Archive | September, 2018

A Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA

29 Sep

First it was KIPP, then it was YES Prep and now IDEA has become the point of the destroy public education (DPE) spear in Texas. KIPP flourished because GAP founders Don and Doris Fisher gave them big money. YES Prep so excited Oprah that she presented them with a million dollar check during a TV interview. Now, John Arnold has given IDEA $10 million to expand into Houston and the El Paso based Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development has pledged another $10 million for IDEA to expand into El Paso.

The oddest DPE inspired plan of all comes from Austin, Texas. In 2016, the Austin American Statesman reported that the relatively small KLE foundation is committing $16 million to IDEA. Odd because that represents more than half of the foundation’s assets and is 20 times greater than any previous grant. The Statesman article says, “The financial gift … will more than double IDEA Austin’s previous expansion plans by 2022, and the charter school says the donation will help it boost enrollment to 20,000 students, more than 12 times as many as it has now.”

A recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican says about the IDEA growth initiative, “Those plans include expanding to 173 pre-K, elementary, middle and high schools from Texas to Louisiana and Florida by 2022 — a goal of serving 100,000 students compared to 35,595 today.”

YES Prep, KIPP and IDEA have many similarities. All three charter school systems were started by Teach for America (TFA) alums. None of the founders had more than three years experience teaching, nor did they have any education training other than a five week TFA summer course. It is perplexing when industry leaders like Walton, Fisher, Broad and Gates lavish inexperienced and untrained school founders with millions of dollars.

Marketing and Publicity Are IDEA’s Strength

Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer wrote,

“IDEA is one of the hottest charter chains in Texas today, based in the Rio Grande Valley, with a recent expansion into Central Texas. The chain just won a $29 million federal Race To the Top grant, an extremely competitive program that only one other Texas school won (another charter, Harmony Public Schools).”

“IDEA is part of a preferred class of charters in Texas today, along with KIPP, Yes Prep and Harmony.”

This was written in December, 2012, the day after community members in Austin had succeeded in driving IDEA out of their neighborhood.

The other charter system that won Race to the Top money is believed to be part of Fethullah Gulen’s charter empire. The Houston Chronicle reported, “Long criticized by conservative Texans for alleged ties to a controversial Turkish scholar, the state’s largest charter school system now faces attacks from inside the Turkish government.” Turkey’s leaders accuse the Gulen cult of fermenting the coup attempt against President Erdogan and financing it with charter school money.

The IDEA internet site’s biography of co-founder Tom Torkelson states,

“By 2009, the U.S. News and World Report ranked IDEA Donna College Preparatory as the 13th best high school and second best charter high school in the nation. Also in 2009, IDEA Public Schools was the first-ever charter organization to be named the best school system in the state of Texas and received the H-E-B Excellence in Education Award. Today, The Washington Post’s latest rankings of America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranked all seven of IDEA’s eligible College Preparatory high schools in the top 200 high schools nationwide and in the top 50 in Texas.

A Huffington Post article describes the U.S. News school ranking methodology, “[The] rankings today were derived from its list of top high schools published in 2009 based on participation rates and how students in those schools performed on math and science AP exams.” U.S. News uses advanced class registration rates and testing data for their rankings. These are not a valid measures of school or teacher quality.

In 2016, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post rated IDEA charter high school the most challenging in the nation. Mathews rates schools by what he calls “the Challenge Index,” which is total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests given at a school each year and divide by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Charter schools that shed students without replacing them now own all of the top spots in this index; not deeply meaningful.

The H-E-B Excellence in Education award is given out by the H-E-B stores. In 2016 Caleb Swaringen a teacher at IDEA College Preparatory McAllen recieved $1,000 for himself and $1,000 for his school for receiving the H-E-B leadership award. H-E-B, with sales of more than $23 billion, operates more than 380 stores in Texas and Mexico. H-E-B awards are based on recommendations from the public.

2016 was a very good year for IDEA publicity. At the National Charter Schools conference, Gregory McGinity, executive director of The Broad Foundation, announced that IDEA had won the $250,000 broad prize. Broad also gave IDEA another $392,333 that same year.

IDEA claims “Since our first graduating class in 2007, 100% of our seniors have been accepted to colleges and universities nationwide.” They claim they educate underserved students and that their schools outperform other schools (meaning on testing).

Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd and The Texas Public Policy Foundation just published a new paper calling for Texas to streamline the charter application. They note that charter school growth has slowed and blame the onerous application process. They ask, “Why are public charter schools growing at slower rates if they have served communities so well?”

What Happens When IDEA’s Claims are Examined?

The name, IDEA Public Schools, is misleading. IDEA is not a public school. Just like a construction company contracted by a city to replace sewer lines is not a public corporation. In a recent Busted Pencils pod cast, Network for Public Education (NPE) Executive Director Carol Burris explained that to be a public school requires two aspects: (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be governed by an elected local entity such as a district board.

Diane Ravitch recently noted that courts have ruled that charter schools are not public schools. She shared,

“They are privately managed corporate schools. Federal courts have ruled that charter schools are ‘not state actors.’ The NLRB has ruled that charter schools are “not state actors.”’

In 2011, Austin’s then Superintendent of Schools Meria Carstarphen contracted with IDEA to assume the management of two elementary schools. Much of the community was outraged.

Statewide Organizing Community eMpowerment (SOCM) sponsored community forums on the IDEA question. They recounted,

“During the forums, it soon became amply clear that IDEA’s “direct teaching” curriculum consisted of little more than constant preparation for standardized tests with the students endlessly parroting answers to questions anticipated to be on the state’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). IDEA later even admitted that its students in the Rio Grande Valley wore uniforms which were color-coded, not on the basis of grade or age, but on standardized test-score achievement, thus insuring the humiliation of older siblings by their more test-savvy younger brothers and sisters attending the same school!”

A humorous Austin blogger who goes by Walter Crunkite related an incident from the first meeting between the community and IDEA leadership. He said,

“Tom Torkelson, CEO of IDEA, responds to an Eastside Memorial student’s question about Special Education.  Torkelson states that he doesn’t believe in dyslexia.  ‘Dys-teach-ia’ is the problem.”

In late 2011, The Texas American Federation of Teachers (TAFT) contracted Professor Ed Fuller to research IDEA’s claims. He is employed as an Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis in the Education Policy Studies department in the College of Education of Penn State University and as Associate Director for Policy for the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). Fuller asserts,

“TAFT NEVER asked me to arrive at specific conclusions. They simply asked me to examine the data and report back.”

Fuller’s report is quite lengthy. He examines three claims: (1) IDEA educates “underserved” student populations; (2) One-hundred percent of IDEA graduates enroll in post-secondary institutions of education; and, (3) IDEA Charter schools outperform other schools.

Professor Fuller posted the report on his personal blog where he writes,

“My conclusions, for those of you who don’t want to read through the post, are as follows:

“1)      IDEA Charter schools do not enroll “underserved” students regardless of the measure used to identify “underserved.” Specifically, as compared to schools in the same market, IDEA schools enroll lower percentages of economically disadvantaged students, special education students, bilingual education students, students requiring modifications or accommodations on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), and students scoring below average on the TAKS mathematics or TAKS readings tests.

“2)      IDEA Charter schools send 100% of graduates to post-secondary institutions of higher education only if the actual number of graduates is the group of students examined. If we consider the number of students starting in the 9th grade … the percentage of IDEA students … is, at best, around 65% for the cohort of 9th grade students in 2009.

“3)      One reason why IDEA secondary schools outperform [on testing] high schools in the same area is because IDEA Charter schools lose a greater proportion of lower performing students than higher performing students. …”

Carstarphen’s Austin Independent School District (AISD) attacked Fuller’s report with a report of their own. Fuller wrote a defense of his study and noted that Dr. Julian Vasquez-Heilig, then a researcher at UT Austin and now Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State University Sacramento, had this to say about the two reports: “Dr. Fuller’s work is very comprehensive,” and “The AISD rebuttal is very weak in its methodology.”

David Knight and David deMatthews warn the people of El Paso that “choice” is not all that it is cracked up to be. They wrote,

“The IDEA charter chain is known for having a high graduation rate, but also known for the large number of its graduates who flunk out of college.”

“IDEA’s growth can also create an undue burden and disrupt natural proportions of students with disabilities enrolled in traditional public schools if they engage in what has been called ‘creaming’ or ‘cherry-picking’ students. According to 2016-17 publicly available data, all IDEA charter schools in Hidalgo, Texas, enroll only 4.8 percent of students with disabilities, while the state average is 8.8 percent.”

AlterNet carried an article by another critic of IDEA, Danny Weil. He stated, “IDEA is a retail charter outfit that standardizes curriculum downwards, away from critical thinking, embracing instead rote memorization and regurgitation, or what I call the ‘anorexic/bulimic’ learning model of intellectual atrophy, ossification, and decay.”

Money! Money! Money!

2016 Salaries

IDEA Leadership Photos with 2016 Salary Data

Compared with the highest paid Superintendents of Schools in Texas, three executives from IDEA would be in the top ten plus Torkelson and Truscheit would be numbers one and two respectively on the top paid list. The fourteen highest paid staff at this “non-profit” each received more than $150,000 per year for a total dispersal of $3,581,436.

At the end of 2016, IDEA’s asset value climbed to $680,172,540 and their year’s income was $332,775,059.

In addition to the $36 million dollars in support detailed above, between 2013 and 2016, IDEA received $1,914,875 from the Dell foundation  and $7,515,000 from the Charter School Growth Fund. They have also received $4,598,715 from the Gates Foundation.

A group of internal emails stolen from IDEA in 2011 have led to accusations that IDEA fired a 20-year veteran teacher and replaced her with a much cheaper Teach For America (TFA) teacher. Torkelson also wrote that TFA persistently selects teachers who perform better than those found with IDEA’s own hiring formula. It was revealed that of 135 new hires that year, 35 would come from TFA. Torkelson said IDEA would increase its hiring of TFA members to sustain its regional corps in the face of deep state budget cuts to TFA.

The problem here is that TFA teachers are unprepared to be in a classroom. They have not studied teaching methods nor have they completed the typical one year of student teaching under the supervision of an experienced credentialed educator. They are new college graduates with five weeks of TFA summer training. In Ciedie Aech’s delightful book Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin? She reports,

“As a journalist followed the teaching year of a suddenly deployed troop of Teach-For-A-Minute miracle workers, ultimately, he found only one greenhorn to be exceptionally able. (And so many others who were both frighteningly and disastrously unprepared.)”

John Arnold, IDEA’s New Billionaire Bestie

When Enron was collapsing in 2001, John Arnold was leading their energy trading group. Somehow, when his executive pals like Former CEO Jeffrey Skilling were going to prison, Arnold received an $8 million bonus. The company’s collapse decimated the retirement savings of rank and file employees. Many of these employees like those at Portland General Electric were only vaguely aware that Enron had acquired their company.

Ironically, Arnold soon started campaigning to end pensions. David Sirota reported that Arnold joined with The Pew Charitable Trust in the effort. Sirota asserts that the, “Pew-Arnold partnership began informally in 2011 and 2012 when both organizations marshaled resources to try to set the stage for retirement benefit cuts in California, Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas.” They succeeded in Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas.

Tyler O’neil tells us that John and Laura Arnold are Democrats. He notes,

“In the 2018 cycle, the Laura & John Arnold Foundation has given $930,244, and 83 percent to Democrats and liberals. John Arnold bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Barack Obama in 2008. The couple were slated to host a $10,000-per-ticket Obama fundraiser featuring Michelle Obama in October 2011.

“Both Laura and John Arnold donated $23,900 to the Democratic National Committee in 2008. Laura Arnold has donated more than $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).”

Most recently, John has joined with Reed Hastings in a national effort to destroy public education.

A Few Assertions

Without the staggeringly large monetary gifts from Billionaires, the IDEA system of schools would not exist.

IDEA’s education program is substandard and without the publicity primed by billionaire financed media outlets, they would be disparaged if noticed at all.

IDEA’s growth harms public schools because of the significant stranded costs incurred when children leave for the new parallel privatized school system.

IDEA has become, primarily, a road to massive wealth for a few insiders.

Richie Rich’s Schools Targeted by Destroy Public Education Movement

21 Sep

Schools in wealthy white communities are no longer immune to the destroy public education (DPE) movement. A review of San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) in San Diego County makes the point.

SDUHSD serves an area within the 1845 Mexican land grant to Juan Osuna known as Rancho San Dieguito. Osuna’s 1822 adobe home still stands on a knoll in the Rancho Santa Fe section. The school district includes the beach communities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Carlsbad. Away from the beach it covers the communities of Rancho Santa Fe and Camel Valley.

A 2017 study sponsored by SDUHSD indicates how financially comfortable the families in this school district are.

Table 1: Economic Data

District Family Data

Sixty-five percent of the students come from families making more than $75,000 and almost a quarter of those families are making greater than $200,000 a year. Whites and Asians constitute 87% of the district population.

California’s 2017-2018 enrollment data by subgroups shows the dramatic difference between SDUHSD and the rest of San Diego County.

Table 2: Subgroup Percentages

Enrollment Data Table

During the no child left behind (NCLB) era, the school I worked at had 75% English learners and 80% socioeconomically disadvantaged. The big metric that literally determined whether a school survived was the academic performance index (API). Its 1,000 point scale score was based on California’s standardized testing. Early on my school focused on scoring higher than a 600 API and latter we challenged a 700 API. Failure to meet those goals, meant by NCLB rules, the school would be closed, a minimum of 50% of the staff would be let go and new management would assume the school (possibly a charter group). If a school scored more than an 800 API, it was golden. SDUHSD averaged over 900 API as a district. Schools for poor kids and minorities were set up for possible failure, but schools for wealthy people’s children were safe.

“The Times They Are A-Changin”

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” He noted schools were purposely setup for failure and wrote,

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

No schools in middle or upper-middle class neighborhoods ever failed API and faced NCLB’s existential penalty. However, these neighborhoods are no longer exempt from attack by DPE forces.

Naturally, the five elementary school districts that feed into SDUHSD have similar subgroup and demographic data as SDUHSD. In 2006, the ten elementary schools in Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) scored 75% proficient or advanced in mathematics and 74% proficient or advanced in English language arts on California’s testing. By comparison, San Diego County schools scored 57% proficient or advanced in mathematics and 49% proficient or advanced in English language arts. That is when a proposal came forward to create a charter school for gifted students in Encinitas.

Maureen Mo Muir, a member of the SDUHSD board, previously served on the EUSD board. In her online resume, she claims to be “Founder and member of charter with emphasis on the gifted and differentiated curriculum (under the guidance of USC Education Professor Sandra Kaplan).” Her school was called the Theory into Practice Charter School (TIP). It is surprising that she still brings attention to her part in the TIP fiasco.

State records show that TIP opened September 5, 2006 and closed August 5, 2008. A scathing article in the Voice of San Diego, painted a picture of malfeasance and fraudulent practices. The lengthy article details a trail of charter schools failures, odd failed corporations and many fraud claims following the founding leaders of TIP. Reporter Emily Alpert wrote,

“Principal Deborah Hazelton, an Oceanside elementary teacher, created Theory Into Practice Academy, a charter school that taught all children with the same rigor and complexity as gifted children.”

“Shortly after the [new] bylaws [which gave Hazelton’s company control] materialized, [Mike] Hazelton was hired as chief operating officer for $95,000 for the rest of the academic year. Two months later the school reported a $28,000 first-year deficit, instead of the $6,000 to $12,000 surplus Mike Hazelton had predicted. Its outstanding loans still worried the Encinitas superintendent. Yet the school also bolstered Deborah Hazelton’s pay from $87,000 to $110,000.”

“And in January the Hazeltons asked the board to start paying their corporation 1.5 percent of its annual revenues and a onetime $35,000 fee for curriculum and administrative support.”

“The corporation was overseen by a group that included the Hazeltons and teacher Lisa Bishop, who were already earning salaries from the school, and University of Southern California educator Sandra Kaplan, who sat on both boards.” (Emphasis added)

The TIP charter was revoked August 5, 2008. It was the last charter school within the SDUHSD boundaries until 2016.

I Believe in School Choice

America’s public education system with locally elected school boards is widely viewed as the bedrock upon which the world’s oldest democracy resides. A key advantage for American children was they were not barred from middle-school or high-school by a standardized test; a common practice in most countries. There were no high stakes tests in the United States.

One measuring stick demonstrating how successful the American system was might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America has 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. The US has never won at standardized testing but leads the world in creative thinkers.

In 2016 a new school was proposed in the Solana Beach. The School of Universal Learning (SOUL) petitioned SDUHSD for a charter. Marisa Bruyneel-Fogelman and Dr. Wendy Kaveney are cited as founders. The mission statement from the petition says they will “provide exceptional education that awakens individuals to know who they are, discover their passions and purpose, and thrive holistically, to achieve both mental and life mastery.”

In the presentation to the SDUHSD board, the following images among many similar ones were shown.

SOUL Presentation

New Age Philosophy Being Taught in Taxpayer Funded School.

SOUL Presentation 2

This looks wonderful but should taxpayers be expected to fund it?

SDUHSD’s board rejected the petition by a vote of 5-0. They gave the SOUL team an eight-page list of issues that needed addressing before the board could confer a charter. As an example, one of the items required,

“Clarification or revision to the SOUL Charter School’s recommended course sequencing for its students. Specifically, the Petition describes a four-year course sequence which appears to indicate that students should take up to eight courses per year to accomplish the recommended sequence. However, the bell schedule and narrative included in the Petition indicate that students will take only six classes, in addition to Integra.”

SOUL appealed the decision to the San Diego County Board of Education. That board voted 3-2 against giving a full 3-year charter but voted 5-0 to bestow a 2-year charter.

I believe in a parent’s right to choose their children’s school. If they want to send them to the New Universal Teaching School (NUTS) or Encinitas Country Day or Santa Fe Christian School, that is their prerogative. But don’t expect taxpayers to pay for that choice. They already pay for free public education.

School Board Election in Less than Two Months

Both libertarian-Republicans and neoliberal-Democrats are attacking public schools. The article A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement lists five separate groups that are working to end democratically controlled public schools. When voting this November, it will be important to identify if a candidate is associated with one or more of these groups.

  1. People who oppose public education on religious grounds often seeking taxpayers supported religious schools.
  2. People who want segregated schools where their children will not have to attend school with “those people.”
  3. People supporting both privatized schools and entrepreneurs profiting from school management and/or school real estate deals.
  4. Members of the technology industry which is using wealth and lobbying power to place many inappropriate products and practices into public schools. They often also promote technology driven charter schools.
  5. Ideologues who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.

For the first time, SDUHSD is electing school board members by area. During this election cycle, seven candidates are running for seats in 3 of the five Areas; 1, 3 and 5. The even numbered seats will be on the ballot in 2020.

SDUHSD Area Map

SDUHSD Area Map

Area 1, which is in west Encinitas, has two candidates, Maureen Mo Muir who is an incumbent and Amy Flicker a well know politically active resident serving on various committees and boards.

Mo Muir fits with both groups 3 and 5 of the DPE movement. She is very unpopular with teachers for her votes on bond spending and contract negotiations. She claims to be instrumental in founding the failed TIP charter school. Muir was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for the board seat she now holds.

Amy Flicker is the President of the Paul Ecke Central Elementary PTA. She has been a commissioner on the Encinitas Environmental Commission. That is the group that started the plastic bag crusade that ended grocery store plastic bags in California. She is also a member of two bond oversight committees; one in the Encinitas School District and the other in SDUHSD. Flicker is endorsed by the San Diego Democratic Party.

Amy Flicker is the choice most likely to protect public education.

Area 3, is made up of Cardiff, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe. It has two candidates, Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart.

Rhea Stewart served on the Cardiff Elementary School District Board from 2006-2010. Stewart has the endorsement of the San Diego Democratic Party. She belongs to group 4 of the DPE movement. She is strongly related to the technology industry and its pedagogical snake oil. Her LinkedIn page lists more than ten ed-tech professional associations including Apex Learning: Mathematics and Science Instructional Designer 2014 – 2017; West Ed: Mathematics Content Specialists Ed 2013 – 2014; Aventa Learning: Mathematics and Science Program Supervisor 2011 – 2013; and K12, Inc.: Mathematics Content Specialist 2007 – 2010.

Melisse Mossy is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group. She has taught school and is very involved in philanthropic activities.

Mossy belongs to group 1 of the DPE movement. She does not seem committed to public education and one wonders what her real agenda is. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states, “I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”

Even though Rhea Stewart’s professional life is wrapped around an industry that is undermining good pedagogy, I would still vote for her over a wealthy individual with a religious agenda.

Area 5, consists of Del Mar and Carmel Valley. There are three candidates for this seat, Lea Wolf, Kristin Gibson and Cheryl James-Ward.

Lea Wolf has lived in the Carmel Valley area for 20 years and has a daughter attending a district school. On her LinkedIn page she bills herself as a fiscal conservative. In a LinkedIn recommendation for David Andresen, she wrote, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” She has founded several technology companies including Deeds for Kids and IQNet Interactive.  Lea seems to fit in both group 4 and 5 of the DPE movement although not stridently so.

Kristin Gibson is currently President of the Del Mar Union School District. Kristin taught elementary school in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. Currently, she works as an educational consultant, which includes lecturing for San Diego State University’s School of Teacher Education, providing professional development for in-service teachers, and contributing to projects at the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education. She is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics.  Kristin does not appear to belong in any of the DPE groups.

Cheryl James-Ward is a professor of education leadership at San Diego State University, an administrator at the e3 Civic High charter school and wife of former superintendent of San Diego County Schools, Randy Ward. In June, she was a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Education. Even though the California Charter Schools Association spent more than $130,000 in independent expenditures for her campaign, she lost. Cheryl James-Ward is a devoted member of group 3 of the DPE movement.

In an interview with the San Diego Union, James-Ward said, “This is unfortunate as charters are public schools just like district schools. … There is also the misnomer that charters are taking money from district schools.”

Charter schools are no more public schools than Hazard Construction is a public corporation because they do some government contracts. To be a public school requires two things; (1) paid for by taxpayers and (2) public has a say in the governance. With charters the public does not have a say. Several major studies in the last five years have shown that charters do drain significant money from public schools including the latest one by Professor Gordon Lafer, “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.”

For Area 5, Kristin Gibson is the best choice.

Some Observations

Public schools in all neighborhoods are now targeted by the DPE movement. In San Dieguito, five of the seven school board candidates have a relationship with one or more of the DPE groups. Only Kristin Gibson (Area 5) and Amy Flick (Area 1) seem likely to stand up for the SDUHSD’s public schools against all privatizing and profiteering efforts.

America’s public education system is a priceless legacy that is under attack. We must be vigilant about who we elect to lead it. Members of both of America’s tribes, Democrats and Republicans are responsible for this outrage. Be informed. Don’t just vote your club; vote to save public education in America.

A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement

9 Sep

The destroy public education (DPE) movement is the fruit of a relatively small group of billionaires. The movement is financed by several large non-profit organizations. Nearly all of the money spent is free of taxation. Without this spending, there would be no wide-spread public school privatization.

It is generally recognized that the big three foundations driving DPE activities are The Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $41 billion), The Walton Family Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $3.8 billion), and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $1.8 billion).

Yesterday, the Network for Public Education published “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools.” This interactive report lists the top ten billionaires spending to drive their DPE agenda with links to case studies for their spending.

Top 10 Billioaires

These Images Come from the New NPE Report

Short Explanation of the Label DPE

The modern education reform apostate, Diane Ravitch, was Assistant Secretary of Education under Lamar Alexander from1991-93. She was an academic who held many research positions including the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and served in multiple capacities in different federal education administrations. Like all of her closest allies, she believed in the power of accountability, incentives and markets for reforming schools.

In 2010, Diane shocked her friends by publishing, The Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.  In chapter 1 she wrote,

“Where once I had been hopeful, even enthusiastic about the potential benefits of testing, accountability, choice, and markets, I now found myself experiencing profound doubts about these same ideas. I was trying to sort through the evidence about what was working and what was not. I was trying to understand why I was increasingly skeptical about these reforms, reforms that I had supported enthusiastically.”

“The short answer is that my views changed as I saw how these ideas were working out in reality. The long answer is what will follow in the rest of this book.” (Ravitch 2)

In the book, Ravitch wrote, “I call it the corporate reform movement not because everyone who supports it is interested in profit but because its ideas derive from business concepts about competition and targets, rewards and punishments, and ‘return on investment.’  (Ravitch 251)

Ravitch labled modern education reform “corporate education reform” and the label stuck.

Last year, researchers from the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) led by professor Jim Scheurich, who coordinates the urban studies program there, perceived a pattern in the destruction of the public schools. That pattern became the “destroy public education” model. As Ravitch’s “corporate education reform” became more organized and ruthless, the Scheurich team’s DPE model became a better descriptor.

Ravitch posted the Indiana team’s DPE model on her blog. The model is outline here with explanations.

  1. Business is the best model for schools. Starting with the infamous Regan era report, “A Nation at Risk,” the claim that “private business management is superior” has been a consistent theory of education reform promoted by corporate leaders like RJR Nabisco’s Louis Gerstner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family and Sun America’s Eli Broad. It is a central tenet of both neoliberal and libertarian philosophy.
  2. Institute local-national collaboration between wealthy neoliberals and other conservatives to promote school privatization and the portfolio model of school management. One example among many comes from Kansas City, Missouri. School Smart Kansas City does the local retail political activity, the $2.1 billion Kaufman foundation provides the local money and various national organizations like The Charter School Growth Fund that is controlled by the Wal-Mart heirs provides the outside money.
  3. Direct large sums of money through advocacy organizations to recruit, train and finance pro-privatization school board candidates. One such organization is Jonah Edelman’s Oregon based Stand for Children which functions as a conduit for outsiders to funnel money into local school board elections.
  4. Undermine and eliminate locally elected school boards. The 1990 book by John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, claimed that poor performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” The book was hugely influential and its anti-democratic theory is a central ideology of DPE led reform.
  5. Institute a portfolio system of school district management that includes public schools, charter schools and Innovation Schools. School boards lose their oversight powers with both charter schools and Innovations schools. Portfolio theory posits closing the bottom 5% of schools based on standardized testing and reopening them as either charter schools or innovation schools. Standardized testing does not identify teaching or school quality but it does identify student poverty levels. This scheme guarantees that public schools in poor and minority communities will be privatized. While there is no evidence supporting this theory, there is evidence that it causes harm.
  6. Implement a unified enrollment system. Over the past 200 years, public schools in America have become a widely respected governmental institution. By forcing them to include charter schools in their enrollment system, the charter schools are provided an unearned equivalency. Charters are not publicly governed nor must they accept any student who applies in their area.
  7. Hire minimally trained teachers from Teach for America (TFA) or other instant-teacher-certification programs. By undermining the teaching profession, costs can be reduced; however general teacher quality will also be reduced. In 2007, Los Angeles Mayor, Anthony Villaraigosa, selected the Green Dot Charter Schools’ CEO, Marshall Tuck, to lead 18 schools in an experiment called the Partnership for LA. With millions of dollars to supplement the schools, Tuck failed to produce any real improvements. His error was hiring a significant numbers of untrained TFA teachers which more than offset his funding advantages.
  8. Use groups like Teach Plus and TNTP to provide teacher professional development. The most effective opponents of the destruction of public education have been teachers. By controlling teacher training, new pro-privatization attitudes can be fostered.
  9. Create teacher fellowships that develop teacher support for the privatization agenda. In Indiana, on a yearly basis, the $11 billion Lily Foundation gives out many $12,000 Teacher Creativity Fellowships. In Oakland California the DPE organization GO Oakland gives nearly 20 Fellowships a year.
  10. Institute networks of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda. The newest national organization designed to develop these networks launched in July. It is called The City Fund. John Arnold, ex-Enron executive, and Reed Hasting, CEO of Netflix, each invested $100 million to start this donor directed fund. Bill Gates has already sent them $10 million to spend toward privatizing Oakland, California’s schools.

In densely populated areas, the DPE agenda invariably is coherent with an urban renewal effort often derisively labeled “gentrification.” Too often urban renewal has been accomplished by pushing the poorest citizens out without making any provisions for them. When renewal is only about economic advantage, it further harms already traumatized citizens.

Five Disparate Groups are United in Destroying Public Education

Group A) People who oppose public education on religious grounds and seek taxpayers supported religious schools. In 2001, when Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering, Dick opined that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school.

At the same time that Dick and Betsy were speaking to the Gathering, Jay Sekulow, who is now a lawyer in the Trump administration, was in the process of successfully undermining the separation of church and state before the Supreme Court.

When the evangelical Christian movement gained prominence with Jerry Falwell’s moral majority and Pat Robertson’s 700-Club, they generated huge sums of money. A significant portion of that money was spent on legal activism.

In 1990, Pat Robertson brought Sekulow together with a few other lawyers to form the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).  The even more radical Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) which declares it is out to defeat “the homosexual agenda” joined the ACLJ in the attack on the separation of church and state. In her important book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, Katherine Stewart described their ultimate triumph,

“An alien visitor to planet First Amendment could be forgiven for summarizing the entire story thus: Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, together with a few fellow travelers on the Supreme Court and their friends in the ADF and ACLJ, got together and ordered that the United States should establish a nationwide network of evangelical churches housed in taxpayer-financed school facilities.” (Stewart 123/4)

Today, for the first time, taxpayers in America are paying for students to attend private religious schools.

B) People who want segregated schools where their children will not have to attend school with “those people.” A typical example from San Diego is The Old Town Academy (OTA). It is like a private school financed with public school dollars. A Voice of San Diego report noted, “Chris Celentino, OTA’s current board chair and one of the school’s founding members, said when the school opened with a class of 180 students, half came from families that would otherwise send their kids to private schools.” 

In 1955, Milton Friedman published “The Role Of Government in Education” which called for privatizing public schools. Mercedes Schneider writes of the reality of this theory in her book School Choice; The End of Public Education?,

“Even as Friedman published his 1955 essay, school choice was being exploited in the South, and state and local governments were complicit is the act. It took the federal government and district courts decades to successfully curb the southern, white-supremacist intention to offer choice to preserve racial segregation.” (Schneider 28)

The AP reported in 2017,

“National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

C) Entrepreneurs profiting from school management and school real estate deals.

This spring, In The Public Interest (ITPI) published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools.” The report documents $149,000,000 fraudulently purloined by factions of the California charter-school industry. The total stealing stated is a summation of cases cited in media reports. The actual amount stolen is much larger.

The ITPI report also reveals how in California fortunes are created by gaining control of publicly financed assets. The report discloses,

“…, schools constructed with tax-exempt conduit bonds become the private property of the charter operator. Even if the charter is revoked, neither the state nor a local school district can take control of this property.”

This week Steven Singer a well known teacher activist from Pennsylvania wrote, “Thanks to some Clinton-era tax breaks, an investor in a charter school can double the original investment in just seven years!”

Singer also addressed the profiteering by administrators: “New York City Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza is paid $345,000 to oversee 135,000 employees and 1.1 million students. CEO of Success Academy charter school chain, Eva Moskowitz handles a mere 9,000 students, for which she is paid $782,175.

It is the same story in California. Charter school administrators are lining their non-profit pockets with huge salaries. In 2015, San Diego’s Mary Bixby, CEO of the Altus schools (34 mostly mall store learning centers) paid herself $340,810 and her daughter Tiffany Yandell $135,947. Up in Los Angeles in 2016, CEO of the 22 school Green Dot organization, Cristina de Jesus, was paid $326,242 while the CEO of the five schools Camino Nuevo Charter Academy was compensated $193,585. That same year in Oakland the CEO of the three schools Envision Education took in $229,127.

Huge wealth is being generated from taxpayers with little oversight.

D) The technology industry is using wealth and lobbying power to place products into public schools and heaping praise on technology driven charter schools. “The Silicon Valley assault must be turned away, not because they’re bad people but because they are peddling snake oil,” wrote veteran education writer, John Merrow. In the last 10 years, titans of the tech industry have dominated K-street. Hi-tech is now spending twice as much as the banking industry on lobbying lawmakers.

They fund think tanks to promote their agendas like coding in every public school in America or one to one initiatives (a digital device for every student) or digital learning. Researchers working in think tanks like the New America Foundation will be disciplined if they upset a corporate leader like Google’s Eric Schmidt. Barry Lynn was sent packing for being honest.

Writing for the Guardian Ben Tarnoff reports, “Tech’s push to teach coding isn’t about kids’ success – it’s about cutting wages.” The premise is that coding is “a skill so widely demanded that anyone who acquires it can command a livable, even lucrative, wage.”

The flaw here is that there is no need for a flood of new programmers. It will only drive down wages, which have already stagnated, and that is the point. A 2013 Economic Policy Institute research paper stated, “For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.”

E) Ideologues who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior. Some representatives of this group are Charles and David Koch, inheritors of Koch Industries. They are fervent libertarians who have established and support many organizations that work to privatize public education. The world’s richest family is also in this group. They are the heirs of Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton. Like the Koch brothers, they too are determined to privatize public education.

Jane Mayer writing in the New Yorker about a legal struggle to control the Cato Institute stated, “Cato was co-founded by Edward Crane and Charles Koch, in the nineteen-seventies, with Koch’s money; the lawsuit notes that the original corporate name was the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc.” For many years, one of the stars supported by the Cato institute was Milton Friedman, the father of vouchers. The Walton Family Foundation contributes regularly to the Cato Institute and spent significant money promoting voucher legislation in many US states.

The Koch brothers are a major force behind the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC writes model legislation which in some conservative states is written into law with little debate and no changes. The innovation schools that remove elected school board control are a product of ALEC model legislation.

The DPE Movement is Real, Well Financed and Determined

While growing up in America, I had a great belief in democracy instilled in me. Almost all of the education reform initiatives coming from the DPE forces are bunkum, but their hostility to democracy convinces me they prefer a plutocracy or even an oligarchy to democracy. The idea that America’s education system was ever a failure is and always has been an illusion. It is by far the best education system in the world plus it is the foundation of American democracy. If you believe in American ideals, protect our public schools.