Sunday, March 15, 2015

Winning Global Teacher Gives Away $1 Million PEU Reward

BBC News reported:
Nancie Atwell, an English teacher from Maine in the United States, has been named as the winner of a competition to find the world's best teacher, with a prize of $1m (£680,000). 

But Ms Atwell has promised to donate the money from the Global Teacher Prize to the school that she founded. 

In 1990, Ms Atwell founded a school, the Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, Maine, where ideas for improving the teaching of reading and writing could be tested and shared.

The article highlighted all the things a $1 million prize for the best global teacher is intended to achieve:

1)  raise the status of teaching
2)  help remind the public of the importance of teaching
3)  attract the best people into teaching
4)  hold teachers in high regard
5)  serve as a a high profile way of demonstrating the importance of teaching
6)  show teaching should be recognized as much as other high-paying careers, such as finance or professional sports.
7)  return teachers to their rightful position, belonging to one of the most respected professions in society
8)  where teachers feel that society values their job, outcomes can be a lot better

Who is behind this Herculean effort? 

The award has been created by the Varkey Foundation, the charitable arm of the GEMS education group, as a high-profile way of demonstrating the importance of teaching.
GEMS Education is an affiliate of Blackstone, a huge private equity underwriter (PEU).  Five months ago Blackstone invested in GEMS.

Fajr Capital, Mumtalakat and Blackstone acquire significant minority stake in GEMS Education. GEMS Education, a UAE born brand founded 54 years ago, is now the world’s largest provider of K-12 private education. (Blackstone Press Release 10-15-14)
Underlying the prize are rich financial firms intending to make huge profits from corporate education.  The who behind the prize is discordant, but the how is also problematic.  This occurs at two levels, actually educating young people and managing an education enterprise.

What insights might Ms. Atwell, the prize winner, have for us?  Here's what she wrote in her book on how best to teach reading and writing (In the Middle,  Chapter 12:  The Business of Writing):

I don't teach expository prose to prepare students for the essays on standardized tests. The version of exposition called for by these prompts is so odd and specific it's a genre unto itself and should be taught and practiced, in the week or two before the test, using the test maker's sample prompts and under test-taking conditions. It's not necessary to devote a school year to test prep. But teachers do need to familiarize students with the format and demands of the writing task

I teach exposition so students will learn how to make writing work for them in the world—advocate for causes they believe in, seek answers to questions that baffle them, shed light, weigh in, and clear the way. To paraphrase Murray, problems make great subjects, especially for young writers. Expository genres teach them how to articulate ideas, gather evidence, send both out into the world, and try to have an influence there.

It's clear Ms. Atwell is intrinsically motivated by her love of reading, writing and teaching these subjects well.  She donated the $1 million reward to the nonprofit school she founded.  This evidence supports her commitment to her mission.  Ms. Atwell did not spend her prize like a Wall Street banker at bonus time or professional boxer after a big win.

Her counsel on standardized test preparation puts in perspective our extrinsic judgment and reward systems.  They exist and must be dealt with, but they are not a sound strategy for improving reading and writing for lifelong application. 

Test prep, school rankings and concomitant rewards make manipulative managers happy.  Speaking of such:

Ahead of the announcement of the winner, the US secretary for education, Arne Duncan, rang the US finalists to congratulate them.

Education Secretary Duncan had the opportunity to learn from the best global teacher.   I doubt he listened.  If he did, I'll bet Arne felt his story to be more inspiring.

Unfortunately abysmal management is again epidemic across our globe.  Leaders' primarily employ weapons of minimum standards and extrinsic rewards.

A man once worked tirelessly to raise people and quality worldwide, Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  He derided bad managers for using minimum standards to beat up workers.  He taught leaders to focus on learning and improving processes.  Dr. Deming rejected extrinsic rewards for the damage they inflict on individuals and teamwork.  Manipulating people with rewards harms results and joy to be had from accomplishing complex tasks that require teamwork.

Dr. Deming said his lifetime body of management theory/practice, which is so badly needed today, came down to one thing, the Human Spirit.

Ms. Atwell has it, but global leaders don't understand it, much less how to foster its growth. Our best global teacher is surrounded by management blinded by greed and power.  They want to wear her as a badge, a symbol of their greatness.

Blackstone's Stephen Schwarzman is predicted to the be the first man to bring home $1 billion in a year.  Long ago Dr. Deming lamented the rise of leveraged buyouts (since re-branded private equity).  Dr. Deming noted LBOs financial manipulations and how they hurt constancy of purpose. Private equity's intent is not to be in a business, but to flip that business for huge profits, while mining it for annual management fees and special dividends/distribution, often debt funded.

PEU greed and horrific management methods underlie the global teacher prize.  The recipient Ms. Atwell rises above both, because that's who she is.  Who do you want rebuilding our world, those with useful knowledge and theory or those with aspirations of greed and power?

I can hear Dr. Deming's voice booming, "Substitute Leadership."  Instead we have leadership substitutes.  Global management's march of madness continues. Is anything truly charitable in our PEU world?

Update 4-26-15:  Dr. Deming said his message came down to one thing, the human spirit.  PEUs and their horrific management practices can be seen in a powerful story of how management crushes that very thing. 

Update 8-6-16:  Arabian Business News reported "President Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 by GEMS Education in 2011, $1.25 million in 2012, $1.75 million in 2013 and $2.125 million in 2014, amounting to a total of $5.625 million to date.   The Intercept reported Blackstone sponsored an invitation only reception the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  Blackstone COO Hamilton "Tony" James held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in his home.  

Update  6-19-17:  Blackstone et al may be ready to monetize GEMS for $4 billion.