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San Joaquin Valley in the DPE Crosshairs

15 Jul

Efforts to privatize public schools in the San Joaquin (pronounced: whah-keen) Valley are accelerating. Five disparate yet mutually reinforcing groups are leading this destroy public education (DPE) movement. For school year 2017-2018, taxpayers sent $11.5 billion to educate K-12 students in the valley and a full $1 billion of that money was siphoned off to charter schools. This meant that education funding for 92% of students attending public schools has been significantly reduced on a per student basis.

In July 2017, California’s State Superintendent of Education, Tom Torlakson, announced the revised 2017-2018 budget for K-12 education totaled $92.5 billion. Dividing this number by the total of students enrolled statewide provides an average spending per enrolled student ($14,870). The spending numbers reported above were found by multiplying $14,870 by students enrolled.

The five groups motivating privatization of public schools are:

  • People who want taxpayer supported religious schools.
  • Groups who want segregated schools.
  • Entrepreneurs profiting from school management and school real estate deals.
  • The technology industry using wealth and lobbying power to place products into public schools and supporting technology driven charter schools.
  • Ideologs who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.

The Big Valley

The San Joaquin Valley is America’s top agricultural producing region, sometimes called “the nation’s salad bowl” for the great array of fruits and vegetables grown in its fertile soil. Starting near the port of Stockton, the valley is 250 miles long and is bordered on the west by coastal mountain ranges. Its eastern boundary is part of the southern two-thirds of the Sierra bioregion, which features Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. It ends at the San Gabriel Mountains in the south.

Seven counties (Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Kern) govern the valley. Its three major cities are Fresno (population 525,000), Stockton (population 310,000) and Bakersfield (population 380,000). The entire valley has a population of more than 4 million with 845,369 K-12 students enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year.

Ironically, in possibly the world’s most prolific food producing area, there is food insecurity. In 2009 the problem became particularly severe. Sabine Blaizin reported, “The state of California declared a state of emergency in Fresno County, and from July to October, was trucking in tons of food to the hungry and unemployed.” Since 2009, the economic conditions in the valley have slowly but steadily improved.

San Joaquin Valley Map

Valley Can Published this Map with the San Joaquin Valley in Green

Some Data Observations

In her 2017 report on California’s out of control charter school system, Carol Burris made a point about the unsavory nature of the independent study charter school. She pointed out that these schools have poor attendance and terrible graduation rates. Unfortunately, they are easy to set up and very profitable. Of all the independent study charters, the virtual charters have the worst performance data and are widely seen as fraudulent. About one-third of the valley’s charters are independent study and half of those are virtual.

Charter Numbers Table

As the table above shows, Kings county is already at 17.1% charter penetration which is about the same percentage as San Diego. It is likely that Kings county district schools are struggling financially because they cannot adjust fast enough to the loss of students to the charter system. Several studies, including Professor Gordon Lafer’s “Breaking Point,” have documented this threat to public school systems caused by these minimally-regulated privatized schools.

The charter school industry notoriously avoids the more expensive students to educate such as special education students. The following chart shows that same trend is prevalent in the valley. In every category of more difficult and expensive students to serve, the charter school industry has managed to avoid their fair share.

Subgroup Percentages

GO Public Schools Targets Fresno

In Oakland, California, GO is the political organizer working on the ground to privatize public schools. It funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. The national organizing group for privatizing public schools, Education Cities, lists GO as its partner. GO is a non-profit operating under federal tax code 501-C3. Great Oakland Public Schools is GO’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501-C4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.

A December 2017 article in the Fresno Bee reported,

“Dozens of parents and community members attended a meeting at the Big Red Church on Wednesday to discuss how to improve Fresno Unified and the success of its students – but it wasn’t hosted by the district.

“Go Public Schools, a nonprofit that has worked with struggling schools in Oakland, created a branch of the organization in Fresno earlier this year, with the goal of ‘expanding access to quality education in Fresno’s most historically under-served neighborhoods.’

“Since Go Public Schools Fresno opened in June, it has hosted “house parties” across the city, where parents exchange ideas in their homes, and offered a 10-week course to Spanish-speaking parents, teaching them how to become more engaged in community issues and urging them to attend school board meetings.”

Go Public Schools Executive Director in Fresno is Diego Arambula. The article pointed out that Diego’s brother, Assemblyman Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno,  was present. This is another example of pretend progressives adopting the school privatization policies promoted by Betsy DeVos, Eli Broad, the Walmart heirs and David Koch’s American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

GO’s current campaign in Fresno is the Choosing Our Future Initiative. They claim,

“Our path forward is built on a set of 3 policy recommendations:

  • “21st century Success: We need to redefine success as it relates to the 21st century and commit to every child graduating prepared to succeed.
  • “Individualized Student Plans: We want to empower both students and educators with individualized data to ensure every child is making adequate annual progress toward graduating prepared to succeed. …
  • “Innovation Zone: Create an Innovation Zone to design and support transformational school models.”

Goal one is related to the DeVosian meme that schools have not changed in 100 years. The second goal is about selling technology. Their individualized learning plan undoubtedly includes “personalized learning” on digital devices. It is an unproven approach, likely to fail. The final goal is a call for the ALEC supported ideology to reduce democratic input into local school policy. It claims schools should be autonomous and freed from elected school boards and legislatures. This theory is being implemented in Denver, Philadelphia and elsewhere, a plan that posits disruption as a positive value for educating children.

Local elites like Larry Powell the former Fresno County Superintendent of Schools are supporting GO’s school privatization plan. Powell’s bio at the Central Valley Community Foundation says he has a daily radio feature called “Good News with Larry Powell” on iHeart Radio and is a Political Analyst on the NBC and CBS affiliates in Fresno. He has also served on 12 non-profit boards.

A recent editorial by Powell in the Fresno Bee echoes Betsy DeVos’s spurious “schools have not changed in 100 years.” Powell wrote,

“Amazing work has been done by our educators, but our core school model has remained largely unchanged. It’s been said that if Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today, the only thing he would recognize is public education.”

This well-known community leader who spent 43 years as a high school wrestling coach, history teacher and an administrator made this claim. Anyone who has spent time in a public-school classroom, knows this is not true. Powell gave his full-throated endorsement to all three of the GO policy recommendations; even praising the anti-democratic ALEC inspired innovation schools. He claimed,

“We must ensure that our educators are given the freedom to design a school model and system that best meets the needs of their current students. An innovation zone will provide school sites who are in the zone with additional academic and financial flexibility in exchange for increased accountability.”

It is unclear where that increased accountability comes from because the local school board loses their oversight ability. DPE forces generally define accountability based exclusively on standardized testing results which do not provide reliable information about teaching or school quality. Standardized tests are a proven waste of money, providing ways for businesses to purloin education dollars.

The June 21 2018 issue of the Fresno Bee published, “Kepler will keep operating after all. Does that mean Fresno is friendly to charter schools?” Reporter Aleksandra Appleton noted that even the California Charter School Association recommended the Kepler charter school’s authorization be revoked. Her lead sentence read, “The Kepler Neighborhood School will keep operating after the Fresno County Schools Board voted 4-1 Thursday to approve the charter school’s appeal, effectively reversing an earlier decision by Fresno Unified that would have led to the school’s closure.”

Stockton Got Their Broadie

Billionaire, Eli Broad, has been relentless in his efforts to privatize public education. To spearhead this goal, the Edythe and Eli Broad foundation created an unaccredited administrators school that teaches Broad’s management philosophy and ideology.

Broad-trained administrators are famous for hiring consultants, bad relations with teachers, large technology purchases and saddling school districts with debt. In May, Oklahoma educator and historian, John Thompson, wrote a series of articles documenting these perceptions about Broad academy graduates (1, 2, and 3).

Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said of Broad, “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.”

John Deasy is perhaps the most infamous of all Broadies. In 2014 when Deasy was forced out as Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, the New York Times reported,

“Mr. Deasy, a strong proponent of new technology in schools and of holding teachers accountable for improving student test scores, had faced mounting criticism from board members and teachers who saw him as an enemy. He testified against teachers’ unions this year in a lawsuit in which a California judge ruled that tenure protection laws deprived students of their basic right to an education and violated their civil rights.

“Detractors also criticized Mr. Deasy, who led the second-largest school district in the country, for the difficult rollout of an ambitious $1.3 billion plan to give iPads to every student in the district, which has an enrollment of 640,000 across 900 schools.”

Amazingly, this May the Stockton Unified School District Board voted 7-0 to hire John Deasy to be the superintendent of schools. Evidently, they wanted a star and were willing to pay the price. The Recordnet gave some partial details of Deasy’s agreement,

“His contract is set for three years and salary will be $275,000.

“Several gasps and laughs were heard as Board President Angela Phillips read aloud the employment agreement, which includes a $700 a month allowance for vehicle, cellphone and internet costs, plus mileage, five weeks’ vacation and various expenses. Deasy’s contract also states SUSD will reimburse him for moving and housing costs to Stockton not to exceed $15,000.”

It’s the Scammiest

In the 1980’s, Kraft Corporation ran a delightful commercial for their macaroni and cheese product. An ebullient little black boy who apparently had lost a baby tooth, looked at the camera and exalted, “It’s the cheesiest.” Every time that commercial came on, it made me smile.

But looking at the New Jerusalem School District of Tracy, California, I always think, “it’s the scammiest.” It doesn’t make me smile.

The districts wed site shares the history of the name:

“The Ebe Family came across the plains in covered wagons and settled near here about 1865.  In 1874, Mr. Henry Ebe, newly settled, donated two acres of land to San Joaquin County for a school in this area. In exchange for this, he required that the school be given the name “New Jerusalem’.” 

New Jerusalem does not look like a public-school district. It has a three-member elected board, a superintendent, an Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, a Budget Analyst, a person in charge of Accounts Payable, a Human Resources person, a Payroll department, a person in charge of the Nutrition Program and a person in charge of its Transportation Program. In 2016-2017 the district only had 29 kindergarten students in its one school. This large organization is supported by the 13 charter schools New Jerusalem authorizes.

New Jerusalem Enrollment

2016-2017 Data provided by the California Department of Education

Of their 13 charter schools, 8 are virtual. New Jerusalem authorized a charter school that is 250 miles away in Simi Valley, California and another one sixty miles away in Stockton, California.

The New Jerusalem web site provides instructions and forms for starting a charter school and getting it authorized by them.

A Final Perspective

The San Joaquin Valley is in the charter industry’s crosshairs. Their agenda is privatizing public schools and ending local control by democratic process. Most people are not surprised that libertarians, like David Koch, want to end public education but are often blindsided by Democrats supporting the same agenda.

Educate yourself and your neighbors. Don’t let people tell you that your local school is terrible and the Gates, Broad and Walton supported charter schools are superior. Both propositions are false.

iReady Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching

27 Jun

iReady is an economically successful software product used in public schools, by homeschoolers and in private schools. It utilizes the blended learning practices endorsed by the recently updated federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). iReady employs competency-based education (CBE) theory which is also advocated by ESSA. The outcome is iReady drains money from classrooms, applies federally supported failed learning theories and undermines good teaching. Children hate it.

Public education in America contends with four dissimilar but not separate attacks. The school choice movement is motivated by people who want government supported religious schools, others who want segregated schools and still others who want to profit from school management and the related real estate deals. The forth big threat is from the technology industry which uses their wealth and lobbying power to not only force their products into the classroom, but to mandate “best practices” for teaching. These four streams of attack are synergistic.

Profiting from Education Law

A group of billionaires with varying motives are using their vast wealth to shape America’s education agenda to their own liking. The last rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 called ESSA was larded up with provisions like the big money for technology which is listed in Title’s I and IV. It also specifies generous grants to promote both “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” (See page 1969 of the official law.) Charter schools, vouchers and social impact bonds are promoted in ESSA. All these initiatives drain money from the classroom and none have been credibly shown to improve education outcomes.

Billionaires Fixing Education

Some of the Unelected and Untrained Billionaires Driving America’s Education Policy

iReady is marketed by Curriculum Associates (CA) of Billerica, Massachusetts. It was originally formed in 1969 to publish workbooks. In 2008, their octogenarian CEO, Frank Ferguson decided it was time to hang up his spurs. Ron Waldron an equities manager at Berkshire Partners was Ferguson’s unlikely choice to take the reins. Unlikely, because he came to CA from the equities industry famous for selling company assets while sticking the debt with the original company. (The results are profits for the equities firm and bankruptcy for the managed company. An obviously criminal enterprise made legal through lobbying.)

Previous to working at Berkshire Partners, Waldron had a history of developing companies that profited off education law. From his biography at LinkedIn:

  • Northwestern: 1983-1987 BA American Studies
  • Harvard Business School: 1990-1992 MBA
  • Kaplan VP: 1992-1996
  • Score! Education Centers CEO: 1996-2001
  • Jumpstart CEO: 2002-2006
  • Berkshire Partners Operating Executive: 2006-2008
  • Curriculum Associates CEO: 2008 – Present

In 1946 at Brookline, NY, Stanley H. Kaplan started a test preparation business for Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) takers. By 1984, when he sold the business to the Washington Post, Kaplan had more the 100 SAT prep centers nationwide. When Waldron became Vice President of Kaplan, Stanley H. Kaplan still worked there. This was Waldron’s introduction to the testing industry.

In 1992 Score! tutoring centers started in Palo Alto, California. Four years latter, Kaplan bought Score! and Waldron moved over to become the CEO. Glen Tripp worked at Score!, the company his brother co-founded. He says of its demise:

“Over the next few years, we gained more resources and responsibilities than we ever could have dreamed of. We grew from 14 centers to 130 centers. But we lost our culture along the way. We brought in talent faster than we were able to absorb it. We invested less in our culture-building traditions. Our program got stale, and our performance faltered. Eventually, SCORE! was shut down. We had built something amazing and then watched it crumble.”

Kaplan and Score! profited off a provision in George Bush’s and Edward Kennedy’s 2001 rewrite of the Education Law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The United States Department of Education published this notice:

“This federal law allows parents to choose other public schools or take advantage of free tutoring if their child attends a school that needs improvement. … The law also supports the growth of more independent charter schools, funds some services for children in private schools, and provides certain protections for homeschooling parents.” (emphasis added)

I worked at a school in a poor and minority community and our school was designated as “needs improvement” by the federal government based on standardized testing. The school was forced to offer free tutoring services at places like Score! and write a letter to all parents indicating we were a “failing school.” I do not remember any positive results coming from the tutoring, but my workload increased. I had to provide the tutoring service regular updates about what my classes were doing.

Kaplan and Score! were shuttered in 2009.

Jumpstart was founded in 1994 as a non-profit aimed at providing children in poor often minority communities with pre-kindergarten programs. Waldron left the Washington Post family of companies to become CEO of Jumpstart in 2002. It is from Jumpstart, America got the infamous concept, “kindergarten readiness.” This relatively small “non-profit” still has more than eight people “earning” over $125,000 annually.

Waldron timed his 2008 move to Curriculum Associates (CA) well. Jeb Bush launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in 2008. In close cooperation with the Koch funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now. That same year, as reported in Mercedes Schneider’s book Common Core Dilemma, Bill and Melinda Gates agreed with Gene Wilhoit, President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and David Coleman founder of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) to provide millions of dollars for the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (Schneider 140).

Two years ago (2016), a self-described soccer-mom from Florida, Deb Herbage, wrote a well-documented article about the CA flagship product iReady. She gave it the title “i-Ready?…………More Like i-SCAM and Other Deceptions.” Herbage wrote:

i-Ready Diagnostic exploded onto the scene like … other “competency based education” (CBE) curriculums since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  It is now believed by many that the implementation of the CCSS and the focus on the standardized tests that went along with the CCSS was yet another extremely, well-crafted and timed implementation to distract parents, teachers, students and some school officials while district and state officials put in place the many ed-tech companies, corporations, investors, foundations, and non-profit companies … who all quickly and methodically jumped on the CCSS bandwagon …. While we were distracted with the CCSS and end of year standardized testing – in school districts all across the state of Florida and across the country, i-Ready Diagnostic, owned by Curriculum Associates, implemented and deployed their much touted “progress monitoring” curriculum – i-Ready Diagnostic.”

iReady Utilizes Discredited Education Theory

A report from the University of Utah Reading Clinic describes iReady as “a technology-based diagnostic (i-Ready Diagnostic) and instruction program for reading.” It continues,

“The Diagnostic Assessment is adaptive in that it adjusts the difficulty level of the questions presented depending on student response to previous questions. Upon completion of the assessment, the program links the student to lessons to complete online.” 

“i-Ready is a blended learning program. … with downloadable, teacher-led lessons that correlate with the online lessons.”

iReady mathematics uses the same approach as the reading program. The lessons are CCSS aligned and delivered with competency-based-education (CBE) principles.

The United States Department of Education promotes CBE claiming:

“Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

CBE is the updated name for outcome-based education which was the 1990’s name for Benjamin Bloom’s mastery learning. Dr. Bill Spady, sociologist and director of the International Center on Outcome-Based Restructuring, defined the connection between OBE and Mastery Learning in an article entitled “On Outcome Based Education: A Conversation with Bill Spady” (Educational Leadership, Dec. 1992-Jan. 1993):

“In January of 1980 we convened a meeting of 42 people to form the Network for Outcome-Based Schools. Most of the people who were there — Jim Block, John Champlin — had a strong background in Mastery Learning, since it was what OBE was called at the time. But I pleaded with the group not to use the name ‘mastery learning’ in the network’s new name because the word ‘mastery’ had already been destroyed through poor implementation.”

A 2015 Journal article by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway is called “A Brief Critique of Mastery/Competency Learning.” In it they make this important point:

“Our objection to mastery/competency/personalized learning is about how a learner comes to develop that mastery/competency. Reading a website, listening to a podcast that may or may not be complemented with a PowerPoint presentation and viewing a video-recorded lecture are various direct instruction strategies. And, it is well known that children can be drilled, drilled, drilled to successfully pass standardized tests: ‘… [there is] conclusive evidence that an appropriately instituted mastery approach to instruction yields improvement in student achievement…’ But there is no evidence that the type of ‘knowledge’ gained through direct instruction enables students to solve ‘uncharted problems,’ the sorts of problems that arise in living in our globally connected world. Just the opposite. “Knowledge” gained through direct instruction is memorized, so that information remains inert and unconnected to all the other knowledge in a learner’s head. And as Dewey points out, the core of learning is the ‘…intentional noting of connections…”’

The CBE theory of education has a long history of failure dating back to the 1920’s, however, it is one of the few methods available that can be easily delivered economically by digital means.

Instead of a structured course with a teacher, students will log into a computer and demonstrate competencies in an online environment. “Personalized learning” is a euphemism for a computer-based course delivered in isolation.

It is a terrible idea! The last thing a 21st Century student needs is to be shoved in front of another lifeless digital device. Students need to interact with “highly qualified” certificated teachers.

Computers are good at drilling information and conducting fact checks. However, educators have known for more than a century that this kind of teaching is destructive. To create understanding, all the modes of learning must be actively engaged. Drill and skill destroys the desire to learn and undermines development of creativity.

The educator known for his wonderful blog, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, wrote:

“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.”

Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, a teacher from Virginia, recently published her article, “Why iReady is Dangerous.” Teachers like Kassia exist in almost every school and district. It is professional educators like her that children need and not corporate software packages. Wedekind shares,

“When I started working for Fairfax County Public Schools twelve years ago I knew very little about math or how children learn math. But I was lucky to end up in a district that invests in teachers. I had amazing math coaches (who inspired me to become a math coach!) and support from the Title I office, I took courses in Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) and Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI), learned how to use the Investigations curriculum well, and wrote a book about nurturing young mathematicians through small group instruction. I say this to point out that tremendous resources were poured into me (and many others!) as a classroom teacher and a coach to help me learn to listen to students and teach and assess responsively.

“The best ‘screener’ is a knowledgeable teacher and our first question of any potential assessment should be, ‘Does it provide a window into student thinking or is student thinking hidden behind scale scores and graphs?”’

Children Hate iReady

Top three iReady definitions from the Urban Dictionary:

  • A stupid online computer program that supposedly brings your grades up but, instead, brings your grades down when you forget to do them. But worst of all, it’s built for common core.
  • A website for students that teachers think will help their grade, but in reality it makes them want to kill themselves.
  • A website that causes suicidal thoughts, depression, ptsd, anxiety, and adhd.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reports on 7-year-old Saige Price’s having gone at the New Jersey Board of Education.  Saige is in second grade at Briarwood Elementary School in the Florham Park School District, New Jersey.  Sage’s final comment was,

“When I got a low score [on the iReady] I would have to go back to the computer lab until I got a higher score.  I hated it.  It should be against the law.”

Deb Herbage shared several parent responses in her article:

“My son hates it because if he gets a question wrong, it throws him back a couple of levels ….. it “reads” to the kids, therefore taking away any reading practice they may get ….. and it is a huge data mining program. The license with the county states that although the data belongs to the county, Curriculum Associates have a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free license to use that data!”

“It’s a new program so there is little to no data collected yet on reliability. Our kids are guinea pigs.”

“All I know is that my daughter, in the 4th grade, read on a 4th grade level in 2nd grade never got past the 3rd grade work on IReady.  Everytime she made one mistake it threw her back to kindergarten. All it did was make her hate reading, hate the computer worse than she did and slowly destroyed all of the hard work we’d done building her confidence.”

iReady is Popular in Schools Led by Privatizer Friendly Administrators

On December 14, 2015, the Atlanta school board authorized superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen (who I have chronicled) to execute a $350,000 contract to purchase iReady Diagnostic.

In 2016, a local Baltimore blog tracking the implementation of STAT an ed-tech initiative advanced by the criminally indicted superintendent, Dallas Dance, carried a guest blog called “Advice to BCPS Parents from “Wrench in the Gears” and Why iNACOL Loves ESSA.” It began,

“Recent days have seen an uptick in conversations about online Competency-based Education or CBE, the scary wave of educational transformation rapidly sweeping over the country.  BCPS students, teachers, and parents are at the front edge of this wave with STAT.”

If your school system is using iReady, someone in leadership is drinking the Kool-Aid or is corrupt. These programs are an absolute waste of education dollars and they harm students.

Philadelphia Story: Another School Choice Failure

12 Jun

For the last two decades, Pennsylvania’s political leaders have attempted to improve schools in Philadelphia without spending money. In 2001, Governor Thomas Ridge turned to Chris Whittle and his Edison Project to study the school system and create a reform plan. That December, the state of Pennsylvania disbanded the local school board and assumed total control of the district. Since then, citizens of Philadelphia have endured – with minimal input – a relentless school choice agenda and the loss of public schools in their neighborhoods.

Politicians – not wanting to spend on education – often claim the problem is public schools have become bloated and inefficient. This assertion is normally paired with an attack on teachers’ unions as being the enemy of good pedagogy and progress. The medicine offered to solve these ills is competition and market forces. It is theorized that competition will improve management and force teachers to do their job better. After two decades of implementing this theory in Philadelphia; test scores are still low, communities are still plagued by poverty and fraud is rampant. Worst of all, the public-school system has been significantly harmed.

Samuel E. Abrams wrote the book Education and the Commercial Mindset which begins with an examination of the Edison Project in Philadelphia. Abrams reports,

“In urban Philadelphia, property values are low and poverty is high. In 2000-2001, Philadelphia spent $7,944 per student on schools. The five school districts along the Main Line of the region’s commuter rail system, which services suburbanites living northwest of Philadelphia spent $11,421 per student.”

In the summer of 2001 just before leaving to become the first head of the Homeland Security, Governor Ridge commissioned Chris Whittle’s Edison Project to produce for $2.7 million a report on how to boost test scores and contain costs in Philadelphia. Ridge famously said, “Nearly a quarter million children are educated in it – or, truth be told, not educated.” (Abrams 110) Ridge’s successor, Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker was just as brutal saying, “After all, only 13 percent of the district’s high school juniors are able to read the newspapers with basic comprehension. And that’s not counting those who drop out.” (Abrams 110)

Edison’s report was not impartial. Both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News called it a charade. (Abrams 116) The report was overly critical of the school district and recommended that the Edison Project be put in charge of running it. Edison also called for reforming “failing” schools by turning them into charter schools or other private management.

Helen Gym (now on the Philadelphia city council) speaking for Asian Americans United, asked, “If this [privatization] is so innovative why aren’t they doing it in Lower Merion?” (Abrams 114) This turns out to have been a perceptive question. Lower Merion is 85% white and rich. Still today, there appear to be no charter schools in Lower Merion Township. Charter schools mostly exist in poor communities without the political capital to protect their schools.

Philadelphia PA Charter School Map

Created Using Fordham Institute’s Charter School Mapping Facility

On December 21, 2001, Philadelphia became the largest school district ever taken over by a state government. The district was to be led by a five-member School Reform Commission (SRC). Three of the members would be named by the governor and two by Philadelphia’s mayor. Edison was named the lead consultant to the district and given management of 20 of the 42 schools identified as most in need of improvement.

That summer, the SRC hired Paul Vallas to lead the school district. Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report wrote an article, “Serial School Privatizer “Chainsaw Paul” Vallas Gets Ready For His Next Job,” about Vallas’s political aims. In it he recalled Vallas’s record,

“Vallas next landed in Philadelphia, where, he surrounded himself with the usual dubious cloud of yes-men and consultants, engineered the privatization of a significant chunk of that city’s public schools, selling off public buildings to charter operators and well-connected developers and firing hundreds more mostly black teachers. … Vallas’s “blame the teachers, blame the deficits, blame the parents” rhetoric and practice exactly matched those of … Michelle Rhee. He left Philly schools in shambles, just in time to make New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

This may be a little unfair, but Vallas certainly has promoted the privatization of public schools wherever he served. He also opened the door for billionaire Eli Broad to infest Philadelphia with administrators trained at his unaccredited Broad Academy.

Broad believes that leaders of school district need financial and business management skills but require little or no experience in education. He also says that the best way to reform education is through competition and market forces.

Vallas is an example of the kind of school leader Broad sought to foster. He was someone who had little to no experience in education but understood finance. When Mayor Daily gained control of Chicago’s public schools, he made his budget director, Paul Vallas, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Here Come the Broadies

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch titled a 2013 opinion piece Broad Street Bully. In describing Broad trained administrators, he wrote,

“Paul Vallas, a former Illinois state budget director who arrived from Chicago in 2002 to take over Philadelphia’s schools, was an early archetype – and he won a $4.3 million grant from the Broad Foundation three years later to train new principals in an Academy for Leadership in Philadelphia Schools. His short-term successor here – a retired Army colonel named Tom Brady – was a graduate of a Broad academy.”

This was not the Tom Brady the Philadelphia Eagles defeated on the gridiron this past February. This Tom Brady was a 25-year Army veteran with no public school experience who attended the Broad Academy class of 2004.

Vallas left Philadelphia for New Orleans in the fall of 2007 and Brady led Philadelphia’s schools on an interim basis while the SRC searched for a permanent replacement.

In February, 2008, the SRC hired the late Arlene Ackerman, who had an Ed.D in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard. She came to Philadelphia from the Broad Center in Los Angeles where she was the first Superintendent in Residence at the Broad Superintendents Academy. Previous to that she had served as Superintendent of Schools in Washington DC (1998-2000) and San Francisco (2000-2005). In her obituary, the New York Times reported,

“In San Francisco, ‘she was unwilling to listen to different points of view and not able to work with the entire Board of Education,’ Mark Sanchez, its president, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2008.”

By 2009, Ackerman was not only Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, she was the newest member of the Broad Center Board of Directors. The following is the list of the board of directors from the Broad Center news release:

  • Joel I. Klein, board chair, chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Barry Munitz, board vice chair, trustee professor, California State University, Los Angeles
  • Dan Katzir, board secretary/treasurer, managing director, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
  • Dr. Arlene Ackerman, superintendent, The School District of Philadelphia
  • Richard Barth, chief executive officer, KIPP Foundation
  • Louis Gerstner, Jr., senior advisor, The Carlyle Group
  • Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent, Seattle Public Schools
  • Wendy Kopp, chief executive officer and founder, Teach For America
  • Mark A. Murray, president, Meijer Retail and Grocery Supercenters
  • Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Margaret Spellings, former U.S. secretary of education

Along with Ackerman on this list of well-known school privatization advocates is the power couple, Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth. Wendy founded Teach for America which now has a large presence in Philadelphia. Before Richard became CEO of the KIPP charter chain he was the Vice President in charge of operations in Philadelphia for the Edison Project. He went to KIPP in 2006. (Abrams 138)

Ackerman’s most lasting Philadelphia reform which is still in play today was called Imagine 2014. Ken Derstine an education blogger from Philadelphia noted, “While state funding to the district increased during the later part of the 2000’s under Governor Ed Rendell, much of this increased funding, and temporary funding from federal stimulus money, was devoted to School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Imagine 2014 initiative which poured money into charters, Promise Academies, and Renaissance Schools.”

The Imagine 2014 initiative is still the official board policy promulgated by the SRC. It is a policy driving public school closures, undermining district control and encouraging privatized schools. The policy introduction states:

“The Renaissance Schools initiative is articulated in the School District of Philadelphia’s “Imagine 2014” strategic plan and is predicated on the belief that the School District has chronically underperforming schools that are not serving the needs of students and families and have not made adequate yearly progress as defined by state and federal laws, and that these schools need fundamental change to facilitate a transformation of the learning environment. With an urgency to dramatically improve the learning environment in these underperforming schools, the School District is seeking innovative ways to transform low-performing schools through new school models that include: in-district restructuring (Innovation Schools) and external partnerships (Contract Schools and Charter Schools).”

Innovation schools are promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a politically conservative organization that publishes model legislation which is often introduced verbatim by Republican state law makers across America. ALEC receives major funding from the Charles Koch Foundation. The Philadelphia innovation school design meets the specifications of ALEC’s innovation school model legislation.

Phi Delta Kappan is a professional journal for education, published by Phi Delta Kappa International, since 1915. EdWeek carried an article by Julie Underwood and Julie Mead of Phi Delta Kappan discussing the effect and purpose of ALEC generated model education legislation. Their list of purposes includes, “Reduce the influence of or eliminate local school districts and school boards (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 96) to be carried out through model legislation such as Charter Schools Act, Innovation Schools Act ….”

Ackerman was given a $900,000 severance in 2011 after she and Mayor Michael Nutter had a disagreement over which charter management company would be given control of Martin Luther King High School.

Joel Mathis reporting for Philadelphia Magazine wrote, “The Boston Consulting Group was brought into the District shortly after Ackerman left to continue Imagine 2014 ….” The interim superintendent chosen to replace Ackerman was Leroy Nunery who had “an extensive background in the private sector, including a two-year stint overseeing the charter school division of the former Edison Schools, a controversial for-profit educational management company.” Nunery was not a Broadie but Eli Broad (rhymes with toad) would have approved.

The School Reform Commission picked William Hite to continue Ackerman’s imagine 2014 which is now called the Renaissance Schools Initiative. A Broad Center posts says, “William Hite served as area assistant superintendent for Cobb County School District before joining The Broad Academy class of 2005.” In 2013, Hite led the effort that resulted in closing 23 public schools. His original list called for closing 37 schools. He has also enthusiastically promoted both innovation schools and charter schools.

Hellen Gym

Public-School Champion and Council Women, Hellen Gym, Speaks Against School Closings

The destroy public education (DPE) playbook calls for a combination of outside money, local money and a local political leadership group. The national school privatizing umbrella organization Education Cities identifies Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) as the their cohort in Philadelphia.

PSP is a 501 C3 (non-profit) organization officially listed with the IRS as The Philadelphia Schools Project. PSP has an associated 501 C4 (independent political expenditures) organization called Philadelphia Schools Advocates. PSP lists among its $5 million donors: The J. Mahlon Buck, Jr. Family, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hamilton Family Foundation, Dorrance H. Hamilton, Patricia Kind, Jeannie and Mike O’Neill, Charlie Ryan.

The Results

A 2014 article in the Pennsylvania Gazette sums it up succinctly,

“Maybe you heard about the sixth-grader who died several hours after suffering an asthma attack at a school lacking the budget for a nurse last fall. Maybe you read about the firing this spring of three principals embroiled in a standardized-test cheating scandal that implicated 140 educators in 33 city schools. If you’ve caught any news about public education in Philadelphia recently, chances are it hasn’t been good. Headlines about the city’s school system have been so alarming, and so frequent, that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Standardized testing is useless for evaluating schools, districts or teachers. These testing results do correlate very well with wealth or lack of same in a child’s home. Since the 1990’s they have been used to label schools in poor communities as “failing.” It is a fraud.

However, since the gauge being used to privatize Philadelphia’s schools is standardized testing shouldn’t the privatizers be hoisted on their own petard. Based on testing data, the last two decades of DPE reforms have FAILED miserably.

In 2009, Philadelphia joined Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). The National Assessment of Education Progress tests the TUDA districts every two years. For a simple comparison, I have graphed the 8th grade mathematics and reading scores in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC and the national average.

Math and Reading

Graphs of NAEP TUDA Composite Scores Data

After two decades of closing and privatizing schools in Philadelphia to “improve tests scores,” these scores provide testimony to how fraudulent school reform has been.

Parents have also been learning by tough experience that charter schools are not public schools. In December 2014, two low-performing charter schools – Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners and Wakisha – ran out of money and closed suddenly just before the winter break.

This displaced more than 1,500 students and left parents and guardians in a nightmarish scramble to find another option. Since charter schools are private businesses and cannot be forced to take students, the public schools had to find a place for them.

The SRC recently shared,

“The SRC will remain as the governing body for the School District of Philadelphia until June 30, 2018. Mayor Kenney appointed nine members to the Philadelphia Board of Education (BOE) in April 2018. Beginning in July 2018, the Board will oversee the School District of Philadelphia.”

Still the citizens of Philadelphia will not be able to elect a representative to the school board that they can hold accountable for decisions about schools. Mayor control of schools is against American tradition and undemocratic.

It is time to end this billionaire driven fiscal! It is time to boycott all charter schools because they are like wood rot destroying the main pillar of democracy, public-education.

 

Are Public Schools in Inglewood, California a Warning?

3 Jun

In 2006, the relatively small Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) had over 18,000 students and was a fiscally sound competent system. Today, IUSD has 8,400 students, is 30% privatized and drowning in debt. In 2012, the state of California took over the district, usurped the authority of the elected school board and installed a “State Trustee” to run it. IUSD is on its sixth state appointed trustee in six years.

This crisis was created by politicians and wealthy elites. It did not just happen. Understanding the privatization of Inglewood’s schools through the choice agenda is instructive of the path that could lead to the end of public schools in California.

Kicking Off the Choice Agenda

Inglewood is east of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles county between Watts and the Los Angeles International Airport. Today, it is part of a giant urban megalopolis but 50 years ago it was a distinctly separate community that was predominantly middle class and mostly white. Now it is populated mainly by working class poor African Americans and Hispanics. 84.8% of the students in Inglewood qualify as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

IUSD was originally incorporated in 1888. I asked Professor Larry Lawrence to help me understand Inglewood’s schools. He replied, “Of course, if you want a long view of Inglewood schools I would be glad to go through the history. My mother began attending them in 1914, graduated from Inglewood High School in 1926, came back to teach in 1929, and stayed for 41 years. I also went all the way through and came back to teach, leaving in 1966 to go to UCLA (just after the Watts Riots of the summer of 1965 – no connection to me leaving).”

Larry taught mathematics at Morningside High School. The enrollment records at Morningside mirrors what has happened to enrollment in IUSD. In the 2005-2006 school year the high school enrolled 1,535 students. This year (2017-2018) the enrollment dropped to 751. What happened?

Moringside Higg

California Department of Education Enrollment Data for Morningside High School

To understand the causes for the harm to Inglewood’s public schools and how profoundly unjust those causes are, one must first know about standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The most important metric for judging schools and teaching utilized by NCLB were the “objective” results of standardized testing. Unfortunately, the big standardized test is completely useless for evaluating schools, teachers or learning.

In 1998, an Australian, Noel Wilson, wrote a definitive paper, “Education Standards and the Problem of Error,” showing why standardized testing should not be used to evaluate schools or teaching. His work has been verified repeatedly. The education writer, Alfie Kohen wrote in his 1999 book The Schools Our Children Deserve “… eliminate standardized tests, since we could get the same results by asking a single question: ‘How much money does your mom make?’” The only correlated result from standardized testing is the economic condition of the students to their test scores.

In 2001, President George Bush (R) and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy (D) teamed up to pass NCLB. This law required every state to adopt standards and institute standardized testing. The federal government then used the state testing data to decide if schools were making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward 100% of their students being proficient in math and English by 2014. The law also “disaggregated” results by subgroups such as English language learners, special education, white, African American, Hispanic and others. If any one of those subgroups failed AYP, then the school failed.

A first year AYP failure was not a serious problem but the second consecutive year of failure to meet AYP goals meant being designated a “School in Need of Improvement” (SINI). This designation came with several requirements including sending a letter to parents telling them that the school was failing to meet AYP. It gave parents a list of options such as free tutoring and transfer to a non-failing school. The federal government designated Morningside High School a SINI in 2005 so before the 2006-2007 school year every parent got a letter saying the school was failing according to the United States Department of Education.

Because, nearly 85% of students in Inglewood met the definition of socioeconomic disadvantaged and standardized testing accurately reflected economic condition, all the schools in the IUSD were soon labeled failing by the federal government. Concurrent with these completely illegitimate conclusions the district started its precipitous decline.

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article he called, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In it, he discussed the idea that the NCLB accountability measures were purposely designed to open a path for privatizing schools. He wrote,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’”

“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).”

It is a widely held conclusion that NCLB was a failed education initiative. If privatizing schools was its true intent, then NCLB was a success.

Invasion of the Charter

Reed Hastings CEO of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps and taught mathematics in Africa. That is his only teaching experience. In 2000, he used his vast wealth to get the cap on charter schools in California lifted. He also told a gathering of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

In 2000, Proposition 39 was also supported by Reed Hastings and other pro-school-privatization billionaires. Due to the no-new-tax mantra of conservatives, schools were having a difficult time raising money to build needed facilities. Proposition 39 lowered the vote threshold required to pass a bond. Unfortunately, hidden within the laws language was a requirement for underutilized public schools to share their facilities with charter schools. With no debate the public unknowingly voted for co-location of charter schools with public schools.

When proposition 39 is coupled with the pro-charter authorizing system in California, citizens lose all democratic control over their local schools. As former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch shared:

“District officials in California have confided in me that it is virtually impossible to stop a charter proposal, no matter how bad it is or how little it is needed. If the district turns down the proposal, the charter advocates appeal to the Los Angeles County School Board, where they are often approved. In the off-chance that both the district and the county turn down their proposal, the advocates appeal to the state, where they are almost certain to win approval.”

At the start of the millennium, Inglewood had 18 schools. Now, it has at least 31 schools.

Inglewood Charter Schools

Charter Schools Operating in Inglewood, California

With the federal government proclaiming that IUSD schools are failing, a fertile area for charter school establishment was cultivated. Most people do not know much about schools and education policy so of course many concerned parents wanted to move their children out of the “failing district schools.”

The IUSD schools were never failing nor are charter schools their equivalent. Certainly, there are some good classrooms in charter schools but they come with the charter industries’ record of fraud, abuse and instability.  When one of these private businesses closes their doors as has happened too frequently, district schools must take in all their students. Unlike charter schools, public schools cannot reject a student.

Professor Gordon Lafer recently published the paper Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts which shows that a significant amount of the costs for a student stays with the district when a student transfers to a charter school. In addition, Lafer noted that charter schools avoid special education students and most especially higher cost more severely handicapped special education students.

Enrollment Data Chart by Tom

Inglewood Compiled Data; Charters Avoiding Disabled Students

The above chart is based on enrollment data for the 2017-2018 school year. It shows that Inglewood charter schools are avoiding more than half their share of special education students. Also, the total number of students enrolled in Inglewood charter and public schools combined is almost 5,000 less than the 2006 public school enrollment of 18,000. It appears that there are less students in the district and some resident students are attending schools outside of the district boundaries.

The State of California has Failed Inglewood

On April 6, 2018 the sixth Inglewood state trustee, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, wrote parents about the districts budget,

“When I began in August, I learned that the district faced an $8 million shortfall.”

“The result of rising costs and Inglewood Unified’s inadequate planning, even after the cost savings measures implemented to date, as of March 15th is now a $7 million budget shortfall.”

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has 130,000 students. It is 15.5 times larger than IUSD. A $7 million deficit for IUSD is equivalent to a $108 million deficit for SDUSD.

In 2012, the Daily Breeze reported on Kent Taylor the first “State Trustee” assigned to Inglewood,

“… Taylor was thrust into a high-profile, high-pressure situation when California state schools chief Tom Torlakson recruited him from the top job at the Southern Kern Unified School District in hopes Taylor could rescue Inglewood Unified from the financial quicksand.”

“Two months later, he was pressured to resign for making financial commitments with the teachers union without approval from the California Department of Education.”

What happened with Taylor was never fully explained. He got a job in the neighboring Lennox school district and within the year became their superintendent. He is still the superintendent in Lennox.

The state replaced Taylor with the school finances leader serving directly under him, La Tanya Kirk-Carter. She had been recruited from Beverly Hills Union High School District by the state to head up the business division and “help lead the recovery.” She was supposed to be a temporary replacement until a new permanent trustee was hired, but served out the rest of the 2012-2013 school year.

The third Trustee assigned by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was veteran administrator Don Brann. He was still serving as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Da Vinci Schools, college-preparatory charter schools in Hawthorne. For 15 years, Brann was Superintendent of the Wiseburn School District in Hawthorne, which is a close neighbor to Inglewood.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Brann’s success in turning around Wiseburn School District (WSD) was partially due to his inter-district enrollment plan, a plan that drew students from IUSD. WSD increased enrollment by touting the district’s small class sizes and availability of space for after school programs to attract students from surrounding areas.

Brann resigned after one year and Torlakson recruited Vincent Mathews the leader of the San Jose schools to be the Trustee. Mathews is a 2006 alumnus of the unaccredited Broad Academy for school administrators. He also served as Educator in Residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund. In 2001, Mathews was principle of the for-profit Edison Charter Academy.

Mathews stayed 18 months in Inglewood before accepting the Superintendents position in San Francisco. He is the longest serving state trustee so far.

About Mathew’s tenure, the LA Times noted,

“A recent report by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found that, under Matthews, Inglewood had left day-to-day tasks to consultants, hadn’t monitored its budget and had underestimated its salary costs by about $1 million. The district had also overestimated its revenue, in part by incorrectly counting the number of students.”

Jason Spencer became Torlakson’s fifth appointment when he was selected Interim State Administrator to succeed Matthews.

Now, Inglewood has another Broad Academy graduate from the class of 2006, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana. Her bio at the Broad Center says,

“Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana began her career as a bilingual first-grade teacher and brought her first-hand teaching experience to leadership roles in several urban school districts throughout Southern California — including Pomona, Santa Ana and Los Angeles — as well as the U.S. Department of Education, where she served as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. In that role, she helped draft the Blueprint for Reform, an Obama administration plan for continuing improvements begun in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

Is this the Future?

NCLB set the table. Students in poor communities were guaranteed to produce bad test results. Billionaires were pouring huge money into developing the charter school industry. State leaders were putting privatization friendly leaders in charge of school districts. The state trustees were never in place long enough to provide stable leadership.

Eli Broad attended public school and went on to become the only person ever to develop two Fortune 500 companies, Sun America and KB Homes. Broad, who is worth $6 billion, decided that public schools should be privatized and established a school for administrators to promote his ideology.

In Oakland, the first state trustee was a Broad Academy graduate named Randy Ward and three more of the next 6 superintendents who followed Ward were also Broad trained. Oakland suffered nine superintendents in 13 years.

In Inglewood, one trustee was a charter school founder who was concurrently serving as a board member of the charter school and the last two superintendents were Broad trained. Inglewood received six state appointed trustees in six years.

How much longer before large school districts like San Diego and Los Angeles – with 25% or more of their students in privatized schools – are forced into bankruptcy and taken over by the state? Both districts are currently running massive deficits caused primarily by charter school privatization and unfair special education costs.

Open Letter to the California Charter Schools Association

26 May

To: Steven Baratte, Managing Director, Communications, Southern California, California Charter Schools Association (CCSA)

Reference: Your May 21, 2018, email message to San Diego Free Press (SDFP)

Your message began, “I am the managing director of communications in Southern California for the California Charter Schools Association and wanted to introduce myself because I have seen an increase of charter-related stories on your website.” Then you claim without evidence, “Many of the stories contain inaccuracies about California charter schools and perpetuate falsehoods.”

Mr. Baratte, don’t you think a serious claim like this deserves a little evidence; a few examples? Every charter school article in SDFP has been rigorously documented and provides hot links to the documentation. One might disagree with the conclusions, but the evidence presented is accurate and well-sourced.

Furthermore, the writers of these articles are not paid. They, unlike paid employees of the CCSA, have no dog in this hunt. Evidence informs them that public education is under assault by the same anti-public-school and pro-privatization forces who created your organization. There is a shared belief among these writers that public schools are an irreplaceable foundation for our amazing democratic form of government. Furthermore, losing them would invite a dystopian future.

You write,

“While I think we can have differences of opinions on the value of charter schools, I also think we all want honest and accurate journalism. Most notably, in California, charter schools are free, public, and open to all.”

Unfortunately, charter schools have become profit centers for real estate developers and charter management organizations. Instead of fulfilling their original mission to be education innovators, they have too often become fraud infested enterprises lusting after tax dollars. It did not have to be this way.

San Diego Schools

San Diego Schools Map Created Using Fordham Foundation School Mapping Tool.

Here is some honest accuracy. Charter schools are not public schools and though theoretically open to all, they have a well-documented history of avoiding more costly students. A 2013 report from the National Center for Education Statistics supports that claim. This month an even more definitive report published by In The Public Interest was written by University of Oregon’s Professor Gordon Lafer. He offered this example,

“In 2015-16, for instance, charter schools accounted for 28 percent of all Oakland-area students (that is, all students who lived within the district boundaries and attended either charter schools or traditional public schools), and thus, under California’s special education funding model, received 28 percent of all special education funding for Oakland-area students. But they enrolled far less than their share of Oakland-area special needs students—just 19 percent of the total. The imbalance is yet more extreme in the most serious categories of special need. Of the total number of emotionally disturbed students attending either charter or traditional public schools in Oakland, charter schools served only 15 percent. They served only eight percent of all autistic students, and just two percent of students with multiple disabilities.”

Oakland Special Education funding

Calling charter-schools public-schools is false. It is political spin. That is too nice. It is a lie.

When the city of San Diego contracts with a construction company to repair roads, that company is still a private company. When the state of California approves a contract, known as a charter, with a private company to educate students, the company gets paid with tax dollars. It is still a private company and is not required to comply with open meeting laws, elected school boards, much of the state education code and budget transparency like a public school. They are private businesses.

You continue,

“To lump them in with, or call them, private schools is a disservice to those who could benefit from a public charter school and is wrong. And to suggest they are being privatized is also inaccurate. In California, all but a handful of charter schools are non-profits.  We are working on legislation to make all charters in California non-profit.”

Whether they are for-profit or non-profit they are private companies and the distinction between for-profit and non-profit is quite obscure. For example, Mary Bixby, San Diego’s pioneer in the strip mall charter school business, puts children at computers running education software. Very little personal teacher-student interaction takes place but teenagers who don’t like to get up in the morning can go to the strip mall and earn credits toward graduation. In 2015, the non-profit Mary founded paid her a “salary” of $340,810 and her daughter Tiffany Yandell received $135,947.

There probably are some students who benefit from charter schools, but that benefit means students in public school lose. The state attendance money follows the student to the charter school, but the costs don’t all go along. Professor Lafer’s study shows that the lasting impact per student is almost $5,000 dollars or more. In April, Hellen Ladd and John Singleton of Duke University presented a paper documenting similar outcomes in North Carolina. A study at Syracuse University by Robert Bifulco and Randall Reback also reported similar results in New York.

The following chart from Professor Lafer’s report presents the documented impacts experienced by three California school districts including San Diego Unified.

Cost of losing charter students

This chart says that every time a student in San Diego leaves the district there are less per-student resources available for those who remain. It costs more to finance two systems, plus many inefficiencies are introduced.

Isn’t CCSA a Political Organization Representing Wealth Elites and Charter School Operators Supporting School Privatization?

Mr. Barratte, you explained in your message, “They [charter schools] are authorized by school districts, county offices of education, or the state and are accountable to them, their parents and students.”

To address this statement, let me first introduce Carol Burris who retired from an award-winning career as a New York school administrator. She is the Executive Director of the Network for Public Education (NPE), a coalition of teachers, parents and students working to preserve public education in America. Burris conducted a yearlong study of the California Charter School Industry and last year, published a lengthy report called Charters and Consequences. She noted,

“CCSA does not disclose its funders on its website nor on its 990 form, but given its Board of Directors, who makes the list of big donors is not difficult to guess.

 “The 2017 Board of Directors include New York’s DFER founder, Joe Williams, a director of the Walton Education Coalition; Gregory McGinty, the Executive Director of Policy for the Broad Foundation; Neerav Kingsland, the CEO of the Hastings Fund; and Christopher Nelson, the Managing Director of the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund. Prior Board members include Reed Hastings of Netflix and Carrie Walton Penner, heir to the Walmart fortune.

 “The real power, however, sits in CCSA’s related organization, CCSA Advocates, a not-for-profit 501(c)(4) whose mission is to increase the political clout of charter schools on local school boards, on county boards, and in Sacramento. It is at all three levels that charters can be authorized in the state.”

In 2016, CCSA Advocates changed the nature of the San Diego county board of education elections by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into it. Previously it was a low-profile election in which local education professionals with small campaign budgets ran for seats on the board. CCSA succeeded in replacing two board members that they viewed as unfriendly to charter schools.

Now, CCSA Advocates is putting $162,000 behind Eric Lund’s bid to unseat incumbent Alicia Munoz and sending another $162,000 to support Cheryl James-Ward over incumbent Rick Shea. James-Ward is a charter school advocate and wife of ex-San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Randy Ward who trained at the infamous Broad academy. Like many Broad trained administrators, Ward is facing legal issues over money he awarded himself while in the Superintendent’s position.

The San Diego Union ran an issues piece in which Lund and Munoz answered a set of identical questions. The charter schools question read,

“The County Office of Education has been caught up in disputes over charter school authorizations, with some arguing that it has been hostile to applications at the behest of teachers unions which oppose charters. How do you think the county office has handled this issue?”

The CCSA supported candidate, Eric Lund, replied,

“Special-interest teachers unions are engaged in a full assault on great education in our county. They favor teachers before our kids by not assessing fairly each school that comes before the county Board of Education.

 “Past votes related to public charter schools have been directly along the lines of board members supported by unions. This demonstrates that special-interest teachers unions are controlling the board to block charter schools throughout San Diego. This is not in the interest of, or good for, our families and children.”

 Did Lund really say that teachers are against great education? Wow!

Munoz answered,

“A significant responsibility of County Boards of Education is to hold hearings on charter school appeals that have previously been denied by local school districts. The County Board of Education is not hostile to charter schools. In the last four years, the county board has approved one countywide charter application and three appeals. In addition, the board upheld one revocation and denied three appeals.

“The Education Code clearly spells out the criteria County Boards of Education must consider when deciding whether to approve or deny a charter school appeal. To arrive at an informed decision, the board relies on staff recommendations that are derived from hundreds of hours of work reviewing applications and evaluates each appeal based on educational and financial obligations. As public elected officials, board members have the fiduciary duty to protect the county office from financial liabilities, which is an important consideration in the appeal process.”

Does CCSA want rubber stamps for charter schools serving on school boards? It looks that way. Someone looking to protect children and the tax paying public is not appreciated. CCSA will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of them.

Burris reporting about CCSA money said, “Although it is a membership organization, only $1.6 million dollars came from charter school dues.” The rest of the greater than $22 million came from deep pockets (2014 data). When it comes to the California Charter School Association Advocates, the contributions can be verified and are jaw dropping. Since January 2017, nine people have donated more than $10 million dollars to CCSA Advocates and that is just the ones I found in a few hours poking around the state of California major donors data base.

Table of Billionaire Contributions

Nine Wealthy Elites Not from San Diego Who Powerfully Influence Local Elections

While poking around, I noticed that Reed Hastings contributed $2,000 to San Diego Assembly Women Shirley Weber. The note accompanying the donation says, “MADE THROUGH INTERMEDIARY CCSA ADVOCATES FOR GREAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS, FPPC ID# 1392154, 2350 KERNER BLVD., SUITE 250 SAN RAFAEL, CA 94901.” Maybe this donation helps us understand why she is so opposed to teachers having job protections such as due process and seniority rights.

One of the charter authorization appeals that county school board turned down was from College Preparatory Middle School (CPMS). The school in a church basement that was authorized by Steve Van Zant and the Mountain Empire School District. In 2016, Van Zant pleaded guilty to felony charges related to kickbacks. Concurrently the local school district went to court to stop satellite districts like Mountain Empire from authorizing schools out of their own district and won.

CCSA spent more than $70 thousand dollars defending CPMS. In a related case you defended the Van Zant style out-of-district charter authorizations saying, “This ruling will also impact students and parents who attend the resource centers by requiring them to travel longer distances or change programs, in some cases.”

At the same time this charter school scandal was occurring, CPMS was proposing a new school site with a suspicious sounding real estate plan. The San Diego Union explained,

“Under the financial arrangement, a Utah charter school developer and a Delaware subsidiary of a real estate trust headquartered in Missouri would finance the project with millions of California education dollars. College Prep would lease the new campus from the financiers for more than $620,000 a year, or 9.5 percent of the project cost. The charter could buy the campus after five years for 125 percent of the projected $6.8 million cost of the project.”

When seeking a new authorization authority to replace Mountain Empire School district, CPMS was rejected by the La Mesa-Spring Valley school district. It appealed to the county, but staff at the county concluded the proposal was not sound. The County Board of Education turned down the appeal. In March the San Diego Union reported that the California state board of education had authorized the CPMS charter by a vote of 9 to 2.

The Union Tribune report continued,

“School co-founder Mitch Miller said the next step for College Prep is building a larger school on land at 10269 Madrid Way in Spring Valley.

“Miller said construction would take about nine months, with the hope the school would open in January 2019 or shortly thereafter. The school will stay housed in La Mesa until the Spring Valley campus is ready.”

The charter school authorization process with multiple levels of authorization does not offer real protection, supervision or accountability for charter schools. I think we need a moratorium on charter schools while we put them all under the supervision of an elected school board. Only locally elected school boards should be allowed to authorize charter schools and they should operate under the rules of public entities supported by tax dollars.

Mr. Baratte, I see that you are on the board of a newly minted charter school in Linda Vista. You did not make the list of the top ten compensated employees at CCSA; all receiving more than $150,000 per year. However, you are doing well enough to donate $1,000 yearly to the Voice of San Diego. When a person’s large income is at stake, convincing them that what they are doing is wrong is not easy, but destroying public education in America is wrong. And that is what the charter industry is doing.

Newest Existential Threat to Oakland’s Public Schools

10 May

A “Systems of Schools” plan has been introduced by the destroy public education (DPE) forces in Oakland, California. The plan basically posits that with 30 percent of students in charter schools, the system has become inefficient. Therefore, the school board needs to review resources and close schools in areas with too many seats and overlapping programs.

However, since Oakland’s school board has no authority over charter schools it is only public schools that can be closed or downsized unless charter schools voluntarily cooperate.

Continuing the Big Lie

A memorable line from “A Nation at Risk” reads,

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Yesterday (May 7, 2018) Steve Hinnefeld writing about this report for the blog School Matters noted,

“As Anya Kamenetz of NPR reported recently, its authors were sure the education system needed change and set out to create a report that justified what they thought. Remarkably, they cited falling SAT scores as evidence of decline – at a time when many more college-bound students were taking the test, leading to lower average scores.

“The authors ‘were hell-bent on proving that schools were bad,’ Lynn University professor James Guthrie told Kamenetz. ‘They cooked the books to get what they wanted.’

“A 1990 report produced by the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories broke down the flaws in the “A Nation at Risk” analysis but got little attention.

 ‘“It was great stuff,’ Golarz [former Indiana school administrator] said. ‘I remember, when it came out, thinking, ‘Finally, somebody’s unraveled this damn thing and showed all the flaws.’ But nobody read it.”’

“Nation at Risk” set the model for the DPE movement. Public education was so popular that to privatize it required denigrating it. Over the last 35 years, the DPE movement has developed an approach using local money in concert with national money to promote charter schools, denigrate public schools and campaign for privatization friendly policies like unified enrollment. The local money in Oakland is provided by the Rogers Family Foundation.

The article “Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish” describes the Rogers Family Foundation and it relationship to GO Public Schools Oakland, Educate78 (previously New Schools Venture Fund) and the Oakland Public Education Fund. The late T. Gary Rogers foundation is like the queen bee of DPE Oakland with the other organizations carrying out various political and financial activities including spawning AstroTurf organizations.

The well-financed and robustly staffed DPE-oriented GO is leading the ground assault. 1Oakland, a GO led AstroTurf organization, bashes public schools and promotes the “Systems of Schools” legislation. The 1Oakland web-page states, “In September of 2017, GO Public Schools Oakland brought together community, family, and student leaders to launch 1Oakland, a campaign that is working for an exceptional, equitable, and sustainable education system that reflects our commitment to all Oakland students.”

On the GO web-site a statement from Boris Aguilar, a 1Oakland Leader, is accompanied by typically misleading statements denigrating Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). It claims,

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, families organized and established charter schools and small schools as alternatives to OUSD’s overcrowded, low-performing schools. These schools often times provided creative and culturally responsive curricula in contrast to OUSD’s one-size-fits-all, “teacher-proof” scripted curriculum.”  

The organizing for charter schools in Oakland did not come from local families. It came from billionaires and politicians including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Carrie Walton-Penner, Jerry Brown and several other elites. The small-schools initiative was Bill Gates’s first big failed education reform idea. Small-schools generated many headlines like this one from the Washington Post, “How Much Bill Gates’s Disappointing Small-Schools Effort Really Cost.” The one-size-fits-all philosophy and scripted curriculum promoted by “education reformers” from the Bush and Obama administrations are far more prevalent in charter schools than public schools. When properly adjusted for poverty, OUSD testing outcomes reflect a high-quality steadily improving public school system.

Oakland Reach  is another AstroTurf organization with GO fingerprints on it. The Oakland citizens involved with this organization appear sincere and to have well-founded grievances. Unfortunately, they are being used to steal high-quality public schools from their own neighborhoods.

Oakland charter concentration and wealth maps

Oakland’s charter schools are all in the minority dominated flats with none in the wealthier Oakland hills as shown by these maps from Fordham and Maplight.

This new initiative’s  executive director, Lakisha Young, also paid staff at GO. Sources say that some Oakland Reach leaders traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to be trained by Memphis Lift. Memphis Lift is an AstroTurf parent organization that has enough money to pay $15 an hour for parent “volunteers” to knock on doors. Teach for America promotes Memphis list on their web site.

The new message by these organizations is “we only want quality education and don’t care whether it comes from charter schools or public schools. People in our neighborhoods deserve to choose what is right for their children and grandchildren. ‘System of Schools’ will enable managing our portfolio of schools more efficiently.” A public school advocate, Jane Nylund commented, “Essentially, the campaign is designed to embrace what I would call a Kumbaya moment; a way to deal with what CRPE calls ‘toxic local politics.”’

CRPE is the Bill Gates financed Center for Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington. CRPE is leading the charge for portfolio districts which means managing a portfolio of schools like a stock portfolio; close the losers and open new schools. This theory ignores the well-known damage that instability causes students; especially those living in poverty.

The article “Education Cities is the National Organizer for the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement” relates how this national umbrella organization is providing leadership for privatizing public education across America. A recent Education Cities update says,

“Educate78 has started an #OUSDBudget blog series to delve into the Oakland Unified School District budget crisis. Most recently, the series has been tackling the question of whether Oakland has too many schools.  Educate78 is also excited to celebrate the launch of two initiatives from one of its major grantees, GO Public Schools. The new  Oakland REACH , a parent-led advocacy group and  1Oakland  –  a community-driven campaign  working with educators and elected officials to advocate for  policies that promote partnership and creatively re-design the school system in service of all students.”

The Citizens United Decision Effect on Oakland’s Schools

John Dunbar writing for Public Integrity explained,

“The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

 “In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.”

The first year that the Citizens United ruling effected Oakland’s school board election was 2012. It is now apparent that corporations and the billionaires who control them have a lot more money than labor unions or anyone else. James Harris, who proposed the “System of Schools” legislation, was the only 2012 challenger to unseat an incumbent. Reporting on that election, the East Bay Times said,

“This year’s school board elections have involved vigorous campaigning and far more money than usual — and, unlike recent election years, all four races were contested.

 “GO Public Schools, a group of parents, teachers and community members that formed in 2008, is more charter school-friendly than the union’s leaders, and it has promoted changes to traditional union staffing rules, which the union has opposed. The GO Public Schools PAC has received three large donations of $49,000 or more, including — most recently — the California Charter Schools Association, bringing its fundraising total to nearly $185,000.

 “The group threw its weight behind Hinton Hodge, Torres and Harris, mostly through independent expenditures and the organizing of volunteers. By contrast, the Oakland teachers union PAC, which is backing Pecot, Fuentes and Hutchinson, expected to raise about $20,000.”

The big money from billionaires was mostly funneled through Great Oakland Public Schools which is GO’s independent expenditure committee registered under tax code 501 C4. The following tables are based on data from the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission.

Go Expenditure Committee Table 2

In 2012, the support of GO helped Harris defeat incumbent board member Spearman in a close race. In addition, several well-known wealthy people gave maximum contributions to Harris, Hodge and Torres.

2012 Harris, Hodge and Torres
Received Max $700 Contributions from
Bloomberg Michael New York NY
Bradley Katherine Washington DC
Penner Greg Atherton CA
Rock Arthur San Francisco CA
GO-PAC Sponsored Oakland CA
Tepper David Short Hills NJ
Fournier Alan Far Hills NJ
Fournier Jennifer Far Hills NJ

Michael Bloomberg is the famous billionaire and former mayor of New York city. Katherine Bradley was the publisher of the Washington Post. Laurene Jobs Powell was Apple founder, Steve Jobs, wife. Stacy Schusterman inherited the Schusterman fortune and runs the $2-billion Schusterman Family Foundation. Greg Penner married into Walmart money. His wife Carrie is one of the richest women in the world. Arthur Rock is Silicon Valley royalty. He had a hand in founding several famous companies including Intel. David Tepper is a billionaire hedge fund manager from New Jersey as is Alan Fournier.

Go Expenditure Committee Table

The table above is of money contributed by a few wealthy elites compared to the total that GO’s independent expenditure committee recieved.

In 2016 Go spent a quarter of a million dollars to insure Harris and Hodge stayed on the board. In 2012 they had freely spent to elect Roseann Torres to the board, but in 2016 they spent $121,000 failing to have her unseated. Go has verbally supported London and Eng but provided them with little actual support. Go spent $65,000 to oppose Shanthi Gonzales.

The Board Discussed “Systems of Schools”

Board member James Harris proposed the “Systems of Schools” legislation. At the April 25th Board meeting, he said that Oakland had too many district and charter school programs. Because Oakland is the first California city to reach 30% charter penetration, he claimed Oakland had a unique need for his “Systems of Schools” plan. He rebutted the idea that the plan cannot work because the state law does not give the Board any power over charter schools. He compared that to accepting segregation and not taking any action just because it goes against unjust laws.

Board Vice President Jamoke Hinton-Hodge said she likes the “Systems of Schools” concept and that she was for charter schools because “traditional schools haven’t served black people well.” She also called for unity saying that GO, Oakland Education Association and “Diane Ravitch’s funded organization” need to find a way to work together.

I am guessing that Diane Ravitch is surprised to learn that she is funding an organization.

Director Roseann Torres said she did not see how “Systems of Schools” could work. She asked, “How do we enforce something if charters don’t come to the table?” She also noted that she was getting “100’s of emails” opposing the plan.

Board members Eng, London and Senn were non-committal but they all called for dialog and encouraged VP Hodge, Director Harris and Director Shanthi Gonzalez to sit down together and try to find some points of agreement.

I attended a presentation given by Shanthi Gonzales last fall and was favorably impressed. I wrote asking for her opinion. She was forthcoming and unambiguous. Her email response said,

“Director Harris is not wrong that there are areas in which we need to work together more, and special ed is the major one. As a result of the consistent dumping of high-needs students, we have a seriously unsustainable situation in OUSD, which is one of the drivers of our current budget crisis.

“But there is nothing stopping charter schools from ceasing their discriminating against SPED and high-needs students; they do not need a policy to do what they are legally required to do. The real goal is access to one of our parcel taxes, Measure G, and for us to kick OUSD students out of their own buildings to make more space for their students (they don’t like the split-site offers that we are legally forced to provide because we don’t have any more vacant sites).

 “A recent report from GO, the main supporters of this policy, found that OUSD spends $1400 on average more per student than charter schools in Oakland do, and they see that as unfair. Given that the same report also found that we have more SPED students, with more severe learning differences, and the students with the most severe academic challenges, it seems entirely appropriate to me that we would have more funding per student – serving higher needs students is expensive.

 “Until there is evidence to demonstrate what charters are saying, that they want to serve students more equitably, I do not see a need for this policy. Charter schools can simply do what they are legally required to do until they have evidence to demonstrate that they are serving students equitably. Then we can talk about a system of schools.

 “That is how I see it.”

Gordon Lafer, Ph.D., University of Oregon Labor and Education Researcher, has written a startling new paper for In the Public Interest called Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts. One of the tables in the paper demonstrates the special education issue Director Gonzales mentioned.

Oakland Special Education funding

This graphic shows how Oakland’s charter schools not only take fewer special education students but avoid high cost students leaving them to district schools.

Professor Lafer documents the debilitating costs for public schools caused by charter school expansion. Costs for which they cannot easily adjust. He reports,

“In a first-of-its-kind analysis, this report reveals that neighborhood public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools. In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District.”

Oakland may be close to losing their public schools but cities like San Diego and Los Angeles are not far behind. We desperately need a charter school moratorium and for all publicly financed schools to be put under elected board control.

Newest Existential Threat to Oakland’s Public Schools

10 May

A “Systems of Schools” plan has been introduced by the destroy public education (DPE) forces in Oakland, California. The plan basically posits that with 30 percent of students in charter schools, the system has become inefficient. Therefore, the school board needs to review resources and close schools in areas with too many seats and overlapping programs.

However, since Oakland’s school board has no authority over charter schools it is only public schools that can be closed or downsized unless charter school voluntarily cooperate.

Continuing the Big Lie

A memorable line from “A Nation at Risk” reads, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Yesterday (May 7, 2018) Steve Hinnefeld writing about this report for the blog School Matters noted,

“As Anya Kamenetz of NPR reported recently, its authors were sure the education system needed change and set out to create a report that justified what they thought. Remarkably, they cited falling SAT scores as evidence of decline – at a time when many more college-bound students were taking the test, leading to lower average scores.

 “The authors ‘were hell-bent on proving that schools were bad,’ Lynn University professor James Guthrie told Kamenetz. ‘They cooked the books to get what they wanted.’

“A 1990 report produced by the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories broke down the flaws in the ‘A Nation at Risk’ analysis but got little attention.

 ‘“It was great stuff,’ Golarz [former Indiana school administrator] said. ‘I remember, when it came out, thinking, ‘Finally, somebody’s unraveled this damn thing and showed all the flaws.’ But nobody read it.”’

“Nation at Risk” set the model for the DPE movement. Public education was so popular that to privatize it required denigrating it. Over the last 35 years, a model for the DPE movement required local money to unite with national money to promote charter schools, denigrate public schools and campaign for privatization friendly policies including unified enrollment. The local money in Oakland is the Rogers Family Foundation.

The article “Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish” describes the Rogers Family Foundation and it relationship to GO Public Schools Oakland, Educate78 (previously New Schools Venture Fund) and the Oakland Public Education Fund. The late T. Gary Rogers foundation is like the queen bee of DPE Oakland with the other organizations carrying out various political and financial activities including spawning AstroTurf organizations.

The well-financed and robustly staffed DPE oriented GO is leading on the ground in Oakland. 1Oakland is a GO led AstroTurf organizations bashing public schools. The 1Oakland web-page states, “In September of 2017, GO Public Schools Oakland brought together community, family, and student leaders to launch 1Oakland, a campaign that is working for an exceptional, equitable, and sustainable education system that reflects our commitment to all Oakland students.” 1Oakland has two visible purposes; (1) promote the “Systems of Schools” plan and (2) bash Oakland public schools.

A statement from Boris Aguilar, a 1Oakland Leader, is accompanied by a misleading denigration of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). It claims,

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, families organized and established charter schools and small schools as alternatives to OUSD’s overcrowded, low-performing schools. These schools often times provided creative and culturally responsive curricula in contrast to OUSD’s one-size-fits-all, “teacher-proof” scripted curriculum.”  

The organizing for charter schools in Oakland did not come from local families. It came from billionaires including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Carrie Walton-Penner and several others. The small-schools initiative was Bill Gates’s first big failed education reform idea. Small-schools generated many headlines like this one from the Washington Post, “How Much Bill Gates’s Disappointing Small-Schools Effort Really Cost.” The one-size-fits-all philosophy and scripted curriculum promoted by “education reformers” from the Bush and Obama administrations are far more prevalent in charter schools than public schools. When properly adjusted for poverty, OUSD testing outcomes reflect a high-quality improving organization.

Another AstroTurf organizations with GO fingerprints on it is Oakland Reach. The Oakland citizens involved with this organization appear sincere and to have well-founded grievances. Unfortunately, they are being used to steal high-quality public schools from their own neighborhoods.

This new initiative has an executive director, Lakisha Young, who is also paid staff at GO. Sources say that some Oakland Reach leaders traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to be trained by Memphis Lift. Memphis Lift is an AstroTurf parent organization that has enough money to pay $15 an hour for parents to knock on doors. Teach for America promotes Memphis list on their web site.

The new message from these organizations is “we only want quality education and don’t care whether it comes from charter schools or public schools. People in our neighborhoods deserve to choose what is right for their children and grandchildren. ‘System of Schools’ will enable managing our portfolio of schools more efficiently.” A public school advocate, Jane Nylund commented, “Essentially, the campaign is designed to embrace what I would call a Kumbaya moment; a way to deal with what CRPE calls ‘toxic local politics.”’

CRPE is the Bill Gates financed Center for Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington. CRPE is leading the charge for portfolio districts which means managing a portfolio of schools like a stock portfolio; close the losers and open new schools. This theory ignores the well-known damage that instability causes students; especially those living in poverty.

The article “Education Cities is the National Organizer for the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement” relates how this national umbrella organization is providing leadership for privatizing public education across America. A recent Education Cities update says,

“Educate78 has started an #OUSDBudget blog series to delve into the Oakland Unified School District budget crisis. Most recently, the series has been tackling the question of whether Oakland has too many schools.  Educate78 is also excited to celebrate the launch of two initiatives from one of its major grantees, GO Public Schools. The new  Oakland REACH , a parent-led advocacy group and  1Oakland  –  a community-driven campaign  working with educators and elected officials to advocate for  policies that promote partnership and creatively re-design the school system in service of all students.”

The Citizens United Decision Effect on Oakland’s Schools

John Dunbar writing for Public Integrity explained,

“The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

 “In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.”

The first year that the Citizens United ruling effected Oakland’s school board election was 2012. It is now apparent that corporations and the billionaires who control them have a lot more money than labor unions or anyone else. James Harris, who proposed the “Systems of Schools” Legislation, was the only 2012 challenger to unseated an incumbent. Reporting on the 2012 election, the East Bay Times said,

“This year’s school board elections have involved vigorous campaigning and far more money than usual — and, unlike recent election years, all four races were contested.

 “GO Public Schools, a group of parents, teachers and community members that formed in 2008, is more charter school-friendly than the union’s leaders, and it has promoted changes to traditional union staffing rules, which the union has opposed. The GO Public Schools PAC has received three large donations of $49,000 or more, including — most recently — the California Charter Schools Association, bringing its fundraising total to nearly $185,000.

 “The group threw its weight behind Hinton Hodge, Torres and Harris, mostly through independent expenditures and the organizing of volunteers. By contrast, the Oakland teachers union PAC, which is backing Pecot, Fuentes and Hutchinson, expected to raise about $20,000.”

The big money from billionaires was mostly funneled through Great Oakland Public Schools which is GO’s independent expenditure committee registered under tax code 501 C4. The following tables are based on data from the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission.

Candidate Year Donor
Count
Total

Raised

GO
Ind.
Money
Go
Supported
Losers
Donor
Count
Total

Raised

GO
Ind.
Money
Harris 2012 101 $35,750 $41,155        
Hodge 2012 92 $30,325 $62,827        
London 2012 116 $18,018 $0        
Torres 2012 145 $36,635 $37,847        
Eng 2014 102 $26,824 $550        
Gonzales 2014 266 $58,051 $0 Almanzor 60 $9,200 $65,294
Senn 2014 66 $18,525 $35,518 Shakir-Gilmore 75 $16,170 $35,466
Harris 2016 63 $27,536 $144,734        
Hodge 2016 54 $18,200 $104,761        
London 2016 91 $18,085 $4,439        
Torres 2016 78 $17,725 $0 Trenado 57 $19,550 $121,521
Candidate Raised Money $350,595 Go Raised Money $654,118

In 2012, the support of GO helped Harris defeat incumbent board member Spearman in a close race. In addition, several well-known wealthy people gave maximum contributions to Harris, Hodge and Torres.

 

2012 Harris, Hodge and Torres
Received Max $700 Contributions from
Bloomberg Michael New York NY
Bradley Katherine Washington DC
Penner Greg Atherton CA
Rock Arthur San Francisco CA
GO-PAC Sponsored   Oakland CA
Tepper David Short Hills NJ
Fournier Alan Far Hills NJ
Fournier Jennifer Far Hills NJ

Michael Bloomberg is the well know billionaire and former mayor of New York city. Katherine Bradley was the publisher of the Washington Post. Laurene Jobs Powell was Apple founder, Steve Jobs, wife. Stacy Schusterman inherited the Schusterman fortune and runs the $2 billion Schusterman Family Foundation. Greg Penner married into Walmart money. His wife Carrie is one of the richest women in the world. Arthur Rock is Silicon Valley royalty. He had a hand in founding several famous companies including Intel. David Tepper is a billionaire hedge fund manager from New Jersey as is Alan Fournier.

Go Expenditure Committee Table

In 2016 Go spent a quarter of a million dollars to insure Harris and Hodge stayed on the board. In 2012 they had freely spent to elect Roseann Torres to the board, but in 2016 they spent $121,000 trying to have her unseated. Go has verbally supported London and Eng but provided them with little actual support. Go spent $65,000 to oppose Shanthi Gonzales.

The Board Discussed “Systems of Schools”

Board member James Harris proposed the “Systems of Schools” legislation. At the April 25th Board meeting, he said that Oakland had too many district and charter school programs. Because Oakland is the first California city to reach 30% charter penetration, he claimed Oakland had a unique need for “systems of schools.” He rebutted the idea that the plan cannot work because the state law does not give the Board any power over charter schools. He compared that to accepting segregation and not taking any action just because it goes against unjust laws.

Board Vice President Jamoke Hinton-Hodge said she likes the “Systems of Schools” concept and that she was for charter schools because “traditional schools haven’t served black people well.” She also called for unity saying that GO, Oakland Education Association and “Diane Ravitch’s funded organization” need to find a way to work together.

I am guessing that Diane Ravitch is surprised to learn that she is funding an organization.

Director Roseann Torres said she did not see how “Systems of Schools” could work. She asked, “How do we enforce something if charters don’t come to the table?” She also noted that she was getting “100’s of emails” opposing the plan.

Board members Eng, London and Senn were non-committal but they all called for dialog and encouraged VP Hodge, Director Harris and Director Shanthi Gonzalez to sit down together and try to find some points of agreement.

I attended a presentation given by Shanthi Gonzales in the fall and was favorably impressed. I wrote asking for her opinion. She was forthcoming and unambiguous. Her email response said,

“Director Harris is not wrong that there are areas in which we need to work together more, and special ed is the major one. As a result of the consistent dumping of high-needs students, we have a seriously unsustainable situation in OUSD, which is one of the drivers of our current budget crisis.

 “But there is nothing stopping charter schools from ceasing their discriminating against SPED and high-needs students; they do not need a policy to do what they are legally required to do. The real goal is access to one of our parcel taxes, Measure G, and for us to kick OUSD students out of their own buildings to make more space for their students (they don’t like the split-site offers that we are legally forced to provide because we don’t have any more vacant sites).

“A recent report from GO, the main supporters of this policy, found that OUSD spends $1400 on average more per student than charter schools in Oakland do, and they see that as unfair. Given that the same report also found that we have more SPED students, with more severe learning differences, and the students with the most severe academic challenges, it seems entirely appropriate to me that we would have more funding per student – serving higher needs students is expensive.

“Until there is evidence to demonstrate what charters are saying, that they want to serve students more equitably, I do not see a need for this policy. Charter schools can simply do what they are legally required to do until they have evidence to demonstrate that they are serving students equitably. Then we can talk about a system of schools.

 “That is how I see it.”

Gordon Lafer, Ph.D., University of Oregon Labor and Education Research has written a startling new paper for In the Public Interest called Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts. One of the tables in the paper demonstrates the special education issue Director Gonzales mentioned.

Oakland Special Education funding

This graphic shows how Oakland’s charter schools not only take less special education students but avoid high cost students leaving them to district schools.

Professor Lafer documents the debilitating costs for public schools caused by charter school expansion. He reports,

“In a first-of-its-kind analysis, this report reveals that neighborhood public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools. In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District.”

Oakland may be close to losing their public schools but cities like San Diego and Los Angeles are not far behind. We desperately need a charter school moratorium and for all publicly financed schools to be put under elected board control.