EMOs Generating Profits and Harm

29 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/29/2023

Carol Burris, Darcie Cimarusti and the gang at Network for Public Education (NPE) just published “Charter for Profit: Pandemic Profiteering.” This is an update to their 2021 report Chartered for Profit: The Hidden World of Charter Schools Operated for Financial Gain. Both reports describe and document how the vast majority of for-profit charter schools hide their true nature when “By law, only the state of Arizona allows for-profit entities to be licensed to run charter schools.”(Page 3) The industry work around is to found schools as non-profit entities, but use a for-profit Education Management Organization (EMO) to run them.

To determine how many students were attending charter schools controlled by for-profit EMOs was no easy task. To confirm an EMO’s status, the authors utilized state business search engines. Once confirmed, the team turned to EMO websites for their lists of schools which were compared with the relevant state’s list of charter schools. EMOs that did not have a website required a deeper search for documentation. (Page 34)

In December 2022, Professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University Josh Cohen did an evaluation for the National Education Policy Center of a September 2022 Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s study. That study attempted to justify the for-profit charter sector. However, Cohen found the study itself did not match the rosy conclusions in the forward by Fordham executives Amber Northern and Michael Petrilli. In fact, it showed for-profits having lower student achievement, lower graduation rates, and higher absentee rates. Furthermore, students in for-profit virtual charters quickly fell significantly behind students in brick-and-mortar schools.

Education Management Organizations

The current NPE study reports,

“At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, we identified 1,305 charter schools, run by one of 150 EMOs. This is an increase since our 2021 report, which identified 1,138 for profit-run charter schools run by 141 EMOs. …

“During these two school years – as the pandemic wore on – the percentage of charter schools run by for-profits jumped from 15 percent to about 16.6 percent of the charter sector.” (Page 10)

Those 150 EMOs were identified as belonging to one of three groups. The organizations with one or two charter schools could be labeled micro-EMOs. The mid-sized EMOs are constituted by three to nineteen schools while the large EMOs manage twenty or more schools.

Most states allow for-profits to manage charter schools; however five states have a very large for-profit footprint. Three of the states – Michigan, Florida and Ohio – have a majority of their charters managed by for-profit companies.

Accessing those Sweet Taxpayer Dollars

For the last several years, it appears that the for-profit charter industry has been perfecting profiteering by applying insider deals, sweeps contracts and sweetheart business deals.

The NPE report described: Insider deals, formally referred to as related party transactions, occur when those who have control of a charter school’s decision-making process award contracts to their own companies or those owned by family members, colleagues, or friends. (Page 12)

An example of this type of profiteering comes from Arizona and APEX Charter Services solely owned by Raena Janes. Her for-profit EMO manages nine charter schools. The schools are overseen by two non-profit boards; the Arizona Community Development Corporation and Liberty Traditional Charter Schools, Inc. However, the non-profit boards both consist of Raena Janes, her employees and her business partners.

Much more about the details of this Byzantine business structure can be found by delving into the LittleSis Map below. In 2018, I attended a presentation by Darcie Cimarusti on using the LittleSis data base and oligrapher. Since then Darcie has become a master at using these facilities. In the map below, she lays out the connections that have allowed Janes and a very small group of accomplices to over the last 12 years extract $33 million from Arizona’s state education budget. APEX’s complicated structure led to an Arizona state audit reporting,

“During consideration of the service agreement the Director disclosed her duality of interest and recused herself from discussion or voting on approval of the agreement. The disinterested members of the Board approved the agreement. “

However, there are no disinterested members of the Board. As Darcie documented, all of the board members have a stake in APEX being profitable.  

Click here to Access the Map of Documenting Insider Dealing at APEX

The NPE report includes several more examples of insider dealing.

Sweeps contracts are another vehicle EMOs employ to build profits. The report says, “A sweeps contract is an arrangement in which a charter school turns over all or nearly all of its public funding to an operator who then runs the school.” (Page 16)

In 2014, ProPublica published When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only.” This prescient article focused on the actions of National Heritage Academies an EMO which today manages more than 100 schools. It reported,

“In Michigan, where NHA is the largest charter-school operator, state education regulators have voiced … frustrations about the degree to which these private firms are shielded from having to answer to the public about how money is spent.

‘“I can’t FOIA National Heritage Academies,’ said Casandra Ulbrich, Vice President of the Michigan State Board of Education, referring to the right to request public documents from public agencies. ‘I don’t know who they’re subcontracting with, I don’t know if they’re bid out. I don’t know if there are any conflicts of interest. This is information we as taxpayers don’t have a right to.’’’

Another seeps contract example from the NPE report is ACCEL Schools the fourth largest EMO with 54 schools of which the majority are in Ohio. In 2017, Akron Preparatory Schools signed a sweeps contract with ACCEL. The NPE report described the contract as muscular noting,

“From beginning to end, it not only details the sweeping services that ACCEL will provide but also makes it clear that the decision-maker will be the for-profit, not the board. ACCEL is the ‘exclusive custodian’ of all revenues, choosing the bank into which the funds are deposited and managing the accounts. The 18 percent fee from revenue received ensures that ACCEL makes a profit.” (Page 17)

The third big profit driver for EMOs is sweetheart real estate deals. Burris et.al shared, “When we began our investigations into chartering for profit, we were told that ‘the real money’ is made in real estate.” Academica, National Heritage Academy, Charter Schools USA, ACCEL, and Leona are the five largest for-profit EMOs. They all use related real estate corporations and employ contracts that put the EMO in charge of lease relationships. (Page 17)

The second largest EMO in the country is National Heritage Academies (NHA). NHA’s real estate arm is the Charter Development Company (CDC). Both NHA and CDC are owned by J.C. Huizenga, whose father and uncle created the huge multinational company Waste Management. The NPE paper reports,

“In 2021, Charter Development Company began selling off schools to a nonprofit called Campus Partners 1, which appears to have been formed for the sale. Campus Partners secured one billion in bond funding from La Paz County in Arizona. The president of the board of Campus Partners 1 was Huizenga’s personal attorney. The sale allows Huizenga to profit from the sale of the schools while still managing the lease and facilities through Huizenga’s Charter Development Company. This real estate deal will potentially net up to one billion dollars from the sale of schools that had been paid for with tax dollars. Even after the sale, the schools will pay the lease via CDC to the new nonprofit, meaning the taxpayer will continue to foot the bill for the buildings over and over again.” (Emphasis added) (Page 21)

This is just one of the outlined real estate swindles setup to fleece taxpayers and purloin education dollars. The report goes into more detail about this deal and shares several more outrageous episodes. 

Some Observations

Clearly the charter school industry has been corrupted by greed. In statehouses across America, it appears that education laws are being deliberately written to facilitate fraud and charter industry lobbyists work hard to keep it that way. Charter schools do clearly outperform voucher schools but that is not saying much.

Josh Cohen is a researcher who has been studying vouchers since the beginning of the millennium. At one time, he was pro-voucher but his own research and that of others changed his mind. In a recent article he wrote, “Large-scale independent studies in D.C., Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio show that for kids who left public schools, harmful voucher impacts actually meet or exceed what the pandemic did to test scores.” The article is well sourced and yes he did claim that testing data shows that the negative affects of voucher schools education engenders worse learning loss than the pandemic.

Since voucher schools are substandard and charter schools are fraud centers that under-perform public schools, why do we have them? I believe it is because school choice is a racist and authoritarian agenda aimed at ending universal free public education in America. Obviously, choice has zero to do with improving education in America.

El Guapo’s Election Report Card

22 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/22/2023

Going into the recent general election, I prepared and published recommendations for forty-two K-12 school board seats on various voters’ ballots. Those positions were from the fifteen largest school districts out of San Diego County’s forty-two school districts. Twenty-nine of my recommendations won and thirteen were defeated.

Across that nation, school board races became targets of culture warriors speciously targeting schools to promote their ultra-right ideology often verging on fascism. Schools were unscrupulously accused of teaching critical race theory (CRT) and grooming students to become gay. It did not matter that CRT has never been taught in the K-12 environment or that turning a straight student gay is not any more possible than turning a gay student straight.  

There was some of that kind of dishonest campaigning in San Diego but it was largely unsuccessful.

Awaken Church is not Woke

In 2004, C3 founder Phil Pringle asked veterans of the evangelical megachurch tradition in Australia, Jurgen Matthesius and his wife Leanne Matthesius, to move to San Diego and found the church. They arrived in 2005 and began holding services in hotels, elementary schools and even at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). The year 2014 witnessed the establishment their first permanent site in Carlsbad and they have since grown to five campuses with about 10,000 parishioners. Originally established as the C3 church, in January 2020 they relaunched as Awaken Church.

Early in the pandemic Awaken Church defied government orders not to hold indoor services. Until the orders against indoor gatherings were lifted, Awaken continuously defied cease and desist orders from the county even in the face Covid-19 outbreaks linked directly to their services.  

In the recent school board elections, Awaken became extremely active calling for a change in school operations. Their RMNNT political action arm labels themselves as “warriors of liberty.” They self define as a remnant of people rising up violently, if need be, to fight tyranny. They are a dangerously misled and armed people with a doctrine that could hardly be more un-American. Following the national movement, school boards were targeted as the place for promoting their radical ideology of change.

Out on Coronado Island, Awaken found a fellow traveler in the MAGA right organization, We the Parents Coronado (WTPC). Like Awaken they have rudely railed against state and local mask mandates and vaccine requirements. WTPC’s web page links to anti-CRT and anti-LGBTQ materials. The reality is WTPC is a small organization but very loud.

Coronado is an upscale city of 20,000 on a sort of island with San Diego Bay to the north and east plus the Pacific Ocean to the west. There is a narrow strip of land known as the Silver Strand extending south to Imperial Beach. Driving down the strand one sees the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, the Seal Team training facility and Silver Strand State Beach. It is a stunningly beautiful community filled with naval flag officers, doctors, lawyers and expensive real estate.

In the general election, there were 3 four-year school board terms and 1 two-year board term on the ballot for Coronado Unified School District. The Awaken candidates were Scott Youngblood, Lisa Meglioli and Geri Machin. Scot Youngblood is an orthopedic surgeon and retired Navy Captain who was endorsed by the Republican Party. On his campaign webpage this Navy doctor revealed himself to be anti-vax and anti-mask. RMNNT the political action group affiliated with Awaken offered candidate training. Lisa Meglioli is a member of Awaken who took the RMNNT training where Coronado’s Republican Mayor Richard Bailey served as an instructor. Awaken’s third candidate, Geri Machin, was a founder and former executive director of WTPC.

When the election results came in, three of my four recommended candidates won (Alexia Palacios-Peters, Malachy Denis Sandy and Renee Cavanaugh). However, it was disappointing to see the anti-masker who is supposedly a doctor win that fourth seat. There are five total seats on the Coronado school board.

In San Diego Unified, the Awaken style change candidate was Becca Williams. She is the anti-mask and anti-vaccine mandates candidate endorsed by the Republican Party. Becca has teaching experience in charter schools and along with her husband founded Valor Education a charter management organization whose classic education is a conservative response to progressive values. She lost to the candidate I endorsed environmentalist and UCSD lecturer Cody Peterson.

In Carlsbad, the Awaken style change candidate was Sharon Mckeeman locally infamous as the founder of the anti-mask and anti-vaccine mandates organization “Let them Breath”. She was endorsed by the Republican Party. I endorsed Michele Tsutagawa Ward a 20-year educator and a school principal in Poway. She won.

The Encinitas Elementary School District is relatively small, but I agreed to review it at the request of a few concerned parents. The Republican Party endorsed Andre Johnson for one of the three seats on the ballot in which voters selected three from a list of candidates. Johnson manages information technology and the database for Awaken Church. It is a reasonable conjecture that he aligns with writer Jakob McWhinney’s observation that Awaken candidates have a “hyperbolic worldview that casts them as righteous fighters against a diabolical liberal ruling class.”  

In Encinitas, my three endorsements all carried the day.

Looking at some Election Misses

My recommendations won almost 100% of the seats in the school districts within 30-miles of the Pacific Ocean. However, in an exception, San Diego Unified candidate Shana Hazan defeated Godwin Higa. Godwin has a decade’s long history as a teacher and principal. He is also a leading expert in trauma informed teaching. Hazan had two years of teaching experience and has worked more than the last decade at Jewish Family Services. Still, she raked in big campaign contributions and racked up an impressive list of endorsements including from the Democratic Party and the San Diego Union Tribune.

I was fairly certain that Hazan would win but recommended Higa. Besides his superior experience and training, I was also concerned by her campaign reports showing $1,500 from Alan Bersin, $1,500 from Scott Peters, $1,500 from Irwin Jacobs, $1,500 from Joan Jacobs, $1,500 from Allison Price, and $1,500 from Robert Price. This is support from two neo-liberal politicians and a group of billionaires. There are reasons to believe she is a gifted young woman who believes in public education and protecting the commons. She just might be one of those political leaders who starts on a school board and goes on to higher office.  Hopefully she is not a neoliberal.

In East County, the school boards are dominated by members who are recommended by the Republican Party. I am fine with Republicans, who believe in traditional Republican values like local control, public education and fiscal management. That is why I recommended all three of the Republicans running for the Escondido Union High School District and they all won.

I was quite disappointed to see that Zesty Harper won a seat on Escondido’s elementary school board. After winning a seat in 2014, she became a controversial figure proclaiming, “No longer will it be OK for this disservice we have called your education to continue.” She declared that creationism should be taught in classrooms alongside evolution. She also sent her own children to Heritage Charter School instead of an Escondido Union School District campus. Her campaign web page states, “Zesty strongly believes in school choice and has supported local charter schools to increase innovation, competition, and choice in Escondido public schools.”

The Grossmont Union High School District has been run by the same Republican cabal for more than a decade. It was time for a change, but my council was ignored. I find board member since 2008, Gary Woods, particularly troubling. He taught online graduate courses at Liberty University and serves as executive director of the Equip Biblical Institute. Woods was endorsed by the Republican Party. There is a strong whiff of Christian nationalism here. This is the board that turned venerable Helix High School into a charter school.

Why is it El Guapo’s Report Card?

When I first entered the classroom students often asked if they could call me Mr. U. Something about that just put me off so I decided to have some fun with it. The vast majority of my students were Mexicans. Which was not unexpected since you could clearly see the Las Playas bullring just a mile or so away. I told them, “You can call me El Guapo.”

Guapo is pronounced wăpō like the Washington Post’s (WAPO). Most of the kids knew El Guapo meant Mr. Handsome. More than any kids I have ever worked with, Mexican kids love to joke around and tease. They immediately latched on to my new name and shortened it a little. Pretty soon I was Guapo as in “hey Guapo when will we ever use this stuff?” Which I would answer with the ever so encouraging “YOU; probably never.”

We all had a lot of fun learning math and physics.

The relationship between teachers and students is unique. We aren’t really friends but often develop deep attachments. We are not parents but students come to us – adults in their life that they trust – with issues they might not be willing to discuss with their parents. We are the example in their life of how to live that is working to prepare them for the future. This relationship is so important it is why machines should never replace teachers. It is probably more important than the curriculum being delivered.

Some Final Thoughts

We are a society being buried in lies.

“The election was stolen; everybody knows I won in a landslide.” This lie is still believed by 60% of Republicans because they watch Fox News which blatantly lies.

School choice is based on Milton Friedman’s lie that Public Schools are government monopolies. There are about 19,000 school districts in the United States each with their own governing bodies the vast majority of which are elected. That is not a monopoly and in reality school choice is about not having to go to school with those peoples children. It’s a racist agenda.

Well financed propagandist Christopher Rufo has widely spread the lie that CRT is being taught in K-12 Schools. He claims it is making white children uncomfortable; another lie.

A lot of people believe the lie that public schools are grooming students to “turn them” gay. The result is censorship and a small minority of LGBTQ+ students being tormented for who they are. They are people and they deserve respect. Prejudice is a social disease.

These lies have been used to divide us and distract us from billionaires grabbing more and more for themselves. Economic inequality has reached heights never before witnessed in this country and putting up with lies is a root cause. If we lose our Democracy then there will be no choice but to put up with lies. Look at what is going on in Russia, China and Hungry.

The American public school system is a treasure and must be protected from liars and their paymasters. If someone tells you that voucher schools and charter schools are superior to public schools, they are lying.

Atlas Shrugged is Boring and Silly

9 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/9/2023

Preparing to fly roundtrip from San Diego to Philadelphia, I pulled Atlas Shrugged from my bookshelf for reading material. I had originally purchased the book for five cents at a Point Loma garage sale in the 1990s but never got around to reading it. While flying, I read about 200 pages of the 1,084 page paperback version. The original published hard cover version was 1,164 pages. For the next few months, I completed the book by reading six pages a day while eating breakfast.

Libertarian politicians Paul Ryan, Ron Johnson and Rand Paul claim Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek and writer-philosopher Ayn Rand as their guiding lights. In 2012, Politico reported, “…, to bring new staffers up to speed, Ryan gives them copies of Hayek’s classic ‘Road to Serfdom’ and Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ — books he says inspires his political philosophy.” Hayek and Rand both subscribed to classical liberalism which means they believed in a political philosophy committed to limited government, the rule of law, individual liberties, and free markets with particular emphasis on property rights.

This knowledge was my underlying motive for reading Atlas Shrugged. I wanted to see for myself who Ayn Rand was and what she was teaching? What was so appealing to these Republican politicians?

Atlas Shrugged got a Chilly Reception

The book is quite odd. It is a romance, a mystery, a pirate story and a science fiction novel all rolled into one. The setting is a factious version of the United States. The endless descriptions of everything the characters were feeling and seeing became quite tedious but reading six pages a day made it readable – barely.

However, I did find the central character of the book, Dagny Taggart, a delight. Dagny is the granddaughter of Nat Taggart the founder of Taggart Continental the largest railroad in America. Dagny’s scumbag brother James becomes the CEO of the railroad but as COO, Dagny is the brilliant leader solving problems and making the trains run on time. She’s a force of nature that intimidates her brother.

Dagny’s three big love affairs are the backbone of the story. Her first lover is Francisco d’Anconia who is the heir to the world’s largest copper mining company out of Argentina. The second affair is with the married steel magnet Henry Reardon the inventor of Reardon steel which is lighter and more durable than conventional steel. Her final great love is John Galt the inventor of an engine that converts static electricity from the air into energy. Dagny never seems concerned about becoming pregnant and doesn’t. In this depiction of dystopian America, Galt is the instigator of an illegal strike by the “men of the mind.”

In the book, these “men of the mind” are continually being attacked by the “moochers” who loot their good works. The book’s title was originally “The Strike”, however the published title Atlas Shrugged came from the text where Francisco d’Anconia asks Henry Reardon what Atlas should do if “the greater [the Titan’s] effort, the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders”. With Reardon unable to answer, d’Anconia gives his own advice: “shrug”. (Atlas Shrugged Pages 131-132)

Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein wrote about the reaction to Atlas Shrugged. She observed, “Reviewers seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs; one called it ‘execrable claptrap’, while another said it showed ‘remorseless hectoring and prolixity.”’ The Time magazines review in October 1957 asked,

“Is it a novel? Is it a nightmare? Is it Superman – in the comic strip or the Nietzschean version?

In a delightful take down in the National Review, the man detested by the left for his testimony against Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, scathingly observed,

“Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.”

 “Atlas Shrugged can be called a novel only by devaluing the term.”

Chambers was even less kind when judging Rand’s philosophy stating,

“The Message is the thing. It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism. Upperclassmen might incline to sniff and say that the author has, with vast effort, contrived a simple materialist system, one, intellectually, at about the stage of the oxcart, though without mastering the principle of the wheel.”

Ayn Rand and Associates

Ayn Rand is her pen name. She was born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, to a bourgeois Jewish family in Petrograd, Russia (St. Petersburg today), on 2 February, 1905. She was 12 years old when Lenin and his communist revolution took power which led to great suffering in her immediate family. She was a history major at Petrograd University graduating in 1924. The next year, with her mother’s help, Alissa was able to secure permission to leave Russia and never looked back. 

While working for Cecil B. DeMille in Hollywood, she met actor Frank O’Connor. They were married in 1929 and remained so until he died in 1979. Professionally she was Ayn Rand but to family and friends she was Mrs. Alisa O’Connor. Alisa says Ayn is inspired by a not named Finnish writer and described Rand as an abbreviation of Rosenbaum.

In 1951, she and Frank moved to New York City where they developed an interesting group of friends. Among them were Janet Gaynor, art historian Mary Sures, economists Allen Greenspan, and Ludwig Von Mises.

Austrian economists Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek promoted the classical liberal view of capitalism which attracted Charles Koch. Von Mises was one of the few critics that praised Atlas Shrugged. He declared,

“You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.

“If this is arrogance, as some of your critics observed, it still is the truth that had to be said in the age of the Welfare State.”

Rand’s Message

The whole point of the book is presenting Ayn Rand’s philosophy – Objectivism. It is her creation and the hokum ideological prism through which she viewed the world. It led her in 1964 to declare The Virtue of Selfishness.”

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy claims,

“Whereas Rand’s ideas and mode of presentation make Rand popular with many non-academics, they lead to the opposite outcome with academics. She developed some of her views in response to questions from her readers, but seldom took the time to defend them against possible objections or to reconcile them with the views expressed in her novels. Her philosophical essays lack the self-critical, detailed style of analytic philosophy, or any serious attempt to consider possible objections to her views. Her polemical style, often contemptuous tone, and the dogmatism and cult-like behavior of many of her fans also suggest that her work is not worth taking seriously.”

In Atlas Shrugged, it is a struggle between “looters” and the heroic elites who are the root of value creation. The “looters” are proponents of high taxation, big labor, government ownership, government spending, government planning, regulation, and redistribution while her moral paragons are creators from which all economic benefit emanates. The elites are superior beings who should be acknowledged and allowed to run their businesses without interference. It is the ultimate view of laissez-faire capitalism.

In a fascinating 1964 interview with Playboy Magazine, Rand makes some statements that reveal how ridiculous her philosophical views were.

“To begin with, man does not possess any instincts.”

“I believe that taxation should be voluntary…”

“My position is fully consistent. Not only the post office, but streets, roads, and above all, schools, should all be privately owned and privately run. I advocate the separation of state and economics.”

“The disasters of the modern world, including the destruction of capitalism, were caused by the altruist-collectivist philosophy. It is altruism that men should reject.”

In Atlas Shrugged, John Galt uses his scientific genius to hijack the nationwide broadcast addressing the mounting disaster in the country. In his three hour speech which covers more than sixty pages of text in the book, Rand lays out her philosophy. Here are a few quotes,

“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” (Page 978)

“The doctrine that ‘human rights’ are superior to ‘property rights’ simply means that some human beings have the right to make property out of others; since the competent have nothing to gain from the incompetent, it means the right of the incompetent to own their betters and to use them as productive cattle. Whoever regards this as human and right, has not right to the title of ‘human.’” (Page 986)

“The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except the material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.” (Page 989)

“I swear – by my life and my love of it – that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” (Page 993)

An Observation

Growing up on a ranch in Idaho, I had a grandfather who was an immigrant from Scotland and a staunch Republican. For years, he was a big fan of Senator William Borah and his brother was a fanatical anti-New Dealer. If it were not for the anti-labor stance of the Republicans, I could have been one myself. So what happened in the 1950s that has made this party so anti-common man and pro-elites?

I think it was the right’s embrace of the Austrian economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig Von Mises along with the sophomoric philosophy of Ayn Rand; hard to see much daylight between their ideas and fascism. Unfortunately, it is an ideology embraced today by too many of America’s political leaders on the right.

The Science of Profits and Propaganda

28 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/28/2022

The Orwellian labeled science of reading (SoR) is not based on sound science. It more accurately should be called “How to Use Anecdotes to Sell Reading Products.” In 1997, congress passed legislation calling for a reading study. From Jump Street, the establishment of the National Reading Panel (NRP) was a doomed effort. The panel was given limited time for the study (18 months) which was a massive undertaking conducted by twenty-one unpaid volunteers. The NRP fundamentally did a meta-analysis in five reading domains while ignoring 10 other important reading domains. In other words, they did not review everything and there was no new research. They simply searched for reading studies and averaged the results to give us “the science of reading.”

It has been said that “analysis is to meta-analysis as physics is to meta-physics.”

Setting up the Sale

Nancy Bailey is an expert in special education and early reading instruction. In a recent posting she shared,

“A troubling feature of the Science of Reading (SoR) is the connection between those who believe in the power of phonemes (and more) and those who want to privatize public schools. The old NCLB crowd has been rejuvenated and seems onboard with digital instruction replacing public schools and teachers.

“For example, former gov Jeb Bush has been crusading for the Science of Reading, praising Emily Hanford for her advocacy for the SoR, implying teachers haven’t understood how to teach reading.”

Also in the post by Bailey are links to about 30 companies who sponsored Bush’s reading summit. They are all looking to cash in on the SoR.

Professor Paul Thomas has a deep background in teaching and education research. He spent 20 years in high school English classrooms and another 20 years at Furman University teaching teachers. Thomas recently wrote,

“Those of us in literacy, specifically the field of reading, have been highlighting since 2018 that APM Reports (specifically the work of Emily Hanford) has been misrepresenting both the problems around reading achievement and how to teach reading.

“Hanford and APM Reports are ground zero for the deeply flawed “science of reading” (SoR) movement that now pervades mainstream media.”

Hanford’s status as a reporter at American Public Media (APM) makes her work very damaging. APM is a sister organization to the Public Broad Casting system which has a well earned reputation for being unbiased and accurate.

Hanford is not an expert in education or reading.  In 1994 she earned a BA in English from Amherst College and in 1996 she took a job as a reporter at Chicago’s public media station WBEZ. She has been in the public broadcasting system ever since.

Professor Thomas points out that Hanford’s reporting is biased toward SoR claims that she agrees with and ignores all other evidence. He states,

“As I have pointed out numerous times, there is a singular message to Hanford’s work; she has never covered research that contradicts that singular message.

“For example, not a peep about the major study out of England that found the country’s systematic phonics-first policy to be flawed, suggesting a balanced approach instead.

“And not a peep about schools having success with one of Hanford’s favorite reading programs to demonize.”

Hanford is a glaring symptom of the journalism plague that is infecting public education but hardly the only one. Dana Goldstein continues to write problematic articles for the New York Times. Her writing is also biased towards the privatization agenda as salve for reading education. Her degree from Brown University in European intellectual and cultural history does not make her an expert in education, none-the-less, she regularly gets many inches in the Times to pontificate about it.

Maren Aukerman is an education expert. Professor Aukerman is currently a Werklund Research Professor at the University of Calgary who focuses on literacy education and democratic citizenship. She previously served on the faculty at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her recently published paper in the Literary Research Association focuses on the work of Goldstein, Hanford and others promoting the SoR movement. Aukerman outlined the fundamental message they’re selling,

“a) science has proved that there is just one way of teaching reading effectively to all kids – using a systematic, highly structured approach to teaching phonics;

“b) most teachers rely instead on an approach called balanced literacy, spurred on by shoddy teacher education programs;

“c) therefore, teachers incorporate very little phonics and encourage kids to guess at words;

“d) balanced literacy and teacher education are thus at fault for large numbers of children not learning to read well.

“The problem is not with recognizing that teaching phonics can play a facilitative role in having children learn to read; that insight is, indeed, important, if not particularly new. The problem is that this narrative distorts the picture to the point that readers are easily left with a highly inaccurate understanding of the so-called ‘science of reading.”’

Aukerman points to four fundamental flaws in their journalism: (1) Lack of Balance in Reporting , (2) Sensationalistic “Straw Man” Arguments, (3) A Myopic Lens Fetishizing Phonics Instruction and (4) Logical Fallacies. She gives examples for each of these claims. For example, a Logical Fallacy is not reporting research that shows students taught to read without systematic phonics “read more fluently.”

Mandating Dyslexia Testing and Structured Literacy

In January 2021, California State Senator Anthony Portantino a New Jersey transplant to the San Fernando Valley introduced SB237 which stipulates dyslexia testing for all students, kindergarten through third grade. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.” Although the bill was not adopted the concepts are still being actively pursued in Sacramento.

Today, forty states mandate dyslexia screening even though there is no consensus on how to define dyslexia. Some researchers even question its existence. Ball State University and University of Texas researchers have joined the chorus of scientists stating, “There are no universally employed measures or procedures for identifying dyslexia.” Commercially available tests misidentify both those that have a disability and those that don’t. Screening expert Dr. Amanda M. Vanderheyden reported that tools like The Shaywitz Dyslexia Screen have error rates of more than 50%. Vanderheyden also stated, “Readers may be surprised to learn that there is not a direct positive relationship between screening assessments and improved reading outcomes.”

Professor Rachael Gabriel makes this important observation about the screening tool Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), “Just like a 20-minute consult with a doctor is always better than health advice from an online calculator, a one-on-one conference with a teacher or reading specialist will always be better than DIBELS at diagnosing and understanding reading difficulty, ability and progress.”

Politicians in a growing number of states are mandating “structured literacy.” It is a systematic phonics approach to reading instruction based on the 1930s theories of Anna Gillingham and Samuel Orton. The advantage of this approach is that it can be easily packaged into commercial products. Both the Department of Education’s clearing house and the International Literacy Association state that this approach is not supported by research.

The Cynical Use of Dyslexia

In their studies, the research teams from Ball State University and the University of Texas noticed that an intricately linked closed circle of organizations are driving dyslexia discourse. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), the International Multisensory Language Education Council (IMSLEC) and Decoding Dyslexia (DD) are the major players. The study states,

“… IMSLEC started as an IDA committee, and ALTA certifies dyslexia specialists in the multisensory language approach, which in turn is consistent with IDA’s standards for educator preparation in reading (Knowledge and Practice Standards, n.d.). The IDA began certifying teachers in 2016, in addition to accrediting dyslexia teacher training programs.”

DD has parent chapters in every state in the union and they all employ the same language from IMSLEC and IDA in their lobbying materials and mission statements. DD’s parent chapters are able to drive many people out to legislative hearings to testify on behalf of structured literacy programs and commercial dyslexia testing.

Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut Rachael Gabriel has been studying parent engagement with reading issues. In her report, she shares several extracts from the oral and written testimonies given at various legislative sessions on special education. The testimonies are often emotionally delivered anecdotes that support the privatization agenda. In this typical statement, a student claims,

“I have dyslexia. Reading and math are really hard for me. I’ve had too many teachers that don’t understand how to teach me. Finally, this year I went to Lindamood Bell training and reading is getting easier.”

In her paper, Professor Gabriel also noted how parents are told that the public school teachers do not know how to teach reading especially to students with dyslexia. They are informed that dyslexia is often associated with other giftedness, a claim with no evidence other than anecdotal undocumented claims about Einstein and other famous people who are said to have been dyslexic. Those testifying regularly call for the five point DD agenda:

  1. “A universal definition and understanding of ‘dyslexia’ in the state education code.
  2. Mandatory teacher training on dyslexia, its warning signs and appropriate intervention strategies.
  3. Mandatory early screening tests for dyslexia.
  4. Mandatory dyslexia remediation programs, which can be accessed by both general and special education populations.
  5. Access to appropriate ‘assistive technologies’ in the public school setting for students with dyslexia.”

Some of what DD is calling for has been standard practice addressed in teacher education programs for decades. Some of it looks like a call to sell technology which often is worse than useless. Unfortunately, the screening tests will misidentify and harm many students. The call for a universal definition of dyslexia by political edict in education code is anti-science and bizarre.

Conclusions

The SoR movement is another example of oligarch spending diminishing professionalism in education. The combination of arrogance and too much money in a few hands is a disaster. The people who were on the NRP were dedicated professionals and the last thing they wanted was to harm reading education yet their report is being used for just that purpose.

It is probably true that many students with issues learning to read are not being well served, but turning to products from private companies to save the day is a mistake. School districts in most of the nation are starved for cash and administrators look for any way to cut spending. This is the root of the poor service for struggling students.

The answer is to drive more money into early education and insure that teachers are provided with extensive training in reading education. It should be the purview of these trained professionals to screen their students one-on-one for learning problems. Once those evaluations are made, the school staff should be charged with deciding on the appropriate response.

Stop the incessant neoliberal agenda of monetizing everything.

The Phony NAEP Crisis

1 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/1/2022

The recent data release by the National Assessment of Education Performance (NAEP) for mathematics has inspired balderdash. Jeb Bush called itAlarming.” A Chalkbeat headline characterized it as a massive drop.” Harvard’s Tom Kane wrote that it signaled “ enormous learning losses.”  The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke was able to place her article in many outlets with the subtle headline, “New NAEP Test Scores Are a Disaster. Blame Teachers Unions.”

In reality, the score drops were not massive and learning loss which probably isn’t actually a thing was not enormous. However, if the purveyors of doom can convince enough people it is a crisis, then they can advance their own pet agendas such as ending public education.

NAEP (pronounced nape) testing which is known as the nation’s report card was originally implemented in 1969. The tests use a combination of standardized testing and sampling. The Washington Post reports that this year 224,000 fourth-graders from 5,700 schools and 222,000 eighth-graders from 5,100 schools were sampled. Sampling certainly makes more sense than states paying testing companies to test every student but standardized testing is still not a capable tool for measuring learning.

It is not just me saying it. Unlike the scientifically well behaved data associated with genetics study, standardized testing data is extremely noisy. The famed Australian researcher Noel Wilson wrote a seminal work in 1998 called Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.” His peer reviewed paper which has never been credibly refuted says error in standardized testing is so large that meaningful inferences are impossible. Unfortunately, the paper has been ignored.

Wilson’s paper was followed a year later by a paper from UCLA’s Education Professor James Popham which stated, “Although educators need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness, standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.”

It does seem that with all of the tests taken, data gathered and arithmetic performed, the tests must be telling us something but what? We know that the one thing this kind of test correlates to is the student’s family wealth. Education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond puts that correlation at an r-value of 0.9. An r-value of 1 on the 0-1 scale says it is a dead certainty like men not becoming pregnant. No other variable studied has a strong influence meaning they mainly input noise into the data.

So what caused the downward turn in 2022 NAEP math data for 4th and 8th graders? Is it really related to learning and should it be a large concern?

Let’s Go to the Scoreboard

Everyone has the right to access the NAEP Data Explorer and create their own data reports and charts. The tested years, the jurisdictions, data types, the subject, etcetera may be manipulated to shape a report. It is possible to compare states, public schools and private schools, districts, etc. There are limitations such as charter school data being lumped with public school data.

In the following charts, I chose mathematics either 4th or 8th grade in tested years 2003, 2019, 2022. I selected the average scale scores which are based on a 500 point scale.

Data Explorer Graphed Fourth Grade State Comparisons

One of the first observations to make is that the 500 point scale scores are plotted on a 60-point graph scale which visually magnifies any differences by more than 8 times. The national average scores go from 235 in 2003 to 241 in 2019 and then 236 in 2022. If we use the lowest data point for a denominator that five point drop from 2019 represents a 2% drop, but if we use the 500 point scale as the denominator which we should that purported enormous drop is just 1%.

Of the five large states queried, only New York had a larger than 5 point drop. Its 10-point drop calculates to a 2% decline.

The Walton Family financed publication The 74 is known to support libertarian positions on education policy. Some people claim they are biased against public schools. The 74 recently claimed in a headline, “Strong Link in Big City Districts’ 4th-Grade Math Scores to School Closures.” Under the previous president, the political right railed against health care policies like masking, vaccination and closing schools. By September 2020 there were loud sometimes violent open-schools-now protests at school boards meetings in many states and jurisdictions. The 74 article looks like an attempt to say “see we were right” but the data does not support their specious claim.

For evidence, they turned to the Koch addled economist Emily Oster. She is the Brown University professor that argued in the summer of 2020 that children should be back in school. At the same time, she cast doubt on masking. With the new NAEP results, she again supports the libertarian cause stating, “The districts with more remote learning have larger test score losses.” This appears to be something she just said with no evidence.

If we look at the states graphed above, the only outlier is New York with its 10-point drop, but California, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts all had 5-point drops.

District Comparisons of Fourth Grade Mathematics Scale Scores

Oster’s claim was about big city districts. If we look at these big city data sets there does not appear to be real differences. All of the big city districts had an 8- to 9-point drops in their fourth grade test between 2019 and 2022. Whether they opened early or stayed closed longer.

Education reporters note that test score drops in eighth grade were worse than those in fourth grade. On the 500-point scale the average drop in fourth grade was five points while in eighth grade it was eight points or 1% and 1.6% respectively.

Eighth Grade Mathematics by District


It is true that the national math data for eighth graders showed an average 8-point drop in 2022. However, the declines were not uniform between districts. The country’s second largest school district in Los Angeles actually returned a positive result and the 4-point decline in the nation’s largest school district was relatively modest.

There is no way the eighth grade testing result for the nation’s two largest school districts could fairly be characterized as a crisis. It is also noteworthy that these two districts were closed longer than most others in the nation.


The Roots of the Down Turn

America’s students like everyone else suffered through a two year pandemic-inspired nightmare. Did anyone really expect that on average they would perform at par?

One of the difficult pandemic related student manifestations was increased violence. As schools were reopening, Homeland Security notified them, “The reduced access to services coupled with the exposure to additional risk factors suggests schools — and the communities in which they are located — will need to increase support services to help students adjust to in-person learning as they cope with the potential trauma associated with the pandemic response.” Schools around the country saw a dramatic increase in fighting and insolent behavior.

This past July, the Washington Post reported, “The data, collected as the 2021-2022 school year was winding down, also showed that more than 70 percent of schools saw increases in chronic student absenteeism since the onset of the pandemic and about half of the schools reported increased acts of disrespect toward teachers and staff.”

Many school districts started experiencing crippling staff shortages and the NAEP testing came at a particularly inconvenient time. During the January to March, 2022 testing window, the nation experienced the omicron variant infection explosion. CDC data shows that during the testing window infection rates grew to more than 200 people out of every 100,000 in population becoming infected daily.

Disaster Capitalism Needs a Crisis

Amway Billionaire and dominion supporter Betsy DeVos said the NAEP data showed that children should no longer be “hostages” in a “one-size-fits-none system that isn’t meeting their needs.” She has been spending for decades to get rid of the secular public schools she sees as an evil.

Like every education crisis since 1983’s “A Nation at Risk” this is another manufactured crisis. The crisis rhetoric used to justify incessant accountability layered onto a constant process of new standards and new tests is, as Berliner and Biddle documented, a manufactured lie.

In writing about the pandemic effects on schools, John Merrow reported, “Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who called the results ‘appalling and unacceptable,’ told a group of reporters that the results are ‘a moment of truth for education,’ adding ‘How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery, but our nation’s standing in the world.”’

And even more over the top than Cardona, Harvard’s Tom Kane wrote in the Atlantic,

“[S]tudents at low-poverty schools that stayed remote had lost the equivalent of 13 weeks of in-person instruction. At high-poverty schools that stayed remote, students lost the equivalent of 22 weeks. Racial gaps widened too: In the districts that stayed remote for most of last year, the outcome was as if Black and Hispanic students had lost four to five more weeks of instruction than white students had.”

When people start using the sham CREDO days of learning metric, I am pretty sure they are dissembling. This is the kind of stuff that caused Professor Paul Thomas to declare, “But mostly, I hate the lies, political, media, and commercial interests that are eager to shout “crisis!” because in the spirit of the good ol’ U.S. of A., there is money to made in all that bullshit.

Cardona’s Department of Education is known to embrace at least three methods for helping struggling students raise their test scores: 1) extend school day and year, 2) mandatory summer school and 3) ‘high-dosage tutoring,’ where one trained tutor works with no more than four students, three times a week for an entire year. In other words our Education Secretary who is a former New Leaders Fellow embraces a method that may raise test scores but promises to undermine engagement and the joy of learning. It is a corporate solution, not an educator’s solution.

The NAEP test scores are not a crisis but bad education leadership, suspect scholarship and billionaire meddling are. It is time to get out of the road of educators and let them do their job. No high-dosage tutoring, no extended days and no forced summer schools.

The children are not broken. If they missed some lessons over the past two years, unfettered educators will quickly resolve the issues. Students who have not been convinced that education and learning are onerous and hateful will be fine. Cardona, Kane and DeVos are the crisis.

Palomar Community College Board Election

26 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/26/2022

There are three positions up for election on the Palomar Community College board.

There is no incumbent running in Area 1. The Republican Party is endorsing Frank Xu. The Democratic Party, Palomar faculty and students at are endorsing Judy Patacsil.

Patacsil is a community college professor with an amazing list of endorsements. This daughter of Filipino immigrants is obviously well liked and respected by colleagues. She has the endorsement of four currently serving board members and is also the choice of organized labor.

The student newspaper, Telescope, was impressed by Frank Xu’s technical and business background. However they endorsed his opponent because “we do not agree with his statements about changing the race-based admissions quota and his dislike of race and diversity inclusion.”

Frank Xu appears to be a far right ideologue. He is President of the new non-profit California for Equal Rights Foundation (CERF) (IRS ID 85-2315151). Last year CERF joined a law suit against San Diego Unified School District over Critical Race Theory. CERF legislative reports read like they were lifted from Christopher Rufo and the Manhattan Institute.

Recommendation Area 1: Judy Patacsil

Area 4 has a match between Kartik Raju who was appointed to the board last year and Michelle Rains a restaurant owner from Ramona.

Rains is endorsed by the Republican Party and has substantial support from building contractors. She also has the endorsement of several elected officials in Ramona.  

Raju is endorsed by the Democratic Party and he is supported by four existing Palomar board members and the Palomar college faculty. Raju is an electrical engineer with diverse experience in project management, defense and aerospace. Telescope endorsed him stating,

“He expressed enthusiasm for student culture, and the connections he’s made here at Palomar. He also shared his personal experience at a community college, and the joyous discovery of all the benefits it offered.”

Recommendation Area 4: Kartik Raju

In Area 5, Jacqueline Kaiser – endorsed by the Republican Party – is running against incumbent Nora Miyamoto.

Kaiser is from Fallbrook where she was involved in community planning. She has a masters in business administration and is supported by the San Diego Chapter of the Association of General Contractors. County Supervisor Jim Desmond, Asseblywomen Marie Waldron and State Senator Brian Jones all support her candidacy. Telescope also endorsed her stating, “While she doesn’t have any prior experience at Palomar, we feel that a forward-thinking business mindset could bring fresh ideas to the board.” The students seemed to really be taken with her in their one on one interview.

Miyamoto who also lives in Fallbrook has worked at Palomar for 21-years. Her bio states, “With nearly 30 years of community college experience, she served in various positions—a part- and full-time faculty member, a classified employee, a temporary employee, a mid-level academic director and as an Instructional Dean.” She shares an impressive list of endorsements including that of four existing board members and the Palomar faculty.

Recommendation Area 5: Nora Miyamoto

California Billionaire Election Spending 2022

17 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/17/2022

Billionaires are once again spending heavily to flex political influence in California. Much of the spending is directed toward implementing neoliberal ideology into education policy. It makes sense that billionaires embrace neoliberalism and in some cases libertarianism. The present system has made them wealthy beyond even their own imagination and the philosophy of “I got mine so you can bugger off” appeals to many of the ultra-wealthy. However, it is shocking to see unions joining forces with these people who abhor collective bargaining.

Much of the school board spending is directed at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Three seats that the oligarchs previously won with massive spending are up for election. The two incumbents standing for reelection this year won their seats in 2017, which was the most expensive school board election in history. During that race, data from the LA Ethics Commission shows independent expenditures supporting Nick Melvoin totaling $5,500,000 while Kelly Gonez raked in $3,340,000. Melvoin won a tough race for district 4 running against Board President Steve Zimmer. Gonez easily won the district 6 seat.

The other incumbent besides Zimmer running in 2017 was Monica Garcia who had received ample monetary support from billionaire Ely Broad and friends in her first two elections. Because of term limits, 2017 would be Garcia’s last go around. This year, Garcia’s long time chief of staff, Maria Brenes, has been selected to represent neoliberal interests in district 2.

How the Billionaires Structure Their Spending

For the Interactive LilSis Map Select Here

Arthur Rock is a 96-years-old investor who bet on Apple, Intel and other famous tech companies when they were start ups. His 2021-2022 political giving includes being by far the biggest sponsor ($399,000) for the successful effort to recall three members of the San Francisco school board earlier this year. His other donations (ID 499292) include $21,000 for state assembly races, $12,500 for senate races and he has contributed $800,000 (96% of the PAC’s income) to California Educators, Parents and Students for High-Quality Education (ID 1442251). That PAC sent $540,000 to a Mesa, Arizona Foundation called Students First. The rest of this contribution went to campaign consultants and services.

William E Bloomfield Jr. (ID 494345) is an extremely wealthy business man and native Angelino. He is very involved in politics and sees himself as an education reformer. This cycle he has poured more than $1,800,000 into neoliberal education reform friendly candidates. That includes $1,610,000 into the local Los Angeles PAC, Kids First, Supporting Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin for Re-election to the LAUSD School Board 2022.

Doris Fisher (Gap Founder ID 1221980) joined Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO ID 499251) and James Walton (Walmart Heir ID 1372611) in sending the Charter Public Schools PAC (ID 1302433) $3,700,000. That PAC is administered by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Charter Public Schools PAC put $1,200,000 into Families and Teachers United as well as donating to several key school board candidates including $375,000 to Kate Dao.

Dao is running for a seat on the Alameda County School Board (Oakland). Her qualifications seem to be that she founded a private school in Livermore, California called Acton Academy East Bay. Before her private school venture, she did marketing for tech startups. The state department of education shows her school opening in fall 2019 and closing on July 1, 2022. Fisher’s Champions for Education PAC (ID 1422949) also sent Dao $20,000.

Three billionaires, Fisher, Hastings and Walton all invested heavily in legislative races. Fisher put $48,000 into assembly seats and $10,000 into senate seats. Hastings put $81,250 into assembly seats and $13,300 into senate seats. Walton who is from Arkansas put $96,700 into assembly seats and $12,100 into senate seats.

CCSA sponsors the PAC Families and Teachers United (ID 1367043). This PAC is mainly funded by the Charter Public School PAC. Families and teachers concentrates its campaign giving on getting preferred state legislative officials elected. Table 1 gives the details for how they distributed $1,429,000.

There is a group on the far right called Fix California. They sponsor a PAC called Education Savings Account (ID 1442249). The PAC has taken in $270,000 and spent $243,000 promoting a petition to authorize school vouchers. They were unsuccessful this year.

Another PAC, Californians for School Choice Foundation (ID 1440327) has taken in $467,000 to promote school choice including vouchers. They spent over $468,000 over the last two years on media and campaign consultants to promote school choice.

Several LA Labor Unions Seem to Support the Neoliberal Agenda

Lily Geismer’s book Left Behind the Democrat’s Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality documents the rise of the Democratic Leadership Council, Bill Clinton and the neoliberal agenda. She observed, “Labor Officials and the rank and file both had strong objections with Clinton’s position on free trade and were well aware of the New Democrats’ long-standing hostility toward unions” (Page 133). So it is astonishing to see labor joining with billionaire neoliberals to support the privatization of public education.

With over 300,000 members the California Teacher Association was not a union spending with the billionaires to privatize public education. Through their PAC, California Teachers Association/Association for Better Citizenship (ID 741941) they donated $301,000 to the LA independent expenditure committee Students, Parents and Educators in Support of Rivas for School Board 2022.  

Professor Rocio Rivas is also enthusiastically supported for the board seat by Diane Ravitch and the Network for Public Education (NPE). NPE which shares,

“Rocio Rivas worked as a teacher assistant during her undergraduate years at U.C. Berkeley.  This work inspired her to seek a career in education. She attended Teachers College, Columbia University where earned a Masters and Doctorate in Comparative and International Education. Rocio has traveled to many countries (Chile, Argentina and Republic of Georgia) conducting educational research. She also participated in research studies as an analyst for LAUSD, where she authored reports on a range of critical issues including academic achievement, culturally relevant education, and charter school renewals.”

Unfortunately, 300,000 teachers giving small donations are easily outspent by one billionaire. But surprisingly the lions share of the big money going to her pro-charter school opponent, Maria Brenes, is coming from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 99. Form 57s filed with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission show the three Independent Expenditure committees local 99 sponsors are spending more than $7,500,000 to elect the neoliberal candidates. This is spending directed at privatizing public education.

SEIU local 99 is not the only union spending with the billionaires. With no limit on independent expenditure, direct contributions to candidates have less value than they used to but are a source of money that candidates control themselves. The campaign spending limit for this race is $1,300 but it can be given in both the primary and general election. Table 3 shows direct contribution spending by local LA unions. It is all going to the billionaire supported candidates.

Observation

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Kentuckian Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. His confirmation made him the first Jewish Associate Justice to serve. He entered Harvard University at age 19 and in 1877 he graduated with the highest grades ever recorded there. His nomination was opposed by anti-Semites but more importantly big business was intensely opposed to him. Peter Dreier explained, As a ‘people’s lawyer’ in Boston, Brandeis fought railroad monopolies, defended workplace and labor laws, and helped create policies to limit corporate abuses of consumers and workers–an approach that is now called ‘public interest’ law.” On the court, he became a great defender of privacy and democracy.

Looking at this year’s election spending, Brandeis’s 1922 statement about democracy and wealth leaps to mind, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

True to Brandeis’s declaration, democracy is being sundered by great wealth and unsurprisingly that wealth is being directed at undermining its most important foundation, the public school system. Every time I see pricey color campaign advertisements printed on expensive paper stocks, I ask myself who is paying for this and why? They are completely useless as a source of information.

We have entered an era in which reliable information is becoming more and more obscured by deliberate obfuscation paid for by billionaires. At the same time, some labor leaders appear to have a personal agenda other than serving their members. It is scandalous for SEIU local 99 to invest millions into the election of three billionaire endorsed school board candidates supporting school privatization.

This year democracy and free public education are on the ballot. Vote wisely.

Encinitas School Board Election 2022

4 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/4/2022

Nine schools serve 4,813 students in K-6 classrooms administered by the Encinitas Union Elementary School District (EUSD). This November, residents will be voting to select who will serve four year terms in three at large board seats from a list of six candidates.

The Democratic Party endorses the three incumbents running; Emily Andrade, Marla Strich and Raquel Pfeifer. By a vote of the board, Pfeifer was appointed to the board in July. She assumed the deceased Gregg Sonken’s seat.

Emily Andrade was first elected to the EUSD board in 2010 after spending time as a principal at three different schools in the district. Marla Strich was originally elected to the EUSD board in 1998. In 2000 she completed the California School Board Association’s Masters in Governance professional development series. Raquel Pfeifer is workforce development facilitator for San Diego State’s Academy for Professional Excellence in the Child Welfare Development Services program. Her facebook page indicates she is running on a slate with Strich and Andrade. The Encinitas Teachers Association supports this slate.

Candidate Thomas Angel has no online presence and the only thing known about him is that he claimed to be a retired physicist. Justin Ried is a marketing executive at Qualcomm. His linked in page shows deep experience in digital marketing across several companies but no engagement with or experience in education.  

The Republican Party makes one very odd endorsement for Andre Johnson. He manages information technology and the database for Awaken Church. The Voice of San Diego’s Jakob McWhinney reported this May,

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Awaken has played a pivotal role in a new movement of conservative activists who thunder in public and at times make vaguely threatening statements toward elected officials. As the Republican Party’s influence in local politics wanes, some conservatives, sensing a vacuum in the regional power structure, have pivoted away from traditional Republican values, and toward a more hyperbolic worldview that casts them as righteous fighters against a diabolical liberal ruling class.”

Over the past two years, several of the church’s pastors have actively spread medical misinformation at events and rallies throughout the region, and from the pulpit. The church itself has also allied with political groups looking to recruit like-minded conservatives to run for office, and others seeking positions of influence.”

Recommendations: Emily Andrade, Raquel Pfeifer, Marla Strich

Community Schools Promises and Pitfalls

28 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/28/2022

Community school developments are surging in jurisdictions across the country. Since 2014, more the 300 community schools have been established in New York and this month Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was touting them at an event in Pennsylvania. In May, the California State Board of Education announced $635 million in grants for the development of these schools and in July, they disclosed a $4.1 billion commitment to community schools over the next seven years. However, some critiques are concerned about a lurking vulnerability to profiteering created by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

What are Community Schools?

For decades America has turned a blind eye to the embarrassing reality that in many of our poorest communities the only functioning governmental organization or commercial enterprise is the local public school. No grocery stores, no pharmacies, no police stations, no fire stations, no libraries, no medical offices and so on leaves these communities bereft of services for basic human needs and opportunities for childhood development. Community schools are promoted as a possible remedy for some of this neighborhood damage.

The first priority for being a community school is being a public school that opens its doors to all students in the community.

A Brookings Institute study explains,

“According to the Coalition for Community Schools, a community school is ‘both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.’ In community schools, every family and community member is a partner in the effort to build on students’ strengths, engage them as learners, and enable them to reach their full potential.”

The Brookings article notes that although community schools have a different looks in different communities they all have four common pillars: (1) “Expanded and enriched learning time,” (2) “Active family and community engagement,” (3) “Collaborative leadership and practices” and (4) “Integrated student supports.”

That means health care including vision and hearing is available through the schools as well as family housing and nutrition support. Families and other community members are encouraged to contribute both labor and leadership to the schools. Community services provided by governmental agencies also have site based coordinators.

Joshua Starr is the CEO of PDK International and the former Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in Maryland. In a recent article for Kappan, he claims to “strongly support the community school model” but perceives some speed bumps. He asks, “Does the community school movement suffer from the “give me more stuff” syndrome? And concludes it probably does. However, his two biggest concerns are (1) the use of resources and (2) the use of data.

He points out that there are multiple streams of revenue coming into Title I schools and worries that these streams, meant in part to promote parental engagement, need to be administered wisely.  He makes clear his belief in the importance of family engagement but asks, “However, before agreeing to fund additional staff positions, shouldn’t we make sure that every staff member who has a family-facing responsibility in their job description is actually doing that work (and doing it effectively)?”    

Starr claims that by the end of the first quarter of 1st grade, it is possible to identify whether or not a student is on track to graduate. He notes that a student who is failing every class and has accumulate many absences is quickly noticed but the students who fail one class and only has a few absences are often overlooked.

He concluded,

“All of this is to say that the process of identifying and responding to students’ needs is enormously complicated. Ideally, schools will begin with early warning indicators to identify kids who aren’t on track to graduate on time, teachers and staff will know how to interpret that data, school leaders will give them time and resources to build relationships with students and families, and school teams will coordinate among district resources and community assets to provide the supports children and families need.”

Profiteering Hawks Looking to Feast on Community Schools

There has been some encouraging anecdotal evidence from several of the original community schools. In March, Jeff Bryant wrote an article profiling two such schools for the Progressive, but there are also bad harbingers circling these schools. In the same paper from Brookings quoted above, there is a call to scale the “Next Generation Community Schools” nationally. They advocate engaging charter school networks and expanding ArmeriCorps. Brookings also counsels us, “Within the Department of Education, use Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) guidance and regulations to advance a next generation of community schools.”

Brookings was not through promoting a clearly neoliberal agenda for community schools. Their latest paper about them notes,

“There is a significant and growing interest in the community schools strategy among federal, state, and local governments seeking to advance educational and economic opportunities and address historic educational inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Building off this momentum and with support from Ballmer Group, four national partners—the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution (CUE), the Children’s Aid National Center for Community Schools (NCCS), the Coalition for Community Schools (CCS) at IEL, and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI)—are collaborating with education practitioners, researchers, and leaders across the country to strengthen the community schools field in a joint project called Community Schools Forward.” (Emphasis added)

Steve Ballmer was Bill Gates financial guy at Microsoft and is the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. His Ballmer Group recently gifted $25,000,000 to the City Fund to advance privatization of public education in America. This is the group that funded the supposedly “unbiased” report from Brookings.

John Adam Klyczek is an educator and author of School World Order: The Technocratic Globalization of Corporatized Education. New Politics published his article Community Schools and the Dangers of Ed Tech Privatization in their Winter 2021 Journal. Klyczek declares,

“Bottom-up democracy through community schools sounds like a great idea. However, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal legislation funding pre-K-12 schools that replaced “No Child Left Behind,” requires ‘full-service’ community schools to incorporate public-private partnerships that facilitate ‘wrap-around services’ managed by data analytics. Consequently, ESSA incentivizes the corporatization of community schools through ‘surveillance capitalism.”’

He contends that ESSA’s mandate for “full-service” public-private partnerships creates “structured corporatization” paths similar to those in charter schools. Klyczek claims the mandates are a greater threat to privatization than current high stakes testing because in addition to academic data they are mandated to collect data on health care, crime prevention, workforce training and other wrap-around services. He states, “In other words, community schools are required to track data pertaining to the health, crime risk, and workforce readiness of community ‘stakeholders.”’

A Washington DC educator and union leader, Dylan Craig, responded to Klyczek in the same 2021 Winter Journal. He wrote,

“This leads me to what is perhaps the most striking assumption in Klyczek’s response: Union and community pressure is not just prone to but will inevitably succumb to corporate co-optation. Again, I find this reading deterministic and overly pessimistic. It is due to public pressure that the ESSA included language for community schools.”

“Now, if democratic control were to be gained in individual schools as I propose, local community members and unions could better organize around the issues that Klyczek discusses, potentially finding methods to meet the current data-reporting requirements in ways that serve the individual school and not tech oligarchs. If a suitable method cannot be found, communities can fight to change the language.”

 Conclusion

Although I appreciate the positive we-can-do-it attitude Dylan Craig exhibits, I find John Adam Klyszek’s analysis more persuasive. Klyszek may be a little over the top, but seeing the wealthiest owner in the NBA, Steve Ballmer, underwriting research on community schools shows me that these schools are certainly privatization targets. The 2015 rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a delight for neoliberal politicians and their billionaire patrons. It opened the door to market based solutions for many education needs including community schools.

In the 1930’s the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his masterpiece, A Study of History: “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.”

It is going to be a challenge to keep profiteers from devouring the promise of community schools.

School Board District Elections for Coronado, Carlsbad and Vista

19 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/19/2022

The November 8, 2022 general election will usher in large changes to school board districts in San Diego County and around the country. School boards are quite literally that foundation of American democracy. In this installment, three districts are highlighted and recommendations for the seats are made.

School board races are supposedly non-partisan; however the Democratic and Republican Parties have both weighed in. The Republicans do formal endorsements but the Democrats only highlight party members. In this piece both methods are treated as endorsements.

Coronado Unified School District (Coronado USD)

Public school students 2,747 – Charter school students 0 – Percent charter 0%

Coronado is an upscale city of 20,000 on sort of an island across the bay from San Diego. It is the home of Naval Air Station North Island with a narrow strip of land known as the Silver Strand extending south to Imperial Beach. Driving down the strand one sees the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, the Seal Team training facility and Silver Strand State Beach. It is a stunningly beautiful community filled with naval flag officers, doctors, lawyers and expensive real estate.

Lately the community has experienced divisive political turmoil centered on their school district. The new MAGA right organization, We the Parents Coronado (WTPC), has been loudly railing against CRT, state mask mandates and vaccine requirements. They strongly support “school choice.” Last year an article in the Coronado Times reported,

“Prior to going offline Wednesday afternoon, the We the Parents of Coronado Website featured a section called “Values” that linked to a post about the Declaration of Independence on the American Citadel blog written by Zack Strong. But when visitors clicked through to The American Citadel site and viewed other blog posts there, some were shocked to discover that other posts contained controversial content.”

“Posts found on The American Citadel site include anti-LGBTQ referring to the homosexual ‘agenda’ as “satanic” and “dangerous,” while others are blatantly misogynistic, including one post called “Stay Home, Amy” that chastises newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett for working outside of the home, and ends with the advice, “Ladies, the home is where you were designed to shine.” Many posts are suggestive of anti-Semitism, while others appear to make disparaging comments about Black Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans. Other posts seem to call for a violent insurrection, and fantasize about the assassination of President Biden and Vice President Harris.”

The WTPC website has since been scrubbed of this content but it can still be viewed here. However, their cleaned website continues to direct people to the works of Christopher Rufo the paid mouthpiece of libertarian billionaires Charles Koch and the Walton family. Rufo became infamous for propagandizing critical race theory (CRT) saying it is used to groom k-12 students against the white race. The reality is that CRT is a legal theory discussing how race affects legal outcomes. It is only seriously studied in law school graduate seminars. CRT has never been taught in k-12 schools and until just over a years ago, very few k-12 teachers had ever heard of it.

The WTPC has all the earmarks of an authoritarian white supremacist group.

Coronado USD’s school board is made up of five members. This year four positions are on the ballot. Three are for regular four year terms and one is for the remaining two years of Stacy Keszei’s term. Widely viewed as a driving force in WTPC, Keszei resigned her seat this January.

The board seats are all voted on at large with seven people running for one of the three full term positions and three people running of the short term position.

– Full 4 Year Term

1. Stephanie Anderson is a local business women and native of Coronado. She is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce. Anderson lists no experience in education but she does seem to truly value the public schools and her answers to the Coronado Times questions for school board candidates are reasonable.

2. Helen Anderson-Cruz is the loan incumbent running in this election. She has a doctorate in education from the Rosier School of Education at USC. A Coronado Islander since 1989, Anderson-Cruz taught English language arts in the Sweetwater District for 20 years. She has a granddaughter attending Village Elementary.

3. Michael Iversen is Vice President of Commercial Strategy at Galaxy Medical. This recent Danish immigrant reports no background in education. He is very critical of the Coronado USD governing board and the actions of parents and students over the past few years.

4. Lisa Meglioli has the endorsement of the Republican Party. Her web page says she is an Italian immigrant with five children ages 11 to 21 who are or were Coronado USD students. She shows no background in education and seems to be the only candidate who did no answer the Coronado Times candidate survey.

5. Alexia Palacios-Peters says on her Facebook page, “I’m a mom, military spouse, and attorney running for CUSD Board Trustee in 2022.” Her website notes that before becoming an attorney she earned a degree from the University of Texas in early childhood education and taught in elementary school. In her answers for the Coronado Times she says that she has children in ¾ of the schools in the district.

6. Malachy Denis Sandy is a retired Navy Captain who attended the Naval Academy. His answers to the Coronado Times indicate that he is very disturbed by the culture war focused on Coronado USD. He says, “There appears to be a small but vocal group of people in the Coronado community who refuse to work within the structure of CUSD and California State guidelines and policies.” He is bothered by their not placing value on science, data, facts and history. He does not appear to have any background in k-12 education.

7. Scot Youngblood is an orthopedic surgeon and retired Navy Captain who is endorsed by the Republican Party. The policy positions on his website show an unquestioning belief in the validity of standardized testing. Scot does not have any experience with k-12 education.

Recommendations: Helen Anderson-Cruz; Alexia Palacios-Peters; Malachy Denis Sandy

Short Term

1. Nicole Boucher is a registered nurse. In her interview with the Coronado Times she noted her disappointment with state government and its “unconscionable bills (i.e., AB-2223 and SB866).” AB-2223 is a law that guarantees woman will not be investigated or charged for experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, or perinatal death due to causes that occurred in utero. It is on the governor’s desk but has yet to be signed into law. AB866 would have allowed students 12 years and older to receive COVID vaccinations without parental consent. It was pulled and never made it to a vote. Boucher has no experience with k-12 education.

2. Renee Cavanaugh’s Facebook page states, “Renee Cavanaugh, is a retired CUSD teacher, running for school board to keep our schools great.” While answering the Coronado Times questions, she noted, “CUSD was recently named the number one school district in the county based on graduation rates, student-teacher ratio, spending per student and attendance and suspension rates.” Her answers also demonstrated a deep knowledge of how the k-12 system functions.

3. Geri L. Machin is believed to be the executive director of We The Parents Coronado. In her answers for the Coronado Times she claimed 10 years of teaching experience in both private and public schools. She has a campaign website and the endorsement of the Republican Party. Last year she wrote an anti-masking opinion piece for the Coronado Eagle and Journal.

Recommendation: Renee Cavanaugh

Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD)

Public school students 11,027 – Charter school students 0 – Percent charter 0%

Carlsbad is an upscale bedroom community of 115,000 on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It is home to Legoland and Callaway Golf.

There is no incumbent running in Area 1. Sharon Mckeeman who is endorsed by the Republican Party is running against Michele Tsutagawa Ward who is endorsed by the Democratic Party and the Carlsbad Teachers Association.

Mckeeman and two other candidates use Briana Baleskie from Brian Bilbray’s Imperial Beach campaign services organization as their treasurer. Mckeeman is the founder of Let Them Breath which sued the state to reopen schools during the height of the pandemic. She is also a homeschooler. On her web page she shares, “As a home educator in the past she nurtured her children to achievements such as her son winning the county and state science fair.”

Ward is a 20-year educator working mostly in Carlsbad elementary schools. She is presently the principal of Tierra Bonita Elementary in Poway. Her web page shares that she was voted Calavera Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2012. She is involved with local organizations supporting education like the Carlsbad Education Foundation and the California Association of Asian and Pacific Leaders in Education.

Recommendation: Michele Tsutagawa Ward

Area 4 also has no incumbent running. Candidate Jennifer Fornal is a non-profit project manager and has been involved with the Carlsbad PTA since 2013. She has managed several projects for youth development and after school programs. Fornal is endorsed by the Democratic Party and the Carlsbad Teachers Association.

Gretchen Vurbeff is running against Fornal. Her web page notes that she is an exercise physiologist working as a wellness educator for the past 30 years. She has been volunteering with the PTA for more than a decade. Verbeff also uses Briana Baleskie as her treasurer and is endorsed by the Republican Party. It is certainly not a deal buster to be endorsed by the Republican Party, but in today’s political climate to also use the same treasurer as the other endorsees is worrisome.

Recommendation: Jennifer Fornal

In Area 5, incumbent Kathleen Hope Rallings faces off against Scott Davison. Rallings was first elected Trustee in 2014. Her district biography notes, “She received a B.A. in Speech Communications from California State University, Long Beach, and an M.A. in Negotiations and Conflict Management from California State University, Dominguez Hills.” Rallings is endorsed by the Democratic Party and the Carlsbad Teachers Association.

Davidson’s web page opens with a call for transparency. This kind of goal has become associated with the anti-CRT and Anti-LGBTQ movement that is driving teachers out of the classroom. He may not support either agenda and he claims to believe in public schools. In 2020, Davidson setup a gofundme page to support the Trump inspired open schools movement. He also uses Briana Baleskie as treasurer for his campaign and is endorsed by the Republican Party.

Recommendation: Kathleen Hope Rallings

Escondido Union School District (EUSD)

Public school students 14,360 – Charter school students 2,864 – Percent charter 16.6%

Escondido is a community of 151,000 located north and east of San Diego. It is San Diego County’s second oldest city and is rumored to have been a hideout for Pancho Villa and his men.

EUSD is a k-8th grade district not to be confused with the Escondido Union High School District which serves grades 9-12.

In area 2, long serving Trustee Joan Gardner has been on the board since 1998. Gardner is endorsed by the Republican Party and has yet to mount much of a campaign. She was the target of a failed 2016 recall effort.

Elizabeth Shulok is attempting to unseat Gardner. She is a UC Berkley trained data scientist and mother engaged with education. She has organized preschool classes, volunteered in classrooms and chaperoned field trips. Shulok makes a very impressive presentation on her web page, on her Facebook page and at her LinkedIn site. She is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Elizabeth Shulok

In Area 4, incumbent Georgine Tomasi is being challenged by former board member Zesty Harper. Tomasi has a 40 year career working in education starting with teaching high school history in New Jersey. She presently works for the California Teachers Association. Her web page lists some of the important accomplishments she contributed to as an EUSD Trustee. Tomasi is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

After winning the Area 4 seat in 2014, Zesty Harper became a controversial figure when she proclaimed, “No longer will it be OK for this disservice we have called your education to continue.” She stated that creationism should be taught in classrooms alongside evolution. She also sent her own children to Heritage Charter School instead of an EUSD school. On her web page it says, “Zesty strongly believes in school choice and has supported local charter schools to increase innovation, competition, and choice in Escondido public schools.” Harper is endorsed by the Republican Party.

Recommendation: Georgine Tomasi

Area 5 incumbent Frank Huston is running unopposed.