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Thrive Public Schools Renewal Petition Hearing on Friday

11 Mar

3/11/2019 by T. Ultican

Thrive Public Schools has petitioned the state of California to renew its charter. San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and the San Diego County Office of Education (COE) both recently denied Thrive’s renewal petition. It is the last hope for this politically and financially well connected charter management organization.

The post “Thrive Public Schools All Hat and No Cattle” describes how the state ignored the evidence from SDUSD and the COE when bestowing a charter to Thrive. It also presents the school’s wretched four year record of plummeting test scores, discipline issues and angry parents. The stunningly poor performance by Thrive has reinforced the wisdom of both the county’s and district’s original rational for denying the charter in 2014. That original Thrive charter ends this June.

A PhD who has been working at Thrive as a substitute wrote me about a deep concern. Sharing,

“Dear Mr. Ultican. Good evening. I recently read your Nov. 26 article on Thrive Charter Network. I have read a lot about Thrive over the past six months, and even attended the school board meeting at which the decision to deny the charter was discussed. I am a substitute teacher, working part time while I pursue my teaching credential …. I have completed 17 days (I think about 130 hours) at Thrive’s high school, middle school and elementary school campuses. I am morally outraged by the behavior of Thrive staff, and their denial of education to children. Please let me know if there is anything that you think I can do with my outrage. I feel very discouraged after reading your article. I had assumed that there was a good possibility that the state would refuse to grant them a charter. But it appears they have some leverage in the capital. At the same time, I feel that even if the state does the right thing, Thrive students constitute a special minority that will need extra attention to be reintegrated into a normal school.”

The Thrive renewal petition is Item 19 on the California Board of Education’s March 13-14 agenda and is scheduled after 8:30 AM on Friday the 14th. The Board’s staff recommends that the petition be denied. Stating,

“The TPS petitioner does not meet the renewal criteria and does not present a sound educational program as they do not perform, overall, at least equal to its comparable district schools where the majority of TPS pupils would otherwise attend.

“Additionally, the TPS petition does not include the necessary language for Element 2–Measurable Pupil Outcomes (MPOs).”

Even the charter cheer-leading Advisory Commission on Charter Schools could not get enough votes at their February 5 meeting to recommend for Thrive on their appeal. However, the rumor is that the California Charter School Association is all in on saving Thrive. It is believed that the hearing will be packed with charter supporters.

Dallas Chamber of Commerce Disrupts Dallas Schools

21 Feb

By T. Ultican 2/20/2019

Since 2012, the business community in Dallas has aggressively asserted control over Dallas Independent School District (DISD). For the first time, running for one of the nine DISD school board positions is an exceedingly expensive proposition. Besides wielding a political war-chest, prominent business leaders are supporting charter schools and advocating for increased hiring of untrained temp teachers from Teach for America (TFA). Money is also dedicated to advancing school vouchers. Democratic local control of public schools in Dallas faces serious threat.

A harbinger of this all out political attack by wealthy Dallas residents living in gated communities came just before the 2012 school board elections. Mike Miles was hired as Superintendent of Schools starting in July 2012. Miles came from a small school district in Colorado Springs, Colorado one year after training at the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. The academy Billionaire Eli Broad founded to train education leaders in his philosophy of school governance.

The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation has contributed $100’s of millions towards privatizing public schools and they have a remarkable record for placing their trainees in market-reform friendly school districts.

One of the documents studied by Broad’s administration students is The Broad Academy School Closure Guide. Broad-trained administrators are famous for; closing public schools, hiring consultants, bad relations with teachers, large technology purchases and saddling school districts with debt. Oklahoma educator and historian, John Thompson, wrote a series of articles documenting the disruptive history of Broad Academy graduates (1, 2, and 3).

Among the first hires Miles made was communications Chief Jennifer Sprague. Dallas magazine noted,

“The 31-year-old had performed the same job for Miles in Colorado Springs, at Harrison School District Two, where she earned $86,652. He brought her to Dallas for $185,000.”

Besides hiring pricey cronies, Miles brought the billionaire spawned reform agenda to Dallas and created discontent throughout the DISD organization. In one famous episode, Miles walked into Billy Earl Dade middle school and decided to fire the principal Michael Jones and ten teachers on the spot. Miles had inadvertently set the school up for failure when he reorganized it according to his “Imagine 2020” plan for closing public schools. The Texas Observer explained, “In closing feeder schools and expanding Dade’s home base, the district mixed rival gangs in Dade’s student body — a chemistry anybody in that part of town would have seen coming and warned against.”

On October 13, 2014, Miles held a 6:30 AM meeting with the reconstituted staff at Dade which was unexpectedly attended by Board Trustee, Bernadette Nutall. She said some faculty had asked her to come. Miles said she was not welcome. Juanita Wallace, outgoing head of the local NAACP and a fierce Miles critic was also there. Miles handled the situation by having Nutall physically removed from the school by three Dallas police officers.

What may have looked like decisive leadership when faced with an unhealthy school and a board member undermining his authority compounded an already huge mistake. Eric Nicholson wrote in the Dallas observer:

“In retrospect, Miles’ swift action last October clearly was a disaster. In the leadership vacuum that followed Jones’ dismissal, which was only partially and temporarily filled by Margarita Garcia, who quit before the end of the year because of health problems, chaos metastasized. The South Dallas community, already deeply wary of Miles and his reforms, coalesced even more firmly against him after watching his officers manhandle Nutall.”

In June, 2015, Miles resigned just weeks after the board voted 6-3 not to fire him but voted 7-2 to issue a “letter of concern.” It was the second attempt to fire Miles in 2 years. Miles was disgruntled over not getting a contract amendment that would immediately pay him the $50,000 per year set aside by the board until 2017.

Miles’s reforms included a new principal evaluation process which led to large turnover. He also instituted a merit pay system for teachers and hired Charles Glover a 29-year-old administrator of the Dallas TFA branch to be Chief Talent Officer in DISD. After just under three years, he had managed to alienate the black and Hispanic communities as well as many experienced teachers and principals.

Miles returned to Colorado where he has founded a charter school.

Self-proclaimed “Reformers” Say they’re Data Driven – Really?

In the forward to her new book After the Education Wars, the business writer Andrea Gabor highlights two key points from Edward Deming’s teachings on management:

“Ordinary employees – not senior management or hired consultants – are in the best position to see the cause-and-effect relationships in each process …. The challenge for management is to tap into that knowledge on a consistent basis and make the knowledge actionable.”

“More controversially, Deming argued, management must also shake up the hierarchy (if not eliminate it entirely), drive fear out of the workplace, and foster intrinsic motivation if it is to make the most of employee potential.”

Merit pay is a Taylorist scheme that appeals to many American business leaders, but also has a long history of employee dissatisfaction and output quality issues. Researchers at Vanderbilt University studied merit pay for teachers and found no significant gains in testing data and in New York researchers documented negative results. Merit pay certainly violates Deming’s core principles.

Lori Kirkpatrick who ran unsuccessfully for the DISD board in 2017 writes a blog that is a treasure trove of district information. She created the graphs below showing the negative impact of merit pay on the DISD teaching corps. In Dallas the merit pay system is called the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI).

TEI Myth Graphs

Experienced Teachers Leaving DISD at Unprecedented Rates

A significant problem is that TEI not only violates Deming’s principles, it is unfair and based on bad science. TEI uses the thoroughly debunked Value Added Measures (VAMs) as a significant part of the evaluation. In 2014, even the American Statistical Association warned against using VAMs to evaluate teachers noting among other observations, “VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

As DISD has hired more untrained temp teachers from TFA and lost many of their most experienced teachers and principals, testing results have declined. In 2011, Dallas joined the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) group known as TUDA districts. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) runs the testing of the now 27 TUDA districts. There are three sets of comparison data from the bi-annual TUDA testing graphed below.

2011 to 2017 Math 8 scale score change

TUDA Math Comparison Data Graphed by the National Assessment of Education Progress

The graphs that follow compare Dallas’s school testing data with that of Albuquerque, Austin, San Diego and the national average for 8th Grade Reading and Mathematics.

NAEP Testing 8th Grade

Eighth grade testing was chosen because they have been in the system for 8 years and will likely be more reflective of the district impact than the other grade available, 4th grade. Albuquerque and San Diego were chosen because they have similar populations to Dallas. Austin was chosen because it is another Texas district. It could be argued that Dallas’s poor performance was caused by the deep cuts in education that Texas implemented in 2011; however, Austin did not see the same kind of steep district wide declines.

Dallas Business Elites Driving Market-based Reform

In 2011, the school board election for three available seats was cancelled because all of the candidates were unopposed. Mike Morath, who Texas Governor Abbott appointed Commissioner of Education in 2015, ran for his first term on the board that year. Even though he was unopposed, Morath’s 2011 required filings (A, B, and C) show a total of $28,890 in campaign contributions including $3,000 from the PAC, Educate Dallas, and $1,000 from the Real Estate Council. He reported $16,687 in campaign spending. The two other unopposed candidates, Nutall and Ranger, reported no campaign contributions or spending in 2011.

A Texas Observer article described how that all changed in 2012. It noted,

“In the recent Dallas school board election, an unprecedented river of cash poured into a handful of campaigns, the lion’s share from donors in downtown, the Park Cities, Preston Hollow and far North Dallas. That money came from affluent people, the majority of whom are white, some of whom must think that sending their own kids to a public school in Dallas is like sending them to the gallows.” (Emphasis added)

The Dallas business PACs, Educate Dallas and Dallas Kids First, began contributing money into school board elections in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Board member Bruce Parrot became their first target. He had opposed a five-year $3 million contract to bring in untrained TFA temp teachers. Parrot was outvoted by a 6-2 margin. The board adopted the TFA contract while making $110 million dollar in funding cuts that induced 700 teachers to retire and dismissed 1,000 support staff.

George Joseph’s 2014 report for In These Times explained:

“Educate Dallas and Dallas Kids First poured resources into his challenger, then-unknown candidate Dan Michiche. The two PACs contributed $20,239.97 and $26,470, respectively, to his campaign—record amounts for a school board race. In total, Michiche raised $54,479.57, a slam-dunk in the face of Parrot’s $950. Unable to compete with this funding, which went into mass negative leafleting and door-to-door campaigning by Dallas Kids First, Parrot was easily defeated.”

Eight of the nine current board members have received lucrative endorsements from Educate Dallas over the last two years.

The money has continued to grow. In 2017, Lori Kirkpatrick raised $14,721.76 during her campaign to become Area 2’s School Board Trustee. Lori’s impressive list of endorsements included; Network for Public Education, former DISD President Ken Zorne, Dallas City Councilman Phillip Kingston, East Dallas Votes, Annie’s List, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, former state legislator Dr. Harryette Ehrhardt, Dallas County Tejano Democrats and the National Education Association. In the general election, Lori came close to winning outright with 49.71% of the vote to incumbent Dustin Marshall’s 47.04%. In the runoff, Marshall received 66% of the vote. His financial support ballooned to an unprecedented $512,085.20. With a 34 to 1 spending advantage, Marshall easily won.

A sample of some of the $25,000 contributors to the business PACs:

Mr. Garrett Boone co-Founded Container Store Inc., in 1978. He serves as a Member of the advisory boards for The Dallas Women’s Foundation and Teach for America. Mr. Boone also has a family foundation that spends generously in support of market-based school reforms. Between 2012 and 2016, he gifted Stand for Children Texas (a dark money political operation) $210,000; Teach for America DC $75,000 and Teach for America Dallas $850,000.

Mr. Bennie M. Bray Co-founded Monarch Capital Partners and serves as its Managing Partner of Monarch’s Dallas Office. He served as Director of Ignite Technologies, Inc.

Mr. Harlan Crow is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Crow Family Holdings. He serves as a Director on several Boards including Crow Holdings, Trammell Crow Residential, Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Ms. Stacy Schusterman serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Samson Energy Company, LLC. Schusterman lives in Tulsa Oklahoma and gives generously to school board candidates supporting charter schools in many districts across America. She is the heir to the Schusterman energy industries.

Education Partnerships are Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Stacey Bailey was an adjunct professor in special education before she started writing full time to defend public education. Because of the sordid history Texas has with special education, she has paid close attention to education issues within the state. In a recent post on her blog, she wrote,

“When partners sign up to take over public schools, the community must do what that business organization wants them to do. Tax dollars will mingle with the donation just like charters.

“Dallas is selling their school district to school partners! From The Dallas Morning News: ‘Dallas ISD Must Not Let Go of Plan to Partner with Private Operators for District Schools.’

“This sounds like a massive overhaul meaning Dallas is about to privatize all of their public schools! Yet it’s presented to the public as a necessary transformation.”

This is not hyperbole. Before becoming Texas’s Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath promoted a home rule scheme to turn the entire district into a privatized charter district. Now, he is administering a new state law (SB1882) that pays districts an extra $1800 per student if they attend a privatized partnership school.

Dallas is Being Fleeced and it’s Time to Throw the Bums Out

Real teachers graduate from college and then spend the next year studying teaching and doing supervised student teaching. These educators are planning to make teaching a career.

TFA temp teachers graduate from college and then spend five-weeks in a TFA summer institute. The vast majority of them are planning to teach for two years while they build their resume for a real career. TFA teachers have become a mainstay of the charter industry.

Charter schools and voucher schools are private institutions paid with public funds. However, elected officials have no control over their governance. These privatized institutions are financed by decreasing the funding per student for the vast majority of students remaining in public school.

Strategies like the portfolio school governance model that Morath is promoting in Texas through his System of Great Schools are anti-democratic. The great public education system that is the foundation of democracy in America is being ruined.

Republicans who undermine local control and the separation of church and state are RINOs. What is their motivation? A few years back, Rupert Murdock noted, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone …” As David Sirota wrote in Salon,

“Stop pretending wealthy CEOs pushing for charter schools are altruistic ‘reformers.’ They’re raking in billions.”

These attacks on public education are attacks on American democracy. This prescient quote was shared recently on Diane Ravitch’s blog, “Education reformer John Dewey famously said, ‘Democracy has to be born again each generation and education is its midwife.”’

Texas Hangs Sword of Damocles Over Houston Schools

3 Feb

When the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board refused to privatize four schools, state takeover of the district became likely. States taking over school districts have an awful track record. Takeovers in Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit and Tennessee have been long running disasters for students, parents, schools and communities. So the idea that Texas will likely seize HISD – a district the Texas Education Agency (TEA) assigned a grade of B on its new A – F grading system – is bizarre.

HISD is the largest school district in the state of Texas and the 7th largest in the United States. The nine HISD Board members are an impressive group whose children attend district schools. Seven of them are products of HISD. They all are college graduates and most earned advanced degrees. Seven of them have both teaching and administrative experience in public schools. Anne Jung was a high school science teacher who earned a master’s in physics at Harvard. Jolanda Jones is a Rhodes Scholar and an NCAA heptathlon champion with a Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston. Wanda Adams was a scholarship winning athlete who attended Kashmere High School which is one of the four schools TEA might shutter. She is an Emmy winning college graduate who has been named to multiple top 50 lists in Houston area plus has served two terms on the Houston city council.

Richard Carranza became HISD superintendent in August of 2016. In March of 2018, he resigned to take a similar position in New York City Schools. With the HISD board’s impressive resumes and the fact that their last top hire was considered the best administrator in America to lead the nation’s largest school district, it was startling to read Governor Greg Abbott’s January 3rd tweet,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

A counter observation based on biographies is that every elected board member in HISD is more qualified to be an education leader than Mike Morath, the guy Abbott appointed Texas Commissioner of Education. They all are more educated with advanced degrees in clinical psychology, physics, law, education leadership etceteras compared to Morath’s bachelors degree in business. The board members have decades of experience working in public schools compared to Morath’s six months as an untrained long term sub teaching a computer science; a class outside of his field of study.

Morath tried to privatize the Dallas Independent School District while a board Trustee. It appears that Abbott might have a similar agenda for the entire state and that is why he selected this unqualified person to lead the state’s schools.

Terrible Education Policy Driven by Benighted Legislation

Takeover Authors

In 2015 Governor Abbott signed HB 1842 into law. It mandates “intervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years ….”

The law mandates that if a district does not implement an approved plan to turn the school around “the commissioner shall [may] order:

  • appointment of a board of managers to govern the district as provided by Section 39.112(b) [repurposing of the campus under this section];
  • alternative management of the campus under this section; or
  • closure of the campus.”

The bill allows districts to present a turnaround plan in which the district could be designated an “innovation district.” If after five consecutive years of bad tests scores at any district campus an “innovation district” would lose its designation and be subject to the above sanctions.

HB 1842 passed by large margins; 26-5 in the senate and 125-18 in the house. It is doubtful that many of the legislators fully understood that they were putting their constituent’s democratic rights in jeopardy when they voted for this bill.

In 2017, Senate Bill 1882 incentivized privatizing schools in minority neighborhoods. Sarah Becker an HISD parent and school psychologist explains,

“In the spring of 2017, just months before the sanctions of HB1842 were slated to go into effect; the legislature passed Texas Senate Bill 1882, which gave school boards another option for these so-called failing schools. SB1882 encouraged school districts to hand over control of these neighborhood schools to charter operators (referred to as “partnerships”) the year before schools would get ratings for the fifth year. In exchange, the school and its board would get a reprieve from Representative Dutton’s death penalty for two years and, as a bonus, would receive extra funding for every student enrolled in one of these charter-controlled schools.

“With one law the death penalty (1842) and the other law the price of clemency (1882), these two laws now work together to coerce local school boards to be the hand of privatizing their own neighborhood schools. One by one, schools are turned over to private, appointed organizations by local politicians that want to save their fledgling political careers, and in turn, these “partnerships” provide cover for conservative leaders that would have a hard time explaining to Texans how their state undermined local control of schools with state-mandated takeovers and closures.”

This combination of laws is based on the faulty premise that school quality can be measured by standardized testing. The famed education scholar Linda Hammond-Darling mentioned last week in an Ohio presentation,

“There’s about a 0.9 correlation between the level of poverty and test scores. So, if the only thing you measure is the absolute test score, then you’re always going to have the high poverty communities at the bottom and then they can be taken over.” (Emphasis added)

A correlation of 1 means it is a certainty and – 1 means it cannot happen. A correlation of 0.5 means there is a mild positive relationship. The 0.9 correlation with family wealth is the only correlation above 0.5 for any of the researched variables such as schools, teachers, sex or race.

In 1998, Noel Wilson wrote a major peer reviewed scholarly paper, “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”. Wilson’s paper basically says that the level of error associated with standardized testing is so high it makes these tests unreliable as evaluative tools.

A year later, James Popham of the UCLA graduate school of education also wrote a peer reviewed paper on testing. In his Education Leadership article based on the paper he concluded,

“Educators should definitely be held accountable. The teaching of a nation’s children is too important to be left unmonitored. But to evaluate educational quality by using the wrong assessment instruments is a subversion of good sense. Although educators need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness, standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.” (Emphasis added)

The science has not changed. Standardized test results will not evaluate a school’s quality but will identify poverty. The new approach in Texas guarantees that parents in minority mostly poor communities will have their democratic rights and public schools taken away. It may not be a racist intent but it certainly brings about a racist outcome. If this were not true at least one school in a majority white affluent neighborhood would be identified as “failing”.

TexasIR4_Correlated_w_RacePoverty2

HISD Parent Advocate Demographic Map of Houston Schools

Failure Demgraphics

Demographic Data from HISD

Houston’s Long Relationship with Destroy Public Education Ideology

Teach For America (TFA) or as my friend Ciedie Aech calls them the “teach-for-a-minute girls” came to Houston in 1991. A TFA teacher is a temporary employee with a bachelor’s degree and five-weeks of summer training from TFA. A new career teacher has a bachelor’s degree, a year of student teaching in conjunction with a year of teacher education classes. The TFA temp will normally leave after 2 years if not before. It would not be unusual for a career teacher to still be at a school 30-years later.

The new career teacher will likely not be confident or competent their first year. Most new teachers find an informal mentor on staff that guides them. The TFA temp normally does not have a clue about how unprepared they are. Because career teachers were so denigrated during their training, TFA teachers are reluctant to ask the advice of a veteran.

To label TFA teachers highly qualified or even qualified is to dissemble.

TFA is another of the destroy-public-education (DPE) organizations that only exists because of billionaire dollars. In her book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider documented that in 1995 TFA was $1.2 million in debt despite receiving a $2 million dollar federal grant.  Founder Wendy Kopp was able to scrape by with four $10 million gifts from the Broad foundation, the Dell foundation, Dan and Doris Fisher (Gap founders), and The Rainwater Charitable Funds. In 2011, the Walton Family gave TFA $49.5 million and since then money from billionaires has continuously poured in; even Houston’s own John Arnold has sent them more than $7 million.

In 1994, two teachers from TFA Houston with no training and three years teaching experience, Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin, founded KIPP charter school in Houston and New York. Schneider noted in Chronicle, “By 2000 Feinberg and Levin were receiving funding from Donald and Doris Fisher.” The Fisher’s co-founded the KIPP foundation where they were joined on the board by Carrie Walton Penner (Walmart heir), Mark Nunnely (Bain Capital) and Reed Hasting (Netflix) among others.

Chris Barbic another Houston TFA teacher with limited experience followed in Feinberg and Levin’s footsteps to founded YES Prep the next year. This charter was seen as miraculous. Gary Rubinstein was a fellow TFA teacher and personal friend of Barbic’s in Houston. He often shoots down miracle claims by charter schools. Gary wrote of Yes Prep,

“In 2010, YES was awarded a million dollars by Oprah Winfrey, in part because of their incredible record of getting 100% of their 12th graders to be accepted into college.  This was before people knew to ask, ‘But what percent of your 9th graders remained in the school to become 12th graders?’”

KIPP which uses a 19th century “no excuses” pedagogy has 25 schools in Houston and YES Prep has grown to 18 schools. Rubinstein concluded the article cited above with:

“So is YES Prep failing its Black students and then abandoning them when it serves YES for them to do so?  I can’t be certain, but the data makes me pretty confident that the answer is YES.”

YES Prep and KIPP are two more DPE organizations that only exist because a group of billionaires dedicated to privatizing public education gave them millions of dollars. It is not because they are superior schools but because they are not public.

The fraudulent “Texas miracle” that led to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the federal takeover of public education came from Houston. Roderick Paige was the HISD Superintendent that rode that “miracle” all the way to the office of United States Secretary of Education.

Paige’s strategy was to give bonuses to school leaders that hit bench marks and fire those that didn’t. Drop out rates plunged and test scores soared. Later in was learned that the “Texas miracle” like all school miracle claims was a fraud. They cooked the books on dropout data and principals raised 10th grade testing scores by holding low scoring 9th graders back and then promoting them to 11th grade the next time they were due to test.

It is close to a consensus conclusion that NCLB was a colossal and damaging failure. Its strategy of test and punish became test and privatize. Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In a 2008 addendum, he wrote of the suspicion that schools were purposely setup for failure:

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

Some Observations

With the HB 1842 and SB 1882, the Texas legislature has created an education code that eerily mirrors NCLB. It has reinstituted the test and punish theory using the same faulty methodology for evaluating schools – standardized testing. Is this the result of ignorance or something far more sinister?

Local Houston billionaire and former Enron trader John Arnold has joined forces with San Francisco billionaire Reed Hastings to privatize America’s schools. They have each pledged $100,000,000 to their new City Fund dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath recently started the System of Great Schools which is a strategy roadmap and toolkit for implementing the portfolio model for school governance, a model that posits disruption and school privatization as good for Texas.

Fewer and fewer schools in a portfolio district are controlled by a vote of the community. I believe in democracy and local control. How do Texas politicians justify undermining democracy and local control? What a strange group of conservatives.

Texas Public Schools in Portfolio District Crosshairs

26 Jan

Radical market theorists are reshaping Texas education governance by instituting the portfolio district school model. It is a scheme promoted by the University of Washington based think tank, Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). To advance this design, the accountability system and justifications for closing public schools is adopted from Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Public Schools. This top down plan is being guided by Mike Morath Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

A quick glance at the CRPE web site reveals they see Texas as a target of opportunity. It states,

“We’re currently working on:

“…

“Analyzing how state education agencies can support local leaders on the portfolio strategy, such as through the Texas Education Agency’s new System of Great Schools Network.”

A few of the benefits that TEA claims for the System of Great Schools (SGS):

  • “Membership in a professional learning community of superintendents and senior staff that come together regularly to build understanding of the SGS strategy, …”
  • “Regular connection points with Commissioner Morath.”
  • “The district increases access to school choice options and helps families identify and attend their best-fit school.”

TEA’s SGS web site offers a complex excel file with a roadmap for implementing SGS strategies.

sgs implementation road map

Image of SGS Roadmap Excel Page Labeled “Top 12 Deliverables”

The “School Performance Framework” hyperlink in the Excel sheet opens Chicago Public School’s “School Quality Ratings Policy (SQRP) Handbook.” Much of the “objective” justification used for closing 50 Chicago schools in one year is in the handbook. Those 50 schools were almost all in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and employed mostly African-American teachers.

Enacting Unproven Agendas like this is not Conservative

On January 20, 2015 Republican Greg Abbott became the 48th Governor of Texas. One of his early decisions was to appoint Mike Morath Commissioner of Education. The very conservative Donna Garner – a Trump supporting retired school teacher and education policy commentator for Education View – was not impressed. She wrote,

“As a conservative, I appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott for the many courageous positions he has taken for Texas; but he really missed it on this one!

“I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education.”

mike_morath

Mike Morath from his TEA Biography Page

Morath’s appointment continues a more than a decade long period of Texas Education Commissioners lacking proven education training or experience. His education background consists of serving four years as a Trustee for the Dallas Independent School District and teaching an advanced computer science class at his high school alma mater after the previous teacher resigned suddenly. He completed the year.

Morath has referred to himself as a “super-nerd.” In 2015, the Dallas News stated, “Morath, 38, is a numbers whiz who excelled academically, earning his business degree in 2 1/2 years at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.”

Morath started a company that developed a management information system that streamlined federal food programs for low-income families. At age 36, he made enough money selling the company to semi-retire. Dallas Magazine shared,

“His next goal: searching for his special purpose. An evangelical Christian, Morath believed God would lead the way to this discovery.”

The same Dallas Magazine article also reported that his fellow Dallas Trustees found him “an arrogant wonk who won’t listen to others.” They were especially alienated when Morath tried to privatize the entire district using an obscure never used 1995 Texas law authorizing Home Rule Charters. The Texas Observer reported,

“The idea came from Mike Morath, a Dallas ISD trustee since 2011, when he ran unopposed for an open seat. He’s part of the new generation on the school board, an entrepreneur and policy wonk backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Educate Dallas PAC.

“Morath tells the Observer he spotted an off-hand mention of home-rule charters in a news story about another Texas city….  

“Drafting a home-rule charter, he figured, could be just the thing to give Dallas ISD the freedom it needs to make real changes. Morath shared the idea with a handful of local lawyers and businessfolk, and they in turn founded Support Our Public Schools.”

There were several big dollar contributors for Support Our Public Schools which is a 501 C4 organization meaning it is not tax exempt because its main purpose is to promote a political agenda. Only Houston billionaire John Arnold openly admitted giving large sums to the group.

Garner made an interesting observation in her piece denouncing Morath’s appointment. She defined two types of schools:

  • Type 1 Education: More than a century of children educated in democratically run public schools by certificated teachers. They used technology like Big Chief Tablets and pencils to learn reading, writing, mathematics, science, and civics. They participated in physical exercise and team sports. They attended the school in their neighborhood which likely had several generations of history. “Americans became the leaders of the world because of the many scientists, inventors, technicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, writers, historians, and businessmen who used their Type #1 education to elevate themselves to great heights.
  • Type 2 Education: A philosophy of education that opens the door to subjective, digitized curriculum and assessments found in Common Core the Bill Gates financed national education standards pushed by the Obama administration and CSCOPE the Texas attempt to impose standards based scripted lessons on all teachers and schools. It is the same “innovative” school model pushed by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators; their 21st century transformational “visioning” approach to education. An approach that embraces the technology industry’s future ready agenda which supports greedy consultants, lobbyists, and vendors who make a fortune off education’s “Golden Goose” of public dollars.

future-ready-pledge

Promotion for the Future Ready Pledge by the Office of Education Technology

Garner’s article about Mike Morath’s appointment concluded,

“Mike Morath is not the right person for the Texas Commissioner of Education. He will not support whole-heartedly the Type #1 curriculum standards that the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education have worked so hard to adopt.  Morath’s philosophy of education is very closely attuned to that of the Obama administration’s Type #2 Common Core.  I am terribly disappointed in Gov. Abbott’s choice of Mike Morath as the Texas Commissioner of Education.”

Test to Privatize

Standardized-testing is NOT capable of measuring either school or teacher quality. The only strong statistical correlation related to standardized-testing is family wealth. In a paper on the limitations of standardized-testing the non-profit organization FairTest wrote,

“Test validity, experts explain, resides in the inferences drawn from assessment results and the consequences of their uses. Relying solely on scores from one test to determine success or progress in broad areas such as reading or math is likely to lead to incorrect inferences and then to actions that are ineffective or even harmful. For these and other reasons, the standards of the testing profession call for using multiple measures for informing major decisions – as does the ESEA legislation.” (Emphasis Added)

It is not an accident that 100% of schools designated as failures and slated for intervention are in poor communities. Likewise, it is not surprising that there has never been a school in a middle class community designated for closure or other interventions. It is only the schools in poor and almost exclusively minority communities that are slated for state intervention in Texas.

To evaluate a school, information about the accreditation of its teachers and their years of experience would be meaningful. As would information about class sizes, art programs, music programs and physical training. A review of the condition of the facilities would also make sense. Surveying students, teachers and parents would yield actionable information. Evaluating schools on the basis of standardized-testing is indefensible.

In 2012, TEA promulgated a rule that required any school designated a failure five years in a row based on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STARR) testing must undergo state intervention. In 2018, the first 52-schools that require intervention appeared on the states to-do-list.

An example of the interventions to expect comes from San Antonio. The Rivard Report shared,

“One of the schools that received an “improvement required” was Ogden Elementary in SAISD, which now has received a failing grade for five consecutive years. However, because of a partnership SAISD leveraged with Relay Graduate School of Education, state law permits Ogden reprieve from accountability consequences for an additional two years.”

Relay Graduate School of Education is a fraudulent school started by the charter school industry. In 2015, Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the school for Huffington Post:

“For those who are unfamiliar, Relay “Graduate School of Education” was singled out as an innovator by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last November, but it is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First, and it is housed in the Uncommon Schools affiliated North Star Academy. Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.”

The San Antonio Relay Graduate School is led by Dean Annie Hoffman. Prior to joining Relay, Hoffman completed her Masters of Education in Language and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her teaching career at Sherman Elementary in the Houston Independent School District.

Down the road in Houston, people are fighting mad about the threat to turn 10 schools over to a charter management organization to avoid state sanctions. Last spring, the Chronicle reported,

“HISD administrators sought to stave off potential sanctions by giving control over the 10 schools to a charter school operator, Energized For STEM Academy Inc., but district leaders retreated from that recommendation Wednesday. Their decision came less than 24 hours after a raucous school board meeting ended with two arrests and about 100 members of the public, nearly all of whom opposed the charter proposal, temporarily forced out of the administration building.”

“Had HISD trustees voted to surrender control over the schools, all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic student populations in high-poverty neighborhoods, the district could have received a two-year reprieve from any state sanctions.”

Six of the schools with a long track record of low tests scores were able to meet the required standards to have the threat removed. However, four schools still need to score well to ensure the district is not taken over by Mike Morath’s TEA. January 3rd, Governor Abbott tweeted,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

Charles Kuffner weighed in at Off the Kuff. He speculated,

“It should be clear why the state has been reluctant to step in, despite Greg Abbott’s nasty tweet. If the TEA takes over, then the TEA owns all of the problems that HISD is trying to solve. … That’s not their job, and there’s nothing in the track record of past takeovers by state agencies, here and elsewhere, to suggest they’ll do any better at it than HISD has done. There’s a reason why Abbott hasn’t had much to say about this since his Trumpian Twitter moment.

Bigger Money is Driving the Portfolio School District Model

In July of 2018, former Enron trader, John Arnold, joined forces with San Francisco billionaire and Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. They each pledged $100,000,000 to a new non-profit dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. They call it City Fund. Gates and Dell have also contributed to City Fund.

William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado Boulder wrote a short paper “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.” Their basic definition explains,

“Generally speaking, four reform strategies are combined, in varying degrees, in portfolio districts:  (1) performance-based (generally test-based) accountability, (2) school-level de-centralization of management, (3) the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools, and (4) the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools.”

The portfolio model promotes disruption as a virtue and posits no value for stable neighborhood schools. As schools are closed or reconstituted, the new schools are not democratically controlled. For example, the portfolio district in Denver, Colorado has 204 schools but 108 of them are no longer governed by the school board. They are governed either by private charter school companies or non-profit organizations.

texas portfolio model map

Map from the Texas Systems of Great Schools Web Site

Concluding Observations

In 2016, the highest paid Superintendent of Schools in Texas was Mark Henry from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. He received $383,402 to administer a 116,000 student district. At the IDEA charter school chain which has less than 36,000 students, that same year CEO Tom Torkelson made $513,970 and CFO, Wyatt Truscheit received $435,976. Plus, President JoAnn Gama took in $354,484 which is more than all but three public school superintendents in the state of Texas.

It is clear why charter school executives are for them, but data says charters do no better than public schools and are creating havoc with the public education system.

It is not just conservatives who are having issues with privatizing the public education system. Three Democratic Texas legislators, Gina Hinojosa, Mary González and Shawn Thierry reported,

“When charters cherry-pick students, neighborhood schools are left to educate a disproportionate percentage of more challenging children. Neighborhood schools are required by law to enroll all kids, regardless of disciplinary history, special needs or family challenges. Educating children who face more challenges in life is more expensive; the cost falls disproportionately on local public school districts.

“Yet, charters receive more funding from the state per student than 95 percent of all students in Texas. In El Paso, charters receive $1,619 more per student than El Paso ISD. In Austin, charters receive $1,740 more per student than AISD. This funding disparity holds true for many of the largest school districts.

“This lopsided funding model results in increasing funding for charter schools and decreasing it for traditional public schools. In the 2018-2019 biennium, charter schools received $1.46 billion more than the prior biennium, and traditional public schools received $2.68 billion less.

“Ultimately, this parallel system of exclusive schools, funded with increasingly more public money, is often a false promise that results in less access and less funding for many of our kids.”

Sweetwater Schools Financial Problems Became Political Cudgel

9 Jan

The newly hired Chief Financial Officer of Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD), Jenny Salkeld, discovered a significant problem with the budget she inherited. She presented her findings to the Sweetwater leadership team in early September which forwarded her report onto the County Office of Education (COE). The SUHSD board also called in all bargaining units to suspend contract negotiations and inform them of the budgetary uncertainties. Sensationalism and subterfuge became the new reality in Chula Vista, California.

An October San Diego Union article reported,

“On June 25, the school board approved a budget for this school year that assumed the district had spent $328 million in unrestricted funding last school year and had $17 million in reserves going into this school year. In September, Salkeld presented a report showing that the district actually had spent $20 million more than that and started this school year with a negative reserve balance of $4 million.

“On top of spending more than previously estimated, the district received $6 million less in one-time state funding than it had expected.”

salkeld brief bio

After receiving Sweetwater’s alert about the accounting errors, the COE officially disapproved the 2018-19 budget the district had submitted. The reasons for disapproving the budget were the reasons Salkeld had reported. The county’s September 18 letter stated,

“The disapproval of the adopted budget is based on an assessment and analysis of the following major components of the district’s budget.

  • Preliminary 2017-18 negative unrestricted General Fund ending balance
  • Projected 2018-19 revenues overstated
  • Projected 2018-19 expenditures understated
  • Structural deficit in current and upcoming fiscal years
  • Cash concerns”

Apparently someone at the county leaked the budget information to the Voice of San Diego. The district which was in the process of understanding the extent of the problem did not have that opportunity. Instead they were faced with a withering public attack in both the San Diego Union and The Voice of San Diego. The headlines implied that a group of incompetent people at SUHSD were incapable of managing their affairs and were involved in possible fraud.

In the more than twenty reports in these two publications from September through December, it was obscured that it was the Sweetwater District which found the problem and informed the county. It was also never pointed out that budget analysts at the COE failed in their oversight responsibilities.

In November, the county approved Sweetwater’s revised budget.

Budget Shortfalls Throughout the State

Kristen Taketa reporting for the San Diego Union noted,

At least 10 districts in the county are projecting that they will not be able to meet their financial commitments next school year, including Chula Vista Elementary, Jamul-Dulzura Union, Mountain Empire Unified, Oceanside Unified, San Diego Unified, San Marcos Unified, San Ysidro, Sweetwater and Vista Unified. More districts won’t be able to meet their financial commitments after next year.

Teketa provided three reasons for what is a statewide public school funding problem:

  1. Rising pension costs: To address looming pension debt, the state in 2014 started increasing school districts’ share of pension costs. In 2013-14, school districts paid 8 percent of their teachers’ salaries to the state’s teacher pension fund. This year, they had to pay 16 percent.
  2. Rising special education costs
  3. Declining enrollment: Oceanside officials estimate that they can only compensate for 40 percent of revenue lost when they lose students. The student enrollment losses are attributed mostly to charter schools. California, unlike some states, does not financially mitigate the burden caused by charter schools on public school districts. The only option districts have is to reduce services to the remaining students.

Last May, In the Public Interest published a paper by University of Oregon’s Professor Gordon Lafer called “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.” He looked specifically at the impact of charter schools on San Diego Unified School District. Lafer found that the annual impact of student losses was $65,902,809 and that the cost per charter school student was $4,913.

By taking the 5500 students in charter schools instead of Sweetwater schools and multiplying that number by a conservative estimate of $4,000 in cost per student the total is $22,000,000 in stranded costs for the district; more than the budget error Salkeld discovered.

enrollment graphs

Charter Student Growth Compared with District Enrollment

What Caused the Budget Error?

Gene Chavira, President of the Sweetwater Education Association (affiliate of the California Teachers Association) said he believes this budget problem has roots that stretch back to the early 2000’s when Ed Brand was serving his first term as Superintendent. Chavira referenced some strange land sales from that period. Later, during Brand’s second stint as Superintendent, he and SUHSD CFO Diana Russo established two charter schools; another move Gene found suspicious.

The two charter schools were elementary schools belonging to SUHSD. The neighboring elementary school districts were unhappy and reacted by expanding their own charter schools to include the grades 7 – 12 that were serviced by Sweetwater.

After Brand came Jesus Gandara. In 2006, two Sweetwater board members, Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa, flew to Texas and personally interviewed Gandara before he was hired as the Superintendent of Sweetwater schools. It appears that the board members and their search firm ignored some obvious warning signs when they made the hire. In 2011, the board voted to fire Gandara for abuse and brought back Ed Brand to lead the district. Another odd decision, since he had just been forced out as Superintendent of San Marcos Unified under accusations of nepotism.

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.

In 2015, five new board members and a new superintendent took leadership of SUHSD. Chavira recalled vividly that he and many others called on the new board to conduct a forensic audit, but the board – though for it in principal – rejected spending the more than $1,000,000 required. Chavira feels that was one of two big mistakes made. The second was that they did not replace the existing finance team.

board group photo 2018

2018 SUHSD Board – Standing from the left: Arturo Solis, Frank Tarantino, Nicholas Segura, Kevin Pike. Seated from the Left: Paula Hall, Student Member Brenna Pangelinan, Superintendent Karen Janney. Photo from District

Throughout the lead up to this current budget problem, the new board has been extremely popular. In the 2018 election, Hall, Solis and Tarantino ran for reelection unopposed. Professor Karen Janney was a student, a teacher and an administrator in SUHSD. She was forced out of the district by then Superintendent Gandara. After which, she taught education leadership at San Diego State University.

This group has accumulated some amazing talent and support. The 2016 audit committee added two new members, Maricela Garcia-Centeno and Bill Kowba making this a power house committee. Existing committee member, Trustee Paula Hall, works as a financial analyst in San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). Garcia-Centeno is a Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Fraud Examiner. Bill Kowba is a retired Rear Admiral who served both as Chief Financial Officer and Superintendent of SDUSD.

The audit committee’s 2016 report showed concerns regarding transparency and the need for more light shined on budget internals. They stated, “We are recommending the District direct the audit team so that work is not disproportionally focused on well regulated programs but performs a ‘deeper dive’ into areas that have potential of higher risk.

In 2017, the audit committee was recommendingdeeper testing for certain elements of the 2016-17 audit along with a recommendation for a special audit focusing on accounts payable, purchasing and contracts including ….” The implicit message was that the committee was not happy with the answers they were getting or perhaps not getting.

CFO Karen Michel and three members of her small team retired upon completion of the 2018-19 Sweetwater budget. All indications were that these were planned retirements.

After Salkeld’s report showing a $20,000,000 budget error, the county called in the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assist Team (FCMAT). On December 17th the FCMAT study was presented to the Sweetwater board. The Voice of San Diego reported,

“FCMAT’s chief executive officer Michael Fine told board members that 302 entries in the district’s accounting system were doctored to create the impression the district had more money than it really did. ‘That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up,’ he said, …”

This is a puzzling statement. In the report Fine says, “While the district prepares budget revisions throughout the fiscal year, detailed information provided by the district shows that budget revisions totaling millions of dollars include negative budget entries that lack sufficient supporting documentation.”  His study comes to several conclusions tending against Sweetwater that lack strong evidentiary basis and it has no details about what he later labeled “a cover-up.” Now, Fine will be conducting a fraud audit. If he does not find fraud, won’t he be open to a libel charge? Can his audit be trusted?

A December 21st Voice of San Diego headline states, “County Ed Office Takes Control of Sweetwater’s Board.” The county had issued a “stay and rescind” order which gives them veto power over some decisions made by the SUHSD board. This begs the question, why did the county which dropped the ball here jump so quickly into this drastic step when the district team which found the problem has been addressing it aggressively?

The SUHSD web-site has a response to the issues raised. The opening paragraph says,

“Over the past few months the Sweetwater Union High School District has faced significant challenges with respect to our organizational budget. … We realize that these issues may seem insurmountable at times, but we want to assure you that despite some of the doubts being cast in the public, we are moving forward with a stabilization plan that will ensure positive financial health.”

There is also a letter from Superintendent Janney about the “stay and rescind” order. She cites remarks by Dr. Mark Skvarna, a financial advisor from the county, about the limitations on the order. Janney writes, “This authority is specific to the actions that are ‘inconsistent with the district’s ability to meet its financial obligations.’”

The San Diego Union and the Voice of San Diego are Biased Against Public Education

Editorials in the San Diego Union continually attack teachers and their unions. An editorial leading up to the 2018 general election called for a former banker and charter school chief as Secretary of Public Instruction (SPI). Following a familiar destroy public education (DPE) script; another editorial created a false crisis as the predicate for an urgent plea to elect charter school executive, Marshall Tuck, over California State Assemblyman, Tony Thurmond.

In 2005, Buzz Woolley founded Voice of San Diego. It was the first digital nonprofit news organization to serve a local community in the country. Besides his interest in using new technologies for media, Woolley also is enthusiastic about education technology in the classroom. In 2013 Woolley’s Girard Foundation sent over $500,000 to companies developing software for “personalized” education and competency-based education.

The year before starting the Voice of San San Diego, Woolley and Gap Founder Don Fisher established the Charter School Growth Fund. John Walton (Walmart heir) and Greg Penner (Walmart heir) joined the board. In 2016, that fund had assets of $217,176,094 with a yearly income of $95,184,785.

A local media watch dog report tells the story of an education reporter losing her job while perusing a store about the COE. Blogger Maura Larkins wrote,

“Voice of San Diego dropped its coverage of SDCOE attorney shenanigans, and laid-off its stellar education reporter Emily Alpert.”

“Voice of San Diego benefactors Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs [founded Qualcomm], who claim to care about education, could have easily paid Emily’s salary with their pocket change if they’d wanted her to stay.”

“It seems Buzz Woolley, Irwin Jacobs and Emily Alpert weren’t on the same page.”

Some Concluding Words

Superintendent Janney may have been wrong to retain the inherited financial team; however, in 2015 she had a lot on her plate. A Trustee said that Janney began by focusing on education leadership in the district. There was a widely shared belief that several administrators were in positions by dint of cronyism and that many of them were incompetent. When she was alerted to the budget issue, Janney reacted professionally. She immediately informed stakeholders and the COE.

The budget error appears to have originated within the financial department. FCMAT Director Fine claimed it was a “cover-up.” Maybe he is right but he did not present much convincing evidence; only reporting that some entries that subtracted from the deficit were not sufficiently documented. It is hard to see the motive for financial professionals engaging in this “cover-up,” but people sometimes make strange decisions.

Two mainstream media outlets in San Diego that have regularly promoted privatizing public education and “corporate education reform” have been ruthlessly attacking SUHSD. They have indicated that the leaders in Chula Vista are incompetent and corrupt. The obvious dog-whistle here is that there are too many non-whites in SUHSD leadership.

The truth is that the SUHSD team is highly competent and has delivered a refreshing era of ethics and openness to the South-bay. Karen Janney is an educator with deep knowledge and experience, plus she is a gifted leader and public speaker. The present financial team led by Jenny Salkald is much more impressive than the county or state teams who have been nothing short of unprofessional.

The real investigation should be into whom or what is motivating this unjust attack on SUHSD? Also, why are we paying all those bloated salaries at the San Diego County Office of Education and for what?

Destroy Public Education Forces Retooling for 2019

26 Dec

The destroy public education (DPE) national coordinating organization, Education Cities, has been closed, with its assets and personnel distributed to three new organizations; The City Fund, School Board Partners and Community Engagement Partners. And there is more. In an interview with The 74, City Fund’s Managing Partner, Neerav Kingsland, revealed the establishment a new political action committee under IRS code 501 C4 called Public School Allies.

In October, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) announced that its leader for the past 10 years, Jed Wallace, would step down in January, 2019. The new President of CCSA will be Myrna Castrejón who is currently Director of Great Public Schools Now (GPSN). The announcement says of Wallace’s future, “He will move onto a new role advising charter school organizations across the United States.” Under Wallace’s leadership the CCSA replaced the California Teachers Association as the state’s largest lobbying effort on education issues.

The LittleSis map below shows the money coming into The City Fund and the new postings for the former Education Cities’ staff. During the interview cited above, Kirkland said, “Along with the Hastings Fund and the Arnold Foundation, we’ve also received funds from the Dell Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Ballmer Group.” The amount of money given by the Walton family and Ballmer is unknown.

Little Sis Map of Reorganization

Reorganizing DPE Forces (see Interactive Map here)

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat reported that City Fund has started spending to promote the “portfolio model” of education reform. Barnum stated,

“Kingsland said The City Fund has given to The Mind Trust, which focuses on Indianapolis Public Schools; RootED in Denver; City Education Partners in San Antonio; the Newark Charter School Fund and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation; The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis; and RedefinED Atlanta. In Nashville, The City Fund gave directly to certain charter schools.”

The City Fund’s central agenda is promoting the portfolio model of school reform. The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test which reflects student family wealth but does not identify education quality. Testing and the portfolio model inevitably lead to an ever more privatized system – especially in poor communities – that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. Objections to the portfolio model include:

  1. It creates constant churn and disruption. Students in struggling neighborhoods need stable environments they can trust.
  2. Democratically operated schools are the foundation of American democracy. The portfolio model ignores the value of these democratic incubators.
  3. Parents and taxpayer lose the ability to hold elected officials accountable for school operations.

Even voucher enthusiast Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas wrote an open letter to John Arnold warning against the portfolio model. He noted, “The Arnold Foundation invests heavily in another initiative that promotes rigorous science for medical and policy decision-making, yet they do not seem to apply that same standard of proof to their own education strategy.

Myrna Castrejón and Great Public Schools Now (GPSN)

Myrna Castrejón attended college at the flagship Seventh-day Adventist school Andrews University. From there she matriculated to the University of Wisconsin where she took graduate work in Anthropology and Border Studies. She has spent time at various non-profits focused on education reform in both El Paso, Texas and Los Angeles, California. In 2003, she went to work for the CCSA.

By 2015, Castrejón was the Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, at CCSA where she led their Advocates group. At the end of the year, she left her $231,000 position to establish GPSN where her  pay raised to $255,133 for the first year.

GPSN was a start-up non-profit in 2016, however, it was extremely well financed. The Walton family gave $400,000 and Eli Broad sent $4,927,500 but the big money came from Bill Gates a whopping $24,985,965. With this money, Castrejón was able to finance a public relations campaign that gave her amazing access to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board, especially Ref Rodriguez and Monica Garcia at the start and later with Nick Malvoin, Garcia and Superintendent Austin Buetner.

That first year, she was able to grant Teach for America $4,200,000 in order “to increase the pipeline of high quality teachers in LA schools.” She also sent $500,000 to Boston’s Building Excellent Schools to recruit two fellows for founding, opening and leading “high achieving charter schools” in LA.

This past October she organized a “town-hall meeting” with “250 parents” to promote the charter industries dream of a common application for all schools. LAUSD Board President, Monica Garcia, Board member, Nick Malvoin and Superintendent Austin Buetner were all there to support her agenda.

Buetner at Great Schools Now Event June 29_2018

GPSN One Application Event with Austin Buetner (picture from #onecityallkids)

Myrna Castrejón has been a very effective leader in the DPE effort to privatize schools in Los Angeles and throughout California. That is why she will be the next leader of CCSA, the big dog among California’s DPE forces.

School Board Partners

Matt Barnum a reporter for Chalkbeat obtained a trove of emails between Myrna Castrejón and officials at LAUSD through a public information request. He made the 315 pages of emails accessible in his article, “New group will try to connect school board members pushing for ‘dramatic change’ in these 10 cities.”

The emails show that Ref Rodriguez, Monica Garcia and Nick Malvoin were more like partners with Castrejón than public representatives. This August, Castrejón messaged Garcia and Malvoin about the Launch of School Board Partners. She wrote,

“I am forwarding a networking and support opportunity that one of our partners is launching to advance the work of quality and equity in urban districts. School Board Partners is a new, spin off organization of the former Education Cities network, of which GPSN is a member. As you can see from Carrie’s description, their aim is create a Board level community of practice and make available resources and support for participating members on site and remote.

“This is at NO cost to participating Board members. If this is of interest to you, the initial cohort will launch October 1-3 in Denver. Let me know if I can connect you more directly. See the general description below, and the link to the live page that explains their work in more detail. I hope you find this helpful!

“Myrna”

The email that Castrejón forwarded was from Carrie McPherson Douglass, the CEO, of School Board Partners, which was in its first month or two of operation. The key portion of Douglas’s message reads,

“For year 1, our list of priority cities is: Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, San Antonio and Stockton.

“In each of these cities, we plan to support 1-3 school board members by providing these three sets of supports:

“1.  A national community of diverse school board members who are working to lead bold change in their respective communities. The network will meet annually in person and communicate virtually throughout the year as needed. Members of the network will learn together and support each other, as well as benefit from the support and resources of the team at School Board Partners.

“2.  A personal coach/mentor to support each individual school board member as they develop as an elected official and leader of change in your city.

“3.  Pro-bono consulting services to help school board members research, plan and execute thoughtful change initiatives specific to your board and city. Our first national convening of school board members will be held in Denver Oct 1st-3rd.”

Both Garcia and Malvoin indicate great interest in the group but cited a conflict with the October date. Garcia said her Pahara group was meeting then and Nick said a looming strike and some board business would make those dates difficult. Castrejón agreed to put them both in direct contact with Carrie Douglass.

Carrie McPherson Douglass from EC bio

Carrie Douglass’s Profile Picture on the Education Cities Cyber sight

Carrie Douglass was the Managing Partner at Education Cities. She signed their tax forms and made really good money. The tax form’s list her 2014 salary at $154,343, her 2015 salary at $168,942 and her 2016 salary at $182,595.

Before Education Cities, Carrie served as the Senior Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland, an Education Cities member, where she developed a blended learning pilot. Prior to joining Rogers, Carrie was the Director of Human Resources at Aspire Public Schools.

Carry earned a B.A. from the University of Portland, Oregon, in Education and Music. She was awarded an M.B.A. at Boston University specializing in Finance, Strategy and Non-profit Management.

Douglass lives and works from the beautiful little city of Bend, Oregon on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. Last year she was elected to the local school board.

This founding leader of School Board Partners is a “Broadie.” She completed the two year Broad Residency program (2007-2009) while working at Aspire. Her quote on the Broad Alumni page reads,

“I am amazed that Americans have accepted mediocrity from our public school system for so long. The status quo must end. The Broad Residency provides an opportunity for professionals with a wide variety of experiences to bring innovative solutions to the table, while simultaneously developing a deep understanding of the historical context to ensure appropriate solutions for urban education.”

In other words this very white woman from an extraordinarily white area of the United States believes Broad gave her the kind of “deep understanding” required for saving the black and brown children in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, San Antonio and Stockton. What could go wrong?

In a private email, Peter Greene responded to the establishment of School Board Partners with, “I call BS.” The point being that every state requires school board members to go through training and existing reputable private organizations like the California School Board Association also make many training and research resources available to board members. California’s Department of Consumer Affairs provides a plethora of training opportunities and informs all new Board members, “California … requires every appointed board member to complete a training and orientation program offered by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) within one year of assuming office.

School Board Partners is not a good Samaritan group filling a void. It is a DPE organization looking to co-opt elected board members into furthering the portfolio model of education reform.

Community Engagement Partners

This new organization is not well defined and their web presence is not much more informative than the non-existent web presence of The City Fund. Three former employees of Education Cities are developing this new DPE organization.

Kevin Leslie “provides finance and operations support to Education Cities and its two new initiatives: Community Engagement Partners and School Board Partners.

Rebecca Weinberg Jones is the Deputy Director of Community Engagement Partners (CPE). She attended Vassar College and earned a Masters in Urban Education Policy from Brown University. Her LinkedIn page says of CEP,

“Community Engagement Partners, an initiative of Education Cities, supports education organizations and leaders as they partner with and learn from their local communities with the goal of creating and sustaining great schools. We believe that the change necessary to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality school is only possible and sustainable when those most impacted by educational inequity are partners in the work and decision making.”

Charles McDonald is the Executive Director for CEP. In the past, he served as Senior Managing Director, External Affairs for Teach For America – South Carolina. He also served as Program Manager for Education Pioneers Greater Boston Analyst and Graduate School Fellowship programs for two years.

A paper McDonald wrote while at Education Cities is the only document linked on the CEP web page. It purportedly points to their purpose. In it he obseved,

“After nearly a decade of catalyzing and implementing nationally-recognized education reforms, The Mind Trust made an intentional shift from solely focusing on grasstops-driven reform efforts to recognizing the need to partner with key grassroots stakeholders and civic leaders with deep ties to the communities most impacted by educational inequity. In 2013, the organization hired Indianapolis native Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo [now at The City Fund] to help lead efforts to better align The Mind Trust’s strategy to the needs and values of the community and build a base of community support for educational equity.”

It seems like the CEP purpose will be to continue Education City’s efforts to organize and support on the ground DPE forces in America’s cities.

Some Final Comments

This October, Diane Ravitch addressed #NPE2018Indy asserting, “We are the resistance and we are winning!” 2018 certainly was a hopeful year for the friends of public education and professional educators. Charter school growth has stagnated and “choice” has been shown to be a racist attack rather than an expanded right. In Arizona, an ALEC driven voucher scheme was soundly defeated and in California, Tony Thurmond turned back the nearly $50 million dollar effort to make a charter school executive Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The DPE response is a new more opaque and better funded effort narrowly focused on its theory of quality schools through the portfolio model. It is yet another effort to transform education with no input from educators. Without billionaire money tipping the scales of democracy; vouchers and charter schools would disappear because they are bad policy. Educators ache to focus on improving public education but must use their energy fighting for the survival of America’s public education system, the world’s greatest and most successful education institution.

America’s teachers are educators who will continue sharing lessons on how to recognize highly paid political agents and profitable propaganda centers masquerading as “think tanks.” I predict, even with the greater spending and reorganization, 2019 will be an awful year for the DPE forces.

Review and Preview Thurmond v Tuck

1 Dec

This year’s biggest election win in California was for the down-ballot office, Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI). Tony Thurmond defeated Marshall Tuck in a proxy battle between billionaires supporting public school privatization and teachers’ unions fighting for democratically run neighborhood schools. More than $61,000,000 was spent on the SPI office doubling the previous $30,000,000 spending record set in 2014 when Tuck lost to Tom Torlakson.

Director of research at California Target Book, Rob Pyers, reported this year’s total election spending in California realized a new level. Target Book publisher Darry Sragow commented, “If blowing through the billion-dollar campaign spending ceiling in California doesn’t give pause to everyone in politics, I don’t know what will.”

Of the eight state-wide constitutional offices on the ballot, the governor’s race topped spending at $108,221,028 and the SPI race came in second totaling $61,170,451. Spending in the governor’s race was also heavily impacted by billionaires supporting the charter school industry. California has an open primary in which the top two vote getters reach the general election ballot regardless of party. Before June’s voting, billionaires lavished Anthony Villaraigosa’s campaign unprecedented independent expenditure money trying to get him to the November ballot.

Billionaires for Villaraigosa

Spending By Eight Billionaires for Villaraigosa over Newsom in 2018 Primary Election

When Villaraigosa lost badly in the June 6 primary, many of the same billionaires listed above turned their full attention toward electing Marshall Tuck SPI.

Following a brief career in investment banking, Tuck took a job at the politically connected Green Dot charter schools. Steve Barr a former chair of the Democratic Party who had served on national campaigns for Bill Clinton, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis founded Green Dot charter schools in 1999. He hired Truck in 2002 to be Chief Operating Officer (COO) and eventually promoted him to President and COO.

When Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa was rebuffed in his efforts to take control of Los Angeles Unified School District, he convinced a few donors to underwrite the takeover of ten schools in areas which had suffered years of poor standardized testing results. They created a non-profit called Partnership for LA. Villaraigosa tapped Marshall Tuck to lead the Partnership.

Tuck was extremely unpopular at the Partnership. The Sacramento Bee reported, “Teachers passed a vote of no confidence at nine of the schools at the end of the first year, leading to independent mediation.”

During this education reform era in which connections are more important than skill, experience and training, Tuck remained in good standing with the Destroy Public Education (DPE) financiers. Subsequent to loosing the formerly most expensive SPI race in California’s history; Tuck’s benefactors took care of him. Despite no training as an educator, he was given a job as Educator-in-Residence at the New Teacher Center. Bill Gates provides much of the centers funding including grants totaling $26,305,252 since 2009.

Reviewing the Campaign Contributions

Direct contributions to a candidate are no longer of primary importance. The money given to “independent expenditure” committees has no contribution limits. Legally, these committees are supposed to be separate from the candidate and are not to coordinate with the candidate’s campaign; however, the committees are often doing the bidding of the same people who created the candidate.

In Tuck versus Thurmond, the direct giving only accounted for 12% of total money spent. Although the direct money spent was comparatively small, it was revealing. In this race the contribution limit was $7,300 and it could be given twice (once for the primary and once for the general). Tuck received 377 maximum contributions for a total of $2,748,500. Thurmond received 170 maximum contributions for a total of $1,234,854.

The race is generally viewed as a battle between billionaires and teachers unions, but that obscures some realities. Tuck’s maximum contributions came from 259 sources of which 257 were individuals. Thurmond’s Maximum contributions came from 129 sources of which 16 were individuals. Tuck received max contributions from 76 non-employed people, 65 financial industry employees, 39 corporate executives and 29 billionaires. Thurmond received a maximum contribution from one billionaire, Tom Steyer and two corporate executives, Stewart Resnick and Linda Ray Resnick, who also were maximum contributors for Tuck.

The groups who gave maximum contributions to Thurmond were almost all organized by labor unions. Surprisingly, much of the money came from voluntary contributions and not union dues. For example, the California State Retirees PAC, made a maximum contribution to Thurmond. The largest amount contributed to the PAC by the 1404 contributors was $15.50. Another example is The California Federation of Teachers COPE which made two max donation to Thurmond. The money came from 1326 member organizations like the San Jose Federation of Teacher Local 957 whose members made voluntary contributions totaling to $73,391.

It was the PACs who drove the election financially.

Independent Expenditures Map

Independent Expenditure Example Map of EdVoice for the Kids PAC

The LittleSis map above shows eight billionaires contributing $9,769,200 to EdVoice for the Kids PAC. Plus four of them send $2,664,600 to Charter Public Schools PAC sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. That PAC contributes another $2,900,000 to the Ed Voice PAC. EdVoice then sends $17,953,882 to Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshall Tuck which spends $22,013,408 on things like TV ads, radio spots and mailers.

The spending by the three PACs and the billionaires were verified using records provided by the Cal-access data base for major donors. The total of independent expenditures for Tuck is a conservative estimate based on multiple news reports. The independent expenditures on behalf of Tuck were more than the record setting $30,000,000 total for this contest in 2014.

Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshal Tuck was a project of EdVoice. No students, teachers or parents are listed among the contributors to this PAC unless George Hume, Chairman of Basic American or investor Michael Stoppelman have children. This PAC name looked and sounded good when providing a deceptive and legally required source for political advertisements.

The opening page of EdVoice’s internet site says, “EdVoice is a nonprofit organization advocating for policies to increase measurable student achievement for all students in California and eliminate inequality of educational opportunity in public schools.” In other words, they promote using testing to label public schools failures and promote Betsy DeVos’s school choice ideology.

Bill Lucia, a connected Republican operative, is President and COO of Ed Voice. His Ed Voice biography states, “Prior to joining EdVoice, Lucia served as Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, leading the advocacy and legal defense team at the California Charter Schools Association(CCSA). Before joining CCSA, Lucia worked as Senior Assessment Policy Liaison for Educational Testing Service, and prior to that, spent five years in Washington D.C. working as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education and in the U.S. Senate.”

EdVoice is not a big money organization. In 2016, its total income was $400,136. However at least two billionaires associated with privatizing public education are board members, Eli Broad and Carrie Walton Penner. Susan Bloomfield is also on the board.

The Campaign

In March 2017, Marshall Tuck announced his candidacy for SPI. In April, Tony Thurmond announced. By the end of 2017, four candidates had joined the race with the addition of Lily Ploski and Steven Ireland.

Marshall Tuck had name recognition and solid campaign funding. By August 2017, Thurmond announced $1,000,000 in campaign contributions and early endorsements from Senator Kamala D. Harris, SPI Tom Torlakson, the California Federation of Teachers, and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. From that point on, the race was mainly between Tuck and Thurmond but Ploski’s and Ireland’s entry made it difficult for either Tuck or Thurmond to win 50% of the votes during the primary which would have ended the race.

When the year began, many supporters of public education were concerned because the candidate apposing Marshall Tuck was a one-term Assemblyman from Richmond, California with no name recognition. Not only that, he was a black man vulnerable to the race card. Then the Judases at the Association of California School Administrators endorsed Marshall Tuck for SPI.

That might have been the point at which Thurmond demonstrated he was a special guy. On the weekend of January 20th he spoke at the CTA delegates meeting. He already had their endorsement since October, but in this speech the delegates met a charismatic candidate who brought them to their feet cheering. He declared “no privatization of public schools in California. Not in this state. Not on my watch.”

At the California Democratic Party convention in February, the delegates overwhelmingly endorsed Thurmond over Tuck. Much of the sentiment at that San Diego convention was that Tuck was not a real Democrat. He was seen as being awash in Republican money while espousing their policies.

When Tuck tried to speak to the convention delegates, he was booed off the stage. Amusingly, Lee Ohanian of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University wrote an article titled “David Versus Goliath: A School Reformer Takes on the Democratic Party and Unions.” Amazingly in this article Tuck is David and Thurmond is Goliath. Ohanian wrote,

“A few months ago Marshall Tuck, a Democratic candidate who is running for the state office of California Superintendent of School (sic) Instruction, went to the California Democratic Party Convention to speak to his party about how to create better K–12 education in California. He went to the podium, but didn’t get a word out. Well, he may have said “I,” but that would have been about it. He was shouted down with a chorus of boos that drowned out his voice. The boos continued until his allotted time expired. No state Democratic party (sic) official quieted the crowd. The message was clear: this particular Democratic candidate, who wishes to change the status quo, is not welcome in his party. And you thought that the Democratic party embraced diversity?”

And you thought Stanford University was a credible research institution?

Thurmond turned out to be a consistent and gifted politician who won support at almost all debates, editorial interviews and campaign events.

A San Diego Union editorial read, “In his interview with us, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who finished second to Tuck in the June primary, seemed just as affable but not nearly as ambitious as Tuck.” In case that was too subtle; Tony is a black man.

On November 6, Thurmond became the first African American elected to statewide office in four decades.

The Preview is Looking Good

Calmatters interviewed Thurmond during the campaign.

‘“We talked to voters across the state and told them what this election means for each of us: it means giving every kid the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century, not just the ones that show the most potential,’ Thurmond said.

‘“It means funding our public schools at the level they deserve, not pouring money into our jails in prisons. It means providing mental health treatment for kids, not arming them with guns.”’

Calmatters also stated,

“Thurmond had said he favored a ‘pause’ on the growth of charters in California while the state examines the long-term impact they’ve had so far on its public education system. The assemblyman also said he supported more charter-school oversight and sympathized with school districts that had taken financial hits after losing students to charter schools.”

Politico reported on Thurmond’s first public statements since Tuck conceded.

“He called for a temporary ban on any new K-12 charter schools in the state, addressing reporters at the Sacramento union hall of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California. He said the state has reached a ‘tipping point’ with too many charters that have financially harmed public school districts, POLITICO’s Angela Hart reports.”

‘“I believe that we shouldn’t open new schools without providing the resources for those schools,’ said Thurmond, a Democratic assemblyman. ‘It is time to have perhaps a pause on the opening of new schools until we get clear about how we will fund any new schools.”’

“While charter school advocates believe their programs can force positive changes in traditional campuses, Thurmond took issue with the notion of ‘competition,’ which he framed in a negative light.”

‘“The truth of the matter is you cannot open new schools — charter or otherwise — and serve all the students in this state,” he said. “So if the model is built on saying let’s have competition in education, then you’re certainly leaving certain students to suffer and to not have the resources they need.”’