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No Excuses Schools: Bad Theory Created by Amateurs

4 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/4/2021

Vanderbilt Professor Joanne Golann recently published Scripting the Moves. It is a book which expands on her research into no-excuses charter schools. Beginning in March of 2012, Golann spent 18-months doing an ethnographic study of a representative school employing the no-excuses approach. She discovered many unintended consequences.

In 2019, the leader of the Ascend Charters, Steven Wilson, wrote,

“And even when No Excuses was best realized at Ascend, its ceaseless structure was doing little to prepare our students to function autonomously in college and beyond.”

“Princeton sociologist Joanne Golann, in a groundbreaking ethnography of one high-achieving No Excuses school, identifies the “paradox” of the school’s success: ‘Even in a school promoting social mobility, teachers still reinforce class-based skills and behaviors. Because of these schools’ emphasis on order as a prerequisite to raising test scores,’ she argues, teachers end up stressing behaviors that would undermine middle-class students’ success.”

“Golann ends by asking: ‘Can urban schools encourage assertiveness, initiative, and ease while also ensuring order and achievement? Is there an alternative to a no-excuses disciplinary model that still raises students’ tests scores?”’

It is not just Ascend. In an August 2021 post at Princeton Press, Professor Golann reported,

“In March, Noble, the largest charter network in Chicago, apologized to its alumni for its ‘assimilationist, patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-black’ discipline practices. Last June, Achievement First promised not to ‘be hyper-focused on students’ body positioning,’ and ended its requirement for students to sit with their hands folded at their desks. KIPP, the nation’s largest charter school network, retired its founding motto, ‘Work hard. Be nice,’ explaining that it ‘ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.’ (KIPP began plans to change the motto in 2019.)*

“The Wall Street Journal described KIPP’s statement as ‘woke nonsense.’”

Bad Practices at No-Excuses Charters Came from Amateur Founders and Funders

Perhaps the best known no-excuses charter schools are the KIPP schools. Two Yale graduates David Levin and Michael Feinberg founded KIPP in 1994. They were both members of Wendy Kopp’s third cadre of Teach for America (TFA) teachers who had five weeks of training; no education classes and no teaching experience. After the founding, Feinberg stayed in Texas to run KIPP Houston. Levin moved back to New York and founded KIPP Academy in the South Bronx.

To put it succinctly, two guys with recently minted bachelor degrees and a 5-week summer seminar founded the first no-excuses charter school.

 Professor Golann explained how they gravitated to the model,

“After a difficult first year struggling with classroom management, Levin and Feinberg were beginning to improve. They attributed their success to intensively studying and imitating the methods of effective teachers in their schools. Their most influential mentor was Harriett Ball, a charismatic and celebrated forty-six-year-old African American teacher who stood over six feet tall and who worked down the hallway from Levin. From Ball, Levin learned that what worked, in addition to songs and chants, was ‘instant and overwhelming response to any violation of the rules.’” (Scripted page 120)

The story of KIPP’s growth is intertwined with another no-excuses school founder, Stacy Boyd. She was working for Chris Whistle’s Edison Project when a Boston dentist selected her to be the founding principal of the Academy of the Pacific Rim (APR). Boyd hired her friend Doug Lemov to teach at the school that she ran while also finishing her MBA. When Boyd married Scott Hamilton and moved to San Francisco, Lemov took over at APR.

Scott and Stacy met while working at the Edison Project. They were moving to San Francisco because Hamilton was now working for two of the richest people in the country, GAP founders, Don and Doris Fisher.

It was 1999 and “sixty minutes” did a puff piece on KIPP. All of the sudden the possibility of going national arose. Feinberg’s first call was to his friend Stacy Boyd who knew something about developing large organizations. Stacy’s husband Scott sold the Fishers on creating business fellowships for KIPP school founders who would take the brand nationwide.  

The San Francisco billionaires who are obviously astute business people started pouring money into an education system being developed by people with limited knowledge and experience. They would have never turned over leadership at the GAP to people with little background and limited experience. Somehow, many of America’s financial elites believe that they understand education well enough to know how to improve it, and don’t recognize that they are amateurs.

Besides no-excuses charter schools, billionaire education amateurs have spent lavishly to finance TFA. At the beginning of the millennium TFA was struggling, but then the money started flowing. In her book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider recounted, 

“Despite the financial and organizational issues and bad press, Kopp managed to scrape by and carry TFA with her into the new millennium. TFA faced insolvency a number of times – until corporations and foundations began funneling money into the struggling organization. In 2001, TFA’s net assets totaled over $35 million. By 2005, TFA’s net assets totaled over $105 million. Finally, by 2010, TFA’s net assets had increased almost tenfold from 2001 to $350 million. And in 2011, the Walton Family Foundation gave TFA $49.5 million ‘to help double the size of Teach for America’s national teaching corps over the next three years.” (Chronicle page 47)

TFA teachers are unqualified to lead a classroom. However, Professor Golann notes, “It is not that Dream Academy did not have the option of hiring more seasoned teachers; they deliberately chose not to do so, which may be surprising given that teachers significantly improve in effectiveness during their first years of teaching.” (Scripted page 139) Teachers with experience and training were not as likely to embrace their no-excuses scheme. (Dream Academy is the pseudonym Golann chose for the school in which she was embedded.)

Stacy Boyd’s friend, Doug Lemov, started gathering no-excuses techniques and wrote them into a book called Teach Like a Champion. Today, this compendium of methods serves as a handbook for no-excuses schools. One of the main objectives of the handbook is efficiency. It brings the early 1900s Taylorism into the classroom.

In the post “Teach Like its 1885.” published on Jenifer Berkshire’s blog, 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.” In addition to its racist implementation, the no-excuses model certainly elicits images of 19th century school discipline.

No-excuses Model a Disaster in Public Schools

The Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) was launched in 2011 by the Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, a TFA alum and for a short time Michelle Rhee’s husband. He brought in fellow TFA alum Chris Barbic – the founder of the no-excuses charter school YES Prep – to run ASD. Golann observed,

“Unlike typical no-excuses charters, in which families must apply and agree to certain commitments, these charters had to accept all students from the zoned neighborhood, which resulted in low levels of commitment from families to the school’s disciplinary practices, along with a student population that the school was unprepared to serve (e.g., students with special needs, students with high levels of residential mobility).  (Scripted page 173)

By 2016, the lofty goal of raising the bottom scoring 5% of the state’s schools into the top 25% was a complete flop. Even with concentrated test prep, most of the schools were still in the bottom 5%.

Some Conclusions

Two important points:

  1. On page 64 of her book, Golann references University of California San Diego Professor Hugh ‘Bud’ Mehan. From the two graduate school classes I had with Bud, I learned something about what good ethnographic studies looked like and it is clear that Golann’s scholarship is excellent. The book is well written and takes the reader inside the study. Anyone interested in education policy would profit from reading it.
  2. Without the unbelievably large amounts of money being spent by billionaire amateurs to drive education policy, there would be no TFA or no-excuses charter schools.

I will end with one last quote from Professor Joanne Golann’s Scripting the Moves:

‘“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.’” (Scripting page 174)

Saint Louis School Board Stalls Privatization Agenda

24 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/24/2021

The August 19th headline in the Saint-Louis Post Dispatch reported a new plan “sparks school board outrage.”The board accused Better Futures STL of trying to usurp its role. Better Futures soon cancelled the launch of its new program and Superintendent Kelvin Adams apologized for not sharing the extent of his involvement in a plan described as “a new St. Louis education blueprint that serves all children.”

The Post Dispatch went on to outline Better Futures as being started in April by Opportunity Trust, Education Equity Center of St. Louis, Forward Through Ferguson, WePower and others. Fenton, a pricey New York public relations firm, stated that Better Futures was developing a “community-designed plan over the next 12 months to reimagine an equitable K-12 public education system.” Superintendent Adams and Mayor Tishaura O. Jones are both on the new organization’s advisory council.

Kelvin Adams Involvement Not a Surprise

In a magnificent article about the history and demise of public schools in St. Louis, Jeff Bryant detailed the neoliberal philosophy driving the city’s leadership. The hiring of Kelvin Adams was a result.

Mayor Francis Slay served four terms starting in 2001. He brought in Teach for America (TFA) and championed charter schools. When circumstances beyond the school district’s control led to a large deficit, Slay successfully recruited and financed a new slate of school board members in 2003.

Within a month of taking office, the school board voted to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti became the de facto superintendent of schools. The results were a disaster. District financing became so untenable that the state took over.

To solve the mess in Saint Louis, the state turned to the New Orleans Recovery School District and hired Paul Vallas’s chief of staff, Kelvin Adams. At the time, Peter Downs, president of the elected school board, called Adams unacceptable. However, Adams’ thirteen-year tenure is attributable to his popularity among Saint Louis’s neoliberal embracing business and political leadership.

School Privatization

In 1981, Rex Sinquefield and David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

In 2005, Rex and his business partner wife Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years. Since returning he has become a major force in Republican politics and has demonstrated a thorough disrespect for public education. Rex claimed,

‘“There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri,’ Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. [Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”

Sinquefield was a major reason Josh Hawley was elected to the US Senate. Rex also spent $2.5 million trying to get Missouri’s income tax replaced with a sales tax and spent another $1.6 million attempting to have teachers evaluated using testing.

He has consistently championed lower regressive taxes and market based solutions.

On July 31, 2018, Neerav Kingsland, the founder of New Schools for New Orleans, announced on his blog that billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings had pleged $100 million each to start The City Fund. Kingsland is the new Fund’s Managing Partner.

In addition to the non-profit, they have also created an associated political action organization called Public School Allies. In 2019, Allies sent $20,000 to Saint Louis’s Civil PAC.

City Fund has spent large amounts of money developing local organizations to promote implementation of the portfolio model of public education management. The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio.

The Opportunity Trust is their partner in St. Louis. City Fund has made a three year $5.5 million grant to the Trust. Opportunity is also a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

The 2017 Opportunity Trust founding board consisted of John Kemper, Diane Tavenner, Maxine Clark and Eric Scroggins. (See 2017 tax form 990 – EIN 82-1838644)

Diane Tavenner is the founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, a charter management organization that serves schools in California and Washington State. Tavenner is a former board member of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and currently serves on the CCSA member’s council.

In 2018, John W. Kemper succeeded his father David Kemper as President and CEO of Commerce Bancshares Inc. Biz journal noted,

‘“He will be a good steward. Cities need good banks to take care of the community, and Commerce is a well run company,’ said cousin and friendly rival Mariner Kemper, chairman of UMB Bank, Missouri’s second largest, with $20.6 billion in assets.”  

Kemper also sits on several local boards including KIPP St Louis.

Maxine Clark is the daughter of Eleanor Roosevelt’s traveling secretary. She was President of Payless Shoes before founding Build-A-Bear Workshop which grew to over 400 mall based stores. Clark retired as CEO in 2013. Since leaving Build-A-Bear, she and her husband have concentrated on civic endeavors. Ladue News reports,

“Among their biggest successes is the launching of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter Schools in St. Louis. There are two elementary KIPP schools and two middle schools, and this fall, KIPP St. Louis High School will welcome its first freshman class. As a public charter school, KIPP St. Louis High School will operate like a private college prep school.”

Clark calls her latest project Delmar Devine.” It is a play on the local term “Delmar Divide,” for the line of demarcation separating predominantly white St. Louis from the North Side, where the population is nearly all African-American. She is using Housing and Urban Development money to remodel the 1904 built St. Luke’s Hospital into a mixed use facility with apartments and office space. Many of the new tenants are part of the segrenomics business selling education services to urban poor. They include: Teach for America, The Opportunity Trust, IFF, Education Equity Center of St. Louis, KIPP St. Louis and Navigate STL Schools.

Business elites like Maxine Clark and politicians like Mayor Tishaura O. Jones are making a terrible error in judgment. The public school system is the backbone of communities and the foundation of democracy. Furthermore, unbiased research shows that public schools consistently outperform either private schools or charter schools.

Dyslexia Industry Scores California Court Victory

4 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/4/2021

In a court settlement, Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) agreed to implement inappropriate dyslexia remedies. The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) claimed the district failed to identify students with reading disorders, including dyslexia, and did not provide them adequate services. To end the litigation begun in 2016, district leaders agreed to implement a universal screening program for reading disorders and adopt new reading intervention programs. BUSD also agreed to hire a nationally recognized outside consultants. District representatives disagreed with the charges but said the legal fight was becoming too expensive.

DREDF lawyers paint BUSD as a failing school system that makes no effort to identify students with learning disorders. They point out that only 70% of BUSD students are rated as proficient in reading by third grade. The lawyers cite the California School Dashboard’s 2017 data as evidence. However, the Dashboard which is a color coded evaluation of school performance shows BUSD performing at a high level.

From the 2017 California School Dashboard

Four students labeled A, B, C and D along with their parents or guardians are listed as plaintiffs. The DREDF filing states,

“When Student A started first grade, she was immediately placed in a Leveled Literacy Intervention (‘LLI’), a general reading intervention, since her reading abilities were significantly below her peers.  Student A’s teachers reported that she made some progress in LLI, but she continued to show emotional distress and displayed reading avoidant behaviors at home.”

The following year at age-7, student-A received average composite scores on several standardized tests and was put back in regular reading. Based on these results, the district turned down a special education declaration for the student.  DREDF lawyers claim that the “scores were too discrepant to calculate Student A’s processing speed and working memory …” In other words, they disagreed with the testing used.

Student-B came to BUSD in kindergarten. Within a few weeks, teachers recommended that his parents have a medical evaluation done. Later, his parents tried to home-school him and when that did not work out; they put him in a charter school. He was soon kicked out of the charter school and at age-6 he was back in BUSD. The school gave him a special education designation for ADHD. He was given a one-on-one tutor under the supervision of a special education teacher. DREDF found this inadequate because the tutor was not a trained special education teacher.

Student-B’s behavior deteriorated to the point of being suspended. BUSD placed him in a private school, Catalyst, which specialized in behavioral problems.  Catalyst gave up on student-B. In 2016 student-B was given a new medication for ADHD and his improved behavior allowed him to function in a regular classroom setting. DREDF claimed the district did not do enough.

Student-C was a ninth grader in 2015 when he transferred into BUSD from a private school. An independent evaluator had diagnosed him with dyslexia. BUSD concurred with the diagnosis and made a special education declaration. Student-C was given a 55-minute support class once a day, adaptive technology lessons 5-times a year and a weekly 15-minute meeting with his case manager. The student’s parents felt that he needed more and paid for some sort of private support services.

Student-D also came into ninth grade from a private school. During 3rd grade, the private school evaluated her as having reading difficulties. She was given several accommodations including extra time on tests. Student-D transferred in with all A’s and B’s on her report cards. Because she had such good grades BUSD determined that she did not qualify for special education services. Her grades remained high but she did poorly on the PSAT for which she was given no accommodations. Student-D was eventually given a 504 designation in time for her to take the SAT with accommodations. Her parents also paid for private support services.

Selling the Science of Reading

While it is true that experts estimate between 5 and 20 percent of all students have difficulties learning to read, this lawsuit is just another skirmish in the “science of reading” war. The dyslexia industry has adopted the position that phonics instruction is the only way to address reading difficulties. Further, they dismiss the expertise of school districts and teachers and strongly suggest only private companies have the elite expertise required to provide products that are capable of identifying and solving reading issues.

Professor Jim Horn has written extensively about the “science of reading” conflict and the bias of the National Reading Panel toward Alphabetics (phonemic awareness and phonics). In his 2003 review of Gerald Coles’ book Reading the Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation, and Lies Horn shared,

“Coles concludes that the Panel’s ‘antipathy of anything that veers away from direct instruction model’ (p. 110) led them to the bizarre conclusion that there is not sustainable evidence, i.e, causal findings, to support the notion that children become better readers by reading and discussing books or by having encouragement and time provided to read books.”

In 2020, scholars at the National Education Policy Center addressed the still raging reading debate. They warned against, “Misrepresenting the ‘science of reading’ as settled science that purportedly prescribes systematic intensive phonics for all students.” And they stated that policy makers, “Should support the professionalism of K-12 teachers and teacher educators, and should acknowledge the teacher as the reading expert in the care of unique populations of students.” They also assert that David Pearson’s statement in a 2004 paper still rings true:

“For example, several scholars, in documenting the practices of highly effective, highly regarded teachers, found that these exemplary teachers employed a wide array of practices, some of which appear decidedly whole language in character (e.g., process writing, literature groups, and contextualized skills practice) and some of which appear remarkably skills oriented (explicit phonics lessons, sight word practice, and comprehension strategy instruction). Exemplary teachers appear to find an easier path to balance than either scholars or policy pundits.”

Inappropriate Solutions

The International Dyslexia Association and Decoding Dyslexia have been very successful at tapping into the emotions of parents over the issue of dyslexia. They routinely turn out hundreds of passionate people to legislative hearings trumpeting the dyslexia industry’s message which is to turn the problem over to private companies. In this linked video, Professor Rachael Gabriel discusses her research into how this consistent message has been created and delivered. It is a relatively new phenomenon with a large spate of dyslexia bills appearing in almost every state. 

To end the lawsuit, BUSD has agreed to test all students in kindergarten through 2nd grade with a DIBELS standardized assessment twice a year. The Berkeleyside reports, “For students in need of interventions, the district will implement Wilson Reading Systems or Slingerland, both of which are in line with standards set by the International Dyslexia Association.”

DIBELS, or Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, is a set of procedures and measures developed at the University of Oregon for assessing literacy development in students from kindergarten through sixth grade. Many educators and scholars loudly detest DIBELS. David Pearson wrote,

“I have decided to join that group of scholars and teachers and parents who are convinced that DIBELS is the worst thing to happen to the teaching of reading since the development of flash cards.

“I take this extreme position for a single reason—DIBELS shapes instruction in ways that are bad for students (they end up engaging in curricular activities that do not promote their progress as readers) and bad for teachers (it requires them to judge student progress and shape instruction based on criteria that are not consistent with our best knowledge about the nature of reading development).”

There are many more claims like this.

Both Slingerland and Wilson Reading Systems are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. It was developmed in the 1930s and focused on phonics and sound decoding schemes. The International Literacy Association stated in 2016,

“As  yet,  there  is  no  certifiably  best  method  for  teaching  children  who  experience  reading  difficulty  (Mathes  et  al.,  2005).  For  instance,  research  does  not  support  the  common  belief that Orton-Gillingham–based approaches are necessary for students classified as dyslexic (Ritchey & Goeke, 2007; Turner, 2008;  Vaughn  &  Linan-Thompson,  2003).  Reviews  of  research  focusing  solely  on  decoding  interventions  have  shown  either  small  to  moderate  or  variable  effects  that  rarely  persist  over  time,  and  little  to  no  effects  on  more  global  reading  skills.” 

The US Department of Education established the What Works Clearing House which tried to establish a fair conclusion about education issues based on existing peer reviewed research. The three programs being replaced at BUSD, Read 180, LLI and Reading Recovery were evaluated as having positive results. Even though the Orton-Gillingham method has been around since the 1930’s there was not enough evidence to show a positive effect.

DREDF is not only the law firm that brought this case but they also are one of the organizations who officially supported SB237. This proposed state law mandates changes like those that DREDF was able to achieve in the law suit. Maybe DIBELS is not so bad and maybe the Orton-Gillingham approach is helpful for some students, but making these approaches a legal requirement is not rational. Trust education professionals and public schools over lawyers and private enterprise.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will hold a hearing for the case Nov. 4 to finalize the settlement.

Embarrassing Paper from the University of Arkansas

27 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/27/2021

Masquerading as a serious education research paper, Making it Count: The Productivity of Public Charter Schools in Seven U.S. Citiesis little more than a flawed propaganda screed. The authors from the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions claim the superiority of “public charter” schools over traditional public schools (TPS) by employing thoroughly discredited methods. They repeat the same data manipulation malfeasance that has been debunked multiple times over the past decade.

The paper was produced by the School Choice Demonstration Project which resides within the Department of Education Reform. That department was established by the University Arkansas’s College of Education and Health Professions in 2005. Arizona State Professor Eugene Glass commented that the department is, “one of the strangest I have ever seen.” Glass reports that the Department of Education Reform was made possible by a $10 million dollar gift from the Walton Family Foundation plus another $10 million from the University of Arkansas’s matching gift program.

Subsequent to the big 2005 grant, Walton Family Foundation tax records (EIN: 13-3441466) reveal more than $30 million in grants to the University of Arkansas Foundation and school administration.

Inappropriate Numerators and Specious Denominators

The people at the School Choice Demonstration Project insist on using “public charter school” and “traditional public schools” to differentiate between charter schools and public schools. Charter schools are private companies that have a government license to provide schooling. Public schools are controlled by elected public representatives and must accept all students. Charter schools are not required to meet all public school rules of operation. Referring to charter schools as “public charter schools” and public schools as “traditional public schools” reveals a strong bias.

The authors attempt to compare testing results per $1,000 dollar funding between charter and public schools. They use manipulated National Assessment of Education Performance (NAEP) data. Another Walton Family creation, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, used a “virtual twin” scheme to create the comparison data employed.

Business writer Andrea Gabor states that CREDO studies which compare charter schools with public schools start with two key assumptions “A) That standardized-test scores are an adequate measure of school quality and B) that creaming in charter schools does not exist.” Many studies dating back to the eugenics movement debunk standardized-testing for mistaking correlation versus causation and for not being able to compensate for the problem of error. A glance at state enrollment records confirms that charter schools practice creaming.

The CREDO method does not compare charter school test performance to actual public schools; rather it creates mathematical simulations. They use arithmetic magic to create the “virtual twin” schema that stands in for a public school students. This method introduces several biases that advantage charter schools.

The “Making it Count” paper gets its “inappropriate numerators” from CREDO. It is also where they get the theory for their wild claim that “public charter schools in our sample would produce $487,177 more in lifetime earnings than the TPS.”

The denominators in the paper’s calculations are based on school spending per student. The data used comes from a 2020 paper also produced by mostly the same authors; Charter School Funding:  Inequity Surges in the Cities. In this update of a previous report on the 2013-14 school year, they state, “Our most recent report updated that analysis by drawing upon data from the 15 metropolitan areas for the 2015-16 school year.” In other words, no methodology changes just an update.

One of America’s leading authorities on education finance, Rutgers University’s Bruce Baker, reviewed the 2013-14 report for the National Education Policy Center. In the introduction, Professor Baker wrote,

“A district’s expenditure can be a charter’s revenue, since charter funding is in most states and districts received by pass-through from district funding, and districts often retain responsibility for direct provision of services to charter  school students—a reality that the report entirely ignores when applying its resource-comparison framework. In addition, the report suffers from alarmingly vague documentation regarding data sources and methodologies, and it constructs entirely inappropriate comparisons of student population characteristics. Simply put, the findings and conclusions of the study are not valid or useful.” (Emphasis added)

Professor Baker noted that the report’s authors knew about their errors because “these issues have been extensively explored for decades and are fundamental and long-accepted components of virtually every state’s finance system.” He also pointed out that he and other critics have previously highlighted these flaws in papers produced by the same authors. This was the genesis of the “specious denominators.”

Baker addressed using the paper’s data for return on Investment claims,

“In only a handful of states are the majority of charter schools ostensibly fully fiscally independent of local public districts. This core problem invalidates all findings and conclusions of the study, and if left unaddressed would invalidate any subsequent ‘return on investment’ comparisons.

The Authors

Corey A. DeAngelis is the national director of research at the American Federation for Children (DeVos), the executive director at the Educational Freedom Institute (Friedman), an adjunct scholar at Cato Institute (Koch), and a senior fellow at Reason Foundation. He was named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for his work on education policy and received the Buckley Award from America’s Future in 2020.

Patrick J. Wolf is principal investigator of the School Choice Demonstration Project where he has led or is leading major studies of school choice initiatives including longitudinal evaluations of school voucher programs in Washington, DC; Milwaukee, WI; and the state of Louisiana.

Cassidy Syftestad is a Doctoral Academy Fellow, Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Her previous experience includes working at the Koch Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute and Hillsdale College.

Larry D. Maloney is president of Aspire Consulting.

Jay F. May is founder of and senior consultant for EduAnalytics.

OUSD, the Digital Divide and Edtech – Be careful what you wish for

24 Jul

By  Steven Miller, July 22, 2021 (Guest Post by former Oakland Educator)

In 2018, Thomas Ultican wrote about the dangers of Edtech:

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

Edtech is now far more predominant everywhere today, after 2 COVID school years, which has resulted in the massive imposition of distance-learning.

Back in 2018, Education Week Research Center reported that a strong majority of the country’s principals  – 85% of those interviewed –  felt that too much screen time was not good for students – 77% felt students worked alone too often and 67% felt the tech industry had too much influence over public education.  And now Edtech is being established as the savior of our children.

That was then; this is now.

We all know, teachers, students, parents, communities – all the primary stake-holders – we all know that the new school year presents us with some of the greatest challenges we have ever faced in public education. Re-opening is a crisis and an emergency. So what is Edtech bringing to OUSD? Is it helping?

The education reporter for The Oaklandside, Ashley McBride, wrote on July 20, 2021:

“More than a year ago, the city of Oakland together with Oakland Unified School District and a group of nonprofit partners launched the Oakland Undivided campaign with an ambitious goal: to close the digital divide by raising enough money to purchase laptops and internet hotspots for every student in Oakland who needed them during the pandemic. At the time, public school students were required to learn from home virtually, but roughly 25,000 of them in Oakland lacked a computer, reliable internet, or both….”

“Today, as students prepare to head back to their classrooms full-time in the fall, nearly 97% of students in Oakland Unified School District have a computer and working internet at home, including 98% of students who are low-income, according to district data.”

Sounds like a good thing, a really good thing. The problem with Edtech, however, is not the digital technology. Technology is a tool that can be used well or turned against us. Technology can actually be employed to make schools better, not cheaper. The issue is how it is configured. As always, we must follow the money trail to really discover who benefits.

While OUSD is currently planning on fully re-opening, distance learning is an option. It will certainly be more pervasive in the classroom. Edtech makes its money off harvesting student data. Who will own the data this coming year, 2021-22?  Who can use the data? Do students or their parents control their own data?

The School Board must play a leading role in guaranteeing public policy here.

Chrome books store every single key stroke (and possibly every eye movement) on the cloud, which they own. Google Chromebooks also have a pre-installed program called “Gaggle”, which, we are told, scans student homework to look for depression, suicide ideation and likely various threats to shoot up the school. Google Classroom material is configured to surveille the students. Data and ever more data is the mother’s milk of Edtech. 

One problem is the people who control the data harvested from Edtech algorithms have increasing influence in creating the curriculum. This new private power in public schools is routinely used to undercut the role of experienced teachers and call the shots.

Whether corporations or big-shot administrators, the people who control this power love to spout about “healing the digital divide”. This is the corporate happy-speak that the OUSD school board, as well as their “private partners” and NGOs, traditionally have used to dress up policies that are demonstrated to work against student learning. But “healing the digital divide” with chrome books turns our children’s information into fodder for corporate profits.

Another favorite is “personalized learning”, supposedly something that Edtech will make available to every student and bring public education into the 21st Century. This myth is based on the same type of algorithms that Netflix and Amazon use to “personalize” their services to your interests. The biggest backers of personalized learning are Bill Gates, Google and the Chan- Zuckerberg Initiative.  As noted by blogger Peter Greene:

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

“We’re being sold (and in many cases are arguing against) an AI that spits out just the digitized worksheet that Student 12-5452 needs to continue studies, but that’s not where we’re headed. Look, for instance, at the new, improved PSAT
that returns both a score and some recommendations. ‘Looks like you need to log in to Khan Academy’s lesson series for calculus.’ Or ‘You would really benefit from the AP Calculus course– talk to your guidance counselor today.”’

On March 21, 2021, OUSD signed an agreement to replace diagnostic testing from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium with the notorious I-Ready. One of the funders of i-Ready is the Kenneth Rainnin Foundation, which also funds local Oakland privatizers like GO Public Schools, the Oakland Public Education Fund, the New Schools Venture Fund, Aspire charter schools, Educate 78 Oakland Public Schools, the East Bay Community Foundation, and Education for Change.

I-Ready is based in the techniques of behavioral modification that was fundamental to the highly discredited system of Competency Based Education that holds that children should learn alone and in isolation, taking constant tests to prove their “mastery”.

This reactionary and unproductive philosophy is also disguised as “performance-based education”, “standards-based education”, “outcome-based education”, and “programmed instruction” among others. I-Ready is Competency Based Education on a screen.

Funny thing, i-Ready regularly identifies Black, Indigenous, and students of color as failing. If the goal is to prove that Oakland children are “failing”, then i-Ready is the tool to use. But maybe it is not best to welcome students back and then give them standardized tests to measure how far behind they have fallen.

 Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote:

“The dystopian imagery of a ‘lost generation’ of Black youth is redolent of earlier moral panics: the discoveries of ‘crack babies’ in the nineteen-eighties and ‘super predators’ in the nineties were also rooted in anecdote-driven, pseudo-scientific evidence. Today’s evidence for the spiral of Black children is the tactically vague measurement of ‘learning loss.’ But no one needs to invent a new metric to discover that, during the worst crisis in modern American history, students might be falling behind.”

Ashley McBride describes another facet of Edtech coming to Oakland:

“The Oakland Reach, a parent advocacy group involved with the Oakland Undivided campaign, has been working with Sydewayz Cafe, an information technology business in Oakland, to provide tech support for the organization’s virtual family hub during the pandemic. In the fall, The Oakland Reach plans to launch a fellowship to give students and their families more intensive training in technology and digital platforms, said executive director Lakisha Young. They’ve also been helping families get a federal discount on broadband service.”

Here we have another private power with powerful influence in OUSD. Oakland Reach and the OUSD, in partnership, received a $900,000 grant from the notorious privatizers, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and The New Teacher Project, which supposedly trains teachers, but which pushes privatization. These organizations are part of a complex of billionaire-financed privatization networks like Teach For America, too many to name.

CRPE advocates that school boards should look at schools like a stock portfolio, get rid of the poor performers and invest in the successful stocks. When New Orleans privatized every single school as charters, CRPE came up with “the Blueprint Process”. OUSD used the Blueprint Process to justify closing 23 schools in 2018.

The OUSD School Board, in its grace and wisdom, still intends to close schools as the 2021-2022 school year begins. How many? The Board will announce its plan for school closures on August 16, one week after school begins. “Nothing says ‘Welcome back to school for a restorative restart’ than to tell schools filled with Black and brown students that we’re going to close your school or change your school because you’re not doing well,” said parent Kim Davis during a public comment portion of the meeting.

CRPE has developed a national network called “Education Cities” with the purpose of disrupting public schools. This corporate mob operates in 32 different cities across the country including Oakland, Cincinnati and Atlanta.

From Atlanta to Cincinnati to Oakland, a loosely connected network of nonprofit groups is working to reshape the way their school districts function. Their national scope has gone mostly unexamined, even as their influence is arguably far more likely to affect schools in the average American city than a Betsy DeVos-inspired voucher program.

CRPE also advocates to abolish the political control of public schools by elected school boards. They would be replaced by “Community Education Councils (CECs)”, which would exert “light local governance”. In addition, CRPE advocates for vouchers, what they call “backpack funding”:

A local CEC would have three essential functions: (1) assembling and disbursing funds for each student’s personal education fund; (2) monitoring the quality, innovativeness, and responsiveness to economic change of the learning options available to students; and (3) protecting students by ensuring valid information for choices among diverse learning experiences, monitoring equity of student placements, and identifying fraudulent or ineffective schools or learning providers.

Their essay on funding also discusses students’ personalized education funds, including so-called “back pack funding” that follows students through different learning experiences, and how they can be assembled and managed. The remainder of this essay focuses on the promotive and protective functions of light local governance.

The complex of “OUSD partners” that have banded together to enforce a corporate dictatorship for privatized and semi-privatized education is out in the open. It runs the gamut from chrome books to Oakland Reach to Oakland Undivided to the Center for Reinventing Public Education to the Gates Foundation to Michael Bloomberg, who has bought and paid for several school board members, and beyond.

Certainly, better and more equitable education technology is essential and a public priority. But the way this will be implemented threatens children in Oakland and across the country.

Key question that unravel the whole mess are:

“What are these corporate education reformers going to do with all the data your child will produce next year? Who owns it?”

Every click, every search, the amount of time a child spends on a project or on multiplication, whatever, becomes the property of the corporations that own the apps and the algorithms. They can store it, sell it, search it and configure it with AI, and even… create a profile of your kid that the corporation owns. In May, Dr Velislava Hillman a visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics shared,

“Naviance, owned by Hobson, is a multi-layered data-collecting platform, which until February 2021 formed part of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. The platform has access to a wide range of personal and sensitive information of students. It tracks students as they move through elementary school, college and beyond.”

Hobson serves roughly 12 million students globally across 2000 institutions of post-secondary  education and some 8500 schools and school districts in 100 different countries. It focuses on student “life-cycle management.”

What will happen to Oakland students then when they graduate? Can they retrieve their “profile” from the corporations? What if a student has asthma, causing her to miss school at a rate 7.8% more than her cohort, perhaps taken as “race”, “class,” or measured against the easily developed “Obstruction Index”, which reports on non-cooperation as a behavior trait? 

Perhaps OUSD School Board members will tell us soon whether or not our children’s data will be exploited by corporations. That definitely is the national and international trend. Perhaps School Board members can explain how OUSD intends to protect the information of children – their legacy as living beings – and guarantee their rights to control their digital profile.

We can only hope… or maybe we should force the issue?

The New Broad Center at Yale

19 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/19/2021

December 5, 2019, the LA Times reported “Broad Center to move from L.A. to Yale along with $100-million gift.” On that occasion, the well known blogger Mercedes Schneider described the Los Angeles-based “Broad Center,” which includes the “Broad Academy” and “Broad Residency”  as a “pseudo-credentialing mechanism for would-be leaders espousing market-based ed reform…” The new Ivy League center has adopted Eli Broad’s philosophy while giving it a sheen of academic respectability.

On July 1, 2019, Kerwin K. Charles was selected as dean of the Yale School of Management (SOM). Evidently, while looking around for a way to secure his Broad Center legacy, Eli Broad found the new leadership at Yale SOM a comfortable fit.

Blogger Jan Resseger says the $100 million gift means “that mega philanthropist, Eli Broad is buying a prestigious institutional home for a training program he alone devised.” The development of the Broad program was quite stunning. A billionaire with no education training or experience just decided he would start an education management training program. Broad’s only qualification was his immense wealth derived from business.

This June, The Broad Center at Yale SOM enrolled its first cadre of 17 Fellows into the Fellowship for Public Education Leadership program.

Continues Anti-Public School Ideology

In January, The Broad Center at Yale SOM hosted a virtual forum for The Broad Center (TBC) alumni. Their report paraphrased Professor Charles as saying, “The 2021 gathering … exemplified how Yale SOM will draw on the expertise of TBC alumni as it applies its approach to education leadership.”

The inaugural Executive Director of the new Broad Center is Hanseul Kang. She comes to New Haven from her post as Superintendent of Education for the District of Columbia. At the forum she stated,

“We will continue to draw inspiration and strength from what The Broad Center has been historically. Our engagement with all of you in the alumni network is going to continue.”

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.

Last month, the Broad Center at Yale SOM posted,

“We are thrilled to share the news that Katina Grays … will be joining The Broad Center at Yale SOM as our new Deputy Director for Partnerships!”

“As a Broad alum herself, Katina has developed strong relationships with transformative leaders across the TBC network.  Katina has led high-impact work and complex initiatives in senior leadership roles at KIPP NYC and at the Tennessee Department of Education, and previously worked at the Connecticut Department of Education.”

At the January forum, one of the key presenters was Pedro Martinez (Broad Academy 2009), Superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District.

The post Big Spending on Privatizing Public Schools in San Antonio shares,

“Martinez is not an educator. He has never run a classroom or studied pedagogy. However, he does have a Masters in Business Administration from DePaul University and got his start in education working for Arne Duncan at the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).”

Yale’s Inaugural Fellowship for Public Education Leadership

The new Broad Center’s original seventeen trainees are comprised of 6-people from charter management organizations and 11-people from public education organizations. Naturally, the six charter school people are there to advance their careers supporting the privatization of public schools. Likewise, the 11-public school employees appear to be there to advance their own careers but not necessarily to advocate for privatizing public schools. There are two public school people that do appear to be angling for the billionaire financed privatization track.

Melissa Kim is Deputy Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools which has a reputation for facilitating public education privatization. She certainly had a working relationship with Broad Center Director Hanseul Kang in DC and is now in the first cohort training at The Broad Center Yale SOM.

Antonio Burt is Chief Academic Officer, Shelby County Schools, Tennessee. He appears to be on the fast track to a school privatization career. He is a board member of the new non-profit First-8-Memphis.  It was launched in 2019 as the fiscal agent to oversee public and private funding for early education initiatives. Burt joins a board made up predominately of local financial institution leaders. First-8 praises Burt as an education “reformer” who has led schools to success:

“One of those schools, Ford Road Elementary, was named a “Reward School” (performing in the top 5%) by the state of Tennessee after having been performing in the bottom 5% of all schools in the state of Tennessee. Ford Road achieved this honor two consecutive years (2012-2014).”

This is not totally a lie; just mostly. Their misleading framing has to do with the “Reward School” definition. The reality is that Ford Road Elementary which serves a high poverty community does not test well and has never escaped Tennessee’s bottom 5% of schools based on testing results. The last evaluation report for the school in 2019 listed it as targeted for support and improvement.

Conclusion

The former US Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, recently wrote about the merger of the National Superintendents Roundtable and the Schlechty Center noting, “If your school board is looking for a new superintendent who believes in public schools, these are the go-to sources.”  This contrasts to Broad trained Superintendents who have a history of bloated staffs, financial problems and are notorious for top down management that alienates teachers and parents. If your district hires a Broadie, it has become a target for disruption and privatization.

Significantly, Eli Broad chose a business institute instead of an education school to continue his training program. The Broad Center at Yale SOM appears to be in complete fidelity with the late Eli Broad’s privatize the commons ideology.

PTA: Reform Obstacle or Trusted Parent Advocate?

12 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/13/2021

Founded in 1897, the ubiquitous PTA has been a long time powerful voice in legislative halls. With their many victories, they have developed enemies especially among school privatization advocates. However, the reports of their imminent demise have proven inaccurate. PTA’s robust 2019 tax form (EIN: 36-2169155) and a reported membership of more than 4 million indicates they will be viable for some time to come.

Radical Right Opposes another American Institution

One of the first big hit pieces on the PTA came from the Brookings Institute in 2001. Thomas Toch claimed that the PTA was floundering because they were “out of step with many parents’ demands for change in public education.”

Toch also claimed that the PTA was working with teachers to slow the pace of reform, “The organization rejects the belief of many would-be school reformers today that public schools would work harder to improve if they had to compete for students and financing.”

Toch concluded,

“There is a big role for PTA’s to play in rallying parents to the cause of school improvement. But critics say that unless the National PTA relinquishes its defense of the educational status quo, and unless local chapters define parent involvement far more ambitiously, the century-old cultural icon is likely to continue its decline, a consequence, they say, that would make little difference in the schools.”

Tom DeWeese writes for the ultra-right American Policy Center. They advertise themselves as having “30 years leading the fight for property rights and sovereignty” and “speaking out on the threat of UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development Policy.” In a post, Deweese says,

“Over the past two or more decades the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have been actively pursuing control of the PTA. They saw its potential to be just what it has become – a tool in the arsenal to push union agendas.”

For their Summer 2021 Journal, Harvard University’s Education Next decided to rerun a 2011 article by Bruno Manno called NOT Your Mother’s PTA.” Manno is senior advisor for K–12 education reform at the Walton Family Foundation. He wrote,

“The PTA has worked to advance social changes that improved the lives of young people, including championing the creation of child labor laws, reorganizing the juvenile justice system, and improving a variety of children’s services. But today, its orientation to K–12 issues is most aptly described by education analyst Charlene Haar as an ‘echo…of the teachers unions.”’

Manno says, “Truth be told, few in today’s K–12 education reform movement look to the PTA to fight for dramatic change or engage in direct conflict with the public education establishment.” He recommends three organizations he says will enlist parents in education reform; Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children. The fine print at the end of the article informs the reader that all three organizations are funded by America’s wealthiest family through their Walton Family Foundation.

This March, the Daily Wire ran the post, How The PTA Sold Out Parents For Politics During Schools’ Biggest Crisis.” Daily Wire is owned by the billionaire Wilks Brothers, who made their money through fracking. The Wilks are part of the extreme Christian right.

The article attacks the PTA for being “essentially absent from the public debate on reopening schools.”  It also says they engage in an “embrace of divisive racial rhetoric that has alienated parents…” The Wire is aghast that at the PTA March Legislative Conference “the agenda focused not on getting kids back into school, but on a series of liberal political priorities.”

Great History but Some Questionable Positions

In the era before women successfully demanded the right to vote, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst founded the Congress of Mothers to support public schools. Hearst’s wealth gained during the California gold rush provided the organization with funding.  The name was officially changed to the National Congress of Parents and Teachers in 1924 when they started referring to themselves as the PTA.

In 1926, the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teacher was founded by Selena Sloan Butler. In 1970, the two organizations united with leaders from both groups taking key leadership roles.

Through its advocacy, the PTA has successfully lobbied for legislation to:

  • Create kindergarten classes
  • Establish child labor laws
  • Implement public health service
  • Supply hot and healthy lunches
  • Devise a juvenile justice system
  • Institute mandatory immunization
  • Include arts in education
  • Initiate enhanced school safety

PTA’s century and a quarter of activism supporting children’s education has seen it battling the enemies of public school:

In 1978, the PTA helped to form a national coalition to Save Public Education; to fight tuition tax credit legislation. The coalition succeeded in the 95th Congress.

In 2002, a PTA news release opposing school vouchers was picked up by Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, and 20/20.

In 2003, PTA collaborated with the National Education Association to develop guides on parent involvement, supplemental services for children, and help children in math, science, and reading.

Unfortunately, PTA has bowed to the billionaire financed education reform agenda. In 2009, it became an endorsing partner for the Common Core State Standards.

The PTA has two glaringly errant education policy positions. It endorsedpublic charter” schools and embraced standards and testing. There is no real difference between for profit and non-profit charter schools. They are both about profits. Generally by being a non-profit, a charter school is labeled a “public charter,” but they are often run by for profit charter management companies and these non-profits tend to pay high administrative salaries. When it comes to testing, there is a mountain of evidence against it.

The radical UN-American ultra-right disparages public education, teachers, democratically elected school boards, reasonable public health policies, vaccinations against a pandemic and the PTA. They are a menace.

Edtech is Business First – Part 1

17 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/17/2021

Not all edtech is negative but it is important to remember that private companies are in it for the money. Giant corporations and private equity firms require return on investment. Improving education comes in second to making profits and everyone in the business knows that the real edtech gold comes from data mining.

Dr Velislava Hillman is a visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). In a post on the LSE blog she writes,

“It is hard, perhaps impossible, to go to school and not be registered by a digital technology. Cameras wire the premises; homework is completed using one business’s software application (eg Microsoft Word) that may be embedded onto another business’s platform (shared via Google); emails, bathroom trips, assessments, parental backgrounds  – all feed into digital systems that are owned, managed, used and repurposed by hundreds of thousands of invisible business hands.”

“Edtech companies thrive on digital data.”

In her post, Dr Hillman pointed to an edtech company that is very active in the UK:

Naviance, owned by Hobson, is a multi-layered data-collecting platform, which until February 2021 formed part of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. The platform has access to a wide range of personal and sensitive information of students. It ‘tracks students as they move through elementary school, college and beyond”’.

The pro-edtech Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI) listed Hobson as a 2017 partner. This February the Daily Mail sold Hobson’s higher-ed focused Starfish business to the American company EAB for $90 million. They completed the divestiture of Hobson by selling the Naviance and Intersect businesses to U.S.-based PowerSchool for $320 million.

In the early 00s, my school district bought a student information system from Chancery Software Ltd. Unfortunately, the system was not ready for high school. Creating the master schedule was a nightmare. It took several years to get the system functioning well and then giant Pearson Corporation purchased Chancery and renamed it PowerSchool. That was 2006. In 2015, Pearson sold PowerSchool to Vista Equity Partners, a private equity group, in an all-cash deal worth $350 million.

Since then Vista has been adding more companies to PowerSchool. In 2018, Vista merged PowerSchool and PeopleAdmin with the investment buyout firm Onyx Corp. Bloomberg reports that this February PowerSchool filed “confidentially for a U.S. initial public offering that could value the education software provider at more than $6 billion.”

Lisa Cline’s and Andy Liddell’s article at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood states,

“Every time your child opens their Chromebook or takes out their iPad to do schoolwork, their digital footsteps are shared with the universe. Every click, search and browse becomes property of an app maker who can store it, sell it, and use it to create a profile of your kid.”

The 50-years old Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA law makes this illegal but there is no enforcement. When FERPA was written, the school records contained names, addresses, grades and a few comments all written on paper and stored in onsite filing cabinets. With scant federal oversight, the concept of student data has grown to a running log of a child’s every click over the course of their childhood, packaged into a profile and slapped with a price tag. Now when parents inquire about what information is being stored on their child “The schools point at the vendors” and “vendors point at the schools.” Parents get nothing!

Personalized Bad Education

Tom Vander Ark shamelessly hawks personalized education products and writes glowing articles about schools that put children in front of screens.  In July 2020, Vander Ark, who was the first Gates Foundation’s director of education initiatives, wrote in Forbes about Juan Cabrera and the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD). The article states, ‘“Mr. Cabrera’s focus on ethics and character was a driver for most of our success; it made us rethink the why and how of our work in the best interest of students and community’ said  Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations.”

In November 2020, the EPISD board unanimously voted to accept Juan Cabrera’s resignation. The resignation seems to have been prompted by irregularities with the districts technology contracting. When a new audit arrived in May, Arrieta-Candelaria was put on paid leave. Channel 9 El Paso reported, “An El Paso Independent School District audit found former Superintendent Juan Cabrera initiated contracts with two vendors for academic services that gave ‘an appearance of a conflict of interest due to social/professional relationships.”’

The audit says, “The former Superintendent directed Academics staff to acquire contracted services from Renaissance Learning (Renaissance), Engage Learning (E2L), and Con Mi Madre, which totaled approximately $2.32 million.” In the next section it notes, “Funds were not budgeted to cover the contracted services from E2L in the amount of approximately $1.08 million.”

This scandal is just starting to play out, however a look at the businesses involved is interesting. Renaissance Learning is funded by CapitalIG which belongs to Alphabet (formerly Google). They sell testing and personalized learning apps for math and English. Engage2Learn (E2L) is owned by Leeds Equity Partners, a New York Investment firm, which was an early identifier of the business growth prospects in the education market. E2L offers virtual coaching and personalized learning services. Con Me Madre is a local non-profit that seems not to be an edtech profit scheming organization.

One of the edtech businesses key to the data collection business is “personalized learning.” It is isolated learning at a digital device and children hate it but it creates lots of data.

Demise of Unbiased Education Research at Johns Hopkins

9 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/9/2021

The 2015 hiring of David Steiner to lead the new Johns Hopkins’s Education Policy Institute marked a transition from scholarship to neoliberal indoctrination. Donor directed funds that hide their sources and well-known advocates of testing and “school choice” have sent boatloads of money to the new institution. Steiner and his patron, Merryl Tisch, were famous in New York for being virulently pro-standardized testing and enemies of the teaching profession.

On April 1, 1996, New York Republican Governor George Pataki appointed Merryl Tisch to the State Board of Regents. On April 1, 2009 she was elected Chancellor by her colleagues. Tisch’s biography at the University at Albany states that since joining the Board she “has been a leading advocate for expanded alternate certification policies.” The rabbi’s daughter who married into one of America’s wealthiest families soon found a like minded pro-testing neoliberal to champion. The Regents selected Hunter College Dean, David Steiner, to be the new state Commissioner of Education.

In 2008, Steiner created Teacher U at Hunter College. It was a new teacher preparation program requested by the charter industry and coincided with Tisch’s thinking.  Steiner and Tisch believed that there was an unhealthy university based monopoly controlling teacher education. As Commissioner, he moved to weaken that “monopoly” in 2010 by grantinga provisional charter to authorize clinically-rich teacher programs to address shortages …”

The following year Steiner authorized and the state board approved non-institutions of higher education to grant master’s degrees in education accredited by New York State. Almost immediately, Teacher U became Relay Graduate School of Education and received accreditation from the state of New York. Steiner is also a founding board member of Relay and is still on its board of directors.

The other great policy agreement between Tisch and Steiner was on standards and test based accountability for teachers and schools. Tisch who has a doctorate in Education from Teachers College was honored by the school in 2013. That prompted education scholar Diane Ravitch to write that they were honoring the doyenne of high-stakes testing.” In an interview with Frederick Hess, Steiner pointed with pride to three policies he drove as Commissioner of Education; “commitment to standards-based curriculum”, “commitment to improved testing” and worked to “rethink and redesign teacher and principal certification.”

Steiner completed his resume for supporting the neoliberal agenda by waiving the superintendent of schools job requirements in order for Cathie Black, head of the Hearst magazine chain, to take over New York City public schools. Despite not having the required teaching experience and professional degrees in administration, Steiner agreed that her “success” in business made her in the words of Mayor Bloomberg a “superstar manager.” She lasted on the job less than 100-days.

The Johns Hopkins Partnerships are Startling

The Education Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins proudly lists sixty-seven partners on their about page. The eleven shown above are representative of the array of public school disrupters and edtech profiteers with whom they partner.

Becoming an advocate for deep pocketed libertarians and neoliberals has led to a gusher of dollars. Between 2018 and 2020 the Overdeck Family Foundation states it has granted John Hopkins $840,000.

John and Laura Overdeck are relatively new to being education “disrupters” but they have caught on fast. John is a former hedge fund guy and vice president at Amazon. Laura has an MBA from Wharton, is a trustee of Princeton and is on the advisory boards of the Khan Academy, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) and Stevens Institute of Technology. Their 2019 foundation tax form 990PF shows $627 million in assets.

Jeffery Epstein’s friend Bill Gates has been sending a steady stream of dollars. Although his giving is no longer transparent, his foundation tax forms show that between 2016 and 2018 he sent $2,194,000.

In 2006, two bay area foundations merged to form the multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley Community Foundation. It is a donor directed fund which allows wealthy individuals to secretly gift large sums of money without disclosure. From 2015-2018 they sent $27,381,018.

The Return on Investment

Basing themselves almost exclusively on testing data, a group of Democratic politicians including Governor Gina Raimondo decided to take over and reform Providence, Rhode Island’s “failing” public schools. The school districts demographics in 2019 was 65% Latinx, 16% Black, 9% White, 5% Asian, 4% Multi-racial and 1% Native American. In addition, 31% of students were multilingual learners, 16% received special education services and 55% came from homes where English is not the primary language. An unbiased study would have quickly found that the schools were not failing. Rather, the poor testing results were reflective of deep poverty, language learners and a large special education population.

“The situation was extreme,” says Ashley Berner, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. “I had never met so many dispirited students and teachers.” The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and by July 19th Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to take over the schools.

Last year, The Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins wrote a joint paper with Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. It called for more testing. They claimed,

“As leaders prepare their school communities for the challenge of re-starting face-to-face as well as hybrid models, a coherent pathway for learning recovery and acceleration needs to include greater reliance on high-quality materials and instruction, and completing the circle with curriculum-based assessments.”

“We recommend formative and summative assessments tied to specific curricula that can be implemented under various circumstances.”

Sadly, education scholarship at Johns Hopkins has been abandoned for much more than just “30 pieces of silver.”

Stinking Thinking Monetizes Dyslexia!

2 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/2/2021

This January, California Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino introduced SB237 mandating dyslexia testing and intervention. It is similar to a spate of bills across the US requiring a privatized approach to intervening with reading difficulties. Unfortunately, contrary to their claims, these initiatives are not based on well founded research. The perpetrators base themselves on the widely disparaged “science of reading” and are part of a well financed effort taking advantage of emotionally compromised parents and students.

The bill stipulates a specific set of dyslexia testing for all students kindergarten through third grade and requires the “State Board of Education to establish an approved list of culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate screening instruments” to meet the mandate. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.” 

When SB237 was introduced, Decoding Dyslexia CA, EdVoice and the Oakland NAACP were listed as co-sponsors. Decoding Dyslexia is one of the two international organizations promoting this type of legislation. EdVoice is a publishing organization with strong ties to the movement to privatize public education. Its 2003 founding board included Reed Hastings, Laurene Powell Jobs, Eli Broad and Don Fisher. Kareem Weaver is a leader of the Oakland NAACP literacy campaign and was a witness for the plaintiffs in the Vergara case to end teacher employment rights.

“Structured literacy” is a 2016 term pitched by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Fundamentally it is a method based on the work of Anna Gillingham and Samuel Orton in the 1930s. Rhode Island’s Department of Education describes it as an “explicit, systematic, diagnostic, cumulative instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, syllable types, morphology, semantics, and syntax.” In other words, employ phonics and word decoding to remedy reading issues. IDA claims, “Popular reading approaches (eg., Guided Reading and Balanced literacy) are not effective for students with dyslexia because these approaches do not focus on decoding skills struggling readers need to succeed.”

Legislation not Supported by Research

IDA is an international organizations pushing for specific dyslexia legislation. Their remedies include utilizing private companies to solve student reading problems that public school will not or cannot. They also provide their own dyslexia teaching specialty certification. The obvious implication is that University based teachers’ education programs are incapable of addressing dyslexia.

IDA defines dyslexia,

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

This definition is not supported by the community of education scholars. In fact, there is general agreement that there is no satisfactory definition for dyslexia nor is there a known way to screen for it.

A critical analysis of dyslexia legislation by a team of researcher from Ball State University and the University of Texas noted,

“After a multitude of studies across more than a century, researchers have failed to consistently identify characteristics or patterns that distinguish dyslexia from other decoding challenges. Many researchers and educators argue the construct is too vague and contradictory to be useful for educators.”

They continue, “There are no universally employed measures or procedures for identifying dyslexia.”

A paper by Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon from The University at Albany asserts,

“The bottom line is that there are many definitions of, and theories about, dyslexia and simply no agreed-upon definition that allows schools, clinicians, researchers, or anyone else, to decide who is dyslexic in any valid or reliable way.

“From an instructional standpoint, there is no practical distinction between those classified as dyslexic and others at the low end of the normal distribution of word reading ability in the early elementary grades.”

Not only are there a plethora of scholarly studies that make the same points about the definition for dyslexia, there also are an equal number of research papers that thoroughly discredit the idea that “structured literacy” is a proven success.

In 2017 Rachael E. Gabriel of the University of Connecticut published “Converting to Privatization: A Discourse Analysis of Dyslexia Policy Narratives.” Her paper analyses how the agenda for privatizing dyslexia intervention is sold to legislators and school boards. She also shares results of studies on the “structured literacy” approach. Gabriel cites the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse reading research stating “structured literacy” is not supported by evidence.

Money is Driving this New Education Privatization Effort

Senate bill 237 was just moved out of committee to the Assembly. In the 2020 general election, an analysis of major donor California state spending revealed over $14 million dollars spent by a neoliberal cabal of billionaires and the political action committees they fund. Of that spending $1.5 million went to California state legislators. The table above shows the money that went to legislative members who are either on the Assembly and Senate education committees or are listed as co-sponsors for the dyslexia legislation.

Handing off teacher certifications to private organizations and using private companies to screen students is a huge mistake. Legislators should resist the temptation to micromanage public education. The best approach is to trust education professionals and university based scholars more than private actors with an agenda.

The Boston Consulting Group makes the fantastic assertion that, “Investing in early  screening  and  teacher  training  would  provide  an astonishing 800% to 2000% return.” A policy brief from the Institute of Child Success indicates that special education pay for success has great return on investment potential.

Clearly the sharks are circling. Parents, legislators and schools need to be on high alert. Well funded organizations want our public school resources. For them, dyslexia is just another potential profit center.