Fraud at Sweetwater; Maybe but Unlikely

1 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/1/2020

For the past week, local San Diego TV and Print media have been filled with damning headlines like the NBC affiliate’s, Audit of Sweetwater Union High School District Finds Evidence of Fraud” or the online publication Voice of San Diego’s “Audit Finds Sweetwater Officials Deliberately Manipulated Finances.” Every local news outlet published the story with some version of these headlines.

On Monday June 23, the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) presented the results of its long awaited audit of Sweetwater Union High School District’s (SUHSD) finances. The report authors state,

“Based on the findings in this report, there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that fraud, misappropriation of funds and/or assets, or other illegal fiscal practices may have occurred in the specific areas reviewed.”

How Did SUHSD Arrive Here?

For Sweetwater, this is really a continuation of the course set by corrupt leadership a decade earlier. It is also emblematic of the financial stress all California school districts are facing. Kristen Taketa reporting for the San Diego Union noted in November 2018:

At least 10 districts in the county are projecting that they will not be able to meet their financial commitments next school year, including Chula Vista Elementary, Jamul-Dulzura Union, Mountain Empire Unified, Oceanside Unified, San Diego Unified, San Marcos Unified, San Ysidro, Sweetwater and Vista Unified. More districts won’t be able to meet their financial commitments after next year.

Three factors are mainly responsible for these growing financial stresses. The state has mandated a more than doubling of teacher retirement payments from 8.1% to 18.4% without providing extra assets. Special education costs have been soaring and enrollment has been shrinking due to an increase in state funded privately operated schools.

enrollment-graphs

The Drop in Attendance Accounts for a $20 Million Drop in Revenue

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. The fifth member of the five person board, John McCann left the board to run for a seat on the Chula Vista city council.

Cartmill and Lopez pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of accepting gifts over the state limit. Quinones, Ricasa and Gandara were charged with felonies. Arlie Ricasa pled guilty receiving probation and a fine. Gandara was sentenced to 7-months jail time and fined $7,994.

Pearl Quinones also pled guilty and stated “I would have fought it to the very end if I had been able to afford to keep fighting it.” She received a three-year probation with the felony being reduced to a misdemeanor.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis called this a “pay-for-play” scheme stating,

“For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multi-million dollar construction projects. This case is outrageous and shameful.”

In my opinion, Gandara was out of control and deserved the outcome. On the other hand, the school board members’ biggest mistake might have been being careless while the district attorney was planning to run for mayor.

I was politically opposed to the four indicted board members but never believed they were selling their votes and still don’t. I believe they did put the school district and the community first. Dumanis painted them with Superintendent Gandara’s malfeasance.

It is true that they all accepted a small number of free dinners and tickets to local sporting events and did not report some of them correctly. DA Dumanis over-charged them with misdemeanors and felonies that forced their resignations from the board. She could have more appropriately cited them with infractions which would have brought fines, however, the DA valued headlines over justice.

An entirely new five member school board was elected in November, 2014. After completing the school year with interim-superintendents, the board selected Karen Janney to be the new permanent Superintendent of SUHSD. That June 8, 2015 decision was a hailed by the board, the community and the teachers union.

In a 2019 interview, teacher’s union President Gene Chavira said he felt Janney made two critical errors. She rejected the expense of having a forensic audit performed on the district’s finances and she did not listen to board members and labor leaders when they encouraged her to bring in an outside leader for the finance department.

Janney had been a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent in the district. She evidently had formed a strong relationship with Karen Michel and wanted her to be the district’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Michel and her number two, Douglas Martens, retired in June of 2018. There last official act was delivering the budget for school year 2018-19. The budget was approved by the board on June 25th and sent to the County Office of Education (COE) for final approval.

Jenny Salkeld was hired to replace Michel as CFO. In early September, Salkeld discovered a $20 million negative discrepancy in the budget and reported it to the Sweetwater leadership team which forwarded her report to the COE.

The County immediately disapproved of the SUHSD budget and brought in the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) to investigate Sweetwater’s finances.

The FCMAT Audit

Audit Team

CEO Michael Fine and the Four Women Who Performed the SUHSD Extraordinary Audit

FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT. It is not a government entity but does receive financial support from the state.

FCMAT is organized as a non-profit. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, they have developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

The County’s official rejection of the 2018-19 budget was a trigger bringing in FCMAT to conduct a Fiscal Health Risk Analysis. On December 17th, 2018, the Analysis results were presented to Sweetwater’s board by FCMAT CEO Michael Fine. The Voice of San Diego reported,

“FCMAT’s chief executive officer Michael Fine told board members that 302 entries in the district’s accounting system were doctored to create the impression the district had more money than it really did. ‘That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up,’ …”

Although Michael Fine’s charge of “cover-up” appears mistaken according to the new audit, it does point to a central problem that led to a bad budget. The audit revised the 302 “negative budget entry” count to 220 and explained the origin of these often inadequately documented inputs.

The auditors reported that SUHSD began the budgeting process by rolling the 2017-18 budget into the beginning template for the 2018-19 budget. This was not viewed as unusual, but projections concerning changing budget demands then needed to be inserted into the budget model and that was not satisfactorily done.

FCMAT states, “Interviews with staff … indicate that the district was not utilizing data from a position control system to project salaries and benefit obligations.”

Apparently the suspicious entries were the budget being updated based on actual costs when they arrived. These entries were suspicious because they were not documented in accordance with the California School Accounting Manuel.

I worked in SUHSD from 2002 – 2017 and these findings seem to confirm my own impression of unprofessionalism in the district office. It didn’t appear corrupt but there was little concern with meeting deadlines, crossing t’s and dotting i’s.

In the audit, FCMAT questioned delays in posting payroll transactions. They wondered if these delays were purposeful for hiding the understatement of salaries and benefits in the budget. They concluded it was not, but does give more evidence of the lack of professionalism in the financial department.

In the report, FCMAT says Superintendent Karen Janney, CFO Karen Michel, Director of Financial Services Douglas Martens and Financial Consultant Adam Bauer may be guilty of financial fraud over the February 2018 bond deal. However, much of the damning evidence comes down to the fact that they followed Bauer’s advice about the best path to guarantee a good bond rating.

Laws and methods had changed since the last time Sweetwater did a bond deal. It is difficult to understand why SUHSD not following previous processes with fidelity was considered suspicious.

FCMAT also claims Sweetwater officials should have known that the drop in ending revenue between 2016 and 2017 from $36,285,098 to $21,469,748 indicated deteriorating financial conditions. This was also part of FCMAT’s evidence for Sweetwater knowingly misleading the bond markets about the district’s financial health.

The “extraordinary audit” was triggered by FCMAT’s declaration in December 2018 of possible fraud and cover up. By agreement with the county the audit was quite limited and focused almost exclusively on the 2017-18 budget year and SUHSD internal budgeting processes.

By comparison, a forensic audit of SUHSD is estimated to cost as much as $2,000,000; the county cost for this “extraordinary audit” was estimated at $50,700.

The auditors did not look at data from previous years.

Going Forward

The audit was delivered Monday, 6/23/2020. The document reminds the district’s board, “Within 15 days of receipt of the report, the governing board is required to notify the county superintendent of its proposed actions regarding the county superintendent’s recommendations.”

Board member Paula Hall indicated this would not be a problem since they have already instituted many of the FCMAT suggestions. She also expressed how pleased she was with CFO Jenny Salkeld’s professionalism. Hall believes the district now has strong leadership in finance.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the state budget on Monday, June 29th. Now Salkeld’s team needs to finish the 2020-21 budget and present it to the board.

Wednesday the 25th, the Sweetwater board met in a virtual executive session and put Karen Janney on paid administrative leave by a vote of 4-1. A board member said that in the uncertain legal climate they felt this move was needed to protect both the district and Janney.

The board also voted to lay off 223 employees and selected Dr. Moises Aguirre to serve as acting Superintendent.

Aguirre must now pick up the ball and continue the planning for opening school on August 3rd.

Dr. Aguirre faces the challenge of how to safely open schools in the Sars-CoV-2 era if that is even possible. If not, he and the Sweetwater team must find a way to make distance learning work for all 36,000 students.

My best guess is that there was no intentional fraud or purposeful financial misleading in SUHSD. It looks like there was a significant budget creation error that collided with state created structural deficits. I do not expect any prosecutions.

If meaningful changes are not made to California school financing, there are going to be many more districts running into these same structural deficits with no good solutions.

Reopening Schools and Debunking Demagoguery

21 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/21/2020

Education professionals throughout America are feverishly engaged in preparing for the first school year in the unprecedented Sars-Cov-2 era. Simultaneously, demagogues are pushing an often uninformed agenda.

For example, congressmen Jim Banks of Indiana and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin have introduced legislation to force all schools to open with in-person classes by September or else lose federal funding.

At the same time McKinsey and Company, the 74 and other school privatization friendly groups are loudly proclaiming that an education gap disaster will devastate Black and Brown children if we do not reopen brick and mortar schools immediately.

Education Leaders are Getting Ready for Fall

Across California and the whole of the US, parents, students, teachers and administrators are involved in intense school reopening discussions with less than two months to go in some cases. County Health Departments in both Los Angeles and San Diego have indicated that masks will be mandatory for all students and school personnel.

California’s second largest school district, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), and other districts plan in-person, online and “hybrid” learning options. However, SDUSD will need an infusion of federal dollars to operate for the full year. Board President, John Lee Evans, says without financial help they will be forced to revert to all online learning in the winter semester.

On June 18th, Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, Calafornia held a virtual meeting for all stakeholders to lay out plans for starting school on August 3rd. It will include distance learning through August 28th and then implements students on campus in three phases. The initial transition to on campus learning limits the number of students to 10% of the student body at any one time. This would be ramped up to 20% and then eventually 50% of students would be allowed on campus at one time.

Districts are busy stockpiling surgical face masks and placing future orders. They are also ordering infrared thermometers, specialized cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

This kind of reopening planning is happening everywhere in America as the new school year approaches.

Perspective of the Pros in the Field

With school teachers facing a new school year, five veteran educators from San Diego County were interviewed. When all school campuses closed on March 13, these teachers participated in distance learning for the final three months of the school year.

They all felt that because of the hold harmless policies their districts embraced, the three months were not representative of what is possible. These five educators all taught at the high school level and when their students realized grades could only go up many students completely disengaged.

There was a large difference in engagement correlated with age. The more mature students were more engaged.

Student performance was related to type and level of classes. An AP physics teacher saw 90% attendance and felt most of his students did okay but not as well as his previous in person classes. He commented that, “some students seem to need the social environment in the classroom and became lost.”

On the other hand, the special education teacher co-teaching entry level math and English classes saw attendances of 25%-30%. As soon as his students found out about hold harmless, only a minority of students who were trying to raise their grades participated.

The Spanish teacher with 170 students on her rolls reports that 150 checked in but only about 40 who were trying to raise their grade actually engaged.

An AP literature teacher said that all of his AP students stayed with him until the AP exam but his one English 12 class, with the few exceptions of those who needed to raise their grades, basically checked out on March 13.

The literature teacher also mentioned that he felt like 100% distance learning was undermining his in-person credibility. Students communicate about their teachers and pass on who are the good teachers, whose classes are fun and who is interesting. They give each other tips on how to best navigate a certain teacher’s class. In cyber space, student-to-student communication is limited and it is almost impossible for a teacher to express their personality; be humorous, subtly sarcastic or employ irony.

The English and AP psychology teacher said after shifting to distance learning she thought she had found “nirvana.” Working from home, no commuting, grading was easy and then she started teaching a summer school session with 45 students who are re-taking a class they failed. She says, “Now, I am dealing with a different student population, the workload is overwhelming and students fake being in class.” She misses face to face classes.

The oldest teacher interviewed said if the fall reopening safety precautions were not robust, he might quit. One teacher was concerned about the possibility of bringing the virus home to her 85-years-old mother and another expressed mild concern about the implications of having been asthmatic as a child. The two youngest teachers expressed no concern about risk to their own health.

All five teachers were in favor of some form of hybrid model this fall. That would entail meeting all of their students on a weekly basis and conducting most lessons using distance learning principles. They seemed quite confident that this could be a successful model given the circumstances. Learning would still be at a high level but the social engagement teenagers need for mental health would be undermined.

Echelon Insights at the Harvard Kennedy School recently queried parents about their concerns regarding education and Covid-19. Weekly surveys (April 27 – May 25) of 500 K-12 parents were conducted. It seems the San Diego teachers and American parents have aligned beliefs about the need for safety and the promise of strong learning.

Parent-surveyParent-survey Continue Learning

Parents are more concerned about safety than getting school opened as fast as possible and it appears they believe their child will continue learning.

Schools Must Reopen Immediately!!!

The headline on a June 1st article by McKinsey and Company screams, “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.” The sub-title says, “New evidence shows that the shutdowns caused by COVID-19 could exacerbate existing achievement gaps.”

Much of the McKinsey article is based on the theoretical work of Erik Hanushek and Paul E. Peterson who have made careers out of creating biased studies designed to promote privatization of public education and undermine teacher professionalism. In addition, McKinsey relies heavily on information developed by Curriculum Associates the owners of I-Ready and data from NWEA the Portland based testing publisher that sells MAP testing.

Sounding very much like the authors of the infamous A Nation at Risk”, McKinsey claims:

“All told, we estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses.”

“Furthermore, if other countries mitigate the impact of lost learning and the United States does not, this will harm US competitiveness. By 2040, most of the current K–12 cohort will be in the workforce. We estimate a GDP loss of $173 billion to $271 billion a year—a 0.8 to 1.3 percent hit (Exhibit 5).”

Exibit 5 GDP Harmed

Exhibit 5 – What Magic Algorithms Produced this Fantasy?

At the billionaire created publication, The 74, a June 9th article ran under the heading, “New Research Predicts Steep COVID Learning Losses Will Widen Already Dramatic Achievement Gaps Within Classrooms.” The widening is supposed to happen because of poor parenting, lack of resources at home and learning gaps expanding during school closures.

They also make the senseless claim, “But now, especially without spring exams to guide them, schools will have no idea on day one of the 2020-21 school year what the array of needs in each class is.”

It should be noted that most teachers do their own student evaluations because they find the standardized testing data almost useless even if it is available when needed.

Republican Congressmen Jim Banks of Indiana and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin have introduced the Reopen Our Schools Act. Congressman Banks stated,

“Reopening our schools is the lynchpin to reopening our economy. Many parents rely on their kids going to school so they can go to work. To get our society up and running again, we need our children back in school.”

Congressman Tiffany who joined congress this May added,

“These open-ended school shutdowns have set students back, made it harder for teachers to teach, and pushed parents to the breaking point. It’s time to reopen America and get back to school.”

In their announcement the congressmen referenced a Wall Street Journal report claiming remote learning this spring “didn’t work.” Like McKinsey and The 74, the Wall Street Journal references projections made in a May 27 paper by NWEA.

The Northwest Evaluation Association was founded in 1977 when a group of researchers and testing directors met at the Jolly Roger restaurant in Chehalis, Washington. The participants were unhappy with current standardized testing in the United States because it was the same test everywhere and unaligned with curriculum. They chose the small town of Chehalis because it was half way between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington where most of the members lived. Today, the organization is known as NWEA.

NWEA is another education service business that abuses the non-profit federal tax laws. In 2018, they sold over $148,000,000 in testing services and their tax document shows sixteen people with salaries ranging from $200,000 to $513,172.

NWEA publishes MAP testing which tests mathematics and English three times each school year; fall, winter and spring. The tests are not aligned to one class level so they are only partially aligned with state curricular standards. That is in part why teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School boycotted MAP testing contending, “the MAP is not worth the time and energy it takes to give.”

Using data from approximately 350,000 students who took MAP tests in school years 2017-18 and 2018-19, analysts at NWEA created a report based on projections that guessed at what the negative education effects from the school shut downs would be.

NWEA is known to have first rate psychometricians, however their expertise cannot make up for the noisy data known to exist with education testing or the fact that the growth models they use has never been satisfactorily validated or that their parabolic data fits might be inappropriate.

NWEA’s paper is well documented but still little more than a guess about education results made by people who are not professional educators. This is hardly the basis for insisting that we recklessly endanger the health of students, teachers and families by opening schools without making safety the number one priority.

Conclusion

The hybrid model for opening schools appears to be the best pandemic alternative. Students attend schools that are employing best health practices once a week. The rest of the week they participate in distance learning.

It has been widely espoused that poorer children do not have adequate equipment and connections for distance learning. However, most school districts have been providing devices and it should be possible for schools to setup socially distanced homework centers for students who don’t have available internet connections. For example, high school gymnasiums could easily accommodate 70 students safely distanced.

The reality is that we are facing a highly contagious virus to which human beings have no defense. This means that some cultural norms are not possible. Formerly in addition to academics, schools also were effectively daycare centers. In this environment, they cannot safely perform that function. Businesses, parents, schools and communities must work together to mitigate this unmet need.

Extra-curricular activities like sports, chorus, band and club meetings are not possible. That is a harsh consequence of the pandemic.

However, if professional educators and schools are supported, there is every reason to believe student learning can safely continue at a high rate, academic gaps will not increase and intellectual development will remain on track.

Organized to Disrupt

10 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/10/2020

The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) is the Swiss army knife of public school privatization. It promotes education technology development, bankrolls charter school creation, develops charter management organizations and sponsors school leadership training groups. Since its founding in 1998, a small group of people with extraordinary wealth have been munificent in their support. NSVF is a significant asset in the billionaire funded drive to end democratically run public schools and replace them with privatized corporate structures.

1990’s Silicon Valley was a Happening Place

Mark Andreessen had just co-written the world’s first web-browser, Mosaic, before he came to town from the University of Illinois to co-found Netscape. John Doerr left Intel in 1980 to join the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins where his reputation for picking winners became legendary. His wins include Amazon, AOL, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Google, Netscape and Twitter. Internet search engines were in their infancy when in 1999 Doerr convinced his partners to put $12.5 million into Google. Five years later that investment turned into billions.

Like elsewhere in America, every little strip mall in San Jose, California had a Blockbuster video rental store. In 1997, Reed Hastings and Netflix co-founder Mark Reynolds came up with a disruptive idea that put Blockbuster out of business. For a monthly fee, they offered DVD’s by mail with no late charges. Blockbuster did not adapt fast enough and went bankrupt.

In the Valley, everyone was aware that their business could be just one new technology innovation away from being the next Blockbuster.

“DoWopDon” Shalvey was the superintendent of schools in San Carlos, California a bedroom community about a third of the way up the peninsula between San Jose and San Francisco. When California passed its 1992 charter school legislation, Shalvey’s application for a charter turned into California’s first charter school. It officially opened in August 1994.

Apparently, Don Shalvey was an amateur DJ and very into music. His twitter handle is @dooWopDon.

Shalvey joined with Reed Hastings in writing a statewide initiative for the 1998 ballot that lifted the cap on charter schools and eased restrictions on starting one. At that time, Hastings was made president of Technology Network, a bipartisan lobbying group formed by Silicon Valley CEOs. With their support, the initiative quickly amassed more than a million signatures. Opposition from the teachers union ended as they were also fighting against other education proposals coming from Governor Pete Wilson’s office.

A deal was struck making the initiative unnecessary. Legislative leaders passed a bill containing the initiative’s key ingredients and union leader withheld their objections. The new bill green-lighted an unlimited number of charter schools and just as importantly the bill authorized a single board to oversee multiple charter schools. It was the birth of charter management organizations and a massive acceleration in new charter school development.

When Pete Wilson signed the new bill into law in May 1998, Shalvey and Hastings had $403,000 left in their initiative campaign fund. They decided to shift the money into a non-profit and founded what became the Aspire charter school network.

Meanwhile on the other side of the continent, Ann Smith graduated with a degree in political science and psychology from Columbia University in 1989 and started working for Wendy Kopp and the Teach For America (TFA) founding team. In 1993, she moved to the Silicon Valley area and co-founded the Bay Area Youth Consortium – AmeriCorps. In 1996, she left AmeriCorps to pursue a Masters in Business Administration at Stanford University.

Smith was co-chair of the Stanford business school’s entrepreneur club and she wanted to get Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as a speaker for the club. She asked her friend John Doerr to help and he agreed on one condition. In an education session at Al Gore’s house, the name NewSchools had been created. Doerr wanted her to come up with a use for the name.

Bezos spoke at the club and Smith worked on her assignment. She wrote a two page paper outlining the NewSchools Venture Fund. She had been inspired by what Don Shalvey and Reed Hastings had accomplished and thought to herself, “Why couldn’t entrepreneurial philanthropists come together to create networks of entrepreneurial education organizations?” Smith labeled the paper “Creating CMOs — scaling up with quality — with the help of venture-capital-style philanthropic investing.”

The history at the NSVF web-site says,

“NewSchools Venture Fund was created in 1998 by social entrepreneur Kim Smith and venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers.” (Byers is a colleague of Doerr’s from Kleiner Perkins)

“We were among the first and largest investors in public charter schools and the first to identify and support multisite charter management organizations, which launch and operate integrated networks of public charter schools.”

“NewSchools’ work to support digital learning tools began at our inception in 1998.”

Philanthropy Magazine notes that Reed Hastings helped, “to launch the NewSchools Venture Fund.”

Big Money and Political Connections

LittleSis NSVF Map

LittleSis Map of NSVF Massive Funding By Billionaires

While there is little doubt the Bill Gates and The Walton Family Foundation are the largest individual donors to NSVF, the $226,881,394 in grants documented in the map above are only a fraction of the total billionaire largess. Besides receiving help from Reed Hastings, over the last 20-years, billionaires John Doerr, Laurene Jobs Powell and John Sackler have served on the board, but there is no information about any of their monetary contributions.

Kim Smith was the founding CEO of NSVF. The second CEO was Ted Mitchell the former President of Occidental College and a founding board member of NSVF. Mitchell replaced Kim Smith as CEO in September 2005 and held the position until 2014. From 2008-2010, he was simultaneously President of the California State Board of Education.

Mitchell has also served on the boards of New Leaders, Khan Academy, California Education Partners, Teach Channel, ConnectED, Hameetman Foundation, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Silicon Schools, Children Now, Bellwether Partners, Pivot Learning Partners, EnCorps Teacher Training Program, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Green DOT Public Schools.

On May 8, 2014 EdSource reported, “Former State Board of Education president Ted Mitchell was confirmed Thursday as under secretary of education, the third-highest ranking official at the U.S. Department of Education.”

NSVF’s 2010 990-tax form had a note that claimed, “To date, the Organization has successfully received support from … the U.S. Department of Education.” From 2003-2007, NSVF reported $5,997,900 in grants from governmental sources. In 2008, the line requiring listing governmental grants separately disappeared from the 990-tax form. There is no longer an easily accessible method for gaining that information.

Contribution Graph

Enormous Grant Amounts Reported by NSVF and Selected Billionaires

In the graph above the billionaire giving in green is for yearly totals from the tax reports by the billionaires in the LittleSis Map above. The 2016 spike occurred because some unknown entity contributed $68,000,000 to NSVF through the donor directed foundation Silicon Valley Community Fund.

In 2016, Reed Hastings created a $100,000,000 fund within the Silicon Valley Community Fund. At the same time, Laurene Jobs Powell was serving on the board of NSVF when her XQ Institute was granted $24,750,000 in 2015 and $57,402,973 in 2016. Either one of them could have made the large contribution or maybe it was someone else.

Every year NSVF hosts a “Summit” in Oakland, California which they state brings together more than 1,200 educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, funders, and policy makers to share ideas on how to “reimagine learning.” These “Summits” are a must attend for the disrupter community and they drive contributions.

To replace Mitchell as CEO when he left for the Department of Education in 2014, NSVF brought in Stacey Childress from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Childress earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2000. Afterwards, she spent a year co-founding an enterprise software sales company and then returned to Harvard where she was a Senior Lecturer and Executive Director. In 2010, Childress became Deputy Director of the Gates Foundation. She has been CEO of NSVF since arriving in 2014.

Both Mitchell and Childress have received NSVF salaries in excess of $500,000. The 2018 NSVF tax-form explanation of their compensation method reads,

“The organization obtained compensation studies from several independent sources to compile information used as a metric for salary increases … A subcommittee of the Board of Directors (BOD) conducts the review of the CEO and develops a recommendation for the full BOD.”

This is similar to the method that has ballooned executive pay in corporate America while line worker wages have stagnated. It is a method that justifies those at the top getting an ever greater share.

Investing in Privatization and Education Technology

NSVF claims they have invested in 117 Ed Tech companies, 187 charter schools and 55 diverse leaders programs.

Among their Ed Tech investments are Class Dojo, EdSurge, LearnZillion, Phet Interactive Simulations and Education Elements. When NSVF makes a major investment in an Ed Tech startup, they require a position on the companies governing board.

One of NSVF’s founding board members, Dave Whorton, is also the founder of Tugboat Ventures. When NSVF invested in Education Elements so did Tugboat Ventures. Dave Whorton was made a member of Education Elements Board of Directors where he efficiently keeps an eye on funds from both Tugboat and NSVF.

When first founded, NSVF invested heavily in Aspire Public Schools because of their plan to create a charter management organization. In 2001, they granted $1,095,000 of their total of $2,468,000 in giving to Aspire.

As their wealth grew the grants to charter schools became very similar to the grants their funders were making. They have funded DC Prep, Phalen Leadership Academy, Rocketship Education, Success Charter Network, Yu Ming Charter School and almost 200 more.

The Yu Ming Charter is essentially a private Mandarin immersion school that has just submitted a material revision to their expansion plan that was rejected in December. It has been alleged the Yu Ming does not want new students above the kindergarten level. A parent comment on the Berkeley Parent Network says, “The teachers seem reluctant to admit kids who aren’t quite up to par in Mandarin as it can be really overwhelming for students to be new and they don’t want to see them struggle and be under water from the get-go.” To which Oakland Educator Jane Nylund responded,

“Real, authentic public education is hard; we deal with struggling students every day as expected, standard educational practice. We don’t find a way to reject them because they are ‘struggling’. This honest assessment by an involved parent is just more evidence of a ‘public school’ in name only, and not in practice.”

NSVF’s diverse-leaders investing is aimed at replacing quality teacher education at universities with for profit organizations that have very limited expertise. It is also aimed at selling the privatization agenda. NSVF invested in Branch Alliance for Education Diversity, edfuel, MindWorks Collaborative, National Charter Collaborative, School Board Partners, TNTP and fifty more organizations.

School Board Partners came out of Education Cities when The City Fund was established. They appear to want influence over school board members by offering training; a function every state already provides. They are a part of selling the privatization agenda.

TNTP was rolled out of TFA by Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee. Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they are unqualified.

Final Comments

Kim Smith staid on the board at NSVF and in 2011 co-founded Bellwether Education Partners. The next year she founded the Pahara Institute where she is the CEO. Her 2016 pay reported on tax forms signed by her was $419,576. (Update: Smith recently stepped down as the Pahara CEO.)

DoWopDon (Don Shalvey) is now Deputy Director of the College Ready Team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

NSVF along with scores of billionaire funded Foundations has been spending staggeringly large amounts of money to privatize public education and monetize it. This spending has been going on for decades now. So, why are about 90% of America’s students still attending public schools? The answer is simple.

The “disrupter” products are bad and Americans are not buying what their selling.

Persistent Billionaire Financed Attack on Oakland Public Schools Continues

29 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/29/2020

This month, a survey was launched in Oakland, California with the claim “This survey is a primary partnership between OUSD and GO Public Schools Oakland.” Apparently some Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board members were stunned by the news and were not happy about raising the stature of a billionaire financed organization dedicated to privatizing public schools. It seems the survey resulted from a secret negotiation between OUSD administrators, GO and possibly some OUSD board members.

On May 13, when OUSD Director Shanti Gonzalez learned about the Survey, she wrote to Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell,

Hi Kyla. Can you tell me more about the robocall that went out today that referred parents to GO’s website/survey and why it was decided to send this to parents? We don’t typically use our infrastructure to refer people to groups that engage in political activities, so I am curious.”

Two days later Gonzalez wrote again,

“I understand the desire to collaborate and avoid duplication of efforts, but please remember that GO plays two roles in the Oakland education arena. In this case, their intent was to support our efforts to understand families’ needs. Their other role is to shape the composition of the board of OUSD and ACOE [Alameda County Office of Education], and to support the growth of charter schools, at least historically.”

OUSD Director Roseann Torres was characterized as being hopping mad when she found out about the survey. In an interview Torres stated,

“The Superintendent will not respond to my emails about the survey. She doesn’t care that as a Director, I am her boss.”

On the other hand Director Jody London’s response to constituent questions about the survey indicates that she was informed. She writes,

“The OUSD Office of Equity and family engagement team are collaborating with GO and a number of other Office of Equity partners to reach as many families as possible with the survey that will provide very important information about our planning the reopening of school. The survey is standalone and initially only directed participants to GO if they wanted to provide information to receive the mailed school supplies thank you gift. That has now changed …”

“This more collaborative approach with a number of partners on the family survey will give us the best opportunity for a strong level of participation and useful feedback about reopening.”

Survey Sponsors 

Logos of the OUSD Survey Partners

Originally the above logos were depicted at the top of every page of the survey and a gift offering at the end of the survey required the takers to give their email addresses to GO Public Schools. After Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown became involved, the direction to GO Public Schools was replaced and logos at the top of each page were eliminated. People were directed to the OUSD web site to apply for the gift and the only logos shown were from OUSD and GO on the bottom of the intro page.

This survey is transparently GO’s and there is another survey by OUSD which is somewhat similar. The committee that created the second survey includes Teach For America (TFA), KIPP charter schools and others. It appears the content of both surveys are important to the charter industry. The GO survey seems to bias towards technology implementation and the other survey appears to be priming a unified enrollment system.

Privatization in Oakland Driven by Billionaire Dollars

Chris Stewart is a 2014 Bush Fellow, the CEO of Brightbeam and sits on the board of Great Schools. He feels the claims of billionaire dollars are unfair. He sees them as working to create “quality schools” or does his high six figure billionaire paid salary cause that opinion? Without billionaire dollars and a state take-over, Oakland public schools would be much healthier and the community would not be so divided.

The billionaire spending to privatize public schools in Oakland has been enormous.

Tax records document that just two foundations, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (EIN: 56-2618866) and the Walton Family Foundation (EIN: 13-3441466) have spent more than $240,000,000 on privatization efforts in Oakland.

The Silicon Valley Community fund was formed in 2006. It has become an extremely large donor directed fund with reported assets of about $8 billion dollars. In 2018, it took in almost $6 billion dollars. Only three years of their 1,500 page long tax reports (EIN: 20-5205488) are searchable but just those three years show more than $15,000,000 spent on privatizing schools in Oakland including a 2017 gift to GO of $1,000,000.

This year, The City Fund – which was founded by two billionaires in 2018 – reported spending $7,591,666 on privatizing Oakland public schools. The City Fund supports the implementation of the “portfolio model” of school administration to drive privatization.

The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. Oakland’s school board implemented this model in 2018 under the name “Citywide Plan.” The method makes it almost certain that schools in poorer and minority communities will be privatized.

In 2004, Don Fisher of the GAP and Buzz Wooley a San Diego investor put up $100,000 each to establish the Charter School Growth Fund. In 2005, Buzz Wooley resigned from the presidency and Jim Walton took his seat on the board. Since then the Walton Family Foundation has had significant influence over the fund. Between 2012 and 2017 the Charter School Growth Fund (EIN 05-0620063) spent $12,998,570 supporting privatized schools in Oakland.

The Ely and Edythe Broad Foundation (EIN 95-4686318) has spent a relatively modest $3,457,664 on privatized schools in Oakland. However, four different graduates of Broad’s strange education leaders training academy have served as superintendents of OUSD between 2003 and 2018. Diane Ravitch recently noted that “Broad Institute got accredited even though it has no faculty, no campus, no course catalogue ….” It was accredited by the Western States Schools and Colleges. There have been two common outcomes wherever “Broadies” serve; labor and community unrest accompanied by extreme budget issues.

The latest budget problems in Oakland trace directly to the tenure of Antwan Wilson the last Broad trained superintendent to run Oakland’s schools.

Are Billionaire Bought Board Members Now a Board Majority?

Roseann “Rosie” Torres is a lawyer who moved from her hometown of Stockton to Oakland in 2004. A civic organization she joined gave her a homework assignment to study the public school district budget. This opened her eyes to the tremendous inequities between the schools in the hills where she lived and those in the flats where much of Oakland’s minority population lived.

In 2012, school board member Noel Gallo convinced Rosie to run for the seat he was vacating so he could run for city council. Before his tenure on the school board SFGate reports, “In the mid-1990s, Gallo was a city employee during then-Mayor Jerry Brown’s two terms in office, working as a staff member for former City Manager Robert Bobb.” That is the same Robert Bobb who would take the Broad training course in 2005 and become the Detroit public school’s first emergency manager in 2009. Gallo introduced Rosie to GO Public Education.

In 2012, GO provided Torres with $37,847 in independent expenditures and helped her raise $36,635 in direct campaign contributions. These were historically large numbers but that same year GO was providing even larger campaign assistance to James Harris and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge. All three candidates were successful.

In addition, GO representatives introduced Torres to many Democratic politicians serving locally, at the state capital and in congress. Torres said she really did not know who GO was and it took her about six months after the election to figure it out.

After Torres turned against the GO privatization agenda, there assistance unsurprisingly ended. In 2016 when she ran for reelection, her total campaign money fell from the 2012 $74,000 to $17,725, however a group of local activists went to work for her and she won.

Torres will not be running for reelection this year. She needs a break from the pressure and drama.

In 2012, billionaires started actively engaging in local school board elections. All at once, school board elections in cities like Dallas became well funded and prohibitively expensive. That same year billionaires including Stacy Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Laurene Jobs Powell of Palo Alto, California and others started making max donations to certain Oakland school board candidates.

The direct contribution limits of $700 made the independent expenditures with unlimited spending the place where most of their money went. In Oakland, that independent expenditure money was funneled though the GO Public School Advocates committee.

Table of Independent Expenditures

In 2018, $146,000 of Michael Bloomberg’s $250,000 contribution was put into the campaign to elect Gary Yee. Six years earlier, Yee was the focus of a recall campaign which was mainly about his push for closing schools. With Yee’s election, forces for privatization and school closing seem to have gained a solid majority on the OUSD board.

Some Closing Observations

The state government is also being corrupted by the prolific billionaire spending that is undermining democracy in America. In 2018, AB1840 which provided extra funding for financially strapped Oakland and Inglewood school districts was signed by Governor Brown. The root of their financial problems was the same; paying the extra unfunded costs associated with charter school openings and financial mismanagement by Broad trained superintendents.

One of the mandates for receiving financial help was the involvement of the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) in stabilizing the budget. FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, this non-profit organization has developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

FCMAT appears to have two strategies for solving district financial issues; laying-off personnel and closing schools.

On Memorial Day (May 25), the State Senate Fiscal Review Committee met to consider the May revise including AB1840 money for Oakland and Inglewood. Jane Nylund an Oakland resident and educator submitted a comment that reads in part,

“I strongly oppose the amendments of the Trailer Bill to AB 1840 regarding disbursements to Oakland Unified School District for 2020-21.”

“These amendments strip our local discretion to draw from the variety of strategies for fiscal solvency, listed as (c)(1)-(5). The language is clear:  the District “MAY” use the strategies. It is not mandated to use any particular one of them.

“Given the current situation with Covid-19, and all the unknowns that come with it regarding schools, it is completely inappropriate that OUSD is held hostage to sell property that it may find necessary to keep open in order to mitigate health risks of Covid-19.”

Community based schools run under the authority of an elected school board have served as the foundation for American democracy for two centuries. Feckless billionaires operating from hubris or theological commitment or a desire to avoid taxes or a pursuit of more wealth are sundering those foundations.

Will activists of good will be able to throw off the yoke of billionaire financed tyranny and defend their public schools in Oakland?

Eckhart Tolle Meets John Dewey

20 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/20/2020

Professor Michael J. Hynes new book Staying Grounded; 12 Principles for Transforming School Leader Effectiveness inspired this title. I have an aversion to self-help writings and new-age philosophy. After reading two chapters, that is exactly how I saw this book. It made me wonder why my friend Diane Ravitch recommended it. After reading a few more chapters, I got it. There is a lot to like. If the principles taught in this book were widely embraced, it would be a boon to education everywhere.

Staying Grounded Picture

In the introduction Hynes tells the reader that he will reveal his ideas concerning the purpose of schooling and how to ensure that each child reveals their potential. He opens by recommending the “philosophy that recognizes the fact that all children are different and meet them where they are.”

This a great starting point but it runs squarely into the devilish nature of standards based education. At the beginning of the new millennia, the cruel standards based philosophy began dominating classrooms. It was heartbreaking to observe students who although learning; were not learning fast enough. Instead of being encouraged while their intellectual abilities grew, they were crushed and taught to hate learning. That definitely was not meeting “them where they are.”

The book started naturally enough with principle one. It opened by quoting the Buddha, “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.” The point was that a busy administrator needed some regular self care. Buddhist philosophy is known as the inner path. Principle one was all about entering the inner path. It ends with another of the Buddha’s admired philosophical points, “When things change inside you … things change around you.”

Principle two continued imparting more new age philosophy to fix the budding administrator’s attitude. The reader is assured attitude is more important than aptitude in the life of a successful school leader. A positive attitude is held up as key. Hynes notes, “90% of the people you complain to don’t care and the other 10% are glad you have the problem.” An amusing and insightful quote, but it still only obliquely addressed education philosophy and leadership.

Principle three, “It’s All About Relationships” brought a big change to the tenor and usefulness of the book. In a vignette, a Deputy Superintendent named Julio V. Delgado shared, “Like many administrators, I was chasing scores, looking for a magic curriculum to close the achievement gap, and best of all, looking at what other districts were doing so I could replicate it ‘back home.’” He recognized a fundamental error in his approach and concluded, “It’s the connections and relationships we make and foster among others, that lead us to success and serve as the ultimate model for children as they develop.”

In the organization of each chapter the principle is stated, personal stories are shared by various school leaders interspersed with explanations of the principle. There are descriptions of the principles benefit to all stake holders – leaders, teachers, parents and students. The conclusion is practical guidance for how to implement the principle. Starting with principle three this section becomes specific and challenges the budding school leader with concrete suggestions. This is where I started seeing the great value in what Professor Hynes was sharing.

What is the Purpose of Education?

This is a question of central importance to the development of our culture and civilization. Professor Hynes addresses it by stating,

“It is important to recognize that other people, including many of your fellow educators, administrators, and our students’ parents might have a different point of view concerning what education should be all about. That’s okay! What’s important is that you define in your own words, your purpose of what education is to you.”

In responding to the question, I decided to look a little at what Hynes and others have written. Hynes quoted James Harvey, the President of the National Superintendents Roundtable, “K-12 education should prepare students for life – for college, for work, for living within a family and within a community, and for participating effectively in the democratic process.” Although future employment is needed for most young people, Harvey believes K-12 education is more than just job training.

Hynes also looked back to the great humanist Eleanor Roosevelt’s thoughts on the issue. In 1930, she wrote,

“Perhaps because there are so many books and the branches of knowledge in which we can learn facts are so multitudinous today, we begin to hear more frequently that the function of education is to give children a desire to learn and to teach them how to use their minds and where to go to acquire facts when their curiosity is aroused. Even more all-embracing than this is the statement made not long ago, before a group of English headmasters, by the Archbishop of York, that ‘the true purpose of education is to produce citizens.’”

“But there still remains a vast amount to be done before we accomplish our first objective-informed and intelligent citizens, and, secondly, bring about the realization that we are all responsible for the trend of thought and the action of our times.”

There is a danger lurking in Roosevelt’s view. While production of good citizens is an admirable goal, there is a dystopian risk of reinforcing the utilitarian view of human life. When she was writing these words, the Japanese and German education systems were focused on producing a certain type of personality reduced to a subordinate position and viewed as a means to other ends.

Daisaku Ikeda, the Buddhist teacher and founder of Soka schools, writes that Japan is suffering “the consequences of making education subordinate to bureaucratic and political agendas under the control of the Ministry of Education.” With the passage of the “No Child Left Behind” Act, the US abandoned the philosophy of local control and embraced the concept of a powerful bureaucracy steering education. As a society, we turned our backs on two centuries of steadily improving free universal public education and adopted a system vulnerable to political agendas.

That 2002 decision was a huge backwards step for “a society that serves the essential needs of education.” Columbia University’s Professor Robert Thurman, in an interview at Boston’s Ikeda Center, responded to the question, “How do you view the role of education in society…?” He replied,

“I think the question should rather be, What is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life. It’s not that the purpose of education is to fit out humans to go and produce something.”

In his book Democracy and Education, John Dewey stated,

“Discipline, culture, social efficiency, personal refinement, improvement of character are but phases of the growth of capacity nobly to share in such a balanced experience. And education is not a mere means to such a life. Education is such a life. To maintain capacity for such education is the essence of morals. For conscious life is a continual beginning afresh.”

Dewey’s contemporary in Japan, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, wrote,

“What is the purpose of national education? Rather than devise complex theoretical interpretations, it is better to start by looking to the lovely child who sits on your knee and ask yourself: What can I do to assure that this child will be able to lead the happiest life possible?”

The purpose of education is to create the space for people to fully manifest their abilities and express their inner essence while going through the natural stages of human development. In accord with Dewey, I believe, “To maintain capacity for such education is the essence of morals.” As Makiguchi said, assure that students can “lead the happiest life possible.”

Create a Better Education Structure

The rest of Michael Hynes book is filled with ideas for improving leadership skills in education. He advices superintendents to substitute teach and goes into great detail about how to derive the maximum benefit from the experience. Hynes spends four pages discussing shadowing students. He describes how to do it and its benefits. Hynes addresses many if not most of the issues a budding administrator needs to excel at in order to be a positive change maker. Administrators adopting Hynes 12-principles will benefit not only themselves but also their schools, students and communities.

However, this book can also be seen as dealing with the unfortunate outcomes of the authoritarian structural flaw innate to schools. The central figure (principal or superintendent) have the predominance of power in a system where administrators rule. Under this organization the only path to professional advancement is leaving the classroom to become an administrator.

I suggest changing this undemocratic autocratic scheme by employing democratic principles of governance that shares power between students, teachers and administrators.

Create an educator’s track the leads to advancement as a master teacher, department leader and curriculum expert. Teaching assignments and professional evaluations would fall under the responsibilities of this group. They would hold sway over new hires to their department.

When it came to school policies and final curricular decisions, students would be consulted and their input would have real significance.

Administrators would be responsible for facilities, daily discipline issues and communicating with parents.

The three groups would meet regularly and continually engage in dialog to reach consensus on all school issues.

Conclusion

Michael Hynes’s Staying Grounded is a good read filled with many wonderful concepts for improving school operations. I recommend the book.

Finally, I really liked this quote Hynes shared from Aristotle,

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

CREDO’s New Study Biased against Public Schools

14 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/14/2020

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) started releasing the results of its new Cities Study Project in mid-2019. It is not a coincidence that the cities chosen for the study have long been targeted for public school privatization. The ten cities selected are: Indianapolis; Baton Rouge; Camden; Kansas City; Memphis; New Orleans; Oakland; St. Louis; San Antonio; and Washington DC. This CREDO study is even more opaque and biased than its previous efforts.

Who is CREDO?

Hanushek and Raymond

Husband and Wife Team Who Founded CREDO

In the early 1980s, Margaret (Macke) Raymond was completing a lengthy graduate school agenda at the University of Rochester, a relatively small private university in Rochester, New York. She garnered an MS of public policy in 1980, a community medicine MS in 1982, an MA of political science in 1983 and finished with a PhD in political science in 1985. From 1985 to 2000 she ran Raymond Consulting and worked a few years in the telecommunications industry.

At that same time, Eric Hanushek was Professor of Economics and Political Science at Rochester University. The former Air Force cadet had earned a doctorate of Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968. It was Hanushek’s 1981 paper “Throwing Money at Schools” that put him on the watch list of right leaning philanthropies and institutions. In his notice making missive he stated,

“The conventional wisdom about public schools is that they face serious problems in terms of performance and that improving schools requires additional money. However, the available evidence suggests that there is no relationship between expenditures and the achievement of students and that such traditional remedies as reducing class sizes or hiring better trained teachers are unlikely to improve matters.”

In a 1981 Ed Week commentary referencing this paper, Hanushek points to SAT testing as the gold standard for judging school performance. In complete accordance with the old aphorism, “to a man with a hammer all problems look like a nail,” Hanushek brags, “Advanced statistical techniques are employed to disentangle the influences on achievement of schools and teachers from those of other factors such as family backgrounds and student abilities.”

A 1999 announcement from Rochester University said, “The Center for Research on Education Outcomes has been established at the University of Rochester’s Wallis Institute of Political Economy…” In the same posting, it was revealed, “Two foundations have committed $1.25 million to fund a three-and one-half year initiative to address the current shortage of evaluation research in education policy matters.” CREDO never made the name of the two foundations public, but a knowledgeable academic says one of them was the Walton Family Foundation.

The announcement listed two employees of the new center, Eric Hanushek and Margaret Raymond. Hanushek was listed first but Raymond was cited as the founding Director.

CREDO moved from the University of Rochester to Stanford University’s Hoover Institute in July, 2000 which made networking in conservative circles much easier.  In CREDO’s 2nd year report, they stated that moving to the Hoover Institute brought them many new contacts including the New Schools Venture Fund, the District of Columbia Charter School Board, the Teacher Union Reform Network and others.

A description of the Hoover Institute from Source Watch says,

“The Hoover Institution is influential in the American conservative and libertarian movements, and the Institution has long been a place of scholarship for high profile conservatives with government experience. A number of fellows have connections to or positions in the Bush administration, and other Republican administrations. … Other fellows of the Institution include such high profile conservatives as Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, and Edwin Meese.”

Macke Raymond’s 2015 Hoover Institute Fellow’s profile says in part, “In partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems, Raymond is leading a national study of the effectiveness of public charter schools.” 

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has pointed out that Eric Hanushek

“… a Hoover economist was a pioneer in creating systems that evaluate teachers by student standardized tests, a method that many assessment experts say should not be used in the high-stakes ways that school reformers are using them. He is often cited in CREDO studies as a ‘principal investigator.”’

Discredited and Biased

The Forbes commentator, Peter Greene, wrote about Eric Hanushek for his popular blog Curmudgucation:

“Now when Hanushek says that teachers make a huge difference, he is obliquely referencing his own crazy-pants assertion that having a good first grade teacher will make you almost a million bucks richer over your lifetime (you can also find the same baloney being sliced by Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff). Both researchers demonstrate their complete lack of understanding of the difference between correlation and causation.”

Greene also shares the following graphic that clearly highlights the difference between correlation and causation.

Divorce caused by Margarine consumption

Does Margarine Consumption Cause Divorce?

Business writer Andrea Gabor states that CREDO studies which compare charter schools with public schools start with two key assumptions “A) That standardized-test scores are an adequate measure of school quality and B) that creaming in charter schools does not exist.”

With regards to assumption ‘A’, using standardized testing for this purpose has been shown faulty from studies dating back to the eugenics movement (which originated high stakes standardized testing) to recent works debunking them for mistaking correlation versus causation and for not being able to compensate for the problem of error.

As for assumption B, there is no doubt that most charter schools push out and avoid students that are classified as special education, language learners or discipline problems. The data proving that is in state enrollment reports wherever charter schools exist.

In the new research labled “Cities Studies Project”, the Technical Appendix says the reports uses growth models but doesn’t share which of the many growth models it uses. It also says,

“In our study, scores for all these separate tests are transformed to a common scale. All test scores have been converted to standardized scores to fit a ‘bell curve’, in order to allow for year-to-year computations of growth.”

The Education Growth Model Handbook lists seven types of growth models in general use and their requirements. Most growth models require vertical scales but that does not seem possible with CREDO’s use of multiple tests many of which are not vertically scaled. Their mathematical conversions add another locus of error. Growth models have proven to be unstable and have never been satisfactorily validated.

The research methodology used in the “Cities Studies Project” appears to be the same as that used in CREDO’s 2015 Urban Charter School Study Report on 41 Regions.” A particularly troubling practice employed then and apparently still being used is the “virtual twin” method which creates a pro-charter school bias.

Professor Andrew Maul of UC Santa-Barbara reviewed the 2015 study for the National Education Policy Center. He noted the CREDO method does not compare charter school performance to actual public schools; rather it creates mathematical simulations. Maul described the “virtual twin” schema employed to develop a “virtual control record.” He reports,

“CREDO’s approach to this estimate is the construction of a ‘Virtual Control Record’ (VCR) for each student in a charter school, obtained by averaging together up to seven students in “feeder” public schools (i.e., those schools whose students transfer to charters) with the same gender, ethnicity, English proficiency status, eligibility for subsidized meals, special education status, grade level, and a similar score from a prior year’s standardized test (within a tenth of a standard deviation) as the specified charter student.”

Maul adds, “The study’s “virtual twin” technique is insufficiently documented, and it remains unclear and puzzling why the researchers use this approach rather than the more accepted approach of propensity score matching.”

The stipulation that “virtual twins” come from “feeder schools” biases the study in favor of charter schools. Andrea Gabor explained that in practice, CREDO used less than five students transferring to a charter school as the cutoff for using a particular public school’s data. She reports that the, “study excludes public schools that do NOT send students to charters, thus introducing a bias against the best urban public schools, especially small public schools that may send few, if any, students to charters.” Gabor gave the example of two well regarded New York title-1 schools, Global Technology Preparatory and West Side Collaborative which were excluded. They are noted for scoring well on testing, but did not meet the transfer criteria yet easily matched the required demographics.

The CREDO study is singularly focused on test results as determinate of school quality and ignores other advantages of public schools. It is a well known fact that many charter school systems like IDEA and Success Academy spend an inordinate amount of time teaching to and preparing for standardized tests. To these criticisms, Professor Mark Weber of Rutgers University adds a few more observations:

“Cities Studies Project” Technical Appendix states,

“To assist the reader in interpreting the meaning of effect sizes, we include an estimate of the average number of days of learning required to achieve a particular effect size. This estimate was calculated by Dr. Eric Hanushek and Dr. Margaret Raymond based on the latest (2017) 4th and 8th grade test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).”

Converstion to Days of Learning

The CREDO Days of Learning Conversion Table from “Cities Studies Project”

This metric seems to have been created with next to nothing validating it. Mark Webber quoted the psychometrician Michael T. Kane,

“The 2015 study (p. 5) cites a paper published in Education Next (Hanushek, Peterson & Woessmann, 2012) that asserts: “On most measures of student performance, student growth is typically about 1 full std. dev. on standardized tests between 4th and 8th grade, or about 25 percent of a std. dev. from one grade to the next.” (p. 3-4) No citation, however, is given to back up this claim: it is simply stated as a received truth.”

CREDO tells us that Hanushek and Raymond did something with NAEP data from 2017 but still do not offer any justification for the conversion. It appears at best to be sloppy science and the headlines engendered from it are nothing short of propaganda.

Using CREDO Claims to Sell Privatizing Public Schools

Neerav Kingsland the Managing Partner of the City Fund posted to his Blog last July when the first results from “Cities Studies Project” arrived explaining,

“Last year, Arnold Ventures commissioned CREDO (out of Stanford University) to study the effects of charter, innovation, and traditional schools in select cities across the country.”

“Most of the cities included in the study were cities where Arnold Ventures (and now The City Fund) have partnered with local leaders to expand high-quality schools.”

“Camden’s city level effects are large.”

“In just two years, scores are up ~.15 standard deviations in math and ~.05 standard deviations in reading (compared to similar schools across the state).”

The reality is those changes are very small. Noise in the data is a better explanation than awesome charter schools for these tiny differences.

In Indianapolis, the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown, just wrote an Indy Star opinion piece stating,

“A 2019 study from Stanford University found that students who attend Innovation Network Schools achieve the equivalent of 53 additional days of learning in English and 89 additional days of learning in math each year when compared to their traditional public school peers. This equates to several years of additional learning during the span of a K-12 academic career, and the gains are largest for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.”

In the billionaire financed effort to privatize public education, CREDO has become their source for data proving things like smaller class sizes and teacher professionalism are not important. The “Cities Studies Project” commissioned by an organization intent on privatizing public schools through promoting the portfolio management scheme – The City Fund – is biased toward the privatization agenda. Rather than shining the light of scholarly work on education policy, it obscures reality with obfuscation.

Responding to the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews

5 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/5/2020

It came as a surprise when Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews reached out to me. After indicating that he was writing a book, Mathew’s said that he had just come upon my pieceA Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA.He flatteringly wrote, “… your analysis is impressive and I want to include some of it in my book.” He also sent an article and a book chapter asking for comments.

In the article about IDEA, I had written,

In 2016, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post rated IDEA charter high school the most challenging in the nation. Mathews rates schools by what he calls “the Challenge Index,” which takes the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests given at a school each year and divides by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Charter schools that shed students without replacing them now own all of the top spots in this index; not deeply meaningful.”

Jay’s message to me was very respectful with a genuine feeling of interest in my opinion; however, we do have very different views. I will endeavor to address those differences honestly and respectfully.

The chapter he sent me is focused on his “Challenge Index” and its rationale. The article was a piece he did for his Washington Post column in November about a high school teacher who teaches AP English Language arts. He explained how that teacher came to appreciate the value of expanding AP access.

Some Personal Background

I grew up on a ranch in rural Idaho with a cowman for a father, a sheepherder for a grandfather and a school teacher for a mom. She studied teaching at Albion Normal School in the southern Idaho Mountains. Coincidentally, it is the same school attended by the force behind “A Nation at Risk,” Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell.

My mother often claimed that the key difference that made public education in America superior and more democratic than any other system in the world was that in America there was no high stakes testing.

In the 1960’s, before education standards and AP curricula there was an aphorism,

“American high school students are the laziest in the world. They seldom study and spend their time playing, socializing and competing in sports. Then they graduate from high school and over the summer a miracle occurs. They arrive at college to become the world’s leading scholars.”

After an engineering career in Silicon Valley as a researcher in the disc drive industry, I decided to become a teacher. During my fifteen years in the classroom, I taught advanced mathematics, conceptual physics, two flavors of AP physics and AP environmental science. In the end, I have concluded that my mother was right about high stakes testing and that the aphorism about American students captures an important reality.

Most surprisingly, I now believe that AP style college level classes in high school are bad pedagogy.

Mathews and Ultican

AP, IB or Cambridge Courses are Bad Pedagogy

This will probably be viewed as heresy by many of my fellow educators. It certainly would be by Will Robertson, the AP English teacher Jay wrote about in November. In 2005, Roberson’s Corbett High School near Portland, Oregon required that every student take at least seven AP classes. Robertson wrote a lengthy memo to the administration about why it was such a mistake. After three years, he realized that the students he feared would be defeated by the AP rigor were meeting the challenge and wrote another lengthy memo admitting his error.

I contend that the challenge Robertson’s students are meeting is not appropriate for their mental health and development.

A fundamental flaw in modern education reform is the push toward inappropriate curricular pacing. Kindergarten has become the new first grade where students who should be learning through play are sitting at desks doing math and language arts work sheets.

In their recent book, Let the Children Play, Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle write, “The global education race for ‘higher standards’ at lower financial costs have turned many schools to factories that try to produce standardized products efficiently on tight schedules.” Modern education reform is developmentally inappropriate. As Gloria Ladson-Billings, Distinguished Professor in Urban Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison states, “Anyone who fully understands child development knows that children’s ‘play’ is children’s ‘work.’”

This problem is infecting all levels of k-12 education. High school is not the appropriate level for college work. Young brains need to be protected from high stress during a period of rampant hormonal changes and emotional immaturity. Vicki Abeles, the director of the documentary film “Race to Nowhere”, describes in her book, Beyond Measure, the damage modern education reform is reeking on children and our culture.

When we start talking about challenging teenagers we need to make sure those challenges are appropriate for healthy development. Two quotes from Abeles’s book strongly imply that we have moved way past appropriate.

Adele opens chapter one, “Sicker, Not Smarter”, with a quote from Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician Stuart Slavin:

“My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. This is particularly disturbing given the fact that having mental health problems in the teen years predisposes to mental health problems in adulthood.” 

Abeles also shared a powerful anecdote from a student named Emily:

“Junior year is supposedly the most important in high school and my effort just wasn’t going to cut it, not if I wanted to go to a decent college, and without a degree from a top university I was not going to be successful…. I had failed. All those years of late nights studying for AP classes followed by 5 AM water polo or swim practices, what would they come to? Nothing, just like me. In a world where we must excel in not one but many areas, I had not done so in any. I would rather be dead than face the years to come, sure to be filled with constant reminders of my failure. In my mind, there was only one way out.”

Last year a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association documented the significantly rising suicide rates for ages 15-19 in America.

AP and other similar programs are a net negative for the holistic growth of students and undermines their positive social development in the crucial teenage years. Just like kindergarten is not developmentally appropriate as the new first grade, high school is not developmentally appropriate as the new college.

Unlike genuine college courses taught by gifted professionals operating in a sphere of respected autonomy, these high school level college courses employ the enfeebled teach to the test methodology. An AP syllabus must be approved by College Board and in practice that means using an approved syllabus provided by College Board as a template. Worse yet, the entire course is centered on preparing for the end of year AP exam which is supported by a large test preparation industry.

I have read your opinion that “teaching to the test” is not a problem but we just disagree. I think it leads to lifeless uninspired classrooms.

The “Challenge Index”

Since I view college level work in high school as a negative, I obviously disagree with a system that rates schools higher if more of their students participate in these programs. However, I will respond to some of the points you make in your “Challenge Index” book chapter.

You definitely deserve credit for trying to come up with a method for evaluating schools that eliminates the standardized testing advantages schools in wealthy communities have. When reading about what you learned studying Garfield High in East Los Angeles, I appreciated the egalitarian motivation for the approach you invented. You wrote,

“I decided one way to draw attention to the issue was to rank high schools in a unconventional way that illuminated the hidden strengths I had found at Garfield. Instead of measuring them by state, SAT or ACT test scores, I assessed them by their success in getting less than stellar students into the most challenging courses and tests.”

As I was entering the classroom, the disparity in AP course offerings between schools in wealthier neighborhoods and those in poor and minority communities was a hot topic of discussion. What we were not discussing is whether AP, IB and other courses of their ilk were appropriate. It was assumed they were. As a new teacher, I was an enthusiastic advocate for my AP classes at the 90%+ minority populated high school where I taught.

The following quotes from the “Challenge Index” chapter highlights a problem facing public education. You write that after introducing the “Challenge Index,”

“Newsweek asked me to do another national Challenge Index list in 2000 and again in 2003. In 2005 the magazine decided to make it an annual feature, calling it “America’s Best High Schools.” It assigned two researchers to help me collect information. In 2009 the list got more than 20 million page views.”

“Principals and superintendents at a few public schools, mostly in affluent parts of New England, told me they did not want to participate. They said their schools were not accurately represented by such a simple ratio, just one number. I explained to them why this was a useful tool for parents choosing schools and policy makers analyzing achievement. I said it might not appeal to everyone, but newspaper readers liked it, as they did other newsworthy ratios like Wall Street’s Dow Jones Average or baseball’s Earned Run Average.”

The arithmetic behind the “Challenge Index” is a simple ratio of the number of college level tests taken at a school divided by the number of graduating seniors. It is an easily understood metric but like standardized testing it does not meaningfully evaluate schools. Education is an extremely complex system and a simple explanation may be popular but damagingly misleading.

The over-representation of charter schools in the “Challenge Index” is an arithmetic issue. Charter schools typically do not replace students who leave. By their senior year, the graduating class is often only a third the size it was in freshman year. Public schools do not see that big decline in class size so the smaller denominator for charter schools misleadingly engenders large “Challenge Index” ratios.

The No Child Left Behind rules, the Race to the Top rules and your “Challenge Index” all try to evaluate schools with a simple metric, but education is so complex that these simple metrics are counter-productive.

For many decades, states have had agencies send teams to schools for more than a week to evaluate every aspect of the school and write detailed reports. Here in California that work is done by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). I have been involved in four WASC reviews. They were conducted by teams of administrators from around the state. WASC not only did a detailed evaluation of every aspect of the school but also worked collaboratively with the school to improve its roadmap for continuous improvement.

My bottom line is that simplified indexes run in popular news magazines may sell advertising but they are misleading and do damage. Many wonderful schools were erroneously deemed failures by No Child Left Behind testing. If education leaders had looked at the accrediting agency reports instead of just the simple standardized testing results, they would have never destroyed those schools operating mostly in poor minority neighborhoods. Likewise, your “Challenge Index” with its easy to understand ratio runs the risk of promoting unhealthy education practices.

Indianapolis: Home of America’s Second Most Privatized School System

27 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/27/2020

With the introduction of Innovation schools in 2015, Indianapolis Public Schools quickly became the second most privatized taxpayer supported school system in America. It has zoomed past Detroit and Washington DC in the privatization sweepstakes to only trail the poster child for disaster capitalism, New Orleans. The right wing billionaire funded organization, The Mind Trust, has played a major role in this outcome.

Brown and Money

The Mind Trust CEO Brandon Brown Enjoys Flood of Billionaire Dollars

Nations 2nd Most Privatized

How terms and principles are defined is crucial. For example, Stephanie Wang of Chalkbeat paraphrases The Mind Trust CEO, Brandon Brown as saying, “There has never been a civil rights movement that hasn’t been led by the people most directly affected by the work.” Brown often couches his work in terms of fighting for civil rights, but is stripping minority communities of their democratic right to a voice in the operation of neighborhood schools really fighting for civil rights?

Professor Noliwe Rooks labels the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation “segrenomics.” Professor Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and she definitely would not see The Mind Trust as a civil rights organization.

Another term that needs a careful definition is public school. Network for Public Education Director Carol Burris provided a thoughtful and clear explanation of what constitutes a public school in an interview with the Busted Pencils pod cast. She said there are two aspects to qualifying as a public school: (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be governed by an elected local entity such as a district board.

In September 2019, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent, Aleesia Johnson, presented an updated facts and figures report. It showed 22,659 students in public schools with another 8,416 students in 20 Innovation schools and 1,562 students in state governed turnaround schools. By cross referencing the state list of Indianapolis charter schools with state charter school enrollment data, Indianapolis charter school enrollment was found to be 32,127 of which 2,340 were in schools designated innovation. In other words, of the 62,424 taxpayer supported students in Indianapolis only 36.3% were in schools controlled by local voters.

School Privatization Graphic

Number of Students in Various Indianapolis Taxpayer Funded Schools

In 2014, the Indiana state government responded to American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation by creating innovation schools. David and Charles Koch, the main financial support behind the creation of ALEC, have a 50-year history of opposing public education. In a January news release, The Mind Trust explained, “Innovation Network Schools operate with full autonomy and are governed by independent nonprofit boards.” Like charter schools, innovation schools are governed by private boards independent of voter input. They no longer meet the definition for public schools.

An organization from Texas called Pastors for Children recently tweeted,

“If charter schools are public schools, then they should not have private boards.”

“Bring charters under local district control now.”

The same goes for innovations schools. There is no good reason that they are not under local district control but there is history.

In 1983, the Reagan era A Nation at Risk promoted the idea that public schools were failing by distorting data that showed the opposite. They touted reform based on business principles as the answer to this “failure.” In 1990, John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s influential book stated that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” The billionaires Jon Arnold and Reed Hastings have taken this un-American and anti-democratic ideology to heart.

In 2018, Arnold and Hastings put up $100 million each to establish a new organization, The City Fund, dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school reform. Simply put, the portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or innovation schools. This means that especially schools in poor and minority neighborhoods are at risk.

Paul Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington, created the portfolio model as a path to privatizing public education.

Last year, The City Fund gave a three year $18 million grant to The Mind Trust. They claimed it was for “Operating support and support for expansion of high quality schools in Indianapolis, IN” which means advancing the portfolio model. A sure sign that an organization is promoting public school privatization is the ubiquitous claim that it is developing “high quality schools.”

Shockingly, the Indianapolis Public School district has a Portfolio Management page on their web site.

In 2018, The Mind Trust co-founder, David Harris, quit as CEO to become a Partner at The City Fund. He is still on The Mind Trust board where he serves alongside CBS Sunday Morning Anchor, Jane Pauley.

With Harris’s resignation, a new wave of TFA developed leaders took over.

The Billionaire Created Privatization Army

Mercedes Schneider writes in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp was the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and the young idealists for sale were her temp teachers who had no intention of staying in the classroom. Schneider also shared that in 2011 the Walton Family Foundation donated $49.5 million to TFA. Furthermore, Schneider listed TFA corporate donors in the $100,000 to $999,000 category as:

“Anheuser-Busch, ATT, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Boeing, Cargill Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Emerson, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Fedex, Fidelity Investment, GE, Marathon Oil, Monsanto, Peabody, Prudential, State Farm, Symantec, Travelers, Wells Fargo.”

She further pointed out that all of these big money donors are members of ALEC.

Since 2010, billionaires and corporations have continued making large investments in TFA. TFA’s latest IRS filing shows $235,973,769 in contributions for the fiscal year May 2017 to May 2018. The previous year’s grants totaled to $245,190,571. Additionally this so called non-profit now has a total asset value of $366,724,130 and the average yearly income of the top 10 earners at TFA is $325,134. Founder Wendy Kopp, listed as working 10-hours per week, was paid $136,879.

The TFA Indianapolis web page says The Mind Trust played a critical role in bringing TFA to Indianapolis “and one-third of its current staff are Teach For America alums including its CEO, Brandon Brown.” The local TFA Executive Director, Amar Patel, noted, “Nearly 20 percent of schools here in Indianapolis are led by TFA alumni.”

TFA teachers are completely unqualified. Prior to taking over a classroom, TFA teachers receive just five weeks of training. Their training is test centric and employs behaviorist principles. TFA corps members study Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. He never formally studied or practiced education.

TFA corps members are typically in their early 20’s and have just completed a bachelors degree – likely in a field unrelated to what they will teach. For example, Brandon Brown taught English the fall after he earned a Bachelor’s in political science and psychology. Worst of all, TFA corps members thoroughly assimilate the neoliberal message of failing schools, inept principals and bad teachers.

Real professional educators provide proof of mastery of the course they will teach and spend a minimum of one-year in a post-graduate teacher training program.

Another organization recruited to Indianapolis by The Mind Trust is TNTP (formerly The New Teachers Project). The Mind Trust states, “TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows program has supported 375+ Indianapolis teachers since 2007, several of whom have been school or district teachers of the year.” TNTP was created at TFA in 1997 by Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee. It was designed to be an alternative route to teacher certification and professional development.

Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education, a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they were unqualified. If policy makers in New York wanted to create and alternative teacher certification path, they would have turned to an established institution like Columbia University’s Teachers College to create and manage the program. They would not have turned to a private non-profit with no track record and little experience on staff.

An April 10, 2019 press release from The Mind Trust states:

“Today, the Indiana State Board of Education approved Relay Graduate School of Education … to prepare aspiring teachers for Indiana certification through its Teaching Residency program in Indianapolis. … The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, has raised an initial $3.5 million to support the expansion of Relay Graduate School of Education to Indiana and the launch of the Relay Teaching Residency program in Indianapolis.”

The title of the post Relay Graduate School: a Slick ‘MarketWorld’ Education Fraudsuccinctly describes this new billionaire funded scheme to further de-professionalize teaching in America. Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her post, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

Indianapolis TFA described their relationship the $15 billion Lilly Foundation started by the big-pharma founder Eli Lilly in 1937 and their relationship with Relay Graduate School:

“An instrumental player in bringing Teach For America to Indianapolis, the foundation continues to works closely with TFA to support the recruitment of a diverse pipeline of teachers for Indianapolis students.”

“Corps members new to teaching will have the opportunity to earn their teaching certification through a master’s degree at Relay Graduate School of Education, our graduate school partner. Most corps members will be able to qualify for AmeriCorps funding that covers the full cost of tuition.”

“The program culminates with a cash award of up to $2,500 for fellows to pursue their new solution.”

The Mind Trust reported on working with the Fairbanks Foundation to advance Relay Graduate School:

“The Mind Trust … is now accepting applications for the fourth cohort of Indianapolis school leaders to participate in Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF), ….”

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation has awarded The Mind Trust a $990,000 grant to help sponsor Indianapolis school leader participation for the next three years, bringing the Foundation’s total investment in the program to $1,756,000.”

With the infusion of billionaire money, The Mind Trust is not only able to offer training stipends for teachers to attend these “reform” institutes, it can now pay people to spend a year or even two to develop new innovation school plans. This year, they proposed 10 new innovation schools. CEO Brandon Brown observed,

“With the creation of the state law, we were now positioned to do the work that The Mind Trust has been wanting to do for years, working collaboratively with the district to provide great leaders with high autonomies to create great schools. Shortly after, we created the fellowship program to provide school leaders the planning time they needed. It wasn’t clear that IPS had the resources internally to do this work on their own, and we were excited to collaborate with them.”

Besides spending liberally to push school privatization efforts within the education community, The Mind Trust is also paying community members to promote their privatization ideology. Chalkbeat reported on the new parent advocacy fellowships stating, “The fellowship comes with an estimated salary of $75,000 to $90,000 per year.”

Final Observations

Brandon Brown cites a recent study by Stanford’s CREDO group to justify privatizing schools. In an IndyStar op-ed, Brown stated, “A 2019 study from Stanford University found that students who attend Innovation Network Schools achieve the equivalent of 53 additional days of learning in English and 89 additional days of learning in math each year when compared to their traditional public school peers.”

The study referred to here is the CREDO Cities Studies Project in which CREDO applied an undisclosed growth model to Indiana testing data. CREDO is the only scholarly organization that gives any credence to the days of learning metric. Although the study comes from a purportedly scholarly institution, it has never been submitted for peer review. The use of growth models have never been proven reliable and CREDO is known to have received much of its funding from school privatization entities. Somehow, CREDO is able to interpret 0.05 standard deviation differences in a noisy study as equating to three months of learning. It’s hogwash.

Why are billionaires spending so much to undermine professionalism in public education? It is probably not altruism. More likely, they want to reduce the biggest cost associated with education; teacher’s salaries. In the antebellum south, plantation owners preached anti-tax ideology because they owned the most and paid the most. Today’s billionaires aren’t much different. Most of them won’t put their children in public schools and really don’t value high quality public education. It seems the big motivation is to reduce tax burdens and simultaneously create new education industries.

Federal Charter Schools Program a Fountain of Corruption and Disruption

19 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/19/2020

Last year, the Network for Public Education (NPE) published two investigations of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). The first one called Asleep at the Wheel came in March. In it they made several claims including that hundreds of millions of dollars had gone to schools that never opened or were shut down. The authors, Carol Burris and Jeff Bryant, stated, “Therefore, we recommend that Congress end funding for new charter grants coming from CSP.” Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, harshly criticized the report to Congress saying, “It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”  In response, NPE redoubled efforts and in December published Still Asleep at the Wheel where they documented that their conservative claims in the first report under-reported the extent of negligence associated with the CSP.

DeVos Graphic

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

The Charter Schools Program

After Walter Mondale’s crushing defeat in 1984, a group of mostly southern Democrats including Bill Clinton founded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). According to a 1997 article in the New Republic,

“… [T]he DLC’s mission was to wrest the Democratic Party away from its left-wing establishment—particularly minority interest groups and labor unions—in order to transform it into a party that championed middle-class values. The old Democrats called for minimum wage increases, antipoverty programs, protectionism, and school busing; the DLC’s self-described new Democrats sought balanced budgets, welfare reform, free trade agreements, and charter schools.”

In his book Kochland, Christopher Leonard wrote, “If the new era was defined by any term, it was still the soupy and ambiguous term of ‘neoliberalism,’ which combined the machinery of a welfare state with deregulatory efforts for the select few special interest groups that had the money and lobbying power to make their case heard in Washington, DC.”

The Charter Schools Program was established in Title 10 of the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The purposes cited were to provide support for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools. The intent stated was to enhance parent and student choices among public schools.  The business men and politicians writing the law believed these choices and standards would result in higher student achievement. In his paper “Schooling the State: ESEA and the Evolution of the U.S. Department of Education,” Patrick McGuinn explained,

“In the 1994 ESEA reauthorization, President Clinton—a former “education governor” and ‘New Democrat’— secured changes that would push states to increase performance reporting and embrace educational accountability. Under this new ESEA and a companion piece of legislation, Goals 2000, states were required to establish academic standards in each grade and create tests to assess whether students had mastered the standards. The tests were to be administered to all poor children at least once in grades three through five, six through nine, and ten through twelve.”

In “Still Asleep,” Burris recites,

“Begun with just $6 million in 1995, Congressional appropriations for the CSP jumped to $190 million by 2001 and nearly $219 million in 2004. In 2019, the federal Charter Schools Program was funded with $440 million in taxpayer dollars.”

The charter school theory was that these privately operated schools without interference from state education departments and local school districts would unleash dramatic innovation and improvement. In response to “Asleep,” DeVos wrote Representative Grijalva stating, “Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has shown that charter school students outperform their peers in traditional public schools.” However, her Education department’s 2019 study concluded that charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools.

When Bill Clinton first pushed charter school legislation, it was promoted as an experiment. The experiment is now 25-years old. This new class of privatized schools has come with many unintended consequences. They have driven up education costs through the inefficiencies associated with running dual systems; they have undermined teacher professionalism; they have weakened one of the great pillars of democracy in America and they have diminished the role of schools as a unifying historical entity in neighborhoods. Unfortunately, they have not unleashed dramatic innovation and improvement; just disruption.

Asleep at the Wheel

The March 2019 paper “Asleep at the Wheel,” states in the executive summary,

“The federal outlays we examined are not modest expenditures amounting to little more than rounding errors. In its 2015 analysis, CSP stated that since its inception in 1994, the program had provided $3.3 billion to fund the startup, replication, and expansion of charter schools, creating 40 percent of operational public charter schools in the nation. We estimate that program funding has grown to well over $4 billion. That could bring the total of the potential waste to around $1billion.

“The waste of public dollars on closed charter schools is not the only concern. Of the grant recipients that manage to stay open, we uncovered extensive evidence that raises serious questions as to whether or not these schools are truly ‘high quality,’ meeting the CSP goal of providing equitable access for disadvantaged students.

“Through detailed examination of CSP’s application process, and by comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, we found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny.”

“The CSP’s own analysis from 2006-2014 of its direct and state pass through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.”

On April 10, 2019, Secretary of Education DeVos testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor where she was repeatedly queried about different claims made in “Asleep at the Wheel.” When Wisconsin Congressman Pocan asked about the more than $200 million grant to IDEA Charter Schools and their plan to lease a private jet for 6-years at $2 million per year, DeVos deflected and never answered the question but she did say, “The report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda.” That was a lie. It still has not been totally debunked.

In a written reply to follow up questions by the committee DeVos stated,

“Quite simply, the Network for Public Education is anti-reform, anti-charter and anti-choice; accordingly, its report represents nothing more than a political attack.”

“Unfortunately, several of your colleagues appear to have embraced this report without a careful examination of it. This rush to judgment risks fracturing the longstanding bipartisan support for public charter schools, which so many American families have come to rely upon as the only alternative to failing public schools.”

 “What isn’t debatable is that the Network for Public Education had a purpose when it published its report: to smear public charter schools, the CSP program and its grantees under the guise of research. It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”

“Since 2001, of the 5,265 charter schools that have received funding through a State entity or directly from the Department, 634 did not open and are unlikely to open in the future. As the developers of these schools received only CSP “planning” funds, which serve the specific purpose of enabling a charter school developer to explore the feasibility of opening a new charter school, the average award size for these schools was significantly lower than the average award size for CSP “implementation” grants and subgrants. In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.”

The President of NPE, Diane Ravitch, has a long history of championing standards based education reform informed by standardized testing. It was only after reviewing years of data around 2007 that she concluded it was not working. She certainly never gave up on the idea of improving public education. Her criticism of charter schools has been the lack of oversight, profiteering and fraud that have plagued the industry.

As far as school “choice” is concerned. In her book School Choice, educator and NPE supporter Mercedes Schneider quoted a 2012 Educational Research Alliance study noting, “The combined pressure to enroll a greater number of students and raise test scores to meet state targets seems to have created perverse incentives, encouraging the practice of screening and selecting students.” Schneider observed, “[Milton] Friedman’s idea of the market as a disinterested player in the game of choice simply is not consistent with practice.”

Ironically, Secretary DeVos has a well known anti-public education bias. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVoses’ philanthropy for Mother Jones stating,

“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”

DeVos asserting NPE “makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor” is a baseless claim. One of the reasons no one has been able to convincingly refute the conclusions in either “Asleep” or “Still Asleep” is because of the quality of the supporting data used and the careful rigor applied.

DeVos indicated that the spending on “ghost charters” [charters that never opened] was not nearly as high as stated. In a Washington Post article, Burris used DeVos’s data to defend the paper. DeVos stated, “In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.” Burris pointed out,

“The total for grants in the 2015 data set we used for our report is $1,794,548,157. Of that amount, 3.5 percent is $62,809,185. Our report said $45.5 million was wasted on ghost schools. Again, it appears as if we did not catch all of the waste.”

Burris also noted that of the 5,265 grantee schools DeVos cited only 3,138 were still in existence according to a department contracted WestEd presentation. That means 2,127 schools either never opened or were closed; a rate of 40.4% of all charters that were funded from active grants during those years. In “Still Asleep,” the percentage of failed charter schools over the same period was stated as 37%.

In other words, using DeVos’s numbers and official reports contracted by the US Department of Education for checking; in all cases the NPE numbers proved to be conservative and accurate.

Conclusion

Both “Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are well researched fair important studies illuminating the profound corruption in the federal Charter School Program. “Still Asleep” notes, “Hundreds of millions of dollars sent to states with few rules of the road have resulted in the massive waste of federal tax dollars, as grants were doled out to individuals who had no credentials or experience to open up a new school.”

“Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are forty and forty-eight pages in length respectively. The data presented and the illustrative charter school antidotes are meticulously documented. These two documents reveal a corrupt raid on taxpayer money which is negatively impacting K-12 education in America. The “Still Asleep” recommendations seem like common sense. They urge:

“We therefore strongly recommend that Congress end appropriations for new charter school grants in the upcoming budget and continue funding only for obligated amounts only to legitimate projects. Once those grants have been closed, we recommend that the CSP be ended and that charter schools continue to receive federal support only through other federal funding streams such as Title I and IDEA. Students, not charter school entrepreneurs, should benefit from federal funds.

“We also recommend thorough audits by Congress of previous grant awards, the establishment of regulations to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned to the federal coffers.”

 

Faulty Billionaire Financed Education “Study”

9 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/9/2020

This January, the new organization Brightbeam and its CEO Chris Stewart published The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.” The name clearly indicates the paper’s political leanings and the underlying data is suspicious. The paper is a polemic rather than a study. Like many “reports” coming from what Diane Ravitch labels the “disrupter” community, this 33-page document has not been submitted for peer-review. Never-the-less, it has been widely disseminated as legitimate research to the Brightbeam network including Education Post. It has also gone to hard right media like The Blaze and found its way into mainstream media like NBC and the Boston Herald.

About Brightbeam

Last year, Brightbeam was created to be the umbrella organization for the Education Post and other digital media sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) which is the legal moniker for the obscure billionaire financed organization providing the operating funds for this new digital publishing group. Brightbeam also controls the cyber platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free and it has influence over at least fourteen local internet publications in various American cities.

The billionaires financing Brightbeam include Michael Bloomberg, Alice Walton, Jim Walton, Laurene Jobs Powell and Mark Zuckerberg.

Chris Stewart who was named CEO of Brightbeam has been on the payroll at RIEF since its founding in 2014. The last available tax record puts his 2017 salary at $226,417.

The new “report” says, “Brightbeam is a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and a brighter future for every child.” A more apt description would be “a billionaire created organization dedicated to privatizing public schools and undermining teacher professionalism.”

Evaluating the “Study”

In his introduction to the paper, Stewart claims, “Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities.” Concerning the purportedly extra-large racial achievement gaps in “progressive cities” the paper states, “Of all the factors we looked at, progressivism is the greatest predictor.”

The authors’ explanation of their approach is skimpy. They write,

“To determine a rationale for what is a progressive city and what is a conservative city we relied on criteria developed independently by political scientists Chris Tausanovitch and Christopher Warshaw, who pooled data from seven large surveys of U.S. public opinion to rank the nation’s biggest cities in terms of conservatism. We then selected the 12 most conservative cities and the 12 least conservative cities from that list to establish the conservative and progressive cities that make up the base of this report.”

With those cities in mind, we pulled the publicly available school achievement and graduation data from public school districts in each of those cities. When we analyzed the achievement gaps between black and white students and the gaps between Latino and white students we found larger gaps than readers might expect from cities where progressive residents presumably hold the most political, administrative and cultural power.

Tausanovitch’s and Warshaw’s paper seems like a reasonable way to identify conservative and progressive leanings in cities. It is a five year old study and presumably attitudes have not gone through a sea change in that amount of time. However, the premise that the political ideology between those cities would have a dramatic effect on the achievement of minority students seems unlikely.

More troubling than the premise is the contention that standardized testing conducted using different testing regimes in 24 locations makes a valid comparison. Standardized testing provides data of questionable value even when everyone is taking the same test, but trying to align data from multiple testing types is fraught with error. The study provides almost no information about the data and methodology used.

On page nine, the study claims that the Black-White mathematics proficiency gap is 41.3% in progressive cities and 26.2% in conservative cities. This claim was checked by using the 2019 Nation Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) 8th grade math data for the 18 cities on the Tausnovich/Warshaw list that also had 2019 NAEP data. The average scale scores were subtracted and the difference was divided by the white student average scale score. The largest gap found was 21% in Washington DC. Even the 26.2% gap Brightbeam reported in conservative cities is a puzzle and the 41.3% number for progressive cities appears to be ludicrous.

Grade 8 Math Gap

Education Achievement Gaps Based on NAEP Data

San Francisco and Washington DC were rated respectively as number 1 and number 2 most progressive cities in the United States. The Brightbeam report states that in mathematics the Black-White achievement gap is 58% in San Francisco and 62% in Washington DC. Washington DC had the highest gap measured with NAEP data at 21%, however, that is almost 3 times less that the Brightbeam reported 62% claim.

San Francisco does not have easily attainable NAEP testing data, so the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) data for 2019 was used to check the gap claim. To calculate achievement gap measurements, percentages of all tested students who met or exceeded standards were summed for each ethnicity. Then a simple subtraction between the results of the various ethnic groups provided an achievement percentage difference. Using this method the Black-White achievement gap for mathematics was 32.7%. Outrageously high, but hardly the 58% gap that Brightbeam asserted.

While researching the achievement gaps in San Francisco, a fascinating correlation was discovered. The more an ethnic group utilized charter schools the worse their group’s education achievement.

San Francisco Charter Enrollment Chart

Negative Correlation for Academic Achievement in Charter Schools

The Brightbeam report states, “…three of the 12 conservative cities — Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Fort Worth — have effectively closed the gap in at least one of the academic categories we looked at, literally achieving a gap of zero or one.” To test this claim, the same methodology used for San Francisco was applied to Anaheim using 2019 CAASPP data for both Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement gaps in math and English language arts. The results are in the Table 1.

Table 1: Anaheim Education Achievement Gaps

Compared

ELA Gap Math Gap
Black – White 14.6% 10.5%
Hispanic-White 22.2% 16.0%

Clearly, the Education Achievement Gaps are much more significant than the zero or one point gaps which Brightbeam declares.

A 2018 Brookings Institute study of education achievement gaps in America said that gaps were still too large between demographic groups but that they have been steadily improving. On the other hand, they noted, “In contrast to the improvement in racial and ethnic achievement gaps, however, achievement gaps based on students’ eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch—our best proxy for poverty in the NAEP data—do not show much progress.”

Another Brightbeam contention involves graduation rates. It praises the rates in Oklahoma City noting, “The Oklahoma City public school district only graduates 73% of its high school students in four years but the graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher for black students than for white students and 5 percentage points higher for Latino students than for whites.”

While this statement is true, it implies that the cause for the relative higher success rate for Black and Hispanic students in Oklahoma City is the conservative nature of the city. Brightbeam ignores the huge five-year demographic change among the graduates and the 18.5% drop in the white graduation rate. That is not a success to be celebrated.

Table 2: Graduation Rates in Oklahoma City

Ethnicity 2014 2018
Graduation Rate Demographic Mix Graduation Rate Demographic Mix
Black 75.8% 9.7% 77.8% 25.9%
Hispanic 77.6% 11.8% 75.9% 52.7%
White 84.7% 55.1% 66.3% 12.5%

Fraudulent digital credit recovery has rendered high school graduation rates a meaningless parameter for measuring school merit. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. By 2012 – after the education technology industry became involved with providing high school credits – 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. Bizarrely, students have been allowed to finish semester long classes in less than a week and obvious cheating is being ignored.

Selling Out the Black Community

The Brightbeam report is targeting the black community with its anti-public schools and anti-progressive message. Their report concludes, “All of us have an outstanding debt to our children. But, to return to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., America, and most especially these progressive cities, has given our black and brown children a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

Keith Benson, Ed. D, is an amazing educator, thinker and leader in Camden, New Jersey. Keith is currently head of the Camden Education Association and has spent 14 years in the Camden classrooms. He is also active in and been a leader of the Camden branch of the NAACP. Last year Keith published “Seeing No Evil, “For the Children”:Identifying the Black education reform establishment’s purposeful blind spots in advocating for expansion of corporate education reforms.” This insightful paper addresses the kind of destructive leadership provided by billionaire funded Black led organizations like Brightbeam. Benson wrote:

“…in decades before where education reform, namely school choice was largely a fringe issue championed by anti-union, ideological white conservatives, today’s education reform movement gained momentum as pro-reform white benefactors expanded their public relations campaign to include Black and Latino ‘leaders’ to accomplish the same goal of collapsing urban public schools and teacher unions.”

“Michael Reagan, in ‘Think of the Children’ takes the ‘for the children’ argument to task calling it ‘pure BS…obvious political BS that has been used by politicians of both major parties’ and by people who lack ‘a legitimate or a reasonable argument.’ It is my contention here that the billionaire funded education reform movement and the Black Education Reform Establishment acting against urban public education for ‘the children,’ follows a similar rhetorical pattern.”

“In sum, through the education reform movement’s desire to close ‘failing schools’ and weaken teachers unions, it was experienced black teachers who bore the brunt of their contradictory advocacy which has only gained in strength and in allies that now includes the socially liberal, and persons of color. And while some critiques of urban public schools are accurate and warrant decisive systemic corrective action, it is simultaneously accurate that the single demographic most impacted by the policies advocated by today’s reformers are black educators, specifically, black women. Thus, while the Black Education Reform Establishment, as well as their wealthy white funders continuously champion dismantling urban teacher unions and closing “failing” schools in the name of benefiting the best hopes for urban black children, the Black Education Reform Establishment is targeting the same teachers most likely to help students of color achieve academically and usher them into post-secondary education.” (Emphasis added)

The billionaire sponsored paper from Chris Stewart and Brightbeam is not a study; not even close. It is propaganda. Mark Twain attributed Benjamin Disraeli with saying “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” The Brightbeam paper grossly violates all three of these categories of lies.