taxpayer dime so overall, seems like a win.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on April 30, 2014  12:12pm

“We just want to check it out,” Cicarella said. “Just as I don’t want to do business with Achievement First [charter school network], I don’t want to be doing business with Joel Klein, either.”

Sounds like Cicarella DOESN’T want to just “check it out”. Sounds like his mind is already made up. The union is opposed to anything that might destroy the status quo. For the union, it’s Teachers First and Students Last.

posted by: fourfifths on April 30, 2014  1:29pm

Great Idea!  Everyone knows, it seems NHPS and NHFT agree, that corporations are far more efficient and managing time than municipalities and unions.  The city’s principals, who clearly can’t do this on their own (or else they would have) need training on how to analyze teachers’ schedules.

posted by: Callisto on April 30, 2014  3:53pm

Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch, now THERE sone real progressives!! Keep on sippin’ that right-wing corporate Kool-aid. Mmmmmm it’s money flavor! My favorite!!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 30, 2014  4:50pm

To all of the union haters and those who think this is a good Idea.Have you for got the history of Rupert Murdoch.He is very good with Web tools.Remember this.

Murdoch Hacking Scandal Results in Eight People Charged.

Rupert Murdoch’s American Scandals

All the corruption exposed in England – hacking, political payoffs, dirty cops, hush-money settlements – is also happening here

And did you all know who try to clean this up for Rupert Murdoch.Good old Joel I. Klein.

Steering Murdoch in Scandal, Klein Put School Goals Aside


Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein, and New York City Schools

Check out what these two said.

Though Mr. Klein did not see eye to eye with Mr. Murdoch on many political issues, they agreed on a core set of education principles: that charter schools needed to expand; poor instructors should be weeded out; and the power of the teachers union must be curtailed

Read the rest.

People you better wake up.You schools in this state are now for sale.As I keep saying get ready for this.

Invasion Of The Charter Schools.

My bad.

Privatization doesn’t work. Never has; never will. Keep voting them in.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on April 30, 2014  5:40pm

This is pitiful. Really pitiful. Rudoph Murdoch and Joel Klein? I’m really surprised that the leadership in some of the schools named agreed to this.

posted by: Nashstreeter on April 30, 2014  11:56pm

Let’s see: March 24 thru June 30. A little over 3 months’ work for this $94,000 contract. I wonder if we paid the principals a few bucks extra to work overtime if they couldn’t figure this out themselves. Actually, shouldn’t they be expected to have figured it out already?

It’s hard to believe that principals don’t have a notion of what their teachers are doing and how much time they spend at it. And if they are a bit foggy on that, why can’t they just ask the teachers themselves, in person, what THEY think might be the best way to carve out the time for teacher-to-teacher professional development?

Now that I think of it, this looks a lot like Taylorism: a metrics-based study of workers’ time and motions to calculate their productivity and therefore their value to the company. Presumably we’ll have more efficient teacher production line personnel after Bill and Melinda get through with us. Oh goody.

posted by: JohnTulin on May 1, 2014  10:47am

For those who don’t understand why corporate America is interested in school reform….here is your prime example, to siphon even more money out of our pockets and into theirs.  Just follow the money. 

Side note, what an embarrassment - these administrators laugh their way to the bank with their 6 figure salaries, but can’t figure out how their staffs use their time.  Unreal.  Is every urban district this horribly run??

posted by: middle on May 1, 2014  11:06am

@Elm City Resident, I’m with you.

The district got a grant to do a time study, ran a competitive bid process and picked the best proposal. Bill Gates gave money to Rupert Murdoch and New Haven gets some training to help think about school schedules.

The rest of you, I know that most of you don’t have any experience leading a school and fewer of you have every tried to build a master schedule; where do you get the confidence to lambaste principals so readily?

posted by: NewHavenPublic on May 4, 2014  7:59am

@middle, @Tulin, @fourfifths, @NewHavenTaxTooHigh, @Elm City Resident: Amplify is not providing a benign tool to help managers.  They are a corporation at the vanguard of monetizing our public schools.

1. Most teachers AND administrators work many, many hours beyond the contractual requirements.  A new schedule cannot magically “make” more time.

2.  There is nothing in the Amplify product to suggest it will help teachers.  It remains to be seen if it will be useful for those who directly manage teacher time.  It will be leveraged against teachers by the executive “Talent Office” in their degrading “Human Capital Management” campaign.

3.  The purchased, “School by Design” (SxD) advertises that it “Used scenarios at the district level to create smart master schedules by identifying school designs that accommodate upcoming budget cuts”.  Budget cuts are the bedrock of the corporate reformers playbook.  Deeper cuts are coming soon.

4.  A close reading of the $94,000 New Haven Contract with Amplify also uncovers that New Haven Schools has ALREADY contracted with Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify corporation for standardized testing and student data collection via the “mClass Beacon” online product.  What schools are involved?  Have the parents been told their children’s data is being sold?  How many of our tax dollars (state and/or federal) are going to this?

5.  @middle:  Was there a “Request for Proposals” for a scheduling product? Why not offer the opportunity in-house first?  Bruising master schedules will be flowing from this initiative. 

A secret “default option” schedule?  Collaboration or intimidation?

Schedules don’t make great schools.  Great schools are built by skilled, experienced educators.  The Amplify contract illustrates how little trust and empowerment is trickling down from New Haven’s education executives.