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The Science of Profits and Propaganda

28 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/28/2022

The Orwellian labeled science of reading (SoR) is not based on sound science. It more accurately should be called “How to Use Anecdotes to Sell Reading Products.” In 1997, congress passed legislation calling for a reading study. From Jump Street, the establishment of the National Reading Panel (NRP) was a doomed effort. The panel was given limited time for the study (18 months) which was a massive undertaking conducted by twenty-one unpaid volunteers. The NRP fundamentally did a meta-analysis in five reading domains while ignoring 10 other important reading domains. In other words, they did not review everything and there was no new research. They simply searched for reading studies and averaged the results to give us “the science of reading.”

It has been said that “analysis is to meta-analysis as physics is to meta-physics.”

Setting up the Sale

Nancy Bailey is an expert in special education and early reading instruction. In a recent posting she shared,

“A troubling feature of the Science of Reading (SoR) is the connection between those who believe in the power of phonemes (and more) and those who want to privatize public schools. The old NCLB crowd has been rejuvenated and seems onboard with digital instruction replacing public schools and teachers.

“For example, former gov Jeb Bush has been crusading for the Science of Reading, praising Emily Hanford for her advocacy for the SoR, implying teachers haven’t understood how to teach reading.”

Also in the post by Bailey are links to about 30 companies who sponsored Bush’s reading summit. They are all looking to cash in on the SoR.

Professor Paul Thomas has a deep background in teaching and education research. He spent 20 years in high school English classrooms and another 20 years at Furman University teaching teachers. Thomas recently wrote,

“Those of us in literacy, specifically the field of reading, have been highlighting since 2018 that APM Reports (specifically the work of Emily Hanford) has been misrepresenting both the problems around reading achievement and how to teach reading.

“Hanford and APM Reports are ground zero for the deeply flawed “science of reading” (SoR) movement that now pervades mainstream media.”

Hanford’s status as a reporter at American Public Media (APM) makes her work very damaging. APM is a sister organization to the Public Broad Casting system which has a well earned reputation for being unbiased and accurate.

Hanford is not an expert in education or reading.  In 1994 she earned a BA in English from Amherst College and in 1996 she took a job as a reporter at Chicago’s public media station WBEZ. She has been in the public broadcasting system ever since.

Professor Thomas points out that Hanford’s reporting is biased toward SoR claims that she agrees with and ignores all other evidence. He states,

“As I have pointed out numerous times, there is a singular message to Hanford’s work; she has never covered research that contradicts that singular message.

“For example, not a peep about the major study out of England that found the country’s systematic phonics-first policy to be flawed, suggesting a balanced approach instead.

“And not a peep about schools having success with one of Hanford’s favorite reading programs to demonize.”

Hanford is a glaring symptom of the journalism plague that is infecting public education but hardly the only one. Dana Goldstein continues to write problematic articles for the New York Times. Her writing is also biased towards the privatization agenda as salve for reading education. Her degree from Brown University in European intellectual and cultural history does not make her an expert in education, none-the-less, she regularly gets many inches in the Times to pontificate about it.

Maren Aukerman is an education expert. Professor Aukerman is currently a Werklund Research Professor at the University of Calgary who focuses on literacy education and democratic citizenship. She previously served on the faculty at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her recently published paper in the Literary Research Association focuses on the work of Goldstein, Hanford and others promoting the SoR movement. Aukerman outlined the fundamental message they’re selling,

“a) science has proved that there is just one way of teaching reading effectively to all kids – using a systematic, highly structured approach to teaching phonics;

“b) most teachers rely instead on an approach called balanced literacy, spurred on by shoddy teacher education programs;

“c) therefore, teachers incorporate very little phonics and encourage kids to guess at words;

“d) balanced literacy and teacher education are thus at fault for large numbers of children not learning to read well.

“The problem is not with recognizing that teaching phonics can play a facilitative role in having children learn to read; that insight is, indeed, important, if not particularly new. The problem is that this narrative distorts the picture to the point that readers are easily left with a highly inaccurate understanding of the so-called ‘science of reading.”’

Aukerman points to four fundamental flaws in their journalism: (1) Lack of Balance in Reporting , (2) Sensationalistic “Straw Man” Arguments, (3) A Myopic Lens Fetishizing Phonics Instruction and (4) Logical Fallacies. She gives examples for each of these claims. For example, a Logical Fallacy is not reporting research that shows students taught to read without systematic phonics “read more fluently.”

Mandating Dyslexia Testing and Structured Literacy

In January 2021, California State Senator Anthony Portantino a New Jersey transplant to the San Fernando Valley introduced SB237 which stipulates dyslexia testing for all students, kindergarten through third grade. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.” Although the bill was not adopted the concepts are still being actively pursued in Sacramento.

Today, forty states mandate dyslexia screening even though there is no consensus on how to define dyslexia. Some researchers even question its existence. Ball State University and University of Texas researchers have joined the chorus of scientists stating, “There are no universally employed measures or procedures for identifying dyslexia.” Commercially available tests misidentify both those that have a disability and those that don’t. Screening expert Dr. Amanda M. Vanderheyden reported that tools like The Shaywitz Dyslexia Screen have error rates of more than 50%. Vanderheyden also stated, “Readers may be surprised to learn that there is not a direct positive relationship between screening assessments and improved reading outcomes.”

Professor Rachael Gabriel makes this important observation about the screening tool Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), “Just like a 20-minute consult with a doctor is always better than health advice from an online calculator, a one-on-one conference with a teacher or reading specialist will always be better than DIBELS at diagnosing and understanding reading difficulty, ability and progress.”

Politicians in a growing number of states are mandating “structured literacy.” It is a systematic phonics approach to reading instruction based on the 1930s theories of Anna Gillingham and Samuel Orton. The advantage of this approach is that it can be easily packaged into commercial products. Both the Department of Education’s clearing house and the International Literacy Association state that this approach is not supported by research.

The Cynical Use of Dyslexia

In their studies, the research teams from Ball State University and the University of Texas noticed that an intricately linked closed circle of organizations are driving dyslexia discourse. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), the International Multisensory Language Education Council (IMSLEC) and Decoding Dyslexia (DD) are the major players. The study states,

“… IMSLEC started as an IDA committee, and ALTA certifies dyslexia specialists in the multisensory language approach, which in turn is consistent with IDA’s standards for educator preparation in reading (Knowledge and Practice Standards, n.d.). The IDA began certifying teachers in 2016, in addition to accrediting dyslexia teacher training programs.”

DD has parent chapters in every state in the union and they all employ the same language from IMSLEC and IDA in their lobbying materials and mission statements. DD’s parent chapters are able to drive many people out to legislative hearings to testify on behalf of structured literacy programs and commercial dyslexia testing.

Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut Rachael Gabriel has been studying parent engagement with reading issues. In her report, she shares several extracts from the oral and written testimonies given at various legislative sessions on special education. The testimonies are often emotionally delivered anecdotes that support the privatization agenda. In this typical statement, a student claims,

“I have dyslexia. Reading and math are really hard for me. I’ve had too many teachers that don’t understand how to teach me. Finally, this year I went to Lindamood Bell training and reading is getting easier.”

In her paper, Professor Gabriel also noted how parents are told that the public school teachers do not know how to teach reading especially to students with dyslexia. They are informed that dyslexia is often associated with other giftedness, a claim with no evidence other than anecdotal undocumented claims about Einstein and other famous people who are said to have been dyslexic. Those testifying regularly call for the five point DD agenda:

  1. “A universal definition and understanding of ‘dyslexia’ in the state education code.
  2. Mandatory teacher training on dyslexia, its warning signs and appropriate intervention strategies.
  3. Mandatory early screening tests for dyslexia.
  4. Mandatory dyslexia remediation programs, which can be accessed by both general and special education populations.
  5. Access to appropriate ‘assistive technologies’ in the public school setting for students with dyslexia.”

Some of what DD is calling for has been standard practice addressed in teacher education programs for decades. Some of it looks like a call to sell technology which often is worse than useless. Unfortunately, the screening tests will misidentify and harm many students. The call for a universal definition of dyslexia by political edict in education code is anti-science and bizarre.

Conclusions

The SoR movement is another example of oligarch spending diminishing professionalism in education. The combination of arrogance and too much money in a few hands is a disaster. The people who were on the NRP were dedicated professionals and the last thing they wanted was to harm reading education yet their report is being used for just that purpose.

It is probably true that many students with issues learning to read are not being well served, but turning to products from private companies to save the day is a mistake. School districts in most of the nation are starved for cash and administrators look for any way to cut spending. This is the root of the poor service for struggling students.

The answer is to drive more money into early education and insure that teachers are provided with extensive training in reading education. It should be the purview of these trained professionals to screen their students one-on-one for learning problems. Once those evaluations are made, the school staff should be charged with deciding on the appropriate response.

Stop the incessant neoliberal agenda of monetizing everything.

The Phony NAEP Crisis

1 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/1/2022

The recent data release by the National Assessment of Education Performance (NAEP) for mathematics has inspired balderdash. Jeb Bush called itAlarming.” A Chalkbeat headline characterized it as a massive drop.” Harvard’s Tom Kane wrote that it signaled “ enormous learning losses.”  The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke was able to place her article in many outlets with the subtle headline, “New NAEP Test Scores Are a Disaster. Blame Teachers Unions.”

In reality, the score drops were not massive and learning loss which probably isn’t actually a thing was not enormous. However, if the purveyors of doom can convince enough people it is a crisis, then they can advance their own pet agendas such as ending public education.

NAEP (pronounced nape) testing which is known as the nation’s report card was originally implemented in 1969. The tests use a combination of standardized testing and sampling. The Washington Post reports that this year 224,000 fourth-graders from 5,700 schools and 222,000 eighth-graders from 5,100 schools were sampled. Sampling certainly makes more sense than states paying testing companies to test every student but standardized testing is still not a capable tool for measuring learning.

It is not just me saying it. Unlike the scientifically well behaved data associated with genetics study, standardized testing data is extremely noisy. The famed Australian researcher Noel Wilson wrote a seminal work in 1998 called Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.” His peer reviewed paper which has never been credibly refuted says error in standardized testing is so large that meaningful inferences are impossible. Unfortunately, the paper has been ignored.

Wilson’s paper was followed a year later by a paper from UCLA’s Education Professor James Popham which stated, “Although educators need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness, standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.”

It does seem that with all of the tests taken, data gathered and arithmetic performed, the tests must be telling us something but what? We know that the one thing this kind of test correlates to is the student’s family wealth. Education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond puts that correlation at an r-value of 0.9. An r-value of 1 on the 0-1 scale says it is a dead certainty like men not becoming pregnant. No other variable studied has a strong influence meaning they mainly input noise into the data.

So what caused the downward turn in 2022 NAEP math data for 4th and 8th graders? Is it really related to learning and should it be a large concern?

Let’s Go to the Scoreboard

Everyone has the right to access the NAEP Data Explorer and create their own data reports and charts. The tested years, the jurisdictions, data types, the subject, etcetera may be manipulated to shape a report. It is possible to compare states, public schools and private schools, districts, etc. There are limitations such as charter school data being lumped with public school data.

In the following charts, I chose mathematics either 4th or 8th grade in tested years 2003, 2019, 2022. I selected the average scale scores which are based on a 500 point scale.

Data Explorer Graphed Fourth Grade State Comparisons

One of the first observations to make is that the 500 point scale scores are plotted on a 60-point graph scale which visually magnifies any differences by more than 8 times. The national average scores go from 235 in 2003 to 241 in 2019 and then 236 in 2022. If we use the lowest data point for a denominator that five point drop from 2019 represents a 2% drop, but if we use the 500 point scale as the denominator which we should that purported enormous drop is just 1%.

Of the five large states queried, only New York had a larger than 5 point drop. Its 10-point drop calculates to a 2% decline.

The Walton Family financed publication The 74 is known to support libertarian positions on education policy. Some people claim they are biased against public schools. The 74 recently claimed in a headline, “Strong Link in Big City Districts’ 4th-Grade Math Scores to School Closures.” Under the previous president, the political right railed against health care policies like masking, vaccination and closing schools. By September 2020 there were loud sometimes violent open-schools-now protests at school boards meetings in many states and jurisdictions. The 74 article looks like an attempt to say “see we were right” but the data does not support their specious claim.

For evidence, they turned to the Koch addled economist Emily Oster. She is the Brown University professor that argued in the summer of 2020 that children should be back in school. At the same time, she cast doubt on masking. With the new NAEP results, she again supports the libertarian cause stating, “The districts with more remote learning have larger test score losses.” This appears to be something she just said with no evidence.

If we look at the states graphed above, the only outlier is New York with its 10-point drop, but California, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts all had 5-point drops.

District Comparisons of Fourth Grade Mathematics Scale Scores

Oster’s claim was about big city districts. If we look at these big city data sets there does not appear to be real differences. All of the big city districts had an 8- to 9-point drops in their fourth grade test between 2019 and 2022. Whether they opened early or stayed closed longer.

Education reporters note that test score drops in eighth grade were worse than those in fourth grade. On the 500-point scale the average drop in fourth grade was five points while in eighth grade it was eight points or 1% and 1.6% respectively.

Eighth Grade Mathematics by District


It is true that the national math data for eighth graders showed an average 8-point drop in 2022. However, the declines were not uniform between districts. The country’s second largest school district in Los Angeles actually returned a positive result and the 4-point decline in the nation’s largest school district was relatively modest.

There is no way the eighth grade testing result for the nation’s two largest school districts could fairly be characterized as a crisis. It is also noteworthy that these two districts were closed longer than most others in the nation.


The Roots of the Down Turn

America’s students like everyone else suffered through a two year pandemic-inspired nightmare. Did anyone really expect that on average they would perform at par?

One of the difficult pandemic related student manifestations was increased violence. As schools were reopening, Homeland Security notified them, “The reduced access to services coupled with the exposure to additional risk factors suggests schools — and the communities in which they are located — will need to increase support services to help students adjust to in-person learning as they cope with the potential trauma associated with the pandemic response.” Schools around the country saw a dramatic increase in fighting and insolent behavior.

This past July, the Washington Post reported, “The data, collected as the 2021-2022 school year was winding down, also showed that more than 70 percent of schools saw increases in chronic student absenteeism since the onset of the pandemic and about half of the schools reported increased acts of disrespect toward teachers and staff.”

Many school districts started experiencing crippling staff shortages and the NAEP testing came at a particularly inconvenient time. During the January to March, 2022 testing window, the nation experienced the omicron variant infection explosion. CDC data shows that during the testing window infection rates grew to more than 200 people out of every 100,000 in population becoming infected daily.

Disaster Capitalism Needs a Crisis

Amway Billionaire and dominion supporter Betsy DeVos said the NAEP data showed that children should no longer be “hostages” in a “one-size-fits-none system that isn’t meeting their needs.” She has been spending for decades to get rid of the secular public schools she sees as an evil.

Like every education crisis since 1983’s “A Nation at Risk” this is another manufactured crisis. The crisis rhetoric used to justify incessant accountability layered onto a constant process of new standards and new tests is, as Berliner and Biddle documented, a manufactured lie.

In writing about the pandemic effects on schools, John Merrow reported, “Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who called the results ‘appalling and unacceptable,’ told a group of reporters that the results are ‘a moment of truth for education,’ adding ‘How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery, but our nation’s standing in the world.”’

And even more over the top than Cardona, Harvard’s Tom Kane wrote in the Atlantic,

“[S]tudents at low-poverty schools that stayed remote had lost the equivalent of 13 weeks of in-person instruction. At high-poverty schools that stayed remote, students lost the equivalent of 22 weeks. Racial gaps widened too: In the districts that stayed remote for most of last year, the outcome was as if Black and Hispanic students had lost four to five more weeks of instruction than white students had.”

When people start using the sham CREDO days of learning metric, I am pretty sure they are dissembling. This is the kind of stuff that caused Professor Paul Thomas to declare, “But mostly, I hate the lies, political, media, and commercial interests that are eager to shout “crisis!” because in the spirit of the good ol’ U.S. of A., there is money to made in all that bullshit.

Cardona’s Department of Education is known to embrace at least three methods for helping struggling students raise their test scores: 1) extend school day and year, 2) mandatory summer school and 3) ‘high-dosage tutoring,’ where one trained tutor works with no more than four students, three times a week for an entire year. In other words our Education Secretary who is a former New Leaders Fellow embraces a method that may raise test scores but promises to undermine engagement and the joy of learning. It is a corporate solution, not an educator’s solution.

The NAEP test scores are not a crisis but bad education leadership, suspect scholarship and billionaire meddling are. It is time to get out of the road of educators and let them do their job. No high-dosage tutoring, no extended days and no forced summer schools.

The children are not broken. If they missed some lessons over the past two years, unfettered educators will quickly resolve the issues. Students who have not been convinced that education and learning are onerous and hateful will be fine. Cardona, Kane and DeVos are the crisis.

California Billionaire Election Spending 2022

17 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/17/2022

Billionaires are once again spending heavily to flex political influence in California. Much of the spending is directed toward implementing neoliberal ideology into education policy. It makes sense that billionaires embrace neoliberalism and in some cases libertarianism. The present system has made them wealthy beyond even their own imagination and the philosophy of “I got mine so you can bugger off” appeals to many of the ultra-wealthy. However, it is shocking to see unions joining forces with these people who abhor collective bargaining.

Much of the school board spending is directed at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Three seats that the oligarchs previously won with massive spending are up for election. The two incumbents standing for reelection this year won their seats in 2017, which was the most expensive school board election in history. During that race, data from the LA Ethics Commission shows independent expenditures supporting Nick Melvoin totaling $5,500,000 while Kelly Gonez raked in $3,340,000. Melvoin won a tough race for district 4 running against Board President Steve Zimmer. Gonez easily won the district 6 seat.

The other incumbent besides Zimmer running in 2017 was Monica Garcia who had received ample monetary support from billionaire Ely Broad and friends in her first two elections. Because of term limits, 2017 would be Garcia’s last go around. This year, Garcia’s long time chief of staff, Maria Brenes, has been selected to represent neoliberal interests in district 2.

How the Billionaires Structure Their Spending

For the Interactive LilSis Map Select Here

Arthur Rock is a 96-years-old investor who bet on Apple, Intel and other famous tech companies when they were start ups. His 2021-2022 political giving includes being by far the biggest sponsor ($399,000) for the successful effort to recall three members of the San Francisco school board earlier this year. His other donations (ID 499292) include $21,000 for state assembly races, $12,500 for senate races and he has contributed $800,000 (96% of the PAC’s income) to California Educators, Parents and Students for High-Quality Education (ID 1442251). That PAC sent $540,000 to a Mesa, Arizona Foundation called Students First. The rest of this contribution went to campaign consultants and services.

William E Bloomfield Jr. (ID 494345) is an extremely wealthy business man and native Angelino. He is very involved in politics and sees himself as an education reformer. This cycle he has poured more than $1,800,000 into neoliberal education reform friendly candidates. That includes $1,610,000 into the local Los Angeles PAC, Kids First, Supporting Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin for Re-election to the LAUSD School Board 2022.

Doris Fisher (Gap Founder ID 1221980) joined Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO ID 499251) and James Walton (Walmart Heir ID 1372611) in sending the Charter Public Schools PAC (ID 1302433) $3,700,000. That PAC is administered by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Charter Public Schools PAC put $1,200,000 into Families and Teachers United as well as donating to several key school board candidates including $375,000 to Kate Dao.

Dao is running for a seat on the Alameda County School Board (Oakland). Her qualifications seem to be that she founded a private school in Livermore, California called Acton Academy East Bay. Before her private school venture, she did marketing for tech startups. The state department of education shows her school opening in fall 2019 and closing on July 1, 2022. Fisher’s Champions for Education PAC (ID 1422949) also sent Dao $20,000.

Three billionaires, Fisher, Hastings and Walton all invested heavily in legislative races. Fisher put $48,000 into assembly seats and $10,000 into senate seats. Hastings put $81,250 into assembly seats and $13,300 into senate seats. Walton who is from Arkansas put $96,700 into assembly seats and $12,100 into senate seats.

CCSA sponsors the PAC Families and Teachers United (ID 1367043). This PAC is mainly funded by the Charter Public School PAC. Families and teachers concentrates its campaign giving on getting preferred state legislative officials elected. Table 1 gives the details for how they distributed $1,429,000.

There is a group on the far right called Fix California. They sponsor a PAC called Education Savings Account (ID 1442249). The PAC has taken in $270,000 and spent $243,000 promoting a petition to authorize school vouchers. They were unsuccessful this year.

Another PAC, Californians for School Choice Foundation (ID 1440327) has taken in $467,000 to promote school choice including vouchers. They spent over $468,000 over the last two years on media and campaign consultants to promote school choice.

Several LA Labor Unions Seem to Support the Neoliberal Agenda

Lily Geismer’s book Left Behind the Democrat’s Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality documents the rise of the Democratic Leadership Council, Bill Clinton and the neoliberal agenda. She observed, “Labor Officials and the rank and file both had strong objections with Clinton’s position on free trade and were well aware of the New Democrats’ long-standing hostility toward unions” (Page 133). So it is astonishing to see labor joining with billionaire neoliberals to support the privatization of public education.

With over 300,000 members the California Teacher Association was not a union spending with the billionaires to privatize public education. Through their PAC, California Teachers Association/Association for Better Citizenship (ID 741941) they donated $301,000 to the LA independent expenditure committee Students, Parents and Educators in Support of Rivas for School Board 2022.  

Professor Rocio Rivas is also enthusiastically supported for the board seat by Diane Ravitch and the Network for Public Education (NPE). NPE which shares,

“Rocio Rivas worked as a teacher assistant during her undergraduate years at U.C. Berkeley.  This work inspired her to seek a career in education. She attended Teachers College, Columbia University where earned a Masters and Doctorate in Comparative and International Education. Rocio has traveled to many countries (Chile, Argentina and Republic of Georgia) conducting educational research. She also participated in research studies as an analyst for LAUSD, where she authored reports on a range of critical issues including academic achievement, culturally relevant education, and charter school renewals.”

Unfortunately, 300,000 teachers giving small donations are easily outspent by one billionaire. But surprisingly the lions share of the big money going to her pro-charter school opponent, Maria Brenes, is coming from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 99. Form 57s filed with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission show the three Independent Expenditure committees local 99 sponsors are spending more than $7,500,000 to elect the neoliberal candidates. This is spending directed at privatizing public education.

SEIU local 99 is not the only union spending with the billionaires. With no limit on independent expenditure, direct contributions to candidates have less value than they used to but are a source of money that candidates control themselves. The campaign spending limit for this race is $1,300 but it can be given in both the primary and general election. Table 3 shows direct contribution spending by local LA unions. It is all going to the billionaire supported candidates.

Observation

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Kentuckian Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. His confirmation made him the first Jewish Associate Justice to serve. He entered Harvard University at age 19 and in 1877 he graduated with the highest grades ever recorded there. His nomination was opposed by anti-Semites but more importantly big business was intensely opposed to him. Peter Dreier explained, As a ‘people’s lawyer’ in Boston, Brandeis fought railroad monopolies, defended workplace and labor laws, and helped create policies to limit corporate abuses of consumers and workers–an approach that is now called ‘public interest’ law.” On the court, he became a great defender of privacy and democracy.

Looking at this year’s election spending, Brandeis’s 1922 statement about democracy and wealth leaps to mind, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

True to Brandeis’s declaration, democracy is being sundered by great wealth and unsurprisingly that wealth is being directed at undermining its most important foundation, the public school system. Every time I see pricey color campaign advertisements printed on expensive paper stocks, I ask myself who is paying for this and why? They are completely useless as a source of information.

We have entered an era in which reliable information is becoming more and more obscured by deliberate obfuscation paid for by billionaires. At the same time, some labor leaders appear to have a personal agenda other than serving their members. It is scandalous for SEIU local 99 to invest millions into the election of three billionaire endorsed school board candidates supporting school privatization.

This year democracy and free public education are on the ballot. Vote wisely.

Community Schools Promises and Pitfalls

28 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/28/2022

Community school developments are surging in jurisdictions across the country. Since 2014, more the 300 community schools have been established in New York and this month Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was touting them at an event in Pennsylvania. In May, the California State Board of Education announced $635 million in grants for the development of these schools and in July, they disclosed a $4.1 billion commitment to community schools over the next seven years. However, some critiques are concerned about a lurking vulnerability to profiteering created by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

What are Community Schools?

For decades America has turned a blind eye to the embarrassing reality that in many of our poorest communities the only functioning governmental organization or commercial enterprise is the local public school. No grocery stores, no pharmacies, no police stations, no fire stations, no libraries, no medical offices and so on leaves these communities bereft of services for basic human needs and opportunities for childhood development. Community schools are promoted as a possible remedy for some of this neighborhood damage.

The first priority for being a community school is being a public school that opens its doors to all students in the community.

A Brookings Institute study explains,

“According to the Coalition for Community Schools, a community school is ‘both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.’ In community schools, every family and community member is a partner in the effort to build on students’ strengths, engage them as learners, and enable them to reach their full potential.”

The Brookings article notes that although community schools have a different looks in different communities they all have four common pillars: (1) “Expanded and enriched learning time,” (2) “Active family and community engagement,” (3) “Collaborative leadership and practices” and (4) “Integrated student supports.”

That means health care including vision and hearing is available through the schools as well as family housing and nutrition support. Families and other community members are encouraged to contribute both labor and leadership to the schools. Community services provided by governmental agencies also have site based coordinators.

Joshua Starr is the CEO of PDK International and the former Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in Maryland. In a recent article for Kappan, he claims to “strongly support the community school model” but perceives some speed bumps. He asks, “Does the community school movement suffer from the “give me more stuff” syndrome? And concludes it probably does. However, his two biggest concerns are (1) the use of resources and (2) the use of data.

He points out that there are multiple streams of revenue coming into Title I schools and worries that these streams, meant in part to promote parental engagement, need to be administered wisely.  He makes clear his belief in the importance of family engagement but asks, “However, before agreeing to fund additional staff positions, shouldn’t we make sure that every staff member who has a family-facing responsibility in their job description is actually doing that work (and doing it effectively)?”    

Starr claims that by the end of the first quarter of 1st grade, it is possible to identify whether or not a student is on track to graduate. He notes that a student who is failing every class and has accumulate many absences is quickly noticed but the students who fail one class and only has a few absences are often overlooked.

He concluded,

“All of this is to say that the process of identifying and responding to students’ needs is enormously complicated. Ideally, schools will begin with early warning indicators to identify kids who aren’t on track to graduate on time, teachers and staff will know how to interpret that data, school leaders will give them time and resources to build relationships with students and families, and school teams will coordinate among district resources and community assets to provide the supports children and families need.”

Profiteering Hawks Looking to Feast on Community Schools

There has been some encouraging anecdotal evidence from several of the original community schools. In March, Jeff Bryant wrote an article profiling two such schools for the Progressive, but there are also bad harbingers circling these schools. In the same paper from Brookings quoted above, there is a call to scale the “Next Generation Community Schools” nationally. They advocate engaging charter school networks and expanding ArmeriCorps. Brookings also counsels us, “Within the Department of Education, use Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) guidance and regulations to advance a next generation of community schools.”

Brookings was not through promoting a clearly neoliberal agenda for community schools. Their latest paper about them notes,

“There is a significant and growing interest in the community schools strategy among federal, state, and local governments seeking to advance educational and economic opportunities and address historic educational inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Building off this momentum and with support from Ballmer Group, four national partners—the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution (CUE), the Children’s Aid National Center for Community Schools (NCCS), the Coalition for Community Schools (CCS) at IEL, and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI)—are collaborating with education practitioners, researchers, and leaders across the country to strengthen the community schools field in a joint project called Community Schools Forward.” (Emphasis added)

Steve Ballmer was Bill Gates financial guy at Microsoft and is the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. His Ballmer Group recently gifted $25,000,000 to the City Fund to advance privatization of public education in America. This is the group that funded the supposedly “unbiased” report from Brookings.

John Adam Klyczek is an educator and author of School World Order: The Technocratic Globalization of Corporatized Education. New Politics published his article Community Schools and the Dangers of Ed Tech Privatization in their Winter 2021 Journal. Klyczek declares,

“Bottom-up democracy through community schools sounds like a great idea. However, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal legislation funding pre-K-12 schools that replaced “No Child Left Behind,” requires ‘full-service’ community schools to incorporate public-private partnerships that facilitate ‘wrap-around services’ managed by data analytics. Consequently, ESSA incentivizes the corporatization of community schools through ‘surveillance capitalism.”’

He contends that ESSA’s mandate for “full-service” public-private partnerships creates “structured corporatization” paths similar to those in charter schools. Klyczek claims the mandates are a greater threat to privatization than current high stakes testing because in addition to academic data they are mandated to collect data on health care, crime prevention, workforce training and other wrap-around services. He states, “In other words, community schools are required to track data pertaining to the health, crime risk, and workforce readiness of community ‘stakeholders.”’

A Washington DC educator and union leader, Dylan Craig, responded to Klyczek in the same 2021 Winter Journal. He wrote,

“This leads me to what is perhaps the most striking assumption in Klyczek’s response: Union and community pressure is not just prone to but will inevitably succumb to corporate co-optation. Again, I find this reading deterministic and overly pessimistic. It is due to public pressure that the ESSA included language for community schools.”

“Now, if democratic control were to be gained in individual schools as I propose, local community members and unions could better organize around the issues that Klyczek discusses, potentially finding methods to meet the current data-reporting requirements in ways that serve the individual school and not tech oligarchs. If a suitable method cannot be found, communities can fight to change the language.”

 Conclusion

Although I appreciate the positive we-can-do-it attitude Dylan Craig exhibits, I find John Adam Klyszek’s analysis more persuasive. Klyszek may be a little over the top, but seeing the wealthiest owner in the NBA, Steve Ballmer, underwriting research on community schools shows me that these schools are certainly privatization targets. The 2015 rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a delight for neoliberal politicians and their billionaire patrons. It opened the door to market based solutions for many education needs including community schools.

In the 1930’s the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his masterpiece, A Study of History: “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.”

It is going to be a challenge to keep profiteers from devouring the promise of community schools.

Stockton Schools after Deasy

17 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/17/2022

The infamous John Deasy resigned his post as Superintendent of Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) on June 15th, 2020. That made his tenure two weeks more than two years which further exacerbated the longtime administrative instability at SUSD. He apparently steered the district budgets toward deficit spending and left a decimated finance department in his wake while other administrative positions multiplied. Concurrent with his two years in Stockton, money and leaders from organizations bent on privatizing public education were bolstered and became more active.

Stockton is an interesting place with vibrant political activity. The 209Times a Facebook based news outlet claims over 200,000 readers. It is not a slick publication but it does seem effective. 209 is the Stockton telephone prefix. Another internet based news outlet Recordnet.com is often an adversary of the 209Times.

The city was a gold rush town established in 1849. Situated 75 miles down the San Joaquin River from the Golden Gate Bridge at the north end of the San Joaquin valley, it is the farthest inland deep water port in California. That valley has the most productive farm land in the world and a significant portion of its bounty ships from Stockton. Just 13 miles north of downtown is where John Fogerty got “Stuck in Lodi Again.”

Stockton is a city of 315,000 people and one of America’s most diverse communities. The demographic makeup is 42.1% Hispanic, 21.6% Asian, 20.8% White and 11.8 % Black. It has a 20% poverty rate and a stunning 82% of its K-12 students come from families in poverty. SUSD enrolls around 34,000 students into its 54 schools. Charter schools enroll close to 6,000 students.

With high poverty rates, Stockton has naturally underperformed on standardized testing which is significantly more correlated with family wealth than anything else. Linda Darling-Hammond pegs that correlation at 0.9 which is an almost certainty. The education writer Alfie Kohn suggested we could replace standardized testing by asking students just one question, “How much money does your mom make?” (Kohn page 77)

Breaking the Bank

In California, schools are required to submit a budget progress update each November called the First Interim Report. Because this report is formulaic, it provides a way to compare a district’s finances over time. The SUSD reports for 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 reveal what appears to be a deliberate attempt to financially harm the district. In an era with declining enrollment both teaching staff and management permanent positions were increased significantly while cash flow turned steeply negative.

In teacher jargon, FTE stands for full time equivalent. Between the times John Deasy was hired until he resigned the full time staff at SUSD increased by more than 500 people. In terms of money, that represented a $9 million increase in yearly spending on salaries. During this same period, attendance declined by more than 1,300 students. That represented about a $9 million dollar loss in revenue from the state. SUSD had an $18 million dollar negative structural budget change.

SUSD board of trustees contracted with the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) to review their financial situation and processes. The executive summary of the January 2022 report noted,

“At the time of FCMAT’s fieldwork, there had been significant employee turnover and the elimination of some management positions in the Business Services Department. Key budget management personnel had been in their positions for only a brief time; therefore, there was a lack of historical institutional knowledge about the district’s 2021-22 budget development and 2020-21 financial closing processes.”

In other words, despite all of the hiring Deasy left the financial department in chaos. The FCMAT study claimed that SUSD was headed for serious financial difficulties when the one time spending from the federal government is gone in fiscal year 2024-25. Currently they say the district is spending one time funding on $26.3 million in salaries, benefits and services that appear essential.

 DooWop Don in Charge

Don and Sue Shalvey live in Linden, California a small rural community 10 miles east of Stockton. When they actually moved there is unknown. Don is a bit of a rock star amongst neoliberal Democrats. His San Carlos Learning Center was the first charter school in California and the site of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1997 round table discussion on charter schools. In Lily Geismer’s book Left Behind, she describes the meeting at the round table between Don and “a thirty-something man with a goatee and Birkenstocks.” That was Reed Hastings who Geismer claims needed someone like Shalvey to give his education plans credibility. (Left Behind Page 249)

Together, Shalvey and Hastings successfully campaigned to end the charter school cap in California. At the same time Hastings was starting his new company Netflix. The two soon hooked up with John Doerr and the NewSchools Venture Fund to invent a charter network called a charter management organization (CMO). Shalvey did most of the leg work in developing University Public Schools which later changed its name to Aspire. It was America’s first CMO. (Left Behind Page 249)

From 2009 to 2020, Don served as a Deputy Director for K-12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he oversaw charter schools and teacher preparation. Before he was a charter school founder and before he was a school teacher, he was a disc jockey. That is why his twitter handle is @dooWopDon.

In 2020, Don assumed leadership of San Joaquin A Plus Inc. (A+)

Before he arrived, A+ was a modest organization working with a total of about $50,000 annually. On their tax forms (Tax ID: 51-0536117) A+ is listed as a public charity and it states, “The primary exempt purpose is to support and enhance the education of the community’s youth and to create responsible employable and productive citizens through tutorial and other services and the teaching of school literacy, school readiness, and parent education.”

With Don’s arrival, Helen Schwab, President of the The Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation (Tax ID 94-3374170) gifted A+ $400,000. This low profile organization suddenly became a player in Stockton politics and school policy.

Researchers at University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis noted as a key component in their model of billionaire funded attacks on public education the development of local organizations to collaborate on the agenda. In addition to A+, it appears that the Community Foundation of San Joaquin has also been converted to this roll. In 2019, The City Fund (Tax ID 82-4938743) gifted them $298,960 and Bill Gates (Tax ID 56-2618866) has also been granting them funds. In there latest tax filing (Tax ID 27-1476916), the Foundation lists Don’s wife Sue Shalvey as Chairman.

Larry Tramutola is a political organizer for hire. He represented Michael Bloomberg in his $18 million dollar support for San Francisco’s successful soda tax referendum. Last year, he launched the Stockton Education & Outreach Project. Their first report seemed designed to put public schools in as bad as light as possible. The funding for Tramutola’s project is unknown.

A Leadership Nightmare

After John Deasy stepped down as Superintendent, Recordnet.com reported,

“Biedermann was selected by the Board of Trustees to serve as interim superintendent after John Deasy stepped down April 21, 2020. In 2018, Deasy became the district’s 12th interim or full-time superintendent over the past 30 years. Deasy succeeded current Stockton City Councilman Dan Wright, who took over as interim superintendent in August 2017 for Eliseo Davalos, who lasted 13 months. Carl Tolliver served two stints from Sept. 14, 2005, to June 30, 2006, and from July 2010 to June 2012.”

Brian Biederman who is mentioned above had served as head of educational services for Stockton Unified under Deasy and appears to have been his choice as a successor. This June, when Biederman ran for Superintendent of San Joaquin County Department of Education, the required form 460 campaign reports show that Napa resident John Deasy contributed $100.

However, when it came to creating district stability, Biederman was not the answer. In January 2021, just 8 months into his tenure he resigned claiming personal health issues.  

Left in a difficult situation, the district board hired former Monterey County Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. as acting Superintendent with the intention of eventually naming him Superintendent. He was already serving as a consultant to the district. Ramirez came with some baggage. In 2016 while serving as Alisal Union School District’s superintendent he admitted personal use of district credit cards which he repaid and also drew a sexual harassment complaint filed by a former district employee. However, he had strong support from within SUSD and the community.

Just over a year later, Ramirez resigned. The district announced that they accepted his resignation so he could care for the health of his elderly parents. However, the executive session agenda item that led to accepting the resignation by a 4-2 vote was listed as item 2.1 discipline/dismissal/release. A person in the know said that Ramirez was removed because he was spending more time in Don Salvey’s office than his own district office.

Going into the 2022-23 school year, the SUSD board has settled on Dr. Traci E. Miller as interim superintendent. She is a 25-year veteran of SUSD where she has served as middle school counselor, high school counselor, head counselor, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Director.

In June, there was a Grand Jury report on SUSD. It drew two different public responses. The 209Times wroteBiased ‘Grand Jury’ Issues Another Attack on SUSDstating.

“While Stockton Unified was dedicating its new headquarters after a 40 year inspirational music teacher Arthur Coleman Jr, operatives of the power brokers who ram Stockton into the ground that we refer to as the “Stockton Cabal”, tried to overshadow the progress with yet another “special report”. This one comes less than a year since the last ‘grand jury special report on SUSD’.

“The major point of contention? A potential $30 million deficit. Only problem is that’s exactly what was already mentioned last year. Yet, the report again failed to mention that ousted Cabal approved Superintendent John Deasy left the district in a $100 million deficit.”

Recordnet.com had a quite different response. Their article Grand jury finds Stockton Unified trustees failed as district leaders in scathing reportstates,

“A San Joaquin County civil grand jury has found the Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees have failed as district leaders and will likely continue to do so.

“A scathing 33-page report released by the 2020-21 grand jury says Stockton Unified trustees are the direct reason for what’s been called the district’s ‘revolving door’ of superintendents.”

A close reading of the Grand Jury report is not a scathing report on the district trustees nor is it a completely biased attack with no value.

Page 12 in the report states,

“Selection of the current CBO was made contrary to Board Policy (BP) 4211.2. The CBO was hired without a search, screening process or interviews.” (Report Page 11)

CBO stands for chief business officer. When asked about this finding, school board Vice President Ray Zulueta said that he assumed when Human Resources brought them a hire recommendation that they had correctly followed the process. This looks like an example of the superintendent not getting the job done. The board hired the guy but they have no choice but to believe people are doing their job.

The grand jury was also was critical about the way change orders were being handled. They shared,

“For example, athletic facility projects at Franklin High School had an overrun of approximately $6 million. No change order was submitted to the Board for approval.” (Report Page 12)

This makes clear to the trustees how critical it is to put people in place who have both competency and integrity, but this was not an attack directed at the board.

The charge of bias does ring true when discussing the budget issues. On page 22, The Grand Jury regurgitates information from the January FCMAT report about possible deficits and unprofessional financial processes.  It does not indicate that the SUSD trustees caused the report to be generated nor does it mention the huge out of budget spending during the Deasy administration. Many district leaders believe Deasy’s spending led to more than $100 million dollars missing from district total assets. That looks like something on which the Grand Jury should have focused.

After looking at the issues swirling around SUSD, I believe the district is in damaged but decent shape. As Dr. Miller takes charge, it seems like a great time for a new beginning. Her résumé indicates a professional educator with deep experience. She has administrative experience and a twenty-five year relationship with the community. The board now has the opportunity to see if she can make the trains run on time, cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. There is every reason to think she can. If she proves herself, 10 or 15 years down the road she could still be superintendent.  

Teachers Unions are Selfless

27 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/27/2022

Dr. Keith Benson wrote the research paper “Teachers Teach and Do the World Good ….” In this scholarly piece published by Scientific Research, Keith, an inspirational young man and community leader, described the world wide neoliberal attack on public education highlighting the often dangerous stand teachers take to save public schools. In the introduction, Benson writes, “To be sure, teachers have a rich and valuable history of standing up and pushing for the best interests of their societies, and it is my intent to discuss just some of that here.” (Benson 218)

In 2016, Benson earned a Doctorate of Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. His website shares, “Dr. Keith Eric Benson, is a Camden public school educator, qualitative researcher, and current President of the Camden Education Association (CEA).” It is from this background as a scholar and teacher activist that he states unequivocally teachers’ unions are fighting for far more than self interest. They are standing up for the future of public education and well being of their communities.

Why They Went on Strike

The Chicago teachers strike in 2012 was pivotal. At the time, a corporate ethos had eclipsed democratic ideals of public education. Neoliberal politician from both of America’s major political parties and their deep pocketed backers were working to change school governance in the image of free market capitalism. They were coalescing around the deceptive banner of “reform.” With few exceptions, the burgeoning business centered education groups had two things in common: they embraced market solutions to school improvement and viewed teachers’ unions as major barriers to changes sought.

A book, A Fight for the Soul of Public Education: The Story of the Chicago Teachers Strike, by University of Illinois labor education professors Bob Bruno and Steven Ashby is a postmortem on the 2012 strike. First, the authors look deeply into the bargaining process and how the parties eventually produced a labor agreement whose pro-teacher substance few thought possible.

In a TV interview author Bob Bruno stated,

“Second, we seek to tell, through the teachers’ and staff’s voices, the story of how the CTU was transformed from a top-down, bureaucratic organization into one of the most member-driven unions in the United States. In this process, a labor conflict focused solely on compensation at the start developed into a challenge to a national education reform movement that, teachers charged, was systematically destroying public education and using Chicago as its test case. Unlike in past strikes, tens of thousands of teachers, clinicians, and paraprofessionals marched repeatedly in Chicago’s neighborhoods and downtown. Thousands of community members and parents joined the demonstrations. Crowds swelled, shutting down streets in the city’s Loop district. Instead of accepting the loss of classroom control and corporate style-management of schools, which teachers had been told for decades was “inevitable,” the CTU reinvigorated a national teachers movement by fighting back. The ripple effects of the 2012 strike are being felt in school districts and union halls across the country.”

Red for Ed swept across the nation in 2018 with such ferocity that right wing media outlet Breitbart claimed, “This teachers union effort, called #RedforEd, has its roots in the very same socialism that President Trump vowed in his 2019 State of the Union address to stop, and it began in its current form in early 2018 in a far-flung corner of the country before spreading nationally.” Ultra-conservative political leaders were frightened by successful teachers’ strikes in right to work states like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona.

A Red for Ed Rally in Arizona

As the Red for Ed movement stormed into 2019, the Jacobin described its objective which did not include spreading Karl Marx ideology.

“Of the 2019 work stoppages, the most important were certainly January’s strike in Los Angeles and October’s strike in Chicago. Each were offensive actions to reverse the education policies imposed by corporate Democrats over the past two decades; each foregrounded “common good” demands on behalf of students as well as the broader community.

“These common good demands, for example, included an increase in the number of nurses and counselors as well as smaller class sizes. Importantly, each of these strikes highlighted the interconnection between the fight for public education and racial justice.”

In January 2019, 30,000 members of the Los Angeles teachers union walked out to the picket lines. In this first strike in 30 years, wages were far from being the only issue. Reporting by the Las Angeles Times after the six day strike agreement was reached noted,

“Striking teachers were sincere, though, when they said the walkout was always about more than salary. The broader concerns they voiced — about overcrowded classrooms and schools without nurses on hand to help when a student got hurt or fell ill — had a lot to do with why the public responded so warmly and cheered them on, bringing food to the lines and even bringing their children to march alongside the strikers.

“For students who rallied and picketed, the strike was a real-life civics lesson, while students inside the thinly staffed schools were watching movies, doing online coursework or playing with cellphones.

“Families identified in particular with teachers’ complaints about overly large classes, because class size affects them directly.”

In March 2019, it was the same story in Oakland, California. EdSouce reported,

“Teachers’ union President Keith Brown, in announcing the agreement, called the strike historic. “We have achieved so much in the seven days of our historic strike in Oakland, in spite of an employer who has said that the sky is falling, that they could not pay for a living wage, they could not pay for lower class sizes,” he said.  “They couldn’t make the investments for needed student support such as nurses, counselors, psychologists and speech therapists.”

In October 2019, Chicago teachers staged another strike lasting 11 days before their demands were met. The problem for city leaders was that parents and students were supporting teachers and marching with them. The Guardian reported on the big issues,

“Teachers said the strike was based on a social justice agenda and aimed to increase resources, including nurses and social workers for students, and reduce class sizes, which teachers say exceed 30 or 40 students in some schools. Union leaders said the strike forced the city to negotiate on issues such as support for homeless students.”

“The Chicago strike was another test of efforts by teachers’ unions to use contract talks typically focused on salaries and benefits and force sweeping conversations about broader problems such as affordable housing, protections for immigrants and class sizes.”

The Neoliberal Agenda

Benson’s well sourced paper asserts,

“Neoliberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emmanuel, Barack Obama, Cory Booker, and Andrew Cuomo, much like Republicans and Libertarians, view education less as a social responsibility where through its process students are empowered to think critically and view themselves as agents of change, a la Freire, Greene, and hooks, but more of private commodity whereby students increase their human capital for their personal economy.” (Benson 222)

“Education privatization efforts in cities as large as New Orleans (Buras, 2011), and Detroit, along with lesser referenced locales like Puerto Rico and Providence, Rhode Island (Morel, 2018), and cities as small as Chester, Pennsylvania (Maranto, 2005) and Camden, New Jersey (Benson, 2018) serve as exemplars where the blueprint of weakened teachers unions, increased standardization of curriculum and assessments, and installation of corporate-operated charter schools coalesced to cripple the delivery of traditional, democratic public education.” (Benson 222)

When it came to attacking public education, Benson’s list of Neoliberal Democrats omits Albert Gore who was among the most effective.

Lily Geismer’s new book Left Behind: The Democrats Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality provides important insights into how these neoliberals gained political control of the Democratic Party and what they were selling. She points to Colorado Democratic Congressman Gary Hart’s call to “end the New Deal” as a starting point. (Geismer 22) After Walter Mondale’s trouncing by Reagan in 1984, market oriented politicians created the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Geismer shares,

“The architects recruited as founding members a lineup of fourteen senators, including Nunn, Chiles and Gore (who had just moved chambers); seventeen representatives, like Wirth, Gephardt, Leon Panetta of California, and Les Aspin of Wisconsin; and ten governors, such as Robb, Babbitt, James Blanchard of Michigan, Richard Lamm of Colorado, and Bill Clinton of Arkansas.” (Geismer 45)

 In 1990, when Bill Clinton became the chairman of the DLC also known as New Democrats, the organization stated its intention to modernize both the government and the Democratic Party. Geismer recounts,

“By 1990, the DLC had issued a statement called the New Orleans Declaration that deemed the ‘fundamental mission of the Democratic Party is to expand opportunity, not government,’ ‘economic growth is the prerequisite to expanding opportunity for everyone,’ and the ‘free market regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.’” (Geismer 107)

In a 1991 speech, Presidential candidate, Bill Clinton called for “public school choice.” (Geismer 127)

Clinton’s confidant and the founding architect of the DLC, Al From, created the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) as a counter balance to the Heritage foundation. PPI supported what it called the “third-way” which included Clinton’s free trade agenda and hostility toward labor unions. At the time, unions calculated that George H. W. Bush was a bigger threat and supported Clinton. The 1990s DLC led administration “attempted to put a nail in the coffin of New Deal liberalism.” (Geismer 170)

Then Vice President Al Gore was convinced public schools were failing and needed a new direction. During a monthly “Gore-Tech session”, the Vice President asked venture capitalist John Doerr, “If you Silicon Valley types are so smart, why can’t you do something to create new schools?” Doerr who had scored big with investments in Netscape, Amazon and Google, like Gore, was certain public schools required radical change. He wanted “better schools based on Silicon Valley’s principles of accountability, choice and competition.” (Geismer 233-234)

Gore’s question and a Stanford business student’s ideas led to founding The NewSchools Venture Fund. The article Organized to Disrupt shows the staggering amounts of money Doerr and his friends put into this fund which is still selling privatization and education technology. NewSchools was at the forefront of venture philanthropy also known as “philanthrocapitalism.”  

Some Ending Quotes from Dr. Benson

“Similar to what we witnessed in America over the past twenty years, Latin American educators are cast by their respective governments as hindrances to the educational and economic progress of their students and, by extension, their respective nations’ economy as well (Lobo, 2019a).” (Benson 224)

“Over the past three decades, Latin American teacher unions played a major role in policy making positively impacting education at the schoolhouse primarily through professionalization of the field, and policy advocacy through informing law makers about education, contributing to research, and push against neoliberal influence (Gindin & Finger, 2014).” (Benson 225)

“Australian teachers cautioned that the corporatization of schooling was, as noted in other global contexts, diverting governmental and social responsibility to provide education as a societal good and a collective responsibility. Where schools should, in their view, stress social justice, democracy, and the common good as the aspirational ideal, instead, Australian schools are witnessing increased influence of corporate think tanks and consultancies that shape the delivery of public education to suit corporations’ economic needs (Reid, 2019).” (Benson 226)

Dr. Benson’s paper ended on this sour note:

“Adding to the difficulties educators worldwide are experiencing at present, a global pandemic that claimed over 5.75M lives worldwide (Our World in Data, 2022) will undoubtedly contribute to a further radical remaking of the profession as the presence of Big Tech appears to be less of an emergency stopgap to deliver educative services to students barred from attending school in person, but likely here to stay. Indeed, after witnessing how ‘well’ virtual classrooms ‘worked’ for NYC students, newly elected mayor Eric Adams, commented that now New York City teachers can lead virtual classrooms of up to ‘three or four hundred students year-round (Stieb, 2021).’ Sigh.” (Benson 228)

Our American public education system is an amazing legacy which is foundational to that other great American legacy, democracy. It is not a coincidence that democracy’s future is now viewed as uncertain after the past 40-years of scurrilous attack on public education. Humanism should be the guiding principle of public institutions and democratic governance; not neoliberalism.

The City Fund uses Oligarch Money to Privatize Public Schools

22 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/22/2022

Born in 2018, The City Fund (TCF) is a concentration of oligarch wealth crushing democracy and privatizing the commons. John Arnold (infamous ENRON energy trader) and Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO and former California Charter Schools Association board member) claimed to be investing $100 million each to establish TCF. Their July 2018 announcement was delivered on Neerav Kingsland’s blog Relinquishment which recently started requiring approval to access.

The TCF goal is to implement the portfolio school management model into 40 cities by 2028. At present TCF says it is “serving” 14 cities: Oakland, Ca; Stockton, Ca; Denver, Co; Camden, NJ; Washington, DC: Memphis, Tenn; Nashville, Tenn; New Orleans, La; Indianapolis, Ind.; Atlanta, Ga; Fort Worth, Tx; San Antoino, Tx; Baton Rouge, La; and Newark, NJ.

The operating structure of the fund is modeled after a law firm. Six of the fourteen founding members are lawyers.  They constitute the core of the team being paid to execute the oligarch financed attack on public education.

The Strategy

In 2017, Diane Ravitch posted observations from Dr. Jim Scheurich and his team in the Urban Education Studies doctoral program at the University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis (UIPUI). They identified several key strategies being used to end public schools:

  1. Convince the public that business is the best model for running schools.
  2. Develop a huge infusion of new dollars for school board elections. (Dark Money)
  3. Establish unified enrollment for public schools and charter schools.
  4. Undermine teacher professionalism with Teach for America (TFA) or any instant-teacher-certification program and take control of teacher professional development.
  5. Implement Innovations Schools which are an ALEC sponsored method for removing schools from elected school board control.
  6. Develop a funding conduit for national and local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local privatization initiatives.
  7. Co-locate charter schools with public schools using rules that favor charter schools.
  8. Develop a network of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  9. Support gentrification.

TCF has spent heavily to develop a local ground game in the communities of targeted cities. On their web site, they provide a list of major grants made by 12/31/2019; defining major grants as being more than $200,000. Many of these grants are to other privatization focused organizations like TFA and Chiefs for Change, but most of them are for developing local organizations like the $5,500,000 to Opportunity Trust in Saint Louis another TFA related business. The TFA developed asset, founder and CEO Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years. Table-1 below lists this nationwide spending.

In many ways, The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, Indiana was the model for this kind of development. A 2016 article from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) which is quite school privatization friendly covers its development from the 2006 founding by Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson and his right hand man David Harris until 2016. PPI noted,

“The Mind Trust convinced Teach For America (TFA), The New Teacher Project (now TNTP), and Stand for Children to come to Indianapolis, in part by raising money for them. Since then TFA has brought in more than 500 teachers and 39 school leaders (the latter through its Indianapolis Principal Fellowship); TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows Program has trained 498 teachers; and Stand for Children has worked to engage the community, to educate parents about school reform, and to spearhead fundraising for school board candidates.”

The Mind Trust became a successful example of implementing all of the important strategies for privatizing public schools. As a result, the Indianapolis Public School system is the second most privatized system in America with over 60% of its students attending schools no longer controlled by the elected school board.

Stand for Children which the PPI referenced is almost entirely about funneling dark money into local school board races. These nationwide efforts are now being bolstered by the political action organization staffers at TCF created, Public School Allies. Public School Allies was founded as a 501 C4 organization meaning it can contribute to politicians; however contributions to it are not tax exempt.

Billionaire funded organizations like Public School Allies can overwhelm local elections. For example, in 2019 they provided $80,000 to the independent expenditure committee Campaign for Great Camden Schools. In the first school board election since the 2013 state takeover of Camden’s public schools, the three oligarch supported candidates won with vote totals of 1208, 1283 and 1455 votes.

Gary Borden was the Executive Director of the California Charter School Association 501 C4 organization before he became a Partner at TCF. Now he is the director of Public School Allies.

A TCF Partner sits on the board of many of the local political organizations they fund. Kevin Huffman is on the board of The Memphis Education Fund and Atlanta’s RedefinED. Partner Ken Bubp is on the board of New Schools for Baton Rouge. Gary Borden is on the board of The Mind Trust. He replaced David Harris who appears to have resigned from TCF. Harris was also on the board of San Antonio’s City Education Partners. Unfortunately, their new web page no longer lists the board members.

The Misguided and Self-serving Oligarch Philosophy

In 1990, Ronald Reagan’s view that government is inept and that private business with its associated market-based forces were superior dominated libertarian and neoliberal thinking. That year two conservative academics, John Chubb and Terry Moe published Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools in which they asserted that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” In other words, democratic governance is unfit.

At a convening of like minded organizations in San Francisco, TCF co-founder Reed Hastings made it clear that he favors schools governed by non-profit organizations as opposed to elected school boards. He had been espousing this position for at least five years. In other words, the oligarch believes like Moe and Chubb that democracy is bad and privatization is good.

Modern “school choice” ideology promoted by many white billionaires is little different from the strategies of southern segregationist in the 1950s and 60s. It still increases segregation and creates an “inherently unequal” and racist education system.

In 2009, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) published Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report.” Lead author Paul Hill and his associates stated,

“The report introduces the idea of a ‘portfolio school district,’ and shows how some leading school districts have put the idea into practice. A portfolio district is built for continuous improvement through expansion and imitation of the highest-performing schools, closure and replacement of the lowest-performing, and constant search for new ideas.”

It is an organized idea for managing the charter schools, innovation schools, public schools and voucher schools that make up the mix of schools in a district. Using standardized testing as a proxy for measuring quality, some percentage (5%) of the lowest performing schools will be closed every year. Invariably, the closed school will be replaced by a privatized structure outside of the purview of an elected school board. Also, because standardized testing only correlates with family wealth, the schools in the poorest communities will be privatized and subject to constant churn.

This is the management philosophy that TCF is spending abundantly to institute.

To sell this idea, they have contracted with the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). It is part of the Hoover Institute on Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto, California. CREDO has gained some level of discredit for producing non-peer reviewed reports that employ ideas that are not embraced by the research community such as “days of learning.” The latest study is called the City Study Project and compares charter schools and public schools in the TCF “service” cities.

The study is 100% based on standardized testing which is useless and it employs pro-charter school biases. Business writer Andre Gabor noted that their method starts with two assumptions, “A) That standardized-test scores are an adequate measure of school quality and B) that creaming in charter-schools does not exist.” A quick check of special education and language learner enrollment data quickly shows how extensive charter creaming actually is.

In addition, not only is their “virtual twining” model criticized by researchers like Professor Andrew Maul of UC Santa-Barbara, their selection method eliminates students from top performing public schools which biases the study further toward charter schools.

Even with these biases, to make it look like the hundredths of a standard deviation favoring charter schools over virtual public schools is meaningful, they reduce the arithmetically contrived vertical axis to expand the minimal differences. They also further exaggerate the differences by adding a “days of learning” axis. See the following image taken from the City Study Project.

Something Funny about the Money

In December 2018, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat quoted Neerav Kingsland’s claim that TCF had raised $189 million. However, TCF’s two existing tax documents which go through June 30, 2019 report less than $81 million in received money. It also appears that the Oligarchs are reporting significantly more dollars given than TCF has reported receiving.

The Ballmer group was created by Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie. There are no tax documents available for them, but their web page reports committing $25 million to TCF to be provided over a five-year period. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a donor directed site that hides the donor’s identity. It is known that Reed Hastings has put large amounts of money into that foundation so it is a good bet that money listed as SV Community Foundation in Table 2 is from Hastings.

Some Conclusions

The giant quantities of money concentrated in such few hands are destroying democracy. How is a citizen of an impoverished neighborhood who is opposed to having her public schools privatized going to politically compete with oligarchs from San Francisco or Seattle or Bentonville? Organizations like Public School Allies regularly come in and monetarily swamp any political opposition. That is not democracy.

I am convinced that John Arnold who is opposed to people receiving pensions sincerely believes charter schools are better than public schools. Likewise his partner, Reed Hastings, truly believes that elected school boards are bad. And Alice Walton really does think that vouchers are a good idea. However, I believe they are wrong and that the idea of offloading some of their tax burden is much more important to their beliefs than they will admit.

Witnessing the oligarch fueled attacks on the commons; I am convinced that billionaires need to be taxed out of existence if we are to have a healthy democracy of the people, by the people and for the people.

Relay Graduate School Forced onto DC Black Community

30 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/30/2022

School leaders and teachers in Washington DC’s wards 7 and 8 are being compelled into training given by Relay Graduate School of Education (RSGE). West of the Anacostia River in the wealthier whiter communities public school leaders are not being forced. When ward 7 and 8 administrators spoke out against the policy, they were fired. Two of them Dr. Carolyn Jackson-King and Marlon Ray, formerly of Boone Elementary School are suing DC Public Schools (DCPS) for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act and the DC Human Rights Act.

Jackson-King and Ray are emblematic of the talented black educators with deep experience that are being driven out of the Washington DC public school system. They are respected leaders in their schools and the community. When it was learned Jackson-King was let go, the community protested loudly and created a web site publishing her accomplishments.

In 2014, Jackson-King arrived at the Lawrence E. Boone Elementary school when it was still named Orr Elementary. The school had been plagued by violence and gone through two principals the previous year. Teacher Diane Johnson recalled carrying a bleeding student who had been punched to the nurse’s office. She remembered students fighting being a daily occurrence before Jackson-King took over.

In 2018, Orr Elementary went through a $46 million dollar renovation. The community and school board agreed that the name should be changed before the building reopened. Orr was originally named in honor of Benjamin Grayson Orr, a D.C. mayor in the 19th century and slave owner. The new name honors Lawrence Boone a Black educator who was Orr Elementary’s principal from 1973 to 1996. 

Jackson-King successfully navigated the campus violence and new construction. By 2019, Boon Elementary was demonstrating solid education progress as monitored by the district’s star ratings. Boone Elementary which is in a poor minority neighborhood went from a 1-star out of 5 rating when Jackson-King arrived to a 3-star rating her last year there.

City Council member Trayon White petitioned Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to rescind the removal of Jackson-King as principal stating,

“I have received many letters, emails and texts from parents and former students regarding this action. I join them in getting answers. I have personally witnessed Dr. Jackson-King’s leadership. Over the past six years, she has transformed Boone into a 3-star school by incorporating new partners and programs. She is not just a pillar at Boone, she is a pillar in the community with much respect from those who know her. … In the words of many, ‘Dr. Jackson-King has led our School Family Community from total chaos to success.’”

Marlon Ray was Boone’s director of strategy and logistics. He worked there for 13-years including the last six under Principal Jackson-King. Despite his long history in the district, Ray was apparently targeted after filing a whistleblower complaint over Relay Graduate School. Ray questioned RGSE’s relationship with DCPS, the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. He implicated Mary Ann Stinson, the DCPS Cluster II instructional superintendent who wrote Jackson-King’s district Impact review that paved the way for her termination.

In the lawsuit, Ray alleges that DCPS leadership responded by requiring him to work in person five days a week in the early months of the pandemic while most of his colleagues, including Jackson-King’s replacement Kimberly Douglas, worked remotely. This continued well into the spring of 2021.

In October of 2020, Ray joined with about 30 Washington Teacher’s Union members, parents and students to rally against opening schools before it was safe. Ray reported that he received a tongue lashing from a DCPS administrator for being there and then 2-hours later receive a telephoned death threat. He reports the caller saying, “This is Marcus from DCPS; you’re done, you’re through, you’re finished, you’re dead.”

Ray’s position was eliminated in June, 2021.

Dr. Jackson-King and Ray were not the only ones who experienced retaliation and were ultimately terminated due to opposing Relay. Johann Lee, formerly of Kimball Elementary School and Richard Trogisch, formerly of School Without Walls criticized Relay and DCPS’s COVID mitigation strategy, respectively. They are also both out. Ray says there are others who have not come forward.

Embracing a School Privatization Agenda

George Bernard Shaw noted that, “… the first rule of morals and manners in a Democratic country: namely, that you must not treat your political opponent as a moral delinquent” (Selected Non-Dramatic Writings of Bernard Shaw page 408). Keeping this in mind, I will try not to impugn Mayor Bowser’s integrity. I believe she is sincere in her belief that public schools are failing and that privatization is the cure. It is an illusion that started gaining adherents during the Reagan administration and the next five presidents have continued advancing it.

In Washington DC, the mayor has almost dictatorial power over public education. Therefore, when she becomes convinced of an illusion that falsely claims public schools are failing, there are few safeguards available to stop policy led destruction.

In the chart above, notice that all of the key employees she chose to lead DC K-12 education have a strong connection to organizations practicing what Cornell Professor Noliwe Rooks labels “segrenomics.” In her book Cutting School (Page 2), she describes it as the businesses of taking advantage of separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education to make a profit selling school. Bowser’s first Deputy Mayor for Education, Jennifer Niles, was a charter school founder. Her second Deputy Mayor, Paul Kihn, attended the infamous privatization centric Broad Academy. She inherited Kaya Henderson as DCPS Chancellor and kept her for five years. Kaya Henderson, a Teach For America alum, was the notorious Michelle Rhee’s heir apparent. The other two Chancellors that Bowser chose, Antwan Wilson and Lewis Ferebee, also attended the Broad Academy and both are members of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change.

The DCPS web page is quite unusual in that it is close to being a Muriel Bowser campaign organ. A 2018 message concerning the end of Education Week ironically stated,

“Today, Mayor Bowser also announced that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) awarded $1.5 million in grants to five nonprofit organizations to recruit and train more than 250 high-quality new charter school teachers. The Scholarships for Opportunities and Results (SOAR) Act Teacher Pipeline Grant awardees are: Relay Graduate School of Education, the Urban Teacher Center, AppleTree Institute, KIPP DC, and the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.”

There are four main governing Components in the Washington DC school system: (1) The State Board of Education (SBE); (2) The Office of the State Superintendent of Education; (3) The Public Charter School Board and (4) The District of Columbia Public Schools. The SBE is an elected board with little power to effect policy. The other three entities are all controlled by Mayor Bowser.

The State Superintendent of Education who awarded $7.5 million in public education dollars to five private companies was Hanseul Kang. Before Bowser appointed her to the position, Kang was a member of the Broad Residency class of 2012-2014. At that time, she was serving as Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Department of Education while her fellow Broadie, Chris Barbic, was setting up the doomed to fail Tennessee Achievement School District. In 2021, Bowser had to replace Kang because she became the inaugural Executive Director of the new Broad Center at Yale. Bowser chose Christina Grant yet another Broad trained education privatization enthusiast to replace Kang.

(For a background information on the Broad Academy see Broad’s Academy and Residencies Fuel the Destroy Public Education Agenda.)

Bowser and her team are in many ways impressive, high achieving and admirable people. However, their deluded view of public education and its value is dangerous; dangerous for K-12 education, dangerous for democracy.

“Teach like it’s 1885

The root of the push back against Relay training by ward 7 and 8 educators is found in the authoritarian approach being propagated. NPR listed feedback from dismayed teachers bothered by schemes such as:

  • “Students must pick up their pens within three seconds of starting a writing assignment.
  • “Students must walk silently, in a straight line, hands behind their backs, when they are outside the classroom.
  • “Teachers must stand still, speak in a ‘formal register’ and square their shoulders toward students when they give directions.”

Dr. Jackson-King noted, “Kids have to sit a certain way, they have to look a certain way. They cannot be who they are. Those are all the ways they teach you in prison — you have to walk in a straight line, hands behind your back, eyes forward.”

RSGE does not focus on education philosophy or guidance from the world’s foremost educators. Rather its fundamental text is Teach Like a Champion which is a guidebook for no-excuses charter schools.

Three no-excuses charter school leaders established RGSE. In the post “Teach Like it’s 1885”, published by Jenifer Berkshire, Layla Treuhaft-Ali wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.”

The Hampton Idea comment is a reference to W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1906 speech at Hampton University in which he called on the Black students to seek academic skills not just technical education.  

In her book Scripting the Moves, Professor Joanne Golann wrote:

‘“Ultimately no-excuses charters schools are a failed solution to a much larger social problem,’ education scholar Maury Nation has argued. ‘How does a society address systemic marginalization and related economic inequalities? How do schools mitigate the effects of a system of White supremacy within which schools themselves are embedded?’ Without attending to these problems, we will not solve the problems of educational inequality. ‘As with so many school reforms,’ Nation argues, ‘no-excuses discipline is an attempt to address the complexities of these problems, with a cheap, simplistic, mass-producible, ‘market-based’ solution.’” (Page 174)

Legitimate education professionals routinely heap scorn on RSGE. Relay practices the pedagogy of poverty and as Martin Haberman says,

“In reality, the pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is not supported by research, by theory, or by the best practice of superior urban teachers. It is actually certain ritualistic acts that, much like the ceremonies performed by religious functionaries, have come to be conducted for their intrinsic value rather than to foster learning.”

Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her piece, “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).”

Ken Zeichner is one of America’s leading academics studying teacher education. In a paper on alternative teacher preparation programs focused on Match Teacher Residency and RGSE, he asserted,

“These two programs prepare teachers to use highly controlling pedagogical and classroom management techniques that are primarily used in schools serving students of color whose communities are severely impacted by poverty. Meanwhile, students in more economically advantaged areas have greater access to professionally trained teachers, less punitive and controlling management practices and broader and richer curricula and teaching practices. The teaching and management practices learned by the teachers in these two independent programs are based on a restricted definition of teaching and learning and would not be acceptable in more economically advantaged communities.”

This is the training program that these courageous educators were fired for opposing.

Petaluma Charter School Lessons

23 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/23/2022

A Petaluma Argus-Courier headline read, “Petaluma could soon welcome charter school.” Local prodigy, Gianna Biaggi, had come home to establish the Magnolia Global Academy for Leaders (MGAL). Biaggi had spent the previous year as a New School Creation Fellow at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. She was exited to use her new training to establish a High Tech High inspired school where she grew up.

Petaluma is a unique community with a lot of appeal. In the 1990’s, I was invited to a celebration of the 1968 Monterey Pop Festival’s 30th anniversary hosted by a Buddhist family in Petaluma. Picked up my date in San Francisco, headed across the Golden Gate Bridge and in less than a 40-mile drive up highway 101 we were there. It would be one of the more memorable evenings of my life.

I met a musician named David Freiberg at the party and asked him what bands he had been in that I might know. David responded, “I was in Jefferson Airplane and Quiz Silver Messenger Service.” I was impressed and his Wikipedia page is even more impressive. He was there with Linda Imperial who currently had the world’s number one solo jazz vocal album. Somehow, I ended up in the kitchen with David and Linda where I asked them to sing the spiritual “Amazing Grace.” They gifted me an amazing a cappella performance.

Petaluma is a community of mostly white liberals. The racial breakdown is 70% White, 1.3% Black, 21% Hispanic, 4.4% Asian and 3.3% other. It is in Sonoma County which has a Democratic Party voter registration of 57.7%, a no preference voter registration of 19.2% and a Republican Party voter registration of 17.5%.

 Gianna Biaggi attended Sonoma High School in nearby Sonoma, California. In her 2013 graduation speech, she spoke of being a part of the Youth Ambassador’s program and how that led to a wonderful three weeks in Paraguay. She also proudly noted, “Through the support of my favorite teacher, Ms. Manchester, I created the Wolf Club, named after Jack’s [Jack London] illustrious nickname, ‘Wolf.’”  She also stated, “With the help of Wolf Club members, Ms. Manchester, and the director of Jack London State Park, I was successfully able to create Jack’s Ambassadors, a program for middle school students that is based off of my experience with the Youth Ambassadors.”

After graduating from high school, Gianna continued down the path of seeking to be of public service and creating for the community. Following earning a 2017 bachelor’s degree in international studies from Kenyon College in Ohio, she won a Samuel Huntington Public Service Award and became an Interexchange Christianson Grantee. That took her to Nairobi, Kenya where she created a community library in the Kibera slums and established Sunflower Fellows, a 4-year literacy and leadership program for low-achieving girls attending informal schools.

Gianna’s story about her time in Africa is really impressive. However, Petaluma is not Nairobi. The US education system is sophisticated and staffed by a huge number of highly educated and experienced professionals. Siphoning money from public schools to create a parallel school system negatively affects public school students. It creates irrecoverable stranded costs that drain per-capita resources.

High Tech High Graduate School of Education

High Tech High (HTH) graduate school of education is in a different category than Relay Graduate School or the training provided by TNTP. Relay and TNTP were created to undermine the role of public universities in training educators and to promote school choice. Both organizations have shallow academic and profession depth. Conversely, HTH graduate school was created to teach HTH teachers the school’s brand of progressive education and it undeniably has academic and professional depth starting with founders Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan.  

For several years Professor Riordan while a faculty member of the Harvard Graduate School of Education led the practicum seminar for Harvard’s student teachers. He has a wealth of education credits to his name. Professor Rosenstock also taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the University of California, Berkeley School of Education. He holds a Juris Doctor from Boston University, and an honorary doctorate from Cambridge College.  It was fascinating to learn that while Rosenstock was at Brandeis University he developed a close relationship with Abe Maslow the originator of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They regularly carpooled to school.

In 1998, Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan were on a team at Harvard that won a large grant from the Clinton administration to design a new American high school. They traveled around the country looking for existing models when a teacher in San Diego got them exited. So they moved there to study his approach and soon after were offered a job to create High Tech High.

At the time, neoliberal thinking was permeating the Clinton administration and America’s business community. The analysis in Reagan’s “A Nation at Risk” was widely accepted as basic fact. Business leaders were convinced public education was failing and market based solutions were the required answer. In San Diego, a 40-person committee of business elites led by Gary Jacobs decided they wanted to create their own independent public school. They contacted Rosenstock for his advice and he explained charter schools.

Gary Jacobs is the former director of education programs at Qualcomm but more importantly, he is the son of Qualcomm founder and billionaire Irwin Jacobs. These wealthy San Diegans knew nothing about education, but perceived no problem with experimenting on other people’s children. They appeared convinced that if they hired the right consultant, they could create something new and wonderful that would lead the way to education reform.

The education model they embraced was similar the progressive education ideas first suggested by John Dewey at the beginning of the 20th century. Problem based education was their focus. It was reminiscent of the experimental school developed by Corinne Seeds at UCLA.

Tufts University Education Professor, Kathleen Weiler, wrote Democracy and Schooling in California: The Legacy of Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds. She shared,

“Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds were nationally recognized as leaders of the progressive education movement and were key figures in what was probably the most concerted attempt to put the ideals of progressive education into practice in a state-wide system of public education in the United States.”

Heffernan was the California Commissioner of Rural and Elementary Education between 1926 and 1965, and Seeds was the Director of the University Elementary school at UCLA between 1925 and 1957.

Professor Larry Lawrence worked at the Seeds school under Jonathan Goodlad. He observed that when the charismatic Goodlad left in 1987, the school floundered. When Heffernan retired, the progressive education movement in California slowed and reversed. After meeting with HTH founding principal and CEO, Larry Rosenstock, and touring one of the schools, Professor Lawrence concluded that when Rosenstock leaves, the HTH system will falter.

Professor Lawrence also questioned the quality of the school’s math education. A science professor from Southwestern Junior College regularly complained during committee meetings I attended about how unprepared for college academics the incoming HTH students were.

As appealing as progressive education is, there is some reason it has never blossomed.

Magnolia Global Academy for Leaders (MGAL)

In November 2020, the Sonoma Index-Tribune ran the headline, “Local grad to launch new all-girls high school in Sonoma County.” The article began,

“Gianna Biaggi is a Sonoma Valley native and a graduate of Sonoma Valley High School. She is currently a New School Creation Fellow at High Tech High, an education charter school incubator in San Diego.”

Evidently nothing developed with the girl’s school but a few miles away in Petaluma she found a lot of support for her new school idea. It helped that the new Superintendent of Petaluma City Schools, Matthew Harris, is a pro-choice former Teach For America corps member.

Gianna is a well liked local girl. She was able to quickly gather 50-people willing to have their names added to a supporters list on the new MGAL web-page.

Included on the supporters list were Iliana Madrigal-Hooper, Commission on the Status of Human Rights; Dr. Matthew Long, Santa Rosa Junior College, Petaluma Campus; Dr. Lena MacQuade, Sonoma State University, Women’s and Gender Studies and Rob Riordan, President Emeritus, High Tech High Graduate School of Education. It seems that the main motivation for several people on the list was doing a favor for Gianna.

On August 24, 2021, Gianna formerly submitted her 800 page charter petition to the Petaluma City Schools board. That is when the delusion was pierced. The district staff came back with a powerful rejection recommendation that included:

“The charter school presents an unsound educational program for the pupils to be enrolled in the charter school.”

“The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.”

“The charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate.”

“The Petition submitted is for the establishment of a district-operated ‘dependent’ charter school. … First, as a dependent, District-operated charter school, MGAL could not legally operate in most private facilities. School facilities for public school districts are highly regulated as to location, condition and safety, and the kind of space available in the local community does not meet applicable legal standards as dictated by the Field Act.”

The board voted unanimously 5-0 to turn down the charter petition.

A Few Observations

One of the major flaws in charter school legislation is that people with minimal background in teaching and administering schools are allowed to petition for charters. This has resulted in horrible schools like KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Yes Prep with their test prep and “no excuses” agenda.

In Petaluma’s case, Gianna Biaggi seems like a well intentioned bright young women but she does not have the experience to start and run a school. However, a dependent charter is an intriguing idea. It is a charter that is created by a school district to operate within and be governed within the District’s family of school options. It must follow all state facility laws. Shouldn’t all taxpayer funded schools be required to provide the same level of safety as a public school?

Deborah Meier has long been an advocate of progressive education and smaller democratically operated schools. In 1974, she founded Central Park East and latter the Mission Hill School in Boston. These very successful programs have made her more open to charter schools because of the possibility for developing smaller progressive schools. It seems like the dependent charter school model could be a path for this kind of development. That explains her willingness to serve on the advisory board for HTH Graduate School of Education. However, she also believes schools must practice and model democracy. She has written, “We can learn a lot from charters about autonomy, but not much about democracy.” (Public Education Page 164)

An illusion underlies the “public education is failing” meme. It has been propagated relentlessly by corporations and billionaires ever since the Reagan administration published A Nation at Risk.” That publication was based on misunderstood statistics and sold a belief that schools were failing. A study at Sandia lab seven years later showed that not only were schools not failing but that they had been delivering steadily improving test results if you compared apples to apples. The whole premise of “A Nation at Risk” was based on misguided bad scholarship.

Birthed in the bowels of the 1950’s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

Choosing to End Public Education

25 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/25/2022

In 2017, the new President of the United States was explicit in his intention to end public education. He appointed a dominionist as secretary of education and regularly invoked the libertarian inspired pejorative “government schools” when referring to public schools. He loudly supported a movement to end public education which started in earnest five decades before he took office.

Its foundation was the economic theories of Milton Friedman and opposition to integration in the old south. Neoliberals, libertarians and their billionaire financiers have unsparingly attacked public education. Their fundamental weapon for ending the public school system is “choice.”

The newly published book Public Education: Defending a Cornerstone of American Democracy is a compilation of 29-essays edited by David C. Berliner and Carl Hermanns. All of the essays are written by accomplished award winning educators and historians. Gloria Ladson-Billings, known for her work on Culturally Relevant Pedagogy wrote,

“Some years ago, when the school choice movement began to gain attention, I argued that we were looking at the beginnings of the plan to destroy public education. There are those who declared I was being ‘alarmist.’ But I made this pronouncement after looking at the ways other aspects of public services have faced severe erosion.” (Education 226)

She also speculated that a contributing factor for the loss of consensus to support public schooling is the long-term campaign by powerful interest groups to portray public education as failing.

In another essay, Education Historian and former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch reported that in 1984 the Republican Party for the first time called for prayer in school and “choice.” She stated,

“Despite the sordid history of school choice and its origins in the segregationist movement, the term became a rallying cry for critics of public education. Right-wing think tanks, libertarian billionaires, and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council – an organization that brought together far-right extremists, big corporate money, and other who wanted to reduce government regulation and unleash free enterprise – unleashed an unmodulated campaign of vilification against public schools.” (Education 27)

Duke University Professor of History and Public Policy Nancy MacLean, this past September published a new research paper at the Institute of New Economic Thinking – How Milton Friedman Exploited White Supremacy to Privatize Education.” She is the author of the must read book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” In her new paper MacLean states,

“This paper traces the origins of today’s campaigns for school vouchers and other modes of public funding for private education to efforts by Milton Friedman beginning in 1955. It reveals that the endgame of the “school choice” enterprise for libertarians was not then—and is not now–to enhance education for all children; it was a strategy, ultimately, to offload the full cost of schooling onto parents as part of a larger quest to privatize public services and resources.”

A New Trojan Horse

The Gateway Drug: Charter Schools

An article by the Education Law Center’s Wendy Lecker states,

“As noted in a 1996 Detroit Metro Times article, while the DeVos’ ultimate aim was to abolish public education and steer public funds to parochial schools, they knew not to be blatant about that goal. Thus, they chose a vehicle that blurred the lines between public and private schools- a “gateway drug” to privatizing public education: charter schools.”

After John Walton read the 1983 Reagan administration publication ‘“A Nation at Risk’ with its ominous warnings about the failings of public education,” he convinced his family to direct their philanthropy toward reforming public education. Throughout the 1990s he campaigned endlessly for new voucher legislation and saw his efforts repeatedly rebuffed. Shortly before his death in 2005, John joined Don Fisher and Buzz Woolley in establishing the Charter School Growth fund. Around the same time the Walton Family Foundation began financing charter school startups in communities across America.

Jeff Bryant interviewed Jeffry Henig of Teachers College about the Walton’s move to supporting charter schools. Bryant asserted,

“Henig believes many conservatives view charter schools as a way to ‘soften the ground’ for potentially more private options, though he isn’t entirely sure ‘the Waltons view charters as a Trojan Horse for eventually providing vouchers universally.’”

Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has carried on a relentless attack on public education that continues today. One of the images she sells is viewing students as having a backpack full of taxpayer money which each school age child’s parents spends on education services. In her essay “Public Education at a Crossroads: Will Horace Mann’s Common School Survive the Era of Choice?” educator, administrator and public school advocate Carol Burris warns,

 “Given the anti-tax, anti-government proclivities of those who espouse this type of funding scheme, it is likely that fewer and fewer tax dollars would be place in the backpack over time. Parents once again would assume the sole responsibility for educating their children, buying what services they could afford, with the poor relying on charity.” (Education 239)

A Pillar of Democracy: Public Education

In the essay “Values and Education Policy” Edward Fiske and Helen Ladd tell us, “Good education policy making is rooted in coherent and enlightened educational values.” (Education 33) They begin by discussing the values expressed by Horace Mann who successfully implemented his vision of “common schools.” Today’s public school system is very much a result of that vision and his leadership. Some of the issues Mann addressed are the same issues driving “choice” today. Fisk and Ladd share,

“The idea of taxing all citizens, including those of the privileged classes who already enjoyed access to private education, in order to finance the education of poor and working-class children was viewed as both wasteful and as an infringement of property rights. Mann argued that free schooling served the collective interests of all citizens, rich and poor alike. ‘Jails and state prisons are the complement of schools,’ he wrote. ‘So many less as you have the latter, so many more you must have of the former.’”

“He famously declared, ‘Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance-wheel of the social machinery.’” (Education 34-36)

The authors conclude,

“Proponents of citizenship education are struggling to find a place in school curricula. Powerful private foundations and individuals, including the recent U.S. Secretary of Education, are raising millions of dollars to undermine the concept of universal education by privatizing public education and, by means of vouchers and charter schools, to break the link between publicly supported schools and democratically elected officials. Racial resegregation of schools is now pervasive, and courts are retreating from the notion that public funds should not be used to further sectarian religious instruction.” (Education 45)

For a long time, Richard and Betsy DeVos have been working to obliterate the separation of church and state, and privatize public education. In a 2001 interview conducted at the Gathering, Richard  lamented how awful it was that public schools had replaced churches as the center of communities. He did not identify whose church would be accepted as the new community center, but it seems certain to be some flavor of Christianity.

Public Education Shares Informed Discourse

Thirty-two of America’s most accomplished education thinkers and practitioners share their insights. All of them have more than two-decades of experience practicing, researching and debating education policy. None of them are billionaires trying to offload their tax burden or implement self-centered libertarian ideology.

In these pages, there is general respect for Horace Mann’s education advocacy and the public school system but also recognition of associated problems. The common schools were not just the “great equalizer” but also the great homogenizer. They indoctrinated students with a protestant Anglo-Saxon ethic. There is nuanced discussion here about the great foundation for democracy (public schools) needing to inspire not indoctrinate. And some of the authors reject the “great equalizer” belief as a myth.

Professor Ken Zeichner discusses the extreme segregation of public schooling in the United States, speculating they are “possibly more segregated today than it was in the 1960s.” (Education 178) He says in non-dominant communities, families and community members are excluded from real participation in school affairs. He recommends community centered engagement versus school centered engagement. Unfortunately he reports, “Both federal legislation and school practices have encouraged school-centric as opposed to community-centric family and community engagement, creating mutual distrust between families and schools.” (Education 179)

University of Georgia’s Peter Smagorinsky shares, “According to [Betsy] DeVos, those who direct the prevailing K-12 system are ‘trapped in an outdated education model,’ beholden to the ‘wrong and manipulative’ theories of Horace Mann and John Dewey.’” For people not on the extreme right this sounds like nonsense. However, Smagorinsky cautions that people’s positions “are largely emotional and the argumentative reasoning is used as a post hoc means of justifying an established position, … it’s unlikely the Culture Wars will end any time soon, because no one can win them with logic or facts.”

I will end my taste of what is in this wonderful compilation with a quote from one of the editors, David Berliner. He ran through a litany of the scandals arising from both the charter and voucher school movements fueled by unregulated taxpayer dollars. Then personally gratifying to me he wrote, “But Tom Ultican, a thoughtful and passionate defender of public schooling, has a reminder to Americans about the origins of the charter and voucher movement in our nation,”

“Birthed in the bowels of the 1950s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market-based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

“Milton Friedman first recommended school vouchers in a 1955 essay. In 2006, he was asked by a conservative group of legislators what he envisioned back then. PRWatch [published by the Center for Media and Democracy] reports that he said, ‘It had nothing whatsoever to do with helping ‘indigent’ children; no, he explained to thunderous applause, vouchers were all about ‘abolishing the public school system.’” (Education 280-281)