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Organized to Disrupt

10 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/10/2020

The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) is the Swiss army knife of public school privatization. It promotes education technology development, bankrolls charter school creation, develops charter management organizations and sponsors school leadership training groups. Since its founding in 1998, a small group of people with extraordinary wealth have been munificent in their support. NSVF is a significant asset in the billionaire funded drive to end democratically run public schools and replace them with privatized corporate structures.

1990’s Silicon Valley was a Happening Place

Mark Andreessen had just co-written the world’s first web-browser, Mosaic, before he came to town from the University of Illinois to co-found Netscape. John Doerr left Intel in 1980 to join the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins where his reputation for picking winners became legendary. His wins include Amazon, AOL, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Google, Netscape and Twitter. Internet search engines were in their infancy when in 1999 Doerr convinced his partners to put $12.5 million into Google. Five years later that investment turned into billions.

Like elsewhere in America, every little strip mall in San Jose, California had a Blockbuster video rental store. In 1997, Reed Hastings and Netflix co-founder Mark Reynolds came up with a disruptive idea that put Blockbuster out of business. For a monthly fee, they offered DVD’s by mail with no late charges. Blockbuster did not adapt fast enough and went bankrupt.

In the Valley, everyone was aware that their business could be just one new technology innovation away from being the next Blockbuster.

“DoWopDon” Shalvey was the superintendent of schools in San Carlos, California a bedroom community about a third of the way up the peninsula between San Jose and San Francisco. When California passed its 1992 charter school legislation, Shalvey’s application for a charter turned into California’s first charter school. It officially opened in August 1994.

Apparently, Don Shalvey was an amateur DJ and very into music. His twitter handle is @dooWopDon.

Shalvey joined with Reed Hastings in writing a statewide initiative for the 1998 ballot that lifted the cap on charter schools and eased restrictions on starting one. At that time, Hastings was made president of Technology Network, a bipartisan lobbying group formed by Silicon Valley CEOs. With their support, the initiative quickly amassed more than a million signatures. Opposition from the teachers union ended as they were also fighting against other education proposals coming from Governor Pete Wilson’s office.

A deal was struck making the initiative unnecessary. Legislative leaders passed a bill containing the initiative’s key ingredients and union leader withheld their objections. The new bill green-lighted an unlimited number of charter schools and just as importantly the bill authorized a single board to oversee multiple charter schools. It was the birth of charter management organizations and a massive acceleration in new charter school development.

When Pete Wilson signed the new bill into law in May 1998, Shalvey and Hastings had $403,000 left in their initiative campaign fund. They decided to shift the money into a non-profit and founded what became the Aspire charter school network.

Meanwhile on the other side of the continent, Ann Smith graduated with a degree in political science and psychology from Columbia University in 1989 and started working for Wendy Kopp and the Teach For America (TFA) founding team. In 1993, she moved to the Silicon Valley area and co-founded the Bay Area Youth Consortium – AmeriCorps. In 1996, she left AmeriCorps to pursue a Masters in Business Administration at Stanford University.

Smith was co-chair of the Stanford business school’s entrepreneur club and she wanted to get Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as a speaker for the club. She asked her friend John Doerr to help and he agreed on one condition. In an education session at Al Gore’s house, the name NewSchools had been created. Doerr wanted her to come up with a use for the name.

Bezos spoke at the club and Smith worked on her assignment. She wrote a two page paper outlining the NewSchools Venture Fund. She had been inspired by what Don Shalvey and Reed Hastings had accomplished and thought to herself, “Why couldn’t entrepreneurial philanthropists come together to create networks of entrepreneurial education organizations?” Smith labeled the paper “Creating CMOs — scaling up with quality — with the help of venture-capital-style philanthropic investing.”

The history at the NSVF web-site says,

“NewSchools Venture Fund was created in 1998 by social entrepreneur Kim Smith and venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers.” (Byers is a colleague of Doerr’s from Kleiner Perkins)

“We were among the first and largest investors in public charter schools and the first to identify and support multisite charter management organizations, which launch and operate integrated networks of public charter schools.”

“NewSchools’ work to support digital learning tools began at our inception in 1998.”

Philanthropy Magazine notes that Reed Hastings helped, “to launch the NewSchools Venture Fund.”

Big Money and Political Connections

LittleSis NSVF Map

LittleSis Map of NSVF Massive Funding By Billionaires

While there is little doubt the Bill Gates and The Walton Family Foundation are the largest individual donors to NSVF, the $226,881,394 in grants documented in the map above are only a fraction of the total billionaire largess. Besides receiving help from Reed Hastings, over the last 20-years, billionaires John Doerr, Laurene Jobs Powell and John Sackler have served on the board, but there is no information about any of their monetary contributions.

Kim Smith was the founding CEO of NSVF. The second CEO was Ted Mitchell the former President of Occidental College and a founding board member of NSVF. Mitchell replaced Kim Smith as CEO in September 2005 and held the position until 2014. From 2008-2010, he was simultaneously President of the California State Board of Education.

Mitchell has also served on the boards of New Leaders, Khan Academy, California Education Partners, Teach Channel, ConnectED, Hameetman Foundation, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Silicon Schools, Children Now, Bellwether Partners, Pivot Learning Partners, EnCorps Teacher Training Program, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Green DOT Public Schools.

On May 8, 2014 EdSource reported, “Former State Board of Education president Ted Mitchell was confirmed Thursday as under secretary of education, the third-highest ranking official at the U.S. Department of Education.”

NSVF’s 2010 990-tax form had a note that claimed, “To date, the Organization has successfully received support from … the U.S. Department of Education.” From 2003-2007, NSVF reported $5,997,900 in grants from governmental sources. In 2008, the line requiring listing governmental grants separately disappeared from the 990-tax form. There is no longer an easily accessible method for gaining that information.

Contribution Graph

Enormous Grant Amounts Reported by NSVF and Selected Billionaires

In the graph above the billionaire giving in green is for yearly totals from the tax reports by the billionaires in the LittleSis Map above. The 2016 spike occurred because some unknown entity contributed $68,000,000 to NSVF through the donor directed foundation Silicon Valley Community Fund.

In 2016, Reed Hastings created a $100,000,000 fund within the Silicon Valley Community Fund. At the same time, Laurene Jobs Powell was serving on the board of NSVF when her XQ Institute was granted $24,750,000 in 2015 and $57,402,973 in 2016. Either one of them could have made the large contribution or maybe it was someone else.

Every year NSVF hosts a “Summit” in Oakland, California which they state brings together more than 1,200 educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, funders, and policy makers to share ideas on how to “reimagine learning.” These “Summits” are a must attend for the disrupter community and they drive contributions.

To replace Mitchell as CEO when he left for the Department of Education in 2014, NSVF brought in Stacey Childress from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Childress earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2000. Afterwards, she spent a year co-founding an enterprise software sales company and then returned to Harvard where she was a Senior Lecturer and Executive Director. In 2010, Childress became Deputy Director of the Gates Foundation. She has been CEO of NSVF since arriving in 2014.

Both Mitchell and Childress have received NSVF salaries in excess of $500,000. The 2018 NSVF tax-form explanation of their compensation method reads,

“The organization obtained compensation studies from several independent sources to compile information used as a metric for salary increases … A subcommittee of the Board of Directors (BOD) conducts the review of the CEO and develops a recommendation for the full BOD.”

This is similar to the method that has ballooned executive pay in corporate America while line worker wages have stagnated. It is a method that justifies those at the top getting an ever greater share.

Investing in Privatization and Education Technology

NSVF claims they have invested in 117 Ed Tech companies, 187 charter schools and 55 diverse leaders programs.

Among their Ed Tech investments are Class Dojo, EdSurge, LearnZillion, Phet Interactive Simulations and Education Elements. When NSVF makes a major investment in an Ed Tech startup, they require a position on the companies governing board.

One of NSVF’s founding board members, Dave Whorton, is also the founder of Tugboat Ventures. When NSVF invested in Education Elements so did Tugboat Ventures. Dave Whorton was made a member of Education Elements Board of Directors where he efficiently keeps an eye on funds from both Tugboat and NSVF.

When first founded, NSVF invested heavily in Aspire Public Schools because of their plan to create a charter management organization. In 2001, they granted $1,095,000 of their total of $2,468,000 in giving to Aspire.

As their wealth grew the grants to charter schools became very similar to the grants their funders were making. They have funded DC Prep, Phalen Leadership Academy, Rocketship Education, Success Charter Network, Yu Ming Charter School and almost 200 more.

The Yu Ming Charter is essentially a private Mandarin immersion school that has just submitted a material revision to their expansion plan that was rejected in December. It has been alleged the Yu Ming does not want new students above the kindergarten level. A parent comment on the Berkeley Parent Network says, “The teachers seem reluctant to admit kids who aren’t quite up to par in Mandarin as it can be really overwhelming for students to be new and they don’t want to see them struggle and be under water from the get-go.” To which Oakland Educator Jane Nylund responded,

“Real, authentic public education is hard; we deal with struggling students every day as expected, standard educational practice. We don’t find a way to reject them because they are ‘struggling’. This honest assessment by an involved parent is just more evidence of a ‘public school’ in name only, and not in practice.”

NSVF’s diverse-leaders investing is aimed at replacing quality teacher education at universities with for profit organizations that have very limited expertise. It is also aimed at selling the privatization agenda. NSVF invested in Branch Alliance for Education Diversity, edfuel, MindWorks Collaborative, National Charter Collaborative, School Board Partners, TNTP and fifty more organizations.

School Board Partners came out of Education Cities when The City Fund was established. They appear to want influence over school board members by offering training; a function every state already provides. They are a part of selling the privatization agenda.

TNTP was rolled out of TFA by Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee. Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they are unqualified.

Final Comments

Kim Smith staid on the board at NSVF and in 2011 co-founded Bellwether Education Partners. The next year she founded the Pahara Institute where she is the CEO. Her 2016 pay reported on tax forms signed by her was $419,576. (Update: Smith recently stepped down as the Pahara CEO.)

DoWopDon (Don Shalvey) is now Deputy Director of the College Ready Team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

NSVF along with scores of billionaire funded Foundations has been spending staggeringly large amounts of money to privatize public education and monetize it. This spending has been going on for decades now. So, why are about 90% of America’s students still attending public schools? The answer is simple.

The “disrupter” products are bad and Americans are not buying what their selling.

Persistent Billionaire Financed Attack on Oakland Public Schools Continues

29 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/29/2020

This month, a survey was launched in Oakland, California with the claim “This survey is a primary partnership between OUSD and GO Public Schools Oakland.” Apparently some Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board members were stunned by the news and were not happy about raising the stature of a billionaire financed organization dedicated to privatizing public schools. It seems the survey resulted from a secret negotiation between OUSD administrators, GO and possibly some OUSD board members.

On May 13, when OUSD Director Shanti Gonzalez learned about the Survey, she wrote to Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell,

Hi Kyla. Can you tell me more about the robocall that went out today that referred parents to GO’s website/survey and why it was decided to send this to parents? We don’t typically use our infrastructure to refer people to groups that engage in political activities, so I am curious.”

Two days later Gonzalez wrote again,

“I understand the desire to collaborate and avoid duplication of efforts, but please remember that GO plays two roles in the Oakland education arena. In this case, their intent was to support our efforts to understand families’ needs. Their other role is to shape the composition of the board of OUSD and ACOE [Alameda County Office of Education], and to support the growth of charter schools, at least historically.”

OUSD Director Roseann Torres was characterized as being hopping mad when she found out about the survey. In an interview Torres stated,

“The Superintendent will not respond to my emails about the survey. She doesn’t care that as a Director, I am her boss.”

On the other hand Director Jody London’s response to constituent questions about the survey indicates that she was informed. She writes,

“The OUSD Office of Equity and family engagement team are collaborating with GO and a number of other Office of Equity partners to reach as many families as possible with the survey that will provide very important information about our planning the reopening of school. The survey is standalone and initially only directed participants to GO if they wanted to provide information to receive the mailed school supplies thank you gift. That has now changed …”

“This more collaborative approach with a number of partners on the family survey will give us the best opportunity for a strong level of participation and useful feedback about reopening.”

Survey Sponsors 

Logos of the OUSD Survey Partners

Originally the above logos were depicted at the top of every page of the survey and a gift offering at the end of the survey required the takers to give their email addresses to GO Public Schools. After Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown became involved, the direction to GO Public Schools was replaced and logos at the top of each page were eliminated. People were directed to the OUSD web site to apply for the gift and the only logos shown were from OUSD and GO on the bottom of the intro page.

This survey is transparently GO’s and there is another survey by OUSD which is somewhat similar. The committee that created the second survey includes Teach For America (TFA), KIPP charter schools and others. It appears the content of both surveys are important to the charter industry. The GO survey seems to bias towards technology implementation and the other survey appears to be priming a unified enrollment system.

Privatization in Oakland Driven by Billionaire Dollars

Chris Stewart is a 2014 Bush Fellow, the CEO of Brightbeam and sits on the board of Great Schools. He feels the claims of billionaire dollars are unfair. He sees them as working to create “quality schools” or does his high six figure billionaire paid salary cause that opinion? Without billionaire dollars and a state take-over, Oakland public schools would be much healthier and the community would not be so divided.

The billionaire spending to privatize public schools in Oakland has been enormous.

Tax records document that just two foundations, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (EIN: 56-2618866) and the Walton Family Foundation (EIN: 13-3441466) have spent more than $240,000,000 on privatization efforts in Oakland.

The Silicon Valley Community fund was formed in 2006. It has become an extremely large donor directed fund with reported assets of about $8 billion dollars. In 2018, it took in almost $6 billion dollars. Only three years of their 1,500 page long tax reports (EIN: 20-5205488) are searchable but just those three years show more than $15,000,000 spent on privatizing schools in Oakland including a 2017 gift to GO of $1,000,000.

This year, The City Fund – which was founded by two billionaires in 2018 – reported spending $7,591,666 on privatizing Oakland public schools. The City Fund supports the implementation of the “portfolio model” of school administration to drive privatization.

The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. Oakland’s school board implemented this model in 2018 under the name “Citywide Plan.” The method makes it almost certain that schools in poorer and minority communities will be privatized.

In 2004, Don Fisher of the GAP and Buzz Wooley a San Diego investor put up $100,000 each to establish the Charter School Growth Fund. In 2005, Buzz Wooley resigned from the presidency and Jim Walton took his seat on the board. Since then the Walton Family Foundation has had significant influence over the fund. Between 2012 and 2017 the Charter School Growth Fund (EIN 05-0620063) spent $12,998,570 supporting privatized schools in Oakland.

The Ely and Edythe Broad Foundation (EIN 95-4686318) has spent a relatively modest $3,457,664 on privatized schools in Oakland. However, four different graduates of Broad’s strange education leaders training academy have served as superintendents of OUSD between 2003 and 2018. Diane Ravitch recently noted that “Broad Institute got accredited even though it has no faculty, no campus, no course catalogue ….” It was accredited by the Western States Schools and Colleges. There have been two common outcomes wherever “Broadies” serve; labor and community unrest accompanied by extreme budget issues.

The latest budget problems in Oakland trace directly to the tenure of Antwan Wilson the last Broad trained superintendent to run Oakland’s schools.

Are Billionaire Bought Board Members Now a Board Majority?

Roseann “Rosie” Torres is a lawyer who moved from her hometown of Stockton to Oakland in 2004. A civic organization she joined gave her a homework assignment to study the public school district budget. This opened her eyes to the tremendous inequities between the schools in the hills where she lived and those in the flats where much of Oakland’s minority population lived.

In 2012, school board member Noel Gallo convinced Rosie to run for the seat he was vacating so he could run for city council. Before his tenure on the school board SFGate reports, “In the mid-1990s, Gallo was a city employee during then-Mayor Jerry Brown’s two terms in office, working as a staff member for former City Manager Robert Bobb.” That is the same Robert Bobb who would take the Broad training course in 2005 and become the Detroit public school’s first emergency manager in 2009. Gallo introduced Rosie to GO Public Education.

In 2012, GO provided Torres with $37,847 in independent expenditures and helped her raise $36,635 in direct campaign contributions. These were historically large numbers but that same year GO was providing even larger campaign assistance to James Harris and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge. All three candidates were successful.

In addition, GO representatives introduced Torres to many Democratic politicians serving locally, at the state capital and in congress. Torres said she really did not know who GO was and it took her about six months after the election to figure it out.

After Torres turned against the GO privatization agenda, there assistance unsurprisingly ended. In 2016 when she ran for reelection, her total campaign money fell from the 2012 $74,000 to $17,725, however a group of local activists went to work for her and she won.

Torres will not be running for reelection this year. She needs a break from the pressure and drama.

In 2012, billionaires started actively engaging in local school board elections. All at once, school board elections in cities like Dallas became well funded and prohibitively expensive. That same year billionaires including Stacy Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Laurene Jobs Powell of Palo Alto, California and others started making max donations to certain Oakland school board candidates.

The direct contribution limits of $700 made the independent expenditures with unlimited spending the place where most of their money went. In Oakland, that independent expenditure money was funneled though the GO Public School Advocates committee.

Table of Independent Expenditures

In 2018, $146,000 of Michael Bloomberg’s $250,000 contribution was put into the campaign to elect Gary Yee. Six years earlier, Yee was the focus of a recall campaign which was mainly about his push for closing schools. With Yee’s election, forces for privatization and school closing seem to have gained a solid majority on the OUSD board.

Some Closing Observations

The state government is also being corrupted by the prolific billionaire spending that is undermining democracy in America. In 2018, AB1840 which provided extra funding for financially strapped Oakland and Inglewood school districts was signed by Governor Brown. The root of their financial problems was the same; paying the extra unfunded costs associated with charter school openings and financial mismanagement by Broad trained superintendents.

One of the mandates for receiving financial help was the involvement of the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) in stabilizing the budget. FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, this non-profit organization has developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

FCMAT appears to have two strategies for solving district financial issues; laying-off personnel and closing schools.

On Memorial Day (May 25), the State Senate Fiscal Review Committee met to consider the May revise including AB1840 money for Oakland and Inglewood. Jane Nylund an Oakland resident and educator submitted a comment that reads in part,

“I strongly oppose the amendments of the Trailer Bill to AB 1840 regarding disbursements to Oakland Unified School District for 2020-21.”

“These amendments strip our local discretion to draw from the variety of strategies for fiscal solvency, listed as (c)(1)-(5). The language is clear:  the District “MAY” use the strategies. It is not mandated to use any particular one of them.

“Given the current situation with Covid-19, and all the unknowns that come with it regarding schools, it is completely inappropriate that OUSD is held hostage to sell property that it may find necessary to keep open in order to mitigate health risks of Covid-19.”

Community based schools run under the authority of an elected school board have served as the foundation for American democracy for two centuries. Feckless billionaires operating from hubris or theological commitment or a desire to avoid taxes or a pursuit of more wealth are sundering those foundations.

Will activists of good will be able to throw off the yoke of billionaire financed tyranny and defend their public schools in Oakland?

CREDO’s New Study Biased against Public Schools

14 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/14/2020

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) started releasing the results of its new Cities Study Project in mid-2019. It is not a coincidence that the cities chosen for the study have long been targeted for public school privatization. The ten cities selected are: Indianapolis; Baton Rouge; Camden; Kansas City; Memphis; New Orleans; Oakland; St. Louis; San Antonio; and Washington DC. This CREDO study is even more opaque and biased than its previous efforts.

Who is CREDO?

Hanushek and Raymond

Husband and Wife Team Who Founded CREDO

In the early 1980s, Margaret (Macke) Raymond was completing a lengthy graduate school agenda at the University of Rochester, a relatively small private university in Rochester, New York. She garnered an MS of public policy in 1980, a community medicine MS in 1982, an MA of political science in 1983 and finished with a PhD in political science in 1985. From 1985 to 2000 she ran Raymond Consulting and worked a few years in the telecommunications industry.

At that same time, Eric Hanushek was Professor of Economics and Political Science at Rochester University. The former Air Force cadet had earned a doctorate of Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968. It was Hanushek’s 1981 paper “Throwing Money at Schools” that put him on the watch list of right leaning philanthropies and institutions. In his notice making missive he stated,

“The conventional wisdom about public schools is that they face serious problems in terms of performance and that improving schools requires additional money. However, the available evidence suggests that there is no relationship between expenditures and the achievement of students and that such traditional remedies as reducing class sizes or hiring better trained teachers are unlikely to improve matters.”

In a 1981 Ed Week commentary referencing this paper, Hanushek points to SAT testing as the gold standard for judging school performance. In complete accordance with the old aphorism, “to a man with a hammer all problems look like a nail,” Hanushek brags, “Advanced statistical techniques are employed to disentangle the influences on achievement of schools and teachers from those of other factors such as family backgrounds and student abilities.”

A 1999 announcement from Rochester University said, “The Center for Research on Education Outcomes has been established at the University of Rochester’s Wallis Institute of Political Economy…” In the same posting, it was revealed, “Two foundations have committed $1.25 million to fund a three-and one-half year initiative to address the current shortage of evaluation research in education policy matters.” CREDO never made the name of the two foundations public, but a knowledgeable academic says one of them was the Walton Family Foundation.

The announcement listed two employees of the new center, Eric Hanushek and Margaret Raymond. Hanushek was listed first but Raymond was cited as the founding Director.

CREDO moved from the University of Rochester to Stanford University’s Hoover Institute in July, 2000 which made networking in conservative circles much easier.  In CREDO’s 2nd year report, they stated that moving to the Hoover Institute brought them many new contacts including the New Schools Venture Fund, the District of Columbia Charter School Board, the Teacher Union Reform Network and others.

A description of the Hoover Institute from Source Watch says,

“The Hoover Institution is influential in the American conservative and libertarian movements, and the Institution has long been a place of scholarship for high profile conservatives with government experience. A number of fellows have connections to or positions in the Bush administration, and other Republican administrations. … Other fellows of the Institution include such high profile conservatives as Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, and Edwin Meese.”

Macke Raymond’s 2015 Hoover Institute Fellow’s profile says in part, “In partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems, Raymond is leading a national study of the effectiveness of public charter schools.” 

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has pointed out that Eric Hanushek

“… a Hoover economist was a pioneer in creating systems that evaluate teachers by student standardized tests, a method that many assessment experts say should not be used in the high-stakes ways that school reformers are using them. He is often cited in CREDO studies as a ‘principal investigator.”’

Discredited and Biased

The Forbes commentator, Peter Greene, wrote about Eric Hanushek for his popular blog Curmudgucation:

“Now when Hanushek says that teachers make a huge difference, he is obliquely referencing his own crazy-pants assertion that having a good first grade teacher will make you almost a million bucks richer over your lifetime (you can also find the same baloney being sliced by Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff). Both researchers demonstrate their complete lack of understanding of the difference between correlation and causation.”

Greene also shares the following graphic that clearly highlights the difference between correlation and causation.

Divorce caused by Margarine consumption

Does Margarine Consumption Cause Divorce?

Business writer Andrea Gabor states that CREDO studies which compare charter schools with public schools start with two key assumptions “A) That standardized-test scores are an adequate measure of school quality and B) that creaming in charter schools does not exist.”

With regards to assumption ‘A’, using standardized testing for this purpose has been shown faulty from studies dating back to the eugenics movement (which originated high stakes standardized testing) to recent works debunking them for mistaking correlation versus causation and for not being able to compensate for the problem of error.

As for assumption B, there is no doubt that most charter schools push out and avoid students that are classified as special education, language learners or discipline problems. The data proving that is in state enrollment reports wherever charter schools exist.

In the new research labled “Cities Studies Project”, the Technical Appendix says the reports uses growth models but doesn’t share which of the many growth models it uses. It also says,

“In our study, scores for all these separate tests are transformed to a common scale. All test scores have been converted to standardized scores to fit a ‘bell curve’, in order to allow for year-to-year computations of growth.”

The Education Growth Model Handbook lists seven types of growth models in general use and their requirements. Most growth models require vertical scales but that does not seem possible with CREDO’s use of multiple tests many of which are not vertically scaled. Their mathematical conversions add another locus of error. Growth models have proven to be unstable and have never been satisfactorily validated.

The research methodology used in the “Cities Studies Project” appears to be the same as that used in CREDO’s 2015 Urban Charter School Study Report on 41 Regions.” A particularly troubling practice employed then and apparently still being used is the “virtual twin” method which creates a pro-charter school bias.

Professor Andrew Maul of UC Santa-Barbara reviewed the 2015 study for the National Education Policy Center. He noted the CREDO method does not compare charter school performance to actual public schools; rather it creates mathematical simulations. Maul described the “virtual twin” schema employed to develop a “virtual control record.” He reports,

“CREDO’s approach to this estimate is the construction of a ‘Virtual Control Record’ (VCR) for each student in a charter school, obtained by averaging together up to seven students in “feeder” public schools (i.e., those schools whose students transfer to charters) with the same gender, ethnicity, English proficiency status, eligibility for subsidized meals, special education status, grade level, and a similar score from a prior year’s standardized test (within a tenth of a standard deviation) as the specified charter student.”

Maul adds, “The study’s “virtual twin” technique is insufficiently documented, and it remains unclear and puzzling why the researchers use this approach rather than the more accepted approach of propensity score matching.”

The stipulation that “virtual twins” come from “feeder schools” biases the study in favor of charter schools. Andrea Gabor explained that in practice, CREDO used less than five students transferring to a charter school as the cutoff for using a particular public school’s data. She reports that the, “study excludes public schools that do NOT send students to charters, thus introducing a bias against the best urban public schools, especially small public schools that may send few, if any, students to charters.” Gabor gave the example of two well regarded New York title-1 schools, Global Technology Preparatory and West Side Collaborative which were excluded. They are noted for scoring well on testing, but did not meet the transfer criteria yet easily matched the required demographics.

The CREDO study is singularly focused on test results as determinate of school quality and ignores other advantages of public schools. It is a well known fact that many charter school systems like IDEA and Success Academy spend an inordinate amount of time teaching to and preparing for standardized tests. To these criticisms, Professor Mark Weber of Rutgers University adds a few more observations:

“Cities Studies Project” Technical Appendix states,

“To assist the reader in interpreting the meaning of effect sizes, we include an estimate of the average number of days of learning required to achieve a particular effect size. This estimate was calculated by Dr. Eric Hanushek and Dr. Margaret Raymond based on the latest (2017) 4th and 8th grade test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).”

Converstion to Days of Learning

The CREDO Days of Learning Conversion Table from “Cities Studies Project”

This metric seems to have been created with next to nothing validating it. Mark Webber quoted the psychometrician Michael T. Kane,

“The 2015 study (p. 5) cites a paper published in Education Next (Hanushek, Peterson & Woessmann, 2012) that asserts: “On most measures of student performance, student growth is typically about 1 full std. dev. on standardized tests between 4th and 8th grade, or about 25 percent of a std. dev. from one grade to the next.” (p. 3-4) No citation, however, is given to back up this claim: it is simply stated as a received truth.”

CREDO tells us that Hanushek and Raymond did something with NAEP data from 2017 but still do not offer any justification for the conversion. It appears at best to be sloppy science and the headlines engendered from it are nothing short of propaganda.

Using CREDO Claims to Sell Privatizing Public Schools

Neerav Kingsland the Managing Partner of the City Fund posted to his Blog last July when the first results from “Cities Studies Project” arrived explaining,

“Last year, Arnold Ventures commissioned CREDO (out of Stanford University) to study the effects of charter, innovation, and traditional schools in select cities across the country.”

“Most of the cities included in the study were cities where Arnold Ventures (and now The City Fund) have partnered with local leaders to expand high-quality schools.”

“Camden’s city level effects are large.”

“In just two years, scores are up ~.15 standard deviations in math and ~.05 standard deviations in reading (compared to similar schools across the state).”

The reality is those changes are very small. Noise in the data is a better explanation than awesome charter schools for these tiny differences.

In Indianapolis, the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown, just wrote an Indy Star opinion piece stating,

“A 2019 study from Stanford University found that students who attend Innovation Network Schools achieve the equivalent of 53 additional days of learning in English and 89 additional days of learning in math each year when compared to their traditional public school peers. This equates to several years of additional learning during the span of a K-12 academic career, and the gains are largest for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.”

In the billionaire financed effort to privatize public education, CREDO has become their source for data proving things like smaller class sizes and teacher professionalism are not important. The “Cities Studies Project” commissioned by an organization intent on privatizing public schools through promoting the portfolio management scheme – The City Fund – is biased toward the privatization agenda. Rather than shining the light of scholarly work on education policy, it obscures reality with obfuscation.

Indianapolis: Home of America’s Second Most Privatized School System

27 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/27/2020

With the introduction of Innovation schools in 2015, Indianapolis Public Schools quickly became the second most privatized taxpayer supported school system in America. It has zoomed past Detroit and Washington DC in the privatization sweepstakes to only trail the poster child for disaster capitalism, New Orleans. The right wing billionaire funded organization, The Mind Trust, has played a major role in this outcome.

Brown and Money

The Mind Trust CEO Brandon Brown Enjoys Flood of Billionaire Dollars

Nations 2nd Most Privatized

How terms and principles are defined is crucial. For example, Stephanie Wang of Chalkbeat paraphrases The Mind Trust CEO, Brandon Brown as saying, “There has never been a civil rights movement that hasn’t been led by the people most directly affected by the work.” Brown often couches his work in terms of fighting for civil rights, but is stripping minority communities of their democratic right to a voice in the operation of neighborhood schools really fighting for civil rights?

Professor Noliwe Rooks labels the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation “segrenomics.” Professor Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and she definitely would not see The Mind Trust as a civil rights organization.

Another term that needs a careful definition is public school. Network for Public Education Director Carol Burris provided a thoughtful and clear explanation of what constitutes a public school in an interview with the Busted Pencils pod cast. She said there are two aspects to qualifying as a public school: (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be governed by an elected local entity such as a district board.

In September 2019, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent, Aleesia Johnson, presented an updated facts and figures report. It showed 22,659 students in public schools with another 8,416 students in 20 Innovation schools and 1,562 students in state governed turnaround schools. By cross referencing the state list of Indianapolis charter schools with state charter school enrollment data, Indianapolis charter school enrollment was found to be 32,127 of which 2,340 were in schools designated innovation. In other words, of the 62,424 taxpayer supported students in Indianapolis only 36.3% were in schools controlled by local voters.

School Privatization Graphic

Number of Students in Various Indianapolis Taxpayer Funded Schools

In 2014, the Indiana state government responded to American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation by creating innovation schools. David and Charles Koch, the main financial support behind the creation of ALEC, have a 50-year history of opposing public education. In a January news release, The Mind Trust explained, “Innovation Network Schools operate with full autonomy and are governed by independent nonprofit boards.” Like charter schools, innovation schools are governed by private boards independent of voter input. They no longer meet the definition for public schools.

An organization from Texas called Pastors for Children recently tweeted,

“If charter schools are public schools, then they should not have private boards.”

“Bring charters under local district control now.”

The same goes for innovations schools. There is no good reason that they are not under local district control but there is history.

In 1983, the Reagan era A Nation at Risk promoted the idea that public schools were failing by distorting data that showed the opposite. They touted reform based on business principles as the answer to this “failure.” In 1990, John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s influential book stated that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” The billionaires Jon Arnold and Reed Hastings have taken this un-American and anti-democratic ideology to heart.

In 2018, Arnold and Hastings put up $100 million each to establish a new organization, The City Fund, dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school reform. Simply put, the portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or innovation schools. This means that especially schools in poor and minority neighborhoods are at risk.

Paul Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington, created the portfolio model as a path to privatizing public education.

Last year, The City Fund gave a three year $18 million grant to The Mind Trust. They claimed it was for “Operating support and support for expansion of high quality schools in Indianapolis, IN” which means advancing the portfolio model. A sure sign that an organization is promoting public school privatization is the ubiquitous claim that it is developing “high quality schools.”

Shockingly, the Indianapolis Public School district has a Portfolio Management page on their web site.

In 2018, The Mind Trust co-founder, David Harris, quit as CEO to become a Partner at The City Fund. He is still on The Mind Trust board where he serves alongside CBS Sunday Morning Anchor, Jane Pauley.

With Harris’s resignation, a new wave of TFA developed leaders took over.

The Billionaire Created Privatization Army

Mercedes Schneider writes in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp was the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and the young idealists for sale were her temp teachers who had no intention of staying in the classroom. Schneider also shared that in 2011 the Walton Family Foundation donated $49.5 million to TFA. Furthermore, Schneider listed TFA corporate donors in the $100,000 to $999,000 category as:

“Anheuser-Busch, ATT, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Boeing, Cargill Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Emerson, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Fedex, Fidelity Investment, GE, Marathon Oil, Monsanto, Peabody, Prudential, State Farm, Symantec, Travelers, Wells Fargo.”

She further pointed out that all of these big money donors are members of ALEC.

Since 2010, billionaires and corporations have continued making large investments in TFA. TFA’s latest IRS filing shows $235,973,769 in contributions for the fiscal year May 2017 to May 2018. The previous year’s grants totaled to $245,190,571. Additionally this so called non-profit now has a total asset value of $366,724,130 and the average yearly income of the top 10 earners at TFA is $325,134. Founder Wendy Kopp, listed as working 10-hours per week, was paid $136,879.

The TFA Indianapolis web page says The Mind Trust played a critical role in bringing TFA to Indianapolis “and one-third of its current staff are Teach For America alums including its CEO, Brandon Brown.” The local TFA Executive Director, Amar Patel, noted, “Nearly 20 percent of schools here in Indianapolis are led by TFA alumni.”

TFA teachers are completely unqualified. Prior to taking over a classroom, TFA teachers receive just five weeks of training. Their training is test centric and employs behaviorist principles. TFA corps members study Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. He never formally studied or practiced education.

TFA corps members are typically in their early 20’s and have just completed a bachelors degree – likely in a field unrelated to what they will teach. For example, Brandon Brown taught English the fall after he earned a Bachelor’s in political science and psychology. Worst of all, TFA corps members thoroughly assimilate the neoliberal message of failing schools, inept principals and bad teachers.

Real professional educators provide proof of mastery of the course they will teach and spend a minimum of one-year in a post-graduate teacher training program.

Another organization recruited to Indianapolis by The Mind Trust is TNTP (formerly The New Teachers Project). The Mind Trust states, “TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows program has supported 375+ Indianapolis teachers since 2007, several of whom have been school or district teachers of the year.” TNTP was created at TFA in 1997 by Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee. It was designed to be an alternative route to teacher certification and professional development.

Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education, a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they were unqualified. If policy makers in New York wanted to create and alternative teacher certification path, they would have turned to an established institution like Columbia University’s Teachers College to create and manage the program. They would not have turned to a private non-profit with no track record and little experience on staff.

An April 10, 2019 press release from The Mind Trust states:

“Today, the Indiana State Board of Education approved Relay Graduate School of Education … to prepare aspiring teachers for Indiana certification through its Teaching Residency program in Indianapolis. … The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, has raised an initial $3.5 million to support the expansion of Relay Graduate School of Education to Indiana and the launch of the Relay Teaching Residency program in Indianapolis.”

The title of the post Relay Graduate School: a Slick ‘MarketWorld’ Education Fraudsuccinctly describes this new billionaire funded scheme to further de-professionalize teaching in America. Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her post, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

Indianapolis TFA described their relationship the $15 billion Lilly Foundation started by the big-pharma founder Eli Lilly in 1937 and their relationship with Relay Graduate School:

“An instrumental player in bringing Teach For America to Indianapolis, the foundation continues to works closely with TFA to support the recruitment of a diverse pipeline of teachers for Indianapolis students.”

“Corps members new to teaching will have the opportunity to earn their teaching certification through a master’s degree at Relay Graduate School of Education, our graduate school partner. Most corps members will be able to qualify for AmeriCorps funding that covers the full cost of tuition.”

“The program culminates with a cash award of up to $2,500 for fellows to pursue their new solution.”

The Mind Trust reported on working with the Fairbanks Foundation to advance Relay Graduate School:

“The Mind Trust … is now accepting applications for the fourth cohort of Indianapolis school leaders to participate in Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF), ….”

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation has awarded The Mind Trust a $990,000 grant to help sponsor Indianapolis school leader participation for the next three years, bringing the Foundation’s total investment in the program to $1,756,000.”

With the infusion of billionaire money, The Mind Trust is not only able to offer training stipends for teachers to attend these “reform” institutes, it can now pay people to spend a year or even two to develop new innovation school plans. This year, they proposed 10 new innovation schools. CEO Brandon Brown observed,

“With the creation of the state law, we were now positioned to do the work that The Mind Trust has been wanting to do for years, working collaboratively with the district to provide great leaders with high autonomies to create great schools. Shortly after, we created the fellowship program to provide school leaders the planning time they needed. It wasn’t clear that IPS had the resources internally to do this work on their own, and we were excited to collaborate with them.”

Besides spending liberally to push school privatization efforts within the education community, The Mind Trust is also paying community members to promote their privatization ideology. Chalkbeat reported on the new parent advocacy fellowships stating, “The fellowship comes with an estimated salary of $75,000 to $90,000 per year.”

Final Observations

Brandon Brown cites a recent study by Stanford’s CREDO group to justify privatizing schools. In an IndyStar op-ed, Brown stated, “A 2019 study from Stanford University found that students who attend Innovation Network Schools achieve the equivalent of 53 additional days of learning in English and 89 additional days of learning in math each year when compared to their traditional public school peers.”

The study referred to here is the CREDO Cities Studies Project in which CREDO applied an undisclosed growth model to Indiana testing data. CREDO is the only scholarly organization that gives any credence to the days of learning metric. Although the study comes from a purportedly scholarly institution, it has never been submitted for peer review. The use of growth models have never been proven reliable and CREDO is known to have received much of its funding from school privatization entities. Somehow, CREDO is able to interpret 0.05 standard deviation differences in a noisy study as equating to three months of learning. It’s hogwash.

Why are billionaires spending so much to undermine professionalism in public education? It is probably not altruism. More likely, they want to reduce the biggest cost associated with education; teacher’s salaries. In the antebellum south, plantation owners preached anti-tax ideology because they owned the most and paid the most. Today’s billionaires aren’t much different. Most of them won’t put their children in public schools and really don’t value high quality public education. It seems the big motivation is to reduce tax burdens and simultaneously create new education industries.

Federal Charter Schools Program a Fountain of Corruption and Disruption

19 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/19/2020

Last year, the Network for Public Education (NPE) published two investigations of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). The first one called Asleep at the Wheel came in March. In it they made several claims including that hundreds of millions of dollars had gone to schools that never opened or were shut down. The authors, Carol Burris and Jeff Bryant, stated, “Therefore, we recommend that Congress end funding for new charter grants coming from CSP.” Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, harshly criticized the report to Congress saying, “It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”  In response, NPE redoubled efforts and in December published Still Asleep at the Wheel where they documented that their conservative claims in the first report under-reported the extent of negligence associated with the CSP.

DeVos Graphic

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

The Charter Schools Program

After Walter Mondale’s crushing defeat in 1984, a group of mostly southern Democrats including Bill Clinton founded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). According to a 1997 article in the New Republic,

“… [T]he DLC’s mission was to wrest the Democratic Party away from its left-wing establishment—particularly minority interest groups and labor unions—in order to transform it into a party that championed middle-class values. The old Democrats called for minimum wage increases, antipoverty programs, protectionism, and school busing; the DLC’s self-described new Democrats sought balanced budgets, welfare reform, free trade agreements, and charter schools.”

In his book Kochland, Christopher Leonard wrote, “If the new era was defined by any term, it was still the soupy and ambiguous term of ‘neoliberalism,’ which combined the machinery of a welfare state with deregulatory efforts for the select few special interest groups that had the money and lobbying power to make their case heard in Washington, DC.”

The Charter Schools Program was established in Title 10 of the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The purposes cited were to provide support for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools. The intent stated was to enhance parent and student choices among public schools.  The business men and politicians writing the law believed these choices and standards would result in higher student achievement. In his paper “Schooling the State: ESEA and the Evolution of the U.S. Department of Education,” Patrick McGuinn explained,

“In the 1994 ESEA reauthorization, President Clinton—a former “education governor” and ‘New Democrat’— secured changes that would push states to increase performance reporting and embrace educational accountability. Under this new ESEA and a companion piece of legislation, Goals 2000, states were required to establish academic standards in each grade and create tests to assess whether students had mastered the standards. The tests were to be administered to all poor children at least once in grades three through five, six through nine, and ten through twelve.”

In “Still Asleep,” Burris recites,

“Begun with just $6 million in 1995, Congressional appropriations for the CSP jumped to $190 million by 2001 and nearly $219 million in 2004. In 2019, the federal Charter Schools Program was funded with $440 million in taxpayer dollars.”

The charter school theory was that these privately operated schools without interference from state education departments and local school districts would unleash dramatic innovation and improvement. In response to “Asleep,” DeVos wrote Representative Grijalva stating, “Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has shown that charter school students outperform their peers in traditional public schools.” However, her Education department’s 2019 study concluded that charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools.

When Bill Clinton first pushed charter school legislation, it was promoted as an experiment. The experiment is now 25-years old. This new class of privatized schools has come with many unintended consequences. They have driven up education costs through the inefficiencies associated with running dual systems; they have undermined teacher professionalism; they have weakened one of the great pillars of democracy in America and they have diminished the role of schools as a unifying historical entity in neighborhoods. Unfortunately, they have not unleashed dramatic innovation and improvement; just disruption.

Asleep at the Wheel

The March 2019 paper “Asleep at the Wheel,” states in the executive summary,

“The federal outlays we examined are not modest expenditures amounting to little more than rounding errors. In its 2015 analysis, CSP stated that since its inception in 1994, the program had provided $3.3 billion to fund the startup, replication, and expansion of charter schools, creating 40 percent of operational public charter schools in the nation. We estimate that program funding has grown to well over $4 billion. That could bring the total of the potential waste to around $1billion.

“The waste of public dollars on closed charter schools is not the only concern. Of the grant recipients that manage to stay open, we uncovered extensive evidence that raises serious questions as to whether or not these schools are truly ‘high quality,’ meeting the CSP goal of providing equitable access for disadvantaged students.

“Through detailed examination of CSP’s application process, and by comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, we found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny.”

“The CSP’s own analysis from 2006-2014 of its direct and state pass through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.”

On April 10, 2019, Secretary of Education DeVos testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor where she was repeatedly queried about different claims made in “Asleep at the Wheel.” When Wisconsin Congressman Pocan asked about the more than $200 million grant to IDEA Charter Schools and their plan to lease a private jet for 6-years at $2 million per year, DeVos deflected and never answered the question but she did say, “The report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda.” That was a lie. It still has not been totally debunked.

In a written reply to follow up questions by the committee DeVos stated,

“Quite simply, the Network for Public Education is anti-reform, anti-charter and anti-choice; accordingly, its report represents nothing more than a political attack.”

“Unfortunately, several of your colleagues appear to have embraced this report without a careful examination of it. This rush to judgment risks fracturing the longstanding bipartisan support for public charter schools, which so many American families have come to rely upon as the only alternative to failing public schools.”

 “What isn’t debatable is that the Network for Public Education had a purpose when it published its report: to smear public charter schools, the CSP program and its grantees under the guise of research. It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”

“Since 2001, of the 5,265 charter schools that have received funding through a State entity or directly from the Department, 634 did not open and are unlikely to open in the future. As the developers of these schools received only CSP “planning” funds, which serve the specific purpose of enabling a charter school developer to explore the feasibility of opening a new charter school, the average award size for these schools was significantly lower than the average award size for CSP “implementation” grants and subgrants. In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.”

The President of NPE, Diane Ravitch, has a long history of championing standards based education reform informed by standardized testing. It was only after reviewing years of data around 2007 that she concluded it was not working. She certainly never gave up on the idea of improving public education. Her criticism of charter schools has been the lack of oversight, profiteering and fraud that have plagued the industry.

As far as school “choice” is concerned. In her book School Choice, educator and NPE supporter Mercedes Schneider quoted a 2012 Educational Research Alliance study noting, “The combined pressure to enroll a greater number of students and raise test scores to meet state targets seems to have created perverse incentives, encouraging the practice of screening and selecting students.” Schneider observed, “[Milton] Friedman’s idea of the market as a disinterested player in the game of choice simply is not consistent with practice.”

Ironically, Secretary DeVos has a well known anti-public education bias. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVoses’ philanthropy for Mother Jones stating,

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

DeVos asserting NPE “makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor” is a baseless claim. One of the reasons no one has been able to convincingly refute the conclusions in either “Asleep” or “Still Asleep” is because of the quality of the supporting data used and the careful rigor applied.

DeVos indicated that the spending on “ghost charters” [charters that never opened] was not nearly as high as stated. In a Washington Post article, Burris used DeVos’s data to defend the paper. DeVos stated, “In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.” Burris pointed out,

“The total for grants in the 2015 data set we used for our report is $1,794,548,157. Of that amount, 3.5 percent is $62,809,185. Our report said $45.5 million was wasted on ghost schools. Again, it appears as if we did not catch all of the waste.”

Burris also noted that of the 5,265 grantee schools DeVos cited only 3,138 were still in existence according to a department contracted WestEd presentation. That means 2,127 schools either never opened or were closed; a rate of 40.4% of all charters that were funded from active grants during those years. In “Still Asleep,” the percentage of failed charter schools over the same period was stated as 37%.

In other words, using DeVos’s numbers and official reports contracted by the US Department of Education for checking; in all cases the NPE numbers proved to be conservative and accurate.

Conclusion

Both “Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are well researched fair important studies illuminating the profound corruption in the federal Charter School Program. “Still Asleep” notes, “Hundreds of millions of dollars sent to states with few rules of the road have resulted in the massive waste of federal tax dollars, as grants were doled out to individuals who had no credentials or experience to open up a new school.”

“Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are forty and forty-eight pages in length respectively. The data presented and the illustrative charter school antidotes are meticulously documented. These two documents reveal a corrupt raid on taxpayer money which is negatively impacting K-12 education in America. The “Still Asleep” recommendations seem like common sense. They urge:

“We therefore strongly recommend that Congress end appropriations for new charter school grants in the upcoming budget and continue funding only for obligated amounts only to legitimate projects. Once those grants have been closed, we recommend that the CSP be ended and that charter schools continue to receive federal support only through other federal funding streams such as Title I and IDEA. Students, not charter school entrepreneurs, should benefit from federal funds.

“We also recommend thorough audits by Congress of previous grant awards, the establishment of regulations to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned to the federal coffers.”

 

Faulty Billionaire Financed Education “Study”

9 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/9/2020

This January, the new organization Brightbeam and its CEO Chris Stewart published The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.” The name clearly indicates the paper’s political leanings and the underlying data is suspicious. The paper is a polemic rather than a study. Like many “reports” coming from what Diane Ravitch labels the “disrupter” community, this 33-page document has not been submitted for peer-review. Never-the-less, it has been widely disseminated as legitimate research to the Brightbeam network including Education Post. It has also gone to hard right media like The Blaze and found its way into mainstream media like NBC and the Boston Herald.

About Brightbeam

Last year, Brightbeam was created to be the umbrella organization for the Education Post and other digital media sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) which is the legal moniker for the obscure billionaire financed organization providing the operating funds for this new digital publishing group. Brightbeam also controls the cyber platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free and it has influence over at least fourteen local internet publications in various American cities.

The billionaires financing Brightbeam include Michael Bloomberg, Alice Walton, Jim Walton, Laurene Jobs Powell and Mark Zuckerberg.

Chris Stewart who was named CEO of Brightbeam has been on the payroll at RIEF since its founding in 2014. The last available tax record puts his 2017 salary at $226,417.

The new “report” says, “Brightbeam is a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and a brighter future for every child.” A more apt description would be “a billionaire created organization dedicated to privatizing public schools and undermining teacher professionalism.”

Evaluating the “Study”

In his introduction to the paper, Stewart claims, “Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities.” Concerning the purportedly extra-large racial achievement gaps in “progressive cities” the paper states, “Of all the factors we looked at, progressivism is the greatest predictor.”

The authors’ explanation of their approach is skimpy. They write,

“To determine a rationale for what is a progressive city and what is a conservative city we relied on criteria developed independently by political scientists Chris Tausanovitch and Christopher Warshaw, who pooled data from seven large surveys of U.S. public opinion to rank the nation’s biggest cities in terms of conservatism. We then selected the 12 most conservative cities and the 12 least conservative cities from that list to establish the conservative and progressive cities that make up the base of this report.”

With those cities in mind, we pulled the publicly available school achievement and graduation data from public school districts in each of those cities. When we analyzed the achievement gaps between black and white students and the gaps between Latino and white students we found larger gaps than readers might expect from cities where progressive residents presumably hold the most political, administrative and cultural power.

Tausanovitch’s and Warshaw’s paper seems like a reasonable way to identify conservative and progressive leanings in cities. It is a five year old study and presumably attitudes have not gone through a sea change in that amount of time. However, the premise that the political ideology between those cities would have a dramatic effect on the achievement of minority students seems unlikely.

More troubling than the premise is the contention that standardized testing conducted using different testing regimes in 24 locations makes a valid comparison. Standardized testing provides data of questionable value even when everyone is taking the same test, but trying to align data from multiple testing types is fraught with error. The study provides almost no information about the data and methodology used.

On page nine, the study claims that the Black-White mathematics proficiency gap is 41.3% in progressive cities and 26.2% in conservative cities. This claim was checked by using the 2019 Nation Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) 8th grade math data for the 18 cities on the Tausnovich/Warshaw list that also had 2019 NAEP data. The average scale scores were subtracted and the difference was divided by the white student average scale score. The largest gap found was 21% in Washington DC. Even the 26.2% gap Brightbeam reported in conservative cities is a puzzle and the 41.3% number for progressive cities appears to be ludicrous.

Grade 8 Math Gap

Education Achievement Gaps Based on NAEP Data

San Francisco and Washington DC were rated respectively as number 1 and number 2 most progressive cities in the United States. The Brightbeam report states that in mathematics the Black-White achievement gap is 58% in San Francisco and 62% in Washington DC. Washington DC had the highest gap measured with NAEP data at 21%, however, that is almost 3 times less that the Brightbeam reported 62% claim.

San Francisco does not have easily attainable NAEP testing data, so the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) data for 2019 was used to check the gap claim. To calculate achievement gap measurements, percentages of all tested students who met or exceeded standards were summed for each ethnicity. Then a simple subtraction between the results of the various ethnic groups provided an achievement percentage difference. Using this method the Black-White achievement gap for mathematics was 32.7%. Outrageously high, but hardly the 58% gap that Brightbeam asserted.

While researching the achievement gaps in San Francisco, a fascinating correlation was discovered. The more an ethnic group utilized charter schools the worse their group’s education achievement.

San Francisco Charter Enrollment Chart

Negative Correlation for Academic Achievement in Charter Schools

The Brightbeam report states, “…three of the 12 conservative cities — Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Fort Worth — have effectively closed the gap in at least one of the academic categories we looked at, literally achieving a gap of zero or one.” To test this claim, the same methodology used for San Francisco was applied to Anaheim using 2019 CAASPP data for both Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement gaps in math and English language arts. The results are in the Table 1.

Table 1: Anaheim Education Achievement Gaps

Compared

ELA Gap Math Gap
Black – White 14.6% 10.5%
Hispanic-White 22.2% 16.0%

Clearly, the Education Achievement Gaps are much more significant than the zero or one point gaps which Brightbeam declares.

A 2018 Brookings Institute study of education achievement gaps in America said that gaps were still too large between demographic groups but that they have been steadily improving. On the other hand, they noted, “In contrast to the improvement in racial and ethnic achievement gaps, however, achievement gaps based on students’ eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch—our best proxy for poverty in the NAEP data—do not show much progress.”

Another Brightbeam contention involves graduation rates. It praises the rates in Oklahoma City noting, “The Oklahoma City public school district only graduates 73% of its high school students in four years but the graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher for black students than for white students and 5 percentage points higher for Latino students than for whites.”

While this statement is true, it implies that the cause for the relative higher success rate for Black and Hispanic students in Oklahoma City is the conservative nature of the city. Brightbeam ignores the huge five-year demographic change among the graduates and the 18.5% drop in the white graduation rate. That is not a success to be celebrated.

Table 2: Graduation Rates in Oklahoma City

Ethnicity 2014 2018
Graduation Rate Demographic Mix Graduation Rate Demographic Mix
Black 75.8% 9.7% 77.8% 25.9%
Hispanic 77.6% 11.8% 75.9% 52.7%
White 84.7% 55.1% 66.3% 12.5%

Fraudulent digital credit recovery has rendered high school graduation rates a meaningless parameter for measuring school merit. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. By 2012 – after the education technology industry became involved with providing high school credits – 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. Bizarrely, students have been allowed to finish semester long classes in less than a week and obvious cheating is being ignored.

Selling Out the Black Community

The Brightbeam report is targeting the black community with its anti-public schools and anti-progressive message. Their report concludes, “All of us have an outstanding debt to our children. But, to return to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., America, and most especially these progressive cities, has given our black and brown children a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

Keith Benson, Ed. D, is an amazing educator, thinker and leader in Camden, New Jersey. Keith is currently head of the Camden Education Association and has spent 14 years in the Camden classrooms. He is also active in and been a leader of the Camden branch of the NAACP. Last year Keith published “Seeing No Evil, “For the Children”:Identifying the Black education reform establishment’s purposeful blind spots in advocating for expansion of corporate education reforms.” This insightful paper addresses the kind of destructive leadership provided by billionaire funded Black led organizations like Brightbeam. Benson wrote:

“…in decades before where education reform, namely school choice was largely a fringe issue championed by anti-union, ideological white conservatives, today’s education reform movement gained momentum as pro-reform white benefactors expanded their public relations campaign to include Black and Latino ‘leaders’ to accomplish the same goal of collapsing urban public schools and teacher unions.”

“Michael Reagan, in ‘Think of the Children’ takes the ‘for the children’ argument to task calling it ‘pure BS…obvious political BS that has been used by politicians of both major parties’ and by people who lack ‘a legitimate or a reasonable argument.’ It is my contention here that the billionaire funded education reform movement and the Black Education Reform Establishment acting against urban public education for ‘the children,’ follows a similar rhetorical pattern.”

“In sum, through the education reform movement’s desire to close ‘failing schools’ and weaken teachers unions, it was experienced black teachers who bore the brunt of their contradictory advocacy which has only gained in strength and in allies that now includes the socially liberal, and persons of color. And while some critiques of urban public schools are accurate and warrant decisive systemic corrective action, it is simultaneously accurate that the single demographic most impacted by the policies advocated by today’s reformers are black educators, specifically, black women. Thus, while the Black Education Reform Establishment, as well as their wealthy white funders continuously champion dismantling urban teacher unions and closing “failing” schools in the name of benefiting the best hopes for urban black children, the Black Education Reform Establishment is targeting the same teachers most likely to help students of color achieve academically and usher them into post-secondary education.” (Emphasis added)

The billionaire sponsored paper from Chris Stewart and Brightbeam is not a study; not even close. It is propaganda. Mark Twain attributed Benjamin Disraeli with saying “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” The Brightbeam paper grossly violates all three of these categories of lies.

New Guides for Researchers, Bloggers and Parents

4 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/4/2020

Two new sources provide guidance for researching and decoding education jargon. At the beginning of the year, Teacher College Press published Diane Ravitch’s and Nancy Bailey’s EdSpeak and Doubletalk; A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. Near February’s completion, Garn Press published Mercedes Schneider’s new book, A Practical Guide To Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies , in which Schneider explains the investigative tools and techniques she uses plus provides examples from her own work.

A Practical Guide to Digital Research

Practical Guide

The fifth Network for Public Education (NPE) conference was held in Indianapolis, Indiana during October of 2018. I attended the session “Where did all this Money Come from: Locating and Following the Dark Money Trail” which was presented by Darcie Cimarusti, Andrea Gabor and Mercedes Schneider.

Cimarusti writes a blog called Mother Crusader which opens with the line “Never intended to become a parent advocate until I watched the great schools in my little town come under attack.” Darcie also works part time for NPE where she is half the two person staff and does research. Gabor is a Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College. She is a researcher who currently has ten books listed on Amazon. The MC of the session was the author of Guide to Digital Research, Mercedes Schneider.

The session had three presentations and a question and answer period. Darcie introduced the LittleSis data base and oligrapher. She shared her LittleSis map creation  “Louisiana 2011: Jeb Bush Calls and Billionaire Dollars Follow” and demonstrated its interactive functions. Andre presented “990S: Mining Nonprofit Tax Returns” where she used forms from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to explain how to read them and where to find them. Finally, Mercedes used examples from New York to share how she researches campaign finance data.

In her new book, Mercedes reflects back on that NPE session and notes:

“In preparing for our presentation, Darcie asked me to send her the information I wished to include in my presentation slides.

“In that moment, I thought, ‘To do this justice, my slides would need to be the length of a book. And there’s no time for me to write a book before we present.

“So, the book was on my mind, particularly on one Saturday after the 2018 NPE.”

Schneider also shares, “Thus, the initial idea for this publication stemmed from my desire to equip parents and other community members to investigate the activities and spending of individuals and groups associated with market-based ed reform.”

This is Mercedes Schneider’s fourth book. She is a Louisiana native with secondary education degrees in English, German and guidance counseling.  Mercedes also has a PhD in applied statistics and research. Her three previous books are A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, The Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? and School Choice: The End of Public Education?

The educator, blogger and Forbes commentator Peter Greene when praising Mercedes work and her new book stated,

“… A Practical Guide To Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies is a thorough look at how to go cyberdigging, looking at both the techniques and the tools that can be used to uncover whatever truth is lurking out there. Because she provides plenty of examples and demonstrations of how these tools and techniques have worked for her, Schneider also gives us a sort of greatest hits collection.”

An example of one of those greatest hits Greene alludes to is when she reported in Chronicle of Echoes that Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers only taught full time for one semester. In the new book, she reveals how she found this information and that Weingarten’s legal name is Rhonda Weingarten.

Another hit was how she was able to discover who the anonymous donor to Education Post was. In 2014, the Washington Post introduced the new ed reform organization Education Post and stated its initial funding came from “the Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation and an anonymous donor.” By reviewing the 2014 tax forms of the known donors, she was able to learn that they were actually giving their grants to the Results in Education Foundation which was financing Education Post. Once she found the name of the actual foundation she was able to reveal that Laurene Powell Jobs was the anonymous donor.

Schneider uses many episodes like the two mentioned above to demonstrate how to use different investigative tools and provides practical evidence for how she has applied them. The book is a wonderful extension to that 2018 NPE presentation.

EdSpeak and Doubletalk

EdSpeak

Thanks to the authors and the facilities at Teacher’s College, this is a living book. At the book’s cyber address, there is a link to a 58 page downloadable supplement as well as an updates tab.

Diane Ravitch explains in the introduction that she originally published EdSpeak in 2006, however she concludes:

“In the years since, a sea change has occurred in education and in the vocabulary used to describe plans, policies, pedagogy, and priorities. I realized that EdSpeak had become obsolete because times had changed.”

Diane says she found the perfect collaborator, Nancy Bailey, who is passionate about education and “knew more than I did about the language of the classroom, and who, as an experienced teacher, had firsthand experience of the impact of policy at the school and classroom level.”

Regents’ Professor of Education Emeritus at Arizona State University, David Berliner applauded the book. He writes,

“This glossary provides excellent and accurate definitions of the educational terms common to our times. Novice educators, school board members, and parents of school-age children can all use this book to decode the specialized vocabulary of this profession. In addition, the authors are unapologetically strong believers in our public schools, and it shows, making this book much more valuable. This is a glossary with an attitude, and because of that, I endorse it even more strongly.”

Concerning that last line, Ravitch states,

“This book is more than a glossary. It has a point of view – about public schools, about teachers and teaching, and particularly about the insidious efforts to undermine public schools and the teaching profession.”

The book is arranged into 18 chapters with each chapter arranged alphabetically. The online supplement has another 9 chapters.

How to use this reference book. One might have heard of a group called School Board Partners. A quick look at the books index would send you to page 78 in “Chapter 11: School Reform Groups and Terms, or ‘Money Talk.’” There you would find the description of School Board Partners:

“A group that pretends to be concerned about public schools and communities, but that encourages choice and privatization goals. School Board Partners claims that school boards are failing kids, and school board members need the help of outside mentors so they will make the right decisions to promote change and ‘buck the status quo.’ Their deceptive title is intended to confuse the public and to substitute themselves for existing state and national school board associations, which advocate on behalf of public schools. School Board Partners is currently funded by the same corporate reform groups that fund Education Cities, which include the Arnold, Dell, Gates, Kauffman, and Walton Family Foundations. Its real goal is to dissolve the school board’s connection to its own community and make it part of the privatization movement. Their current targeted cities include Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Stockton.”

In the book supplement there are definitions of terms like “restorative justice” and “backward mapping.” One of my favorite definitions, I found in the supplement was “research shows.” It is defined as,

“A phrase often used to evoke authority and end discussions even when research is equivocal. Parents and other non-educators must be wary of accepting the claim that ‘research shows’ a given outcome unless they receive a clear, impartial summary of the evidence.”

These two books bring light to the corrupt billionaire led privatization of America’s public schools and provide some tools that citizens can use to fight back. As an unapologetic advocate for elected school board led public schools, I hardily recommend these two new publications.

Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free

28 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/28/2020

During final months of 2019, the Education Post was reorganized. In 2014, four billionaires spent $5.5 million to establish a new digital media channel in response to the massive and effective push back against their favored education reforms. Actually, it was more than four billionaires. One of those funders was the Walton Family Foundation made up of multiple billionaires. The channel was called Education Post but its official non-profit name was the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) whose existence seemed to be purposely obscured. Peter Cunningham was listed on tax forms as President of RIEF, but publicly Cunningham was only known as the founding Executive Director of Education Post.

During the first four years of operation, the top contributor to REIF has been Michael Bloomberg. Available tax records show that between 2014 and 2017 he granted it more than $7 million and when added to the sizeable donations by the Waltons, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs Powell, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg the total is almost $20 million. Spending since December 31, 2017 is unknown because there is a lag time of almost two years for non-profit taxes to be filed and made public.

Last year, a new organization called Brightbeam was created. It claims to be an umbrella organization for the Education Post and other sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for RIEF. Two other digital platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free are controlled by Brightbeam and they share some of the same employees. The following LittleSis map shows the new structure of this digital media group dedicated to disrupting public education.

Education Post Reorganized

Billionaire Financed Digital Media Structure Supporting School Privatization

Professor Noliwe Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and was for ten years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. In her recent book, Cutting Schools, she coined the term “segrenomics” – the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation. She also pointed out that “between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment shrank in racially integrated schools, and yet this strategy is no longer discussed, and there is no ‘vocal pro-integration constituency’ pushing for it.” (The book is reviewed here.)

In the book, Rooks went on to state,

“In 1989, the National Business Roundtable urged its state and local affiliates to work more closely with state governments to radically restructure the nation’s public schools. The National Alliance of Business circulated pamphlets instructing CEOs and business groups on how to shape local school policy toward economic restructuring goals. President Reagan and his education secretary, William Bennett, were in full agreement with such sentiments. In regard to public schools, integration was out, business was in.”

The billionaires who created the digital media structure described by the map above subscribe to the philosophy that business should be leading America’s k-12 education. Their neoliberal ideology posits that democratic control of public schools is a problem and that a privatized system based on market competition is superior. That is what this new expanded digital media network is selling.

Protecting the Billionaires’ Assets

By 2014, the bloom was off the rose for the test to privatize movement. Former advocate of standardized testing based reform, Dian Ravitch, had released her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was a sensation which was reinforced by the work of other academics like David Berliner and Gene Glass who published Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. Scholars and teachers across America rose up to fight billionaire led education “reform.”

Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch founded the Network for Public Education (NPE) in 2014 which brought together many pro-public education advocates from across America. Bloggers like Peter Greene and Mercedes Schneider were gaining large followings as were a myriad other teacher bloggers fighting what they viewed as the destruction of their profession and the great American public school system which underpins democratic government. By 2018, Diane Ravitch was proclaiming at the NPE convention, “We are the resistance and we are winning.”

To counter the drubbing the billionaire education disrupters were receiving in cyber space, they created the Education Post. Its results must have been a disappointment. In 2019, they reorganized their effort to purchase influence in the realm of social media.

Peter Cunningham was hired to lead Education Post in 2014. He had been a speech writer and advisor for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. When fellow Chicago politician Barak Obama picked Cunningham’s colleague Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, Cunningham went along and became the department’s Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach. He has a long association with the school choice movement and currently serves on multiple boards associated with the charter industry. His first year’s salary was a little in excess of $200,000.

Cunningham was joined on the first board of RIEF by Emma Bloomberg, Bruce Reed and Kathleen McInerney.  The board appears to be selected as a function giving. That first year, $4,729,146 of the $5,479,146 in grants received by RIEF were from two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. Board member Emma Bloomberg is Michael’s daughter and Kathleen McInerney represents Bloomberg on other boards and works for Bloomberg’s long used accounting firm Geller & Co. Bruce Reed is President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation increased their “gift” to $1,000,000 and a fifth board member was added. Marc Sternberg who leads the foundation’s initiatives to improve K-12 education joined the board. In 2016, Bruce Reed quit the board and was not replaced. In 2017, that board seat was filled by Russlynn Ali, CEO of Laurene Jobs Powell’s XQ Institute. It was the third year Powell had been contributing a million dollars or more.

In 2020, the board has three new faces. The new umbrella organization Brightbeam lists the board of directors. Peter Cunningham and Mark Sternberg are still on the board. Bloomberg, McInery and Ali have been replaced by Arne Duncan, Sydney Chaffee and Lillian Lowery.

The current board is certainly still education disrupter friendly. Mark Sternberg was director of business development at Victory Schools Inc., a private management company for charter schools, in Manhattan in 2001. He had previously earned a B.A. from Princeton in 1995 and was a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx. He subsequently worked for Bloomberg’s New York City Department of Education where he served as senior advisor to the chancellor and the mayor’s office on education policy and strategy. He is a graduate of the Broad Academy class of 2013-2014.

Arne Duncan is widely recognized as the Secretary of Education during most of the Obama Presidency. He was and still is a well known advocate of test based accountability for schools and teachers. He supports school choice. He also went to work for Laurene Jobs Powell at the Emerson Collective as Managing Partner in 2016.

Sydney Chaffee was the controversial US Teacher of the Year selection in 2017.  She is a ninth grade humanities teacher at the Dorchester, Ma. Codman Academy Charter School; a TeachPlus Policy Fellow; and an EdX Policy Fellow. The Gates supported Council of Chief State School Officers select the US Teacher of the Year. When the teachers’ union in Massachusetts refused to congratulate her selection, right wing media was incensed. Chaffee has become very popular with education disrupters as a symbol of privatized education quality.

Lillian Lowery is a graduate of the 2004 Broad Academy. On July 1, 2012 she became Maryland Superintendent of Schools. That was the same month that education technology promoter and now convicted criminal, Dallas Dance, was hired as Superintendent of Baltimore’s public schools. Since leaving Maryland, she has served as CEO of the Ed Tech advocacy group Future Ready Ohio and as vice president for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at Education Trust.

Selling School Privatization

Chris Stewart is the African American CEO leading the umbrella group Brightbeam. The 2014 RIEF tax records show that he was paid $53,723 as “outreach and external affairs director.” In 2015 he established the blog Citizen Education. That same year he was paid $171,643 by RIEF yet claimed on the Citizen Education about page,

No I don’t have funding for this. Yes it costs money to make it happen.”

Stewart’s pay increased to $197,559 in 2016 still as “outreach and external affair director.” In 2017, he was paid $226,417 to be CEO of the “Wayfinder Project.”

Chris also serves as chair of the board at the Students for Education Reform’s Action Network a billionaire financed AstroTurf organization.

On March 25, Chris put his latest public education attack piece on the Project Forever Free blog that he controls. The piece has the farcical title They’re Worried We’ll Realize We Can Teach Our Kids Better at Home splashed across Diane Ravitch’s picture. In this baseless attack article, he shows a tweet by Arthur Camins that is addressed to @DianeRavitch, @teka21bat, @carolburris, @leoniehaimson, @Network4pubEd,  @AnthonyCody, @palan57, @StevenSinger3, @jeffbcdm and the @BadassTeachersA. He then writes, “Friends, is it petty for me to point out that Camins’ Tweet tags a group of nine people who couldn’t be less representative of democratic public education in a pluralistic society?”

It is much worse than petty. It is slanderous and senseless. Two of the addressed entities are organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people. The other seven people are selflessly donating countless hours to protecting students and public education from paid disrupters and data scammers. It is ironic that a man who works for anti-democratic billionaires would make such an outrageous claim, but that is why he is making the big bucks. Stewart is willing to do the bosses bidding.

Brightbeam’s web page lists the following local sites that they are working with to advance the privatization agenda.

  • The Black Wall Street Times Targets the Black community with school choice promotions.
  • Chicago Unheard Appears to be trying to engage Black parents of school age children to promote school choice.
  • CO School Talk – Elevating the education conversation. Colorado site pushing school choice.
  • EdLANTA – Because Georgia’s kids are always on our minds. Aimed at Black parents in Atlanta.
  • Good School Hunting – Because every kid deserves an awesome school. Seems to be a site for Brightbeam employee Erica Sanzi to proselytize for school choice.
  • Great School Voices – The watchdog on quality & equality in education. With an eye on Oakland, California. Site dedicated to selling school choice to the locals.
  • Indy K12 – Education is Power. Just what Indianapolis needs another school choice promoting entity to further destroy that cities already decimated public school system.
  • Kentucky School Talk – Great public schools for every kid in the Bluegrass State. Charter schools are not popular in Kentucky but this group is for choice.
  • New Mexico Education – Your home for all things education in The Land of Enchantment. A pro-charter school and billionaire style reform voice.
  • NJ Left Behind – The real scoop on public schools in the Garden State. Wants more money for New Jersey charter schools.
  • New York School Talk – A real look at our schools in the Big Apple. Another site pushing a variation of the billionaire agenda.
  • Philly’s 7th Ward – Finding solutions for all Philadelphia students. A very pro-charter school site.
  • The Second Line Education Blog A pro-choice blog for New Orleans; supports everything but public schools.
  • Volume & Light – Speaking out for Nashville Schools. It is all in for school choice.

This is clearly a propaganda effort but it is doomed to fail because they are selling a bad product. It is truly sad that these self-centered billionaires are not trying to improve public schools instead of destroying them.

Rick Smith Interview with Thomas Ultican

20 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/20/2020

Rick Smith is a radio talk show host from Pennsylvania. He moderates the Rick Smith Show. On Wednesday (3/18/2020) Rick had me on his two hour show for a 15 minute segment. The central point of our discussion revolved around cyber education which students throughout America are being forced into because of the current pandemic.

 

 

The Vicious Attack on Sweetwater Union High School District

14 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/14/2020

Chula Vista, California

Superintendent Karen Janney and the school board at Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) have a target on their backs. In September 2018, new Chief Financial Officer, Jenny Salkeld, announced there was a $20 million dollar hole in the submitted 2018-2019 school year budget. Salkeld had discovered a long smoldering budget irregularity. Janney immediately reported the budget issue to the County Office of Education and informed the bargaining units with whom she was negotiating about the new uncertainties. Since then, journalists looking for readers and politicians looking for opportunities have robustly slimed the district and its leaders.

A Quadruple Whammy

Besides the mystery of going from a reported $17 million positive budget to an actual $10 million deficit, Janney and the board of trustees had to deal with the states increased pension payment requirements, a hike in special education costs and shrinking enrollment.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the state required school districts to pay 8% of teachers’ salaries to the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). In the just submitted Second Interim budget report, Salkeld revealed that the rate is now 17.1% and will increase to 18.4% in the 2020-2021 school year. In other words, the retirement costs have more than doubled.

This school year, spending on special education has zoomed to $62.5 million and is projected to reach almost $70 million in two years.

In addition, SUHSD is experiencing shrinking enrollment. Between 2014 and today the average daily attendance in the district has dropped from 38,302 to 36,023. That accounts for another $20 million in lost revenue. The drop is almost entirely fueled by the expanding charter school sector. In the 2018-2019 school year, 15% of 7th grade through 12th grade students in the Sweetwater service area were in charter schools; a total of 6,281 students. (Number of students derived by cross referencing county charter school data with state attendance records.)

With all of the turmoil, the fact that SUHSD has 13 high schools and 11 middle schools in excellent facilities with professional leadership and highly skilled educators is often overlooked. According to the state, 23% of the district’s students are English language learners and 60% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. What might surprise outsiders is that the professional educators in Sweetwater love their jobs, their students and their schools. They take great pride in the quality of education being provided and are not disturbed in the least by the learning challenges associated with these kinds of student demographics.

However the current situation has presented an opportunity for demagoguery. Chula Vista Elementary has for several years gotten around the law limiting them to grades K-6 by starting dependent charter schools. They now have five dependent charter schools educating 2,108 students who would otherwise be in SUHSD schools. A recent article in the San Diego Union reports “Chula Vista district leaders say they want to give parents more options for middle school as soon as this July.” They want to steal more students.

Sweetwater 2018 Budgets Compared

Comparing the June 2018 Budget with the Revised October 2018 Budget

Is it Time to Replace Karen Janney?

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. On June 8, 2015 the board selected Karen Janney to be the new permanent Superintendent of the district.

Janney was born and raised in the district. She began teaching in SUHSD in 1978 and soon became an administrator. When Jesus Gandara was appointed Superintendent in 2006, Janney was serving as Assistant Superintendent of schools. By 2009, she had completed her doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration at San Diego State University (SDSU) and had been forced out of the SUHSD by Superintendent Gandara.

Janney had many friends in the district who were excited by her selection as the new superintendent. I was working at Mar Vista High School at the time and vividly recall how two staff members that were taking her education leadership course at SDSU were absolutely thrilled. I was OK with her selection but had some unfounded reservations that I kept to myself.

I soon became troubled by three different Janney agendas. I was bothered when she found funding to buy tee-shirts for all staff. The shirts had “Sweetwater Union High School District Putting Students First” emblazoned across the front. Though not mandated, there was pressure applied to wear these corporate styled promotional tee-shirts on certain days. It reminded me of the corporate approach to leadership employed by large charter school chains.

IMG_20200312_125802

Corporate Type of Promotion Foisted on SUHSD Teachers

A second and more troubling policy change came a few months into her tenure. Janney announced that Sweetwater was joining the Core Districts. Originally conceived as an organization for leaders in urban school districts to share strategies, CORE gained notoriety when its eight districts led by John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified made a legally questionable side deal with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They agreed to evaluate teachers using testing data for a chance at Race to the Top grants. Today, CORE is offering to conduct school evaluations for California districts using the residual-gain growth model as an alternative to the California Department of Education evaluation method.

Worse – in 2017, Janney scrapped the district’s expensive I-pad program and replaced it with another Ed Tech industry scheme for putting students at glowing screens. She purchased laptop computers for all students and staff. She had succumbed to the allure of education technology and its associated bad pedagogy. Janney also signed the Future Ready pledge making SUHSD a target for education technology salesmen.

Since the budget crisis began, it has become apparent that Janney is incapable of creating a good working relationship with the County Office of Education (COE). It may not be all her fault. She has been careful to legally comply with the COE but has not developed any visible cooperative relationships.

Superintendents are in charge. School boards only approve or disapprove of the agenda set before them by the Superintendent. From the beginning of her administration, board members, union leaders and community members recommended that she replace the financial department’s leadership. Janney refused and turned away calls in 2015 for a forensic audit of the district’s finances. She was not willing to accept the almost $2 million dollar price tag. These two decisions are central to the financial situation the district is in today. Many people were predicting financial issues would eventually be revealed.

When the crisis first manifested in September 2018, trustees and others encouraged Janney to utilize existing expertise within the district to run a messaging campaign making sure the district’s side of the story was being told. Janney chose instead to leave existing communications director, Manny Rubio, as the sole district spokesperson. During the first two months, there was no public response to the crisis by SUHSD. Rubio was content to wait and react to media questioning.

As the hidden $20 million dollar problem and growing structural issues created an urgent need for budget cuts, Janney made another critical error. Under her leadership the district’s central office staff has doubled. This is where cuts should be expected but Janney has rejected most cuts to her staff. To successfully solve the crisis she needs the cooperation of the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA – the teacher union), however, cutting teachers before district staff is undermining collaboration.

Union Chart of Sweetwater Staffing

An SEA Flyer for the March 10 School Board Meeting

FCMAT is a QUANGO and that’s Not Good

The Financial Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) was summoned to Sweetwater to look at the budget. After a three day deep dive into SUHSD finances, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine delivered a report and some damning words. He said that 302 entries that made the district finances look better were not well documented. He concluded, “That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up.” He also suggested the district was in danger of a state takeover.

FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT.  It is a QUANGO which Roland Watson describes as “a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization.” It is a neo-liberal construct common in the UK. Those of short duration are sometime called task forces; they are set up to look at an issue, report their recommendations and then disband. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, they have developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

It is eerie how closely the issue in SUHSD echoes the 2003 events in Oakland, California. In 2000, the School Board appointed Dennis Chaconas Superintendent over the objection of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who had pushed a city hall official for the superintendent’s post. In 2003, Education Next Reported, “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”

Chaconas wanted a waiver from the state to allow use of existing construction funds to temporarily pay off the deficit. Instead State Schools’ Superintendent Jack O’Connell and influential Democratic politicians like State Senator Don Perata and Mayor Jerry Brown were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt. Through apparent complicity with FCMAT, a state takeover of the district came about which gave Broad trained administrator Randolph Ward complete control.

The problem with a QUANGO is they carry out the political agenda of whoever is in power. An article in the Black Agenda Report stated,

“FCMAT did “hit” jobs for anyone willing to pay. Brown paid Tom Henry to prevent Oakland from solving its fiscal problem. FCMAT lobbied the State Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the former Democratic Assemblyman from Alameda, to rule that Oakland’s plan to borrow construction funds was a violation of state and local law.” (Tom Henry was FCMAT CEO)

FCMAT is still draining money from Oakland. Former Oakland School District Public Information Officer, Ken Epstein writes,

“State appropriation for FCMAT in 2018-19 was about $6.3 million, plus the fees school districts are required to pay for the “aid” provided by FCMAT staff. This past school year, the district paid FCMAT and the county $1.4 million to oversee OUSD.”

“… The district loan payments are $6 million a year until 2026. The $100 million loan was spent unilaterally by the state Receiver Ward with no input from the community.”

In December 2018, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine accused SUHSD of the felonious offense of covering up bad financial information with no evidence. At the same time his team moved in to perform a forensic audit of Sweetwater’s finances. To this date no evidence of criminal malfeasance has been presented and no forensic audit has been conferred.

That has not stopped Will Huntsberry and the Voice of San Diego from running banner headlines like “State Investigators Say There’s Evidence of a Financial ‘Cover-Up’ in Sweetwater” and linking to these allegations repeatedly throughout the last year.

Another Huntsberry headline claims, “Docs, Interviews Show Sweetwater Officials Ignored Budget Warnings.” This article which Huntsberry repeatedly linked in latter reports says one unnamed employee went to Director of Finance Doug Martens and CFO Karen Michel to raise concerns. Huntsberry says both of them told the employee not to worry about it. Martens and Michel resigned from Sweetwater after the June 2018 budget was submitted. If there were legal or ethical problems with financial reports, they are the main suspects. Technically, the report is not false but it is purposefully misleading and sensationalized.

A Final Observation

I lived through the three superintendents’ tenures of Brand twice and Gandara once. They were perverse and unethical. At the same time, many Trustees serving on the board appeared to represent the construction industry more than parents, students or taxpayers. The present board and superintendent might not be perfect, but I do not believe they are corrupt. That is important.

At this point in time, billionaires throughout America are openly hostile toward public education including US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Many politicians who take money from them would be happy to facilitate the state taking over our school districts. It is in the best interest of the entire Sweetwater family to close ranks and solve this crisis before outside forces take advantage.