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A Wise and Witty Review of The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch

28 May

By T. Ultican 5/27/2019

Maybe not as witty and wise as I had hoped but definitely positive and impressed. I admit; I am a Diane Ravitch fan-boy and this latest release from Garn Press reinforces that posture. Diane is a warrior of ideas who has stood courageously against lavishly financed purveyors of reactionary ideologies. Billionaires are calling for the privatization of democratically run public schools in America and she won’t have it. This book is a compilation of a decade of her winning arguments that have gone far toward stemming the tide of the theft of America’s public schools. Billionaires call that “reform”.

Wisdom and Wit

The Fundamental Argument

America’s super-wealthy espouse a position echoing the antebellum south. The scholar Johann N. Neem’s book Democracy’s Schools; The Rise of Public Education in America notes, “Because of their political power and the way the tax burden fell largely upon them, slaveholding elites spread an antitax gospel to convince ordinary whites that taxes were a bad thing.” That same gospel is embedded in the Tea Party and other Libertarian movements.

Franklin Roosevelt became President at the height of the Great Depression. In 1935, Roosevelt signed the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance law more commonly known as Social Security. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare extension. In the Social Security administration’s history of Social Security it describes the major challenges to the free market capitalistic system that Roosevelt faced. It claims Social Security Insurance was the least disruptive alternative available to him. The history states,

Social insurance, as conceived by President Roosevelt, would address the permanent problem of economic security for the elderly by creating a work-related, contributory system in which workers would provide for their own future economic security through taxes paid while employed. Thus it was an alternative both to reliance on welfare and to radical changes in our capitalist system. In the context of its time, it can be seen as a moderately conservative, yet activist, response to the challenges of the Depression. (emphasis added)

1936 Dorothea Lange Photo

1936 Photo by Dorothea Lange

Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek who believed in classical liberalism especially the concept that it is in the common interest that all individuals must be able to secure their own economic self-interest, without government direction. In September 1944, the University of Chicago Press published Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. It was squarely against government programs like social security and Roosevelt’s “new deal.” Hayek was opposed to Keynesian economics which posited “that government intervention can stabilize the economy.”

In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago. It was there that Milton Friedman and a host of young scholars met their sole mate, Hayek. They saw government social programs as seeds for tyranny and public education was no exception.

Ravitch picks up this story in the article “Big Money Rules.” The article begins with a quote from her blog,

“Americans for Prosperity opposes all government programs. Its primary purpose is to protect the Koch billions from taxation to pay for any programs that benefit others. If it was up to the Koch Brothers, they would eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and every other social program. They are rabid libertarians who oppose taxation and government. Their interest is protecting the Koch billions, not anyone else.”

She uses data from two books, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean and Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.

MacLean’s book tells the story of economist James M. Buchanan who is associated with the doctrine of economic libertarianism and the “public choice” model of economics. His basic argument is that bureaucrats and public officials serve their own interests. MacLean viewed Buchanan as having “a formative role” in establishing the anti-democratic “stand of the radical right.

While researching, MacLean discovered personal correspondence between Buchanan and the billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch. She found a plan “to train a new generation of thinkers to push back against Brown v. Board of Education and the changes in constitutional thought and federal policy that had enabled it.

Until the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, far right economists like Hayek, Friedman and Buchanan, were viewed as part of a small fringe minority. Three of Buchanan’s first doctoral students went to work in Reagan’s administration. Buchanan and his acolytes were responding to the threats democratic institutions posed to the preservation of individual wealth.

Attacking Social Security was a big part of their agenda. Buchanan declared that Social Security was a “Ponzi scheme.” In a paper for the Cato Institute he explained if “people can be led to think that they personally have no legitimate claim against the system on retirement” it will “make abandonment of the system look more attractive.” Ravitch observed, “The genius of their strategy was in describing their efforts to change government programs as ‘reforms,’ when in fact they were intended from the outset to result in their destruction.”

Gordon Lafer’s book documents the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to advance the Koch-Buchanan agenda. Ravitch writes, “In the first decade of this century, ALEC’s leading corporate backers contributed more than $370 million to state elections, and over one hundred laws each year based on ALEC’s model bills were enacted.” Lafer stated, “For the first time ever in 2012 more than half of all income in America went to the richest 10 percent of the population.

Public education is a significant target of the super wealthy. During the first almost two decades of the twenty-first century billionaires like David and Charles Koch (Koch Industries), Bill Gates (Microsoft), the Walton family (Walmart), the DeVos family (Amway), Eli Broad (KB Homes and Sun America), John Arnold (Enron), Reed Hastings (Netflix), Doris Fisher (The Gap), Michael Dell (Dell Computers) and others have savaged public schools while labeling themselves “reformers.” Ravitch counters, “It is perfectly clear that they have no desire to “reform” our public schools but to privatize and monetize them.

Ravitch goes on to state,

“I have nothing against the wealthy. I don’t care that some people have more worldly goods than others. I understand that life’s not fair. I just harbor this feeling that a person ought to be able to get by on $100 million or so and not keep piling up riches while so many others don’t know how they will feed their children tonight.”

Battling the Wealthy and Their Talking Points with Reason and Knowledge

When I came to education in 2001, like most Americans, I was convinced that public education was in decline and that the teaching corps was poor quality and lazy. I had heard a little about a “Nation at Risk” and George Bush’s goals 2000. I remember Bill Clinton pushing charter schools and standards. I heard that the failing school system in Milwaukee was going to allow children to attend private voucher schools. But like most people, I only had a vague conception of the reality of public education and having grown up with a school teacher mom, I still believed in public education.  

By 2005, I was convinced that most of what I previously thought about education was wrong. I quickly learned that almost all of the experienced teachers I met were way better than me and really cared about their students, their schools and their profession. In graduate school, I discovered that the Reagan administration’s “A Nation at Risk” was not a peer reviewed professional article of the kind that normally came from government offices. Rather it was a polemic filled with errors promoting a particular agenda of standards and accountability.

In 2010, when I read Diane Ravitch’s “The Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I was thrilled. A powerful voice was speaking up for public education and against the propagandistic attack. However, the veteran teacher in the classroom next door was underwhelmed. Unlike me, he had been teaching and paying close attention to education politics since 1978. He knew Ravitch as a conservative purveyor of top down standards and testing.

Ravitch admits that my colleague was right. She writes,

“By the time I left government service in January 1993, I was an advocate not only for standards but for school choice. I had come to believe that standards and choice could co-exist as they do in the private sector. With my friends Chester Finn Jr. and Joseph Viteritti, I wrote and edited books and articles making the case for charter schools and accountability.”

When Death and Life was published, Ravitch had become completely disenchanted by what she started referring to as “Corporate Education Reform.” She saw hundreds of millions invested in test-preparation while arts, science, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign language and physical education became the sad stepchildren of the tested math and English. She says, “Accountability turned into a nightmare for American schools, producing graduates who were drilled regularly on the basic skills but were often ignorant about almost everything else.

At the same time, she started to see how destructive of public education – especially to neighborhood schools – the choice movement had become. And worse yet, choice schools had eschewed innovation in pursuit of profits. Ravitch began refuting the conservative agenda. The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch is a compilation of those arguments.

American Students Don’t Test Well

Americans have never done well on international testing. Ravitch highlights Yong Zhao’s book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao says East Asian nations have top scores because of their heavy test preparations. Ravitch reports,

“Our students have never had high scores on international tests, not since the first international test of math was administered in 1964, and our seniors scored last among 12 nations. We went on over the half-century since then to out compete the other 11 nations who had higher test scores.”

She argues that standardized testing identifies poverty; not teaching. Ravitch points out the obvious, “No nation in the world has eliminated poverty by firing teachers or by handing its public schools over to private managers, nor does research support either strategy.” She pithily says, “When it comes to child poverty, we are number 1.

US Rankings reported in Wit and Wisdom:

  • Quality Pre-school #24
  • Good Pre-natal care #131
  • Industrial Nations Child Poverty #1

George Bush, George Miller and Ted Kennedy gave us the No Child Left Behind law. Barack Obama and Arne Duncan gave us the Race to the Top law. Both laws employed the same test based accountability and punish strategies. Ravitch notes we are nowhere near whatever the top is supposed to be and the same children who were left behind in 2001-2 are still being left behind. In 2014, she declared, “Now that we have endured more than a dozen long years of No Child Left Behind and five fruitless, punitive years of Race to the Top, it is clear that they both failed.

Democrats Embraced the Conservative Agenda

When Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education, Democrats were outraged. Michael Bennet who introduced the portfolio model of education management into Denver’s schools and Corey Booker who tried to charterize all of the schools in Newark, New Jersey spoke passionately against the appointment. Ravitch pointed out, “But the resistance of DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth – Democrats have been promoting a conservative ‘school reform’ agenda for the past three decades.” She also wrote,

“Democratic charter advocates – whose ranks include the outraged Booker and Bennet – have increasingly imported ‘school choice’ into the party’s rhetoric. Booker likes to equate ‘choice’ with ‘freedom’ – even though the entire idea of ‘choice’ was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.”

“As Democrats learned years ago, support for mandatory testing and charter schools opens fat wallets on Wall Street. Money guys love deregulation, testing and Big Data, and union busting. In 2005, Obama served as the featured speaker at the inaugural gathering of Democrats for Education Reform, which bundles contributions to Democrats who back charter schools.”

Ravitch says that evidenced-based Democrats ought to acknowledge that school choice doesn’t work. Charter schools are a failed experiment that increase segregation and do not increase performance. Students in vouchers schools lose ground compared to their peers in public school.

As Ravitch continued to attack “school reform” nonsense, she also used her blog to elevate the voices of others. Ravitch and friends have dominated social media for a decade. At the Network for Public Education conference in Indiana this October she could boldly open the proceedings with, “We are the resistance and we are winning!”

Diane and Tom

Ravitch States the Elements of Good Education

“Every school should be staffed with credentialed and well qualified teachers. Class sizes should be no larger than 20 in elementary schools, no larger than 24 in middle and high schools. Every school should offer a full curriculum, including the arts, civics, history and foreign languages. Every school should have a library and media center staffed by a qualified librarian. Every school should have fully equipped laboratories for science. Every school should have a nurse and a social worker. Every school should be in tip-top physical condition.”

Wisdom and Wit recounts the arguments about education for the past 20 years. In an open letter to her old boss at the Department of Education, Lamar Alexander, she wrote,

“In closing, may I remind you of something you wrote in your book of advice?

“No. 84: Read anything Diane Ravitch writes about education.”

That seems like excellent advice. Her next book, Slaying Goliath, comes out in January.

Jeb Bush’s A+ Education Reform is a Reform Disaster

15 May

By T. Ultican 5/15/2019

During the 1998 gubernatorial campaign Jeb Bush proposed his A+ Education Reform. This March, Sue M. Legg, Ph.D. produced a paper that studies the results twenty years later. Professor Legg observed,

“It is critically important to recognize whose interests are being served in this school reform process. School reform had little to do with student achievement and everything to do with money and politics.”

The plan had four main components; (1) demanding curriculum standards, (2) annual testing for grades 3 – 10, (3) assigning A – F grades to schools based on testing results and (4) school choice. It was a plan for improving education without increasing spending. Or was it primarily a plan for defeating Democrats, promoting religion and making profits?

Speaking at the 2012 Republican National Convention Jeb Bush made clear his antipathy toward public schools, teachers and their unions. He said,

“There are many people who say they support strong schools but draw the line at school choice.

“Sorry, kid. Giving you equal opportunity would be too risky. And it will upset powerful political forces that we need to win elections.

“I have a simple message for these masters of delay and deferral: Choose. You can either help the politically powerful unions. Or you can help the kids.”

“We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity. ….

“Tell that to a parent stuck in a school where there is no leadership. Tell that to a young, talented teacher who just got laid off because she didn’t have tenure.”

When the A+ Program was adopted in 1999, Florida had consistently scored among the bottom third of US states on standardized testing. The following two data sets indicate no improvement and Florida now scoring in the bottom fourth.

NAEP Rankings

Florida’s Relative Ranking among US States on NAEP Math and Reading Testing

SAT ACT Comparison

ACT and SAT State Rankings and Score Averages

Florida adopted a mandatory third grade retention policy as part of the reform agenda. In 2002-3, fourteen percent of all third graders were retained, nearly twenty-eight thousand children. Since Florida was the first state to have mandatory third grade retention, it is logical that its average scores in a national fourth grade assessment the following year would improve its national ranking. This was a very controversial policy with supporters claiming a huge success while detractors claimed the testing improvement were the result of other changes to reading instruction in Florida. In 2014, the Helios Foundation commissioned a study of the Florida results and concluded,

“While Florida’s third grade reading policy enjoys less definitive evidence of success than its most vocal proponents claim, it has improved retained students’ performance in math and reading up to seventh grade and decreased their likelihood of future retention. It remains unknown what (retention or remediation or the two together) drove the impacts in Florida.

In 1998, while Jeb Bush was running to be the next Governor of the state, there was a constitutional amendment on the ballot calling for all students to have equal access to a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools”. It passed with strong support. Professor Legg stated, “The intent was clear: no public money to private schools.” There has been a constant tension played out in Florida courts between Bush’s school choice ideology and this constitutional amendment. In January, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3 against the 2009 law suit challenging Florida’s tax credit voucher program based on the 1998 constitutional amendment.

Last year, 21 percent of Florida’s students were enrolled in private and charter schools. The Florida tax credit scholarships (FTCS) went to 1,700 private schools and were awarded to over 100,000 students. Most of those students are in religious schools. Splitting public funding between three systems – public, charter and private – has insured mediocrity in all three systems.

Privatization Politics and Profiteering

Too understand Florida’s education reform, it is important to realize that its father, Jeb Bush, is the most doctrinal conservative in the Bush family. He fought for six years to keep feeding tubes inserted into Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistently vegetative state. Jeb was the Governor who signed the nation’s first “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law. During his first unsuccessful run for governor in 1994, Bush ‘“declared himself a ‘head-banging conservative’; vowed to ‘club this government into submission’; and warned that ‘we are transforming our society to a collectivist policy.”

After his 1994 loss, Bush joined the Heritage Foundation board. In a New Yorker article, Alec MacGillis wrote, “Bush found a compatible source for ideas on education when he joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers.” The elements of what became his A+ Plan for education reform came from the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank founded in 1973. Heritage distinguished itself from another successful conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, with its advocacy of Christian conservatism.

MacGillis further shared,

“Bush’s most influential adviser was Patricia Levesque, a former legislative aide to the state House Republican leadership and a graduate of Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist Christian school in South Carolina. (She greeted a new hire in Bush’s administration by asking him if he had “found a church home” yet in Tallahassee.)”

Jim Warford, whom Bush selected to be his K-12 schools chancellor in 2003, said of Bush, “He saw the teachers’ unions as one of the foundations of the Democratic Party, and he saw a great advantage—that anything he could do to undercut the teachers’ union would have a political return.”

It appears that Bush’s school reforms were motivated more by politics and religion than by improving education. However, it is profiteering that has gotten completely out of hand in Florida.

In 1996, Bush founded a charter school with the help of Jonathan Hage. In 2002, the Saint Petersburg Times reported,

“Jonathan Hage, a former Heritage Foundation researcher and political protege of Gov. Jeb Bush, has turned Florida’s charter school program into a growing for-profit business empire. Five years after borrowing $5,000 to start up Charter Schools USA, Hage took in $40-million last year [that’s 2001] — almost all of it from the government.”

In 2012, CSUSA took in $285,000,000. Today on their LinkedIn page they claim,

“Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) is one of the fastest growing education management companies in the U.S. We represent over 70,000+ students and 83 schools in 6 states.”

A League of Women report shared the history of one CSUSA charter school. CSUSA (the CMO) had purchased a former American Telephone and Telegraph (ATT) call center for about $1.2 million. CSUSA flipped the building several times and had the property reappraised. They invested $1.5 million in upgrades. A final appraisal was for $9 million dollars. The charter board signed an escalating lease for over a million dollars per year that in time will surpass the school’s budget. (The County Property Appraiser served a short term on the CSUSA board.)

Bush’s younger brother Neil somehow got out of Colorado after the collapse of his Silverado Savings and Loan cost taxpayers a billion dollars with no legal charges filed against him. Could it be that the President being his father influenced the charging? Neil showed up in Florida in 2002 to sell a new standardized testing preparation program for Florida’s new statewide testing. A progressive weekly report stated, “ Critics say it doesn’t look right for Neil Bush to be marketing his software to Florida schools.”

Professor Legg says that political interests from both sides of the isle see charter schools as a business opportunity. She reports,

“Former Vice President Biden’s brother runs the for-profit Mavericks charters. A Bush family friend launched Imagine schools, Florida’s third largest for-profit charter chain. Several Florida politicians including former Senate President, Joe Negron, and the former Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran launched charter schools.”

“Questions about conflict of interest claims have been made against current and former legislators involved in educational policy e.g. Richard Corcoran, Manny Diaz, Eric Fresen , Byron Donalds, former House Education Chair Michael Bileca, former Senate President Joe Negron, Anitere Flores and others. They all have personal ties to the charter industry and held or hold important education committee positions.”

Several of the politicians named by Legg have formed an alliance to promote the Classical Academy charter schools. Legg described the school and named the players,

“Classical Academies are sponsored by the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative. This Michigan private college has a long religious, conservative/libertarian tradition. The DeVos immediate family includes several Hillsdale graduates. The Barney (SmithBarney) and Stanton Foundation fund the initiative. According to Salon, the Koch brothers are also contributors.

“Erika Donalds and her husband, Representative Byron Donalds, co-founded one of the Classical Academies in Collier County and were members of its governing board. Donalds formed an alliance with the wife of the 2017 Florida Senate president, Joe Negron, to open Treasure Coast Academy Classical Academy in Martin County. Donalds also filed paperwork for a nonprofit entity called ‘Alpha’. Anne Corcoran, wife of the newly appointed Florida Commissioner of Education, opened a classical academy in Pasco County and assisted with one in Tallahassee. Representative Michael Bileca’s foundation donates to True North Classical Academy in Miami, according to the Miami Herald.”

It has taken money to keep these blatant conflicts of interest and the anti-public education leadership in place. In the fall of 2018, Integrity Florida published a report called The Hidden Costs of Charter School Choice. They detail $13,666,531 in political campaign donations from 1998-2016 from the Florida charter school industry. All Children Matter (founded by Betsy DeVos), American Federation for Children, and the Alliance for School Choice raised over $19 million dollars. The Walton family, John Kirtley, Gary Chartrand (member of the Florida State Board of Education), CSUSA and Academica are listed as major donors. This advocacy for a political and religious ideology permeates all aspects of the process of authorizing and expanding charter schools in Florida.

Selling Education Technology and Taxpayer Funded Religious Schools

Bush Levesque

After leaving state government, Jeb Bush launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in 2008. In close cooperation with the Koch funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now.

Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise (a Democrat) was selected to lead Digital Learning Now. In a joint article Bush and Wise claimed,

Digital learning can customize and personalize education so all students learn in their own style at their own pace, which maximizes their chances for success in school and beyond. With digital learning, every student—from rural communities to inner cities—can access high quality and rigorous courses in every subject, including foreign languages, math and science.

 Digital learning can also be the catalyst for transformational change in education.

The article, Personalized and Blended Learning are Money Grabs, explains that digital learning is a costly attempt to replace expensive teachers with cheaper and more profitable technology. There are many negatives associated with digital learning and no large scale benefits. Nevertheless in 2011 the state of Florida passed the Digital Learning Now Act. The official description says it “requires full-time & part-time school district virtual instruction program options; provides funding & accountability requirements; requires online learning course for high school graduation ….”

Patricia Levesque is FEE’s CEO leading the charge to privatize public education and direct tax money to religious schools. The Huffington Post described the funders of FEE,

“Bush foundation donors include family philanthropies, such as those established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Corporate donors include Connections Education, a division of global publishing giant Pearson ; Amplify, the education division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp ; and K12, a publicly traded company that runs online schools.”

On line education is valued by the growing Christian home-schooling movement.

FEE launched an advocacy group, Chiefs for Change, to promote many of Bush’s K-12 education policies around the country. Membership in Chiefs now includes 1 in every 5 school superintendents in America. In the Public Interest, a D.C.-based non-profit group has released thousands of e-mails that link Chiefs for Change to corporations and education officials who are attempting to help state legislators write laws that will directly benefit their organizations financially. The Contributor reported,

“The emails are primarily between Chiefs for Change and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which both share a vision of for-profit education fueled by charter schools, online education and standardized testing. The groups share many of the same donors and officials as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is pushing for a similar ‘education’ agenda.” 

Conclusion

Politics, profits and religion are driving the destruction of public education in Florida. The Bush/Heritage A+ education plan has not improved test scores but it has undermined the education of the almost 80 percent of students still in public schools.

To avoid spending more money on public schools, Florida decided that market forces and technology would solve the problems associated with poverty. When voters in Florida voted for class size reduction, Bush responded,

“So please do not confuse Florida’s class-size amendment with reform. Reform is about creating a more efficient, more effective education system that meets the needs of children. The class-size amendment has been a hugely expensive diversion from that goal.”

Betsy DeVos called Florida an example; I agree. Florida has many excellent educators but the political leadership has sent the public education system into a downward spiral. Look at other failed examples like Washington DC, New Orleans, Denver, Detroit, Oakland, etc. All of them embrace the Florida education reform model. Choice is an American right, but taxpayers are not responsible to pay for private choices.

For 200 years, America’s unparalleled public education system has been the foundation for democracy, the center of community life and the fertile soil of creativity. For 200 years, this great good has been under constant attack but it has persevered. The time has come to rally around our national treasure (public education) and turn away the profiteers, religious zealots and political opportunists.

Sketchy Epic Cyber Charter Has Gone National

4 May

By T. Ultican 5/4/2019

Epic is the business name for Oklahoma’s indigenous and fastest growing virtual charter school chain. In 2015, they moved beyond Oklahoma opening a business in Orange County, California and are currently in contract talks with Pulaski County, Arkansas to provide online education. EPIC’s fast growth has been accompanied by continuous legal problems, charges of political improprieties and claims of unethical aggressive marketing.

The Founders

Ben Harris and David Chaney, two long time friends from Oklahoma City, founded Epic.

Harris and Chaney

The Founders of EPIC Virtual Charter Schools

In 1999, One year after Harris was awarded a Master of Public Administration from Syracuse University, he and Chaney founded Advanced Academics Inc. Today Pearson Corporation the large British testing and publishing company owns Advanced Academics which sells credit recovery courses and software for virtual classes.

Both Harris and Chaney went to work for Jeb Bush in 2003 at the Florida Department of Children and Families. Harris was soon made the Deputy Secretary in charge of technology. He worked under Secretary Jerry Regier who had previously run health and human services in Oklahoma. It was here that Harris made a name for himself by privatizing the child welfare system. However, all was not well.

Megan Rolland of the Tulsa World reported,

“In July 2004, a whistle-blower investigation revealed that Harris had accepted trips, dinners and other favors from companies looking to contract with the social services agency.

“Harris resigned and a full criminal investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began. No charges were filed.

“The investigation did find that both Harris and Chaney were involved in a number of questionable contracts awarded to vendors that appeared to circumvent the state’s bidding process.

“One of those questionable contracts was awarded to Florida State University’s Institute of Health and Human Services, where Elizabeth VanAcker worked.”

“VanAcker also sits on the board of a nonprofit in Florida that has submitted seven charter school applications for virtual schools that propose contracting exclusively with Advanced Academics.”

“VanAcker’s company — formerly named Edmetrics — created the Epic 1 on 1 Charter School website for Community Strategies Inc.”

Rolland’s Report also shared some founding details about the business originally called Epic 1 on 1 charter schools,

 “Harris is listed as a registered agent for Community Strategies Inc., the nonprofit that is opening Epic 1 on 1 Charter School. He uses his home address on the corporate papers, and he worked behind the scenes to get the school approved by the University of Central Oklahoma.”

In 2009 – just prior to founding Epic – Harris was Chief Financial Officer of Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, California. The CEO of Velocity Sports Performance when Harris arrived there was Troy Medley, who is now Chairman of the Board for Epic in California.

Epic Found a Way into Orange County, California

Epic is an acronym for excellence, performance, innovation and citizenship. In California the non-profit business name is Next Generation Education. In Oklahoma the non-profit business name is Community Strategies Inc. Neither Epic founder, David Chaney nor Ben Harris, sits on the board of either Next Generation Education in California or Community Strategies Inc. in Oklahoma.

Rather, David Chaney serves as both superintendent of the nonprofit Epic Charter Schools and CEO of Epic Youth Services, a for-profit company that manages the school for a fee. Chaney owns the for-profit corporation, which originally had Harris’s home address listed on the incorporating papers.

A report in the Oklahoma Watch described the Epic business structure:

“The nonprofit contracts with Epic Youth Services, a for-profit company that manages the school for a fee of 10 percent of Epic’s gross revenue. Epic Youth Services, in turn, contracts with Advanced Academics, a division of Connections Education, a Pearson company. Calvert Partners and Beasley Technology also have contracts with Epic Youth Services.”

It appears that the structure is the same in California. In the Next Generation Education board meeting notes, Ben Harris is referenced as providing updates from the charter management organization (CMO) which is Epic Youth Services.

This Byzantine structure hides the fact that Epic is a for profit business cloaked in a non-profit’s suit, thus skirting California’s prohibition against for profit charters. It also means that in their tax forms, the non-profit only reports costs and no salaries. For example, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017 Community Strategies Inc. the Oklahoma non-profit reported revenues of $41,487,230 and expenditures of $40,105,203. However, the non-profit reported no salaries because the for-profit does payroll. There is no way for taxpayers to see how many public dollars are going into private hands.

In 2015, EPIC petitioned the Anaheim City School District (an elementary school district) for its first charter outside of Oklahoma. The districts staff investigated the petition, came back with a long list of deficiencies and made a strong denial recommendation. After reviewing the report the district board voted 5 – 0 to deny.

The following three deficiencies are among the more than 20 deficiencies cited:

(1) California charter law requires new charter petitioners to gather signatures showing a demand for the school. When Anaheim City School District started checking the signatures, the majority response they heard was “I don’t know what you are talking about.” They checked 109 of the 526 signatures and these are some of the responses,

“I’ve never heard of EPIC.”

“No, but if you ever need someone to sign a petition to help you with your funding just let me know.”

“I don’t remember signing any petition.”

“I like the school my kids go to, I thought I was just signing a petition saying I am in favor of charter schools.”

“No, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m in China.” 

(2) The plan for special education was almost non-existent.

(3) There was no workable plan for English language learners (EL’s).

A widely held belief says charter schools find ways not to enroll more expensive students to educate such as EL’s. The enrollment data for school year 2017-2018 indicates that Epic still has no viable support for EL’s. That appears to be a feature not a flaw.

EL Percentage

At Epic’s 2015 appeal to the Orange County School Board, Leslie Coghlan speaking for the Anaheim City School District explained their petition denial and concluded with,

We would also like to note that at our public hearings in the Anaheim City School District there were not any members of our community that came out to support the charter school at the public hearings. And one of our final concerns is that the Epic’s Oklahoma program is involved in litigation with the Oklahoma Department of Education and currently the subject of a fraud investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation concerning falsification of records to fraudulently receive payments from the Department of Education.

At that same 2015 hearing, Ben Harris defended Epic against the fraud investigation charge. He said, “This is based off a single news article several years ago that is proven to be false as no findings or issues have been raised.

In a 2016 article, KOSU radio of Tulsa and Oklahoma City reported on Epic’s California problems:

“In 2014, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin requested an investigation in to allegations of fraud at the school. … No charges have been filed, and no information has been released.”

“More recently, controversy over EPIC’s business practices came to light last month in an audit prepared by the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), which provides California school districts with financial and management support.

“The FCMAT audit alleges that Sue Roche, the founder of Oxford Preparatory Academy, which has two charter campuses in Orange County, formed an education management company called Edlighten Learning Solutions to launder school funds for personal profit.

“The audit lays out substantial financial ties between Edlighten and Ben Harris and David Chaney’s company, EPIC Youth Services. The audit says EPIC Youth Services received $5,000 a month from Edlighten for consulting services. The report contains emails between Roche and Harris, EPIC’s co-founder, in which they discuss moving personnel between Oxford Preparatory and their management companies to skirt legal issues.”

This February, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced that Epic is once again the target of both state and federal investigators. No additional information was released.

At Epic, a yearly $1500 payment is made into each student’s personal “learning fund” to buy school supplies or use for academically compatible activities. The Orange County Register noted, “Though money doesn’t wind up in the hands of parents or students, the learning fund can, for example, pay for horseback riding, music or dance lessons.” Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda called the practice, “predatory marketing.”

Virtual schools like Epic have a history of poor student outcomes. Even the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report sharply critical of virtual charter schools. And the Stanford study of online schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia found that during a 180-day school year, virtual students lost an average of 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days, or an entire school year, of learning in math.

“Why Would Anyone Support These Horrible Schools?”

A friend asked this question about Epic.

To get their foot in the door, Epic’s Ben Harris was able to use his personal connection with his former boss Troy Medley. Medley is currently President of Prima Health Credit of New Port Beach and he serves as Chairman of the Board for the charity Mortgage Miracles for the Kids. The President of Miracles, Autumn Strier – who previously worked for the Giuliani administration – joined Medley on the Next Generation Education (Epic) board as did another associated from Miracles, Chris Relth – a corporate head hunter.

Completing the five member Next Generation Education (Epic) board are Kenny Dodd, senior pastor at Claremont Emanuel Baptist Church in San Diego, and Alex Arcila of the Orange County Hispanic community. Medley is the board President.

Once Epic established an apparently reputable presence in Orange County, they were aided by the fact that this county is the most pro-business and privatization friendly place in California. For example, in the 2018 election for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond defeated former Charter School executive Marshall Tuck, but he didn’t come close to matching Tuck’s support in Orange County.

OC 2018 SPI Outcome

Orange County 2018 Election Tallies

During the appeal hearing at the Orange County School Board, the board staff concurred with the Anaheim City School District and recommended the appeal be denied. After the staff submitted their recommendations, representatives of the district made a presentation and Epic co-founder Ben Harris made a presentation. Public comment followed the presentations. There were just seven speakers all from Epic; Epic co-founder David Chaney, Epic’s attorney Michelle Lopez and the five Epic board members.

When the board voted on the Epic appeal, Orange County School Board Trustees Robert Hammond, David Boyd, Linda Lindholm and Ken Williams voted to grant Epic a charter.

This vote also reflected the power of billionaire spending on school privatization.

Buying the Election

Billionaire Money is Distorting Democratic Processes in Local Elections

All but one board member who voted to give Epic a charter received large campaign support from billionaires through three independent expenditure committees; California Charter Schools Association Advocates (CCSAA), Orange County Charter Advocates for Great Schools (which is sponsored by CCSAA) and the Lincoln Club of Orange County. David Boyd, Chancellor of The Taft University System, did not receive documented largess from the billionaires but his campaign did have odd financial support. He loaned his own campaign $72,000, got a $50,000 loan from Taft University and a $25,000 loan from Elizabeth Dorn’s campaign. More than $30,000 in loan debt was later forgiven.

In 2016, the Beverly Hills Billionaire, Howard Ahmanson Jr. (state major donor ID 479163) gave the OC Charter PAC $10,000 and the Local Liberty PAC (State ID 1291528) that Ahmanson finances provided them another $18,171.83.

Howard Ahmanson’s name sake father established the Ahmanson Family Foundation in 1952. Today, that foundation has slightly more than a billion dollars in assets. They give extensively to the arts and LA basin charter schools. In 2016, they gave $500,000 to the billionaire funded pro-school privatization youth group Teach For America. Howard runs the Fieldstad and Company arm of the Ahmanson foundation.

Roberta Ahmanson, Howard’s wife, is a serious Christian thinker and writer. She gave a speech titled “What Fundamentalism Gave Me” at the 2018 commencement for Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Like Betsy DeVos, she is part of The Gathering. Roberta and her husband see Epic as a tool that benefits the Christian home schooling movement.

Some Observations

The Epic contract with Epic Youth Services calls for an annual $125,000 fee for “development services” plus 10% of net revenue be paid to the for profit managers of the CMO, Harris and Chaney. This means that in 2016 Epic Oklahoma paid Epic Youth Services more than $540,000 for their services; this doesn’t include the California revenue. Ben Harris and David Chaney are becoming wealthy men. Because of aggressive marketing which even led to taking over an entire rural school district in Oklahoma and expansion in California, the 2016 $42 million in revenue probably isn’t a forth of the 2019 projected revenue.

In December, Oklahoma Watch reported, “Epic’s two leaders also outspent the political action committee for the largest teachers union, the Oklahoma Education Association, which has 35,000 members across the state.” This looks very much like a replay of Bill Lager’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and his large political contributions leading to the continued fleecing of taxpayers in Ohio.

It is not in society’s interest to have children educated in isolation. Socialization is an important part of education. As Americans, we should have freedom of choice but we should not expect taxpayers to pay for those choices. If people want to home-school or put their children in private schools, that is their choice. It is more than sufficient for taxpayers to provide a world class professionally run public education system. Public money should not be transferred into private profiteering pockets.

Destroying Public Education in St. Louis

18 Apr

By T. Ultican 4/18/2019

On April 2nd, St. Louis city voters picked Adam Layne and Tracee Miller to serve on their seven-member Public School Board. They appear to be the two least likely candidates out of the seven to protect public schools. With the state ending twelve years of control over the city’s schools on April 16, this election result is not a happy one for public education advocates.

The Seven Board Candidates

  1. Adam Layne is a former Teach for America (TFA) corps member assigned to a St. Louis charter school and is currently a board member of the Kairos Academy charter school.
  2. Tracee Miller was a TFA corps member and is currently running a math tutoring program in St. Louis for the Gates Foundation supported Khan Academy.
  3. Louis Cross boasts a long career with St. Louis Public Schools. He served as principal and interim superintendent of the now defunct Ethel Hedgemen charter school.
  4. Bill Haas served on the school board from 1997 to 2005, and again from 2010 to 2018. He was one of two board members that stood in opposition to contracting with Alvarez and Marsal to run St. Louis schools in 2003.
  5. David Merideth served on a special committee in 2017 that studied the school board’s role in future governance of the district when state control is relinquished.
  6. Barbara Anderson is a graduate of St. Louis Public Schools who taught on the elementary, middle and university levels throughout her career.
  7. Dan McCready is from Cincinnati, where he taught third and fifth grade math at a Cincinnati public school. He currently works at KIPP Victory Academy, a St. Louis charter school.

Dark Money Sways Election Results

Layne and Miller

Adam Layne and Tracee Miller

New board member Adam Layne appears to be a talented and idealistic young man. In 2011, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from George Washington University. Unfortunately, that youthful idealism was corrupted when he was enticed into the segrenomics business by TFA. [Professor Noliwe Rooks defines segrenomics as profiting off segregated poor communities by selling them education services.]

Layne’s report to the Missouri Ethics Commission (ID: A190713) shows him receiving only $155 in campaign contributions.  The first time I searched the Ethics Commission, I got a clue as to how with such meager experience and direct campaign support; Layne won a seat on the board. There was some sort of data base error and instead of displaying Adam Layne in the name field it put Public School Allies. The error will not repeat but the downloaded excel file displays it.

Public School Allies

An Error Showing Public School Allies in the Name Field Instead of Adam Layne

Chalkbeat reported that St. Louis is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model; which assures the privatization of schools. Public School Allies is a political action committee created by The City Fund staff. It supplies campaign financing under IRS Code 501 C4 rules making it a dark money fund.

City Fund lists The Opportunity Trust as their partner in St. Louis. Opportunity is a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

Marie Ceselski of the St. Louis 7th Ward reported,

“Last week, St. Louis City-based Civil PAC sent out a targeted, glossy, multi-color mailing supporting Adam Layne. …

“At the time of the mailing, Civil PAC had $37.21 in its bank account per MEC records. On Wednesday, March 24th, Civil PAC reported to MEC that it had received a $20,000 donation on March 19th. The donation was from Public School Allies ….”

The other new board member Tracee Miller also appears to be dedicated and idealistic. However, like her fellow new board member, she too had her youthful idealism corrupted by TFA. Through TFA she was introduced to a group of “education reform” companies profiting off segregated poor communities.

Miller’s present employer the Khan Academy’s main purpose is promoting kids learning at computers – euphemistically known as “personalized learning.” She also lists Blueprint Education as a current employer. Blueprint is another TFA related business working in the segrenomics sector. Miller shares her responsibilities for Blueprint in Massachusetts,

“Supervise elementary math intervention program; hire, train, observe, coach, and evaluate high-quality full-time math intervention specialists; write lesson plans and provide instructional support for elementary teachers in math; serve as a liaison between school teams and Blueprint Fellows/Blueprint Program; track student data and use data to drive instruction via lesson planning and coaching; maintain a positive and professional atmosphere with clear and high expectations.”

At Dever Elementary school in Boston, the Blueprint experience was such a disaster that 45 of the original 47 teachers quit. Jennifer Berkshire of the Have You Heard blog started getting messages from upset teachers that did not know where else to turn. They told her, “We’ve lost faith because there’s absolutely no accountability here.” and “Blueprint has no idea how to run a school, and it’s maddening that there isn’t more oversight from the state.

The amount of dark money that went into supporting Miller through independent expenditures is unclear, however, it is known that a dark money fund created by the newly established Joseph Wingate Folk Society put $143,000 dollars into the political action committee Voters Organized Through Education StL (aka Vote-StL PAC). Complaints have been filed with Missouri’s Attorney General over the way this secretive new fund operates. Besides this fund and Public School Allies there were other dark money funds operating around this election.

Miller received a modest direct contribution total of $8330 (ID: A190747). A $1,000 contribution from Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) is particularly note worthy. LEE was established in 2007 to elect TFA corps members into education leadership positions. Miller sent a $1000 back to LEE to purchase their campaign consulting services. Leadership for Educational Equity’s three member board is comprised of Emma Bloomberg (former NY mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter), Michael Park (a Partner in McKinsey & Company’s New York office) and Arthur Rock (Silicon Valley billionaire who contributes heavily to promote charter schools and TFA).

TFA is an industry leader in the business of segrenomics. It has been remarkably successful everywhere except in the classroom. These temporary teachers with virtually no training nor experience are not ready to run a class. Letting TFA corps members teach is akin to letting a college graduate with five-week training fly commercial airliners or perform medical diagnosis. They have no business being granted a teaching license and students in their classrooms are being cheated. It is money from Billionaires that is making the TFA outrage possible.

St. Louis Elites Have Led a Century of Public Education Malfeasance

In 1904, St. Louis held an exposition on the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. At the time, the city was wealthy and boasted an amazing public education system. Particularly noteworthy were the schools designed and built by architect William Ittner. In an in-depth piece, Journalist Jeff Bryant observed, “More than a century ago, St. Louis embarked on a revolution in education that made the city’s schools the jewel of the Midwest and a model for urban school districts around the nation.

Unfortunately, segregation dominates the St. Louis story. Bryant cites the work of Richard Rothstein a Senior Fellow, emeritus, the Haas Institute at the University of California (Berkeley). “In an interview with a St. Louis reporter, Rothstein points to integrated neighborhoods in the city, such as Desoto-Carr, that were transformed into single race communities through federal housing programs.” This doomed many of the city’s schools to poor academic performance and anemic financial support plus the city itself stopped growing. The latest census shows that St. Louis has not grown in population since that 1904 exposition.

The schools in St. Louis receive 9% less revenue than the state of Missouri on average and next door in Ferguson they receive 13% less revenue. Rutgers University’s school finance wizard, Bruce Baker, put St. Louis schools into his “most screwed” category. The Normandy school system in Ferguson is where Michael Brown graduated just two months before being shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed. In her book Cutting School, Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks commented,

Racial and economic segregation, racially specific forms of educational instruction and testing, subpar facilities, undertrained teachers, and white parents determined to keep Blacks out of their more stable and functional school systems were all as much a part of Michael Brown’s life as they were for the students involved in the cases that formed the plaintiff group in Brown v. Board.”

In 2001, four of the seven seats on the school board were up for election. Mayor Francis Slay a Democrat did not want to run the schools directly but he put together a slate of candidates to dominate board. He made sure they could significantly outspend their opponents. A 2003 report in the River Front Times states,

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

This led to a sixteen year crisis in St. Louis schools. The first action by Slay’s team was to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants. St. Louis paid A&M $4.8 million to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. The River Front Times reported the team’s goal was to “make the district more efficient, save money and hopefully redirect those savings to boost academic performance somewhere down the road.

A&M selected Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti to be superintendent of schools. His official title was changed to “Chief Restructuring Officer.” The clothing store leader had never worked in a school before.

Roberti commuted from his home in Connecticut using a $110,000 travel expense perk. His education advisor was former New York Superintendent, Rudy Crew, who was living on the West Coast and would not move to or spend much time in St. Louis.

Roberti closed more than 20 schools and “balanced” the school budgets by borrowing $49 million dollars from an existing desegregation program. The money had to be repaid. By the time it was recognized that the system’s $73 million dollar deficit had ballooned to $87.7 million, Roberti and A&M were long gone. The were consulting in the Detroit School System for the soon to be failed emergency manager Robert Bobb. In 2007, the state of Missouri took over St. Louis Public Schools citing its financial issues.

Democrat Slay responded by becoming a “cheerleader for charter schools” hoping that would turn the tide of people moving out of St. Louis. Slay’s effort to privatize public schools drew support from 110 miles away in Osage County where the billionaires Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield had made their new home. They also have a modest little 8300 square foot home in St. Louis but are registered to vote in Osage.

Libertarian Gospel Propagated in Missouri

Rex and Jeanne Sinqufield

Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

Rex Sinquefield grew up in a St. Louis Catholic orphanage. Unlike other extremely wealthy libertarians such as David and Charles Koch or the entire Walton family, Rex did not inherit his wealth. Three years after graduating from high school, he left a Catholic seminary to pursue a more secular path. He eventually earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago. At the school, he met and married his wife and business partner Jeanne Cairns. Jeanne also earned an MBA, plus she was awarded a PhD in demography.

In 1977, Rex co-Authored Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation: The Past and the Future with Roger Ibbotson. The book is still considered a standard reference for those who seek valuable information on capital market returns. Ibbotson gained his PhD in finance from the University of Chicago.

In 1981, David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago and Sinquefield formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. His wife Jeanne supervised the DFA Trading Department and served as executive vice president until her retirement in 2005. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

The Sinquefield’s lived in Santa Monica, California – which he called “Soviet Monica” – while running DFA. In 2005, Rex and Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years.

The Center for Media and Democracy produced “A Reporter’s Guide to Rex Sinquefield and the Show-me Institute.” They demonstrated his attitude about public education by quoting Rex:

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

Rex Sinquefield’s primary policy interests are education, income tax reform and local control. He funds efforts for school vouchers, the elimination of teacher tenure and income tax reform. Ballotpedia stated, “Through the financial support of political committees and organizations, including Let Voters Decide, Teach Great and the Safer Missouri Citizen’s Coalition, Sinquefield has donated millions of dollars to support his policy priorities on the Missouri ballot.

Sinquefield Ballot Measures

Ballotpedia.org Image

Sinquefield wants Missouri to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes altogether, partially replacing the lost revenue with a broader sales tax that would be capped at 7 percent. He believes Sam Brownback was on the right path in Kansas and wants Missouri to follow.

Sinquefield is currently trying to privatize the St. Louis’s Lambert Airport as a way of eliminating the 1% earnings tax in the city. Rex started learning his anti-tax beliefs at his mother’s knee. When he was seven years old, she had to give him and his brother up to an orphanage after his father’s death. Alan Greenblatt reported,

In strained circumstances, his mother resented having to pay the 1 percent tax imposed on earnings of people who work or live in St. Louis. ‘I can’t afford this damned tax,’ he recalls her saying.

Two Observations

The great concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few individuals is destroying democracy. Rex’s anti-tax, anti-union and free market ideology might be a winning philosophy, but his ability to spend so liberally to sell his ideas makes anyone else’s opinion mute. Billionaires are warping the democratic process and driving us toward oligarchy. We need a significant wealth tax to end this kind of financial tyranny.

Privatizing public education is another attack on the foundations of democracy. Charter schools, vouchers and education technology are not solutions to poverty and under resourced schools. Today, there are some good things happening in Saint Louis Public Schools. Protect it from billionaires and their TFA staffed armies of “deformers.”

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.