ETS and Carnegie Team Up for ‘Zombie’ Ed Policy

4 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/4/2023

Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Carnegie Foundation are partnering to create assessments for competency-based education, claiming it will revive the zombie education policy tainted by a five decade record of failure. The joint announcement was made at the April 2023 ASU+GSV conference in San Diego with Bill Gates as the keynote speaker. Ultimately, it was to make the Orwellian-named “personalized learning” viable for issuing digitally earned certifications.

ASU is Arizona State University and GSV is the private equity firm, Global Silicon Valley. GSV advertises “The sector’s preeminent collection of talent & experience—uniquely qualified to partner with, and to elevate, EdTech’s most important companies.” It profits from the corporate education ideology that holds job training as the purpose of public education.

Unfortunately, the US Department of Education is on board with digital learning and competency based education claiming,

“Digital tools can shift the focus of learning environments away from traditional metrics of progress — such as the number of hours spent in a classroom—toward more meaningful indicators of learning.”

“Digital learning can support competency-based education, in which students advance after demonstrating mastery of a key skill or concept. In a competency-based system, students work individually and in teams to continuously learn content and develop skills (e.g., communication, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity) and receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual needs. In this sense, competency-based education enables personalization and learning continuity, regardless of location.”

The 1970’s “mastery learning” was detested and renamed “outcome based education” in the 1990s. It is now called “competency based education” (CBE). The name changes were due to a five-decade long record of failure. CBE is a move to use “mastery leaning” techniques to create individualized certification paths. However it is still the same mind-numbing approach that the 1970s teachers began calling “seats and sheets.”

In the book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire explain, “Because learning is deeply rooted in relationships, it can’t be farmed out to robots or time-saving devices.”

Unfortunately the potential for large profits is huge and serially failed education policies are zombies that will not die.

Selling CBE and Testing

‘The 74’ is an oligarch funded online, daily education publication, promoting the neoliberal agenda. Their cheerleading article about the Carnegie-ETS proposal had no pushback when quoting Carnegie President Timothy Knowles’ unlikely to be true statement,

“We’re in a position to do something that we hadn’t before. Unlike 20 years ago, we can actually reliably measure the skills that we know are predictive of success in postsecondary education and work”

Closest thing to any questioning of this came when the author quoted Michael Horn, a co-founder of Harvard’s Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Education. This loud voice advocating the destruction of public education through privatization said,

“This part, from my reading of the literature on assessment, is both unproven and underdeveloped. So the how is going to be very important. I’m going to be very curious to see what the investments look like as they go forward, and I hope they don’t overpromise.”

‘The 74’ post also claims, “Competency-based learning and assessment has long been theorized as a preferable alternative to existing educational models.” These theories come from a range of philanthropic foundations and education-focused companies, many in attendance at ASU+GSV. Education professionals, not on some billionaire’s payroll, have completely different opinions.

Renewed neoliberal effort to revive CBE now has new players seeking to be big contributors while old hands are filling leadership roles. For example, at the best-known new group called Mastery Transcript Consortium, board member, Tom Vander Ark, the former education director at the Gates Foundation 1999-2006 remains engaged in pushing edtech.

There is very little real change. CBE continues to put kids at computers learning scripted chunks of information and testing for mastery, promising to increase edtech profits and reduce education costs especially teacher salaries. It is awful education and the children hate it.

Guys like Carnegie’s President Tim Knowles and ETS’s CEO Amit Sevak must justify 7 figure salaries by creating new tools and revenue streams for their benefactors. This begs the question, “How can an organization like Carnegie (TIN: 13-1628151) and ETS (TIN: 21-0634479) that pay salaries of more than $1,000,000 a year still be called non-profits?” 

The Big Push for CBE

Former reporter for Inside Higher Ed, Paul Fain, shares insights into the new push for CBE. He wrote,

Skills were a hot item at the summit in San Diego, particularly tech-enabled tools that seek to measure the knowledge and abilities of learners, and to convey them to employers. These discussions are drawing energy from the campaign led by Opportunity@Work and the Ad Council, which calls for employers to drop four-year degree requirements and to move toward skills-based hiring.”

Much of the momentum behind this thinking is the move toward a belief that the preeminent purpose of education is employment readiness. Philosophy, literature, art etc. are possibly only meaningful for children of the wealthy. The new push for CBE is toward a skills based education which wastes no time on useless frills. It is a system where children study in isolation at digital screens and earn skills badges at their own pace as they move through the menu driven learning units.

The big obstacle for this system of education is that testing has not proven reliable. Not only has it struggled to assess skills mastery it has not been proficient at predicting future success. This of course completely ignores the reality that CBE is a god awful theory of pedagogy.

In 1906, the Carnegie foundation developed the Carnegie Unit as a measure of student progress. For example, a student attending a class meeting one hour a day 3 times a week for 40 weeks earns one “unit” of high school credit for that 120 hours in class. Based on this, schools all over America pay attention to how many instructional minutes they schedule for every class.

In 2015, Carnegie completed a two-year study of the Carnegie Unit and proposals to revise the unit-based competency established on time. They concluded, “The Carnegie Unit continues to play a vital administrative function in education, organizing the work of students and faculty in a vast array of schools or colleges.” The report did not embrace competency-based standards. Now, Carnegie Foundation President Tim Knowles is calling for just such a change.

Education writer Derek Newton in an article for Forbes says he is hostile to the Carnegie-EST idea for a host of reasons but the major one is cheating. He shares,

“Cheating, academic misconduct as the insiders know it, is so pervasive and so easy that it makes a complete mockery of any effort to build an entire education system around testing. From middle school to grad school, from admissions tests to professional certifications, cheating is the bus-sized hole in the hull of assessment that renders any real voyage implausible. Right now, anyone can pretty easily buy a test-based credential without knowing anything at all. Just pay the fee, get the credential. And people do, every day.

“I am not talking about fake credentials. They are real, provided by the certifiers themselves. The sellers use software to take remote control of a test-taker’s computer and have a ringer take the exam for them.”

It is easy to cheat with rampant digitally enhanced systems. Newton observed, “But because of the credit hour system, which is designed to measure classroom instruction time, it’s still relatively hard to cheat your way to a full college degree.”


Derek Newton’s concern about cheating, difficult and expensive to combat, is valid.

To me, the biggest problem is that “mastery learning” is proven lousy pedagogy that is unaligned with how learning happens.

In his book Soka Education, Daisaku Ikeda writes,

“Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.”

Socrates likened this education process to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. CBE, “mastery learning,” “outcome based education” or whatever name is given to teaching students in isolation is bad pedagogy, bordering on child abuse.

“The Right to Read” is Horse Manure

27 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/27/2023

The new 80-minute video “The Right to Read” was created in the spirit of “Waiting for Superman.” It uses false data interpretations to make phony claims about a non-existent reading crisis. Oakland’s NAACP 2nd Vice President Kareem Weaver narrates the film. Weaver is a full throated advocate for the Science of Reading (SoR) and has many connections with oligarch financed education agendas. The video which released February 11, 2023 was made by Jenny Mackenzie and produced by LeVar (Kunta Kinte) Burton.

Since 2007, Jenny Mackenzie has been the executive director of Jenny Mackenzie Films in Salt Lake City. Neither Mackenzie nor Burton has experience or training as educators. However, Burton did star on the PBS series Reading Rainbow.” He worked on the show as an actor not a teacher.

One of the first media interviews about “The Right to Read” appeared on KTVX channel 4 in Salt Lake City. Ben Heuston from the Waterford Institute answered questions about the new film and the supposed “reading crisis” in American public schools. Heuston who has a PhD in psychology from Brigham Young University claimed that two-thirds of primary grade students in America read below grade level. That is a lie. He is conflating proficiency in reading on the National Assessment of Education Performance (NAEP) with grade level and should know better.

Diane Ravitch who served for seven years on the National Assessment Governing Board explained NAEP rating levels,

“Proficient is akin to a solid A. In reading, the proportion who were proficient in fourth grade reading rose from 29% in 1992 to 34% in 2011.”

“Basic is akin to a B or C level performance. Good but not good enough.”

“And below basic is where we really need to worry.”

Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers NAEP, has stated that the basic level is generally viewed as grade-level achievement.

“The Right to Read” was filmed in Oakland, California with some of it done in first-grade teacher Sabrina Causey’s classroom at Markham Elementary School. There have been many public showings scheduled around the country but strangely none in Oakland. Causey claims she was using a bad Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) reading curriculum until Kareem Weaver brought her a program based on the SoR. She adopted it without OUSD approval. The film claims “The results were astounding.”

The Chart was Clipped from “The Right to Read” Trailer

Selling SoR

LeVar Burton and Jenny Mackenzie made media rounds to promote “The Right to Read.” They were booked on major shows like CBS’s Good Morning America and on cable news.  US News conducted an interview sharing that Burton and Mackenzie spoke “about the film and what they are calling ‘the literacy crisis’ within the United States.”

In the interview, Mackenzie claimed, “We need to have policy that supports scientifically proven evidence-based curricula.” While Burton asserted,

“The balanced approach doesn’t work. Whole language doesn’t work.”

“We also have a sort of an old boys’ network that has been established, and there are companies that make millions of dollars a year publishing and selling to schools curricula that do not work.”

There are two obvious observations here. Number one is that neither Mackenzie nor Burton have any professional expertise in reading pedagogy. Number two, it is their team that is setting the stage for businesses to make “millions of dollars a year” selling phonics centric reading curricula.

The chart in the graphic above is the same lie Ben Heuston from the Waterford Institute told on KTVX. Heuston’s father Dustin founded the Waterford Institute in 1976 to develop computer based education. He was using the world’s first commercial computer with the Motorola 68000 chip. Today, the institute is selling the digitally based Waterford Upstart reading program.

Heuston and colleagues are making great money working at the nonprofit. The twenty-two employees listed in the 2021 form 990 tax document are averaging a yearly income of $225,571 (TIN: 51-0202349). Those are some big salaries out in Utah. Maybe that explains the lying to support SoR.

Ben has stepped down as Waterford CEO and Andy Meyer has assumed the role. Waterford reports that Andy’s background includes several leadership positions in sales and marketing before becoming COO for Pearson’s digital learning business unit and later Senior VP of Digital Product Development for Pearson’s U.S. K-12 curriculum division. More recently, Andy served as CEO at Scientific Learning and as CSO at Renaissance.

Kareem Weaver is a shameless promoter of anything oligarch funded. He is a Fellow at the Pahara Institute which was organized to train new privatization friendly education leaders. His bio there shares that he was a managing partner at the NewSchools Venture Fund and also executive director for the western region of New Leaders that received big financing from Walton, Broad, NewSchool Venture Fund and Gates. Weaver is also a member of the National Council on Teachers Quality.

Just this week Weaver was a featured presenter for a Reading Week edWebinar held by Lexia, a Cambium Learning Group company. They claim, “K12 educators and administrators will now have another opportunity to learn about aligning teaching practices with scientifically-researched methods.” Lexia is looking to cash in on SoR and Weaver is down in the muck slopping with them.

It is hard to imagine anyone being more sold out than Kareem Weaver.

Professionals Shake Their Heads in Frustration

Misinterpreting the data shown above is the basis for the specious crisis in reading claims. It is known that students develop at different rates and in the lower grades the differences can be dramatic. That explains some of the low scoring. All but a very small percentage of these fourth grader will be reading adequately when they get to high school.

America’s leading authorities on teaching reading are frustrated. Their voices are being drowned out by forces who want to monetize reading education and privatize it.

Peter Farruggio is a professor of bilingual education from the San Francisco Bay area and an organizer of anti-KLAN actions throughout California. Although his specialty was not teaching reading his experience with bilingual education and federal law caused him to work in the field. In our conversation, he explained to me how some of the data supporting high dose phonics instruction came about.

Farruggio observed that often when there were groups of students with reading disabilities, graduate students would take the opportunity to conduct a study. The treatment would be for the grad students to give intense phonics lessons. The children would learn to decode words including nonsense words from lists. Then they would be given a reading test on the lists. The students would successfully decode the words and the results would be pronounced successful but the children still could not read a sentence with comprehension.

Worst of all, Professor Farruggio fears this kind of teaching is undermining the ability to think.

Observations like this are wide spread among education professionals. This week Valerie Strauss put a piece in her Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post written by three highly credentialed scholars dismayed by the oligarch financed nationwide push for SoR.

David Reinking, Professor of Education, Peter Smagorinsky, Professor of Language and Literacy Education, and David Yaden, Professor of Language Reading and Culture, state,

“As researchers and teacher educators, we, like many of our colleagues, shake our heads in resigned frustration. We believe phonics plays an important role in teaching children to read. But, we see no justifiable support for its overwhelming dominance within the current narrative, nor reason to regard phonics as a panacea for improving reading achievement.”

“Specifically, we do not see convincing evidence for a reading crisis, and certainly none that points to phonics as the single cause or a solution.”

“But crisis or not, is there evidence that more phonics instruction is the elixir guaranteed to induce higher reading achievement? The answer isn’t just no. There are decades of empirical evidence that it hasn’t and won’t.”

They point out that even the National Reading Panel report that all of this SoR malarkey is supposedly based on states, “Phonics should not become the dominant component in a reading program, neither in the amount of time devoted to it nor in the significance attached.”

This understanding is not new. The Reading First program during the George Bush years spent big dollars to study the use of intense phonics. Teachers were trained to deliver “scientific” reading instruction that included a numbing 1.5 to 3 hours of phonics instruction each day. The lead sentence in a 2008 Washington Post article stated, “Students enrolled in a $6 billion federal reading program that is at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law are not reading any better than those who don’t participate, according to a U.S. government report.”


Big money from billionaires is funding an effort to take control of primary education by selling the Science of Reading as a silver bullet. In the early 2000’s, schools were blamed for not fixing failing communities. The “proof” offered was students living in poverty stricken communities did not do well on standardized testing.

It put schools in a no win situation because the only strong correlation in standardized testing is with family income. Obviously, the broken communities were the problem not their schools. This subterfuge led to claims that reforming “failing schools” was the civil rights agenda of our time. Now “The Right to Read” is playing that same phony civil rights card. It is a contemptuous lie used to profit off the backs of the poor and people of color.

There is no reading crisis and the lionization of SoR is a push toward bad pedagogy. It is a sinister ploy that will harm each student and not just those living in poverty. There is currently a concerted effort to legislate SoR use in all primary classrooms which has either passed or is proposed in every state capital.

The Teachers

15 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/15/2023

Alexandra Robbins’ new book is an authentic look into the life, working environment, emotional struggles and triumphs of America’s K-12 teachers. The book opens up many unnecessary issues that America’s professional educators face as they try to give their best in the classroom. It also reminded me of my own teaching journey with its unjust treatments and eventual success.

The Book can be Purchased Here

It is Not Burnout

Teaching is a much higher stress job than it needs to be because of factors outside of the classroom. Robbins reports on a special education teacher named Prisha being left by herself in classes of 28 to 35 special education students when her co-teacher had to take a two month medical leave. The school’s staff was almost all first or second year teachers like Prisha who didn’t know what to do. The principal’s solution was to call all the special ed teachers “fucking morons” and start monitoring Prisha’s grade book. No actual support for a new teacher in a no win situation. (Teachers 217)

Robbins cites a gallop pole claiming that teachers tied with nurses for the highest rate of daily stress on the job among all occupations. She shares a study asserting, “It is confirmed that teachers have the highest burnout levels as compared to other professionals in social services.” (Teachers 218)

It needs to be noted that teaching only became high stress after the 1983 Department of Education report “A Nation at Risk.” That fraudulent polemic misused SAT data to cook the books and claim American public schools were failing. Later, Anya Kamenetz reported for NPR, “A 1990 report produced by the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories broke down the flaws in the “A Nation at Risk” analysis but got little attention.”

“A Nation at Risk” was followed by a dramatic expansion of teacher responsibilities but no accompanying structural support. The report inspired a push for state-mandated testing. This led to a major demoralization of teachers when in 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became federal law. Robbins writes,

“NCLB, which mandated rigorous standardized testing and penalized schools and teachers based on students’ scores, remains ‘the worst federal education legislation ever passed by Congress. It was punitive, harsh, stupid, ignorant about pedagogy and motivation, and ultimately a dismal failure,’ as New York University research professor of education Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education and leading educational expert, has written.” (Teachers 224)

I remember in about 2007 a principal saying to me that school used to be fun; hopefully we’ll get back to that someday. Today, there is a large problem with teachers quitting the profession that is being attributed to burnout but it is more accurate to call it teacher frustration; a frustration with not being able to provide the kind of good pedagogy that their students and communities deserve.

Robbins points to a need for school leadership to step up to the plate. She writes,

“The responsibility for resolving teacher demoralization, or what the public calls burnout, should lie with districts and administrators. Telling teachers to relax doesn’t cut it. … Instead of halfheartedly attempting to mitigate the effects on teachers, school leaders should fix the underlying causes – their school climate, staffing numbers, and resources – not just to prevent employee demoralization, but because that’s how a proper workplace should operate.” (Teachers 228)

A Personal Experience with Education Reform

In Diane Ravich’s seminal book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she describes how my home town of San Diego, California was chosen as an education reform test site. Ravitch noted that it was an unusual choice for where to launch a reform movement because San Diego was viewed as having “one of the nation’s most successful urban school systems.” (Page 50) In 1998, the former US Attorney for the southern district of California, Alan Bersin, was hired to be the school district superintendent and lead the reform experiment. The local education community was against hiring an uncertified non-educator to lead the district but the San Diego business community which held sway over the school board wanted it.

I started education graduate school at the University of California San Diego in 2001 and found that a few of my instructors were consulting on the district’s education reforms. Some of the changes being introduced were quite good but the authoritarian implementation alienated most of the district’s teachers who had no input into what was happening.

One major change affected me. It was mandated that all ninth graders take the new conceptual physics class. That caused the district a severe shortage of certified physics teachers. I had just completed my masters in education with a physics certificate. It was not long before I got an offer to be a probationary teacher via a telephone interview.

Turned out the Bell Jr. High principal was not being totally up front with me. Going to the district office to sign my contract, I was told the probationary positions were filled and was offered a temp contract. I discovered that teachers in California normally needed more than two years to become full time with job protections. Temp contracts do not count as tenure track teaching time.

The principal at Bell literally had a hole in her head having recently gone through brain surgery to remove a tumor. Two retired administers were convinced by the district to come back and serve as assistant principals, provide support during the convalescence and take over if medical issues arose. One of them became my evaluator.

In my first written evaluation, the AP wrote that discipline was a problem and that I never checked for student understanding. In a written response, I wrote that during the lab period she observed every team coming to me multiple times to have their lab progress reviewed and checked off before moving on to the next phase. I questioned her observation of not checking for student understanding? While my class may be a little free, all 36-students successfully completed and submitted their lab reports so class discipline was not leading to dysfunction. I should have added that the classes were too large for safe lab science activities.

One time the evaluator came in while I had the class working on a poster project. A student that had not had much success in school rushed up to her and proudly showed off his poster. She later told me that I should have written him a referral right then for leaving his group without permission. I was thinking what is wrong with a child engaged in learning? Why punish his new pride?

At Bell we had 13 sections of regular physics plus I taught the only section of honors physics. My classes tested amazingly well. The regular physics classes ranked 1, 2, 4 and 6 in comparison to all 13 sections at Bell. The honors physics class was the number 2 scoring class in the entire district. I was stunned at the end of the year when my evaluator said she could not recommend me for rehire because of “not moving classes toward achieving standards” and the lack of classroom disciple. The quoted line meant that I could not even apply for a substitute teaching position in San Diego Unified School District.

I talked to several district administrators who commiserated with me and even admitted how strange this looked but none of them felt they could do anything. The Bersin administration had set up an arbitrary quota system for teachers being fired and the percentage of new hires retained. It turns out a determined administrator can fire tenured teachers. This was aimed at keeping everyone following orders and not complaining. At Bell, I was the 50 year old new hire who was sacrificed to protect the younger teachers.

It is remarkable that the evaluation from my next school in another district noted discipline as one of my classroom strengths.

The Teachers is a Great Read

Alexandra Robbins uses the experience of three teachers during the 2021/22 school year as the backbone for her book. In the August chapter, she introduces Rebecca, Penny and Miguel. Month by month, Robbins reveals the sometimes horrific and sometimes triumphant experiences of these three amazing teachers. Along the way she shares insights, research and some eye-popping experience from other teachers. It is the most revealing and authentic view of teaching I have ever read.

I will end with this quote from page 279 which shows in gory detail why teacher opinions should be sought out and adhered to.

“Florida teachers compiled a mountain of evidence that public school was not the place for one particular student who had numerous mental health issues, was obsessed with guns, and was suspended 18 times in one school year. But it took five months to get him transferred to a special middle school – and when he was determined to attend public high school, Florida’s disability law allowed him to. The student was Nikola Cruz, the school Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In 2018, Cruz massacred 14 students and three staff members in one of the deadliest school shootings in history.”

Selling Denver’s Portfolio Model by Confusing Correlation with Causation

5 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/5/2023

The 74 published an article about a University of Colorado Denver study that shows what a great success school reform has been in Denver. The research paper attributes that triumph to the portfolio school management model introduced by now Senator Michael Bennett during the 2007/8 school year. While testing results have significantly improved in Denver’s K-12 schools, the paper’s claims confuse correlation with causation.

As is often the case with articles in The 74, there is a bias toward the billionaire favored education policies. The 74 correspondent states, The results offer powerful evidence in favor of the so-called ‘portfolio management model,’ an educational strategy that began to take hold in major urban school systems in the mid-2000s.” And also reports the claim that the reforms “led to some of the most significant learning gains ever measured.”

To further establish how important and meaningful results in the new study are, The 74 turned to economist Douglas Harris from Tulane University. He has prospered producing studies touting New Orleans’s privatized school system. It is worth noting that the all charter school system in New Orleans is an inefficient disaster which still scores at the bottom in state standardized testing. Concerning the Denver study, Harris is quoted as saying,

“The effects are clearly large. Just as a loose approximation, if you leapfrog that many districts, clearly you’ve seen a lot of improvement.”

The data shows that Denver did make real progress based on testing data. The leapfrog that Harris mentions is that Denver went from near the bottom of the state’s districts on standardized testing to about the middle.

The 74 staff writer who produced the article is Kevin Mahnken. He makes a living writing articles that accentuate the message his billionaire paymasters want. His reports may not be exactly lies but are at the very least highly biased.

The 74 was founded in 2015 and originally funded by billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Since then, it has been the vehicle for spreading the billionaire message aimed at undermining public schools.

There are basically two groups of billionaires trying to privatize public education; libertarians and neoliberals. Both groups believe in markets and do not support democratic means. Libertarians like the Walton family and Charles Koch prefer vouchers. They think public programs like social security and public education are basically robbery and must be ended. Neoliberals like Bloomberg and Gates prefer charter schools. They feel that public programs should continue but are better run by private businesses. The 74 is their common vehicle for promoting their education perspectives.

The Portfolio Model

In 2009, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) published Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report.” Lead author Paul Hill and his associates stated,

“The report introduces the idea of a ‘portfolio school district,’ and shows how some leading school districts have put the idea into practice. A portfolio district is built for continuous improvement through expansion and imitation of the highest-performing schools, closure and replacement of the lowest-performing, and constant search for new ideas.”

Bill Gates, John Arnold, Michael Dell, the Walton Family and other billionaires fund CRPE which is headquartered on the campus at the University of Washington.

Portfolio School Districts is an organized idea for managing charter schools, innovation schools, public schools and voucher schools that make up the mix of schools in a district. Using standardized testing as a proxy for measuring quality, some percentage (5%) of the lowest performing schools will be closed every year. Invariably, the closed school will be replaced by a privatized structure outside of the purview of an elected school board. Also, because standardized testing only correlates with family wealth, the schools in the poorest communities will be privatized and subject to constant churn.

In 2018, John Arnold and Reed Hastings established the City Fund which has spent heavily to develop local organizations that promote the implementation of the portfolio model of public education management. Soon after the City Fund founding, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Alice Walton also started funding the organization.

The leader of the Denver research project was Parker Baxter. In 2012, CRPE listed him as a “Senior Research Affiliate and distinguished expert in the field of education policy.” On that same page CRPE also declared, “CRPE is one of five national education policy organizations that co-founded the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network, whose mission is to build, support, and promote a network of education advocacy organizations working to improve K-12 education in their states so that every student graduates world-ready.” One of the main points they advocate for is the portfolio model.

The System Level Effects of Denver’s Portfolio District Strategy

This study of school reform in Denver was conducted by the Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA). They state, “For the past three years CEPA has partnered with the Center on Reinventing Public Education to consider a paradigm-shifting approach to family and community engagement efforts in school districts.” CEPA director Parker Baxter led the study. The relationship with CRPE makes one wonder about bias in this study and Parker Baxter’s biography heightens that concern.

On his LinkedIn page Baxter shares that he was Director of Knowledge at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). He mentions being a Senior Research Affiliate at CRPE. Baxter asserts he was a Senior Legal Analyst working on the District-Charter Collaboration Compact Project and the Portfolio District Project. Says he served as Assistant Superintendent and the Executive Director of the Office of Parental Options at the Louisiana Department of Education and as Director of Charter Schools for Denver Public Schools (DPS). Parker claims being an aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy where he worked on issues related to the No Child Left Behind Act. He is also a former special education teacher and an alumnus of Teach for America.

On page one of the report, it says, “This research is made possible by a multiyear grant from Arnold Ventures.” Just to be clear that is billionaire John Arnold the former Enron trader, co-founder of The City Fund and big spending advocate of the portfolio model of school district management.

The study did a lot of fancy arithmetic on state testing data and summarized their findings:

“Prior to the start of DPS reform efforts in 2008-09, DPS was among the bottom 10 districts in the state in ELA and math performance on state standardized assessments, ranking below the 5th percentile of districts. By 2018-19, DPS had risen to the 60th percentile of districts in ELA and the 63rd percentile of districts in math, outperforming more than 100 out of roughly 180 districts in the state. The 4-year high school graduation rate increased dramatically during the reform period as well, climbing from 43% in 2008 to 71% in 2019. Our results indicate that the reforms drove these improvements in student academic and graduation outcomes.” (Page 3)

The Denver study used school years 2004/5 through 2018/19 state testing data. The first 4-years of the research employed pre-reform data and the final 10-years were from the portfolio model reform period. The authors reported, “During the study period, the district opened 65 new schools, and closed, replaced, and restarted over 35 others.” (Page 7)

A Professional Review

Boulder, Colorado which is 30-miles up highway-36 from Denver is home to the University of Colorado Boulder which hosts the National Education Policy Center (NEPC). Early in the 21st century purported research papers started being published that were never subjected to peer review. NEPC tried to address this problem by assigning independent education professionals to review these studies. They contracted with Robert Shand to review the Denver study. He is an Assistant Professor of Education Policy and Leadership at American University and an affiliated researcher with the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.  

Professor Shand’s conclusion states:

“The recent study finds substantial system-level gains in math and ELA scores as well as graduation rates. These reported gains are indeed dramatic, but they were not experienced equally and may have widened achievement gaps. Further, attributing them specifically to the portfolio reforms seems premature for at least three reasons. First, many other changes, beyond the portfolio reforms, were occurring in the district at the same time. These included changes to funding, curriculum, leadership, teacher policies, and student demographics. Second, some gains, particularly among marginalized groups of students, predated the reforms. Third, the “portfolio” reforms themselves are diffuse and difficult to parse. For these reasons, the recent report succeeds in drawing attention to real academic gains in Denver over the past decade, but is less useful as a guide to how other districts could replicate that success.” (Page 3)

To substantiate these claims Shand shared the following points:

  • Demographics shifting to a larger percentage of white students in Denver coincided with the reforms.
  • Per-student revenues increased in Denver by 22% but only 13% across Colorado.
  • Student-to-teacher ratio in Denver dropped from 17.9 to 14.9.
  • DPS was already showing academic improvement before implementation of the portfolio reforms.
  • Black and Hispanic/Latinx students were growing at approximately 0.06 standard deviations per year pre-reform and 0.03-0.04 standard deviations per year post-reform.

Professor Shand succinctly determined, “Given the host of changes in the city and the district over the same time period as the portfolio reforms, attributing the gains to the portfolio reforms specifically is unwarranted by the evidence.(Emphasis added)

Baxter and his team at CEPA surely are aware of the difference between correlation and causation as is the education reporter from The 74, Kevin Mahnken. This indicates strongly that they were being purposefully deceitful or more straightforwardly THEY WERE LYING.

Representative Lauren Boebert’s Controversial High School Civics Address

23 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/23/2023

When it was learned that Lauren Boebert the gun enthusiast who represents Colorado’s third congressional district was going to address middle and high school students in Dolores, there was angst. Emails to The Journal, the local newspaper, expressed concern that it would be a political event and some parents worried that the congresswoman would be packing a concealed weapon. The fact that parents and media were barred from attending heightened tensions. Fortunately, The Journal was able to force its way in.

According to the 2020 census, Dolores, Colorado is a small community of 885 people located in Montezuma County. It sits in the middle of rugged mountainous terrain making up the Southwest portion of the state. Dolores is part of Boebert’s congressional district which covers about 50,000 square miles of sparsely populated territory and constitutes almost half of the Colorado land mass. It is an interesting twist that Montezuma County has Dolores County on its northern border.

Colorado Annotated Congressional District Map

In the 2021/22 school year, Dolores’s middle school reported 209 students and its high school 168. The school demographics are about 79% White, 16% Hispanic and a small percentage of Indians and Asians.

For Boebert’s event, students were free to opt out. After the affair, Superintendent Reece Blincoe estimated that 250 students attended Boebert’s presentation.

Two days before Boebert arrived, the school district emailed parents with details of her visit. It said the Representative would provide a “rare chance to hear from the sitting congresswoman from our region and to promote civic engagement.” The missive stated that no parents could attend and that she would not carry a firearm on campus. It said the students were not required to attend and an alternative classroom would be available. The message stressed that Boebert’s visit would “NOT” be a political event.

Following the student assembly, when The Journal reporter in attendance asked about the safety and political concerns of some parents, Boebert replied,

“That’s really unfortunate that they would politicize something like this, and it was certainly an honor for me to be there. I wasn’t making anything political of it. You know, just explaining the basics of civics and government and the way things operate and giving them kind of an insider’s look without a partisan lens. I’m not sure exactly what the safety concern would be. But I think that it was well received and the students were amazing, friendly and welcoming … they were a joy,”

The day following the event, The Journal reported that she did get quite political:

 “Boebert contended that the response to COVID-19 infringed on liberties during the pandemic and told students they should know about those issues and let it motivate them to stand up for their freedom.

‘“I was happy being a mom,’ Boebert said. ‘I was a business owner, but I saw government over-regulating, overtaxing, overspending and destroying everything that we were working so hard to build.’”

The Durango Herald wrote an editorial stating,

“We strongly support students engaging in civic matters. But we’re uncomfortable with U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert’s visit on Wednesday to Dolores High School because her talk ventured beyond governance into political territory.”

“According to our latest news story, she spoke about “moral decay”; becoming aware of issues that could infringe on students’ rights; the Freedom Caucus, a conservative group of GOP representatives; and liberties infringed on during the pandemic. Apparently, she also told students they should know about those issues and let it motivate them to stand up for their freedom.

“Come on! This is Boebert’s brand on stage in front of students without parents present.”

“Tom Burris, superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez School District, said he had previously received an email from Boebert’s team inquiring about an assembly with middle and high school students. Burris said he respectively declined, saying MCSD was “focusing energies on students in the classroom and academics.”’

The Denver Post reports that in the 2022 congressional election Montezuma County voted 57% for Boebert and 43% for her opponent Adam Frisch. So this event was clearly in an area of political strength for the Congresswoman. However, in her 2022 re-election effort, she only won the district by a margin of 546 votes out of the 327,132 cast or by a 0.17% margin.

This prompted several parents to believe that her visit was nothing but a campaign maneuver trying to capture new soon to graduate high school voters for 2024.

Like her or loath her, the fact is that Boebert is a very divisive personality. Even though her political support in the county is strong, her opposition is impassioned. The Post speculated this was because,

“Boebert has a history of espousing anti-LGBTQ views. She’s called women “weaker” than men, criticized the separation of church and state and made Islamophobic comments implying a colleague in Congress might be a terrorist. Political and religious experts say her Christian nationalist rhetoric presents a danger to the country’s democratic foundations.

Molly Cooper, a district parent, explained at a recent school board meeting, “This is about Boebert herself, the hate she spews and the policies she continues to support and put forward that vilify those that are different from her.”

An A3 Surprise

A concerned parent said this was all started when High School Social Studies teacher Ed Miller and Principal Justin Schmitt invited Representative Boebert to the school in October 2022, but she declined. The Boebert team appears to have decided to run a low key barely concealed series of campaign events at local high schools and reached out to Dolores in early March. The school scheduled an assembly for March 15.

The shocking revelation here is not only that Representative Boebert is willing to use public schools for partisan politics but that Dolores High School has convicted A3 conspirator Justin Schmitt as principal. It turns out he grew up and attended school there. In October, 2019 while under indictment for conspiracy to defraud the state of California out of $80,000,000, Schmitt was hired as Dean of Students in Dolores. The Journal reported that then Superintendent Lis Richard claimed he is “an extraordinary administrator.” And she continued,

“I promise you that we are aware of anything you may have heard and we stand by him in full support. He is the right person for our secondary dean of students position. His passion, dedication and wisdom are exemplary.”

Eric Beste the San Diego lawyer representing Schmitt in the A3 case emphasized that Schmitt was a salaried employee and not an A3 business owner. In other words, he was just a working guy caught up in the illegal scheming of his employer and was not a criminal at heart.

The next year Schmitt was hired as interim Principal at Dolores High School. The April 16, 2020 announcement of the appointment carried in The Journal stated, ‘“If he does not meet the ‘conditions set’ (if he is found guilty of anything more than a misdemeanor), his position will be ‘terminated,’ the update states.” However, Superintendent Richards declared, “I think it is fair to mention that a misdemeanor is not a disqualifier for licensure and I still stand by that Mr. Schmitt did nothing illegal ….”

I wrote about the A3 scandal in the summer of 2019 and it was clear to me that Justin Schmitt was not a peripheral player. He was always among the five people mentioned in stories about the indictments. I used, “The Grand Jury of San Diego County heard the testimony of 72 witnesses and voted out a 67-count indictment against Sean McManus, Jason Schrock, Justin Schmitt, Eli Johnson, Steven Zant and six others.” He was the office manager the other conspirators were communicating through.

Schmitt came to A3 through his connection with the Colorado online charter school system Foundations of Learning. At one time, he listed himself on his LinkedIn page as the Foundations of Learning Director of Schools. When McManus and Schrock bought Foundations of Learning to manage Mosaic online Justin Schmitt came with the purchase. Mosaic eventually became Valiant Academy through which Schmitt supervised the summer school sports scam.

In 2022, as part of the nobody goes to jail resolution to the A3 theft, the Voice of San Diego reported,  

“Schmitt pleaded guilty to a felony count of taking money in order to conceal crime. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor and Schmitt was sentenced to one year probation.”

In August 2021, Reece Blincoe was introduced as interim Superintendent of Dolores School District. He had previously served as superintendent for the Brownwood ISD in Brownwood, Texas. It appears that after seven years he was forced out of Brownwood with an agreement that included $300,000 for his resignation. There was no claim of malfeasance against Blincoe but there were rumors that it had to do with an unsubstantiated claim of bullying.

Blincoe, Schmitt and the rest of their team come out of the Boebert episode looking badly used and inept. What do they do when Boebert’s Democratic challenger Adam Frisch comes to Dolores and requests a similar event? How can a public school that has already hosted one politician legitimately turn away another politician? There is no good answer.

Education Profiteering Accelerates in Texas

12 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/12/2023

In March, the Texas house of representative’s education committee introduced House Bill 1605. Chairman Brad Buckley from Killeen was lead sponsor and 25 other members are listed as co-sponsors including one Democrat. The actual author of the bill and who if anyone paid for it to be written is not known. The legislation creates two major changes. It transfers purchasing power from the state education board to State Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and it opens the door for Laurene Powell Jobs’ Amplify to control instructional materials for the Foundation School Program.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) explains,

The primary source of state funding for Texas school districts is the Foundation School Program (FSP). This program ensures that all school districts, regardless of property wealth, receive ‘substantially equal access to similar revenue per student at similar tax effort.’”

Foundation curriculum includes the list of the big four subjects mapped out by the TEA curriculum division.

English Language Arts and Reading
Social Studies

The material is to be delivered using open education resources (OER). This means content deliverance via interactive electronic screens. Districts will have the right not to use the curriculum however the structure of HB 1605 bribes them to employ it.

Under this new legislation, the state of Texas is contracting with Amplify to write the curriculum according to TEA guidelines. Amplify will also provide daily lesson plans for all teachers. The idea is to educate all Texas children using digital devices and scripted lesson plans while teachers are tasked with monitoring student progress.

Senate bill 2565 is the companion legislation. The language of neither HB 1605 nor SB 2565 mention Amplify. However, during the senate education committee public comments period on SB 2565 it was revealed that TEA had already given Amplify a $50,000,000 pandemic contract. When witnesses referenced Amplify as the purported contractor, senators did not push back and the only company the Senators spoke about themselves was Amplify. So it is clear that it will be Amplify and some people in the know believe Commissioner Morath has already made a deal with the company.

Who Likes this Idea?

On March 2, 2023 just one week before Buckley introduced HB 1605, a new organization called the Coalition for Education Excellence (CEE) announced its presence.  They stated,

“CEE, made up of state and local education and public policy advocacy organizations across Texas, has been created to take the under-education crisis head-on. Founding members of CEE include The Commit Partnership, the Greater Houston Partnership, Teach Plus Texas, Texas 2036, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Business Leadership Council, the Texas District Charter Alliance and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, with more members to be announced in the coming weeks.”

Everyone of their supporting “advocacy organizations” are either far right opponents of public education or are groups who have a long history of working to privatize public education.

CEE states in their announcement that a recent study found that Texas students are being taught below grade-level content in our public schools.” The so called study was conducted by the Teach For America spinoff TNTP. It is a billionaire created organization working to privatize public education. Papers coming from leading education institutions like the University of Texas or Rice University are peer reviewed scholarly efforts. Whereas TNTP produces non-peer reviewed polemics like this bogus study called “The Opportunity Myth.”  When Michelle Rhee led TNTP they made headlines by unfairly trashing public education teachers.

CEE disingenuously pretended that their support of this legislation is written to help overburdened teachers. They stated in their announcement,

‘“Many teachers in Texas are currently working two jobs—designing lessons and teaching them—which is contributing to their exhaustion and teacher shortages. Access to high-quality instructional material can reduce teacher workloads and play a critical role in delivering quality education to our students,’ said Kevin Malonson, Texas Executive Director of Teach Plus.

Anyone who has spent significant time in a classroom knows scripted lessons are a disaster. I have personally experienced teaching the same high school class in three separate periods and even though the students were all peers, the levels of ability in the classrooms varied significantly. The differences were so great that I often had to modify my lesson plans to effectively teach the material during the different periods. Trying to write one lesson plan for thousands of students living in significantly different neighborhoods is a daft approach that devalues teacher expertise, undermines educator professionalism and will fail students.

Found on the CEE Web Page

Texas 2036 listed above was formed by Tom Luce in 2016. It publishes cyber page links to CEE letters and publications and generally supports the privatization agenda.

Tom Luce is a lawyer not an educator but his fingerprints are all over some of the worst education policies in the history of our country. His bio at the George W. Bush Whitehouse archives says, “… Luce is perhaps best known for his role in 1984 as the chief of staff of the Texas Select Committee of Public Education, which produced one of the first major reform efforts among public schools.” The chairman of that committee was Ross Perot and they gave us the disaster known as standardized testing.

In 2019, Tom Luce became Chairman Emeritus of Texas 2036 and Margaret Spellings returned to Texas to assume the lead as President and CEO. At the same time, Spellings who led George W. Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind education reform law became a board member for Laurene Powell Jobs’s Amplify. Of course, Board Member Spellings is supporting turning over Texas school curriculum to Jobs’s company.

Laurene Powell Jobs and Amplify

Laurene Powell Jobs has no respect for public school educators and the schools in which they work. When Wiki Leaks released the Clinton campaign’s emails, Powell Jobs’ four recommendations to Hillary Clinton were revealed:

  1. “Re-design entire K-12 system – we know how to do it, but it comes down to political will.
  2. “Think about Charters as our R&D … must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable.
  3. “Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline.
  4. “Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teachers and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; …”

I disagree. Charter schools have been R&D for fraud, embezzlement, instability and abuse but not for innovations. Her slap at teachers unions and work place protections is consistent with other arrogant billionaires who support privatization. I came into education from working as a research scientist in Silicon Valley and found teachers every bit as intellectually equipped as my colleagues in the lab. Her support for Teach for America temp teachers demonstrates education ignorance.

The Amplify education model puts children at digital devices where they learn in isolation. It is an unhealthy approach. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

Educators like Nancy Bailey have addressed problems with Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program for teaching reading. Teacher evaluation committees from Rochester, New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma condemned the program. An NPR report highlighted criticism of Amplify science and math noting,

“Former school board member Peters said it’s difficult to compare results the first year of a new test: Pass rates dropped across the board in 2018 when it was introduced. But her analysis shows pass rates dropped the most at the Seattle schools using Amplify Science — despite the curriculum’s promise to help students meet the new standards.”

‘“The students that fared the worst were low-income students using Amplify Science,’ Peters wrote in an email to the board.”

The Leaders of the Amplify Takeover

Before 2012, Dallas school board elections were very low key affairs. When Mike Morath ran for the district two trusteeship, it was pretty much unheard of for a school board candidate to have raised as much as $10,000 for a campaign; however even though running unopposed, Morath’s campaign contributions totaled $28,890.00 and he spent $16,773.07.

Morath had almost no background in education but he was supported by Dallas’s wealthiest conservatives. A 2014 article published by In These Times, explained the political change:

“But since the beginning of 2012, hundreds of thousands of Super PAC dollars from Dallas’ richest neighborhoods began flowing into nearly all of the district’s school board elections

“Since 2011, Educate Dallas, a PAC backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber (the local Chamber of Commerce), has raised $661,953 in cash on hand for its school board war chest, and the Dallas-based education reform PAC Kids First, led by millionaire tech CEO Ken Barth, has raised $661,616. The majority of their donations come from Dallas’ famous aristocrats, including Barth, Ross Perot, Ray Hunt—an oil heir with a net worth of $5.8 billion—and Harlan Crow, a real estate heir and buddy of Clarence Thomas.”

The big Dallas money aimed at privatizing public education has supported Morath all the way to the state’s highest education position. When Governor Abbott selected Morath to be commissioner, conservative writer Donna Garner declared, “I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education.”

In addition to contracting with Amplify to privatize curriculum, Morath has created a program called the System of Great Schools. It is a plan to implement the portfolio model of school governance throughout the state of Texas. It is identical to the plan that billionaires Reed Hasting, John Arnold, Bill Gates and Michael Dell are financing through The City Fund. The portfolio school system management model systematically removes public schools from governance by elected boards and puts them under private control.

Laurene Jobs Powell has hooked up with like minded billionaires in an effort to privatize the entire Texas public education system. Their guy Mike Morath is dutifully implementing the plans.

The Oligarchs’ Education Propaganda Distributor

23 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/23/2023

In 2015, the Washington Post reported on the founding of The 74 by former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown along with Michael Bloomberg’s education advisor Romy Drucker. At the time, Brown who supported charter schools, opposed teacher tenure and was convinced schools were full of sexual predators stated,  

“I agree we have a point of view; it’s a ­nonpartisan point of view. It’s a clear point of view, and that is that the public education system, in its current form, is broken, and there’s an urgency to fix it.”

The billionaires funding Brown’s startup included the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, all of which have opposed teachers unions and supported various school-privatization initiatives. From the beginning The 74 has been a mouthpiece for billionaires out to end publicly financed education.

Hit Piece on a Majority Minority City’s Schools

In February, The 74 published an attack piece on the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD).

Stockton is a small California city of about 322,000 people and is one of America’s most diverse cities. The US census bureau reports the demographics as 44.9% Hispanic, 20.9% Asian, 18.1% White and 11.3 % Black. The city has a 16.3% poverty rate; however, 82% of their 39,800 charter and public school students live in poverty. In Stockton schools, the Hispanic population accounts for 70% of the students while all other demographic groups contribute single digit percentages to the total.

In their headline, The 74 labels SUSD dysfunctional. However, a quick look at the California school dashboard shows a few things that one would not expect in a dysfunctional district. While dealing with chronic absenteeism, a large population of English language learners (24.6%) and a lot of students living in poverty (83.9%), SUSD’s graduation rate is over 83%, they meet all five of the basic standards for California schools and their English language learners are making above average progress. Are their students performing as well as students attending schools in upper middle class neighborhoods? No, but these schools are hardly dysfunctional. In fact, they seem to be achieving against all odds and in the face of an ongoing tycoon financed takeover bid.

This scathing article from the billionaire’s propaganda rag is just the latest in the ongoing raid on public education in Stockton. In 1999, Reed Hastings and his partner Don Shalvey opened Stockton’s first charter school, the Aspire Port City Academy.

Don Shalvey founded California’s first charter school in 1994. When Bill and Hillary Clinton came to Stanford in 1997 to enroll their daughter they held a charter school promotional meeting at Shalvey’s San Carlos Charter Learning Center (Left Behind page 249). It was there that Reed Hastings and Don Shalvey met. Soon after, the pair teamed up to establish Aspire as America’s first charter management organization. There are now ten Aspire schools in Stockton.

In 2018, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs who was heavily influenced by Michael Bloomberg pushed the school board to hire disgraced former LA Superintendent John Deasy. This was the beginning of SUSD’s financial problems. In the two years Deasy was in charge, the formerly financially stable district had a negative cash flow of $174 million. Much of this deficit were caused by a hiring binge.

Deasy resigned under a corruption cloud in 2020. That same year, Don Shalvey who went to work for Bill Gates in 2009 left the Gates foundation and became leader of San Joaquin A Plus Inc. (A+) (non-profit tax ID 51-0536117).

Along with Don’s hiring, 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.  A+ went from reporting $6,000 total revenue in 2019 to $3,176,833 in 2020. Unfortunately, the IRS is backlogged and the complete A+ 2020 form 990 with Shalvey’s salary listed is still not available.

The 74 features Shalvey’s completely unfounded and damaging statement that “I think Stockton Unified might be the worst system in the country.”

In addition to A+, it appears that the Community Foundation of San Joaquin has also become a champion of privatizing public schools. 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 their latest tax filing (Tax ID 26-1476916), the foundation lists Don Shalvey’s wife Sue Shalvey as a board member.

The 74 contemptuously states, “But almost three years after the first relief dollars began flowing to school districts, Stockton has spent only a fourth of the $241 million it received, overcome by dysfunction in its central office and deep mistrust among board members.”

While it appears that there is mistrust amongst the board members between a former pro-Deasy faction and a newer anti-charter school faction, the board is functioning. The dysfunction at the central office was created by John Deasy when he did things like get rid of all senior management in the financial department and replace them with new hires. This destroyed critical institutional memory.

In their extremely biased article, The 74 also states,

“The pandemic was another blow to the region’s economy. Then, just as schools were trying to recover, separate grand juries in 2021 and 2022 issued scathing reports that didn’t inspire confidence in the district’s ability to manage a huge federal windfall.”

There are two internet based news sources in Stockton, the 209 Times with the most readers and Recordnet. Recordnet seems aligned with Stockton’s downtown business interests who appear to have forced these two grand jury investigations and the 209 Times looks like a muckraking publication focused on shenanigans by what they call the “Stockton Cabal.”

Concerning these two grand jury reports the 209 Times headline read “Biased ‘Grand Jury’ Issues Another Attack on SUSD” while the Recordnet headline was “Grand jury finds Stockton Unified trustees failed as district leaders in scathing report.” The fact is the reports were an attack on SUSD but contrary to the 209 Times reporting there was some valuable information there. However, the reports were not scathing condemnations of the SUSD trustees. The information presented did shed a bad light on Superintendents John Deasy and his replacement John Ramirez Jr.

For example, the 2022 Grand Jury report noted

“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)

Board member Ray Zulueta said that he assumed when Human Resources brought them a hire recommendation that they had correctly followed the process. Reading through the two reports it appears that the school superintendents who were pushed on the board by local elites were incompetent and had separate agendas beyond running the schools. Before the 2022 report came out, the trustees apparently forced John Ramirez Jr. to resign as superintendent. It is alleged that he was spending more time in Don Shalvey’s A+ office than he was in his own office at the district.

There were no smoking guns in either report and no one was charged with corrupt behavior.

There was one interesting lie in The 74 attack piece, “Since 2017, enrollment has declined from about 44,000 to 36,000 students, contributing to anxiety in a community where over 3,000 people work for the district.”

The following attendance chart was created using data from the California Department of education.

In the last eight years, there has been no change in enrollment anywhere close to equaling an 8,000 student decline. Even with the billionaire funded attack machine operating, SUSD has had an extremely stable enrollment. This is pretty good evidence that this is not a dysfunctional district. The classrooms must be functioning well.

After getting rid of Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. the trustees 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. From my perch 450 miles away, it appears she is doing a credible professional job. Isn’t it time to make her the permanent superintendent and bring stability to district leadership?

The 74 hit piece goes on to make several more bogus claims in an effort to denigrate the district. They all range from nitpicking to baloney.

Neoliberal and Libertarian Billionaires Use The 74 to Advance Their Agenda

The graphic above comes from The 74’s website and depicts their financial supporters. It shows billionaires and entities known to be working to privatize or end public education.

I asked ChatGPT, “Is The 74 a biased education publication?” The bot replied,

“As an AI language model, I am programmed to remain neutral and avoid making judgments on political or ideological biases. However, I can provide some general information about The 74, an American news organization that focuses on education policy and issues.

“The 74 describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan news outlet that seeks to provide in-depth coverage of education issues affecting students and families across the United States. It was founded in 2015 by journalist Campbell Brown, with funding from various philanthropic organizations.

“While The 74 aims to maintain a neutral stance on political and ideological issues, it has been criticized by some for promoting a conservative or pro-charter school agenda. Some critics have pointed to the organization’s ties to conservative donors and its coverage of issues such as school choice and teacher unions as evidence of bias.

“However, others have defended The 74’s coverage as fair and balanced, and argue that the organization provides an important voice in the education policy debate.

I am not programmed to remain neutral. The 74 is a propaganda rag supported by unbelievably rich people who are a menace. Some of them are neoliberals that have an almost religious belief in free enterprise, business management and the superiority of the market place. Others are libertarians who believe there should be no commons, no social services and no public education. The 74 is a biased publication that they finance out of their spare change.

If we desire democratic governance and quality public education, it is past time to tax billionaires out of existence.

11 MAGA Ladies against Public Education

20 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/20/2023

For the past few years, I have been increasingly impressed by the work of Boston’s Maurice Cunningham. He is a political science professor from the University of Massachusetts who also holds a Juris Doctorate. His latest work is Merchants of Deception published by the Network for Public Education (NPE). While reading the paper, I was struck by the dominant position of women in the classical liberal effort to end taxpayer supported free public education.

I met Professor Cunningham last spring at the NPE conference in Philadelphia. On the last evening there, we had a chance to share drinks in the hotel bar. I learned that he is a typically misguided Boston sports fan cheering for the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots. However, he seemed like a good guy who will still talk to me even after my Padres purloined the Red Sox star shortstop Xander Bogaerts. But I digress.

“Merchants of Deception” documents the disingenuous framing around the establishment of organizations dedicated to destroying public education. In this piece, I focus on the leadership of the National Parents Union (NPU), No Left Turn in Education (NLTE), Parents Defending Education (PDE) and Moms for Liberty (M4L). They all claim some form of being created by moms upset at their public school and taking action. In Cunningham’s paper, he shows that with their funding and media connections these are not typical moms. They are mostly communications professionals with a long history of working for organizations on the right. In a previous post, Cunningham shared,

“Mercedes Schneider has figured out the grassroots angle in Parents Defending Education: Prefab “Grassroots”— …. Peter Greene minces no words in Parents Defending Education: Astroturf Goes Hard Right. PDE is particularly odious because of its whole “turn in any teacher or school that offends you” approach to chilling conversation and teaching. This is not just astrotyuf, but astroturf with its brown shirt on.”

Professor Cunningham used the Little Sis data base and orthographer to illustrate the support for three of these organizations. The live map for the image below which allows access to documentation can be accessed here.

Moms for Liberty

M4L was legally formed January 1, 2021. It is infamous for disruption of school board meetings over its opposition to critical race theory (CRT), teaching about race and LGBTQ+ rights or having any books on those subjects available in school libraries.

Bridget Ziegler is one of M4L’s three founding board of directors. She left the organization in 2022 for political reasons but still actively supports it.

Ziegler is a director on the Sarasota County School Board. In the lead up to the 2022 elections the Herald-Tribune reported,

“She followed a 2014 appointment from then-Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator, with two successful bids for re-election, raising tens of thousands of dollars each time in what used to be low-profile, low-dollar races.”

“Ziegler, who is seeking a third term on the School Board, has articulated deeply conservative Republican Party positions on critical race theory and parental rights, including speaking out against mandatory masking for students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.”

She won a third term.

Her husband Chris Ziegler is the Vice Chairman of the Florida Republican Party. He expects M4L members will become foot soldiers in Ron DeFascist’s political campaigns. Bridget Ziegler helped DeFascist shape his “parental rights” agenda and stood next to the governor when he signed legislation limiting discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools.

Tina Descovich is another founding board member of M4L. From 2016 to 2020, she served on the Brevard School Board. She lost her seat in the August 2020 primary election.

Descovich states on her LinkedIn page that she is, “A creative senior communications professional with experience in Strategic Message Delivery, Media Relations Management, Brand & Graphic Development, Stakeholder Engagement, Government Relations, Corporate Relations, Crisis Management, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.”

Descovich served on the executive staff for the United States Army Commanding General at Fort Lee. For the past 15 years, she has worked as a communications consultant.

Tiffany Justice is the third founding board member of M4L. From 2016 to 2020, she served on the school board of Indian River County. Before the 2020 election, columnist Ray McNulty of the Vero News urged her not to run for reelection. He stated, “Besides, Justice has played her way out of the lineup, proving repeatedly over the past four years that she is ill-equipped for, and overmatched by, a job that requires more than caring about kids.”

Justice is a supporter of the “Don’t say Gay” law. NBC quoted her saying the law is needed to fight a “transgender contagion.”

Of the founders of these new culture war platforms used to attack public education, Justice has the fewest professional credentials. She shows no work background and though claiming to have attended American University in Washington DC, she lists no degrees earned.

Marie Rogerson replaced Bridget Zeigler on the M4L board and became the executive director of program development. This close friend of Tina Descovich earned a political science degree from Brigham Young University’s Rexburg, Idaho campus. She managed Descovich’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns for school board.

Rogerson is a campaign consultant who completed the Learning Institute’s Leadership Academy. Learning Institute was founded in 1979 by Morton C. Blackwell. Its web site states, “The Institute teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government, and the media.”

She previously worked for Rep. Randy Fine, who has widely spread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and supported anti-LGBTQ bills including the “Don’t Say Gay” law, and pushed for bans on lifesaving, evidence-based healthcare for transgender youth. His campaign donated to M4L. 

Julie Fancelli is the daughter of Publix grocery store chain founder George Jenkins. In 2020, Forbes magazine listed her family as the 39th richest in America with assets of $8.8 billion. She is not a founder or a leader of M4L, but when she gifted them $50,000 that represented all but $762 that M4L had raised.

The Washington Post reports that Fancelli was a major donor to the former president and stated, “Eight days before the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, a little-known Trump donor living thousands of miles away in the Tuscan countryside quietly wired a total of $650,000 to three organizations that helped stage and promote the event.”

Parents Defending Education

PDE was incorporated as a nonprofit in Virginia on January 21, 2021. Because it is a relatively new organization, little is yet known for certain about the funders and how large that funding is. However, the founder’s relationship with Charles Koch sponsored organizations is abundantly clear. It is a hard right organization.

Nicole Neily the founder of PDE has a long history of working for Koch sponsored organizations. Her LinkedIn page shares that she worked for the CATO Institute from 2006 to 2009 and she described herself as a “Think tank executive specializing in coalition building, management, public relations, and fundraising in the nonprofit/advocacy sphere and private sector crisis communications.”

In 2018, Neily founded Speech First where she was the only employee and President. Source Watch reported,

“Speech First’s president and only listed employee, Nicole Neily has worked for many Koch-affiliated groups. Neily was the president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the Cato Institute’s manager of external relations, the coalition relations manager for FreedomWorks’ Center for Global Economic Growth, and a “Koch summer fellow for both the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.”

The PDE 2021 tax form shows that in their first year of operation, they took in $3,178,345 and that Neily’s salary and benefits totaled more than $195,000.

Erika Sanzi has a long history of profiting from supporting the privatization of public education. She is the new Director of Outreach for PDE. Her 2020 LinkedIn page shared this brief resume,

“Senior Writer Education Post Since October 2014; Senior Visiting Fellow Thomas B. Fordham Institute Since October 2016; Interim Dean of Students and Spanish teacher Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy Jan 2012 – Jun 2013 Rhode Island Charter; Dean of Students Paul Cuffee Charter School  2010-2012 Providence Charter School; Spanish Teacher Wellesley High School 1998 – 2002; BA Spanish University of Vermont.” (This information came from my 2020 notes and is no longer available on her LinkedIn Page.)

Like Neily, Sanzi is making big money attacking public education. Blogger Mercedes Schneider shows that in 2015 she was paid $84,000 by Education Post the billionaire financed media outlet. In 2016, they paid her $120,000, in 2017 $131,000 and in 2018 $121,000.

Karol Markowicz is a journalist from New York City where she writes for Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post and contributes to Fox News. The PDE 2021 tax form shows the she is on their board of directors. 

A biography notes that she was born in the Soviet Union but grew up in Brooklyn. She keeps her private life very private. She is married but her husband’s name is not known. She has children.

In December 2021, Markowitz and her kids relocated to Florida, saying, “I am leaving New York City, the place where my husband and I both grew up and where we had planned to raise our own kids. The response to COVID-19 in New York, in particular where children are concerned, has driven our family out.”

Her opinion pieces make it clear she has very right wing views. She is a big fan of Ron DeFascist of Florida and has a very low opinion of anyone left of Kublai Khan. She actually wrote an article with the title Democrats need to stop urging political violence.”

National Parent Union

Professor Cunningham observed, “Apparently, the Waltons [WalMart] were pleased with the progress of Massachusetts Parents United because in 2020, they promoted Rodrigues as the president of a new venture, National Parents Union”(Merchants page 18). The creation story presented says that two “Latina women” Keri Rodrigues of Massachusetts and Alma Marquez of Los Angeles joined together to create a new model in parent activism based on the labor movement. While NPU has shunned most culture war issues they do support school choice and oppose teachers unions. While some view them as being on the left, Charles Koch and the Walton family are sending them financial support.

Keri Rodrigues is the President and co-founder of NPU. She endured foster care, survived abuse, and was expelled from high school. Rodrigues eventually earned a GED and enrolled at Temple University to study broadcast journalism. She left school before graduating to take a job with CBS News radio.

After five years with CBS, she became a talk-show host at WSAR earning the moniker “pint-sized Portuguese pundit.”

She became a consultant to Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts. Soon after, she was state director of Families for Excellent Schools. This is the organization that in 2016 directed massive amounts of dark money into “question 2” the ballot initiative to lift the states charter school cap. After that losing debacle, she founded the Massachusetts Parent Union.

Alma Marquez was an original co-founder of NPU which became a non-profit in March 2020. She was elected to a three year term as Secretary-Treasurer. Strangely and never explained, Marquez disappeared from NPU after mid-August 2020.

Her being an actual Latina is integral to the NPU creation story of two “Latina women” joining forces. It was probably more important that Marquez was well connected in LA school choice circles. The billionaire created Education Post reported on the NPU Los Angeles kickoff event,

“Among those standing with them were the former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, and Peter Cunningham, the former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Education under the Obama Administration. Cunningham is also the founder of Education Post, where Rodriquez and Marquez met two years prior to the launch of NPU.”

Marquez is a born and raised LA girl who was enticed into the school choice movement by her trusted mentor and LA school board member Monica Garcia. Marquez wrote, “I didn’t know what charter schools were, but I trusted her judgment so I met with Steve Barr and Marshall Tuck, who were then founders and CEOs of Green Dot Public Schools in Los Angeles, respectively.” Marquez took a position at Green Dot.

No Left Turn in Education

NLTE was founded in the fall of 2020. It may be the most virulently anti-public schools, anti-teacher, anti-CRT and anti-LGBTQ of all these new education “reform movements.” Its founder has equated “the efforts of educators to that of Pol Pot, Vladimir Lenin, and Adolf Hitler” and called black bigotry towards whites’ a “very real problem” plus pushed anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. The NLTE web page’s tab “Be Informed” leads to forceful articles claiming that public schools are indoctrinating students with a woke ideology and are sexualizing children. They take a strong stand against CRT, the 1619 Project and woke math and science.

Elana Yaron Fishbein is the founder, CEO and spokesperson for NLTE. She grew up in Isreal where Fishbein was awarded a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Hebrew University. After immigrating to the United States, she completed a masters concentrated on social change from Rutgers University and earned a doctorate from University of Pennsylvania specializing in management and program evaluation.

She has been a repeat guest of Fox News. After her first interview with Tucker Carlson, her FaceBook following supposedly jumped from fewer than 200 to more than 30,000 followers. However, Dr. Cunningham reports (Merchants page 14), “Even though the Carlson segment had supposedly brought in thousands of new NLTE members in April of 2021, I couldn’t find them.”

Final Observations

These new groups promoting privatization of public schools are clearly not products of grassroots development.  M4L, PDE and NLTE have engaged in a withering assault on publicly funded schools. The organizations were developed by professionals with a continuing history of support from the Walton Family, Charles Koch, The Bradley Foundation and others. So, what do these billionaires want?

The Have You Heard pod cast interviewed Christopher Leonard, author of Kochland. Leonard described Charles Koch’s libertarian views on public education.

“When you have public education … one of the biggest problems for the libertarians is that it’s funded through taxes. . . they see taxation truly as a form of theft and robbery.”

“The Koch influence machine is multifaceted and complex and I am just telling you in a very honest way, there’s a huge difference between the marketing materials produced by Americans for Prosperity (Koch’s political organization) and the behind the scenes actual political philosophy. There’s a huge difference.

“And here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view. So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody.”

EMOs Generating Profits and Harm

29 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/29/2023

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

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

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

Education Management Organizations

The current NPE study reports,

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

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

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

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

Accessing those Sweet Taxpayer Dollars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NPE report includes several more examples of insider dealing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Observations

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

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

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

El Guapo’s Election Report Card

22 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/22/2023

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

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

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

Awaken Church is not Woke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Encinitas, my three endorsements all carried the day.

Looking at some Election Misses

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

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

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

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

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

Why is it El Guapo’s Report Card?

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

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

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

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

Some Final Thoughts

We are a society being buried in lies.

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

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

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

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

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

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