Atlanta’s Public School Board Voted for Privatization

23 Mar

3/22/2019 by T. Ultican

On March 4, the Atlanta Public School (APS) board voted 5 to 3 to begin adopting the “System of Excellent Schools.” That is Atlanta’s euphemistic name for the portfolio district model which systematically ends democratic governance of public schools. The portfolio model was a response to John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which claimed that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill who founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) began working out the mechanics of ending democratic control of public education. His solution to ending demon democracy – which is extremely unpopular with many billionaires – was the portfolio model of school governance.

The portfolio model of school governance directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio. It is a plan that guarantees school churn in poor neighborhoods, venerates disruption and dismisses the value of stability and community history.

Atlanta’s Comprador Regime

Atlanta resident Ed Johnson compared what is happening in APS to a “comprador regime” serving today’s neocolonialists. In the 19th century, a comprador was a native servant doing the bidding of his European masters; the new compradors are doing the bidding of billionaires privatizing public education.

Chalkbeat reported that Atlanta is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model. The city fund was founded in 2018 by two billionaires, John Arnold the former Enron executive who did not go to prison and Reed Hastings the founder and CEO of Netflix. Neerav Kingsland, Executive Director of The City Fund, stated, “Along with the Hastings Fund and the Arnold Foundation, we’ve also received funds from the Dell Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Ballmer Group.”

City Fund has designated RedefinED as their representative in Atlanta. Ed Chang, the Executive Director of RedefinED, is an example of the billionaire created education “reform” leader recruited initially by Teach for America (TFA).

TFA is the billionaire financed destroy-public-education (DPE) army. TFA teachers are not qualified to be in a classroom. They are new college graduates with no legitimate teacher training nor any academic study of education theory. Originally, TFA was proposed as an emergency corps of teachers for states like West Virginia who were having trouble attracting qualified professional educators. Then billionaires started financing TFA. They pushed through laws defining TFA teachers as “highly qualified” and purchased spurious research claiming TFA teachers were effective. If your child is in a TFA teacher’s classroom, they are being cheated out of a professionally delivered education. However, TFA provides the DPE billionaires a group of young ambitious people who suffer from group think bordering on cult like indoctrination.

Chang is originally from Chicago where he trained to be a physical therapist. He came south as a TFA seventh grade science teacher. Chang helped found an Atlanta charter school and through that experience received a Building Excellent Schools (BES) fellowship. BES claims to train “high-capacity individuals to take on the demanding and urgent work of leading high-achieving, college preparatory urban charter schools.

After his subsequent charter school proposal was rejected, Chang started doing strategy work for the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). This led him to a yearlong Fisher Fellowship training to start and run a KIPP charter school. In 2009, he opened KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta.

While complicit in stealing neighborhood public schools from Atlanta’s poorest communities, Chang says with a straight face, “Education is the civil rights movement of today.

Ed Chang on BES

Ed Chang’s Picture from his BES Board Member Biography

Chang now has more than a decade working in billionaire financed DPE organizations. He started in TFA, had two billionaire supported “fellowships” and now has millions of dollars to use as the Executive Director of RedefinED. It is quite common for TFA alums like Chang to end up on the boards of multiple education “reform” organizations.

Under Chang’s direction, RedefinED has provided monetary support for both the fake teacher program, TFA, and the fake graduate school, Relay. In addition, they have given funds to the Georgia Charter School Association, Purpose Built Schools, Kindezi School, KIPP and Resurgence Hall.

The other obvious “Comprador” in Atlanta is APS Superintendent Meria Castarphen. A product of the prestigious Harvard Graduate School of Education where she was shaped to lead the billionaire financed privatization agenda. Unlike TFA, Harvard’s graduates are highly qualified. However, large contributions from billionaires with an agenda have corrupted the school’s intellectual honesty. The most notorious three “fauxlanthropies” working to destroy-public-education (DPE) have given generously to Harvard.

Harvard Grants

Using Philanthropy to Control Harvard – GatesWaltonBroad

The Post “A Rotten Peach Poisoning Atlanta Public Schools” documents Castarphen’s journey from Selma, Alabama to Harvard and finally to Atlanta. At Harvard, she became an expert in using high stakes testing to hold schools and teachers accountable. Unfortunately, as is widely known, standardized testing is completely useless for evaluating schools or teachers. The only thing measured with confidence is how nice the student’s homes are.

During her first stint as a school superintendent, the people in St. Paul, Minnesota saw her as a tyrant. Half the existing administrative staff quit during her three year tenure. Executive Director of Facilities, Patrick Quinn, stated, “Meria’s confrontational style has rendered the administrative work environment toxic.

She left St. Paul for the superintendent’s job in Austin, Texas. After five years, the Austin board did not offer her a contract renewal. She had alienated both the staff and the Hispanic community to such an extent several board members lost their seats and blamed her. In an article about Meria’s coming to Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) quoted Austin resident Vincent Tovar, “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving.

Castarphen’s first agenda in Atlanta was to rid the school system of its older more experienced educators and replace them with younger less expensive and more malleable teachers. She also introduced a turnaround strategy which turned APS into a charter district. It gave her more control and eliminated many teacher protections. A similar plan was rejected in Austin.

Two years ago, an announcement reminiscent of when the fox guarded the hen house appeared on the APS web-site. It reported,

“Today the Walton Family Foundation announced it will invest $2.1 million to support and evaluate the success of Atlanta Public Schools’ Turnaround Strategy. The grants will also help the district launch APS Insights, a first-of-its-kind data dashboard available this summer to share information about school options and quality with Atlanta parents.”

It is not clear that APS was in any real need of a turnaround strategy, but new data indicates the strategy has caused harm not improvement.

NEAP Data

National Assessment of Education Progress 8th Grade Math, Reading and Change in Scale Scores

By March of 2016, the APS  board approved Castarphen’s turnaround strategy and several neighborhood schools were identified for  potential takeover. APS closed and merged several schools and turned five schools over to charter-related operators. Now, APS is examining all schools, not just struggling ones.

AJC reported on the new scheme,

“The result could bring autonomous ways of operating schools and possibly more closures or mergers. It could change the district’s mix of charter, partner-operated, and traditional, district-run neighborhood schools. Sixty-one of 89 APS schools now are neighborhood schools.”

“Helping APS with the planning work is Denver-based Foxhall Consulting Services, whose fees are being paid by RedefinED Atlanta, a local, charter-friendly nonprofit, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a public records request. RedefinED agreed to give $235,000 to Atlanta Partners for Education, a nonprofit that supports the work of the school district, to pay for Foxhall’s consulting services and travel costs on behalf of the district.”

When AJC says “autonomous ways of operating” it means that local taxpayers will no longer have a vote on operating those schools. They will still get the tax bill but private companies will get the vote. The privatization scheme was compared to managing a stock portfolio by CRPE leading many people call it the “portfolio model.” In Texas, they call it the “System of Great Schools Network” and in Atlanta it is called the “System of Excellent Schools.” Whatever Orwellian name it is given; the purpose is to move public assets into private profit-making-hands.

Destroy Public Education Movement Atlanta Style

Professor Jim Scheurich and his urban studies team at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) observed a pattern in the destruction of public education. Based on their observations, the team developed a DPE model which is described in “A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement.” The destruction of Atlanta’s public education system fits that model like a print to a wood block. A few examples from the DPE model follow.

“Institute a local-national collaboration between wealthy neoliberals and other conservatives to promote school privatization and the portfolio model of school management.”

In Atlanta besides the relationship between the City Fund and RedefinED there is the relationship between the Walton Family Foundation and Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, the billion dollar “Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta” contributed more than $14,000,000 toward school privatization including $271,000 to TFA. Falcon’s owner and Home Depot founder, Arthur M. Blank also kicked in more than a half million dollars to the privatization cause including $69,000 to TFA.

Two other big national privatization “fauxlanthropies” spent big on privatization in Atlanta. From 2014 to 2018, Bill Gates sent more than $52,000,000 “reform” dollars. Between 2015 and 2016, the Walton family chipped in more than $5,000,000 and that was before they partnered with APS in 2017.

“Direct large sums of money through advocacy organizations to recruit, train and finance pro-privatization school board candidates.”

Every year the Buckhead Coalition, a chamber-like, invitation-only organization of 100 CEOs, recommends and provides support for local school board candidates. At the beginning of the year, 8 of the 9 school board members had been promoted by the Coalition. In 2017, campaign contributions for school board races totaled to greater than $700,000 which is a staggering amount for a relatively modest district with just under 55,000 students.

The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta sent $220,000 to Michelle Rhee’s Students First Institute known for putting money into local school board elections. Jason Esteves, the former TFA corps member and current President of the APS board, had a war chest of $167,000 for his reelection run in 2017.  One of his maximum contribution came from Steuart Walton of Bentonville, Arkansas.

“Institute a portfolio system of school district management that includes public schools, charter schools and Innovation Schools.”

That is the whole point of the “System of Excellent Schools.”

“Hire minimally trained teachers from Teach for America (TFA) or other instant-teacher-certification programs.”

TFA claims, “After 18 years in Metro Atlanta, we have a network of more than 1,500 corps members and alumni who are making an impact across the education ecosystem.”

“Use groups like Teach Plus and TNTP to provide teacher professional development.”

The charter industry created a fake education graduate school with no professors of education. The so called Relay Graduate School of Education reported last year, “Relay will offer the Relay Teaching Residency in Atlanta, which caters to college graduates and career changers who are seeking a path into the teaching profession.”

In densely populated areas, the DPE agenda invariably is coherent with an urban renewal effort often derisively labeled “gentrification.” That is certainly the case in Atlanta. For example, Purpose Built Schools advertise, “We are a philanthropically funded organization that grew out of the holistic neighborhood transformation efforts of the East Lake Foundation, Purpose Built Communities and Charles R. Drew Charter School.” Another example is the self-declared history of the Grove Park Foundation stating they “forged a series of new partnerships with Atlanta Public Schools, KIPP, the YMCA and several arts organizations to bring an A+ school, a new YMCA facility and new housing options for all income levels to the Grove Park neighborhood.

Final Observations

Shani Robinson’s book co-written with journalist Anna Simonton is called None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators. Shani was a first-grade TFA teacher when she became ensnared in this grossly unjust episode. It is not that some teachers did not deserve to lose their job, but none of them deserved a prison stay for making a bad choice when confronted with horrible education policy. Some of them got 20-year sentences.

In a Democracy Now interview, Shani shared that 35 educators either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial after being charged with racketeering under the RICO statutes created to bring down mobsters. Of the 35 charged, 34 were African-American and one was Filipino. At the time, the state estimated that 20% of the exams in the state of Georgia were fraudulent. There were other districts at least as guilty as APS. Furthermore, at the time, cheating was suspected in 40 US states while 15 of them were viewed as having pervasive cheating. The only teachers in America ever criminally charged and put in prison were in Atlanta.

Even more shocking, the state of Georgia knowingly used the fraudulent statewide testing results in its application for a Race To The Top grant. Georgia dishonorably won a $400,000,000 grant.

The Atlanta cheating event was used by black and white elites in Atlanta to fuel the current DPE movement and gentrification. When Robinson was asked where were Atlanta’s progressive black politicians at the time, she replied,

“Atlanta has always been known as “the city too busy to hate,” so it’s all about image. And historically, black and white elites have worked together to decrease any racial tension.”

Professionally run public education is being dismantled in Atlanta. The legacy of 200 years passed down by all our forefathers is being destroyed. Hate is not the correct response but neither is passivity. Democratically run public education is a pillar of Democracy and it is worth fighting for.

Thrive Public Schools Renewal Petition Hearing on Friday

11 Mar

3/11/2019 by T. Ultican

Thrive Public Schools has petitioned the state of California to renew its charter. San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and the San Diego County Office of Education (COE) both recently denied Thrive’s renewal petition. It is the last hope for this politically and financially well connected charter management organization.

The post “Thrive Public Schools All Hat and No Cattle” describes how the state ignored the evidence from SDUSD and the COE when bestowing a charter to Thrive. It also presents the school’s wretched four year record of plummeting test scores, discipline issues and angry parents. The stunningly poor performance by Thrive has reinforced the wisdom of both the county’s and district’s original rational for denying the charter in 2014. That original Thrive charter ends this June.

A PhD who has been working at Thrive as a substitute wrote me about a deep concern. Sharing,

“Dear Mr. Ultican. Good evening. I recently read your Nov. 26 article on Thrive Charter Network. I have read a lot about Thrive over the past six months, and even attended the school board meeting at which the decision to deny the charter was discussed. I am a substitute teacher, working part time while I pursue my teaching credential …. I have completed 17 days (I think about 130 hours) at Thrive’s high school, middle school and elementary school campuses. I am morally outraged by the behavior of Thrive staff, and their denial of education to children. Please let me know if there is anything that you think I can do with my outrage. I feel very discouraged after reading your article. I had assumed that there was a good possibility that the state would refuse to grant them a charter. But it appears they have some leverage in the capital. At the same time, I feel that even if the state does the right thing, Thrive students constitute a special minority that will need extra attention to be reintegrated into a normal school.”

The Thrive renewal petition is Item 19 on the California Board of Education’s March 13-14 agenda and is scheduled after 8:30 AM on Friday the 14th. The Board’s staff recommends that the petition be denied. Stating,

“The TPS petitioner does not meet the renewal criteria and does not present a sound educational program as they do not perform, overall, at least equal to its comparable district schools where the majority of TPS pupils would otherwise attend.

“Additionally, the TPS petition does not include the necessary language for Element 2–Measurable Pupil Outcomes (MPOs).”

Even the charter cheer-leading Advisory Commission on Charter Schools could not get enough votes at their February 5 meeting to recommend for Thrive on their appeal. However, the rumor is that the California Charter School Association is all in on saving Thrive. It is believed that the hearing will be packed with charter supporters.

Virulent Destroy Public Education Movement Rampaging in Texas

3 Mar

By T. Ultican 3/2/2019

Top leaders of the Texas Republican Party have joined with the Chamber of Commerce and other wealthy business groups to undermine democratic control of local schools. Eschewing long held conservative principles of liberty from the tyranny of big government and a reverence for democratic local governance, these odd Republicans are joining with like minded Democrats to arrogate power over public schools to themselves. Wielding new legal tools they designed and an old education funding law, politicians are forcing privatization upon the 1025 independent public school districts in Texas.

The Legal Heist

Legal Privatization Incentives.

Legal Framework Forcing Privatization of Public Education in Texas

In 1989, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that public education was inequitable and ordered the state to remedy the situation. A new school finance system, commonly referred to as ‘Robin Hood,’ required property wealthy districts to help equalize funding with property poor districts. The wealthy districts that provide money are known as Chapter 41 school districts, which is the chapter in the Texas education code where the law exists. The mechanism for taking the money is called “recapture.”

In 1993 there were 34 Chapter 41 school districts sending 130-million recapture dollars. Since then, the State has quit providing its share of school funding which caused the number of schools subject to Robin Hood to increase dramatically. Today, more than 371 school districts qualify as Chapter 41 school districts.

Lori Kirkpatrick a Dallas area school board candidate in 2017 writes an informative blog focused on Texas public education policies. She writes here about charter school funding and recapture,

“I reached out to Chandra Villanueva, school finance expert at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and here’s what she had to say when I asked about the recapture dollar amount for the state of Texas ($2.8 billion) being eerily similar to the charter school budget ($2.7 billion). (Emphasis added)

[Villanueva said] “‘Statute says all the dollars collected by the state through recapture may be used only for foundation school purposes – it does not say anything about property-poor districts. A lot of people believe that recapture doesn’t go to education because it supplants rather than supplements education funding. So I like to point out the connection between recapture and charters for two reasons.

“‘1.       Charter school operations are 100% state funded – and like you pointed out, the funding for charter schools is just slightly under what is collected in recapture, this makes it easy to draw a line to which schools exactly are getting most of those dollars.’ (Emphasis added)

“‘2.       This is probably the most important point, recapture is determined by wealth per student. When a student leaves a traditional ISD for a charter school, the home districts wealth per student goes up – if this happens enough times a district can be pushed into recapture. This is exactly what happened in Houston – charters drained the student population, making the wealth per student of the district fall into recapture territory. If all the charter students were still enrolled in HISD, the district would be entitled to more funding than it is currently paying in recapture. So if you live in a recapture district that has charters you can think of your tax dollars being sent directly to the charter.’” (Emphasis added)

Lori noted that Dallas has 35,000 students in charter schools. The property tax per public school student has increased which increases recapture payments to the state. Money is taken out of the public system and transferred to the privatized system. When this happens, taxpayers lose their democratic control over the schools they are financing.

In 2015, the Texas House of Representatives introduced and passed HB 1842, which is the school district “death penalty” bill. Governor Abbott signed the bill into law that same year. It mandatesintervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years ….” (Emphasis added)

The law says that if a district does not implement an approved plan to turn the school around “the commissioner shall [may] order:

  • appointment of a board of managers to govern the district ….;
  • alternative management of the campus under this section; or
  • closure of the campus.”

Districts that present an approved turnaround plan are designated an “innovation district.” If after five consecutive years of bad test scores at any district campus an “innovation district” would lose its designation and be subject to the above sanctions.

HB 1842 passed by large margins; 26-5 in the senate and 125-18 in the house. Governor Abbott signed this bipartisan legislation requiring districts to be taken over by the state if just one school in the district is labeled “failing” as measured by State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STARR) testing.

It has been known for some time that even good standardized tests are NOT capable of measuring either school or teacher quality. (See evidence here, here, here, here and here.) In 2012, when the current version of the STAAR tests came out, Texas A & M researchers said the reading tests were testing at a level two grades above the students. In 2016, researchers at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, in Belton, Texas confirmed the A & M study. The headline in February’s Texas Monthly asks the obvious, “Are Texas Kids Failing? Or Are the Tests Rigged?

In 2017, Senate Bill 1882 incentivized privatizing schools predominantly in minority neighborhoods. Sarah Becker a Houston parent and school psychologist explains,

“In the spring of 2017, just months before the sanctions of HB1842 were slated to go into effect; the legislature passed Texas Senate Bill 1882, which gave school boards another option for these so-called failing schools. SB1882 encouraged school districts to hand over control of these neighborhood schools to charter operators (referred to as “partnerships”) the year before schools would get ratings for the fifth year. In exchange, the school and its board would get a reprieve from Representative Dutton’s death penalty for two years and, as a bonus, would receive extra funding for every student enrolled in one of these charter-controlled schools.

“With one law the death penalty (1842) and the other law the price of clemency (1882), these two laws now work together to coerce local school boards to be the hand of privatizing their own neighborhood schools.”

Bipartisan Attack on Public Education

Public School Political Privatize Leaders

Texas Politicians Promoting Public School Privatization

Governor Greg Abbott is the first paraplegic governor since George Wallace of Alabama. A tree fell on the then 26-years old future Governor damaging his spinal column. Abbott is a white anti-abortion Catholic married to an educator of Mexican descent.

He was appointed to the Texas Supreme court by former Governor, George W. Bush. After leaving the court he was elected state Attorney General, a position he held for 13-years. He famously or infamously – depending on your position on the separation of church and state – successfully protected the right of Texas to keep its 6 foot tall 3 feet wide granite 10-commandments monument in front of the state capital. The court split 5-4 in Abbott’s favor.

As Attorney General, Abbott brought over 30 suits against the Obama administration. In a 2013 Texas Monthly article he was quoted, “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.” The article went on to report, “… he has gleefully battled perceived federal overreach in matters of environmental regulation, redistricting, and voter ID.”

A Houston Chronicle editorial noted, “… Texas Governor Greg Abbott hasn’t issued any public statements on the withdrawal from the Paris agreement, but he led the charge against Obama-era climate regulations.” Abbott also filed suit against the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care).

The Governor believes that state’s rights are being abused by both the federal executive and legislative branches of government plus the Supreme Court. In 2016, he called for a convention of U.S. states to adopt nine new amendments to the U.S. Constitution limiting the powers of the federal government.

It is shocking that a conservative republican with Abbott’s credentials would sign and champion legislation like HB 1842 taking away the democratic rights of Texas residents to govern their own schools. His Trumpian Tweet sent in January reeks of “Big Brother,”

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.” [HISD is Houston Independent School District]

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick grew up in Maryland with the given name Dan Goeb. He changed his name to Dan Patrick when he moved to Houston. His career as a bomb throwing talk radio personality provided him with the required name recognition to become a successful conservative politician.  Patrick founded the Tea Party caucus in the Texas legislature. He calls Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump the two greatest Presidents of his lifetime. He opposes abortion rights for women.

Patrick has a knack for alienating his fellow legislators. He accused Republican State Senator John Corona of spreading rumors about his marriage. Corona responded,

“Though I have heard rumors regarding your marital status and sexual preferences for a while now, at no time have I told anyone that you are either separated, divorced or gay. As you know, if you truly believed I had said something unflattering, you could have simply asked. I’ve never been shy about sharing my dislike and distrust of you. Put bluntly, I believe you are a snake oil salesman, a narcissist that would say anything to draw attention to himself.”

One of Patrick’s first acts as a State Senator was to introduce legislation lifting the Texas charter school cap. Patrick also champions school vouchers which he calls “the civil rights issue of our time” and he encourages the teaching of creationism. These are radical positions that deliver harm. They violate the establishment clause the US constitution, would force taxpayers to pay for religious schools and will financially devastate public school districts. When did being a radical become a conservative principle?

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was a Dallas Independent School District (DISD) Trustee when picked to be Commissioner by Governor Abbott. Morath’s only education experience is as a substitute teacher in one class for part of one year. When he ran for school board in 2011, he was the first of a new wave of business community PAC supported candidates who now dominate the DISD board. While on the board, Morath discovered a never used Texas law that made privatizing a school district possible and he led a failed effort to do just that in Dallas.

Morath continues a fifteen year period in which Texas has not had an experienced education professional leading its schools. Billionaire businessmen like Eli Broad discount the value of education leaders having deep education knowledge and experience. Broad who established the un-accredited Broad Superintendents academy claims that education leaders without education experience can hire consultants for that.

Morath’s primary agenda is a statewide effort to institute the portfolio school district management model using his System of Great Schools Network program. The portfolio model promotes disruption as a virtue and posits no value for stable neighborhood schools. Under this model, as schools are closed or reconstituted because of poor standardized testing results, the replacement schools are controlled by private concerns. Local citizens’ have their democratic rights purloined in favor of private companies.

Jimmy Don Aycock Republican State Representative from Killen joined with Harold Dutton Democratic State Representative from Houston to create and pass HB 1842, the state school district death penalty law signed by Governor Abbott in 2015.

Paul Bettencourt Republican State Senator from Houston and Jose Menendez Democratic State Senator from San Antonio wrote and passed SB 1882 the “Partnerships” law. Menendez was the lead author. Governor Abbott signed it into law in 2017.

Wealthy Texans and Billionaire Outsiders Finance the Destroy Public Education Agenda

In 2013, the Texas Observer published “Meet the New Money Behind School Reform in Texas.” Author Patrick Michels reported on the launch of Texas for Education Reform (TER) with deep-pocketed donorslike Dick Weekley, Ray Hunt and Doug Foshee who helped the education group raise nearly $1 million for its new political action committee.

By 2016, TER was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on individual state representative and senate seats to defeat pro-public education candidates and replace them with candidates that will vote to cut spending on education. For example, the Texas State Teachers Association reported in January 2016, on two public education supporters – Democratic Representative Mary Gonzalez in House District 75 and Republican Representative Gary VanDeaver in House District 1 – that were targeted. The report said, “So far, TER has contributed almost $300,000 in advertising and other services to Gonzalez’s opponent, former Rep. Chente Quintanilla, and more than $100,000 to VanDeaver’s challenger, former Rep. George Lavender.

Billionaire John Arnold the former Enron trader from Houston is spending heavily to promote the “portfolio model” of education governance. Billionaire Michael Dell of Austin is spending heavily promoting charter schools and education technology. He has also sent $9 million to Arnold’s “portfolio model” agenda. These examples go on and on.

This is not altruistic philanthropic spending. These people are opening new lucrative markets while they reduce their own tax burdens. They are destroying public schools because it is worth billions to them.

This article wraps up a series of articles over the last seven months about the Destroy Public Education movement in Texas. Here are links to the other five posts:

A Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA: The large profits and huge funding behind selling a subpar school system to destroy public education are documented here.

Big Spending on Privatizing Public Schools in San Antonio: How a local business woman and an Eli Broad/Arne Duncan trained superintendent are speeding the privatization of public schools in San Antonio.

Texas Public Schools in Portfolio District Crosshairs: Details about how Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath is driving the privatization of all of the state’s schools.

Texas Hangs Sword of Damocles Over Houston Schools: Describes how the state’s new legal powers are being used to force Houston to privatize schools in minority zip codes.

Dallas Chamber of Commerce Disrupts Dallas Schools: Provides details about how Dallas’s country-club set is pushing the privatization of public schools in that city’s almost exclusively in minority neighborhoods.

Dallas Chamber of Commerce Disrupts Dallas Schools

21 Feb

By T. Ultican 2/20/2019

Since 2012, the business community in Dallas has aggressively asserted control over Dallas Independent School District (DISD). For the first time, running for one of the nine DISD school board positions is an exceedingly expensive proposition. Besides wielding a political war-chest, prominent business leaders are supporting charter schools and advocating for increased hiring of untrained temp teachers from Teach for America (TFA). Money is also dedicated to advancing school vouchers. Democratic local control of public schools in Dallas faces serious threat.

A harbinger of this all out political attack by wealthy Dallas residents living in gated communities came just before the 2012 school board elections. Mike Miles was hired as Superintendent of Schools starting in July 2012. Miles came from a small school district in Colorado Springs, Colorado one year after training at the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. The academy Billionaire Eli Broad founded to train education leaders in his philosophy of school governance.

The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation has contributed $100’s of millions towards privatizing public schools and they have a remarkable record for placing their trainees in market-reform friendly school districts.

One of the documents studied by Broad’s administration students is The Broad Academy School Closure Guide. Broad-trained administrators are famous for; closing public schools, hiring consultants, bad relations with teachers, large technology purchases and saddling school districts with debt. Oklahoma educator and historian, John Thompson, wrote a series of articles documenting the disruptive history of Broad Academy graduates (1, 2, and 3).

Among the first hires Miles made was communications Chief Jennifer Sprague. Dallas magazine noted,

“The 31-year-old had performed the same job for Miles in Colorado Springs, at Harrison School District Two, where she earned $86,652. He brought her to Dallas for $185,000.”

Besides hiring pricey cronies, Miles brought the billionaire spawned reform agenda to Dallas and created discontent throughout the DISD organization. In one famous episode, Miles walked into Billy Earl Dade middle school and decided to fire the principal Michael Jones and ten teachers on the spot. Miles had inadvertently set the school up for failure when he reorganized it according to his “Imagine 2020” plan for closing public schools. The Texas Observer explained, “In closing feeder schools and expanding Dade’s home base, the district mixed rival gangs in Dade’s student body — a chemistry anybody in that part of town would have seen coming and warned against.”

On October 13, 2014, Miles held a 6:30 AM meeting with the reconstituted staff at Dade which was unexpectedly attended by Board Trustee, Bernadette Nutall. She said some faculty had asked her to come. Miles said she was not welcome. Juanita Wallace, outgoing head of the local NAACP and a fierce Miles critic was also there. Miles handled the situation by having Nutall physically removed from the school by three Dallas police officers.

What may have looked like decisive leadership when faced with an unhealthy school and a board member undermining his authority compounded an already huge mistake. Eric Nicholson wrote in the Dallas observer:

“In retrospect, Miles’ swift action last October clearly was a disaster. In the leadership vacuum that followed Jones’ dismissal, which was only partially and temporarily filled by Margarita Garcia, who quit before the end of the year because of health problems, chaos metastasized. The South Dallas community, already deeply wary of Miles and his reforms, coalesced even more firmly against him after watching his officers manhandle Nutall.”

In June, 2015, Miles resigned just weeks after the board voted 6-3 not to fire him but voted 7-2 to issue a “letter of concern.” It was the second attempt to fire Miles in 2 years. Miles was disgruntled over not getting a contract amendment that would immediately pay him the $50,000 per year set aside by the board until 2017.

Miles’s reforms included a new principal evaluation process which led to large turnover. He also instituted a merit pay system for teachers and hired Charles Glover a 29-year-old administrator of the Dallas TFA branch to be Chief Talent Officer in DISD. After just under three years, he had managed to alienate the black and Hispanic communities as well as many experienced teachers and principals.

Miles returned to Colorado where he has founded a charter school.

Self-proclaimed “Reformers” Say they’re Data Driven – Really?

In the forward to her new book After the Education Wars, the business writer Andrea Gabor highlights two key points from Edward Deming’s teachings on management:

“Ordinary employees – not senior management or hired consultants – are in the best position to see the cause-and-effect relationships in each process …. The challenge for management is to tap into that knowledge on a consistent basis and make the knowledge actionable.”

“More controversially, Deming argued, management must also shake up the hierarchy (if not eliminate it entirely), drive fear out of the workplace, and foster intrinsic motivation if it is to make the most of employee potential.”

Merit pay is a Taylorist scheme that appeals to many American business leaders, but also has a long history of employee dissatisfaction and output quality issues. Researchers at Vanderbilt University studied merit pay for teachers and found no significant gains in testing data and in New York researchers documented negative results. Merit pay certainly violates Deming’s core principles.

Lori Kirkpatrick who ran unsuccessfully for the DISD board in 2017 writes a blog that is a treasure trove of district information. She created the graphs below showing the negative impact of merit pay on the DISD teaching corps. In Dallas the merit pay system is called the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI).

TEI Myth Graphs

Experienced Teachers Leaving DISD at Unprecedented Rates

A significant problem is that TEI not only violates Deming’s principles, it is unfair and based on bad science. TEI uses the thoroughly debunked Value Added Measures (VAMs) as a significant part of the evaluation. In 2014, even the American Statistical Association warned against using VAMs to evaluate teachers noting among other observations, “VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

As DISD has hired more untrained temp teachers from TFA and lost many of their most experienced teachers and principals, testing results have declined. In 2011, Dallas joined the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) group known as TUDA districts. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) runs the testing of the now 27 TUDA districts. There are three sets of comparison data from the bi-annual TUDA testing graphed below.

2011 to 2017 Math 8 scale score change

TUDA Math Comparison Data Graphed by the National Assessment of Education Progress

The graphs that follow compare Dallas’s school testing data with that of Albuquerque, Austin, San Diego and the national average for 8th Grade Reading and Mathematics.

NAEP Testing 8th Grade

Eighth grade testing was chosen because they have been in the system for 8 years and will likely be more reflective of the district impact than the other grade available, 4th grade. Albuquerque and San Diego were chosen because they have similar populations to Dallas. Austin was chosen because it is another Texas district. It could be argued that Dallas’s poor performance was caused by the deep cuts in education that Texas implemented in 2011; however, Austin did not see the same kind of steep district wide declines.

Dallas Business Elites Driving Market-based Reform

In 2011, the school board election for three available seats was cancelled because all of the candidates were unopposed. Mike Morath, who Texas Governor Abbott appointed Commissioner of Education in 2015, ran for his first term on the board that year. Even though he was unopposed, Morath’s 2011 required filings (A, B, and C) show a total of $28,890 in campaign contributions including $3,000 from the PAC, Educate Dallas, and $1,000 from the Real Estate Council. He reported $16,687 in campaign spending. The two other unopposed candidates, Nutall and Ranger, reported no campaign contributions or spending in 2011.

A Texas Observer article described how that all changed in 2012. It noted,

“In the recent Dallas school board election, an unprecedented river of cash poured into a handful of campaigns, the lion’s share from donors in downtown, the Park Cities, Preston Hollow and far North Dallas. That money came from affluent people, the majority of whom are white, some of whom must think that sending their own kids to a public school in Dallas is like sending them to the gallows.” (Emphasis added)

The Dallas business PACs, Educate Dallas and Dallas Kids First, began contributing money into school board elections in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Board member Bruce Parrot became their first target. He had opposed a five-year $3 million contract to bring in untrained TFA temp teachers. Parrot was outvoted by a 6-2 margin. The board adopted the TFA contract while making $110 million dollar in funding cuts that induced 700 teachers to retire and dismissed 1,000 support staff.

George Joseph’s 2014 report for In These Times explained:

“Educate Dallas and Dallas Kids First poured resources into his challenger, then-unknown candidate Dan Michiche. The two PACs contributed $20,239.97 and $26,470, respectively, to his campaign—record amounts for a school board race. In total, Michiche raised $54,479.57, a slam-dunk in the face of Parrot’s $950. Unable to compete with this funding, which went into mass negative leafleting and door-to-door campaigning by Dallas Kids First, Parrot was easily defeated.”

Eight of the nine current board members have received lucrative endorsements from Educate Dallas over the last two years.

The money has continued to grow. In 2017, Lori Kirkpatrick raised $14,721.76 during her campaign to become Area 2’s School Board Trustee. Lori’s impressive list of endorsements included; Network for Public Education, former DISD President Ken Zorne, Dallas City Councilman Phillip Kingston, East Dallas Votes, Annie’s List, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, former state legislator Dr. Harryette Ehrhardt, Dallas County Tejano Democrats and the National Education Association. In the general election, Lori came close to winning outright with 49.71% of the vote to incumbent Dustin Marshall’s 47.04%. In the runoff, Marshall received 66% of the vote. His financial support ballooned to an unprecedented $512,085.20. With a 34 to 1 spending advantage, Marshall easily won.

A sample of some of the $25,000 contributors to the business PACs:

Mr. Garrett Boone co-Founded Container Store Inc., in 1978. He serves as a Member of the advisory boards for The Dallas Women’s Foundation and Teach for America. Mr. Boone also has a family foundation that spends generously in support of market-based school reforms. Between 2012 and 2016, he gifted Stand for Children Texas (a dark money political operation) $210,000; Teach for America DC $75,000 and Teach for America Dallas $850,000.

Mr. Bennie M. Bray Co-founded Monarch Capital Partners and serves as its Managing Partner of Monarch’s Dallas Office. He served as Director of Ignite Technologies, Inc.

Mr. Harlan Crow is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Crow Family Holdings. He serves as a Director on several Boards including Crow Holdings, Trammell Crow Residential, Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Ms. Stacy Schusterman serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Samson Energy Company, LLC. Schusterman lives in Tulsa Oklahoma and gives generously to school board candidates supporting charter schools in many districts across America. She is the heir to the Schusterman energy industries.

Education Partnerships are Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Stacey Bailey was an adjunct professor in special education before she started writing full time to defend public education. Because of the sordid history Texas has with special education, she has paid close attention to education issues within the state. In a recent post on her blog, she wrote,

“When partners sign up to take over public schools, the community must do what that business organization wants them to do. Tax dollars will mingle with the donation just like charters.

“Dallas is selling their school district to school partners! From The Dallas Morning News: ‘Dallas ISD Must Not Let Go of Plan to Partner with Private Operators for District Schools.’

“This sounds like a massive overhaul meaning Dallas is about to privatize all of their public schools! Yet it’s presented to the public as a necessary transformation.”

This is not hyperbole. Before becoming Texas’s Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath promoted a home rule scheme to turn the entire district into a privatized charter district. Now, he is administering a new state law (SB1882) that pays districts an extra $1800 per student if they attend a privatized partnership school.

Dallas is Being Fleeced and it’s Time to Throw the Bums Out

Real teachers graduate from college and then spend the next year studying teaching and doing supervised student teaching. These educators are planning to make teaching a career.

TFA temp teachers graduate from college and then spend five-weeks in a TFA summer institute. The vast majority of them are planning to teach for two years while they build their resume for a real career. TFA teachers have become a mainstay of the charter industry.

Charter schools and voucher schools are private institutions paid with public funds. However, elected officials have no control over their governance. These privatized institutions are financed by decreasing the funding per student for the vast majority of students remaining in public school.

Strategies like the portfolio school governance model that Morath is promoting in Texas through his System of Great Schools are anti-democratic. The great public education system that is the foundation of democracy in America is being ruined.

Republicans who undermine local control and the separation of church and state are RINOs. What is their motivation? A few years back, Rupert Murdock noted, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone …” As David Sirota wrote in Salon,

“Stop pretending wealthy CEOs pushing for charter schools are altruistic ‘reformers.’ They’re raking in billions.”

These attacks on public education are attacks on American democracy. This prescient quote was shared recently on Diane Ravitch’s blog, “Education reformer John Dewey famously said, ‘Democracy has to be born again each generation and education is its midwife.”’

A Tribute to the “Ocean Genius” – Walter Munk

13 Feb

The great man, who seemed like he would live forever, died Friday afternoon (February 8, 2019) at the age of 101. The New York Times had dubbed him the “Einstein of the Oceans” an appellation he rejected. He modestly bowed to Einstein’s towering intellect. Virtually unknown outside of scientific circles, Munk’s achievements have touched us all; from creating the science of wave prediction that greatly advantaged the D-Day invasion of 1944 to providing initial research pointing to global warming. A contributor to the Huffington Post, Max Guinn observed, “Following Munk’s accomplishments is a Forrest Gump journey through history.”

Walter Heinrich Munk was born October 19, 1917 in Vienna. It seemed that at home in Austria, he was only interested in skiing and had little interest in school. His banker parents shipped him off to a boarding school in upstate New York. The parents expected him to become a banker, an interest he never developed. They sent him to Columbia University hoping he would straighten out. It seemed to work a little. He focused a bit more scholastically even while running the school’s ski team.

Finally, his mother gave in. For a 2016 interview Munk shared,

“My mother gave me a tidy amount of money and said, ‘Do what you want.’

“I bought a DeSoto convertible, drove to Pasadena and showed up at Caltech. The dean said, ‘Let me pull your file.’ I said there was no file. I was so naive I thought you could go to college wherever you wanted.

“I was told that I could take an entrance exam in a month. I took a room at the corner of Lake and California and, for the first time in my life, really began studying. By some miracle, I passed the exam and became a student at Caltech.”

Later on, Munk fell for a girl and followed her to La Jolla, California where he spent the summer of 1939. While in La Jolla, he landed a job at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) now part of the University of California San Diego (UCSD). That summer job led to Munk becoming the first graduate student at SIO. It was there that he developed a passion for the ocean and spent more than 80-years researching, teaching, discovering and building; never permanently leaving.

The Foundation at Home and Professionally

One of Munk’s greatest achievements came during World War II. With its outbreak, he enlisted in the Army but the Navy claimed him for its research lab on Point Loma. Learning of a planned amphibious landing in North Africa, Munk investigated the conditions and realized that waves there often exceeded the size that allowed safe landings. However, his warnings were ignored, so he enlisted the help of his mentor at SIO, Harald Sverdrup.

Sverdrup was a Norwegian Scientist who became the director of SIO in 1936. It was supposed to be a three year posting but because of WWII, he did not leave until 1948. Sverdrup was famous in the scientific community for his work as the lead scientist on Roald Amundsen’s North Polar expeditions. After he joined in Munk’s concern, the Navy could no longer ignore the issue. Together, they developed the Sverdrup/Munk Theory of Wave Prediction, which soon allowed for the safe landing of troops in North Africa. They had done what no one had done before, used science to predict surf conditions.

Their work is the basis for today’s surf reports which city fathers watch intently when extra high surf is forecast and avid surfers follow on a daily basis.

Munk and Sverdrup

Munk and Harald Sverdrup UCSD File Photo

Max Guinn described their results,

“As part of the war effort, the two established a school for wave prediction at Scripps, and over the next two years, they taught wave prediction to 100 graduates. In June of 1944, the graduates played a critical role in the D-Day landings in Normandy. The landings were originally scheduled for a stormy day, with high waves. Considering the wave predictions, Eisenhower postponed the landings to coincide with a 12 hour period of moderate waves. The Germans believed the sea would remain too rough for an invasion for another few weeks and, as a result, German General Rommel went home for a birthday party for his wife, taking the defenses way down. Equipped with excellent surf forecasting, Allied troops began landing at 3 in the morning on June 6. It was the beginning of the end of World War II.”  

Munk earned a Masters in Geophysics in 1940 from California Institute of Technology and a PhD in Oceanography in 1947 from UCLA.

Munk’s best friend was Roger Revelle. Munk and Revelle cemented their long professional and personal relationship during a 1952 year long research voyage. They first went to the Eniwetok Atoll to monitor the hydrogen bomb test for possible tsunami issues. They didn’t find a tsunami but they did have to strip off their clothes and throw them overboard when they were doused with a radioactive rain. Munk was also at the Bikini Atoll for the 1946 atomic bomb test where he put dye in the lagoons to see where the currents would disperse the radioactive products.

I have twice been invited to the Munk house that he named Seiche (pronounced saysh). A seiche is a standing wave in a body of water, a phenomenon for which Lake Erie is famous. Seiche sits at the top of a canyon overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The backyard is terraced to accommodate five levels of seating for his Folly Garden Theater. Several times a year, the Munk’s open their home for local high school and middle school students to perform the works of William Shakespeare on his stage.

The origins of this multi-million dollar home reflect a different age. In 2017, Lonnie Hewitt of the La Jolla Light interviewed Munk. Hewitt reports,

“In the late 1940s, a group of 19 forward-thinking Scripps Institution of Oceanography colleagues got together and bought 42 acres of Scripps Estates land for $42,000. They designated the canyon a common area, and subdivided the rest.

“‘There was a fateful dinner at Roger Revelle’s, and we all drew lots for the properties,’ Munk said. ‘I was No. 19.’

“He and his late wife, Judith, the artist/architect he met at SIO and married in 1953, were the first to start building.

“‘We had no contractor,’ Munk said. ‘Judy was in charge, and I did all the plumbing and electrical work. And Judy wasn’t just an architect; she knew how to mix cement. We had no money, so we went to the Bank of La Jolla, and asked for a $5,000 loan. The bank manager was ready to turn us down because we had no contractor, but when he came out and saw what we were doing, he gave us the loan.’”

Walter was married to Judith for almost 53-years until she died in 2006. In 2011, he married Mary Coakley his present wife and life companion.

Dr Munk Shakespear_Moment 2

Mary and Walter in Red – Top Level of the Folly Garden Theater – Photo by Ultican

Dave Schwab interviewed Munk for Sdnews.com. In one exchange he asked,

“To what do you attribute your success?

“Munk: ‘I would never have had the career I’ve had without Judith and my second wife, Mary Coakley-Munk. They both played such a significant part in my career, helping me getting work done.’”

History of Achievement

I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Munk a little less than a year ago. I mentioned that I learned of him while reading about the Mohole project when attending high school. Munk immediately started sharing how that project was a failure but important scientific advancements came from it.

The goal of the Mohole project was to set up a deep drilling operation in the ocean where the earth’s crust in thinnest, penetrate the basalt crust and collect a sample of the mantle.

The book Seventy Years of Exploration in Oceanography quotes Dr. Munk,

“By 1961 we were aboard the CUSS I (named for the Continental, Union, Superior, and Shell Oil Companies) drilling off Guadalupe Island in 12,000 feet of water). Willard Bascom was in charge working with Ed Horton and Francois Lampietti. The drilling vessel was continually “underway,” driven by four large out-board propellers to maintain a fixed position relative to three sonic bottom transponders, the first demonstration of “dynamic positioning.” In spite of foul weather the drill penetrated 560 feet of sediment and then a few feet of basalt. John Steinbeck and Fritz Goro were along to record the event for Life magazine. The test was completed on time and within the allotted budget of $1.7 million. When Bascom wired NAS President Detlev Bronk that we had reached basalt, we took it for granted that Mohole was in the bag. Little did we realize that from this moment on the project was doomed.”

For Munk, Revelle and the rest, inventing a technique for dynamic positioning was not a significant problem. Munk had helped develop SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) for detecting German U-boats during WWII. He adapted that knowledge to create a way for keeping a ship located in one spot on the ocean which was the main obstacle preventing deep ocean drilling. The obstacle they could not overcome was Lyndon Johnson giving Brown and Root who had no ocean drilling experience the $50 million contract to drill the Mohole. The money was spent with no results and the project folded.

In 1963, Munk studied waves generated by winter storms in the Southern Hemisphere and traveling thousands of miles throughout the Pacific Ocean. He learned that there was little decay of wave energy as these waves traveled great distances. To trace the path and decay of waves as they propagated northward, he established stations to measure waves from islands and at sea from New Zealand, to the Palmyra Atoll, and on to Alaska. Munk and his family spent nearly the whole of 1963 on American Samoa for this experiment. Walter and Judith Munk collaborated in making the film “Waves Across the Pacific” to document the experiment.

judith-and-walter-20171027

Judith and Walter Munk in 1964 – SIO Photo

Perhaps his biggest achievement was “the sound heard around the world.” This experiment was fundamentally about developing a way of getting a synoptic measurement of ocean temperatures by using sound. It was a major step forward in the study of global warming.

Heard Island

Map Showing Heard Island’s Location Relative to Antarctica

In 1991, Munk traveled to Heard Island in the South Indian Ocean about 3,000 miles from Antarctica to see if sound generated there could be heard in other parts of the world. Gail Galbraith of the New York Times reported,

“Hours before the experiment was to begin, Dr. Munk was awakened by a call from Bermuda. From thousands of miles away, the listening post had already heard the sound before the experiment had begun. As it turned out, the Bermuda post had heard the brief sound check that technicians had made while preparing for the full test.

‘“And that was the best news that I’ve ever heard,’ Dr. Munk said. The Heard Island broadcasts became known as the ‘sound heard around the world.”’

Max Guinn summarized some of Munk’s achievements writing, “He is recognized for groundbreaking discoveries in wave propagation, ocean drilling, tides, currents, worldwide ocean circulation, and even our understanding of why the moon stopped rotating.”

A Beloved Figure

In 2017, Munk turned 100-years old and on that occasion he was celebrated widely by Scripps Institute, UCSD and the city of San Diego. San Diego renamed a portion of La Jolla Shores; Walter Munk Way. At the naming ceremony he said, “It’s going to take a miracle to prevent it from being flooded when it reaches the same age [100].

In an interview with La Jolla Village News, Munk was asked what he wanted for his birthday. He responded,

“The nicest birthday present I could want, numerous letters from students of mine from all over the world saying I’d done something to help them, has already happened. That’s all I could ask for. So I’m very happy.”

Invariably great people have great character that engenders respect from all quarters. That certainly describes what I have learned about Walter Munk who even had a little time for me. I will close by including the following picture that just seems perfect.

Munk and the Dalai Lama

Mary Coakley-Munk, Walter Munk and The Dalai Lama at UCSD in 2017 (SIO-Photo)

Texas Hangs Sword of Damocles Over Houston Schools

3 Feb

When the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board refused to privatize four schools, state takeover of the district became likely. States taking over school districts have an awful track record. Takeovers in Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit and Tennessee have been long running disasters for students, parents, schools and communities. So the idea that Texas will likely seize HISD – a district the Texas Education Agency (TEA) assigned a grade of B on its new A – F grading system – is bizarre.

HISD is the largest school district in the state of Texas and the 7th largest in the United States. The nine HISD Board members are an impressive group whose children attend district schools. Seven of them are products of HISD. They all are college graduates and most earned advanced degrees. Seven of them have both teaching and administrative experience in public schools. Anne Jung was a high school science teacher who earned a master’s in physics at Harvard. Jolanda Jones is a Rhodes Scholar and an NCAA heptathlon champion with a Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston. Wanda Adams was a scholarship winning athlete who attended Kashmere High School which is one of the four schools TEA might shutter. She is an Emmy winning college graduate who has been named to multiple top 50 lists in Houston area plus has served two terms on the Houston city council.

Richard Carranza became HISD superintendent in August of 2016. In March of 2018, he resigned to take a similar position in New York City Schools. With the HISD board’s impressive resumes and the fact that their last top hire was considered the best administrator in America to lead the nation’s largest school district, it was startling to read Governor Greg Abbott’s January 3rd tweet,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

A counter observation based on biographies is that every elected board member in HISD is more qualified to be an education leader than Mike Morath, the guy Abbott appointed Texas Commissioner of Education. They all are more educated with advanced degrees in clinical psychology, physics, law, education leadership etceteras compared to Morath’s bachelors degree in business. The board members have decades of experience working in public schools compared to Morath’s six months as an untrained long term sub teaching a computer science; a class outside of his field of study.

Morath tried to privatize the Dallas Independent School District while a board Trustee. It appears that Abbott might have a similar agenda for the entire state and that is why he selected this unqualified person to lead the state’s schools.

Terrible Education Policy Driven by Benighted Legislation

Takeover Authors

In 2015 Governor Abbott signed HB 1842 into law. It mandates “intervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years ….”

The law mandates that if a district does not implement an approved plan to turn the school around “the commissioner shall [may] order:

  • appointment of a board of managers to govern the district as provided by Section 39.112(b) [repurposing of the campus under this section];
  • alternative management of the campus under this section; or
  • closure of the campus.”

The bill allows districts to present a turnaround plan in which the district could be designated an “innovation district.” If after five consecutive years of bad tests scores at any district campus an “innovation district” would lose its designation and be subject to the above sanctions.

HB 1842 passed by large margins; 26-5 in the senate and 125-18 in the house. It is doubtful that many of the legislators fully understood that they were putting their constituent’s democratic rights in jeopardy when they voted for this bill.

In 2017, Senate Bill 1882 incentivized privatizing schools in minority neighborhoods. Sarah Becker an HISD parent and school psychologist explains,

“In the spring of 2017, just months before the sanctions of HB1842 were slated to go into effect; the legislature passed Texas Senate Bill 1882, which gave school boards another option for these so-called failing schools. SB1882 encouraged school districts to hand over control of these neighborhood schools to charter operators (referred to as “partnerships”) the year before schools would get ratings for the fifth year. In exchange, the school and its board would get a reprieve from Representative Dutton’s death penalty for two years and, as a bonus, would receive extra funding for every student enrolled in one of these charter-controlled schools.

“With one law the death penalty (1842) and the other law the price of clemency (1882), these two laws now work together to coerce local school boards to be the hand of privatizing their own neighborhood schools. One by one, schools are turned over to private, appointed organizations by local politicians that want to save their fledgling political careers, and in turn, these “partnerships” provide cover for conservative leaders that would have a hard time explaining to Texans how their state undermined local control of schools with state-mandated takeovers and closures.”

This combination of laws is based on the faulty premise that school quality can be measured by standardized testing. The famed education scholar Linda Hammond-Darling mentioned last week in an Ohio presentation,

“There’s about a 0.9 correlation between the level of poverty and test scores. So, if the only thing you measure is the absolute test score, then you’re always going to have the high poverty communities at the bottom and then they can be taken over.” (Emphasis added)

A correlation of 1 means it is a certainty and – 1 means it cannot happen. A correlation of 0.5 means there is a mild positive relationship. The 0.9 correlation with family wealth is the only correlation above 0.5 for any of the researched variables such as schools, teachers, sex or race.

In 1998, Noel Wilson wrote a major peer reviewed scholarly paper, “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”. Wilson’s paper basically says that the level of error associated with standardized testing is so high it makes these tests unreliable as evaluative tools.

A year later, James Popham of the UCLA graduate school of education also wrote a peer reviewed paper on testing. In his Education Leadership article based on the paper he concluded,

“Educators should definitely be held accountable. The teaching of a nation’s children is too important to be left unmonitored. But to evaluate educational quality by using the wrong assessment instruments is a subversion of good sense. Although educators need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness, standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.” (Emphasis added)

The science has not changed. Standardized test results will not evaluate a school’s quality but will identify poverty. The new approach in Texas guarantees that parents in minority mostly poor communities will have their democratic rights and public schools taken away. It may not be a racist intent but it certainly brings about a racist outcome. If this were not true at least one school in a majority white affluent neighborhood would be identified as “failing”.

TexasIR4_Correlated_w_RacePoverty2

HISD Parent Advocate Demographic Map of Houston Schools

Failure Demgraphics

Demographic Data from HISD

Houston’s Long Relationship with Destroy Public Education Ideology

Teach For America (TFA) or as my friend Ciedie Aech calls them the “teach-for-a-minute girls” came to Houston in 1991. A TFA teacher is a temporary employee with a bachelor’s degree and five-weeks of summer training from TFA. A new career teacher has a bachelor’s degree, a year of student teaching in conjunction with a year of teacher education classes. The TFA temp will normally leave after 2 years if not before. It would not be unusual for a career teacher to still be at a school 30-years later.

The new career teacher will likely not be confident or competent their first year. Most new teachers find an informal mentor on staff that guides them. The TFA temp normally does not have a clue about how unprepared they are. Because career teachers were so denigrated during their training, TFA teachers are reluctant to ask the advice of a veteran.

To label TFA teachers highly qualified or even qualified is to dissemble.

TFA is another of the destroy-public-education (DPE) organizations that only exists because of billionaire dollars. In her book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider documented that in 1995 TFA was $1.2 million in debt despite receiving a $2 million dollar federal grant.  Founder Wendy Kopp was able to scrape by with four $10 million gifts from the Broad foundation, the Dell foundation, Dan and Doris Fisher (Gap founders), and The Rainwater Charitable Funds. In 2011, the Walton Family gave TFA $49.5 million and since then money from billionaires has continuously poured in; even Houston’s own John Arnold has sent them more than $7 million.

In 1994, two teachers from TFA Houston with no training and three years teaching experience, Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin, founded KIPP charter school in Houston and New York. Schneider noted in Chronicle, “By 2000 Feinberg and Levin were receiving funding from Donald and Doris Fisher.” The Fisher’s co-founded the KIPP foundation where they were joined on the board by Carrie Walton Penner (Walmart heir), Mark Nunnely (Bain Capital) and Reed Hasting (Netflix) among others.

Chris Barbic another Houston TFA teacher with limited experience followed in Feinberg and Levin’s footsteps to founded YES Prep the next year. This charter was seen as miraculous. Gary Rubinstein was a fellow TFA teacher and personal friend of Barbic’s in Houston. He often shoots down miracle claims by charter schools. Gary wrote of Yes Prep,

“In 2010, YES was awarded a million dollars by Oprah Winfrey, in part because of their incredible record of getting 100% of their 12th graders to be accepted into college.  This was before people knew to ask, ‘But what percent of your 9th graders remained in the school to become 12th graders?’”

KIPP which uses a 19th century “no excuses” pedagogy has 25 schools in Houston and YES Prep has grown to 18 schools. Rubinstein concluded the article cited above with:

“So is YES Prep failing its Black students and then abandoning them when it serves YES for them to do so?  I can’t be certain, but the data makes me pretty confident that the answer is YES.”

YES Prep and KIPP are two more DPE organizations that only exist because a group of billionaires dedicated to privatizing public education gave them millions of dollars. It is not because they are superior schools but because they are not public.

The fraudulent “Texas miracle” that led to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the federal takeover of public education came from Houston. Roderick Paige was the HISD Superintendent that rode that “miracle” all the way to the office of United States Secretary of Education.

Paige’s strategy was to give bonuses to school leaders that hit bench marks and fire those that didn’t. Drop out rates plunged and test scores soared. Later in was learned that the “Texas miracle” like all school miracle claims was a fraud. They cooked the books on dropout data and principals raised 10th grade testing scores by holding low scoring 9th graders back and then promoting them to 11th grade the next time they were due to test.

It is close to a consensus conclusion that NCLB was a colossal and damaging failure. Its strategy of test and punish became test and privatize. Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In a 2008 addendum, he wrote of the suspicion that schools were purposely setup for failure:

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

Some Observations

With the HB 1842 and SB 1882, the Texas legislature has created an education code that eerily mirrors NCLB. It has reinstituted the test and punish theory using the same faulty methodology for evaluating schools – standardized testing. Is this the result of ignorance or something far more sinister?

Local Houston billionaire and former Enron trader John Arnold has joined forces with San Francisco billionaire Reed Hastings to privatize America’s schools. They have each pledged $100,000,000 to their new City Fund dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath recently started the System of Great Schools which is a strategy roadmap and toolkit for implementing the portfolio model for school governance, a model that posits disruption and school privatization as good for Texas.

Fewer and fewer schools in a portfolio district are controlled by a vote of the community. I believe in democracy and local control. How do Texas politicians justify undermining democracy and local control? What a strange group of conservatives.

Texas Public Schools in Portfolio District Crosshairs

26 Jan

Radical market theorists are reshaping Texas education governance by instituting the portfolio district school model. It is a scheme promoted by the University of Washington based think tank, Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). To advance this design, the accountability system and justifications for closing public schools is adopted from Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Public Schools. This top down plan is being guided by Mike Morath Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

A quick glance at the CRPE web site reveals they see Texas as a target of opportunity. It states,

“We’re currently working on:

“…

“Analyzing how state education agencies can support local leaders on the portfolio strategy, such as through the Texas Education Agency’s new System of Great Schools Network.”

A few of the benefits that TEA claims for the System of Great Schools (SGS):

  • “Membership in a professional learning community of superintendents and senior staff that come together regularly to build understanding of the SGS strategy, …”
  • “Regular connection points with Commissioner Morath.”
  • “The district increases access to school choice options and helps families identify and attend their best-fit school.”

TEA’s SGS web site offers a complex excel file with a roadmap for implementing SGS strategies.

sgs implementation road map

Image of SGS Roadmap Excel Page Labeled “Top 12 Deliverables”

The “School Performance Framework” hyperlink in the Excel sheet opens Chicago Public School’s “School Quality Ratings Policy (SQRP) Handbook.” Much of the “objective” justification used for closing 50 Chicago schools in one year is in the handbook. Those 50 schools were almost all in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and employed mostly African-American teachers.

Enacting Unproven Agendas like this is not Conservative

On January 20, 2015 Republican Greg Abbott became the 48th Governor of Texas. One of his early decisions was to appoint Mike Morath Commissioner of Education. The very conservative Donna Garner – a Trump supporting retired school teacher and education policy commentator for Education View – was not impressed. She wrote,

“As a conservative, I appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott for the many courageous positions he has taken for Texas; but he really missed it on this one!

“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.”

mike_morath

Mike Morath from his TEA Biography Page

Morath’s appointment continues a more than a decade long period of Texas Education Commissioners lacking proven education training or experience. His education background consists of serving four years as a Trustee for the Dallas Independent School District and teaching an advanced computer science class at his high school alma mater after the previous teacher resigned suddenly. He completed the year.

Morath has referred to himself as a “super-nerd.” In 2015, the Dallas News stated, “Morath, 38, is a numbers whiz who excelled academically, earning his business degree in 2 1/2 years at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.”

Morath started a company that developed a management information system that streamlined federal food programs for low-income families. At age 36, he made enough money selling the company to semi-retire. Dallas Magazine shared,

“His next goal: searching for his special purpose. An evangelical Christian, Morath believed God would lead the way to this discovery.”

The same Dallas Magazine article also reported that his fellow Dallas Trustees found him “an arrogant wonk who won’t listen to others.” They were especially alienated when Morath tried to privatize the entire district using an obscure never used 1995 Texas law authorizing Home Rule Charters. The Texas Observer reported,

“The idea came from Mike Morath, a Dallas ISD trustee since 2011, when he ran unopposed for an open seat. He’s part of the new generation on the school board, an entrepreneur and policy wonk backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Educate Dallas PAC.

“Morath tells the Observer he spotted an off-hand mention of home-rule charters in a news story about another Texas city….  

“Drafting a home-rule charter, he figured, could be just the thing to give Dallas ISD the freedom it needs to make real changes. Morath shared the idea with a handful of local lawyers and businessfolk, and they in turn founded Support Our Public Schools.”

There were several big dollar contributors for Support Our Public Schools which is a 501 C4 organization meaning it is not tax exempt because its main purpose is to promote a political agenda. Only Houston billionaire John Arnold openly admitted giving large sums to the group.

Garner made an interesting observation in her piece denouncing Morath’s appointment. She defined two types of schools:

  • Type 1 Education: More than a century of children educated in democratically run public schools by certificated teachers. They used technology like Big Chief Tablets and pencils to learn reading, writing, mathematics, science, and civics. They participated in physical exercise and team sports. They attended the school in their neighborhood which likely had several generations of history. “Americans became the leaders of the world because of the many scientists, inventors, technicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, writers, historians, and businessmen who used their Type #1 education to elevate themselves to great heights.
  • Type 2 Education: A philosophy of education that opens the door to subjective, digitized curriculum and assessments found in Common Core the Bill Gates financed national education standards pushed by the Obama administration and CSCOPE the Texas attempt to impose standards based scripted lessons on all teachers and schools. It is the same “innovative” school model pushed by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators; their 21st century transformational “visioning” approach to education. An approach that embraces the technology industry’s future ready agenda which supports greedy consultants, lobbyists, and vendors who make a fortune off education’s “Golden Goose” of public dollars.

future-ready-pledge

Promotion for the Future Ready Pledge by the Office of Education Technology

Garner’s article about Mike Morath’s appointment concluded,

“Mike Morath is not the right person for the Texas Commissioner of Education. He will not support whole-heartedly the Type #1 curriculum standards that the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education have worked so hard to adopt.  Morath’s philosophy of education is very closely attuned to that of the Obama administration’s Type #2 Common Core.  I am terribly disappointed in Gov. Abbott’s choice of Mike Morath as the Texas Commissioner of Education.”

Test to Privatize

Standardized-testing is NOT capable of measuring either school or teacher quality. The only strong statistical correlation related to standardized-testing is family wealth. In a paper on the limitations of standardized-testing the non-profit organization FairTest wrote,

“Test validity, experts explain, resides in the inferences drawn from assessment results and the consequences of their uses. Relying solely on scores from one test to determine success or progress in broad areas such as reading or math is likely to lead to incorrect inferences and then to actions that are ineffective or even harmful. For these and other reasons, the standards of the testing profession call for using multiple measures for informing major decisions – as does the ESEA legislation.” (Emphasis Added)

It is not an accident that 100% of schools designated as failures and slated for intervention are in poor communities. Likewise, it is not surprising that there has never been a school in a middle class community designated for closure or other interventions. It is only the schools in poor and almost exclusively minority communities that are slated for state intervention in Texas.

To evaluate a school, information about the accreditation of its teachers and their years of experience would be meaningful. As would information about class sizes, art programs, music programs and physical training. A review of the condition of the facilities would also make sense. Surveying students, teachers and parents would yield actionable information. Evaluating schools on the basis of standardized-testing is indefensible.

In 2012, TEA promulgated a rule that required any school designated a failure five years in a row based on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STARR) testing must undergo state intervention. In 2018, the first 52-schools that require intervention appeared on the states to-do-list.

An example of the interventions to expect comes from San Antonio. The Rivard Report shared,

“One of the schools that received an “improvement required” was Ogden Elementary in SAISD, which now has received a failing grade for five consecutive years. However, because of a partnership SAISD leveraged with Relay Graduate School of Education, state law permits Ogden reprieve from accountability consequences for an additional two years.”

Relay Graduate School of Education is a fraudulent school started by the charter school industry. In 2015, Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the school for Huffington Post:

“For those who are unfamiliar, Relay “Graduate School of Education” was singled out as an innovator by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last November, but it is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First, and it is housed in the Uncommon Schools affiliated North Star Academy. Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.”

The San Antonio Relay Graduate School is led by Dean Annie Hoffman. Prior to joining Relay, Hoffman completed her Masters of Education in Language and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her teaching career at Sherman Elementary in the Houston Independent School District.

Down the road in Houston, people are fighting mad about the threat to turn 10 schools over to a charter management organization to avoid state sanctions. Last spring, the Chronicle reported,

“HISD administrators sought to stave off potential sanctions by giving control over the 10 schools to a charter school operator, Energized For STEM Academy Inc., but district leaders retreated from that recommendation Wednesday. Their decision came less than 24 hours after a raucous school board meeting ended with two arrests and about 100 members of the public, nearly all of whom opposed the charter proposal, temporarily forced out of the administration building.”

“Had HISD trustees voted to surrender control over the schools, all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic student populations in high-poverty neighborhoods, the district could have received a two-year reprieve from any state sanctions.”

Six of the schools with a long track record of low tests scores were able to meet the required standards to have the threat removed. However, four schools still need to score well to ensure the district is not taken over by Mike Morath’s TEA. January 3rd, Governor Abbott tweeted,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

Charles Kuffner weighed in at Off the Kuff. He speculated,

“It should be clear why the state has been reluctant to step in, despite Greg Abbott’s nasty tweet. If the TEA takes over, then the TEA owns all of the problems that HISD is trying to solve. … That’s not their job, and there’s nothing in the track record of past takeovers by state agencies, here and elsewhere, to suggest they’ll do any better at it than HISD has done. There’s a reason why Abbott hasn’t had much to say about this since his Trumpian Twitter moment.

Bigger Money is Driving the Portfolio School District Model

In July of 2018, former Enron trader, John Arnold, joined forces with San Francisco billionaire and Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. They each pledged $100,000,000 to a new non-profit dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. They call it City Fund. Gates and Dell have also contributed to City Fund.

William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado Boulder wrote a short paper “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.” Their basic definition explains,

“Generally speaking, four reform strategies are combined, in varying degrees, in portfolio districts:  (1) performance-based (generally test-based) accountability, (2) school-level de-centralization of management, (3) the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools, and (4) the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools.”

The portfolio model promotes disruption as a virtue and posits no value for stable neighborhood schools. As schools are closed or reconstituted, the new schools are not democratically controlled. For example, the portfolio district in Denver, Colorado has 204 schools but 108 of them are no longer governed by the school board. They are governed either by private charter school companies or non-profit organizations.

texas portfolio model map

Map from the Texas Systems of Great Schools Web Site

Concluding Observations

In 2016, the highest paid Superintendent of Schools in Texas was Mark Henry from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. He received $383,402 to administer a 116,000 student district. At the IDEA charter school chain which has less than 36,000 students, that same year CEO Tom Torkelson made $513,970 and CFO, Wyatt Truscheit received $435,976. Plus, President JoAnn Gama took in $354,484 which is more than all but three public school superintendents in the state of Texas.

It is clear why charter school executives are for them, but data says charters do no better than public schools and are creating havoc with the public education system.

It is not just conservatives who are having issues with privatizing the public education system. Three Democratic Texas legislators, Gina Hinojosa, Mary González and Shawn Thierry reported,

“When charters cherry-pick students, neighborhood schools are left to educate a disproportionate percentage of more challenging children. Neighborhood schools are required by law to enroll all kids, regardless of disciplinary history, special needs or family challenges. Educating children who face more challenges in life is more expensive; the cost falls disproportionately on local public school districts.

“Yet, charters receive more funding from the state per student than 95 percent of all students in Texas. In El Paso, charters receive $1,619 more per student than El Paso ISD. In Austin, charters receive $1,740 more per student than AISD. This funding disparity holds true for many of the largest school districts.

“This lopsided funding model results in increasing funding for charter schools and decreasing it for traditional public schools. In the 2018-2019 biennium, charter schools received $1.46 billion more than the prior biennium, and traditional public schools received $2.68 billion less.

“Ultimately, this parallel system of exclusive schools, funded with increasingly more public money, is often a false promise that results in less access and less funding for many of our kids.”