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The Vicious Attack on Sweetwater Union High School District

14 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/14/2020

Chula Vista, California

Superintendent Karen Janney and the school board at Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) have a target on their backs. In September 2018, new Chief Financial Officer, Jenny Salkeld, announced there was a $20 million dollar hole in the submitted 2018-2019 school year budget. Salkeld had discovered a long smoldering budget irregularity. Janney immediately reported the budget issue to the County Office of Education and informed the bargaining units with whom she was negotiating about the new uncertainties. Since then, journalists looking for readers and politicians looking for opportunities have robustly slimed the district and its leaders.

A Quadruple Whammy

Besides the mystery of going from a reported $17 million positive budget to an actual $10 million deficit, Janney and the board of trustees had to deal with the states increased pension payment requirements, a hike in special education costs and shrinking enrollment.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the state required school districts to pay 8% of teachers’ salaries to the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). In the just submitted Second Interim budget report, Salkeld revealed that the rate is now 17.1% and will increase to 18.4% in the 2020-2021 school year. In other words, the retirement costs have more than doubled.

This school year, spending on special education has zoomed to $62.5 million and is projected to reach almost $70 million in two years.

In addition, SUHSD is experiencing shrinking enrollment. Between 2014 and today the average daily attendance in the district has dropped from 38,302 to 36,023. That accounts for another $20 million in lost revenue. The drop is almost entirely fueled by the expanding charter school sector. In the 2018-2019 school year, 15% of 7th grade through 12th grade students in the Sweetwater service area were in charter schools; a total of 6,281 students. (Number of students derived by cross referencing county charter school data with state attendance records.)

With all of the turmoil, the fact that SUHSD has 13 high schools and 11 middle schools in excellent facilities with professional leadership and highly skilled educators is often overlooked. According to the state, 23% of the district’s students are English language learners and 60% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. What might surprise outsiders is that the professional educators in Sweetwater love their jobs, their students and their schools. They take great pride in the quality of education being provided and are not disturbed in the least by the learning challenges associated with these kinds of student demographics.

However the current situation has presented an opportunity for demagoguery. Chula Vista Elementary has for several years gotten around the law limiting them to grades K-6 by starting dependent charter schools. They now have five dependent charter schools educating 2,108 students who would otherwise be in SUHSD schools. A recent article in the San Diego Union reports “Chula Vista district leaders say they want to give parents more options for middle school as soon as this July.” They want to steal more students.

Sweetwater 2018 Budgets Compared

Comparing the June 2018 Budget with the Revised October 2018 Budget

Is it Time to Replace Karen Janney?

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. On June 8, 2015 the board selected Karen Janney to be the new permanent Superintendent of the district.

Janney was born and raised in the district. She began teaching in SUHSD in 1978 and soon became an administrator. When Jesus Gandara was appointed Superintendent in 2006, Janney was serving as Assistant Superintendent of schools. By 2009, she had completed her doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration at San Diego State University (SDSU) and had been forced out of the SUHSD by Superintendent Gandara.

Janney had many friends in the district who were excited by her selection as the new superintendent. I was working at Mar Vista High School at the time and vividly recall how two staff members that were taking her education leadership course at SDSU were absolutely thrilled. I was OK with her selection but had some unfounded reservations that I kept to myself.

I soon became troubled by three different Janney agendas. I was bothered when she found funding to buy tee-shirts for all staff. The shirts had “Sweetwater Union High School District Putting Students First” emblazoned across the front. Though not mandated, there was pressure applied to wear these corporate styled promotional tee-shirts on certain days. It reminded me of the corporate approach to leadership employed by large charter school chains.

IMG_20200312_125802

Corporate Type of Promotion Foisted on SUHSD Teachers

A second and more troubling policy change came a few months into her tenure. Janney announced that Sweetwater was joining the Core Districts. Originally conceived as an organization for leaders in urban school districts to share strategies, CORE gained notoriety when its eight districts led by John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified made a legally questionable side deal with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They agreed to evaluate teachers using testing data for a chance at Race to the Top grants. Today, CORE is offering to conduct school evaluations for California districts using the residual-gain growth model as an alternative to the California Department of Education evaluation method.

Worse – in 2017, Janney scrapped the district’s expensive I-pad program and replaced it with another Ed Tech industry scheme for putting students at glowing screens. She purchased laptop computers for all students and staff. She had succumbed to the allure of education technology and its associated bad pedagogy. Janney also signed the Future Ready pledge making SUHSD a target for education technology salesmen.

Since the budget crisis began, it has become apparent that Janney is incapable of creating a good working relationship with the County Office of Education (COE). It may not be all her fault. She has been careful to legally comply with the COE but has not developed any visible cooperative relationships.

Superintendents are in charge. School boards only approve or disapprove of the agenda set before them by the Superintendent. From the beginning of her administration, board members, union leaders and community members recommended that she replace the financial department’s leadership. Janney refused and turned away calls in 2015 for a forensic audit of the district’s finances. She was not willing to accept the almost $2 million dollar price tag. These two decisions are central to the financial situation the district is in today. Many people were predicting financial issues would eventually be revealed.

When the crisis first manifested in September 2018, trustees and others encouraged Janney to utilize existing expertise within the district to run a messaging campaign making sure the district’s side of the story was being told. Janney chose instead to leave existing communications director, Manny Rubio, as the sole district spokesperson. During the first two months, there was no public response to the crisis by SUHSD. Rubio was content to wait and react to media questioning.

As the hidden $20 million dollar problem and growing structural issues created an urgent need for budget cuts, Janney made another critical error. Under her leadership the district’s central office staff has doubled. This is where cuts should be expected but Janney has rejected most cuts to her staff. To successfully solve the crisis she needs the cooperation of the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA – the teacher union), however, cutting teachers before district staff is undermining collaboration.

Union Chart of Sweetwater Staffing

An SEA Flyer for the March 10 School Board Meeting

FCMAT is a QUANGO and that’s Not Good

The Financial Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) was summoned to Sweetwater to look at the budget. After a three day deep dive into SUHSD finances, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine delivered a report and some damning words. He said that 302 entries that made the district finances look better were not well documented. He concluded, “That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up.” He also suggested the district was in danger of a state takeover.

FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT.  It is a QUANGO which Roland Watson describes as “a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization.” It is a neo-liberal construct common in the UK. Those of short duration are sometime called task forces; they are set up to look at an issue, report their recommendations and then disband. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, they have developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

It is eerie how closely the issue in SUHSD echoes the 2003 events in Oakland, California. In 2000, the School Board appointed Dennis Chaconas Superintendent over the objection of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who had pushed a city hall official for the superintendent’s post. In 2003, Education Next Reported, “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”

Chaconas wanted a waiver from the state to allow use of existing construction funds to temporarily pay off the deficit. Instead State Schools’ Superintendent Jack O’Connell and influential Democratic politicians like State Senator Don Perata and Mayor Jerry Brown were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt. Through apparent complicity with FCMAT, a state takeover of the district came about which gave Broad trained administrator Randolph Ward complete control.

The problem with a QUANGO is they carry out the political agenda of whoever is in power. An article in the Black Agenda Report stated,

“FCMAT did “hit” jobs for anyone willing to pay. Brown paid Tom Henry to prevent Oakland from solving its fiscal problem. FCMAT lobbied the State Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the former Democratic Assemblyman from Alameda, to rule that Oakland’s plan to borrow construction funds was a violation of state and local law.” (Tom Henry was FCMAT CEO)

FCMAT is still draining money from Oakland. Former Oakland School District Public Information Officer, Ken Epstein writes,

“State appropriation for FCMAT in 2018-19 was about $6.3 million, plus the fees school districts are required to pay for the “aid” provided by FCMAT staff. This past school year, the district paid FCMAT and the county $1.4 million to oversee OUSD.”

“… The district loan payments are $6 million a year until 2026. The $100 million loan was spent unilaterally by the state Receiver Ward with no input from the community.”

In December 2018, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine accused SUHSD of the felonious offense of covering up bad financial information with no evidence. At the same time his team moved in to perform a forensic audit of Sweetwater’s finances. To this date no evidence of criminal malfeasance has been presented and no forensic audit has been conferred.

That has not stopped Will Huntsberry and the Voice of San Diego from running banner headlines like “State Investigators Say There’s Evidence of a Financial ‘Cover-Up’ in Sweetwater” and linking to these allegations repeatedly throughout the last year.

Another Huntsberry headline claims, “Docs, Interviews Show Sweetwater Officials Ignored Budget Warnings.” This article which Huntsberry repeatedly linked in latter reports says one unnamed employee went to Director of Finance Doug Martens and CFO Karen Michel to raise concerns. Huntsberry says both of them told the employee not to worry about it. Martens and Michel resigned from Sweetwater after the June 2018 budget was submitted. If there were legal or ethical problems with financial reports, they are the main suspects. Technically, the report is not false but it is purposefully misleading and sensationalized.

A Final Observation

I lived through the three superintendents’ tenures of Brand twice and Gandara once. They were perverse and unethical. At the same time, many Trustees serving on the board appeared to represent the construction industry more than parents, students or taxpayers. The present board and superintendent might not be perfect, but I do not believe they are corrupt. That is important.

At this point in time, billionaires throughout America are openly hostile toward public education including US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Many politicians who take money from them would be happy to facilitate the state taking over our school districts. It is in the best interest of the entire Sweetwater family to close ranks and solve this crisis before outside forces take advantage.

 

 

The City Fund Spending Prolifically to Privatize Public Education

2 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/2/2020

The City Fund has joined the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) in the upper echelon of spending to privatize public education. (Gates is in a spending zone of his own.)  City Fund grants are of the same magnitude as CZI’s and approximately half the size as those from the Walton foundation. Since its establishment in July, 2018, City Fund reports issuing $110 million in large grants defined as more than $200,000; smaller grants not accounted for. Founders John Arnold and Reed Hastings have also provided the associated political action group, Public School Allies, with $15 million.

Reorganizing and Retooling the Attack on Public Schools

Little SiS City Fund Map

Reorganizing the Attack Little Sis Map

On the ides of March (2018), the Indy Star reported that David Harris the CEO of Mind Trust in Indianapolis was leaving to join a new national organization. Since Julius Caesar’s assassination, events linked to the ides of March are often viewed with alarm. This event portended a reorganized attack on public education and a new billionaire financed entity dedicated to establishing the portfolio model of public school management throughout America.

Until February of 2020, the secretive City Fund did not even have a web site. On July 31, 2018, City Fund Managing Partner, Neerav Kingsland, took to his blog and made public The City Fund – a new non-profit – and named its founding staff. He also arranged for a small group interview with The 74. Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat wrote an introductory piece called With big names and $200 million, a new group is forming to push for the ‘portfolio model.’” In December 2018, Barnum reported that The City Fund was starting an associated political action organization called Public School Allies. Since those few 2018 articles, The City Fund has operated in the dark.

This February they finally launched a web site and made available some accounting for their spending over the last year and a half. Because City Fund is a non-profit organization, they must soon file tax documents that will reveal in even more detail their spending and organizational structure. Their new transparency is apparently related to the imminent non-profit tax reporting requirements.

The Little SiS map above outlines some for the 2018 reorganization for the coming relentless attack on democratically run public schools. There were changes at The Mind Trust. It was co-founded in 2006 by Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and the youthful lawyer he chose as his education guy, David Harris. It became the prototype corporate education reform local organization. In 2010, Harris and Mind Trust Vice President, Ethan Gray founded the Cities of Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) which became Education Cities in 2014 after its disaster in Kansas City. This organization was designed to scale the Indianapolis methods of school privatization nationally.

In the 2018 reorganization, Mind Trust continued under new leadership and Education Cities was divided into two new school choice promoting organizations; School Board Partners and Community Engagement Partners. City Fund gave both new organizations $250,000 in seed money. Two lawyers, David Harris and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, left Mind Trust to become partners at City Fund. To insure Mind Trust’s continued success as an anti-democratic school privatizing organization, City Fund provided the new leadership with $18,000,000.

School Board Partners is an organization looking to co-opt elected school board members into furthering the portfolio model of education reform. They claim to offer training for school board members however every state requires school board members to go through training provided by the state. Community Engagement Partners purpose is continuing Education City’s support for local organizations that are working to privatize public education and instituting Betsy DeVos’s school choice agenda.

Education Cities CEO Ethan Gray became a Partner at The City Fund. Gray’s Director of Finance and Operations, Kevin Leslie, became Director of Grants and Operations at the City Fund. Education Cities Managing Partner Carrie Douglass became founding leader of School Board Education Partners. Senior Fellow Charles MacDonald is now Executive Director of Community Engagement Partners (CEP) and Associate Partner Rebecca Weinberg Jones became CEP Deputy Director.

Neerav Kingsland worked at both Arnold Ventures and The Hastings Fund before becoming Managing Partner of City Fund. He was also a board member of the California Charter Schools Association. Chris Barbic, the co-founder of YES Prep, worked at Arnold Ventures after a disastrous tenure leading Tennessee’s turnaround schools. He became a partner at City Fund in 2018. Noor Iqbal worked at Arnold Ventures and then for about a month at Mind Trust before becoming the Chief of Staff for City Fund. Ken Bubp worked first at Mind Trust, then Arnold Ventures and is now a Partner at City Fund.

Public School Allies

Founding City Fund staff member Gary Borden is no longer on the team, but he really is. Borden is now Managing Director of Public School Allies the 501 C4 organization established by City Fund to administer their political influence campaign. A lawyer by profession, Borden holds a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, majoring in economics and international business, and JD from Georgetown University. Before taking on Public School Allies, Borden was executive director of California Charter Schools Association Advocates (CCSA Advocates), which is CCSA’s political influence organization. Borden lives in Oakland, California.

For last November’s elections in Louisiana, Borden sent $1,500,000 to Louisiana Federation of Children which also received large contributions from California billionaire William Oberndorf plus Arkansas billionaires Alice and Jim Walton. These funds were used for independent expenditures supporting choice friendly candidates; five running for the state school board and 20 vying for the state legislature.

Campaign Spending by PSA

Clips from Campaign Reports in Newark, Camden and Saint Louis

In the spring of 2019, Borden sent $60,000 to the Newark group Great Schools for All PAC in support of the charter friendly school board candidates of the Moving Newark Forward slate. All three won handily, beating out a slate that was more skeptical of charter schools that had less than $10,000 to spend. Chalkbeat reports, “According to Borden, Public School Allies has also given $25,000 to New Jersey’s Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, as well as $1,000 each to New Jersey senate president Steve Sweeney and state assembly member Eliana Pintor Marin, both Democrats.”

In the fall of 2019, for the first time since 2013 voters in Camden, New Jersey were selecting three school board members, but only for an advisory role. Still, Borden sent $296,901 to a group in Camden, New Jersey called Campaign for Great Camden Schools to support three school board candidates; Troy Still, Nyemah Gillespie, and Falio Leyba-Martinez.   Gillespie and Leyba-Martinez won but Still came in forth behind Elton Curtis who bested Still 1683 to 1610 votes.

In the spring of 2019, Saint Louis had just ended a lengthy state school takeover and two school board seats were up for election. Leadership for Education Equity was supporting former Teach For America (TFA) corps member Tracee Miller both monetarily and with campaign services for one of the two open seats. The other TFA corps member running in the election was Adam Layne. Layne had only gathered $155 in campaign contributions when Borden gave the Civic PAC $20,000 for independent expenditures in support of Layne. Of the seven candidates running, Miller and Layne appeared least qualified but with the outside funding they won the two seats.

The fall of 2019 also saw a special election for Atlanta’s school board district 2. The winning candidate Aretta Baldon, a KIPP charter school parent and founding member of the parent group Atlanta Thrive, received $1,500 from Public School Allies. The campaign filing incorrectly lists the donor as “Campaign for Great Public Schools” which was the original name of Public School Allies.

Developing the Privatization Infrastructure

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

Not only is City Fund supporting these organizations with large grants they are embedding City Fund Partners on the Boards of these local non-profit organizations. As stated above, Mind Trust in Indianapolis received an $18,000,000 grant and City Fund Partner David Harris will remain on the Mind Trust board. Harris is also on the board of School Education Partners in San Antonio, Texas keeping an eye on the $4,800,000 investment there.

Kevin Huffman began his education career as a TFA corps member in Huston Texas; he became a lawyer, married Michelle Rhee, and was an executive at TFA. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam named Huffman Commissioner of education in 2011. Today, he is a Partner at City Fund and sits on the boards of City Fund grantees Memphis Education fund (granted $5,000,000) and RedefinED Atlanta (granted $2,750,000).

City Fund Partner, Ken Bubp, sits on the board of New Schools for Baton Rouge which received a grant for $13,487,500.

RootEd the former Blue Schools in Denver, Colorado was given a $21,000,000 grant without selecting a City Fund Partner for their board.

In Oakland California, four groups received a total $6,091,666. $4,250,000 of that total went to Educate 78 which has long been funded by Reed Hastings.

The Silicon Schools Fund was given two grants; $666,666 for operations in Oakland, California and $900,000 for operations in Stockton, California.

City Fund provided money to TFA, Relay Graduate School and several charter school chains including grants totaling $6,735,000 to three KIPP schools.

They sent the University of Washington Foundation $875,000 for the benefit of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, the originators and steadfast promoters of the portfolio model of public education.

What is Driving Arnold and Hastings?

In 1990, the Brookings Institute published Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools co-written by John Chubb and Terry Moe. That highly publicized book gave great momentum to school privatization. Moe and Chubb called for ending locally elected school boards claiming that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

In a December speech, Reed Hastings said,

“Let’s year by year expand the nonprofit school sector. We know the school district is probably not going to like it, but we’re not against them. We’re for good schools, period. If there’s a very high-performing school district school, let’s keep it. But the low-performing school district public school — let’s have a nonprofit public school take it over.”

It looks like Hastings and Arnold have a blind belief in business and disrespect the public sector. These two billionaires are victims of the bad ideology Chubb and Moe promoted. Somehow, they succumbed to the belief that democracy is bad and must be replaced by corporate entities.

Their organization constantly claims that charter schools outperform public schools. However, those claims are invariably based on non-peer reviewed papers produced by organizations they and other “deformers” financially support. Standardized testing results have a long and now well documented history of misuse and obfuscation.

The latest CREDO study from Stanford University is exactly that kind of questionable study. It is based on Education Growth models which are not reliable and their study has never been submitted for peer review. This kind of terrible evidence should not be accepted as a reason to destroy America’s public education system. We should not allow profiteering private companies to assume the responsibility for educating America’s youth. However, that is exactly what the billionaires who founded City Fund are selling.

Twitter: @tultican

The Dallas Model Episode 2: Who is Behind the Corporate Education Reform Agenda in Dallas

24 Feb

Eye Opening Book: The Power Worshippers

20 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/20/2020

Katherine Stewart’s The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism is a brilliant piece of investigative journalism. It shines a light on significant threats to American pluralism and representative democracy. The religious rights amazing successes now influence every aspect of American life, from the White House to local governments, from schools to hospitals. Stewart documents the origins of “the Russia thing” and the evangelical embrace of Donald Trump. She clarifies that the Christian right is not fighting a culture war; it is a political war waged against the institutions of American democracy and freedom of conscience.

Worshippers Cover Photo

Trump is a Gift from God

Ralph Drollinger: “I started sending him my Bible studies when he was running his campaign and Trump has been writing notes back to me ever since, in a positive sense. He likes loyalty.”

Paula White about Trump: “It is God that raises up a king.”

Franklin Graham on Trump’s election: “God’s had intervened.”

David Barton called Trump: “God’s guy.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed God: “wanted Trump to become president.”

Ralph Reed stated: “There has never been anyone who has defended us and fought for us who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump.”

Rick Ridings said when he asked God how the nation will learn to change: “The Lord said, ‘It must play, the Trump card.’”

Ed Martin stated: “The Donald Trump administration has been a blessing on America like we’ve never seen.”

These sentiments are expressed by leaders of Christian Nationalism throughout this book. If you don’t recognize some of the names, it is important to understand that they are having a large influence on education, social justice and foreign policy in America and beyond. Stewart brings them out of the shadows and illuminates their roles.

Public Education, Environmentalism and Social Welfare are Evil

Pastor D. James Kennedy asserted that children in Public Schools were being “brainwashed in Godless secularism.” In 2003, the DeVos family’s Christian Reformed Church warned that “not only does there exist a climate of hostility to the Christian Faith, the legitimate and laudable educational goal of multi-culturalism is often used as a cover to introduce pagan and New Age spiritualities such as deification of mother earth (Gaia) and to promote social causes such as environmentalism.” The report also claimed that “government schools” had “become aggressively and increasingly secular in the last forty years.”

In his sermon called “A Godly Education,” Kennedy exclaimed, “The infusion of an atheistic, amoral, evolutionary, socialistic, one-world, anti-American system of education in our public schools, has indeed become such that if it had been done by and enemy, it would be considered an act of war.” After denouncing Horace Mann as “a Unitarian,” Kennedy declared, “The modern, public education system was begun in an effort to deliver children from the Christian religion.”

Environmentalism is termed a “false religion.” Stewart quotes the young pastor who took her to a Christian political event in North Carolina, “It’s ten degrees hotter than normal, and these people don’t believe in climate science.” The conservative Christian Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation declares, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” The Christian Nationalist political organization Culture Impact Center has claimed that environmentalism is a “litany of the Green Dragon” and “one of the greatest threats to society and the church today.”

Many of the roots of Christian Nationalism can be trace to the antebellum period and theological theories supporting slavery. Calvinist philosopher R. J. Rushdoony was an admirer of these preachers and claimed that “some people are by nature slaves and will always be so.” Although some of his writing was uncomfortable for leaders in the nationalist movement, his ideas form a significant amount of the ideology embraced by today’s right wing Christian thinking. He was the first to claim the First Amendment aimed to establish freedom “not from religion, but for religion.”

Katherine Stewart explains Rushdoony’s perspective,

“The defeat of the orthodox side in the Civil War, Rushdoony realized, ‘paved the way for the rise of the unorthodox Social Gospel.’ The ‘Social Gospel,’ as Rushdoony understood it, is the mistaken belief that Christianity would have us use the power of government to reform society along lines that conform with Jesus’ teachings about loving thy neighbor. This unwanted fruit of defeat in the Civil War, Rushdoony came to think, blossomed into the next great enemy of Christian civilization. The enemy was, in a word, the New Deal.”

Rushdoony died in 2001. One of his contemporaries from the 1930’s, James W. Fifield Jr., thought he had the answer to Rushdoony’s concern. “To combat the horrors of the New Deal, Fifield proposed to energize the nation’s Protestant pastors.”  He felt the New Dealers were breaking the 8th commandment. When they used the power of government to tax the rich and give to the poor, it violated “God’s word: Thou shalt not steal.” Stewart says, “In Fifield’s mind, the Social Gospel was just another word for communism, and it had to be stopped.”

Ralph Drollinger a Masculine Christian

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived at UCLA in 1968. A couple years later, over at Muni-gym in San Diego’s Balboa Park, Jabbar’s UCLA replacement Bill Walton was dominating pickup games. It was Ralph Drollinger’s misfortune to follow in the footsteps of these two storied big men onto the campus in Westwood. During the 74-75 season, 7’2” Drollinger began the season as the starting center and his play was far below his predecessors. Capital Weekly described, “he was cruelly jeered on the court, and calls for his benching by fans and media grew ever louder.”

Going into the NCAA basketball tournament, Drollinger’s playing time had been reduced significantly. The final game of the tournament was at the San Diego Sports Arena where I was working. It was the legendary coach John Wooden’s last game. The only substitute Wooden used in the final game was Drollinger and in 16 minutes he scored 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. He was the key to Wooden and UCLA winning their 10th national championship in 12 years. It was one of the most thrilling sporting events I ever witnessed.

Drollinger at UCLA

Drollinger During the 74-75 Season

In Chapter 2, I was surprised to learn that Ralph Drollinger was a central leader in the Christian nationalist movement. Stewart speculates, “In the past two years, perhaps no Christian nationalist leader has had better luck playing the inside game than Ralph Drollinger.” He now leads a weekly “Bible study” for Trump cabinet member and other administration officials. Vice President Mike Pence has attended some of Drollinger’s studies.

After UCLA, Drollinger played with the evangelistic team, Athletes in Action, and had a brief stint with the Dallas Mavericks. He and his wife Karen Rudolph Drollinger had three children together. She left him in order to take up a relationship with a woman. It must have been brutal for Drollinger because he views homosexual relationships as “detestable acts,” “profane actions of immorality” and an “abomination.” Drollinger’s attitude toward homosexuality is widely shared on the Christian right.

He, like most of the other leaders profiled in The Power Worshippers, is a committed and unapologetic advocate of gender hierarchy in the home, at work and at church. Drollinger teaches,

“The respect of the submissive wife to her husband then, becomes a tremendous physical picture of the interrelationships existing amongst the members of the Trinity, i.e. the Son’s respect for the Father’s authority. This human modeling is essential to the woof and warp of successful cultures….”

He apparently absorbed these principles while pursuing a masters of divinity from the strict Calvinist and patriarchal brand of theology taught at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles. The “hyper-conservative” pastor John MacArthur has led the Seminary since 1986. One of MacArthur’s sermons, “The Willful Submission of the Christian Wife,” tells women to “rank yourself under” husbands. He declares, “Your task is at home.” He explains, “A women’s task, a woman’s work, a woman’s employment, a woman’s calling is to be at home.”

Drollinger was an early enthusiastic supporter of Trump. He is also an enthusiastic advocate of corporal punishment declaring, “When rebellion is present, to speak without spanking is woefully inadequate.” Additionally, Drollinger calls environmentalism a “false religion” and says certain initiatives to protect animal species and preserve natural resources “miss the clear proclamation of God in Genesis.”

Peter Montgomery a senior fellow at People for the American Way says that in his “Bible study” classes, Drollinger teaches public officials “that the Bible mandates adherence to right-wing policy positions on a wide range of issues, including environmental regulation, the death penalty, abortion, LGBTQ equality and more.” Dollinger writes, “Leaders must incentivize individuals and industries (which includes unencumbering them from the unnecessary burdens of government regulations).” He teaches that “God is pro private property ownership” and says the flat tax is “God-ordained.” He states that social welfare programs “have no basis in Scripture.”

There are many characters in the Christian Nationalist movement highlighted in The Power Worshippers. Like Drollinger, they all advocate policies leading to a Christian theocracy. Obfuscation and distorting American history are common practices by the religious nationalists Stewart documents.

Always about Power, Never about Abortion

Paul Weyrich coined the term “moral majority.” He also co-founded the Heritage Foundation, The Free Congress Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council. Weyrich and The Free Congress Foundation were labeled dominionists by the Anti-Defamation League.

Historian Randall Balmer explains how abortion was seized upon as an issue:

“It wasn’t until 1979 – a full six years after Roe – that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.”

Balmer asked Weyrich about his claim that it was an attempt by the IRS to rescind tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies that animated the religious right and not abortion. Balmer says, “He was adamant that, yes, the 1975 action by the IRS against Bob Jones University was responsible for the genesis for the Religious Right in the 1970s.”

Trump’s “Russia Thing” Came from Religious Nationalists

Paul Weyrich made 12 trips to Russia and Eastern Europe before his death in 2008 and became a strong supporter of closer relations with Russia. Stewart reports, “He was writing and speaking frequently in defense of Russia and facilitating visits between U.S. conservatives and Russian political leaders.”

In 2013, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association called Putin a “lion of Christianity.” In 2014, Franklin Graham defended Putin for his efforts “to protect his nations’ children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.” He also lamented that Americans have ‘abdicated our moral leadership.” In 2015 Graham met privately with Putin for 45-minutes. In 2016, Mike Pence said Putin was “a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country.” It seems that Trump’s embrace of Putin and other despotic world leaders is an outcome of Religious Nationalism.

Conclusion

This is Katherine Stewart’s second book. In 2009, she was nonplussed to find a Christian group had established their “Good News” club at her daughter’s elementary school. This led to the 2012 book The Good News Club which I highly recommended for its brilliant scholarship and research. In The Power Worshippers, Stewart continued investigating the forces invading America’s public schools. In the words of Nancy MacLean, “Katherine Stewart presents chilling evidence that millions of American churchgoers are being inflamed and exploited by a cynical, well-funded alliance of power seekers.”

Stewart connects the dots between radical theocratic groups working to turn America into a Christian theocracy and extreme free-market libertarians. She undertook the enormous task of revealing who these “Power Worshippers” are. They pull the strings of government power in communities, statehouses and at the federal level. Read this book and encourage everyone you know to read this important book as well.

Twitter: @tultican

Amplifying Profits Selling Harmful Pedagogy

19 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/19/2020

Amplify education Inc. has a two decade history of trying to profit by selling education technology. The bottom line is even if their pedagogy was good – which it is not – it would be unhealthy for children. The big dream of replacing teachers with digital screens and making gobs of money has a fatal flaw. The last thing 21st century children need is more screen time. Amplify’s lessons are dangerously unhealthy and deliver low quality teaching.

A History of Profiteers and Disrupters

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. Including performance incentives, Larry Berger pocketed $40 million and agreed to stay on as head of curriculum.

Amplify Political Celeberties

Amplify a Commercial Venture Profiteering off Public Education

The mogul, Rupert Murdoch, proposed buying a million I-Pads for delivering classroom instruction. However, the Apple operating system did not allow the flexibility needed to load the Wireless Generation software. Amplify chose a device manufactured by the Taiwanese company Asus. The android operating system met their needs and the tablets were well regarded in the market place but they were not designed to withstand the demands of school use. One other issue was that Wireless Generation had never developed curriculum but Murdoch wanted to beat Pearson and Houghton Mifflin to the digital education market place.

In July 2012, Amplify publicized its development partnership with AT&T. Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobility declared, “Together, we plan to bring to market a 4G mobile tablet-based experience that we believe will significantly enhance teaching and learning for grades K-12.”

The following March, Amplify announced its new tablet for teachers and students. CEO Joel Klein stated,

“We want to transform the way teachers teach and students learn. Technology has revolutionized the world, but not the classroom. Our hope is that this tablet will help change that.”

That same March of 2013, Amplify also won a $12.5 million dollar contract with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop a digital library of formative assessments. It was the second contract awarded to Amplify by Smarter Balanced. The first one came in 2012 calling for Amplify to partner with ETS developing software to analyze results from common core assessments. Both were part of the $175 million dollar grant by the US Department of Education to the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

The corporate plan was rolling along nicely and then the wheels came off. In Guilford County, North Carolina the school district won a Race to the Top grant of $30 million dollars which it used to experiment with digital learning. The district’s plan called for nearly 17,000 students in 20 middle schools to receive Amplify tablets over the next three years. When a charger for one of the tablets overheated, the plan was halted. Only two months into the experiment, not only had a charger malfunctioned but another 175 chargers had various issues and 1500 screens had broken.

The following year Amplify tried to reestablish itself as a leading player in the digital learning markets. CEO Joel Klein called the new offerings a potential “game-changer” and “unlike anything anyone has ever seen in public education.” The company claimed the Guilford County problems had been fixed.

By August of 2015, 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.

A New Billionaire Savior Appears

It was soon learned that the real buyer of Amplify was Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple. She purchased Amplify through her non-profit the Emerson Collective.

Ed Surge reported, “Emerson Collective has also invested in a slew of edtech startups including AltSchool, FreshGrade, Nearpod and, most recently Udacity’s $105 million round. She is also on the board of NewSchools Venture Fund (an investor in EdSurge.)” In the same month that she bought Amplify, Powell Jobs launched XQ: The Super School Project, a $50 million challenge inviting teams to submit plans to re-invent high schools.

Laurene Powell Jobs has no respect for public school educators and the schools they work in. When Wiki Leaks leaked the Clinton campaign’s emails, Powell Jobs’ recommendations to Hillary Clinton were revealed. She offered four uninformed policy positions in a conversation with Ann O’Leary:

  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; …”

When “we know how to do it” does not include significant input from practicing professional educators, the reasoning is obviously erroneous.

Charter schools have been R&D for fraud, embezzlement and abuse but certainly not for delivering positive innovations. Her slap at teachers unions and work place protections for teachers is consistent with other billionaires and with creating professional educator shortages.

While I was working in public schools, I found the teachers to be every bit as intellectually competent as any of the engineers I met while working in Silicon Valley. Suggesting that Teach For America teachers are even remotely competent to lead a classroom shows gross ignorance of education reality. They are uneducated and untrained.

Technology has a place in education. It is essential for schools to have modern functional lab equipment. Students need access to good word processing programs and video recording equipment to engage in creative endeavors. Some lessons can be supplemented by technology but screens will never replace a live professional educator.

Real education requires life to life communion between teacher and student. Daisaku Ikeda, writes in his book Soka Education,

“Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.”

Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. Low cost learning at a screen is spiritless, amoral and dead.

There has been a refocus on “personalized learning” since the Powell Jobs acquired Amplify. (How can isolation at a screen be called “personalized learning?”) In a puff piece about Amplify, Ainslee Harris claims,

“Amplify booked $59 million in revenue in 2016, its first year of independence, and $74 million in 2017. This year, it’s on track to book $125 million, making it one of the few education startups to break the $100 million mark.”

The Powell Jobs team has taken control of the Amplify board. Russlyn Ali (Managing Director of Education at the Emerson Collective), Brad Powell (Managing Partner of Emerson Collective) and former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings have joined Larry Berger on the board. People like Stacy Childress (CEO of New Schools Venture Fund), Linda Roberts (Office of Education Technology, US Department of Education) and James B. Hunt Jr. (Former Governor of North Carolina) have departed.

Bad Pedagogy and Unhealthy Practices

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 (OECD) said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.” The OECD runs the international testing known as PISA. They came to their conclusion by analyzing the results from the more than 70 countries whose data they monitor.

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.”

A recent post by Nancy Bailey addressed problems with Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program for teaching reading. Teacher evaluation committees from Rochester, New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma condemned the program. Some of the comments:

“It builds on content so kids in primary grades learn about ancient civilizations, and it shows some vertical articulation, but it doesn’t have good scope and sequence when learning skills. It’s not developmentally appropriate to introduce a skill or curriculum or new learning concept and then not refer to it again for a very long time.”

One teacher said that her principal was “very disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of neat stuff in the hall, but CKLA doesn’t allow for much creative-type work. I didn’t want to hang worksheets in the hall.”

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

The math and science programs are just as regressive. In Seattle, an anonymous donor paid $100,000 to have Amplify Science piloted in 20 middle schools. An NPR report noted,

“Former school board member Peters said it’s difficult to compare results the first year of a new test: Pass rates dropped across the board in 2018 when it was introduced. But her analysis shows pass rates dropped the most at the Seattle schools using Amplify Science — despite the curriculum’s promise to help students meet the new standards.”

‘“The students that fared the worst were low-income students using Amplify Science,’ Peters wrote in an email to the board.”

Because of political pressure to implement computer learning, Seattle’s school board ignored the pleas of teachers and parents and bought the Amplify Science program. Its biggest selling point was that it is aligned with the Next Generation Science standards which are also an abomination.

Conclusion

The reason schools are buying these terrible education technology frauds is that professional educators are no longer making curricular decisions. All large modern businesses including schools require a significant digital infrastructure. This means that there must be an information technology group headed by an expert. That expert who loves technology and has no pedagogical expertise becomes the leading voice concerning the purchase of digital equipment. That explains in part why school districts in financial difficulty are still purchasing pricey education technology software and hardware. Board members believe they have no choice and that they are implementing professional advice.

Amplify Education, Inc. is another modern snake oil salesman. The only reason they did not disappear in 2003 is that the federal government and investors like Rupert Murdoch have poured billions of dollars into this company. It is past time for the fraudulent STEM ideology, education testing scam and the sale of low quality education technology products to be stopped. Taxpayers are being fleeced, schools are being bankrupted and children are being harmed.

Twitter: @tultican

Harvard Propaganda Supports Mind Trust Madness

4 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/4/2020

Ivy League schools are losing their luster to the stranglehold of billionaire money. The Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at the Harvard Kennedy School produces Education Next. It is not the kind of objective journal expected from an academic institution. The driving force behind PEPG is Paul Peterson a choice zealot who trained many of the academics contributing to Education Next.

Influenced by super-wealthy people like Bill Gates and the Walton family, Education Next’s reform ideology undermines democratic control of public schools. It promotes public school privatization with charter schools and vouchers. The contributors to the Education Next blog include Chester E. Finn, Jay P. Greene, Eric Hanushek, Paul Hill, Michael Horn, Robin J. Lake and Michael Petrilli. Robin Lake’s new article The Hoosier Way; Good choices for all in Indianapolisis an all too common example of Education Next’s biased publishing.

The Propaganda Source

The portfolio model was a response to John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which claimed that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” It is interesting that the late John Chubb was a committed conservative living in Charles Koch’s hometown of Wichita, Kansas. His widow, Angela Kennedy-Toon, still lives there and is a Managing Partner at an Ed Tech company. Her company profile lists Angela’s close education follows as Chester Finn, Michael Horn, Frederick Hess, Wendy Kopp and Jeanne Allen.

It was a social scientist Paul Hill who developed the portfolio model of school management.

Paul Hill studied political science at Seattle University then completed a Masters in political science at Ohio State in 1966. With the election of Richard Nixon in 1969, Hill, who was working as a Republican congressional staffer, got an administration job as a Research staff member, Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1972, Hill was awarded a Doctorate in Political Science by Ohio State University and became Assistant Director for Policy Studies, The National Institute of Education,U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. He was there until Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1977. After leaving government service, Hill worked as a social science researcher at the Rand Corporation for the next two decades.

In 1993, Hill founded the Center on Reinvention Public Education (CRPE) on the campus of the University of Washington. While building his organization, he also worked out the mechanics of ending democratic control of public education. His solution is known as the portfolio model of school governance.

The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio. It is a plan that guarantees school churn in poor neighborhoods, venerates disruption and dismisses the value of stability and community history.

Robin Lake was one of Hill’s first hires at CRPE. She became his closest confederate and when he decided to reduce his work load in 2012, Lake took his place as the Director of CRPE. Lake and Hill co-wrote dozens of papers almost all of which deal with improving and promoting charter schools. Since the mid-1990s Lake has been publishing non-stop to promote the portfolio model of school management and charter schools. Lake’s new article up on Education Next is her latest in praise of the portfolio agenda for resting school control from local voters.

Like a large number of the contributors to Education Next, neither Robin Lake nor her mentor Paul Hill have practiced or formally studied education. None-the-less, they have been successful at selling their brand of education reform; which is privatization. They describe their organization, CRPE, as engaging in “independent research and policy analysis.” However, Media and Democracy’s Source Watch tagged the group an “industry-funded research center that . . . receives funding from corporate and billionaire philanthropists as well as the U.S. Department of Education.” A report from Seattle Education lists some of the funders:

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • The Broad Foundation
  • Fund for Educational Excellence
  • Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
  • National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
  • The Seattle Foundation
  • US Department of Education
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • The Brookings Institute
  • The Business Roundtable

Education Next Cover

Harvard’s Education Next Makes Propaganda Look Swell – Lake’s Article Header

Undermining Public Schools

“The Hoosier Way” recounts what Lake depicts as the heroic history of Republican State Senator Teresa Lubbers’ seven-year long campaign to enact a charter school law in Indiana. It explains that in 2001, Lubber finally won when Democratic Governor Frank O’Bannon signed her bill into law. Lake goes on to explain, “Over the next decade, under Governor Mitch Daniels and state schools chief Tony Bennett, state legislators passed a whole package of reform bills: launching a voucher initiative, expanding charters and giving them rights to unused district buildings, allowing virtual charters, and overhauling teacher accountability.”

These are all presented as positive things for students in Indiana and especially in Indianapolis where newly elected Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson embraced charter schools.

During the 1999 mayors race Peterson hired David Harris a 27-year old lawyer with no education background to be his education guy. Under the states new charter school law, mayors were given the power to bestow charters. David Harris was soon running Mayor Peterson’s charter school office. By 2007 Harris and Peterson had authorized 16 charter schools in Indianapolis.

Today, charter schools which are not accountable to local residents of Indianapolis are serving nearly 50% of the cities students. Plus, 10,000 of the 32,000 Indianapolis Public School (IPS) students are in Innovation schools which are also not accountable to local voters. The organization most responsible for the loss of democratic control over publicly financed schools in Indianapolis is The Mind Trust.

Indianapolis enrollment graph Changed

The First Charter Schools in Indianapolis Opened in 2003

Tony Bennett served as Superintendent of public schools in Indiana during the administration of Republican Governor Mitch Daniels. Bennett was “widely known as a hard-charging Republican reformer associated with Jeb Bush’s prescriptions for fixing public schools: charter schools, private school vouchers, tying teacher pay to student test scores and grading schools on a A through F scale.” He left Indiana to become Florida’s Education Commissioner in 2013, but soon resigned over an Indiana scandal involving fixing the ratings of the Crystal House charter school which was owned by a republican donor.

In 2011 before leaving, Bennett was threatening to take action against Indianapolis schools. The Mind Trust responded to Bennett with a paper called Creating Opportunity Schools.” Lake writes,

“In response to a request from Bennett, The Mind Trust put out a report in December 2011 calling for the elimination of elected school boards and the empowerment of educators at the local level. … At the same time, Stand for Children, an education advocacy nonprofit, was raising money to get reform-friendly school-board members elected, and much of the public debate centered on The Mind Trust’s proposal. … A new board was elected in 2012 (the same year Mike Pence became governor) and the board quickly recruited a young new superintendent, Lewis Ferebee, to start in September 2013.” (Emphasis added)

Lewis Ferebee was a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. He was selected to continue the Jeb Bush theory of education reform. It is the theory Bush developed while serving on the board of the Heritage Foundation in the 1990s.

Stand for Children is the infamous dark money organization that funnels money from financial elites into local school board elections. The organization began after Jonah Edelman helped his mother Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, with a 1996 rally. He took advantage of the situation and the contacts to start Stand for Children. In the early 2000s, Edelman’s pro-privatization anti-union agenda alienated many of his early supporters.

A 2016 paper from the neoliberal organization Progressive Policy Institute explains how The Mind Trust looked to attract like minded national organizations to Indianapolis:

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

Lake states, “Ferebee, Harris, and Kloth formed what one observer called a civic triangle to focus on creating high-performing schools.” By “high performing schools” they mean charter schools dominated by unqualified TFA temp teachers who have assimilated the school privatization philosophy. The third member of the “civic triangle” is Jason Kloth, a Teach for America alumnus, named deputy mayor of education by Republican Mayor Greg Ballard.

Lake also informs us that “The Mind Trust brought school-board members and local civic leaders to New Orleans, which was implementing the portfolio model—characterized by broad school choice for families (based on a “portfolio” of charter and district-run schools), plus autonomy paired with accountability for educators.”

However, members of the black and brown community including the NAACP started realizing that it was their communities that were being robbed of public schools. Lake noted,Despite support from local newspapers’ editorial boards, the black community recoiled and many people saw The Mind Trust as a group of elitists writing plans to take over the local schools.”  In 2013, to counter these problems, The Mind Trust hired a beautiful young black female lawyer, Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, to change its approach to minority communities and solve the issue.

Robin Lake concludes that testing data from a recent CREDO study at Stanford University shows the success of the portfolio model in Indianapolis. Dr. Jim Scheurich, Urban Education Studies Doctoral Program Indiana University – Indianapolis (IUPUI), points out that Lake didn’t mention that the CREDO report and its methodology have been criticized by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy (nepc.colorado.edu) center multiple times. Scheurich also notes that CREDO “receives large pro-charter funding.”

The CREDO study claims to meaningfully measure learning growth to 0.01 of a standard deviation (σ). The reality is Growth models are plagued by error and do not give reliable measurements. There is no way a difference of 0.01 σ can be measured meaningfully. Furthermore, the CREDO studies are not peer reviewed which makes them clearly untrustworthy.

The Metastasizing Affliction

Robin Lake is the director of CRPE which birthed the portfolio model and is engaged in pushing the model into schools nationwide. In 2018, two billionaires, Reed Hastings and Jon Arnold, agreed to put up $100 million each toward promoting the portfolio model of school management. Since then, billionaires Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Steve Ballmer have all contributed to their new organization, The City Fund.

Ethan Gray was Vice President of The Mind Trust before he and David Harris founded an organization called Education Cities. Education Cities became the national organization spreading their ideology. In the summer of 2018, David Harris, Ethan Gray and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo all left their respective organizations to become founding employees of The City Fund.

There is a deep corruption infesting elite institutions in America. For Harvard University to publish biased articles by people with well known agendas exemplifies this metastasizing affliction.

Denver, Colorado has a school district that is often held up as an exemplar of the portfolio model. Far from being an exemplar it is a dystopian nightmare and warning. This year, Denver voters defeated the dark money controlling their school board. Big money was no longer enough. Indianapolis voters need to follow Denver’s example and throw off the billionaire’s yoke.

Twitter: @tultican

Providence Public Schools Threatened

13 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/13/2020

November 1, 2019, Angélica Infante-Green, Rhode Island’s new Commissioner of Education, announced the state was taking over Providence Public Schools. A neoliberal Democratic governor, a like minded mayor and the chamber of commerce appear to be instituting a school privatization agenda.

All power over schools in the state is held by the governor and mayors. Citizens do not have the right vote for local school leaders and school system leaders are subordinates of mayors. This structural weakness in Rhode Island has left public education vulnerable to the whims of a governor or mayor that does not respect professional educators and public education.

In 2011, Mayor Angel Taveras fired all of the teachers of Providence. In a recent article, Go Local Providence called it a “big bold idea” and seemed to lament that the teachers union got the firings reversed within a few days. This prompted Diane Ravitch to comment,

“Apparently the News Team wants the state commissioner to fire all the teachers now and is egging her on to do so.”

“Who will want to teach in a district where teachers are disposable, like tissues?

“Will Teach for America supply the new teachers after the existing workforce has been fired? Will they agree to stay longer than two years?”

Setting Up Providence Public Schools

Latino Public Radio reported on March 26, 2019, “The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education voted unanimously this evening, with the support of the full Rhode Island Board of Education, to appoint Angélica Infante-Green as the next Commissioner of Education.” This was really a pro forma vote. Governor Gina Raimondo selected Infante-Green as well as all of the state school board. Once Raimondo made her choice, it was a done deal.

RI Neoliberals

Recently Raimondo was judged to be the most unpopular governor in America. The Providence Journal reported in October:

“The second-term Democrat’s job performance is viewed unfavorably by 56% of registered voters, according to website Morning Consult, the most negative response during her time in office and the highest in the country. Only 36% of poll respondents, surveyed between July 1 and Sept. 30, viewed her favorably.”

Gina attended private school while growing up in Providence. She studied economics at Harvard and sociology at Oxford University. Following Oxford she earned a juris doctorate from Yale Law.

Raimondo worked in Massachusetts at the venture capital firm Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital before she ran to be Rhode Island State Treasurer in 2010. A puff piece in News Week describes how Gina defeated labor union opposition to roll back pension funds. The piece states, “The changes she persuaded the Democrat-controlled Legislature to pass over union opposition will save about $3 billion by delaying retirement, suspending cost-of-living increases and offering workers 401(k)-type savings plans.”

Her neoliberal pension reform plan matches the thinking of Charles Koch and the Cato Institute. The corporate supported American Legislative Exchange Council provides legal templates for reforming pension funds that look very much like Raimondo’s Rhode Island pension reforms.

Following her first term election in 2014, Raimondo selected Ken Wagner, a deputy of John King’s in the New York State Department of Education, to be Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education. The New York Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, praised Wagner and said he would be a big loss but was a great choice for Rhode Island. Wagner replaced Deborah Gist who left for the superintendent’s job in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Last year, the governor was faced with making another education commissioner choice. While it is unclear why Wagner resigned the position in March 2019, Raimondo was prepared to immediately select Angélica Infante-Green who trained under Joel Klien and Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Infante-Green is a former Teach for America Corp member who began her career in New York City.

According to Angélica’s LinkedIn page, she taught at PS 4M, CS 77X, and South Park High School between 1994 and 1998. All of her administrative experience appears to revolve around bilingual education. She has never been a superintendent or a principal, which makes her an odd choice to lead Rhode Island’s schools.

However, she was in the first cohort of future chiefs at Jeb Bush’s Chief’s for Change. Their official comment on Angélica’s hiring came from Chief’s for Change board member Pedro Martinez. He said, “We applaud Gov. Gina Raimondo for selecting a commissioner with a deep commitment to creating and expanding opportunities for all students.” Martinez is the Broad trained administrator who is instituting the billionaire financed portfolio model of education reform in San Antonio, Texas; a model that posits disruption as good and democracy as a hindrance.

Researchers from John Hopkins University conducted a review of Providence Public Schools. Their report begins,

“In May 2019, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy led a review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). We did so at the invitation of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner, Ms. Angélica Infante-Green, with the support of Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza. The Partnership for Rhode Island funded the review.”

Infante-Green officially assumed her position on April 29 and in May she already had arranged for corporate money to finance a study of PPSD.

The corporate money came from The Partnership for Rhode Island, a group of leading CEO’s in the state. The Governor and the Mayor supported the new Commissioner of Education’s invitation for the study to be done. When the report was released, media, politicians and business executive started vehemently denouncing PPSD as a dysfunctional failure.

Parnership for Rhode Island

Corporations Represented by the Partnership’s Chief Executives Officers

Mayor Jorge Elorza is a product of PPSD where he claims to have barely graduated. He went to community college then studied accounting at University of Rhode Island which led to an auditing position at PricewaterhouseCooper in New York. He obtained a law degree from Harvard in 2003. After the death of a friend in 2005, Elorza said he was motivated to leave Wall Street and return to Providence where he taught Law at Roger Williams University School of Law. He first ran for Mayor of Providence and won in 2014.

The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and by July 19th Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to takeover PPSD.

In June, the PPSD Superintendent, Christopher N. Maher stepped down. He said it was for family reasons but admitted that the layers of bureaucracy, which have been identified by previous superintendents as the reason for leaving was a factor. He is cited in the Johns Hopkins report saying the Mayor micro-manages the district and that he had to get city council permission to spend more than $5,000. He felt powerless.

In a clear indication that the teachers union was going to be targeted, the new interim superintendent hired to replace Maher was the former Central Falls School District Superintendent, Frances Gallo. She was the administrator praised by Arne Duncan in 2010 for firing all of the teachers at Central Falls High School.

Poverty and Language Learners Underlie PPSD’s Testing Data Struggles

The Johns Hopkins report was based on interviews with the mayor, the city council, the superintendent plus students, teachers and parents from 12 of PPSD’s 41 schools. The report notes, “While we scrupulously report what our team heard and observed, it is very important to note that it was not within our purview to confirm, through further research, the veracity of what we were told by different leaders and district stakeholders.” In other words, this was a very limited review, but it has been widely cited as proof the school district is a disaster.

There are many interesting comments and claims in the report, but the main proof of failure at PPSD is testing data. The report states,

“We know from existing data that student achievement in Providence has been low for decades. Despite the hard work of countless teachers, administrators, and city employees, the latest RICAS scores show that, across the grade levels, a full 90 percent of students are not proficient in math, and a full 86 percent are not proficient in English Language Arts.”

The district’s web page description of the student body makes it obvious why the students are struggling on standardized tests. PPSD reports,

“Our schools are diverse learning communities. Approximately 65% of our students are Latinx, 16% Black, 9% White, 5% Asian, 4% Multi-racial and 1% Native American.

“Approximately 31% of students are multilingual learners, and about 16% of students receive special education services. Approximately 55% of students come from homes where English is not the primary language spoken. Combined, our students and families speak 55 different languages and hail from 91 countries of origin.”

Providence is also one of the poorest urban areas in Rhode Island.

Poverty Comparison

US Census Data Showing Income and Poverty Rates

The cities listed on the chart above all have school districts that the Rhode Island Department of Education calls ”CSI” Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools.

Professor Noliwe Rooks writes in her book Cutting Schools, “While the standardized testing gap between people of color and whites and Asian Americans is bad, it’s nothing compared to the gap between the poor and the wealthy.”

Professor Rooks also coined the term “segrenomics” to describe the business strategy of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation. It appears that this is the plan for Providence.

The Johns Hopkins report states, “We note one particular success that consistently emerged across all constituencies: Every group noted the presence of many devoted teachers, principals, and some district leaders who go above and beyond to support student success.” The best hope for PPSD is they have a teachers union that will stand against the Mayor’s love affair with often useless education technology and the forces working to privatize public education.

Twitter: @tultican

“We Are the Resistance and We Are Winning.”

1 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/1/2020

Historian and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch’s, new book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools is due for release January 21. This masterpiece weaves together recent history with illuminating data concerning “corporate driven education reforms.

The reported community response to self-anointed reformers is spiritually uplifting. Ravitch presents strong evidence that resistance to their reforms is carrying the day.  She declares, “Judged by their own chosen metrics – standardized test scores – the fake ‘reforms’ failed.”

Diane tells a deeply personal story of her own journey through the education wars while bringing to life the experiences of teachers, students and parents harmed by “fake reforms.” In this captivating read, Ravitch describes the fight to save the commons.

Goliath_0001

Disruption and Changing Course

There is a parallel between Diane Ravitch and Elizabeth Warren. Both Warren and Ravitch were scholars whose research led them to a profound change of thought. Warren was fundamentally a moderate Republican when she began researching bankruptcy law. Ravitch was an advocate of top down standards based education reform. Through their personal research both these women awakened to personal error and went out to make amends. Warren became the bane of the banking industry and a tiger in Democratic politics. Ravitch threw up a stop sign in front of “corporate education reform” and has become its most virulent opponent.

When I mentioned something Ravitch wrote in 2012 to a teacher colleague, that veteran teacher in my neighboring classroom expressed open hostility toward her. He remembered Lamar Alexander’s resident scholar in the Department of Education and her full throated advocacy of standards and testing accountability. He remembered her papers published by the Brookings Institute. Since then, Ravitch has overcome many of her skeptics by working harder than anyone else and fearlessly leading the fight to save authentic public education.

In Slaying Goliath Ravtich shares,

“Having worked as assistant secretary of education for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the administration of President George H. W. Bush and for many years in some of the nation’s leading conservative think tanks, I had hoped that privatization and testing would produce sweeping improvement, especially for the neediest students. It didn’t. I couldn’t pretend otherwise. I came to realize that the privatization movement was a continuation of a decades-long campaign by right-wingers who hated public schools, which they derisively called ‘government schools.’ I renounced my own past views and determined to expose the well-funded smear campaign against American public schools and their teachers.”

What should we call the proponents of the choice agenda fueled by standardized testing driven accountability? What do we call those wealthy elites financing the push for charter schools, vouchers and public school closures? Ravitch refuses to call them “reformers” or what they promote “reform.” She recites various appellations people use; “deformers,” or the “financial privatization cabal,” or the “Destroy Public Education Movement.” She observes that “reform” has positive connotations that denotes ‘“improvement,’ ‘progress,’ and ‘uplift.’”

An oft stated goal of this corporate driven agenda is disruption. Disruption is an odd management theory championed at Harvard University in 1995. It posits disruption as a needed ingredient for innovation-driven growth. Ravitch decided they have named themselves.

“They are Disrupters. They are masters of chaos, which they inflict on other people’s children, without a twinge of remorse.”

From the beginning of the book on, Ravitch refers to the “Disrupters.”

Strategy of the Disrupters

A natural starting point for analyzing the era of the Disrupters is the Reagan administration’s 1983 polemic, “A Nation at Risk.” Ravitch shares that Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency with three goals for public education; (1) abolish the US Department of Education, (2) restore school prayer and (3) introduce school vouchers for religious and other private schools.

His Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, had other ideas. To save the department, he established “The National Commission on Excellence in Education.” In its report written by American business leaders and a venerated scientist, they did not call for prayer or vouchers, however, they blamed public education for the nation’s economic struggles which Ravitch saw as “no less destructive.” She cites an NPR report in which the authors candidly admitted that the data was “‘cherry-picked’ to make American public schools look as bad as possible.

When the Department of Energy commissioned engineers at the Sandia Nation Laboratories to study the current status of American education in 1990, they criticized “The Nation at Risk” as overly alarmist. Sandia found that test scores, graduation rates, and other indicators were actually improving. In Slaying Goliath, Ravitch’s shares an insiders perspective. She writes,

“At the time, I was assistant secretary of education for education research and improvement, and in 1992, I attended the Energy Department’s briefing about the Sandia report. I accompanied David Kearns, former CEO of Zerox, who was deputy secretary of education, to the meeting. He was outraged by the Sandia report, which contradicted the view of the Department of Education that American public schools were failing and needed radical change. The Energy Department never published the report, but it was immediately leaked to hundreds of influential researchers, who wrote about its findings. In retrospect, the Sandia report got it right. The late Gerald Bracey, a prolific and outspoken education researcher, was highly critical of the conventional wisdom, which I was then defending. I hereby personally apologize to him. He was right. The “crisis in education” was a politically inspired hoax, or as the eminent researchers David Berliner and Bruce Biddle later called it, a ‘Manufactured Crisis.’”

What do disrupters want? They want:

  • Inexperienced teachers with little or no training from organizations like Teach For America.
  • To replace teachers with machine teaching (“blended learning” – “personalized learning”).
  • To move fast and break things including school systems, historic schools and communities.
  • To eliminate local democratic control over schools.
  • To eliminate teacher tenure and seniority rights.
  • To eliminate teacher defined benefit pensions.
  • To eliminate teachers unions.
  • To evaluate teachers and schools with standardized test scores.
  • To lower taxes and reduce spending on education.

Ravitch goes into significant detail about who are the disrupters. She calls out the billionaires in the private sector driving the school choice agenda and highlights their spending. She states, “Every Republican governor is a disrupter, because they actively support privatization by charters and vouchers.” However, she notes that rural Republican officials understand that public schools are the anchors of their communities and do not support privatization. The Democratic Party also has many disrupters but not in as great of numbers as the Republicans and generally no Democrats support vouchers. The last two Democratic Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, were disrupters.

Conservative groups supporting disruption include the far right Heritage Foundation and the libertarian Cato Institute. Ravitch asserts, “The radical right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the key organization in the world of disruption advocacy.

She lists more than a dozen pro-disrupter “think-tanks” on the right including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center for Education Reform which Ravitch describes as liking “every choice in schooling except public schools.

Before his 1998 election to the governorship of Florida, Jeb Bush served on the board of the Heritage Foundation where he developed his education plans. Diane cites his A+ Plan for education as the “template for disruption.” It combines choice, competition, high-stakes testing, grading schools with A-F grades and accountability as the formula for excellence in education.

Two “liberal” groups, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), push most of the disrupter agenda. In her description of DFER Ravitch writes,

“In 2005, several hedge fund managers – Witney Tilson, Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, John Petry and Charles Ledley – launched Democrats for Education Reform at a posh party on Central Park South in Manhattan, where the inaugural speaker was a young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. DEFR, as it is deceptively called, was founded to support school privatization by making strategic campaign contributions. Inspired by DFER, charter schools became the pet passion of Wall Street.”

“It is likely difficult to throw a beanbag in a corporate or Wall Street boardroom without hitting a member of the board of a charter chain.”

The Victorious Resistance

Tom and Diane in Indianapolis

Tom Ultican and Diane Ravitch at the 2018 NPE Conference

The picture above was taken just over two months before the historic LA teachers strike on January 14, 2019. Following the massive teachers strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, the LA strike was the first one led by a sanctioned teachers union. When the teachers settled their strike after nine days, they did not get any bump in the original take home pay offer but they won big.

USA Today reported, “‘this is much more than a labor agreement,’ said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl. ‘It’s a very broad compact that gets to social justice, educational justice.’” The Los Angeles agreement included class size reductions in all grade levels, 300 additional school nurses, 80 new teacher librarians, one counselor for every 500 students and a 3 percent raise for teachers.

In Arizona, a group of six women established Save Our Schools Arizona to fight the Koch brothers initiated large voucher expansion proposal which was adopted by the Arizona state government. At the Indianapolis NPE conference, Beth Lewis and Sharon Kirsch of SOS Arizona were presented the first of a planned annual Phyllis Bush Award. Against all odds they landed a citizens’ initiative stopping the voucher expansion on to the November 6, 2018 ballot. Later we learned their initiative won with a whopping 65% of the vote.

Ravitch tells these stories and many more of the resistance taking on Goliath and winning.

The saga of Douglas County Colorado being taken over by school privatization forces in 2011 is unique and uplifting. The disrupters immediately established a district school voucher program. That was only the beginning of their agenda, but a bi-partisan group of parents fought back. Today there are no disrupters left on the school board in Douglas County and there are no vouchers.

The account of Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), leading the fight to stop the state from increasing the number of charter schools is amazing. The contest was played out at the ballot box over a referendum to expand the number of charters known as Question-2. Ravitch reports that the MTA directed Madeloni to negotiate with legislators and quotes Madeloni’s negotiating position,

We are glad to talk, but we will not accept any deal that involves any new charter schools. Now, what do you want to talk about?

Question-2 lost 68% to 32%. One of the largest contributors to the yes-on-2 campaign was the world’s now second richest women hailing from Bentonville, Arkansas, Alice Walton. She is an heir to the Walmart fortune.

A Concluding Analysis

Ravitch’s books like The Death and Life of the Great American School System and Reign of Error are scholarly efforts that serve for years as references. Yet, they are written in a fashion that gives the average reader access to the material in an enjoyable and understandable way. I believe that in Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools, Ravitch has upped her game. The stories are riveting and the scholarship underlying them is first rate. This is another game changing book from Diane Ravitch.

Twitter: @tultican

Manufactured Education Crisis Engenders Violence

18 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/17/2019

On October 23, the regularly scheduled Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board meeting descended into chaos accompanied by violent reaction from school police. One parent received a broken rib; two elementary school teachers reported severe bruising and a small mother suffered two torn ligaments and a meniscus tear. They were protesting the closing of Kaiser elementary school which is the result of a manufactured crisis beyond the control of the local school board. Billionaire “philanthropists” and the state of California created and exacerbated Oakland’s chronic budget issues.

Today’s budget problems stem back to the state assuming control of OUSD in 2003. Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings described the situation when the state installed an administrator. “At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell [Democrat] and influential State Senator Don Perata [Democrat] were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.”

The Alameda County Office of Education and the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), a state-funded nonprofit that advises districts on financial matters, both played a large role in pushing OUSD into receivership (2003-2009) and forcing the district to take a $100 million state loan. OUSD did not ask for the loan. They had enough money in construction funds to cover the shortfall if the state would approve borrowing from that fund. The state had given other districts this kind of permission but refused it to Oakland.

Kathy Murphy reported in the 2009 East Bay Times, “Six years after the largest state loan ever made to a California school district, the Oakland school district is emerging from state receivership $89 million in debt.” After six years of state administration, the budget deficit grew from $37 million to $89 million.

O’Connell Selects Eli Broad’s Trainee as Administrator

In 2002, the multi-billionaire Eli Broad (rhythms with toad) decided to establish his own training academy for school administrators. With no background in education or experience other than attending public school in Detroit, Broad was so rich he could just do it. He did not believe schools had an education problem; he believed they had a management problem. It was his theory that large urban school districts did not need education leadership – consultants can be hired for that – they needed business management leadership.

One of the key management ideas taught at the Broad Academy is “right-sizing.” It is probably in the Broad School Closure Handbook; Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges that the first use of the terminology “right sizing” is applied to a school district. Now this Broad construct has slipped into common usage by Oakland’s political and administrative leaders.

Another key component undermining OUSD was the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). In 1991, new California, Governor Pete Wilson, signed the team into law. FCMAT (pronounced “fick-mat”) is a state sponsored non-profit located in Kearn County. It is supposed to help school districts identify and solve fiscal problems. However, FCMAT has developed a reputation as a neoliberal organization that has a racial bias against schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods. An Oakland school leader admitted they felt FCMAT was biased against Oakland.

When OUSD discovered its budget shortfall in 2003, FCMAT started pushing for a state takeover and Oakland Mayor, Jerry Brown, seemed to welcome it. Majority reports that when OUSD proposed covering the shortfall with construction funds,

“Tom Henry, the CEO of California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT) opposed this plan, and Mayor Brown questioned it heavily. (During a state takeover, FCMAT would be responsible for monitoring the school district’s financial progress.) Phone records later obtained by the Oakland Tribune revealed over 40 phone calls on key dates between Brown, Henry, and Randolph Ward, who would end up in charge of OUSD when it was placed under state control, in the two months before the state takeover.”

A California central coast politician named Jack O’Connell was elected California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2002. He selected Randolph Ward, a Broad Academy graduate, to be Oakland’s state administrator. When O’Connell ran for state superintendent, his largest campaign donors had been Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($250,000), venture capitalist John Doerr ($205,000), and Eli Broad ($100,000). Brown described the state takeover as a “total win” for Oakland.

The Broadies of Oakland

2003-2017 Broad Academy Graduates and Superintendents of OUSD

Broad Academy graduates are often disparagingly called Broadies.

The OUSD information officer in 2003 was Ken Epstein. He recounts a little of what it was like when Ward became the administrator:

“I remember a school board meeting where Ward and the board were on stage. Each item on the agenda was read aloud, and Ward would say, “passed.” Then the next item was read. In less than an hour, the agenda was completed. At that point, Ward said, “Meeting adjourned” and walked out of the board room and turned out the lights, leaving board members sitting in the dark.”

When Ward arrived in Oakland, the district was in the midst of implementing the Bill Gates sponsored small school initiative which is still causing problems. The recently closed Roots that caused so much discontent in January was one of the Gates small schools. Ward opened 24 of them (250-500 students) which in practice meant taking an existing facility and dividing it into two to five schools. He closed fourteen regularly sized schools.

Upon Ward’s arrival in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.

Epstein related a story from attending a district leader’s cabinet meeting when Ward asked a Broad trained accountant to get numbers on how much money would be saved by closing a school. Three weeks later the accountant said no savings and Ward responded, “Then go back and figure out another reason for closing schools.”

Kimberly Statham who was a classmate of Ward’s at the Broad Academy took his place in 2006. The following year a third Broad Graduate, Vincent Mathews took her place.

After a short period of no Broadie in the superintendent’s seat, Antwan Wilson was hired in 2014. Shortly after that, the New York Times reported that the Broad Foundation had granted the district $6 million for staff development and other programs over the last decade. The Broad Center also subsidized the salaries of at least 10 ex-business managers who moved into administrative jobs at the district office.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland resident and educator with OUSD, was named to replace Antwan Wilson in 2017. When he exited to lead Washington DC’s schools, Wilson left a mess in Oakland. Mother Jones magazine said Wilson saddled the district with a $30 million deficit. The article continued, “A state financial risk report from August 2017 concluded that Oakland Unified, under Wilson, had ‘lost control of its spending, allowing school sites and departments to ignore and override board policies by spending beyond their budgets.”’

The preponderance of the problems in OUSD are related to the state takeover, FCMAT and the leadership provided by Broad Academy graduates.

School Board Under Attack from All Sides

A March Oakland Post article says,

“A new report from the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) indicates that the State of California, represented by FCMAT and the Alameda County Superintendent of Education, is requiring the school district to make budget cuts of jobs and programs totaling about $30 million this year, regardless of any costs generated by increased salaries for teachers and other school employees.”

The Alameda Civil Grand Jury says the district has run a debt of $20 to $30 million for the past fifteen years. It states, “School occupancy must be assessed and painful decisions made regarding closure and consolidation as soon as possible.”

In 2018, the Alameda County Office of Education rejected OUSD’s three-year budget plan saying it did not adequately address needed budget reductions; prompting school activist Ahsan Nilofer to ask, “What will FCMAT and the County Office consider to be an adequate plan?”

Another drag on the district’s finances is this past school year; the district had to pay FCMAT and the county $1.4 million for their services.

At the same time the coalition “Oakland Not for Sale” demands:

  1. “Stop School Closures”
  2. “End the School to Prison Pipeline”
  3. “Stop the charter school takeover”
  4. “Let the people see the money”

This is the organization that led the demonstration at the board meeting in October that ended in violence and chaos.

Mike Hutchinson of the Oakland Public Education Network says that OUSD ended the 2018-2019 school year with a $21 million surplus not a deficit. He also has announced that he will be running for the district-5 board seat in 2020.

A board member explained that $4 million of that claimed surplus comes from the board purposely underestimating title 1 and title 4 money from the Department of Education because they did not trust the actions of the Trump administration. The rest of the money is thought to be in restricted funds that can only be spent of designated categories.

The board was forced to adopt the 2019-2020 budget without good numbers to rely upon. An EdSource article relates that “Board member Shanthi Gonzales said staff didn’t give the board enough details about department budgets, school budgets or even how many employees the district has, what they do and how much they earn.” However, the district’s state trustee said district operations would come to “a screeching halt” if the board didn’t meet its June 30 budget approval deadline.

In addition to all of these problems, billionaires and their school privatization organizations are attempting to purchase the school board. In Oakland the on the ground political organization leading the privatization agenda is GO Public Schools.

Go Political Spending Chart

Funding to GO Public School Independent Expenditures Effort

School Board Winners Finance Chart

Winning OUSD Board Member Campaign Support

In the 2018 election, Gary Yee was the recipient of almost $146,000 in independent expenditure support from mostly billionaires working to privatize public schools in Oakland. His victory makes him the third member of the seven seat board to owe their election to GO Public Schools.

FCMAT from the state of California, the Alameda County Office of Education and the Alameda County Grand Jury are all ordering the OUSD school board to make budget cuts and close schools. At the same time residents of the city don’t want to hear about schools being closed and with reason do not believe the state and county budget analysis. Unfortunately, the only place they can express their outrage is at the local school board. However, there are some really good people on this board who are being put through a ringer by forces beyond their control. No matter what they do, it is loudly criticized and they are personally demonized as selling out the city.

The fundamental problem is Oakland has a dual education system with 37,000 students in public schools and 15,000 in charter schools. It costs more to operate two systems. Every school district in California that has more than 10% of their students in charter schools has severe financial problems. Oakland has the largest percentage of charter school students in the state with 29% so financial issues should be the expectation.

This is an education crisis that was manufactured by the super wealthy and implemented by neoliberal politicians.

Twitter: @tultican

Ed Tech about Profits NOT Education

10 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/10/2019

Anthony Kim founded Education Elements in 2010. He sold Provost Systems – which built virtual schools – to Edison Schools in 2008 and was ready for a new project. His new company sells personalized learning systems and consulting services to several school districts. Education Elements is one of more than a hundred ed tech companies being supported by venture capital organizations hoping for one big score. It is representative of the education technology startup business.

With education businesses there is opportunity for magnificent profits because of the large scale of education spending. The United States alone spends $650 billion a year on public education. If businesses can convince people that learning at a digital screen is equivalent to or even better than a teacher led classroom, education technology would become America’s next great profit center minting many new billionaires. This allure of lavish profits is driving education technology.

The Venture Capital Firms

Crunchbase, which analyzes venture capital and startups, lists five venture capital companies investing in Education Elements.

Harmony is the only one of the five venture funds that does not focus specifically on education technology. They simply say, “Over the past 20 years, we have invested over $750 million in 80 companies.” They list their current investments which includes Education Elements.

NewSchools Venture Fund is the most strident in its commitment to disrupting public education. NewSchools is a non-profit that claims they are a “venture philanthropy working to reimagine public education investing in education entrepreneurs.” Their venture portfolio contains more than 150 companies.

Every year NewSchools hosts a “Summit” in Oakland, California which they state brings together more than 1,200 educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, funders, and policy makers to share ideas on how to “reimagine learning.” The “Platinum” sponsors for the 2020 gathering are the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and The Walton Family Foundation who are also well-known leaders in the movement to monetize and privatize public education.

New Schools Venture Fund Donors

Twelve Organizations Contributing $5 Million Plus to NewSchools Venture Fund

Eleven of the twelve organizations listed above are known for promoting market based education reform. The twelfth, Anonymous, most likely has the same ideology.

Rethink Education is the third venture fund. It claims to focus on Crucial Life Skills, Personalized Learning, Vocational Preparation, Curation of Workforce Learning Resources, College Dropout Prevention.” Jenny Abramson is the founder and Managing Partner of Rethink. She is a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and a board member of the Washington DC charter school, DC Prep.

Imagine K12 is the forth fund investing in Education Elements. It was founded in 2011 as a startup accelerator for education technology companies. In 2016 Imagine merged with Y Combinator. The joint companies have invested in over 100 education technology focused companies.

Tugboat Ventures is the fifth fund invested in Education Elements which is one of its 35 listed properties.

The Board of Directors

Board of Education Elements

The Education Elements’ Board – (from Elements’ Web Page)

Dave Whorton, the founder of Tugboat Ventures, was also a founding board member of the NewSchools Venture Fund serving there from 1998-2015.

Howard Behar was a former president of Starbucks until his retirement in 2003. He served as a Director on Starbucks board 1996-2008. In 2014, Behar became a board member of the Biller Family Foundation. The Biller Foundation from Seattle Washington is notoriously pro-public school privatization. They have partnership relations with Green Dot, Partnership for Los Angeles, Stand for Children and Summit Public Schools.

Green Dot is a large charter school chain originally founded in Los Angeles. Partnership for Los Angeles was established by former Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa when his efforts to take over the school system were thwarted. Stand for Children is a dark money pro-school privatization organization from Portland, Oregon. Summit Public Schools is financially supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It provides computer based learning.

Jack Witlin was a Deloitte Consulting Principal. He retired in 2014 after a 44-years career. Witlin became a director of Education Elements in 2017.

Michael B. Horn serves as the head of strategy and senior partner for the Entangled Group, an education venture studio. He is also the co-founder of and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. He has written extensively about disruption as the savior of public education. He calls for disruptive change driven by technology and school privatization.

In a delightful takedown of disruption theory in the New Yorker, Jill Lepore riddled Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” One of his big examples was Seagate Technology. According to Christensen, Seagate disrupted the computer industry with its 5 ¼ inch floppy disk but was disrupted and doomed to failure when it was late to the market with a 3 ½ inch drive. Lepore noted,

“In 1997, the year Christensen published “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Seagate was the largest company in the disk-drive industry, reporting revenues of nine billion dollars. Last year, Seagate shipped its two-billionth disk drive.”

Most educators and anyone with common sense would tell us that the last thing students in a poverty stricken community need is more disruption.

Education Elements’ Leaders

Anthony Kim is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Elements. He started his career in education by helping higher education institutions with technology projects and data. He founded Provost Systems which developed online schools. After selling Provost to Edison Schools in 2008, he spent two years there as Executive Vice President of online education. Kim founded Education Elements in 2010.

Amy Jenkins, the Chief Operating Officer and Managing General Partner, began her education career as a TFA middle school English teacher in Oakland, California. After two years, she left the classroom for the education “reform” industry including a stint with NewSchools Venture Fund. Jenkins earned an AB in political science from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard.

Angela Kennedy-Toon is also known as Angela Chubb. She is another Managing Partner at Education Elements. She claims to have started her education career in a classroom 27-years ago and to have founded a charter school in Pennsylvania. Angela lives in Wichita, Kansas and was married to the late John Chubb who along with Terry E. Moe co-wrote Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools. That 1990 publication gave great momentum to school privatization and recommended ending locally elected school boards.

Angela says she follows Checker Finn, Michael Horn, Frederick M. Hess, Wendy Kopp and Jeanne Allen. People who have been observing education politics will recognize this list as all strident supporters of privatizing public education.

Angela’s facebook page has some wonderful pictures with Todd and Sarah Palin. Sadly on my recent trip to Anchorage, I learned that Todd and Sarah are divorcing.

Keara Mascareñaz is also a Managing Partner. After graduation from college she joined TFA and taught in a primary classroom for two years. She then worked for TFA for five years. Keara became a NextGen Fellow at the Pahara Institute in 2016 before joining Education Elements. Reed Hastings and Diane Tavenner are on the Board of Directors at Pahara which is a strong indication of the pro-public education privatization bias of Pahara.

Ray Rozycki is listed as Executive Advisor. He previously worked with CEO Anthony Kim at Provost Systems where he served as Chief Officer of Digital Education and VP of Virtual Education. Ray is involved with designing instructional and assessment platforms and developing formative assessments and eCourses.

Selling Bad Pedagogy and Enfeebled Expertise

Do to lobbying by billionaires like Bill Gates and Reed Hastings, the latest update to the national education law turned the US Department of Education (USED) into an education technology sales hub. Critically for companies like Education Elements, the federal technology pitch includes Competency Based Education (CBE). In order to have an inexpensive cyber based education system, there must be small skills that can be drilled and then tested. The USED says,

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.

Unfortunately CBE is just an update of previous failed teaching strategies. In the 1970’s it was called Mastery Learning and in the 1990’s it was called Outcome Based Education. CBE is simply putting Mastery Leaning on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. It is still bad pedagogy. Computer based credit recovery is the fraud engendering the recent soaring graduation rates.

With no evidence to support their claim, Education Elements posts, “Personalized learning improves student engagement and achievement, develops students to be lifelong learners, and better prepares them for college and careers.” However, a Rand study commissioned by Bill Gates found no evidence for this claim. Also, the vast majority of 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.”

Education Elements also sells its consulting services to school districts. It asserts;

“We help your best people improve in several ways:

  • Develop action steps to prioritize and implement instructional approaches aligned to your district’s strategic plan.
  • Design new processes and methods to increase capabilities of teams.
  • Develop fluency in problem solving through design thinking strategies.
  • Build skills needed to become designers of learning focused on classroom design, content selection, and other key competencies for personalizing learning.”

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. If a school district is buying these kinds of services and education technology programs, they are wasting money and harming students.

Twitter: @tultican