EduShyster Unmasked

Why I’ve decided to come clean…

Reader: I have a problem. As you may recall, I have long nursed shy hopes of attending the education reform event of the year, the EdReformies. But I’ve been vexed by a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. I can’t figure out how to purchase a ticket without using my real name. So I’ve decided to come clean. One gala ticket has just been purchased in the name of—drum roll please—Jennifer C. Berkshire. What do you mean you’ve never heard of me???

Here’s my story. I used to work part-time as a newspaper editor for the American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts. The position gave me an opportunity most people never get: to see urban schools up close. From the very beginning, I was fascinated by the question of why some schools struggled while others were successfully reaching students despite incredibly challenging odds. I was particularly interested in turnaround stories and returned to a handful of schools again and again to talk to teachers and administrators in an effort to distil their experiences into lessons that struggling schools and districts might use.

But I also saw that in an era of quick fixes and silver bullets the success stories of the sort I was documenting were being ignored—or worse, undermined. And I quickly learned that when unions spend all their time fending off the latest attacks, they have little appetite for embracing success either.

So I left. Last year I started my own communications consulting business in order to work with some of the same projects that so inspired me as a newspaper editor. I also started an irreverent blog about the education reform industry. In retrospect, doing the two things at the same time might not have been the smartest move. (Note: writer-for-hire, available immediately, affordable rates, quality guaranteed…)

I began my blog in response to a threat. You see, my cook-in-residence, also known as the man to whom I’m *technically* married, said that unless I ceased my early morning tirades about the Boston Globe’s education reporting (and one columnist in particular), he would cut off daily meal preparation. Reader: I had no choice but to take my rants elsewhere. I had a clear concept in mind. I wanted a narrative voice that sounded like the love child of Diane Ravitch and Matt Taibbi, but with a focus on Massachusetts student data. I even had a name all picked out and ready to go: Mass Ed Watch.

The blog, a labor of love, (I don’t run ads and haven’t accepted financial support from a single institution or individual—well OK, there was one individual), quickly took on a life of its own. I’d hoped that readers—teachers in particular—would send in tips about what was happening in their schools, their districts and their communities, but I was utterly unprepared for the sheer volume of correspondence. Soon I was hearing from teachers, parents and administrators across the country, asking for my help in making sense of whatever reform scheme was being foisted upon them. The biggest revelation was that I could use humor to help tell complex stories while skewering the excesses of Education Reform, Inc.

But the anonymity that felt so necessary when I started EduShyster has begun to feel constricting. In the past year, a national grassroots movement in support of public education has gained steam. My blogger colleagues, like Jonathan Pelto, Mercedes Schneider, Gary Rubinstein, Jason France and Anthony Cody, are helping to lead it and aren’t afraid to put their names to what they write. Of the parents and teachers I correspond with, there is a significant subset who are absolutely terrified to speak out. So what kind of message does it send when I won’t use my name either? When I posted a piece on TFA’s role as a placement agency for charter schools this summer, the co-CEO of the organization tweeted that ‘real leaders don’t hide behind anonymity’; I agree.

There’s another reason why I’ve decided to begin writing under my own name. Because of the way my blog has evolved, I’ve ended up drifting far away from the very thing that inspired me in the first place: my frustration that success stories in our public schools are being ignored. Don’t worry, reader. There will still be plenty of irreverence and more than a few wine boxes, but I’d like to get serious every once in a while too. So please keep those tips and stories coming. We’ve got a lot of work left to do.


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  1. Woe, “the love child of Diane Ravitch and Matt Taibbi” well they say we choose our own parents and you picked a couple of Duesies!

    Keep up the good work! (Former Newsletter Editor for a California AFT Chapter)

  2. Sorry, but you’ll always be Ed to me. And I’ll always love you, despite the fact that I’m *technically* married too.

    Seriously, though, good to finally meet you, Jennifer C. Berkshire. Thank you so much for the work you’ve been doing (and for what I know you’re going to keep doing!).

  3. Kudos to you for taking off the mask. The timing is right. I look forward to more of your stories. Good luck to you!

  4. I have always loved you from day one!

    Keep it up…we’ll keep leaking information and “data”; you keep writing.

  5. Welcome to the world of the formerly anonymous! You will be a great hit out here. The sun shines brighter, the birds sing sweeter, and the reformers dearly wish they can put us back in out bottles once we start confronting them face to face. 🙂

  6. ROTFLOL! “…the love child of Diane Ravitch and Matt Taibbi…” Exactly how I’ve pictured you, though I’d enjoy a bit more of the Taibbi genetic disposition toward cursing. Don’t get too serious on us. The thing that always puzzles me about debate in a democracy is how many people think it should ALWAYS be sincere and polite. Your writing, like Matt’s and occasionally Diane’s, shows why anger, even if gentled into sarcasm, has a place in debate.

  7. You give me hope. Keep posting. I love the name EduShyster and so do my colleagues but as long as you keep posting … 🙂

  8. I blog/write under a mix of my own name and my original nom de blog, teacherken – I keep the latter at dailykos because that is how people know me, but my profile has my real name, and I also write under my real name.

    I was never trying to mask my identity, and in fact I eventually got “outed” by a young teenager from my Quaker Meeting. But I also had people who wanted to interview me, and for their publications they needed my real name.

    I also had a conversation once over drinks with a major figure in Obama’s 2008 campaign who raised the question of responsibility. I thought he raised some valid points. And since I was not really attempting to hide my identity (I had actually used my real name to illustrate a point in one blog post that got a certain amount of traffic) I decided to put my real name in my profile.

    When I post on the sites of others, I use a mix – I am proud to be a teacher and my name is Ken so teacherken seems like relevant id to maintain. But my most visible work has had my own real name attached to it.

    Glad to know your name, although I did not need to know it to appreciate your work.

    Happy to have you on the side of the righteous.

  9. Jennifer,

    Congratulations on your decision. Unmasked or not, I have a ridiculous amount of respect for the work you’ve done here! Your pseudonym is way more clever than mine, and I hope you keep using it!

  10. Bravo to you! It’s because of people like you and Diane and John Pelto that there is now a real pushback against the abuses of the corporate reformers. Thank you for being a voice for honesty and integrity.

  11. “But now the world, if it cares, knows her name. To me, she will always be EduShyster. Unforgettable.”

    I agree with you Dr. Ravitch. I love EduShyster and will continue to avidly read her posts by that name or another! The combination of humor, snarkism, and intellect has me hooked!

  12. You can have your real name, but you are still eduschyster to me. I have had the same problems for years also the same as yours. They do not want to listen to those who have taken the worse and rapidly transformed them. They do not want success. The common thread I have found is that you must prove to the students that they are #1 not the adults. When Richard Arthur went to the most violent and criminal school at the time in 1970, Castlemont High School in Richmond, Ca., that is what he did ant dramatically turned it around until the SLA assinated Marcus Foster with cyanide tipped bullets and twice tried to assinate Richard. He has a family and moved back to L.A. to help found Whitney High School in Cerritos. Whitney is about the highest performing public high school in the U.S. for over 25 years. Of a 1,000 they are at 998. Richard has constantly for years in the past gone to the LAUSD board and offered his assistance for free. They refused and he used to be a high level administrator there and is one of the original founders of UTLA and the founder of the first full time school police force in the U.S. the LAUSDPD.

    Why hasn’t anyone, if they are serious, gathered these “WINNERS” and put them into a room to come up with a plan. I don’t think it would take long as all I have met and talked with do about the same thing. Gee, can’t do that can we?

  13. Hoo boy, do I know where you’re coming from. For several reasons, I need to maintain my cloak of anonymity (that, and I’m extra find of my nom de plume), but I will, whenever possible write and holler using my real name. Thanks for the inspiration, the humor and giving voice to what so many of us rail against. And stand for.

    Please to meet you!

  14. Excellent, Jennifer!!!
    In Nebraska, we are fighting to head off the mindless move toward charter schools and the Common Core State Standards. You give me hope that our side can prevail.
    Don’t every go away.

  15. Go Jennifer! So proud of you loved the anonymous blog but will really enjoy watching you lead real reform.

  16. A clever ruse, Edushyster. This should throw them off the trail for a while.

    Meanwhile, we continue to bow before you.

  17. Cool scooter. I have a helmet just like yours and a red 150 cc Vespa. Ever in San Diego feel free to look me up and we can go for a spin.

  18. Thank you for making me laugh every time I read your and for your witty comments. Sister, you’re hilarious! Don’t ever change, not even the blog name.

  19. Great to meet you, Jen! Love your insights and humor! (So, I take it your unveiling really has little to do with buying a ticket to attend the conference celebrating 20 years of failed education “reforms”?)

    Many of us who write anonymously do so because we are educators with no academic freedom, so using our real names would mean risk losing our livelihoods. The stakes are even greater for those of us in higher ed who are hired as contingent faculty from one semester to the next, with no job security, no benefits and very low pay. It’s probably easier for those that have a partner or family willing to provide support if we lose our jobs. Regrettably, I have neither and am one low paycheck away from facing homelessness, so I must remain incognito.

    Thanks for your important contributions to the fight for public education in this country!

  20. You will always be my fav shyster…but I am so glad you came out. I have much discomfort in the blog world of statements made by those who hide behind a nom de plume.

  21. A trenchant critique that clarifies a demented scam, by any other name, would bite as hard! Here’s to knowing a bit more truth about my favorite crusader for truth!

  22. Jennifer, glad to know your real identity, and I hope to meet you in person so I can shake your hand and thank you for all you have done as EduShyster, and all you will continue to do. I have a good news story for you about a Bronx elementary school if you are ever venturing south to New York City…

  23. No wonder I love you! My first research project centered on turnaround, beat-the-odds teachers, and it is practically the opposite of what corp reformers advocate. We see the same lunacy in their logic having documented the real deal. Thanks Jennifer!

  24. the muck you rake still smells the same..
    thank you for what you do.

    Here in the heart of choicy choicy Emergenetic Choice-o-rado, we appreciate you..

  25. You’re doing great work, Jennifer. By the way, I canceled my GLOBE subscription after about 30 years because I was so fed up with how corporate they’ve become. I might as well read the HERALD. Their reporting and editorials on education are particularly primitive, and, like much of their paper, just shilling for the 1%.

  26. You doing a great job, and thanks so much for covering the MESS in Michigan, We are right on the front lines this round.

    “All glory is fleeting” but you blog isn’t. Keep it up

    PS Speaking of mofas and whispering – the business I always wanted to start is a Vespa Rental service where the wraparound, sexy Barcelona/Rome girl with the flowing black hair is included with the rental (just while riding – no hanky-panky implied). You & your bike would do nicely. : – )

  27. No boxes of wine needed for this post! Thank you for making me laugh on days when I think I don’t have a chuckle in me. Your writing is interesting, informative, and important. Love it! Hope it feels good to be out of the closet.

    My husband encouraged me to start my little blog because he could no longer shoulder the burden of my education obsession, as well. Blogging as marriage saver – who knew?!

  28. Your articles keep me teaching. Thank you for making me laugh when I feel so frustrated with educational rheeform. Knowing that others see this nonsense for what it really is has saved my sanity and kept me in the classroom. I will, however, continue to be known as “Lehrer”. A certain administrator has been asking questions lately…

  29. […] was in Boston to promote her last book: The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The editor of a newspaper for AFT Massachusetts, I planned to interview Ravitch for the final issue of the school year. But I […]

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