Archive | March, 2018

Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish

28 Mar

These are interesting times in Oakland, California. The public-school system is again teetering on the edge of financial collapse. The Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement has succeeded in privatizing more than a quarter of the district and has fomented financial turmoil. Concurrently, a dynamic young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammell, has been selected as the new Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). On that news, Oakland Magazine’s headline blared, “Finally Some Stability.”

Mike Hutchinson, an education activist from Oakland, told Capital & Main, that districts like OUSD are being used as a kind of policy Petri dish by charter supporters. It is how they are refining takeover strategies outlined for Los Angeles by the Broad charter expansion plan.

In the Capital & Main article author Bill Raden quoted Hutchinson,

‘“A lot of these policies were first tried out in Oakland,’ he said. ‘If you go back and look at the Eli Broad handbook on school closures, a lot of the source information that they used for that report is from Oakland. Because they used Oakland to experiment for a lot of these things.”’

It was Oakland’s famous mayor, Democrat Jerry Brown along with fellow Democrat Don Perata, who ignited the destroy public education (DPE) movement in Oakland.

Creating Economic Chaos to Privatize Schools

By 2003, OUSD Superintendent, Dennis Chaconas, succeeded in significantly improving many facets of the school district. Academic performance on state testing was up. The long overdue 24% pay raises that he and the board gave teachers in 2000 had halted the debilitatingly high teacher turnover rates.

However, as New York Times’s Dean Murphy reported:

“That Mr. Chaconas made enemies during his tenure as superintendent is not in dispute. Though he attended Oakland schools and taught here as well, from the very beginning he was considered a political outsider. The school board gave him the job in 2000 over the objection of Mayor Jerry Brown, who has made school reform a pillar of his term and who had pushed a City Hall official for the superintendent’s post.

“Mr. Chaconas acknowledges that as he focused on academics he paid too little attention to finances. Not enough money was allocated to pay for the raises for teachers, and the district did not count on a drop in state money because of its declining enrollment. Those and other problems went undetected, officials said, because of antiquated computer and bookkeeping systems.(emphasis added)

Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings noted,

“At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell [Democrat] and influential State Senator Don Perata [Democrat] were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.”

“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.”

 “The loan from the state was spent by the state – with no outside oversight. The state administrator, a trainee of the Broad Foundation, spent the money as he saw fit.”

 “No audits were conducted for six years.”

It appears Chaconas realized that the OUSD accounting system was dated and needed modernizing. The conservative publication EducationNext said that in 2003 “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”

Like the Republican politicians in Detroit, Democratic politicians in California pushed OUSD into financial disarray. And like Detroit, Oakland’s financial issues were driven by declining enrollment stemming from the same drivers; privatization, gentrification and suburban development.

One of the new privatized schools undermining OUSD’s financial health was founded by Mayor Jerry Brown. It is called the Oakland Military Institute (OMI). The OMI web-site relates this telling history:

“OMI was founded in 2001 after a hard-fought two-year campaign led by then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Governor Gray Davis [Democrat] helped secure the charter after local school boards rejected it. It was the first charter ever sponsored by the state, the first public military school and the first school sponsored by the National Guard.”

The elitist push to place military schools and no excuses charter schools like the KIPP franchise in minority neighborhoods is propelled by bigotry. The elites are implicitly saying “those people’s kids are not raised right and must be fixed.”

Politically and financially weak neighborhoods are easy targets for plunder.

Plenty of Uncle Tom’s and Stepin Fetchit’s to Carry the Billionaire’s Water

The Broadies of Oakland

Oakland School Superintendents Trained at the Unaccredited Broad Academy, Pictures from Broad Academy Bios

Since California took over OUSD, the district superintendent position has been a revolving door. The Black Organizing Project, took a strong position on the recent OUSD superintendent search. Attributing even greater significance to this latest selection because of the instability in the office of superintendent, they noted:

“… 9 superintendents in the last 16 years. …. It means for the last 16 years OUSD has not had a dedicated superintendent who is truly invested in the improvement and empowerment of Oakland youth, or creating healthy, supportive school climates.”

In 2003, the state of California took over OUSD and installed Randolph Ward, a recent graduate of the Broad academy, as superintendent.

The Broad Academy is an unaccredited administration training program for school leaders run by the Broad Foundation. Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said, “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.”

Broad’s theory is that public school administrators and elected school boards lack the financial background to run large organizations. Rich’s Times article explained, ‘“The new academy,’ he said, would ‘dramatically change this equation’ by seeking candidates in educational circles as well as recruiting from corporate backgrounds and the military, introducing management concepts borrowed from business.”

Chief school administrators trained at the Broad academy have a record of district disruption and fiscal mismanagement. John Deasy from the Broad class of 2006 was a disaster in LA. Jean-Claude Brizard from the Broad class of 2007 lasted just 17 months in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported, “The board gave Brizard low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district.” There is a long list of Broad trained failures and these harm people’s children.

Motoko Rich reported “During his time here, Mr. Ward opened two dozen small schools but also closed 14 schools. New charter schools were also opening, cutting into enrollment at district schools.” When Ward arrived in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.

Ward moved on to become the superintendent of San Diego County Schools. Wards tenure in San Diego did not end well. The San Diego Reader reported, “Six months after San Diego County Office of Education superintendent Randolph Ward resigned amid allegations of fraud and mismanagement, turmoil at the office continues.”

Ward was succeeded in Oakland by his Broad Academy classmate, Kimberly A. Statham. Statham was elevated to superintendent for the remainder of the school year. She resigned at the end of the 2006-2007 school year to go to work for the new Superintendent of the Washington DC schools, Michelle Rhee.

Statham had come to Oakland from Baltimore with some baggage. The Baltimore Sun series “Where are They Now,”  announced, “Today’s installment features Kimberly A. Statham, the former chief academic officer for Howard County Schools who resigned following allegations of a grade changing scandal involving her daughter.”

In Washington DC, Statham was actually hired by Deborah A. Gist. Gist said she was aware of the grade changing scandal. The sun article shared, ‘“We discussed it really briefly,’ Gist said. ‘It seems clear that it was an unfortunate situation, and that Kimberly had done the right thing, and that she did not do anything that would concern me at all.”’

Today, Statham is the Deputy Superintendent of Montgomery County public schools and her friend Gist is the Broad trained administrator tormenting Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Statham was followed in Oakland by a third straight Broad graduate, Vincent Mathews a 2006 Broad graduate along with classmate John Deasy. Matthews oversaw district operations as state administrator from 2007 to 2009. By the time Mathews departed there were 32 district charters and one county authorized charter for a total of 33 charters.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that in 2001, Mathews was the principal of the for profit Edison School in San Francisco where he was accused of falsifying grades and pushing out low performing black students.

Mathews was the last state appointed superintendent in Oakland. He left Oakland in 2009 to be an Area Superintendent for San Diego Unified School District. Today, he is the superintendent of schools in San Francisco.

It was five years before the OUSD board – influenced significantly by big money – hired another Broad graduate, Antwan Wilson; class of 2014. Wilson came to Oakland from Denver where he served under Broad class of 2009 graduate Tom Boasberg.

After two and a half years on the job, Wilson left Oakland to be superintendent of schools in the nation’s capital. Soon after Wilson left Oakland, huge budget problems were discovered causing the school board to immediately order more than $15 million in mid-year budget cuts. When Wilson left there were 40 charter schools serving more than 25% of the students.

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, ….”

Wilson pushed hard to create a unified enrollment system in Oakland, which is the big goal of charter school advocates. It gives them an appearance of legitimacy and opens up more sales opportunities. Motoko Rich reported, “Mr. Wilson says that a single application form, where parents rank their choices among all schools and students are assigned through a computer algorithm, will reduce the ability of well-connected parents to place their children in the most desirable schools and force charters to be more open about how they admit students.” (emphasis added)

Wilson has already resigned in disgrace from his Washington DC position. The Washington Times notice of his demise led with “D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned Tuesday amid a scandal over receiving preferential treatment in the transfer of his daughter to a school outside her district in violation of a policy he had written himself.”

The DPE Strategy of Leveraging National Dollars and Local Dollars to Privatize Schools

Recently deceased T. Gary Rogers was the chairman and CEO of Oakland-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Inc., for 30 years. He also served as a former chairman of Safeway Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Levi Strauss & Co. The Roger Family Foundation he started with his wife Kathleen is a key local organizer pushing the Billionaire agenda of privatizing schools and promoting children being educated at computer screens. The foundation states:

“Today, Oakland’s local education ecosystem is in a much better place. The local charter sector continues to thrive, …. Agents for change have also taken root and sprouted. GO Public Schools Oakland, for example, has grown in its role in organizing, mobilizing, advocating, and engaging the community in local education governance and policy. …. The emergence of both the Oakland Public Education Fund (Ed Fund) and Educate78 have also added strong leadership and expanded the capacity of the local education ecosystem. The Oakland Ed Fund has emerged as the city’s trusted, go-to fiscal partner and funder convener, incubating nearly every significant education reform initiative supporting Oakland’s PK-12 system, including the Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenge in Oakland initiative.”

Education Cities, the soon to be replaced national organization for destroying public education, lists as its partner in Oakland, Go Public Schools Oakland. Go is a 501 C3 charity that funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. Great Oakland Public Schools is Go’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501c4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.

The Rogers Foundation describes Education 78,

“Founded in 2015 as a spinoff from the NewSchools Venture Fund, Educate78 exists to ensure that every student, in all 78 square miles of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. Educate 78 serves as a critical partner through their informed giving for quality schools development and in operating a school design lab, which provides tools, technical assistance, training, and coaching to both new charter school developers as well as district redesign teams.” 

The Ed Fund is a big 501 C3 foundation that that takes in large amounts of cash from mainly bay area billionaires and foundations then makes the money available to the privatization agenda. The Next Generation Learning Challenge is a Bill Gates sponsored initiative to promote the sale of technology into public education. It specifically promotes “blended learning” and “personalized learning.”

Many charter schools in Oakland are using children as guinea pigs for computer based learning strategies like “personalized learning,” which is truly an Orwellian moniker. The following chart lists foundation spending on this agenda (mostly in Oakland) in 2013.

2013 Sending to Promote Technoloty

Foundation spending on “Personalized” and “Blended” leaning in 2013

There is a New Sheriff in Town

A constant theme promoted by the DPE movement is “every student deserves a high-quality school.” When you hear a billionaire or one of his minions say this, you and your community are targets and your about to be fleeced.

The United States developed a unique education system that was the envy of the world and the great foundation upon which our democratic experiment in self-governance was established. Over two centuries, we developed a system in which every community had a high-quality public school.

These schools had professionals who earned their positions by completing training at accredited institutions. Government rules and oversight insured that school facilities were safe, and the background of all educators was investigated. In urban areas like Oakland there was a professionally run public school in every neighborhood.

Could it have been improved? Of course, and that is exactly what was happening before the deceitful attack on public education and teachers.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell Photo

Johnson-Trammell has overseen OUSD since July 1, 2017

Oakland magazine reported,

“After a superintendent brought in from the outside left the Oakland Unified School District in debt and disarray, a coalition of angry parents, teachers, and community organizers demanded that the school board appoint an executive with strong local ties. This spring, the board responded by hiring Kyla Johnson-Trammell as the district’s new schools’ chief. She officially took command of the 37,000-student district on July 1.”

 “Johnson-Trammell initially was not even one of the four finalists for the superintendent’s job, according to a coalition of interest groups that claims credit for raising such a ruckus that the Oakland school board changed gears and tapped Johnson-Trammell for the job.”

This is good sign. The billionaires were not able to pick another Broadie because the community was done with being abused. I hope the Oakland community rallies around this bright young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammel, and shows the rest of California how to defeat the DPE movement. Let us once again have a professionally managed quality public school in every Oakland neighborhood.

Indiana’s Destroy Public Education Leader is Going National

19 Mar

Last week, a press release from The Mind Trust announced that founder and CEO, David Harris was leaving. Writing for Chalkbeat, Dillon Peers McCoy reported:

“Now, Harris is moving on from the city he helped shape to the national stage, although he still plans to live in Indianapolis. The national group is in the early stages of development, said Harris, who declined to provide more details about his co-founders or their plans. A release from The Mind Trust said the new organization aims to “help cities around the country build the right conditions for education change.”

Not the First Attempt to Go National

This is at least the third attempt Harris has made to take his brand to a national scale. In 2011, Ethan Gray then Vice-President of The Mind Trust became the founder and CEO of CEE-Trust. David Harris was on the Board. In the CEE-Trust’s earliest available web-page it states:

“CEE-Trust is led by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based non-profit that supports education innovation and reform.”

 “CEE-Trust is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Joyce Foundation. CEE-Trust is also grateful for the past support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.”

CEE-Trust ran into rejection and legal malfeasance accusations in Kansas City. Chalkbeat reporter Matt Barnum says of the episode, “In 2013, a plan to reshape Kansas City’s schools was essentially run out of town.” Soon after that, CEE-Trust was renamed Education Cities.

In 2015, Harris motivated the establishment of a Mind Trust clone in Cincinnati, called Accelerate Great Schools. Doug Martin, the author of Hoosier School Heist, reports that “Patrick Herrel, a former Teach for America recruiter and past vice president of recruitment for The Mind Trust, was picked by the corporate powers-that-be in 2015 to lead the Accelerate Great Schools.”

Gayle Crosby, a recent Indiana Public Schools board member, shared that in less than two years (January 2017) Herrel was back in Indianapolis:

“This month the brand new IPS board saw it fit to appoint Patrick Herrel to be the Director of Student Enrollment and Options.”

“Patrick left the Mind Trust and Indianapolis to be the Director of the Mind Trust #2 in Cincinnati.  Now he is back to run Student Enrollment and Options at IPS.  And he doesn’t come cheap:” $110,000 per year.

Who is Behind the New National Organization and Why Harris?

Harris is a lawyer and a political operative, not an educator. He never studied education nor has he ever spent meaningful time in front of a classroom and it seems he never attended public school. He does not understand education but he does understand the use of political power. He has a demonstrated ability to advocate, organize and use the levers of government. He is in possession of an innate wisdom; unfortunately, it is an evil wisdom.

His Mind Trust Bio tells us that he was a 27-year-old lawyer working at the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels when he joined Democrat Bart Peterson’s campaign for mayor to be his “education guy.” He spent five years as Mayor Peterson’s Charter Schools Director.

All of the news accounts about Harris leaving Mind Trust repeat this same talking point from the Mind Trust news release, “The Mind Trust also has recruited top national organizations such as Teach For America, TNTP and Stand for Children to Indianapolis.”

TNTP was called The New Teachers Project when Michelle Rhee used it to gain a national reputation by bashing teachers. TNTP and Teach For America (TFA) were founded by Wendy Kopp whose husband, Richard Barth, is CEO of the KIPP charter school chain. Without the generous funding by Gap founder Doris Fisher, KIPP would be unknown. TNTP and TFA only exist because of massive funding by Dell, Broad, Arnold, Gates, and Walton. Stand for Children is little more than a dark money conduit for the billionaire dollars flowing into the destroy public education (DPE) movement’s political campaigns.

Intellectually, these organizations are lightweights when it comes to education leadership and pedagogy. However, they have become the billionaire’s school privatization army. Many TFA members spend their two years in a classroom; then became a well-financed charter school founder or a teacher trainer at TNTP or a well-funded school board candidate.

If Harris knew anything about education, he would have never shunned the departments of education at the University of Indiana or Indiana State University or Purdue University. He would not have turned to TNTP to train school leaders. He would have never recruited TFA teachers with no education studies, no experience and five weeks of training. Obviously, improved education was not the goal.

Now that Harris is stepping down at The Mind Trust, he is being replaced by TFA alum, Brandon Brown.

David Harris and Brandon Brown

Photo from Chalkbeat of Brandon Brown (left) and David Harris (right) by Dylan Peers McCoy.

Lately, things have been really good at The Mind Trust. Last April (2017) Lindsey Erdody writing for the Indiana Business Journal said, “Mind Trust [is] drawing big dollars from national donors.” Lindsey quotes David Harris,

“I think we have recognized in the last year or so the significant national interest in supporting the work that’s happening here,” CEO David Harris said. “I don’t want to suggest we haven’t gotten any national funding before, but the big funding is really coming in now.” (emphasis added)

Erdody continued:

“Since 2015, The Mind Trust has raised $31 million, with sizable donations from national entities, including the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation and Austin, Texas-based Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.”

However, the biggest donation comes from Mr. Enron, John Arnold – $11.1 million. Erdody quotes Arnold,

 ‘“If Indianapolis is successful in doubling the number of kids that are attending high-quality schools, it will be one of the best investments that the Arnold Foundation has made,’ Arnold said in the video. ‘Indianapolis has this great chance and opportunity to show the nation what can be done.”’

I wrote a post about The Mind Trust in January. In it I shared the following table of grants supporting Harris’s organization.

Lilly Endowment

2014 Mind Trust $4,929,000

2015 Mind Trust $18,000

2016 Mind Trust $7,170,000

Total $12, 117,000

{Big Pharma Money}

Gates Foundation

The Mind Trust

Oct. 2012 – $1,420,000

Aug. 2011 $539,334

Total $1,959,334

{Microsoft Money}

 

Walton Family Foundation

2013 Mind Trust $23,000

2014 Mind Trust $650,000

2015 Mind Trust $1,200,000

Total $1,873,000

{Walmart Money}

 

Arnold Fund

The Mind Trust $11,075,000

{Enron Money}

 There is no official word about the new national organization’s co-founders, but it is nearly certain that Gates, Walton, Dell and Arnold will be involved.

The advent of this new organization must mean that the billionaire education privatizers are not happy with the results so far. Education Cities is just not getting it done. The billionaires want Harris to take the lead and not one of his lieutenants. Since, he is already making $300,000 a year at The Mind Trust, I can’t wait to see how much this new organization is going to pay him.

The David Harris Reform Agenda

Harris will use legislative initiatives and big money to undermine democratic control of schools and teachers’ unions. He will claim that laws protecting teachers and students are interfering with the ability to improve schools. He will push the “reformer” lie that public schools are failing. He will claim that this privatization agenda is only motivated by the conviction that “every child deserves a great school.”

Jim Scheurich, Professor IUPUI School of Education recently wrote an article he called, “Business is a Horrible Model for Education and ‘Educational Reform.”’ In it he states,

“This Big Money, working through the Mind Trust network, put up the money to get all of the current school board members elected. To do this, while it used to take $3-5,000 to run successfully for the school board, it now take $50-80,000. Thus, the Mind Trust network and the Big Money behind it made it nearly impossible for ordinary local people to run for the school board, and thus they bought the current school board.”

Denisa R. Superville writing in EdWeek about Harris’s resignation reports,

“The Mind Trust was a supporter of a 2014 state law that allowed Indianapolis to create ‘Innovation Network Schools’—schools that were freed from some of the restrictions on traditional public schools, including giving those schools full operational autonomy.  While the Innovation Network Schools remain part of the Indianapolis district, their teachers are not covered by the district’s collective bargaining agreement. 

In conjunction with the city and the school district, The Mind Trust launched the Innovation Network Fellowship to help school leaders refine their designs for new schools or to restart struggling ones. The group has helped to support 17 such schools.

Innovation schools are an agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Their web site summarizes the proposal:

“The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act creates a mechanism for schools, groups of schools, and districts to adopt plans that try new ways of delivering instruction and/or allocating resources. It creates a new classification of school districts, “Districts of Innovation,” that have one or more schools implementing these plans. Districts of innovation are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” (like honoring union contracts)

David Osborne reporting for the neoliberal Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) was full of praise for The Mind Trust. In describing their embrace of innovation schools, he said,

“Today it is innovating again: Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is authorizing ‘innovation network schools’: district schools with performance contracts and full charter-style autonomy. Some are charters, some are startups, and some are existing IPS schools that have converted to innovation network status. All have independent boards organized as 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations; all are outside the teachers’ union contract; and all use IPS school buildings. …Though other cities have their own versions of ‘innovation schools’ or ‘pilot schools,’ only Indianapolis has given them the full autonomy and accountability charters enjoy.” (emphasis added)

Stephen Goldsmith, Professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program, wrote in Governing magazine praising The Mind Trust. He highlighted the push for “Innovation Schools” writing:

The result was the creation of what are called “Innovation Network Schools” launched by the Mind Trust. Indianapolis now has nine of these schools, with more to come, that are accountable to and part of the Indianapolis Public Schools but whose teachers and principals operate with significant entrepreneurial freedom and with an authority to mold their schools as they see fit.”

The Koch brother funded ALEC, the neoliberals at the PPI, and the neoliberals at the Harvard Kennedy School all sing from the same hymnal. They are all preaching that teachers unions are an impediment to improving education, as is democratic control of schools by local communities. David Harris and his DPE allies teach that regulations controlling schools are stopping innovation and positive school reform. They advocate creating unelected entities and giving them unfettered control of schools. The only accountability will be meeting measurable objective targets on standardized testing.

Rules setup by district and state governments responsible for schools have a purpose. They are there to protect children, teachers and taxpayers. They are there to insure competencies in hiring and curricular selection. A Voice of San Diego article highlights one example of the increased risk to students from privatized schools not required to follow district and state regulations:

“California public schools are seen nationally as the gold standard for seismic safety under an exacting law called the Field Act.”

“[N]ot all schools are subject to the rules. Preschools aren’t covered by them. Private schools are covered by a separate, slightly less demanding law, which doesn’t apply at all to older private schools. And charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, don’t fall under the Field Act unless they accept state facilities money — something that is rare here — or use district buildings.”  

Conclusion

Before David Harris came on the seen in Indianapolis, there were professionally managed high-quality public schools in every neighborhood. Parents knew that just down the block their second grader was safe and cared for by certificated trained education professionals. That is gone.

After the Harris announcement, a victim of his style of education reform, shared:

‘“I honestly think that if The Mind Trust … hadn’t been in Indianapolis over the past 10 or 11 years, that IPS would not be decimated and flailing like it is now,’ said Chrissy Smith, a parent and member of the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that is critical of the current administration. ‘We would not see innovation schools coming in. We would not see the proliferation of charter schools.”’

DeVos Damages Detroit Schools

9 Mar

The destroy public education (DPE) movement’s most egregious outcome may be in Detroit and it is being driven by a virulent Christian ideology.

In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering. Dick DeVos opined that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.” Betsy noted “half of our giving is towards education.”

Jay Michaelson writing for the Daily Beast described the Gathering:

“The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest.”

“The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity.”

In the Gathering interview, Betsy talks about how she and Dick both come from business oriented families. From their experience, they understand how competition and choice are key drivers to improve any enterprise. She says public education needs choice and competition instead of forcing people into government run schools.

She was also asked how she felt about home schooling? She replied, “we like home schools a lot,” and humorously shared, “not sure our daughters do, they were homeschooled for three years.” Then Dick added how impressed he was with Bill Bennet’s new project, K-12. He said it wasn’t a Christian oriented on-line curriculum but it was a complete education program that could help homeschoolers.

By the 1990’s Dick and Betsy DeVos were successfully influencing Michigan education policies and using private giving to drive their agenda. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVos’s philanthropy for Mother Jones.

“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”

As the new century opened, the DeVos agenda was being ever more adopted in Lancing. If improving the education of children in Michigan was the goal, then the DeVos education agenda has proved to be a clear failure. On the other hand, if destroying public education to accommodate privatized Christian schools was the goal, they are still on track.

DeVos Effect on NAEP Progress Graph

Going from 14th to 43rd is Anti-Progress – Graph Based on NAEP Data

This result from Michigan is consistent with education testing correlations throughout the world. Julie Halpert a writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan just published a new article in Atlantic Magazine called “What if America Didn’t have Public Schools.” In it she reports,

On a regional assessment conducted by the United Nations between 2004 and 2008, students in the all-public Cuba outperformed the largely private Chile in sixth-grade reading and sixth-grade math. In fact, Cuba is the only Latin American country with scores significantly higher than the regional average in both math and reading. Even the best students in Chile, Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute says, ‘couldn’t come close to touching’ Cuba’s results.

In his book Education and the Commercial Mindset, Samuel E. Abrams tells the story of the Swedes opting to privatize their schools. He wrote:

“Basic to the UR [the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company] series was a crisis of faith in Swedish education known as ‘PISA shock.’ Of all OECD nations, only Sweden had seen scores on the triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) successively drop with each administration of the exam since its introduction in 2000.”

Sarah and Christopher Lubienski conducted probably the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind, examining achievement in public and private or independent schools. Their study was published in 2014 by The University of Chicago Press under the title “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.” Some key findings:

“Further analyses indicate that academic growth is greater for students in public schools than for those in private schools.”

“While a simplistic look at the evidence suggests that private school students indeed score higher, closer scrutiny of the evidence rather conclusively demonstrates that this in not because public schools are failing but because they serve less advantaged students. In fact, public schools in this study actually add more value to their students’ learning.”

For the DPE movement, evidence about quality or outcomes in education are not relevant. For the billionaires driving education reform, it is about ideology and business.

DeVos Led Privatization Agenda Wreaked Havoc in Detroit

In 1999, under then Governor John Engler’s lead, Michigan did away with the elected school board in Detroit. They followed Chicago’s example and gave school control to the mayor. President Clinton had proclaimed mayoral control a success there.

The Associated Press’s Corey Williams explained:

“In the late 1990s, then-Gov. John Engler, a Republican, wanted to intervene in districts where more than 80 percent of students failed the state proficiency test or the dropout rate was higher than 25 percent. The state said the graduation rate of the 180,000-student Detroit district was about 30 percent; district officials said it was closer to 52 percent.”

 “The state returned control to an elected board in 2005, even though Detroit students still ranked among Michigan’s worst on standardized tests, the district was $48 million in debt and had a $150 million budget shortfall.”

 “There was never anything pointing to this financial crisis” before the takeover, said Martinez, who with other school board members were forced from office in 1999. “When we left office, … we had a $90 million surplus.”

The reinstated 2005 school board did not fare well. It had a huge debt to deal with and by 2007 an FBI corruption investigation. Williams reported that a long-time vendor, Norman Shy, pleaded guilty in federal court to receiving $2.7 million as part of a kickback scheme in which some principals and an administrator issued bogus orders for supplies.

One of the big drivers causing student enrollment to drop in Detroit public schools were the privatization efforts led by Betsy DeVos and her family. In 2001, the family started the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), whose political action committee aggressively lobbies for charter schools.

According to Politico’s Zack Stanton, “In 2002, the first election of GLEP’s existence, its PAC had more money than the Michigan Education Association, United Auto Workers, or any Democratic-affiliated PAC in the state.”

Stanton continues:

“…, 16 years after the DeVoses’ failed constitutional amendment, this constant push has totally remade Michigan education. The cap on the number of charter schools eliminated and attempts to provide public oversight have been defeated, making Michigan’s charters among the most-plentiful and least-regulated in the nation. About 80 percent of Michigan’s 300 publicly funded charters are operated by for-profit companies, more than any other state.”

Steven Henderson reporting for the Detroit Free Press adds:

“The results of this free-for-all have been tragic for Michigan children, and especially for those in Detroit, where 79% of the state’s charters are located.”

Table of a Developing Financial Crisis in Detroit Public Schools

School Year Budget Balance Student Population Governance
1998-1999 $90,000,000 180,000 Elected School Board
1999-2005 $150,000 ,000 150,000 Mayor
2005-2009 $200,000,000 95,000 Elected School Board
2009-2011 $284,000,000 67,000 1st Emergency Manager – Bobb
2016 Total Debt $2,100,000,000 48,000 Emergency Manager – 4
Total Decrease in State Money 1999 to 2016 $788,000,000

The main cause of the red ink at Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is stranded costs associated with a dramatic drop in enrollment. The extra-costs associated with privatizing DPS were all born by the public schools.

Enrollment Graph

Copied from the 2015-2016 DPS State Financial Report.

Not acknowledging their own role in creating the financial crisis in Detroit, the state government again pushed the elected school board aside in 2009. Education policy was theoretically left under the purview of the school board but financial management would be the responsibility of a governor appointed emergency manager. This time it was a Democratic Governor, Jenifer Granholm who selected a graduate of the unaccredited Broad superintendents’ academy class of 2005, Robert Bobb, to be the manager.

Not only did Granholm select a Broad academy graduate, but Eli Broad paid part of his $280,000 salary. Sharon Higgins, who studies the Broad academy, reports that a civil rights group and a coalition of teachers who oppose charter schools questioned “whether Bobb was in conflict of interest for accepting $89,000 of his salary from a foundation that supports private and charter schools.”

Bobb made significant cuts to DPS. He closed many schools and eliminated 25% of the districts employees. He also sold several school buildings. The Detroit News reported in March 2010, “Instead of a $17 million surplus Bobb projected for this fiscal year, spending has increased so much Bobb is projecting a $98 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30.”

Bobb blamed unforeseeable costs related to declining enrollment. Curt Guyette at the Metro-Times relates that many people blamed spending on high priced consultants and contracts. Guyette provided this example:

“Of particular note was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, hired by Bobb on a nine-month contract to be the district’s chief academic and accountability auditor. She received a salary of nearly $18,000 a month plus an armed personal driver. In addition, Byrd, a former chief executive officer of Cleveland’s public schools system, ‘brought with her at least six consultants who are collectively being paid more than $700,000 for about nine months of work,’ according to a 2009 Detroit Free Press article.”

In 2011, Republican Governor Rich Snyder ushered through two laws that had a negative effect on DPS. The first law, Public Act 4, gave the emergency manager total control and removed all powers from the elected school board. The second law, Public Act 436, created a state school district called the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) which took effect in 2013.

The EAA’s first task was to take over 15 of Detroit’s lowest performing schools. This immediately removed another 11,000 students from DPS and further stressed its finances.

Counting Robert Bobb there were five emergency managers at DPS between 2009 and 2016. Mercedes Schneider reports that “The most recent Detroit Public Schools emergency manager, Darnell Earley, is chiefly responsible for water contamination in Flint, Michigan.

By 2016, the schools of DPS were in such a disgraceful condition that the New York Times called them “crumbling” and “destitute.” The Times’ article included this quote: ‘“We have rodents out in the middle of the day,’ said Ms. Aaron, a teacher of 18 years. ‘Like they’re coming to class.”’

July 1, 2017 the EAA returned the fifteen schools to DPS and the Michigan legislature finally acted to mitigate the debt crisis created in Holland and Lancing not Detroit. Also on July 1, 2017 Nikolai Vitti the new superintendent of DPS took on the challenge or rehabilitating the public schools of Detroit.

The Destroy Public Education (DPE) Model Still Running

The researchers from Indiana who defined the DPE model are Gail Cosby, Nate Williams and Jim Scheurich. I paraphrased their model this winter in a December post:

  1. Business is the best model for schools.
  2. A local-national collaboration between wealthy conservatives. (Sometimes far right)
  3. Huge infusion of new dollars into school board elections. (Dark Money)
  4. Unified enrollment.
  5. Teach for America (or any instant-teacher-certification program) and groups like Teach Plus controlling professional development of teachers.
  6. Innovations Schools. An ALEC sponsored charter conversion model.
  7. A funding conduit for national-local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local DPE initiatives.
  8. Integration of charter schools into traditional public schools with rules favoring charter schools.
  9. Developing networks of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  10. Support for gentrification.

Education Cities bills itself as a national leader in the DPE movement. On their web-page, they list Detroit Children’s Fund and The Skillman Foundation as their partners in Detroit.

The Skillman Foundation has a little more than $400 million and they seem to be the main local financiers of the DPE movement in Detroit. Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) appears to be the political organizers. DCF says of itself:

“Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) has partnered with School Empowerment Network (SEN) to offer an intensive development opportunity for school leadership teams.”

“DCF is powered by a deep partnership with the Skillman Foundation. The Foundation has been working in Detroit since 1960 and is recognized as lead advocate for children in the city. Detroit Children’s Fund and the Skillman Foundation share staff, allowing DCF to leverage the Foundation’s deep relationships and knowledge.”

Instead of partnering with the venerable education departments at Michigan State and University of Michigan, Skillman partners with lightly credentialed and inexperienced non-profits to provide teacher professional development. Only a privatization agenda explains this strange behavior.

In the last few years, Skillman has made grants to; TFA $850,000, Education Cities $85,000,  and Relay Graduate School $40,000.

The DPE movement is harming America. What the Amway clan has done to Detroit should be labeled a hate crime. It is treason. We must protect our right to freedom of conscious. Our public schools are a cornerstone of America’s great democratic experiment and the source of protection for liberty. Do not bow down to the lords of Mammon, fight their greed and dangerous religious agenda.

Awful Plight of the Washington D.C. Schools

2 Mar

Washington D.C. schools are classified as a portfolio district by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). CRPE is the Bill Gates funded think tank on the campus of the University of Washington whose primary function is to promote portfolio district governance. Oligarchs and politicians call D.C. an education model. I agree. It is like when my mother held up Glenn Elmore as a model for me saying; “When you graduate from high school you’re not going to sponge off your parents the way that lazy freeloader, Glenn Elmore, sponges off his family.” [name changed]

Portfolio district management means closing some percentage of “failing schools” as determined by standardized testing and replacing them with innovation schools, charter schools, or voucher schools. In the same way a stock portfolio is managed, the continuous closing of “failing schools” and replacing them with “superior schools” is the path to education nirvana.

Only someone who has never worked with children and especially children living in poverty, could even remotely imagine this kind of disruption would lead to better schools and healthier children.

The charter school industry along with many billionaires and famous politicians call the Washington D.C. schools a great success illuminating the path for education nationwide. That is a destructive lie. The results of twenty years of portfolio style reform in Washington D.C. are grim.

The conservatives at the National Review see it. Theodore Kupfer wrote last week:

“Had attendance and credit-recovery policies been properly followed, the glitzy graduation-rate gains Obama touted would have been wiped out. Nat Malkus, an education-policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, puts the proper graduation rate at 51 percent — about where it was in 2011. School reform in D.C. was the education-policy success story of the 2010s; it turns out to be a fraud. (emphasis added)

A consequence of mayoral control of the schools in D.C. is politicians like the good press coverage touting school success. They have little interest in bad news. Last year, Rachel M. Cohen writing for the liberal oriented Prospect offered this observation:

“One Reason it’s become so easy for advocates to spin the city’s school reforms is that despite DCPS’s claims of being “data-driven,” comprehensive, accessible data actually remains hard to come by. As a result, it is hard for researchers to get a sense of how specific policies are working, and for the public to hold school leaders accountable.

 “Mathematica’s Glazerman agrees it has been difficult at times to obtain DCPS information to conduct research. ‘The researchers want to do research, they want access to data, and the people who control the data don’t want to give it up, except under tightly controlled circumstances,’ he says. ‘Researchers need independence and access to data, and they shouldn’t have to worry about whether the agency is going to look good—both in whether they undertake the study, and how they report results from their study.”’

In the wake of the stunning 2017 graduation fraud scandal in the D.C. schools, Valerie Strass writing for the Washington Post, said,

“On Oct. 28, 2015, the D.C. Public Schools district put out a statement lauding itself with this headline: “DC Public Schools Continues Momentum as the Fastest Improving Urban School District in the Country.”

“For years, that has been the national narrative about the long-troubled school district in the nation’s capital: After decades of low performance and stagnation, the system was moving forward with a “reform” program that was a model for the nation. The triumphant story included rising standardized test scores and “miracle” schools that saw graduation rates jump over the moon in practically no time. Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s education secretary for seven years, called it “a pretty remarkable story” in 2013.

“That tale is looking a lot less remarkable in the wake of revelations that educators and administrators, feeling pressure from their bosses to boost graduation rates and student performance, allowed many students who did not have the requisite qualifications to graduate.

“A city study — undertaken after media reports revealed the situation — found that more than 900 of 2,758 students who graduated from a D.C. public school last year either failed to attend enough classes or improperly took makeup classes. At one campus, Anacostia High in Southeast Washington, nearly 70 percent of the 106 graduates received 2017 diplomas despite violating some aspect of city graduation policy.”

 At the end of the article, Strauss asks a pertinent question,

“When are school reformers nationwide who have had a love affair with the D.C. model going to give it up?”

An Independent Evaluation

In 2007, the District of Columbia passed a law (Public Education Reform Amendment Act [PERAA]) that gave control of its public schools to the mayor. The law also called for a future independent evaluation of how well the public schools fared under new governance, to be carried out by a committee of the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences.

A three year-long study was chaired by Carl Cohn (Co-chair), School of Educational Studies, Claremont Graduate University and Lorraine McDonnell (Co-chair), Department of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara. The study focused on the seven-year period from 2007 to 2013.

In the fall of 2015, I wrote an article about this lengthy study that summarizes the findings in some detail. Besides Cohn and McDonnell, a group of about 30 scholars contributed to the report.

They noted that when 50% of the students are in charter schools, parents, educators and administrators have no way of monitoring education practices or spending. D.C. functionally has 62 school districts. One for all the public schools and one for each of the 61 charter school management organizations that operate in private. The report states:

“There are no standardized formats or definitions in charter schools’ budgets or audits, though the PCSB [Public Charter School Board] is making progress in this area. The adequacy study also commented on the difficulty of ascertaining charter facility costs. In addition, the charter management organizations’ accounts are not open to the public, and there have been cases of mismanagement.” (Page 72)

“Because each charter school is an independent local education agency, the charter sector did not (and does not) have any overarching strategy to improve teacher quality (or any other factor in education).” (Page 79)

“The U.S. Department of Education has recently reported that that D.C. is among the worst school systems in the nation in providing appropriate educational opportunities for students with disabilities, and it has the worst record of any state in the country for meeting federal special education goals.” (Page 131)

It is startling to realize that the following reported results are inflated by fraudulent diplomas:

“D.C.’s public schools have had among the worst on-time graduation rates in the country. For the class of 2014, the overall rate was 61 percent, compared with the national average of 81 percent (Chandler, 2014d). For DCPS schools, the graduation rate was 58 percent—up 2 percentage points from the previous year; for the charter schools, it was 69 percent—down almost 7 points.” (Page 154)

The NRC study also analyzed data studies from EDCORE (Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation). This little-known result came to light:

“The EDCORE analyses by sector also showed that, although both DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] and charter students showed improvement, the magnitude of the gains were higher for DCPS students in every year.” (Page 177) (emphasis added)

Washington D.C.’s Destroy Public Education (DPE) Politics

In 1968, the US congress brought some democracy to the residents of Washington DC. An 11-member school board elected by city residence was to run the schools. In 1995, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich teamed up to bring charter schools to D.C. A city referendum in 2000 gave the mayor the right to appoint four of the school board members. Then came the PERRA act in 2007 which eliminated the school board. It:

  • established Department of Education headed by the Deputy Mayor,
  • established Office of the State Superintendent of Education,
  • established Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (OPEFM),
  • established Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education,
  • established Interagency Collaboration and Services Integration Commission (ICSIC),
  • established State Board of Education (replacing Board of Education), and
  • gave Public Charter School Board chartering authority for all charter schools.

It took political action and money to make this happen. Like The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, Washington D.C. has Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS) to direct the ground game for privatizing D.C.’s schools. FOCUS was established as a tax-exempt foundation in 1996. On their 2006 web-page leading up to the PERRA act in 2007, they stated:

“We believe that what ails public schooling in the District should be treated by focusing school reform efforts on the creation of large numbers of schools that:

  • Are independent of the school system or have autonomous status within the school system, including control over personnel, finances, and the academic program;
  • Enroll only students whose parents choose to have them attend; and
  • Maintain a constant focus on literacy and implement a comprehensive approach to closing the achievement gap”

The political operatives at FOCUS are well compensated through the large donations from the Walton Foundation and other “philanthropic” non-profits. In addition, they received tax payer money for some of their efforts to help establish charter schools. The following is a hyper-linked table of funders and partners. FOCUS PARTNERS

In 2007, Washington D.C. elected a new mayor, Adrian Fenty. Not only was he the new chief executive of the city, he was also the new Czar of education. The NRC report observed:

“The specific strategies that Fenty and the chancellor he appointed, Michelle Rhee, chose were prominent on the national reform agenda: an emphasis on improving human capital using recruitment, evaluation, and compensation of educators; data-driven decision making; more uniform standards across schools; and greater school-level accountability through the use of student testing and other indicators.” (Page 40)

John Merrow is a resident of Washington DC and a longtime education reporter for NPR. In 2013, he shared his view of Fenty’s choice for chancellor in his piece Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error. He describes the utter lack of requisite training and experience Rhee and her team brought:

“The 37-year-old Michelle Rhee had been a surprise choice to lead the schools. After college, she joined Teach for America and taught for three years in a low-income school in Baltimore. After earning a graduate degree in public policy at Harvard, she took over a fledgling non-profit that recruits mid-career professionals into teaching, The New Teacher Project. In that role, she eventually ended up supervising 120 employees. As Chancellor, Rhee would be managing a school system with 55,000 students, 11,500 employees and a budget of nearly $200 million.

“She surrounded herself with people with no experience running a large urban school system. Her deputy would be her best friend, Kaya Henderson, another former Teach for America corps member who was then Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at TNTP. She would be managing the District’s 11,500 employees.”

The New Teachers Project (TNTP) which was founded by Wendy Kopp made a name for itself under Michelle Rhee by bashing teachers. This group of what Ciedie Aech calls the “teach-for-a-minute girls” was in charge. They had no training or experience, but they believed test based accountability was the answer. As John merrow wrote:

“And the novice Chancellor was basing nearly everything on the DC-CAS. [D.C.’s Standardized Tests]”

“Millet [Associate Superintendent Francisco Millet] had no doubt that Rhee was sending the message that they would be fired if they didn’t achieve those guarantees. ‘Absolutely. Principals were scared to death that, if their test scores did not go up, they were going to be fired. And they knew that she could do it.’”

This kind of pressure led to a massive cheating scandal that if it had been properly investigated would had put more people in prison than the Atlanta scandal did – including Rhee. Instead, these fraudulent results were held up as proof of concept. The 2009 confidential Sanford memo made the fact of the scandal clear.

Excerpt from Sanford Memo

Clipped from the Memo from Sandy Sanford to DCPS in 2009.  (WTR – Wrong to Right.)

One final quote from John Merrow:

“The erasures stayed buried for years. The official who had spotted the problem and urged Rhee to investigate has kept her mouth shut. Five months after she had informed Rhee of the widespread erasures, Deborah Gist resigned to become State Superintendent in Rhode Island. Rhee now publicly praises her efforts there. Sandy Sanford, who earned roughly $9,000 for his work on the memo, has been paid at least $220,000 by DCPS for various services.”

A Few Last Words

The effect of privatizing schools in D.C. is that the gap in scoring on tests between races has gotten larger. Teacher quality has gotten less certain. There are less minority teachers now and per pupil spending has gone from “$13,830 per student to $17,574, an increase of 27%, compared to 10% inflation in the Washington-Baltimore region.” There has been virtually no gain in testing scores and Washington D.C. schools remain the bottom scoring schools in the nation on the National Assessment of Education Performance.

Type Washington D.C. schools into a Google search and page after page of charter school advertising appears. A parent could seek guidance by going to the Great Schools web page for an evaluation, but that would be like going to the Ford dealer and asking which car is the best.

Washington D.C.’s schools have become expensive and unmanageable. There is no way to insure teacher competency or budgetary honesty, which means stealing is occurring. The D.C. public schools are still the best performing and safest schools in the area. (Charter schools are not public schools. They are private businesses that have a government contract.)

It is time for Mayor Muriel Bowser to step up and select a proven professional educator to lead D.C.’s schools. No more administrators from the unaccredited Broad academy or TFA wunderkinds. It is time to bring in a real professional with a record of achievement to get K-12 education in Washington D.C. on track.