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.

San Diego County School Board Election 2022

12 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/12/2022

The bedrock of American Democracy is the school board. Many of America’s leading politicians began their career serving on a school board. This November 8th, half of the school board positions in San Diego County will be on the ballot. Here is a review of the candidates in our ten largest school districts and the County Office of Education. Recommendations are included.

School board seats are supposedly non-partisan contests; however the Republican and Democratic parties have made recommendations in many of the matches. The Republicans do a formal endorsement while the Democrats identify party members on the ballot. In this post both methods are treated as endorsements.

San Diego County Board of Education

Public school students 399,786 – Charter school students 81,316 – Percent charter 16.9%

In District-3 which includes most of the southern end of the county, incumbent Alicia Muñoz faces off against Marvin Attiq. The Democrats endorse Muñoz and the Republicans endorse Attiq.

Attiq appears to be a barber with no background in education. Muñoz has been on the board since 2014 and teaches English at Cuyamaca College. She has a master’s degree in English from San Francisco State University and a bachelor’s in comparative literature from UC Berkley.

Recommendation: Alicia Muñoz.

District-5 runs along the coast north from Del Mar to camp Pendleton. Incumbent Richard Shea has the endorsement of the Democrats and Emily Wichmann is endorsed by the Republicans. Shea worked as a special assistant to the county superintendent and was originally appointed to a vacant seat in 2015. In 2016, he was elected to the office. Shea previously served as head teacher for the Juvenile Court Schools.

Based on her posts on Facebook, it appears Wichmann tacitly supports the anti-LGBTQ attacks and her LinkedIn page indicates she supports standardized testing. She also joins the pro-choice agenda of many in the Republican Party. Although Wichmann does not have any formal training or experience in education, her 24 years on the Oceanside Unified school board vests her with on the job training.

Recommendation: Richard Shea

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD)

Public school students 95,250 – Charter school students 19,217 – Percent charter 16.8%

Area B represents northeastern San Diego from Scripps Ranch to Normal Heights. SDUSD is one of the few districts to require a primary to earn a spot on the general election ballot.

Godwin Higa is perhaps San Diego’s foremost expert on trauma informed education. Documentary film maker Rita Grant made a 2017 short film about Higa and his work at Cherokee Point Elementary School. He has more than 30 years experience as an educator and administrator. Find Higa’s campaign web page here.

Shana Hazan is a young mother with two elementary school aged daughters attending SDUSD schools. Her campaign web site shares an impressive list of endorsements including the Democratic Party and the San Diego Union Tribune. According to her linked in page, after earning a master’s in education from Northwestern University, she taught elementary school for two years. One year was at a charter school and the other at a Chicago public school. Since returning to San Diego, she has spent the last 12 years working at Jewish Family Services.

The amount of money flowing into Hazan’s campaign is concerning. The $93,000 she has already reported dwarfs the sums raised by any other San Diego school board candidate. By comparison, Higa reported $5,685. It is not just the amount but who is contributing that is worrisome. Her campaign reports show $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, $1,500 from Robert Price and $1,000 from David Wax. Clearly neoliberal money is pouring in.

Recommendation: Godwin Higa

In Area C, Rebecca Williams is the anti-mask and anti-vaccine mandates candidate endorsed by the Republican Party. She has teaching experience in charter schools. She and her husband founded Valor Education a charter management organization whose classic education is a conservative response to progressive values. Williams has reported the second most money of any county school board candidate, $65,839.

Cody Peterson is an anthropology lecturer at University of California San Diego and a well-known environmentalist. He grew up in La Jolla attending public schools there. The Voice of San Diego stated, “[His] history of involvement, his progressive politics and his support of, and membership in local unions led to a cascade of endorsements from Democratic officials and many of San Diego’s most robust unions, like the San Diego Education Association, which represents SDUSD’s teachers.”

Recommendation: Cody Peterson

Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD)

Public school students 36,557 – Charter school students 1,469 – Percent charter 3.9%

This election brings a big change for Sweetwater. For the first time since 2014, two incumbent board members are not running.

Area 1 covers National City and northwest Chula Vista. Trustee Arturo Solis is the incumbent running unopposed.

Area 3 includes Bonita and Eastlake. Marquetta Brown has a campaign facebook page and web page. Elva Lopez-Zapeda also has a web page and is a long time elementary school educator. Noem Abrego lists herself as a community volunteer. Rebekkah Naputi has no known education background but she is endorsed by the Republican Party. Michael Black is a personal injury attorney who shows no education experience or background. An insider believes that the Sweetwater Teachers Association will endorse Elva Lopez-Zapeda.

Recommendation: Elva Lopez-Zapeda

 Area 5 represents Imperial Beach and south San Diego. Dante Garcia Pamintuan is a real estate agent who has been described as a MAGA Republican. He was a member of the Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce board of directors in 2020. Marti Emerald is a well known investigative journalist and former San Diego city council member. She is endorsed by the Democratic Party. Neither Pamintuan nor Emerald has experience working with education.

Recommendation: Marti Emerald

Poway Unified School District (PUSD)

Public school students 35,192 – Charter school students 0 – Percent charter 0%

In the Northeast corner of Poway a battle is brewing for the Area B seat. Incumbent Ginger Couvrette was first elected to the board in 2018. She has the endorsement of the Republican Party and reports on her web page the support of Carl DeMaio and Joel Anderson.

Frida Brunzell holds a masters degree in chemical engineer. She is engaged with many Poway civic groups and is endorsed by the Democratic Party. Her campaign web page highlights the work she has done as a President of the Palomar Council PTA which oversees all of the PTA organizations in the district.

On Dave Nelson’s campaign web page, he makes clear the disdain he holds for present school board. He may be the MAGA candidate. Nelson states, “We parents have been taken over by mandates, CRT and Cancel Culture, which has devastating effects on our Schools and the Students’ ability to learn.”

Recommendation: Frida Brunzell

Area C is in north central Poway. Patrick Batten a former Marine and San Diego City council candidate is endorsed by the Republican Party and his web page lists several known Republican Politicians including Darrell Issa as supporters. Heather Plotzke is endorsed by the Democratic Party and her web page has a list Democratic Party groups that are supporting her. Neither Batten nor Plotzke list any experience in education. The third candidate Jason Bennett lists himself as a restaurateur and father. No other information is known about him.

Recommendation: Heather Plotzke

Area D is in south central Poway. The incumbent, Michelle O’Connor Ratcliff, teaches business law at the University of San Diego. Ratcliff, who has served on the PUSD board since 2014 and is endorsed by the Democratic Party. Janet Bremseth lists herself as a community volunteer. She is endorsed by the Republican Party. Bremseth has made no other information about herself available.

Recommendation: Michelle O’Connor Ratcliff.

Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD)

Public school students 22,188 – Charter school students 6,690 – Percent charter 23.2%

For Seat 1, incumbent Francisco Tamayo faces off against Jesse Vigil. Vigil is the former youth pastor at Eastlake Church and is presently director the San Diego branch of the charity Big Table. He is endorsed by the Republican Party.

Tamayo has been on the CVESD board since 2014. He worked in the SUHSD before transitioning to a position at the county board of education. He is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Francisco Tamayo

Incumbent Leslie Bunker faces three challengers for Seat 3. She is both a former student and a 26 year teacher in CVESD. Serving since 2014, Bunker has the endorsement of the Democratic Party.

Delia Dominguez Cervantes lists herself as an education non-profit director. She is endorsed by the Republican Party. The other two candidates are blank slates. Eric Douglas lists himself as a retail manager and Jaqueline Gonzales says she is a parent and student advocate.

Recommendation: Leslie Bunker

Area 5 incumbent Cesar Fernandez also faces three challengers. Fernandez was appointed to the board in 2021. This will be his first election. His career in education includes more than 20-years teaching mathematics in SDUSD and SUHSD. He has a masters in curriculum and instruction and is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Armando Farias is a former school board member. He currently works as director of human resources in the Coronado school district. He has a campaign web page here. John Borja is a former school teacher who recently ran for the Chula Vista city council. Keren Dominguez says she is an advocate, mother and educator. Other than her endorsement by the Republican Party little else is known about her.

Recommendation: Cesar Fernandez

San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD)

Public school students 19,622 – Charter school students 113 – Percent charter 0.6%

Area C has 21-year high school councilor, Andres Ramos Martin, against a consultant at the nonprofit College Bound. She has a campaign web page. He has the endorsement of the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Andres Ramos Martin

In Area E, incumbent board president Stacy Carlson is opposed by Associate Marriage and Family Therapist Sharyl Cavellier. Cavellier’s reference to Project Tomorrow’s 2021 Speakup survey indicates that she has been taken in by the billionaire financed education “reform” movement. Stacy Carlson left the banking and finance industry to start volunteering at SMUSD schools when her daughter was born 10 years ago. She has been on the board since 2014 and is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Stacy Carlson

Vista Unified School District (VUSD)

Public school students 19,527 – Charter school students 2,565 – Percent charter 11.6%

Debbie Morton is the incumbent trustee for Area 2 which is on the east side of the district. Before being elected to the board in 2018 she taught school for 24 years. Her campaign web page is here.

Carla Rivera-Cruz was just named Director of Alumni and Network engagement by Latinos for Education. This is an organization financed by the Walton Family Foundation, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and the NewSchools Venture Fund none of which are friends of public education.

Rena Marrocco is endorsed by the Democratic Party. She seems to be engaged in at least one local civic organization but not much is known about her background for the position.

Recommendation: Debbie Morton

In Area 3 on the west side of the district, incumbent Martha Alvarado is matched up against Jen Telles. Alvarado who is a military veteran and a bilingual educator was first elected to the board in 2018. She has the endorsement of the Democratic Party. Telles is endorsed by the Republican Party. This former accountant states on her campaign web page, “When my own children came along, I homeschooled for a period of time.”  

Recommendation: Martha Alvarado

Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD)

Public school students 17,108 – Charter school students 4,966 – Percent charter 22.6%

Gary Woods, the incumbent in Area 3, taught online graduate courses at Liberty University and serves as executive director of the Equip Biblical Institute. He has been on the school board since 2008. Woods has the Republican Party’s endorsement.

Wood’s opponents Gabriel Lawson and Jo Hart Lloyd are both Community College educators. Lawson teaches psychology at Grossmont College and Lloyd is a councilor at San Diego City College. She is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Jo Hart Lloyd

Jeanie Tyler is challenging Robert Shield the incumbent in Area 4. In a 2010 article about Shields campaign for re-election, East County Magazine reported, “Board trustee Shield, a middle school teacher, is endorsed by the San Diego Republican Party, California Pro-Life-Council, San Diego Union-Tribune ….” He still has the Republican Party endorsement.

Tyler is the Dean of Behavioral Science at San Diego City College. She is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Jeanie Tyler

Area 5 incumbent, Jim Kelly, has been on the Grossmont board since at least 2006. Kelly is known to be a political brawler who has been accused of lying at times but his east county constituents keep putting him back on the board and the Republican Party keeps endorsing him.

Teacher Nancy Jennings has been endorsed by the Democratic Party for this seat. Terry Kohlenberg is also in the running in Area 5. He teaches communications and San Diego City College.

 Recommendation: Terry Kohlenberg

Oceanside Unified School District (OUSD)

Public school students 16,261 – Charter school students 2,410 – Percent charter 12.9%

Area 1 candidate Allison Mineau is endorsed by the Republican Party. Her campaign treasure is Briana Beleskie from Brian Billbray’s organization in Imperial Beach. On her Facebook page, she shares what an honor it was to be a speaker at a North County Patriots event. Her opponent is VUSD councilor Nancy Licona who is endorsed by the Oceanside Teachers Association and the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Nancy Licona

In Area 3, Incumbent Stacy Begin is running unopposed.

In Area 4, Raquel (Rockie) Alvarez, the incumbent, works at Amador repair services and has been engaged in education studies at Grand Canyon University since 2019. Her opponent Tigran Ghukasyan is a bit of an enigma. The county lists him as on the ballot but none of his filing paperwork appears under a search by name or jurisdiction. He is listed as a being endorsed along with Alvarez by the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Raquel Alvarez

Escondido Union High School District (EUHSD)

Public school students 7,166 – Charter school students 2,292 – Percent charter 24.2%

Bob Weller is facing Mickey E. Jackson for the vacated seat in Area 1. Retired industrial mechanic Mickey Jackson has the endorsement of the Democratic Party. However the Democrats incorrectly endorsed him for Area 2. Home mortgage strategist Bob Weller has the endorsement of all five sitting board members.

Recommendation: Bob Weller

Area 2 incumbent Bill Durney is running unopposed.

Area 5 has Katheryn McCarthy challenging incumbent Jon Petersen. Registered nurse McCarthy has a doctorate in nursing and teaches at USD. She is endorsed by the Democratic Party. Petersen is proud of his accomplishments in advancing career and technical education while on the board. He is endorsed by the Republican Party.

Recommendation: Jon Petersen

San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD)

Public school students 12,704 – Charter school students 0 – Percent charter 0%

MAGA Mike Allman’s 2020 election to the SDUHSD board brought continuous turmoil and divisiveness. His outrageous agendas like creating a gerrymandered map to eliminate board members he didn’t like were passed because the other conservatives on the board felt obligated to support him. When Mo Muir withdrew her name as an Area 1 candidate on August 12, MAGA Mike desperately sprung into action recruiting like minded David Carattini to run for the open seat. The former Cost-Co manager who has no experience or training in education signed up for the position on August 17th the last possible day. He immediately got endorsed by the Republican Party.  

The other candidate for Area 1 is Rimga Viskanta. She is a former board member of the elementary school district in Encinitas and is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Rimga Viskanta

In Area 3, this is the second go around for Jane Lea Smith the candidate supported by the Democratic Party. In 2020, Mike Allman defeated her by 326 votes for a seat on the board. Smith has a masters degree in special education and 16 years of experience as a teacher and school administrator. Property manager Sheila King has the support of the Republican Party. Daniel Hale lists himself as a software engineer. Neither is known to have an experience in education.

Recommendation: Jane Lea Smith

In Area 5 at the south end of the district, incumbent Julie Bronstein has 2 challengers, Georgia Ringler and Phan Anderson. Bronstein won the seat in a 2021 special election following Kristin Gibson’s resignation from the board. Her campaign page notes that professionally she is Managing Executive Director of Development in Health Sciences at UC San Diego. She is supported by the Democratic Party.

Georgia Ringler who list herself as parent seems to be the same person who sued her former employer, Scripp Research, for ignoring her religious objection to mandated COVID-19 vaccinations. Phan Anderson says she is a software engineer and parent. Anderson’s economic interest statement (form 700) indicates she is quite wealthy. Anderson has the endorsement of the Republican Party.

Recommendation: Julie Bronstein

Best Book of 2022 – Left Behind

24 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/24/2022

Lily Geismer has performed a great service to America. The Claremont McKenna College associate professor of history has documented the neoliberal takeover of the Democratic Party in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In her book, Left Behind: The Democrats Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality she demonstrates how Bill Clinton “ultimately did more to sell free-market thinking than even Friedman and his acolytes.” (Left Behind Page 13)

When in the 1970’s, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, Paul Tsongas, and Tim Wirth arrived on the scene in Washington DC they were dubbed “Watergate Babies.” By the 1980’s Tip O’Neill’s aid Chris Mathews labeled them “Atari Democrats” an illusion to the popular video game company because of their relentless hi-tech focus. Geismer reports,

“Journalist Charles Peters averred that ‘neoliberal’ was a better descriptor. Peters meant it not as a pejorative but as a positive. … Neoliberals, he observed, ‘still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out,’ but ‘no longer automatically favor unions and big government.’” (Left Behind Pages 17-18) [Emphasis added]

Founding the DLC

In 1984, Lyndon Johnson’s son-in-law Charles Robb was the Democratic Governor of Virginia. He hosted a series of meetings in Washington and Virginia to develop a strategy for going forward. The meetings occurred shortly after Mondale’s huge loss to Ronald Reagan. It was decided they needed a new structure outside of the Democratic Party and Al From was tasked with writing the initial plan.

From’s scheme called for establishing the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to give the party a winning direction. Robb convinced From to become executive director of the nascent organization. From hired Will Marshal to be policy director. Geismer reveals,

“The architects recruited as founding members a lineup of fourteen senators, including Nunn, Chiles and Gore (who had just moved chambers); seventeen representatives, like Wirth, Gephardt, Leon Panetta of California, and Les Aspin of Wisconsin; and ten governors, such as Robb, Babbitt, James Blanchard of Michigan, Richard Lamm of Colorado, and Bill Clinton of Arkansas. … Of the total forty-one inaugural members, there were no women, two were men of color, and only four came from outside the Sunbelt.” (Left Behind Page 45)

Historian Arthur Schlesinger labeled the DLC “a quasi-Reaganite formation” and accused them of “worshiping at the shrine of the free market.”

Union pollster Victor Fingerhut called them “crypto-Republicans.”

Douglas Wilder a black Virginia politician criticized their “demeaning appeal to Southern white males.”

Others called them the “conservative white caucus” or the “southern white boys’ caucus.”

Jesse Jackson said its members “didn’t march in the ‘60s and won’t stand up in the ‘80s.” (Left Behind Pages 46-47)

In 1989, From convinced Bill Clinton to become the chairman of the DLC. That same year the DLC founded the Progressive Policy Institute to be their think tank competing with the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute. Today, it still spreads the neoliberal gospel.

The next year, the DLC issued the New Orleans statement which stated the “fundamental mission of the Democratic Party is to expand opportunity, not government.” The statement also claimed that a “free market regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.” (Left Behind Page 107)

At the DLC convention in early 1991, Clinton rejected criticism from people like Jesse Jackson and Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) stating, “choice is not a code word for elitism and racism.” Geismer notes that in his speech, “He then listed off the DLC proposals to address the problems of poverty with programs like childcare vouchers, public school choice, job training programs, and community policing.” (Left Behind Page 127) [Emphasis added]

It was at their 1991 convention that the DLC urged Congress to give President Bush fast track trade authority to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Democratic establishment had not been warm to the idea and labor strongly objected.

After Clinton won the Democratic nomination, labor unions were in a difficult position. Geismer explained,

“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. … Even though union members had gained more than a quarter of the delegate seats at the 1992 Democratic Convention, labor leaders made a conscious decision not to demand that Clinton openly advocate for unions in the platform or to temper his support for free trade. This calculation rested on their sense that Bush was a bigger threat to unions, and the movement should focus their energy on defeating him.” (Left Behind Page 133)

Once elected, Clinton turned away from New Deal liberalism and Johnson’s Great Society. He claimed that by increasing private sector activity in blighted urban areas and providing more credit these communities of poverty would be lifted up. He proposed creating enterprise zones “to create a small-business entrepreneurial economy in every underclass urban area …” (Left Behind Page 144)

Geismer describes a 1996 speech given by Hillary Clinton:

“Hillary Clinton took pains to emphasize the potential of micro-credit not just internationally but in the United States as well. The speech came just as states were implementing the requirements in the 1996 welfare reform act, which fulfilled Bill Clinton’s campaign pledge to ‘end welfare as we know it.’ The law terminated the assistance for women and children in place since the Roosevelt administration and served as a potent symbol of the Clinton administration’s attempt to put a nail in the coffin of New Deal liberalism.” (Left Behind Page 170)

In the fall of 1999, the Clinton administration negotiated with Senator Phil Gram (R-Texas) to end the Glass-Steagall act. This was the culmination of the administration’s support for deregulating the banking industry, which unleashed an historic wave of consolidations. The 2:45 AM deal ended the bank reforms President Roosevelt enacted to insure banks would never again make dangerous deals that led to failure and losing their depositors assets. (Left Behind Pages 309-312)

In retrospect, a good case can be made that the neoliberal agenda has been a disaster. The bank failures of 2008 almost brought down the entire World’s economy. Economic inequality has grown along with the creation of hundreds of billionaires both of which harm democracy. America’s childhood poverty rates are the highest in the developed world and homelessness plagues every moderately large city in America. It truly is “The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality.”

The Attack on Public Education

The philosophy that guides people can also blind them. Neoliberals are so convinced by the magic of markets that they have fallen for the illusion that public education is failing. They are convinced that a business type accountability and market based competition are needed. It seems not to have occurred to them that the foundation for America becoming the economic, scientific and cultural leader of the world is public education. How can they overlook the fact that America’s public education system has produced by far the most Nobel Prize winners in the world? Evidently they believe that since it is not a market based system it must be failing. However, even the conservative publication Education Next just produced a study showing that public education results have been steadily improving for the last 50 years.

Vice President Al Gore was convinced public schools were failing and needed a new direction. During a monthly “Gore-Tech session”, the Vice President asked venture capitalist John Doerr, “If you Silicon Valley types are so smart, why can’t you do something to create new schools?” Doerr who had scored big with investments in Netscape, Amazon and Google, like Gore, was certain public schools required radical change. He wanted “better schools based on Silicon Valley’s principles of accountability, choice and competition.” (Left Behind Pages 233-234)

Two big results came from this conversation. Doerr, a notoriously successful venture capitalist, went home where he was integral to establishing the NewSchools Venture Fund which was one of the first venture philanthropies. It was dedicated to promoting charter schools and education technology. NewSchools collaborated with Reed Hastings and Don Shalvey to create America’s first Charter School Management organization. 

Geismer notes,

“Computer companies had long understood that getting a foothold in the nation’s schools was a potential goldmine. … As the participants at the Gore-Tech sessions took up education reform, the conversation quickly turned to the topic of charter schools, which were a favorite reform tool of the president.” (Left Behind Page 239)

Like other venture capitalists, NewSchools’ founders expect a return on investment. This return would be measured in test score gains rather than dollars. (Left Behind Page 255)

Al From told Clinton that in order to win reelection in 1996 he need to “grab the mantle” of charters and school choice for Democrats. Geismer avers,

“The 1996 State of the Union was most notable for Clinton’s declaration that the ‘era of big government is over.’ Elaborating on the theme, he also dared ‘every state to give all parents the right to choose which public school their children will attend; and to let teachers form new schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job.’” (Left Behind Page 244)

Some Parting Notes

Lily Geismer’s book is special. The scholarship is above reproach and she solidified my personal opinion about the neoliberal ideology and its implementation. I hope as many people as possible read this edifying book. It provides profound insight into the source of the stupefying inequality plaguing American society.

The book and this post put the neoliberal faction of the Democratic Party in an extremely bad light. However, it is important to remember that the neoliberal market driven agenda is embraced even more tenaciously by America’s conservative community and they don’t seem concerned about “a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out.”

Stockton Schools after Deasy

17 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/17/2022

The infamous John Deasy resigned his post as Superintendent of Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) on June 15th, 2020. That made his tenure two weeks more than two years which further exacerbated the longtime administrative instability at SUSD. He apparently steered the district budgets toward deficit spending and left a decimated finance department in his wake while other administrative positions multiplied. Concurrent with his two years in Stockton, money and leaders from organizations bent on privatizing public education were bolstered and became more active.

Stockton is an interesting place with vibrant political activity. The 209Times a Facebook based news outlet claims over 200,000 readers. It is not a slick publication but it does seem effective. 209 is the Stockton telephone prefix. Another internet based news outlet Recordnet.com is often an adversary of the 209Times.

The city was a gold rush town established in 1849. Situated 75 miles down the San Joaquin River from the Golden Gate Bridge at the north end of the San Joaquin valley, it is the farthest inland deep water port in California. That valley has the most productive farm land in the world and a significant portion of its bounty ships from Stockton. Just 13 miles north of downtown is where John Fogerty got “Stuck in Lodi Again.”

Stockton is a city of 315,000 people and one of America’s most diverse communities. The demographic makeup is 42.1% Hispanic, 21.6% Asian, 20.8% White and 11.8 % Black. It has a 20% poverty rate and a stunning 82% of its K-12 students come from families in poverty. SUSD enrolls around 34,000 students into its 54 schools. Charter schools enroll close to 6,000 students.

With high poverty rates, Stockton has naturally underperformed on standardized testing which is significantly more correlated with family wealth than anything else. Linda Darling-Hammond pegs that correlation at 0.9 which is an almost certainty. The education writer Alfie Kohn suggested we could replace standardized testing by asking students just one question, “How much money does your mom make?” (Kohn page 77)

Breaking the Bank

In California, schools are required to submit a budget progress update each November called the First Interim Report. Because this report is formulaic, it provides a way to compare a district’s finances over time. The SUSD reports for 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 reveal what appears to be a deliberate attempt to financially harm the district. In an era with declining enrollment both teaching staff and management permanent positions were increased significantly while cash flow turned steeply negative.

In teacher jargon, FTE stands for full time equivalent. Between the times John Deasy was hired until he resigned the full time staff at SUSD increased by more than 500 people. In terms of money, that represented a $9 million increase in yearly spending on salaries. During this same period, attendance declined by more than 1,300 students. That represented about a $9 million dollar loss in revenue from the state. SUSD had an $18 million dollar negative structural budget change.

SUSD board of trustees contracted with the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) to review their financial situation and processes. The executive summary of the January 2022 report noted,

“At the time of FCMAT’s fieldwork, there had been significant employee turnover and the elimination of some management positions in the Business Services Department. Key budget management personnel had been in their positions for only a brief time; therefore, there was a lack of historical institutional knowledge about the district’s 2021-22 budget development and 2020-21 financial closing processes.”

In other words, despite all of the hiring Deasy left the financial department in chaos. The FCMAT study claimed that SUSD was headed for serious financial difficulties when the one time spending from the federal government is gone in fiscal year 2024-25. Currently they say the district is spending one time funding on $26.3 million in salaries, benefits and services that appear essential.

 DooWop Don in Charge

Don and Sue Shalvey live in Linden, California a small rural community 10 miles east of Stockton. When they actually moved there is unknown. Don is a bit of a rock star amongst neoliberal Democrats. His San Carlos Learning Center was the first charter school in California and the site of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1997 round table discussion on charter schools. In Lily Geismer’s book Left Behind, she describes the meeting at the round table between Don and “a thirty-something man with a goatee and Birkenstocks.” That was Reed Hastings who Geismer claims needed someone like Shalvey to give his education plans credibility. (Left Behind Page 249)

Together, Shalvey and Hastings successfully campaigned to end the charter school cap in California. At the same time Hastings was starting his new company Netflix. The two soon hooked up with John Doerr and the NewSchools Venture Fund to invent a charter network called a charter management organization (CMO). Shalvey did most of the leg work in developing University Public Schools which later changed its name to Aspire. It was America’s first CMO. (Left Behind Page 249)

From 2009 to 2020, Don served as a Deputy Director for K-12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he oversaw charter schools and teacher preparation. Before he was a charter school founder and before he was a school teacher, he was a disc jockey. That is why his twitter handle is @dooWopDon.

In 2020, Don assumed leadership of San Joaquin A Plus Inc. (A+)

Before he arrived, A+ was a modest organization working with a total of about $50,000 annually. On their tax forms (Tax ID: 51-0536117) A+ is listed as a public charity and it states, “The primary exempt purpose is to support and enhance the education of the community’s youth and to create responsible employable and productive citizens through tutorial and other services and the teaching of school literacy, school readiness, and parent education.”

With Don’s arrival, Helen Schwab, President of the The Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation (Tax ID 94-3374170) gifted A+ $400,000. This low profile organization suddenly became a player in Stockton politics and school policy.

Researchers at University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis noted as a key component in their model of billionaire funded attacks on public education the development of local organizations to collaborate on the agenda. In addition to A+, it appears that the Community Foundation of San Joaquin has also been converted to this roll. In 2019, The City Fund (Tax ID 82-4938743) gifted them $298,960 and Bill Gates (Tax ID 56-2618866) has also been granting them funds. In there latest tax filing (Tax ID 27-1476916), the Foundation lists Don’s wife Sue Shalvey as Chairman.

Larry Tramutola is a political organizer for hire. He represented Michael Bloomberg in his $18 million dollar support for San Francisco’s successful soda tax referendum. Last year, he launched the Stockton Education & Outreach Project. Their first report seemed designed to put public schools in as bad as light as possible. The funding for Tramutola’s project is unknown.

A Leadership Nightmare

After John Deasy stepped down as Superintendent, Recordnet.com reported,

“Biedermann was selected by the Board of Trustees to serve as interim superintendent after John Deasy stepped down April 21, 2020. In 2018, Deasy became the district’s 12th interim or full-time superintendent over the past 30 years. Deasy succeeded current Stockton City Councilman Dan Wright, who took over as interim superintendent in August 2017 for Eliseo Davalos, who lasted 13 months. Carl Tolliver served two stints from Sept. 14, 2005, to June 30, 2006, and from July 2010 to June 2012.”

Brian Biederman who is mentioned above had served as head of educational services for Stockton Unified under Deasy and appears to have been his choice as a successor. This June, when Biederman ran for Superintendent of San Joaquin County Department of Education, the required form 460 campaign reports show that Napa resident John Deasy contributed $100.

However, when it came to creating district stability, Biederman was not the answer. In January 2021, just 8 months into his tenure he resigned claiming personal health issues.  

Left in a difficult situation, the district board hired former Monterey County Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. as acting Superintendent with the intention of eventually naming him Superintendent. He was already serving as a consultant to the district. Ramirez came with some baggage. In 2016 while serving as Alisal Union School District’s superintendent he admitted personal use of district credit cards which he repaid and also drew a sexual harassment complaint filed by a former district employee. However, he had strong support from within SUSD and the community.

Just over a year later, Ramirez resigned. The district announced that they accepted his resignation so he could care for the health of his elderly parents. However, the executive session agenda item that led to accepting the resignation by a 4-2 vote was listed as item 2.1 discipline/dismissal/release. A person in the know said that Ramirez was removed because he was spending more time in Don Salvey’s office than his own district office.

Going into the 2022-23 school year, the SUSD board has settled on Dr. Traci E. Miller as interim superintendent. She is a 25-year veteran of SUSD where she has served as middle school counselor, high school counselor, head counselor, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Director.

In June, there was a Grand Jury report on SUSD. It drew two different public responses. The 209Times wroteBiased ‘Grand Jury’ Issues Another Attack on SUSDstating.

“While Stockton Unified was dedicating its new headquarters after a 40 year inspirational music teacher Arthur Coleman Jr, operatives of the power brokers who ram Stockton into the ground that we refer to as the “Stockton Cabal”, tried to overshadow the progress with yet another “special report”. This one comes less than a year since the last ‘grand jury special report on SUSD’.

“The major point of contention? A potential $30 million deficit. Only problem is that’s exactly what was already mentioned last year. Yet, the report again failed to mention that ousted Cabal approved Superintendent John Deasy left the district in a $100 million deficit.”

Recordnet.com had a quite different response. Their article Grand jury finds Stockton Unified trustees failed as district leaders in scathing reportstates,

“A San Joaquin County civil grand jury has found the Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees have failed as district leaders and will likely continue to do so.

“A scathing 33-page report released by the 2020-21 grand jury says Stockton Unified trustees are the direct reason for what’s been called the district’s ‘revolving door’ of superintendents.”

A close reading of the Grand Jury report is not a scathing report on the district trustees nor is it a completely biased attack with no value.

Page 12 in the report states,

“Selection of the current CBO was made contrary to Board Policy (BP) 4211.2. The CBO was hired without a search, screening process or interviews.” (Report Page 11)

CBO stands for chief business officer. When asked about this finding, school board Vice President Ray Zulueta said that he assumed when Human Resources brought them a hire recommendation that they had correctly followed the process. This looks like an example of the superintendent not getting the job done. The board hired the guy but they have no choice but to believe people are doing their job.

The grand jury was also was critical about the way change orders were being handled. They shared,

“For example, athletic facility projects at Franklin High School had an overrun of approximately $6 million. No change order was submitted to the Board for approval.” (Report Page 12)

This makes clear to the trustees how critical it is to put people in place who have both competency and integrity, but this was not an attack directed at the board.

The charge of bias does ring true when discussing the budget issues. On page 22, The Grand Jury regurgitates information from the January FCMAT report about possible deficits and unprofessional financial processes.  It does not indicate that the SUSD trustees caused the report to be generated nor does it mention the huge out of budget spending during the Deasy administration. Many district leaders believe Deasy’s spending led to more than $100 million dollars missing from district total assets. That looks like something on which the Grand Jury should have focused.

After looking at the issues swirling around SUSD, I believe the district is in damaged but decent shape. As Dr. Miller takes charge, it seems like a great time for a new beginning. Her résumé indicates a professional educator with deep experience. She has administrative experience and a twenty-five year relationship with the community. The board now has the opportunity to see if she can make the trains run on time, cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. There is every reason to think she can. If she proves herself, 10 or 15 years down the road she could still be superintendent.  

Teachers Unions are Selfless

27 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/27/2022

Dr. Keith Benson wrote the research paper “Teachers Teach and Do the World Good ….” In this scholarly piece published by Scientific Research, Keith, an inspirational young man and community leader, described the world wide neoliberal attack on public education highlighting the often dangerous stand teachers take to save public schools. In the introduction, Benson writes, “To be sure, teachers have a rich and valuable history of standing up and pushing for the best interests of their societies, and it is my intent to discuss just some of that here.” (Benson 218)

In 2016, Benson earned a Doctorate of Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. His website shares, “Dr. Keith Eric Benson, is a Camden public school educator, qualitative researcher, and current President of the Camden Education Association (CEA).” It is from this background as a scholar and teacher activist that he states unequivocally teachers’ unions are fighting for far more than self interest. They are standing up for the future of public education and well being of their communities.

Why They Went on Strike

The Chicago teachers strike in 2012 was pivotal. At the time, a corporate ethos had eclipsed democratic ideals of public education. Neoliberal politician from both of America’s major political parties and their deep pocketed backers were working to change school governance in the image of free market capitalism. They were coalescing around the deceptive banner of “reform.” With few exceptions, the burgeoning business centered education groups had two things in common: they embraced market solutions to school improvement and viewed teachers’ unions as major barriers to changes sought.

A book, A Fight for the Soul of Public Education: The Story of the Chicago Teachers Strike, by University of Illinois labor education professors Bob Bruno and Steven Ashby is a postmortem on the 2012 strike. First, the authors look deeply into the bargaining process and how the parties eventually produced a labor agreement whose pro-teacher substance few thought possible.

In a TV interview author Bob Bruno stated,

“Second, we seek to tell, through the teachers’ and staff’s voices, the story of how the CTU was transformed from a top-down, bureaucratic organization into one of the most member-driven unions in the United States. In this process, a labor conflict focused solely on compensation at the start developed into a challenge to a national education reform movement that, teachers charged, was systematically destroying public education and using Chicago as its test case. Unlike in past strikes, tens of thousands of teachers, clinicians, and paraprofessionals marched repeatedly in Chicago’s neighborhoods and downtown. Thousands of community members and parents joined the demonstrations. Crowds swelled, shutting down streets in the city’s Loop district. Instead of accepting the loss of classroom control and corporate style-management of schools, which teachers had been told for decades was “inevitable,” the CTU reinvigorated a national teachers movement by fighting back. The ripple effects of the 2012 strike are being felt in school districts and union halls across the country.”

Red for Ed swept across the nation in 2018 with such ferocity that right wing media outlet Breitbart claimed, “This teachers union effort, called #RedforEd, has its roots in the very same socialism that President Trump vowed in his 2019 State of the Union address to stop, and it began in its current form in early 2018 in a far-flung corner of the country before spreading nationally.” Ultra-conservative political leaders were frightened by successful teachers’ strikes in right to work states like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona.

A Red for Ed Rally in Arizona

As the Red for Ed movement stormed into 2019, the Jacobin described its objective which did not include spreading Karl Marx ideology.

“Of the 2019 work stoppages, the most important were certainly January’s strike in Los Angeles and October’s strike in Chicago. Each were offensive actions to reverse the education policies imposed by corporate Democrats over the past two decades; each foregrounded “common good” demands on behalf of students as well as the broader community.

“These common good demands, for example, included an increase in the number of nurses and counselors as well as smaller class sizes. Importantly, each of these strikes highlighted the interconnection between the fight for public education and racial justice.”

In January 2019, 30,000 members of the Los Angeles teachers union walked out to the picket lines. In this first strike in 30 years, wages were far from being the only issue. Reporting by the Las Angeles Times after the six day strike agreement was reached noted,

“Striking teachers were sincere, though, when they said the walkout was always about more than salary. The broader concerns they voiced — about overcrowded classrooms and schools without nurses on hand to help when a student got hurt or fell ill — had a lot to do with why the public responded so warmly and cheered them on, bringing food to the lines and even bringing their children to march alongside the strikers.

“For students who rallied and picketed, the strike was a real-life civics lesson, while students inside the thinly staffed schools were watching movies, doing online coursework or playing with cellphones.

“Families identified in particular with teachers’ complaints about overly large classes, because class size affects them directly.”

In March 2019, it was the same story in Oakland, California. EdSouce reported,

“Teachers’ union President Keith Brown, in announcing the agreement, called the strike historic. “We have achieved so much in the seven days of our historic strike in Oakland, in spite of an employer who has said that the sky is falling, that they could not pay for a living wage, they could not pay for lower class sizes,” he said.  “They couldn’t make the investments for needed student support such as nurses, counselors, psychologists and speech therapists.”

In October 2019, Chicago teachers staged another strike lasting 11 days before their demands were met. The problem for city leaders was that parents and students were supporting teachers and marching with them. The Guardian reported on the big issues,

“Teachers said the strike was based on a social justice agenda and aimed to increase resources, including nurses and social workers for students, and reduce class sizes, which teachers say exceed 30 or 40 students in some schools. Union leaders said the strike forced the city to negotiate on issues such as support for homeless students.”

“The Chicago strike was another test of efforts by teachers’ unions to use contract talks typically focused on salaries and benefits and force sweeping conversations about broader problems such as affordable housing, protections for immigrants and class sizes.”

The Neoliberal Agenda

Benson’s well sourced paper asserts,

“Neoliberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emmanuel, Barack Obama, Cory Booker, and Andrew Cuomo, much like Republicans and Libertarians, view education less as a social responsibility where through its process students are empowered to think critically and view themselves as agents of change, a la Freire, Greene, and hooks, but more of private commodity whereby students increase their human capital for their personal economy.” (Benson 222)

“Education privatization efforts in cities as large as New Orleans (Buras, 2011), and Detroit, along with lesser referenced locales like Puerto Rico and Providence, Rhode Island (Morel, 2018), and cities as small as Chester, Pennsylvania (Maranto, 2005) and Camden, New Jersey (Benson, 2018) serve as exemplars where the blueprint of weakened teachers unions, increased standardization of curriculum and assessments, and installation of corporate-operated charter schools coalesced to cripple the delivery of traditional, democratic public education.” (Benson 222)

When it came to attacking public education, Benson’s list of Neoliberal Democrats omits Albert Gore who was among the most effective.

Lily Geismer’s new book Left Behind: The Democrats Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality provides important insights into how these neoliberals gained political control of the Democratic Party and what they were selling. She points to Colorado Democratic Congressman Gary Hart’s call to “end the New Deal” as a starting point. (Geismer 22) After Walter Mondale’s trouncing by Reagan in 1984, market oriented politicians created the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Geismer shares,

“The architects recruited as founding members a lineup of fourteen senators, including Nunn, Chiles and Gore (who had just moved chambers); seventeen representatives, like Wirth, Gephardt, Leon Panetta of California, and Les Aspin of Wisconsin; and ten governors, such as Robb, Babbitt, James Blanchard of Michigan, Richard Lamm of Colorado, and Bill Clinton of Arkansas.” (Geismer 45)

 In 1990, when Bill Clinton became the chairman of the DLC also known as New Democrats, the organization stated its intention to modernize both the government and the Democratic Party. Geismer recounts,

“By 1990, the DLC had issued a statement called the New Orleans Declaration that deemed the ‘fundamental mission of the Democratic Party is to expand opportunity, not government,’ ‘economic growth is the prerequisite to expanding opportunity for everyone,’ and the ‘free market regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.’” (Geismer 107)

In a 1991 speech, Presidential candidate, Bill Clinton called for “public school choice.” (Geismer 127)

Clinton’s confidant and the founding architect of the DLC, Al From, created the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) as a counter balance to the Heritage foundation. PPI supported what it called the “third-way” which included Clinton’s free trade agenda and hostility toward labor unions. At the time, unions calculated that George H. W. Bush was a bigger threat and supported Clinton. The 1990s DLC led administration “attempted to put a nail in the coffin of New Deal liberalism.” (Geismer 170)

Then Vice President Al Gore was convinced public schools were failing and needed a new direction. During a monthly “Gore-Tech session”, the Vice President asked venture capitalist John Doerr, “If you Silicon Valley types are so smart, why can’t you do something to create new schools?” Doerr who had scored big with investments in Netscape, Amazon and Google, like Gore, was certain public schools required radical change. He wanted “better schools based on Silicon Valley’s principles of accountability, choice and competition.” (Geismer 233-234)

Gore’s question and a Stanford business student’s ideas led to founding The NewSchools Venture Fund. The article Organized to Disrupt shows the staggering amounts of money Doerr and his friends put into this fund which is still selling privatization and education technology. NewSchools was at the forefront of venture philanthropy also known as “philanthrocapitalism.”  

Some Ending Quotes from Dr. Benson

“Similar to what we witnessed in America over the past twenty years, Latin American educators are cast by their respective governments as hindrances to the educational and economic progress of their students and, by extension, their respective nations’ economy as well (Lobo, 2019a).” (Benson 224)

“Over the past three decades, Latin American teacher unions played a major role in policy making positively impacting education at the schoolhouse primarily through professionalization of the field, and policy advocacy through informing law makers about education, contributing to research, and push against neoliberal influence (Gindin & Finger, 2014).” (Benson 225)

“Australian teachers cautioned that the corporatization of schooling was, as noted in other global contexts, diverting governmental and social responsibility to provide education as a societal good and a collective responsibility. Where schools should, in their view, stress social justice, democracy, and the common good as the aspirational ideal, instead, Australian schools are witnessing increased influence of corporate think tanks and consultancies that shape the delivery of public education to suit corporations’ economic needs (Reid, 2019).” (Benson 226)

Dr. Benson’s paper ended on this sour note:

“Adding to the difficulties educators worldwide are experiencing at present, a global pandemic that claimed over 5.75M lives worldwide (Our World in Data, 2022) will undoubtedly contribute to a further radical remaking of the profession as the presence of Big Tech appears to be less of an emergency stopgap to deliver educative services to students barred from attending school in person, but likely here to stay. Indeed, after witnessing how ‘well’ virtual classrooms ‘worked’ for NYC students, newly elected mayor Eric Adams, commented that now New York City teachers can lead virtual classrooms of up to ‘three or four hundred students year-round (Stieb, 2021).’ Sigh.” (Benson 228)

Our American public education system is an amazing legacy which is foundational to that other great American legacy, democracy. It is not a coincidence that democracy’s future is now viewed as uncertain after the past 40-years of scurrilous attack on public education. Humanism should be the guiding principle of public institutions and democratic governance; not neoliberalism.