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Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free

28 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/28/2020

During final months of 2019, the Education Post was reorganized. In 2014, four billionaires spent $5.5 million to establish a new digital media channel in response to the massive and effective push back against their favored education reforms. Actually, it was more than four billionaires. One of those funders was the Walton Family Foundation made up of multiple billionaires. The channel was called Education Post but its official non-profit name was the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) whose existence seemed to be purposely obscured. Peter Cunningham was listed on tax forms as President of RIEF, but publicly Cunningham was only known as the founding Executive Director of Education Post.

During the first four years of operation, the top contributor to REIF has been Michael Bloomberg. Available tax records show that between 2014 and 2017 he granted it more than $7 million and when added to the sizeable donations by the Waltons, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs Powell, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg the total is almost $20 million. Spending since December 31, 2017 is unknown because there is a lag time of almost two years for non-profit taxes to be filed and made public.

Last year, a new organization called Brightbeam was created. It claims to be an umbrella organization for the Education Post and other sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for RIEF. Two other digital platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free are controlled by Brightbeam and they share some of the same employees. The following LittleSis map shows the new structure of this digital media group dedicated to disrupting public education.

Education Post Reorganized

Billionaire Financed Digital Media Structure Supporting School Privatization

Professor Noliwe Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and was for ten years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. In her recent book, Cutting Schools, she coined the term “segrenomics” – the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation. She also pointed out that “between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment shrank in racially integrated schools, and yet this strategy is no longer discussed, and there is no ‘vocal pro-integration constituency’ pushing for it.” (The book is reviewed here.)

In the book, Rooks went on to state,

“In 1989, the National Business Roundtable urged its state and local affiliates to work more closely with state governments to radically restructure the nation’s public schools. The National Alliance of Business circulated pamphlets instructing CEOs and business groups on how to shape local school policy toward economic restructuring goals. President Reagan and his education secretary, William Bennett, were in full agreement with such sentiments. In regard to public schools, integration was out, business was in.”

The billionaires who created the digital media structure described by the map above subscribe to the philosophy that business should be leading America’s k-12 education. Their neoliberal ideology posits that democratic control of public schools is a problem and that a privatized system based on market competition is superior. That is what this new expanded digital media network is selling.

Protecting the Billionaires’ Assets

By 2014, the bloom was off the rose for the test to privatize movement. Former advocate of standardized testing based reform, Dian Ravitch, had released her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was a sensation which was reinforced by the work of other academics like David Berliner and Gene Glass who published Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. Scholars and teachers across America rose up to fight billionaire led education “reform.”

Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch founded the Network for Public Education (NPE) in 2014 which brought together many pro-public education advocates from across America. Bloggers like Peter Greene and Mercedes Schneider were gaining large followings as were a myriad other teacher bloggers fighting what they viewed as the destruction of their profession and the great American public school system which underpins democratic government. By 2018, Diane Ravitch was proclaiming at the NPE convention, “We are the resistance and we are winning.”

To counter the drubbing the billionaire education disrupters were receiving in cyber space, they created the Education Post. Its results must have been a disappointment. In 2019, they reorganized their effort to purchase influence in the realm of social media.

Peter Cunningham was hired to lead Education Post in 2014. He had been a speech writer and advisor for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. When fellow Chicago politician Barak Obama picked Cunningham’s colleague Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, Cunningham went along and became the department’s Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach. He has a long association with the school choice movement and currently serves on multiple boards associated with the charter industry. His first year’s salary was a little in excess of $200,000.

Cunningham was joined on the first board of RIEF by Emma Bloomberg, Bruce Reed and Kathleen McInerney.  The board appears to be selected as a function giving. That first year, $4,729,146 of the $5,479,146 in grants received by RIEF were from two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. Board member Emma Bloomberg is Michael’s daughter and Kathleen McInerney represents Bloomberg on other boards and works for Bloomberg’s long used accounting firm Geller & Co. Bruce Reed is President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation increased their “gift” to $1,000,000 and a fifth board member was added. Marc Sternberg who leads the foundation’s initiatives to improve K-12 education joined the board. In 2016, Bruce Reed quit the board and was not replaced. In 2017, that board seat was filled by Russlynn Ali, CEO of Laurene Jobs Powell’s XQ Institute. It was the third year Powell had been contributing a million dollars or more.

In 2020, the board has three new faces. The new umbrella organization Brightbeam lists the board of directors. Peter Cunningham and Mark Sternberg are still on the board. Bloomberg, McInery and Ali have been replaced by Arne Duncan, Sydney Chaffee and Lillian Lowery.

The current board is certainly still education disrupter friendly. Mark Sternberg was director of business development at Victory Schools Inc., a private management company for charter schools, in Manhattan in 2001. He had previously earned a B.A. from Princeton in 1995 and was a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx. He subsequently worked for Bloomberg’s New York City Department of Education where he served as senior advisor to the chancellor and the mayor’s office on education policy and strategy. He is a graduate of the Broad Academy class of 2013-2014.

Arne Duncan is widely recognized as the Secretary of Education during most of the Obama Presidency. He was and still is a well known advocate of test based accountability for schools and teachers. He supports school choice. He also went to work for Laurene Jobs Powell at the Emerson Collective as Managing Partner in 2016.

Sydney Chaffee was the controversial US Teacher of the Year selection in 2017.  She is a ninth grade humanities teacher at the Dorchester, Ma. Codman Academy Charter School; a TeachPlus Policy Fellow; and an EdX Policy Fellow. The Gates supported Council of Chief State School Officers select the US Teacher of the Year. When the teachers’ union in Massachusetts refused to congratulate her selection, right wing media was incensed. Chaffee has become very popular with education disrupters as a symbol of privatized education quality.

Lillian Lowery is a graduate of the 2004 Broad Academy. On July 1, 2012 she became Maryland Superintendent of Schools. That was the same month that education technology promoter and now convicted criminal, Dallas Dance, was hired as Superintendent of Baltimore’s public schools. Since leaving Maryland, she has served as CEO of the Ed Tech advocacy group Future Ready Ohio and as vice president for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at Education Trust.

Selling School Privatization

Chris Stewart is the African American CEO leading the umbrella group Brightbeam. The 2014 RIEF tax records show that he was paid $53,723 as “outreach and external affairs director.” In 2015 he established the blog Citizen Education. That same year he was paid $171,643 by RIEF yet claimed on the Citizen Education about page,

No I don’t have funding for this. Yes it costs money to make it happen.”

Stewart’s pay increased to $197,559 in 2016 still as “outreach and external affair director.” In 2017, he was paid $226,417 to be CEO of the “Wayfinder Project.”

Chris also serves as chair of the board at the Students for Education Reform’s Action Network a billionaire financed AstroTurf organization.

On March 25, Chris put his latest public education attack piece on the Project Forever Free blog that he controls. The piece has the farcical title They’re Worried We’ll Realize We Can Teach Our Kids Better at Home splashed across Diane Ravitch’s picture. In this baseless attack article, he shows a tweet by Arthur Camins that is addressed to @DianeRavitch, @teka21bat, @carolburris, @leoniehaimson, @Network4pubEd,  @AnthonyCody, @palan57, @StevenSinger3, @jeffbcdm and the @BadassTeachersA. He then writes, “Friends, is it petty for me to point out that Camins’ Tweet tags a group of nine people who couldn’t be less representative of democratic public education in a pluralistic society?”

It is much worse than petty. It is slanderous and senseless. Two of the addressed entities are organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people. The other seven people are selflessly donating countless hours to protecting students and public education from paid disrupters and data scammers. It is ironic that a man who works for anti-democratic billionaires would make such an outrageous claim, but that is why he is making the big bucks. Stewart is willing to do the bosses bidding.

Brightbeam’s web page lists the following local sites that they are working with to advance the privatization agenda.

  • The Black Wall Street Times Targets the Black community with school choice promotions.
  • Chicago Unheard Appears to be trying to engage Black parents of school age children to promote school choice.
  • CO School Talk – Elevating the education conversation. Colorado site pushing school choice.
  • EdLANTA – Because Georgia’s kids are always on our minds. Aimed at Black parents in Atlanta.
  • Good School Hunting – Because every kid deserves an awesome school. Seems to be a site for Brightbeam employee Erica Sanzi to proselytize for school choice.
  • Great School Voices – The watchdog on quality & equality in education. With an eye on Oakland, California. Site dedicated to selling school choice to the locals.
  • Indy K12 – Education is Power. Just what Indianapolis needs another school choice promoting entity to further destroy that cities already decimated public school system.
  • Kentucky School Talk – Great public schools for every kid in the Bluegrass State. Charter schools are not popular in Kentucky but this group is for choice.
  • New Mexico Education – Your home for all things education in The Land of Enchantment. A pro-charter school and billionaire style reform voice.
  • NJ Left Behind – The real scoop on public schools in the Garden State. Wants more money for New Jersey charter schools.
  • New York School Talk – A real look at our schools in the Big Apple. Another site pushing a variation of the billionaire agenda.
  • Philly’s 7th Ward – Finding solutions for all Philadelphia students. A very pro-charter school site.
  • The Second Line Education Blog A pro-choice blog for New Orleans; supports everything but public schools.
  • Volume & Light – Speaking out for Nashville Schools. It is all in for school choice.

This is clearly a propaganda effort but it is doomed to fail because they are selling a bad product. It is truly sad that these self-centered billionaires are not trying to improve public schools instead of destroying them.

The Vicious Attack on Sweetwater Union High School District

14 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/14/2020

Chula Vista, California

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

A Quadruple Whammy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweetwater 2018 Budgets Compared

Comparing the June 2018 Budget with the Revised October 2018 Budget

Is it Time to Replace Karen Janney?

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

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

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

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

IMG_20200312_125802

Corporate Type of Promotion Foisted on SUHSD Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Union Chart of Sweetwater Staffing

An SEA Flyer for the March 10 School Board Meeting

FCMAT is a QUANGO and that’s Not Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Observation

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

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

 

 

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

24 Feb

Eye Opening Book: The Power Worshippers

20 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/20/2020

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

Worshippers Cover Photo

Trump is a Gift from God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Education, Environmentalism and Social Welfare are Evil

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

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

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

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

Katherine Stewart explains Rushdoony’s perspective,

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

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

Ralph Drollinger a Masculine Christian

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

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

Drollinger at UCLA

Drollinger During the 74-75 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always about Power, Never about Abortion

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

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

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

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

Trump’s “Russia Thing” Came from Religious Nationalists

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Twitter: @tultican

Selling Education Growth Models

25 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/25/2020

Deformers in California are outraged. Along with Kansas it is one of only two states that do not use student growth models to measure school performance. In a 2019 brief published by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), USC Professor of Education Policy Morgan Polikoff writes,

“Based on the existing literature and an examination of California’s own goals for the Dashboard and the continuous improvement system, the state should adopt a student-level growth model as soon as possible. Forty-eight states have already done so; there is no reason for California to hang back with Kansas while other states use growth data to improve their schools.”

This may sound dire. California is getting left in the dust. After all, everybody else is doing it. However, there is a skunk or two in the wood pile.

PACE and the California Office of Reform Education (CORE) sound like official governmental organizations but they are in fact billionaire created institutions developed for the purpose of controlling public school policy. Today, PACE and CORE work closely together in pursuing disrupter agendas such as developing an inexpensive method for holding schools accountable. Growth models using standardized testing are being promoted in California and nationwide despite the evidence undermining their validity.

In 1982, using a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, Gerald Hayward, Michael Kirst and James Guthrie founded PACE. They originally called it “Policy Alternatives for California Education.” Since then they have replaced the term “Alternatives” with the word “Analysis.” PACE helped California’s department of education develop a blue Ribbon commission for the teaching profession in 1984. When republican governor George Deukmejian officially created the commission, PACE had solidified its position of influence within state education circles.

CORE was created in 2010 with two agendas; implementing common core and establishing the infrastructure of Competency Based Education (CBE). The original financing came from the Stuart Foundation which provided $700,000 in 2010 and $800,000 in 2011. At about the same time one of the minority owners of the San Francisco Giants, Phil Halperin, formed California Education Partners which became the administrative and fundraising arm of CORE.

Halperin also runs the Silver Giving Foundation, a philanthropy he founded with money amassed working as a partner in the Weston Presidio private equity firm. His biography on the Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute web site (he is an advisory board trustee) says that at Weston Halperin was, “focused on information technology, consumer branding, telecommunications and media, and that he previously worked at Lehman Brothers and Montgomery Securities.”

Originally conceived as an organization for leaders in urban school districts to share strategies, CORE gained notoriety when its eight districts (Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Ana, Sanger, Sacramento City and Fresno) made a legally questionable side deal with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In 2013 after Duncan denied California’s NCLB waiver request, the CORE districts – led by Los Angeles’s Broad Academy trained Superintendent John Deasy – came up with a separate accountability scheme from the state’s to obtain waivers.

CORE and PACE are financed by groups Diane Ravitch’s new book Slaying Goliath labels as disrupters.

CORE and PACE Funders

Information Clipped from the Funders Pages of CORE and PACE

Promoting Education Growth Models

Standard Growth Model Design

Tultican’s Fundamental Education Growth Model

The book An Incomplete Education tells of Thomas Carlyle stating that economics is “the dismal science.” Authors Judy Jones and William Wilson assert, “As with much that economists say, this statement is half true: It is dismal.” In previous eras, leaders had oracles to predict the future. Today, they have economists. People like Stanford’s Eric Hanushek (Economics PhD From MIT) have an outsized influence over education policy when compared with professionals who have spent their life practicing and studying education.

Dr. William Lester Sanders invented the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), also known as the Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS). At the University of Tennessee, Sanders applied the mathematical tools of an economist to animal studies and quantitative genetics. Sanders believed he could apply the same mathematical tools to evaluate schools and teachers. Since the early 1990’s Sanders multivariate growth model has been the gold standard for value-added models (VAM) used to assess teachers.

However, unlike the scientifically well behaved data associated with genetics study, standardized testing data is extremely noisy. The famed Australian researcher Noel Wilson wrote a seminal work in 1998 called Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.” His peer reviewed paper which has never been credibly refuted says error in standardized testing is so large that meaningful inferences are impossible.

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

However, the desire to control public education from state capitals and Washington DC required an inexpensive way to evaluate schools and educators. Standardized testing which had been promoted by the Clinton administration was enshrined into federal law by George W. Bush’s administration. Every state was required to ignore the professional warnings and institute standardized testing to evaluated schools. States were threatened with the loss of all federal education dollars if they did not comply.

Misguided testing policies forced the closing of many excellent public schools that were serving poor and minority communities. It was not long before it became very clear that the only reliable correlation with school testing data was student poverty. Last year, the famed education scholar Linda Hammond-Darling mentioned 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.”

Now the public is being told that education models can control for poverty, language and other factors. It is said that these models provide a valid analysis of the performance of teachers, schools and districts. However, the noise associated with standardized testing data still leads to “garbage in – garbage out.”

In 2013, Professor Katherine E. Castellano, University of California, Berkeley and Professor Andrew D. Ho, Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote A Practitioner’s Guide to Growth Models.” Their paper was commissioned by the Council of Chief State School Officers (major funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). In it they identify and describe seven education growth models. These seven can be reduced to three unique models; gain model, residual-gain model and multivariate model.

The gain model looks at gains individual students make from one year to the next by taking the difference in scores. Residual-gain models create an expected growth level and the data developed is the difference between the expected and the actual. The third model is the Sanders multivariate model which creates algorithms to control for student and school effects on testing results.

The simplest model to understand is the gain-model.

Page 37 Gain Model Example

Graphic from the Practitioners Guide – Illustrating Gain-Model

Four problems in this model begin with noisy testing data input into the model. Second, a vertical scores scale must be created using many assumptions. Obviously, third grade data and forth grade data are from different tests so a vertical scale to compare the scores must be created. Third, this model requires unique identifier data for each student tested and finally, like all growth models, yearly testing of every student is required.

The gain-model is the least mathematically manipulated model with the least amount of assumptions required. The residual-gain model requires significantly more manipulation and the multivariate model is the most complex, manipulated and opaque of them all. None of the three models have been decisively shown to provide accurate analysis but strong evidence has emerged that they do not.

Jesse Rothstein is a professor of public policy and economics at University of California, Berkeley. In 2007 he used data from North Carolina to conduct a falsification test of various value added models. He ran the models to see what effect fifth grade teachers had on fourth grade learning. Shockingly he discovered, “In particular, these models indicate large “effects” of 5th grade teachers on 4th grade test score gains.” Whatever the three models he tested were measuring it clearly was not the teacher effect on learning.

An article by Linda Hammond Darling echoes a large number researchers who note the instability of VAM results. She shared, “A study examining data from five school districts found, for example, that of teachers who scored in the bottom 20% of rankings in one year, only 20% to 30% had similar ratings the next year, while 25% to 45% of these teachers moved to the top part of the distribution, scoring well above average.”

In 2014, the American Statistical Association weighed in on using VAMs to analyze educators and schools,

“The VAM scores themselves have large standard errors, even when calculated using several years of data. These large standard errors make rankings unstable, even under the best scenarios for modeling”.

Just this last November, another falsification study was run. Researchers Marianne Bitler Department of Economics University of California Davis, Thurston Domina School of Education UNC Chapel Hill, Sean Corcoran Vanderbilt University and Emily Penner University of California Irvine collaborated on the paperTeacher Effects on Student Achievement and Height: A Cautionary Tale.” This paper which is still undergoing peer review used New York City student data to run a VAM study of teacher effects on student growth in height. They found, “Using a common measure of effect size in standard deviation units, we find a 1σ increase in ‘value-added’ on the height of New York City 4th graders is about 0.22σ, or 0.65 inches.” This effect size was found statistically significant when permutation testing was applied. The height effects measured were in the same range as the effects measured for math and English testing.

What is being measured? Certainly teachers do not have an effect on student growth in height.

Why are PACE and CORE Advocating Education Growth Models?

CORE is offering to run growth measures for California school districts using the residual-gain model. The banker with no professional background in education who is now superintendent of the nation’s second largest school district has taken CORE up on its offer. Austin Beutner says it’s a better way to judge a school’s impact on student learning.

Now multiple years of student data and personal information are being shipped off to CORE. What could go wrong?

CORE Executive Director, Rick Miller promises, “Through our partnership with Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), we will also continue to share our quantitative and qualitative findings with state and federal decision makers to inform policy.”

The answer to why these billionaire funded organizations are leading the push for growth models in California is money and power. With student identified data and a required multiple consecutive years of testing there is big money to be made. And pro-school choice organizations like GO Public schools in Oakland like it because the model can then be used to justify privatizing more public schools. It is the No Child Left Behind test and punish scheme hidden behind obscure economic algorithms. However, it is more destructive and more misguided.

Twitter: @tultican

Providence Public Schools Threatened

13 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/13/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Up Providence Public Schools

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

RI Neoliberals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parnership for Rhode Island

Corporations Represented by the Partnership’s Chief Executives Officers

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

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

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

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

Poverty and Language Learners Underlie PPSD’s Testing Data Struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poverty Comparison

US Census Data Showing Income and Poverty Rates

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @tultican

“We Are the Resistance and We Are Winning.”

1 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/1/2020

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

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

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

Goliath_0001

Disruption and Changing Course

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

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

In Slaying Goliath Ravtich shares,

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

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

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

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

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

Strategy of the Disrupters

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

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

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

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

What do disrupters want? They want:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Victorious Resistance

Tom and Diane in Indianapolis

Tom Ultican and Diane Ravitch at the 2018 NPE Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Concluding Analysis

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

Twitter: @tultican