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.

24 Responses to “A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement”

  1. Linda September 9, 2018 at 2:19 pm #

    Ultican succinctly describes the oligarchy, naming names. The success of the colonialists’ takeover in education determines the future of every area that the citizens value.

  2. Linda September 9, 2018 at 5:08 pm #

    Two state universities aiding in privatization (1) Michigan State University which is cited by media as included in DeVos’s Dept. of Ed. summer REACH grant. The public university professors identified, received Arnold grants. REACH’s purpose is product design and marketing plans for charter schools. (2) Grand Valley State University which has a VP of charter schools. Betsy’s brother-in-law and his wife are on GVSU’s Board of Trustees. The wife, Pamella Roland, has a fashion line that is the “label of choice for Eva Longoria, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Gardner, Halle Barry and Kim Cattrall”. (Wikipedia)

  3. ciedie aech September 9, 2018 at 5:28 pm #

    WONDERFULLY comprehensive work, Tom. It always amazes me that you can remember so much and then pull it together when needed. Thanks again. 🙂

  4. Lyn September 9, 2018 at 6:39 pm #

    An interesting article that would be better had it been reviewed for typos: “except,” “netflicks.” Makes me wonder….

    • tultican September 9, 2018 at 7:31 pm #

      Thank you for the heads up Lyn. Once I make an error, it looks right to me so I have a difficult time copy editing. I try reading backwards and that helps a little. Unfortunately, I am capable of misspelling cat even if you spot me the k and the t. I have corrected those two errors you noticed.

      • Karynne Kleine September 10, 2018 at 10:12 am #

        Along those same lines I’m gonna suggest “layperson’s guide”. I learned a great deal from this and note how comprehensive your work is, but note the little things matter for credibility.

      • Linda September 10, 2018 at 12:28 pm #

        The big things matter for credibility and that’s what Tultican delivered.

  5. Laura H. Chapman September 9, 2018 at 9:05 pm #

    Thank you for this distilled version of many of my current bookmarks on “Big Issues.”
    A problem is keeping the inventory of destructive strategies managable. You have done so admirably, with a few examples for each point.

    Under D, the aim is not just to create an surfeit of coders and drive down wages. It is also to gather data about students and teachers and do so under the banner of providing “supports” for the students. On 9/7/18 posted some briefs about the 19 Gates funded School Improvement Networks. It turns out that the project “Seeding Success” enlisting students in Shelby County TN has a parental “permission to use personal data form” posted in full in a comment by math expert Máté Wierdl (Sept 18, 2018 at 12:35). The data is gold, It is wanted for many reasons, including some that seem remote but are in the works.The marketing is offered under the banners of personalized learning or student centered learning. Seattle Education and Wrench in the Gears are way ahead of the curve on these issues. In any case, keep up the great work.

    • Linda September 10, 2018 at 12:29 pm #

      Thanks for the addition, Laura.

  6. Lloyd Lofthouse September 9, 2018 at 9:33 pm #

    Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé.

  7. wgersen September 10, 2018 at 10:14 am #

    Reblogged this on Network Schools – Wayne Gersen and commented:
    Blogger Tom Ultican does an excellent job of putting together a comprehensive analysis of the “DPE Movement”. The expansion of UIPUI professor Jim Scheurichthe’s “Indiana team’s DPE model” with links and his description of the “Five Disparate Groups… United in Destroying Public Education” are well researched, clear, and spot on.

  8. drext727 September 10, 2018 at 11:36 am #

    Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education.

  9. Linda September 10, 2018 at 12:41 pm #

    The Gates-sponsored Ohio Education Attainment Summit being held today in Columbus is reminiscent of the Pew tour of state capitols, where Pew provided “expert” testimony about pensions. Pew was thought to be benign, based on its reputation. But, it was
    found that Arnold and Pew were collaborating, as they are on aerial community monitoring/surveillance.
    John N. Friedman, who co-writes with Chetty, is a speaker at today’s Summit for Ohio mayors. The promo’s don’t mention he is a Gates’ Impatient Optimist. Friedman is speaking along with Hanushek of the right wing Hoover Institute.

  10. Ronald September 11, 2018 at 5:06 am #

    An impressive amount of information, and puts things in an order which allows a person like myself to see a bigger picture and the players. It calls for unions, teachers and organizations that interested in public schools to have a commitment to the public education system and to fight against the for profit groups. They may not be as powerful as they think.

    • Linda September 11, 2018 at 6:19 pm #

      Taxpayers are interested parties. They lost $1 bil. to charter school corruption in Ohio.

  11. Christopher September 14, 2018 at 3:06 am #

    thank you for authorship and publication.

    a typo— (this one is especially confusing to many people because the name is so awkward).

    IUPUI (not UIPUI ) is a CAMPUS.

    Indiana University is an INSTITUTION.
    Purdue University is an INSTITUTION.
    In the city of Indianapolis, they share the campus of IUPUI.

    James Scheurich, is Professor of Urban Education Studies at Indiana University School of Education on the campus of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

    • tultican September 14, 2018 at 3:25 pm #

      Thank you! I fixed it. That is a very confusing school name.

  12. Christopher Andrade September 14, 2018 at 6:11 pm #

    Great article overall. Another typo: central “tenet,” not “tenant.”

    One thing occurred to me – I wonder whether any significant push has been made by educators to sway the opinions of the billionaires backing these efforts. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done some fantastic work in the area of world health, and I was dismayed to see this organization coming down on the side of school privatization. Imagine if their assets were used for improvements within the public school system.

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