Atlanta’s Public School Board Voted for Privatization

23 Mar

3/22/2019 by T. Ultican

On March 4, the Atlanta Public School (APS) board voted 5 to 3 to begin adopting the “System of Excellent Schools.” That is Atlanta’s euphemistic name for the portfolio district model which systematically ends democratic governance of public schools. The portfolio model was a response to John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which claimed that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill who founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) began working out the mechanics of ending democratic control of public education. His solution to ending demon democracy – which is extremely unpopular with many billionaires – was the portfolio model of school governance.

The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio. It is a plan that guarantees school churn in poor neighborhoods, venerates disruption and dismisses the value of stability and community history.

Atlanta’s Comprador Regime

Atlanta resident Ed Johnson compared what is happening in Atlanta to a “comprador regime” serving today’s neocolonialists. In the 19th century, a comprador was a native servant doing the bidding of his European masters; the new compradors are doing the bidding of billionaires privatizing public education.

Chalkbeat reported that Atlanta is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model. The city fund was founded in 2018 by two billionaires, John Arnold the former Enron executive who did not go to prison and Reed Hastings the founder and CEO of Netflix. Neerav Kingsland, Executive Director of The City Fund, stated, “Along with the Hastings Fund and the Arnold Foundation, we’ve also received funds from the Dell Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Ballmer Group.”

City Fund has designated RedefinED as their representative in Atlanta. Ed Chang, the Executive Director of RedefinED, is an example of the billionaire created education “reform” leader recruited initially by Teach for America (TFA).

TFA is the billionaire financed destroy-public-education (DPE) army. TFA teachers are not qualified to be in a classroom. They are new college graduates with no legitimate teacher training nor any academic study of education theory. Originally, TFA was proposed as an emergency corps of teachers for states like West Virginia who were having trouble attracting qualified professional educators. Then billionaires started financing TFA. They pushed through laws defining TFA teachers as “highly qualified” and purchased spurious research claiming TFA teachers were effective. If your child is in a TFA teacher’s classroom, they are being cheated out of a professionally delivered education. However, TFA provides the DPE billionaires a group of young ambitious people who suffer from group think bordering on cult like indoctrination.

Chang is originally from Chicago where he trained to be a physical therapist. He came south as a TFA seventh grade science teacher. Chang helped found an Atlanta charter school and through that experience received a Building Excellent Schools (BES) fellowship. BES claims to train “high-capacity individuals to take on the demanding and urgent work of leading high-achieving, college preparatory urban charter schools.

After his subsequent charter school proposal was rejected, Chang started doing strategy work for the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). This led him to a yearlong Fisher Fellowship training to start and run a KIPP charter school. In 2009, he opened KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta.

While complicit in stealing neighborhood public schools from Atlanta’s poorest communities, Chang says with a straight face, “Education is the civil rights movement of today.

Ed Chang on BES

Ed Chang’s Picture from his BES Board Member Biography

Chang now has more than a decade working in billionaire financed DPE organizations. He started in TFA, had two billionaire supported “fellowships” and now has millions of dollars to use as the Executive Director of RedefinED. It is quite common for TFA alums like Chang to end up on the boards of multiple education “reform” organizations.

Under Chang’s direction, RedefinED has provided monetary support for both the fake teacher program, TFA, and the fake graduate school, Relay. In addition, they have given funds to the Georgia Charter School Association, Purpose Built Schools, Kindezi School, KIPP and Resurgence Hall.

The other obvious “Comprador” in Atlanta is APS Superintendent Meria Castarphen. A product of the prestigious Harvard Graduate School of Education where she was shaped to lead the billionaire financed privatization agenda. Unlike TFA, Harvard’s graduates are highly qualified. However, large contributions from billionaires with an agenda have corrupted the school’s intellectual honesty. The most notorious three “fauxlanthropies” working to destroy-public-education (DPE) have given generously to Harvard.

Harvard Grants

Using Philanthropy to Control Harvard – GatesWaltonBroad

The Post “A Rotten Peach Poisoning Atlanta Public Schools” documents Castarphen’s journey from Selma, Alabama to Harvard and finally to Atlanta. At Harvard, she became an expert in using high stakes testing to hold schools and teachers accountable. Unfortunately, as is widely known, standardized testing is completely useless for evaluating schools or teachers. The only thing measured with confidence is how nice the student’s homes are.

During her first stint as a school superintendent, the people in St. Paul, Minnesota saw her as a tyrant. Half the existing administrative staff quit during her three year tenure. Executive Director of Facilities, Patrick Quinn, stated, “Meria’s confrontational style has rendered the administrative work environment toxic.

She left St. Paul for the superintendent’s job in Austin, Texas. After five years, the Austin board did not offer her a contract renewal. She had alienated both the staff and the Hispanic community to such an extent several board members lost their seats and blamed her. In an article about Meria’s coming to Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) quoted Austin resident Vincent Tovar, “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving.

Castarphen’s first agenda in Atlanta was to rid the school system of its older more experienced educators and replace them with younger less expensive and more malleable teachers. She also introduced a turnaround strategy which turned APS into a charter district. It gave her more control and eliminated many teacher protections. A similar plan was rejected in Austin.

Two years ago, an announcement reminiscent of when the fox guarded the hen house appeared on the APS web-site. It reported,

“Today the Walton Family Foundation announced it will invest $2.1 million to support and evaluate the success of Atlanta Public Schools’ Turnaround Strategy. The grants will also help the district launch APS Insights, a first-of-its-kind data dashboard available this summer to share information about school options and quality with Atlanta parents.”

It is not clear that APS was in any real need of a turnaround strategy, but new data indicates the strategy has caused harm not improvement.

NEAP Data

National Assessment of Education Progress 8th Grade Math, Reading and Change in Scale Scores

By March of 2016, the APS  board approved Castarphen’s turnaround strategy and several neighborhood schools were identified for  potential takeover. APS closed and merged several schools and turned five schools over to charter-related operators. Now, APS is examining all schools, not just struggling ones.

AJC reported on the new scheme,

“The result could bring autonomous ways of operating schools and possibly more closures or mergers. It could change the district’s mix of charter, partner-operated, and traditional, district-run neighborhood schools. Sixty-one of 89 APS schools now are neighborhood schools.”

“Helping APS with the planning work is Denver-based Foxhall Consulting Services, whose fees are being paid by RedefinED Atlanta, a local, charter-friendly nonprofit, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a public records request. RedefinED agreed to give $235,000 to Atlanta Partners for Education, a nonprofit that supports the work of the school district, to pay for Foxhall’s consulting services and travel costs on behalf of the district.”

When AJC says “autonomous ways of operating” it means that local taxpayers will no longer have a vote on operating those schools. They will still get the tax bill but private companies will get the vote. The privatization scheme was compared to managing a stock portfolio by CRPE leading many people call it the “portfolio model.” In Texas, they call it the “System of Great Schools Network” and in Atlanta it is called the “System of Excellent Schools.” Whatever Orwellian name it is given; the purpose is to move public assets into private profit-making-hands.

Destroy Public Education Movement Atlanta Style

Professor Jim Scheurich and his urban studies team at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) observed a pattern in the destruction of public education. Based on their observations, the team developed a DPE model which is described in “A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement.” The destruction of Atlanta’s public education system fits that model like a print to a wood block. A few examples from the DPE model follow.

“Institute a local-national collaboration between wealthy neoliberals and other conservatives to promote school privatization and the portfolio model of school management.”

In Atlanta besides the relationship between the City Fund and RedefinED there is the relationship between the Walton Family Foundation and Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, the billion dollar “Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta” contributed more than $14,000,000 toward school privatization including $271,000 to TFA. Falcon’s owner and Home Depot founder, Arthur M. Blank also kicked in more than a half million dollars to the privatization cause including $69,000 to TFA.

Two other big national privatization “fauxlanthropies” spent big on privatization in the Atlanta area. From 2014 to 2018, Bill Gates sent more than $52,000,000 “reform” dollars. Between 2015 and 2016, the Walton family chipped in more than $5,000,000 and that was before they partnered with APS in 2017.

“Direct large sums of money through advocacy organizations to recruit, train and finance pro-privatization school board candidates.”

Every year the Buckhead Coalition, a chamber-like, invitation-only organization of 100 CEOs, recommends and provides support for local school board candidates. At the beginning of the year, 8 of the 9 school board members had been promoted by the Coalition. In 2017, campaign contributions for school board races totaled to greater than $700,000 which is a staggering amount for a relatively modest district with just under 55,000 students.

The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta sent $220,000 to Michelle Rhee’s Students First Institute known for putting money into local school board elections. Jason Esteves, the former TFA corps member and current President of the APS board, had a war chest of $167,000 for his reelection run in 2017.  One of his maximum contributions came from Steuart Walton of Bentonville, Arkansas.

“Institute a portfolio system of school district management that includes public schools, charter schools and Innovation Schools.”

That is the whole point of the “System of Excellent Schools.”

“Hire minimally trained teachers from Teach for America (TFA) or other instant-teacher-certification programs.”

TFA claims, “After 18 years in Metro Atlanta, we have a network of more than 1,500 corps members and alumni who are making an impact across the education ecosystem.”

“Use groups like Teach Plus and TNTP to provide teacher professional development.”

The charter industry created a fake education graduate school with no professors of education. The so called Relay Graduate School of Education reported last year, “Relay will offer the Relay Teaching Residency in Atlanta, which caters to college graduates and career changers who are seeking a path into the teaching profession.”

In densely populated areas, the DPE agenda invariably is coherent with an urban renewal effort often derisively labeled “gentrification.” That is certainly the case in Atlanta. For example, Purpose Built Schools advertise, “We are a philanthropically funded organization that grew out of the holistic neighborhood transformation efforts of the East Lake Foundation, Purpose Built Communities and Charles R. Drew Charter School.” Another example is the self-declared history of the Grove Park Foundation stating they “forged a series of new partnerships with Atlanta Public Schools, KIPP, the YMCA and several arts organizations to bring an A+ school, a new YMCA facility and new housing options for all income levels to the Grove Park neighborhood.

Final Observations

Shani Robinson’s book co-written with journalist Anna Simonton is called None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators. Shani was a first-grade TFA teacher when she became ensnared in this grossly unjust episode. It is not that some teachers did not deserve to lose their job, but none of them deserved a prison stay for making a bad choice when confronted with horrible education policy. Some Atlanta teachers got 20-year sentences.

In a Democracy Now interview, Shani shared that 35 educators either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial after being charged with racketeering under the RICO statutes created to bring down mobsters. Of the 35 charged, 34 were African-American and one was Filipino. At the time, the state estimated that 20% of the exams in the state of Georgia were fraudulent. There were other districts at least as guilty as APS. Furthermore, at the time, cheating was suspected in 40 US states while 15 of them were viewed as having pervasive cheating. The only teachers in America ever criminally charged and put in prison were in Atlanta.

Even more shocking, the state of Georgia knowingly used the fraudulent statewide testing results in its application for a Race To The Top grant. Georgia dishonorably won a $400,000,000 grant.

The Atlanta cheating event was used by black and white elites in Atlanta to fuel the current DPE movement and gentrification. When Robinson was asked where were Atlanta’s progressive black politicians at the time, she replied,

“Atlanta has always been known as “the city too busy to hate,” so it’s all about image. And historically, black and white elites have worked together to decrease any racial tension.”

Professionally run public education is being dismantled in Atlanta. The legacy of 200 years passed down by all our forefathers is being destroyed. Hate is not the correct response but neither is passivity. Democratically run public education is a pillar of Democracy and it is worth fighting for.

One Response to “Atlanta’s Public School Board Voted for Privatization”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tom Ultican: Atlanta School Board Votes for Privatization | Diane Ravitch's blog - March 27, 2019

    […] Ultican writes: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: