San Francisco Public Schools under Attack

5 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/5/2022

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is leading a recall effort to replace three of the city’s seven school board members. Her neoliberal supporters would prefer to replace all seven but the four board members elected in the last election cannot be recalled. If they are successful, Mayor Breed will appoint the replacements. Along with board member Jenny Lam who Breed appointed previously, these new appointments would make four of the seven school board members Breed appointments rather than elected representatives.

The excuse for the recall is that the board did not open schools for face to face instruction in the spring of 2021. An open schools now campaign was initiated by the former president in May 2020 and became a winning Republican issue. In her ongoing effort to wrest control of public schools from the elected school board which was established in 1851, Mayor London Breed sued the school board to open schools. The February 3, 2021 suit claimed a “violation of administerial duties,” for not preparing for a return to school.

Replacing democratic control of schools with mayoral control is a neoliberal and anti-democratic agenda. In February, 2021, a new PAC – “Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools” – was formed with Democratic activist Seeyew Mo as its executive director. The principal officer listed on their declaration form was hedge fund founder Patrick Wolff and the treasure cited was San Francisco lawyer James Sutton. The PAC claimed, “The election process for choosing the Board of Education is not meeting the needs of San Francisco.” They called for a mayor appointed board and cited as evidence supporting their appeal a 2013 Center for American Progress (CAP) article that was sponsored by the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation and reviewed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Another group calling for the end of elected school boards in San Francisco is the conservative Briones Society. In a recent opinion piece they urge a charter amendment to make school board members appointed not elected. In addition, they state, “We propose a new path forward for our school system based on what some education scholars call the “portfolio model.”  The model is a path to privatization that has caused major disruptions to schooling wherever it has been implemented.

The Recall

School district parents, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, filed a school board recall petition. Looijen and Raj are tech workers who moved to the city in December 2020. After less than three months in the city, they submitted the February 19, 2021 filing to establish a committee called “Recall School Board Members Lopez, Collins & Moliga.” The filing names Looijen treasurer and her husband Raj principal officer.

Seventeen days later (3/8/2021), their filing was amended and the lawyer for the “Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools,” James Sutton, was named treasure, Looijen was named principal officer and her husband was cited as additional officer. James Sutton’s Law firm bio says,

“Notable professional affiliations include Past President of the California Political Attorneys Association and former Member of the State Bar’s Nonprofit Corporation Committee. Notable current and past community involvement includes the San Francisco Parks Alliance, Friends & Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library, Tennis Coalition of San Francisco, Friends of the Bancroft Library, Enterprise for High School Students, San Francisco School Alliance Advisory Board and San Francisco Olympic Club.”

In other words, Sutton is a very connected local lawyer in San Francisco and expensive. The Sutton Law Firm’s web site address is “campaignlawyers.com.”

Big money soon came in support of the recall. Silicon Valley billionaire  Arthur Rock was an early venture capitalists in the technology industry. His winners include Apple, Intel, Scientific Data Systems and several more. During the last 20-years, he has been very busy working to privatize public schools. Rock gifted $49,900 to the recall committee.

However, Rock’s investment was second in size to probable billionaire David Sacks’s $74,500 contribution. Sacks is an immigrant from South Africa who Peter Theil hired to be the PayPal COO. He was the founder of Yammer and now is general partner in a successful venture capital fund. While in college in 1995, he co-authored The Diversity Myth: ‘Multiculturalism’ and the Politics of Intolerance with Peter Thiel. Both Sacks and Thiel were significant Trump supporters in 2016.

A second committee called “Concerned Parents Supporting the Recall of Collins, Lopez, and Moliga” was legally formed on October 13, 2021. Arthur Rock’s $350,000 contribution to “Concerned Parents…” is by far the largest single contribution in the recall. In fact Rock’s total of $399,500 contributed to the recall represents 30 percent of the total recall contributions of $1,133,390.

Race Based Attack

After the former President of the United States persistently called the Covid-19 virus the “China virus,” many Asian Americans began experiencing physical attacks. San Francisco is 34 percent Asian and it was in this atmosphere that someone at the “Recall School Board Members Lopez, Collins & Moliga” committee found a string of tweets putting Collins in a bad light with the Asian community.

In 2016, two years before Collins an African mother ran for the school board she had fired off tweets that some people found offensive to Asians. After the tweets became an issue Collins posted a letter of apology to the community on medium also stating,

“A number of tweets and social media posts I made in 2016 have recently been highlighted. They have been taken out of context, both of that specific moment and the nuance of the conversation that took place. President Donald Trump had just won an election fueled by division, racism and an anti-immigration agenda. Meanwhile one of my daughters had recently experienced an incident in her school in which her Asian American peers were taunting her Latinx classmate about “sending kids back to Mexico” and the KKK. It was a time of processing, of fear among many communities with the unknown of how the next four years would unfold.”

Mayor Breed called for Collins’s resignation as did all of the Asian American city council members as did both of Breed’s appointments to the school board; Jenny Lam and Faauuga Moliga. The school board stripped her of the vice-presidency and all of her committee assignments.

Collins has been accused repeatedly in both local and national media of posting a series of anti-Asian racist attacks. It is a very effective political attack in a heavily Asian community. However, the tweets are relatively innocuous. They do not get much worse than,

The attack is BS. It is more about the recall and this report from KCBS Radio, “After a long, contentious debate, the San Francisco Board of Education has voted to do away with Lowell High School‘s merit-based admissions process after students say it is partially to blame for the school’s racist atmosphere.” Collins was a driving force behind the decision.

Gentrification

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

The Wolff-Thiel and Sacks-Thiel connections along with Mayor Breed’s appointment of Sonja Trauss to the “Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments” should have people worried about gentrification. Szeto and Meronek referenced Tory Becker the director of the anti-gentrification group LAGAI when writing about Trauss,

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

The third largest contributor to the recall effort is the “California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee (IMPAC).” They kicked in $55,900.

Conclusion

A combination of neoliberal politicians, deep-pocketed public school privatization advocates and real estate developers are making a major push to gain control of San Francisco’s public schools. This is an ongoing effort that became crystal clear in 2017 when Vincent Mathews was chosen to be Superintendent of Schools.

Mathews is a 2006 alumnus of the Broad Academy for school administrators known for its manual on how to close schools. Broad graduates have a track-record of developing financial deficits in the systems they manage.

Mathews served as Educator in Residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund. In 2001, he was principle of the for-profit Edison Charter Academy. His close relationship with school privatization groups made him an odd choice for “progressive” San Francisco.

Mathews came to San Francisco from Inglewood, Ca. The LA Times noted about his tenure there,

“A recent report by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found that, under Matthews, Inglewood had left day-to-day tasks to consultants, hadn’t monitored its budget and had underestimated its salary costs by about $1 million. The district had also overestimated its revenue, in part by incorrectly counting the number of students.”

It is not surprising that San Francisco’s school district is facing a $125 million deficit.  

Now Mathews is retiring leaving the district in financial distress.

It is very sad to see the once capital of progressive thought in America turning into a bastion of neoliberalism and opposing democratically run public schools.

Pirates Profiteers and Privatizers

21 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/21/2021

Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” The new book, The Privatization of Everything, documents the widespread theft of the commons facilitated by Reagan’s anti-government philosophy. His remark echoed a claim from the “laissez-faire cheerleader” Friedrich Hayek that government has us all on the “road to serfdom” (Privatization 120). Sherrilyn Ifill, the former Director-Council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund observed,

“What we’re seeing in our country today: the rhetoric, the hate, the ignorance, the coarseness, the vulgarity, the cruelty, the greed, the fear is the result of decades of poor citizenship development. It is a reflection of the fully privatized notion of citizenship, a feral conflict for the scraps left by oligarchs (Privatization 13).”

Libertarian politicians like former speaker of the house Paul Ryan and Senators Ron Johnson and Rand Paul claim Hayek and writer-philosopher Ayn Rand as their guiding lights. In a 2012 article, Politico reported, “…, to bring new staffers up to speed, Ryan gives them copies of Hayek’s classic “Road to Serfdom” and Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — books he says inspires his political philosophy.” Politico also stated,

“But Hayek and Rand were violently opposed to each other’s ideas. It is virtually impossible to hold them in the same brain. When the termagant Rand met Hayek, she screamed across the room, ‘Compromiser!’ and reviled him as an ‘abysmal fool,’ an “ass” and a ‘totally, complete, vicious bastard.’”  (Termagant: a violent, turbulent, or brawling woman.)

Ayn Rand’s problem with Hayek was that he was not really the “laissez-faire cheerleader” he was purported to be. He certainly opposed many of the ideas emanating from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal believing they would lead to worse problems than the ones being addressed. Fundamentally his thinking was shaped by a fear of communism. However, unlike today’s libertarians, he was not opposed to all government programs or interventions and that is what stirred Ayn Rand’s fury.

Robert Nielsen’s 2012 review of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom observes,

“He also calls for social insurance in case of sickness and accident, as well as government assistance after a natural disaster. ‘But there is no incompatibility in principle between the state providing greater security in this way and preservation of individual freedom.’ I think most advocates of Hayek have not read this passage and don’t realise he is not an extremist arguing against all forms of government. Let me repeat this, Hayek is arguing there is a good case for the government to get involved in healthcare, either in the form of universal healthcare or government insurance.”

John Maynard Keynes is thought of as the liberal economist whose theories guided President Roosevelt as he grappled with the great depression. Hayek’s and Keynes’s economic theories were in some ways polar opposites. However, Hayek came to London to work at the School of Economics where he and Keynes who was 16-years his senior became friends. They exchanged several letters concerning Hayek’s works in which Keynes found some agreement.

Chet Yarbrough’s audio book review of The Road to Serfdom states,

“Contrary to a wide perception that John Maynard Keynes (a liberal economist in today’s parlance) denigrated ‘The Road to Serfdom’; Keynes, in fact, praised it.”

“Though Keynes praised ‘The Road to Serfdom’, he did not think Hayek’s economic’ liberalism practical; i.e. Keynes infers that Hayek could not practically draw a line between a safety net for the poor, uninsured-sick, and unemployed (which Hayek endorsed) while denying government intervention in a competitive, laissez-faire economy.”

It is disingenuous to cite the theories of Friedrich Hayek as the justification for privatizing government functions and the commons.

The Privatization of Everything

The Privatization of Everything co-author Donald Cohen is the founder and executive director of In The Public Interest. Co-author Allen Mikaelian is the bestselling author of Metal of Honor and a doctoral fellow in history at American University. Besides the authors’ individual work, the team at In The Public Interest contributed significantly to the book with research and documentation.

Of their intention in writing the book, the authors state,

“Our approach is both idealistic and practical. We want readers to see the lofty values and big ideas behind the creation of public goods, and we want readers to feel empowered to question those values and introduce new ones. We want to help change the conversation, so we can stop talking about ‘government monopolies’ and return to talking about public control over public goods (Privatization 19).

They detail several cases showing the downside of the government being forced to give control over to private business. In this era of human-activity-induced climate change, what has been happening at the National Weather Service (NWS) is instructive.

In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy believed that the US and the Soviet Union could find a field of cooperation in supporting the World Meteorological Organization. As a result, 193 countries and territories all agreed to provide “essential data” on a “free and unrestricted basis.” “Each day, global observations add up to twenty terabytes of data, which is processed by a supercomputer running 77 trillion calculations per second (Privatization 267).”

The book notes, “In the 1990s, at about the same time that forecasting got consistently good, private interests and free-market absolutists started insisting that the NWS and related agencies were ‘competing’ with private enterprise.” Barry Myers, head of AccuWeather was loudly accusing the government of running a “monopoly.” He went to the extreme of calling for the government to get out of the weather predicting business which made no sense since AccuWeather is completely dependent on NWS predictions. (Privatization 268)

After a killer tornado in 2011, NWS employees proposed a smart-phone app to better inform the public. The author’s report, “… this ultimately took a backseat to Myers’s insistence that his AccuWeather apps shouldn’t face ‘unfair’ competition (Privatization 270).” To this day, NWS has no smartphone app.

Weather forecasts are pretty good for up to a week but after that as time passes they become more and more useless. The models for predicting the weather are highly dependent on the preceding day and the farther you get from accurate data for that day the more error invades the predictions. NWS restricts its predictions to a one-week time-frame but AccuWeather and the Weather Channel in order to attract customers provide meaningless 2-week up to 90-days predictions. (Privatization 272)

Extreme weather events are life threatening. The authors state,

“The NWS’s mission includes saving lives. The business model of corporations like AccuWeather includes saving lives of paying customers only (Privatization 273).”

There are many episodes like NWS detailed. In the section on private prisons, we read about such atrocities as the Idaho correctional facility known as the “Gladiator School” (Privatization 140). When detailing the privatization of water we are informed of Nestles CEO, Peter Brabeck stating how extreme it was to believe that “as a human being you should have a right to water (Privatization 54).”

Privatizing Public Education Stabs Democracy in the Heart

The First Public School in America

Boston Latin School was founded April 23, 1635. America’s first public school only accepted boys for their curriculum centered on humanities including the study of Latin and Greek. Its more famous revolutionary-era students were Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin. These revolutionary thinkers who gave America democracy were educated in a public school and would latter agree that free public schools were necessary to a functioning democracy.

When Betsy DeVos was calling for vouchers and charter schools, she was implicitly demanding public dollars support religious schools that would not accept transgender students or homosexual teachers. She wanted schools free to teach a doctrine of science denial and religious bigotry. “Freedom of choice in this case meant the freedom to discriminate, with the blessing of public funds (Privatization 210).”

One of the several disturbing stories about the menace of privatizing schools comes from Reynolds Lake Oconee, Georgia. Wealthy real estate developer Mercer Reynolds III made a charter school the center of his community development. The charter school application called for 80% of the children to come from Reynolds properties. The other 12% would go to students in nearby wealthy white communities and the remaining 8% would go to countywide residents. (Privatization 211-212)

With a mix of taxpayer and private funding, Reynolds built an impressive school. It had a piano lab with 25 pianos, a pond and offered 17 AP classes. The school is 73% white. The nearby public school that is 68% black and would never dream of a piano lab has seen the Reynolds school continually siphon off more of their students. They have been forced into laying-off staff and tightening budgets. (Privatization 212)

Cohen and Mikaelian concluded,

“This was a clear-cut case of rich whites diverting money from struggling black families in order to further push them to the margins. And they used the ideas of school choice and free market to justify it.

As the book makes clear, every time a public good is privatized the public loses some of their democratic rights over that lost good. This is a powerful book that everyone should read. In the last chapter the authors call out to us,

“We can’t let private interests sell us public goods as consumers, because the free market can’t avoid creating exclusions. School choice quickly devolves into segregation. Public parks and highways are divided into general versus premium services. In the midst of a notional health crisis, ventilators go to the highest bidder.”

Current Attack on Democracy and Public Education

30 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/30/2021

Nancy MacLean’s amazing book Democracy in Chains documents Charles Koch’s anti-democratic and anti-public education agenda plus his relationship with Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan (Democracy in Chains page 184). She quotes Buchanan speaking about their shared libertarian agenda, “The project must aim toward the practical removal of the sacrosanct assigned to majority rule.” MacLean writes of Buchanan, “The collective enemy he was constructing included nearly everyone in education except academic economists” (Democracy in Chains page 119). She also noted that the handsomely Koch-financed politician Dick Armey called for the end of public education which he labeled “the most socialized industry in the world” (page 196). Today’s pandemic attack on public education is simply a continuation of a more than a half-century long crusade to end it. Koch money is still feeding the cause.

Christopher Leonard’s Kochland is the story of Charles Koch beginning with his earning two MIT masters of engineering degrees. For those who don’t know about him and his late younger brother David, this book is a magnificent tutorial.

In 1966, after five years working for his father, Charles became the CEO of a company then known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together into the company the family renamed Koch Industries as a tribute to their father. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world.

Unfortunately, it was the works of Austrian economists and philosophers Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that attracted Koch. He has been described as a libertarian and a conservative but “classical liberal” is a more apt description. Leonard observed, “Hayek, in particular, put forward a radical concept of capitalism and the role that markets should play in society, and his thinking had an enduring effect on Charles Koch” (Kochland page 42).

Charles and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by the anti-New Deal Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek; the brothers agreed that public education along with most other public institutions must be abolished.

Charles Koch has been the leader of the effort to undermine democratic rule and state management, but he is hardly alone. Joining his libertarian crusade are Wal-Mart’s Walton Family Foundation, Wisconsin’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Illinois’s Richard Uihlein, the dark money donor directed fund, Donors Trust and many others.

Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money described Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund as “a screen for the right wing, behind which fingerprints disappeared from the cash.”

The Pandemic Attack

In the spring of 2020, a campaign to ignore school safety issues associated with the novel corona virus was initiated. The former president and his secretary of education began calling for schools to be opened immediately for full time face to face instruction. There was a nationwide response from the Republican Party that included establishing Astroturf parent organizations demonstrating throughout the nation for schools to be reopened. There was little concern for the health of school staff or about the likelihood that children would take COVID home to vulnerable family members.

This spring, the attack on public schools took a dark and violent turn. School board members were being screamed at and threatened because they were requiring students to ware masks. The accusations grew in scope to include the supposed teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and supplying children with inappropriate books like “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story”.

Oddly, most teachers did not have a clue about what CRT was because it is seldom addressed outside of Law School graduate seminars.

Last month State Representative Christine Palm and former Assistant US Attorney, Frank Hanley Santoro wrote in the CT Insider,

“Clearly, something is afoot. Why is this happening suddenly and simultaneously in so many different places around the state (and indeed the country)? Why is the pattern so similar? … Why pick on CRT, which schools don’t even teach …? This doesn’t sound like something that just happened to occur to parents at a local bake sale.”

“The explanation may lie with Steve Bannon. According to Bannon, ‘This is the Tea Party to the 10th power,’ and ‘The path to save the nation is very simple. It’s going to go through the school boards.”’

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado weighed in on why the attack on CRT and where it’s coming from:

“Well-established and powerful far Right organizations are driving the current effort to prevent schools from providing historically accurate information about slavery and racist policies and practices, or from examining systemic racism and its manifold impacts. These organizations include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Goldwater Institute, Heritage Foundation, Koch family foundations, and Manhattan Institute, as well as billionaire-funded advocacy organizations such as Parents Defending Education and the Legal Insurrection Foundation.”

“The anti-CRT narrative is … used to accomplish three goals: to thwart efforts to provide an accurate and complete picture of American history; to prevent analysis and discussion of the role that race and racism have played in our history; and to blunt the momentum of efforts to increase democratic participation by members of marginalized groups.”

Doug Porter of the Wordsanddeeds blog writes, “While the racial resentment that the school board battles illustrate is as American and ever-present as apple pie, the road to retaking power through educational culture wars is part of a current, well-funded national strategy by some of the usual Dark Money suspects.”

Christopher Rufo’s Tweets about the Framing of CRT

According to his biography at the Manhattan Institute, the 35-years-old Christopher Rufo “is a senior fellow and director of the initiative on critical race theory at the Manhattan Institute.” As he clearly indicates in the tweets shown above his team at the Institute has rebranded CRT to “annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” He knows it is a false construct but does not care because it has become amazingly successful. Honesty is not a treasured virtue in libertarian circles. Winning is all that matters.

Source Watch reports,

“The Manhattan Institute (MI) is a right-wing 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey, who later became President Ronald Reagan‘s CIA director. It is an associate member of the State Policy Network.”

Funding for the the Manhattan Institute and the State Policy Network include generous grants from Koch Family Foundations, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Scaife Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and many other funders of libertarian causes. For example, 2017 tax records show that Donors Trust (EIN 52-2166327) sent $6,500,000 to the State Policy Network and in 2020 the Bradley Foundation reported gifting $850,000 to the Manhattan institute.

The last available Tax form for the Manhattan Institute (EIN: 13-2912529) covers parts of 2018 and 19. It shows a regular yearly intake of more than $15 million in grants which seems to mainly pay large salaries. Senior Fellow, Christopher Rufo is not listed on the form but all of the senior fellows from tax year 2018-19 raked in more than a quarter million in salary and benefits.

Creating Astroturf Organizations

To create an effective political ground game, billionaire financed artificial organizations are continuously created. One outcome of this was noted by Blogger Jan Ressenger when she observed that the CRT controversy has links to “Well funded groups working to galvanize parents [including] Parents Defending Education,  Moms for LibertyNo Left Turn in Education,  FreedomWorks, and  Parents’ Rights in Education.”

Addressing these billionaire financed groups, Professor Maurice Cunningham wrote a very insightful post, Koch Connections and Sham Grassroots of Parents Defending Education”. About the newest organization, Moms for Liberty and its two leaders, he wrote,

“Moms for Liberty’s creation story is similar to others in the anti-public education universe: ‘moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.’ In a year and a half Moms for Liberty’s Form 990 tax returns are likely to show these two patriotic moms hauling down in excess of $150,000 each.”

Cunningham says it will be a year and a half before we have documentation about the pay for the founders of Moms for Liberty because non-profits do not file their first tax forms until 2-years after legal formation. The effective date on the Moms for Liberty articles of incorporation is 01/01/2021. The three founding officers signing the document are Tina Descovich, Tiffany Justice and Bridget Ziegler. Up until 2020, Descovich and Justice were both school board members in Indian River County, Florida (Vero Beach). Ziegler is the wife of Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a former Congressional Fellow at the Heritage foundation.

In 2020, it appears Tiffany Justice voluntarily gave up her school board seat on the Indian River County school board. Tina Descovich was defeated in her reelection bid for the Brevard school district board. Jennifer Jenkins, a former school employee, campaigned against Descovich’s opposition to teacher raises and mask mandates. She won by 10% points in the heavily Republican district.

The Washington Post reported, “In 10 months, Moms for Liberty has grown to 135 chapters in 35 states, with 56,000 members and supporters, according to the organization’s founders.” In praising Moms for Liberty, Christian Ziegler (the husband of co-founder Bridget Ziegler), told the Post, “I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic, but now Moms for Liberty has done it for me.”

Obviously, Moms for Liberty is not a spontaneous movement of conservative mothers incensed by the teaching of CRT and the implementation of mask mandates. It is another well financed Astroturf organization designed to undermine public education and promote a libertarian agenda.

Pumping the Message

To generate “research”, a large network of think tanks working under the umbrella organization State Policy Network (SPN) was developed. This network is made up of 64 affiliated members and 98 associated members. In 2019, The Center for Media and Democracy reported that the 64 affiliated members took in more than $120 million in donations from almost exclusively far right conservatives. The Manhattan Institute that created the bogus CRT outrage is an associated member of SPN.

Once the “research” is completed, it is fed to ALEC, where model legislation is distributed to the large number of Republican state legislators who attend their secretive meetings. The legislators then take these models home and introduce them as if they wrote the bill. Jim Miller reports, “Recently, ALEC has been very active in working to suppress voting rights, undermine labor unions, privatize public education, fight action on climate change, fuel rightwing anger over “critical race theory,” promote anti-abortion, and anti-trans bills.”

To widely disseminate their message to local residents, a vast assemblage of local news sites has been established. According to a Columbia Journalism Review study, “There are five companies that make up the core of the network: Metric Media LLC, Newsinator (that, according to Iowa state records, has the alternative  name Franklin Archer), Local Government Information Services (LGIS), Pipeline Media, and Locality Labs.”

In Virginia, there were 28 active Metric Media sites algorithmically generating stories during the recent governor’s race. The local news sites in the network have little advertising and no subscription fees. The Columbia Journalism Review linked funding for the network sites to “the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement” and “a Catholic political advocacy group that launched a $9.7 million campaign in swing states against the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.”

Under the unifying organization Metric Media, the group produces more the 5,000,000 automated articles every month through its 1300 local news sites. Popular Information reports,

“A Popular Information analysis found that between January and November 2021, the 28 ‘local news’ sites in Virginia published 4,657 articles about Critical Race Theory in schools.”

“Nationwide, tens of thousands of articles about Critical Race Theory have been published across the Metric Media network. That number is growing every day.”

Opinion

Nancy MacLean observed that Buchanan and Koch had concluded, “There was no glossing over it anymore; democracy was inimical to economic liberty.” (Democracy in Chains page 152)

The anti-democratic impulse of the oligarch must be contained. There is an underlying wisdom to democratic decision making. It is a wisdom that bends toward equity and humanism. Public education is the soil from which that wisdom can flower. For the past five decades, an autocratic businessman has been pushing our country in the direction of widespread suffering and discrimination.  

Neither capitalism nor socialism is a perfect guide for society. Education, medicine, prisons and policing are not well suited to a strict capitalist approach. A strict socialist approach does not function well in manufacturing, farming and entertainment. Ideologues demanding one of these two economic methods to the exclusion of the other are a problem. The guide to balancing these competing ideologies is humanism. In other words ponder, “The policy best serving the majority of the people while maintaining a keen eye to insure that the minority is not abused.”

The best way to move society forward toward a more perfect union is to make democracy ever more inclusive. And the best way to improve democracy is to protect and fund public education.

Shady Dyslexia Agenda Accelerating

28 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/28/2021

An intricately connected network of organizations is controlling dyslexia discourse in the US and taking over dyslexia screening and remediation. Thirty-nine states now have adopted dyslexia laws. Most of these laws contain the International Dyslexia association’s (IDA) remediation recommendation of being “multisensory, systematic, and structured.” Researchers Jo Worthy et al state, “This approach is not well supported by research, but it is officially sanctioned through legislation in many states and has had a profound effect on policy and practice.”

IDA, the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), and the International Multisensory Language Education Council (IMSLEC) are three big players. IMSLEC started as an IDA committee, and ALTA certifies dyslexia specialists in the multisensory language approach, which is consistent with IDA’s Knowledge and Practice standards for educators. IDA began certifying teachers in 2016, in addition to accrediting dyslexia teacher training programs. The websites of these organizations link to each other and to Decoding Dyslexia, a network of parent organizations with chapters in every state. The mission statements and lobbying materials used by all Decoding Dyslexia sites employ language from IMSLEC and IDA.

Using Parents and Students

Rachael Gabriel is Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut. When large numbers of people showed up at legislative hearings in Connecticut, she became interested in their unusual engagement and strangely similar comments. Gabriel used critical discursive psychology, positioning theory, and narrative policy analysis to analyze the dyslexia law advocacy. She says, “I argue that this narrative can be understood as a conversion narrative, which drives a privatization agenda in which public schools become mandated consumers for a growing dyslexia industry, and in which the nature of instruction for students with reading difficulties is narrowly prescribed.”

Gabriel shares several extracts from the oral and written testimonies given at the legislative session on special education. The first extract is from a student who introduced himself as a 10-year-old who was “here to speak in support of Bill RHB 5562, An Act Concerning Special Education to get dyslexia recognized in the State of Connecticut.”

“I have dyslexia. Reading and math are really hard for me. I’ve had too many teachers that don’t understand how to teach me. Finally, this year I went to Lindamood Bell training and reading is getting easier.”

This is a typical message indicating public school teachers do not know how to teach students with dyslexia but finally he was saved. Interestingly the private company Lindamood Bell’s training credited with making it possible for him to read is not one of several private companies that qualify as IDA certified reading specialists. In fact they report that many of their clients have previously been failed by a certified company. The certified companies all use some version of the 1930’s Orton-Gillingham method whose phonics centered practice IDA calls “structured literacy.”

An important psychological motivator for parents of children struggling with learning to read is the repeated claim that dyslexia is a brain centered condition often associated with giftedness. Statements similar to the following extract from a written comment are common.

“This is a disability worth our investment of time It is the disability of Speilberg [sic], Einstein, and Steve Jobs . . . Honor us and embrace us. We are continually the great minds of every generation. We are the ‘game changers.’”

The idea that dyslexia is associated with other kinds of giftedness is a wives tale. Johnston and Scanlon from the University at Albany wrote in their 2020 research paper,

“Public narratives about dyslexia commonly claim that people classified as dyslexic have an array of special positive attributes such as intelligence or creativity – more so than those not so classified. There is virtually no scientific evidence for these claims.”

Although the parent organization Decoding Dyslexia (DD) does not have a centralized leadership, each of the state organizations shares information from DD and IDA. They uniformly call for:

  1. “A universal definition and understanding of “dyslexia” in the state education code.
  2. Mandatory teacher training on dyslexia, its warning signs and appropriate intervention strategies.
  3. Mandatory early screening tests for dyslexia.
  4. Mandatory dyslexia remediation programs, which can be accessed by both general and special education populations.
  5. Access to appropriate “assistive technologies” in the public school setting for students with dyslexia.”

Parents with babies who struggle with reading are vulnerable to manipulation. The widely distributed message that dyslexia is a sign of high intelligence must be appealing. These parents are informed that their public school teachers do not know how to teach dyslexics. They are assured that private companies certified by IDA can accurately screen for dyslexia and provide the kind of “structured literacy” that saves children from academic disaster. The result is that whenever laws instituting the Decoding Dyslexia agenda are proposed large numbers of parents show up in support.

What is Dyslexia? What are the Myths?

The idea of dyslexia has been around for more than 100-years, but there is still no widely agreed upon definition. That means there is no consensus method for screening for dyslexia. Johnston and Scanlon reported in 2020,

“The bottom line is that there are many definitions of, and theories about, dyslexia and simply no agreed-upon definition that allows schools, clinicians, researchers, or anyone else, to decide who is dyslexic in any valid or reliable way.

From an instructional standpoint, there is no practical distinction between those classified as dyslexic and others at the low end of the normal distribution of word reading ability in the early elementary grades.”

Variations of this statement are quite widely available. A 2020 article in Reading Research Quarterly by J. G. Elliot states,

“I argue in this article that despite a proliferation of scientific findings, our understanding of dyslexia is marked by serious weaknesses of conceptualization, definition, and operationalization that not only are unscientific but also lead to impoverished practice in schools, social inequity in understanding and provision for many struggling readers, and reduced life chances for millions of students worldwide.”

IDA and DD promote mandatory early screening for dyslexia but the commercially available tools they promote are not up to the task. A 2017 article by Vanderheyden et al noted,

“In education, it is not uncommon for error rates to range from 50%–60%, meaning if a school assesses 100 children for whom 20 are “true positives” (i.e., truly have dyslexia), then most of the 20 (approximately 16–18) will be identified, but 50 to 60 students will be identified as false positive errors in the process.”

IDA bases its recommendations for reading remediation on the “science of reading” (SOR). In 2000, the National Reading Panel report claimed that its recommended phonics based word decoding methods were based on science. This kicked off a phenomenon often referred to as the “Reading Wars.” In 2004, David Pearson from UC Berkley’s Graduate School of education commented about the raging war,

“For example, several scholars, in documenting the practices of highly effective, highly regarded teachers, found that these exemplary teachers employed a wide array of practices, some of which appear decidedly whole language in character (e.g., process writing, literature groups, and contextualized skills practice) and some of which appear remarkably skills oriented (explicit phonics lessons, sight word practice, and comprehension strategy instruction). Exemplary teachers appear to find an easier path to balance than either scholars or policy pundits.”

In other words, SOR is definitely not settled science. Which means the IDA’s “structured literacy” is not a consensus driven approach.

In 2016, the International Literacy Association asserted,

“Both  informal  and  professional  discussions  about  dyslexia   often   reflect   emotional,   conceptual,   and   economic   commitments,   and   they   are   often   not   well   informed by research. Our beliefs and practices should be  grounded  by  what  emerges  from  the  available  evidence  (Elliott  &  Grigorenko,  2014;  Vellutino,  1979;  Washburn,  Joshi,  & Binks-Cantrell, 2011)

As  yet,  there  is  no  certifiably  best  method  for  teaching  children  who  experience  reading  difficulty  (Mathes  et  al.,  2005).  For  instance,  research  does  not  support  the  common  belief  that   Orton-Gillingham–based   approaches   are   necessary   for   students classified as dyslexic.”

IDA and the research papers cited here claim that as much as 20% of kindergarten and first grade students have reading issues. However, if their school has a professional intervention approach – that could be any of the interventions discussed here – by the time students reach high school less that 2% still have reading issues. Is it possible that the high number of students with reading difficulties in America is because reading is taught at a developmentally inappropriate age? On international testing Finish students test extremely well in reading and they don’t formally teach reading there until age 7.

Conclusion

The IDA organization has many professionals in reading education and the point here is not that they are wrong about screening and intervention pedagogy. The point is that the agenda they are promoting is far from settled science. They should continue to promote their beliefs but they need to stop using a legal strategy backed by power politics to force schools into becoming mandated consumers.

America’s public schools are staffed with an enormous number of well trained and experienced reading instructors. Denigrating them is not justified and is bad for reading education.

The International Dyslexia Association and Decoding Dyslexia are no longer advocates for students and parents. They have become predators using legal strategies and political power to feed an expanding dyslexia industry.

Corporations Invade Delaware Public Schools

18 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/18/2021

A multifaceted corporate plan for control of Delaware public education is in progress. Billionaires are financing numerous edtech projects that isolate children at screens. To validate literacy curriculum the state has turned to the International Dyslexia Association and their nonsense “science of reading” standards. A key driver for the corporate takeover is the so called High Quality Instructional Materials (HQIM) certified as such by EdReports.

Whenever the words “high quality” are used to promote something in education, it is a good bet that swamp land is being sold.

A private email from a Delaware teacher stated the situation succinctly,

“Over the past several years, it has seemed like Delaware was going in the right direction after the nightmare of Gov. Jack Markell and the RTTT grant. There was suddenly more of a focus on the whole child, starting in October of 2018 when Gov. John Carney announced that our state would adopt trauma-informed practices. … Teachers were beginning to breathe a sigh of relief that maybe our state would begin to implement more reasonable education practices than the rigid, scripted, market-based programs we have seen. Then all of a sudden this summer, this stuff about HQIM started popping up from DDOE. Schools were written up in The 74. Videos were made with the Knowledge Matters group …. Professional development was announced with TNTP.”

Delaware has one of the oldest public education systems in America. The History of Public Education in Delaware dates back to the 1792 state constitution which called for the establishment of public education as soon as possible (History page 19). In 1796, a permanent fund for public education was established (History page 19). In the following graphic a plaque identifies the historic Clayton Stone School built in 1805 on land donated by John Dickinson the “Penman of the American Revolution.” This is the legacy being threatened by corporate raiders.

Corner Stones of the Corporatization Plan

There was concern that Delaware’s children were falling behind due to the COVID pandemic. Monica Gant, Ph.D. from the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) presented their strategy to accelerate learning in March. (Accelerating learning is highly questionable learning strategy.) Grant pitched, 

“DDOE is excited to use ESSER II funds to provide all Delaware public schools with five resources to support learning acceleration for students in literacy and mathematics for summer 2021:

Literacy Professional Learning and core HQIM Summer Booster content for raising 1-6 graders

Student access to online text repository (all students)

Access to Zearn Math Summer Intensive Series for all rising 1-8 graders

Zearn Professional Learning

High-dosage tutoring seats for multiple grades”

Under the heading “Literacy Professional Learning,” Professor Grant noted, “Participants will have a chance to apply their learning of the Science of Reading either through their district HQIM or utilize free OER (Open Education Resources) HQIM for this work.” And she announced that teachers will have the following professional materials available.

  • “Free OER – Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) and Expeditionary Learning (EL)
  • Summer Booster provided by SchoolKit and TNTP
  • Districts already using American Reading Company (ARC) – Summer Booster provided by American Reading Company
  • Districts already using Bookworms – Bookworms Booster provided by UD (PDCE)”

Let’s unpack this a little. First, what is this ESSER II fund the DDOE is so excited about? ESSER II – Passed on Dec. 27, 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Delaware received $182,885,104.

HQIM stands for high quality instructional materials. Amplify is the edtech company controlled by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs. On the Amplify website they explain the HQIM qualifier,

“States and districts across the country are focusing on materials that have been rigorously reviewed and deemed high-quality by EdReports.org, the leading third-party curriculum reviewer (or, in Louisiana, by a Tier 1 designation). EdReports defines high-quality instructional materials as materials that are closely aligned to rigorous standards and easy to use.”

Unfortunately, EdReports is a creation of edtech money plus libertarian focused foundations and other neoliberal supporters of privatizing public education. EdReports shares its major sources of finance:

“EdReports is funded by Broadcom Corporation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Overdeck Family Foundation, the Samueli Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Oak Foundation.”

EdReports is not an unbiased or even a knowledgeable arbiter of best curriculum or pedagogy practices. It is part of a scheme to advance corporate control over education content.

Free OER is more of the same. It provides free digital resources which are delivered on a tablet or computer screen. OER reports that their top supporters are the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and The Robin Hood Foundation. These are not legitimate philanthropies. Rather they are organizations with a political agenda who intend to profit from or privatize or end public education.

Both CKLA which is an Amplify product and Expeditionary Learning (EL) mentioned in the plan provide scripted lessons to a screen. Nancy Bailey wrote a scathing critique of CKLA that seems to fit EL as well. In it she quotes an Oklahoma teacher giving CKLA the only positive spin she could,

“I wouldn’t want my children taught this way. I don’t know the rationale behind adopting it. The curriculum doesn’t light up the eyes of kids. It removes the autonomy from the teacher. I guess if people have come through an alternate route and don’t have a teaching degree, you can teach it without much experience.”

The DDOE has adopted a rigidly scripted market-based program called “Bookworms” for K-5 literacy. It was developed locally by University of Delaware professor Sharon Walpole. However, this is another digital product that undermines teacher professionalism and is also part of OER’s national offerings.

The newer product being foisted on Delaware schools is Zearn. It is another digital learning platform similar to i-Ready and Amplify. Bill Gates (Foundation Tax Id: 56-2618866) and the New Schools Venture Fund (Foundation Tax Id: 94-3281780) are spending heavily to make this company founded in 2014 a success. Between 2016 and 2019 Gates gifted them more than $7,000,000.

Of the 16 leaders listed on Zearn’s first year (2014) web-site, five of them came from Mit Romney’s Bain & Company including Shalinee Sharma who still leads Zearn. Two of them were from Wireless Generation which eventually became Amplify which endured some spectacular failures.  

It is difficult to find independent research that evaluates Zearn. Though it is designed to maximize test scores, the only academic study found (from Johns Hopkins University) showed that Zearn treatment students did not outperform other public school students on standardized testing. However, since those tests are basically useless, that result does not mean much.

Zearn claims to be engaging for students and that students like the product. However, on an independent review site, students are brutal in their condemnation of Zearn with comments like, “I am in fifth grade and the thing has me doing stuff, my baby brother could do!” Worst of all, it is not healthy to put children at screens for long periods of time.

Propaganda Versus Reason

The Delaware teacher quoted above mentioned articles produced by Knowledge Matters about local schools appearing in The 74. Funders for The 74 include the Walton Family, Bill & Melinda Gates, the Emerson Collective (Laurene Powell Jobs), the Joyce Foundation, and Michael Bloomberg. So it was an easy lift for Knowledge Matters to place their articles touting corporate created literacy materials. This is all part of a billionaire funded anti-public education publishing cabal.

Knowledge Matters is hardly a fair unbiased commentator. Their steering committee includes Chester E. Finn, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Kaya Henderson former Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools; Joel Klein former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and David Steiner former New York State Commissioner of Education. All of these people have done damage to public education.

To guide the Delaware public schools’ literacy program, the DDOE has turned to The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) – who advocates the “science of reading” – to validate Delaware’s programs. The National Education Policy Center warned against, “Misrepresenting the ‘science of reading’ as settled science that purportedly prescribes systematic intensive phonics for all students.” And they stated that policy makers, “Should support the professionalism of K-12 teachers and teacher educators, and should acknowledge the teacher as the reading expert in the care of unique populations of students.” IDA is more about selling testing and promoting corporate created scripted literacy lessons than it is about helping students learn.

No teacher should be condemned to professional development from TNTP. This spinoff from Teach for America (TFA) is unqualified because of weak education scholarship and limited experience. Almost every Delaware school district has a more experienced and professional team than TNTP can provide. Without the huge funding they received from billionaires, TNTP would have never survived into the 21st century. TNTP is famous for writing papers that are not peer reviewed and often contravene evidence. Their papers do support the agenda of the billionaires funding them.

For more than 200 years, Delaware has been developing a world class education system. The districts and schools in the state are staffed by genuinely well trained and experienced staff. Instead of turning to TFA teachers who have little experience and less training for leadership in pedagogy, turn to your existing education professionals. Turn away from hubris and greed. Instead of buying scripted lessons that kill creativity in both teachers and students, let your high quality professional educators do their job.

Machine Teaching Requires Behaviorist Approach

8 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/8/2021

The controversial Harvard psychology professor B. F. Skinner (the B. F. stands for Burrhus Frederic) taught pigeons to play ping pong, created a box for tending babies more efficiently called an air crib and became the national mouthpiece for behaviorism. His predecessor in behaviorist theory was Columbia University Psychology Professor Edward Thorndike. In 1898, Thorndike published the law of effect which posited that responses which produce a satisfying effect are more likely to occur again and responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to repeat. Skinner developed an enhancement of this learning theory that he called operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning, sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning, is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments. Skinner believed he could create a machine that would reward students as soon as they got a correct answer and send them for more instruction if they missed an answer. By using “programmed instruction” which broke learning into small chunks, Skinner claimed students would be able to interface with his machines and at a “personalized” rate learn more deeply and efficiently.

The story of these machines and their promises of enhanced learning is chronicled by the amazing Audrey Watters. She has added significantly to the history of mechanized teaching, the philosophical basis supporting it and how it relates to the modern computerized version. Her new book, Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning published by MIT press is wonderfully sourced. In it, Watters states,

“What today’s technology-oriented education reformers claim is a new idea – ‘personalize learning’ – that was unattainable if not unimaginable until recent advances in computing and data analysis has actually been the goal of technology-oriented education reformers for almost a century. Education psychologists like Sidney Pressey, the person often credited with inventing the first ‘teaching machine,’ talked about using mechanical devices in the 1920s in ways almost identical to those who push for personalized learning today. All so that, as Pressey put it, a teacher could focus on her ‘real function’ in the classroom: ‘inspirational and thought-stimulating activities,’ including giving each student individualized attention.” (Teaching Machines page 9)

Audrey Watters has been writing about technology in education for most of the 21st century. She published The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology in 2016 and based on the research for that book, she made these remarks to a class at MIT.

“I don’t believe we live in a world in which technology is changing faster than it’s ever changed before. I don’t believe we live in a world where people adopt new technologies more rapidly than they’ve done so in the past. … But I do believe we live in an age where technology companies are some of the most powerful corporations in the world, where they are a major influence – and not necessarily in a positive way – on democracy and democratic institutions. (School is one of those institutions. Ideally.) These companies, along with the PR that supports them, sell us products for the future and just as importantly weave stories about the future.”

Will Teaching Machines Replace Teachers?

In 1954, Skinner was provided space at Harvard where he assembled a team of “bright young behaviorists” including Susan Meyer (Markle). They “started work on designing their new teaching machines as well as ‘programs,’ the material that would accompany them.” (Teaching Machines page 135) This led to “programmed instruction.” Watters explained,

“Programmed instruction was individualized instruction. Meyer Markle likened it to the work of a tutor, ‘a master of intellectual teasing’ who adjusts the lesson to her student’s needs but also challenges the student to keep moving forward. … ‘Each student was now to have his own private tutor, encased in a small box.’” (Teaching Machines pages 138 and 139)

According to Watters, Meyer Markle was the most significant contributor to the development of programmed instruction but in the 1950s women like her were professionally undermined and men were normally credited instead. Watters identifies Norman Crowder as the most likely to be credited with innovations in programmed instruction instead of Meyer Markle.

In 1958, Doubleday started publishing Crowder’s series of self-instruction manuals – “TutorTexts.” An ad in Popular Science said TutorText was “a complete programmed teaching machine in book form.” (Teaching Machines pages 139 and 140)

In 1959, Crowder claimed, “Automatic tutoring by intrinsic programming is an individually used, instructorless model of teaching which represents an automation of the classical process of individual tutor.” Watters notes, “While Skinner and Pressey were quick to insist that their teaching machines would not replace teachers, Crowder clearly felt less obligated to do so.” (Teaching Machines page 142)

Many people were giddy about the possibility of replacing teachers with these marvelous new machines. The machines were believed to be creating new markets while improving education. Caution was thrown to the wind. Pressey wrote,

“I was shocked at what followed: the most extraordinary commercialization of a new idea in American education history -…. Then millions of research dollars went into, first, the confident elaboration of these ideas and only slowly into any questioning of them.” (Teaching Machines page 148)

The same greed blinded path has been followed by the promoters of digital education. They continue to over-promise while hyping untested behaviorist based learning at a screen. It is more mindless implementation without questioning.

“Banking model of education”

In Teaching Machines, Watters illuminates the history of promoters like Skinner completely forgetting scholarly caution and diving headlong into achieving lucrative manufacturing deals with corporations like IBM, Rheem and Harcourt Brace. At the same time, door to door encyclopedia salesmen began selling books by Crowder and others that implemented programmed instruction. The parallels with today become obvious.

There is a big difference from the teaching machine era (1928-1980) and today. Then, large technology corporations were not nearly as powerful which meant voices of education professionals started to be heard and the mania subsided.

The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire famous for being jailed by the 1964 Brazilian coup leaders called machine learning the “banking model of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing and storing the deposits.”  He contrasted that with “problem posing education,” which is a dialogue between teachers and students in which knowledge is jointly constructed. (Teaching Machines page 226)  

Even the father of teaching machines, Sydney Pressey soured on behaviorism. Drawing on the work of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, “Pressey challenged behaviorism for failing to adequately account for the developmental stages children pass through – and pass through without ‘so crude and rote process as the accretion of bit learning stuck on by reinforcements.”  He felt the teaching machine movement faced a crisis because of behaviorism. (Teaching Machines page 234)

Noam Chomsky reviewed Skinner’s book Beyond Freedom and Dignity for the New York Review of Books in 1971. In his article “The Case Against B. F. Skinner” he wrote, “Skinner’s science of human behavior, being quite vacuous, is as congenial to the libertarian as to the fascist.” (Teaching Machines pages 239 and 240)

This is just a short taste of the content of Teaching Machines. It is a special book by a special writer.

Infrastructure for Ending the Public School System

29 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/24/2021

Educating children is expensive. Wealthy people like Charles Koch do not mind paying to educate their own children but they detest the idea of being taxed to pay for educating other people’s children. In the dystopian market driven system libertarians such as Koch espouse, people should only receive what they pay for. They believe almost all government programs should be ended including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the FAA, the EPA, the Department of Energy, the FDA, The Consumer Product Safety Commission and more. Libertarians contend that mail, schools and roads should be privatized plus personal and corporate taxes should be abolished (Kochland Pages 113 and 114).

Toward achieving their ends, Koch, Gates, the Walton family and scores of wealthy elites have been building an infrastructure to take over and privatize the public school system. By twisting the laws concerning tax free philanthropic organizations, wealthy moguls are funneling huge sums of money into creating privatized schools; thus eliminating local control by elected school boards. All the while, they illegitimately write off most of their spending to promote public school privatization as charitable giving.

In addition to spending to privatize schools, a key strategy employed to advance their market based agenda is the creation of alternate teacher professional development and certification. It is another new privatized system under their control and not influenced by university based programs or education scholars.

The third leg of their attack on public education is political spending to take over elected school boards and influence legislatures.

The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) and Teach for America (TFA) support all three of the ending public schools privatization pillars.

The article Organized to Disruptgives many details about the founding, purpose and lavish financing for NSVF. A former CEO of NSVF, Ted Mitchell, was also simultaneously President of the California State Board of Education. He left NSVF to become Under Secretary of the United States Department of Education. NSVF is generating more than $100,000,000 yearly income which it uses to invest in edtech start ups, charter schools and political organizing.

The TFA story is well known. The post TFA is Bad for America gives some details about how through huge financing, TFA is providing its billionaire funders with a privatization army of youthful college graduates looking for a career. These temp teachers – 80% of whom are gone in three years – have no business in a classroom. Real teachers go through a rigorous college teaching curriculum and a year of student-teaching under the supervision of a master teacher. TFA teachers get no teaching curriculum and five weeks of teacher training in the summer.

These unqualified TFA teachers have become the backbone of the teaching core for no-excuses charter schools. They embrace market based reform as a mechanism for reforming schools (Scripting Page 173) and within two to three years after they leave the classroom, their TFA connections put them in good position to became district, state or federal education leaders. TFA also offers political help for corps members to run for school board positions through its associated Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) non-profit. The LEE board of trustees consists of Emma Bloomberg (Michael Bloomberg’s daughter); Steuart Walton (billionaire); Arthur Rock (billionaire) and Elisa Villanueva Beard (TFA-CEO).

Training Educators

Teacher fellowships are used to influence teacher training and develop neoliberal attitudes. The late Eli Broad created the Broad Fellowships which trained school leaders how to close schools, in the benefit of enabling privatized schools and about the superiority of a market based approach. Before he died, Broad transferred the program and monetary support for it to Yale University.

In Oakland, California, the billionaire funded school privatization group GO Public Schools offers teacher fellowships of $3500 for their two year program. In Indianapolis, the $15 billion Lilly Endowment runs a 100 teacher yearly $12,000 fellowship program.

Two early problems slowing school privatization efforts were that teachers were both opposed to it and were respected by their communities. The fellowships described above are just three examples out of the many funded by extremely wealthy people to shape young teacher attitudes. It is not an accident that few of these fellowship programs are run by education professionals or scholars.

In 1997, the founder of TFA, Wendy Kopp, started The New Teachers Project (TNTP) to provide professional development services. She chose Michelle Rhee to be its founding director. This organization designed to train teachers was founded by a person that has never taught and was led by an untrained teacher that had two years experience as a TFA temp teacher. Even though a reasonable school administrator would never contract with an obviously incompetent group such as TNTP, it has flourished due to a continuous influx of billionaire dollars and powerful political connections.

Besides helping to shape teacher attitudes, founding director Rhee was one of the loudest voices in America claiming teachers were incompetent and low IQ.

Today, TNTP has a new initiative called PLUS to train principals. PLUS has clients in Camden, Kansas City, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Billionaire spending is the reason school districts turn their back on established administrative programs at local universities for this unqualified group. In Kansas City, three billion-dollar foundations, Kaufman, Hall and Walton, are funding the PLUS program. 

Relay Graduate School of Education is a private stand alone graduate school created and led by people with meager academic credentials. It was founded by officials from the no-excuses charter school industry and lavishly financed by billionaires. This completely bogus graduate school was certified after New York’s billionaire Chancellor of Education, Merryl H. Tisch, tapped David Steiner to be Commissioner of Education. Steiner, who is closely aligned with Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, officially certified Relay. He was also a founding board member and still serves on the Relay board.

Control School Boards

School boards are being controlled in several ways. One obvious way, was covered in the article School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” It tells the story of a small group of super wealthy individuals spending to put their preferred candidates on school boards in Los Angeles, Oakland and Indianapolis. In California, this group also contributed to almost every senate and assembly race.

Billionaire Spending in the 2020 LA School Board Election

More than money is required to politically control local school boards. The Mind Trust in Indianapolis became an example of developing a local political group working on education issues along with spending by local plutocrats. This method has led to the public school system there being the second most privatized system in America; second only to New Orleans.

In 2018, billionaires Jon Arnold and Reed Hastings claimed to be investing $100 million each to establish a new anti-public school non-profit they called The City Fund. Since then several billionaires including Bill Gates and Michael Dell have started contributing to the fund. To advance their privatization agenda, The City Fund is spending significant amounts developing local political organizations. The following are examples.

Saint Louis – The Opportunity Trust: In 2018, a former TFA corps member and TFA employee for 14 years, Eric Scroggins, founded The Opportunity Trust. That same year The City Fund gifted it $5.5 million.

San Antonio – City Education Partners: Listed as being for community engagement efforts including the development and launch of San Antonio School Finder and correlated operations support. $4.98 million

Oakland – Educate78: Cited as a continuation of support previously provided by The Hastings Fund for work to improve public education including the expansion of high quality schools and support for the development of diverse teacher pipelines. $4.25 million

Memphis – Memphis Education Fund: Noted as support for operational budget and community engagement effort. $5 million

Newark – New Jersey Children’s Foundation: Stated as support for the launch of the new organization and ongoing operating budget support. $5.325 million

Baton Rouge – New Schools for Baton Rouge: Cited as support for expansion and launch of high quality nonprofit schools in Baton Rouge. $13,487,500

New Orleans – New Schools for New Orleans: Listed as support for the expansion of high quality schools and training for school leaders. $7,750,000

Oakland – Oakland Reach: Cited as operating budget support for ongoing parent and community engagement. $500,000

Atlanta – RedefinEd: Noted as operations support and support for work to empower communities, build teacher and leadership development pipelines, and expand high quality schools. $2,750,000

Denver – RootED (formerly Blue Schools): Listed as operating budget support and support for expansion of high quality schools. $21,000,000

Oakland and Stockton – Silicon Schools Fund: Cited as support for expansion of innovative public school models. $1,566,666

Indianapolis – The Mind Trust: Noted as operating support and support for expansion of high quality schools. $18,000,000

Privatizing Schools

Several billionaires have been spending large amounts of money for three decades to advance the growth of charter schools in America. Today, fortunately, they are seeing some resistance to the non-stop expansion. As Network for Public Education Director Carol Burris noted,

“Everything changed when DeVos was in charge. Progressives and moderates started to see that charter schools were really a ‘gateway drug’ for the libertarian right, a means to further the destruction of public education.”

However, with the Supreme Court destroying the separation between church and state, private schools have been growing rapidly in states with voucher programs. Almost all of these private schools are religious schools.

The economist Milton Friedman is one of the godfathers of the current movement to end public education. Duke University’s noted historian and the author of Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean, shared the following quotes from Friedman. They leave no doubt about the true purpose of the choice movement in the mind of one of its creators. The first comes from 2004 and the second is from a 2006 speech at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

 “In my ideal world, government would not be responsible for providing education any more than it is for providing food and clothing.”

“The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

No Excuses Schools: Bad Theory Created by Amateurs

4 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/4/2021

Vanderbilt Professor Joanne Golann recently published Scripting the Moves. It is a book which expands on her research into no-excuses charter schools. Beginning in March of 2012, Golann spent 18-months doing an ethnographic study of a representative school employing the no-excuses approach. She discovered many unintended consequences.

In 2019, the leader of the Ascend Charters, Steven Wilson, wrote,

“And even when No Excuses was best realized at Ascend, its ceaseless structure was doing little to prepare our students to function autonomously in college and beyond.”

“Princeton sociologist Joanne Golann, in a groundbreaking ethnography of one high-achieving No Excuses school, identifies the “paradox” of the school’s success: ‘Even in a school promoting social mobility, teachers still reinforce class-based skills and behaviors. Because of these schools’ emphasis on order as a prerequisite to raising test scores,’ she argues, teachers end up stressing behaviors that would undermine middle-class students’ success.”

“Golann ends by asking: ‘Can urban schools encourage assertiveness, initiative, and ease while also ensuring order and achievement? Is there an alternative to a no-excuses disciplinary model that still raises students’ tests scores?”’

It is not just Ascend. In an August 2021 post at Princeton Press, Professor Golann reported,

“In March, Noble, the largest charter network in Chicago, apologized to its alumni for its ‘assimilationist, patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-black’ discipline practices. Last June, Achievement First promised not to ‘be hyper-focused on students’ body positioning,’ and ended its requirement for students to sit with their hands folded at their desks. KIPP, the nation’s largest charter school network, retired its founding motto, ‘Work hard. Be nice,’ explaining that it ‘ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.’ (KIPP began plans to change the motto in 2019.)*

“The Wall Street Journal described KIPP’s statement as ‘woke nonsense.’”

Bad Practices at No-Excuses Charters Came from Amateur Founders and Funders

Perhaps the best known no-excuses charter schools are the KIPP schools. Two Yale graduates David Levin and Michael Feinberg founded KIPP in 1994. They were both members of Wendy Kopp’s third cadre of Teach for America (TFA) teachers who had five weeks of training; no education classes and no teaching experience. After the founding, Feinberg stayed in Texas to run KIPP Houston. Levin moved back to New York and founded KIPP Academy in the South Bronx.

To put it succinctly, two guys with recently minted bachelor degrees and a 5-week summer seminar founded the first no-excuses charter school.

 Professor Golann explained how they gravitated to the model,

“After a difficult first year struggling with classroom management, Levin and Feinberg were beginning to improve. They attributed their success to intensively studying and imitating the methods of effective teachers in their schools. Their most influential mentor was Harriett Ball, a charismatic and celebrated forty-six-year-old African American teacher who stood over six feet tall and who worked down the hallway from Levin. From Ball, Levin learned that what worked, in addition to songs and chants, was ‘instant and overwhelming response to any violation of the rules.’” (Scripted page 120)

The story of KIPP’s growth is intertwined with another no-excuses school founder, Stacy Boyd. She was working for Chris Whistle’s Edison Project when a Boston dentist selected her to be the founding principal of the Academy of the Pacific Rim (APR). Boyd hired her friend Doug Lemov to teach at the school that she ran while also finishing her MBA. When Boyd married Scott Hamilton and moved to San Francisco, Lemov took over at APR.

Scott and Stacy met while working at the Edison Project. They were moving to San Francisco because Hamilton was now working for two of the richest people in the country, GAP founders, Don and Doris Fisher.

It was 1999 and “sixty minutes” did a puff piece on KIPP. All of the sudden the possibility of going national arose. Feinberg’s first call was to his friend Stacy Boyd who knew something about developing large organizations. Stacy’s husband Scott sold the Fishers on creating business fellowships for KIPP school founders who would take the brand nationwide.  

The San Francisco billionaires who are obviously astute business people started pouring money into an education system being developed by people with limited knowledge and experience. They would have never turned over leadership at the GAP to people with little background and limited experience. Somehow, many of America’s financial elites believe that they understand education well enough to know how to improve it, and don’t recognize that they are amateurs.

Besides no-excuses charter schools, billionaire education amateurs have spent lavishly to finance TFA. At the beginning of the millennium TFA was struggling, but then the money started flowing. In her book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider recounted, 

“Despite the financial and organizational issues and bad press, Kopp managed to scrape by and carry TFA with her into the new millennium. TFA faced insolvency a number of times – until corporations and foundations began funneling money into the struggling organization. In 2001, TFA’s net assets totaled over $35 million. By 2005, TFA’s net assets totaled over $105 million. Finally, by 2010, TFA’s net assets had increased almost tenfold from 2001 to $350 million. And in 2011, the Walton Family Foundation gave TFA $49.5 million ‘to help double the size of Teach for America’s national teaching corps over the next three years.” (Chronicle page 47)

TFA teachers are unqualified to lead a classroom. However, Professor Golann notes, “It is not that Dream Academy did not have the option of hiring more seasoned teachers; they deliberately chose not to do so, which may be surprising given that teachers significantly improve in effectiveness during their first years of teaching.” (Scripted page 139) Teachers with experience and training were not as likely to embrace their no-excuses scheme. (Dream Academy is the pseudonym Golann chose for the school in which she was embedded.)

Stacy Boyd’s friend, Doug Lemov, started gathering no-excuses techniques and wrote them into a book called Teach Like a Champion. Today, this compendium of methods serves as a handbook for no-excuses schools. One of the main objectives of the handbook is efficiency. It brings the early 1900s Taylorism into the classroom.

In the post “Teach Like its 1885.” published on Jenifer Berkshire’s blog, Layla Treuhaft-Ali wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.” In addition to its racist implementation, the no-excuses model certainly elicits images of 19th century school discipline.

No-excuses Model a Disaster in Public Schools

The Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) was launched in 2011 by the Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, a TFA alum and for a short time Michelle Rhee’s husband. He brought in fellow TFA alum Chris Barbic – the founder of the no-excuses charter school YES Prep – to run ASD. Golann observed,

“Unlike typical no-excuses charters, in which families must apply and agree to certain commitments, these charters had to accept all students from the zoned neighborhood, which resulted in low levels of commitment from families to the school’s disciplinary practices, along with a student population that the school was unprepared to serve (e.g., students with special needs, students with high levels of residential mobility).  (Scripted page 173)

By 2016, the lofty goal of raising the bottom scoring 5% of the state’s schools into the top 25% was a complete flop. Even with concentrated test prep, most of the schools were still in the bottom 5%.

Some Conclusions

Two important points:

  1. On page 64 of her book, Golann references University of California San Diego Professor Hugh ‘Bud’ Mehan. From the two graduate school classes I had with Bud, I learned something about what good ethnographic studies looked like and it is clear that Golann’s scholarship is excellent. The book is well written and takes the reader inside the study. Anyone interested in education policy would profit from reading it.
  2. Without the unbelievably large amounts of money being spent by billionaire amateurs to drive education policy, there would be no TFA or no-excuses charter schools.

I will end with one last quote from Professor Joanne Golann’s Scripting the Moves:

‘“Ultimately no-excuses charters schools are a failed solution to a much larger social problem,’ education scholar Maury Nation has argued. ‘How does a society address systemic marginalization and related economic inequalities? How do schools mitigate the effects of a system of White supremacy within which schools themselves are embedded?’ Without attending to these problems, we will not solve the problems of educational inequality. ‘As with so many school reforms,’ Nation argues, ‘no-excuses discipline is an attempt to address the complexities of these problems, with a cheap, simplistic, mass-producible, ‘market-based’ solution.’” (Scripting page 174)

Saint Louis School Board Stalls Privatization Agenda

24 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/24/2021

The August 19th headline in the Saint-Louis Post Dispatch reported a new plan “sparks school board outrage.”The board accused Better Futures STL of trying to usurp its role. Better Futures soon cancelled the launch of its new program and Superintendent Kelvin Adams apologized for not sharing the extent of his involvement in a plan described as “a new St. Louis education blueprint that serves all children.”

The Post Dispatch went on to outline Better Futures as being started in April by Opportunity Trust, Education Equity Center of St. Louis, Forward Through Ferguson, WePower and others. Fenton, a pricey New York public relations firm, stated that Better Futures was developing a “community-designed plan over the next 12 months to reimagine an equitable K-12 public education system.” Superintendent Adams and Mayor Tishaura O. Jones are both on the new organization’s advisory council.

Kelvin Adams Involvement Not a Surprise

In a magnificent article about the history and demise of public schools in St. Louis, Jeff Bryant detailed the neoliberal philosophy driving the city’s leadership. The hiring of Kelvin Adams was a result.

Mayor Francis Slay served four terms starting in 2001. He brought in Teach for America (TFA) and championed charter schools. When circumstances beyond the school district’s control led to a large deficit, Slay successfully recruited and financed a new slate of school board members in 2003.

Within a month of taking office, the school board voted to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti became the de facto superintendent of schools. The results were a disaster. District financing became so untenable that the state took over.

To solve the mess in Saint Louis, the state turned to the New Orleans Recovery School District and hired Paul Vallas’s chief of staff, Kelvin Adams. At the time, Peter Downs, president of the elected school board, called Adams unacceptable. However, Adams’ thirteen-year tenure is attributable to his popularity among Saint Louis’s neoliberal embracing business and political leadership.

School Privatization

In 1981, Rex Sinquefield and David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

In 2005, Rex and his business partner wife Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years. Since returning he has become a major force in Republican politics and has demonstrated a thorough disrespect for public education. Rex claimed,

‘“There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri,’ Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. [Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”

Sinquefield was a major reason Josh Hawley was elected to the US Senate. Rex also spent $2.5 million trying to get Missouri’s income tax replaced with a sales tax and spent another $1.6 million attempting to have teachers evaluated using testing.

He has consistently championed lower regressive taxes and market based solutions.

On July 31, 2018, Neerav Kingsland, the founder of New Schools for New Orleans, announced on his blog that billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings had pleged $100 million each to start The City Fund. Kingsland is the new Fund’s Managing Partner.

In addition to the non-profit, they have also created an associated political action organization called Public School Allies. In 2019, Allies sent $20,000 to Saint Louis’s Civil PAC.

City Fund has spent large amounts of money developing local organizations to promote implementation of the portfolio model of public education management. The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio.

The Opportunity Trust is their partner in St. Louis. City Fund has made a three year $5.5 million grant to the Trust. Opportunity is also a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

The 2017 Opportunity Trust founding board consisted of John Kemper, Diane Tavenner, Maxine Clark and Eric Scroggins. (See 2017 tax form 990 – EIN 82-1838644)

Diane Tavenner is the founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, a charter management organization that serves schools in California and Washington State. Tavenner is a former board member of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and currently serves on the CCSA member’s council.

In 2018, John W. Kemper succeeded his father David Kemper as President and CEO of Commerce Bancshares Inc. Biz journal noted,

‘“He will be a good steward. Cities need good banks to take care of the community, and Commerce is a well run company,’ said cousin and friendly rival Mariner Kemper, chairman of UMB Bank, Missouri’s second largest, with $20.6 billion in assets.”  

Kemper also sits on several local boards including KIPP St Louis.

Maxine Clark is the daughter of Eleanor Roosevelt’s traveling secretary. She was President of Payless Shoes before founding Build-A-Bear Workshop which grew to over 400 mall based stores. Clark retired as CEO in 2013. Since leaving Build-A-Bear, she and her husband have concentrated on civic endeavors. Ladue News reports,

“Among their biggest successes is the launching of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter Schools in St. Louis. There are two elementary KIPP schools and two middle schools, and this fall, KIPP St. Louis High School will welcome its first freshman class. As a public charter school, KIPP St. Louis High School will operate like a private college prep school.”

Clark calls her latest project Delmar Devine.” It is a play on the local term “Delmar Divide,” for the line of demarcation separating predominantly white St. Louis from the North Side, where the population is nearly all African-American. She is using Housing and Urban Development money to remodel the 1904 built St. Luke’s Hospital into a mixed use facility with apartments and office space. Many of the new tenants are part of the segrenomics business selling education services to urban poor. They include: Teach for America, The Opportunity Trust, IFF, Education Equity Center of St. Louis, KIPP St. Louis and Navigate STL Schools.

Business elites like Maxine Clark and politicians like Mayor Tishaura O. Jones are making a terrible error in judgment. The public school system is the backbone of communities and the foundation of democracy. Furthermore, unbiased research shows that public schools consistently outperform either private schools or charter schools.

The Delta Variant Meets Open Schools Now

13 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/13/2021

It is not possible for schools in most states to open safely. Well respected Dr Jorge A Caballero wrote in the Guardian, “school reopening plans that hinge on universal mask mandates and frequent testing are doomed to fail.” At this perilous time, there is also a political movement demanding that schools be fully opened. Because the delta variant is so much more transmissible, only mandated vaccination and masking will make it possible for schools to safely operate.

This weekend the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randi Weingarten, accepted reality and in a Meet the Press interview called for mandatory vaccination of teachers. The leadership at the National Education Association (NEA) also reversed their opposition on Thursday (8/12/2021) and joined with AFT’s call for vaccine mandates.

The Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, mandated (8/11/2021) that all public school employees in California be vaccinated. Schools have until October 15 to come into compliance. However, this is not enough. Students also must be vaccinated as soon as they are of eligible and until this pandemic is conquered, masking is required of everyone.

As Dr Caballero further explained,

“It is biologically impossible to test our children to safety. A new study showed that persons infected with the Delta variant had produced around 1,000 times more copies of the virus by the time they tested positive, as compared to persons infected with the original (novel coronavirus-2019) strain. The study traced 167 infections to a single index case. A separate study traced a total of 47 cases (including 21 secondary cases) to a single person. Simply put: the Delta variant makes each of its hosts into a walking super-spreader event before the person even realizes they’ve been infected.”

“On a population-adjusted basis, the weekly average of US children admitted to hospitals with Covid-19 is rising faster than any other age group.”

 Open Schools Now

It seems the campaign to ignore safety issues associated with the novel corona virus originated in May 2020. The former president and his secretary of education began calling for schools to be open for full time face to face instruction.

A recent analysis of a San Diego County school board election revealed that the leaders of two county open schools groups were very active Republican operatives. However, OpenSchoolsCA which bills itself as an umbrella organization for the California open school movements seems less connected to the Republican Party but very connected to the public school privatization agenda.

Founder of OpenSchoolsCA Megan Bacigalupi earned a JD from the University Of California Hastings School Of Law in 2007.  She soon after went to work for Michael Bloomberg’s New York City administration where she served in various positions including a year in the Department of Education. The Bloomberg administration ended in 2014 and so did her work for the city.

A New York Times article announced Megan’s 2010 marriage to John Bacigalupi who worked in the financial industry selling real estate investment trusts. In 2016, John accepted a position as Senior Vice President at Cantor Capital in the bay area and the two west coast transplants came home.

In the graphic above, the LittleSis map shows that The Oakland Public Education Fund is little more than a pass-through channel financing organizations dedicated to privatizing public schools. Megan serves on the Advisory Board for the fund.

Evidently, OpenSchoolsCA is receiving big funding from unknown sources. They were first organized in December 2020 when they hired well-known public relations expert Pat Reilly. Her PR resume’ goes back to the National Governors Association in 1989 and includes being San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown’s press secretary in 1995. This March, Megan Bacigalupi resigned from her position as a program manager at the Canadian technology non-profit C100 to be the full time Executive Director of OpenSchoolsCA.

The OpenSchoolsCA about page list of advisors includes David Castillo who at one time was the California Charter Schools Association’s Alameda County director and has spent more than 20-years working to advance charter schools.

The former Oakland Unified School District Trustee, Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, is also listed as an advisor. The billionaire founded and funded organization dedicated to privatizing Oakland Schools, GO Public Schools, spent more than $167,000 over 2012 and 2016 for her elections. She also received max contributions from Michael Bloomberg, Laurene Jobs Powell, Stacy Schusterman, Greg Penner and Arthur Rock among other extremely wealthy enemies of public education.

Megan Bacigalupi insisted to LA Times reporter, Howard Blume, that privatization was not what it is about, but OpenSchoolsCA recent Oakland rally made it look otherwise. Ken Epstein reported,

“Witnessing the Lake Merritt rally and the mayor’s participation in it were Davey D Cook, hip-hop activist and KPFA radio host; and local artist, activist and educator Kev Choice.

“Kev Choice, speaking on the radio show, said, “I was taken aback by the demographics of the rally” and particularly upset by two prominent placards he saw at the rally: ‘End Oakland Teacher Supremacy’ and ‘Teacher Union Delay Kills Kids.’

“Joining the mayor in calling for the district to reopen were former school board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge and current school board member Cliff Thompson.”

In November, Cliff Thompson won Oakland’s District-7 seat with 30.4% of the vote (4,735 total votes). He was supported by CCSA PAC, GO PAC, Power2Families and Committee for California. There were four seats up in that election. He was the only billionaire supported candidate elected when the teachers union and a local community group split on whom to support.

OpenSchoolsCA is Not Right for this Crisis

A new Business insider piece says, “Average daily hospitalizations of children with COVID have reached an all-time high of 239.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on August 9, “Ten metro Atlanta school districts reported 1,015 cases of the coronavirus in the first days of the new year.”

Lamar County Mississippi put two of its high schools back in virtual mode. On August 9, Superintendent Steven Hampton revealed, “Last week we had 114 positive students with 26 positive faculty members, our employees. We had to quarantine 608 students due to close contact, also 41 employees quarantined. We had 16 outbreaks across our district.”

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss described how 200 doctors in Kansas had to fight a superintendent to get a mask mandate imposed. She also explained how state law is stopping Kansas from re-employing virtual learning.

This is a nationwide crisis that is just starting. We need to take off our rose colored glasses and deal with reality. Making students and teachers safety a priority should not be controversial. Today’s circumstances make forcing large numbers of students into small rooms dangerous.

Until we can vaccinate all students and school staff, prudence says conduct on-line school. Even with the delta variant younger children appear not to be quite as susceptible, it might be safe to bring them into schools if everyone is masked and ventilation is up to par. Until we get all students over 12 and all staff vaccinated, we must use common sense which means stop face to face school.