Selling Education Growth Models

25 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/25/2020

Deformers in California are outraged. Along with Kansas it is one of only two states that do not use student growth models to measure school performance. In a 2019 brief published by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), USC Professor of Education Policy Morgan Polikoff writes,

“Based on the existing literature and an examination of California’s own goals for the Dashboard and the continuous improvement system, the state should adopt a student-level growth model as soon as possible. Forty-eight states have already done so; there is no reason for California to hang back with Kansas while other states use growth data to improve their schools.”

This may sound dire. California is getting left in the dust. After all, everybody else is doing it. However, there is a skunk or two in the wood pile.

PACE and the California Office of Reform Education (CORE) sound like official governmental organizations but they are in fact billionaire created institutions developed for the purpose of controlling public school policy. Today, PACE and CORE work closely together in pursuing disrupter agendas such as developing an inexpensive method of holding schools accountable. Growth models using standardized testing are being promoted in California and nationwide despite the evidence undermining their validity.

In 1982, using a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, Gerald Hayward, Michael Kirst and James Guthrie founded PACE. They originally called it “Policy Alternatives for California Education.” Since then they have replaced the term “Alternatives” with the word “Analysis.” PACE helped the department of education develop a blue Ribbon commission for the teaching profession in 1984. When republican governor George Deukmejian officially created the commission, PACE had solidified its position of influence within state education circles.

CORE was created in 2010 with two agendas; implementing common core and establishing the infrastructure of Competency Based Education (CBE). The original financing came from the Stuart Foundation which provided $700,000 in 2010 and $800,000 in 2011. At about the same time one of the minority owners of the San Francisco Giants, Phil Halperin, formed California Education Partners which became the administrative and fundraising arm of CORE.

Halperin also runs the Silver Giving Foundation, a philanthropy he founded with money amassed working as a partner in the Weston Presidio private equity firm. His official biography on the Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies web site (he is an advisory board trustee) says that at Weston Halperin was, “focused on information technology, consumer branding, telecommunications and media, and that he previously worked at Lehman Brothers and Montgomery Securities.”

Originally conceived as an organization for leaders in urban school districts to share strategies, CORE gained notoriety when its eight districts (Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Ana, Sanger, Sacramento City and Fresno) made a legally questionable side deal with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In 2013 after Duncan denied California’s NCLB waiver request, the CORE districts – led by Los Angeles’s Broad Academy trained Superintendent John Deasy – came up with a separate accountability scheme from the state’s to obtain waivers.

CORE and PACE are financed by groups Diane Ravitch’s new book Slaying Goliath labels as disrupters.

CORE and PACE Funders

Information Clipped from the Funders Pages of CORE and PACE

Promoting Education Growth Models

Standard Growth Model Design

Tultican’s Fundamental Education Growth Model

The book An Incomplete Education tells of Thomas Carlyle stating that economics is “the dismal science.” Authors Judy Jones and William Wilson assert, “As with much that economists say, this statement is half true: It is dismal.” In previous eras, leaders had oracles to predict the future. Today, they have economists. People like Stanford’s Eric Hanushek (Economics PhD From MIT) have an outsized influence over education policy when compared with professionals who have spent their life practicing and studying education.

Dr. William Lester Sanders invented the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), also known as the Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS). At the University of Tennessee, Sanders applied the mathematical tools of an economist to animal studies and quantitive genetics. Sanders believed he could apply the same mathematical tools to evaluate schools and teachers. Since the early 1990’s Sanders multivariate growth model has been the gold standard for value-added models (VAM) used to assess teachers.

However, unlike the scientifically well behaved data associated with genetics study, standardized testing data is extremely noisy. The famed Australian researcher Noel Wilson wrote a seminal work in 1998 called Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.” His peer reviewed paper which has never been credibly refuted says error in standardized testing is so large that meaningful inferences are impossible.

Wilson’s paper was followed a year later by a paper from UCLA’s Education Professor James Popham which stated, “Although educators need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness, standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.”

However, the desire to control public education from state capitals and Washington DC required an inexpensive way to evaluate schools and educators. Standardized testing which had been promoted by the Clinton administration was enshrined into federal law by George W. Bush’s administration. Every state was required to ignore the professional warnings and institute standardized testing to evaluated schools. States were threatened with the loss of all federal education dollars if they did not comply.

Misguided testing policies forced the closing of many excellent public schools that were serving poor and minority communities. It was not long before it became very clear that the only reliable correlation with school testing data was student poverty. Last year, the famed education scholar Linda Hammond-Darling mentioned in an Ohio presentation,

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

Now the public is being told that education models can control for poverty, language and other factors. It is said that these models provide a valid analysis of the performance of teachers, schools and districts. However, the noise associated with standardized testing data still leads to “garbage in – garbage out.”

In 2013, Professor Katherine E. Castellano, University of California, Berkeley and Professor Andrew D. Ho, Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote A Practitioner’s Guide to Growth Models.” Their paper was commissioned by the Council of Chief State School Officers (Major funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). In it they identify and describe seven education growth models. These seven can be reduced to three unique models; gain model, residual-gain model and multivariate model.

The gain model looks at gains individual students make from one year to the next by taking the difference in scores. Residual-gain models create an expected growth level and the data developed is the difference between the expected and the actual. The third model is the Sanders multivariate model which creates algorithms to control for student and school effects on testing results.

The simplest model to understand is the gain-model.

Page 37 Gain Model Example

Graphic from the Practitioners Guide – Illustrating Gain-Model

Four problems with this model begin with noisy testing data input into the model. A vertical scores scale must be created using many assumptions. Obviously, third grade data and forth grade data are from different tests so a vertical scale to compare the scores must be created. In order to operate, this model requires unique identifier data for each student tested. Like all growth models, yearly testing of every student is required.

The gain-model is the least mathematically manipulated model with the least amount of assumptions required. The residual-gain model requires significantly more manipulation and the multivariate model is the most complex, manipulated and opaque of them all. None of the three models have been decisively shown to provide accurate analysis but strong evidence has emerged that they do not.

Jesse Rothstein is a professor of public policy and economics at University of California, Berkeley. In 2007 he used data from North Carolina to conduct a falsification test of various value added models. He ran the models to see what effect fifth grade teachers had on fourth grade learning. Shockingly he discovered, “In particular, these models indicate large “effects” of 5th grade teachers on 4th grade test score gains.” Whatever the three models he tested were measuring it clearly was not teacher effect on learning.

An article by Linda Hammond Darling echoes a large number researchers who note the instability of VAM results. She shared, “A study examining data from five school districts found, for example, that of teachers who scored in the bottom 20% of rankings in one year, only 20% to 30% had similar ratings the next year, while 25% to 45% of these teachers moved to the top part of the distribution, scoring well above average.”

In 2014, the American Statistical Association weighed in on using VAMs to analyze educators and schools,

“The VAM scores themselves have large standard errors, even when calculated using several years of data. These large standard errors make rankings unstable, even under the best scenarios for modeling”.

Just this last November, another falsification study was run. Researchers Marianne Bitler Department of Economics University of California Davis, Thurston Domina School of Education UNC Chapel Hill, Sean Corcoran Vanderbilt University and Emily Penner University of California Irvine collaborated on the paperTeacher Effects on Student Achievement and Height: A Cautionary Tale.” This paper which is still undergoing peer review used New York City student data to run a VAM study of teacher effects on student growth in height. They found, “Using a common measure of effect size in standard deviation units, we find a 1σ increase in ‘value-added’ on the height of New York City 4th graders is about 0.22σ, or 0.65 inches.” This effect size was found statistically significant when permutation testing was applied. The height effects measured were in the same range as the effects measured for math and English testing.

What is being measured? Certainly teachers do not have an effect on student growth in height.

Why are PACE and CORE Advocating Education Growth Models?

CORE is offering to run growth measures for California school districts using the residual gain model. The banker with no professional background in education who is now superintendent of the nation’s second largest school district has taken CORE up on its offer. Austin Beutner says it’s a better way to judge a school’s impact on student learning.

Now multiple years of student data and personal information are being shipped off to CORE. What could go wrong?

CORE Executive Director, Rick Miller promises, “Through our partnership with Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), we will also continue to share our quantitative and qualitative findings with state and federal decision makers to inform policy.”

The answer to why these billionaire funded organizations are leading the push for growth models in California is money and power. With student identified data and a required multiple consecutive years of testing there is big money to be made. And pro-school choice organizations like GO Public schools in Oakland like it because the model can then be used to justify privatizing more public schools. It is the No Child Left Behind test and punish scheme hidden behind obscure economic algorithms. However, it is more destructive and misguided.

 

Providence Public Schools Threatened

13 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/13/2020

November 1, 2019, Angélica Infante-Green, Rhode Island’s new Commissioner of Education, announced the state was taking over Providence Public Schools. A neoliberal Democratic governor, a like minded mayor and the chamber of commerce appear to be instituting a school privatization agenda.

All power over schools in the state is held by the governor and mayors. Citizens do not have the right vote for local school leaders and school system leaders are subordinates of mayors. This structural weakness in Rhode Island has left public education vulnerable to the whims of a governor or mayor that does not respect professional educators and public education.

In 2011, Mayor Angel Taveras fired all of the teachers of Providence. In a recent article, Go Local Providence called it a “big bold idea” and seemed to lament that the teachers union got the firings reversed within a few days. This prompted Diane Ravitch to comment,

“Apparently the News Team wants the state commissioner to fire all the teachers now and is egging her on to do so.”

“Who will want to teach in a district where teachers are disposable, like tissues?

“Will Teach for America supply the new teachers after the existing workforce has been fired? Will they agree to stay longer than two years?”

Setting Up Providence Public Schools

Latino Public Radio reported on March 26, 2019, “The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education voted unanimously this evening, with the support of the full Rhode Island Board of Education, to appoint Angélica Infante-Green as the next Commissioner of Education.” This was really a pro forma vote. Governor Gina Raimondo selected Infante-Green as well as all of the state school board. Once Raimondo made her choice, it was a done deal.

RI Neoliberals

Recently Raimondo was judged to be the most unpopular governor in America. The Providence Journal reported in October:

“The second-term Democrat’s job performance is viewed unfavorably by 56% of registered voters, according to website Morning Consult, the most negative response during her time in office and the highest in the country. Only 36% of poll respondents, surveyed between July 1 and Sept. 30, viewed her favorably.”

Gina attended private school while growing up in Providence. She studied economics at Harvard and sociology at Oxford University. Following Oxford she earned a juris doctorate from Yale Law.

Raimondo worked in Massachusetts at the venture capital firm Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital before she ran to be Rhode Island State Treasurer in 2010. A puff piece in News Week describes how Gina defeated labor union opposition to roll back pension funds. The piece states, “The changes she persuaded the Democrat-controlled Legislature to pass over union opposition will save about $3 billion by delaying retirement, suspending cost-of-living increases and offering workers 401(k)-type savings plans.”

Her neoliberal pension reform plan matches the thinking of Charles Koch and the Cato Institute. The corporate supported American Legislative Exchange Council provides legal templates for reforming pension funds that look very much like Raimondo’s Rhode Island pension reforms.

Following her first term election in 2014, Raimondo selected Ken Wagner, a deputy of John King’s in the New York State Department of Education, to be Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education. The New York Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, praised Wagner and said he would be a big loss but was a great choice for Rhode Island. Wagner replaced Deborah Gist who left for the superintendent’s job in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Last year, the governor was faced with making another education commissioner choice. While it is unclear why Wagner resigned the position in March 2019, Raimondo was prepared to immediately select Angélica Infante-Green who trained under Joel Klien and Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Infante-Green is a former Teach for America Corp member who began her career in New York City.

According to Angélica’s LinkedIn page, she taught at PS 4M, CS 77X, and South Park High School between 1994 and 1998. All of her administrative experience appears to revolve around bilingual education. She has never been a superintendent or a principal, which makes her an odd choice to lead Rhode Island’s schools.

However, she was in the first cohort of future chiefs at Jeb Bush’s Chief’s for Change. Their official comment on Angélica’s hiring came from Chief’s for Change board member Pedro Martinez. He said, “We applaud Gov. Gina Raimondo for selecting a commissioner with a deep commitment to creating and expanding opportunities for all students.” Martinez is the Broad trained administrator who is instituting the billionaire financed portfolio model of education reform in San Antonio, Texas; a model that posits disruption as good and democracy as a hindrance.

Researchers from John Hopkins University conducted a review of Providence Public Schools. Their report begins,

“In May 2019, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy led a review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). We did so at the invitation of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner, Ms. Angélica Infante-Green, with the support of Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza. The Partnership for Rhode Island funded the review.”

Infante-Green officially assumed her position on April 29 and in May she already had arranged for corporate money to finance a study of PPSD.

The corporate money came from The Partnership for Rhode Island, a group of leading CEO’s in the state. The Governor and the Mayor supported the new Commissioner of Education’s invitation for the study to be done. When the report was released, media, politicians and business executive started vehemently denouncing PPSD as a dysfunctional failure.

Parnership for Rhode Island

Corporations Represented by the Partnership’s Chief Executives Officers

Mayor Jorge Elorza is a product of PPSD where he claims to have barely graduated. He went to community college then studied accounting at University of Rhode Island which led to an auditing position at PricewaterhouseCooper in New York. He obtained a law degree from Harvard in 2003. After the death of a friend in 2005, Elorza said he was motivated to leave Wall Street and return to Providence where he taught Law at Roger Williams University School of Law. He first ran for Mayor of Providence and won in 2014.

The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and by July 19th Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to takeover PPSD.

In June, the PPSD Superintendent, Christopher N. Maher stepped down. He said it was for family reasons but admitted that the layers of bureaucracy, which have been identified by previous superintendents as the reason for leaving was a factor. He is cited in the Johns Hopkins report saying the Mayor micro-manages the district and that he had to get city council permission to spend more than $5,000. He felt powerless.

In a clear indication that the teachers union was going to be targeted, the new interim superintendent hired to replace Maher was the former Central Falls School District Superintendent, Frances Gallo. She was the administrator praised by Arne Duncan in 2010 for firing all of the teachers at Central Falls High School.

Poverty and Language Learners Underlie PPSD’s Testing Data Struggles

The Johns Hopkins report was based on interviews with the mayor, the city council, the superintendent plus students, teachers and parents from 12 of PPSD’s 41 schools. The report notes, “While we scrupulously report what our team heard and observed, it is very important to note that it was not within our purview to confirm, through further research, the veracity of what we were told by different leaders and district stakeholders.” In other words, this was a very limited review, but it has been widely cited as proof the school district is a disaster.

There are many interesting comments and claims in the report, but the main proof of failure at PPSD is testing data. The report states,

“We know from existing data that student achievement in Providence has been low for decades. Despite the hard work of countless teachers, administrators, and city employees, the latest RICAS scores show that, across the grade levels, a full 90 percent of students are not proficient in math, and a full 86 percent are not proficient in English Language Arts.”

The district’s web page description of the student body makes it obvious why the students are struggling on standardized tests. PPSD reports,

“Our schools are diverse learning communities. Approximately 65% of our students are Latinx, 16% Black, 9% White, 5% Asian, 4% Multi-racial and 1% Native American.

“Approximately 31% of students are multilingual learners, and about 16% of students receive special education services. Approximately 55% of students come from homes where English is not the primary language spoken. Combined, our students and families speak 55 different languages and hail from 91 countries of origin.”

Providence is also one of the poorest urban areas in Rhode Island.

Poverty Comparison

US Census Data Showing Income and Poverty Rates

The cities listed on the chart above all have school districts that the Rhode Island Department of Education calls ”CSI” Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools.

Professor Noliwe Rooks writes in her book Cutting Schools, “While the standardized testing gap between people of color and whites and Asian Americans is bad, it’s nothing compared to the gap between the poor and the wealthy.”

Professor Rooks also coined the term “segrenomics” to describe the business strategy of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation. It appears that this is the plan for Providence.

The Johns Hopkins report states, “We note one particular success that consistently emerged across all constituencies: Every group noted the presence of many devoted teachers, principals, and some district leaders who go above and beyond to support student success.” The best hope for PPSD is they have a teachers union that will stand against the Mayor’s love affair with often useless education technology and the forces working to privatize public education.

Twitter: @tultican

“We Are the Resistance and We Are Winning.”

1 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/1/2020

Historian and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch’s, new book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools is due for release January 21. This masterpiece weaves together recent history with illuminating data concerning “corporate driven education reforms.

The reported community response to self-anointed reformers is spiritually uplifting. Ravitch presents strong evidence that resistance to their reforms is carrying the day.  She declares, “Judged by their own chosen metrics – standardized test scores – the fake ‘reforms’ failed.”

Diane tells a deeply personal story of her own journey through the education wars while bringing to life the experiences of teachers, students and parents harmed by “fake reforms.” In this captivating read, Ravitch describes the fight to save the commons.

Goliath_0001

Disruption and Changing Course

There is a parallel between Diane Ravitch and Elizabeth Warren. Both Warren and Ravitch were scholars whose research led them to a profound change of thought. Warren was fundamentally a moderate Republican when she began researching bankruptcy law. Ravitch was an advocate of top down standards based education reform. Through their personal research both these women awakened to personal error and went out to make amends. Warren became the bane of the banking industry and a tiger in Democratic politics. Ravitch threw up a stop sign in front of “corporate education reform” and has become its most virulent opponent.

When I mentioned something Ravitch wrote in 2012 to a teacher colleague, that veteran teacher in my neighboring classroom expressed open hostility toward her. He remembered Lamar Alexander’s resident scholar in the Department of Education and her full throated advocacy of standards and testing accountability. He remembered her papers published by the Brookings Institute. Since then, Ravitch has overcome many of her skeptics by working harder than anyone else and fearlessly leading the fight to save authentic public education.

In Slaying Goliath Ravtich shares,

“Having worked as assistant secretary of education for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the administration of President George H. W. Bush and for many years in some of the nation’s leading conservative think tanks, I had hoped that privatization and testing would produce sweeping improvement, especially for the neediest students. It didn’t. I couldn’t pretend otherwise. I came to realize that the privatization movement was a continuation of a decades-long campaign by right-wingers who hated public schools, which they derisively called ‘government schools.’ I renounced my own past views and determined to expose the well-funded smear campaign against American public schools and their teachers.”

What should we call the proponents of the choice agenda fueled by standardized testing driven accountability? What do we call those wealthy elites financing the push for charter schools, vouchers and public school closures? Ravitch refuses to call them “reformers” or what they promote “reform.” She recites various appellations people use; “deformers,” or the “financial privatization cabal,” or the “Destroy Public Education Movement.” She observes that “reform” has positive connotations that denotes ‘“improvement,’ ‘progress,’ and ‘uplift.’”

An oft stated goal of this corporate driven agenda is disruption. Disruption is an odd management theory championed at Harvard University in 1995. It posits disruption as a needed ingredient for innovation-driven growth. Ravitch decided they have named themselves.

“They are Disrupters. They are masters of chaos, which they inflict on other people’s children, without a twinge of remorse.”

From the beginning of the book on, Ravitch refers to the “Disrupters.”

Strategy of the Disrupters

A natural starting point for analyzing the era of the Disrupters is the Reagan administration’s 1983 polemic, “A Nation at Risk.” Ravitch shares that Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency with three goals for public education; (1) abolish the US Department of Education, (2) restore school prayer and (3) introduce school vouchers for religious and other private schools.

His Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, had other ideas. To save the department, he established “The National Commission on Excellence in Education.” In its report written by American business leaders and a venerated scientist, they did not call for prayer or vouchers, however, they blamed public education for the nation’s economic struggles which Ravitch saw as “no less destructive.” She cites an NPR report in which the authors candidly admitted that the data was “‘cherry-picked’ to make American public schools look as bad as possible.

When the Department of Energy commissioned engineers at the Sandia Nation Laboratories to study the current status of American education in 1990, they criticized “The Nation at Risk” as overly alarmist. Sandia found that test scores, graduation rates, and other indicators were actually improving. In Slaying Goliath, Ravitch’s shares an insiders perspective. She writes,

“At the time, I was assistant secretary of education for education research and improvement, and in 1992, I attended the Energy Department’s briefing about the Sandia report. I accompanied David Kearns, former CEO of Zerox, who was deputy secretary of education, to the meeting. He was outraged by the Sandia report, which contradicted the view of the Department of Education that American public schools were failing and needed radical change. The Energy Department never published the report, but it was immediately leaked to hundreds of influential researchers, who wrote about its findings. In retrospect, the Sandia report got it right. The late Gerald Bracey, a prolific and outspoken education researcher, was highly critical of the conventional wisdom, which I was then defending. I hereby personally apologize to him. He was right. The “crisis in education” was a politically inspired hoax, or as the eminent researchers David Berliner and Bruce Biddle later called it, a ‘Manufactured Crisis.’”

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.

Ravitch goes into significant detail about who are the disrupters. She calls out the billionaires in the private sector driving the school choice agenda and highlights their spending. She states, “Every Republican governor is a disrupter, because they actively support privatization by charters and vouchers.” However, she notes that rural Republican officials understand that public schools are the anchors of their communities and do not support privatization. The Democratic Party also has many disrupters but not in as great of numbers as the Republicans and generally no Democrats support vouchers. The last two Democratic Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, were disrupters.

Conservative groups supporting disruption include the far right Heritage Foundation and the libertarian Cato Institute. Ravitch asserts, “The radical right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the key organization in the world of disruption advocacy.

She lists more than a dozen pro-disrupter “think-tanks” on the right including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center for Education Reform which Ravitch describes as liking “every choice in schooling except public schools.

Before his 1998 election to the governorship of Florida, Jeb Bush served on the board of the Heritage Foundation where he developed his education plans. Diane cites his A+ Plan for education as the “template for disruption.” It combines choice, competition, high-stakes testing, grading schools with A-F grades and accountability as the formula for excellence in education.

Two “liberal” groups, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), push most of the disrupter agenda. In her description of DFER Ravitch writes,

“In 2005, several hedge fund managers – Witney Tilson, Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, John Petry and Charles Ledley – launched Democrats for Education Reform at a posh party on Central Park South in Manhattan, where the inaugural speaker was a young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. DEFR, as it is deceptively called, was founded to support school privatization by making strategic campaign contributions. Inspired by DFER, charter schools became the pet passion of Wall Street.”

“It is likely difficult to throw a beanbag in a corporate or Wall Street boardroom without hitting a member of the board of a charter chain.”

The Victorious Resistance

Tom and Diane in Indianapolis

Tom Ultican and Diane Ravitch at the 2018 NPE Conference

The picture above was taken just over two months before the historic LA teachers strike on January 14, 2019. Following the massive teachers strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, the LA strike was the first one led by a sanctioned teachers union. When the teachers settled their strike after nine days, they did not get any bump in the original take home pay offer but they won big.

USA Today reported, “‘this is much more than a labor agreement,’ said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl. ‘It’s a very broad compact that gets to social justice, educational justice.’” The Los Angeles agreement included class size reductions in all grade levels, 300 additional school nurses, 80 new teacher librarians, one counselor for every 500 students and a 3 percent raise for teachers.

In Arizona, a group of six women established Save Our Schools Arizona to fight the Koch brothers initiated large voucher expansion proposal which was adopted by the Arizona state government. At the Indianapolis NPE conference, Beth Lewis and Sharon Kirsch of SOS Arizona were presented the first of a planned annual Phyllis Bush Award. Against all odds they landed a citizens’ initiative stopping the voucher expansion on to the November 6, 2018 ballot. Later we learned their initiative won with a whopping 65% of the vote.

Ravitch tells these stories and many more of the resistance taking on Goliath and winning.

The saga of Douglas County Colorado being taken over by school privatization forces in 2011 is unique and uplifting. The disrupters immediately established a district school voucher program. That was only the beginning of their agenda, but a bi-partisan group of parents fought back. Today there are no disrupters left on the school board in Douglas County and there are no vouchers.

The account of Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), leading the fight to stop the state from increasing the number of charter schools is amazing. The contest was played out at the ballot box over a referendum to expand the number of charters known as Question-2. Ravitch reports that the MTA directed Madeloni to negotiate with legislators and quotes Madeloni’s negotiating position,

We are glad to talk, but we will not accept any deal that involves any new charter schools. Now, what do you want to talk about?

Question-2 lost 68% to 32%. One of the largest contributors to the yes-on-2 campaign was the world’s now second richest women hailing from Bentonville, Arkansas, Alice Walton. She is an heir to the Walmart fortune.

A Concluding Analysis

Ravitch’s books like The Death and Life of the Great American School System and Reign of Error are scholarly efforts that serve for years as references. Yet, they are written in a fashion that gives the average reader access to the material in an enjoyable and understandable way. I believe that in Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools, Ravitch has upped her game. The stories are riveting and the scholarship underlying them is first rate. This is another game changing book from Diane Ravitch.

Twitter: @tultican

The Best Book of 2019 – Kochland

26 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/26/2019

This may be the finest book thus far in the twenty-first century. Kochland; The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America is the second book by former agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press, Christopher Leonard. His first book, The Meat Racket; The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business received rave reviews; however, Kochland is uniquely special. It is an economic history of America since 1967 that shows the deep changes in our economy that have given rise to a new kind of capitalism. Kochland is told through the lens of Koch Industries whose “annual revenue is larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and US Steel combined.”

Leonard weaves an epic tale of brilliance, philosophical intransigence, greed and ruthlessness. Over almost 600 pages, this enjoyable read clearly elucidates many of the troubling outcomes from the last 50 years like the rolling blackouts in California and the destruction of the labor movement.

Fred Koch, the family patriarch, graduated in Chemical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1922. In 1927, he won a patent for an improved petroleum refining process. Do to legal issues surrounding his patent, Fred ended up working in Stalin’s Russia between 1929 and 1932. This experience informed his extreme anti-communist views. He later joined with Robert Welch and a group of businessmen to establish the virulently anti-communist John Birch Society. In 1960, he published the pamphlet “A Businessman Looks at Communism” in which he claimed that the National Education Association was a communist front organization and that public school books were filled with pro-communist propaganda.

In 1961 Fred convinced his son Charles to leave his new job at Arthur D. Little, Inc. and come back to Wichita to work for the family business. Charles went to work there after an impressive career at MIT earning a BS in general engineering 1957, an MS in nuclear engineering 1958 and an MS in Chemical Engineering 1960.

Kochland is also the story of Charles Koch. In 1966, after five years working for his father, he became the CEO of the company then known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together into the company the family renamed Koch Industries as a tribute to their father. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world. Largest.org lists Cargill, the corporation headquartered in Minnesota and founded in 1865, as the world’s largest privately held company with revenue of $114.7 billion. Koch Industries revenue for the same year came in at $110 billion.

Charles Koch Wichita Business Journal

Charles Koch during a 2014 Interview with the Wichita Business Review

After Charles took over the company, he also started reading everything he could about what made people tick and how societies functioned. Leonard says, “Koch read the work of Karl Marx and other socialist thinkers. He read books on history, on economics, on philosophy and on psychology.” When he was a boy, his father had impressed upon him the evils witnessed in Russia and a fear of government overreach.

It was the works of Austrian economists and philosophers like Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that attracted Koch. He has been described as a libertarian and a conservative but “classical liberal” is a more apt description. Leonard observed, “Hayek, in particular, put forward a radical concept of capitalism and the role that markets should play in society, and his thinking had an enduring effect on Charles Koch.”

In writing about Koch’s 1974 speech to a Dallas gathering, Leonard noted, “Koch chastised the business community for having been seduced by the thinking behind the New Deal.” Koch declared, “Anti-capitalist feelings in the United States are probably more virulent today than ever before.” He went on to say that business leaders needed to fight back and proposed a campaign based on four elements:

  • Education: Public universities needed to be populated with people who would advocate for free enterprise and do research to support it.
  • Media Outreach: Businesses should appropriately “reward” the media when they promote free markets and withdraw support when they attack them.
  • Litigation: “Announce publicly and vigorously, both as individual companies and through associations, that they will not cooperate with the government beyond the legally compelled minimum in developing or complying with control programs.”
  • Political influence: Koch recommended lobbying and “litigation to affect bureaucratic behavior.” He cautioned that the temptation to game the system through lobbying ultimately undercuts business; therefore it should be a “limited program.”

Leonard reports,

“Charles Koch would remain remarkably true to this basic game plan over the next forty years. The only part that would change significantly would be the ‘limited’ nature of lobbying and campaign contributions. Koch would eventually build one of the largest lobbying and political influence machines in US history. But the rest of the plan was executed almost exactly as he laid it out in 1974.”

The First Big Cash Cow

In 1969, Charles Koch completed a secret plan to go from being a minority share holder to sole owner of the Pine Bend Oil Refinery near Rosemount, Minnesota. He convinced J. Howard Marshall to sell his share in the refinery for stock in the newly formed Koch Industries. He then went to the now minority owner, Great Northern, and convinced them to sell its stake. Leonard says, “Charles Koch saw something in the refinery that others didn’t see.”

Pine Blend

The Pine Bend Refinery – StartTribune Photo

Pine Bend was one of the few refineries in the United States that had access to a special form of Canadian Oil that was very cheap and it was set up to refine the dirty oil. Koch sold gasoline from Pine Blend into a retail market that was particularly expensive. Pretty much all executives at Koch industries call Pine Blend a “cash cow.” This acquisition continuously supplies the Koch machine with cash.

Leonard recounts in detail the decades-long family struggle over control of Koch Industries. During this period Charles refused to take the corporation public much to the chagrin of brothers Fred and Bill. Charles and David came out of the fight as co-owners of the company.

Koch was accused of stealing oil from Native Americans by errantly measuring the amount of crude drawn from storage tanks. They were also cited for breaking environmental protection laws at both their refineries (Pine Blend and Corpus Christy). Koch was gaining a reputation as a criminal corporation.

Koch Industries is infused with Charles Koch’s Market Base Management (MBM) theory. MBM is the common language spoken by all managers and most workers at Koch. It guides everything from trading to labor management to safety. Its glaring failure is the inability to solve safety problems at Georgia-Pacific. Deaths and major injuries are on the rise there. MBM when applied in labor relations is anti-union and creates a difficult high pressure environment for hourly wage earners.

Koch’s trading organizations along with the Koch financed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were heavily involved in the deregulation of California’s electrical grid and the underlying corruption that led to rolling blackouts across the state.

Koch was also a big players in the derivatives markets that played a central role in the 2008 financial meltdown.

Christopher Leonard chronicles all of these episodes and provides deep insight. He explains how the shift from managerial theory in the 1960’s to agency theory in the late 1970’s had changed corporate governance. His relationships created with scientists, managers, laborers and union officials and the telling of their stories sheds new light on the internal operations of Koch Industries.

He shows how neoliberalism captured both major American political parties and describes Koch’s development of the largest most effective political influence organization in America. Koch constructed his political assets patiently over the past fifty years. Sometimes known as the “Kochtopus,” it includes political organizations like Americans for Prosperity and think-tanks like CATO Institute. When the state based organizations are included, these political pressure entities number into the hundreds.

Koch’s entire corporate structure is always focused on gathering information which is one of the primary reasons under-girding its success. Koch always has an information advantage during negotiations. In the early 2000’s, Koch’s traders started learning about the effects fracking would have on energy markets. Operating under the radar, Koch built an oil superhighway (pipelines) out of the Eagle Ford region of south Texas to its Corpus Christy refinery and a Koch shipping terminal. When fracking caused millions of barrels of oil to start flowing from Eagle Ford, Koch had another “cash cow.”

However, the enormous profits from Corpus Christy and Pine Blend were being threatened by efforts in the Obama administration to fight global warming.

Koch Defeats Climate Change Legislation

Leonard states, “Koch Industries, Exxon-Mobil, and other firms spent millions of dollars to support the idea that there was an ‘alternative’ view about climate change between 1991 and 2009.” In 2009, it was Koch’s political network that undermined and eventually killed the Waxman-Markey “cap and trade” bill, the last major federal attempt to fight the growth in greenhouse gasses causing global warming.

Climate Denier Scientist Paid by Koch

Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon – Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Greenpeace)

Willie Soon claimed that the variation in earth temperature had to do with changes in the sun’s output. He was lavishly supported by Kock. Soon never mentioned in his 11 papers; the more than $1.2 million dollars he received from the fossil fuel industry. The New York Times reported, “Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, acknowledged … that Dr. Soon had violated the disclosure standards of some journals.”

Head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin A. Schmidt said, “The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless.”

It was congressman Mike Pence of Indiana who made the final argument on the house floor against Cap and Trade. But it was the Koch political machine that finally killed the bill in the senate. Koch’s intentionally obscured and complex organization led the fight. Their primary target was Republicans who stood against Koch on the issue of climate change. Leonard explains,

“These Republicans were the primary targets for a reason. Koch’s long-term plan was to reshape the Republican party, and these members would be made an example of. The strategy wasn’t necessarily new. But the means that Koch used to pursue were unprecedented.”

“In 2009 and 2010, Koch Industries’ political network created new Republican candidates, seemingly out of nowhere, who rose up and challenged sitting congressmen and senators. Koch’s chosen candidates attacked the incumbents from the right claiming that the Republican Party was insufficiently conservative and too accommodating of the Obama agenda. The overwhelming message was that comprise with Democrats must end.”

Charles Koch and Donald Trump see eye to eye on denying climate change and have forged a path of coexistence if not mutual admiration.

Kochland tells a long complex story that illuminates political and economic developments since 1967. When David Koch died in August, his much younger wife, Julia Flesher Koch, surpassed Alice Walton as the richest woman in the world. Charles Koch turns 85 in 2020. Will the new leadership that will certainly come to Koch Industries chart a less politically authoritarian direction which is not based on Malthusian concepts of social construction?

Twitter: @tultican

Manufactured Education Crisis Engenders Violence

18 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/17/2019

On October 23, the regularly scheduled Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board meeting descended into chaos accompanied by violent reaction from school police. One parent received a broken rib; two elementary school teachers reported severe bruising and a small mother suffered two torn ligaments and a meniscus tear. They were protesting the closing of Kaiser elementary school which is the result of a manufactured crisis beyond the control of the local school board. Billionaire “philanthropists” and the state of California created and exacerbated Oakland’s chronic budget issues.

Today’s budget problems stem back to the state assuming control of OUSD in 2003. Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings described the situation when the state installed an administrator. “At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell [Democrat] and influential State Senator Don Perata [Democrat] were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.”

The Alameda County Office of Education and the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), a state-funded nonprofit that advises districts on financial matters, both played a large role in pushing OUSD into receivership (2003-2009) and forcing the district to take a $100 million state loan. OUSD did not ask for the loan. They had enough money in construction funds to cover the shortfall if the state would approve borrowing from that fund. The state had given other districts this kind of permission but refused it to Oakland.

Kathy Murphy reported in the 2009 East Bay Times, “Six years after the largest state loan ever made to a California school district, the Oakland school district is emerging from state receivership $89 million in debt.” After six years of state administration, the budget deficit grew from $37 million to $89 million.

O’Connell Selects Eli Broad’s Trainee as Administrator

In 2002, the multi-billionaire Eli Broad (rhythms with toad) decided to establish his own training academy for school administrators. With no background in education or experience other than attending public school in Detroit, Broad was so rich he could just do it. He did not believe schools had an education problem; he believed they had a management problem. It was his theory that large urban school districts did not need education leadership – consultants can be hired for that – they needed business management leadership.

One of the key management ideas taught at the Broad Academy is “right-sizing.” It is probably in the Broad School Closure Handbook; Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges that the first use of the terminology “right sizing” is applied to a school district. Now this Broad construct has slipped into common usage by Oakland’s political and administrative leaders.

Another key component undermining OUSD was the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). In 1991, new California, Governor Pete Wilson, signed the team into law. FCMAT (pronounced “fick-mat”) is a state sponsored non-profit located in Kearn County. It is supposed to help school districts identify and solve fiscal problems. However, FCMAT has developed a reputation as a neoliberal organization that has a racial bias against schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods. An Oakland school leader admitted they felt FCMAT was biased against Oakland.

When OUSD discovered its budget shortfall in 2003, FCMAT started pushing for a state takeover and Oakland Mayor, Jerry Brown, seemed to welcome it. Majority reports that when OUSD proposed covering the shortfall with construction funds,

“Tom Henry, the CEO of California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT) opposed this plan, and Mayor Brown questioned it heavily. (During a state takeover, FCMAT would be responsible for monitoring the school district’s financial progress.) Phone records later obtained by the Oakland Tribune revealed over 40 phone calls on key dates between Brown, Henry, and Randolph Ward, who would end up in charge of OUSD when it was placed under state control, in the two months before the state takeover.”

A California central coast politician named Jack O’Connell was elected California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2002. He selected Randolph Ward, a Broad Academy graduate, to be Oakland’s state administrator. When O’Connell ran for state superintendent, his largest campaign donors had been Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($250,000), venture capitalist John Doerr ($205,000), and Eli Broad ($100,000). Brown described the state takeover as a “total win” for Oakland.

The Broadies of Oakland

2003-2017 Broad Academy Graduates and Superintendents of OUSD

Broad Academy graduates are often disparagingly called Broadies.

The OUSD information officer in 2003 was Ken Epstein. He recounts a little of what it was like when Ward became the administrator:

“I remember a school board meeting where Ward and the board were on stage. Each item on the agenda was read aloud, and Ward would say, “passed.” Then the next item was read. In less than an hour, the agenda was completed. At that point, Ward said, “Meeting adjourned” and walked out of the board room and turned out the lights, leaving board members sitting in the dark.”

When Ward arrived in Oakland, the district was in the midst of implementing the Bill Gates sponsored small school initiative which is still causing problems. The recently closed Roots that caused so much discontent in January was one of the Gates small schools. Ward opened 24 of them (250-500 students) which in practice meant taking an existing facility and dividing it into two to five schools. He closed fourteen regularly sized schools.

Upon Ward’s arrival in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.

Epstein related a story from attending a district leader’s cabinet meeting when Ward asked a Broad trained accountant to get numbers on how much money would be saved by closing a school. Three weeks later the accountant said no savings and Ward responded, “Then go back and figure out another reason for closing schools.”

Kimberly Statham who was a classmate of Ward’s at the Broad Academy took his place in 2006. The following year a third Broad Graduate, Vincent Mathews took her place.

After a short period of no Broadie in the superintendent’s seat, Antwan Wilson was hired in 2014. Shortly after that, the New York Times reported that the Broad Foundation had granted the district $6 million for staff development and other programs over the last decade. The Broad Center also subsidized the salaries of at least 10 ex-business managers who moved into administrative jobs at the district office.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland resident and educator with OUSD, was named to replace Antwan Wilson in 2017. When he exited to lead Washington DC’s schools, Wilson left a mess in Oakland. Mother Jones magazine said Wilson saddled the district with a $30 million deficit. The article continued, “A state financial risk report from August 2017 concluded that Oakland Unified, under Wilson, had ‘lost control of its spending, allowing school sites and departments to ignore and override board policies by spending beyond their budgets.”’

The preponderance of the problems in OUSD are related to the state takeover, FCMAT and the leadership provided by Broad Academy graduates.

School Board Under Attack from All Sides

A March Oakland Post article says,

“A new report from the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) indicates that the State of California, represented by FCMAT and the Alameda County Superintendent of Education, is requiring the school district to make budget cuts of jobs and programs totaling about $30 million this year, regardless of any costs generated by increased salaries for teachers and other school employees.”

The Alameda Civil Grand Jury says the district has run a debt of $20 to $30 million for the past fifteen years. It states, “School occupancy must be assessed and painful decisions made regarding closure and consolidation as soon as possible.”

In 2018, the Alameda County Office of Education rejected OUSD’s three-year budget plan saying it did not adequately address needed budget reductions; prompting school activist Ahsan Nilofer to ask, “What will FCMAT and the County Office consider to be an adequate plan?”

Another drag on the district’s finances is this past school year; the district had to pay FCMAT and the county $1.4 million for their services.

At the same time the coalition “Oakland Not for Sale” demands:

  1. “Stop School Closures”
  2. “End the School to Prison Pipeline”
  3. “Stop the charter school takeover”
  4. “Let the people see the money”

This is the organization that led the demonstration at the board meeting in October that ended in violence and chaos.

Mike Hutchinson of the Oakland Public Education Network says that OUSD ended the 2018-2019 school year with a $21 million surplus not a deficit. He also has announced that he will be running for the district-5 board seat in 2020.

A board member explained that $4 million of that claimed surplus comes from the board purposely underestimating title 1 and title 4 money from the Department of Education because they did not trust the actions of the Trump administration. The rest of the money is thought to be in restricted funds that can only be spent of designated categories.

The board was forced to adopt the 2019-2020 budget without good numbers to rely upon. An EdSource article relates that “Board member Shanthi Gonzales said staff didn’t give the board enough details about department budgets, school budgets or even how many employees the district has, what they do and how much they earn.” However, the district’s state trustee said district operations would come to “a screeching halt” if the board didn’t meet its June 30 budget approval deadline.

In addition to all of these problems, billionaires and their school privatization organizations are attempting to purchase the school board. In Oakland the on the ground political organization leading the privatization agenda is GO Public Schools.

Go Political Spending Chart

Funding to GO Public School Independent Expenditures Effort

School Board Winners Finance Chart

Winning OUSD Board Member Campaign Support

In the 2018 election, Gary Yee was the recipient of almost $146,000 in independent expenditure support from mostly billionaires working to privatize public schools in Oakland. His victory makes him the third member of the seven seat board to owe their election to GO Public Schools.

FCMAT from the state of California, the Alameda County Office of Education and the Alameda County Grand Jury are all ordering the OUSD school board to make budget cuts and close schools. At the same time residents of the city don’t want to hear about schools being closed and with reason do not believe the state and county budget analysis. Unfortunately, the only place they can express their outrage is at the local school board. However, there are some really good people on this board who are being put through a ringer by forces beyond their control. No matter what they do, it is loudly criticized and they are personally demonized as selling out the city.

The fundamental problem is Oakland has a dual education system with 37,000 students in public schools and 15,000 in charter schools. It costs more to operate two systems. Every school district in California that has more than 10% of their students in charter schools has severe financial problems. Oakland has the largest percentage of charter school students in the state with 29% so financial issues should be the expectation.

This is an education crisis that was manufactured by the super wealthy and implemented by neoliberal politicians.

Twitter: @tultican

Ed Tech about Profits NOT Education

10 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/10/2019

Anthony Kim founded Education Elements in 2010. He sold Provost Systems – which built virtual schools – to Edison Schools in 2008 and was ready for a new project. His new company sells personalized learning systems and consulting services to several school districts. Education Elements is one of more than a hundred ed tech companies being supported by venture capital organizations hoping for one big score. It is representative of the education technology startup business.

With education businesses there is opportunity for magnificent profits because of the large scale of education spending. The United States alone spends $650 billion a year on public education. If businesses can convince people that learning at a digital screen is equivalent to or even better than a teacher led classroom, education technology would become America’s next great profit center minting many new billionaires. This allure of lavish profits is driving education technology.

The Venture Capital Firms

Crunchbase, which analyzes venture capital and startups, lists five venture capital companies investing in Education Elements.

Harmony is the only one of the five venture funds that does not focus specifically on education technology. They simply say, “Over the past 20 years, we have invested over $750 million in 80 companies.” They list their current investments which includes Education Elements.

NewSchools Venture Fund is the most strident in its commitment to disrupting public education. NewSchools is a non-profit that claims they are a “venture philanthropy working to reimagine public education investing in education entrepreneurs.” Their venture portfolio contains more than 150 companies.

Every year NewSchools hosts a “Summit” in Oakland, California which they state brings together more than 1,200 educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, funders, and policy makers to share ideas on how to “reimagine learning.” The “Platinum” sponsors for the 2020 gathering are the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and The Walton Family Foundation who are also well-known leaders in the movement to monetize and privatize public education.

New Schools Venture Fund Donors

Twelve Organizations Contributing $5 Million Plus to NewSchools Venture Fund

Eleven of the twelve organizations listed above are known for promoting market based education reform. The twelfth, Anonymous, most likely has the same ideology.

Rethink Education is the third venture fund. It claims to focus on Crucial Life Skills, Personalized Learning, Vocational Preparation, Curation of Workforce Learning Resources, College Dropout Prevention.” Jenny Abramson is the founder and Managing Partner of Rethink. She is a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and a board member of the Washington DC charter school, DC Prep.

Imagine K12 is the forth fund investing in Education Elements. It was founded in 2011 as a startup accelerator for education technology companies. In 2016 Imagine merged with Y Combinator. The joint companies have invested in over 100 education technology focused companies.

Tugboat Ventures is the fifth fund invested in Education Elements which is one of its 35 listed properties.

The Board of Directors

Board of Education Elements

The Education Elements’ Board – (from Elements’ Web Page)

Dave Whorton, the founder of Tugboat Ventures, was also a founding board member of the NewSchools Venture Fund serving there from 1998-2015.

Howard Behar was a former president of Starbucks until his retirement in 2003. He served as a Director on Starbucks board 1996-2008. In 2014, Behar became a board member of the Biller Family Foundation. The Biller Foundation from Seattle Washington is notoriously pro-public school privatization. They have partnership relations with Green Dot, Partnership for Los Angeles, Stand for Children and Summit Public Schools.

Green Dot is a large charter school chain originally founded in Los Angeles. Partnership for Los Angeles was established by former Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa when his efforts to take over the school system were thwarted. Stand for Children is a dark money pro-school privatization organization from Portland, Oregon. Summit Public Schools is financially supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It provides computer based learning.

Jack Witlin was a Deloitte Consulting Principal. He retired in 2014 after a 44-years career. Witlin became a director of Education Elements in 2017.

Michael B. Horn serves as the head of strategy and senior partner for the Entangled Group, an education venture studio. He is also the co-founder of and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. He has written extensively about disruption as the savior of public education. He calls for disruptive change driven by technology and school privatization.

In a delightful takedown of disruption theory in the New Yorker, Jill Lepore riddled Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” One of his big examples was Seagate Technology. According to Christensen, Seagate disrupted the computer industry with its 5 ¼ inch floppy disk but was disrupted and doomed to failure when it was late to the market with a 3 ½ inch drive. Lepore noted,

“In 1997, the year Christensen published “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Seagate was the largest company in the disk-drive industry, reporting revenues of nine billion dollars. Last year, Seagate shipped its two-billionth disk drive.”

Most educators and anyone with common sense would tell us that the last thing students in a poverty stricken community need is more disruption.

Education Elements’ Leaders

Anthony Kim is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Elements. He started his career in education by helping higher education institutions with technology projects and data. He founded Provost Systems which developed online schools. After selling Provost to Edison Schools in 2008, he spent two years there as Executive Vice President of online education. Kim founded Education Elements in 2010.

Amy Jenkins, the Chief Operating Officer and Managing General Partner, began her education career as a TFA middle school English teacher in Oakland, California. After two years, she left the classroom for the education “reform” industry including a stint with NewSchools Venture Fund. Jenkins earned an AB in political science from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard.

Angela Kennedy-Toon is also known as Angela Chubb. She is another Managing Partner at Education Elements. She claims to have started her education career in a classroom 27-years ago and to have founded a charter school in Pennsylvania. Angela lives in Wichita, Kansas and was married to the late John Chubb who along with Terry E. Moe co-wrote Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools. That 1990 publication gave great momentum to school privatization and recommended ending locally elected school boards.

Angela says she follows Checker Finn, Michael Horn, Frederick M. Hess, Wendy Kopp and Jeanne Allen. People who have been observing education politics will recognize this list as all strident supporters of privatizing public education.

Angela’s facebook page has some wonderful pictures with Todd and Sarah Palin. Sadly on my recent trip to Anchorage, I learned that Todd and Sarah are divorcing.

Keara Mascareñaz is also a Managing Partner. After graduation from college she joined TFA and taught in a primary classroom for two years. She then worked for TFA for five years. Keara became a NextGen Fellow at the Pahara Institute in 2016 before joining Education Elements. Reed Hastings and Diane Tavenner are on the Board of Directors at Pahara which is a strong indication of the pro-public education privatization bias of Pahara.

Ray Rozycki is listed as Executive Advisor. He previously worked with CEO Anthony Kim at Provost Systems where he served as Chief Officer of Digital Education and VP of Virtual Education. Ray is involved with designing instructional and assessment platforms and developing formative assessments and eCourses.

Selling Bad Pedagogy and Enfeebled Expertise

Do to lobbying by billionaires like Bill Gates and Reed Hastings, the latest update to the national education law turned the US Department of Education (USED) into an education technology sales hub. Critically for companies like Education Elements, the federal technology pitch includes Competency Based Education (CBE). In order to have an inexpensive cyber based education system, there must be small skills that can be drilled and then tested. The USED says,

Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.

Unfortunately CBE is just an update of previous failed teaching strategies. In the 1970’s it was called Mastery Learning and in the 1990’s it was called Outcome Based Education. CBE is simply putting Mastery Leaning on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. It is still bad pedagogy. Computer based credit recovery is the fraud engendering the recent soaring graduation rates.

With no evidence to support their claim, Education Elements posts, “Personalized learning improves student engagement and achievement, develops students to be lifelong learners, and better prepares them for college and careers.” However, a Rand study commissioned by Bill Gates found no evidence for this claim. Also, the vast majority of school principals believe that students are experiencing too much screen time and 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.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

Education Elements also sells its consulting services to school districts. It asserts;

“We help your best people improve in several ways:

  • Develop action steps to prioritize and implement instructional approaches aligned to your district’s strategic plan.
  • Design new processes and methods to increase capabilities of teams.
  • Develop fluency in problem solving through design thinking strategies.
  • Build skills needed to become designers of learning focused on classroom design, content selection, and other key competencies for personalizing learning.”

There are few districts in America that do not have a deeper bench when it comes to education theory, practical application and leadership talent than Education Elements. If a school district is buying these kinds of services and education technology programs, they are wasting money and harming students.

Twitter: @tultican

Wealthy White Elites Attacking Little Rock School District

2 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/2/2019

In an apparent reaction to the 2014 school board election, new Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson and the state of Arkansas assumed stewardship of Little Rock School District (LRSD). A law passed January 28, 2015 authorizing the takeover requires the state to give control back to Little Rock voters by January, 2020. New racially motivated proposals hearkening back to the days of openly racist governor, Orville Faubus, ensure minority residents lose their democratic rights. Big money from the Waltons – The world’s wealthiest family – is driving privatization and segregation within LRSD.

A leading Little Rock community activist, Reverend Anika Whitfield, said in an interview, “The Governor, the Attorney General and the state legislature are all controlled by the Walton family.” In 2016 when new Superintendent Mike Poore came to Little Rock from Bentonville, Arkansas (headquarter of the Walton family), Whitfield was suspicious and asked him about his relationship with Walmart’s owners. He replied, “I know you all are apprehensive; I don’t even know Jim Walton.”

Driving Corporate Education Reform in Little Rock

Littls Sis Map Attacking Little Rock Schools

Little Sis Map Showing Leaders of the Attack on LRSD

In 2007, Arkansans for Education Reform (AFER) was established in Bentonville, Arkansas. AFER files taxes under IRS rule 501 C3 which means it is categorized as a charity. In 2013, Arkansas Learns was founded in Little Rock, Arkansas. Arkansas Learns files taxes as a 501 C6 organization which means it claims to be a profession service organization. Both types of organizations are tax exempt. Individuals can receive a tax deduction when contributing to a 501 C3 organization like AFER but the organization is prohibited from supporting a particular political candidate or engaging in lobbying activities. A 501 C6 organization is a professional business entity that can use the dues it receives to lobby but the contributions are not tax deductible.

The Little Sis map above shows total donations of $845,769 for 2016 and 2017 going to the 501 C3, AFER. Later, AFER grants $465,000 to Arkansas Learns plus it pays Gary Newton, $477,920 in salary over the same two years. The forms identify Newton as the AFER Executive Director working 40 hours a week which makes him the unpaid President and CEO of Arkansas Learns. If Newton’s salary is included; AFER sent more money to Arkansas Learns than its total receipts for 2016 and 2017.

Is this a tax scam claiming charity tax breaks for money intended for political purposes?

Starting from the top of the map and working counterclockwise the following is a brief bio of these Arkansas elites pushing their school privatization agenda:

William T. Dillard III is the grandson of department store founder William T. Dillard. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas and is Vice President of Dillards Inc. which has 330 stores in 28 states.

Jim Walton is one of the leaders of the World’s wealthiest family. He is cited by Barons as the 10th Wealthiest person in the world. Walton lives in Bentonville, Arkansas and serves on the Walmart Board of directors.

Walter Hussman is Publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is President & CEO of WEHCO Media, Inc. Hussman is a third-generation newspaperman. His father was publisher of the Camden News, and his grandfather was publisher of the Texarkana Gazette. From his home in Little Rock, Hussman controls 13 daily newspapers, 11 weekly newspapers and 13 cable television companies in six states.

Claiborne Deming’s grandfather was Charles H. Murphy Sr., a South Arkansas banker, timberland owner and oilman who started Murphy Oil. In 1994, Deming became the CEO of Murphy Oil. In a business relationship with Walmart, Murphy built gasoline stations and small convenience stores on Supercenter parking lots. This business became a publicly-traded company with over 1,400 sites across the South and Midwest.

Randy Zook is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. For 34 years, he worked for Atlantic Envelope Company of Atlanta, Georgia, serving as President and CEO of the company from 1989 to 2004. He is on the boards of KIPP Schools in Helena-West Helena. His wife, Diane Zook is Chairperson of the Arkansas State Board of Education.

Gary Newton is former executive vice president of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. He was recruited by Luke Gordy, founding executive director of AERF, to create and become the first president and CEO of what has become Arkansas Learns. Upon Gordy’s retirement, he also assumed management responsibility for AERF. Gary’s aunt is Arkansas State School Board Chairperson, Diane Zook.

It is noteworthy that the four influential businessmen supporting AERF and Arkansas Learns are white winners of the lucky sperm lottery.

Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times gives a peek into how these wealth men’s ideas are spread. On September 9, he wrote,

“The Democrat-Gazette, both in its news and editorial columns, has become a reliable platform for Newton and so-called “choice” advocates. (Still no mention in that newspaper of some groundbreaking writing by UA school reformers about the inadvisability of state takeovers of public school districts, the failure in Arkansas’s management of LRSD being a case in point.)

“But back to Newton. The D-G identifies him only as executive director of Arkansas Learns. There, he lobbies for the business community on education issues. Its directors, the newspaper did not mention, include Walter Hussman, publisher of the Democrat-Gazette ….”

Some of Newton’s ideas carried in the Democrat-Gazette include killing the last remaining teachers bargaining unit in the state; leaving the state in control of hiring and firing school superintendents; putting the state in control of schools judged as failures by standardized testing; and one proposal was to divide the Little Rock School District into three autonomous districts — central, southwest and west. Brantley says, “You might as well call them the black, brown (Latino) and white districts.”

“Those People Can’t Be in Charge.”

Historian Barclay Key moved to Little Rock in 2012 with his wife and three school aged children. In 2013, he felt the board member for his zone was unacceptable and got involved in the coming election. The candidate he supported was a teacher named, Tara Shephard, who worked with at risk children. She along with a new candidate in another zone, C. E. McAdoo, won their seats. The following year Key’s colleague at University of Arkansas Little Rock, Jim Ross, won a seat as did Joy Singer.

Key wrote,

“The seven-member board now had four black representatives and a strong white ally in Jim. Democracy was working for people who were committed to improving our schools, and the newest members took their seats in October.” (Emphasis added.)

“But the gods of white supremacy must be appeased. Despite the LRSD board’s plans for the future and full cooperation with the state, on January 28, 2015, the state board of education voted 5-4 to take over the entire LRSD on the pretense that six of our forty-eight schools were in ‘academic distress.”’ (All five yes voters had been appointed by Democrat Mike Beebe.)

“One cannot possibly overlook the state’s role in suppressing black political power and local white elites supporting that suppression. Even though students in the LRSD have been majority black for forty years, a white majority controlled the school board until 2006. We had a democratically elected board with three new black members and a strong white ally. The state board of education replaced our democratically elected board with Tony Wood, the white state education commissioner. He literally had no specific plans for the LRSD or the “academically distressed” schools, outside of what was already occurring.”

Little Rock School Desegregation 1957

Eight of the Little Rock Nine at Central High School 1957 (AP File Photo)

Nearly 80% of the 25,000 students enrolled in Little Rock public schools are students of color. 62% are black, 15% are Hispanic and 19% are white. That is a big change from the 100% white schools that existed in 1957. Responding to the Supreme Court decision Brown versus the Board of Education, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the 101st airborne to escort nine brave children past Governor Orville Faubus and a mob of angry white supremacists into the halls of Central High School. However, the present efforts to abrogate minority voting rights are causing citizens of south Little Rock to refer to their governor as Asa “Faubus” Hutchinson.

In 2014 when minority communities elected a majority-minority voting block to the LRSD board, calls started coming for the state to take over the district. The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce President & CEO, Jay Chessir, joined with school Board member, Leslie Fisken, in demanding the state take action. Walter Hussman’s Democrat-Gazette ran editorials calling for a state takeover of LRSD. The stated reason for the take-over was that six of the forty-eight district schools were in “academic distress.” Fisken, who is white, had also charged that the new board was dysfunctional.”

Since the state took control of the LRSD, KUAR, Little Rock Public Radio, reports that there has been little observable improvement. Reporter Daniel Breen observed, “Since 2015, the metrics for determining the letter grade schools received has changed, but the number of “F” rated schools has jumped from six to eight.”

According to state law, school districts taken over for “academic distress” must be returned within five years. The state must come up with criteria for the schools to meet before the transition and if the criteria are not met there are three options; consolidate, annex or reconstitute the district. Lawyer Ali Nolan says annex and consolidate are out because of ongoing desegregation lawsuits in neighboring districts. That leaves reconstitution but that already happened in Little Rock when the state took control. Therefore, the meaning of reconstitution in Little Rock is not clear.

The KUAR report continued,

“The district will reach that five-year mark in January, but the state only set the exit criteria last February. The criteria, based on results of the ACT Aspire test, weren’t met last spring.”

Based on the results of one standardized test that does not measure school or teaching quality, the Arkansas State Board of Education seems to be trying to avoid returning democratic control of LRSD. At a September meeting, they proposed giving Democratic control over schools not in rated ‘F’ which meant that white north Little Rock could democratically run their schools but majority-minority south Little Rock could not. The immediate adverse reaction caused the board to pull this plan back. Breen noted, “Many drew comparisons to school segregation, which Little Rock Central High was infamously at the center of in 1957.”

Now the state board has issued a new plan. Olivia Paschal reporting for Facing South notes,

“Though the board abandoned the initial plan to keep some schools under state control, the new draft plan gives the state board power to approve the district’s superintendent, stipulates that the teachers’ union not be recognized as a bargaining agent, and requires state Department of Education approval over the district’s budget.

“’We decided at that point we needed to take a stand for our kids,’ Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the 1,800-member teachers’ union, told Facing South. ‘Our members authorized us to do whatever was necessary up to and including a strike. At this point it’s clear that they intend to resegregate our district and use our kids as pawns.’”

Conclusion

Little Rock is fighting against a long history of white supremacy and racism. January 2020 could be a pivotal time for throwing off the yoke of discrimination. Having children of both financial and racial disparities integrated into the same school is best for all students rich, poor, black, brown or white. Democracy is the path of American governance that made it the world’s leading country and oligarchs opposing that path must be stopped. Will Arkansas embrace the light of locally controlled public education or the darkness of racism and white supremacy?

Twitter: @tultican