FCMAT – California’s Unaccountable Political Player

28 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/28/2022

California Assemblywomen Delaine Eastin wrote legislation creating the Financial Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) in 1991. Her legislation was in response to the bankruptcy of the Richmond School District and requests for financial help from four other districts. In 1992, Governor Pete Wilson signed the legislation into law and located FCMAT (pronounced Fick-Mat) under the auspices of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. Since then, its power has grown and portfolio expanded with little oversight. Today, there is a burgeoning chorus of critics calling for reform or even termination.

In the mid-1990’s, I made the trip through the south end of the San Joaquin Valley many times. On the car radio, the only listening choices available were Rush Limbaugh and the Buck Owens show from the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. Bakersfield is named after founder Thomas Baker but the name easily could refer to the weather. The city of a half-million sitting about 140 miles from Death Valley regularly sees temperatures over 100° F between May and October. It gets really hot for extended periods. That is where the FCMAT home office is located.

Bakersfield, the county seat of Kern County, is an economic powerhouse in both oil and agriculture. In 2020, it had a slightly larger Republican voter registration than Democratic (R=158,771 & D=152,102). Registrations have been almost evenly split for decades. In 1992, when Republican Governor Pete Wilson chose the Kern County Office of Education as administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT, the Republican voter registration advantage totaled 118.

The Developing Juggernaut

FCMAT employs a neoliberal structure popularized in the United Kingdom called QUANGO. The Scottish writer Roland Watson describes QUANGO as a “quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.” Those of short duration are sometimes referred to as a task force. They carry out government mandates by receiving and issuing contracts. Watson noted that “its rear end looks distinctively democratic and accountable but the front part is definitely statist and bureaucratic.” The problem with a QUANGO is the tendency to overtly support the political agenda of whoever is in power.

The Data Center Reported that in 1992 FCMAT had a budget of $562,000 which ballooned to $35.6 million by 2002. The report also criticized its use of no-bid contracts and lack of accountability. Los Angeles State Assembly Woman Jackie Goldberg called for an audit of FCMAT in 2003. The state auditor reported that FCMAT was providing value to districts but did criticize the over use of no-bid contracts. That appears to be the only audit ever done of FCMAT.

Besides the legislation listed in Table 1, there are many legislative edicts for FCMAT to audit specific school districts. The districts are charged a no-bid fee for the mandated audits; FCMAT contracts out much of the work. Local school districts that have had previous financial issues often must pay a consulting fee to obtain FCMAT’s blessing in order to implement a budget. In districts with financial problems, this agency has more power over district policy than voters.

Transparent California reveals that the top 2020 total salary at FCMAT, $313,780.72, went to CEO Michael Fine. Including Michael, there were thirteen FCMAT staff members who earned more than $214,000 that year. The data shows that FCMAT had seventeen employees on staff being paid a total salary of $3,568,008.

Is it really about Gentrification?

In 2018, two school districts in California requested emergency funding to maintain operations. Both Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) arrived in this predicament due to incompetent (unethical?) administration during a state takeover.

California took over Inglewood’s schools in 2012 because of financial problems that should properly be credited to George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and the state of California’s almost unregulated charter school movement. In 2016, Secretary of Public Instruction (SPI) Tom Torlakson recruited Vincent Mathews to be IUSD’s forth state appointed Superintendent.  

At the beginning of the millennium, Mathews led the for-profit Edison school in San Francisco. Later, he went through training at the infamous Broad Academy which included studying their handbook for closing public schools. He also served for two years as the state appointed superintendent for OUSD (2007-2009).

Mathews stayed 18 months in Inglewood before accepting the Superintendents position in San Francisco. About his Inglewood tenure, the LA Times noted,

“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.”

FCMAT was supervising that state loan given to IUSD and was charged with monitoring the district’s finances. However, they missed the bad budgeting practices implemented by the state appointed administrator.

In Oakland Antwan Wilson another Broad Academy graduate blew a hole in the Budget under FCMAT’s less than watchful eye. After two and a half years on the job, he left Oakland to be superintendent of schools in the nation’s capital. Soon after that, huge budget problems were discovered causing the school board to immediately order more than $15 million in mid-year budget cuts.

In an article detailing some of the mismanagement and greed in Oakland, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported:

“Wilson brought in dozens of executive staff members from outside the Oakland district, creating new positions and departments that were not budgeted, and paying more than was customary in the district, …. In 2013, before Wilson arrived in Oakland, only four administrators earned more than $200,000; two years later, at least 26 did…

The 2018 solution to these financial issues from the state legislature was AB 1840 which dictated the terms under which OUSD and IUSD could receive emergency funding. It signified that in the budget acts for the coming years, Oakland and Inglewood could apply for emergency funding if they met certain criteria. It also meant that their respective counties – Alameda and Los Angeles – would assume control from the state and use FCMAT to financially supervise the districts.

In SB 74 the 2020 budget act, Oakland received $16 million with the law stipulating “affirmative action by the governing board to continue planning for, and timely implement, a school and facility closure and consolidation plan that supports the sale or lease of surplus property”.

The next year, the new school board turned down $10 million authorized in SB 129 which again required “Affirmative action by the governing board to continue planning for, and timely implementation of, a school and facility closure and consolidation plan that supports the sale or lease of surplus property.”

FCMAT explains on their web site how the governing power in OUSD was changed by AB 1840:

“Under the provisions of Assembly Bill (AB) 1840 (Chapter 426/2018), the trustee serves under the direction and supervision of L.K. Monroe, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. Assembly Bill 1840 designates FCMAT as the agency to identify and vet candidates to serve as county trustee. The final selection of a candidate for Oakland Unified School District trustee will be made by Superintendent Monroe, with the concurrence of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) and the president of the State Board of Education.”

In other words, OUSD no longer under state control is now under county control and their fiscal agent is FCMAT. Many people are wondering if the big push to sell off school properties from both the state and county is not motivated by gentrification and developer profits. It is well known that outside of a onetime cash infusion there are no significant savings associated with closing wholly owned school sites.

Working for the Bosses!

Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) in San Diego County went through a grueling few years. In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members plus district Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. Unlike the previous board that got its financial support from the construction industry, the new board members were all supported by the teachers’ union. This was not greeted enthusiastically by some local political forces.

During their first three years, the district ran harmoniously. In 2018, trouble emerged. There was a transition in leadership within the SUHSD financial team. The CFO, her top assistant and two other members of her small team retired after submitting the budget for the 2018-19 school year. That summer the new CFO, Jenny Salkeld, discovered a $20 million dollar error. She immediately reported her discovery to the district and county.

After receiving Sweetwater’s alert about the accounting errors, the County Office of Education officially disapproved the 2018-19 budget the district had submitted. The reasons for disapproving the budget were the reasons Salkeld had reported.

Apparently someone at the county leaked the budget information to the Voice of San Diego. The district which was in the process of understanding the extent of the problem lost the opportunity. Instead they were faced with a withering public attack in both the San Diego Union and The Voice of San Diego. Headlines implied that a group of incompetent people at SUHSD were incapable of managing their affairs honestly.

Enter FCMAT. SUHSD was forced to pay them $50,000 to have finances reviewed. A preliminary report was delivered that December at a SUHSD district school board meeting. Voice of San Diego’s Will Huntsberry shared,

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

For weeks, local San Diego TV and Print media were filled with damning headlines like the NBC affiliate’s, “Audit of Sweetwater Union High School District Finds Evidence of Fraud” or the online publication Voice of San Diego’s “Audit Finds Sweetwater Officials Deliberately Manipulated Finances.” Every local news outlet published a story with some version of these headlines. There was speculation that the fraud had to do with a large school bond measure voters had approved and predicted multiple people were going to prison.

The following June FCMAT issued its completed report. It certainly weighed an ‘A’ (my mother’s satirical goal for a college research paper) but was not of great value. By the time the report arrived, SUHSD had already implemented a vast majority of the recommended fixes to their budgeting process. Eventually, the former SUHSD CFO was fined $28,000 for falsely attesting to the accuracy of the budget and the district agreed that they would bring in an independent consultant for any future bond offerings. Ironically, the district had used an independent consultant for the bond offering in question.

This April, the San Diego Union’s Kristin Tanaka reported, “Seventeen of San Diego County’s 42 school districts are projecting that they will spend more than they take in — not just in the current school year, but the next two years — as districts grapple with rising costs and lower enrollment, according to the latest batch of financial projections districts submitted to the county.” SUHSD was not one of the seventeen. The district survived the crisis and still has the same apparently popular school board in place.

It was a similar story in 2003 for OUSD. Then Superintendent Dennis Chaconas realized that the accounting system was dated and needed modernizing. EducationNext reported “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.” Most sources say it was actually a $37 million dollar deficit but still big and shocking.

Ken Epstein shared, “OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.”

Local political leaders like then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and influential state Senator Don Peralta wanted OUSD taken over by the state. They used FCMAT in an effort to make it happen. Online news source Majority reports that when OUSD proposed covering the shortfall with construction funds:

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

During the same period, there were no phone calls to OUSD Superintendent Dennis Chaconas.

OUSD was forced to accept a $100 million dollar loan and taken over by the state instead of paying off the deficit with the $37 million dollars from their construction fund. After almost two decades of state and county control financially supervised by FCMAT, Oakland is still stuck with $6 million dollar yearly loan payments until at least 2026 and the state appointed administrator was allowed to create a new financial crisis.

….

At the very minimum, it is time to reign in and reform FCMAT. They have become an authoritarian lever used by people in power to enact their unpopular agendas. It is supposedly an “Assistance Team” but in reality FCMAT is causing more damage than their “assistance” is worth.

Lessons from NPE Philadelphia

11 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/11/2022

The Downtown Double Tree Hotel where the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference was held has great meeting facilities. Over the May Day weekend of learning and being inspired, it was an easy trek from the five joint sessions in the large room to the six smaller breakout sessions. The difficult part was picking which of the eight panels available in each breakout sessions to attend.

I presented in a Saturday afternoon panel called “The City Fund: Where they’ve Developed and Implemented the Portfolio Model and Where they Hope to Spread it Next.” At the same time there were seven other panels: “Fight against Vouchers in Tennessee”;  “The Constitutional and Policy Pushback against Vouchers and Charters”;  “Gerrymandering, Education and Unaccountable State Legislators” and four more. Even I was conflicted about being in my panel and not being able to attend one of the other offerings.

The conference opened with Diane Ravitch firing up the crowd at 8 AM Saturday morning. For those of us from the west coast that was equivalent to 5 AM. She proposed a new framing of the acronym WOKE as “Wide Open to Knowledge and Enlightenment.” Ravitch continued the theme demanding,

“Let’s reclaim the word WOKE as Public School Activists!”

“Wake UP to Inequity”

“Wake UP to Injustice”

“Wake up & bring LIGHT into our Public Schools”

Following Diane, NPE Director Carol Burris introduced an activist she met when he was in high school and she was a principal, Nikhil Goyal. Today he is education advisor for Senator Bernie Sanders. Goyal demanded a “New Deal for Public Education.” He called for:

  • “$100s of millions for school infrastructure
  • “End standardized testing
  • “End federal charter school investment
  • “Institute restorative justice
  • “Extend the child tax credited paid at 100%”

Goyal also made the point, “we cannot discuss public education without discussing poverty, gun violence, the opioid epidemic and safe housing.”

Privatization is Private Control over Public Goods.

Donald Cohen from In the Public Interest shared his definition of privatization as private control over public goods during his panel. The panel was moderated by NPE co-founder Anthony Cody and included Professor Maurice Cunningham, author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization and Professor Donald Reed co-author with Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. of Getting into Good Trouble at School: A Guide to Building an Antiracist School System.

Professor Cohen contended that what is labeled a public good should be decided democratically and claimed privatization is an assault on democracy. He noted that markets always exclude people.

Maurice Cunningham pointed out that the right has redefined liberty as selfishness. Donald Reed observed that shutting down the ability to learn with movements like anti-CRT is fundamentally an assault on democracy.

The panel presented strong evidence for why resisting the privatization of public schools is fighting to save democracy.

VanCedric Williams is an Impressive Leader from Oakland, California

For more than an hour, Oakland Public Schools Director VanCedric Williams explained the attack on his schools and answered questions. Williams teaches in San Francisco Unified but lives in Oakland. His performance was so impressive that I and others in the room felt we were witnessing the birth of a future star in the struggle to save public education from the looters.

He explained how in 2004 Oakland Unified Public School District had a $10 million deficit but was forced by the state of California to accept a $100 million dollar loan. After a series of four state appointed and Eli Broad trained administrators, Oakland still owes $100 million dollars not to the state but to JP Morgan-Chase their new creditor that they did not choose for a loan they did not choose.

A Surprise Lunch Time Visitor

At 12:30 PM we were all scheduled to eat and listen to a panel discussion moderated by Julian Vasquez Heilig, Dean of Education at the University of Kentucky. Heilig is also an NPE board member. Joining him on the panel was the first female of color to be elected president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Cecelia Myart-Cruz. She is hated by billionaire privatizers and their propaganda organs The 74 and LA School Report. Also on the panel was Adelle Cothorne the former principal of Noyes elementary school in Washington DC who blew the whistle on the Michelle Rhee pushed cheating scandals.

However, before lunch was served the room became stimulated by the arrival of Bronx Congressman Jamaal Bowman. Bowman came to ask us to support his new bill to eliminate standardized testing. He also said, “You cannot have a democracy without having an exemplary public education system.”   

Diane Ravitch, Jamaal Bowman and Carol Burris

The joint lunch session ended with three NPE awards. Dr. Annika Whitfield voice of the resistance in Little Rock who challenges the Walton family in a daily struggle to save that city’s public schools received the first ever Diane Ravitch David award. This year the Phyllis Bush Grass Roots award went to Charles Foster and the organization of pastors in Texas and Tennessee working to save public education. They were preaching to the choir in Philadelphia. Also receiving the Grass Roots award was Stand for Schools Nebraska which has succeeded in protecting that state from privatization including no charter schools or vouchers.

Panel on The City Fund

As the moderator of the panel, I presented an outline of the oligarch game plan for privatizing public education. This outline which was first suggested by Dr. Jim Scheurich and his team came from my article The City Fund uses Oligarch Money to Privatize Public Schools.

  1. Convince the public that business is the best model for running schools.
  2. Develop a huge infusion of new dollars for school board elections. (Dark Money)
  3. Establish unified enrollment for public schools and charter schools.
  4. Undermine teacher professionalism with Teach for America (TFA) or any instant-teacher-certification program and take control of teacher professional development.
  5. Implement Innovation Schools which are an ALEC sponsored method for removing schools from elected school board control.
  6. Develop a funding conduit for national and local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local privatization initiatives.
  7. Co-locate charter schools with public schools using rules that favor charter schools.
  8. Develop a network of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  9. Support gentrification.

The three other panel members were Keith E. Benson, President of the Camden Education Association and adjunct professor at Rutgers University; Gloria Nolan, Interim Parent Liaison for St. Louis Public Schools and a new NPE board member; plus Sarah Sorensen, public school parent and Board Trustee in San Antonio ISD. Each of these panelists told the story of how City Fund is financing the attack on their public schools and running the playbook outlined above.

To date, The City Fund is operating in 14 cities with plans to expand to 40 cities.

Wrapping up Saturday

Session 4 began at 3:40 PM and featured 8 stimulating panels. I attended “The Federal Charter Schools Program: Decades of Damage and Mismanagement.” Among those other panels I would have liked to attend were “The Nebraska Miracle”, “Astroturf Parents Groups” and “Getting the Data Straight: Understanding Public Education’s Great Success.”

The last joint presentation of the day was delivered by Professor Noliwe Rooks who gave a moving presentation about the democratically ignored citizens of Detroit. At least three different times – from 1995 to 2010 – the governor of Michigan overrode public votes for the state not to take over their schools; twice countered by a Republican and once by a Democrat.

The day concluded with a book signing and a mixer.

Steven Van Zandt and the Ashbury Jukes

Sunday morning began with eight more informative panels followed by morning brunch at 9:25 AM. Suddenly there was a stir in the room and a teacher at the table in front of me was absolutely thrilled to see that Diane Ravitch was sitting down on the stage to interview Little Steven.

Steven Van Zandt co-founded the band South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes who subsequently took his writing and musical producing abilities to the E-Street band where he and Bruce Springsteen collaborated on many big hits. He also is well known for his role on the Sopranos, but his social activism and support of public education is much less known.  

On twitter Diane Ravitch afterwards posted, “I wish you had been in Philly to hear the wonderful “Little Stevie” (formerly the EST band and “The Sopranos”) talk about his love for music, kids, teachers, and arts in the schools at #npe2022philly. Everyone loved his enthusiasm and candor.”

These two fighters for justice, Diane and Steven, met at a Los Angeles teachers’ rally during the last strike.

Steven made two remarks that particularly resonated with me: “Teach rock not war” and “teachers are on the front-lines of a war against ignorance.”

Diane Ravitch and Steven Van Zandt

What is going on at TFA

The last breakout session I attend was presented by Julian Vasquez Heilig, Jameson Brewer and Gary Rubinstein. In 2015, Teach For America (TFA) had it largest corps class ever and was enjoying almost uninterrupted good press. That year Heilig moderated a panel discussion on TFA in which then doctoral candidate Jameson Brewer presented his observations of being a 2008 corps member. Since then he and Heilig have published a string of peer reviewed research articles that undermined the propaganda from TFA. It may not be a direct cause and affect relationship but since then the size of the TFA corps classes have continued to be reduced.

Their newest article is Planting Toxic Seeds in Fertile Soil: The Knowledge Acquisition, Achievement, and Behavioral Beliefs Inculcated Into Teach For America Corps Members of Color.” The last five years, TFA has been focused on recruiting teachers of color; however they still inculcate these teachers with “top-down, authoritative, and militaristic in the delivery of curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom management.” The paper states,

“This ideology is wrought with deficit ideologies about the culture of Black and Brown communities, who, drawing from their White Saviors or White ideology, are understood as lacking the appropriate cultural characteristics to end poverty. So, while TFA recruits in the past few years (a small portion of the organization’s overall history) have increasingly been non-White, corps members are still inculcated with these White cultural assumptions and the myth of meritocracy, which are infused into the organization and its vast education reform and policy network.”

The Best For Last

Jitu Brown is a freedom fighter from Chicago and the director of the civil rights organization Journey for Justice (J4J). He will always be remembered as the man who organized the Dyett High School hunger strike which after 34 days led to the end of Rahm Emanuel’s reign of terror for Chicago’s Black community.

In his more than one hour address, he cried from the depths of his life for justice. Jitu told us about setting off firecrackers when he was 10-years-old and having a Chicago cop stick a gun in his mouth. He asked, “Why did we have good neighborhood schools when I went to school but our kids don’t have them anymore?” He noted with disdain, “They want to give kids a laptop and call it education.”

Jitu is not a fan of school choice which he presciently observed was born to maintain segregation. He claimed, “Charter schools have been weaponized to move Black people out of our cities” and also noted that young people of color look to Ella Baker as their model of fighting for justice.

Jitu and J4J are always inspirational at NPE conferences.

Jitu Brown Speaking at NPE Philadelphia

For almost 4-years since our last gathering in Indianapolis, we have been isolated and watching as billionaires got richer while funding the privatization of the commons. Following NPE Philadelphia, I came home happily exhausted knowing that after a rest I would be ready to fight on for public education the foundation of American democracy.

I am inspired by what a diverse group NPE is. It stretches from Charles Foster and a group of Baptist preachers to Jitu Brown and J4J. We have Muslims and Mexicans, Jews and Asians and Buddhists all working harmoniously to save our public schools. This is a model for America.

Happily, I was once again able to take a picture with the great Diane Ravitch. She has not always been on the right side of all things but what makes her great is that she is capable of changing her mind if the evidence demands it. Like her and every other human, I have been wrong on occasion but fighting to save public education is far from an error. We must stop the looters and save democracy.

All picture by Thomas Ultican

The City Fund uses Oligarch Money to Privatize Public Schools

22 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/22/2022

Born in 2018, The City Fund (TCF) is a concentration of oligarch wealth crushing democracy and privatizing the commons. John Arnold (infamous ENRON energy trader) and Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO and former California Charter Schools Association board member) claimed to be investing $100 million each to establish TCF. Their July 2018 announcement was delivered on Neerav Kingsland’s blog Relinquishment which recently started requiring approval to access.

The TCF goal is to implement the portfolio school management model into 40 cities by 2028. At present TCF says it is “serving” 14 cities: Oakland, Ca; Stockton, Ca; Denver, Co; Camden, NJ; Washington, DC: Memphis, Tenn; Nashville, Tenn; New Orleans, La; Indianapolis, Ind.; Atlanta, Ga; Fort Worth, Tx; San Antoino, Tx; Baton Rouge, La; and Newark, NJ.

The operating structure of the fund is modeled after a law firm. Six of the fourteen founding members are lawyers.  They constitute the core of the team being paid to execute the oligarch financed attack on public education.

The Strategy

In 2017, Diane Ravitch posted observations from Dr. Jim Scheurich and his team in the Urban Education Studies doctoral program at the University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis (UIPUI). They identified several key strategies being used to end public schools:

  1. Convince the public that business is the best model for running schools.
  2. Develop a huge infusion of new dollars for school board elections. (Dark Money)
  3. Establish unified enrollment for public schools and charter schools.
  4. Undermine teacher professionalism with Teach for America (TFA) or any instant-teacher-certification program and take control of teacher professional development.
  5. Implement Innovations Schools which are an ALEC sponsored method for removing schools from elected school board control.
  6. Develop a funding conduit for national and local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local privatization initiatives.
  7. Co-locate charter schools with public schools using rules that favor charter schools.
  8. Develop a network of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  9. Support gentrification.

TCF has spent heavily to develop a local ground game in the communities of targeted cities. On their web site, they provide a list of major grants made by 12/31/2019; defining major grants as being more than $200,000. Many of these grants are to other privatization focused organizations like TFA and Chiefs for Change, but most of them are for developing local organizations like the $5,500,000 to Opportunity Trust in Saint Louis another TFA related business. The TFA developed asset, founder and CEO Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years. Table-1 below lists this nationwide spending.

In many ways, The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, Indiana was the model for this kind of development. A 2016 article from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) which is quite school privatization friendly covers its development from the 2006 founding by Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson and his right hand man David Harris until 2016. PPI noted,

“The Mind Trust convinced Teach For America (TFA), The New Teacher Project (now TNTP), and Stand for Children to come to Indianapolis, in part by raising money for them. Since then TFA has brought in more than 500 teachers and 39 school leaders (the latter through its Indianapolis Principal Fellowship); TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows Program has trained 498 teachers; and Stand for Children has worked to engage the community, to educate parents about school reform, and to spearhead fundraising for school board candidates.”

The Mind Trust became a successful example of implementing all of the important strategies for privatizing public schools. As a result, the Indianapolis Public School system is the second most privatized system in America with over 60% of its students attending schools no longer controlled by the elected school board.

Stand for Children which the PPI referenced is almost entirely about funneling dark money into local school board races. These nationwide efforts are now being bolstered by the political action organization staffers at TCF created, Public School Allies. Public School Allies was founded as a 501 C4 organization meaning it can contribute to politicians; however contributions to it are not tax exempt.

Billionaire funded organizations like Public School Allies can overwhelm local elections. For example, in 2019 they provided $80,000 to the independent expenditure committee Campaign for Great Camden Schools. In the first school board election since the 2013 state takeover of Camden’s public schools, the three oligarch supported candidates won with vote totals of 1208, 1283 and 1455 votes.

Gary Borden was the Executive Director of the California Charter School Association 501 C4 organization before he became a Partner at TCF. Now he is the director of Public School Allies.

A TCF Partner sits on the board of many of the local political organizations they fund. Kevin Huffman is on the board of The Memphis Education Fund and Atlanta’s RedefinED. Partner Ken Bubp is on the board of New Schools for Baton Rouge. Gary Borden is on the board of The Mind Trust. He replaced David Harris who appears to have resigned from TCF. Harris was also on the board of San Antonio’s City Education Partners. Unfortunately, their new web page no longer lists the board members.

The Misguided and Self-serving Oligarch Philosophy

In 1990, Ronald Reagan’s view that government is inept and that private business with its associated market-based forces were superior dominated libertarian and neoliberal thinking. That year two conservative academics, John Chubb and Terry Moe published Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools in which they asserted that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” In other words, democratic governance is unfit.

At a convening of like minded organizations in San Francisco, TCF co-founder Reed Hastings made it clear that he favors schools governed by non-profit organizations as opposed to elected school boards. He had been espousing this position for at least five years. In other words, the oligarch believes like Moe and Chubb that democracy is bad and privatization is good.

Modern “school choice” ideology promoted by many white billionaires is little different from the strategies of southern segregationist in the 1950s and 60s. It still increases segregation and creates an “inherently unequal” and racist education system.

In 2009, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) published Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report.” Lead author Paul Hill and his associates stated,

“The report introduces the idea of a ‘portfolio school district,’ and shows how some leading school districts have put the idea into practice. A portfolio district is built for continuous improvement through expansion and imitation of the highest-performing schools, closure and replacement of the lowest-performing, and constant search for new ideas.”

It is an organized idea for managing the charter schools, innovation schools, public schools and voucher schools that make up the mix of schools in a district. Using standardized testing as a proxy for measuring quality, some percentage (5%) of the lowest performing schools will be closed every year. Invariably, the closed school will be replaced by a privatized structure outside of the purview of an elected school board. Also, because standardized testing only correlates with family wealth, the schools in the poorest communities will be privatized and subject to constant churn.

This is the management philosophy that TCF is spending abundantly to institute.

To sell this idea, they have contracted with the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). It is part of the Hoover Institute on Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto, California. CREDO has gained some level of discredit for producing non-peer reviewed reports that employ ideas that are not embraced by the research community such as “days of learning.” The latest study is called the City Study Project and compares charter schools and public schools in the TCF “service” cities.

The study is 100% based on standardized testing which is useless and it employs pro-charter school biases. Business writer Andre Gabor noted that their method starts with two assumptions, “A) That standardized-test scores are an adequate measure of school quality and B) that creaming in charter-schools does not exist.” A quick check of special education and language learner enrollment data quickly shows how extensive charter creaming actually is.

In addition, not only is their “virtual twining” model criticized by researchers like Professor Andrew Maul of UC Santa-Barbara, their selection method eliminates students from top performing public schools which biases the study further toward charter schools.

Even with these biases, to make it look like the hundredths of a standard deviation favoring charter schools over virtual public schools is meaningful, they reduce the arithmetically contrived vertical axis to expand the minimal differences. They also further exaggerate the differences by adding a “days of learning” axis. See the following image taken from the City Study Project.

Something Funny about the Money

In December 2018, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat quoted Neerav Kingsland’s claim that TCF had raised $189 million. However, TCF’s two existing tax documents which go through June 30, 2019 report less than $81 million in received money. It also appears that the Oligarchs are reporting significantly more dollars given than TCF has reported receiving.

The Ballmer group was created by Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie. There are no tax documents available for them, but their web page reports committing $25 million to TCF to be provided over a five-year period. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a donor directed site that hides the donor’s identity. It is known that Reed Hastings has put large amounts of money into that foundation so it is a good bet that money listed as SV Community Foundation in Table 2 is from Hastings.

Some Conclusions

The giant quantities of money concentrated in such few hands are destroying democracy. How is a citizen of an impoverished neighborhood who is opposed to having her public schools privatized going to politically compete with oligarchs from San Francisco or Seattle or Bentonville? Organizations like Public School Allies regularly come in and monetarily swamp any political opposition. That is not democracy.

I am convinced that John Arnold who is opposed to people receiving pensions sincerely believes charter schools are better than public schools. Likewise his partner, Reed Hastings, truly believes that elected school boards are bad. And Alice Walton really does think that vouchers are a good idea. However, I believe they are wrong and that the idea of offloading some of their tax burden is much more important to their beliefs than they will admit.

Witnessing the oligarch fueled attacks on the commons; I am convinced that billionaires need to be taxed out of existence if we are to have a healthy democracy of the people, by the people and for the people.

My Network for Public Education Conference Experience

9 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/9/2022

In 2014, the first Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference was held at Austin, Texas. My first conference was the following year in Chicago. That was the year after the late Karen Lewis and the Chicago teachers union decided enough is enough and stood strong against a host of privatizers and education profiteers. Their powerful teachers’ union victory sent ripples of hope to educators across America. That year, Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Mercedes Schneider, Peter Greene, Jennifer Berkshire, Jose Vilson, Jan Resseger, Steven Singer and many other pro-public education activists started dominating social media.

NPE Chicago was held in the historic Drake hotel just up the street from Lake Michigan. When walking into the lobby, I was greeted by Anthony Cody the co-founder of NPE. Steve Singer from Pennsylvania and T.C. Weber from Tennessee arrived just after I did. During the conference, it seemed I met all of the leading education activists in America.

Particularly memorable was lunch the following day. I met Annie Tan for the first time in the hallway heading to lunch and she said let’s get a seat near the stage. So, I followed her to an upfront table. Turned out our table mates included Adell Cothorne the Noyes Elementary school principal famous for exposing Michelle Rhee’s DC cheating scandal. Jenifer Berkshire who had unmasked herself as the Edu-Shyster was also at the table. The Curmugducator, Peter Greene, and his wife were there as was well known education blogger and author Jose Vilson.

It strangely turned out that Greene, his wife, Vilson and I were all trombone players.  Of course, everyone knows that trombone players are the coolest members of the band.

A highlight of NPE 2015 was the entertaining hour long presentation by Yong Zhao. He is an internationally decorated professor of education. Zhao had just published Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon.

His presentation focused on the harm caused by standards and testing. He also made fun of the concept of being college ready and the recently broached kindergarten readiness. Zhou made the logical observation that it was schools that needed to be ready for children. He also shared what he wanted for his children was “out of my basement readiness.” Zhao claimed that on a recent trip to Los Angeles he met Kim Kardashian in an elevator. He observed that she clearly had “out of my basement readiness.”

NPE 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina

We met in the spring for the 3rd NPE conference. There was some thought about cancelling in the wake of North Carolina passing anti-transgender bathroom legislation. I am glad we didn’t. Many disrespected North Carolina teachers came to our hotel in the large downtown convention center complex to report and be encouraged. It was a great venue and I met more amazing people who taught me a lot.

The Reverend William Barber’s poor people campaign was leading the fight against the kind of cruel legislation emanating from the capital building an easy walk up the street. Barber might be America’s most inspirational speaker. His keynote address fired up the conference.

A major highlight for me was meeting Andrea Gabor. She is a former staff writer and editor for both Businessweek and U.S. News ξ World Report and is currently the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College. Gabor is also one of America’s leading experts on W. Edward Deming’s management theories which are credited with the rise of Toyota among other successes. She was there leading a workshop based on the research she did in New Orleans which eventually led to her 2018 book After the Education Wars; How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform.”

Gabor was an agnostic concerning charter schools when she went to New Orleans. Her experience there gave her insight into how damaging the privatization agenda had become. A New Orleans parent accompanying Gabor described how during her eighth-grade year she was in a class with 55-students. Their room was not air-conditioned and they were restricted to running the fan 10-minutes each hour to save on electrical costs. With the promise of never before seen large scale spending on schools in black communities, residents did not care about the governance structure. It was the first significant spending on education in their neighborhoods in living memory. Now, they have no public schools left and choice was turning out to mean the schools chose which students they want.

NPE 2017 in Oakland, California

In early fall, we gathered at the Marriot hotel in the Oakland flats. The first evening, smoke from the big Napa fire made being outside uncomfortable. That Friday night, KPFA radio hosted an event at a local high school featuring Diane Ravitch in conversation with Journey for Justice (J4J) leader, Jitu Brown. Two years earlier, Brown led the successful 34-day hunger strike to save Dyett High School from being shuttered by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. J4J, Bats, NEA, Black Lives Matter at School, AFT, Parents Across America and many other organizations had representative both attending and presenting in Oakland.

When leaving the inspiring session with Jitu and Diane, I ran into San Diego Superintendent of Schools, Cindy Marten. A San Diego teacher carpooling with me had what appeared to be a heated exchange with Marten. However, when Marten was appointed Deputy Secretary of Education by Joe Biden, that same teacher lauded her saying “don’t worry my Superintendent will take care of us.”

We were one of two conventions that weekend at the Marriott. The other was sponsored by the nascent California marijuana industry. When returning to my room in the evenings, the sweet smell of pot wafted down the hallways but as far as I know there were no free samples.

In the main hall, a Seattle kindergarten teacher, Susan DeFresne, put up a series of posters that covered all of one very long wall. Her artwork depicted the history of institutional racism in U.S. schools. Six months later Garn Press published this art in the book The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools.

In Oakland, I saw a new younger leadership appearing. It is also where I met activists, school board members and researchers from Oakland who would become invaluable sources for my articles about the public schools they are fighting desperately to save.

One of our keynote speakers was a recipient of the 2017 MacArthur Genius award, Nicolle Hanna-Jones. Today everyone knows about her because of the 1619 Project.

NPE 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis was a trip into Mind Trust madness and home of the second most privatized public education system in America. Diane Ravitch jubilantly opened the conference declaring, “We are the resistance and we are winning!”

Famed Finish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, was one the first featured speakers. He labeled the worldwide business centric education privatization agenda the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and buttressed Ravitch’s declaration stating,

“You are making progress. The global situation is getting better.”

One of the most visible people at NPE 2018 was founding board member Phyllis Bush. She was dealing with the ravages of cancer and seemed determine not to let it slow her in the least. She had always shown me great consideration so the news of her demise not long after the conference was sad, but in the last years of her life she helped build NPE into a great force for protecting public education.

Last year, I was also saddened to learn that the women with the walker, Laura Chapman, had died. Her research into the forces attacking Cincinnati’s public schools and the spending nationally to privatize public schools made her a treasure. I really enjoyed our breakfast together in Indianapolis and will miss her.

There were many outstanding small group presentations at NPE 2018. One that I found personally helpful was put on by Darcie Cimarusti, Mercedes Schneider and Andrea Gabor. Darcie did significant research for the NPE report, Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools. In her presentation she demonstrated LittleSis a program she used for her research. It is a free database and orthographic mapping facility. LittleSis is viewed as the antidote to “Big Brother.” Gabor and Schneider shared how they search for non-profit tax forms and explained the differences between an IRS form 990 and form 990 PF, the forms non-profits must file.

Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice (J4J) came to Indianapolis with a message:

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights. Only by organizing locally and coming together nationally will we build the power we need to change local, state, and federal policy and win back our public schools.”

J4J shared their #WeChoose campaign consisting of seven pillars:

  1. A moratorium on school privatization.
  2. The creation of 10,000 community schools.
  3. End zero tolerance policies in public schools now. (Supports restorative justice)
  4. Conduct a national equity assessment.
  5. Stop the attack on black teachers. (In 9 major cities impacted by school privatization there has been a rapid decline in the number of black teachers.)
  6. End state takeovers, appointed school boards and mayoral control.
  7. Eliminate the over-reliance on standardized tests in public schools.

Jitu Brown introduced Sunday morning’s keynote speaker, Jesse Hagopian, as “a freedom fighter who happens to be a teacher.”

In his address, Hagopian listed three demands: (1) End zero tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; (2) Hire more black teachers (he noted there are 26,000 less black teachers since 2010) and (3) Teach ethnic studies including black history.

For me personally, I had the opportunity to cultivate deeper friendships with the many wonderful individuals who I first met at NPE Chicago. That included once again speaking with my personal heroine and friend, Diane Ravitch.

#NPE2022PHILLY

I am excited about seeing everyone in Philadelphia, making new friends and igniting a new wave of resistance to billionaire financed efforts aimed at destroying public education.

COVID-19 interrupted our 2020 plan to meet in Philadelphia and interrupted us twice in 2021. This year we will finally have what promises to be a joyful rejuvenation for the resistance.

I do not think it is too late to be part of it. Go to https://npeaction.org/2022-conference/ and sign up for the conference. It will be the weekend of April 30 – May 1.

Relay Graduate School Forced onto DC Black Community

30 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/30/2022

School leaders and teachers in Washington DC’s wards 7 and 8 are being compelled into training given by Relay Graduate School of Education (RSGE). West of the Anacostia River in the wealthier whiter communities public school leaders are not being forced. When ward 7 and 8 administrators spoke out against the policy, they were fired. Two of them Dr. Carolyn Jackson-King and Marlon Ray, formerly of Boone Elementary School are suing DC Public Schools (DCPS) for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act and the DC Human Rights Act.

Jackson-King and Ray are emblematic of the talented black educators with deep experience that are being driven out of the Washington DC public school system. They are respected leaders in their schools and the community. When it was learned Jackson-King was let go, the community protested loudly and created a web site publishing her accomplishments.

In 2014, Jackson-King arrived at the Lawrence E. Boone Elementary school when it was still named Orr Elementary. The school had been plagued by violence and gone through two principals the previous year. Teacher Diane Johnson recalled carrying a bleeding student who had been punched to the nurse’s office. She remembered students fighting being a daily occurrence before Jackson-King took over.

In 2018, Orr Elementary went through a $46 million dollar renovation. The community and school board agreed that the name should be changed before the building reopened. Orr was originally named in honor of Benjamin Grayson Orr, a D.C. mayor in the 19th century and slave owner. The new name honors Lawrence Boone a Black educator who was Orr Elementary’s principal from 1973 to 1996. 

Jackson-King successfully navigated the campus violence and new construction. By 2019, Boon Elementary was demonstrating solid education progress as monitored by the district’s star ratings. Boone Elementary which is in a poor minority neighborhood went from a 1-star out of 5 rating when Jackson-King arrived to a 3-star rating her last year there.

City Council member Trayon White petitioned Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to rescind the removal of Jackson-King as principal stating,

“I have received many letters, emails and texts from parents and former students regarding this action. I join them in getting answers. I have personally witnessed Dr. Jackson-King’s leadership. Over the past six years, she has transformed Boone into a 3-star school by incorporating new partners and programs. She is not just a pillar at Boone, she is a pillar in the community with much respect from those who know her. … In the words of many, ‘Dr. Jackson-King has led our School Family Community from total chaos to success.’”

Marlon Ray was Boone’s director of strategy and logistics. He worked there for 13-years including the last six under Principal Jackson-King. Despite his long history in the district, Ray was apparently targeted after filing a whistleblower complaint over Relay Graduate School. Ray questioned RGSE’s relationship with DCPS, the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. He implicated Mary Ann Stinson, the DCPS Cluster II instructional superintendent who wrote Jackson-King’s district Impact review that paved the way for her termination.

In the lawsuit, Ray alleges that DCPS leadership responded by requiring him to work in person five days a week in the early months of the pandemic while most of his colleagues, including Jackson-King’s replacement Kimberly Douglas, worked remotely. This continued well into the spring of 2021.

In October of 2020, Ray joined with about 30 Washington Teacher’s Union members, parents and students to rally against opening schools before it was safe. Ray reported that he received a tongue lashing from a DCPS administrator for being there and then 2-hours later receive a telephoned death threat. He reports the caller saying, “This is Marcus from DCPS; you’re done, you’re through, you’re finished, you’re dead.”

Ray’s position was eliminated in June, 2021.

Dr. Jackson-King and Ray were not the only ones who experienced retaliation and were ultimately terminated due to opposing Relay. Johann Lee, formerly of Kimball Elementary School and Richard Trogisch, formerly of School Without Walls criticized Relay and DCPS’s COVID mitigation strategy, respectively. They are also both out. Ray says there are others who have not come forward.

Embracing a School Privatization Agenda

George Bernard Shaw noted that, “… the first rule of morals and manners in a Democratic country: namely, that you must not treat your political opponent as a moral delinquent” (Selected Non-Dramatic Writings of Bernard Shaw page 408). Keeping this in mind, I will try not to impugn Mayor Bowser’s integrity. I believe she is sincere in her belief that public schools are failing and that privatization is the cure. It is an illusion that started gaining adherents during the Reagan administration and the next five presidents have continued advancing it.

In Washington DC, the mayor has almost dictatorial power over public education. Therefore, when she becomes convinced of an illusion that falsely claims public schools are failing, there are few safeguards available to stop policy led destruction.

In the chart above, notice that all of the key employees she chose to lead DC K-12 education have a strong connection to organizations practicing what Cornell Professor Noliwe Rooks labels “segrenomics.” In her book Cutting School (Page 2), she describes it as the businesses of taking advantage of separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education to make a profit selling school. Bowser’s first Deputy Mayor for Education, Jennifer Niles, was a charter school founder. Her second Deputy Mayor, Paul Kihn, attended the infamous privatization centric Broad Academy. She inherited Kaya Henderson as DCPS Chancellor and kept her for five years. Kaya Henderson, a Teach For America alum, was the notorious Michelle Rhee’s heir apparent. The other two Chancellors that Bowser chose, Antwan Wilson and Lewis Ferebee, also attended the Broad Academy and both are members of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change.

The DCPS web page is quite unusual in that it is close to being a Muriel Bowser campaign organ. A 2018 message concerning the end of Education Week ironically stated,

“Today, Mayor Bowser also announced that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) awarded $1.5 million in grants to five nonprofit organizations to recruit and train more than 250 high-quality new charter school teachers. The Scholarships for Opportunities and Results (SOAR) Act Teacher Pipeline Grant awardees are: Relay Graduate School of Education, the Urban Teacher Center, AppleTree Institute, KIPP DC, and the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.”

There are four main governing Components in the Washington DC school system: (1) The State Board of Education (SBE); (2) The Office of the State Superintendent of Education; (3) The Public Charter School Board and (4) The District of Columbia Public Schools. The SBE is an elected board with little power to effect policy. The other three entities are all controlled by Mayor Bowser.

The State Superintendent of Education who awarded $7.5 million in public education dollars to five private companies was Hanseul Kang. Before Bowser appointed her to the position, Kang was a member of the Broad Residency class of 2012-2014. At that time, she was serving as Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Department of Education while her fellow Broadie, Chris Barbic, was setting up the doomed to fail Tennessee Achievement School District. In 2021, Bowser had to replace Kang because she became the inaugural Executive Director of the new Broad Center at Yale. Bowser chose Christina Grant yet another Broad trained education privatization enthusiast to replace Kang.

(For a background information on the Broad Academy see Broad’s Academy and Residencies Fuel the Destroy Public Education Agenda.)

Bowser and her team are in many ways impressive, high achieving and admirable people. However, their deluded view of public education and its value is dangerous; dangerous for K-12 education, dangerous for democracy.

“Teach like it’s 1885

The root of the push back against Relay training by ward 7 and 8 educators is found in the authoritarian approach being propagated. NPR listed feedback from dismayed teachers bothered by schemes such as:

  • “Students must pick up their pens within three seconds of starting a writing assignment.
  • “Students must walk silently, in a straight line, hands behind their backs, when they are outside the classroom.
  • “Teachers must stand still, speak in a ‘formal register’ and square their shoulders toward students when they give directions.”

Dr. Jackson-King noted, “Kids have to sit a certain way, they have to look a certain way. They cannot be who they are. Those are all the ways they teach you in prison — you have to walk in a straight line, hands behind your back, eyes forward.”

RSGE does not focus on education philosophy or guidance from the world’s foremost educators. Rather its fundamental text is Teach Like a Champion which is a guidebook for no-excuses charter schools.

Three no-excuses charter school leaders established RGSE. In the post “Teach Like it’s 1885”, published by Jenifer Berkshire, 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.”

The Hampton Idea comment is a reference to W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1906 speech at Hampton University in which he called on the Black students to seek academic skills not just technical education.  

In her book Scripting the Moves, Professor Joanne Golann wrote:

‘“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.’” (Page 174)

Legitimate education professionals routinely heap scorn on RSGE. Relay practices the pedagogy of poverty and as Martin Haberman says,

“In reality, the pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is not supported by research, by theory, or by the best practice of superior urban teachers. It is actually certain ritualistic acts that, much like the ceremonies performed by religious functionaries, have come to be conducted for their intrinsic value rather than to foster learning.”

Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her piece, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

Ken Zeichner is one of America’s leading academics studying teacher education. In a paper on alternative teacher preparation programs focused on Match Teacher Residency and RGSE, he asserted,

“These two programs prepare teachers to use highly controlling pedagogical and classroom management techniques that are primarily used in schools serving students of color whose communities are severely impacted by poverty. Meanwhile, students in more economically advantaged areas have greater access to professionally trained teachers, less punitive and controlling management practices and broader and richer curricula and teaching practices. The teaching and management practices learned by the teachers in these two independent programs are based on a restricted definition of teaching and learning and would not be acceptable in more economically advantaged communities.”

This is the training program that these courageous educators were fired for opposing.

Petaluma Charter School Lessons

23 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/23/2022

A Petaluma Argus-Courier headline read, “Petaluma could soon welcome charter school.” Local prodigy, Gianna Biaggi, had come home to establish the Magnolia Global Academy for Leaders (MGAL). Biaggi had spent the previous year as a New School Creation Fellow at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. She was exited to use her new training to establish a High Tech High inspired school where she grew up.

Petaluma is a unique community with a lot of appeal. In the 1990’s, I was invited to a celebration of the 1968 Monterey Pop Festival’s 30th anniversary hosted by a Buddhist family in Petaluma. Picked up my date in San Francisco, headed across the Golden Gate Bridge and in less than a 40-mile drive up highway 101 we were there. It would be one of the more memorable evenings of my life.

I met a musician named David Freiberg at the party and asked him what bands he had been in that I might know. David responded, “I was in Jefferson Airplane and Quiz Silver Messenger Service.” I was impressed and his Wikipedia page is even more impressive. He was there with Linda Imperial who currently had the world’s number one solo jazz vocal album. Somehow, I ended up in the kitchen with David and Linda where I asked them to sing the spiritual “Amazing Grace.” They gifted me an amazing a cappella performance.

Petaluma is a community of mostly white liberals. The racial breakdown is 70% White, 1.3% Black, 21% Hispanic, 4.4% Asian and 3.3% other. It is in Sonoma County which has a Democratic Party voter registration of 57.7%, a no preference voter registration of 19.2% and a Republican Party voter registration of 17.5%.

 Gianna Biaggi attended Sonoma High School in nearby Sonoma, California. In her 2013 graduation speech, she spoke of being a part of the Youth Ambassador’s program and how that led to a wonderful three weeks in Paraguay. She also proudly noted, “Through the support of my favorite teacher, Ms. Manchester, I created the Wolf Club, named after Jack’s [Jack London] illustrious nickname, ‘Wolf.’”  She also stated, “With the help of Wolf Club members, Ms. Manchester, and the director of Jack London State Park, I was successfully able to create Jack’s Ambassadors, a program for middle school students that is based off of my experience with the Youth Ambassadors.”

After graduating from high school, Gianna continued down the path of seeking to be of public service and creating for the community. Following earning a 2017 bachelor’s degree in international studies from Kenyon College in Ohio, she won a Samuel Huntington Public Service Award and became an Interexchange Christianson Grantee. That took her to Nairobi, Kenya where she created a community library in the Kibera slums and established Sunflower Fellows, a 4-year literacy and leadership program for low-achieving girls attending informal schools.

Gianna’s story about her time in Africa is really impressive. However, Petaluma is not Nairobi. The US education system is sophisticated and staffed by a huge number of highly educated and experienced professionals. Siphoning money from public schools to create a parallel school system negatively affects public school students. It creates irrecoverable stranded costs that drain per-capita resources.

High Tech High Graduate School of Education

High Tech High (HTH) graduate school of education is in a different category than Relay Graduate School or the training provided by TNTP. Relay and TNTP were created to undermine the role of public universities in training educators and to promote school choice. Both organizations have shallow academic and profession depth. Conversely, HTH graduate school was created to teach HTH teachers the school’s brand of progressive education and it undeniably has academic and professional depth starting with founders Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan.  

For several years Professor Riordan while a faculty member of the Harvard Graduate School of Education led the practicum seminar for Harvard’s student teachers. He has a wealth of education credits to his name. Professor Rosenstock also taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the University of California, Berkeley School of Education. He holds a Juris Doctor from Boston University, and an honorary doctorate from Cambridge College.  It was fascinating to learn that while Rosenstock was at Brandeis University he developed a close relationship with Abe Maslow the originator of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They regularly carpooled to school.

In 1998, Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan were on a team at Harvard that won a large grant from the Clinton administration to design a new American high school. They traveled around the country looking for existing models when a teacher in San Diego got them exited. So they moved there to study his approach and soon after were offered a job to create High Tech High.

At the time, neoliberal thinking was permeating the Clinton administration and America’s business community. The analysis in Reagan’s “A Nation at Risk” was widely accepted as basic fact. Business leaders were convinced public education was failing and market based solutions were the required answer. In San Diego, a 40-person committee of business elites led by Gary Jacobs decided they wanted to create their own independent public school. They contacted Rosenstock for his advice and he explained charter schools.

Gary Jacobs is the former director of education programs at Qualcomm but more importantly, he is the son of Qualcomm founder and billionaire Irwin Jacobs. These wealthy San Diegans knew nothing about education, but perceived no problem with experimenting on other people’s children. They appeared convinced that if they hired the right consultant, they could create something new and wonderful that would lead the way to education reform.

The education model they embraced was similar the progressive education ideas first suggested by John Dewey at the beginning of the 20th century. Problem based education was their focus. It was reminiscent of the experimental school developed by Corinne Seeds at UCLA.

Tufts University Education Professor, Kathleen Weiler, wrote Democracy and Schooling in California: The Legacy of Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds. She shared,

“Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds were nationally recognized as leaders of the progressive education movement and were key figures in what was probably the most concerted attempt to put the ideals of progressive education into practice in a state-wide system of public education in the United States.”

Heffernan was the California Commissioner of Rural and Elementary Education between 1926 and 1965, and Seeds was the Director of the University Elementary school at UCLA between 1925 and 1957.

Professor Larry Lawrence worked at the Seeds school under Jonathan Goodlad. He observed that when the charismatic Goodlad left in 1987, the school floundered. When Heffernan retired, the progressive education movement in California slowed and reversed. After meeting with HTH founding principal and CEO, Larry Rosenstock, and touring one of the schools, Professor Lawrence concluded that when Rosenstock leaves, the HTH system will falter.

Professor Lawrence also questioned the quality of the school’s math education. A science professor from Southwestern Junior College regularly complained during committee meetings I attended about how unprepared for college academics the incoming HTH students were.

As appealing as progressive education is, there is some reason it has never blossomed.

Magnolia Global Academy for Leaders (MGAL)

In November 2020, the Sonoma Index-Tribune ran the headline, “Local grad to launch new all-girls high school in Sonoma County.” The article began,

“Gianna Biaggi is a Sonoma Valley native and a graduate of Sonoma Valley High School. She is currently a New School Creation Fellow at High Tech High, an education charter school incubator in San Diego.”

Evidently nothing developed with the girl’s school but a few miles away in Petaluma she found a lot of support for her new school idea. It helped that the new Superintendent of Petaluma City Schools, Matthew Harris, is a pro-choice former Teach For America corps member.

Gianna is a well liked local girl. She was able to quickly gather 50-people willing to have their names added to a supporters list on the new MGAL web-page.

Included on the supporters list were Iliana Madrigal-Hooper, Commission on the Status of Human Rights; Dr. Matthew Long, Santa Rosa Junior College, Petaluma Campus; Dr. Lena MacQuade, Sonoma State University, Women’s and Gender Studies and Rob Riordan, President Emeritus, High Tech High Graduate School of Education. It seems that the main motivation for several people on the list was doing a favor for Gianna.

On August 24, 2021, Gianna formerly submitted her 800 page charter petition to the Petaluma City Schools board. That is when the delusion was pierced. The district staff came back with a powerful rejection recommendation that included:

“The charter school presents an unsound educational program for the pupils to be enrolled in the charter school.”

“The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.”

“The charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate.”

“The Petition submitted is for the establishment of a district-operated ‘dependent’ charter school. … First, as a dependent, District-operated charter school, MGAL could not legally operate in most private facilities. School facilities for public school districts are highly regulated as to location, condition and safety, and the kind of space available in the local community does not meet applicable legal standards as dictated by the Field Act.”

The board voted unanimously 5-0 to turn down the charter petition.

A Few Observations

One of the major flaws in charter school legislation is that people with minimal background in teaching and administering schools are allowed to petition for charters. This has resulted in horrible schools like KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Yes Prep with their test prep and “no excuses” agenda.

In Petaluma’s case, Gianna Biaggi seems like a well intentioned bright young women but she does not have the experience to start and run a school. However, a dependent charter is an intriguing idea. It is a charter that is created by a school district to operate within and be governed within the District’s family of school options. It must follow all state facility laws. Shouldn’t all taxpayer funded schools be required to provide the same level of safety as a public school?

Deborah Meier has long been an advocate of progressive education and smaller democratically operated schools. In 1974, she founded Central Park East and latter the Mission Hill School in Boston. These very successful programs have made her more open to charter schools because of the possibility for developing smaller progressive schools. It seems like the dependent charter school model could be a path for this kind of development. That explains her willingness to serve on the advisory board for HTH Graduate School of Education. However, she also believes schools must practice and model democracy. She has written, “We can learn a lot from charters about autonomy, but not much about democracy.” (Public Education Page 164)

An illusion underlies the “public education is failing” meme. It has been propagated relentlessly by corporations and billionaires ever since the Reagan administration published A Nation at Risk.” That publication was based on misunderstood statistics and sold a belief that schools were failing. A study at Sandia lab seven years later showed that not only were schools not failing but that they had been delivering steadily improving test results if you compared apples to apples. The whole premise of “A Nation at Risk” was based on misguided bad scholarship.

Birthed in the bowels of the 1950’s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

MAGA Re-Districting Incites School Litigation

10 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/10/2022

Attorney Cory Briggs has filed a suit against San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) over their new Trustee Area map. California law requires school districts to rebalance the board member areas after each decennial federal census. Led by Trustee Mike Allman three of the five district trustees apparently decided to use this requirement for political advantage. In the process, the suit claims they not only broke the spirit of the law but actually acted illegally.

Table 1: SDUHSD Population Change

All of the trustee areas experienced population growth with area-5 showing significant growth, so it was surprising to see the trustee from that area, Julie Bronstein, being mapped out of the district. Attorney Briggs stated in the suit,

“Over the last couple years, SDUHSD’s governing board has become fractured by a 3-to-2 vote on multiple topics and the board members in the majority have become openly hostile toward the board members in the minority. The majority recently misused the statutorily required procedure for adjusting the boundaries of SDUHSD’s five trustee areas in order to give the majority’s members an electoral advantage in upcoming elections, and to put the minority’s two members at a disadvantage, by altogether rearranging the boundaries instead.”

If this is true, they also ignored the warning based on the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) from San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Paul Gothold. He wrote,

“However, under Cal. Education Code section 5019.5, each school district has an independent obligation to approve maps that are consistent with the intent and purpose of the CVRA. This section envisions that there will be adjustments to trustee areas by a district and not the wholesale re-writing of boundaries.”

MAGA Man

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

In 2020, he ran for an SDUHSD school board seat. It was Allman’s second foray into electoral politics. He ran in the 2018 district 52 congressional primary. He was matched against incumbent Democrat Scott Peters and five fellow Republican challengers. Allman reported $415,109.45 total campaign spending in that race of which $300,000 came via his personal loan.

He garnered a disappointing 3.9% of the vote.

Four days before the 2020 school board election Allman posted,

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

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

In his school board race, he personally contributed $29,000 of the $33,333.55 in campaign contributions and loaned his campaign another $30,000. He out-spent his opponent five to one. Allman won the seat with 7,507 votes to 7,181 votes.

He went to his first board meeting as a Trustee on December 15, 2020 with his MAGA agenda locked and loaded.

Trustee Mossy introduced an Allman inspired proposal to change the time of the regularly scheduled Thursday at 5 PM board meetings to an alternating schedule of 9 AM and 5 PM (amended to 3 PM and 5 PM). This change to years of precedence obviously made it more difficult for working people especially teachers to attend school board meetings.

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

He proposed changing the board’s legal council to Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP. Most public school district would not touch such a “school choice” promoting law firm. The firm’s web site states,

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

This proposal was sent to a legal committee for further review.

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

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

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

From that first meeting until today, Allman has been a force dividing people and instigating scorched earth politics.

New Area Maps Reflect Radical Power Politics

The trustee positions in SDUHSD have a duration of four years with odd numbered areas-1, -3 and -5 holding elections in non-presidential off years. Areas-2 and -4 are voted on during presidential election years.

The adopted new map known as Scenario 8 radically redrew area-1 and swaps the area number with area-2. This leads to about 30,000 people in the former area-1 not voting this year and about 30,000 people in the former area-2 voting again this year. So some citizens will not vote for 6 years and others will vote after 2 years.

Trustee Muir whose term is up this year is moved into the new Area-1 and Trustee Young who normally voted with the minority is also now in the same new area-1. For Young whose term ends in 2024, she has a difficult decision to make. Does she serve out her final two years and then not be able to run for re-election in 2024 or does she run again this year for basically the same seat she won in 2020?

Melisse Mossy whose term ends this year has seen her area-3 significantly reshaped to the point she no longer lives in it. Mike Allman’s area-4 is still similar to the current map. He is the only trustee not negatively affected by the new map.

The boundaries of area-5 have also been significantly redrawn; moving area-5 Trustee Julie Bronstein who is up for re-election to the extremely redrawn area-3. At a board meeting last month, Bronstein retorted, “It would make sense, Trustee Allman, if you were being sincere about wanting it to be coastal, but the way it’s been drawn, it literally has a line just right around my house.”

The new areas-1 and -5 have no current board members living in them. The adopted map splits the cities of Solana Beach and Encinitas into three areas and it splits the city of Cardiff into 2 areas.

In the suit filing, Attorney Corey Briggs stated,

“SDUHSD’s demographers initially prepared at least three maps – known as Scenario 1, Scenario 2, and Scenario 3 – that lawfully adjusted the five trustee areas’ boundaries. Furthermore, one of the three map finalists considered by SDUHSD’s governing board on February 17, 2022 – Scenario 1C – also lawfully adjusted the five boundaries.”

Map scenarios 1, 2 and 3 were presented to the board by a lawyer from F3 Law which arranged for demographers to create them. According to Trustee Katrina Young,

“It has been stated that the Teacher’s Union is behind Map 1C. However, in two separate emails to the Board, a community member has identified herself as the ‘constituent who drew and submitted Community Maps C and D, which were presented to the public as Scenarios 1C and 6 respectively.’”

The mystery is where did the adopted scenario-8 map originate? The San Diego Union reports that all of the board members with the exception of Mike Allman who did not respond claimed not to know.

On his Facebook page, Allman claims that scenario-8 is legal and defiantly states, “The decision on which map to choose is up to our Board, and no one else.”

Observation

Democracy, the rule of law and fair play have long been upheld as American virtues. However, the former president brought into open a cancer inflicted modern conservatism causing many of its leaders to eschew these virtues. Their MAGA philosophy venerates political power above all and makes them more akin to radicals than conservatives. Conservatism has value to offer our society but when it turns against fair play, the rule of law and even democracy itself, it veers toward fascism.

In his 1894 essay “How to become a Genius,” (Selected Non-Dramatic Writings of Bernard Shaw Page 346) George Bernard Shaw wrote,

“The America of to-day is built on the repudiation of royalty. The America of to-morrow will be built on the repudiation of virtue.”

Let’s hope that was not prescient.

Choosing to End Public Education

25 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/25/2022

In 2017, the new President of the United States was explicit in his intention to end public education. He appointed a dominionist as secretary of education and regularly invoked the libertarian inspired pejorative “government schools” when referring to public schools. He loudly supported a movement to end public education which started in earnest five decades before he took office.

Its foundation was the economic theories of Milton Friedman and opposition to integration in the old south. Neoliberals, libertarians and their billionaire financiers have unsparingly attacked public education. Their fundamental weapon for ending the public school system is “choice.”

The newly published book Public Education: Defending a Cornerstone of American Democracy is a compilation of 29-essays edited by David C. Berliner and Carl Hermanns. All of the essays are written by accomplished award winning educators and historians. Gloria Ladson-Billings, known for her work on Culturally Relevant Pedagogy wrote,

“Some years ago, when the school choice movement began to gain attention, I argued that we were looking at the beginnings of the plan to destroy public education. There are those who declared I was being ‘alarmist.’ But I made this pronouncement after looking at the ways other aspects of public services have faced severe erosion.” (Education 226)

She also speculated that a contributing factor for the loss of consensus to support public schooling is the long-term campaign by powerful interest groups to portray public education as failing.

In another essay, Education Historian and former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch reported that in 1984 the Republican Party for the first time called for prayer in school and “choice.” She stated,

“Despite the sordid history of school choice and its origins in the segregationist movement, the term became a rallying cry for critics of public education. Right-wing think tanks, libertarian billionaires, and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council – an organization that brought together far-right extremists, big corporate money, and other who wanted to reduce government regulation and unleash free enterprise – unleashed an unmodulated campaign of vilification against public schools.” (Education 27)

Duke University Professor of History and Public Policy Nancy MacLean, this past September published a new research paper at the Institute of New Economic Thinking – How Milton Friedman Exploited White Supremacy to Privatize Education.” She is the author of the must read book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” In her new paper MacLean states,

“This paper traces the origins of today’s campaigns for school vouchers and other modes of public funding for private education to efforts by Milton Friedman beginning in 1955. It reveals that the endgame of the “school choice” enterprise for libertarians was not then—and is not now–to enhance education for all children; it was a strategy, ultimately, to offload the full cost of schooling onto parents as part of a larger quest to privatize public services and resources.”

A New Trojan Horse

The Gateway Drug: Charter Schools

An article by the Education Law Center’s Wendy Lecker states,

“As noted in a 1996 Detroit Metro Times article, while the DeVos’ ultimate aim was to abolish public education and steer public funds to parochial schools, they knew not to be blatant about that goal. Thus, they chose a vehicle that blurred the lines between public and private schools- a “gateway drug” to privatizing public education: charter schools.”

After John Walton read the 1983 Reagan administration publication ‘“A Nation at Risk’ with its ominous warnings about the failings of public education,” he convinced his family to direct their philanthropy toward reforming public education. Throughout the 1990s he campaigned endlessly for new voucher legislation and saw his efforts repeatedly rebuffed. Shortly before his death in 2005, John joined Don Fisher and Buzz Woolley in establishing the Charter School Growth fund. Around the same time the Walton Family Foundation began financing charter school startups in communities across America.

Jeff Bryant interviewed Jeffry Henig of Teachers College about the Walton’s move to supporting charter schools. Bryant asserted,

“Henig believes many conservatives view charter schools as a way to ‘soften the ground’ for potentially more private options, though he isn’t entirely sure ‘the Waltons view charters as a Trojan Horse for eventually providing vouchers universally.’”

Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has carried on a relentless attack on public education that continues today. One of the images she sells is viewing students as having a backpack full of taxpayer money which each school age child’s parents spends on education services. In her essay “Public Education at a Crossroads: Will Horace Mann’s Common School Survive the Era of Choice?” educator, administrator and public school advocate Carol Burris warns,

 “Given the anti-tax, anti-government proclivities of those who espouse this type of funding scheme, it is likely that fewer and fewer tax dollars would be place in the backpack over time. Parents once again would assume the sole responsibility for educating their children, buying what services they could afford, with the poor relying on charity.” (Education 239)

A Pillar of Democracy: Public Education

In the essay “Values and Education Policy” Edward Fiske and Helen Ladd tell us, “Good education policy making is rooted in coherent and enlightened educational values.” (Education 33) They begin by discussing the values expressed by Horace Mann who successfully implemented his vision of “common schools.” Today’s public school system is very much a result of that vision and his leadership. Some of the issues Mann addressed are the same issues driving “choice” today. Fisk and Ladd share,

“The idea of taxing all citizens, including those of the privileged classes who already enjoyed access to private education, in order to finance the education of poor and working-class children was viewed as both wasteful and as an infringement of property rights. Mann argued that free schooling served the collective interests of all citizens, rich and poor alike. ‘Jails and state prisons are the complement of schools,’ he wrote. ‘So many less as you have the latter, so many more you must have of the former.’”

“He famously declared, ‘Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance-wheel of the social machinery.’” (Education 34-36)

The authors conclude,

“Proponents of citizenship education are struggling to find a place in school curricula. Powerful private foundations and individuals, including the recent U.S. Secretary of Education, are raising millions of dollars to undermine the concept of universal education by privatizing public education and, by means of vouchers and charter schools, to break the link between publicly supported schools and democratically elected officials. Racial resegregation of schools is now pervasive, and courts are retreating from the notion that public funds should not be used to further sectarian religious instruction.” (Education 45)

For a long time, Richard and Betsy DeVos have been working to obliterate the separation of church and state, and privatize public education. In a 2001 interview conducted at the Gathering, Richard  lamented how awful it was that public schools had replaced churches as the center of communities. He did not identify whose church would be accepted as the new community center, but it seems certain to be some flavor of Christianity.

Public Education Shares Informed Discourse

Thirty-two of America’s most accomplished education thinkers and practitioners share their insights. All of them have more than two-decades of experience practicing, researching and debating education policy. None of them are billionaires trying to offload their tax burden or implement self-centered libertarian ideology.

In these pages, there is general respect for Horace Mann’s education advocacy and the public school system but also recognition of associated problems. The common schools were not just the “great equalizer” but also the great homogenizer. They indoctrinated students with a protestant Anglo-Saxon ethic. There is nuanced discussion here about the great foundation for democracy (public schools) needing to inspire not indoctrinate. And some of the authors reject the “great equalizer” belief as a myth.

Professor Ken Zeichner discusses the extreme segregation of public schooling in the United States, speculating they are “possibly more segregated today than it was in the 1960s.” (Education 178) He says in non-dominant communities, families and community members are excluded from real participation in school affairs. He recommends community centered engagement versus school centered engagement. Unfortunately he reports, “Both federal legislation and school practices have encouraged school-centric as opposed to community-centric family and community engagement, creating mutual distrust between families and schools.” (Education 179)

University of Georgia’s Peter Smagorinsky shares, “According to [Betsy] DeVos, those who direct the prevailing K-12 system are ‘trapped in an outdated education model,’ beholden to the ‘wrong and manipulative’ theories of Horace Mann and John Dewey.’” For people not on the extreme right this sounds like nonsense. However, Smagorinsky cautions that people’s positions “are largely emotional and the argumentative reasoning is used as a post hoc means of justifying an established position, … it’s unlikely the Culture Wars will end any time soon, because no one can win them with logic or facts.”

I will end my taste of what is in this wonderful compilation with a quote from one of the editors, David Berliner. He ran through a litany of the scandals arising from both the charter and voucher school movements fueled by unregulated taxpayer dollars. Then personally gratifying to me he wrote, “But Tom Ultican, a thoughtful and passionate defender of public schooling, has a reminder to Americans about the origins of the charter and voucher movement in our nation,”

“Birthed in the bowels of the 1950s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market-based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

“Milton Friedman first recommended school vouchers in a 1955 essay. In 2006, he was asked by a conservative group of legislators what he envisioned back then. PRWatch [published by the Center for Media and Democracy] reports that he said, ‘It had nothing whatsoever to do with helping ‘indigent’ children; no, he explained to thunderous applause, vouchers were all about ‘abolishing the public school system.’” (Education 280-281)

Privatizing Educator Training to End Public Education

17 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/17/2022

The agenda for privatizing public education embraces indoctrinating educators. Billionaire sponsors determined that overturning teacher and administrative training by public universities was essential. These “philanthropists” early on embraced Teach For America (TFA) and TNTP which expose teachers to a market centered way of thinking. In 2001, a new non-profit developed by graduate students at Harvard University focused on administrator training. The New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) program taught a pro-privatization and business focused ideology to prospective school leaders.

Mercedes Schneider wrote in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale; Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp is the founder of TFA and the young idealists for sale were “temp teachers” who have no intention of staying in the classroom.

Why would they make this purchase? Microsoft’s Bill Gates nor The Gap’s Doris Fisher nor Sun America’s Eli Broad nor Walmart’s Alice Walton would have ever considered using untrained temps in key positions within their businesses. However, they have spent many hundreds of millions of dollars to push unqualified temp teachers into America’s classrooms.

In addition, an emerging plutocracy has routinely financed charter schools started by inexperienced TFA teachers and as the article TNTP is a Part of the Destroy Public Education Infrastructure observed, “Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education, a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they were unqualified.”

The same story of financing unqualified or barely experienced people repeated itself in 2001 when a Harvard Graduate School inspired non-profit was launched. The NLNS team was woefully lacking in credentials or experience for training principals but they immediately attracted billionaire funding.

It becomes obvious that improving public schools is not the agenda. Rather, an injudicious belief that market based solutions were how to fix “failing” schools drove the benighted spending. The reality is that schools were not failing; some communities were. To sell their misguided policies and neoliberal ideology, five decades of “failing” schools hogwash has been produced by American tycoons along with five decades of “market-world” solutions. If the real agenda is ending universal free public education then maybe the spending is not benighted; just evil.

New Leaders for New Schools a Billionaire Financed Program

NLNS’s first usable presence on the Wayback Machine is a 2001 page. The history page says,

“In the spring of 2000, a team of five graduate students at Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education completed a business plan to launch New Leaders for New Schools. … The NLNS business plan was entered into the annual Harvard Business School business plan contest and NLNS became the first non-profit team ever to be selected as a semi-finalist in Harvard’s competition. … Soon after, New Leaders for New Schools received start-up funding from a number of venture philanthropists and venture capitalists.”

The 2001 web page also lists the founding team with short biographies.

CEO and Co-Founder: Jon Schnur was a policy advisor on K-12 education in the Clinton Administration. Jon was Associate Director for Educational Policy at the White House, Vice President Gore’s Senior Policy Advisor on education, and Special Assistant to the Secretary of Education. Jon led the Education Department’s team responsible for supporting the development of high-quality charter schools and addressing significant public policy issues related to the creation of these schools. He completed a Masters in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

President and Chief Curriculum Officer and Co-Founder: Monique M. Burns is currently completing her doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She moved into education reform after business school, and opened four middle schools in Washington, DC through her work with the McKenzie Group. She was a Special Assistant to the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Public School District. While working on her doctorate, Monique has spent a year as a leadership coach and consultant for fourteen charter schools in Massachusetts. Monique’s dissertation is a study of the management and instructional leadership skills necessary for being a successful entrepreneurial leader of a start-up charter school.

Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder: Benjamin G. Fenton is a graduate of Harvard Business School. He was a management consultant for McKinsey and Company. After leaving McKinsey, he worked for Fisher Scientific where he developed a marketing and sales strategy for their online procurement subsidiary, ProcureNet.

Director of Recruiting and Admissions and Co-Founder: Allison Gaines taught second grade in a New York City school. She has also worked as a journalist at Time Warner and as a producer for Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Education and Humanities Department, where she produced educational workshops with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her experiences as a teacher drove her to focus on school reform through improved leadership. While working on a Masters Degree in Education at Harvard, specifically focused on School Leadership and Development, she co-wrote a handbook introducing the public to school reform initiatives and worked on parental involvement at the Boston Plan for Excellence.

While these people seem like someone a shrewd business man might want to hire. They did not have the experience and education background to compete with universities for training school leaders. The typical university program would have multiple doctorates in education and business with decades of experience. NLNS had two doctoral candidates focused on creating successful charter schools and a “reform” template. None of the founders had deep experience in schools.

Education policies from the Clinton administration provide some clues as to why they were financed. Marc Tucker, a leader in the standards-driven education reform movement, saw like-minded education reformers in the arriving Clinton administration who believed like him that the public school system was outdated and failing. His infamous November 11, 1992 “Hillary Letter” laid out several reform ideas that would completely change how education is done. He began:

“First, a vision of the kind of national — not federal — human resources development system the nation could have. … What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities, to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone — young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student. It needs to be a system driven by client needs (not agency regulations or the needs of the organization providing the services), guided by clear standards that define the stages of the system for the people who progress through it, and regulated on the basis of outcomes that providers produce for their clients, not inputs into the system.”

The Clinton’s supported education standards, charter schools and TFA. Jon Schnur’s involvement in founding NLNS was proof that the new organization believed in the “failing” public schools mythology and neoliberal ideology. His co-founders were all either involved in the new business oriented education “reform” movement or came from a business centric organization like McKinsey and Company.

Almost as soon as NLNS legally established itself as a non-profit, the billionaire Eli Broad gifted them $1,056,000 (EIN: 95-4686318) and the New Schools Venture Fund kicked in another $253,000 (EIN: 94-3281780). By 2004, NLNS was claiming support from 10 foundations and corporations.

LittleSis Data Base Map: New Leaders for Privatizing Schools

The LittleSis Map above shows the large amounts gifted to NLNS by the biggest spenders on privatizing public education. If you go to the map and click on the entity names a large data base of spending and associations opens up. Today, NLNS lists over 90 corporate and foundation supporters. Those who have been following the people and corporations working to end public education will recognize many of the names listed.

NLNS’s Odd Naming History

Today, New Leaders for New Schools is more simply named New Leaders.

In 1995, The New Leaders (TNL) was formed to support talented Black community leaders and politicians. Its uniform source locator or url was “http://Newleaders.org.”  In 2000, NLNS established an internet presence at url “http://www.nlns.org.”   

In 2006, TNL announced that their legacy web page was being shutdown and would be re-launched. In 2007, the Newleaders.org page reappeared and in their about statement said, “New Leaders for New Schools is a national non-profit organization that selects and trains passionate and results-focused individuals, from within education, as well as former educators, to become urban public school principals.” There was no other explanation of the change in mission. The page also said, “For more information on our organization, please navigate to http://www.nlns.org.”  

In 2011, the url “http://www.nlns.org” disappeared and New Leaders for New Schools changed name to New Leader with the url “http://Newleaders.org.”     

Oakland, California and New Leaders

A 2005 press release from New Leaders announced their new partnership with Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and updated their commitment with the Aspire charter school chain. Some of the following passages from the announcement make sense today.

“New Leaders also announced a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which will support this work along with $200,000 from local funders, and $75,000 from the CA Charter Schools Association.”

“Representatives from New Leaders for New Schools were joined by Dr. Randolph Ward, OUSD State Administrator …”

“With the expansion of the New Leaders’ program in Oakland, up to 50 New Leaders principals will be recruited over the next 3 years, including up to 35 for OUSD and up to 15 for Bay Area charter schools.”

‘“We are excited to partner with New Leaders for New Schools to train outstanding educators to start urban charter high schools in the Bay Area,’ said Caprice Young, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.”

This occurred less than two years after the state of California took control of OUSD. The state picked Randolph Ward to be the new Superintendent and gave him total control. He had just completed training at Eli Broad’s new superintendent’s training program and it is more than likely that the billionaire had a lot to do with Ward’s selection.

The Aspire charter school chain is run by the first charter management organization in America. It was established by Reed Hastings and Don Shalvey.

In new news, the OUSD’s school board just undid their October decision not to close schools. The reversal was a response to Alameda County Superintendent of Education L. Karen Monroe’s demand that they continued to close schools. She also ordered them to follow the dictates of the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team that has been involved with OUSD by order of the state since the 2003 takeover. Monroe’s order also carried an implied threat of another district takeover.

What made Monroe insist on closing public schools? Her county biography gives us a clue when it says, “L.K. holds a degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California, a teaching credential from Holy Names University, and her administrative credential from the national New Leaders educational leadership program.” (Emphasis Added)

Enabling the Privatizers – The End Game is Finally Here

8 Feb

Guest post by an Oakland parent and teacher, Jane Nylund 2/8/2022

Lest we all forget, from six years ago, here was the plan: 50% of our kids into charter schools. https://capitalandmain.com/oaklands-charter-school-tipping-point-0531

And now, it looks like that plan is coming to fruition. You are following the privatization playbook to the letter.

When the well-paid accountants arrive and show a slide comparing Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to other districts of similar enrollments/socio-economic status (SES), and make the simplistic assumption that OUSD has too many schools compared to the others and that we have to be just the same, here’s what you are really saying.

Lesson 1) High poverty children don’t deserve smaller schools and class sizes, anywhere in the state of California, unless it’s a charter.

Lesson 2) It isn’t acceptable for a high-needs district to appear to have it “better” than the others with smaller schools. Smaller schools are meant for wealthy people.

Lesson 3) Because we don’t have the political will to invest in the other comparison districts, we need to continue to dis-invest in Oakland instead, thus creating “equity” at the bottom. Nothing new, we’ve been doing that for years. See Lesson #1

Lesson 4) It’s okay to let Bill Gates experiment with small schools for our kids, until he becomes bored and pulls funding.

Here is the equivalent of that purported “savings” that really isn’t: 

1) Recent HQ pay for two years. OUSD used to have 14 positions at $200K+; in 2020 they had 47.

2) Lease at 1000 Broadway.

3) Cost of a new school site kitchen.

So, by closing all these schools, OUSD can now have the cost equivalent of a kitchen. Maybe.

Turn this entire idea on its head. The continued austerity measures for high-poverty districts like Oakland are a clear message to these families that they don’t deserve a mix of schools, like, say, San Francisco. 

Have you ever looked at the school mix in San Francisco, our neighbor across the bay? You should. I recently noted that they have a mix of 122 schools, give or take. They have 14% charter enrollment, and several comprehensive high schools. They also support a mix of much smaller schools from 100-500 kids each, of all types. They don’t use an “ideal” size. That doesn’t exist, and research bears that out, no matter how many presentations and how many consultants you pay to come up with an “ideal” number. So, if you are arguing that Oakland has too many schools, then you need to head over to SF and advise their board to also close schools. Oh, that’s right, they have wealthy families there. Don’t want to rock the boat. See Lesson #2

The accountants never look at San Francisco as a comparison district because of socio-economics, but SF still comes in at 57% free and reduced price lunch. Clearly, San Francisco does something we don’t, even as elite San Franciscans are trying to shut down their elected school board. The obvious answer is that San Francisco is not a top-heavy, privatized, portfolio district.

No one in OUSD, Financial Crises and Management Assist Team (FCMAT), or local and state government has ever answered the obvious question: find me a comparison district in California, the same as ours, that has all the community services/pay/benefits/supports/enrichment as a result of having 40-50 schools.  This nonsensical premise is what you are trying to sell us. What is a model district that you can reference that has successfully achieved and implemented this accounting miracle? Stockton, Sacramento, Long Beach?  Where?

Answer: none of the above.  You can’t find any high-needs district that has all of this because it supports a magical number of 40-50 schools. So you are asking us to just go along to get along with Stockton, Sacramento, and Long Beach, and many others. All that “savings” simply evaporates, along with enrollment, and the status quo remains. It is truly mind-blowing that you are promising community schools to magically appear, when there is no other district model in the state that supports this idea that you can close dozens of schools, and expect tax dollars to rain down upon school sites. The consultants will be falling all over themselves to be first in line for the money grab. It would be laughable if it wasn’t such a tragedy.

Go back to my point #1 in case you forgot about the entire argument about why this exercise isn’t about children. It isn’t about savings. It isn’t about more money for school sites.  It isn’t about teacher pay. It’s about not having the guts to stand up to bullies like FCMAT and their state overlords. It’s about taking the easy way out because of a “belief” system. It’s neat and tidy, and pencils out nicely. But once you put down those pencils, the disaster you have created for our communities will be irreparable and will change the fabric of the Oakland community forever. But John Fisher doesn’t care. The chaos will make it that much easier for the luxury A’s stadium to go in. But you already knew that.