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Billionaire Sponsored Edtech Sales Pitch

29 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/29/2021

Laurene Powell Jobs and Amplify Education are hosting a Virtual Summit which is what they’re calling this May’s sales event. Jobs is very confident that her billions qualify her to shape education policy. In her drive to privatize public education, she has accumulated and created several pro-edtech and anti-teacher organizations. She also provides leadership and money to other billionaire driven organizations promoting education technology while simultaneously denigrating public schools.

When Laurene’s husband, Steve Jobs, died in 2011 she inherited the rest of the billions the couple had derived from the company Steve founded, Apple Inc. Since then, her fortune has grown to more than $30 billion. Fundamentally, Jobs only qualification for shaping national education policy derives from her marrying the right guy.

In 2016, Powell Jobs’ sent Hillary Clinton four uninformed education policy positions:

  1. “Re-design entire K-12 system – we know how to do it, but it comes down to political will.
  2. “Think about Charters as our R&D … must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable.
  3. “Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline.
  4. “Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teachers and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; …”

Some Laurene Powell Jobs Connections Mapped in LittleSis

The LittleSis map above has a hyperlink to the original in the caption. Shown here is a minimal display of Jobs’ connections within the movement to privatize and monetize public education. However, every line and name is hyperlinked on the original map to a large trove of information in the LittleSis data base.

The point of the map is that Jobs is the owner of Amplify through her non-profit organization, Emerson Collective.

The Amplify “Virtual Summit”

The May sales event was promoted in the Education Week Advertiser with the title “Reading Reimagined: Uncovering the Science Behind Personalized Learning.” All but one of the presenters at the daylong affair is an Amplify employee. They will emphasize three points:

  1. “The Science of Reading in personalized learning.”
  2. “What to look for in a personalized learning program.”
  3. “How to leverage COVID-19 relief stimulus funding to combat instructional loss.”

Russ Walsh is a professional educator and blogger. Recently (4/26/2021), He began an article about the science of reading with,

“Call me crazy, but when I learned I had cancer a few years ago, I did not immediately consult a journalist. Instead I chose to see an oncologist. When COVID broke out, I threw in my lot with Dr. Fauci and other infectious disease scientists, instead of a former reality TV star who suggested I inject bleach. And so, when I want advice on reading instruction, I avoid the journalists, the parent lobbying groups, the reading program sales reps, and the agenda driven pseudo-education organizations, and I look to the experts.”

The professionals Russ pointed to were Peter Johnston and Deborah Scanlon of the University at Albany who have debunked the Science of Reading (SOR) in a new report. Russ quotes them as stating,

“There is no one right way to teach reading. Student’s difficulties are unique to the individual students. Better to assume that the instruction we are providing is not meeting the student’s needs and adjust accordingly, than to focus on one instructional approach.”

Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University has also been out spoken in his scorn for the science of reading ideology.

In a previous post, I defined the nebulous term personalized learning:

‘“Personalized Learning” is a euphemistic term that indicates lessons delivered on a digital device. These lessons are often organized with a playlist and come with a claim of using artificial intelligence to tailor the lessons to the recipient. The scheme is related to competency base education (CBE).”

For five decades, the CBE scheme, operating under several different names, has posited that drilling small skills for mastery is the best way to teach. It has not worked yet.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.”

Wireless Generation to Amplify

Greg Gunn a former associate of the Carlyle Group who had earned a Masters of Electrical Engineering from MIT joined with Larry Berger to found Wireless Generation. Berger was a graduate of Yale University with a BA and had been a White House fellow working on Educational Technology at NASA during the Clinton administration.

In 2010, News Corporation paid $360 million dollars to acquire Wireless Generation and renamed it Amplify Education, Inc.

By August of 2015, after spectacular failures in North Carolina, News Corporation announced it was exiting the education business. The corporation took a $371 million dollar right off to get out of the digital curriculum business. The next month, News Corporation announced it had sold Amplify to members of its staff. In the deal orchestrated by Joel Klein, he would remain as a board member and Larry Berger would assume leadership of the company.

It was soon learned that the real buyer of Amplify was Laurene Powell Jobs. Larry Berger is still leading the company.

San Francisco “Progressives” Promote Gentrification Undermine Democracy

16 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/16/2021

A new political PAC, Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools,” demands that schools be opened for in person classes immediately. They also make two dubious claims, “The election process for choosing the Board of Education is not meeting the needs of San Francisco” and “Many large cities successfully use an appointment process to choose a Board of Education.”

San Francisco Democrats Embrace the Open Schools Now Agenda

Neoliberal forces especially from the Republican Party have been campaigning for schools to be opened immediately for more than a year. Republicans see it as a wedge issue that could help them win back suburban women. Carl Hulse’s New York Times article noted that “congressional Republicans have begun to hammer relentlessly on President Biden, Democrats and teachers’ unions to open schools quickly.”

Surprisingly, San Francisco Democrats have joined with the former president’s open-schools-now campaign. Mayor London Breed has even sued the school board trying to force them to reopen schools. Breed explained,

“Families right now aren’t able to plan for their futures. They can’t decide whether to accept a job offer because they don’t know when they’re going to be able to once again have their kids returned to the classroom. This is paralyzing our city and our residents, and I know that this is a drastic step, but I feel we are out of options at this point.”

Seeyew Mo, a computer scientist who uses his skills to develop political campaign tools, is the executive director of the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools. In a recent bid for a seat on San Francisco’s Democratic County Central Committee, he was endorsed by Nancy Pelosi, London Breed and YIMBY among others. YIMBY is the yes in my Backyard advocates for safe, affordable housing in California often accused of advancing a gentrification agenda.

The Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools’ background article claims that school boards should be appointed not elected citing a 2013 article from the Center for American Progress (CAP) as evidence. The CAP article was sponsored by the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation and reviewed by Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Both entities are infamous for promoting school privatization.

Political Action Committees must file a statement of purpose to legally spend money. When the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public schools filed their form, the treasure named was James Sutton a prominent San Francisco Lawyer and the principle officer named was hedge-fund founder Patrick Wolff. 

Wolff 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.” 

In 2018, Wolff wrote commentaries on education for the San Francisco Examiner. In one piece he declared,

“California is failing. San Francisco is failing. The status quo is unacceptable. The fate of our children’s education is literally our future.”

“But in the interest of full disclosure, I will report that I have met several times with Marshall Tuck and he has greatly impressed me with his knowledge, his passion, and his ideas. And Marshall Tuck has the full-throated endorsement of Arne Duncan, who was US Education Secretary under President Obama.”

Gentrification

The Wolff-Thiel connection and Mayor Breed’s appointment of Sonja Trauss to the Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments has people worried.

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.”

San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar opposed Trauss’s appointment noting that the appointee must be able to bridge divisions across neighborhoods and ideologies. Mar claimed, “Sonja Trauss has a history of inflaming these divisions, rather than working across them” citing “the declaration that ‘gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price’” and “forcefully shouting down Chinatown community elders.”

Recall the Board

School district parents, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, filed a school board recall petition. They wanted to recall the entire board but the two members elected in November cannot be recalled this year.  Looijen and Raj are tech workers who moved to the city last December. They claim the school board was too busy with school name changes instead of getting schools open.

In the original filing, Looijen is listed as treasure and Raj is listed as principal officer. In an amended filing, Looijen is listed as principal officer and the new treasure is James Sutton the same high priced San Francisco attorney as the PAC, Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools, used. One of Sutton’s junior lawyers, Dale Bellitto, is listed as Assistant Treasure. In 2015, she was a Teaching Fellow at KIPP Infinity charter school in New York City.

Cato Indoctrination for Educators

8 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/8/2021

The Education Week Advertiser just notified me about an opportunity to be indoctrinated into the Cato Institute’s culture and education views. The ad proclaims, “The Cato Institute and the Sphere Education Initiative are excited to announce the return of Sphere Summit: Teaching Civic Culture Together for the Summer of 2021!” They generously offer impressive full scholarship programs for educators and administrators.

The money for all this comes from Charles Koch and associated libertarians. It is funneled through the Cato Institute which was originally called the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc. when he and fellow libertarian Edward Crane founded it in 1977. It is one of the many organizations and businesses that Charles Koch uses to advance his personal interests which are often referred to as the Kochtopus.

Sphere Summit Speakers

Ryan Bourne – According to libertarianism.org, he is “the R. Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics at Cato.” Bourne writes about fiscal policy, inequality, minimum wages, infrastructure spending and rent control.He is a contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the UK website ConservativeHome.

Arnold Kling – A Senior Affiliated Scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University to which the Charles Koch Foundation contributed a total of $29,156,700 in 2017 and 2018 (EIN: 48-0918408). He specializes in housing-finance policy, financial institutions, macroeconomics, and the inside workings of America’s federal financial institutions. He also is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC.

Clark Neily – He is vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute. Neily served as co-counsel in the District of Columbia v. Heller case in which the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment rights had been violated. The ruling overturned the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and requirement that lawfully owned rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.”

Tom G. Palmer – He is a senior fellow at Cato Institute and director of Cato University. He is also a VP of the Institute for Humane Studies (HIS) at George Mason University and a VP for International Programs at the Atlas Network. HIS was co-founded by Charles Koch in 1974. An outgrowth of HIS, the American Energy Alliance, had a central role in Koch’s successful campaign defeating the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill to limit greenhouse gasses (Kochland pages 448-449).

Jonathan Rauch – He is a senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institute and author of books and articles on public policy, culture, and government. His many Brookings’ publications include the 2015 ebook Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy.

Jeffrey Rosen – He is President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate the public about the U.S. Constitution. Rosen is also professor at The George Washington University Law School and a contributing editor of The Atlantic.

Nadine Strossen – She was president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) between1991 to 2008. Veteran National Review fans may be familiar with Strossen, because she was a friend and frequent sparring partner of William F. Buckley.

Darrell West – He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of TechTank. His current research focuses on artificial intelligence, robotics, and the future of work. West is also director of the John Hazen White manufacturing initiative and vice president of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute.

It appears that the first four presenters will be delivering the libertarian message and the second four will be delivering a mixture of pro-edtech and pro-American positions. All eight speakers have two commonalities. They are professionals who will be paid well for their appearances and none of them have any k-12 teaching or administrating experience.

Four professional development workshops are to be presented by:

  1. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education which was founded by Alan Charles Kors in 1999 to dismantle the so-called liberal bias in higher academia. Source Watch reports that they were part of the right wing State Policy Network.
  2. The Bill of Rights Institute, established in September 1999 by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, is a Virginia based nonprofit that promotes teaching a conservative interpretation of the Constitution.
  3. The National Constitution Center is a nonprofit institution devoted to the Constitution of the United States.
  4. iCivics is a non-profit organization offering teachers digital civics education curriculum including games, digital tools, and lesson plans.

For more than fifty years, Charles Koch has been pouring money into advancing his libertarian free market philosophy. Koch has taken Austrian economic theory from its 1950s fringe thinking status to an influential force in American governance. This is a continuation of that effort. Targeting teachers and school leaders is designed to expand Koch’s ultra-conservative low tax and small government agenda.

Schools are MAGA Targets

15 Mar

By Thomas Ultican – 3/15/2021

One of America’s wealthiest public school districts typifies the damage MAGA Republicans are doing to public schools. San Diego County’s San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) serves just over 13,000 students in five middle schools and five high schools. With former Republican congressional candidate Mike Allman’s narrow school board victory, the MAGA coalition has achieved a 3 to 2 majority.

This election result advances using school reopening as a political wedge issue. Normally nonpartisan school board elections have been turned into partisan political battle grounds.

May 25, 2020, the former President Tweeted,

“Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available. @SteveHiltonx @FoxNews

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020

In July, the former Secretary of Education declared,

“School leaders across the country need to be making plans’ to have students in the classroom. There will be exceptions to the rule, but the rule should be kids go back to school this fall. And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with school by school or a case-by-case basis. There’s ample opportunity to have kids in school.”

Carl Hulse’s Feb. 12, 2021 New York Times article ran under the banner, “Republicans Seize on Shuttered Schools as a Political Rallying Cry” with a subtitle stating, “As President Biden struggles to keep his pledge to reopen schools in 100 days, Republicans in Congress are hammering at the issue as a way to win back alienated women and suburban voters.”

The SDUHSD school board election is a case study in using school reopening and hard ball politics in search of political gain.

Mike Allman’s Election Signaled MAGA Politics have Arrived

Michael Allman is a self-described “libertarian-leaning Republican.” He came to San Diego to work for Sempra Energy; is a former executive of Southern California Gas Co. and until 2016 was an executive at a software company called Bit Stew Systems. He received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State and an MBA at the libertarian economist Milton Friedman’s school, the University of Chicago.

He is a wealthy investor who lived in Rancho Santa Fe for twenty years before moving to Solana Beach.

Running for school board was Allman’s second foray into electoral politics. He ran in the 2018 district 52 congressional primary; a district in which he did not live. He was matched against incumbent Democrat Scott Peters and five fellow Republican challengers. Allman reported $415,109.45 total campaign spending in that race of which $300,000 came via his personal loan.

He garnered a disappointing 3.9% of the vote.

In 2020, Allman ran against Jane Lea Smith and Amy Caterina to become the Area 4 SDUHSD board Trustee. Caterina eventually dropped out and endorsed Allman but was still on the ballot. The former special education teachers and medical device researcher, Jane Lea Smith, proved to be stout competition. Allman won the seat with 7,507 votes to Smith’s 7,181 (42.3% to 40.5%).

Like in his congressional race, Allman ran for a school board position in an area where he does not live. He personally contributed $29,000 of his total $33,333.55 in campaign contributions received and loaned his campaign $30,000. He out-spent Smith who received a total of $14,096.01 in campaign contributions five to one. If the $7,066.88 in independent expenditures by the teachers union is included, the spending advantage drops to three to one.

Allman was clear about two points in his campaign to be on the board; schools must be opened full time for face to face instruction and the teachers union is the problem. Four days before the election he posted,

“Teachers unions’ goals are in direct conflict with those of school boards.

“I will be your independent voice on the board and will work for students, parents and taxpayers. I am not beholden or supported by the teachers union.”

A post by Allman at the end of August called for opening schools and joining his political movement. He wrote,

“The Teachers Union will demand that the return to in-class learning be delayed.

“If you would like to get involved to ensure that our schools open as quickly and safely as possible, please join this group. We have a SDUHSD Board Meeting in a couple of weeks, and we can make a difference!”

Allman provided a link to the private face book page SDUHSD Families for School Reopening.”  An education activist and student mother who was kicked off of the page says that Allman was the key voice and administrator of the group until he was elected. She claims he is still the key voice leading FB discussions in the group but is no longer an administrator.

Of the five people who are current administrators of “SDUHSD Families for School Reopening,” Ginny Merrifield and Alison Stratton seem to be the most politically involved.

Allison Stratton runs a marketing company and was very involved in Mike Levin’s 2018 successful campaign for the CA 49th congressional district seat. It is surprising to see a significant supporter of a Democratic congressman decide to back an Issa-like Republican. She is purportedly one of Allman’s most vocal allies. There are some activists who believe Allman is using the school board seat as a stepping stone to run against Levin for the 49th district in the next election.

Ginny Merrifield is a very connected operator in Republican circles. She is a trustee of the E3 Civic High charter school located in the San Diego Central Library. She was a co-founder and trustee of the private and pricey Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, California. She is on the board of governors for the $750 million San Diego Foundation. Her husband Marshal ran for San Diego city council as a Republican but was not elected. She is a very active and publicly open ally of Trustee Allman’s.

Recently Merrifield became the founding Executive Director of the Parent Association of North County (PANC). The contact address listed for PANC is 5965 Village Way, San Diego. It is a strip mall with only one education related business; Elite Educational Institute a tutoring, college consulting and SAT test preparation organization. Along with Executive Director Merrifield, PANC lists nine directors one from each of the nine north county school districts they claim to represent.

PANC publishes three organization objectives: reopen schools, grow membership and recruit substitutes. Regarding substitutes they say, “Due to a shortage of qualified substitutes, parents have created easy step-by-step instructions for parents to get a 30 day emergency substitute credential.”  

PANC is not unique. On January 26, 2021, Edsource reported,

Open Schools California includes parent groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Richmond and other cities who say that distance learning has been a disaster for most students, and the state needs to push harder for safety measures that would allow campuses to reopen for in-person instruction. The group announced its formation Monday.”

In the city of San Diego the group Reopen SDUSD began posting on their new Face Book page in September 2020. They supported three pro-open schools candidates for the San Diego Unified School District board. All three were soundly defeated by the incumbents up for reelection.

A rebuttal page called Reopen SDUSD Exposed has arisen claiming,

“We are committed to exposing the truth about Reopen SDUSD @reopensandiegoschoolsnow. They are filled with anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-testing voices. They don’t want our schools open safely, they want them open at any and all costs.”

Reopen SDUSD Exposed admits “not all Reopen SDUSD supporters are anti-mask, anti-vaccine, Q following nut jobs,” but they are aligned with them.

The San Diego Union reported on March 11, “Three parents filed a class-action lawsuit against San Diego Unified this week alleging that the state’s second-largest school district failed to provide sufficient in-person learning and sufficient access to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.” One of the plaintiffs is Reopen SDUSD co-founder Gina Smith.

Reopen SDUSD Exposed Venn Diagram Depicting Reopen SDUSD Membership

Saturday March 13, 2021, PANC and Reopen SDUSD held a joint reopen schools rally in front of the county administration building in downtown San Diego. However, it does not appear that they attracted any local media attention.

Implementing the MAGA Politics of Division and Violence

In San Dieguito, the five member school board now has a three vote MAGA majority.

Maureen “Mo” Muir is the SDUHSD Board Trustee for Area one. In 2014, she was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for what was then an open board seat. In 2018, the board was rearranged into Areas and Mo had a very difficult contest for the Area 1 seat; defeating Amy Flicker 7486 to 7291. In 2016, she also ran as a Republican for California’s 76th Assembly district and lost. Today she is the SDUHSD board President. This long time Republican finds herself in the uncomfortable position of having to support a radical MAGA style Republican agenda.

Joining Muir and Allman in the MAGA coalition is Melisse Mossy who is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group and its many San Diego County dealerships. Mossy is a wealthy Christian house wife living in Rancho Santa Fe who does not seem to value the public school system. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states,

“I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”

Allman went to his first board meeting as a Trustee on December 15, 2020. He came ready to cause a stir by promoting four divisive agenda items.

Trustee Mossy introduced an Allman inspired proposal to change the time of the regularly scheduled Thursday at 5 PM board meetings to an alternating schedule of 9 AM and 5 PM. Allman seconded the motion. Minutes indicate that this motion was amended to alternating 3 PM and 5 PM. This change to a many years precedence will obviously make it more difficult for working people especially teachers to attend SDUHSD board meetings.

Allman wrote a proposal calling for a change to Rosenberg’s Rules of Order instead of using Roberts Rules of Order at Board meetings. According to Jurassic Parliament, the Rosenberg Rules are less Democratic giving more power to the chair and the majority. They are simpler with their rules stretching only to 10 pages compared to the 787 pages explaining the Roberts Rules, but that also gives the chair more power to make ruling interpretations. After a discussion the item was labeled a “future agenda item.”

Allman also proposed changing the boards legal council to Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP. When the agenda item arose, Muir moved to make the change and Allman seconded the motion. It would be unusual for a public school district to hire this “school choice” promoting law firm. On the firm’s web site they state,

“If you view charter or private schools as opportunities to improve public education, we are aligned with you. We want to help you make a positive difference.”

 After a discussion, Muir withdrew her motion and requested that a legal subcommittee to include Allman and Ms. Young meet with staff and review legal counsel options to recommend to the Board.

Allman’s big agenda item of the day was for all SDUHSD schools to open on January 4, 2021 for face to face instruction. Part of the resolution he authored stated, “The Governing Board designates Trustee Allman as the Board’s spokesperson for matters addressed by or arising from this Resolution.”

The board made it clear that all board members would be spokespersons and not just Allman. They also decided to start with one day a week in person before going five days a week on January 27. After that changes the MAGA coalition of Allman, Muir and Mossy provide the three required votes.

The San Dieguito teacher’s union immediately took legal action that stopped the in person school openings.

In late February, SDUHSD Superintendent Haley petitioned the state health department for an opening approval. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has offered a safety review process for school districts to request approval to reopen early while still in counties designated as “purple tier” for infection. Inexplicably, Haley announced that schools would open on March 8th before receiving word from the state.

When March 7th rolled around with no update from the state, PANC scheduled a rally to push for the approval, but that day the CDPH officially rejected the opening petitions from SDUHSD, Carlsbad Unified and Poway Unified. This apparently led to the following all too common MAGA style violence threat appearing on the Encinitas Votes face book page.

It would not be a real divide the community movement without a recall effort. In 2018, when Lea Wolf ran for the Area 5 Trustee position, she billed herself as a fiscal conservative and wrote in a recommendation for David Andresen, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” This founder of several technology companies who lost that school board race to Kristin Gibson is now leading an effort to recall Gibson.

On her website gathering recall signatures, she lists four reasons why Gibson’s performance is so egregious that she must be recalled: 1) Opposed letter grades during pandemic 2) Voted for $5.3 million Chrome books purchase 3) Approved 3.5% pay raise for Superintendent Haley and other administrators 4) Missed 2-thirds of last 9 board meetings.  

In the votes for the Chrome book purchase and pay raises, she voted with the majority. Gibson, who lectures at San Diego State University and is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, disagreed last spring with a late change in grading policy from pass-fail to letter grade. At the time, Superintendent Haley was quoted,

“There’s no one voice, there’s no one decision that everybody is in agreement with. We acknowledge that. This is a very difficult time and a very difficult decision, we’ve never had a pandemic school closure and, hopefully, we will never have one again.”

Missing 2-thirds of the last 9 board meetings appears to be a lie. Since the end of June last year there have been 17 SDUHSD board meetings. Minutes show that Gibson attended 5 of 7 regular and 8 of 10 special board meetings. Three of her four absences occurred between 1/14/2021 and 2/1/2021. During that 2-week period she was dealing with a family crisis.

Even with all of the school districts in San Diego County issuing plans to open face to face in April, the MAGA Republicans continue to agitate. They blame teachers unions for keeping schools closed but surveys show that teachers and the general public have about the same opinion on opening schools in this pandemic. An article at the five-thirty-eight reports,

“According to a Feb. 11-14 Quinnipiac University poll, 47 percent of adults believe that schools are reopening in their community at about the right pace; just 27 percent believe it’s not happening quickly enough, and 18 percent think it’s happening too quickly. Likewise, a plurality (48 percent) of parents and guardians of K-12 students told YouGov/HuffPost that schools in their area were handling things “about right”; just 23 percent thought they were being too restrictive, while 19 percent thought they were taking too many risks. And educators are pretty happy too: 63 percent in the Hart Research/AFT poll said their school system has struck a good balance on the issue. Fifteen percent said that their school system had not done enough to resume in-person instruction, while 16 percent said it had gone too far to do so.”

Maybe rich people like Mike Allman and the former Secretary of Education, think teachers and students should take the risk and get back in school. But “little flare-ups or hot spots” are existential threats for many teachers and school staff. Now that vaccines are rolling out and schools are announcing reopening plans it seems foolish to rush it. Schools finally have the resources needed for a safe reopening and the staffs have vaccines being distributed that make them safer. Getting school open by May 1 is reasonable and prudent. Teachers, staff and students are not endangered unnecessarily.

St. Louis Public Education Theft Accelerates

30 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/30/2020

A proposal to close 11 more public schools in St. Louis came before the school board on December 15. Based on Superintendent Kelvin Adams’ recommendation the final decision was postponed until January. It is not clear why Adams pulled back his own recommendation, but it is clear that public education in St. Louis is being dismantled.

In 1967, St. Louis’s school population peaked at 115,543. It was by far the largest school district in the state of Missouri. In 2020, total enrollment sank below 20,000 to for the first time to 19,222 and St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) is no longer the state’s largest K-12 district.

From 1967 to 2000 there was an enrollment decline of over 71,000 students. In a 2017 article, Journalist Jeff Bryant took an in depth look at the forces undermining St. Louis and its schools. He noted three defining events that turned St. Louis into the World’s most incredible shrinking city.

An 1876 home rule law enacted by city business leaders to keep control of the city’s economic engines created and locked in city boundaries. Today, there are over 90 municipalities surrounding St. Louis. After World War II, federal housing policies and racists lending practices created white flight to the burgeoning adjacent communities. Finally Bryant explains,

“Legislation passed in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s deregulating a number of key industries – including airlines and banking – put large St. Louis employers at a disadvantage. Then, new laws lifting anti-trust enforcement, passed during the Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton presidential administrations, subjected St. Louis’s leading industries to corporate takeover or rendered them uncompetitive.

“Consequently, St. Louis went from hosting 23 Fortune 500 headquarters in 1980 to hosting just nine in 2015.”

The Attack on Public Schools

 From 2000 to 2020, the student population in St. Louis has again fallen by more than half from 44,264 to 19,222. Some of that decline can be attributed to the continuation of migration to the suburbs which now includes Black families. However, a large portion of the drop is due to the growth of charter schools. The charter school enrollment for 2020 was at least 11,215 students which represents 37% of the district’s publicly supported students.

Like the national trend, the privatized schools chartered by the state, educate a lower percentage of the more expensive special education students; charters 11.4% versus SLPS 15.1%.

In 1997, the Heartland Institute reported,

“Although Missouri does not yet have a charter school law, a Charter Schools Technical Assistance Conference was held in St. Louis on November 22 with Mayor Clarence Harmon as the keynote speaker. Sponsored by the Charter Schools Information Center, the Saturday workshop featured state legislators, business leaders, and national and local charter school experts, including the Center’s director Laura Friedman and Paul Seibert of Charter Consultants.

“Although a charter school law failed to win legislative approval last spring, there appears to be strong support for the concept and hopes run high for passage in the coming session.”

The Heartland Institute is an extremely conservative organization with Libertarian ideals including opposition to climate change legislation and support for privatizing public education. Two of Heartland’s key funders are the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee and Charles Koch of Koch Industries.

Mayor Harmon and the Heartland team saw their hopes rewarded in 1998 when Missouri became the 27th state to pass a charter school law. The University of Missouri notes, “Charters were one part of legislation designed to end three decades of court-ordered desegregation in Kansas City and St. Louis, and were limited to those two urban areas.”

In 2000, Mayor Harmon welcomed the first charter school in St. Louis, Lift for Life Academy.

The next year Francis Slay defeated Harmon in the mayoral race.

Slay like Harmon was a Democrat. He would serve for the next four terms. Over that time Slay developed a reputation as a charter school champion.

In 2002, Slay put together almost $800,000 to bring 50 fake teachers in from Teach For America (TFA). “Fake” because they have almost no training. It’s like calling a liberal arts college graduate with five weeks of summer training a lawyer or a dentist or an architect.

Slay increased his control over SLPS by putting together and financing a slate of four candidates for the seven member school board. A 2003 report in the River Front Times states,

Slay loaned $50,000 from his campaign fund to support the slate. Major area corporations kicked in with Anheuser-Busch, Ameren and Emerson Electric each giving $20,000. Energizer Eveready Battery Company gave $15,000. The coalition raised more than $235,000.

Within a month of taking their positions, the school board voted to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants. St. Louis paid A&M $4.8 million to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti was to be superintendent of schools. His official title was changed to “Chief Restructuring Officer.” The clothing store leader had never worked in a school before.

Bryant reported, “Slay and this team attended training on how to remodel the district along business lines provided by the Broad Foundation, a private foundation that has long been a powerful advocate of charter schools.” However, their decision to bring in business professionals turned into a disaster. Deficit ballooned, teachers revolted, the district lost state accreditation and the state took over from the elected school board.

In 2005, the billionaire, Rex Sinquefield, returned to his roots in Missouri. Rex a former orphan became wealthy when he and a partner from the University of Chicago developed and marketed the first index funds. Rex also has economic views that align with the libertarian small government ideology of his Nobel Prize winning peers Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan. 

Rex and wife Jeanne are proponents of “school choice.” They fund the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri (CEAM) claiming that the St. Louis based organization is the leading education reform organization in the state. They contribute millions to the right wing think tanks Show-Me Institute, which Rex also founded, and Missouri Club for Growth.

Sinquefield has made large campaign donations to Mayor Francis Slay plus Slay’s cousin, Laura Slay, is the Executive Director of CEAM. Laura is also owner of a public relations firm which regularly represents Rex. 

In 2011, former TFA corps member Charli Cooksey and three other former corps members founded the now defunct InspireSTL. In 2016, Cooksey resigned from InspireSTL to run for the powerless school board. The leadership at InspireSTL went to another former TFA corps member, Adam Layne.

Susan Turk of St. Louis Schools Watch reported that Cooksey received a $30,000 campaign contribution from Leadership for Education Equity (LEE). LEE is a billionaire funded and directed organization spending to elect former TFA corps members to school boards and other political positions.

In 2018, a former TFA corps member and employee for 14 years, Eric Scroggins, founded The Opportunity Trust. That same year The City Fund gifted the newly formed Opportunity Trust $5.5 million. That is the fund started in 2018 by former Enron trader John Arnold and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. They consider The Opportunity Trust their partner in St. Louis.

Charli Cooksey left the school board to found WEBPOWER, an organization meant to create community leaders to advance the privatization of public education and school choice.

In 2019, Cooksey’s successor at InspireSTL, Adam Layne, followed her path to the SLPS school board. He and fellow TFA alum Tracee Miller won the two seats available in 2019. That is the same year the state finally handed back control of SLPS to the elected school board. Miller raised local money and got a $1000 donation from LEE. Layne’s campaign raised almost no money but got a large donation from Public School Allies the political arm of The City Fund.

Tracee Miller has since resigned from the school board and written a scathing article about her experience:

“Shortly after my election to the BOE, I was approached by Eric Scroggins, founder and CEO of The Opportunity Trust, to visit The Mind Trust, an organization with a similar mission in Indianapolis. He personally selected three members of the BOE to attend. I am a person who is open to ideas and who believes in public education. I joined the trip with the understanding that it would be an opportunity to learn about innovative strategies being used in another Midwest city. However, the more questions that I asked and the more non-answers or unsatisfactory explanations that I heard, the more I realized that their agenda, and not students, was the priority.”

“I met with WEPOWER employee Gloria Nolan in what felt like a friendly conversation where the stated goal was to explore ways to bring the BOE and WEPOWER together; however, less than a week after this conversation WEPOWER attacked my credibility with false information and an out-of-context recording during the public comment portion of a BOE meeting. In addition, when I expressed concerns about the trip to Indianapolis, financial connections to school board members, or that these groups did not seem to focus on all education providers but only on SLPS, both WEPOWER and The Opportunity Trust ceased communication with me.”

“Mr. Scroggins eventually contacted me to let me know that he found my questioning of his approach to education reform to be misguided. He used patronizing and intimidating language to attack my ethics and integrity on account of my opposition to Senate Bills 525, 603, and 649 regarding the expansion of charter schools, and accused me of being uninformed and incapable of leadership, of ignoring science, and of perpetuating inequity.”

“Most notably, The Opportunity Trust funded the strategic plan for the Normandy School District, which resulted in the hiring of Marcus Robinson, former Executive-in-Residence at The Opportunity Trust, as its new superintendent. Normandy is opening their first charter school (also funded in part by The Opportunity Trust) in Fall 2021.”

In 2017, longtime 28th Ward Alderman, Lyda Krewson, became the next neoliberal Democrat serving as Mayor in St. Louis. After she doxxed people calling on her to de-fund the police, a large demonstration heading to her home made national news. Krewson’s gun toting neighbors, Mark McCloskey and his wife Patricia, threatened the passing crowd with guns, admonishing them to stay off their property.

Mayor Krewson has kept up the nepotistic schemes attacking public schools. Jack Krewson the mayor’s son is a co-founder of Kairos Academies along with creator Gavin Schiffres. The school’s design was developed in 2015 as a capstone project for Schiffres’s undergraduate degree at YALE. The Opportunity Trust also invested in the incubation and then launch of Kairos Academy, the first personalized learning school in St. Louis.

In other words, three TFA alums, Scroggins, Schiffres and Krewson, have teamed up to sell edtech to St. Louis. They have an “innovative” plan to put kids at screens, the last thing 21st century kids need. At the same time excellent public schools with real teachers are being closed.

Developing the Portfolio District Model

The City Fund is known for its support of the portfolio district management model. It is a method that removes control of schools from elected boards and replaces them with private businesses either for profit or non-profit. The evaluations are based on standardized testing results meaning the lowest performing schools are closed and replaced invariably by a privatized school. Since standardized testing only measures relative family wealth accurately, this plan guarantees schools in poor communities will be privatized.

 In 2008, the state overseers selected Dr. Kelvin Adams (is it OK to call him Dr.?) to be Superintendent of schools in St. Louis; the position he still occupies. At the time, Peter Downs the President of the elected school board called the selection unacceptable.

Adams came to St. Louis from the Recovery School District in New Orleans where he was second-in-command to the infamous Paul Vallas. Prior to the Saint Louis announcement, Vallas had stated publicly that Adams was his top choice as a successor. Being thought of as a successor to a known virulent opponent of public schools was a big concern. However, Adams took over the mess left by A&M; fixed the financial issues, raised attendance rates, lowered dropout rates and got the district accreditation restored.

Adams also continued to close schools. SLPS has gone from 93 schools when he arrived to 68 schools now and he wants to close 11 more.  

A component of the portfolio model school districts in both Indianapolis and Denver is Innovation Schools. The American Legislative Exchange Council has created model legislation for the development of these schools which are removed from the purview of the elected school board and given to a non-elected board. The ultra-right wing billionaire Charles Koch of Koch Industries is the key funder of ALEC. Koch has a long history of opposing public education.

Superintendent Adams is an outspoken advocate of school choice, the portfolio model and innovation schools. In fact, he claims as an achievement, “Created a portfolio of schools to provide meaningful choices for students and parents.” In 2019, Adams introduced innovation schools to Saint Louis calling them the Consortium Partnership Network. The announcement on the SLPS webpage states,

“Beginning January 2019, the CPN school principal and teacher leadership teams began a 4-month planning process together to define school structures, working conditions, priorities and budgets. This process was facilitated by Bellwether Education Partners…”

Bellwether Education Partners came into being in 2011 when it was cofounded by New Schools Venture Fund founding CEO Kim Smith and former Clinton administration domestic policy advisor Andrew J. Rotherham. Both Smith and Rotherham have had lucrative careers attacking public education for their billionaire funders.

It is clear that St. Louis Public Schools are in trouble and the vultures are circling. They have been weakened and are targeted by billionaires like Rex Sinquefield, Reed Hastings, Alice Walton, John Arnold, Bill Gates…

A paper written by National Board Certified Teacher Ceresta Smith, Why People of Color Must Reject Market-Based Education Reforms, has a profound message for the large Black population in St. Louis. Their democratic right to govern their own schools is being stolen and they must resist. Most of the 23 page paper cites other studies that support her opening statements:

“Reformers assert that test-based teacher evaluation, increased school “choice” through expanded access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under enrolled schools will boost falling student achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps.”

    •  “Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
    • “Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
    • “Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
    • “School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.
    • “Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.
    • “Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.
    • “The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.”

In the conclusion Ceresta says to care givers for students of color,

“Of high importance, they must not fall prey to the trap of “school choice,” which in itself is a method of racist exclusion that provides for a “few” at the expense of the “many.”  Instead, they must first and foremost, stop allowing their children to be used to further the inequities in public education and ultimate wealth building.”

Democracy and Education

20 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/19/2020

Democracy and free universal public education are foundational American ideologies. They have engendered world renowned success for our experiment in government “by the people”. Two new books – Schoolhouse Burning by Derek Black and A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire – demonstrate that these principles which were integral to the American experiment are shockingly under serious attack by wealthy elites.

After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles Koch took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world. In the excellent 2019 book, Kochland, Christopher Leonard states, “Koch would eventually build one of the largest lobbying and political influence machines in US history.”

Both the introduction to A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and the “Through History’s Eyes” chapter of Schoolhouse Burning mention the same quote from Charles Koch. In 2018, the Koch network held its annual three day gathering near Palm Springs, California. It was a 700-person confab of some of the richest people in America. Black wrote,

“Charles Koch told the audience that ‘we’ve made more progress in the last five years than I had in the last 50…. The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level…. We want to increase the effectiveness of the network … by an order of magnitude. If we do that, we can change the trajectory of the country.’ One of the donors at the summit explained that education is ‘the lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today … I think this is the area that is most glaringly obvious.’

“Let that sink in for a moment; change the trajectory of the country and do it through education. In other words, the agenda is not to improve education. The agenda is to change America.”

In Kochland, Leonard gave some context to the effects of the progress for the 160,000 households in the wealthiest 0.1% that Charles Koch was addressing,

“In 1963, the top 0.1 percent of households possessed 10 percent of all American wealth. By 2012, they possessed 22 percent. This gain came as the vast majority of Americans’ lost ground. The bottom 90 percent of Americans possessed about 35 percent of the nation’s wealth in the mid-1980s. By about 2015, their share had fallen to 23 percent.”

Clearly, the great transfer of wealth in America has been from the working class to billionaires and privatizing public education is seen as key to continuing and accelerating that trend.

Schoolhouse Burning Documents the Legal Evolution of Public Education

In the introduction Derek Black states,

“From it first days, the nation’s theory of government depended on educated citizens. The founders feared that democracy without education would devolve into mob rule, open doors to unscrupulous politicians, and encourage hucksters to take advantage of citizens even as they stood in line to vote.”

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 is the oldest working constitution in the world and had great influence in the writing of the US Constitution. It divided the powers of government into three branches – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Its education clause states that, “wisdom and knowledge … diffused generally among the body of the people [are] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties…. [Thus,] it shall be the duty of the legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of the commonwealth, to cherish the … public schools.”

Before the US Constitution was adopted, public education was written into the national legal framework. Black notes that every bound volume of the current United States Legal Code begins with a section called Front Matter which includes the four “organic laws” in chronological order. It is made up of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, the 1777 Articles of Confederation, the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the 1789 US Constitution.

Black outlined how the Northwest Ordinance fits,

“…, the Northwest Ordinance’s substance is a constitutional charter of sorts. Practically speaking, it established the foundational structure for the nation to grow and organize itself for the next two centuries. Precise rules for dividing up land, developing the nation’s vast territories, and detailing the path that these territories would follow to become states are not the work of everyday legislation. They are the work of a national charter. Those rules and their effects remain in place to this day.

“From this perspective, the Northwest Ordinance’s education agenda cannot be separated from our constitutional structure and vision. And it was under this constitutional structure and vision that George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison took office and served as presidents of the United States. To no surprise, all would assert education’s utmost importance and call for its expansion.”

In the north, the ideals of public education were fully embraced and the only debate was over the details. It was different in the antebellum south where poorer whites paid almost no taxes and the wealthiest southerners paid two-thirds of all taxes. Johann Neem explains in Democracy’s Schools, “Because of their political power and the way the tax burden fell largely upon them, slaveholding elites spread an antitax gospel to convince ordinary whites that taxes were a bad thing”

During the period of reconstruction following the civil war, the US congress made provisions for freed slave education and political rights to be enforced by federal troops.  The thirteenth amendment to the constitution which passed December 6, 1865 abolished slavery. In 1866, the fourteenth amendment which prohibited discrimination in various aspects of life and extended citizenship to African Americans was adopted.

Requirements for states being readmitted to the union included ratification of the 14th amendment and adopting a constitution that conforms to the “Constitution of the United States in all respects.”  This last provision was a demand to establish a republican form of government which in turn meant enshrining public education in their state constitution. Because of growing signs of recalcitrance, Congress imposed an education commitment as an explicit condition for the last three states to reenter the Union – Virginia, Texas and Mississippi.

The compromise of 1877 undermined legal protections for black people in the south and financial support for public education. A closely divided corrupt election pitted a Republican abolitionist from Ohio, Rutherford Hayes, against the Democrat Samuel Tilden of New York. Tilden gained the most votes but 20 electors were disputed. A committee of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats decided Hayes would become President provided he agree that

  • Troops will be recalled from the statehouse property in the three states. [South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana]
  • “Funds will be provided to build the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
  • “A southerner will be appointed as Postmaster General.
  • “Funds will be appropriated to rebuild the economy in the South.
  • “The solution to the race problem will be left to the state governments.”

All decisions were made on party line votes of 8 Republicans for and 7 Democrats opposed.

Throughout the south, segregated schools were soon mandated, spending on educating the newly minted citizens was reduced to lower taxes and voting rights were restricted. Black writes,

“Planters saw the value of competent workers but no value in ‘inflat[ing] the economic and political expectations of workers.’ The only thing education would accomplish would be to ‘spoil good field hands.’ Even worse, education would lead blacks to push for even more social and political equality.”

Thurgood Marshall and other lawyers from the NAACP won many court victories including the famous Brown vs. the Board of Education case that declared education “must be made available to all on equal terms.” Black says the one phrase the court omitted in its 1954 opinion was a clear declaration that education is a fundamental right.

After that case, the Supreme Court expanded desegregation efforts. In the early 1970s a backlash came with the election of Richard Nixon. Nixon campaigned against the Supreme Court and especially against forced desegregation. Between 1969 and 1974, he appointed four justices – Burger, Rehnquist, Powell and Blackmun. Rehnquist held the view that Plessy v. Ferguson which Brown overturned had been correctly settled. Even more troubling, Justice Powell while on the Richmond, Virginia school board and later the Virginia state school board supported school segregation and the massive resistance movement against Brown.

In the 1974 case of Millikan v. Bradley, the court dealt a death blow to desegregation efforts. Black shared,

“By a vote of 5-4, the Court insisted that plaintiffs needed to show intentional school segregation, not just in Detroit’s city schools, but in its suburban districts, too. Absent that, lower courts could not order metropolitan-wide school desegregation.”

By the 1990s, no new Federal Court orders to end school segregation were in the works and those underway were being ended. Since then schools have been re-segregating.

“Are You Trying to Scare People?”

A senior scholar asked this question after reviewing an early draft of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door. The authors’ response was, “In a word, yes.”

Schneider and Berkshire declare that ideas which for multiple decades have been considered fringe thinking are now central. The radical right and especially leaders in the religious right like Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, denounce the whole concept of public education.

So, what do these ever more potent deep pocketed funders and conservative politicians want? The authors lay out the four main principles of the radical right.

“1. Education is a personal good, not a collective one.”

“2. Schools belong in the domain of the free market, not the government.”

“3. To the extent that they are able, ‘consumers’ of education should pay for it themselves.”

“4. Unions and other forms of collective power are economically inefficient and politically problematic.”

The conservative enemies of public education today sound like Fred Koch and his John Birch Society did in the 50s and 60s. From A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door,

‘“Elementary and secondary education in the U.S. is the country’s last remaining socialist enterprise,’ declared Joseph Bast, CEO of the libertarian Heartland Institute, in a 2002 blog post. Bast was explaining his distaste for public education while making the case for so-called universal private school vouchers, which conservatives view as a way station en route to whole-sale privatization.”

The socialist charge has also been directed at teachers. Writing about the 2018 teacher uprisings Schneider and Berkshire explain,

“They demanded that the wealthy pay higher taxes to fund public education, employing a hashtag slogan – #RedforEd.… While the slogan, and the cause it represented, attracted widespread public support, conservative critics saw #RedforEd as something more nefarious. Leaders of Arizona’s teacher protest movement, warned one Republican state representative were using ‘teachers and our children to carry out their socialist movement.’”

The push to privatize public education had foundered until charter schools appeared and a newly formed Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was created to push the Democratic Party more to the center. A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door reports, “When the DLC unveiled its official agenda at a 1991 gathering in Cleveland, its head, a rising young Southern governor named Bill Clinton, gave school choice a full-throated endorsement.”

Not only has the push to privatize public education been a bipartisan effort of political elites from both major political parties but even more strangely they have also joined together in attacking labor. From the book:

“The irony is that weakening the influence of organized labor – teachers’ unions in particular – has been largely a bipartisan cause. Bill Clinton made his attack on Arkansas teachers a centerpiece of his 1983 gubernatorial campaign, burnishing his image as a new breed of Democrat who wasn’t afraid to take on the party’s own ‘special interests.’ And during Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House, tough talk against teachers’ unions as protectors of the status quo emerged as party orthodoxy. ‘It’s time to start rewarding good teachers, stop making excuses for bad ones,’ Obama proclaimed in a 2009 speech in which he praised the idea of merit pay for teachers, long a favorite policy tool of Republicans.”

In A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Schneider and Berkshire explain the pursuit of profits in education and the push to implement virtual learning. They ruminate on the history of government regulation (child labor – meat industry – healthcare products and practices) and the push to end regulation. Here like in school privatization there is a religious like belief in markets to be self-regulating and superior to any “big government” organization.

They delve into the marketing that comes along with market driven privatized education. Especially interesting is the potential for micro-targeting student families using companies like Facebook. It enables schools to target only certain demographics.

They also address teachers being pushed into the gig-economy and its ramifications.

The push for “personalized learning” at computers employing AI algorithms to guide students through lessons instead of teachers has the twin goals of reducing teacher costs and creating an edtech market. With cyber-schools, costs are reduced in two ways, facilities requirements are significantly cheaper and with their large class sizes teacher costs are reduced. Even more promising for cost reduction at cyber-schools is the prospect that all classes can be conducted by hourly paid gig workers. Schneider and Berkshire note:

“Of course, the replacement of flesh-and-blood teachers by personalized learning programs will not be universal. Students from privileged families will continue to be educated much as they always have been, with students and teachers coming together as communities of learners.”

Concluding Remark

There is a lot to these books. They highlight the multiple dangerous paths our nation is on which is indeed scary. Together Schoolhouse Burning and A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door paint – a maybe not probable – but a very possible grim picture for the future of public education in America. Even grimmer is that this attack on universal free public school is also an attack of America’s 250-year experiment with government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It is a credible attack on democracy.

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” Hawks Digital Learning

8 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/8/2020

The last Democrat and first woman to serve as Governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue, has become one of the nation’s leading advocates for digital learning. She presents herself as a simple country girl from a poor family, but doesn’t mention that her coalminer father became a rich mine owner by the time she was in college. She is known as a powerful political and financial operative with connections that go all the way to the incoming Biden administration.

Creating a New Career

Governor Perdue has a background in education. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in history, she taught kindergarten in 1970-71, ninth grade 1971-73 and high school 1973-74. She then returned to college where in 1976 she earned a Doctorate in Education Administration. Her thesis was focused on education gerontology.

Following earning the education doctorate, she worked in long term care and geriatric services. She ran for the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1986 and won. Four years later, she won a state senate seat; holding it for a decade before making successful runs for Lieutenant Governor in 2000 and again in 2004. This all positioned her to become North Carolina’s first female governor in 2008.

For Perdue, the wheels flew off the campaign bus in 2012. She was facing tanking polling numbers when members of her 2008 campaign pled guilty to finance violations. Greensboro businessman Peter Reichard, the finance director, pled to a felony and lawyer Julia Leigh “Juleigh” Sitton, a fundraiser for the campaign, pled to a misdemeanor in order to avoid a felony charge. Perdue soon announced she would not be a candidate for Governor in 2013.

The June following her exit from the Governor’s mansion, the Newsobserver.com reported, “Former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has recently finished her teaching fellowship at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and plans to launch an education consulting business from her home in Chapel Hill.” The next month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave Perdue a $250,669 grant to “develop a business and operation plan for the Digital Learning Institute (digiLEARN).”

That September digiLEARN received notice from the IRS of their successful application identifying them as a charitable organization. To do the heavy lifting at digiLEARN, Purdue brought in her advisor from the governor’s office on e-learning and innovation, Myra Best. Prior to joining Perdue in Raleigh, Best served as Director of the Business Education Technology Alliance (BETA) which established North Carolina’s first statewide Virtual Public School. BETA was a committee of 27 business, political and education leaders established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2002. The chair of the committee was Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue.

DigiLEARN’s about web page states,

“Digital Learning Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating digital learning for all ages with a goal of increasing personal learning options for students and expanding instructional opportunities for teachers and instructors. In addition, DigiLEARN will focus on cultivating an innovative economy for education technology start-ups and entrepreneurs.

“DigiLEARN was founded and is chaired by former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, with former Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer serving as vice chair.”

In 1997, the vice chair, Jim Geringer, was one of the governors who established the non-profit Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. It was an early adopter of cyber and competency based education. In a lengthy interview for the Wyoming State archives, Geringer speaks glowingly about the school and its methods.

The membership of the first digiLEARN board of governors made it clear that it was politically connected and aligned with the goals of the edtech industry. In addition to Geringer and Perdue former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise became a founding Director on the board.

In 2010, Jeb Bush and Bob Wise launched the Digital Learning Council which promoted cyber schooling and “personalized learning.” In 2015, North Carolina State University honored Wise at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation’s Friday Medal presentation. The institute notes, “The Friday Medal is awarded annually in honor of William C. Friday to recognize significant, distinguished and enduring contributions to education and beyond through advocating innovation, advancing education and imparting inspiration.”

Besides the three ex-governors, two North Carolina State Representatives – Craig Horn and Joe Tolson – were on the original board. Also on the board was one of edtech industries most widely published advocates, Tom Vander Ark. He became a national name in 1999 when named the Executive Director of the Gates Foundation in charge of education initiatives. In 2001 his notoriety grew when testifying before congress making the case for the now failed Gates small schools initiative. Teacher activist Anthony Cody wrote questioning Vander Ark’s 2016 push for new testing in a Washington Post piece,

“The growing ‘opt out’ movement poses a huge threat to the standardized testing ‘measure to manage’ paradigm.

“So what is to be done?

“Reinvent the tests once again, using technology. And who better for the job than Tom Vander Ark, formerly of the Gates Foundation, and now associated with a long list of education technology companies. The latest package of solutions is being called ‘competency-based learning,’ and it was featured prominently in the Department of Education’s latest ‘Testing Action Plan.”

Michael Lavine is also on the board. For almost 11 years he was Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center where according to his LinkedIn page, he “Founded research and development institute (a new division for the company) devoted to accelerating young children’s learning through the integration of proven and promising educational technologies.” For seven years, he served as an Advisory Board Member at Teach For America (TFA).

DigiLEARN focuses its activities on developing a network of support for competency based education and digital learning. Of particular note are their connections with The Friday Institute of Education Innovation and The Innovation Project both headquartered on the campus at North Carolina State University. They spend most of their billionaire provided largesse on Digital Scholars, a program developed to help teachers see the value in digital learning and to successfully institute it.

Liz Bell of EDNC (Education North Carolina) reported on the 2017 plan for establishing Digital Scholars:

“The program is operating on a $1.5 million budget, $900,000 of which will be for the 40 total Scholars training, travel, and experiences. The other $600,000 will be used to hire a full-time Digital Scholar, and for contracts, publications, and other expenses.”

“We have realized now that if you can put teachers really skilled in digital learning in every school in a state, or in every school in a district, then you can build to scale this thing we call personalized learning,” she [Perdue] said.”

A libertarian conservative named A. J. Dillon observed,

“This continued push in Digital Learning comes despite a study from January 2016 that says digital devices are a major distraction to students and achievement levels were suffering.

“The study was done by Bernard McCoy University of Nebraska Lincoln which was published in the Journal of Media Education and involved college students.

“A variety of recent research suggests that digital device access is lower academic progress, creating developmental delays for young children and has become a real distraction in the classroom. Digital learning is also proving to be very, very expensive.”

Dillon also urged her followers to read, “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax.”

Director Tom Vander Ark just published a new piece about Governor Geringer’s Western Governor’s University (WGU). In it he shares,

“WGU put together a skills architecture team alongside national competency networks. They then used EMSI, a common way to describe skills, to tag them to a competency and execute dynamic audits of performance.”

He quotes Marni Baker Stein, Provost and Chief Academic Officer at WGU,

‘“Over 90 institutions who are actively involved in this work. Ourselves, SNHU, Georgia State System, ACE, Wal Mart, Amazon, Udacity, US Chamber, more… Concentric Sky.’ (sic)

Vander Ark concludes,

“These developments will lead to a skills library that everyone can use and will encourage diversity in employment and educational institutions. Tagging all things to a skill makes them universally valuable — something that is particularly important with Human+ degrees.”

Behavioral badging in China (gamifying good citizenship) is quite similar to the dystopian future being offered here. Edtech enabled micro credentialing includes behavior modification using badging as a way to move schooling away from a rounded liberal arts program to a marketable skills program. Students complete small discrete skills at a screen and are rewarded with badges as proof of meeting the standard. Wall Street leaders in the online learning and edtech industries are making major investments in this scheme which holds the potential for destroying community public schools, generating large profits and lowering taxes on the wealthy. It has also proven to be bad pedagogy.

EDNC reported that this October, Lawmakers at the North Carolina Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee heard a proposal to make micro-credentialing a statewide system of professional development for teachers.

“Former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, head of digiLEARN, a nonprofit focused on ‘accelerating digital learning,’ is spearheading the development of a micro-credential program along with partners such as the state Department of Public Instruction, RTI International, and New America.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a chair of the committee, said that micro-credentials can help people better understand what kinds of teachers are in a classroom.” (Representative Craig Horn is a digiLEARN founding board member.)

Perdue, Vander Ark, Horn and everyone else at digiLEARN must be thrilled that Catherine Truitt is the incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction for North Carolina. Chancellor Truitt of the North Carolina branch of WGU is leaving the competency based cyber school for her new position.

Billionaires like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Laurene Jobs Powell have spent lavishly to create an education publishing group to get out their message of school choice and edtech. Both Perdue and Vander Ark are regular contributors to The 74 Million and Perdue is featured at The Education Post. One of her early pieces for Education Post was A Nation At Risk 2.0. In it Perdue echoed the calamity rhetoric of 1983’s “A Nation At Risk” declaring, “Right now, alarm bells should be clanging all over America louder than they were for President Reagan and business leaders more than 30 years ago.” She was decrying the slow implementation of edtech in schools.

Perdue has added a new position to her resume, Managing Partner for Education, at the Ridge-Lane Limited Partners. The former Pennsylvania Governor and first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, has partnered with financier R. Brad Lane to create the company. Their about page says it is “a strategic advisory and venture development firm … focused on root-cause solutions to grand challenges in Education, Sustainability, and Information Technology.

Along with Perdue, former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise is on the Ridge-Lane board. Also on the board is former New Schools Venture Fund CEO and Obama’s Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. He has strong ties to the investor community and the privatization movement. Two TFA alumni Hana Skandara and John White are on the board as is Chris Cerf.

With this lineup of education leaders there is little doubt that Ridge-Lane will be promoting both bad edtech and segregation engendering school choice.

Infecting the Biden Administration with Edtech Dogma

Prompted by an article I had written about North Carolina being ravaged with edtech spending, a profoundly shaken person contacted me to share their experience on Biden’s campaign Education Policy Committee. As the new administration prepares to take charge, many groups are meeting to develop an agenda to move America forward.  

In the Education Policy Committee, there was a tech sub-committee chaired by Bev Perdue. Reportedly the sub-committee had a large North Carolina contingent including Myra Best. The twenty member sub-committee was dominated by edtech supporters. Many members were people with backgrounds like former Amazon web-services director.

The committee’s attitude toward student privacy was unacceptable especially their positions on sharing data. My source described the sub-committee as the proverbial “foxes in the hen house.”

Edtech can be a wonderful thing for students and educators, but if the point is to make large profits off data and replace teachers with digital screens, edtech becomes a great evil. Unfortunately, Bev Perdue and digiLEARN are promoting the evil brand of edtech. Let’s hope the incoming administration can successfully filter out this tainted input.

Selling Edtech when Disguised as Philanthropy

27 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/27/2020

“Personalized learning” is being driven by foundations derived from companies that stand to profit by its implementation. Last year, George Mason’s Priscilla Regan and the University of Ottawa’s Valerie Steeves wrote the peer reviewed paper Education, privacy, and big data algorithms: Taking the persons out of personalized learning in which they state, “Other than the Carnegie Corporation, the private foundations who have been most supportive of personalized learning are those supported by the technology companies, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Google Foundation.”

In the case of the Carnegie Corporation, the authors note that the philanthropy has been supporting education causes since its founding in 1911. Recently, Carnegie has given monetary support to “personalized learning” but “typically in partnership with one of the tech foundations.”

Based on a listing of the fifteen largest education spending philanthropies in the first decade of the millennium,  the paper’s authors selected the technology linked Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the largest donor); Michael and Susan Dell (fourth largest donor); and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (#8 in 2010) for analysis. They added two newer giving organizations, the Google Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, to complete their list of five tech associated education grant making companies to analyze.

In their review of scholarly papers and the popular press, they identified five types of activities supported by tech foundations with their K-12 spending:

“The first activity … involves grants to public schools for adoption of edtech applications, including personalized learning initiatives, or to educational initiatives to organizations working in public schools (such as Teach for America) or to organizations providing alternatives to public schools (such as charter schools).

“The second entails grants or some form of funding support for edtech companies.”

“The third area of activity is tech foundation support for coverage of edtech, especially coverage in publications directed to education professionals.”

“A fourth area of activity is tech foundation funding for research into studies evaluating the results of edtech applications, including personalized learning.”

“The fifth area of activity is tech foundation funding for advocacy groups who work in K-12 education.”

Three important observations from Regan and Steeves paper:

“We argue that, although there has been no formal recognition, personalized learning as conceptualized by foundations marks a significant shift away from traditional notions of the role of education in a liberal democracy and raises serious privacy issues that must be addressed.”

“It presents yet another example of the transformation of the traditional role of public education as educating citizens to one of educating future workers and consumers, a contrast of liberal democracy with neoliberal democracy.”

“The edtech sector has been focused on the notion [of personalized learning] …. While companies have generated hundreds of products and a smattering of new school models are showing promise, there is little large-scale evidence that the approach can improve teaching and learning or narrow gaps in academic achievement.”

After investigating education journalism, the authors chose to focus on Education Week as representative. The 1981 non-profit bills itself as “American education’s newspaper of record.” It has a print circulation of 50,000 and an online subscribership of 750,000 made up predominately of educators. Education Week has gotten an infusion of grant money from philanthropic foundations including $10 million from the Gates Foundation since 2005.

The authors concluded, “It accordingly is a site where various actors involved in personalized learning, including, teachers, school administrators, developers, policy-makers and foundations, share their views.” They also note that Education Week intersects with all five of the activity types supported by the tech foundations. For the study, they reviewed articles from the five year period 2013 to 2017.

What is being Sold?

“Personalized learning”, “blended learning” and standardized testing are three of the bigger items being promoted. Huge lobbying by big tech has turned the United States Education Department (USED) into a de facto tech sales firm. Statements like this abound on the USED web site,

“Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others. This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs. It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student.”  

This grotesque distortion of reality is little more than propaganda backing technology based bad pedagogy. Tech provided schemes like “personalized learning” are founded on the behaviorist based mastery education theory. Besides promoting tech industry products, USED champions age inappropriate learning and publishes unfounded blather about better student outcomes.

The 1970’s “mastery learning” was so detested that it was renamed “outcome based education” in the 1990s and now is called “competency based education” (CBE). The name changes are due to the five-decade long record of failure. CBE is simply putting “mastery leaning” on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. In the 1970s teachers began calling it “seats and sheets.”

“Personalized Learning” is a euphemistic term that indicates lessons delivered on a digital device. These lessons are often organized with a playlist and come with a claim of using artificial intelligence to tailor the lessons to the recipient. The scheme is based on mastery learning theory.

“Credit recovery” is the fraud that has engendered soaring graduation rates. It is another way of implementing “personalize learning.” Students are completing semester long classes and receiving full credit for them in as little as one day. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. Today, fueled by this technology based scam, graduation rates are approaching 90%.

The current version of the national education law, The Every Student Succeeds Act, defines “blended learning”:

‘‘The term ‘blended learning’ means a formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches—(A) that include an element of online or digital learning, combined with supervised learning time, and student- led learning, in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience; and (B) in which students are provided some control over time, path, or pace.”

This means that a student gets lessons delivered to their digital device from a provider like the Khan Academy. Later the student’s teacher takes on the roll of tutor and helps them with their assignments during class. It is another way to de-professionalize teaching and sell technology.

There are many dark sides to education technology including personal privacy being sundered.

Education psychologist and author of “Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds”, Jane Healy, spent years doing research into computer use in schools and, while she expected to find that computers in the classroom would be beneficial, now feels that “time on the computer might interfere with development of everything from the young child’s motor skills to his or her ability to think logically and distinguish between reality and fantasy.”

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen recently wrote an article for Atlantic magazine about the damage screen time is doing. She shared about the current group of teenagers she labels iGen,

“Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

Not all edtech is bad. In fact some is necessary and some greatly enhances learning. In my personal experience, I found Jupiter Grades, the online grade book to be a very valuable tool for communicating with both students and their parents. Student management systems like those provided by Illuminate Education are essential for managing attendance, enrollment and other things schools legally must track.

In the classroom, high speed data acquisition equipment, word processing capabilities and high end calculators are a boon. Textbooks that take advantage of technology to create hints and provide tools for exploration are excellent learning tools.

The difference between technology that enhances pedagogy and bad edtech is the underlying purpose. Technology that is designed to fill a need and enhance learning is normally a good thing. Technology that is designed to improve system efficiency the way robotics has increased production outputs per worker is generally bad for learning.

In the new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire explain,

“Because learning is deeply rooted in relationships, it can’t be farmed out to robots or time-saving devices. Technology, of course, is rapidly moving into classrooms. But just having more Chromebooks or online learning platforms hasn’t allowed for faster or larger batch-processing of students.”

Looking at the Scholarly Analysis

Regan and Steeves wrote,

“With respect to personalized learning, all five of the foundations emphasize that there are differences in the ways student learn and the importance of ‘flexible learning opportunities’ (Hewlett), ‘the right experiences to help students learn’ (Dell), ‘a truly transformative, personalized learning experience’ (CZ), and ‘the right learning materials’ (Google), which leads to the importance of ‘real-time assessments for gauging student learning’ (Gates) and ‘formative data … gathered as learning is happening … in-the-moment use of data in the classroom’ (Dell). None of the five foundations, however provide a definition of what they actually mean by personalized learning instead describing the importance of data and differences.

“Moreover, none of the five foundations offers actual evidence for the effectiveness of the innovations they are advancing although all discuss the importance of evidence.” (Emphasis Added)

 “Perhaps most interesting in our review of foundations’ Web sites was the almost universal absence of any mention of privacy or the implications of collecting all this data on students’ learning and personal characteristics that would be a necessary component to implement personalized learning, as well as an outcome of that implementation. … The absence of this topic from their overviews is startling given the attention companies like Google and Facebook have been forced to pay to both privacy and security.”

When looking at the EdWeek material the authors observed,

“The EdWeek data set … bifurcates into two, mostly separate, discourses. The first replicates the same themes we found in the foundation Web site materials. It consists of 14 articles written by eight authors, including senior EdWeek writers …; all eight authors are explicitly assigned to cover ed-tech from a business perspective …. For simplicity sake, we refer to this as the dominant discourse.”

“The second discourse appears almost exclusively in 14 articles written by Benjamin Herold, a staff writer who came to EdWeek from public radio and who covers ‘ed-tech, newsroom analytics, digital storytelling and Philadelphia’.”

One of the main themes from the dominant discourse is diminishing the roll of teachers.

“From this perspective, teachers are not experts in the education process equipped to make decisions about how and when to use edtech; instead, they must embrace the fact that, because of technology, ‘they don’t need to know it all. They’re not the experts’ …. Expertise resides in the edtech itself.”

The authors note, “And ultimately, when faced with hard numbers that suggest personalized learning is not effective, the dominant discourse falls back on the need to believe in the technology.”

Benjamin Herold’s articles pushed back against the dominant discourse. His basic argument is captured in the following quote attributed to a parent activist,

“As parent Karen Effrem, ‘the president of … an advocacy organization that supports parents’ right to control their children’s education’ says, ‘We’re sacrificing our children’s privacy, and we’re allowing corporations to make potentially life-changing decisions about our kids, all for technology that doesn’t actually help them.’”

School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

12 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/12/2020

Los Angeles, Oakland and Indianapolis are routinely targeted by pro-public school privatization billionaires. Local school board races that a decade ago required less than $10,000 in order to mount a credible campaign now require ten times that amount. Billionaires again spent lavishly to take control of school boards in these three cities.

The Good

For two decades Oakland has been California’s petri dish for school privatization. Eli Broad has placed four superintendents in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). Mayor Jerry Brown between terms in the Governor’s mansion helped establish the first charter schools in Oakland. Reed Hastings and “Doowop” Don Shalvey created one of the first ever charter management organizations (Aspire Charter Schools) in Oakland. The billionaire funded and pro-school privatization organizations New Schools Venture Fund, Educate78 and GO Public education are all headquartered in Oakland.

The general election on November 3 had four odd numbered district director positions on the ballot. The Oakland school board has seven seats. In an attempt to place school privatization friendly directors on the board, three out of town billionaires poured $625,000 into the Power2Families independent expenditure committee.

The former New York Mayor and Presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, also sent $300,000 to the GO Public School’s independent expenditure committee Families and Educators for Public Education in addition to the $400,000 he gave Power2Families.

For this board of education election there were six independent expenditure committees (IEC) operating.

  • Four pro-charter schools IECs:
    • Families and Educators for Public Education (GO Public Schools)
    • Charter Public Schools PAC (California Charter Schools Association)
    • Power2Families (founded by charter chain founder, Hae-Sin Thomas)
    • Committee for California (founded by Jerry and Anne Gust Brown) 
  • Two pro-public schools IECs:
    • Oakland Education Association Political Action Committee (Teacher Union)
    • Oakland Rising Committee sponsored by (Movement Strategy Center Action Fund a Local Grassroots Political Organizing Group )  

Jan Malvin, a retired UCSF researcher, created the following election spending graphic.

The chart shows that in terms of spending from direct contributions which have maximum contributions limits, the pro-public school candidates had a $48,000 advantage. In the unregulated independent expenditure spending, the pro-charter school PACs had a $580,000 spending advantage.

Campaign Flyer from the OEA

It turned out that the Oakland community was ready to fight back and win. In fact, “Mike ‘The Students Voice’ Hutchinson” achieved a clear victory over “Michael ‘The Billionaire” Bloomberg.”

The vote counting appears close to being done. However, Oakland employs Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) instead of a primary system. Voters rank candidates in their order of preference. When the votes are counted, if no one gains 50% of the vote, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Their votes are distributed based on rankings. This process continues until the winner passes 50% of the vote.

An unofficial RCV run shows that the leaders in the following vote count will be elected.

The Oakland community fought back against the billionaires’ spending advantage. They raised money, contacted neighbors and won a decisive victory by taking the seats in districts 1, 3 and 5. In district-7, they lost but achieved more votes, but were divided on who to support. When the new board is seated, it will have a clear pro-public school supporting majority.

The Bad

In March of 2017, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board election became the most expensive of its kind in history. Billionaire financed pro-school privatization organizations poured in almost $10 million to capture a majority on the board; which they did.

A special election was held in 2019 to replace the criminally malfeasant district-5 board member, Ref Rodriguez. Jackie Goldberg’s election swung the four person majority on the board back to the pro-public school side.

Rodriquez had hung onto his seat long enough to be the deciding vote making billionaire Eli Broad’s business partner, investment banker Austin Beutner, Superintendent of Schools. It was a curious hire because Beutner had no education training or experience.

Since superintendents work for the elected board, it is surprising if a superintendent of a public school district takes a position in a school board race. This year Beutner ignored that norm. He forwarded tweets supporting the campaigns of Marilyn Koziatek in district-3 and Tanya Ortiz Franklin in district-7. Beutner claims the tweets were not sent by him.

For the 2020 election cycle, the four odd numbered seats of the board were on the ballot. The three even numbered seats will be on the ballot in 2022. The seats up for election this year was comprised of the four vote majority on the board supporting public schools.

It was an opportunity for the billionaires to swing the board majority back in their favor and they did not let the chance slip away.

This LittleSis Map Documents Billionaire Education Spending in 2020

The three PACs mapped in yellow appear to be the main conduit for billionaire money going to independent expenditures this year. The wealthy real estate developer from Manhattan Beach, California, William E. Bloomfield, is pouring his money directly into private campaign companies normally hired by the PACs to produce their media and campaign mailings. The Campaign Company Group shown above is a fictitious company showing the total funding Bloomfield has spent with seven different companies to produce campaign materials for candidates he supports or opposes.

During the March primary election both District-1 Board Member George McKenna and District-5 Board Member Jackie Goldberg ended their campaigns for reelection by receiving more than 50% of the vote thus winning the seat. That left just districts 3 and 7 to be determined in the general election.

In district-7, incumbent Richard Vladovic was term limited from running. Teacher’s union favorite Patricia Castellanos faced off against the charter industry supported Tanya Ortiz Franklin. The district-3 race was between incumbent Scott Schmerelson and Granada Hills Charter High School employee Marilyn Koziatek.

There were four main independent expenditure groups active in the school board general election:

Pro-School Privatization

  • Families and Teachers United, Sponsored by California Charter School Association
  • Kids First, Established by Benjamin B. Austin
  • William E. Bloomfield, Is an Independent Expenditures Committee of One

Pro-Public Schools

  • Students, Parents and Educators, Sponsored by Teacher’s Unions

The table above shows almost $12 million dollars in independent expenditures spent to sway the election with nearly $10 million promoting school privatization. In the district-3 race, $3,586,443.03 was spent to defeat Scott Schmerelson and in the district-7 race, a whopping $6,387,455.15 went to ensure Franklin topped Castellanos.

The big spending Kids First PAC was established by Benjamin B. Austin who has a long history as a public school “destructor.” He worked as a Deputy Mayor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, he was appointed to the California State Board of Education by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he founded the Parent Revolution and wrote the Parent Trigger Law. Now he is bundling money to undermine democratic elections.

In district-3, Schmerelson who has 40 years of experience as a board member, teacher and school administrator had to fight hard and endure horrible slanders to defeat a charter school employee who has never taught and whose only school related work is in public relations.  In district-7, the massive spending to elect Tanya Ortiz Franklin worked. It gave billionaires a district majority for at least the next two years.

The Ugly

The local Indianapolis PBS station WFYI reported, “Reform Candidates Sweep IPS School Board Race In Expensive, Contentious Campaign.” They continued, “The four winners in the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners election will tilt the board firmly into support for the charter-friendly reforms ongoing at the state’s largest school district.”

When putative Democrat Bart Peterson was Mayor of Indianapolis, he led the beginnings of privatizing public schools there. He and his administrations school advisor, David Harris, founded The Mind Trust with major funding from local philanthropies including the Lilly Endowment. Lilly has gifted the organization more than $22 million in the last seven years and given lavishly to local charter schools. Indianapolis is now the second most privatized school system in America; second only to the New Orleans 100% privatized system.

The election results makes it certain that the privatization trend will continue. Bart Peterson is back with a new political action group dedicated to advancing his school privatization cause. Peterson’s new group is Hoosiers for Great Public Schools. This year there were five political action committees operating in Indianapolis.

Pro-Public Education

  • I-Pace – The Indiana Teachers Union PAC

Pro-School Privatization

  • Stand for Children Indy
  • Rise Indy
  • Hoosiers for Great Public Schools
  • Indy Chamber

The pro-privatization groups got a big assist from Billionaires Alice Walton ($200,000) and Michael Bloomberg ($100,000). They ended up with a ten to one spending advantage.

With their great financial advantage and a raging virus limiting door to door campaigning, the election was not close.

It truly is an ugly day for Indianapolis. Already more than 60% of the publicly financed schools are either charter schools or innovation schools. In either case, the elected school board has no control over their operations. They are run by private entities. This election insured that Indianapolis will continue on the course toward ending public education.

Ed Tech Spending Rampaging through North Carolina Public Schools

27 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/27/2020

A North Carolina cabal of school superintendents, politicians, consultants and technology companies has gone wild over the past seven years. In Chapel Hill, Education Elements obtained an illegitimate $767,000 contract. Chapel Hill-Carborro City Hills Schools (CHCCS) Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Jennifer Bennett, supposedly ignored school board policy and agreed to the contract in secret. It seems that when the state and local schools are spending on education technology, policies and law are being ignored.

After the Education Elements negotiations, Bennett sent a message to their Managing Partner, Jason Bedford, saying, “Need to get you guys to modify the [contract] if you can since if we include the whole potential payment value, then we have to take this to the Board since over our $90K threshold ….” This seems very damning, however, local citizens think they are being gas lighted. In the comments section on the school boards web site, several parents expressed the same opinion as parent Jeff Safir who wrote,

“I find it hard to believe that Jennifer Bennett acted alone and was the only person aware of the money being spent on the Education Elements engagement and I don’t understand why she is able to serve out the rest of her contract in an alternate capacity when the position is at-will ….”

Education Elements was created with funding from NewSchools Venture fund and a four other venture capital groups that invest in education startups. As noted in a previous article, “There are few districts in America that do not have a deeper bench when it comes to education theory, practical application and leadership talent than Education Elements.”  In agreement with this point, parent Kavita Rajagopal wrote,

“There is zero information as to exactly what our taxpayer dollars even bought from EdElements. I have spoken to numerous (double digits) teachers and not a single one found the training to be novel or particularly eye opening. Why are there no teachers at the table?”

Particularly galling to CHCCS parents is the fact that 20 of 40 teaching assistants working in special education were let go at the same time this contract was consummated. Parent Payal Perera wrote, “I was appalled to learn that the EC support staff funding was cut, while $750K was available for these other things!”

Mary Ann Wolf is President of the CHCCS school board. She is also a long time proponent of education technology. In a 2010 paper she wrote,

“Personalized learning requires not only a shift in the design of schooling, but also a leveraging of modern technologies. Personalization cannot take place at scale without technology. Personalized learning is enabled by smart e-learning systems, which help dynamically track and manage the learning needs of all students, and provide a platform to access myriad engaging learning content, resources and learning opportunities needed to meet each students needs everywhere at anytime, but which are not all available within the four walls of the traditional classroom.”

Wolf is Director of the Digital Learning Programs at The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University and is a member of the Digital Promise Micro-credential Advisory Board. She also presents at Future Ready symposiums.

In other words, Board President Mary Ann Wolf isn’t just a fan of putting kids at digital screens. She is a well paid leader in the movement.  The headline on the Friday Institute’s homepage proclaims, “Coaching digital learning institute.”

At the Friday Institute, Wolf had a colleague named Lauren Acree who in 2019 took a position as Design Principle at Education Elements. Parents in CHCCS are suspicious about why Wolf never revealed her connection to Education Elements when the scandal erupted.

It is not just North Carolina school districts ignoring past practices, policies and laws concerning education technology spending. In 2018, Mark Johnson, the Republican Superintendent of Schools, led a group of three local politicians and two superintendents of schools on an all expense paid junket to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Seven months later, Johnson announced a $6.6 million I-pad contract to supply the devices to North Carolina public school students in kindergarten through third grade. It was a no-bid contract that bypassed the state Department of Information Technology.

Johnson has great connections but he is not qualified to lead schools. In 2016, 33-years-old Mark Johnson became North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He garnered 50.6% of the vote besting his opponents 49.4% tally.

The young lawyer vacated his position as corporate counsel at Inmar, an international technology company, where he had worked for three years to take the Superintendent’s position. His only training and experience in education was a two year temp teacher stint with Teach For America (TFA).

Although he clearly lacked the qualifications of Professor June Atkinson, the incumbent, several billionaires including Arthur Rock, Michael Bloomberg, Jonathan Sackler and Steuart Walton contributed heavily to his campaign.

In 2016, Johnson also received support from the Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) PAC. It supports TFA alumni running for office. The Silicon Valley billionaire, Arthur Rock, is a board member of LEE along with Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma. 

Superintendents Organized to Sell Education Technology

In 2015, the Raleigh law firm Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP established The Innovation Project (TIP) with ten superintendents from North Carolina’s public school districts. The more than 100-years-old firm has deep ties to the business and political communities in North Carolina’s capital. For example, their self published history notes,

“Ed Gaskins was a member of EGH’s other predecessor firm, Sanford & Cannon. Sanford & Cannon was formed in 1965 by Terry Sanford (1917-1998), former Governor of North Carolina, and Hugh Cannon (1931-2006), one of Governor Sanford’s senior advisors who served as counsel to the governor.”

Why did law firm Partner Gerry Hancock initiate TIP as a service of the Raleigh law firm in their offices at the historic Briggs Hardware Store? Whatever the real motive was, by 2017, TIP had 26 superintendents of public education signed up and were ready to move onto the campus at North Carolina State University as a non-profit.

The Innovation Project’s Strange Road to Non-Profit Status

The odd TIP path to non-profit status began in 2013 two years before it was founded. Joe Ableidinger received EIN 46-3120883 for the non-profit World Class Schools. He was attempting to start two charter schools using computer based instruction. In July 2013, World Class Schools received a $100,000 grant from the Educause’s Next Generation Learning Challenges fund. An intiative financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The charter schools never opened and the non-profit changed its name to The Innovation Project in 2017.

TIP’s 2017 form 990 covering 7/1/2017 to 9/30/2018 is filed under the World Class Schools EIN 46-3120883 but with the new name. It lists two salaried employees Ann McColl and Joe Ableidinger.

In 2015, TIP received a startup grant of $150,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and soon after other foundations like the Belk Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation gave support. However a significant portion of their funding comes from membership dues. In a letter accompanying TIP’s invoices for the 2017-2018 school year, they announced cutting the dues from $36,000 to $30,000 per year.

TIP’s initiatives include establishing a virtual academy; creating their own version of turnaround schools called restart schools; establishing innovative classroom programs; addressing North Carolina’s teacher shortage and serving home-school families.

Unfortunately, this entire agenda with the exception of teacher shortages is being addressed by promoting education technology. For the teacher shortages, they have partnered with TNTP. In North Carolina, TIP could have partnered with the existing exemplary education professionals at University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University or Duke University to create alternate paths to teacher credentialing and professional development. Instead they chose to contract with the TFA created TNTP that is an unqualified light weight in education circles.

TIP also sites Mary Ann Wolf’s Friday Institute as a partner. (Update: On June 15 Wolf left the Friday Institute to become President of the Public Schools Forum also at North Carolina State University.)

On the TIP resource page, they list three sources under the category of Changes and Innovation.

  1. Center on Reinventing Public Education, Tracking Actions in Districts related to COVID-19
  2. Chiefs for Change,Tracking Innovation
  3. FutureEd, Tracking state legislation in response to COVID-19

Center on Reinventing Public Education is the billionaire financed organization promoting privatizing public education using the portfolio model of management. Chiefs for Change is the Jeb Bush founded organization promoting education technology, vouchers and charter schools. FutureEd sells the idea of putting children at digital screens instead of with actual teachers. This is the TIP agenda.

Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, was one of the superintendents accompanying Mark Johnson on that free trip to Apple Inc. She is also a TIP member.

In the paper Personalizing Learning in a Digital World: Four key priorities for digital and personalized learning,” the Digital Learning Institute thanked “Dr. Lynn Moody, …” for helping make the report possible.  

When Tip member Cathy Moore was deputy superintendent of Wake County Public Schools she was featured in a promotional video on the Education Elements web site. Today she is the superintendent.

Mary Ellis is a TIP member from the Union County Public Schools (UCPS). In 2015, while acting as Superintendent for UCPS, Ellis started a private endeavor called Educatrx Inc. She had three partners, two district technology leaders and Jason Mooneyham from the Chinese computer manufacturing company Lenovo.

In 2016, Ellis had legal corruption charges brought against her for conflicts of interest when her company facilitated a few technology deals including purchasing 10,000 Chromebooks from Lenovo. The district attorney dropped the charges.

Ellis is also a TIP consultant. In the 2017 TIP tax form, she is listed as being paid $121,629 for her services.

TIP creates classes for the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS). After reviewing NCVPS, state auditor Beth Wood said, “Be concerned that these online classes may not be preparing your children for the next grade or for college.” In the audit, Wood noted that eight of 12 NCVPS courses audited did not meet required curriculum content standards and there was no assurance that 11 of the 12 NCVPS courses analyzed met adopted standards for rigor. 

The vast majority of America’s school principals believe that students are experiencing too much screen time and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

Not all education technology is bad, but there are limitations. Students eventually need good graphing calculators, spread sheets, word processing and modern data acquisition capability. However, when the technology is little more than worksheets delivered by a digital device like those from I-ready and Education Elements not only is the screen time required unhealthy, the lessons are hated by students and ineffective.

To conclude this piece, here is a list of the 26 North Carolina school districts and their leaders that sent $30,000 or more to The Innovation Project in 2017.

  1. Alamance-Burlington Schools
    Dr. William “Bruce” Benson, Superintendent
  2. Asheboro City Schools
    Dr. Terry Worrell, Superintendent
  3. Beaufort County Schools
    Paul Higgins, Instructional Technology Director
  4. Cabarrus County Schools
    Dr. Chris Lowder, Superintendent
  5. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
    Dr. Pam Baldwin, Superintendent
  6. Craven County Schools
    Dr. Meghan Doyle, Superintendent
  7. Cumberland County Schools
    Dr. Marvin Connelly, Superintendent
  8. Edgecombe County School
    Dr. Valerie Bridges, Superintendent
  9. Gaston County Schools
    Mr. Jeff Booker, Superintendent
  10. Hoke County Schools
    Dr. Freddie Williamson, Superintendent
  11. Iredell-Statesville Schools
    Dr. Brady Johnson, Superintendent
  12. Johnston County Schools
    Dr. D. Ross Renfrow, Superintendent
  13. Kannapolis City Schools
    Dr. Daron Buckwell, Superintendent
  14. Lenoir County Schools
    Dr. Brent Williams, Superintendent
  15. Lincoln County Schools
    Dr. Lory Morrow, Superintendent
  16. Moore County Schools
    Dr. Robert “Bob” P. Grimesey Jr, Superintendent
  17. Mount Airy City Schools
    Dr. Kim Morrison, Superintendent
  18. Onslow County Schools
    Dr. Rick Stout, Superintendent
  19. Person County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Peterson, Superintendent
  20. Rockingham County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Shotwell, Superintendent
  21. Rowan-Salisbury Schools
    Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent
  22. Vance County Schools
    Dr. Anthony Jackson, Superintendent
  23. Wake County Schools
    Dr. Cathy Moore, Superintendent
  24. Warren County Schools
    Dr. Ray Spain, Superintendent
  25. Wayne County Schools
    Dr. Michael Dunsmore, Superintendent
  26. Wilson County Schools
    Dr. Lane Mills, Superintendent