Authentic Education Reform Based on Diversity Research

7 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/7/2021

“Dedicated with admiration and respect to public school teachers who opt-out of commercial standardized tests.”

These are the words of dedication for Garn Press’s new book in their “Woman Scholars Series,” Diversity Research in Action. In this book, lengthy excerpts from published research by three PhD’s in education Anne Haas Dyson, Denny Taylor and Catherine Compton-Lilly are introduced and woven together by a forth doctorate of education Bobbie Kabuto. It seems like decades since this kind of authentic thinking about how to improve education and equity in our schools has been widely shared.

On a personal note, I began my masters of education program in 2001 and found the kind of pedagogy being advocated by these women very appealing. Unfortunately, that was precisely at the time when Ted Kennedy and George Bush teamed up to smoother it. It was obvious to me that we needed to meet our students at whatever attainment level they had and begin there. Students are not standard so it made no sense to follow some standards arrangement when teaching them.

Most educators found teaching to the standards and administering testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind act – the 2002 rewrite of the US federal education law – heartbreaking. In my remedial high school algebra classes, students were learning but just not fast enough. Instead of being encouraged to continue growing, they were labeled failures.

Building Biographic Literature Profiles

At a time when the president of the United States, George H. W. Bush, and the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, joined with CEO’s like IBM’s Louis Gerstner to call for education standards, Denny Taylor was conducting research which showed how foolhardy they were.

Hundreds of students, dozens of teachers and administrators participated in Taylor’s “Biographic Literacy Profiles Project” from 1989 – 1991. Essentially, she turned kindergarten thru third grade teachers into ethnographers studying their students and how they made sense of literary learning. They collected into portfolios every scrap of paper available that showed how students were using symbols, drawings and invented writing methods to communicate. They added to these portfolios notes describing what the students were doing, what kind of growth they were exhibiting and how they were successful.

Taylor wrote,

“…, while I would rather have the child’s production than some simplistic (asinine is probably a better descriptor) ‘text’ copied from the board, the child’s writing without notes written by the teacher still only provides a part of the ‘picture.’ Portfolios are not enough. To understand how individual children actively engage in the reconstruction of the functions, uses, and forms of written language we need to observe them at work.” (p 117)

Taylor published the findings of the “Biographic Literature Profiles” under the title Teaching Without Testing.” The profiles show how unique each student is and therefore, how useless education standards and testing are.

“They leave teachers and administrators with no alternative but to teach to the test. Children’s lives are altered, drilled, and skilled – the natural rhythm of their learning is changed to a solemn beat.” (p 150)

One of the school principals participating in the project noted,

“Change should be teacher initiated, teacher implemented, and teacher controlled. But teachers don’t have the power.” (p 140)

Over the last thirty years this has persisted. Peter Greene a Forbes commentator and decades-long educator tweeted.

Permeable Curriculum

In introducing this section, Bobbie Kabuto states,

“Curriculum is the heart and soul of educational systems, and it is in jeopardy of a coup d’état by corporate and political forces. It has not always been this way. As a teacher in the mid 1990s, I knew a time when money was invested in the professional development of teachers rather in than in high-stakes testing.”

Here, Professor Anne Hass Dyson takes the reader through negotiating a permeable curriculum and why it is required. Often teacher world and student world require interplay between children’s language and experience and that of the teacher. The distance between the two is exacerbated by diverse sociocultural backgrounds. Teachers and students do feel disconnected. Dyson states,

“On the one hand, we must allow – indeed, support – the embedding of written language in children’s social worlds, so that they find it a useful symbolic tool (a suggestion made by educators as separated in time and space as Ashton-Warner, Freire, and Vygotsky). But, on the other hand, we must also help children expand and negotiate among the sociocultural worlds – the dialogues – in which they participate.” (p 205)

It requires the educator to deeply understand the student’s home culture and what children are currently fascinated by in order to design curriculum that meets their needs.

Habitus and Chronotype

Researcher Catherine Compton-Lilly’s research is focused on habitus and chronotype. Habitus explains the complex interactions between culture, social structures, and individual agency. In other words what are the environmental factors linking to the way a student talks, acts and believes. These are the factors crucial to the development of cultural capital. Chronotype literally means time-space. Compton-Lilly applied the chronotype motifs from literature to motifs in literacy and schooling.

Compton-Lilly observes,

“Significantly, expanded notions of time invite educators and scholars to think about inequity ‘because time is largely taken for granted and therefore invisible, the social relation of time can continue to maintain existing inequalities and create new ones in the globally constituted world.’” (p 311)

She also shared,

“As Sorokin (1943) argued ‘Observation shows that persons equally old according to the physical clock are physiologically at quite different stages of development.” Yet there are areas in educational research that attempt to normalize development, create age- and grade- level expectations, and require students to make adequate yearly progress.”

Top flight education scholars like the authors of Diversity Research in Action are why billionaires are funding non-university based teacher development programs like the academically inferior Teach For America spinoff TNTP and the late Eli Broad’s superintendents’ academy. They know that authentic professional educators oppose their uninformed theories of education and disruption of public schools.

If you are interested in a deeper perspective on teaching and learning, I recommend this book.

Billionaire Sponsored Edtech Sales Pitch

29 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/29/2021

Laurene Powell Jobs and Amplify Education are hosting a Virtual Summit which is what they’re calling this May’s sales event. Jobs is very confident that her billions qualify her to shape education policy. In her drive to privatize public education, she has accumulated and created several pro-edtech and anti-teacher organizations. She also provides leadership and money to other billionaire driven organizations promoting education technology while simultaneously denigrating public schools.

When Laurene’s husband, Steve Jobs, died in 2011 she inherited the rest of the billions the couple had derived from the company Steve founded, Apple Inc. Since then, her fortune has grown to more than $30 billion. Fundamentally, Jobs only qualification for shaping national education policy derives from her marrying the right guy.

In 2016, Powell Jobs’ sent Hillary Clinton four uninformed education policy positions:

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

Some Laurene Powell Jobs Connections Mapped in LittleSis

The LittleSis map above has a hyperlink to the original in the caption. Shown here is a minimal display of Jobs’ connections within the movement to privatize and monetize public education. However, every line and name is hyperlinked on the original map to a large trove of information in the LittleSis data base.

The point of the map is that Jobs is the owner of Amplify through her non-profit organization, Emerson Collective.

The Amplify “Virtual Summit”

The May sales event was promoted in the Education Week Advertiser with the title “Reading Reimagined: Uncovering the Science Behind Personalized Learning.” All but one of the presenters at the daylong affair is an Amplify employee. They will emphasize three points:

  1. “The Science of Reading in personalized learning.”
  2. “What to look for in a personalized learning program.”
  3. “How to leverage COVID-19 relief stimulus funding to combat instructional loss.”

Russ Walsh is a professional educator and blogger. Recently (4/26/2021), He began an article about the science of reading with,

“Call me crazy, but when I learned I had cancer a few years ago, I did not immediately consult a journalist. Instead I chose to see an oncologist. When COVID broke out, I threw in my lot with Dr. Fauci and other infectious disease scientists, instead of a former reality TV star who suggested I inject bleach. And so, when I want advice on reading instruction, I avoid the journalists, the parent lobbying groups, the reading program sales reps, and the agenda driven pseudo-education organizations, and I look to the experts.”

The professionals Russ pointed to were Peter Johnston and Deborah Scanlon of the University at Albany who have debunked the Science of Reading (SOR) in a new report. Russ quotes them as stating,

“There is no one right way to teach reading. Student’s difficulties are unique to the individual students. Better to assume that the instruction we are providing is not meeting the student’s needs and adjust accordingly, than to focus on one instructional approach.”

Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University has also been out spoken in his scorn for the science of reading ideology.

In a previous post, I defined the nebulous term personalized learning:

‘“Personalized Learning” is a euphemistic term that indicates lessons delivered on a digital device. These lessons are often organized with a playlist and come with a claim of using artificial intelligence to tailor the lessons to the recipient. The scheme is related to competency base education (CBE).”

For five decades, the CBE scheme, operating under several different names, has posited that drilling small skills for mastery is the best way to teach. It has not worked yet.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.”

Wireless Generation to Amplify

Greg Gunn a former associate of the Carlyle Group who had earned a Masters of Electrical Engineering from MIT joined with Larry Berger to found Wireless Generation. Berger was a graduate of Yale University with a BA and had been a White House fellow working on Educational Technology at NASA during the Clinton administration.

In 2010, News Corporation paid $360 million dollars to acquire Wireless Generation and renamed it Amplify Education, Inc.

By August of 2015, after spectacular failures in North Carolina, News Corporation announced it was exiting the education business. The corporation took a $371 million dollar right off to get out of the digital curriculum business. The next month, News Corporation announced it had sold Amplify to members of its staff. In the deal orchestrated by Joel Klein, he would remain as a board member and Larry Berger would assume leadership of the company.

It was soon learned that the real buyer of Amplify was Laurene Powell Jobs. Larry Berger is still leading the company.

Why Tax Billionaires Out of Existence

22 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/22/2021

Twenty years of studying education policy, politics and practices has been awakening. Seeing billionaires inflict their often misguided and unpopular beliefs on our nation’s public schools has made it clear how undemocratic and dangerous extreme wealth is. They have established voucher programs routinely sending taxpayer money to religious schools even though these programs have lost decisively whenever submitted to voters. In her book Slaying Goliath, Diane Ravitch labeled these 0.1% of Americans as disrupters. She asked and answered the question “what do disrupters want?” They want:

  • Inexperienced teachers with little or no training from organizations like Teach For America.
  • To replace teachers with machine teaching (“blended learning” – “personalized learning”).
  • To move fast and break things including school systems, historic schools and communities.
  • To eliminate local democratic control over schools.
  • To eliminate teacher tenure and seniority rights.
  • To eliminate teacher defined benefit pensions.
  • To eliminate teachers unions.
  • To evaluate teachers and schools with standardized test scores.
  • To lower taxes and reduce spending on education.

Controlling the Political Process

In 2018, the Network for Public Education (NPE) produced a masterful report detailing how school board elections are being stolen from local residents. In the introduction to Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools,” the authors state, “This report provides some insight into how the very wealthy insert themselves into local elections through direct contributions, Independent Expenditure Committees and even non-profit organizations.”

The Billionaires Cited in “Hijacked by Billionaires”

In my post-election analysis of three elections, School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” I show that billionaires Alice Walton of Bentonville, Arkasas, Michael Bloomberg of New York, New York and Stacy Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the school board races in Oakland, California and Indianapolis, Indiana.

In that same election, the spending in Los Angeles and for California state offices was enormous. Through a combination of direct contributions and political action committees, seven billionaires put more than $14,000,000 into the 2020 election. The bulk of it went into the Los Angeles school board election with over $1,000,000 going to state assembly and senate races plus more than $1,000,000 went into five county board of education elections.

The Path of Billionaire Spending in California’s 2020 General Election

Similar election spending went on in New Orleans, Camden and many other jurisdictions mainly through Public School Allies the political arm of the City Fund founded by billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings.

In 2014, SFGATE reported, “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who suggests that democratically elected school boards are the problem with public education, says they should be replaced by privately held corporations.” Hastings said out loud a belief held among many of his anti-democracy peers.

Creating an Alternate Teacher Training Path

In their effort to privatize public education, billionaires have created alternate paths for teacher credentialing and professional development.

Mercedes Schneider writes in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp is the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and the young idealists for sale were her “temp teachers” who have no intention of staying in the classroom. In 2011, the Walton Family Foundation donated $49.5 million to TFA. Many corporate donors also sent TFA $100,000 to $999,000: “Anheuser-Busch, ATT, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Boeing, Cargill Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Emerson, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Fedex, Fidelity Investment, GE, Marathon Oil, Monsanto, Peabody, Prudential, State Farm, Symantec, Travelers, Wells Fargo.”

These unqualified “temp teachers” have not studied teaching and they have no experience. A new teacher coming through a traditional program has taken many education courses and spent a year working with a master teacher as a supervised student teacher. TFA teachers typically have no education courses in college and get just five-weeks of classroom training in the summer.

TNTP is one of several organizations that only exist because billionaires have financed them. Wendy Kopp founded TNTP (originally called The New Teachers Project) in 1997. She assigned Michelle Rhee, who had completed a two year TFA tour, to lead it. Along with TNTP and TFA there are also the Broad Superintendents Academy and the fake school for professional educators called Relay Graduate School instilling the billionaire inspired privatization mindset.

Selling Technology and School Choice

With their enormous wealth, billionaires have poured more than $200,000,000 into organizations like New School Venture Fund to sell edtech and school choice; also funding think tanks (CREDO and CRPE) to provide a veneer of academic credibility.

To advance these sales they have created their own education media empire with The Education Post and The-74 as their flagships. Bill Gates has spent lavishly on publications like EdWeek turning them from a teacher resource into an edtech promoting outlet.

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” —Plutarch (c. 46–120 ce)

In 2017, Bill Moyers wrote,

“The top 1 percent owns more than 30 percent of America’s wealth. The poorest half owns just 2.5 percent. Wall Street bonuses alone are twice the amount of all the combined earnings of minimum-wage workers in this country. We are grotesquely, bizarrely, grossly unequal — unequal in cash, health care, schooling and access to clean air and water. Unequal in our access to power. And we are becoming more unequal by the year: Since Ronald Reagan became president, the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has doubled.”

As Louis Brandeis famously stated, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

San Francisco “Progressives” Promote Gentrification Undermine Democracy

16 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/16/2021

A new political PAC, Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools,” demands that schools be opened for in person classes immediately. They also make two dubious claims, “The election process for choosing the Board of Education is not meeting the needs of San Francisco” and “Many large cities successfully use an appointment process to choose a Board of Education.”

San Francisco Democrats Embrace the Open Schools Now Agenda

Neoliberal forces especially from the Republican Party have been campaigning for schools to be opened immediately for more than a year. Republicans see it as a wedge issue that could help them win back suburban women. Carl Hulse’s New York Times article noted that “congressional Republicans have begun to hammer relentlessly on President Biden, Democrats and teachers’ unions to open schools quickly.”

Surprisingly, San Francisco Democrats have joined with the former president’s open-schools-now campaign. Mayor London Breed has even sued the school board trying to force them to reopen schools. Breed explained,

“Families right now aren’t able to plan for their futures. They can’t decide whether to accept a job offer because they don’t know when they’re going to be able to once again have their kids returned to the classroom. This is paralyzing our city and our residents, and I know that this is a drastic step, but I feel we are out of options at this point.”

Seeyew Mo, a computer scientist who uses his skills to develop political campaign tools, is the executive director of the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools. In a recent bid for a seat on San Francisco’s Democratic County Central Committee, he was endorsed by Nancy Pelosi, London Breed and YIMBY among others. YIMBY is the yes in my Backyard advocates for safe, affordable housing in California often accused of advancing a gentrification agenda.

The Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools’ background article claims that school boards should be appointed not elected citing a 2013 article from the Center for American Progress (CAP) as evidence. The CAP article was sponsored by the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation and reviewed by Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Both entities are infamous for promoting school privatization.

Political Action Committees must file a statement of purpose to legally spend money. When the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public schools filed their form, the treasure named was James Sutton a prominent San Francisco Lawyer and the principle officer named was hedge-fund founder Patrick Wolff. 

Wolff founded Grandmaster Capital with seed funding from his billionaire friend Peter Thiel. According to the hedge fund journal, Wolff and Thiel were initially brought together by a common interest in chess. “Thiel is a serious chess player and Wolff began his career as a full-time, professional chess player, twice becoming US champion, hence the Grandmaster name.” 

In 2018, Wolff wrote commentaries on education for the San Francisco Examiner. In one piece he declared,

“California is failing. San Francisco is failing. The status quo is unacceptable. The fate of our children’s education is literally our future.”

“But in the interest of full disclosure, I will report that I have met several times with Marshall Tuck and he has greatly impressed me with his knowledge, his passion, and his ideas. And Marshall Tuck has the full-throated endorsement of Arne Duncan, who was US Education Secretary under President Obama.”

Gentrification

The Wolff-Thiel connection and Mayor Breed’s appointment of Sonja Trauss to the Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments has people worried.

Szeto and Meronek referenced Tory Becker the director of the anti- gentrification group LAGAI when writing about Trauss,

“Entrenched online in the libertarian strongholds of Reddit and TechCrunch, and in the real world through real estate- and tech-sponsored nonprofits like SPUR and YIMBY Action, Trauss’s followers live by the neoliberal belief that deregulation and building more housing, even if it’s only affordable to the richest of the rich, will trickle down and eventually make housing affordable for all. Her vision is Reagonomics ‘dressed up in a progressive sheep’s costume,’ according to Becker.”

San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar opposed Trauss’s appointment noting that the appointee must be able to bridge divisions across neighborhoods and ideologies. Mar claimed, “Sonja Trauss has a history of inflaming these divisions, rather than working across them” citing “the declaration that ‘gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price’” and “forcefully shouting down Chinatown community elders.”

Recall the Board

School district parents, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, filed a school board recall petition. They wanted to recall the entire board but the two members elected in November cannot be recalled this year.  Looijen and Raj are tech workers who moved to the city last December. They claim the school board was too busy with school name changes instead of getting schools open.

In the original filing, Looijen is listed as treasure and Raj is listed as principal officer. In an amended filing, Looijen is listed as principal officer and the new treasure is James Sutton the same high priced San Francisco attorney as the PAC, Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools, used. One of Sutton’s junior lawyers, Dale Bellitto, is listed as Assistant Treasure. In 2015, she was a Teaching Fellow at KIPP Infinity charter school in New York City.

Cato Indoctrination for Educators

8 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/8/2021

The Education Week Advertiser just notified me about an opportunity to be indoctrinated into the Cato Institute’s culture and education views. The ad proclaims, “The Cato Institute and the Sphere Education Initiative are excited to announce the return of Sphere Summit: Teaching Civic Culture Together for the Summer of 2021!” They generously offer impressive full scholarship programs for educators and administrators.

The money for all this comes from Charles Koch and associated libertarians. It is funneled through the Cato Institute which was originally called the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc. when he and fellow libertarian Edward Crane founded it in 1977. It is one of the many organizations and businesses that Charles Koch uses to advance his personal interests which are often referred to as the Kochtopus.

Sphere Summit Speakers

Ryan Bourne – According to libertarianism.org, he is “the R. Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics at Cato.” Bourne writes about fiscal policy, inequality, minimum wages, infrastructure spending and rent control.He is a contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the UK website ConservativeHome.

Arnold Kling – A Senior Affiliated Scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University to which the Charles Koch Foundation contributed a total of $29,156,700 in 2017 and 2018 (EIN: 48-0918408). He specializes in housing-finance policy, financial institutions, macroeconomics, and the inside workings of America’s federal financial institutions. He also is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC.

Clark Neily – He is vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute. Neily served as co-counsel in the District of Columbia v. Heller case in which the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment rights had been violated. The ruling overturned the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and requirement that lawfully owned rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.”

Tom G. Palmer – He is a senior fellow at Cato Institute and director of Cato University. He is also a VP of the Institute for Humane Studies (HIS) at George Mason University and a VP for International Programs at the Atlas Network. HIS was co-founded by Charles Koch in 1974. An outgrowth of HIS, the American Energy Alliance, had a central role in Koch’s successful campaign defeating the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill to limit greenhouse gasses (Kochland pages 448-449).

Jonathan Rauch – He is a senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institute and author of books and articles on public policy, culture, and government. His many Brookings’ publications include the 2015 ebook Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy.

Jeffrey Rosen – He is President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate the public about the U.S. Constitution. Rosen is also professor at The George Washington University Law School and a contributing editor of The Atlantic.

Nadine Strossen – She was president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) between1991 to 2008. Veteran National Review fans may be familiar with Strossen, because she was a friend and frequent sparring partner of William F. Buckley.

Darrell West – He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of TechTank. His current research focuses on artificial intelligence, robotics, and the future of work. West is also director of the John Hazen White manufacturing initiative and vice president of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute.

It appears that the first four presenters will be delivering the libertarian message and the second four will be delivering a mixture of pro-edtech and pro-American positions. All eight speakers have two commonalities. They are professionals who will be paid well for their appearances and none of them have any k-12 teaching or administrating experience.

Four professional development workshops are to be presented by:

  1. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education which was founded by Alan Charles Kors in 1999 to dismantle the so-called liberal bias in higher academia. Source Watch reports that they were part of the right wing State Policy Network.
  2. The Bill of Rights Institute, established in September 1999 by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, is a Virginia based nonprofit that promotes teaching a conservative interpretation of the Constitution.
  3. The National Constitution Center is a nonprofit institution devoted to the Constitution of the United States.
  4. iCivics is a non-profit organization offering teachers digital civics education curriculum including games, digital tools, and lesson plans.

For more than fifty years, Charles Koch has been pouring money into advancing his libertarian free market philosophy. Koch has taken Austrian economic theory from its 1950s fringe thinking status to an influential force in American governance. This is a continuation of that effort. Targeting teachers and school leaders is designed to expand Koch’s ultra-conservative low tax and small government agenda.

Why I Support Public Education

29 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/29/2021

The original cause for my supporting public education was that my rancher father married a school teacher. Growing up in southern Idaho, I learned many philosophical and theoretical reasons for supporting the establishment and maintenance of public schools from my mother. However, it was from watching mom and her dedicated colleagues in action that I learned to truly respect and appreciate public school.

I remember stories of my father being warned that he better not treat that woman wrong. For several years in a row she won the Elmore County sharp shooting contest. She didn’t like to chop a chicken’s head off so she would pull out her rifle and shoot it off.

Mom had some old school attitudes but maintained a mind of her own. There was a period in which she had to come home at lunch time and milk the cow. One Friday, after having to chase the cow across King Hill creek again, she had had enough; didn’t discuss it just loaded that cow into a trailer and took it to market.

In my home, there was no doubt about the value of education and also an abiding belief that the American public education system was unparalleled. My father was a high school basketball referee and an ardent supporter of music study.

As was common in the community, school events were family events. Helping the local school was one of the main missions of our civic organizations whether it was building viewing stands at the football field or sewing costumes for school plays.

My grandfather was an immigrant from Scotland who came to America on the Lusitania. Three years after his arrival that ship was sunk by a German U-boat killing 1,800 passengers and further pushing America into engaging with World War I.

It was through family in Scotland that my mother became familiar with the British Education system. She learned of its high stakes testing which was deciding a child’s education path; if that education would continue and whether it would be academic or vocational. To her, the great advantage for America’s schools was they did not have these kinds of tests determining a child’s future. American students were not immersed in testing hell.

Instead of being sorted out by testing, American students had multiple opportunities to reenter the education system in whatever capacity they desired. Immature 11-year olds, did not have their futures decided by dubious testing results.

Still today, Idaho has a greater than 90% white population making it one of the whitest places in the world. It used to be even whiter.

I did not meet a Black person until I was a 17 years-old high school student. That year the University of Idaho Vandaleers gave a concert at my high school. A local rancher’s wife threw an after party for the choir and that is where I met Ray McDonald. Not only was he a talented singer, he was also one of the top running backs in America who would soon be drafted in the second round by the Washington DC professional football team. All I really remember is I was star struck and he was a friendly guy who played piano.

Although there was very little racial diversity in the community there was significant religious diversity. We had Mormons, Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Assembly of God and other denominations attending our schools.

In a 2001 interview conducted at the Gathering, Richard DeVos lamented that it was awful that public schools had replaced churches as the center of communities. He did not identify whose church was going to be accepted as the community center.

The unifying factor in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho was the public schools. Children from rich families and poor families grew up together in those schools. At school functions, parents from the disparate religious sects came together and formed common bonds. Political decisions concerning community governance were developed through these school based relationships.

Public schools became the foundation for democratic governance in the region plus it was literally where people voted. To me, it is unfeasible that a healthy American democracy does not include a healthy public school system.

America’s Founding Fathers Believed in Public Education

The second and third presidents of the United States advocated powerfully for public education. Thomas Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing out of common farmers the enlightened citizenry who would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson contended,

“The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”

When Jefferson who was a former ambassador to France was queried about the French Revolution, he responded, “It has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.” He called for the establishment of universal free public education claiming it as a requisite for the survival of a democratic republic.

Jefferson and his peer John Adams were integral to the founding of the United States. Jefferson is credited as the main author of the Declaration of Independence. Our system of government with its bi-cameral legislative branch, judicial branch and executive branch came about in great measure because of John Adams’ advocacy.

Like Jefferson, Adams also saw public education as crucial for the survival of our fledgling democracy. In a 1775 essay, he wrote:

“reformation must begin with the Body of the People which can be done only, to affect, in their Educations. the Whole People must take upon themselvs the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expences of it. there should not be a district of one Mile Square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expence of the People themselves”

Shortly before the American Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had published the controversial novel Emile, or On Education. He was widely condemned by the ruling elite for the religious views expressed in the book. However, the main portion of the book was about education. Rousseau’s character in the book was a tutor for children of the wealthy. That was the nature of education in the 18th century. Only children of the wealthy had the wherewithal to be educated by private tutors or in one of the few private schools.

Jefferson and Adams were calling for egalitarian progress giving common people the tools required to be self-governing. They were calling for a public school system.

Between 1820 and 1860, the Massachusetts education advocate Horace Mann – more than any other American political leader – was responsible for the nationwide spread of public schools. With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the tool of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being that instrument.

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Integrating the Protestant religious view into the common schools caused a split in communities. The burgeoning Catholic immigrant population did not want their children indoctrinated with an anti-Catholic ideology. Following the civil war, these influences irrupted into the “Bible Wars.” Author Katherine Stewart shared that it was in this atmosphere that “President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse.”

Stewart also noted an insightful admonition from Grant:

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Early in the 20th century, public schools had been established serving every community from coast to coast. The results from this vast American public education experiment shine like a lighthouse beacon on the path of Democracy and social happiness. A nation that entered the century as a 2nd rate power ended the century as the undisputed world leader in literacy, economy, military power, industrial might, cultural influence and more.

Today, unbelievably, more and more forces are agitating to undo public education and even American Democracy itself.

As the 21st century dawned, the American public education system was facing a billionaire financed attack. Instead of financially enhancing public schools, libertarians called them “failures” and too expensive. They called public schools “monopolies” shutting out private business that would surely outperform “government schools.”

Hopefully the aphorism attributed Lincoln is true: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

Schools are MAGA Targets

15 Mar

By Thomas Ultican – 3/15/2021

One of America’s wealthiest public school districts typifies the damage MAGA Republicans are doing to public schools. San Diego County’s San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) serves just over 13,000 students in five middle schools and five high schools. With former Republican congressional candidate Mike Allman’s narrow school board victory, the MAGA coalition has achieved a 3 to 2 majority.

This election result advances using school reopening as a political wedge issue. Normally nonpartisan school board elections have been turned into partisan political battle grounds.

May 25, 2020, the former President Tweeted,

“Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available. @SteveHiltonx @FoxNews

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020

In July, the former Secretary of Education declared,

“School leaders across the country need to be making plans’ to have students in the classroom. There will be exceptions to the rule, but the rule should be kids go back to school this fall. And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with school by school or a case-by-case basis. There’s ample opportunity to have kids in school.”

Carl Hulse’s Feb. 12, 2021 New York Times article ran under the banner, “Republicans Seize on Shuttered Schools as a Political Rallying Cry” with a subtitle stating, “As President Biden struggles to keep his pledge to reopen schools in 100 days, Republicans in Congress are hammering at the issue as a way to win back alienated women and suburban voters.”

The SDUHSD school board election is a case study in using school reopening and hard ball politics in search of political gain.

Mike Allman’s Election Signaled MAGA Politics have Arrived

Michael Allman is a self-described “libertarian-leaning Republican.” He came to San Diego to work for Sempra Energy; is a former executive of Southern California Gas Co. and until 2016 was an executive at a software company called Bit Stew Systems. He received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State and an MBA at the libertarian economist Milton Friedman’s school, the University of Chicago.

He is a wealthy investor who lived in Rancho Santa Fe for twenty years before moving to Solana Beach.

Running for school board was Allman’s second foray into electoral politics. He ran in the 2018 district 52 congressional primary; a district in which he did not live. He was matched against incumbent Democrat Scott Peters and five fellow Republican challengers. Allman reported $415,109.45 total campaign spending in that race of which $300,000 came via his personal loan.

He garnered a disappointing 3.9% of the vote.

In 2020, Allman ran against Jane Lea Smith and Amy Caterina to become the Area 4 SDUHSD board Trustee. Caterina eventually dropped out and endorsed Allman but was still on the ballot. The former special education teachers and medical device researcher, Jane Lea Smith, proved to be stout competition. Allman won the seat with 7,507 votes to Smith’s 7,181 (42.3% to 40.5%).

Like in his congressional race, Allman ran for a school board position in an area where he does not live. He personally contributed $29,000 of his total $33,333.55 in campaign contributions received and loaned his campaign $30,000. He out-spent Smith who received a total of $14,096.01 in campaign contributions five to one. If the $7,066.88 in independent expenditures by the teachers union is included, the spending advantage drops to three to one.

Allman was clear about two points in his campaign to be on the board; schools must be opened full time for face to face instruction and the teachers union is the problem. Four days before the election he posted,

“Teachers unions’ goals are in direct conflict with those of school boards.

“I will be your independent voice on the board and will work for students, parents and taxpayers. I am not beholden or supported by the teachers union.”

A post by Allman at the end of August called for opening schools and joining his political movement. He wrote,

“The Teachers Union will demand that the return to in-class learning be delayed.

“If you would like to get involved to ensure that our schools open as quickly and safely as possible, please join this group. We have a SDUHSD Board Meeting in a couple of weeks, and we can make a difference!”

Allman provided a link to the private face book page SDUHSD Families for School Reopening.”  An education activist and student mother who was kicked off of the page says that Allman was the key voice and administrator of the group until he was elected. She claims he is still the key voice leading FB discussions in the group but is no longer an administrator.

Of the five people who are current administrators of “SDUHSD Families for School Reopening,” Ginny Merrifield and Alison Stratton seem to be the most politically involved.

Allison Stratton runs a marketing company and was very involved in Mike Levin’s 2018 successful campaign for the CA 49th congressional district seat. It is surprising to see a significant supporter of a Democratic congressman decide to back an Issa-like Republican. She is purportedly one of Allman’s most vocal allies. There are some activists who believe Allman is using the school board seat as a stepping stone to run against Levin for the 49th district in the next election.

Ginny Merrifield is a very connected operator in Republican circles. She is a trustee of the E3 Civic High charter school located in the San Diego Central Library. She was a co-founder and trustee of the private and pricey Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, California. She is on the board of governors for the $750 million San Diego Foundation. Her husband Marshal ran for San Diego city council as a Republican but was not elected. She is a very active and publicly open ally of Trustee Allman’s.

Recently Merrifield became the founding Executive Director of the Parent Association of North County (PANC). The contact address listed for PANC is 5965 Village Way, San Diego. It is a strip mall with only one education related business; Elite Educational Institute a tutoring, college consulting and SAT test preparation organization. Along with Executive Director Merrifield, PANC lists nine directors one from each of the nine north county school districts they claim to represent.

PANC publishes three organization objectives: reopen schools, grow membership and recruit substitutes. Regarding substitutes they say, “Due to a shortage of qualified substitutes, parents have created easy step-by-step instructions for parents to get a 30 day emergency substitute credential.”  

PANC is not unique. On January 26, 2021, Edsource reported,

Open Schools California includes parent groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Richmond and other cities who say that distance learning has been a disaster for most students, and the state needs to push harder for safety measures that would allow campuses to reopen for in-person instruction. The group announced its formation Monday.”

In the city of San Diego the group Reopen SDUSD began posting on their new Face Book page in September 2020. They supported three pro-open schools candidates for the San Diego Unified School District board. All three were soundly defeated by the incumbents up for reelection.

A rebuttal page called Reopen SDUSD Exposed has arisen claiming,

“We are committed to exposing the truth about Reopen SDUSD @reopensandiegoschoolsnow. They are filled with anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-testing voices. They don’t want our schools open safely, they want them open at any and all costs.”

Reopen SDUSD Exposed admits “not all Reopen SDUSD supporters are anti-mask, anti-vaccine, Q following nut jobs,” but they are aligned with them.

The San Diego Union reported on March 11, “Three parents filed a class-action lawsuit against San Diego Unified this week alleging that the state’s second-largest school district failed to provide sufficient in-person learning and sufficient access to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.” One of the plaintiffs is Reopen SDUSD co-founder Gina Smith.

Reopen SDUSD Exposed Venn Diagram Depicting Reopen SDUSD Membership

Saturday March 13, 2021, PANC and Reopen SDUSD held a joint reopen schools rally in front of the county administration building in downtown San Diego. However, it does not appear that they attracted any local media attention.

Implementing the MAGA Politics of Division and Violence

In San Dieguito, the five member school board now has a three vote MAGA majority.

Maureen “Mo” Muir is the SDUHSD Board Trustee for Area one. In 2014, she was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for what was then an open board seat. In 2018, the board was rearranged into Areas and Mo had a very difficult contest for the Area 1 seat; defeating Amy Flicker 7486 to 7291. In 2016, she also ran as a Republican for California’s 76th Assembly district and lost. Today she is the SDUHSD board President. This long time Republican finds herself in the uncomfortable position of having to support a radical MAGA style Republican agenda.

Joining Muir and Allman in the MAGA coalition is Melisse Mossy who is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group and its many San Diego County dealerships. Mossy is a wealthy Christian house wife living in Rancho Santa Fe who does not seem to value the public school system. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states,

“I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”

Allman went to his first board meeting as a Trustee on December 15, 2020. He came ready to cause a stir by promoting four divisive agenda items.

Trustee Mossy introduced an Allman inspired proposal to change the time of the regularly scheduled Thursday at 5 PM board meetings to an alternating schedule of 9 AM and 5 PM. Allman seconded the motion. Minutes indicate that this motion was amended to alternating 3 PM and 5 PM. This change to a many years precedence will obviously make it more difficult for working people especially teachers to attend SDUHSD board meetings.

Allman wrote a proposal calling for a change to Rosenberg’s Rules of Order instead of using Roberts Rules of Order at Board meetings. According to Jurassic Parliament, the Rosenberg Rules are less Democratic giving more power to the chair and the majority. They are simpler with their rules stretching only to 10 pages compared to the 787 pages explaining the Roberts Rules, but that also gives the chair more power to make ruling interpretations. After a discussion the item was labeled a “future agenda item.”

Allman also proposed changing the boards legal council to Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP. When the agenda item arose, Muir moved to make the change and Allman seconded the motion. It would be unusual for a public school district to hire this “school choice” promoting law firm. On the firm’s web site they state,

“If you view charter or private schools as opportunities to improve public education, we are aligned with you. We want to help you make a positive difference.”

 After a discussion, Muir withdrew her motion and requested that a legal subcommittee to include Allman and Ms. Young meet with staff and review legal counsel options to recommend to the Board.

Allman’s big agenda item of the day was for all SDUHSD schools to open on January 4, 2021 for face to face instruction. Part of the resolution he authored stated, “The Governing Board designates Trustee Allman as the Board’s spokesperson for matters addressed by or arising from this Resolution.”

The board made it clear that all board members would be spokespersons and not just Allman. They also decided to start with one day a week in person before going five days a week on January 27. After that changes the MAGA coalition of Allman, Muir and Mossy provide the three required votes.

The San Dieguito teacher’s union immediately took legal action that stopped the in person school openings.

In late February, SDUHSD Superintendent Haley petitioned the state health department for an opening approval. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has offered a safety review process for school districts to request approval to reopen early while still in counties designated as “purple tier” for infection. Inexplicably, Haley announced that schools would open on March 8th before receiving word from the state.

When March 7th rolled around with no update from the state, PANC scheduled a rally to push for the approval, but that day the CDPH officially rejected the opening petitions from SDUHSD, Carlsbad Unified and Poway Unified. This apparently led to the following all too common MAGA style violence threat appearing on the Encinitas Votes face book page.

It would not be a real divide the community movement without a recall effort. In 2018, when Lea Wolf ran for the Area 5 Trustee position, she billed herself as a fiscal conservative and wrote in a recommendation for David Andresen, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” This founder of several technology companies who lost that school board race to Kristin Gibson is now leading an effort to recall Gibson.

On her website gathering recall signatures, she lists four reasons why Gibson’s performance is so egregious that she must be recalled: 1) Opposed letter grades during pandemic 2) Voted for $5.3 million Chrome books purchase 3) Approved 3.5% pay raise for Superintendent Haley and other administrators 4) Missed 2-thirds of last 9 board meetings.  

In the votes for the Chrome book purchase and pay raises, she voted with the majority. Gibson, who lectures at San Diego State University and is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, disagreed last spring with a late change in grading policy from pass-fail to letter grade. At the time, Superintendent Haley was quoted,

“There’s no one voice, there’s no one decision that everybody is in agreement with. We acknowledge that. This is a very difficult time and a very difficult decision, we’ve never had a pandemic school closure and, hopefully, we will never have one again.”

Missing 2-thirds of the last 9 board meetings appears to be a lie. Since the end of June last year there have been 17 SDUHSD board meetings. Minutes show that Gibson attended 5 of 7 regular and 8 of 10 special board meetings. Three of her four absences occurred between 1/14/2021 and 2/1/2021. During that 2-week period she was dealing with a family crisis.

Even with all of the school districts in San Diego County issuing plans to open face to face in April, the MAGA Republicans continue to agitate. They blame teachers unions for keeping schools closed but surveys show that teachers and the general public have about the same opinion on opening schools in this pandemic. An article at the five-thirty-eight reports,

“According to a Feb. 11-14 Quinnipiac University poll, 47 percent of adults believe that schools are reopening in their community at about the right pace; just 27 percent believe it’s not happening quickly enough, and 18 percent think it’s happening too quickly. Likewise, a plurality (48 percent) of parents and guardians of K-12 students told YouGov/HuffPost that schools in their area were handling things “about right”; just 23 percent thought they were being too restrictive, while 19 percent thought they were taking too many risks. And educators are pretty happy too: 63 percent in the Hart Research/AFT poll said their school system has struck a good balance on the issue. Fifteen percent said that their school system had not done enough to resume in-person instruction, while 16 percent said it had gone too far to do so.”

Maybe rich people like Mike Allman and the former Secretary of Education, think teachers and students should take the risk and get back in school. But “little flare-ups or hot spots” are existential threats for many teachers and school staff. Now that vaccines are rolling out and schools are announcing reopening plans it seems foolish to rush it. Schools finally have the resources needed for a safe reopening and the staffs have vaccines being distributed that make them safer. Getting school open by May 1 is reasonable and prudent. Teachers, staff and students are not endangered unnecessarily.

Education Development Center and Urban Collaborative

22 Feb

 By Thomas Ultican 2/22/2021

A North Carolina resident asked “what do you know about the Urban Collaborative?” She was concerned about a company providing free airfare to school leaders in her child’s district; airfare to meetings in far-off cities. She wondered, “What is their motive? Is it more about money and power than special education?”

The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative was founded by Dr. David Riley, Educational Co-Chair of the Summer Institute on Critical Issues in Urban Special Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Riley was the Executive Director of the Collaborative until he succumbed to cancer May 2, 2016. The Collaborative is a national network of education administrators responsible for youth with disabilities in urban school districts. It is a national version of the Massachusetts Urban Project, a state-wide network that Dr. Riley founded in 1979. In 1994, The Education Development Center (EDC) expanded the Urban Collaborative into a national organization.

An October 1, 2019 announcement from Arizona State University stated:

“The Urban Collaborative has a rich history of collaboration with school districts — more than 100 in 25 states — committed to leading inclusive and equitable education. It has resources, sponsors and partners, consultants and data-driven review processes, and annual meetings of education leaders from the nation’s largest urban school districts.”

“This fall, the Urban Collaborative joins Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College [MLFTC]. It was formerly an initiative of the nonprofit Education Development Center.

Lauren Katzman, Urban Collaborative executive director, joins MLFTC as associate research professor.”

The Education Development Center

In 1956, Dr. Jerrold R. Zacharias an atomic physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) formed the physical science study committee (PSSC). Their goal was to make the existing uninspiring physics curriculum come alive. PSSC Physics became a national success whose methods were widely adopted.

Dr. Zacharias’s timing could not have been better. On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite (Sputnik). This led to several rapid developments. In August of the following year, Education Services Incorporated (ESI) was created to market the study committee’s PSSC Physics. ESI went on to sell several books into the education markets. After a decade, ESI merged with the newly formed Institute for Education Innovation to become The Education Development Center (EDC).

Dr. Zacharias’s 1986 New York Times obituary noted,

“In World War II he helped make radar a reality for the Navy and then headed the engineering division of the Los Alamos atomic bomb project. Afterward, as director of the Laboratory of Nuclear Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he designed the first atomic clock, still the most precise tool for measuring time.

“But it was in remaking physics education that he left his firmest mark on American science. As President Kennedy said in 1961, Dr. Zacharias ‘started a revolution in science teaching in the United States.”’

Dr. Zacharias’s contribution to science teaching was probably over-hyped but at least it created a much needed positive story about public education. Since its beginning, public education in America, has experienced a continuous cacophony of misplaced derision.

  • In 1889, the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.
  • In 1940, the US Navy tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed.
  • In 1942, the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War.
  • In 1955, Why Can’t Johnny Read became a best seller.
  • In 1959, LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.”
  • In 1963, Admiral Rickover published American Education, a National Failure.
  • In 1983, A Nation at Risk stated, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

After every one of these dire but unfounded warnings, American society went on to lead the world in social, scholarly and cultural achievement. None of these claims held water. The great failure erroneously assigned to public education during Sputnik was no different.

Failing American education was blamed for the Soviets beating us into space. However, when Sputnik launched, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was pleased! He later stated, “We were certain that we could get a great deal more information of all kinds out of the free use of space than they could.” Sputnik established that the use of the heavens was open and free. To President Eisenhower it was an advantage. It meant that the US could use its superior scientific and manufacturing abilities to monitor and gather intelligence more successfully than the Soviets could.

The late Gerald Bracey wrote about the reality of the Sputnik fallout for Education Week:

“In late 1956, U.S. News & World Report had run an interview with historian Arthur Bestor, the author of ‘Educational Wastelands: The Retreat From Learning in Our Public Schools’, under the headline, ‘We Are Less Educated Now Than 50 Years Ago.’ Shortly after Sputnik, the magazine brought him back to explain ‘What Went Wrong With U.S. Schools.”’

Bestor declared that faulty education policy was “why the first satellite bears the label, ‘Made in Russia.”’ Countering Bestor’s statements,Bracey shared evidence that it was a command decision not education that led to the result. He wrote,

“Nazi Germany’s rocket genius Wernher von Braun, now the lead scientist of America’s Army Ballistic Missile Agency, was furious. At the time of Sputnik’s launch, the U.S. secretary of defense-designate, Neil McElroy, was touring von Braun’s operation in Huntsville, Ala. Von Braun, usually cool and politically savvy, lost it: ‘We knew they were going to do it!’ he yelled at McElroy. ‘Vanguard will never make it. We have the hardware on the shelf. For God’s sake, turn us loose and let us do something!’

“Von Braun did have the hardware on the shelf. On Sept. 20, 1956, more than a year before Sputnik, his group had launched a four-stage Jupiter-C rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The first three stages attained a speed of 13,000 miles an hour, a height of 862 miles, and a distance down range of 3,550 miles. The fourth stage could have easily slipped a satellite into orbit. But the fourth stage was filled with sand.”

There is substantial evidence that public school science education in the 1950s was not nearly so jejune as claimed. The 1999 docudrama October Sky tells the story of four high school boys from Coalwood, West Virginia. Coal miner’s son, Homer Hickman, was inspired by Sputnik and recruited three friends to take up rocketry with him.

A preponderance of science teachers has shown this film to their classes. It tells the story of four high school students engaged in scientific investigation and winning a national competition in rocketry. The movie highlights the wonderful encouragement and inspiration coming from their teacher, Frieda Joy Riley. In fact, Riley was so inspiring that The Freida J. Riley Award was established in her honor and is awarded annually to an American educator who overcomes adversity or makes an enormous sacrifice to positively impact students.

The PSSC physics curriculum has doubtlessly contributed to teaching high school physics, and like other successful curricular proposals the syllabus did address “an unmet need.” The EDC claims, “The Cold War and the emergence of the Russian space program in the late 1950s stoked U.S. concerns about a glaring national weakness in math and science.” The “concerns” certainly existed but achievement by the 1950s K-12 students testifies to how unfounded those concerns were.

Like so much of the slander endured by public education, the “glaring national weakness” claim was an illusion rather than “an unmet need.”

Tools of Corporate Education Reform

In the early years, the EDC was an organization making liberal ideology a reality. They developed a science curriculum specifically for the realities of Africa. They led a consortium of U.S. universities in founding the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. The EDC produced educational TV shows noteworthy for their African American and Latino casts. They engaged in educating village health workers in Mali.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, EDC seems to have become distracted by power and money while it dove into education technology. The timeline cited above notes; in 1984 their Semantic Calculator won software of the year, in 1986 they won the same award with the Geometric Supposer, and in 1985 EDC acquired the Center for Children and Technology. In 2002 they founded the New Bedford Global Learning Charter School.

In 2018, EDC presented the inaugural EDC Impact Award to Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX. That same year they were publishing statements like, “As new technologies transform the workplace, programs such as the Amgen Biotech Experience and the STEM Learning and Research Center are preparing the next generation of innovators and inventors.”

The latest available non-profit tax statement for the EDC covers tax-year 2017. The statement reveals the large amounts of money going through EDC and a number of hefty “non-profit” salaries. In 2017, EDC raked in $155,645,130 and over $153 million of that came from their funders. It also lists the salaries for 12 employees all taking in well more than $200,000 for the year.

In 2004, EDC was presented a decade long General Services Administration (GSA) contract. The GSA contract certifies that EDC can meet competition, pricing, small business and other federal contract requirements for the services specified in each schedule. In schedule 874-4, 874-4RC Training Services EDC states, “Our EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO) program, established in January 2000, provides effective online professional development for educators to improve online teaching skills and to streamline the process of incorporating online resources into their daily business practices.” By “daily business practices” they must mean classroom teaching.

Less is known about finances at the Urban Collaborative because they were part of EDC until 2019 and now they are receiving their grant money through an umbrella non-profit arm at Arizona State University. Like Stanford’s CREDO and the University of Washington’s CRPE, money is donated to a second party who then passes it on to these organizations. They are not recognized non-profits so there are no tax records specific to them.

The costs for school district memberships to the Collaborative are unknown, but in 2006 the costs were openly posted on the Urban Collaborative web site:

“Membership fees are based on the total student enrollment of the district. A graduated fee scale is applied to determine the number of senior-level administrators who receive Collaborative publications and reports, paid airfare to Collaborative meetings, and other Collaborative benefits at no extra charge.

 

“The annual fee for a school district with a total enrollment of less than 15,000 students is $2,400 (covers one district leader).

“The annual fee for a school district with a total enrollment of between 15,000 and 50,000 students is $3,800 (covers two district leaders).

 

“The annual fee for a school district with a total enrollment of more than 50,000 students is $5,000 (covers three district leaders).

“Districts may enroll additional senior-level administrators in the Collaborative for $1,500 per enrollee per year.”

The Urban Collaborative semi-annual meetings are underwritten by corporate sponsors hawking their wares. In the Collaborative sponsor’s brochure, it says, “Our national meetings provide unique opportunities for your organization to deliver its message to many of the nation’s most influential urban education decision makers, network with education leaders from across the country, as well as participate in meeting sessions.”  The companies listed in the sponsor’s brochure are mostly edtech companies like Scientific Learning, TeachTown and TeleTeachers.

 A Closing Comment

The relationships that Urban Collaborative fosters and the curricular development activities at EDC may have value. But sadly, these organizations have been corrupted by billionaire dollars and the lust for national prominence. They have lost their focus on improving public education and have become power players in the world of corporate education reform.

Education with the Biden Team

16 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/16/2021 – Updated 1/19/2021

Joe Biden has garnered wide spread praise for his choice of Miguel Cardona as Secretary of Education; maybe too wide. The co-founder of Bellwether Education, Andrew Rotherham says Cardona is “a Goldilocks on charter schools.”  However, Goldilocks was a fairy tale and Rotherham is a well known neoliberal who campaigns for “school choice.”

At the Democratic convention in 2008, the largest groups of delegates cheering the loudest for their new standard bearers were teachers. They saw in Barack Obama and Joe Biden leaders who would end the destructive nightmare, No Child Left Behind. Linda Darling-Hammond the progressive education scholar advising Obama was viewed as someone who would bring professional sanity to national education policy and end the unjustifiable attacks on public schools and their teachers.

They were not aware of a pre-convention seminar billed “Ed Challenge for Change.” This seminar sponsored by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and real estate mogul Eli Broad included a new group of young wealthy hedge fund managers named Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). They had previously established a relationship with Senator Barak Obama. He seemed to share their ideas on education issues like charter schools, performance pay, and accountability. DFER, Gates and Broad viewed Darling-Hammond as a touchy-feely anti-accountability figure and believed she would destroy any chance that Obama would follow through on any of their education reform initiatives.

The seminar group began subjecting Darling-Hammond to withering criticism. They championed the non-traditional (meaning no education background) leader of the Chicago school system, Arne Duncan, to be the next Secretary of Education. Darling-Hammond was berated as favoring the status quo in education policy for her criticisms of alternative teacher certification programs like Teach For America (TFA) and was seen as too aligned with teachers’ unions. The education scholar was sent back to California without a government role and Obama’s basketball playing buddy joined the Obama-Biden administration.

Now, Joe Biden has chosen a person with an education background to lead the department of education but his experience running large organizations is almost non-existent. He was assistant superintendent of a school district with less than 9,000 students from 2013 to 2019. He then became Education Commissioner of Connecticut. That system serves less than 530,000 students. His primary strength seems to be he has not engaged with the controversial education issues of the day like “school choice” and testing accountability.

Which begs the question, will the Biden-Harris administration support and revitalize public schools or will they bow to big moneyed interests who make campaign contributions? Will Biden-Harris continue the neoliberal ideology of “school choice” or will they revitalize public schools? Will they continue wasting money on standardized testing that only accurately correlates with family economic conditions or will they reign in this wasteful practice?

The evidence is mixed.

The Biden-Harris Team

Miguel Cardona will be taking command at the Department of Education, however, there are many other forces accompanying Biden to Washington DC. One of those forces is the embrace of neoliberalism by people he selected to serve.

Dr. Jill Biden – The First Lady is one of the most important members of the Biden-Harris team in regards to education. She has 30 plus years experience as an educator mainly teaching Community College English. Dr. Biden continued teaching full time at Northern Virginia Community College while her husband served as Vice President of the United States. In 2017 she was named board chair of Save the Children, which works in 120 countries – including the United States – and focuses on the health, education and safety of kids.

Dr. Biden does not have much k-12 background and while serving as 2nd Lady, she did not speak out against the Race to the Top agenda. However, that does not mean she agreed with it.

Gina Raimondo – Biden’s selection for Commerce Secretary is the Governor of Rhode Island and a former venture capitalist at Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital. The neoliberal Democrat has pushed “school choice” and billionaire style education reform. Her first selection for Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, Ken Wagner, came from John King’s New York Department of Education. At the time, Wagner was given high praise by New York’s billionaire Chancellor Merryl Tisch. In 2019, Raimondo selected former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and New York City acolyte of Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg, Angélica Infante-Green, to replace Wagner.

Neera Tanden – She is the selection to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden was one of the many youthful neoliberals who were part of the Clinton administration. In 2008, she was a key player in Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign and is CEO of the left leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) which supports Clinton style neoliberalism. One of the Clinton emails that were released by Wiki-leaks during the 2016 campaign was a joint report on education policy from Tandan and a CAP Senior Fellow Catherine Brown. In it they informed Hillary Clinton,

“1. In spite of the challenges that remain, the standards-based reforms implemented over the last two decades have resulted in significant, positive change.

 “2. Teach For America … offers a powerful proof point that it is possible to diversify the teaching force while retaining a high bar.”

Bruce Reed – He will be Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Reed’s own bio states,

“Reed supervised the landmark 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda. In the Obama White House, he served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden, working on economic, fiscal, and tax policy, education, and gun violence. … After leaving the Obama administration, Reed spent two years as the first president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, where he led nationwide efforts to strengthen public education in urban areas.” (Emphasis Added)

Reed also has served as President of the Democratic Leadership Council which embraced neoliberalism.

Reed’s 2016 advice to Hillary Clinton was also revealed in the Wiki-leaks dump. Reed states that choice in the form of charters and higher standards should be the center piece of what we do as a country for education reform. He claimed school districts with elected boards are another part of “broken democracy.” Reed praised the portfolio model of school reform and promoted edtech by holding up Summit Charters as a good example.

Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers – She has been appointed special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs. Demers’ résumé includes advising TFA corps members and interviewing future candidates.

Dani Durante – She has been tabbed as Director of leadership and Training. Durante previously served as Senior Director of Operations at OneGoal: Graduation. OneGoal is a non-profit working to advance graduation rates in poor and minority communities. Its major funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Susan and Michael Dell Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Anne Hyslop is assistant director for policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Alliance is the digital learning advocate (edtech sales) that former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise once led. She noted the new staff’s TFA experience observing it “has been a stepping-stone for a lot of Democratic political folks for some time, so that’s not a surprise.” Durante, like Demers, worked at TFA.

Some Known’s about Cardona

A former member of Bush 41’s education department, Diane Ravitch, has noted:

“The good thing is, first of all, he’s not Betsy DeVos, and every educator in America, or almost every educator, will be thrilled about that. But, secondly, he’s a public school person. He went to public schools. His children go to public schools. He’s been in public schools throughout his career. And that’s a big plus for many people who have been watching the attacks on public education and on teachers for the past four and more years.”

Cardona is a Puerto Rican born in a Meriden, Connecticut public housing project. He was a language learner upon entering primary school. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in bilingual and bi-cultural education and a doctorate in education.

His 2011 doctoral dissertation presented to the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education was titled, “Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities.” In it he highlighted “patterns of complacency” and “institutional predeterminations” limiting learning opportunities for English Learners. He concluded,

 “Without a focused commitment of political will among educational leaders to make the necessary improvements in academic programs, gaps in student achievement will likely persist.”

From my perspective, it seems that the normalization of failure of the ELL students continues to influence practices.”

However, all is not sweetness and honey with this new nominee. According to EdWeek, Cardona has been affiliated with New Leaders where he participated in a fellowship program. This is concerning because New Leaders is a billionaire financed organization working to replace University based programs training education leaders with a program featuring their own reform ideology. New Leaders embraces the privatization of public schools and the “school choice” agenda.

In a Bloomberg opinion piece, Andrea Gabor gave this advice to Cardona,

“Eliminating or sharply curtailing standardized tests would save states as much as $1.7 billion and allow districts to reallocate resources. For perspective, that is over 4% of the $39 billion the federal government spends on K-12 education, based on 2018 figures.”

Gabor’s piece prompted Education expert Peter Greene to share a compendium of his articles written about the useless nature of the “Big Standardized Test.” He opened his compendium with this simple declarative sentence, “I’ve been banging the ‘Get Rid of the BS Test’ for years, but all the reasons it’s a lousy, toxic, destructive-and-not-even-useful force in education are amplified a hundred-fold by our current pandemess.”

Unfortunately, it appears Cardona disagrees. In 2020, the state of Connecticut got a waiver from testing but did not apply for a 2021 waiver. Cardona sent a memo stating, “State assessments are important guideposts to our promise of equity.” and “They are the most accurate tool available to tell us if all students … are growing and achieving at the highest levels on the state standards.”

This is sad because it has been widely demonstrated that the BS test is useless for measuring student achievement. Their only values are as a profit generating business and creating propaganda to privatize schools.

During his Connecticut confirmation hearing, Cardona responded to a question about charter schools with “Charter schools provide choice for parents that are seeking choice, so I think it’s a viable option.” Hopefully when he gets out of a state that only has 24 charter schools, he will recognize the devastation they are wreaking on public schools.

The other issue Cardona will face immediately is reopening schools for face to face classes. The AP reports that Biden wants all schools opened within 100 days of his nomination. That means all schools open by May 1. If Biden gets his announced recovery package through and 100 million people vaccinated by then, it seems doable. It is concerning that Cardona tried to get Connecticut schools open with the pandemic raging.

A coalition of Connecticut labor unions said in a joint statement. “If selected as Secretary of Education, Dr. Cardona would be a positive force for public education — light years ahead of the dismal Betsy DeVos track record.” That may be true but the labor leaders don’t seem to be in touch with their rank and file.

Nicole Rizzo an organizer for Connecticut Public School (CTPS) Advocates conducted a survey on the (CTPS) Advocates Facebook page in reaction to the Education Union Coalition’s endorsement of Cardona. She found that an extremely small percentage of the 392 educators polled supported his nomination (7.1%), while a big majority did not (92.9%).

Final Comment

At the Education Forum 2020, Joe Biden’s responded to Dr. Denisha Jones’ question will you end mandated standardized testing in public schools? He answered with an unequivocal “yes.” Biden then went on for more than five minutes about why he opposed testing. However as Diane Ravitch has observed, he did not include this policy change on his education agenda webpage.

Jan Resseger shared,President Elect Joe Biden prioritized public school funding as the center of his education plan during his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for President.”  Although he does not specifically commit to ending standardized testing, he does commit to significantly increasing public school funding and elaborates on these five listed points of emphasis:

  1. “Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve.
  2.  “Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching.”
  3. “Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.”
  4.  “Provide every middle and high school student a path to a successful career.”
  5. “Start investing in our children at birth.”

There are many reasons for students, parents and teachers to be hopeful that responsible leadership has come to national education policy after a fifty-year drought. On the other hand, it is not clear that the new administration will oppose the destructive “school choice” ideology as a central focus. There are reasons to pay close attention to the neoliberal anti-public school forces embedded throughout this new administration and be ready to once again man the ramparts. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.”

Update added 1/19/2021: Today, Cindy Marten was nominated by Joe Biden to be Deputy Secretary of Education. I have met Marten a few times and believe she is a special kind of leader committed to public education. This gives me great hope. For the first time, we have two educators with deep k-12 experience running the Department of Education. This article from the San Diego Union gives a good synopsis of her education career. In his announcement Biden noted, “Superintendent, principal, vice principal and literacy specialist are all job titles Marten has held in her 32-year career as an educator.”

The appointment makes me think the Biden administration may become the best friend public education has had in Washington DC since the Department of Education was created. Of course, Marten does not walk on water but from my perspective she is the real deal.

St. Louis Public Education Theft Accelerates

30 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/30/2020

A proposal to close 11 more public schools in St. Louis came before the school board on December 15. Based on Superintendent Kelvin Adams’ recommendation the final decision was postponed until January. It is not clear why Adams pulled back his own recommendation, but it is clear that public education in St. Louis is being dismantled.

In 1967, St. Louis’s school population peaked at 115,543. It was by far the largest school district in the state of Missouri. In 2020, total enrollment sank below 20,000 to for the first time to 19,222 and St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) is no longer the state’s largest K-12 district.

From 1967 to 2000 there was an enrollment decline of over 71,000 students. In a 2017 article, Journalist Jeff Bryant took an in depth look at the forces undermining St. Louis and its schools. He noted three defining events that turned St. Louis into the World’s most incredible shrinking city.

An 1876 home rule law enacted by city business leaders to keep control of the city’s economic engines created and locked in city boundaries. Today, there are over 90 municipalities surrounding St. Louis. After World War II, federal housing policies and racists lending practices created white flight to the burgeoning adjacent communities. Finally Bryant explains,

“Legislation passed in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s deregulating a number of key industries – including airlines and banking – put large St. Louis employers at a disadvantage. Then, new laws lifting anti-trust enforcement, passed during the Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton presidential administrations, subjected St. Louis’s leading industries to corporate takeover or rendered them uncompetitive.

“Consequently, St. Louis went from hosting 23 Fortune 500 headquarters in 1980 to hosting just nine in 2015.”

The Attack on Public Schools

 From 2000 to 2020, the student population in St. Louis has again fallen by more than half from 44,264 to 19,222. Some of that decline can be attributed to the continuation of migration to the suburbs which now includes Black families. However, a large portion of the drop is due to the growth of charter schools. The charter school enrollment for 2020 was at least 11,215 students which represents 37% of the district’s publicly supported students.

Like the national trend, the privatized schools chartered by the state, educate a lower percentage of the more expensive special education students; charters 11.4% versus SLPS 15.1%.

In 1997, the Heartland Institute reported,

“Although Missouri does not yet have a charter school law, a Charter Schools Technical Assistance Conference was held in St. Louis on November 22 with Mayor Clarence Harmon as the keynote speaker. Sponsored by the Charter Schools Information Center, the Saturday workshop featured state legislators, business leaders, and national and local charter school experts, including the Center’s director Laura Friedman and Paul Seibert of Charter Consultants.

“Although a charter school law failed to win legislative approval last spring, there appears to be strong support for the concept and hopes run high for passage in the coming session.”

The Heartland Institute is an extremely conservative organization with Libertarian ideals including opposition to climate change legislation and support for privatizing public education. Two of Heartland’s key funders are the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee and Charles Koch of Koch Industries.

Mayor Harmon and the Heartland team saw their hopes rewarded in 1998 when Missouri became the 27th state to pass a charter school law. The University of Missouri notes, “Charters were one part of legislation designed to end three decades of court-ordered desegregation in Kansas City and St. Louis, and were limited to those two urban areas.”

In 2000, Mayor Harmon welcomed the first charter school in St. Louis, Lift for Life Academy.

The next year Francis Slay defeated Harmon in the mayoral race.

Slay like Harmon was a Democrat. He would serve for the next four terms. Over that time Slay developed a reputation as a charter school champion.

In 2002, Slay put together almost $800,000 to bring 50 fake teachers in from Teach For America (TFA). “Fake” because they have almost no training. It’s like calling a liberal arts college graduate with five weeks of summer training a lawyer or a dentist or an architect.

Slay increased his control over SLPS by putting together and financing a slate of four candidates for the seven member school board. A 2003 report in the River Front Times states,

Slay loaned $50,000 from his campaign fund to support the slate. Major area corporations kicked in with Anheuser-Busch, Ameren and Emerson Electric each giving $20,000. Energizer Eveready Battery Company gave $15,000. The coalition raised more than $235,000.

Within a month of taking their positions, the school board voted to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants. St. Louis paid A&M $4.8 million to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti was to be superintendent of schools. His official title was changed to “Chief Restructuring Officer.” The clothing store leader had never worked in a school before.

Bryant reported, “Slay and this team attended training on how to remodel the district along business lines provided by the Broad Foundation, a private foundation that has long been a powerful advocate of charter schools.” However, their decision to bring in business professionals turned into a disaster. Deficit ballooned, teachers revolted, the district lost state accreditation and the state took over from the elected school board.

In 2005, the billionaire, Rex Sinquefield, returned to his roots in Missouri. Rex a former orphan became wealthy when he and a partner from the University of Chicago developed and marketed the first index funds. Rex also has economic views that align with the libertarian small government ideology of his Nobel Prize winning peers Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan. 

Rex and wife Jeanne are proponents of “school choice.” They fund the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri (CEAM) claiming that the St. Louis based organization is the leading education reform organization in the state. They contribute millions to the right wing think tanks Show-Me Institute, which Rex also founded, and Missouri Club for Growth.

Sinquefield has made large campaign donations to Mayor Francis Slay plus Slay’s cousin, Laura Slay, is the Executive Director of CEAM. Laura is also owner of a public relations firm which regularly represents Rex. 

In 2011, former TFA corps member Charli Cooksey and three other former corps members founded the now defunct InspireSTL. In 2016, Cooksey resigned from InspireSTL to run for the powerless school board. The leadership at InspireSTL went to another former TFA corps member, Adam Layne.

Susan Turk of St. Louis Schools Watch reported that Cooksey received a $30,000 campaign contribution from Leadership for Education Equity (LEE). LEE is a billionaire funded and directed organization spending to elect former TFA corps members to school boards and other political positions.

In 2018, a former TFA corps member and employee for 14 years, Eric Scroggins, founded The Opportunity Trust. That same year The City Fund gifted the newly formed Opportunity Trust $5.5 million. That is the fund started in 2018 by former Enron trader John Arnold and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. They consider The Opportunity Trust their partner in St. Louis.

Charli Cooksey left the school board to found WEBPOWER, an organization meant to create community leaders to advance the privatization of public education and school choice.

In 2019, Cooksey’s successor at InspireSTL, Adam Layne, followed her path to the SLPS school board. He and fellow TFA alum Tracee Miller won the two seats available in 2019. That is the same year the state finally handed back control of SLPS to the elected school board. Miller raised local money and got a $1000 donation from LEE. Layne’s campaign raised almost no money but got a large donation from Public School Allies the political arm of The City Fund.

Tracee Miller has since resigned from the school board and written a scathing article about her experience:

“Shortly after my election to the BOE, I was approached by Eric Scroggins, founder and CEO of The Opportunity Trust, to visit The Mind Trust, an organization with a similar mission in Indianapolis. He personally selected three members of the BOE to attend. I am a person who is open to ideas and who believes in public education. I joined the trip with the understanding that it would be an opportunity to learn about innovative strategies being used in another Midwest city. However, the more questions that I asked and the more non-answers or unsatisfactory explanations that I heard, the more I realized that their agenda, and not students, was the priority.”

“I met with WEPOWER employee Gloria Nolan in what felt like a friendly conversation where the stated goal was to explore ways to bring the BOE and WEPOWER together; however, less than a week after this conversation WEPOWER attacked my credibility with false information and an out-of-context recording during the public comment portion of a BOE meeting. In addition, when I expressed concerns about the trip to Indianapolis, financial connections to school board members, or that these groups did not seem to focus on all education providers but only on SLPS, both WEPOWER and The Opportunity Trust ceased communication with me.”

“Mr. Scroggins eventually contacted me to let me know that he found my questioning of his approach to education reform to be misguided. He used patronizing and intimidating language to attack my ethics and integrity on account of my opposition to Senate Bills 525, 603, and 649 regarding the expansion of charter schools, and accused me of being uninformed and incapable of leadership, of ignoring science, and of perpetuating inequity.”

“Most notably, The Opportunity Trust funded the strategic plan for the Normandy School District, which resulted in the hiring of Marcus Robinson, former Executive-in-Residence at The Opportunity Trust, as its new superintendent. Normandy is opening their first charter school (also funded in part by The Opportunity Trust) in Fall 2021.”

In 2017, longtime 28th Ward Alderman, Lyda Krewson, became the next neoliberal Democrat serving as Mayor in St. Louis. After she doxxed people calling on her to de-fund the police, a large demonstration heading to her home made national news. Krewson’s gun toting neighbors, Mark McCloskey and his wife Patricia, threatened the passing crowd with guns, admonishing them to stay off their property.

Mayor Krewson has kept up the nepotistic schemes attacking public schools. Jack Krewson the mayor’s son is a co-founder of Kairos Academies along with creator Gavin Schiffres. The school’s design was developed in 2015 as a capstone project for Schiffres’s undergraduate degree at YALE. The Opportunity Trust also invested in the incubation and then launch of Kairos Academy, the first personalized learning school in St. Louis.

In other words, three TFA alums, Scroggins, Schiffres and Krewson, have teamed up to sell edtech to St. Louis. They have an “innovative” plan to put kids at screens, the last thing 21st century kids need. At the same time excellent public schools with real teachers are being closed.

Developing the Portfolio District Model

The City Fund is known for its support of the portfolio district management model. It is a method that removes control of schools from elected boards and replaces them with private businesses either for profit or non-profit. The evaluations are based on standardized testing results meaning the lowest performing schools are closed and replaced invariably by a privatized school. Since standardized testing only measures relative family wealth accurately, this plan guarantees schools in poor communities will be privatized.

 In 2008, the state overseers selected Dr. Kelvin Adams (is it OK to call him Dr.?) to be Superintendent of schools in St. Louis; the position he still occupies. At the time, Peter Downs the President of the elected school board called the selection unacceptable.

Adams came to St. Louis from the Recovery School District in New Orleans where he was second-in-command to the infamous Paul Vallas. Prior to the Saint Louis announcement, Vallas had stated publicly that Adams was his top choice as a successor. Being thought of as a successor to a known virulent opponent of public schools was a big concern. However, Adams took over the mess left by A&M; fixed the financial issues, raised attendance rates, lowered dropout rates and got the district accreditation restored.

Adams also continued to close schools. SLPS has gone from 93 schools when he arrived to 68 schools now and he wants to close 11 more.  

A component of the portfolio model school districts in both Indianapolis and Denver is Innovation Schools. The American Legislative Exchange Council has created model legislation for the development of these schools which are removed from the purview of the elected school board and given to a non-elected board. The ultra-right wing billionaire Charles Koch of Koch Industries is the key funder of ALEC. Koch has a long history of opposing public education.

Superintendent Adams is an outspoken advocate of school choice, the portfolio model and innovation schools. In fact, he claims as an achievement, “Created a portfolio of schools to provide meaningful choices for students and parents.” In 2019, Adams introduced innovation schools to Saint Louis calling them the Consortium Partnership Network. The announcement on the SLPS webpage states,

“Beginning January 2019, the CPN school principal and teacher leadership teams began a 4-month planning process together to define school structures, working conditions, priorities and budgets. This process was facilitated by Bellwether Education Partners…”

Bellwether Education Partners came into being in 2011 when it was cofounded by New Schools Venture Fund founding CEO Kim Smith and former Clinton administration domestic policy advisor Andrew J. Rotherham. Both Smith and Rotherham have had lucrative careers attacking public education for their billionaire funders.

It is clear that St. Louis Public Schools are in trouble and the vultures are circling. They have been weakened and are targeted by billionaires like Rex Sinquefield, Reed Hastings, Alice Walton, John Arnold, Bill Gates…

A paper written by National Board Certified Teacher Ceresta Smith, Why People of Color Must Reject Market-Based Education Reforms, has a profound message for the large Black population in St. Louis. Their democratic right to govern their own schools is being stolen and they must resist. Most of the 23 page paper cites other studies that support her opening statements:

“Reformers assert that test-based teacher evaluation, increased school “choice” through expanded access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under enrolled schools will boost falling student achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps.”

    •  “Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
    • “Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
    • “Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
    • “School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.
    • “Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.
    • “Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.
    • “The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.”

In the conclusion Ceresta says to care givers for students of color,

“Of high importance, they must not fall prey to the trap of “school choice,” which in itself is a method of racist exclusion that provides for a “few” at the expense of the “many.”  Instead, they must first and foremost, stop allowing their children to be used to further the inequities in public education and ultimate wealth building.”