Faulty Billionaire Financed Education “Study”

9 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/9/2020

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

About Brightbeam

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

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

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

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

Evaluating the “Study”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade 8 Math Gap

Education Achievement Gaps Based on NAEP Data

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

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

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

San Francisco Charter Enrollment Chart

Negative Correlation for Academic Achievement in Charter Schools

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

Table 1: Anaheim Education Achievement Gaps

Compared

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

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

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

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

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

Table 2: Graduation Rates in Oklahoma City

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

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

Selling Out the Black Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Guides for Researchers, Bloggers and Parents

4 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/4/2020

Two new sources provide guidance for researching and decoding education jargon. At the beginning of the year, Teacher College Press published Diane Ravitch’s and Nancy Bailey’s EdSpeak and Doubletalk; A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. Near February’s completion, Garn Press published Mercedes Schneider’s new book, A Practical Guide To Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies , in which Schneider explains the investigative tools and techniques she uses plus provides examples from her own work.

A Practical Guide to Digital Research

Practical Guide

The fifth Network for Public Education (NPE) conference was held in Indianapolis, Indiana during October of 2018. I attended the session “Where did all this Money Come from: Locating and Following the Dark Money Trail” which was presented by Darcie Cimarusti, Andrea Gabor and Mercedes Schneider.

Cimarusti writes a blog called Mother Crusader which opens with the line “Never intended to become a parent advocate until I watched the great schools in my little town come under attack.” Darcie also works part time for NPE where she is half the two person staff and does research. Gabor is a Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College. She is a researcher who currently has ten books listed on Amazon. The MC of the session was the author of Guide to Digital Research, Mercedes Schneider.

The session had three presentations and a question and answer period. Darcie introduced the LittleSis data base and oligrapher. She shared her LittleSis map creation  “Louisiana 2011: Jeb Bush Calls and Billionaire Dollars Follow” and demonstrated its interactive functions. Andre presented “990S: Mining Nonprofit Tax Returns” where she used forms from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to explain how to read them and where to find them. Finally, Mercedes used examples from New York to share how she researches campaign finance data.

In her new book, Mercedes reflects back on that NPE session and notes:

“In preparing for our presentation, Darcie asked me to send her the information I wished to include in my presentation slides.

“In that moment, I thought, ‘To do this justice, my slides would need to be the length of a book. And there’s no time for me to write a book before we present.

“So, the book was on my mind, particularly on one Saturday after the 2018 NPE.”

Schneider also shares, “Thus, the initial idea for this publication stemmed from my desire to equip parents and other community members to investigate the activities and spending of individuals and groups associated with market-based ed reform.”

This is Mercedes Schneider’s fourth book. She is a Louisiana native with secondary education degrees in English, German and guidance counseling.  Mercedes also has a PhD in applied statistics and research. Her three previous books are A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, The Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? and School Choice: The End of Public Education?

The educator, blogger and Forbes commentator Peter Greene when praising Mercedes work and her new book stated,

“… A Practical Guide To Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies is a thorough look at how to go cyberdigging, looking at both the techniques and the tools that can be used to uncover whatever truth is lurking out there. Because she provides plenty of examples and demonstrations of how these tools and techniques have worked for her, Schneider also gives us a sort of greatest hits collection.”

An example of one of those greatest hits Greene alludes to is when she reported in Chronicle of Echoes that Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers only taught full time for one semester. In the new book, she reveals how she found this information and that Weingarten’s legal name is Rhonda Weingarten.

Another hit was how she was able to discover who the anonymous donor to Education Post was. In 2014, the Washington Post introduced the new ed reform organization Education Post and stated its initial funding came from “the Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation and an anonymous donor.” By reviewing the 2014 tax forms of the known donors, she was able to learn that they were actually giving their grants to the Results in Education Foundation which was financing Education Post. Once she found the name of the actual foundation she was able to reveal that Laurene Powell Jobs was the anonymous donor.

Schneider uses many episodes like the two mentioned above to demonstrate how to use different investigative tools and provides practical evidence for how she has applied them. The book is a wonderful extension to that 2018 NPE presentation.

EdSpeak and Doubletalk

EdSpeak

Thanks to the authors and the facilities at Teacher’s College, this is a living book. At the book’s cyber address, there is a link to a 58 page downloadable supplement as well as an updates tab.

Diane Ravitch explains in the introduction that she originally published EdSpeak in 2006, however she concludes:

“In the years since, a sea change has occurred in education and in the vocabulary used to describe plans, policies, pedagogy, and priorities. I realized that EdSpeak had become obsolete because times had changed.”

Diane says she found the perfect collaborator, Nancy Bailey, who is passionate about education and “knew more than I did about the language of the classroom, and who, as an experienced teacher, had firsthand experience of the impact of policy at the school and classroom level.”

Regents’ Professor of Education Emeritus at Arizona State University, David Berliner applauded the book. He writes,

“This glossary provides excellent and accurate definitions of the educational terms common to our times. Novice educators, school board members, and parents of school-age children can all use this book to decode the specialized vocabulary of this profession. In addition, the authors are unapologetically strong believers in our public schools, and it shows, making this book much more valuable. This is a glossary with an attitude, and because of that, I endorse it even more strongly.”

Concerning that last line, Ravitch states,

“This book is more than a glossary. It has a point of view – about public schools, about teachers and teaching, and particularly about the insidious efforts to undermine public schools and the teaching profession.”

The book is arranged into 18 chapters with each chapter arranged alphabetically. The online supplement has another 9 chapters.

How to use this reference book. One might have heard of a group called School Board Partners. A quick look at the books index would send you to page 78 in “Chapter 11: School Reform Groups and Terms, or ‘Money Talk.’” There you would find the description of School Board Partners:

“A group that pretends to be concerned about public schools and communities, but that encourages choice and privatization goals. School Board Partners claims that school boards are failing kids, and school board members need the help of outside mentors so they will make the right decisions to promote change and ‘buck the status quo.’ Their deceptive title is intended to confuse the public and to substitute themselves for existing state and national school board associations, which advocate on behalf of public schools. School Board Partners is currently funded by the same corporate reform groups that fund Education Cities, which include the Arnold, Dell, Gates, Kauffman, and Walton Family Foundations. Its real goal is to dissolve the school board’s connection to its own community and make it part of the privatization movement. Their current targeted cities include Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Stockton.”

In the book supplement there are definitions of terms like “restorative justice” and “backward mapping.” One of my favorite definitions, I found in the supplement was “research shows.” It is defined as,

“A phrase often used to evoke authority and end discussions even when research is equivocal. Parents and other non-educators must be wary of accepting the claim that ‘research shows’ a given outcome unless they receive a clear, impartial summary of the evidence.”

These two books bring light to the corrupt billionaire led privatization of America’s public schools and provide some tools that citizens can use to fight back. As an unapologetic advocate for elected school board led public schools, I hardily recommend these two new publications.

Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free

28 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/28/2020

During final months of 2019, the Education Post was reorganized. In 2014, four billionaires spent $5.5 million to establish a new digital media channel in response to the massive and effective push back against their favored education reforms. Actually, it was more than four billionaires. One of those funders was the Walton Family Foundation made up of multiple billionaires. The channel was called Education Post but its official non-profit name was the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) whose existence seemed to be purposely obscured. Peter Cunningham was listed on tax forms as President of RIEF, but publicly Cunningham was only known as the founding Executive Director of Education Post.

During the first four years of operation, the top contributor to REIF has been Michael Bloomberg. Available tax records show that between 2014 and 2017 he granted it more than $7 million and when added to the sizeable donations by the Waltons, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs Powell, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg the total is almost $20 million. Spending since December 31, 2017 is unknown because there is a lag time of almost two years for non-profit taxes to be filed and made public.

Last year, a new organization called Brightbeam was created. It claims to be an umbrella organization for the Education Post and other sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for RIEF. Two other digital platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free are controlled by Brightbeam and they share some of the same employees. The following LittleSis map shows the new structure of this digital media group dedicated to disrupting public education.

Education Post Reorganized

Billionaire Financed Digital Media Structure Supporting School Privatization

Professor Noliwe Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and was for ten years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. In her recent book, Cutting Schools, she coined the term “segrenomics” – the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation. She also pointed out that “between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment shrank in racially integrated schools, and yet this strategy is no longer discussed, and there is no ‘vocal pro-integration constituency’ pushing for it.” (The book is reviewed here.)

In the book, Rooks went on to state,

“In 1989, the National Business Roundtable urged its state and local affiliates to work more closely with state governments to radically restructure the nation’s public schools. The National Alliance of Business circulated pamphlets instructing CEOs and business groups on how to shape local school policy toward economic restructuring goals. President Reagan and his education secretary, William Bennett, were in full agreement with such sentiments. In regard to public schools, integration was out, business was in.”

The billionaires who created the digital media structure described by the map above subscribe to the philosophy that business should be leading America’s k-12 education. Their neoliberal ideology posits that democratic control of public schools is a problem and that a privatized system based on market competition is superior. That is what this new expanded digital media network is selling.

Protecting the Billionaires’ Assets

By 2014, the bloom was off the rose for the test to privatize movement. Former advocate of standardized testing based reform, Dian Ravitch, had released her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was a sensation which was reinforced by the work of other academics like David Berliner and Gene Glass who published Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. Scholars and teachers across America rose up to fight billionaire led education “reform.”

Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch founded the Network for Public Education (NPE) in 2014 which brought together many pro-public education advocates from across America. Bloggers like Peter Greene and Mercedes Schneider were gaining large followings as were a myriad other teacher bloggers fighting what they viewed as the destruction of their profession and the great American public school system which underpins democratic government. By 2018, Diane Ravitch was proclaiming at the NPE convention, “We are the resistance and we are winning.”

To counter the drubbing the billionaire education disrupters were receiving in cyber space, they created the Education Post. Its results must have been a disappointment. In 2019, they reorganized their effort to purchase influence in the realm of social media.

Peter Cunningham was hired to lead Education Post in 2014. He had been a speech writer and advisor for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. When fellow Chicago politician Barak Obama picked Cunningham’s colleague Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, Cunningham went along and became the department’s Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach. He has a long association with the school choice movement and currently serves on multiple boards associated with the charter industry. His first year’s salary was a little in excess of $200,000.

Cunningham was joined on the first board of RIEF by Emma Bloomberg, Bruce Reed and Kathleen McInerney.  The board appears to be selected as a function giving. That first year, $4,729,146 of the $5,479,146 in grants received by RIEF were from two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. Board member Emma Bloomberg is Michael’s daughter and Kathleen McInerney represents Bloomberg on other boards and works for Bloomberg’s long used accounting firm Geller & Co. Bruce Reed is President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation increased their “gift” to $1,000,000 and a fifth board member was added. Marc Sternberg who leads the foundation’s initiatives to improve K-12 education joined the board. In 2016, Bruce Reed quit the board and was not replaced. In 2017, that board seat was filled by Russlynn Ali, CEO of Laurene Jobs Powell’s XQ Institute. It was the third year Powell had been contributing a million dollars or more.

In 2020, the board has three new faces. The new umbrella organization Brightbeam lists the board of directors. Peter Cunningham and Mark Sternberg are still on the board. Bloomberg, McInery and Ali have been replaced by Arne Duncan, Sydney Chaffee and Lillian Lowery.

The current board is certainly still education disrupter friendly. Mark Sternberg was director of business development at Victory Schools Inc., a private management company for charter schools, in Manhattan in 2001. He had previously earned a B.A. from Princeton in 1995 and was a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx. He subsequently worked for Bloomberg’s New York City Department of Education where he served as senior advisor to the chancellor and the mayor’s office on education policy and strategy. He is a graduate of the Broad Academy class of 2013-2014.

Arne Duncan is widely recognized as the Secretary of Education during most of the Obama Presidency. He was and still is a well known advocate of test based accountability for schools and teachers. He supports school choice. He also went to work for Laurene Jobs Powell at the Emerson Collective as Managing Partner in 2016.

Sydney Chaffee was the controversial US Teacher of the Year selection in 2017.  She is a ninth grade humanities teacher at the Dorchester, Ma. Codman Academy Charter School; a TeachPlus Policy Fellow; and an EdX Policy Fellow. The Gates supported Council of Chief State School Officers select the US Teacher of the Year. When the teachers’ union in Massachusetts refused to congratulate her selection, right wing media was incensed. Chaffee has become very popular with education disrupters as a symbol of privatized education quality.

Lillian Lowery is a graduate of the 2004 Broad Academy. On July 1, 2012 she became Maryland Superintendent of Schools. That was the same month that education technology promoter and now convicted criminal, Dallas Dance, was hired as Superintendent of Baltimore’s public schools. Since leaving Maryland, she has served as CEO of the Ed Tech advocacy group Future Ready Ohio and as vice president for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at Education Trust.

Selling School Privatization

Chris Stewart is the African American CEO leading the umbrella group Brightbeam. The 2014 RIEF tax records show that he was paid $53,723 as “outreach and external affairs director.” In 2015 he established the blog Citizen Education. That same year he was paid $171,643 by RIEF yet claimed on the Citizen Education about page,

No I don’t have funding for this. Yes it costs money to make it happen.”

Stewart’s pay increased to $197,559 in 2016 still as “outreach and external affair director.” In 2017, he was paid $226,417 to be CEO of the “Wayfinder Project.”

Chris also serves as chair of the board at the Students for Education Reform’s Action Network a billionaire financed AstroTurf organization.

On March 25, Chris put his latest public education attack piece on the Project Forever Free blog that he controls. The piece has the farcical title They’re Worried We’ll Realize We Can Teach Our Kids Better at Home splashed across Diane Ravitch’s picture. In this baseless attack article, he shows a tweet by Arthur Camins that is addressed to @DianeRavitch, @teka21bat, @carolburris, @leoniehaimson, @Network4pubEd,  @AnthonyCody, @palan57, @StevenSinger3, @jeffbcdm and the @BadassTeachersA. He then writes, “Friends, is it petty for me to point out that Camins’ Tweet tags a group of nine people who couldn’t be less representative of democratic public education in a pluralistic society?”

It is much worse than petty. It is slanderous and senseless. Two of the addressed entities are organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people. The other seven people are selflessly donating countless hours to protecting students and public education from paid disrupters and data scammers. It is ironic that a man who works for anti-democratic billionaires would make such an outrageous claim, but that is why he is making the big bucks. Stewart is willing to do the bosses bidding.

Brightbeam’s web page lists the following local sites that they are working with to advance the privatization agenda.

  • The Black Wall Street Times Targets the Black community with school choice promotions.
  • Chicago Unheard Appears to be trying to engage Black parents of school age children to promote school choice.
  • CO School Talk – Elevating the education conversation. Colorado site pushing school choice.
  • EdLANTA – Because Georgia’s kids are always on our minds. Aimed at Black parents in Atlanta.
  • Good School Hunting – Because every kid deserves an awesome school. Seems to be a site for Brightbeam employee Erica Sanzi to proselytize for school choice.
  • Great School Voices – The watchdog on quality & equality in education. With an eye on Oakland, California. Site dedicated to selling school choice to the locals.
  • Indy K12 – Education is Power. Just what Indianapolis needs another school choice promoting entity to further destroy that cities already decimated public school system.
  • Kentucky School Talk – Great public schools for every kid in the Bluegrass State. Charter schools are not popular in Kentucky but this group is for choice.
  • New Mexico Education – Your home for all things education in The Land of Enchantment. A pro-charter school and billionaire style reform voice.
  • NJ Left Behind – The real scoop on public schools in the Garden State. Wants more money for New Jersey charter schools.
  • New York School Talk – A real look at our schools in the Big Apple. Another site pushing a variation of the billionaire agenda.
  • Philly’s 7th Ward – Finding solutions for all Philadelphia students. A very pro-charter school site.
  • The Second Line Education Blog A pro-choice blog for New Orleans; supports everything but public schools.
  • Volume & Light – Speaking out for Nashville Schools. It is all in for school choice.

This is clearly a propaganda effort but it is doomed to fail because they are selling a bad product. It is truly sad that these self-centered billionaires are not trying to improve public schools instead of destroying them.

Rick Smith Interview with Thomas Ultican

20 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/20/2020

Rick Smith is a radio talk show host from Pennsylvania. He moderates the Rick Smith Show. On Wednesday (3/18/2020) Rick had me on his two hour show for a 15 minute segment. The central point of our discussion revolved around cyber education which students throughout America are being forced into because of the current pandemic.

 

 

The Vicious Attack on Sweetwater Union High School District

14 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/14/2020

Chula Vista, California

Superintendent Karen Janney and the school board at Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) have a target on their backs. In September 2018, new Chief Financial Officer, Jenny Salkeld, announced there was a $20 million dollar hole in the submitted 2018-2019 school year budget. Salkeld had discovered a long smoldering budget irregularity. Janney immediately reported the budget issue to the County Office of Education and informed the bargaining units with whom she was negotiating about the new uncertainties. Since then, journalists looking for readers and politicians looking for opportunities have robustly slimed the district and its leaders.

A Quadruple Whammy

Besides the mystery of going from a reported $17 million positive budget to an actual $10 million deficit, Janney and the board of trustees had to deal with the states increased pension payment requirements, a hike in special education costs and shrinking enrollment.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the state required school districts to pay 8% of teachers’ salaries to the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). In the just submitted Second Interim budget report, Salkeld revealed that the rate is now 17.1% and will increase to 18.4% in the 2020-2021 school year. In other words, the retirement costs have more than doubled.

This school year, spending on special education has zoomed to $62.5 million and is projected to reach almost $70 million in two years.

In addition, SUHSD is experiencing shrinking enrollment. Between 2014 and today the average daily attendance in the district has dropped from 38,302 to 36,023. That accounts for another $20 million in lost revenue. The drop is almost entirely fueled by the expanding charter school sector. In the 2018-2019 school year, 15% of 7th grade through 12th grade students in the Sweetwater service area were in charter schools; a total of 6,281 students. (Number of students derived by cross referencing county charter school data with state attendance records.)

With all of the turmoil, the fact that SUHSD has 13 high schools and 11 middle schools in excellent facilities with professional leadership and highly skilled educators is often overlooked. According to the state, 23% of the district’s students are English language learners and 60% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. What might surprise outsiders is that the professional educators in Sweetwater love their jobs, their students and their schools. They take great pride in the quality of education being provided and are not disturbed in the least by the learning challenges associated with these kinds of student demographics.

However the current situation has presented an opportunity for demagoguery. Chula Vista Elementary has for several years gotten around the law limiting them to grades K-6 by starting dependent charter schools. They now have five dependent charter schools educating 2,108 students who would otherwise be in SUHSD schools. A recent article in the San Diego Union reports “Chula Vista district leaders say they want to give parents more options for middle school as soon as this July.” They want to steal more students.

Sweetwater 2018 Budgets Compared

Comparing the June 2018 Budget with the Revised October 2018 Budget

Is it Time to Replace Karen Janney?

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. On June 8, 2015 the board selected Karen Janney to be the new permanent Superintendent of the district.

Janney was born and raised in the district. She began teaching in SUHSD in 1978 and soon became an administrator. When Jesus Gandara was appointed Superintendent in 2006, Janney was serving as Assistant Superintendent of schools. By 2009, she had completed her doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration at San Diego State University (SDSU) and had been forced out of the SUHSD by Superintendent Gandara.

Janney had many friends in the district who were excited by her selection as the new superintendent. I was working at Mar Vista High School at the time and vividly recall how two staff members that were taking her education leadership course at SDSU were absolutely thrilled. I was OK with her selection but had some unfounded reservations that I kept to myself.

I soon became troubled by three different Janney agendas. I was bothered when she found funding to buy tee-shirts for all staff. The shirts had “Sweetwater Union High School District Putting Students First” emblazoned across the front. Though not mandated, there was pressure applied to wear these corporate styled promotional tee-shirts on certain days. It reminded me of the corporate approach to leadership employed by large charter school chains.

IMG_20200312_125802

Corporate Type of Promotion Foisted on SUHSD Teachers

A second and more troubling policy change came a few months into her tenure. Janney announced that Sweetwater was joining the Core Districts. Originally conceived as an organization for leaders in urban school districts to share strategies, CORE gained notoriety when its eight districts led by John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified made a legally questionable side deal with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They agreed to evaluate teachers using testing data for a chance at Race to the Top grants. Today, CORE is offering to conduct school evaluations for California districts using the residual-gain growth model as an alternative to the California Department of Education evaluation method.

Worse – in 2017, Janney scrapped the district’s expensive I-pad program and replaced it with another Ed Tech industry scheme for putting students at glowing screens. She purchased laptop computers for all students and staff. She had succumbed to the allure of education technology and its associated bad pedagogy. Janney also signed the Future Ready pledge making SUHSD a target for education technology salesmen.

Since the budget crisis began, it has become apparent that Janney is incapable of creating a good working relationship with the County Office of Education (COE). It may not be all her fault. She has been careful to legally comply with the COE but has not developed any visible cooperative relationships.

Superintendents are in charge. School boards only approve or disapprove of the agenda set before them by the Superintendent. From the beginning of her administration, board members, union leaders and community members recommended that she replace the financial department’s leadership. Janney refused and turned away calls in 2015 for a forensic audit of the district’s finances. She was not willing to accept the almost $2 million dollar price tag. These two decisions are central to the financial situation the district is in today. Many people were predicting financial issues would eventually be revealed.

When the crisis first manifested in September 2018, trustees and others encouraged Janney to utilize existing expertise within the district to run a messaging campaign making sure the district’s side of the story was being told. Janney chose instead to leave existing communications director, Manny Rubio, as the sole district spokesperson. During the first two months, there was no public response to the crisis by SUHSD. Rubio was content to wait and react to media questioning.

As the hidden $20 million dollar problem and growing structural issues created an urgent need for budget cuts, Janney made another critical error. Under her leadership the district’s central office staff has doubled. This is where cuts should be expected but Janney has rejected most cuts to her staff. To successfully solve the crisis she needs the cooperation of the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA – the teacher union), however, cutting teachers before district staff is undermining collaboration.

Union Chart of Sweetwater Staffing

An SEA Flyer for the March 10 School Board Meeting

FCMAT is a QUANGO and that’s Not Good

The Financial Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) was summoned to Sweetwater to look at the budget. After a three day deep dive into SUHSD finances, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine delivered a report and some damning words. He said that 302 entries that made the district finances look better were not well documented. He concluded, “That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up.” He also suggested the district was in danger of a state takeover.

FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT.  It is a QUANGO which Roland Watson describes as “a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization.” It is a neo-liberal construct common in the UK. Those of short duration are sometime called task forces; they are set up to look at an issue, report their recommendations and then disband. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, they have developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

It is eerie how closely the issue in SUHSD echoes the 2003 events in Oakland, California. In 2000, the School Board appointed Dennis Chaconas Superintendent over the objection of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who had pushed a city hall official for the superintendent’s post. In 2003, Education Next Reported, “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”

Chaconas wanted a waiver from the state to allow use of existing construction funds to temporarily pay off the deficit. Instead State Schools’ Superintendent Jack O’Connell and influential Democratic politicians like State Senator Don Perata and Mayor Jerry Brown were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt. Through apparent complicity with FCMAT, a state takeover of the district came about which gave Broad trained administrator Randolph Ward complete control.

The problem with a QUANGO is they carry out the political agenda of whoever is in power. An article in the Black Agenda Report stated,

“FCMAT did “hit” jobs for anyone willing to pay. Brown paid Tom Henry to prevent Oakland from solving its fiscal problem. FCMAT lobbied the State Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the former Democratic Assemblyman from Alameda, to rule that Oakland’s plan to borrow construction funds was a violation of state and local law.” (Tom Henry was FCMAT CEO)

FCMAT is still draining money from Oakland. Former Oakland School District Public Information Officer, Ken Epstein writes,

“State appropriation for FCMAT in 2018-19 was about $6.3 million, plus the fees school districts are required to pay for the “aid” provided by FCMAT staff. This past school year, the district paid FCMAT and the county $1.4 million to oversee OUSD.”

“… The district loan payments are $6 million a year until 2026. The $100 million loan was spent unilaterally by the state Receiver Ward with no input from the community.”

In December 2018, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine accused SUHSD of the felonious offense of covering up bad financial information with no evidence. At the same time his team moved in to perform a forensic audit of Sweetwater’s finances. To this date no evidence of criminal malfeasance has been presented and no forensic audit has been conferred.

That has not stopped Will Huntsberry and the Voice of San Diego from running banner headlines like “State Investigators Say There’s Evidence of a Financial ‘Cover-Up’ in Sweetwater” and linking to these allegations repeatedly throughout the last year.

Another Huntsberry headline claims, “Docs, Interviews Show Sweetwater Officials Ignored Budget Warnings.” This article which Huntsberry repeatedly linked in latter reports says one unnamed employee went to Director of Finance Doug Martens and CFO Karen Michel to raise concerns. Huntsberry says both of them told the employee not to worry about it. Martens and Michel resigned from Sweetwater after the June 2018 budget was submitted. If there were legal or ethical problems with financial reports, they are the main suspects. Technically, the report is not false but it is purposefully misleading and sensationalized.

A Final Observation

I lived through the three superintendents’ tenures of Brand twice and Gandara once. They were perverse and unethical. At the same time, many Trustees serving on the board appeared to represent the construction industry more than parents, students or taxpayers. The present board and superintendent might not be perfect, but I do not believe they are corrupt. That is important.

At this point in time, billionaires throughout America are openly hostile toward public education including US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Many politicians who take money from them would be happy to facilitate the state taking over our school districts. It is in the best interest of the entire Sweetwater family to close ranks and solve this crisis before outside forces take advantage.

 

 

The City Fund Spending Prolifically to Privatize Public Education

2 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/2/2020

The City Fund has joined the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) in the upper echelon of spending to privatize public education. (Gates is in a spending zone of his own.)  City Fund grants are of the same magnitude as CZI’s and approximately half the size as those from the Walton foundation. Since its establishment in July, 2018, City Fund reports issuing $110 million in large grants defined as more than $200,000; smaller grants not accounted for. Founders John Arnold and Reed Hastings have also provided the associated political action group, Public School Allies, with $15 million.

Reorganizing and Retooling the Attack on Public Schools

Little SiS City Fund Map

Reorganizing the Attack Little Sis Map

On the ides of March (2018), the Indy Star reported that David Harris the CEO of Mind Trust in Indianapolis was leaving to join a new national organization. Since Julius Caesar’s assassination, events linked to the ides of March are often viewed with alarm. This event portended a reorganized attack on public education and a new billionaire financed entity dedicated to establishing the portfolio model of public school management throughout America.

Until February of 2020, the secretive City Fund did not even have a web site. On July 31, 2018, City Fund Managing Partner, Neerav Kingsland, took to his blog and made public The City Fund – a new non-profit – and named its founding staff. He also arranged for a small group interview with The 74. Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat wrote an introductory piece called With big names and $200 million, a new group is forming to push for the ‘portfolio model.’” In December 2018, Barnum reported that The City Fund was starting an associated political action organization called Public School Allies. Since those few 2018 articles, The City Fund has operated in the dark.

This February they finally launched a web site and made available some accounting for their spending over the last year and a half. Because City Fund is a non-profit organization, they must soon file tax documents that will reveal in even more detail their spending and organizational structure. Their new transparency is apparently related to the imminent non-profit tax reporting requirements.

The Little SiS map above outlines some for the 2018 reorganization for the coming relentless attack on democratically run public schools. There were changes at The Mind Trust. It was co-founded in 2006 by Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and the youthful lawyer he chose as his education guy, David Harris. It became the prototype corporate education reform local organization. In 2010, Harris and Mind Trust Vice President, Ethan Gray founded the Cities of Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) which became Education Cities in 2014 after its disaster in Kansas City. This organization was designed to scale the Indianapolis methods of school privatization nationally.

In the 2018 reorganization, Mind Trust continued under new leadership and Education Cities was divided into two new school choice promoting organizations; School Board Partners and Community Engagement Partners. City Fund gave both new organizations $250,000 in seed money. Two lawyers, David Harris and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, left Mind Trust to become partners at City Fund. To insure Mind Trust’s continued success as an anti-democratic school privatizing organization, City Fund provided the new leadership with $18,000,000.

School Board Partners is an organization looking to co-opt elected school board members into furthering the portfolio model of education reform. They claim to offer training for school board members however every state requires school board members to go through training provided by the state. Community Engagement Partners purpose is continuing Education City’s support for local organizations that are working to privatize public education and instituting Betsy DeVos’s school choice agenda.

Education Cities CEO Ethan Gray became a Partner at The City Fund. Gray’s Director of Finance and Operations, Kevin Leslie, became Director of Grants and Operations at the City Fund. Education Cities Managing Partner Carrie Douglass became founding leader of School Board Education Partners. Senior Fellow Charles MacDonald is now Executive Director of Community Engagement Partners (CEP) and Associate Partner Rebecca Weinberg Jones became CEP Deputy Director.

Neerav Kingsland worked at both Arnold Ventures and The Hastings Fund before becoming Managing Partner of City Fund. He was also a board member of the California Charter Schools Association. Chris Barbic, the co-founder of YES Prep, worked at Arnold Ventures after a disastrous tenure leading Tennessee’s turnaround schools. He became a partner at City Fund in 2018. Noor Iqbal worked at Arnold Ventures and then for about a month at Mind Trust before becoming the Chief of Staff for City Fund. Ken Bubp worked first at Mind Trust, then Arnold Ventures and is now a Partner at City Fund.

Public School Allies

Founding City Fund staff member Gary Borden is no longer on the team, but he really is. Borden is now Managing Director of Public School Allies the 501 C4 organization established by City Fund to administer their political influence campaign. A lawyer by profession, Borden holds a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, majoring in economics and international business, and JD from Georgetown University. Before taking on Public School Allies, Borden was executive director of California Charter Schools Association Advocates (CCSA Advocates), which is CCSA’s political influence organization. Borden lives in Oakland, California.

For last November’s elections in Louisiana, Borden sent $1,500,000 to Louisiana Federation of Children which also received large contributions from California billionaire William Oberndorf plus Arkansas billionaires Alice and Jim Walton. These funds were used for independent expenditures supporting choice friendly candidates; five running for the state school board and 20 vying for the state legislature.

Campaign Spending by PSA

Clips from Campaign Reports in Newark, Camden and Saint Louis

In the spring of 2019, Borden sent $60,000 to the Newark group Great Schools for All PAC in support of the charter friendly school board candidates of the Moving Newark Forward slate. All three won handily, beating out a slate that was more skeptical of charter schools that had less than $10,000 to spend. Chalkbeat reports, “According to Borden, Public School Allies has also given $25,000 to New Jersey’s Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, as well as $1,000 each to New Jersey senate president Steve Sweeney and state assembly member Eliana Pintor Marin, both Democrats.”

In the fall of 2019, for the first time since 2013 voters in Camden, New Jersey were selecting three school board members, but only for an advisory role. Still, Borden sent $296,901 to a group in Camden, New Jersey called Campaign for Great Camden Schools to support three school board candidates; Troy Still, Nyemah Gillespie, and Falio Leyba-Martinez.   Gillespie and Leyba-Martinez won but Still came in forth behind Elton Curtis who bested Still 1683 to 1610 votes.

In the spring of 2019, Saint Louis had just ended a lengthy state school takeover and two school board seats were up for election. Leadership for Education Equity was supporting former Teach For America (TFA) corps member Tracee Miller both monetarily and with campaign services for one of the two open seats. The other TFA corps member running in the election was Adam Layne. Layne had only gathered $155 in campaign contributions when Borden gave the Civic PAC $20,000 for independent expenditures in support of Layne. Of the seven candidates running, Miller and Layne appeared least qualified but with the outside funding they won the two seats.

The fall of 2019 also saw a special election for Atlanta’s school board district 2. The winning candidate Aretta Baldon, a KIPP charter school parent and founding member of the parent group Atlanta Thrive, received $1,500 from Public School Allies. The campaign filing incorrectly lists the donor as “Campaign for Great Public Schools” which was the original name of Public School Allies.

Developing the Privatization Infrastructure

City Fund has spent large amounts of money developing local organizations to promote implementation of the portfolio model of public education management. The portfolio model 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.

Not only is City Fund supporting these organizations with large grants they are embedding City Fund Partners on the Boards of these local non-profit organizations. As stated above, Mind Trust in Indianapolis received an $18,000,000 grant and City Fund Partner David Harris will remain on the Mind Trust board. Harris is also on the board of School Education Partners in San Antonio, Texas keeping an eye on the $4,800,000 investment there.

Kevin Huffman began his education career as a TFA corps member in Huston Texas; he became a lawyer, married Michelle Rhee, and was an executive at TFA. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam named Huffman Commissioner of education in 2011. Today, he is a Partner at City Fund and sits on the boards of City Fund grantees Memphis Education fund (granted $5,000,000) and RedefinED Atlanta (granted $2,750,000).

City Fund Partner, Ken Bubp, sits on the board of New Schools for Baton Rouge which received a grant for $13,487,500.

RootEd the former Blue Schools in Denver, Colorado was given a $21,000,000 grant without selecting a City Fund Partner for their board.

In Oakland California, four groups received a total $6,091,666. $4,250,000 of that total went to Educate 78 which has long been funded by Reed Hastings.

The Silicon Schools Fund was given two grants; $666,666 for operations in Oakland, California and $900,000 for operations in Stockton, California.

City Fund provided money to TFA, Relay Graduate School and several charter school chains including grants totaling $6,735,000 to three KIPP schools.

They sent the University of Washington Foundation $875,000 for the benefit of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, the originators and steadfast promoters of the portfolio model of public education.

What is Driving Arnold and Hastings?

In 1990, the Brookings Institute published Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools co-written by John Chubb and Terry Moe. That highly publicized book gave great momentum to school privatization. Moe and Chubb called for ending locally elected school boards claiming that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

In a December speech, Reed Hastings said,

“Let’s year by year expand the nonprofit school sector. We know the school district is probably not going to like it, but we’re not against them. We’re for good schools, period. If there’s a very high-performing school district school, let’s keep it. But the low-performing school district public school — let’s have a nonprofit public school take it over.”

It looks like Hastings and Arnold have a blind belief in business and disrespect the public sector. These two billionaires are victims of the bad ideology Chubb and Moe promoted. Somehow, they succumbed to the belief that democracy is bad and must be replaced by corporate entities.

Their organization constantly claims that charter schools outperform public schools. However, those claims are invariably based on non-peer reviewed papers produced by organizations they and other “deformers” financially support. Standardized testing results have a long and now well documented history of misuse and obfuscation.

The latest CREDO study from Stanford University is exactly that kind of questionable study. It is based on Education Growth models which are not reliable and their study has never been submitted for peer review. This kind of terrible evidence should not be accepted as a reason to destroy America’s public education system. We should not allow profiteering private companies to assume the responsibility for educating America’s youth. However, that is exactly what the billionaires who founded City Fund are selling.

Twitter: @tultican

The Dallas Model Episode 2: Who is Behind the Corporate Education Reform Agenda in Dallas

24 Feb