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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)

Privatizing Educator Training to End Public Education

17 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/17/2022

The agenda for privatizing public education embraces indoctrinating educators. Billionaire sponsors determined that overturning teacher and administrative training by public universities was essential. These “philanthropists” early on embraced Teach For America (TFA) and TNTP which expose teachers to a market centered way of thinking. In 2001, a new non-profit developed by graduate students at Harvard University focused on administrator training. The New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) program taught a pro-privatization and business focused ideology to prospective school leaders.

Mercedes Schneider wrote in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale; Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp is the founder of TFA and the young idealists for sale were “temp teachers” who have no intention of staying in the classroom.

Why would they make this purchase? Microsoft’s Bill Gates nor The Gap’s Doris Fisher nor Sun America’s Eli Broad nor Walmart’s Alice Walton would have ever considered using untrained temps in key positions within their businesses. However, they have spent many hundreds of millions of dollars to push unqualified temp teachers into America’s classrooms.

In addition, an emerging plutocracy has routinely financed charter schools started by inexperienced TFA teachers and as the article TNTP is a Part of the Destroy Public Education Infrastructure observed, “Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education, a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they were unqualified.”

The same story of financing unqualified or barely experienced people repeated itself in 2001 when a Harvard Graduate School inspired non-profit was launched. The NLNS team was woefully lacking in credentials or experience for training principals but they immediately attracted billionaire funding.

It becomes obvious that improving public schools is not the agenda. Rather, an injudicious belief that market based solutions were how to fix “failing” schools drove the benighted spending. The reality is that schools were not failing; some communities were. To sell their misguided policies and neoliberal ideology, five decades of “failing” schools hogwash has been produced by American tycoons along with five decades of “market-world” solutions. If the real agenda is ending universal free public education then maybe the spending is not benighted; just evil.

New Leaders for New Schools a Billionaire Financed Program

NLNS’s first usable presence on the Wayback Machine is a 2001 page. The history page says,

“In the spring of 2000, a team of five graduate students at Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education completed a business plan to launch New Leaders for New Schools. … The NLNS business plan was entered into the annual Harvard Business School business plan contest and NLNS became the first non-profit team ever to be selected as a semi-finalist in Harvard’s competition. … Soon after, New Leaders for New Schools received start-up funding from a number of venture philanthropists and venture capitalists.”

The 2001 web page also lists the founding team with short biographies.

CEO and Co-Founder: Jon Schnur was a policy advisor on K-12 education in the Clinton Administration. Jon was Associate Director for Educational Policy at the White House, Vice President Gore’s Senior Policy Advisor on education, and Special Assistant to the Secretary of Education. Jon led the Education Department’s team responsible for supporting the development of high-quality charter schools and addressing significant public policy issues related to the creation of these schools. He completed a Masters in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

President and Chief Curriculum Officer and Co-Founder: Monique M. Burns is currently completing her doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She moved into education reform after business school, and opened four middle schools in Washington, DC through her work with the McKenzie Group. She was a Special Assistant to the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Public School District. While working on her doctorate, Monique has spent a year as a leadership coach and consultant for fourteen charter schools in Massachusetts. Monique’s dissertation is a study of the management and instructional leadership skills necessary for being a successful entrepreneurial leader of a start-up charter school.

Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder: Benjamin G. Fenton is a graduate of Harvard Business School. He was a management consultant for McKinsey and Company. After leaving McKinsey, he worked for Fisher Scientific where he developed a marketing and sales strategy for their online procurement subsidiary, ProcureNet.

Director of Recruiting and Admissions and Co-Founder: Allison Gaines taught second grade in a New York City school. She has also worked as a journalist at Time Warner and as a producer for Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Education and Humanities Department, where she produced educational workshops with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her experiences as a teacher drove her to focus on school reform through improved leadership. While working on a Masters Degree in Education at Harvard, specifically focused on School Leadership and Development, she co-wrote a handbook introducing the public to school reform initiatives and worked on parental involvement at the Boston Plan for Excellence.

While these people seem like someone a shrewd business man might want to hire. They did not have the experience and education background to compete with universities for training school leaders. The typical university program would have multiple doctorates in education and business with decades of experience. NLNS had two doctoral candidates focused on creating successful charter schools and a “reform” template. None of the founders had deep experience in schools.

Education policies from the Clinton administration provide some clues as to why they were financed. Marc Tucker, a leader in the standards-driven education reform movement, saw like-minded education reformers in the arriving Clinton administration who believed like him that the public school system was outdated and failing. His infamous November 11, 1992 “Hillary Letter” laid out several reform ideas that would completely change how education is done. He began:

“First, a vision of the kind of national — not federal — human resources development system the nation could have. … What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities, to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone — young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student. It needs to be a system driven by client needs (not agency regulations or the needs of the organization providing the services), guided by clear standards that define the stages of the system for the people who progress through it, and regulated on the basis of outcomes that providers produce for their clients, not inputs into the system.”

The Clinton’s supported education standards, charter schools and TFA. Jon Schnur’s involvement in founding NLNS was proof that the new organization believed in the “failing” public schools mythology and neoliberal ideology. His co-founders were all either involved in the new business oriented education “reform” movement or came from a business centric organization like McKinsey and Company.

Almost as soon as NLNS legally established itself as a non-profit, the billionaire Eli Broad gifted them $1,056,000 (EIN: 95-4686318) and the New Schools Venture Fund kicked in another $253,000 (EIN: 94-3281780). By 2004, NLNS was claiming support from 10 foundations and corporations.

LittleSis Data Base Map: New Leaders for Privatizing Schools

The LittleSis Map above shows the large amounts gifted to NLNS by the biggest spenders on privatizing public education. If you go to the map and click on the entity names a large data base of spending and associations opens up. Today, NLNS lists over 90 corporate and foundation supporters. Those who have been following the people and corporations working to end public education will recognize many of the names listed.

NLNS’s Odd Naming History

Today, New Leaders for New Schools is more simply named New Leaders.

In 1995, The New Leaders (TNL) was formed to support talented Black community leaders and politicians. Its uniform source locator or url was “http://Newleaders.org.”  In 2000, NLNS established an internet presence at url “http://www.nlns.org.”   

In 2006, TNL announced that their legacy web page was being shutdown and would be re-launched. In 2007, the Newleaders.org page reappeared and in their about statement said, “New Leaders for New Schools is a national non-profit organization that selects and trains passionate and results-focused individuals, from within education, as well as former educators, to become urban public school principals.” There was no other explanation of the change in mission. The page also said, “For more information on our organization, please navigate to http://www.nlns.org.”  

In 2011, the url “http://www.nlns.org” disappeared and New Leaders for New Schools changed name to New Leader with the url “http://Newleaders.org.”     

Oakland, California and New Leaders

A 2005 press release from New Leaders announced their new partnership with Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and updated their commitment with the Aspire charter school chain. Some of the following passages from the announcement make sense today.

“New Leaders also announced a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which will support this work along with $200,000 from local funders, and $75,000 from the CA Charter Schools Association.”

“Representatives from New Leaders for New Schools were joined by Dr. Randolph Ward, OUSD State Administrator …”

“With the expansion of the New Leaders’ program in Oakland, up to 50 New Leaders principals will be recruited over the next 3 years, including up to 35 for OUSD and up to 15 for Bay Area charter schools.”

‘“We are excited to partner with New Leaders for New Schools to train outstanding educators to start urban charter high schools in the Bay Area,’ said Caprice Young, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.”

This occurred less than two years after the state of California took control of OUSD. The state picked Randolph Ward to be the new Superintendent and gave him total control. He had just completed training at Eli Broad’s new superintendent’s training program and it is more than likely that the billionaire had a lot to do with Ward’s selection.

The Aspire charter school chain is run by the first charter management organization in America. It was established by Reed Hastings and Don Shalvey.

In new news, the OUSD’s school board just undid their October decision not to close schools. The reversal was a response to Alameda County Superintendent of Education L. Karen Monroe’s demand that they continued to close schools. She also ordered them to follow the dictates of the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team that has been involved with OUSD by order of the state since the 2003 takeover. Monroe’s order also carried an implied threat of another district takeover.

What made Monroe insist on closing public schools? Her county biography gives us a clue when it says, “L.K. holds a degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California, a teaching credential from Holy Names University, and her administrative credential from the national New Leaders educational leadership program.” (Emphasis Added)

Enabling the Privatizers – The End Game is Finally Here

8 Feb

Guest post by an Oakland parent and teacher, Jane Nylund 2/8/2022

Lest we all forget, from six years ago, here was the plan: 50% of our kids into charter schools. https://capitalandmain.com/oaklands-charter-school-tipping-point-0531

And now, it looks like that plan is coming to fruition. You are following the privatization playbook to the letter.

When the well-paid accountants arrive and show a slide comparing Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to other districts of similar enrollments/socio-economic status (SES), and make the simplistic assumption that OUSD has too many schools compared to the others and that we have to be just the same, here’s what you are really saying.

Lesson 1) High poverty children don’t deserve smaller schools and class sizes, anywhere in the state of California, unless it’s a charter.

Lesson 2) It isn’t acceptable for a high-needs district to appear to have it “better” than the others with smaller schools. Smaller schools are meant for wealthy people.

Lesson 3) Because we don’t have the political will to invest in the other comparison districts, we need to continue to dis-invest in Oakland instead, thus creating “equity” at the bottom. Nothing new, we’ve been doing that for years. See Lesson #1

Lesson 4) It’s okay to let Bill Gates experiment with small schools for our kids, until he becomes bored and pulls funding.

Here is the equivalent of that purported “savings” that really isn’t: 

1) Recent HQ pay for two years. OUSD used to have 14 positions at $200K+; in 2020 they had 47.

2) Lease at 1000 Broadway.

3) Cost of a new school site kitchen.

So, by closing all these schools, OUSD can now have the cost equivalent of a kitchen. Maybe.

Turn this entire idea on its head. The continued austerity measures for high-poverty districts like Oakland are a clear message to these families that they don’t deserve a mix of schools, like, say, San Francisco. 

Have you ever looked at the school mix in San Francisco, our neighbor across the bay? You should. I recently noted that they have a mix of 122 schools, give or take. They have 14% charter enrollment, and several comprehensive high schools. They also support a mix of much smaller schools from 100-500 kids each, of all types. They don’t use an “ideal” size. That doesn’t exist, and research bears that out, no matter how many presentations and how many consultants you pay to come up with an “ideal” number. So, if you are arguing that Oakland has too many schools, then you need to head over to SF and advise their board to also close schools. Oh, that’s right, they have wealthy families there. Don’t want to rock the boat. See Lesson #2

The accountants never look at San Francisco as a comparison district because of socio-economics, but SF still comes in at 57% free and reduced price lunch. Clearly, San Francisco does something we don’t, even as elite San Franciscans are trying to shut down their elected school board. The obvious answer is that San Francisco is not a top-heavy, privatized, portfolio district.

No one in OUSD, Financial Crises and Management Assist Team (FCMAT), or local and state government has ever answered the obvious question: find me a comparison district in California, the same as ours, that has all the community services/pay/benefits/supports/enrichment as a result of having 40-50 schools.  This nonsensical premise is what you are trying to sell us. What is a model district that you can reference that has successfully achieved and implemented this accounting miracle? Stockton, Sacramento, Long Beach?  Where?

Answer: none of the above.  You can’t find any high-needs district that has all of this because it supports a magical number of 40-50 schools. So you are asking us to just go along to get along with Stockton, Sacramento, and Long Beach, and many others. All that “savings” simply evaporates, along with enrollment, and the status quo remains. It is truly mind-blowing that you are promising community schools to magically appear, when there is no other district model in the state that supports this idea that you can close dozens of schools, and expect tax dollars to rain down upon school sites. The consultants will be falling all over themselves to be first in line for the money grab. It would be laughable if it wasn’t such a tragedy.

Go back to my point #1 in case you forgot about the entire argument about why this exercise isn’t about children. It isn’t about savings. It isn’t about more money for school sites.  It isn’t about teacher pay. It’s about not having the guts to stand up to bullies like FCMAT and their state overlords. It’s about taking the easy way out because of a “belief” system. It’s neat and tidy, and pencils out nicely. But once you put down those pencils, the disaster you have created for our communities will be irreparable and will change the fabric of the Oakland community forever. But John Fisher doesn’t care. The chaos will make it that much easier for the luxury A’s stadium to go in. But you already knew that. 

Schools Closings Creating Community Uproar in Oakland

1 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/1/2022

Alameda County has designated Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) with a “lack of going concern” label. Translation: They are going broke and must follow orders to save their district. However, many Oakland citizens are not ready to genuflect; leaving school board members in a trap. Twenty years of billionaires financing attacks on Oakland’s public school system has created a toxic political environment.

In October 2021, the OUSD board voted to end its policy of permanently closing schools every year. On November 8th – less than 2 weeks later – Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) Superintendent L. Karen Monroe sent a memo approving the OUSD 2021-22 budget but included a “lack of going concerndesignation. The memo also demanded school closures resume and $90 million dollars in budget cuts be made by January 31. Monroe also assigned the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) to direct fiscal management, noting “the school district shall follow the recommendations of the team.”

The county claimed seven financial issues: (1) decline in enrollment not budgeted; (2) unrecorded health care liabilities; (3) structural deficits; (4) multiyear projection not reliable; (5) one time funding use not sustainable; (6) past board did not make necessary budget adjustments; and (7) forgoing $10 million in AB 1480 funding.

OUSD refuted all of these charges noting: (1) the district’s COVID enrollment declines were less than most districts; (2) health care liabilities were a onetime charge and not significant; (3) the structural deficits cited are quite small and the board agrees all one time funded positions will need to be ended; (4) acknowledges the need to address the positions funded by one-time sources; (5) November 3, 2021 the board explicitly voted that all positions funded with one-time funds will not carry over to the following fiscal year; (6) this is a new board confronted with a clear, manageable challenge it agrees to resolve and (7) the choice to forgo $10 million instead of closing schools was accounted for in the district’s budget.

The District leadership believes not one of these claims by the county can legitimately be considered a basis for the “lack of going concern” designation.  OUSD district-5 Director Mike Hutchinson asserts, “Karen Monroe for five years has had oversight over every budget, and she approved the budgets.” Hutchinson also claims that the district has been working closely with the county and is in better fiscal shape than it has been in years. He asks, “What is new, besides the district’s decision not to close more schools?”

Twenty years ago, the state took over OUSD claiming a financial crisis which has led directly to OUSD becoming the most privatized public school system in California. Then like now, the Bakersfield non-profit FCMAT was brought in to supervise. The state went on to appoint a series of administrators to run the district. The new administrators welcomed charter schools and closed public schools. Concern that this could happen again might explain why three board members have changed their positions on closing schools and are placating Karen Monroe.

Schools proposed to be closed or merged between 2022 and 2024: Prescott, Brookfield, Carl Munck, Parker (K-5), Parker (6-8), Grass Valley, Horace Mann, Korematsu, RISE, Manzanita Community, Westlake, La Escuelita grades 6-8, Ralph J. Bunche, Dewey Academy, Community Day School, Manzanita Community School, Hillcrest grades 6-8.

The Billionaire Created Conundrum

The map of charter schools in Oakland and proposed school closings shows that both are all in the minority dominated flats (the low lying area between the bay and the hills). With all of these closings, residents in the flats may no longer have a traditional public school serving their community.    

Much of this can be laid at the door step of the six billionaire “education reformers” living across the bay – Reed Hastings (Netflix), Arthur Rock (Intel), Carrie Walton Penner (Walmart), Laurene Powell Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Doris Fisher (The Gap).

Reed Hastings established America’s first charter management organization (CMO) in Oakland. There are now six Aspire charter schools serving Oakland families.

Arthur Rock, Doris Fisher and Carrie Walton Penner have been investing in Teach For America (TFA) and charter school growth in Oakland. Mark Zuckerberg and Laurene Powell Jobs have been pushing education technology as well as TFA and charter schools.

Along with these billionaires, New Yorker Michael Bloomberg and Tulsa billionaire Stacey Schusterman have joined in the spending to sway Oakland’s school board elections.

Oakland’s own T. Gary Rogers established a foundation before he died that continues to be central to the local school privatization agenda. It significantly supports and directs privatization efforts by GO public education and Education78. The City Fund created by Reed Hastings and John (Enron) Arnold recently gave GO and Education78 a total of $5 million (EIN 82-4938743).

This brief outline of the money being spent to privatize schools in Oakland would be woefully incomplete if Eli Broad was not mentioned. Although his direct spending to advance privatization in Oakland has been relatively modest, the four Superintendents and many administrative staff members that he trained and got placed in Oakland are central to OUSD being the most privatized district in California. A key training manual developed at the Broad Center was the School Closure Guide.”

“Black Hole Mike” Hutchinson observed,

“A lot of these policies were first tried out in Oakland. If you go back and look at the Eli Broad handbook on school closures, a lot of the source information that they used for that report is from Oakland.”

The billionaire spending has resulted in 39 charter schools operating in Oakland today. Nine were authorized by the county, one by the state of California and 29 by OUSD. Using data from the California Department of Education, it can be shown that 31% of the publicly supported k-12 students in Oakland attend privatized charter schools.

It is disturbing that 22 of the 39 schools have a student body made up by more than 90% Hispanic and Black students. Overall 67% of Oakland’s charter school children are Hispanic or Black but only 50% of the residents of Oakland are Hispanic or Black. The privatization agenda has driven school segregation in Oakland to new heights.

The other divisive agenda is gentrification. Ken Epstein is a longtime observer of OUSD and a bay area pundit. He observed,

“Many school advocates view these school closures as a land grab of public property by privatizers. Others see this is a way to force Black and Latino families out of Oakland, making education inaccessible for them by closing the schools in the neighborhoods where they live.”

If a well financed developer could gain control of the flats, the profit possibilities are immense. These concerns are further fed when OUSD board President Gary Yee tells a Skyline High School parent that the school should be closed because the property is too valuable to be used for public education.

Is Closing Schools in the Flats the Only Possible Solution?

In an email to board members, Jane Nylund an OUSD alum, a teacher and high school student parent with a long family history in Oakland stated,

“For 2018, I counted 14 positions at $200K+, including benefits. In 2020, OUSD had 47 admin positions at $200K+ including benefits (Transparent California). And in 2019, many of them got 10% raises, all inclusive, around $20-30K each. While it’s true that other large districts have a lot of admin, OUSD has one of highest paid administrations compared to the rest of the state, at 526% of the state average. It still has its consultants at 325% of the state average. Collectively, those salaries went from around $3M to $10.7M in two years.”

Based on the claims in the OUSD administrations school closing presentation, the salary increases Jane highlights total to a million dollars greater than the projected cost savings from the closures and those are disputed.

VanCedric Williams is a school board Director representing OUSD district-3. In a private email former OUSD teacher Steven Miller reported on a community meeting attended by Williams,

“VanCedrick Williams repeatedly pointed out that OUSD has not looked at any other possible solution than closing more schools. He also notes that there is no real plan, just a stampede to close more schools.”

The OUSD board believed they could afford to keep all their schools open in October. Then L. Karen Monroe from the Alameda County Office of Education threatened them. She is in a position to cause havoc in Oakland. That seems to have intimidated some board members who are now ready to ignore equity for residents of the flats. The case for mass school closings is not well founded. Rather, the evidence suggests market based ideology and gentrification are trumping justice.

San Francisco Public Schools under Attack

5 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/5/2022

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is leading a recall effort to replace three of the city’s seven school board members. Her neoliberal supporters would prefer to replace all seven but the four board members elected in the last election cannot be recalled. If they are successful, Mayor Breed will appoint the replacements. Along with board member Jenny Lam who Breed appointed previously, these new appointments would make four of the seven school board members Breed appointments rather than elected representatives.

The excuse for the recall is that the board did not open schools for face to face instruction in the spring of 2021. An open schools now campaign was initiated by the former president in May 2020 and became a winning Republican issue. In her ongoing effort to wrest control of public schools from the elected school board which was established in 1851, Mayor London Breed sued the school board to open schools. The February 3, 2021 suit claimed a “violation of administerial duties,” for not preparing for a return to school.

Replacing democratic control of schools with mayoral control is a neoliberal and anti-democratic agenda. In February, 2021, a new PAC – “Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools” – was formed with Democratic activist Seeyew Mo as its executive director. The principal officer listed on their declaration form was hedge fund founder Patrick Wolff and the treasure cited was San Francisco lawyer James Sutton. The PAC claimed, “The election process for choosing the Board of Education is not meeting the needs of San Francisco.” They called for a mayor appointed board and cited as evidence supporting their appeal a 2013 Center for American Progress (CAP) article that was sponsored by the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation and reviewed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Another group calling for the end of elected school boards in San Francisco is the conservative Briones Society. In a recent opinion piece they urge a charter amendment to make school board members appointed not elected. In addition, they state, “We propose a new path forward for our school system based on what some education scholars call the “portfolio model.”  The model is a path to privatization that has caused major disruptions to schooling wherever it has been implemented.

The Recall

School district parents, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, filed a school board recall petition. Looijen and Raj are tech workers who moved to the city in December 2020. After less than three months in the city, they submitted the February 19, 2021 filing to establish a committee called “Recall School Board Members Lopez, Collins & Moliga.” The filing names Looijen treasurer and her husband Raj principal officer.

Seventeen days later (3/8/2021), their filing was amended and the lawyer for the “Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools,” James Sutton, was named treasure, Looijen was named principal officer and her husband was cited as additional officer. James Sutton’s Law firm bio says,

“Notable professional affiliations include Past President of the California Political Attorneys Association and former Member of the State Bar’s Nonprofit Corporation Committee. Notable current and past community involvement includes the San Francisco Parks Alliance, Friends & Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library, Tennis Coalition of San Francisco, Friends of the Bancroft Library, Enterprise for High School Students, San Francisco School Alliance Advisory Board and San Francisco Olympic Club.”

In other words, Sutton is a very connected local lawyer in San Francisco and expensive. The Sutton Law Firm’s web site address is “campaignlawyers.com.”

Big money soon came in support of the recall. Silicon Valley billionaire  Arthur Rock was an early venture capitalists in the technology industry. His winners include Apple, Intel, Scientific Data Systems and several more. During the last 20-years, he has been very busy working to privatize public schools. Rock gifted $49,900 to the recall committee.

However, Rock’s investment was second in size to probable billionaire David Sacks’s $74,500 contribution. Sacks is an immigrant from South Africa who Peter Theil hired to be the PayPal COO. He was the founder of Yammer and now is general partner in a successful venture capital fund. While in college in 1995, he co-authored The Diversity Myth: ‘Multiculturalism’ and the Politics of Intolerance with Peter Thiel. Both Sacks and Thiel were significant Trump supporters in 2016.

A second committee called “Concerned Parents Supporting the Recall of Collins, Lopez, and Moliga” was legally formed on October 13, 2021. Arthur Rock’s $350,000 contribution to “Concerned Parents…” is by far the largest single contribution in the recall. In fact Rock’s total of $399,500 contributed to the recall represents 30 percent of the total recall contributions of $1,133,390.

Race Based Attack

After the former President of the United States persistently called the Covid-19 virus the “China virus,” many Asian Americans began experiencing physical attacks. San Francisco is 34 percent Asian and it was in this atmosphere that someone at the “Recall School Board Members Lopez, Collins & Moliga” committee found a string of tweets putting Collins in a bad light with the Asian community.

In 2016, two years before Collins an African mother ran for the school board she had fired off tweets that some people found offensive to Asians. After the tweets became an issue Collins posted a letter of apology to the community on medium also stating,

“A number of tweets and social media posts I made in 2016 have recently been highlighted. They have been taken out of context, both of that specific moment and the nuance of the conversation that took place. President Donald Trump had just won an election fueled by division, racism and an anti-immigration agenda. Meanwhile one of my daughters had recently experienced an incident in her school in which her Asian American peers were taunting her Latinx classmate about “sending kids back to Mexico” and the KKK. It was a time of processing, of fear among many communities with the unknown of how the next four years would unfold.”

Mayor Breed called for Collins’s resignation as did all of the Asian American city council members as did both of Breed’s appointments to the school board; Jenny Lam and Faauuga Moliga. The school board stripped her of the vice-presidency and all of her committee assignments.

Collins has been accused repeatedly in both local and national media of posting a series of anti-Asian racist attacks. It is a very effective political attack in a heavily Asian community. However, the tweets are relatively innocuous. They do not get much worse than,

The attack is BS. It is more about the recall and this report from KCBS Radio, “After a long, contentious debate, the San Francisco Board of Education has voted to do away with Lowell High School‘s merit-based admissions process after students say it is partially to blame for the school’s racist atmosphere.” Collins was a driving force behind the decision.

Gentrification

Patrick Wolff the principal officer of the “Campaign for Better San Francisco Public schools” founded Grandmaster Capital with seed funding from his billionaire friend Peter Thiel. According to the hedge fund journal, Wolff and Thiel were initially brought together by a common interest in chess. “Thiel is a serious chess player and Wolff began his career as a full-time, professional chess player, twice becoming US champion, hence the Grandmaster name.” 

The Wolff-Thiel and Sacks-Thiel connections along with Mayor Breed’s appointment of Sonja Trauss to the “Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments” should have people worried about gentrification. Szeto and Meronek referenced Tory Becker the director of the anti-gentrification group LAGAI when writing about Trauss,

“Entrenched online in the libertarian strongholds of Reddit and TechCrunch, and in the real world through real estate- and tech-sponsored nonprofits like SPUR and YIMBY Action, Trauss’s followers live by the neoliberal belief that deregulation and building more housing, even if it’s only affordable to the richest of the rich, will trickle down and eventually make housing affordable for all. Her vision is Reagonomics ‘dressed up in a progressive sheep’s costume,’ according to Becker.”

The third largest contributor to the recall effort is the “California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee (IMPAC).” They kicked in $55,900.

Conclusion

A combination of neoliberal politicians, deep-pocketed public school privatization advocates and real estate developers are making a major push to gain control of San Francisco’s public schools. This is an ongoing effort that became crystal clear in 2017 when Vincent Mathews was chosen to be Superintendent of Schools.

Mathews is a 2006 alumnus of the Broad Academy for school administrators known for its manual on how to close schools. Broad graduates have a track-record of developing financial deficits in the systems they manage.

Mathews served as Educator in Residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund. In 2001, he was principle of the for-profit Edison Charter Academy. His close relationship with school privatization groups made him an odd choice for “progressive” San Francisco.

Mathews came to San Francisco from Inglewood, Ca. The LA Times noted about his tenure there,

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

It is not surprising that San Francisco’s school district is facing a $125 million deficit.  

Now Mathews is retiring leaving the district in financial distress.

It is very sad to see the once capital of progressive thought in America turning into a bastion of neoliberalism and opposing democratically run public schools.

Current Attack on Democracy and Public Education

30 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/30/2021

Nancy MacLean’s amazing book Democracy in Chains documents Charles Koch’s anti-democratic and anti-public education agenda plus his relationship with Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan (Democracy in Chains page 184). She quotes Buchanan speaking about their shared libertarian agenda, “The project must aim toward the practical removal of the sacrosanct assigned to majority rule.” MacLean writes of Buchanan, “The collective enemy he was constructing included nearly everyone in education except academic economists” (Democracy in Chains page 119). She also noted that the handsomely Koch-financed politician Dick Armey called for the end of public education which he labeled “the most socialized industry in the world” (page 196). Today’s pandemic attack on public education is simply a continuation of a more than a half-century long crusade to end it. Koch money is still feeding the cause.

Christopher Leonard’s Kochland is the story of Charles Koch beginning with his earning two MIT masters of engineering degrees. For those who don’t know about him and his late younger brother David, this book is a magnificent tutorial.

In 1966, after five years working for his father, Charles became the CEO of a company then known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together into the company the family renamed Koch Industries as a tribute to their father. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world.

Unfortunately, it was the works of Austrian economists and philosophers Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that attracted Koch. He has been described as a libertarian and a conservative but “classical liberal” is a more apt description. Leonard observed, “Hayek, in particular, put forward a radical concept of capitalism and the role that markets should play in society, and his thinking had an enduring effect on Charles Koch” (Kochland page 42).

Charles and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by the anti-New Deal Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek; the brothers agreed that public education along with most other public institutions must be abolished.

Charles Koch has been the leader of the effort to undermine democratic rule and state management, but he is hardly alone. Joining his libertarian crusade are Wal-Mart’s Walton Family Foundation, Wisconsin’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Illinois’s Richard Uihlein, the dark money donor directed fund, Donors Trust and many others.

Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money described Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund as “a screen for the right wing, behind which fingerprints disappeared from the cash.”

The Pandemic Attack

In the spring of 2020, a campaign to ignore school safety issues associated with the novel corona virus was initiated. The former president and his secretary of education began calling for schools to be opened immediately for full time face to face instruction. There was a nationwide response from the Republican Party that included establishing Astroturf parent organizations demonstrating throughout the nation for schools to be reopened. There was little concern for the health of school staff or about the likelihood that children would take COVID home to vulnerable family members.

This spring, the attack on public schools took a dark and violent turn. School board members were being screamed at and threatened because they were requiring students to ware masks. The accusations grew in scope to include the supposed teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and supplying children with inappropriate books like “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story”.

Oddly, most teachers did not have a clue about what CRT was because it is seldom addressed outside of Law School graduate seminars.

Last month State Representative Christine Palm and former Assistant US Attorney, Frank Hanley Santoro wrote in the CT Insider,

“Clearly, something is afoot. Why is this happening suddenly and simultaneously in so many different places around the state (and indeed the country)? Why is the pattern so similar? … Why pick on CRT, which schools don’t even teach …? This doesn’t sound like something that just happened to occur to parents at a local bake sale.”

“The explanation may lie with Steve Bannon. According to Bannon, ‘This is the Tea Party to the 10th power,’ and ‘The path to save the nation is very simple. It’s going to go through the school boards.”’

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado weighed in on why the attack on CRT and where it’s coming from:

“Well-established and powerful far Right organizations are driving the current effort to prevent schools from providing historically accurate information about slavery and racist policies and practices, or from examining systemic racism and its manifold impacts. These organizations include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Goldwater Institute, Heritage Foundation, Koch family foundations, and Manhattan Institute, as well as billionaire-funded advocacy organizations such as Parents Defending Education and the Legal Insurrection Foundation.”

“The anti-CRT narrative is … used to accomplish three goals: to thwart efforts to provide an accurate and complete picture of American history; to prevent analysis and discussion of the role that race and racism have played in our history; and to blunt the momentum of efforts to increase democratic participation by members of marginalized groups.”

Doug Porter of the Wordsanddeeds blog writes, “While the racial resentment that the school board battles illustrate is as American and ever-present as apple pie, the road to retaking power through educational culture wars is part of a current, well-funded national strategy by some of the usual Dark Money suspects.”

Christopher Rufo’s Tweets about the Framing of CRT

According to his biography at the Manhattan Institute, the 35-years-old Christopher Rufo “is a senior fellow and director of the initiative on critical race theory at the Manhattan Institute.” As he clearly indicates in the tweets shown above his team at the Institute has rebranded CRT to “annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” He knows it is a false construct but does not care because it has become amazingly successful. Honesty is not a treasured virtue in libertarian circles. Winning is all that matters.

Source Watch reports,

“The Manhattan Institute (MI) is a right-wing 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey, who later became President Ronald Reagan‘s CIA director. It is an associate member of the State Policy Network.”

Funding for the the Manhattan Institute and the State Policy Network include generous grants from Koch Family Foundations, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Scaife Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and many other funders of libertarian causes. For example, 2017 tax records show that Donors Trust (EIN 52-2166327) sent $6,500,000 to the State Policy Network and in 2020 the Bradley Foundation reported gifting $850,000 to the Manhattan institute.

The last available Tax form for the Manhattan Institute (EIN: 13-2912529) covers parts of 2018 and 19. It shows a regular yearly intake of more than $15 million in grants which seems to mainly pay large salaries. Senior Fellow, Christopher Rufo is not listed on the form but all of the senior fellows from tax year 2018-19 raked in more than a quarter million in salary and benefits.

Creating Astroturf Organizations

To create an effective political ground game, billionaire financed artificial organizations are continuously created. One outcome of this was noted by Blogger Jan Ressenger when she observed that the CRT controversy has links to “Well funded groups working to galvanize parents [including] Parents Defending Education,  Moms for LibertyNo Left Turn in Education,  FreedomWorks, and  Parents’ Rights in Education.”

Addressing these billionaire financed groups, Professor Maurice Cunningham wrote a very insightful post, Koch Connections and Sham Grassroots of Parents Defending Education”. About the newest organization, Moms for Liberty and its two leaders, he wrote,

“Moms for Liberty’s creation story is similar to others in the anti-public education universe: ‘moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.’ In a year and a half Moms for Liberty’s Form 990 tax returns are likely to show these two patriotic moms hauling down in excess of $150,000 each.”

Cunningham says it will be a year and a half before we have documentation about the pay for the founders of Moms for Liberty because non-profits do not file their first tax forms until 2-years after legal formation. The effective date on the Moms for Liberty articles of incorporation is 01/01/2021. The three founding officers signing the document are Tina Descovich, Tiffany Justice and Bridget Ziegler. Up until 2020, Descovich and Justice were both school board members in Indian River County, Florida (Vero Beach). Ziegler is the wife of Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a former Congressional Fellow at the Heritage foundation.

In 2020, it appears Tiffany Justice voluntarily gave up her school board seat on the Indian River County school board. Tina Descovich was defeated in her reelection bid for the Brevard school district board. Jennifer Jenkins, a former school employee, campaigned against Descovich’s opposition to teacher raises and mask mandates. She won by 10% points in the heavily Republican district.

The Washington Post reported, “In 10 months, Moms for Liberty has grown to 135 chapters in 35 states, with 56,000 members and supporters, according to the organization’s founders.” In praising Moms for Liberty, Christian Ziegler (the husband of co-founder Bridget Ziegler), told the Post, “I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic, but now Moms for Liberty has done it for me.”

Obviously, Moms for Liberty is not a spontaneous movement of conservative mothers incensed by the teaching of CRT and the implementation of mask mandates. It is another well financed Astroturf organization designed to undermine public education and promote a libertarian agenda.

Pumping the Message

To generate “research”, a large network of think tanks working under the umbrella organization State Policy Network (SPN) was developed. This network is made up of 64 affiliated members and 98 associated members. In 2019, The Center for Media and Democracy reported that the 64 affiliated members took in more than $120 million in donations from almost exclusively far right conservatives. The Manhattan Institute that created the bogus CRT outrage is an associated member of SPN.

Once the “research” is completed, it is fed to ALEC, where model legislation is distributed to the large number of Republican state legislators who attend their secretive meetings. The legislators then take these models home and introduce them as if they wrote the bill. Jim Miller reports, “Recently, ALEC has been very active in working to suppress voting rights, undermine labor unions, privatize public education, fight action on climate change, fuel rightwing anger over “critical race theory,” promote anti-abortion, and anti-trans bills.”

To widely disseminate their message to local residents, a vast assemblage of local news sites has been established. According to a Columbia Journalism Review study, “There are five companies that make up the core of the network: Metric Media LLC, Newsinator (that, according to Iowa state records, has the alternative  name Franklin Archer), Local Government Information Services (LGIS), Pipeline Media, and Locality Labs.”

In Virginia, there were 28 active Metric Media sites algorithmically generating stories during the recent governor’s race. The local news sites in the network have little advertising and no subscription fees. The Columbia Journalism Review linked funding for the network sites to “the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement” and “a Catholic political advocacy group that launched a $9.7 million campaign in swing states against the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.”

Under the unifying organization Metric Media, the group produces more the 5,000,000 automated articles every month through its 1300 local news sites. Popular Information reports,

“A Popular Information analysis found that between January and November 2021, the 28 ‘local news’ sites in Virginia published 4,657 articles about Critical Race Theory in schools.”

“Nationwide, tens of thousands of articles about Critical Race Theory have been published across the Metric Media network. That number is growing every day.”

Opinion

Nancy MacLean observed that Buchanan and Koch had concluded, “There was no glossing over it anymore; democracy was inimical to economic liberty.” (Democracy in Chains page 152)

The anti-democratic impulse of the oligarch must be contained. There is an underlying wisdom to democratic decision making. It is a wisdom that bends toward equity and humanism. Public education is the soil from which that wisdom can flower. For the past five decades, an autocratic businessman has been pushing our country in the direction of widespread suffering and discrimination.  

Neither capitalism nor socialism is a perfect guide for society. Education, medicine, prisons and policing are not well suited to a strict capitalist approach. A strict socialist approach does not function well in manufacturing, farming and entertainment. Ideologues demanding one of these two economic methods to the exclusion of the other are a problem. The guide to balancing these competing ideologies is humanism. In other words ponder, “The policy best serving the majority of the people while maintaining a keen eye to insure that the minority is not abused.”

The best way to move society forward toward a more perfect union is to make democracy ever more inclusive. And the best way to improve democracy is to protect and fund public education.

Shady Dyslexia Agenda Accelerating

28 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/28/2021

An intricately connected network of organizations is controlling dyslexia discourse in the US and taking over dyslexia screening and remediation. Thirty-nine states now have adopted dyslexia laws. Most of these laws contain the International Dyslexia association’s (IDA) remediation recommendation of being “multisensory, systematic, and structured.” Researchers Jo Worthy et al state, “This approach is not well supported by research, but it is officially sanctioned through legislation in many states and has had a profound effect on policy and practice.”

IDA, the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), and the International Multisensory Language Education Council (IMSLEC) are three big players. IMSLEC started as an IDA committee, and ALTA certifies dyslexia specialists in the multisensory language approach, which is consistent with IDA’s Knowledge and Practice standards for educators. IDA began certifying teachers in 2016, in addition to accrediting dyslexia teacher training programs. The websites of these organizations link to each other and to Decoding Dyslexia, a network of parent organizations with chapters in every state. The mission statements and lobbying materials used by all Decoding Dyslexia sites employ language from IMSLEC and IDA.

Using Parents and Students

Rachael Gabriel is Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut. When large numbers of people showed up at legislative hearings in Connecticut, she became interested in their unusual engagement and strangely similar comments. Gabriel used critical discursive psychology, positioning theory, and narrative policy analysis to analyze the dyslexia law advocacy. She says, “I argue that this narrative can be understood as a conversion narrative, which drives a privatization agenda in which public schools become mandated consumers for a growing dyslexia industry, and in which the nature of instruction for students with reading difficulties is narrowly prescribed.”

Gabriel shares several extracts from the oral and written testimonies given at the legislative session on special education. The first extract is from a student who introduced himself as a 10-year-old who was “here to speak in support of Bill RHB 5562, An Act Concerning Special Education to get dyslexia recognized in the State of Connecticut.”

“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.”

This is a typical message indicating public school teachers do not know how to teach students with dyslexia but finally he was saved. Interestingly the private company Lindamood Bell’s training credited with making it possible for him to read is not one of several private companies that qualify as IDA certified reading specialists. In fact they report that many of their clients have previously been failed by a certified company. The certified companies all use some version of the 1930’s Orton-Gillingham method whose phonics centered practice IDA calls “structured literacy.”

An important psychological motivator for parents of children struggling with learning to read is the repeated claim that dyslexia is a brain centered condition often associated with giftedness. Statements similar to the following extract from a written comment are common.

“This is a disability worth our investment of time It is the disability of Speilberg [sic], Einstein, and Steve Jobs . . . Honor us and embrace us. We are continually the great minds of every generation. We are the ‘game changers.’”

The idea that dyslexia is associated with other kinds of giftedness is a wives tale. Johnston and Scanlon from the University at Albany wrote in their 2020 research paper,

“Public narratives about dyslexia commonly claim that people classified as dyslexic have an array of special positive attributes such as intelligence or creativity – more so than those not so classified. There is virtually no scientific evidence for these claims.”

Although the parent organization Decoding Dyslexia (DD) does not have a centralized leadership, each of the state organizations shares information from DD and IDA. They uniformly call for:

  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.”

Parents with babies who struggle with reading are vulnerable to manipulation. The widely distributed message that dyslexia is a sign of high intelligence must be appealing. These parents are informed that their public school teachers do not know how to teach dyslexics. They are assured that private companies certified by IDA can accurately screen for dyslexia and provide the kind of “structured literacy” that saves children from academic disaster. The result is that whenever laws instituting the Decoding Dyslexia agenda are proposed large numbers of parents show up in support.

What is Dyslexia? What are the Myths?

The idea of dyslexia has been around for more than 100-years, but there is still no widely agreed upon definition. That means there is no consensus method for screening for dyslexia. Johnston and Scanlon reported in 2020,

“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.”

Variations of this statement are quite widely available. A 2020 article in Reading Research Quarterly by J. G. Elliot states,

“I argue in this article that despite a proliferation of scientific findings, our understanding of dyslexia is marked by serious weaknesses of conceptualization, definition, and operationalization that not only are unscientific but also lead to impoverished practice in schools, social inequity in understanding and provision for many struggling readers, and reduced life chances for millions of students worldwide.”

IDA and DD promote mandatory early screening for dyslexia but the commercially available tools they promote are not up to the task. A 2017 article by Vanderheyden et al noted,

“In education, it is not uncommon for error rates to range from 50%–60%, meaning if a school assesses 100 children for whom 20 are “true positives” (i.e., truly have dyslexia), then most of the 20 (approximately 16–18) will be identified, but 50 to 60 students will be identified as false positive errors in the process.”

IDA bases its recommendations for reading remediation on the “science of reading” (SOR). In 2000, the National Reading Panel report claimed that its recommended phonics based word decoding methods were based on science. This kicked off a phenomenon often referred to as the “Reading Wars.” In 2004, David Pearson from UC Berkley’s Graduate School of education commented about the raging war,

“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.”

In other words, SOR is definitely not settled science. Which means the IDA’s “structured literacy” is not a consensus driven approach.

In 2016, the International Literacy Association asserted,

“Both  informal  and  professional  discussions  about  dyslexia   often   reflect   emotional,   conceptual,   and   economic   commitments,   and   they   are   often   not   well   informed by research. Our beliefs and practices should be  grounded  by  what  emerges  from  the  available  evidence  (Elliott  &  Grigorenko,  2014;  Vellutino,  1979;  Washburn,  Joshi,  & Binks-Cantrell, 2011)

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.”

IDA and the research papers cited here claim that as much as 20% of kindergarten and first grade students have reading issues. However, if their school has a professional intervention approach – that could be any of the interventions discussed here – by the time students reach high school less that 2% still have reading issues. Is it possible that the high number of students with reading difficulties in America is because reading is taught at a developmentally inappropriate age? On international testing Finish students test extremely well in reading and they don’t formally teach reading there until age 7.

Conclusion

The IDA organization has many professionals in reading education and the point here is not that they are wrong about screening and intervention pedagogy. The point is that the agenda they are promoting is far from settled science. They should continue to promote their beliefs but they need to stop using a legal strategy backed by power politics to force schools into becoming mandated consumers.

America’s public schools are staffed with an enormous number of well trained and experienced reading instructors. Denigrating them is not justified and is bad for reading education.

The International Dyslexia Association and Decoding Dyslexia are no longer advocates for students and parents. They have become predators using legal strategies and political power to feed an expanding dyslexia industry.