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The Phony NAEP Crisis

1 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/1/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Go to the Scoreboard

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

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

Data Explorer Graphed Fourth Grade State Comparisons

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

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

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

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

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

District Comparisons of Fourth Grade Mathematics Scale Scores

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

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

Eighth Grade Mathematics by District


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

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


The Roots of the Down Turn

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

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

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

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

Disaster Capitalism Needs a Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  

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.

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. 

San Francisco Public Schools under Attack

5 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/5/2022

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

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

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

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

The Recall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Based Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gentrification

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Mathews is retiring leaving the district in financial distress.

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

Corporations Invade Delaware Public Schools

18 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/18/2021

A multifaceted corporate plan for control of Delaware public education is in progress. Billionaires are financing numerous edtech projects that isolate children at screens. To validate literacy curriculum the state has turned to the International Dyslexia Association and their nonsense “science of reading” standards. A key driver for the corporate takeover is the so called High Quality Instructional Materials (HQIM) certified as such by EdReports.

Whenever the words “high quality” are used to promote something in education, it is a good bet that swamp land is being sold.

A private email from a Delaware teacher stated the situation succinctly,

“Over the past several years, it has seemed like Delaware was going in the right direction after the nightmare of Gov. Jack Markell and the RTTT grant. There was suddenly more of a focus on the whole child, starting in October of 2018 when Gov. John Carney announced that our state would adopt trauma-informed practices. … Teachers were beginning to breathe a sigh of relief that maybe our state would begin to implement more reasonable education practices than the rigid, scripted, market-based programs we have seen. Then all of a sudden this summer, this stuff about HQIM started popping up from DDOE. Schools were written up in The 74. Videos were made with the Knowledge Matters group …. Professional development was announced with TNTP.”

Delaware has one of the oldest public education systems in America. The History of Public Education in Delaware dates back to the 1792 state constitution which called for the establishment of public education as soon as possible (History page 19). In 1796, a permanent fund for public education was established (History page 19). In the following graphic a plaque identifies the historic Clayton Stone School built in 1805 on land donated by John Dickinson the “Penman of the American Revolution.” This is the legacy being threatened by corporate raiders.

Corner Stones of the Corporatization Plan

There was concern that Delaware’s children were falling behind due to the COVID pandemic. Monica Gant, Ph.D. from the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) presented their strategy to accelerate learning in March. (Accelerating learning is highly questionable learning strategy.) Grant pitched, 

“DDOE is excited to use ESSER II funds to provide all Delaware public schools with five resources to support learning acceleration for students in literacy and mathematics for summer 2021:

Literacy Professional Learning and core HQIM Summer Booster content for raising 1-6 graders

Student access to online text repository (all students)

Access to Zearn Math Summer Intensive Series for all rising 1-8 graders

Zearn Professional Learning

High-dosage tutoring seats for multiple grades”

Under the heading “Literacy Professional Learning,” Professor Grant noted, “Participants will have a chance to apply their learning of the Science of Reading either through their district HQIM or utilize free OER (Open Education Resources) HQIM for this work.” And she announced that teachers will have the following professional materials available.

  • “Free OER – Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) and Expeditionary Learning (EL)
  • Summer Booster provided by SchoolKit and TNTP
  • Districts already using American Reading Company (ARC) – Summer Booster provided by American Reading Company
  • Districts already using Bookworms – Bookworms Booster provided by UD (PDCE)”

Let’s unpack this a little. First, what is this ESSER II fund the DDOE is so excited about? ESSER II – Passed on Dec. 27, 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Delaware received $182,885,104.

HQIM stands for high quality instructional materials. Amplify is the edtech company controlled by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs. On the Amplify website they explain the HQIM qualifier,

“States and districts across the country are focusing on materials that have been rigorously reviewed and deemed high-quality by EdReports.org, the leading third-party curriculum reviewer (or, in Louisiana, by a Tier 1 designation). EdReports defines high-quality instructional materials as materials that are closely aligned to rigorous standards and easy to use.”

Unfortunately, EdReports is a creation of edtech money plus libertarian focused foundations and other neoliberal supporters of privatizing public education. EdReports shares its major sources of finance:

“EdReports is funded by Broadcom Corporation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Overdeck Family Foundation, the Samueli Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Oak Foundation.”

EdReports is not an unbiased or even a knowledgeable arbiter of best curriculum or pedagogy practices. It is part of a scheme to advance corporate control over education content.

Free OER is more of the same. It provides free digital resources which are delivered on a tablet or computer screen. OER reports that their top supporters are the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and The Robin Hood Foundation. These are not legitimate philanthropies. Rather they are organizations with a political agenda who intend to profit from or privatize or end public education.

Both CKLA which is an Amplify product and Expeditionary Learning (EL) mentioned in the plan provide scripted lessons to a screen. Nancy Bailey wrote a scathing critique of CKLA that seems to fit EL as well. In it she quotes an Oklahoma teacher giving CKLA the only positive spin she could,

“I wouldn’t want my children taught this way. I don’t know the rationale behind adopting it. The curriculum doesn’t light up the eyes of kids. It removes the autonomy from the teacher. I guess if people have come through an alternate route and don’t have a teaching degree, you can teach it without much experience.”

The DDOE has adopted a rigidly scripted market-based program called “Bookworms” for K-5 literacy. It was developed locally by University of Delaware professor Sharon Walpole. However, this is another digital product that undermines teacher professionalism and is also part of OER’s national offerings.

The newer product being foisted on Delaware schools is Zearn. It is another digital learning platform similar to i-Ready and Amplify. Bill Gates (Foundation Tax Id: 56-2618866) and the New Schools Venture Fund (Foundation Tax Id: 94-3281780) are spending heavily to make this company founded in 2014 a success. Between 2016 and 2019 Gates gifted them more than $7,000,000.

Of the 16 leaders listed on Zearn’s first year (2014) web-site, five of them came from Mit Romney’s Bain & Company including Shalinee Sharma who still leads Zearn. Two of them were from Wireless Generation which eventually became Amplify which endured some spectacular failures.  

It is difficult to find independent research that evaluates Zearn. Though it is designed to maximize test scores, the only academic study found (from Johns Hopkins University) showed that Zearn treatment students did not outperform other public school students on standardized testing. However, since those tests are basically useless, that result does not mean much.

Zearn claims to be engaging for students and that students like the product. However, on an independent review site, students are brutal in their condemnation of Zearn with comments like, “I am in fifth grade and the thing has me doing stuff, my baby brother could do!” Worst of all, it is not healthy to put children at screens for long periods of time.

Propaganda Versus Reason

The Delaware teacher quoted above mentioned articles produced by Knowledge Matters about local schools appearing in The 74. Funders for The 74 include the Walton Family, Bill & Melinda Gates, the Emerson Collective (Laurene Powell Jobs), the Joyce Foundation, and Michael Bloomberg. So it was an easy lift for Knowledge Matters to place their articles touting corporate created literacy materials. This is all part of a billionaire funded anti-public education publishing cabal.

Knowledge Matters is hardly a fair unbiased commentator. Their steering committee includes Chester E. Finn, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Kaya Henderson former Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools; Joel Klein former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and David Steiner former New York State Commissioner of Education. All of these people have done damage to public education.

To guide the Delaware public schools’ literacy program, the DDOE has turned to The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) – who advocates the “science of reading” – to validate Delaware’s programs. The National Education Policy Center warned against, “Misrepresenting the ‘science of reading’ as settled science that purportedly prescribes systematic intensive phonics for all students.” And they stated that policy makers, “Should support the professionalism of K-12 teachers and teacher educators, and should acknowledge the teacher as the reading expert in the care of unique populations of students.” IDA is more about selling testing and promoting corporate created scripted literacy lessons than it is about helping students learn.

No teacher should be condemned to professional development from TNTP. This spinoff from Teach for America (TFA) is unqualified because of weak education scholarship and limited experience. Almost every Delaware school district has a more experienced and professional team than TNTP can provide. Without the huge funding they received from billionaires, TNTP would have never survived into the 21st century. TNTP is famous for writing papers that are not peer reviewed and often contravene evidence. Their papers do support the agenda of the billionaires funding them.

For more than 200 years, Delaware has been developing a world class education system. The districts and schools in the state are staffed by genuinely well trained and experienced staff. Instead of turning to TFA teachers who have little experience and less training for leadership in pedagogy, turn to your existing education professionals. Turn away from hubris and greed. Instead of buying scripted lessons that kill creativity in both teachers and students, let your high quality professional educators do their job.

Infrastructure for Ending the Public School System

29 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/24/2021

Educating children is expensive. Wealthy people like Charles Koch do not mind paying to educate their own children but they detest the idea of being taxed to pay for educating other people’s children. In the dystopian market driven system libertarians such as Koch espouse, people should only receive what they pay for. They believe almost all government programs should be ended including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the FAA, the EPA, the Department of Energy, the FDA, The Consumer Product Safety Commission and more. Libertarians contend that mail, schools and roads should be privatized plus personal and corporate taxes should be abolished (Kochland Pages 113 and 114).

Toward achieving their ends, Koch, Gates, the Walton family and scores of wealthy elites have been building an infrastructure to take over and privatize the public school system. By twisting the laws concerning tax free philanthropic organizations, wealthy moguls are funneling huge sums of money into creating privatized schools; thus eliminating local control by elected school boards. All the while, they illegitimately write off most of their spending to promote public school privatization as charitable giving.

In addition to spending to privatize schools, a key strategy employed to advance their market based agenda is the creation of alternate teacher professional development and certification. It is another new privatized system under their control and not influenced by university based programs or education scholars.

The third leg of their attack on public education is political spending to take over elected school boards and influence legislatures.

The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) and Teach for America (TFA) support all three of the ending public schools privatization pillars.

The article Organized to Disruptgives many details about the founding, purpose and lavish financing for NSVF. A former CEO of NSVF, Ted Mitchell, was also simultaneously President of the California State Board of Education. He left NSVF to become Under Secretary of the United States Department of Education. NSVF is generating more than $100,000,000 yearly income which it uses to invest in edtech start ups, charter schools and political organizing.

The TFA story is well known. The post TFA is Bad for America gives some details about how through huge financing, TFA is providing its billionaire funders with a privatization army of youthful college graduates looking for a career. These temp teachers – 80% of whom are gone in three years – have no business in a classroom. Real teachers go through a rigorous college teaching curriculum and a year of student-teaching under the supervision of a master teacher. TFA teachers get no teaching curriculum and five weeks of teacher training in the summer.

These unqualified TFA teachers have become the backbone of the teaching core for no-excuses charter schools. They embrace market based reform as a mechanism for reforming schools (Scripting Page 173) and within two to three years after they leave the classroom, their TFA connections put them in good position to became district, state or federal education leaders. TFA also offers political help for corps members to run for school board positions through its associated Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) non-profit. The LEE board of trustees consists of Emma Bloomberg (Michael Bloomberg’s daughter); Steuart Walton (billionaire); Arthur Rock (billionaire) and Elisa Villanueva Beard (TFA-CEO).

Training Educators

Teacher fellowships are used to influence teacher training and develop neoliberal attitudes. The late Eli Broad created the Broad Fellowships which trained school leaders how to close schools, in the benefit of enabling privatized schools and about the superiority of a market based approach. Before he died, Broad transferred the program and monetary support for it to Yale University.

In Oakland, California, the billionaire funded school privatization group GO Public Schools offers teacher fellowships of $3500 for their two year program. In Indianapolis, the $15 billion Lilly Endowment runs a 100 teacher yearly $12,000 fellowship program.

Two early problems slowing school privatization efforts were that teachers were both opposed to it and were respected by their communities. The fellowships described above are just three examples out of the many funded by extremely wealthy people to shape young teacher attitudes. It is not an accident that few of these fellowship programs are run by education professionals or scholars.

In 1997, the founder of TFA, Wendy Kopp, started The New Teachers Project (TNTP) to provide professional development services. She chose Michelle Rhee to be its founding director. This organization designed to train teachers was founded by a person that has never taught and was led by an untrained teacher that had two years experience as a TFA temp teacher. Even though a reasonable school administrator would never contract with an obviously incompetent group such as TNTP, it has flourished due to a continuous influx of billionaire dollars and powerful political connections.

Besides helping to shape teacher attitudes, founding director Rhee was one of the loudest voices in America claiming teachers were incompetent and low IQ.

Today, TNTP has a new initiative called PLUS to train principals. PLUS has clients in Camden, Kansas City, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Billionaire spending is the reason school districts turn their back on established administrative programs at local universities for this unqualified group. In Kansas City, three billion-dollar foundations, Kaufman, Hall and Walton, are funding the PLUS program. 

Relay Graduate School of Education is a private stand alone graduate school created and led by people with meager academic credentials. It was founded by officials from the no-excuses charter school industry and lavishly financed by billionaires. This completely bogus graduate school was certified after New York’s billionaire Chancellor of Education, Merryl H. Tisch, tapped David Steiner to be Commissioner of Education. Steiner, who is closely aligned with Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, officially certified Relay. He was also a founding board member and still serves on the Relay board.

Control School Boards

School boards are being controlled in several ways. One obvious way, was covered in the article School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” It tells the story of a small group of super wealthy individuals spending to put their preferred candidates on school boards in Los Angeles, Oakland and Indianapolis. In California, this group also contributed to almost every senate and assembly race.

Billionaire Spending in the 2020 LA School Board Election

More than money is required to politically control local school boards. The Mind Trust in Indianapolis became an example of developing a local political group working on education issues along with spending by local plutocrats. This method has led to the public school system there being the second most privatized system in America; second only to New Orleans.

In 2018, billionaires Jon Arnold and Reed Hastings claimed to be investing $100 million each to establish a new anti-public school non-profit they called The City Fund. Since then several billionaires including Bill Gates and Michael Dell have started contributing to the fund. To advance their privatization agenda, The City Fund is spending significant amounts developing local political organizations. The following are examples.

Saint Louis – The Opportunity Trust: In 2018, a former TFA corps member and TFA employee for 14 years, Eric Scroggins, founded The Opportunity Trust. That same year The City Fund gifted it $5.5 million.

San Antonio – City Education Partners: Listed as being for community engagement efforts including the development and launch of San Antonio School Finder and correlated operations support. $4.98 million

Oakland – Educate78: Cited as a continuation of support previously provided by The Hastings Fund for work to improve public education including the expansion of high quality schools and support for the development of diverse teacher pipelines. $4.25 million

Memphis – Memphis Education Fund: Noted as support for operational budget and community engagement effort. $5 million

Newark – New Jersey Children’s Foundation: Stated as support for the launch of the new organization and ongoing operating budget support. $5.325 million

Baton Rouge – New Schools for Baton Rouge: Cited as support for expansion and launch of high quality nonprofit schools in Baton Rouge. $13,487,500

New Orleans – New Schools for New Orleans: Listed as support for the expansion of high quality schools and training for school leaders. $7,750,000

Oakland – Oakland Reach: Cited as operating budget support for ongoing parent and community engagement. $500,000

Atlanta – RedefinEd: Noted as operations support and support for work to empower communities, build teacher and leadership development pipelines, and expand high quality schools. $2,750,000

Denver – RootED (formerly Blue Schools): Listed as operating budget support and support for expansion of high quality schools. $21,000,000

Oakland and Stockton – Silicon Schools Fund: Cited as support for expansion of innovative public school models. $1,566,666

Indianapolis – The Mind Trust: Noted as operating support and support for expansion of high quality schools. $18,000,000

Privatizing Schools

Several billionaires have been spending large amounts of money for three decades to advance the growth of charter schools in America. Today, fortunately, they are seeing some resistance to the non-stop expansion. As Network for Public Education Director Carol Burris noted,

“Everything changed when DeVos was in charge. Progressives and moderates started to see that charter schools were really a ‘gateway drug’ for the libertarian right, a means to further the destruction of public education.”

However, with the Supreme Court destroying the separation between church and state, private schools have been growing rapidly in states with voucher programs. Almost all of these private schools are religious schools.

The economist Milton Friedman is one of the godfathers of the current movement to end public education. Duke University’s noted historian and the author of Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean, shared the following quotes from Friedman. They leave no doubt about the true purpose of the choice movement in the mind of one of its creators. The first comes from 2004 and the second is from a 2006 speech at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

 “In my ideal world, government would not be responsible for providing education any more than it is for providing food and clothing.”

“The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

No Excuses Schools: Bad Theory Created by Amateurs

4 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/4/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Professor Golann explained how they gravitated to the model,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the post “Teach Like its 1885.” published on Jenifer Berkshire’s blog, Layla Treuhaft-Ali wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.” In addition to its racist implementation, the no-excuses model certainly elicits images of 19th century school discipline.

No-excuses Model a Disaster in Public Schools

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

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

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

Some Conclusions

Two important points:

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

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

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

Saint Louis School Board Stalls Privatization Agenda

24 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/24/2021

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

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

Kelvin Adams Involvement Not a Surprise

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

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

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

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

School Privatization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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