Archive | Justice RSS feed for this section

Texas Hangs Sword of Damocles Over Houston Schools

3 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrible Education Policy Driven by Benighted Legislation

Takeover Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TexasIR4_Correlated_w_RacePoverty2

HISD Parent Advocate Demographic Map of Houston Schools

Failure Demgraphics

Demographic Data from HISD

Houston’s Long Relationship with Destroy Public Education Ideology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Observations

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

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

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

Texas Public Schools in Portfolio District Crosshairs

26 Jan

By T. Ultican 1/26/2019

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

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

“We’re currently working on:

“…

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

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

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

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

sgs implementation road map

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

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

Enacting Unproven Agendas like this is not Conservative

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

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

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

mike_morath

Mike Morath from his TEA Biography Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

future-ready-pledge

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

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

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

Test to Privatize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bigger Money is Driving the Portfolio School District Model

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

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

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

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

texas portfolio model map

Map from the Texas Systems of Great Schools Web Site

Concluding Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver’s Portfolio Model School District Is a Failure!

19 Jan

Here is a predictable outcome from the portfolio district. On Jan. 18, 2019, a press release from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) says,

After ten hours of negotiations today, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools were unable to reach an agreement on a fair compensation system for 5,700 teachers and special service providers. DCTA members will vote Saturday and Tuesday on whether or not to strike.

The portfolio model which promotes disruption as a virtue is anti-union. It is not conducive to stable harmonious relations with either labor or communities and it is anti-democratic. Denver is held up as an exemplar of school reform; however the outcomes look more like a warning. Increasing achievement gaps; a bloating administration; significantly increasing segregation; ending stable community schools; and stripping citizens of their democratic rights are among the many jarring results.

Former Denver School Board Director, Jeanne Kaplan, wrote extensively about an article in EducationNext championing school reforms in Denver. It was based on a podcast by the guru of school reform and privatization in the Clinton administration, David Osborne. Kaplan noted,

“2009 was … the first time outside money appeared in [School] Board Election campaigns. Stand for Children came with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – our side, as Osborne notes, won the election. Each following election more and more reform money … appeared …. In addition to Stand, Democrats for Education Reform, Students First, and wealthy local businessmen, both Democrats and Republicans, … put enormous amounts of money and human capital to be sure … a unanimous board was achieved. Much of the money while identified by independent expenditure committee remains hidden as to who is making the individual contributions. In 2011 the people were able to hold on to a “mighty minority” of three: 4-3. In 2013 the minority dwindled to one: 6-1. In 2015 the Board was unanimously “reform”: 7-0.

This has become a central thesis of the portfolio model strategy. A Chalkbeat article quotes Ethan Gray of Education Cities on the strategy. Gray who recently went to work at the new City Fund which was established specifically to sell the portfolio model said, “We’re skeptical that systems themselves will actually go through some sort of self-driven transformation.” Chalkbeat reported that the new plan for growth had three strategies.

  • Strategy #1: Apply outside pressure. (Increase pressure on school districts by bringing in outside competition and supporting local competing initiatives.)
  • Strategy #2: Push for one-stop school enrollment. (This forces public school districts to help the privatized schools and gives them an equivalency in the eyes of the public.)
  • Strategy #3: Create a very different power structure. (Use financial resources to change the makeup of existing governing boards or establish mayoral appointed boards.)

In the 2017 Denver Public School Board election, four of the seven seats were on the ballot. The results:

  • At large seat: Former Lieutenant Governor Barbra O’Brian defeated a field of three candidates 40% to 35% to 24%. O’Brian spent $8.94 per vote, Robert Speth spent $0.77 per vote and Julie Banuelos spent $0.33 per vote.
  • Distict 2: Angela Corbian a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member beat Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan who had union support. Unfortunately, Gaytan had to spend time cleaning up after union blunders. The winner Corbian is currently an organizer for Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) the TFA offshoot that trains former corps members “to engage civically.” Cobian’s support included $67,000 from DFER’s Raising Colorado and tens of thousands of dollars from local and national “reformers.”
  • District 3: Dr. Carrie Olson, a 33-year DPS teacher won this seat with very little financial or people support from the teachers union. She astonishingly defeated Mike Johnson the incumbent who raised over $100,000 on his own and received almost another $100,000 from DFER and Stand for Children. Olson’s victory reduces the “reform” majority back to 6-1.
  • District 4: Jennifer Bacon another former TFA corps member won. She raised $70,000 on her own and shockingly received $139,000 from the teachers union. Bacon also received reformer money from TFA national board member Arthur Rock. The incumbent Rachael Espiritu had a large war chest of $97,000 from DFER and $93,000 that she raised but Espiritu was running in a district that had had its fill of reform. A third candidate in this district was 19-year-old Tay Anderson.

When analyzing this election, Jeanne Kaplan said the biggest losers were “Denver’s teachers, who are paying dues to an organization that turned its back on a 33 year teacher and endorsed a heavily funded alum of TFA…”

Dismal Results from Denver’s Portfolio District

school segragation chart

Chart of Racial Isolation Based on October Count for School Year 2017-18

Of Denver’s 204 schools, One-hundred have a population that is greater than or equal to 70% Hispanic. When the Hispanic and black students are summed 68 schools have 90% or more students from these minority groups. The AP reported in 2017 that charter schools were among the nation’s most segregated schools. There analysis found, “As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

Racial isolation is a characteristic of districts employing the portfolio model. This kind of profound segregation runs afoul of federal law, good education and decency. It does not comply with the 1954 Supreme Court decision known as Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

The big selling point for modern school reform was closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap is measured by finding the average score differences between ethnicity groups on standards based tests. A 2011 report in Education Week stated, With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, closing achievement gaps among these various student groups became a focus of federal education accountability…”

achievment gap 2017

Table of Reading and Math Achievement Gaps Derived from NAEP Testing Data

In the tables above – based on average scale scores – it shows national results have a smaller gap than the large city results. Predictably, Denver has among the nation’s largest achievement gaps after two-decades of “billionaire” led reform.

In the fall of 2015, the Center on Reinventing Public Education  (CRPE) which is the central think tank promoting portfolio models ranked Denver Public Schools 45th out of 50 urban districts for improving graduation rates.

Denver’s pro-privatization citizen oversight group, A+ Colorado (formerly A+ Denver) in a recently released report, showed concern over the district’s progress stating,

“Let’s be clear: There has been progress in DPS, particularly in comparison to other Colorado districts. But some student learning outcomes are stalled or improving far too slowly for the district to be successful.”

DPS received another black-eye this January when a Chalkbeat headline revealed, “Denver has 1 administrator for every 7.5 instructional staff — far above state average.” The article presented the following chart for administrators in Denver compared to the rest of the state over the past ten years.

administrator growth chart

Chart of Administration Growth during the “Reform Era”

In 2017 the New York Times ran an interactive article about a new way to compare schools. The article said,

“It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.”

The New York Times picked the comparison schools while the reader picks the district of interest. This simulator attempts to correlate by years of learning. The average between 3rd  and 8th grade should be five years. After 13 years of disruption and “reform,” Denver remains a little below average with lackluster growth.

student growth models

After Five Years Denver’s Eighth Graders Still below Average

All the closing schools and disrupting neighborhoods brought little or no significant change. Denver’s students are still measured as being about the same amount behind in 8th grade as when they started 3rd grade.

A 2015 hiring analysis revealed that DPS paid TFA $5000 to $7000 per recruit? TFA teachers are two year temps with a college degree and five-weeks of training. From 2012-2015, Denver taxpayers paid TFA $520,600 for 232 recruits at traditional schools and over $800,000 for 267 recruits at charter schools. DCTA President Henry Roman stated that teacher turnover is a crisis in DPS. He claims the average teacher tenure has dropped to two years.

Traditional teacher new hires have a college degree, one-year of post graduate pedagogy study and a year of supervised student teaching. They arrive at schools with the expectation of making teaching a career.

The reliance on untrained teachers along with recognizing and using a fake graduate school created by the charter industry explains why all of the spending on reform has not resulted in better performance. The fake graduate school is Relay Graduate School. It’s Denver Dean, Therese Zosel-Harper, is working on her PhD. Relay is an obviously fake graduate school because it has no credentialed education scholars on staff.

Where did the Portfolio District Model Originate?

A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) on the campus at the University of Washington three years after John Chubb and Terry Moe wrote a popular book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools which was published in 1990 by The Brookings Institution. That book which was a sensation among neo-liberals called for the end of elected school boards. Hill began thinking about the mechanics for making that happen.

In 2002, Hill wrote a paper sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation calling for changes in school governance,

“… [T]he last few decades of education reform have shown us that simply tinkering at the edges is not enough to ensure that changes will take place. Reforms need to be comprehensive and needs to affect every level of the education system.”

Hill’s statement and the book by Chubb and Moe were both motivated by the conviction that public schools in America were failing. It was not true then nor was it true in 1889, 1942, 1955, 1959, 1963 nor is it true now.

Jim Arnold and Peter Smagorinsky wrote,

“Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.” In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a best seller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War. The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.”

The paragraph above recalls more than a century of national failure to properly educate our citizenry yet in that same century America became the world’s leader economically, scientifically, militarily and culturally. Does this mean that education quality does not matter or is it more likely that the perception of American education failing – is and was an illusion? Based on this illusion of failure are we being driven toward failure with unproven market theories? That is what the portfolio theory is. It is an unproven market theory of education governance.

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

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

In Denver there are 204 schools; 106 public schools, 42 charter schools and 56 innovation schools. In accordance with portfolio district theory, Denver residents no longer have the right to vote on the governance of 108 of their publicly financed schools. In addition, both charter schools and innovation schools are generally non-union.

The innovation school concept is promoted nationally by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to ALEC model legislation these schools “are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” In Denver, innovation schools are given a three year contract during which they are run by a non-profit. The results (testing data) at the end of the contract will dictate whether the experiment on the school children continues.

Innovation schools have only existed in Colorado since 2009. When the DPS board approved them in 2016, Board President Anne Rowe claimed, “I’m trying to think of a time I’ve been more excited, more proud, more optimistic about what we can achieve for kids.”

Conclusions

While Interviewing DCTA President Henry Roman, Jeff Fard said when he moves into a neighborhood he expects to register his kids in the local community school. “If I don’t like the school, I expect to roll up my sleeves and work to make it better.” If he still doesn’t like the school, he will pay for them to go to a private school. This is how it is supposed to be in America; people work for the betterment of their own community and pay for their own choices. However, if you live in portfolio districts like Denver, unseen and unelected forces control the neighborhood.

As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights.”

It is past time for the citizens of Denver to take back their democratic rights and their public schools.

Sweetwater Schools Financial Problems Became Political Cudgel

9 Jan

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

An October San Diego Union article reported,

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

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

salkeld brief bio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget Shortfalls Throughout the State

Kristen Taketa reporting for the San Diego Union noted,

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

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

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

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

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

enrollment graphs

Charter Student Growth Compared with District Enrollment

What Caused the Budget Error?

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

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

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

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned.

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

board group photo 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Concluding Words

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

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

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

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

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

“After the Education Wars”

19 Dec

Andrea Gabor has written another outstanding book. This latest is titled After the Education Wars. In it, she makes a radical departure from the top-down models of education reform that have dominated the last two decades. Gabor, a Bloomberg chair of business journalism, has applied her expertise toward analyzing modern education policy. Through five case studies she convincingly argues that business leaders brought the wrong lessons to education when they imposed Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management and shunned William Edwards Deming’s continuous improvement.

Taylor was a mechanical engineer who became intrigued by the problem of efficiency at work. He is widely viewed as inventing industrial engineering; his 1911 Principles of Scientific Management became the most influential book on American management practices during the twentieth century. In it he wrote,

It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.

Taylor was strongly anti-union. He saw them as wastefully introducing inefficiencies into the work place.

Andrea Gabor’s first book The Man Who Discovered Quality was about William Edwards Deming. That book was reviewed by Business Week in 1991. Some key statements in the review:

A trio of reverential new books celebrates Deming’s management principles. In Deming Management at Work, Mary Walton, a writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, focuses on how six organizations, including the U. S. Navy, have applied his methods. You get much of the same from both Rafael Aguayo’s Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese About Quality and Andrea Gabor ‘s The Man Who Discovered Quality, even though their titles suggest biographical accounts. Aguayo, a former bank executive, essentially offers a schematic for putting Deming’s teachings to work.

Gabor, formerly a staff editor for this magazine and now a senior editor at U. S. News & World Report, provides far more insight into the man, which makes hers the most accessible and enjoyable of the three books. Born in Iowa, Deming grew up in a tarpaper shack in Wyoming. He earned a scholarship to Yale University, where he graduated in 1928 with a PhD in mathematical physics. He worked for the Agriculture Dept. and then the U. S. Census Bureau before the War Dept. sent him to Japan in the late 1940s to help rebuild that war-torn nation. Gabor vividly describes Deming’s early visits, using his personal diary to bring to life his rise to prominence.

The Business Week review ended with,

“How great is Deming’s influence in Japan? On the walls in the main lobby of Toyota’s headquarters in Tokyo, three portraits hang. There is one of the founder and one of the current chairman. But Deming’s is the largest of all.”

In 1979, Ford would lose a billion dollars and General Motors would lose a whopping 2.5 billion dollars. Many people blamed President Jimmy Carter. Industry leaders blamed unions and lazy workers. When out of desperation they called on Deming, he blamed management.

In the forward to her new book, Gabor highlights two key points of Deming’s teaching:

“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.”

The Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation with its test and punishment philosophy of education improvement was a clear violation of Deming’s core principles. Today, NCLB is widely seen as a damaging failure. Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) had a school “turn-around” strategy of hiring consultants or charter management organizations to fix schools that didn’t reach testing benchmarks. It was a consistent failure because they did not understand the cause and effect relationships starting with their completely incapable testing instrument for measuring failure.

Instead of removing fear from teacher ranks, NCLB and RTTT injected more fear into them. I am one teacher who will never forget the President of the United States congratulating the Central Falls, Rhode Island school board for firing all 88 teachers at Central Falls High School because the test scores were too low.

NCLB and RTTT were bad policy based on bad ideology. They embraced Taylorism and ignored Deming. However, there are wonderfully successful examples of schools and even states embracing Deming style continuous improvement through bottom up leadership. Gabor’s deeply researched book shares a few of their stories which demonstrate success in education leadership.

The Small School Progressives

The progressive education grassroots movement appears to have gotten its inspiration from Britain’s 1960’s open-education which had intellectual roots going back to Friedrich Froebel, John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Lillian Weber, a City College professor who studied in England brought open-education to the attention of New York’s reformers. That is where Deborah Meier became her star mentee. Sixties student activists Ann Cook and Herb Mack traveled to London in the 1960’s to observe open-education first hand. They became small school advocates consistent with Gabor’s description of the progressive leaders as “for the most part, anti-establishment ‘lefty hippies’…”

Gabor observed that surprisingly, these progressives ran schools that were lean, entrepreneurial and efficient.

One antidote from Gabor shows the stark difference between schools envisioned by the New York progressives and today’s no-excuses charter school leaders:

“As Meier, a protégé of Weber, explained it, the hallways and lobbies of schools ‘work best if we think of them as the marketplaces in small communities – where gossip is exchanged, work displayed, birthdays taken note of; where clusters of kids and adults gather to talk, read and exchange ideas.’”

In 1973, Tony Alvarado was named Superintendent of District 4 in New York City which is in a poor largely black and Latino neighborhood. Alvarado fostered an educator driven approach to school improvement. He encouraged educators to start new schools and schools within a school. Gabor notes, “Put simply, Alvarado was a master at fostering both improvements from grassroots up and creative non-compliance.”

In 1974, he heard about Deborah Meier and together they launched Central Park East which brought open-education to District 4. This was the first of what would eventually run into the hundreds of these small progressive schools across New York City. When Alvarado arrived, district four had the lowest reading score among the cities 32 districts. In ten years, it climbed to fifteenth.

Alvarado went to District 2 in 1988. It was ranked near the middle of the cities districts and in a decade it was ranked number 2.

Another important factor in the success of the New York Progressives was the support of Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools. As the small school movement progressed, Sizer’s organization and Meier’s Center for Collaborative Education provided important infrastructure such as training, funding and political support. The pedagogic emphasis was on learning depth over quantity which is one of the stated goals of the now loathed top down imposed common core state standards.

I cannot do justice to Andrea’s well written readable and engaging account of the New York’s small school progressives. However, I wanted to share this much because I have a personal experience with two of the protagonists of this story; Tony Alvarado and Deborah Meier.

Chapter four in Diane Ravitch’s startling change of view book The Death and Life of the Great American School System tells the story of the unlikely school reform effort in San Diego, California. A non-educator and politically connected former federal prosecutor, Alan Bersin, was named Superintendent of Schools in 1998. He was given carte blanche powers to reform the district.  Ravitch noted that San Diego was an unlikely place to launch a reform movement because it was seen as “one of the nation’s most successful urban school districts.”

Bersin was a Harvard man so he went to Harvard for direction and that is where he heard about District 2 in New York City and Anthony Alvarado. Bersin brought Alvarado to San Diego to be in charge of the education agenda while he took care of the politics.

For some reason, Alvarado completely abandoned his “grassroots up and creative non-compliance” that had led to such success in New York. In 1999, two-thousand teachers demonstrated at a San Diego Unified School District board meeting to protest the administration’s top-down mandates. Ravitch reported that the Bersin-Alvarado management employed “centralized decision making and made no pretense of collaborating with teachers.”

In 2002, my first teaching job was working under Bersin-Alvarado. It was a miserable experience characterized by fear and loathing everywhere. It seemed that besides the no-input mandates, there was a quota on number of teachers to be fired. The belief among teachers was a certain number teachers were to be fired as an example for the rest.

I was a fifty-one year-old first year educator teaching five sections of physics to ninth-graders at Bell Junior High School, a poor, non-white and low scoring school. My classes actually did well on the end of course exams including my honors class being the second highest scoring in a large district with many wealthy communities.

I was evaluated as “not moving my students to achieving standards.” A designation that meant I could not even apply to be a substitute teacher.

In 2015, I was able to spend an hour talking with Deborah Meier and her niece from Denver. Both of them were discouraged by the turn events in public education. Especially the niece from Denver was seeing little hope for the future of America’s public schools. Later, I investigated the destruction of Denver’s public education and I understand why she was so down.

I asked Deborah “what happened to your friend Tony Alvarado when he came to San Diego.” She had no explanation why he abandoned the model of teacher led continuous improvement after his own twenty-five year history of successfully applying it.

Deborah had been a larger than life figure to me for a few decades. When I had the opportunity to speak with her, I was so happy to discover that she is just as warm and humble as she is brilliant.

A Tale of Two States: Michigan and Massachusetts

Brockton, Massachusetts the birthplace of Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler is home to Brockton High School (BHS) famous for its athletics. By 1993, BHS became a rallying cry for school reform in the state. Even Republican Governor William Weld’s own commission agreed that BHS was not funded properly.

Gabor takes the reader through the motivation for Massachusetts’ education reform and its bottom up development.  She notes there was broad-based leadership from the governor, from business, from legislators, from the judiciary, from teachers and their unions. They created “a clear vision of what education reform should look like.”

There was a “grand bargain” to increase spending in exchange for increased accountability. A “collaborative, transparent, and iterative approach to developing both a new curriculum and a standardized test that became the graduation requirement” was carried out. Gabor writes, “… Massachusetts reforms grew out of a deliberate, often messy and deeply democratic process…”

Much of the story of the Massachusetts reform is told through the transformation of the giant 4,000 plus students BHS. It was the story of home grown reform led by locals who themselves attend BHS. They proved a large school can succeed. Gabor shares,

“Within a little over a decade, Brockton would go from one of the lowest performing schools in the state to one of the highest and, in 2009, it would be featured in a Harvard University report on exemplary schools that have narrowed the minority achievement gap. Today, 85 percent of Brockton students score advanced or proficient on the MCAS, the state’s standardized tests, and 64 percent score advanced or proficient in math.”

In 2010, Massachusetts abandoned parts of their successful education reform agenda in order to win a $250 million dollar RTTT grant. They abandoned their state standards and curriculum to adopt the Common Core State Standards. The result looks bad. It seems that after more than a decade of continuous improvement, progress has slowed or possibly reversed as suggested by National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data.

Mass scale data

Graphs Created Using the NAEP Data Explorer

In the late 1990’s, Michigan and Massachusetts chose opposite paths of education reform. Michigan embraced school choice while Massachusetts rejected it. Massachusetts increased school spending. Michigan did not.  Michigan imposed school reform in a top-down fashion with little educator input. Massachusetts embraced educator contributions to education reform. Eighth grade math NAEP results provide stunning evidence for which choices were better.

Comparing Mich and Mass

The Nations Report Card Provided the Data

Conclusions

Gabor found a school district in Texas that embraced Deming’s quality ideas thirty-five years ago. Leander school district is non-urban and is in a right to work state in the middle of a mostly white Christian and Republican community. I find this all important, because it shows that the continuous improvement model led by educators, students and parents works in any political environment. It is not a red state – blue state or union dependent thing. It shows Deming’s leadership principles are sound and perhaps universal.

I met Andrea Gabor in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Network for Public Education conference of April, 2016. She had come there from New Orleans accompanied by friends she made there while researching this book. For a guy like me who grew up in rural mostly white Idaho and then moved to pluralistic California to serve in the integrated US Navy, the story of profound and continuous racism in New Orleans were beyond my ability to apprehend. There was a conscious centuries long effort made there to limit education among the black population!

When all of the black professional educators in New Orleans were fired after hurricane Katrina and replaced with mostly white college graduates from Teach for America, it was a continuation of that same centuries of racial injustice.

In Raleigh, Andrea made it clear that she was not anti-charter school and in her book she presents the story of one particularly successful school, Morris Jeff, that exemplified the Deming approach. Morris Jeff is one of the few mixed race schools in New Orleans and their students are outperforming the cities “no-excuses” charters.

Bottom line, this is a special book and I encourage you to read it. It’s ideas are both thought provoking and promising.

Thrive Charter Schools All Hat and No Cattle

17 Nov

Excellent public relations and marketing mask a substandard educational program at the inappropriately named Thrive Public [sic] Schools (TPS). The misleading name indicates that this private business is a public school. It is not. Four years of assessments confirm that both San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and the County Office of Education (COE) were correct in 2014 when they denied TPS’s charter petition.

January 7, 2014 SDUSD staff felt that TPS was not ready to open and reported to the board, “Staff recommends approval of the petition to establish Thrive Public School (Thrive) Charter School, for a five-year term beginning July 1, 2015 and ending June 30, 2020.” TPS leaders wanted a charter starting July 1, 2014. SDUSD board concluded TPS is “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program” and denied the petition.

Founder Nicole Assisi turned to Voice of San Diego which was founded by one of her benefactors, Buzz Woolley. They ran her public complaint in which she declared,

“It was not the finest hour for the SDUSD board of trustees, which ignored district staff diligence and its own existing policies to deny a school that would have served the influx of families in Mission Valley. The neighborhood, by the way, does not currently have a single public elementary school. Families drive miles to get to their ‘neighborhood’ school.”

“Thankfully, the County Board of Education has an opportunity to right this wrong when our appeal comes before them next week.”

March 27, 2014 COE staff reviewed the appeal and concluded TPS presents an “unsound educational program and does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of required elements.” Interestingly, one of the reasons for denial was that the petitioner did not clearly identify the intended location for the new school. None of the four current TPS schools are in Mission Valley.

On July 9, 2014, the State Board of Education (SBE) which has gained a reputation for rubber stamping charter school petitions approved the TPS charter unanimously. Many of the Brown appointed SBE board members come directly from the charter industry.

This November 13, the SDUSD board took up TPS’s new petition for a five year charter beginning July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2024. Trustees unanimously rejected TPS’s renewal. In case of rejection the SDUSD staff  notes say, “Thrive must submit its renewal documents to the SBE by December 2, 2018, to comply with the SBE’s renewal submission timelines.”

Kristen Taketa reporting on the TPS decision for the San Diego Union said the state requires charter schools to either perform as well as comparable district schools on state testing, or it must improve its test scores over time. Taketa reported,

“The district’s analysis found that Thrive met neither of those benchmarks. … Thrive’s test scores have also declined every year since it opened in 2014.

‘“Where it may not capture the true value of what is happening and taking place at this school — as we’ve already said, the school is more than a score — it is the standard that we are stuck with,’ Trustee Mike McQuary said of the test scores at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“At the same time trustees claimed their hands were tied in denying Thrive’s renewal, however, trustees said Thrive was failing to meet an “extremely low bar” that all but two[out of 44] San Diego Unified charter schools have been able to meet in the past five years.”

In the Public Interest (ITPI), a bay area think tank, took a look at TPS’s charter renewal petition and noticed that the comparison schools listed were inappropriate because they did not serve a similar population. Even so, TPS outcomes were deficient.  ITPI stated,

“When comparing TPS to schools with similar student populations, the results are even starker. Below we examine TPS performance compared with a set of schools in San Diego Unified School District with similar student populations ….”

The ITPI policy brief is packed with charts that show Thrive students are not testing well. Three of their graphics follow.

Thrive Data Set 1

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Adjusted Peer Group Comparisons

Thrive Data Set 2

TPS and SDUSD Math and English Performance over Past Four Years

SDUSD’s staff report on the TPS petition contained many similar damning data sets. The TPS outcomes have fallen every year since its opening four years ago and schools in the peer group all significantly outperform TPS.

That data looks bad and even more troubling are the reports of uncontrolled bullying of SDUSD students by TPS students.

Thrive was the Creation of Big Money and Political Influence

Nicole and Danial FB

Daniel Assisi on his Facebook Page with TPS Founder and Wife, Nicole Assisi

Nicole Assisi, the founder of Thrive Charter Schools attended Coronado High School, a public school in Coronado, California. She matriculated to UCLA where she earned a multi-subject teaching credential. Her first teaching job was leading English classes at San Diego’s Mira Mesa High School in the 2002-2003 school year.

In 2003, she moved on to High Tech High where she worked until 2005 or 2006. Her linked in profile says she worked at High Tech until 2006 but it also says that in 2005 she went to Los Angeles to be an Assistant Principal at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. Her husband Daniel was director of Information technology at Camino Nuevo from 2006 to 2008.

In 2008 Nicole became Principle on special assignment at De Vinci Schools (Formerly Wiseburn 21st Century Charter). At DeVinci Schools, she worked with Don Braun who played a key role in undermining the Inglewood Public School District. That same year her husband Daniel Assisi went to work for the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

Nicole left De Vinci schools and returned to San Diego in 2013 to start TPS. The 34-years-old Nicole was provided with $8,960 from the Charter School Growth Fund and $100,000 from the Gates supported Educause to start her “non-profit.”

Once she obtained the charter authorization from the SBE, money flowed. The known list of 2014 donations:  Buzz Woolley’s Girard Foundation granted her $108,000; Gate’s Educause sent $254,500; Charter School Growth Fund kicked in $175,000 and the Broad Foundation delivered $150,000 for a total of $688,000. The next year, Broad gave another $50,000 and the New Schools Venture Fund pitched in $100,000. There is another $144,000 promised from Educause.

Destroy public education (DPE) careers pay well. Tax records reveal that Nicole’s start up “non-profit” has been lucrative. Her pay: year one $122,301; year two $133,747 and year three $142,541. Her husband holds a senior management position at the CCSA which means DPE money flows his way as well.

In 2017, TPS announced its big plan which stands to make founder and CEO Assisi a wealthy woman. A San Diego Union report said,

“The 35,000-square-foot facility will be the fourth San Diego campus for Thrive Schools and will open in about 12 months at the former site of Bayside Community Center at 6882 Linda Vista Road.”

“The project’s cost became more affordable for Thrive through the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program, which gives tax credits to for-profit businesses that are helping revitalize low-income communities.”

“Civic San Diego was eligible for the program and was allowed to sell the tax credits to whoever was making the investment. In this case, the credits were sold to the bank lending money to Thrive to buy the site.”

Although paid for with tax money, the deed will belong to Thrive Public Schools and CEO Nicole Assisi. This spring, ITPI published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools” which noted,

“Schools constructed with private funding subsidized by New Market Tax Credits or acquired with private funds but whose mortgage payments are reimbursed through the Charter Facilities Grant Program (known as “SB740”) are typically owned without restriction.”

All Hat

The old cowboy expression all hat and no cattle perfectly describes TPS. Their team is politically connected, supported by deep pocketed foundations intent on privatizing public education and has excellent marketing support but their schools are not very good.

TPS has developed support from neoliberal and conservative politicians. Their listed supporters:

  • Dede Alpert,  Former Assembly Woman and State Senator
  • Ben Boyce, Manager of Public Affairs at Southwest Strategies
  • Lisa Corr, Partner, Young Minney and Corr, LLP
  • Rod Dammeyer, Chairman, CAC; Board Member, Ca. Charter Schools Ass. & High Tech High
  • Tom Davis, Director of Events and Corporate Sponsorships, CALSA
  • Jon Dean, Chief Information Officer, Summit Public Schools
  • Donna Elder, Dept. Chair of Educational Leadership and Teacher Education, National U.
  • Kerry Flanagan,Cheif of Staff, California Charter Schools Association
  • Stanley V. Heyman, President, Heyman & Associates
  • Ben Hueso, State Senator
  • Heather Lattimer,Associate Dean, USD School of Leadership & Education Sciences
  • Diane Levitt, Director of K-12 Education, Cornell
  • Chet Pipkin, Founder, President and CEO of Belkin International
  • Robert Schwartz, Senior Advisor, New Teacher Center
  • Rebecca Tomasini, Founder and CEO, The Alvo Institute
  • Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of California
  • Jed Wallace, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Charter Schools Association
  • Matthew Wunder, Chief Executive Officer, Da Vinci Schools
  • Mark Wyland, State Senator

Looking elsewhere on their web-pages one finds that Boyce, Davis, Elder, Heyman and Flanagan are Thrive board members. With few exceptions, the other supporters are either school privatization friendly politicians or active participants in the DPE movement.

TPS’s board member and public affairs guy, Boyce, generates excellent media coverage. For example, KPBS ran two articles that appear to take TPS claims and publish them without fact checking. One of their articles describes how Thrive is doing a wonderful job with special education children. It claims, “At Thrive, students are in the 96th percentile for academic growth, meaning while all the students may not be at grade level, they’re improving more quickly than the majority of their peers nationally.”

The same PBS article stated, “Since opening three years ago, TPS’s special needs population has grown from 11 to 16 percent of the student body.” However, based on TPS’s report to the state the 2017-2018 school year special education student percentage was 9.2 percent.

A few years ago the former on camera CNN reporter, Campbell Brown, started a publication supporting privatized education called The 74. It is primarily funded by the Walton Family Foundation which was formed by the heirs of the Walmart fortune. The Walton’s also fund the Charter School Growth fund and other DPE organizations. Earlier this year The 74 ran a puff piece with the title “Thrive Schools: How an Innovative California Charter Network Grew to 700 Students & 4 Campuses in Only 4 Years Through a Focus on Math, Literacy & ‘the Light of Kindness’” Surprisingly, they described a co-located Thrive elementary school,

“The Juanita Hills campus is co-located with Carver Elementary, a pre-K-5 school that enrolls much higher proportions of disadvantaged students and English learners than Thrive. The two facilities share the same lot, but a long blue line has been painted down the center to separate them. A Thrive parent complained that though Carver had its own library on-site, Thrive kids couldn’t use it.”

The biggest national publicist for TPS is Tom Vander Ark. He has a long history of championing students at computer screens. He was also the first education advisor for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Vander Ark described the TPS education program,

“Curriculum such as Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop and CGI Math provide collaborative opportunities for small groups to work directly with the teacher, while other students work on Chromebooks or iPads.

“The middle school team uses Google Classroom to make and manage assignments. Math software includes ST Math and Zearn.

On October 26 the New York Times ran three articles about the dangers of screen time for children. One was called, “The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected.” The header for the article reads,

“America’s public schools are still promoting devices with screens — even offering digital-only preschools. The rich are banning screens from class altogether.”

The children trapped inside the TPS schools are being sacrificed to the toxic ed-tech agenda.

Some Final Points

Thrive Public [sic] Schools is a private business that does contract work for the state government. There are two requirements for the label public school. One is being financed by tax payers which TPS is. The other is being governed by an elected body that sets and collects taxes which TPS is not. TPS is not a public school just like Hazard construction doing work for the county is not a public construction company. The public in the name is simply deceptive marketing.

For most of two centuries, public schools in America have been the incubators of democracy. Privatizing public education is undermining American democracy.

It costs more to run two or more school systems. Charter schools are in essence school districts. To finance multiple systems requires either higher taxes or per child spending in public schools must be reduced. The second option is the one being used. The experience of Kansas City Public Schools illuminates this issue.

Bad schools like TPS survive because they are good at marketing; have deep pocketed benefactors and political allies.

Charter schools have developed a history of fraud, abuse and instability. It used to be “another day another charter school scandal.” Now, it’s multiple scandals every day. Sure there are fraud and scandal associated with all large organizations but the charter industry is out of control.

We urgently need a moratorium on new charter schools until the obvious harm being visited upon communities by the charter industry is understood and students are protected.

NPE Indianapolis: “We Are Winning!”

29 Oct

Diane Ravitch opened the fifth Network for Public Education (NPE) conference stating, “We are the resistance and we are winning!” She noted that “reformers” were envious of our domination of social media. When they hired mercenaries to staff their own multimillion dollar web-publications to counter us; they failed. We still dominate social media.

Ravitch listed a long string of victories including:

Leonie Haimson and her Class Sizes Matters organization successfully fought Bill Gates’ $100,000,000 Inbloom data base project that would have abrogated the privacy rights of countless children and their parents.

Jitu Brown led a thirty-two day hunger strike that saved the Walter Dyett high school, the only open enrollment high school in the Bronzeville community of Chicago.

Charter school growth has slowed significantly. Without the literally billions of dollars from “fauxlanthropists” and the federal government these often corrupt private businesses would have gone the way of the Edsel.

Diane concluded, “We’re winning. David is beating Goliath.”

Ravitch then introduced the famed Finish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, who coined the apt acronym for the worldwide school privatization phenomena by calling it the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). Sahlberg began with stressing that what happens in the United States is extremely important because what we do here affects the rest of the world.  He said, “You are making progress. The global situation is getting better.”

Pasi Sahlberg has served at the World Bank ​ in Washington, DC ​, the European Commission ​ in Italy and acted as an external expert to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) advising governments in more than 50 countries. He is a former Director General ​ at Finland’s Ministry of Education ​ and a Visiting professor ​ of Practice ​ at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also chairs the Open Society Foundation​’s Education Board and is a member of the Governing board ​ of the University of Oulu​, the Centre on International Education Benchmarking and the International Council of Education Advisors (ICEA) for the Scottish Government ​.  He is currently working in Australia as a Professor of Education Policy at the University of New South Wales in Sidney.

Pasi slide

Pasi’s Slide Demarking Bad Education Policy and Good Education Policy

Professor Sahlberg’s presentation dealt with the negative effects being observed throughout the planet due to implementation of “GERM” policies. He shared several data sets including one implicating “GERM” initiatives in the degradation of student mental health. The following slide shows a correlation between screen time pushed by captains of technology industries such as Mark Zuckerberg and student mental health.

Pasi Screen Time Slide

Slide Shows Correlation Between Screen-time and Mental Health

He also shared some surprising conclusions from education researchers at the World Band and the (OECD).

“School choice advocates often argue that the introduction of market mechanisms in education allows equal access to high quality schooling for all…However evidence does not support these perceptions, as choice and associated market mechanisms can enhance segregation.” –OECD, 2012

“There is no consistent evidence that private schools deliver better learning outcomes than public schools. Numerous risks, such as the exclusion of disadvantaged or less able or desirable students, social segregation, exploitation of families for profit and the undermining of public education [exist].” –World Bank, 2017

Pasi ended his presentation on a similar note to Diane’s. He listed off places around the world where “GERM” is being reversed:

Sweden is in the process of reversing the unexpectedly sad results of their 1990’s decision to embrace school privatization.

Chile (the first victim of “GERM”) is “abolishing school selection, banning for-profit schools and investing in the teaching profession.”

Scotland is embracing a whole-child curriculum that focuses on equity and strengthening the role of play in the lower grades.

Liberia is now resisting privatization by for-profit foreign operators and the de-professionalizing of education.

Australia is reviewing the value of NAPLAN their standardized testing program. They are focusing on equity, well-being and early childhood education.

Singapore is mandating less testing, less student rankings, and more whole-child education.

New Zealand is removing national education standards, adopting less testing, abolishing charter schools, and encouraging more teacher and student voices. The new government won office by campaigning on a public education platform opposed to standards, testing and privatization.

Professor Sahlberg concluded by saying, “The problem is not completely solved but we are moving in the right direction.”

SOS Arizona the First Recipients of the Phyllis Bush Award

This year, NPE established a new award for community activism and named it after founding board member Phyllis Bush. The new to be annual award went to Save Our Schools Arizona. Two passionate women from Arizona, Beth Lewis and Sharon Kirsch received the award for SOS Arizona which stopped David and Charles Koch’s plan to massively expand vouchers in Arizona.

SOS Arizona Grass Roots Award

Sharon Kirsch and Beth Lewis Receive the Phyllis Bush Award for SOS Arizona from Phyllis Bush – Photo by Anthony Cody

After being ignored by state legislators who passed the Koch brother’s voucher law, they were demoralized. When Governor Doug Ducey dutifully signed the law, Beth and SOS Arizona decided to fight. They ignored all advice and precedence by staging an unlikely referendum signature drive. SOS Arizona surprised the professionals by running a successful campaign forcing the voucher law to the ballot which under Arizona law put it on hold.

Immediately, the Koch brothers set up a legal challenge and the SOS Arizona team had to fund raise to hire legal representation. After fighting and winning all the way to the state supreme court, SOS Arizona prevailed and the fate of the voucher law will be decided by the state’s voters on November 6.

Machine Learning and Data Mining Two Trojan Horses from the Technology Industry

Machine Learning

This Expert Panel Delivered a Powerful Message on Tech Inspired Student Harm

Leonie Haimson, who has a long successful history of working to protect student privacy, said a key understanding is that nothing is free. When a technology company provides software, computers, tablets or any other tech product for free, they expect something back – data. And even if you trust company “Z” to respect your privacy, it is likely that the data collected at schools will be stolen if not sold.

Audrey Watters apprised about the history of education technology, teaching machines and the failure of tech companies to come anywhere close to meeting their predictions.  She shared, “Thomas Edison famously predicted in 1922, for example, ‘I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.”’

Audrey defined artificial intelligence (AI) as little more than predictive algorithms based on statistics. She gave two reasons parent and teachers should resist “personalized learning” and the oversold AI. First, the software is proprietary which means we only see the inputs and outputs but not the decision making process. Second she asserted,

“Algorithms are biased, in part, because they’re built with data that’s biased, data taken from existing institutions and practices that are biased. They’re built by people who are biased. (Bless your hearts, white men, who think you are the rational objective ones and the rest of us just play ‘identity politics.’)”

Peter Greene reinforced Audrey’s claims about AI being yet one more over-hyped product from the technology industry which comes with peril for students. He said it is as if somebody walked into your classroom and said these three students belong in the advanced class and those three should be moved to the remedial class but will not tell you how they know. You would not listen to them and you certainly should not be run by a black box with a secret algorithm.

Little Sis the Antidote for Big Brother

Grading the States

NPE in cooperation with the Schott Foundation recently published Grading the States. The breakout session on that topic became more of an advanced seminar in researching tax documents and coalitions of groups working to privatize public education.

Schneider described how non-profit organization must file tax forms that detail their giving called a form 990. Mercedes also explained that there is also a form 990 PF and if that is the form filed, the filer must also list contributions to the private foundation. Gates and Walton file form 990 PF.

Gabor explained how to find these forms. She said she prefers the Foundation Center for her personal searches. Andrea noted that finding some foundations can be difficult and that it is often better to use less information in a search when the common foundation name yields no results.

Andrea Gabor’s latest book is called After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform.

Darcie Cimarusti did a lot of the research for the new report, Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools. She shared her use of LittleSis in doing that research. It is a free database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations. Who do the wealthiest Americans donate their money to? Where did White House officials work before they were appointed? Which lobbyists are married to politicians, and who do they lobby for?

One form of data presentation from LittleSis is mapped connections. The screen grab below is of a map created by Darcie showing the moneyed connection around the 2017 LA school board election. On LittleSis, all of the shown paths are rollovers or links to data. For example, the link from Reed Hastings to the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) reveals $8,520,500 going to their independent expenditures committee.

LittleSis Map by Darci

Darcie’s Map of Billionaire Donations to the CCSA Independent Expenditure Committee

NPE’s Diverse Environment is Manifesting Youthful Leaders

Jitu Brown is National Director of the Journey for Justice (J4J), an alliance of grassroots groups fighting against privatization and for sustainable community schools in over 28 cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Dayton, Denver, Detroit, Eupora and Kilmichael Mississippi, Los Angeles, Newark, Patterson, Camden, Jersey City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Brooklyn, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Wichita and Johannesburg, South Africa!

This year Jitu and J4J came with a message:

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights. Only by organizing locally and coming together nationally will we build the power we need to change local, state, and federal policy and win back our public schools.”

J4J introduced their #WeChoose campaign which has seven pillars:

  1. A moratorium on school privatization.
  2. The creation of 10,000 community schools.
  3. End zero tolerance policies in public schools now. (Supports restorative justice)
  4. Conduct a national equity assessment.
  5. Stop the attack on black teachers. (In 9 major cities impacted by school privatization there has been a rapid decline in the number of black teachers.)
  6. End state takeovers, appointed school boards and mayoral control.
  7. Eliminate the over-reliance on standardized tests in public schools.

For a real treat check out this video of Jitu Brown leading the NPE conference in a chant he learned from a high school student in Chicago.

Jitu Brown introduced Sunday morning’s keynote speaker, Jesse Hagopian, a youthful teacher leader from Seattle, Washington. Jitu declared, “Jesse is a freedom fighter who happens to be a teacher.”

Jesse’s address was called “Black Lives Matter at School.” He reported that Black Lives Matter at School Week was observed by 20 cities in 2017 and that he hoped to further expand the movement. Hagopian listed three demands: (1) End zero tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; (2) Hire more black teachers (he noted there are 26,000 less black teachers since 2010) and (3) Teach ethnic studies including black history.

Saturday evening’s keynote speaker was Helen Gym, a city council member from Philadelphia whose political career was launched by fighting the horrible attack on public education in her city. Helen is a small person of Korean decent but she has giant courage and is an impassioned orator. Her address to the conference was titled “Victories for Public Ed in Philly.” Thanks to Helen and her friends, the seventeen-year long state takeover of Philadelphia’s public schools has ended. They now have a school board. Helen’s basic message was “we only get what we are organized to take.”

New Leaders

Sampling of a Youthful Wave of Education Champions at #NPE18Indy

The NAACP was in the House

The conference ended with an address by Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP. Derrick grew up in pre-DeVosian Detroit, which meant he attended authentic high quality public schools. He now lives in Jackson, Mississippi with his wife and children.

Derrick Johnson close

Derrick Johnson, President of NAACP, Speaking at #NPE18Indy – Photo by Anthony Cody

Derrick said the NAACP was not opposed to charter schools, but is calling for a moratorium until there is transparency in their operations and uniformity in terms of requirements. He said NAACP conducted an in depth national study of charter schools and found a wide range of problems that needed to be fixed before the experiment is continued.

Johnson has been quoted saying “For the NAACP, we have been far more aggressive toward bad public schools then we’ve ever been against charter schools.” He said “We believe the same [accountability] for public schools should apply to charter schools.”

When Jesse Hagopian asked Mr. Johnson about how best to promote Black Lives Matter at School. He responded positively to Hagopian but did add a note of caution saying it was extremely important that the movement be inclusionary.

A Personal Perspective

Almost four years ago, I attended my first NPE conference in Chicago. I was very motivated by what I saw and heard, however, I did have a concern. It seemed like the movement was dominated by older white teachers like me, who were approaching retirement age. I thought that did not bode well for the future of our movement to save quality public education.

This year the conference was even more motivational with a big positive difference. A large wave of diverse youthful professionals have taken leadership. The future looks very bright with so many brilliant young people who are growing their expertise in research and organizing. These youthful leaders are determined to save our public schools. They are standing up for a social good that is not related to Mammonism or self promotion. They are the resistance that is winning.

For me personally, I had the opportunity to cultivate deeper friendships with the many wonderfully individuals who I first met at NPE Chicago. That included once again speaking with my personal heroine and friend, Diane Ravitch. Diane and I were even able to take our fourth annual picture.

Diane and I B

Diane Ravitch and Tom Ultican at #NPE18Indy – photo from Diane’s phone