Denver’s Portfolio Model School District Is a Failure!

19 Jan

Here is a predictable outcome from the portfolio district. On Jan. 18, 2019, a press release from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) says,

After ten hours of negotiations today, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools were unable to reach an agreement on a fair compensation system for 5,700 teachers and special service providers. DCTA members will vote Saturday and Tuesday on whether or not to strike.

The portfolio model which promotes disruption as a virtue is anti-union. It is not conducive to stable harmonious relations with either labor or communities and it is anti-democratic. Denver is held up as an exemplar of school reform; however the outcomes look more like a warning. Increasing achievement gaps; a bloating administration; significantly increasing segregation; ending stable community schools; and stripping citizens of their democratic rights are among the many jarring results.

Former Denver School Board Director, Jeanne Kaplan, wrote extensively about an article in EducationNext championing school reforms in Denver. It was based on a podcast by the guru of school reform and privatization in the Clinton administration, David Osborne. Kaplan noted,

“2009 was … the first time outside money appeared in [School] Board Election campaigns. Stand for Children came with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – our side, as Osborne notes, won the election. Each following election more and more reform money … appeared …. In addition to Stand, Democrats for Education Reform, Students First, and wealthy local businessmen, both Democrats and Republicans, … put enormous amounts of money and human capital to be sure … a unanimous board was achieved. Much of the money while identified by independent expenditure committee remains hidden as to who is making the individual contributions. In 2011 the people were able to hold on to a “mighty minority” of three: 4-3. In 2013 the minority dwindled to one: 6-1. In 2015 the Board was unanimously “reform”: 7-0.

This has become a central thesis of the portfolio model strategy. A Chalkbeat article quotes Ethan Gray of Education Cities on the strategy. Gray who recently went to work at the new City Fund which was established specifically to sell the portfolio model said, “We’re skeptical that systems themselves will actually go through some sort of self-driven transformation.” Chalkbeat reported that the new plan for growth had three strategies.

  • Strategy #1: Apply outside pressure. (Increase pressure on school districts by bringing in outside competition and supporting local competing initiatives.)
  • Strategy #2: Push for one-stop school enrollment. (This forces public school districts to help the privatized schools and gives them an equivalency in the eyes of the public.)
  • Strategy #3: Create a very different power structure. (Use financial resources to change the makeup of existing governing boards or establish mayoral appointed boards.)

In the 2017 Denver Public School Board election, four of the seven seats were on the ballot. The results:

  • At large seat: Former Lieutenant Governor Barbra O’Brian defeated a field of three candidates 40% to 35% to 24%. O’Brian spent $8.94 per vote, Robert Speth spent $0.77 per vote and Julie Banuelos spent $0.33 per vote.
  • Distict 2: Angela Corbian a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member beat Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan who had union support. Unfortunately, Gaytan had to spend time cleaning up after union blunders. The winner Corbian is currently an organizer for Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) the TFA offshoot that trains former corps members “to engage civically.” Cobian’s support included $67,000 from DFER’s Raising Colorado and tens of thousands of dollars from local and national “reformers.”
  • District 3: Dr. Carrie Olson, a 33-year DPS teacher won this seat with very little financial or people support from the teachers union. She shockingly defeated Mike Johnson the incumbent who raised over $100,000 on his own and received almost another $100,000 from DFER and Stand for Children. Olson’s victory reduces the “reform” majority back to 6-1.
  • District 4: Jennifer Bacon another former TFA corps member won. She raised $70,000 on her own and shockingly received $139,000 from the teachers union. Bacon also received reformer money from TFA national board member Arthur Rock. The incumbent Rachael Espiritu had a large war chest of $97,000 from DFER and $93,000 that she raised but Espiritu was running in a district that had had its fill of reform. A third candidate in this district was 19-year-old Tay Anderson.

When analyzing this election, Jeanne Kaplan said the biggest losers were “Denver’s teachers, who are paying dues to an organization that turned its back on a 33 year teacher and endorsed a heavily funded alum of TFA…”

Dismal Results from Denver’s Portfolio District

school segragation chart

Chart of Racial Isolation Based on October Count for School Year 2017-18

Of Denver’s 204 schools, One-hundred have a population that is greater than or equal to 70% Hispanic. When the Hispanic and black students are summed 68 schools have 90% or more students from these minority groups. The AP reported in 2017 that charter schools were among the nation’s most segregated schools. There analysis found, “As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

Racial isolation is a characteristic of districts employing the portfolio model. This kind of profound segregation runs afoul of federal law, good education and decency. It does not comply with the 1954 Supreme Court decision known as Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

The big selling point for modern school reform was closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap is measured by finding the average score differences between ethnicity groups on standards based tests. A 2011 report in Education Week stated, With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, closing achievement gaps among these various student groups became a focus of federal education accountability…”

achievment gap 2017

Table of Reading and Math Achievement Gaps Derived from NAEP Testing Data

In the tables above – based on average scale scores – it shows national results have a smaller gap than the large city results. Predictably, Denver has among the nation’s largest achievement gaps after two-decades or “billionaire” led reform.

In the fall of 2015, the Center on Reinventing Public Education  (CRPE) which is the central think tank promoting portfolio models ranked Denver Public Schools 45th out of 50 urban districts for improving graduation rates.

Denver’s pro-privatization citizen oversight group, A+ Colorado (formerly A+ Denver) in a recently released report, showed concern over the district’s progress stating,

“Let’s be clear: There has been progress in DPS, particularly in comparison to other Colorado districts. But some student learning outcomes are stalled or improving far too slowly for the district to be successful.”

DPS received another black-eye this January when a Chalkbeat headline revealed, “Denver has 1 administrator for every 7.5 instructional staff — far above state average.” The article presented the following chart for administrators in Denver compared to the rest of the state over the past ten years.

administrator growth chart

Chart of Administration Growth during the “Reform Era”

In 2017 the New York Times ran an interactive article about a new way to compare schools. The article said,

“It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.”

The New York Times picked the comparison schools while the reader picks the district of interest. This simulator attempts to correlate by years of learning. The average between 3rd  and 8th grade should be five years. After 13 years of disruption and “reform,” Denver remains a little below average with lackluster growth.

student growth models

After Five Years Denver’s Eighth Graders Still below Average

All the closing schools and disrupting neighborhoods brought little or no significant change. Denver’s students are still measured as being about the same amount behind in 8th grade as when they started 3rd grade.

A 2015 hiring analysis revealed that DPS paid TFA $5000 to $7000 per recruit? TFA teachers are two year temps with a college degree and five-weeks of training. From 2012-2015, Denver taxpayers paid TFA $520,600 for 232 recruits at traditional schools and over $800,000 for 267 recruits at charter schools. DCTA President Henry Roman stated that teacher turnover is a crisis in DPS. He claims the average teacher tenure has dropped to two years.

Traditional teacher new hires have a college degree, one-year of post graduate pedagogy study and a year of supervised student teaching. They arrive at schools with the expectation of making teaching a career.

The reliance on untrained teachers along with recognizing and using a fake graduate school created by the charter industry explains why all of the spending on reform has not resulted in better performance. The fake graduate school is Relay Graduate School. It’s Denver Dean, Therese Zosel-Harper, is working on her PhD. Relay is an obviously fake graduate school because it has no credentialed education scholars on staff.

Where did the Portfolio District Model Originate?

A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) on the campus at the University of Washington three years after John Chubb and Terry Moe wrote a popular book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools which was published in 1990 by The Brookings Institution. That book which was a sensation among neo-liberals called for the end of elected school boards. Hill began thinking about the mechanics for making that happen.

In 2002, Hill wrote a paper sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation calling for changes in school governance,

“… [T]he last few decades of education reform have shown us that simply tinkering at the edges is not enough to ensure that changes will take place. Reforms need to be comprehensive and needs to affect every level of the education system.”

Hill’s statement and the book by Chubb and Moe were both motivated by the conviction that public schools in America were failing. It was not true then nor was it true in 1889, 1942, 1955, 1959, 1963 nor is it true now.

Jim Arnold and Peter Smagorinsky wrote,

“Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and 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 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a best seller, and 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. The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. 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.”

The paragraph above recalls more than a century of national failure to properly educate our citizenry yet in that same century America became the world’s leader economically, scientifically, militarily and culturally. Does this mean that education quality does not matter or is it more likely that the perception of American education failing – is and was an illusion? Based on this illusion of failure are we being driven toward failure with unproven market theories? That is what the portfolio theory is. It is an unproven market theory of education governance.

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

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

In Denver there are 204 schools; 106 public schools, 42 charter schools and 56 innovation schools. In accordance with portfolio district theory, Denver residents no longer have the right to vote on the governance of 108 of their publicly financed schools. In addition, both charter schools and innovation schools are generally non-union.

The innovation school concept is promoted nationally by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to ALEC model legislation these schools “are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” In Denver, innovation schools are given a three year contract during which they are run by a non-profit. The results (testing data) at the end of the contract will dictate whether the experiment on the school children continues.

Innovation schools have only existed in Denver since 2016. When the board approved them, Board President Anne Rowe claimed, “I’m trying to think of a time I’ve been more excited, more proud, more optimistic about what we can achieve for kids.”

Conclusions

While Interviewing DCTA President Henry Roman, Jeff Fard said when he moves into a neighborhood he expects to register his kids in the local community school. “If I don’t like the school, I expect to roll up my sleeves and work to make it better.” If he still doesn’t like the school, he will pay for them to go to a private school. This is how it is supposed to be in America; people work for the betterment of their own community and pay for their own choices. However, if you live in portfolio districts like Denver, unseen and unelected forces control the neighborhood.

As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights.”

It is past time for the citizens of Denver to take back their democratic rights and their public schools.

Sweetwater Schools Financial Problems Became Political Cudgel

9 Jan

The newly hired Chief Financial Officer of Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD), Jenny Salkeld, discovered a significant problem with the budget she inherited. She presented her findings to the Sweetwater leadership team in early September which forwarded her report onto the County Office of Education (COE). The SUHSD board also called in all bargaining units to suspend contract negotiations and inform them of the budgetary uncertainties. Sensationalism and subterfuge became the new reality in Chula Vista, California.

An October San Diego Union article reported,

“On June 25, the school board approved a budget for this school year that assumed the district had spent $328 million in unrestricted funding last school year and had $17 million in reserves going into this school year. In September, Salkeld presented a report showing that the district actually had spent $20 million more than that and started this school year with a negative reserve balance of $4 million.

“On top of spending more than previously estimated, the district received $6 million less in one-time state funding than it had expected.”

salkeld brief bio

After receiving Sweetwater’s alert about the accounting errors, the COE officially disapproved the 2018-19 budget the district had submitted. The reasons for disapproving the budget were the reasons Salkeld had reported. The county’s September 18 letter stated,

“The disapproval of the adopted budget is based on an assessment and analysis of the following major components of the district’s budget.

  • Preliminary 2017-18 negative unrestricted General Fund ending balance
  • Projected 2018-19 revenues overstated
  • Projected 2018-19 expenditures understated
  • Structural deficit in current and upcoming fiscal years
  • Cash concerns”

Apparently someone at the county leaked the budget information to the Voice of San Diego. The district which was in the process of understanding the extent of the problem did not have that opportunity. Instead they were faced with a withering public attack in both the San Diego Union and The Voice of San Diego. The headlines implied that a group of incompetent people at SUHSD were incapable of managing their affairs and were involved in possible fraud.

In the more than twenty reports in these two publications from September through December, it was obscured that it was the Sweetwater District which found the problem and informed the county. It was also never pointed out that budget analysts at the COE failed in their oversight responsibilities.

In November, the county approved Sweetwater’s revised budget.

Budget Shortfalls Throughout the State

Kristen Taketa reporting for the San Diego Union noted,

At least 10 districts in the county are projecting that they will not be able to meet their financial commitments next school year, including Chula Vista Elementary, Jamul-Dulzura Union, Mountain Empire Unified, Oceanside Unified, San Diego Unified, San Marcos Unified, San Ysidro, Sweetwater and Vista Unified. More districts won’t be able to meet their financial commitments after next year.

Teketa provided three reasons for what is a statewide public school funding problem:

  1. Rising pension costs: To address looming pension debt, the state in 2014 started increasing school districts’ share of pension costs. In 2013-14, school districts paid 8 percent of their teachers’ salaries to the state’s teacher pension fund. This year, they had to pay 16 percent.
  2. Rising special education costs
  3. Declining enrollment: Oceanside officials estimate that they can only compensate for 40 percent of revenue lost when they lose students. The student enrollment losses are attributed mostly to charter schools. California, unlike some states, does not financially mitigate the burden caused by charter schools on public school districts. The only option districts have is to reduce services to the remaining students.

Last May, In the Public Interest published a paper by University of Oregon’s Professor Gordon Lafer called “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.” He looked specifically at the impact of charter schools on San Diego Unified School District. Lafer found that the annual impact of student losses was $65,902,809 and that the cost per charter school student was $4,913.

By taking the 5500 students in charter schools instead of Sweetwater schools and multiplying that number by a conservative estimate of $4,000 in cost per student the total is $22,000,000 in stranded costs for the district; more than the budget error Salkeld discovered.

enrollment graphs

Charter Student Growth Compared with District Enrollment

What Caused the Budget Error?

Gene Chavira, President of the Sweetwater Education Association (affiliate of the California Teachers Association) said he believes this budget problem has roots that stretch back to the early 2000’s when Ed Brand was serving his first term as Superintendent. Chavira referenced some strange land sales from that period. Later, during Brand’s second stint as Superintendent, he and SUHSD CFO Diana Russo established two charter schools; another move Gene found suspicious.

The two charter schools were elementary schools belonging to SUHSD. The neighboring elementary school districts were unhappy and reacted by expanding their own charter schools to include the grades 7 – 12 that were serviced by Sweetwater.

After Brand came Jesus Gandara. In 2006, two Sweetwater board members, Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa, flew to Texas and personally interviewed Gandara before he was hired as the Superintendent of Sweetwater schools. It appears that the board members and their search firm ignored some obvious warning signs when they made the hire. In 2011, the board voted to fire Gandara for abuse and brought back Ed Brand to lead the district. Another odd decision, since he had just been forced out as Superintendent of San Marcos Unified under accusations of nepotism.

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned.

In 2015, five new board members and a new superintendent took leadership of SUHSD. Chavira recalled vividly that he and many others called on the new board to conduct a forensic audit, but the board – though for it in principal – rejected spending the more than $1,000,000 required. Chavira feels that was one of two big mistakes made. The second was that they did not replace the existing finance team.

board group photo 2018

2018 SUHSD Board – Standing from the left: Arturo Solis, Frank Tarantino, Nicholas Segura, Kevin Pike. Seated from the Left: Paula Hall, Student Member Brenna Pangelinan, Superintendent Karen Janney. Photo from District

Throughout the lead up to this current budget problem, the new board has been extremely popular. In the 2018 election, Hall, Solis and Tarantino ran for reelection unopposed. Professor Karen Janney was a student, a teacher and an administrator in SUHSD. She was forced out of the district by then Superintendent Gandara. After which, she taught education leadership at San Diego State University.

This group has accumulated some amazing talent and support. The 2016 audit committee added two new members, Maricela Garcia-Centeno and Bill Kowba making this a power house committee. Existing committee member, Trustee Paula Hall, works as a financial analyst in San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). Garcia-Centeno is a Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Fraud Examiner. Bill Kowba is a retired Rear Admiral who served both as Chief Financial Officer and Superintendent of SDUSD.

The audit committee’s 2016 report showed concerns regarding transparency and the need for more light shined on budget internals. They stated, “We are recommending the District direct the audit team so that work is not disproportionally focused on well regulated programs but performs a ‘deeper dive’ into areas that have potential of higher risk.

In 2017, the audit committee was recommendingdeeper testing for certain elements of the 2016-17 audit along with a recommendation for a special audit focusing on accounts payable, purchasing and contracts including ….” The implicit message was that the committee was not happy with the answers they were getting or perhaps not getting.

CFO Karen Michel and three members of her small team retired upon completion of the 2018-19 Sweetwater budget. All indications were that these were planned retirements.

After Salkeld’s report showing a $20,000,000 budget error, the county called in the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assist Team (FCMAT). On December 17th the FCMAT study was presented to the Sweetwater board. The Voice of San Diego reported,

“FCMAT’s chief executive officer Michael Fine told board members that 302 entries in the district’s accounting system were doctored to create the impression the district had more money than it really did. ‘That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up,’ he said, …”

This is a puzzling statement. In the report Fine says, “While the district prepares budget revisions throughout the fiscal year, detailed information provided by the district shows that budget revisions totaling millions of dollars include negative budget entries that lack sufficient supporting documentation.”  His study comes to several conclusions tending against Sweetwater that lack strong evidentiary basis and it has no details about what he later labeled “a cover-up.” Now, Fine will be conducting a fraud audit. If he does not find fraud, won’t he be open to a libel charge? Can his audit be trusted?

A December 21st Voice of San Diego headline states, “County Ed Office Takes Control of Sweetwater’s Board.” The county had issued a “stay and rescind” order which gives them veto power over some decisions made by the SUHSD board. This begs the question, why did the county which dropped the ball here jump so quickly into this drastic step when the district team which found the problem has been addressing it aggressively?

The SUHSD web-site has a response to the issues raised. The opening paragraph says,

“Over the past few months the Sweetwater Union High School District has faced significant challenges with respect to our organizational budget. … We realize that these issues may seem insurmountable at times, but we want to assure you that despite some of the doubts being cast in the public, we are moving forward with a stabilization plan that will ensure positive financial health.”

There is also a letter from Superintendent Janney about the “stay and rescind” order. She cites remarks by Dr. Mark Skvarna, a financial advisor from the county, about the limitations on the order. Janney writes, “This authority is specific to the actions that are ‘inconsistent with the district’s ability to meet its financial obligations.’”

The San Diego Union and the Voice of San Diego are Biased Against Public Education

Editorials in the San Diego Union continually attack teachers and their unions. An editorial leading up to the 2018 general election called for a former banker and charter school chief as Secretary of Public Instruction (SPI). Following a familiar destroy public education (DPE) script; another editorial created a false crisis as the predicate for an urgent plea to elect charter school executive, Marshall Tuck, over California State Assemblyman, Tony Thurmond.

In 2005, Buzz Woolley founded Voice of San Diego. It was the first digital nonprofit news organization to serve a local community in the country. Besides his interest in using new technologies for media, Woolley also is enthusiastic about education technology in the classroom. In 2013 Woolley’s Girard Foundation sent over $500,000 to companies developing software for “personalized” education and competency-based education.

The year before starting the Voice of San San Diego, Woolley and Gap Founder Don Fisher established the Charter School Growth Fund. John Walton (Walmart heir) and Greg Penner (Walmart heir) joined the board. In 2016, that fund had assets of $217,176,094 with a yearly income of $95,184,785.

A local media watch dog report tells the story of an education reporter losing her job while perusing a store about the COE. Blogger Maura Larkins wrote,

“Voice of San Diego dropped its coverage of SDCOE attorney shenanigans, and laid-off its stellar education reporter Emily Alpert.”

“Voice of San Diego benefactors Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs [founded Qualcomm], who claim to care about education, could have easily paid Emily’s salary with their pocket change if they’d wanted her to stay.”

“It seems Buzz Woolley, Irwin Jacobs and Emily Alpert weren’t on the same page.”

Some Concluding Words

Superintendent Janney may have been wrong to retain the inherited financial team; however, in 2015 she had a lot on her plate. A Trustee said that Janney began by focusing on education leadership in the district. There was a widely shared belief that several administrators were in positions by dint of cronyism and that many of them were incompetent. When she was alerted to the budget issue, Janney reacted professionally. She immediately informed stakeholders and the COE.

The budget error appears to have originated within the financial department. FCMAT Director Fine claimed it was a “cover-up.” Maybe he is right but he did not present much convincing evidence; only reporting that some entries that subtracted from the deficit were not sufficiently documented. It is hard to see the motive for financial professionals engaging in this “cover-up,” but people sometimes make strange decisions.

Two mainstream media outlets in San Diego that have regularly promoted privatizing public education and “corporate education reform” have been ruthlessly attacking SUHSD. They have indicated that the leaders in Chula Vista are incompetent and corrupt. The obvious dog-whistle here is that there are too many non-whites in SUHSD leadership.

The truth is that the SUHSD team is highly competent and has delivered a refreshing era of ethics and openness to the South-bay. Karen Janney is an educator with deep knowledge and experience, plus she is a gifted leader and public speaker. The present financial team led by Jenny Salkald is much more impressive than the county or state teams who have been nothing short of unprofessional.

The real investigation should be into whom or what is motivating this unjust attack on SUHSD? Also, why are we paying all those bloated salaries at the San Diego County Office of Education and for what?

Destroy Public Education Forces Retooling for 2019

26 Dec

The destroy public education (DPE) national coordinating organization, Education Cities, has been closed, with its assets and personnel distributed to three new organizations; The City Fund, School Board Partners and Community Engagement Partners. And there is more. In an interview with The 74, City Fund’s Managing Partner, Neerav Kingsland, revealed the establishment a new political action committee under IRS code 501 C4 called Public School Allies.

In October, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) announced that its leader for the past 10 years, Jed Wallace, would step down in January, 2019. The new President of CCSA will be Myrna Castrejón who is currently Director of Great Public Schools Now (GPSN). The announcement says of Wallace’s future, “He will move onto a new role advising charter school organizations across the United States.” Under Wallace’s leadership the CCSA replaced the California Teachers Association as the state’s largest lobbying effort on education issues.

The LittleSis map below shows the money coming into The City Fund and the new postings for the former Education Cities’ staff. During the interview cited above, Kirkland said, “Along with the Hastings Fund and the Arnold Foundation, we’ve also received funds from the Dell Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Ballmer Group.” The amount of money given by the Walton family and Ballmer is unknown.

Little Sis Map of Reorganization

Reorganizing DPE Forces (see Interactive Map here)

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat reported that City Fund has started spending to promote the “portfolio model” of education reform. Barnum stated,

“Kingsland said The City Fund has given to The Mind Trust, which focuses on Indianapolis Public Schools; RootED in Denver; City Education Partners in San Antonio; the Newark Charter School Fund and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation; The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis; and RedefinED Atlanta. In Nashville, The City Fund gave directly to certain charter schools.”

The City Fund’s central agenda is promoting the portfolio model of school reform. The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test which reflects student family wealth but does not identify education quality. Testing and the portfolio model inevitably lead to an ever more privatized system – especially in poor communities – that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. Objections to the portfolio model include:

  1. It creates constant churn and disruption. Students in struggling neighborhoods need stable environments they can trust.
  2. Democratically operated schools are the foundation of American democracy. The portfolio model ignores the value of these democratic incubators.
  3. Parents and taxpayer lose the ability to hold elected officials accountable for school operations.

Even voucher enthusiast Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas wrote an open letter to John Arnold warning against the portfolio model. He noted, “The Arnold Foundation invests heavily in another initiative that promotes rigorous science for medical and policy decision-making, yet they do not seem to apply that same standard of proof to their own education strategy.

Myrna Castrejón and Great Public Schools Now (GPSN)

Myrna Castrejón attended college at the flagship Seventh-day Adventist school Andrews University. From there she matriculated to the University of Wisconsin where she took graduate work in Anthropology and Border Studies. She has spent time at various non-profits focused on education reform in both El Paso, Texas and Los Angeles, California. In 2003, she went to work for the CCSA.

By 2015, Castrejón was the Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, at CCSA where she led their Advocates group. At the end of the year, she left her $231,000 position to establish GPSN where her  pay raised to $255,133 for the first year.

GPSN was a start-up non-profit in 2016, however, it was extremely well financed. The Walton family gave $400,000 and Eli Broad sent $4,927,500 but the big money came from Bill Gates a whopping $24,985,965. With this money, Castrejón was able to finance a public relations campaign that gave her amazing access to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board, especially Ref Rodriguez and Monica Garcia at the start and later with Nick Malvoin, Garcia and Superintendent Austin Buetner.

That first year, she was able to grant Teach for America $4,200,000 in order “to increase the pipeline of high quality teachers in LA schools.” She also sent $500,000 to Boston’s Building Excellent Schools to recruit two fellows for founding, opening and leading “high achieving charter schools” in LA.

This past October she organized a “town-hall meeting” with “250 parents” to promote the charter industries dream of a common application for all schools. LAUSD Board President, Monica Garcia, Board member, Nick Malvoin and Superintendent Austin Buetner were all there to support her agenda.

Buetner at Great Schools Now Event June 29_2018

GPSN One Application Event with Austin Buetner (picture from #onecityallkids)

Myrna Castrejón has been a very effective leader in the DPE effort to privatize schools in Los Angeles and throughout California. That is why she will be the next leader of CCSA, the big dog among California’s DPE forces.

School Board Partners

Matt Barnum a reporter for Chalkbeat obtained a trove of emails between Myrna Castrejón and officials at LAUSD through a public information request. He made the 315 pages of emails accessible in his article, “New group will try to connect school board members pushing for ‘dramatic change’ in these 10 cities.”

The emails show that Ref Rodriguez, Monica Garcia and Nick Malvoin were more like partners with Castrejón than public representatives. This August, Castrejón messaged Garcia and Malvoin about the Launch of School Board Partners. She wrote,

“I am forwarding a networking and support opportunity that one of our partners is launching to advance the work of quality and equity in urban districts. School Board Partners is a new, spin off organization of the former Education Cities network, of which GPSN is a member. As you can see from Carrie’s description, their aim is create a Board level community of practice and make available resources and support for participating members on site and remote.

“This is at NO cost to participating Board members. If this is of interest to you, the initial cohort will launch October 1-3 in Denver. Let me know if I can connect you more directly. See the general description below, and the link to the live page that explains their work in more detail. I hope you find this helpful!

“Myrna”

The email that Castrejón forwarded was from Carrie McPherson Douglass, the CEO, of School Board Partners, which was in its first month or two of operation. The key portion of Douglas’s message reads,

“For year 1, our list of priority cities is: Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, San Antonio and Stockton.

“In each of these cities, we plan to support 1-3 school board members by providing these three sets of supports:

“1.  A national community of diverse school board members who are working to lead bold change in their respective communities. The network will meet annually in person and communicate virtually throughout the year as needed. Members of the network will learn together and support each other, as well as benefit from the support and resources of the team at School Board Partners.

“2.  A personal coach/mentor to support each individual school board member as they develop as an elected official and leader of change in your city.

“3.  Pro-bono consulting services to help school board members research, plan and execute thoughtful change initiatives specific to your board and city. Our first national convening of school board members will be held in Denver Oct 1st-3rd.”

Both Garcia and Malvoin indicate great interest in the group but cited a conflict with the October date. Garcia said her Pahara group was meeting then and Nick said a looming strike and some board business would make those dates difficult. Castrejón agreed to put them both in direct contact with Carrie Douglass.

Carrie McPherson Douglass from EC bio

Carrie Douglass’s Profile Picture on the Education Cities Cyber sight

Carrie Douglass was the Managing Partner at Education Cities. She signed their tax forms and made really good money. The tax form’s list her 2014 salary at $154,343, her 2015 salary at $168,942 and her 2016 salary at $182,595.

Before Education Cities, Carrie served as the Senior Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland, an Education Cities member, where she developed a blended learning pilot. Prior to joining Rogers, Carrie was the Director of Human Resources at Aspire Public Schools.

Carry earned a B.A. from the University of Portland, Oregon, in Education and Music. She was awarded an M.B.A. at Boston University specializing in Finance, Strategy and Non-profit Management.

Douglass lives and works from the beautiful little city of Bend, Oregon on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. Last year she was elected to the local school board.

This founding leader of School Board Partners is a “Broadie.” She completed the two year Broad Residency program (2007-2009) while working at Aspire. Her quote on the Broad Alumni page reads,

“I am amazed that Americans have accepted mediocrity from our public school system for so long. The status quo must end. The Broad Residency provides an opportunity for professionals with a wide variety of experiences to bring innovative solutions to the table, while simultaneously developing a deep understanding of the historical context to ensure appropriate solutions for urban education.”

In other words this very white woman from an extraordinarily white area of the United States believes Broad gave her the kind of “deep understanding” required for saving the black and brown children in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, San Antonio and Stockton. What could go wrong?

In a private email, Peter Greene responded to the establishment of School Board Partners with, “I call BS.” The point being that every state requires school board members to go through training and existing reputable private organizations like the California School Board Association also make many training and research resources available to board members. California’s Department of Consumer Affairs provides a plethora of training opportunities and informs all new Board members, “California … requires every appointed board member to complete a training and orientation program offered by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) within one year of assuming office.

School Board Partners is not a good Samaritan group filling a void. It is a DPE organization looking to co-opt elected board members into furthering the portfolio model of education reform.

Community Engagement Partners

This new organization is not well defined and their web presence is not much more informative than the non-existent web presence of The City Fund. Three former employees of Education Cities are developing this new DPE organization.

Kevin Leslie “provides finance and operations support to Education Cities and its two new initiatives: Community Engagement Partners and School Board Partners.

Rebecca Weinberg Jones is the Deputy Director of Community Engagement Partners (CPE). She attended Vassar College and earned a Masters in Urban Education Policy from Brown University. Her LinkedIn page says of CEP,

“Community Engagement Partners, an initiative of Education Cities, supports education organizations and leaders as they partner with and learn from their local communities with the goal of creating and sustaining great schools. We believe that the change necessary to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality school is only possible and sustainable when those most impacted by educational inequity are partners in the work and decision making.”

Charles McDonald is the Executive Director for CEP. In the past, he served as Senior Managing Director, External Affairs for Teach For America – South Carolina. He also served as Program Manager for Education Pioneers Greater Boston Analyst and Graduate School Fellowship programs for two years.

A paper McDonald wrote while at Education Cities is the only document linked on the CEP web page. It purportedly points to their purpose. In it he obseved,

“After nearly a decade of catalyzing and implementing nationally-recognized education reforms, The Mind Trust made an intentional shift from solely focusing on grasstops-driven reform efforts to recognizing the need to partner with key grassroots stakeholders and civic leaders with deep ties to the communities most impacted by educational inequity. In 2013, the organization hired Indianapolis native Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo [now at The City Fund] to help lead efforts to better align The Mind Trust’s strategy to the needs and values of the community and build a base of community support for educational equity.”

It seems like the CEP purpose will be to continue Education City’s efforts to organize and support on the ground DPE forces in America’s cities.

Some Final Comments

This October, Diane Ravitch addressed #NPE2018Indy asserting, “We are the resistance and we are winning!” 2018 certainly was a hopeful year for the friends of public education and professional educators. Charter school growth has stagnated and “choice” has been shown to be a racist attack rather than an expanded right. In Arizona, an ALEC driven voucher scheme was soundly defeated and in California, Tony Thurmond turned back the nearly $50 million dollar effort to make a charter school executive Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The DPE response is a new more opaque and better funded effort narrowly focused on its theory of quality schools through the portfolio model. It is yet another effort to transform education with no input from educators. Without billionaire money tipping the scales of democracy; vouchers and charter schools would disappear because they are bad policy. Educators ache to focus on improving public education but must use their energy fighting for the survival of America’s public education system, the world’s greatest and most successful education institution.

America’s teachers are educators who will continue sharing lessons on how to recognize highly paid political agents and profitable propaganda centers masquerading as “think tanks.” I predict, even with the greater spending and reorganization, 2019 will be an awful year for the DPE forces.

“After the Education Wars”

19 Dec

Andrea Gabor has written another outstanding book. This latest is titled After the Education Wars. In it, she makes a radical departure from the top-down models of education reform that have dominated the last two decades. Gabor, a Bloomberg chair of business journalism, has applied her expertise toward analyzing modern education policy. Through five case studies she convincingly argues that business leaders brought the wrong lessons to education when they imposed Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management and shunned William Edwards Deming’s continuous improvement.

Taylor was a mechanical engineer who became intrigued by the problem of efficiency at work. He is widely viewed as inventing industrial engineering; his 1911 Principles of Scientific Management became the most influential book on American management practices during the twentieth century. In it he wrote,

It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.

Taylor was strongly anti-union. He saw them as wastefully introducing inefficiencies into the work place.

Andrea Gabor’s first book The Man Who Discovered Quality was about William Edwards Deming. That book was reviewed by Business Week in 1991. Some key statements in the review:

A trio of reverential new books celebrates Deming’s management principles. In Deming Management at Work, Mary Walton, a writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, focuses on how six organizations, including the U. S. Navy, have applied his methods. You get much of the same from both Rafael Aguayo’s Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese About Quality and Andrea Gabor ‘s The Man Who Discovered Quality, even though their titles suggest biographical accounts. Aguayo, a former bank executive, essentially offers a schematic for putting Deming’s teachings to work.

Gabor, formerly a staff editor for this magazine and now a senior editor at U. S. News & World Report, provides far more insight into the man, which makes hers the most accessible and enjoyable of the three books. Born in Iowa, Deming grew up in a tarpaper shack in Wyoming. He earned a scholarship to Yale University, where he graduated in 1928 with a PhD in mathematical physics. He worked for the Agriculture Dept. and then the U. S. Census Bureau before the War Dept. sent him to Japan in the late 1940s to help rebuild that war-torn nation. Gabor vividly describes Deming’s early visits, using his personal diary to bring to life his rise to prominence.

The Business Week review ended with,

“How great is Deming’s influence in Japan? On the walls in the main lobby of Toyota’s headquarters in Tokyo, three portraits hang. There is one of the founder and one of the current chairman. But Deming’s is the largest of all.”

In 1979, Ford would lose a billion dollars and General Motors would lose a whopping 2.5 billion dollars. Many people blamed President Jimmy Carter. Industry leaders blamed unions and lazy workers. When out of desperation they called on Deming, he blamed management.

In the forward to her new book, Gabor highlights two key points of Deming’s teaching:

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

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

The Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation with its test and punishment philosophy of education improvement was a clear violation of Deming’s core principles. Today, NCLB is widely seen as a damaging failure. Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) had a school “turn-around” strategy of hiring consultants or charter management organizations to fix schools that didn’t reach testing benchmarks. It was a consistent failure because they did not understand the cause and effect relationships starting with their completely incapable testing instrument for measuring failure.

Instead of removing fear from teacher ranks, NCLB and RTTT injected more fear into them. I am one teacher who will never forget the President of the United States congratulating the Central Falls, Rhode Island school board for firing all 88 teachers at Central Falls High School because the test scores were too low.

NCLB and RTTT were bad policy based on bad ideology. They embraced Taylorism and ignored Deming. However, there are wonderfully successful examples of schools and even states embracing Deming style continuous improvement through bottom up leadership. Gabor’s deeply researched book shares a few of their stories which demonstrate success in education leadership.

The Small School Progressives

The progressive education grassroots movement appears to have gotten its inspiration from Britain’s 1960’s open-education which had intellectual roots going back to Friedrich Froebel, John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Lillian Weber, a City College professor who studied in England brought open-education to the attention of New York’s reformers. That is where Deborah Meier became her star mentee. Sixties student activists Ann Cook and Herb Mack traveled to London in the 1960’s to observe open-education first hand. They became small school advocates consistent with Gabor’s description of the progressive leaders as “for the most part, anti-establishment ‘lefty hippies’…”

Gabor observed that surprisingly, these progressives ran schools that were lean, entrepreneurial and efficient.

One antidote from Gabor shows the stark difference between schools envisioned by the New York progressives and today’s no-excuses charter school leaders:

“As Meier, a protégé of Weber, explained it, the hallways and lobbies of schools ‘work best if we think of them as the marketplaces in small communities – where gossip is exchanged, work displayed, birthdays taken note of; where clusters of kids and adults gather to talk, read and exchange ideas.’”

In 1973, Tony Alvarado was named Superintendent of District 4 in New York City which is in a poor largely black and Latino neighborhood. Alvarado fostered an educator driven approach to school improvement. He encouraged educators to start new schools and schools within a school. Gabor notes, “Put simply, Alvarado was a master at fostering both improvements from grassroots up and creative non-compliance.”

In 1974, he heard about Deborah Meier and together they launched Central Park East which brought open-education to District 4. This was the first of what would eventually run into the hundreds of these small progressive schools across New York City. When Alvarado arrived, district four had the lowest reading score among the cities 32 districts. In ten years, it climbed to fifteenth.

Alvarado went to District 2 in 1988. It was ranked near the middle of the cities districts and in a decade it was ranked number 2.

Another important factor in the success of the New York Progressives was the support of Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools. As the small school movement progressed, Sizer’s organization and Meier’s Center for Collaborative Education provided important infrastructure such as training, funding and political support. The pedagogic emphasis was on learning depth over quantity which is one of the stated goals of the now loathed top down imposed common core state standards.

I cannot do justice to Andrea’s well written readable and engaging account of the New York’s small school progressives. However, I wanted to share this much because I have a personal experience with two of the protagonists of this story; Tony Alvarado and Deborah Meier.

Chapter four in Diane Ravitch’s startling change of view book The Death and Life of the Great American School System tells the story of the unlikely school reform effort in San Diego, California. A non-educator and politically connected former federal prosecutor, Alan Bersin, was named Superintendent of Schools in 1998. He was given carte blanche powers to reform the district.  Ravitch noted that San Diego was an unlikely place to launch a reform movement because it was seen as “one of the nation’s most successful urban school districts.”

Bersin was a Harvard man so he went to Harvard for direction and that is where he heard about District 2 in New York City and Anthony Alvarado. Bersin brought Alvarado to San Diego to be in charge of the education agenda while he took care of the politics.

For some reason, Alvarado completely abandoned his “grassroots up and creative non-compliance” that had led to such success in New York. In 1999, two-thousand teachers demonstrated at a San Diego Unified School District board meeting to protest the administration’s top-down mandates. Ravitch reported that the Bersin-Alvarado management employed “centralized decision making and made no pretense of collaborating with teachers.”

In 2002, my first teaching job was working under Bersin-Alvarado. It was a miserable experience characterized by fear and loathing everywhere. It seemed that besides the no-input mandates, there was a quota on number of teachers to be fired. The belief among teachers was a certain number teachers were to be fired as an example for the rest.

I was a fifty-one year-old first year educator teaching five sections of physics to ninth-graders at Bell Junior High School, a poor, non-white and low scoring school. My classes actually did well on the end of course exams including my honors class being the second highest scoring in a large district with many wealthy communities.

I was evaluated as “not moving my students to achieving standards.” A designation that meant I could not even apply to be a substitute teacher.

In 2015, I was able to spend an hour talking with Deborah Meier and her niece from Denver. Both of them were discouraged by the turn events in public education. Especially the niece from Denver was seeing little hope for the future of America’s public schools. Later, I investigated the destruction of Denver’s public education and I understand why she was so down.

I asked Deborah “what happened to your friend Tony Alvarado when he came to San Diego.” She had no explanation why he abandoned the model of teacher led continuous improvement after his own twenty-five year history of successfully applying it.

Deborah had been a larger than life figure to me for a few decades. When I had the opportunity to speak with her, I was so happy to discover that she is just as warm and humble as she is brilliant.

A Tale of Two States: Michigan and Massachusetts

Brockton, Massachusetts the birthplace of Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler is home to Brockton High School (BHS) famous for its athletics. By 1993, BHS became a rallying cry for school reform in the state. Even Republican Governor William Weld’s own commission agreed that BHS was not funded properly.

Gabor takes the reader through the motivation for Massachusetts’ education reform and its bottom up development.  She notes there was broad-based leadership from the governor, from business, from legislators, from the judiciary, from teachers and their unions. They created “a clear vision of what education reform should look like.”

There was a “grand bargain” to increase spending in exchange for increased accountability. A “collaborative, transparent, and iterative approach to developing both a new curriculum and a standardized test that became the graduation requirement” was carried out. Gabor writes, “… Massachusetts reforms grew out of a deliberate, often messy and deeply democratic process…”

Much of the story of the Massachusetts reform is told through the transformation of the giant 4,000 plus students BHS. It was the story of home grown reform led by locals who themselves attend BHS. They proved a large school can succeed. Gabor shares,

“Within a little over a decade, Brockton would go from one of the lowest performing schools in the state to one of the highest and, in 2009, it would be featured in a Harvard University report on exemplary schools that have narrowed the minority achievement gap. Today, 85 percent of Brockton students score advanced or proficient on the MCAS, the state’s standardized tests, and 64 percent score advanced or proficient in math.”

In 2010, Massachusetts abandoned parts of their successful education reform agenda in order to win a $250 million dollar RTTT grant. They abandoned their state standards and curriculum to adopt the Common Core State Standards. The result looks bad. It seems that after more than a decade of continuous improvement, progress has slowed or possibly reversed as suggested by National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data.

Mass scale data

Graphs Created Using the NAEP Data Explorer

In the late 1990’s, Michigan and Massachusetts chose opposite paths of education reform. Michigan embraced school choice while Massachusetts rejected it. Massachusetts increased school spending. Michigan did not.  Michigan imposed school reform in a top-down fashion with little educator input. Massachusetts embraced educator contributions to education reform. Eighth grade math NAEP results provide stunning evidence for which choices were better.

Comparing Mich and Mass

The Nations Report Card Provided the Data

Conclusions

Gabor found a school district in Texas that embraced Deming’s quality ideas thirty-five years ago. Leander school district is non-urban and is in a right to work state in the middle of a mostly white Christian and Republican community. I find this all important, because it shows that the continuous improvement model led by educators, students and parents works in any political environment. It is not a red state – blue state or union dependent thing. It shows Deming’s leadership principles are sound and perhaps universal.

I met Andrea Gabor in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Network for Public Education conference of April, 2016. She had come there from New Orleans accompanied by friends she made there while researching this book. For a guy like me who grew up in rural mostly white Idaho and then moved to pluralistic California to serve in the integrated US Navy, the story of profound and continuous racism in New Orleans were beyond my ability to apprehend. There was a conscious centuries long effort made there to limit education among the black population!

When all of the black professional educators in New Orleans were fired after hurricane Katrina and replaced with mostly white college graduates from Teach for America, it was a continuation of that same centuries of racial injustice.

In Raleigh, Andrea made it clear that she was not anti-charter school and in her book she presents the story of one particularly successful school, Morris Jeff, that exemplified the Deming approach. Morris Jeff is one of the few mixed race schools in New Orleans and their students are outperforming the cities “no-excuses” charters.

Bottom line, this is a special book and I encourage you to read it. It’s ideas are both thought provoking and promising.

Review and Preview Thurmond v Tuck

1 Dec

This year’s biggest election win in California was for the down-ballot office, Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI). Tony Thurmond defeated Marshall Tuck in a proxy battle between billionaires supporting public school privatization and teachers’ unions fighting for democratically run neighborhood schools. More than $61,000,000 was spent on the SPI office doubling the previous $30,000,000 spending record set in 2014 when Tuck lost to Tom Torlakson.

Director of research at California Target Book, Rob Pyers, reported this year’s total election spending in California realized a new level. Target Book publisher Darry Sragow commented, “If blowing through the billion-dollar campaign spending ceiling in California doesn’t give pause to everyone in politics, I don’t know what will.”

Of the eight state-wide constitutional offices on the ballot, the governor’s race topped spending at $108,221,028 and the SPI race came in second totaling $61,170,451. Spending in the governor’s race was also heavily impacted by billionaires supporting the charter school industry. California has an open primary in which the top two vote getters reach the general election ballot regardless of party. Before June’s voting, billionaires lavished Anthony Villaraigosa’s campaign unprecedented independent expenditure money trying to get him to the November ballot.

Billionaires for Villaraigosa

Spending By Eight Billionaires for Villaraigosa over Newsom in 2018 Primary Election

When Villaraigosa lost badly in the June 6 primary, many of the same billionaires listed above turned their full attention toward electing Marshall Tuck SPI.

Following a brief career in investment banking, Tuck took a job at the politically connected Green Dot charter schools. Steve Barr a former chair of the Democratic Party who had served on national campaigns for Bill Clinton, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis founded Green Dot charter schools in 1999. He hired Truck in 2002 to be Chief Operating Officer (COO) and eventually promoted him to President and COO.

When Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa was rebuffed in his efforts to take control of Los Angeles Unified School District, he convinced a few donors to underwrite the takeover of ten schools in areas which had suffered years of poor standardized testing results. They created a non-profit called Partnership for LA. Villaraigosa tapped Marshall Tuck to lead the Partnership.

Tuck was extremely unpopular at the Partnership. The Sacramento Bee reported, “Teachers passed a vote of no confidence at nine of the schools at the end of the first year, leading to independent mediation.”

During this education reform era in which connections are more important than skill, experience and training, Tuck remained in good standing with the Destroy Public Education (DPE) financiers. Subsequent to loosing the formerly most expensive SPI race in California’s history; Tuck’s benefactors took care of him. Despite no training as an educator, he was given a job as Educator-in-Residence at the New Teacher Center. Bill Gates provides much of the centers funding including grants totaling $26,305,252 since 2009.

Reviewing the Campaign Contributions

Direct contributions to a candidate are no longer of primary importance. The money given to “independent expenditure” committees has no contribution limits. Legally, these committees are supposed to be separate from the candidate and are not to coordinate with the candidate’s campaign; however, the committees are often doing the bidding of the same people who created the candidate.

In Tuck versus Thurmond, the direct giving only accounted for 12% of total money spent. Although the direct money spent was comparatively small, it was revealing. In this race the contribution limit was $7,300 and it could be given twice (once for the primary and once for the general). Tuck received 377 maximum contributions for a total of $2,748,500. Thurmond received 170 maximum contributions for a total of $1,234,854.

The race is generally viewed as a battle between billionaires and teachers unions, but that obscures some realities. Tuck’s maximum contributions came from 259 sources of which 257 were individuals. Thurmond’s Maximum contributions came from 129 sources of which 16 were individuals. Tuck received max contributions from 76 non-employed people, 65 financial industry employees, 39 corporate executives and 29 billionaires. Thurmond received a maximum contribution from one billionaire, Tom Steyer and two corporate executives, Stewart Resnick and Linda Ray Resnick, who also were maximum contributors for Tuck.

The groups who gave maximum contributions to Thurmond were almost all organized by labor unions. Surprisingly, much of the money came from voluntary contributions and not union dues. For example, the California State Retirees PAC, made a maximum contribution to Thurmond. The largest amount contributed to the PAC by the 1404 contributors was $15.50. Another example is The California Federation of Teachers COPE which made two max donation to Thurmond. The money came from 1326 member organizations like the San Jose Federation of Teacher Local 957 whose members made voluntary contributions totaling to $73,391.

It was the PACs who drove the election financially.

Independent Expenditures Map

Independent Expenditure Example Map of EdVoice for the Kids PAC

The LittleSis map above shows eight billionaires contributing $9,769,200 to EdVoice for the Kids PAC. Plus four of them send $2,664,600 to Charter Public Schools PAC sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. That PAC contributes another $2,900,000 to the Ed Voice PAC. EdVoice then sends $17,953,882 to Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshall Tuck which spends $22,013,408 on things like TV ads, radio spots and mailers.

The spending by the three PACs and the billionaires were verified using records provided by the Cal-access data base for major donors. The total of independent expenditures for Tuck is a conservative estimate based on multiple news reports. The independent expenditures on behalf of Tuck were more than the record setting $30,000,000 total for this contest in 2014.

Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshal Tuck was a project of EdVoice. No students, teachers or parents are listed among the contributors to this PAC unless George Hume, Chairman of Basic American or investor Michael Stoppelman have children. This PAC name looked and sounded good when providing a deceptive and legally required source for political advertisements.

The opening page of EdVoice’s internet site says, “EdVoice is a nonprofit organization advocating for policies to increase measurable student achievement for all students in California and eliminate inequality of educational opportunity in public schools.” In other words, they promote using testing to label public schools failures and promote Betsy DeVos’s school choice ideology.

Bill Lucia, a connected Republican operative, is President and COO of Ed Voice. His Ed Voice biography states, “Prior to joining EdVoice, Lucia served as Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, leading the advocacy and legal defense team at the California Charter Schools Association(CCSA). Before joining CCSA, Lucia worked as Senior Assessment Policy Liaison for Educational Testing Service, and prior to that, spent five years in Washington D.C. working as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education and in the U.S. Senate.”

EdVoice is not a big money organization. In 2016, its total income was $400,136. However at least two billionaires associated with privatizing public education are board members, Eli Broad and Carrie Walton Penner. Susan Bloomfield is also on the board.

The Campaign

In March 2017, Marshall Tuck announced his candidacy for SPI. In April, Tony Thurmond announced. By the end of 2017, four candidates had joined the race with the addition of Lily Ploski and Steven Ireland.

Marshall Tuck had name recognition and solid campaign funding. By August 2017, Thurmond announced $1,000,000 in campaign contributions and early endorsements from Senator Kamala D. Harris, SPI Tom Torlakson, the California Federation of Teachers, and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. From that point on, the race was mainly between Tuck and Thurmond but Ploski’s and Ireland’s entry made it difficult for either Tuck or Thurmond to win 50% of the votes during the primary which would have ended the race.

When the year began, many supporters of public education were concerned because the candidate apposing Marshall Tuck was a one-term Assemblyman from Richmond, California with no name recognition. Not only that, he was a black man vulnerable to the race card. Then the Judases at the Association of California School Administrators endorsed Marshall Tuck for SPI.

That might have been the point at which Thurmond demonstrated he was a special guy. On the weekend of January 20th he spoke at the CTA delegates meeting. He already had their endorsement since October, but in this speech the delegates met a charismatic candidate who brought them to their feet cheering. He declared “no privatization of public schools in California. Not in this state. Not on my watch.”

At the California Democratic Party convention in February, the delegates overwhelmingly endorsed Thurmond over Tuck. Much of the sentiment at that San Diego convention was that Tuck was not a real Democrat. He was seen as being awash in Republican money while espousing their policies.

When Tuck tried to speak to the convention delegates, he was booed off the stage. Amusingly, Lee Ohanian of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University wrote an article titled “David Versus Goliath: A School Reformer Takes on the Democratic Party and Unions.” Amazingly in this article Tuck is David and Thurmond is Goliath. Ohanian wrote,

“A few months ago Marshall Tuck, a Democratic candidate who is running for the state office of California Superintendent of School (sic) Instruction, went to the California Democratic Party Convention to speak to his party about how to create better K–12 education in California. He went to the podium, but didn’t get a word out. Well, he may have said “I,” but that would have been about it. He was shouted down with a chorus of boos that drowned out his voice. The boos continued until his allotted time expired. No state Democratic party (sic) official quieted the crowd. The message was clear: this particular Democratic candidate, who wishes to change the status quo, is not welcome in his party. And you thought that the Democratic party embraced diversity?”

And you thought Stanford University was a credible research institution?

Thurmond turned out to be a consistent and gifted politician who won support at almost all debates, editorial interviews and campaign events.

A San Diego Union editorial read, “In his interview with us, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who finished second to Tuck in the June primary, seemed just as affable but not nearly as ambitious as Tuck.” In case that was too subtle; Tony is a black man.

On November 6, Thurmond became the first African American elected to statewide office in four decades.

The Preview is Looking Good

Calmatters interviewed Thurmond during the campaign.

‘“We talked to voters across the state and told them what this election means for each of us: it means giving every kid the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century, not just the ones that show the most potential,’ Thurmond said.

‘“It means funding our public schools at the level they deserve, not pouring money into our jails in prisons. It means providing mental health treatment for kids, not arming them with guns.”’

Calmatters also stated,

“Thurmond had said he favored a ‘pause’ on the growth of charters in California while the state examines the long-term impact they’ve had so far on its public education system. The assemblyman also said he supported more charter-school oversight and sympathized with school districts that had taken financial hits after losing students to charter schools.”

Politico reported on Thurmond’s first public statements since Tuck conceded.

“He called for a temporary ban on any new K-12 charter schools in the state, addressing reporters at the Sacramento union hall of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California. He said the state has reached a ‘tipping point’ with too many charters that have financially harmed public school districts, POLITICO’s Angela Hart reports.”

‘“I believe that we shouldn’t open new schools without providing the resources for those schools,’ said Thurmond, a Democratic assemblyman. ‘It is time to have perhaps a pause on the opening of new schools until we get clear about how we will fund any new schools.”’

“While charter school advocates believe their programs can force positive changes in traditional campuses, Thurmond took issue with the notion of ‘competition,’ which he framed in a negative light.”

‘“The truth of the matter is you cannot open new schools — charter or otherwise — and serve all the students in this state,” he said. “So if the model is built on saying let’s have competition in education, then you’re certainly leaving certain students to suffer and to not have the resources they need.”’

Thrive Charter Schools All Hat and No Cattle

17 Nov

Excellent public relations and marketing mask a substandard educational program at the inappropriately named Thrive Public [sic] Schools (TPS). The misleading name indicates that this private business is a public school. It is not. Four years of assessments confirm that both San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and the County Office of Education (COE) were correct in 2014 when they denied TPS’s charter petition.

January 7, 2014 SDUSD staff felt that TPS was not ready to open and reported to the board, “Staff recommends approval of the petition to establish Thrive Public School (Thrive) Charter School, for a five-year term beginning July 1, 2015 and ending June 30, 2020.” TPS leaders wanted a charter starting July 1, 2014. SDUSD board concluded TPS is “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program” and denied the petition.

Founder Nicole Assisi turned to Voice of San Diego which was founded by one of her benefactors, Buzz Woolley. They ran her public complaint in which she declared,

“It was not the finest hour for the SDUSD board of trustees, which ignored district staff diligence and its own existing policies to deny a school that would have served the influx of families in Mission Valley. The neighborhood, by the way, does not currently have a single public elementary school. Families drive miles to get to their ‘neighborhood’ school.”

“Thankfully, the County Board of Education has an opportunity to right this wrong when our appeal comes before them next week.”

March 27, 2014 COE staff reviewed the appeal and concluded TPS presents an “unsound educational program and does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of required elements.” Interestingly, one of the reasons for denial was that the petitioner did not clearly identify the intended location for the new school. None of the four current TPS schools are in Mission Valley.

On July 9, 2014, the State Board of Education (SBE) which has gained a reputation for rubber stamping charter school petitions approved the TPS charter unanimously. Many of the Brown appointed SBE board members come directly from the charter industry.

This November 13, the SDUSD board took up TPS’s new petition for a five year charter beginning July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2024. Trustees unanimously rejected TPS’s renewal. In case of rejection the SDUSD staff  notes say, “Thrive must submit its renewal documents to the SBE by December 2, 2018, to comply with the SBE’s renewal submission timelines.”

Kristen Taketa reporting on the TPS decision for the San Diego Union said the state requires charter schools to either perform as well as comparable district schools on state testing, or it must improve its test scores over time. Taketa reported,

“The district’s analysis found that Thrive met neither of those benchmarks. … Thrive’s test scores have also declined every year since it opened in 2014.

‘“Where it may not capture the true value of what is happening and taking place at this school — as we’ve already said, the school is more than a score — it is the standard that we are stuck with,’ Trustee Mike McQuary said of the test scores at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“At the same time trustees claimed their hands were tied in denying Thrive’s renewal, however, trustees said Thrive was failing to meet an “extremely low bar” that all but two[out of 44] San Diego Unified charter schools have been able to meet in the past five years.”

In the Public Interest (ITPI), a bay area think tank, took a look at TPS’s charter renewal petition and noticed that the comparison schools listed were inappropriate because they did not serve a similar population. Even so, TPS outcomes were deficient.  ITPI stated,

“When comparing TPS to schools with similar student populations, the results are even starker. Below we examine TPS performance compared with a set of schools in San Diego Unified School District with similar student populations ….”

The ITPI policy brief is packed with charts that show Thrive students are not testing well. Three of their graphics follow.

Thrive Data Set 1

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Adjusted Peer Group Comparisons

Thrive Data Set 2

TPS and SDUSD Math and English Performance over Past Four Years

SDUSD’s staff report on the TPS petition contained many similar damning data sets. The TPS outcomes have fallen every year since its opening four years ago and schools in the peer group all significantly outperform TPS.

That data looks bad and even more troubling are the reports of uncontrolled bullying of SDUSD students by TPS students.

Thrive was the Creation of Big Money and Political Influence

Nicole and Danial FB

Daniel Assisi on his Facebook Page with TPS Founder and Wife, Nicole Assisi

Nicole Assisi, the founder of Thrive Charter Schools attended Coronado High School, a public school in Coronado, California. She matriculated to UCLA where she earned a multi-subject teaching credential. Her first teaching job was leading English classes at San Diego’s Mira Mesa High School in the 2002-2003 school year.

In 2003, she moved on to High Tech High where she worked until 2005 or 2006. Her linked in profile says she worked at High Tech until 2006 but it also says that in 2005 she went to Los Angeles to be an Assistant Principal at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. Her husband Daniel was director of Information technology at Camino Nuevo from 2006 to 2008.

In 2008 Nicole became Principle on special assignment at De Vinci Schools (Formerly Wiseburn 21st Century Charter). At DeVinci Schools, she worked with Don Braun who played a key role in undermining the Inglewood Public School District. That same year her husband Daniel Assisi went to work for the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

Nicole left De Vinci schools and returned to San Diego in 2013 to start TPS. The 34-years-old Nicole was provided with $8,960 from the Charter School Growth Fund and $100,000 from the Gates supported Educause to start her “non-profit.”

Once she obtained the charter authorization from the SBE, money flowed. The known list of 2014 donations:  Buzz Woolley’s Girard Foundation granted her $108,000; Gate’s Educause sent $254,500; Charter School Growth Fund kicked in $175,000 and the Broad Foundation delivered $150,000 for a total of $688,000. The next year, Broad gave another $50,000 and the New Schools Venture Fund pitched in $100,000. There is another $144,000 promised from Educause.

Destroy public education (DPE) careers pay well. Tax records reveal that Nicole’s start up “non-profit” has been lucrative. Her pay: year one $122,301; year two $133,747 and year three $142,541. Her husband holds a senior management position at the CCSA which means DPE money flows his way as well.

In 2017, TPS announced its big plan which stands to make founder and CEO Assisi a wealthy woman. A San Diego Union report said,

“The 35,000-square-foot facility will be the fourth San Diego campus for Thrive Schools and will open in about 12 months at the former site of Bayside Community Center at 6882 Linda Vista Road.”

“The project’s cost became more affordable for Thrive through the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program, which gives tax credits to for-profit businesses that are helping revitalize low-income communities.”

“Civic San Diego was eligible for the program and was allowed to sell the tax credits to whoever was making the investment. In this case, the credits were sold to the bank lending money to Thrive to buy the site.”

Although paid for with tax money, the deed will belong to Thrive Public Schools and CEO Nicole Assisi. This spring, ITPI published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools” which noted,

“Schools constructed with private funding subsidized by New Market Tax Credits or acquired with private funds but whose mortgage payments are reimbursed through the Charter Facilities Grant Program (known as “SB740”) are typically owned without restriction.”

All Hat

The old cowboy expression all hat and no cattle perfectly describes TPS. Their team is politically connected, supported by deep pocketed foundations intent on privatizing public education and has excellent marketing support but their schools are not very good.

TPS has developed support from neoliberal and conservative politicians. Their listed supporters:

  • Dede Alpert,  Former Assembly Woman and State Senator
  • Ben Boyce, Manager of Public Affairs at Southwest Strategies
  • Lisa Corr, Partner, Young Minney and Corr, LLP
  • Rod Dammeyer, Chairman, CAC; Board Member, Ca. Charter Schools Ass. & High Tech High
  • Tom Davis, Director of Events and Corporate Sponsorships, CALSA
  • Jon Dean, Chief Information Officer, Summit Public Schools
  • Donna Elder, Dept. Chair of Educational Leadership and Teacher Education, National U.
  • Kerry Flanagan,Cheif of Staff, California Charter Schools Association
  • Stanley V. Heyman, President, Heyman & Associates
  • Ben Hueso, State Senator
  • Heather Lattimer,Associate Dean, USD School of Leadership & Education Sciences
  • Diane Levitt, Director of K-12 Education, Cornell
  • Chet Pipkin, Founder, President and CEO of Belkin International
  • Robert Schwartz, Senior Advisor, New Teacher Center
  • Rebecca Tomasini, Founder and CEO, The Alvo Institute
  • Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of California
  • Jed Wallace, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Charter Schools Association
  • Matthew Wunder, Chief Executive Officer, Da Vinci Schools
  • Mark Wyland, State Senator

Looking elsewhere on their web-pages one finds that Boyce, Davis, Elder, Heyman and Flanagan are Thrive board members. With few exceptions, the other supporters are either school privatization friendly politicians or active participants in the DPE movement.

TPS’s board member and public affairs guy, Boyce, generates excellent media coverage. For example, KPBS ran two articles that appear to take TPS claims and publish them without fact checking. One of their articles describes how Thrive is doing a wonderful job with special education children. It claims, “At Thrive, students are in the 96th percentile for academic growth, meaning while all the students may not be at grade level, they’re improving more quickly than the majority of their peers nationally.”

The same PBS article stated, “Since opening three years ago, TPS’s special needs population has grown from 11 to 16 percent of the student body.” However, based on TPS’s report to the state the 2017-2018 school year special education student percentage was 9.2 percent.

A few years ago the former on camera CNN reporter, Campbell Brown, started a publication supporting privatized education called The 74. It is primarily funded by the Walton Family Foundation which was formed by the heirs of the Walmart fortune. The Walton’s also fund the Charter School Growth fund and other DPE organizations. Earlier this year The 74 ran a puff piece with the title “Thrive Schools: How an Innovative California Charter Network Grew to 700 Students & 4 Campuses in Only 4 Years Through a Focus on Math, Literacy & ‘the Light of Kindness’” Surprisingly, they described a co-located Thrive elementary school,

“The Juanita Hills campus is co-located with Carver Elementary, a pre-K-5 school that enrolls much higher proportions of disadvantaged students and English learners than Thrive. The two facilities share the same lot, but a long blue line has been painted down the center to separate them. A Thrive parent complained that though Carver had its own library on-site, Thrive kids couldn’t use it.”

The biggest national publicist for TPS is Tom Vander Ark. He has a long history of championing students at computer screens. He was also the first education advisor for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Vander Ark described the TPS education program,

“Curriculum such as Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop and CGI Math provide collaborative opportunities for small groups to work directly with the teacher, while other students work on Chromebooks or iPads.

“The middle school team uses Google Classroom to make and manage assignments. Math software includes ST Math and Zearn.

On October 26 the New York Times ran three articles about the dangers of screen time for children. One was called, “The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected.” The header for the article reads,

“America’s public schools are still promoting devices with screens — even offering digital-only preschools. The rich are banning screens from class altogether.”

The children trapped inside the TPS schools are being sacrificed to the toxic ed-tech agenda.

Some Final Points

Thrive Public [sic] Schools is a private business that does contract work for the state government. There are two requirements for the label public school. One is being financed by tax payers which TPS is. The other is being governed by an elected body that sets and collects taxes which TPS is not. TPS is not a public school just like Hazard construction doing work for the county is not a public construction company. The public in the name is simply deceptive marketing.

For most of two centuries, public schools in America have been the incubators of democracy. Privatizing public education is undermining American democracy.

It costs more to run two or more school systems. Charter schools are in essence school districts. To finance multiple systems requires either higher taxes or per child spending in public schools must be reduced. The second option is the one being used. The experience of Kansas City Public Schools illuminates this issue.

Bad schools like TPS survive because they are good at marketing; have deep pocketed benefactors and political allies.

Charter schools have developed a history of fraud, abuse and instability. It used to be “another day another charter school scandal.” Now, it’s multiple scandals every day. Sure there are fraud and scandal associated with all large organizations but the charter industry is out of control.

We urgently need a moratorium on new charter schools until the obvious harm being visited upon communities by the charter industry is understood and students are protected.

Lessons from the Continuing Attack on Kansas City’s Schools

11 Nov

For three decades relentless harm has been visited upon public schools in Kansas City, Missouri. This city provides stark evidence for the fallacy of school choice and the folly of employing standardized testing results to gauge school quality.

Leaders from the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) presented at the recent Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. This article is in part based on that presentation.

The Major Cause of Racial and Economic Segregation

Richard Rothstein, Senior Fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, wrote about segregation as a function of government housing policy. He noted,

“With Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and then, after World War II, Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees, white middle-class families could buy suburban homes with little or no down payments and extended 30-year amortization schedules. Monthly charges were often less than rents the families had previously paid to housing authorities or private landlords.

“The government had an explicit policy of not insuring suburban mortgages for African Americans.”

KC Population Change

Population Shift Graphic Presented by Kansas City Public School Leaders at #NPE18Indy

As Rothstein reported, the dramatic population shifts in Kansas City began with the establishment of the FHA in the mid 1930’s and accelerated with the VA guarantees after WWII. The graphic above shows that trend continuing.

In 2007, a popular Democratic state senator from Independence, Victor Callahan, led an effort to remove seven schools from Kansas City by transferring them to the Independence School District. He also claimed that the Kansas City school district should disappear. Gwendolyn Grant, leader of the Greater Kansas City Urban League, supported the move contending that a more racially homogeneous school board would be less contentious. The move was ratified by large majorities in both Kansas City and Independence. It seems that Kansas City’s school teachers provided the only opposition to the transfer.

As a result, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) became even more racially isolated. Today, the district is almost 90% minorities (65% black and 25% Hispanic). Ninety-percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches which indicates high rates of student poverty.

In 1998, Missouri legislators enacted a charter school law that affects only two cities, Kansas City and Saint Louis. Evidently, legislators from rural areas would not vote for the law unless it was restricted to cities with populations greater than 500,000 people of which there are only two. The state department of education informs parents,

“Any student residing in the Kansas City 33 School District or the St. Louis Public School District may choose to attend a charter school if they reside within either city.

“As of August 2018, there are 20 LEAs [Local Education Agency] in Kansas City operating within 40 buildings and 16 LEAs in St Louis within 36 buildings.”

Local education agency means it operates as a school-district.

In 1964 Kansas City’s school enrollment was 77,000 students. Since then, the District enrollment has plummeted to less than 15,000 students.

Kansas City School Enrollment

Historical Enrollment Data Presented at #NPE18Indy

KCPS’s Unique History Highlights Fatal Flaw in School Choice Agenda

Education commentator at Forbes, Peter Greene, states the charter school dilemma, “You cannot run multiple school districts for the same amount of money you used to spend to operate just one.”

Greene’s point was illustrated during the KCPS presentation in Indianapolis.

Springfield, Missouri is a small city of just over 150,000 people in the Missouri Ozarks. Its school district is almost exactly the same population size as KCPS plus the Kansas City charter schools.  The Kansas City student population totals 26,500 students and Springfield Public Schools have 25,800 students.

In Kansas City there are 110 schools operated by the equivalent of six district administrations. Springfield has 53 schools run by one district administration. Kansas City’s education environment is very difficult for parents to navigate with its 23 different types of schools. Choosing between k-2, prek-5, 1-7, 6-12 etceteras, parents have a difficult time knowing how to guide their child into a coherent program. In Springfield, the education path is clearly defined.

The next two charts are from the NPE presentation. They show some of the comparative financial outcomes of a public system and the hybrid privatized and public system in Kansas City.

Efficiency Comparison 2

Efficiency Comparison I between KC’s Choice System and Springfield’s Public System

Efficiency 1

Efficiency Comparison II between KC’s Choice System and Springfield’s Public System

The KC/Springfield data strongly supports the obvious conclusion that maintaining classroom spending levels in public schools while expanding charter schools requires an increase in tax money. Without more money, the charter school experiment is being financed by reducing spending on public school students.

Destroy Public Education (DPE) Forces in Kansas City

All public schools throughout America have been harmed by the federal test and punish theory of education reform. The major fallacy of this theory is the tool for measuring school quality is useless. Not only is standardized testing not capable of measuring school or teacher quality, because of the problem of error associated with testing, reality is often opposite from the results.

Throwing darts blind folded would be an equally accurate method for judging schools as standardized testing. Eugenics was the genesis for standardized testing and only the profit motive keeps the testing fraud alive. School grades consistently outperform SAT scores for predicting college success yet we continue forcing families to pay for these tests.

A new study “What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non–Test Score Outcomes,” by C. Kirabo Jackson professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University was recently published. The conservative publication Education Next carried an article by Professor Jackson describing his findings. He concluded,

“I find that, while teachers have notable effects on both test scores and non-cognitive skills, their impact on non-cognitive skills is 10 times more predictive of students’ longer-term success in high school than their impact on test scores. We cannot identify the teachers who matter most by using test-score impacts alone, because many teachers who raise test scores do not improve non-cognitive skills, and vice versa.”

In the 1980’s a federal court ordered Kansas City to address the growing racial isolation. The method chosen was big spending on magnet schools and other expensive big ticket items in an attempt to lure white students back. It did not work nor did it raise the only measure of success that mattered – test scores.

Joshua M. Dunn an assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado studied the Kansas City desegregation experiment. He wrote,

“In the mid 1980s, federal district court judge Russell Clark ordered a complete overhaul of the school district.   No expense was spared.  All told, the court spent more than $2 billion in its quest to improve the KCMSD.  Every high school and middle school and half the district’s elementary schools became magnet schools with special themes such as classical Greek, Slavic studies, and agribusiness.  Special themes required special facilities, such as petting zoos, robotics labs, and a model United Nations facility with simultaneous translation capability.  One high school was so extravagant it was dubbed the ‘Taj Mahal.'” [Note: KCMSD stands for Kansas City Missouri School District which was the name before 2007.]

Previous to 2009, the ongoing destruction of KCPS was based on stinking thinking; then the real destroy public schools (DPS) players arrived. John Covington, a 2008 graduate of the fake-unaccredited Broad Academy, became the Superintendent of schools on July 1, 2009.

The Broad Academy for school administrator training was founded by billionaire Eli Broad. His theory is that top school administrators need business backgrounds and education experience is not required; consultants can be hired for that. Broad has poured literally hundreds of millions of dollars into privatizing public education.

By 2008, Kansas City had closed 30 of its schools which reduced the number to 61 schools. During Covington’s first year he claimed that diplomas from KCPS “aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.” His solution for this situation and a looming budget deficit was to close another 29 schools and layoff 285 teachers.

Fortuitously, his mentor Eli Broad had just updated his School Closure Guide.  The first line of the guide says, “This is a guide for school district operators considering school closures to address significant budgetary challenges.”

With no warning or explanation, Covington resigned in August, 2011. The reason finally came to light in a 2016 Kansas City Star article by Joe Robertson. Joe reported that Covington had told several head hunters that he had no intention of leaving KCPS:

“Then came a call from one of Covington’s contacts at The Broad Foundation. … Be ready, his contact told him, to receive a call from the foundation’s founder — Eli Broad.”

“The call came from Spain, Covington said. He (Broad) said, ‘John, I need you to go to Detroit’”

“That, Covington says, is the reason he left.”

“On Aug. 26, 2011, two days after he resigned as superintendent of the Kansas City Public Schools, John Covington was introduced as the sole candidate for chancellor of a new statewide school system in Michigan.”

Covington was the founding principle of The Education Achievement Authority. He administered the schools taken over by the state including fifteen schools in Detroit. The Authority was an abject failure.

Robertson’s article also noted,

“Reform-minded forces as powerful as state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and the Kauffman Foundation saw a chance to completely reshape public education in Kansas City and came to roost while lawmakers fought unsuccessfully into the final minutes of the 2012 legislative session to give the state the immediate power to take over the district.”

Ewing Marion Kauffman was a graduate of public schools. Before his death in 1993 he spent money and time promoting public schools. He was an eagle scout and he established the Kansas City Royal baseball team. He would undoubtedly hate the idea that the $2 billion foundation he established is now being used to undermine public education in his city.

Kauffman Foundation money was used to bring CEE-Trust to Kansas City. It was a Bill Gates funded spin off from Indianapolis’s proto-type privatizing organization The Mind Trust. The CEE-Trust mandate was to implement the portfolio theory of education reform. When local’s got wind of a backroom deal that had given CEE-Trust a $385,000 state contract to create a plan for KCPS things went south. A 2017 Chalkbeat Article says, “In 2013, a plan to reshape Kansas City’s schools was essentially run out of town.” It became so bad that CEE-Trust changed its name to Education Cities.

Now the same local-national money combination is funding a new group, SmartschoolKC, with the same portfolio district agenda. The new collaboration is funded by the Kauffman Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test. This model inevitably leads to an ever more privatized system that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. Objections to the portfolio model include:

  1. It creates constant churn and disruption. The last thing students in struggling neighborhoods need is more uncertainty.
  2. Democratically operated schools in a community are the foundation of American democracy. Promoters of the portfolio model reject the civic value of these democracy incubators.
  3. Parents and taxpayer no longer have an elected board that they can hold accountable for school operations.

As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights.”

New Team Leading KCPS

KCPS Team

KCPS Team Presenting at #NPE18Indy – Photo by Ultican

Mark Bedell certainly made a positive impression at the recent NPE conference in Indianapolis.

Unlike many youthful school leaders in America, Bedell did not come from Teach for America. He actually studied education. He has a BA in history, a master’s in education leadership and a doctorate in school leadership. He worked for twelve years as a teacher and in various administrative positions for the Houston Independent School District.

In 2012, he accompanied his Houston colleague, Dallas S. Dance, to Baltimore when the thirty-one year old Dance became the Superintendent of Schools. By 2016, Dance was on his way to jail and Bedell’s positive reviews brought him to the helm of KCPS.

Linda Quinley prepared the data for the NPE presentation. She came across as very competent.

Jennifer Wolfsie is a former parent who navigated KCPS’s Byzantine system with her own children and is a KCPS Board member. She is a staunch advocate for public education. The Kansas City Star has published her opinion pieces.

Bedell says that he believes charter schools are not going away. He is proposing a model for public schools and charter schools working together under public school leadership for the good of all students in an integrated system. The proposal presented in some detail sounded well thought out with tough minded requirements for privatized schools.

However, some of us are skeptical if operating non-democratic schools harmoniously within a democratic system is feasible. It sounds eerily like the Systems of Schools proposal by GO public education in Oakland, California. Diane Ravitch commented,

“I first heard that claim from Joel Klein, who became chancellor after being pushed out as CEO of Bertelsmann. Zero education experience. That was 2002.

“Months after starting, he said he would transform NYC from a “school system” to a “system of schools.” Last week, I heard that the Broadie superintendent of Atlanta presented the same language as innovative.”

I think that Bedell and the present team have a chance to significantly improve the education landscape in Kansas City. The question is will they be led by their ideals or will they come under the influence of enemies of democracy and public education like Rex Sinquefield?

My Favorite School is Just 23 Miles from Downtown Kansas City in Blue Springs, Missouri.

Thomas J Ultican Elementary