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The Best Book of 2019 – Kochland

26 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/26/2019

This may be the finest book thus far in the twenty-first century. Kochland; The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America is the second book by former agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press, Christopher Leonard. His first book, The Meat Racket; The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business received rave reviews; however, Kochland is uniquely special. It is an economic history of America since 1967 that shows the deep changes in our economy that have given rise to a new kind of capitalism. Kochland is told through the lens of Koch Industries whose “annual revenue is larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and US Steel combined.”

Leonard weaves an epic tale of brilliance, philosophical intransigence, greed and ruthlessness. Over almost 600 pages, this enjoyable read clearly elucidates many of the troubling outcomes from the last 50 years like the rolling blackouts in California and the destruction of the labor movement.

Fred Koch, the family patriarch, graduated in Chemical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1922. In 1927, he won a patent for an improved petroleum refining process. Do to legal issues surrounding his patent, Fred ended up working in Stalin’s Russia between 1929 and 1932. This experience informed his extreme anti-communist views. He later joined with Robert Welch and a group of businessmen to establish the virulently anti-communist John Birch Society. In 1960, he published the pamphlet “A Businessman Looks at Communism” in which he claimed that the National Education Association was a communist front organization and that public school books were filled with pro-communist propaganda.

In 1961 Fred convinced his son Charles to leave his new job at Arthur D. Little, Inc. and come back to Wichita to work for the family business. Charles went to work there after an impressive career at MIT earning a BS in general engineering 1957, an MS in nuclear engineering 1958 and an MS in Chemical Engineering 1960.

Kochland is also the story of Charles Koch. In 1966, after five years working for his father, he became the CEO of the company then known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together into the company the family renamed Koch Industries as a tribute to their father. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world. Largest.org lists Cargill, the corporation headquartered in Minnesota and founded in 1865, as the world’s largest privately held company with revenue of $114.7 billion. Koch Industries revenue for the same year came in at $110 billion.

Charles Koch Wichita Business Journal

Charles Koch during a 2014 Interview with the Wichita Business Review

After Charles took over the company, he also started reading everything he could about what made people tick and how societies functioned. Leonard says, “Koch read the work of Karl Marx and other socialist thinkers. He read books on history, on economics, on philosophy and on psychology.” When he was a boy, his father had impressed upon him the evils witnessed in Russia and a fear of government overreach.

It was the works of Austrian economists and philosophers like Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that attracted Koch. He has been described as a libertarian and a conservative but “classical liberal” is a more apt description. Leonard observed, “Hayek, in particular, put forward a radical concept of capitalism and the role that markets should play in society, and his thinking had an enduring effect on Charles Koch.”

In writing about Koch’s 1974 speech to a Dallas gathering, Leonard noted, “Koch chastised the business community for having been seduced by the thinking behind the New Deal.” Koch declared, “Anti-capitalist feelings in the United States are probably more virulent today than ever before.” He went on to say that business leaders needed to fight back and proposed a campaign based on four elements:

  • Education: Public universities needed to be populated with people who would advocate for free enterprise and do research to support it.
  • Media Outreach: Businesses should appropriately “reward” the media when they promote free markets and withdraw support when they attack them.
  • Litigation: “Announce publicly and vigorously, both as individual companies and through associations, that they will not cooperate with the government beyond the legally compelled minimum in developing or complying with control programs.”
  • Political influence: Koch recommended lobbying and “litigation to affect bureaucratic behavior.” He cautioned that the temptation to game the system through lobbying ultimately undercuts business; therefore it should be a “limited program.”

Leonard reports,

“Charles Koch would remain remarkably true to this basic game plan over the next forty years. The only part that would change significantly would be the ‘limited’ nature of lobbying and campaign contributions. Koch would eventually build one of the largest lobbying and political influence machines in US history. But the rest of the plan was executed almost exactly as he laid it out in 1974.”

The First Big Cash Cow

In 1969, Charles Koch completed a secret plan to go from being a minority share holder to sole owner of the Pine Bend Oil Refinery near Rosemount, Minnesota. He convinced J. Howard Marshall to sell his share in the refinery for stock in the newly formed Koch Industries. He then went to the now minority owner, Great Northern, and convinced them to sell its stake. Leonard says, “Charles Koch saw something in the refinery that others didn’t see.”

Pine Blend

The Pine Bend Refinery – StartTribune Photo

Pine Bend was one of the few refineries in the United States that had access to a special form of Canadian Oil that was very cheap and it was set up to refine the dirty oil. Koch sold gasoline from Pine Blend into a retail market that was particularly expensive. Pretty much all executives at Koch industries call Pine Blend a “cash cow.” This acquisition continuously supplies the Koch machine with cash.

Leonard recounts in detail the decades-long family struggle over control of Koch Industries. During this period Charles refused to take the corporation public much to the chagrin of brothers Fred and Bill. Charles and David came out of the fight as co-owners of the company.

Koch was accused of stealing oil from Native Americans by errantly measuring the amount of crude drawn from storage tanks. They were also cited for breaking environmental protection laws at both their refineries (Pine Blend and Corpus Christy). Koch was gaining a reputation as a criminal corporation.

Koch Industries is infused with Charles Koch’s Market Base Management (MBM) theory. MBM is the common language spoken by all managers and most workers at Koch. It guides everything from trading to labor management to safety. Its glaring failure is the inability to solve safety problems at Georgia-Pacific. Deaths and major injuries are on the rise there. MBM when applied in labor relations is anti-union and creates a difficult high pressure environment for hourly wage earners.

Koch’s trading organizations along with the Koch financed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were heavily involved in the deregulation of California’s electrical grid and the underlying corruption that led to rolling blackouts across the state.

Koch was also a big players in the derivatives markets that played a central role in the 2008 financial meltdown.

Christopher Leonard chronicles all of these episodes and provides deep insight. He explains how the shift from managerial theory in the 1960’s to agency theory in the late 1970’s had changed corporate governance. His relationships created with scientists, managers, laborers and union officials and the telling of their stories sheds new light on the internal operations of Koch Industries.

He shows how neoliberalism captured both major American political parties and describes Koch’s development of the largest most effective political influence organization in America. Koch constructed his political assets patiently over the past fifty years. Sometimes known as the “Kochtopus,” it includes political organizations like Americans for Prosperity and think-tanks like CATO Institute. When the state based organizations are included, these political pressure entities number into the hundreds.

Koch’s entire corporate structure is always focused on gathering information which is one of the primary reasons under-girding its success. Koch always has an information advantage during negotiations. In the early 2000’s, Koch’s traders started learning about the effects fracking would have on energy markets. Operating under the radar, Koch built an oil superhighway (pipelines) out of the Eagle Ford region of south Texas to its Corpus Christy refinery and a Koch shipping terminal. When fracking caused millions of barrels of oil to start flowing from Eagle Ford, Koch had another “cash cow.”

However, the enormous profits from Corpus Christy and Pine Blend were being threatened by efforts in the Obama administration to fight global warming.

Koch Defeats Climate Change Legislation

Leonard states, “Koch Industries, Exxon-Mobil, and other firms spent millions of dollars to support the idea that there was an ‘alternative’ view about climate change between 1991 and 2009.” In 2009, it was Koch’s political network that undermined and eventually killed the Waxman-Markey “cap and trade” bill, the last major federal attempt to fight the growth in greenhouse gasses causing global warming.

Climate Denier Scientist Paid by Koch

Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon – Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Greenpeace)

Willie Soon claimed that the variation in earth temperature had to do with changes in the sun’s output. He was lavishly supported by Kock. Soon never mentioned in his 11 papers; the more than $1.2 million dollars he received from the fossil fuel industry. The New York Times reported, “Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, acknowledged … that Dr. Soon had violated the disclosure standards of some journals.”

Head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin A. Schmidt said, “The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless.”

It was congressman Mike Pence of Indiana who made the final argument on the house floor against Cap and Trade. But it was the Koch political machine that finally killed the bill in the senate. Koch’s intentionally obscured and complex organization led the fight. Their primary target was Republicans who stood against Koch on the issue of climate change. Leonard explains,

“These Republicans were the primary targets for a reason. Koch’s long-term plan was to reshape the Republican party, and these members would be made an example of. The strategy wasn’t necessarily new. But the means that Koch used to pursue were unprecedented.”

“In 2009 and 2010, Koch Industries’ political network created new Republican candidates, seemingly out of nowhere, who rose up and challenged sitting congressmen and senators. Koch’s chosen candidates attacked the incumbents from the right claiming that the Republican Party was insufficiently conservative and too accommodating of the Obama agenda. The overwhelming message was that comprise with Democrats must end.”

Charles Koch and Donald Trump see eye to eye on denying climate change and have forged a path of coexistence if not mutual admiration.

Kochland tells a long complex story that illuminates political and economic developments since 1967. When David Koch died in August, his much younger wife, Julia Flesher Koch, surpassed Alice Walton as the richest woman in the world. Charles Koch turns 85 in 2020. Will the new leadership that will certainly come to Koch Industries chart a less politically authoritarian direction which is not based on Malthusian concepts of social construction?

Twitter: @tultican

Manufactured Education Crisis Engenders Violence

18 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/17/2019

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

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

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

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

O’Connell Selects Eli Broad’s Trainee as Administrator

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broadies of Oakland

2003-2017 Broad Academy Graduates and Superintendents of OUSD

Broad Academy graduates are often disparagingly called Broadies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Board Under Attack from All Sides

A March Oakland Post article says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Political Spending Chart

Funding to GO Public School Independent Expenditures Effort

School Board Winners Finance Chart

Winning OUSD Board Member Campaign Support

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @tultican

TNTP is a Part of the Destroy Public Education Infrastructure

10 Aug

By T. Ultican 8/10/2019

TNTP is one of several organizations that only exist because billionaires have financed them. Wendy Kopp founded TNTP (originally called The New Teachers Project) in 1997. She assigned Michelle Rhee, who had recently finished a two year Teach For America (TFA) tour, to run TNTP. Along with TNTP and TFA there are also the Broad Superintendents Academy and the fake school for professional educators called Relay Graduate School forming a significant part of the infrastructure instilling a privatization mindset into the education community.

TNTP says it mission is to partner with educational entities to:

  • “Increase the numbers of outstanding individuals who become public school teachers; and
  • Create environments for all educators that maximize their impact on student achievement”

These are laudable goals but why would any school district or state education department turn to an organization with minimal academic background and experience to train teachers and school leaders? Michelle Rhee earned a B.A. in Government from Cornell and a master’s in public policy from Harvard with no education studies. In the Book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider observes that “Wendy Kopp was a child of privilege”. She left her exclusive Highland Park neighborhood in Dallas to study International Affairs at Princeton. Kopp had no education experience or training and Rhee had five weeks of training to go along with two years experience teaching elementary school in Baltimore.

Wendy and Michelle

Corporate Media Embraced Kopp and Rhee as Education Reformers (Google Images)

In 2001 despite lacking expertise in training educators, TNTP was able to report,

“In its first full year of operation, The New Teacher Project entered into 3 contracts, and in its second year of operation, the number of contracts jumped to 11. This year, The New Teacher Project has over 20 contracts, and is working with school districts, state departments of education and universities across the country.” And they stated, “We have worked with numerous clients across the country, including The New York City Board of Education, Massachusetts Department of Education, District of Columbia Public Schools and East Baton Rouge Parish School System.”

The Billionaire Drive to Privatize Public School

Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they were unqualified. If policy makers in New York wanted to create and alternative teacher certification path, they would have turned to an established institution like Columbia University’s Teachers College to create and manage the program. If Washington DC schools wanted to develop a teacher professional development program, they would have likely looked to the University of Maryland. These are places with more than a century of experience studying education and training its leaders.

Papers coming from leading education institutions like the University of Texas or the University of California are peer reviewed scholarly efforts. Whereas TNTP produces non-peer reviewed polemics like “Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness” a paper that accelerated teacher bashing. It looked like a real research effort but it was submitted through friendly media avoiding professional criticism. In 2001, a banner on the TNTP web page falsely claimed, “No single factor has a greater influence on student achievement than teacher quality”. Of course family income, mental health and the language spoken at home are much more decisive.

Another faux non-peer reviewed paper produced by TNTP was called “The Irreplaceables”. The paper defines the “irreplaceables” as the “top 20% of teachers in studied districts, as gauged by district data.” The gauge used was the widely discredited value added measures (VAM) which the American Statistical Association weighed in on stating,

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

Although not a peer-reviewed paper, Bruce Baker of Rutgers University commented on the paper for the National Education Policy Center. He bluntly called it, “a report that is utterly ridiculous at many levels”. Baker powerfully demonstrated his point with the following graphs.

Irreplaceables

Baker’s Graphics Showing the Absurdity of the TNTP Claim

A central business of TNTP today, is training principals through its Pathways to Leadership in Urban Schools (PLUS). PLUS has a presence in Camden, Kansas City, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. In this program, PLUS provides academic training and places principal trainees in local district schools with contracted mentor principals.

Kansas City PLUS has a contract with Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS). They share about themselves:

“Kansas City PLUS is a two-year, practice-based principal certification residency and master’s program that helps talented educators become capable school leaders. With support from a leadership coach and experience managing teachers in a local school, our residents learn how to create a school culture in which students are challenged and inspired, and where teachers receive the feedback and support they need to grow.”

PLUS inadvertently shares the real reason KCPS contracted them instead of the Universities of Missouri or Kansas. TNTP lists among its partners:

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which funds Kansas City PLUS, was established in the mid-1960s by the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman.”

The Hall Family Foundation is a private philanthropic organization that makes grants to community programs in the greater Kansas City area.”

The Walton Family Foundation is working to expand opportunities and empower children and families with educational options. Since 1992, we have invested more than $1.3 billion in K-12 education and supported a quarter of the 6,700 charter schools created in the United States.”

At the end of 2016 the smallest of these three funds was the Hall Family Foundation with assets of $833,764,620. Without these monies, Kansas City would be training all of its principals through university programs.

The Kauffman Foundation is emblematic of a growing problem in the philanthropic world. Ewing Kauffman graduated from public school and supported public education with both time and money. It would be surprising if he supported the privatization effort his legacy is being used to promote. Today, the $2 billion fund he founded is led by Wendy Guillies. She serves on the boards of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, KCSourcelink, MRI Global, Folience and the Enterprise Bank Advisory Board. The Kansas City Business Journal named her to the Power 100 list in 2016 and 2017, and TechWeek KC named her to the Tech 100 list. Obviously she is a very accomplished women but her resume is consistent with the pro-privatization views espoused by the American Legislative Exchange Council and their chief supporter, Charles Koch.

The PLUS Program has Issues

I became privy to some inside communications when contacted about the possibility of a class action suit against TNTP. The warning that follows summarizes some of the negative feelings percolating within the PLUS organization. With the heading “Beware” the following is from a Principal Intern:

“This organization advertises 60,000 – 100,000. This is to lure you to apply for the position. You will be paid teachers salary and that will be based on your years of teaching and the school district you are partnered with. They will not tell you this upfront. You will initially be contracted as a teacher under a title such as “Instructional Coach”. You will work the same hours as your Mentor Principal. Your will work days that teachers are off, even though you are contracted as a teacher. Be prepared for an unorganized bunch of Plus Leaders who are mean and evil spirited, that lie and have no clue as to what they are doing. Be prepared to be treated like your personal life doesn’t matter, under the direction of an insecure clueless coach and unstable PLUS Leader. Even the Program Manager was incompetent and was belittled by the PLUS Leaders on many occasions.

“PLUS promises so much and offers very little. You have been warned. They attack your personal character and take things personally. Once you challenge them about anything, you will be targeted and provoked.

“In the end they will decide if you will become a principal, not the university, based on TNTP standards. You will also pay expensive tuition for a degree and certification that is offered much cheaper at other universities (for non-university curriculum in coursework). This information was also not given in the beginning.”

Claims of racial discrimination were also raised as a motive for a class action suit.

Unaccountable and Absurd Organizations that Should be Stopped

The ridiculous contention that TFA, TNTP, Relay Graduate School and The Broad Superintendents Academy are organizations that local elected officials should embrace is detailed in the post “Fake Teachers, Fake Schools, Fake Administrators Courtesy of DPE.” These organizations have one purpose and it is NOT improving education. They exist to advance the privatize everything agenda most wealthy elites support. The super-wealthy fear democracy and do not feel it is right for “makers” like themselves to be paying to educate the children of “takers” who should be responsible for educating their own children.

Working for these want-to-be oligarchs is lucrative. The last tax return from TNTP (Sep. 2017) listed the top 12 paid employees and all of them made more than $200,000 per year. “Thirty pieces of silver” is not worth undermining democratic rights and free universal public education.

Reforming California’s Dysfunctional Charter School Law

18 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/17/2019

Members of the California legislature have engaged in an internecine battle over charter schools. Even the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has expressed concern over lawless cyber charters and filed the first known complaint with the California Department of Education over A3 Education and Valiant Prep which were recently charged with stealing a stunning $50 million. California State Sen. John Moorlach (R) is warning that 85% of school districts in California are running deficits. Governor Gavin Newsom has statedrising charter school enrollments in some urban districts are having real impacts on those districts’ ability to provide essential support and services for their students.”

The drive to privatize schools in Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles has been fueled by enormous sums of money spent on elections. Billionaires led by Eli Broad and Richard Riordan have successfully installed a former investment banker – a proponent of school privatization with no education experience – as Superintendent of Schools for Los Angeles. In Oakland, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated to pro-privatization independent expenditure committees and a similar amount has been donated directly to charter friendly candidates running for that city’s school board. Very few of the donations come from Oakland. The story is similar in San Diego.

With so many extremely wealthy individuals like Michael Bloomberg from New York City, Stacy Schusterman from Tulsa, Oklahoma and Alice Walton from Bentonville, Arkansas continually making six and seven figure donations to privatize public schools in California, the defenders of public education are fighting with all they have against what they see as an undemocratic attack by oligarchs. At the same time, many charter school leaders are feeling insecure and under attack.

It is this Gordian Knot that legislators are addressing. As Upton Sinclair observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.

California’s new Democratic governor does not seem as mindlessly pro-charter school as the outgoing Democrat but his long time backers and chief of staff have public school advocates concerned. The Sacramento Bee reportedGavin Newsom turns to top Hillary Clinton adviser to launch administration.” That would be his Chief of Staff, Ann O’Leary, whose Fortune magazine biography says she was a key voice in creating the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. She defends NCLB stating, “We were committed to high standards and helping states get there.

For those of us working in classrooms in 2001, it became clear that O’Leary’s education ideology harmed students and facilitated privatizing public schools. Her theory comes from the neoliberal business mindset that venerates market based solutions and competition. The writer Anand Giridharadas recently labeled this philosophy “MarketWorld.”

Leading up to the 2018 general election, the Los Angeles Times ran an in-depth article about the eight elite San Francisco families that have funded Newsom’s political success. Although his own family was not particularly wealthy, they did provide him with connections to the wealthy elite. The Times story included,

“He has said he was primarily raised by his mother, who at times struggled to make ends meet. But Gordon and Ann Getty viewed him as a son, according to interviews the couple gave to the San Francisco Chronicle and W Magazine, and they provided him with experiences his parents could not afford, including an African safari when he was a teen, Newsom said in an earlier interview with The Times.

‘“It all goes back to the Gettys as far as Gavin is concerned,’ said Jerry Roberts, former managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and an expert on Bay Area politics.”

The Getty’s are the heirs of John Paul Getty. However, of the eight families described in the Time’s article it is the Fishers and Pritzkers that most concern public school advocates. Doris Fisher and her late husband Don founded The Gap. They were the first major contributors to KIPP charter schools and Don was a cofounder of the Charter School Growth fund. Doris continuously contributes to efforts for privatizing public education. The Fisher family has provided more than $300,000 in contributions to Newsom since 1998.

The Pritzker family are heirs to the Hyatt Hotel empire. Penny Pritzker was Barack Obama’s campaign treasure and his Commerce Secretary. As Secretary of Commerce, she used the Malcolm Baldrige award to promote charter schools in the mall. In Chicago, the family financed a charter school called Pritzker College Prep which is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Since 1998, the Pritzker family has donated more than $600,000 to Newsom.

Newsom and the SF Billionaires

Newsom Hob Knobbing with San Francisco Elites (from the LA Times)

Legislature Takes on the Issue

Four bills were introduced in February aimed at reforming the charter law. Newly elected Senator María Elena Durazo from Los Angeles submitted SB 756 for a moratorium on new charters. Over at the assembly education committee three reform bills were presented AB 1505, 1506 and 1507. AB 1506 would have introduced a new meaningful cap on new charter schools. In May, both SB 756 and AB 1506 were pulled by their respective authors. The Los Angeles School Report said,

“On Wednesday, Sen. Maria Elena Durazo sidelined the Senate moratorium bill, which she authored. The bill would have placed a two-year halt on new charter schools in the state unless the Senate passed further regulations. The measure could return for consideration next January, according to Senate rules.

“The next day, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty opted to hold his bill on the last day it was eligible for a vote in the chamber. AB 1506 would have mandated a statewide cap on charter schools…”

Now the battle is centered on AB 1505 and AB 1507. 1505 increases local control over chartering and reduces rights of appeal and 1507 bans charters not authorized by the district in which they operate.

On July 9th, EdSource reported,Governor’s team jumps into fray over contested charter school bill.” It said,

“On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Assembly Bill 1505, which included a substantial number of amendments that Newsom’s office submitted after numerous discussions between his advisers and representatives of charter schools, organized labor and the bill’s author, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

“With the final vote expected at day’s end, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Connie Leyva, D-Chino, characterized the amended bill as ‘the makings of a deal with the governor’s office’ and said she is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that remaining issues can be resolved over the summer for passage in the fall.”

Scholar and former US assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reacted to this news with a post on her blog titled, “California: Is Governor Gavin Newsom Selling Out to the Charter Industry?” Diane points out that the one thing the charter Industry has going for it is money. She noted that politicians are always in search of money for their next campaign and says, “Big donors always find open doors.

Back in the Education Committees

The Assembly Education Committee chairman is Patrick O’Donnell a 20-year classroom teacher who worked mostly in middle school. He is leading AB 1505 through the difficult legislative process. The authors of the bill are San Jose Assembly member Ash Karla and East Bay Senator Nancy Skinner who are both representing areas suffering at the hands of the charter industry.

The other bill still alive is AB 1507 which blocks districts from authorizing charter schools out of their own boundaries. Assembly members Patrick O’Donnell, Kevin McCarty and Christy Smith authored this bill.

The Assembly Education Committee has seven members; five Democrats and two Republicans.  One of the first big hurdles for these two bills came at an April 10th hearing. It was the first opportunity to keep these bills alive or kill them. Charter school supporters came out in droves to talk the bills down. It was during this hearing that Assembly member Shirley Weber from San Diego said “since the four coauthors are here this is a done deal.” Weber also said she did not think these bills addressed the right issues and announced she would not be supporting them. Interestingly, Weber did not vote against the bill, she just didn’t vote. The bills passed out of committee by a vote of 4 to 1 with the lone descent coming from the only Republican in attendance Kevin Kiley.

There was a similar dynamic when these bills finally arrived at the Senate Education Committee this July. The Senate Committee is also a seven member committee with five Democrats and Two Republicans. Democratic Senator Steven Glazer said “781 public schools in the state have poor performance” and “We have failures all across the state.” Like Weber he was not satisfied with the content of the bills and said we need to worry about too many students in failing schools. Glazer did not make clear what he based his failing schools charges on. However, the charges by the Contra Costa Senator are similar to the charges made by leaders of the school privatization movement like the current US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Both AB 1505 with the Governor’s amendments and AB 1507 were voted out of the Senate committee by identical 4 to 3 votes. The two Republicans and Glazer were the no votes.

Possibly Weber and Glazer agree with DeVos and her choice advocacy and that is why privatizing money is going to them or did they take this anti-public school position to attract that money? In any case, privatization money is flowing their way.

Glazer and Webber

Data from California Secretary of State Glazer ID #1377665 and Weber ID #1393376

When these two bills went to the Assembly for a floor vote, every Republican voted no or didn’t vote. Weber didn’t vote and Glazer joined two other Democrats voting no. The final tallies were AB 1505 44 yes 19 no with 17 not voting and AB 1507 54 yes 18 no with 8 not voting.

As a child growing up in a Republican community in Idaho, I remember Republicans as being very pro-public education and suspicious of big business and big centralized government. What happened to my grandfather’s Republican Party? How can it be that not one Republican during any of the votes taken supported protecting our public schools from plunder by large charter management organizations or stood against the demise of Democratic local control of schools?

If we consider the development of political action committees (PAC) for privatizing public school, the anti-democratic nature becomes stark. If your holdings are $2 or $3 billion, then you are generating at least $100 million income every year. So, donating $1 million to four PACs is not a strain. That means besides creating a huge pot for independent expenditures, the 4 PACs will also send 4 more max donations to your favored candidates. No matter how bad the idea being pushed, this kind of spending gives it consideration and drowns out opposition.

The Bills and Amendments

Former State Sen. Gary Hart, a Democrat who represented Santa Barbara in the Assembly and Senate for 20 years, authored the original 1992 California charter school law. Sue Burr, a current member of the State Board of Education, played a major role in drafting it. EdSource interviewed Sen. Hart last year. Reporter John Fensterwald noted that the financial impact on a district was not part of the law and asked, “Was it brought up at the time?” Hart replied,

“I don’t think so. The law didn’t have large-scale financial ramifications. We were talking about 100 charters statewide.”

The original law capped charter schools at 100 statewide. In 1998, the cap was raised to 250 with a 100 schools a year escalator thereafter. Today, there are 1310 active charter schools in California and the current cap statewide is 2,250 for the 2018-19 school-year. Neither this uncontrolled growth with essentially no cap nor its financial implications were addressed in the original law.

As originally proposed, AB 1505 would have given all school districts broad authority to reject a charter school’s application and renewal after considering the financial impact on neighborhood schools and the district. That provision has been restricted to just school districts already certified as being in financial crisis.

The amended version also sides with charter schools in changing the language back to “shall” issue a charter to a petitioner who met the state requirements from the less demanding “may” issue the charter.

None of Governor Newsom’s amendments are more demanding on the charter industry and most make things easier on the industry.

While Mayor of Oakland; Jerry Brown created a military charter school with the National Guard. Language added to the education funding bill AB 75 in December was automatically added to the charter law. That mysterious language seems written solely for the benefit of Brown’s school.

“Notwithstanding any other law, a charter school in operation as of July 1, 2019, that operates in partnership with the California National Guard may dismiss a pupil from the charter school for failing to maintain the minimum standards of conduct required by the Military Department.”

The Oakland Military Institute had tried during its reauthorization to be allowed to dismiss students who had too many demerits. The Chartering Authorities rejected the request. They felt that demerits were given for such minor offenses as not having a badge sewn on correctly and that a student should only be dismissed from a public school in extreme circumstances. Now the charter school’s questionable request is written into law.

Conclusions

Money is still ruling but even the watered down bills as amended are better than what we have now, so it is important to keep pushing for their passage.

A parent and fellow Bay Area resident named Jane Nylund wrote a letter to Newsom expressing her disappointment at his amendments. Diane Ravitch posted the letter. I encourage you to read the whole letter. It makes many strong points. Jane personalized the letter noting,

“You and I have something in common-we both attended well-resourced public high schools. You went to Redwood High School in Marin, and I attended Miramonte High School in Orinda, located in what is now one of the wealthiest suburbs in the East Bay. Lucky us.

“The irony regarding your potential alliance with privatization groups like CCSA is that, because of your severe dyslexia, you would have been rejected by the same schools that are now being touted as “high quality seats”, aggressively marketed as superior to real public schools because of test scores. According to the bio I read, you were rejected from a private prep school and enrolled in your local public high school instead. So you have first-hand experience with the idea that real public schools enroll all children, not just the easy ones.”

Charter Scandal a Product of Shabby Law and Ignored Oversight

7 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/7/2019

Notoriously clever operators of an online charter empire were indicted for allegedly stealing $50 million dollars. The Grand Jury of San Diego County heard the testimony of 72 witnesses and voted out a 67-count indictment against Sean McManus, Jason Schrock, Justin Schmitt, Eli Johnson, Steven Zant and six others. The charges were centered on the byzantine operations of the A3 Education organization which took full advantage of weak charter school laws in California.

From the indictment,

“Conspirators knowingly obtained state funding for children who were not assigned certificated teachers as required by law, were not in contact with the charter school, and who were not provided any educational services during the dates claimed.”

“Conspirators themselves, and through subordinates courted small school districts across California who were suffering budget woes and suggested they authorize charter schools as a means to generate additional state funding for the district in the form of oversight fees.”

The Small District Authorizer Model

Carol Burris was one of the first people to identify McManus as a predator. In her 2017 investigative report “Charters and Consequences”, she wrote about the Wise school which calls itself a Waldorf inspired charter school. She noted,

“No one really seems to be wise to Wise—except perhaps California STEAM Sonoma, which claims Wise Academy as its project.”

“The former Academy of Arts and Sciences CEO, Sean McManus, described Wise as “a boutique program that people usually have to pay for, so to be part of a free charter school appeals to a lot of people in the area.” Wise and the state funding it brings left the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and so did Sean McManus, who is now listed as the CEO of a new corporation–California STEAM Sonoma.”

“Despite its classroom schedule, Wise refers to itself as a ‘learning based resource center.’ This classification allows California STEAM Sonoma to sponsor the program, and the Liberty School District to acquire the cash cow.”

Wise is still in operation under the name Heartwood Education Collaborative. McManus exited the Academy of Arts and Science (AAS) in 2016. AAS renamed itself Compass Charter Schools. Shortly after leaving AAS, McManus cofounded A3 Education with Jason Schrock.

Heartwood Educational Collaborative

Heartwood (AKA Wise) Education Collaborative Independent Journal Photo

Carol Burris recently posted,

From 2009-2015, McManus was the CEO of the Academy of Arts and Science Charter Schools for which he served as CEO from 2009-2016, developing his model of using cash-strapped, small districts as authorizers of online charter schools that draw students from all over adjoining counties in exchange for fees.”

“And who gave the seed money to start this adventure?”

“The U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) did.”

“Eleven Academy of Arts and Sciences charter schools that used the for-profit K-12 curriculum received a total of $2,825,000 from the CSP state grant to California. Today, all 11 schools are closed.”

McManus and his associates at A3 implemented the small district authorizer model with a vengeance.

Previously, one of McManus’s first forays into using small district authorizers was with New Jerusalem Elementary School District which authorized the Academy of Arts and Sciences – San Joaquin and CalSTEM – San Joaquin. For unknown reasons, AAS closed both those schools and its renamed successor Compass Charter Schools has departed San Joaquin County. New Jerusalem only had 22 Public School Students this year but it had 4,809 Charter School Students, few of whom lived in their Tracy, California area. New Jerusalem appears more sinister than just a cash strapped small district.

Apparently, part of the problem McManus had at AAS was that some of their schools were blended learning academies which meant they had physical addresses. This led to a law suit by Los Angeles Unified School District for opening schools in their district without notification and the closure of some schools. A3 Education has been careful to only implement Independent study; AKA 100% cyber schools with no physical addresses for students.

A3 Small District Model

Based on California Department of Education Enrollment 2018-2019

All of the schools listed above with the various districts have the same business address, 3300 Irvine Ave. #330 Newport Beach, Ca 92660 which is A3 Education’s business address. The non-profit tax filings available for theses schools all show this address and have some combination of Rob Sikma, Kevin Tu, Eric Johnson and Klarc Kover on their boards. As an example see these legal documents for California Steam San Bernardino, California Steam Sonoma, University Prep and Uplift California.

Board member Eric Johnson is probably the person indicted in San Diego under the name Eli Johnson. Board members Sikma, Tu and Kover all testified before the grand jury investigating A3.

Various California news sources reported details about the alleged scheme to steal $50 million. San Diego’s Courthouse News wrote about the funding of the charter schools,

“The funds were then transferred to multiple companies owned by McManus and Schrock, including A3 Education, A3 Consulting, Global Consulting Services and Mad Dog Marketing. The money was spent on start-up investments and real estate and some funds were wired directly to themselves or family members, according to the indictment.”

“Another co-defendant, Steve Van Zant, 56, created the company EdCBO to provide back office services for A3 Charter Schools. He hid his involvement with EdCBO and McManus by filing all corporate paperwork under another person’s name, prosecutors say.”

The Los Angeles Times stated,

“From the affiliated businesses, at least $8.18 million went into personal bank accounts, some in Australia, and into charitable trust accounts for McManus, Schrock and their wives, and $500,000 went to a family member of McManus, according to the indictment.”

“McManus and Schrock also used $1.6 million of A3 Education’s funds to buy a private residence for McManus in San Juan Capistrano, the indictment states.”

“The alleged violations included Valiant Academy paying A3 about $3.6 million during the 2017-18 fiscal year. The invoices were approved for payment by McManus at A3 and another man, neither of whom were employees of the charter school, according to the district’s report.”

“The school also paid Mad Dog Marketing — a company that has common ownership with A3 — $288,000 during the 2017-18 fiscal year, according to the report.”

The Voice of San Diego added,

“An early step in establishing the A3 empire came when Steve Van Zant, a former superintendent of Dehesa Elementary School District, “brokered” the sale of an online nonprofit charter school to A3 for $1.5 million, prosecutors say.”

“In winter 2017, Chris Thibodeau was performing an annual audit of Cal Prep Sutter in Sutter County …. He noticed that McManus was listed as the CEO of Cal Prep Sutter, but that the school was also doing business with McManus’s company A3 Education.

The Voice of San Diego explained that prosecutors allege McManus and Schrock fabricated a set of minutes dated July 6, 2016 that said McManus was replaced as CEO by codefendant Eli Johnson. They purportedly used these false documents to allay Thibodeau’s concern about “related transactions.”

Sean McManus appears to have fled the country and is thought to be in his native Australia. The other 10-defendents have entered not guilty pleas.

State Charter Law was Designed to be Weak

Cyber Charters in California can serve all of the students in the home county of the authorizing district plus all of the students from bordering counties. That means these eight small school districts gave A3 access to millions of students.

A3 Athorizer Map

Voice of San Diego Map of Counties Served by A3

In the school year 2018-2019, Dehesa Elementary had 5010 students in online only schools. Of those 2267 were in kindergarten to third grade or 45.2% of the total. There were similar numbers in the other districts. Why would people put babies in front of computer screens? It must be that the main attraction for these cyber schools is home-schooling.

Since home-schooling does nothing to build community and is driven mostly by religious convictions, why should taxpayers fund it? All Americans should have freedom of choice, but taxpayers should not be expected to pay for private choices. The public already provides the world’s best public education system for free; taking funds from those public schools for the benefit of a small minority is inequitable.

The state of California puts more than $80 billion annually into k12 education. Because that money is a natural target for profiteers and scammers, extra vigilance is needed. However, California’s charter school law was developed to provide minimum vigilance.

During its early stages, several billionaires like Carry Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Arthur Rock made sure the California charter school law was designed to limit governmental rules and oversight. For example, charter schools are not required to meet the earthquake standards prescribed in the 1933 Field Act, which holds public schools to higher building code requirements. Since that laws enactment no public schools have collapsed in an earthquake. The picture of the Education Collaborative School above is evidence that students in a known earthquake zone are now at increased risk of injury and death.

A few weeks ago Louis Freedberg observed that a key weakness in California’s chartering law is that there are no standards for authorizers and a lack of expertise. He also wrote about the number of charter authorizers saying, “unlike many states, California has hundreds of them: 294 local school districts, 41 county offices of education, along with the State Board of Education.” Among these 336 authorizers, several are school districts of less than 1,000 students which have neither the capacity nor training to supervise charter schools. Some of these small districts look more like charter school grafters than public school districts.

A state audit dated October 17, 2017 reported,

“ActonAgua Dulce Unified’s and New Jerusalem’s decisions to authorize the outofdistrict charter schools we reviewed may have resulted partly from weaknesses in the districts’ authorization processes. Specifically, neither of the two districts has an adequate process for ensuring that petitions comply with state law.”

This state audit which was promptly ignored by Governor Brown and the legislature was pointing directly at the weaknesses in California’s chartering law that A3 Education is accused of exploiting. A3 is not the only organization that is using these weaknesses. K-12 Inc. is selling products into both A3 and California Virtual Academy. Furthermore, K-12’s relationship with California Virtual is legally questionable. Pearson Corporation is using Connections Academy to market their online products and Epic is also looking to expand their own dubious online schools.

Not only are state officials not reacting to warnings from auditors, they are providing the offenders loans through the Charter School Revolving Loan program. The A3 schools have received over $2,000,000 in loans through this program.

A majority of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Charter School Policy Task Force supported banning authorizing charter schools outside of district boundaries. Secretary of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond explained,

“Prohibiting districts from authorizing charter schools located outside of district boundaries would allow for greater local control and oversight of charter schools. In addition, such a prohibition would limit the potential for the detrimental practice of using oversight fees as a revenue stream, while incurring only limited expenses associated with authorizing the charter school.”

In addition, the task force unanimously backed a call to “create a statewide entity to provide training for authorizers.” A majority also proposed enacting “a one-year moratorium on the establishment of new virtual charter schools.” Concerning this last point Thurmond’s report said, “There  has  been  growing  concern  that  virtual  charter  schools  are  operated  without  appropriate academic rigor and oversight, providing a sub-par education for their students …”

A Few Points and Observations

A3 Education was looking to expand across the country. In 2016, Johnson, Schrock and McManus put together a proposal for Ohio Steam Columbus. The Colorado group Thompson School District Reform Watch reports that Justin Schmitt is still involved with Foundations Learning and Colorado’s Online Charter’s. They also note that Schmitt has virtual charter school interests in Arizona. Schmitt brought Mosaica virtual schools to California which A3 purchased and evidently Schmitt was part of the purchase. It is also interesting that A3’s Marketing Director, Mary Clare Coyle, lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

In an April EdWeek article, Arianna Prothero and Alex Harwin reported,

Nationally, half of all virtual charter high schools had graduation rates below 50 percent in the 2016-17 school year.The most high-profile study, done by economists at Stanford University in 2015, found that students attending an online charter school made so little progress in math over the course of a year that it was as if they hadn’t attended school at all.”

The charter school experiment is a national disaster. It has clearly failed and virtual charter schools have a lengthy history of corruption and poor performance. Shut them down and only allow elected school boards to provide online education. It is time for an extended moratorium on new charter schools while existing charter schools are carefully transitioned to management by elected school boards.

Maybe Alice Walton and Charles Koch think property rights are the only freedom to be valued. Maybe they want to end public education. Maybe they think markets are a magic elixir that never fails. I don’t! I agree with the statement in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains,Market fundamentalism – the irrational belief that markets solve all problems ….” I believe in democracy, human rights and public education.

 

Hired Guns, Scholars and the California School Policy Task Force

15 Jun

By T. Ultican 6/15/2019

California Governor Gavin Newsom created a task force and assigned the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI), Tony Thurmond, to lead a review of California charter school laws and policies.  The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) produced three policy briefs and CRPE founder Paul Hill testified to the task force as an expert witness “sympathetic to charter schools.” The author of “Breaking Point,” Gordon Lafer also provided expert testimony.

Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker reviewed Hill’s claims which were published in three CRPE policy briefs created for the taskforce. Spoiler alert: He found them deceptive.

Thurmond released “The Charter School Policy Task Force” report to the Governor on June 6.

The claims by these scholars and political actions coming from the task force have the potential to influence the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars in public monies by California and billions in spending by the federal government.

The Charter School Policy Task Force (CTF)

The task force was made up of eleven members. Since 90% of the California’s students attend public schools and because the charter industry spent more than $50 million to defeat SSPI Thurmond in 2018, many people expected supporters of public schools to dominate the task force. But that was not the case. Jan Resseger observed,

“It is one of those groups carefully balanced to provide a forum for both sides of what has become a contentious debate about whether or not there ought to be a charter school sector.  Actually whoever recommended the appointments seem to have accepted the idea that the fight is between unions and charter schools—an assumption I believe is wrong, because the debate is not limited to the fact that fewer teachers in charter schools belong to teachers unions.”

Others like Diane Ravitch saw the committee in terms of the charter school industry versus public schools. She wrote, “By my count, six members of the 11-member panel are directly connected to the charter industry, including two from the lobbying organization CCSA.” A seventh member of the eleven member task force also appears to be biased toward privatization. The seven pro-privatization members were:

  1. Cristina de Jesus, president and chief executive officer, Green Dot Public Schools California. This was the same charter system failed SSPI candidate Marshall Tuck previously led.
  2. Margaret Fortune, California Charter Schools Association board chair; Fortune School of Education, president & CEO.
  3. Lester Garcia, political director, SEIU Local 99. Closely associated with Eli Broad. Most recently they took $100,000 from Broad to oppose Jackie Goldberg for LA Unified School District Board.
  4. Beth Hunkapiller, educator and administrator, Aspire Public Schools. A charter school chain.
  5. Ed Manansala, superintendent, El Dorado County and board president, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. Diane Ravitch reported, “… Ed Manansala was principal and superintendent of Kevin Johnson’s St. Hope Academy Charter High School in Sacramento before he became County Superintendent in El Dorado.” His El Dorado County Office set up a Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) specifically to service students with disabilities in charter schools and wooed charter students away from their local districts.
  6. Gina Plate, vice president of special education, California Charter Schools Association.
  7. Edgar Zazueta, senior director, policy & governmental relations, Association of California School Administrators. During the last election cycle his organization endorsed former charter school executive Marshall Tuck for SSPI.

The other four members – which also included the only two members with classroom teaching experience – were:

  1. Dolores Duran, California School Employees Association.
  2. Alia Griffing, political director, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 57.
  3. Cindy Marten, superintendent, San Diego Unified School District. (A former teacher)
  4. Erika Jones, board of directors, California Teachers Association. (A current teacher serving on the union board)

The immediate response to this committee was anger directed at SSPI Thurmond for the task force makeup. Capital and Main reported, “No sooner did author-academic Diane Ravitch expose this month the charter leanings of Governor Gavin Newsom’s task force studying the fiscal impacts of charters than California schools superintendent and panel chair Tony Thurmond found a Twitter blowtorch pointed his way.” My tweet was part of that blowtorch.

My Taskforce Tweet

A few days later on March 14, Diane Ravitch posted,

I received an email from a reader in California whose credentials are impeccable, who has a direct tie inside the Governor’s office. This person told me that the committee was selected by Governor Gavin Newsom, not by Tony Thurmond.

It is not likely that Newsom personally selected the committee members. It is highly probable that Newsom’s new Chief of Staff, Ann O’Leary, a former advisor to Hilary Clinton, selected them. A Fortune magazine biography of O’Leary noted,

“O’Leary is a diehard policy wonk, especially keen on anything that affects families or education. As Clinton’s Senate aide in 2001, she was at the center of No Child Left Behind—a once popular education initiative that has since soured in the public mind. ‘It was a really important moment,’ she says of the law, which Ted Kennedy crafted and George W. Bush signed. ‘When you look back at what happened, this was serious, bipartisan, constructive work. We were committed to high standards and helping states get there.”’

Ann OLeary

Ann O’Leary – Policy Runner Blog Mount Holyoake College 2016

O’Leary appears to be a heartfelt social liberal who had a key voice in promoting gay rights and paid maternity leave. However, besides her history with NCLB, she supports Common Core State Standards and says they were developed by state governors. She believes in standards based testing and supports privatizing public education with charter schools. She is a neoliberal from the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. Her professional position and past actions provide strong evidence that she selected the members of the task force.

The CTF Work Product

To begin their work, the CTF received a series of reports on charter schools and their impacts from a variety of sources. Thurmond called this “an attempt to provide some level setting for members to establish a baseline of understanding and knowledge.” Once “level setting” was complete the CTF began brainstorming policy reform proposals. The task force was able to reach consensus on four proposals, reported majority voting support for seven proposals and two proposals did not receive majority support.

Proposals not receiving majority support reflect the impact of giving the charter industry a majority position on the task force.

A California law (Education Code 47605 [b]) states, “the governing board of the school district shall grant a charter for the operation of a school if it is satisfied that granting the charter is consistent with sound educational practice.” Because of the word “shall,” if the proposal is educationally sound few other considerations are relevant and the charter must be granted. The proposal was to replace the word “shall” with “may.” This change could add to the difficulty in obtaining a charter especially in districts already impacted by charters, therefore it failed. SSPI Thurmond wrote, “The proposal to change from ‘shall’ to ‘may’ failed by the narrowest of votes, with the majority position opposing the change.

A managed growth plan that would control growth in highly impacted districts like Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland did not make it to a vote. Thurmond reported, “CTF members were invited to provide an alternative set of caveats for a managed growth plan, however CTF members could not agree on the conditions for limiting growth.”

Current charter school law requires using Academic Performance Index (API) testing data to determine whether a charter school has met the academic testing criteria for renewal. A proposal to update the charter law to reflect that API is no longer used got majority support but not consensus. Why?

There was majority support for ending charter denial appeals to the state, limiting appeals to the county to errors by the district, prohibiting authorization of charters outside district boundaries, allowing fiscal impact to be considered in charter authorization and developing clearer authorization guidelines.

There was consensus agreement that the state department of education should not supervise charters and that school saturation, academic outcomes and statements of need should be part of the authorizing process. There was also consensus that districts losing students to charter schools should receive the same hold harmless provisions a district receives when a student moves out of the area. This $100,000,000 proposal would help mitigate some of the losses districts face when charters are expanding in their area.

The other two consensus proposals add thirty days to the time a district has to respond to a charter petition and create statewide authorizer standards and training.

Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is a Propaganda Mill

Scholar, Bruce Baker reviewed the three policy briefs by CRPE for the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. His paper “Costs, Benefits, and Impact on School Districts (Center on Reinventing Public Education, May 2019)” begins,

“The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), based at the University of Washington, Bothell, recently released a series of three policy briefs on the financial impact of charter schools on nearby school districts in California. The briefs arrive at a time when a Task Force convened by California Gov. Gavin Newsom is deliberating on these exact matters. CRPE’s founder, Paul Hill, was a key source of testimony to the task force, serving as an expert viewed as ‘sympathetic to charter schools.”’

John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, claimed that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

Responding to Chubb and Moe, Rand Corporation researcher Paul Hill founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and began working out the mechanics of ending democratic control of public education. His solution was the portfolio model of school governance.

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

In July of 2018, former Enron trader, John Arnold, joined forces with San Francisco billionaire 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.

Little-Sis-Map-of-Reorganization

Big Money Flowing to the Portfolio Model and Public School Privatization (Map here)

Hill’s presentation to the CTF had little to do with scholarly research and everything to do with promoting the privatization of public education. In his review, Professor Baker goes into a detailed refutation of the CRPE assertions. He concludes,

“The first brief is misleading in its assertion that charter enrollment growth is not to blame for district enrollment decline. It is, and has been for some time, whether in districts with declining, stable or growing overall student enrollments. The brief also attempts to minimize the import of the considerable role played by charters in districts’ enrollment loss, offering up the non sequitur that enrollment loss can arise from other sources as well. The second brief relies on overly simplistic comparisons of charter enrollments and county-assigned “fiscal distress” classifications to conclude that there is no association between charter enrollments and fiscal distress. The contention here is that there can’t be an illness if the patient isn’t dead. In order to rely on this problematic approach, the brief erroneously dismisses a significant, more rigorous, detailed, peer-reviewed and published body of research that illustrates the fiscal impact of charter schools on host districts, and how those fiscal impacts may lead to fiscal stress. The third brief, which presents itself as an analysis of costs and benefits, merely touts the benefits of charter schooling as tangible while being entirely dismissive of numerous known and often measurable costs. Taken together, the briefs are useful only in pointing to some important issues that policymakers should consider; their analyses of those issues are, however, generally superficial and misleading.” (emphasis added)

CRPE Graphic

CRPE Graph Showing Fiscal Distress Decreased as Charter Enrollment Increased

Baker’s amusing analysis of this proof that charter schools are not causing fiscals distress says,

“Of course, what Figure 2 actually shows is that the recessionary period from 2008 through about 2013 resulted in a dramatic increase in districts in fiscal distress, which has subsided during the recovery period, swamping any noticeable effects of charter growth and making it impossible to draw any conclusions regarding charter enrollment impact from this broad descriptive data.”

“It’s also true, however, that between 1960 and 2000, the rate of cigarette smoking among women declined by about 30%, while during the same time period, the rate of death from lung cancer increased more than 50%. Should we logically conclude that stopping smoking causes lung cancer? Or might there be other factors at play?”

It seems clear that CRPE is not producing scholarly information. They are simply creating propaganda to sell the billionaire financed positions.

Some Charter School Reform Proposals

After 25-years, it is obvious that the charter school experiment is a failure. Charter schools have been a net harm to public education in America. There has been almost no innovation coming from the charter school sector with the exception of regressive practices such as “no excuses” discipline policies. It is a sector that is rife with profiteering, fraud and abuse. The best charter schools merely match the better public schools and on average charters do worse on testing than public schools.

The charter system adds a layer of inefficiency to public education and creates division in communities. As Peter Greene wrote again yesterday in his blog Curmudgucation,

“The problem here, as with several other choice-related issues, is in a false premise of modern school choice movement. That false premise is the assertion that we can fund multiple school districts for the same money we used to use to fund one single public system.

“This is transparent baloney.”

Charter school reform proposal 1: A complete and permanent moratorium on new charter schools.

Charter school reform proposal 2: Role all existing charter schools that choose not to become private schools into the school district within which they reside.

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

28 May

By T. Ultican 5/27/2019

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

Wisdom and Wit

The Fundamental Argument

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

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

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

1936 Dorothea Lange Photo

1936 Photo by Dorothea Lange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravitch goes on to state,

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

Battling the Wealthy and Their Talking Points with Reason and Knowledge

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

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

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

Ravitch admits that my colleague was right. She writes,

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

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

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

American Students Don’t Test Well

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

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

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

US Rankings reported in Wit and Wisdom:

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

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

Democrats Embraced the Conservative Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

Diane and Tom

Ravitch States the Elements of Good Education

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

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

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

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

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