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Community Schools Promises and Pitfalls

28 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/28/2022

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

What are Community Schools?

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

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

A Brookings Institute study explains,

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

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

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

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

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

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

He concluded,

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

Profiteering Hawks Looking to Feast on Community Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Conclusion

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

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

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

Stockton Schools after Deasy

17 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/17/2022

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the Bank

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

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

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

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

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

 DooWop Don in Charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Leadership Nightmare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 12 in the report states,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers Unions are Selfless

27 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/27/2022

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

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

Why They Went on Strike

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

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

In a TV interview author Bob Bruno stated,

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

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

A Red for Ed Rally in Arizona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Neoliberal Agenda

Benson’s well sourced paper asserts,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Ending Quotes from Dr. Benson

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

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

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

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

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

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

The City Fund uses Oligarch Money to Privatize Public Schools

22 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/22/2022

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

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

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

The Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Misguided and Self-serving Oligarch Philosophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Funny about the Money

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

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

Some Conclusions

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

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

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

Relay Graduate School Forced onto DC Black Community

30 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/30/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray’s position was eliminated in June, 2021.

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

Embracing a School Privatization Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Teach like it’s 1885

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her piece, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

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

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

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

Petaluma Charter School Lessons

23 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/23/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High Tech High Graduate School of Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnolia Global Academy for Leaders (MGAL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Observations

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing to End Public Education

25 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/25/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Trojan Horse

The Gateway Drug: Charter Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pillar of Democracy: Public Education

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

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

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

The authors conclude,

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

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

Public Education Shares Informed Discourse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.