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Thrive Charter Schools All Hat and No Cattle

17 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thrive Data Set 1

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Adjusted Peer Group Comparisons

Thrive Data Set 2

TPS and SDUSD Math and English Performance over Past Four Years

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

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

Thrive was the Creation of Big Money and Political Influence

Nicole and Danial FB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Hat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Final Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement

9 Sep

The destroy public education (DPE) movement is the fruit of a relatively small group of billionaires. The movement is financed by several large non-profit organizations. Nearly all of the money spent is free of taxation. Without this spending, there would be no wide-spread public school privatization.

It is generally recognized that the big three foundations driving DPE activities are The Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $41 billion), The Walton Family Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $3.8 billion), and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $1.8 billion).

Yesterday, the Network for Public Education published “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools.” This interactive report lists the top ten billionaires spending to drive their DPE agenda with links to case studies for their spending.

Top 10 Billioaires

These Images Come from the New NPE Report

Short Explanation of the Label DPE

The modern education reform apostate, Diane Ravitch, was Assistant Secretary of Education under Lamar Alexander from1991-93. She was an academic who held many research positions including the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and served in multiple capacities in different federal education administrations. Like all of her closest allies, she believed in the power of accountability, incentives and markets for reforming schools.

In 2010, Diane shocked her friends by publishing, The Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.  In chapter 1 she wrote,

“Where once I had been hopeful, even enthusiastic about the potential benefits of testing, accountability, choice, and markets, I now found myself experiencing profound doubts about these same ideas. I was trying to sort through the evidence about what was working and what was not. I was trying to understand why I was increasingly skeptical about these reforms, reforms that I had supported enthusiastically.”

“The short answer is that my views changed as I saw how these ideas were working out in reality. The long answer is what will follow in the rest of this book.” (Ravitch 2)

In the book, Ravitch wrote, “I call it the corporate reform movement not because everyone who supports it is interested in profit but because its ideas derive from business concepts about competition and targets, rewards and punishments, and ‘return on investment.’  (Ravitch 251)

Ravitch labled modern education reform “corporate education reform” and the label stuck.

Last year, researchers from the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) led by professor Jim Scheurich, who coordinates the urban studies program there, perceived a pattern in the destruction of the public schools. That pattern became the “destroy public education” model. As Ravitch’s “corporate education reform” became more organized and ruthless, the Scheurich team’s DPE model became a better descriptor.

Ravitch posted the Indiana team’s DPE model on her blog. The model is outline here with explanations.

  1. Business is the best model for schools. Starting with the infamous Regan era report, “A Nation at Risk,” the claim that “private business management is superior” has been a consistent theory of education reform promoted by corporate leaders like RJR Nabisco’s Louis Gerstner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family and Sun America’s Eli Broad. It is a central tenet of both neoliberal and libertarian philosophy.
  2. Institute local-national collaboration between wealthy neoliberals and other conservatives to promote school privatization and the portfolio model of school management. One example among many comes from Kansas City, Missouri. School Smart Kansas City does the local retail political activity, the $2.1 billion Kaufman foundation provides the local money and various national organizations like The Charter School Growth Fund that is controlled by the Wal-Mart heirs provides the outside money.
  3. Direct large sums of money through advocacy organizations to recruit, train and finance pro-privatization school board candidates. One such organization is Jonah Edelman’s Oregon based Stand for Children which functions as a conduit for outsiders to funnel money into local school board elections.
  4. Undermine and eliminate locally elected school boards. The 1990 book by John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, claimed that poor performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” The book was hugely influential and its anti-democratic theory is a central ideology of DPE led reform.
  5. Institute a portfolio system of school district management that includes public schools, charter schools and Innovation Schools. School boards lose their oversight powers with both charter schools and Innovations schools. Portfolio theory posits closing the bottom 5% of schools based on standardized testing and reopening them as either charter schools or innovation schools. Standardized testing does not identify teaching or school quality but it does identify student poverty levels. This scheme guarantees that public schools in poor and minority communities will be privatized. While there is no evidence supporting this theory, there is evidence that it causes harm.
  6. Implement a unified enrollment system. Over the past 200 years, public schools in America have become a widely respected governmental institution. By forcing them to include charter schools in their enrollment system, the charter schools are provided an unearned equivalency. Charters are not publicly governed nor must they accept any student who applies in their area.
  7. Hire minimally trained teachers from Teach for America (TFA) or other instant-teacher-certification programs. By undermining the teaching profession, costs can be reduced; however general teacher quality will also be reduced. In 2007, Los Angeles Mayor, Anthony Villaraigosa, selected the Green Dot Charter Schools’ CEO, Marshall Tuck, to lead 18 schools in an experiment called the Partnership for LA. With millions of dollars to supplement the schools, Tuck failed to produce any real improvements. His error was hiring a significant numbers of untrained TFA teachers which more than offset his funding advantages.
  8. Use groups like Teach Plus and TNTP to provide teacher professional development. The most effective opponents of the destruction of public education have been teachers. By controlling teacher training, new pro-privatization attitudes can be fostered.
  9. Create teacher fellowships that develop teacher support for the privatization agenda. In Indiana, on a yearly basis, the $11 billion Lily Foundation gives out many $12,000 Teacher Creativity Fellowships. In Oakland California the DPE organization GO Oakland gives nearly 20 Fellowships a year.
  10. Institute networks of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda. The newest national organization designed to develop these networks launched in July. It is called The City Fund. John Arnold, ex-Enron executive, and Reed Hasting, CEO of Netflix, each invested $100 million to start this donor directed fund. Bill Gates has already sent them $10 million to spend toward privatizing Oakland, California’s schools.

In densely populated areas, the DPE agenda invariably is coherent with an urban renewal effort often derisively labeled “gentrification.” Too often urban renewal has been accomplished by pushing the poorest citizens out without making any provisions for them. When renewal is only about economic advantage, it further harms already traumatized citizens.

Five Disparate Groups are United in Destroying Public Education

Group A) People who oppose public education on religious grounds and seek taxpayers supported religious schools. In 2001, when Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering, Dick opined that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school.

At the same time that Dick and Betsy were speaking to the Gathering, Jay Sekulow, who is now a lawyer in the Trump administration, was in the process of successfully undermining the separation of church and state before the Supreme Court.

When the evangelical Christian movement gained prominence with Jerry Falwell’s moral majority and Pat Robertson’s 700-Club, they generated huge sums of money. A significant portion of that money was spent on legal activism.

In 1990, Pat Robertson brought Sekulow together with a few other lawyers to form the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).  The even more radical Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) which declares it is out to defeat “the homosexual agenda” joined the ACLJ in the attack on the separation of church and state. In her important book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, Katherine Stewart described their ultimate triumph,

“An alien visitor to planet First Amendment could be forgiven for summarizing the entire story thus: Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, together with a few fellow travelers on the Supreme Court and their friends in the ADF and ACLJ, got together and ordered that the United States should establish a nationwide network of evangelical churches housed in taxpayer-financed school facilities.” (Stewart 123/4)

Today, for the first time, taxpayers in America are paying for students to attend private religious schools.

B) People who want segregated schools where their children will not have to attend school with “those people.” A typical example from San Diego is The Old Town Academy (OTA). It is like a private school financed with public school dollars. A Voice of San Diego report noted, “Chris Celentino, OTA’s current board chair and one of the school’s founding members, said when the school opened with a class of 180 students, half came from families that would otherwise send their kids to private schools.” 

In 1955, Milton Friedman published “The Role Of Government in Education” which called for privatizing public schools. Mercedes Schneider writes of the reality of this theory in her book School Choice; The End of Public Education?,

“Even as Friedman published his 1955 essay, school choice was being exploited in the South, and state and local governments were complicit is the act. It took the federal government and district courts decades to successfully curb the southern, white-supremacist intention to offer choice to preserve racial segregation.” (Schneider 28)

The AP reported in 2017,

“National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

C) Entrepreneurs profiting from school management and school real estate deals.

This spring, In The Public Interest (ITPI) published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools.” The report documents $149,000,000 fraudulently purloined by factions of the California charter-school industry. The total stealing stated is a summation of cases cited in media reports. The actual amount stolen is much larger.

The ITPI report also reveals how in California fortunes are created by gaining control of publicly financed assets. The report discloses,

“…, schools constructed with tax-exempt conduit bonds become the private property of the charter operator. Even if the charter is revoked, neither the state nor a local school district can take control of this property.”

This week Steven Singer a well known teacher activist from Pennsylvania wrote, “Thanks to some Clinton-era tax breaks, an investor in a charter school can double the original investment in just seven years!”

Singer also addressed the profiteering by administrators: “New York City Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza is paid $345,000 to oversee 135,000 employees and 1.1 million students. CEO of Success Academy charter school chain, Eva Moskowitz handles a mere 9,000 students, for which she is paid $782,175.

It is the same story in California. Charter school administrators are lining their non-profit pockets with huge salaries. In 2015, San Diego’s Mary Bixby, CEO of the Altus schools (34 mostly mall store learning centers) paid herself $340,810 and her daughter Tiffany Yandell $135,947. Up in Los Angeles in 2016, CEO of the 22 school Green Dot organization, Cristina de Jesus, was paid $326,242 while the CEO of the five schools Camino Nuevo Charter Academy was compensated $193,585. That same year in Oakland the CEO of the three schools Envision Education took in $229,127.

Huge wealth is being generated from taxpayers with little oversight.

D) The technology industry is using wealth and lobbying power to place products into public schools and heaping praise on technology driven charter schools. “The Silicon Valley assault must be turned away, not because they’re bad people but because they are peddling snake oil,” wrote veteran education writer, John Merrow. In the last 10 years, titans of the tech industry have dominated K-street. Hi-tech is now spending twice as much as the banking industry on lobbying lawmakers.

They fund think tanks to promote their agendas like coding in every public school in America or one to one initiatives (a digital device for every student) or digital learning. Researchers working in think tanks like the New America Foundation will be disciplined if they upset a corporate leader like Google’s Eric Schmidt. Barry Lynn was sent packing for being honest.

Writing for the Guardian Ben Tarnoff reports, “Tech’s push to teach coding isn’t about kids’ success – it’s about cutting wages.” The premise is that coding is “a skill so widely demanded that anyone who acquires it can command a livable, even lucrative, wage.”

The flaw here is that there is no need for a flood of new programmers. It will only drive down wages, which have already stagnated, and that is the point. A 2013 Economic Policy Institute research paper stated, “For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.”

E) Ideologues who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior. Some representatives of this group are Charles and David Koch, inheritors of Koch Industries. They are fervent libertarians who have established and support many organizations that work to privatize public education. The world’s richest family is also in this group. They are the heirs of Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton. Like the Koch brothers, they too are determined to privatize public education.

Jane Mayer writing in the New Yorker about a legal struggle to control the Cato Institute stated, “Cato was co-founded by Edward Crane and Charles Koch, in the nineteen-seventies, with Koch’s money; the lawsuit notes that the original corporate name was the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc.” For many years, one of the stars supported by the Cato institute was Milton Friedman, the father of vouchers. The Walton Family Foundation contributes regularly to the Cato Institute and spent significant money promoting voucher legislation in many US states.

The Koch brothers are a major force behind the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC writes model legislation which in some conservative states is written into law with little debate and no changes. The innovation schools that remove elected school board control are a product of ALEC model legislation.

The DPE Movement is Real, Well Financed and Determined

While growing up in America, I had a great belief in democracy instilled in me. Almost all of the education reform initiatives coming from the DPE forces are bunkum, but their hostility to democracy convinces me they prefer a plutocracy or even an oligarchy to democracy. The idea that America’s education system was ever a failure is and always has been an illusion. It is by far the best education system in the world plus it is the foundation of American democracy. If you believe in American ideals, protect our public schools.

DPE Forces Over-Represented on Charter Law “Action Team”

28 Aug

California’s lame duck Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, has formed an Action Team to review laws governing charter schools. Six of the thirteen Action Team members work for the destroy public education (DPE) movement. Ninety percent of the state’s students attend public schools yet 23% of the Action Team are charter school management executives. Also, 23% of the team are graduates of Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators’ academy.

Torlakson is quoted in the annoucement,

“In the past few years, we have updated virtually our entire K–12 education system. Now it’s time to look at the key laws governing charter schools, which have not been significantly changed in 26 years, to see how they can be modernized to better meet the needs of all public school students, including those who attend charter schools.”

This statement is malarkey. The original 1992 law capped charters growth at 100 schools statewide with no more than 10 in any one district. In 1998, Assembly Bill (AB) 544 expanded the statewide cap to 250 and allowed for an additional 100 charters each year thereafter. In 2000, proposition 39, which was advertised as a means to pass school bonds, had a little noticed provision that mandated charter school co-location with public schools. Legislation enacted in 2002 created the Charter Schools Facilities Program, which authorizes bond financing for new charter school buildings. A 2004 EdSource paper stated, “Since the passage of Senate Bill 1448—the Charter Schools Act of 1992—more than 30 other laws have addressed the operation, over sight, or funding of charter schools.”

 “Aren’t charter schools better quality than public schools?”

I have often heard this question from many otherwise well-informed people. It indicates a victory for marketing when this destructive myth persists.

The Executive Director of Network for Public Education (NPE), Carol Burris, spent a year studying California’s charter schools. In her 50-page finalized report called “CHARTERS AND CONSEQUENCES: An Investigative Series” she wrote,

“The majority of charter vs public studies indicate that overall achievement of charter schools is the same or worse than public schools. Like public schools, charters vary in student outcomes.… The charter high school graduation rate is 70%, far below the public high school rate of 85%.”

Charter schools operating outside of local democratic control should not exist because:

  • Elected school boards administering local schools are the bedrock of American democracy. Charter schools are private companies that are not accountable to voters.
  • Charter schools introduce inefficiency into the public education system by necessitating multiple administrations. It costs significantly more to fund these duplicate systems. The added costs reduce money supporting classrooms in both charter and public schools.
  • Charter schools are exacerbating school segregation. The AP reported in 2017,

“National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

In June, the Schott Foundation and NPE published “GRADING THE STATES A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools.” California was given a D+. The state’s charter school law is considered one of the nation’s most damaging. The reports says,

“Although the public school system is not perfect and has continual room for improvement, it is still the cornerstone of community empowerment and advancement in American society. The required inclusivity of the public school setting provides more opportunity for students to learn in culturally, racially, and socioeconomically integrated classrooms and schools, and that promotes social-emotional and civic benefits for students.”

“We look forward to the day when all charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.”

The California charter school law is causing real damage. In The Public Interest (ITPI) published “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts” written by University of Oregon Professor, Gordon Lafer. The Introduction states,

“In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District. The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.” (emphasis added)

These three districts are not the only ones in financial trouble. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) reportedly lost a half-billion dollars to charter schools in the 2014-2015 school year. LAUSD just claimed, “L.A. Unified faces a $504 million deficit for this current school year.” Their smaller neighbor in Inglewood is also having a debt crisis caused by unplanned charter school expansion.

Earlier this year, besides publishing Professor Lafer’s paper, ITPI also did their own research and published “Fraud and waste in California’s charter schools.” This paper begins,

“Public funding of California’s charter schools now tops $6 billion annually. … Most public school districts aren’t given adequate resources to oversee operators, especially large charter management organizations (CMOs), while all lack the statutory authority to effectively monitor and hold charter schools accountable. … waste in California’s charter schools has reached over $149 million.”

The California charter school law is in desperate need of reform, but is the Torlakson “Action Team” up to the task?

The Action Team

1 cochairman

Carl Cohn was twice appointed to the California State Board of Education (SBE) by Governor Jerry Brown. His second appointment announcement said,

“Cohn has been a professor and co-director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University since 2009. He was a distinguished leader in residence at San Diego State University from 2007 to 2008 and superintendent of schools at the San Diego Unified School District from 2005 to 2007. … Cohn is a Democrat.”

In 2015, the Governor removed Cohn from the SBE and appointed him as the first executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a state agency created in 2013 to help local districts navigate the state’s new local control funding formula.

Cohn has always been friendly towards charter schools if not a promoter. In 2007 he commented to the Voice of San Diego, “I want to make it clear that I like what’s going on at some of these charters, and I believe that district schools can learn from them.” Last year, Cohn was a featured speaker at the San Diego charter schools conference hosted by the Charter School Development Center, a non-profit that claims, “We Fight Against regulatory creep that distracts charter leaders from improving student achievement.”

Susan Bonilla was a high school English teacher at Mount Diablo Unified School District before she entered politics. After three years as a county supervisor, this Democrat won a seat in the state Assembly in 2010.

Bonilla was especially focused on STEM education and still promotes it. She surprisingly wrote a legislative proposal that would have reduced teacher work protections, increased probationary time and undermined seniority rights. It would have essentially made the decisions in the Vergara case state law.

Regarding another piece of legislation, the San Jose Mercury News reported, “Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla introduced Assembly Bill 1084 in response to this newspaper’s investigation of K12 Inc., the publicly traded Virginia company behind a profitable but low-performing network of ‘virtual’ academies serving about 15,000 students across the state.” The article pointed out that a student logged in for one-minute was considered present and that fewer than half the students graduated. Eventually, Bonilla shelved the bill when it became watered down.

Although not taking any other actions against charters, this bill to stop the fraudulent K12’s practices infuriated charter supporters. In 2015, the Sacramento Bee reported on her losing a race for the District 7 state Senate:

“The race attracted unprecedented levels of outside spending, with more than $7 million streaming into the district during the two-month runoff alone, more than three times what the candidates were able to raise.”

“Labor unions backed Bonilla, while the business community, charter schools and Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield supported Glazer.”

Since 2017, Bonilla has been State Director in California of Council for a Strong America, a national organization focused on increasing spending on children and families.

2 charter executives

Cristina de Jesus is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Green Dot Public Schools California. She oversees twenty-two middle and high schools across Los Angeles serving 11,500 students for which she is compensated handsomely. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, Green Dot’s tax forms revealed her total income as $326,242 while the schools took in $148,484,811.

Cristina is an alumnus of the Broad Administrators Academy class of 2016-2017.

Ana Ponce is the Chief Executive Officer of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy which is a neighborhood network of 5 elementary and secondary schools serving about 2000 students within the greater MacArthur Park neighborhood near Downtown Los Angeles. Tax records show that the Academy took in $43,377,256 in the fiscal year ending June 2016. Ana was compensated $193,585.

Originally from Mexico, Ana grew up in the neighborhood where her schools are located. She is an alumnus of Teach for America and The Broad Academy class of 2015-2016. She was profiled by the Aspen Institute.

Ponce is also the California Charter Schools Association Board Secretary and she was inducted into the Charter Schools Hall of Fame by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gia Truong is Chief Executive Officer at Envision Education. Envision has two strategies: operating charter schools and providing training and consulting services to others through its Envision Learning Partners division.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 tax records show that Envision took in $16,558,401 and Gia was compensated $229,127.

Gia attended Brown University where she earned a master’s in teaching social studies. She gained her administrative credential through the New Leader Principal Residency program. New Leaders (formerly “New Leaders for New Schools”) was founded in 2000 by a group including Jonathan Schnur, former education policy analyst for President Bill Clinton.

3 Privatizing Organzations

David Rattray oversees the Center for Education Excellence & Talent Development at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and UNITE-LA, the School-to-Career Partnership of Los Angeles. Rattray officially joined the Chamber in 2003.

Rattray and UNITE-LA have called for “a common, unified enrollment system for all public schools serving Los Angeles children ….”

Rattray also sits on the Board of Directors at Learning Policy Institute. It is a “think tank” financed by many foundations associated with school privatization. These funders include S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Nellie Mae Education Foundation; David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Stuart Foundation.

Charmain Mercer served as a Senior Researcher for the Learning Policy Institute and is now a Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Charmaine received her Ph.D. in politics and education policy from Claremont Graduate University, as well as her master’s degree in political science.

In a previous role, she served as the vice president for standards, assessment, and deeper learning at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Former Virginia Governor, Bob Wise, leads the Alliance which promotes “personalized learning” a misleading euphemism for isolating America’s children at digital devices.

Jonathan Raymond has led the Stuart Foundation as its president since July 2014. In the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2016 his total compensation was stated as $522,725. It may be unfair to say this foundation is for privatizing public schools. They appear to be focused on how to improve education and have not taken a strong stand either for or against charter schools.

President Raymond on the other hand has taken several positions embraced by school privatization leaders like Eli Broad.

In July, 2014, the Sacramento Bee reported,

“Jonathan Raymond came into the Sacramento City Unified School District nearly five years ago as a hard-charging superintendent, bucking the teachers union on tenure rules and seeking to use test scores in performance evaluations.”

“Forget about the flourish that was Raymond, who was a product of The Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains business and education leaders how to run school districts. Raymond arrived at Sacramento without a traditional schools background, having served as a nonprofit leader and private lawyer rather than working through the ranks.”

“Teachers also were angered over Raymond’s “Priority Schools” program to overhaul struggling campuses. The district inserted new principals, who were given authority to remove teachers regardless of tenure protections, which led to a legal battle.”

Raymond closed seven Sacramento schools in minority neighborhoods through his “Priority Schools” program.

Wes Smith, Ed. D. is Executive Director for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). In 2014, Smith and the ACSA refused to endorse either candidate in the heated Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) contest between, former charter school administrator, Marshall Tuck, and incumbent, Tom Torlakson.

This year the former investment banker, Tuck, is again running for SPI. Shockingly, after personally interviewing both Tuck and his opponent, Tony Thurmond, the ACSA endorsed the school privatization candidate, Tuck.

A tweet from the ACSA read, ‘“ACSA is proud to endorse a candidate who not only understands education leadership but is committed to working with educational leaders to improve student access and outcomes as well.’ – ACSA Executive Director Dr. Wesley Smith.”4 Public Education Support

John Rogers is a Professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education.  He also serves as the Faculty Director of Center X, which houses UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, Principal Leadership Program, and professional development initiatives.

He lists his research interests as

  • Re-envisioning public engagement and democratic education today in light of John Dewey’s scholarship and practice.
  • Understanding what and how youth learn about economic, social, and racial inequality inside and outside of schools.
  • Examining and developing strategies for engaging urban youth, community members, and educators in equity-focused school reform.

In a Capital and Main release, John Rogers noted that if Eli Broad is successful in taking over half the students in LAUSD then the district would lose its ability to maintain its financial integrity.

Sylvia Rousseau is an expert on diversity, urban school reform and school leadership. She is Professor of Clinical Education at USC’s Rossier School of Education. Sylvia is a former principal of Santa Monica High School; a former LAUSD assistant superintendent of Secondary School Services and a former superintendent of Local District 7, which means she took on the problems facing education in Watts.

Testifying about charter schools Rousseau commented,

“In the midst of the many conversations about charter schools offering a choice to parents, districts have the responsibility to ensure that parents have viable options. Otherwise it is not choice. As we move forward in the name of reform and progress, it is important to keep asking the equity question: who is benefiting and who is not. … When charter schools infringe on districts’ ability to fulfill this public mandate for all children, they have violated the public mandate.”

Terri Jackson has years of experience with both teaching and involvement in California Teachers Association (CTA) activities. She was re-elected as CTA Board member for District C representing Alameda and Contra Costa counties. This term ends June 25, 2019.

Jackson is the only practicing teacher on the Team. She has taught for 33 years and is currently a fourth-grade teacher at Stewart Elementary School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

Camille Maben: A seven-member First 5 California Commission selected the 16-year veteran of the California Department of Education, Camille Maben, as its executive director in November 2012. Maben was a strategic advisor to Superintendent Delaine Eastin from 1998 to 2003. Maben, a registered Democrat, has served on the Rocklin Unified School District Board of Trustees for 16 years.

Not too Hopeful about Torlakson’s Review Team.

With so many members of the team drawing huge salaries if the status quo is maintained, it is unlikely they will create many policy ideas for ending the destruction of public education.

I agree with the Schott Foundation, NPE and the NAACP that we need a charter school moratorium. During the moratorium, legislation can be written that carefully puts existing charter schools under the management of elected school boards.

The argument that says “remove rules and let educators do what they know is best” being the path to improved education is foolish and disingenuous. It is like saying “remove automobile safety rules and allow manufactures to build the kind of safe fuel-efficient cars they know are best” will insure safer more efficient vehicles. It is a silly argument and the reality is that large privatized charter school management organizations will continue to impose rules on teachers.

Let us embrace democracy for running schools instead of plutocratic nonsense.

 

DPE 2.0 The City Fund

18 Aug

Billionaire Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, has joined with billionaire former Enron executive, John Arnold, to launch an aggressive destroy public education (DPE) initiative. They claim to have invested $100 million each to start The City Fund. Neerav Kingsland declares he is the Fund’s Managing Partner and says the fund will help cities across America institute proven school reform successes such as increasing “the number of public schools that are governed by non-profit organizations.”

Ending local control of public schools through democratic means is a priority for DPE forces. In 2017, EdSource reported on Hastings campaign against democracy; writing, “His latest salvo against school boards that many regard as a bedrock of American democracy came last week in a speech he made to the annual conference of The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington D.C., attended by about 4,500 enthusiastic charter school advocates, teachers and administrators.”

When announcing the new fund, Kingsland listed fourteen founding members of The City Fund. There is little professional classroom teaching experience or training within the group. Chris Barbic was a Teach for America (TFA) teacher in Houston, Texas for two years. Similarly, Kevin Huffman was also a TFA teacher in Houston for three years. The only other member that may have some education experience is Kevin Shafer. His background is obscure.

The operating structure of the new fund is modeled after a law firm. Six of the fourteen founding members are lawyers: Gary Borden; David Harris; Kevin Huffman; Neerav Kingsland; Jessica Pena and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo.

Ready to Pilfer Community Schools and End School Boards

In a 2012 published debate about school reform, Kingsland justified his call for ending democratic control of public education writing,

“I believe that true autonomy can only be achieved by government relinquishing its power of school operation. I believe that well regulated charter and voucher markets – that provide educators with public funds to operate their own schools – will outperform all other vehicles of autonomy in the long-run. In short, autonomy must be real autonomy: government operated schools that allow “site level decision making” feels more Orwellian than empowering – if we believe educators should run schools, let’s let them run schools.”

This is a belief in “the invisible hand” of markets making superior judgements and private businesses always outperforming government administration. There may be some truth here, but it is certainly not an ironclad law.

The City Fund has distinct roots stretching back to early 2016. On April 4 that year, Kingsland announced on his blog, Relinquishment, “Very excited about this update: Ken Bubp and Chris Barbic are joining the combined efforts of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Hastings Fund.”

In January of 2016, Philanthropy News Digest reported, “Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings has announced that he has created a $100 million fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) that will be focused on education.”

SVCF is a donor directed fund, so Hastings’s fund is dark money with no way of tracking where its tax-free spending is directed. The SVCF 2016 tax form shows Neerav Kingsland earning $253,846 as a Managing Director of the Hastings fund. He was also simultaneously serving as Senior Education Fellow at the Arnold Foundation and was on the board at the California Charter Schools Association.

The SVCF was founded in 2006 and has grown to be one of the largest non-profit charities in America. The tax form cited above shows a total income in 2016 of $4.4 billion and end of year assets of $7.2 billion while making grants totaling to $1.9 billion.

SVCF Grants

A March 2018 article in Chalkbeat reported,

“Eleven years after founding a nonprofit that has dramatically reshaped Indianapolis schools, David Harris is stepping down to help launch an as yet unexplained national education group.”

“The national group is in the early stages of development, said Harris, who declined to provide more details about his co-founders or their plans. A release from The Mind Trust said the new organization aims to ‘help cities around the country build the right conditions for education change.’”

Much of the description of The City Fund sounds like the activities of the national DPE organization, Education Cities. At the end of July, the Education Cities web-site disclosed,

“Today, we are announcing that Education Cities is undergoing an evolution that we think will better support local education leaders.

“Several staff from Education Cities – including our Founder and CEO, Ethan Gray – are partnering with colleagues from the philanthropic, non-profit, district, charter, and state sectors to create a new non-profit organization called The City Fund.”

The City Fund has not shared a web-address, but they have clearly started work. Four of the announced members have updated their LinkedIn profiles indicating they started working for The City Fund in either June or July.

The City Fund’s central agenda is promoting the portfolio model of school reform. Schools scoring in the bottom 5% on standardized testing are to be closed and reopened 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 boards portfolio. Even Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas wrote an open letter to John Arnold warning about what a bad idea the portfolio model is. He began, “The Arnold Foundation invests heavily in another initiative that promotes rigorous science for medical and policy decision-making, yet they do not seem to apply that same standard of proof to their own education strategy.’

A Brief Introduction to The City Fund Staff

Staff Photos

The Founding City Fund Staff

All but two of the City Fund staff photos were taken from LinkedIn. Gary Borden’s photos is from his Aspen Institute bio. Doug Harris’s photo was clipped from a Chalkbeat article.

Chris Barbic founded one of the first miracle charter schools, YES Prep of Houston, Texas. Based on the claim that 100% of YES Prep’s students were accepted at four-year colleges, Oprah Winfrey gave them a check for $1,000,000. In an open letter to Barbic, his former Teach for America (TFA) colleague, Gary Rubinstein made it clear that there was no miracle.

Chris left Houston and YES Prep to become Superintendent of the state of Tennessee’s Achievement School District. He would be working under his old Houston TFA buddy Kevin Huffman. He accepted the challenge to turnaround the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee (about 85 schools) so that they are, based on their test scores, in the top 25% in five years. This was a fool’s errand, but politicians and amateur educators did not know it.

Barbic earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Vanderbilt University. His only formal training in education was as a member of the class of 2011 at Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators’ academy.

By 2014 while staring at one bad set of standardized test results after another and making no progress toward lifting the bottom 5% of schools into the top 25% of schools, Chris had a heart attack. The following summer (2015), he revealed his resignation for health and family reasons.

In 2016, the Arnold Foundation reported Chris was going to be a Senior Education Fellow at the foundation.

Gary Borden is Senior Vice President for charter school advocacy at the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Earlier this year he traveled the state supporting Anthony Villaraigosa’s failed campaign for governor. Borden asserted, “Any sort of an artificial pause on growth of charter schools is really detrimental to what parents have ultimately said they want and need in their public education system.”

Gary was appointed Deputy Executive Director of the California State Board of Education by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is on the board of two charter schools, Fenton Charter Public Schools and East Bay Innovation Academy.

Borden has undergraduate degrees in Economics and International Business from Pennsylvania State University, and a law degree from Georgetown University. His only  training in education is as a Fellow of the 17th class of the Pahara – Aspen Education Fellowship and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network – fundamentally a study in privatizing schools.

Ken Bubp says he is a Partner at The City Fund. Ken earned a Bachelor of Arts in History form Taylor University and an MBA from Indiana University – Kelley School of Business. He shows no training or experience in education.

From 2011 to 2016, he held various executive positions at The Mind Trust where he worked for Doug Harris. John Arnold made him a Senior Education Fellow at his foundation in 2016.

Bubp is a board member at New Schools for Baton Rouge working to expand charter school penetration and institute the portfolio model of school management.

Beverly (Francis) Pryce earned a degree in Journalism from Florida International University, a master’s certificate in Non-Profit Management from Long Island University and Accounting Management certification from Northeastern University.

After a brief period as a journalist at WINK-TV News, Beverly went to work for the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

Ethan Gray reports he will be a Partner at The City Fund. He was the Founder and CEO of Education Cities, a national nonprofit that supports the privatization of public schools. Before his role at Education Cities, Ethan served as Vice President of The Mind Trust where he helped develop the “Opportunity Schools” which are another type of school organization that ends democratic control.

Ethan holds an MA from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in education policy and management. He is a past member of the Board of Directors for the STRIVE Prep network of charter schools in Colorado, as well as the National Advisory Boards of Families for Excellent Schools, EdFuel, and Innovative Schools in Wilmington, Delaware.

David Harris: During his first run for Mayor, Bart Peterson invited David Harris a 27-year old lawyer with no education background to be his education guy. Harris became the director of the mayor’s new charter school office. In 2006, Harris and Peterson founded The Mind Trust.

The Mind Trust is the proto-type urban school privatizing design. Working locally, it uses a combination of national money and local money to control teacher professional development, create political hegemony and accelerate charter school growth. The destroy public education (DPE) movement has identified The Mind Trust as a model.

He is a founding member and served as chairman of the Charter Schools Association of Indiana. He also has been a board member of the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers.

Kevin Huffman: After serving three years as a TFA teacher in Houston, this 1992 graduate of Swarthmore returned to New York to study law. After a brief stint as a lawyer he rejoined TFA as Executive Vice President. He also married Michelle Rhee.

In 2011, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee selected Huffman to be Education Commissioner. By 2014, the Tennessean’s lead read, “Polarizing Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is stepping down from his position, leaving a legacy that includes historic test gains as well as some of the fiercest clashes this state has ever seen over public schools”.

Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reported one such clash, the effort to force Nashville to accept Great Hearts Academy. She wrote,

“This is the same Arizona-based outfit that has been turned down four times by the Metro Nashville school board because it did not have a diversity plan. Because of its rejection of Great Hearts, the Nashville schools were fined $3.4 million by Tennessee’s TFA state commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.”

Noor Iqbal has a Bachelor of Arts in History and Economics from Harvard University and studied at the London Schools of Economics and Political science. She has been working at the Arnold foundation since 2017.

Neerav Kingsland says his title at The City Fund is Managing Partner. Before going to the Arnold Foundation in 2015, Neerav and two other law students formed the Hurricane Katrina Legal Clinic, which assisted in the creation of New Schools for New Orleans. Kingsland would become the chief executive officer of this organization dedicated to privatizing all the public schools in New Orleans.

Mark Webber from Rutgers University made an observation about this Kingsland statement,

“This transformation of the New Orleans educational system may turn out to be the most significant national development in education since desegregation. Desegregation righted the morality of government in schooling. New Orleans may well right the role of government in schooling.” [emphasis by Mark]

Webber’s observation,

“You know what’s astonishing about that sentence? The blatant refusal to acknowledge that the most significant transformation in NOLA’s schools has been the reintroduction of segregation.”

Jessica Pena is a lawyer and was a Partner at Ethan Gray’s Education Cities. Prior to her role at Education Cities, Jessica spent six years with the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), an Education Cities member organization. Jessica was a founding PSP team member.

Liset Rivera shared that she is the Event Manager at The City Fund. Previously she was the Event Manager for Stanford University and for KIPP schools. She has a degree in marketing from San Jose State University.

Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo is a lawyer. She will be a Partner at Education Cities. Kameela was a senior executive at David Harris’s The Mind Trust. She studied Law at Indiana University and Sociology at DePaul. She has a biography at the Pahara Institute.

Gabrielle Wyatt earned a Master’s in Public Policy Social and Urban Policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Well known New Jersey journalist Bob Braun reported on Gabrielle in Newark,

“Until last August, Wyatt was only making $75,000 a year but Cami gave her an 80 percent raise from $75,000 to $135,000 for what the Christie administration calls a “promotion—normal career progression.”  Like so many of Cami’s cronies, Wyatt was imported from the New York City Department of Education, that nest of educational entrepreneurs that gave the world Christopher Cerf.”

Kevin Shafer: Little is known about Shafer. He might be the Chief Innovation Officer at Camden City Public Schools. That Kevin Shafer is on the Jounce Partners advisory board and he attended the Strategic Data Conference that Rick Hess was speaking at. He was listed as an organizer.

One Last Point

Regarding non-profit spending, the IRS rules state that tax-exempt funds, “may not attempt to influence legislation.” The Silicon Valley Community Fund, The City Fund, and many other funds spending to change how education is governed are breaking this rule with impunity.

 

 

 

Ugly Teachers’ Union Smear from SPN Network

8 Aug

Edward Ring of the California Policy Center (CPC) just published a scurrilous attack on public schools, teachers and their unions. This mean spirited and factually challenged screed comes from a State Policy Network (SPN) member organization. The baseless attack is more evidence of a conspiracy to avoid federal tax law by masquerading as a non-profit while carrying out a political agenda.

Ring begins by saying private sector unions might not be so bad if they are controlled and admits unions “played a vital role in securing rights for the American worker.” He then delivers this jingoistic slam, “If they [unions] would bother to embrace the aspirations of their members, instead of the multinational corporations their leaders now apparently collude with, they might even support immigration reform.”

However, according to Ring, public sector unions are an abomination and teachers’ unions are the worst of the worst. He states,

“The teachers unions are guilty of all the problems common to all public sector unions. They, too, have negotiated unsustainable rates of pay and benefits. They, too, elect their own bosses, negotiate inefficient work rules, have an insatiable need for more public funds, and protect incompetent members. But the teachers union is worse than all other public sector unions for one reason that eclipses all others: Their agenda is negatively affecting how we socialize and educate our children, the next generation of Americans.”

When I decided to leave Silicon Valley and become a teacher, my new starting salary was one-third of my former salary and for the first time I had to pay for part of my medical insurance. I never worked so hard in private industry. I was never given a vote on who would be the principal at my school. My teaching colleagues were almost all moral and idealistic role models for their students. My personal experience says this anti-teacher fulmination is baseless bull-excrement.

Ring’s stated evidence for his claims includes,

“One of the most compelling examples of just how much harm the teachers union has done to California’s schools was the 2014 case Vergara vs. the State of California.”

“In particular, they questioned rules governing tenure (too soon), dismissals (too hard), and layoffs (based on seniority instead of merit). In the closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lead attorney referenced testimony from the defendant’s expert witnesses to show that these and other rules had a negative disproportionate impact on students in disadvantaged communities.”

Before that trial began David Callahan reported on who really brought the suit. His Huffington Post article noted,

“Of course, those nine kids aren’t really bringing the lawsuit; a wealthy donor is, in effect. A nonprofit called Students Matter has orchestrated the suit, and that group in turn was created by a successful tech entrepreneur named David Welch. He founded Students Matter in 2010 and hired the top tier legal team bringing the suit, which is co-led by Theodore Olson — who was George W. Bush’s Solicitor General.”

Callahan ended his article with this timely observation:

“What I will say here is that Welch’s laser-like philanthropy is yet one more example of how money can dramatically amplify the viewpoint of a single individual if deployed strategically. And when the money is targeted at efforts to change public education, it raises profound questions about the role of money in our democracy.

“The public schools, after all, have long been our most democratic institution. What does it say when one rich guy may be able to engineer a big change in this sector in the nation’s largest state?”

The expert witnesses in the Vergara trial were not unbiased professionals. One “expert witness” called was John Deasy who trained at billionaire Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators academy. He later wrote,

“During the Vergara trial, I testified from firsthand experience about the real harm that these laws have in our classrooms every day. I provided testimony about the barriers these laws create for administrators and the negative impact they have on students — and on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s many great teachers.”  

While it is true that it is possible for a California teacher to gain permanent employee status (tenure) in as little as 1 year and 9 months, it is not guaranteed or typical. I took 5-years. I worked for a year as an intern and then worked under temporary contract status for 2-years. It was only then that I was signed to a probationary contract which began my 2-year probationary period. I saw many “tenured” teachers fired during my fifteen years in the classroom and some of those firings seemed unfair.

The “barriers” administrators face are rules that stop them from favoritism or other negative behavior. I experienced rank favoritism my first year in the classroom when I had no protections. Midyear, my assignment was given to the daughter of a local well-connected family who had lost her job.

Only incompetent administrators are unable to fire “bad” teachers.

The “expert witness” that appeared to most influence the trial judge was Raj Chetty. Chetty is an economist from Harvard University who is known for his since discredited claim that teachers and schools could be evaluated using standardized testing. He called it value added measures (VAM).

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, Ph.D. specializes in research methodology at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She prophetically commented on Chetty’s testimony,

“Well…indeed, I believe we can chalk this up to a judge’s lack of understanding of the dangers of VAMs and being impressed by the sheer size of Chetty et al.’s data file. With that amount of data, they must be onto something right? I think we can also chalk this up to the defense in this case not (yet) doing an effective job debunking Chetty et al.’s methods. That, I believe, will be improved and also crucial next round. There are many holes to be punched, so in my opinion it’s the strategies of the hole punchers that are now critical to the cases to come across the country.”

Judge Treu’s verdict was reversed.

Famed statistician and education researcher Gene V. Glass tweeted:

Glass Tweet

Furman University Professor, Paul Thomas wrote, “But one has to wonder how much impact that testimony would have had if the judge had considered that most reviews of the study find it to be poppy-cock (see Baker on the Chetty et al. molehill and Di Carlo) ….”

Ring also opines, “And whenever it is necessary to reduce teacher headcounts in a district, the senior teachers stay and the new teachers go, regardless of how well or poorly these teachers were doing their jobs.”

There are many reasons to embrace seniority rights, but in education it is critical. In the first place, I have never had a job in which experience was more important. Most teachers will tell you that after 10 or even 20 years in the classroom, they are still learning and getting better. Secondly, there is no job more difficult to evaluate than teaching. Without seniority rights when politicians decide not to fully fund education, less expensive new teachers would be retained and proven deeply experienced teachers would be shoved aside.

Ring also used raw testing data reports to prove public-school and teacher failures. The federal education laws known as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top both employed this same methodology to evaluate schools and teachers. Unfortunately, the measuring stick used is no more precise than throwing darts at a spinning wheel. Testing under-girds the fraudulent scheme to privatize public schools. Ring stated,

“And as reported earlier this year in the LA School Report, according to the new “California School Dashboard,” a ratings system that replaced the Academic Performance Index, LAUSD is failing to educate hundreds of thousands of students. In the most recent year of results, 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, and 50 percent earned a D or F in math. Fifty percent of LAUSD’s schools are failing or nearly failing to teach their students English or math.

“In the face of failure, you would think LAUSD and other failing school districts would embrace bipartisan, obvious reforms such as those highlighted in the Vergara case.”

The state dashboard does not assign letter grades. The results of this testing are highly influenced by who is being tested. Since standardized testing does reflect poverty levels and percentage of language learners among the tested subjects, a quick look at a Los Angeles Unified School District shows that they are facing monumental challenges and doing reasonably well. They certainly are not failing.

LA Unified Data

Dashboard Data and Subgroup Data from California Department of Education

Eighty-four percent of Los Angeles Unified’s students are classified as living in poverty and 26.9% of their students are language learners. Statewide those numbers are respectively 60.5% and 20.9%. These statewide numbers are staggeringly large but still the much larger numbers from Los Angeles Unified make their Dashboard results appear to outperform expectations. If the LA numbers were removed, the state percentages of students in poverty and language learners would drop significantly.

This is another example of school privatizers misusing data to claim that public schools are “failing.”

The article also claims that teachers’ union members are teaching Howard Zinn’s Marxist ideology. It is back to “good old 1955” and the communist witch hunts. It states, “As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia.” In the FBI’s voluminous file on Zinn, he admits in an interview to being a liberal and tells FBI agents that some people might consider him a leftist, but that he was not now nor never had been a communist. Even after J. Edgar Hoover’s instance on finding solid evidence of Zinn’s subversive endeavors, none was unearthed. Zinn’s real crime appears to have been speaking out for justice and the powerless.

Federal Tax Law is Being Broken to Sell a Political Agenda

Tax exempt charitable organizations must adhere to IRS tax code 501(c)(3). The first line of the IRS code explanation states,

“To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” (emphasis added)

The article which is the subject of this post was published on the California Policy Center (CPC) web-page. CPC along with the Pacific Research Institute are the California members of the State Policy Network (SPN). In its 2016 tax form, SPN says its purpose is to generate, “state policy analysis and education – identify emerging and innovative solutions to state problems, work alongside think tanks to build momentum for wide-spread education about those solutions, and develop reform leaders the goal of this project is to create a robust movement of leaders advancing free market ideas in the states.” In other words, its whole purpose is to influence legislation.

A 2013 report from the Center for Media and Democracy documents SPN’s founding:

“SPN was founded at the suggestion of President Ronald Reagan, according to the National Review and SPN’s website. In a conversation with Thomas Roe, a South Carolina building supply magnate, Reagan allegedly suggested Roe create ‘something like a Heritage Foundation in each of the states.’ So in 1986, Roe founded the South Carolina Policy Council. Similar groups – self-denominated as state-based think tanks – formed in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and elsewhere at around the same time. Representatives of those groups met at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., and started to call themselves the ‘Madison Group.’ Roe later officially founded SPN as an ‘umbrella organization’ to provide ‘advisory services’ – bankrolled by Roe and other right-wing funders – in 1992.”

There is some evidence that the transition to SPN was bankrolled by David and Charles Koch through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In any case, the Center for Media and Democracy report states, “SPN and its members have become major sponsors and members of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

If you are very rich and do not want people to know you give money to privatize public schools, you can funnel it anonymously through one of the dark money funds that will contribute for you. It works simply enough. Just contribute say $50,000 to Donors Capital Fund or Donors Trust, tell them where to send the money and these tax exempt “charities” will donate for you.

The following is an example of the how funding of SPN network affiliates like CPC happens.

Donor Capital Fund 2016

In 2015, ten Individuals donated $242,000 anonymously to the California Policy Center (CPC) through the non-profit Donors Capital Fund.

A Conclusion

The article by Edward Ring was a slanted hit piece intended to undermine support for public sector unions and teachers’ unions in particular. This is clearly a political document that has nothing to do with charitable giving, but anyone giving money to further this political agenda can claim a charitable deduction. That means as a citizen I am supporting the propagation of a political ideology I find abhorrent.

Large giving to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the Federalist Society or the Center for American Progress is political giving. It not only should be taxed; the details of the donations should be made available to the public. Much of the giving at the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, etc. is clearly designed to promote a political point of view. That is not charity. That is politics. It does not or at least should not qualify for non-profit status.

If we stop this tax cheating, we might see fewer of these baseless attack articles that divide people and communities.

 

 

End of Public Schools in Milwaukee?

23 Jul

This past school year, Wisconsin taxpayers sent $250,000,000 to religious schools. Catholics received the largest slice, but protestants, evangelicals and Jews got their cuts. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) reveals that private Islamic schools took in $6,350,000. Of the 212 schools collecting voucher money, 197 were religious schools.

The Wisconsin voucher program was expanded before the 2014-2015 school year. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “Seventy-five percent of eligible students who applied for taxpayer-funded subsidies to attend private and religious schools this fall in the statewide voucher program already attend private schools, ….”

Money taken from the public schools attended by the vast majority of Milwaukee’s students is sent to private religious schools. Public schools must adjust for stranded costs while paying to serve a higher percentage of special education students because private schools won’t take them. Forcing public schools to increase class sizes, reduce offerings such as music and lay off staff.

A mounting social division like those faced after the civil war is developing. Katherine Stewart shared that history in her stunning book, The Good News Club:

By the latter half of the nineteenth century, Lutherans as well as Catholics had developed extensive systems of parochial education. For many Protestants, however, the loss of students from those denominations was not a welcome development. It was feared that the combined force of the Lutheran and Catholic electorate would endanger the existence of public education altogether. The tensions between those who wanted universal public education and those who wanted their schools to look like their churches continued to grow. In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse. In an 1876 speech in Des Moines, Iowa, he articulated the conclusion many people had already drawn concerning the continuing struggles over religion in the public schools: “Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions,” he said. “Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.” (pages 73-74) (emphasis added)

Privatizing Public Schools Not Achieving Predictions

John E. Chubb was a cofounder of the for-profit Edison Schools and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Terry M. Moe was a professor of political science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Chubb and Moe co-authored Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools which was published by Brookings Institution Press on June 1, 1990 the same year that Milwaukee became the sight of the nation’s first school voucher program.

Chubb and Moe claimed public education was incapable of reforming itself, because the institution was owned by vested interests. They were dismissive of democratically elected school boards asserting that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

Diane Ravitch wrote Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. In it she noted: “In 1990, John Chubb and Terry Moe described school choice as ‘a panacea’ that ‘has the capacity all by itself to bring about the kind of transformation that, for years, reformers have been seeking to engineer in myriad other ways.”’ (page 207)

Unfortunately, Milwaukee jumped on the speculative school privatization path. Chubb and Moe have been proven wrong. Voucher programs are not testing well. A recent paper from the Center for American Progress summarized the four latest and largest voucher study research efforts which all strongly indicated vouchers are bad education policy.

In December, 2017, an education writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Alan J. Borsuk wrote, “Massachusetts and Wisconsin charted separate paths in the 1990s, and you can see the results today.” He stated,

“In the early 1990s, Massachusetts and Wisconsin were getting about the same overall results on measures such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the closest thing there is to a nationwide test of student achievement.”

“In that period, Wisconsin acted to hold down increases in spending and property taxes for schools. Massachusetts acted to improve outcomes for students and increase spending, especially in places where overall success was weak.”

TUDA Graphs

Graphs Based on NEAP Trial Urban District Assessment Data for 8th Graders

The graphs above are a sample of the endless NEAP data sets illustrating Borsuk’s point.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council published a 2017 research brief that concluded:

“One of the most significant findings about the Milwaukee voucher program to date is that 41 percent of voucher schools failed since the program’s inception. Start-ups and unaffiliated voucher schools were the most likely to falter.”

“Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading.”

In 2016, Mercedes Schneider book School Choice was published by Teachers College Press. In it she reported,

“In sum, what Wisconsin has is a 25-year-old urban school voucher program that has not produced student outcomes that surpass those of its public schools but that is not regulated. As a result, this system … allows for unchecked fraud and discrimination – even as it stands to expand.” (Choice Page 41)

Milwaukee’s Fox News channel six reported in 2016,

“More than 50 schools have shut down since the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program started, leaving students in chaos and taxpayer money unaccounted for.” 

‘”There’s government money available for people who want to open up a building and call it a school. All you have to do is get the children and [for that] all you have to do is come up with a catchy slogan,’ Rep. Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) said.”

Governor Scott Walker’s 2015 budget effectively removed all caps on students from poor and middle-class families throughout the state of Wisconsin receiving private school vouchers. The pro-privatization publication EdChoice explains the 2018-2019 eligibility rules,

“Wisconsin families with income no more than 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($55,220 for a family of four in 2018–19) and reside outside of either the Milwaukee Public Schools or the Racine Unified School District are eligible. Moreover, a family’s income limit increases by $7,000 if the student’s parents or legal guardians are married. Each district will have an enrollment cap of 1 percent of its public school district enrollment. This cap will increase by one percentage point each year until the enrollment limit reaches 10 percent, then there will no longer be a cap.”

Voucher Growth

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Data Shows the Rapid Growth of Voucher Schools in Racine and Milwaukee

A Robust Charter School Industry Operates in Milwaukee

A 2014 report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said,

“Nearly 11% of public schools in Wisconsin are charter schools, the fourth-highest rate in the nation and double the national average, according to a recently released report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.”

“In Milwaukee, 32% of public schools are charters, according to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) defines two basic charter school structures. District charter schools which are authorized by public school districts and “independent charter schools” which are authorized by: The chancellor of any institution in the University of Wisconsin System; Each technical college district board; Waukesha County Executive; College of Menominee Nation; Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa Community College; UW- System Office of Educational Opportunity. In either case DPI states, “The Wisconsin charter school law gives charter schools freedom from most state rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability for results.”

The district authorized charter schools are a kind of hybrid charter school and innovation school. Innovation schools are promoted by David and Charles Koch through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to ALEC model legislation these schools “are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” Neither charter schools nor innovation schools are operated by the elected school board. In other words, parents have no elected representative they can hold responsible for the operation of the school.

In October 2017, the United States Department of Education selected Wisconsin for a $95 million charter schools grant. The DPI notice of this grant said,

“Our federal grant will help us expand charter school access throughout Wisconsin, especially for our high school kids who are from low-income families,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers.”

“Over the five-year grant period, the Wisconsin Charter Schools Program will support the opening of 80 new or replicated quality charter schools and the expansion of 27 high-quality charter schools in the state.”

Sadly, Tony Evers is one of the Democrats who want to replace Scott Walker as governor.

On July 8, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a stridently incorrect editorial. They stated,

“Every charter school in Wisconsin is a public school.

“The many Democrats running for governor should memorize this fact, because some of them are getting it wrong.

“Charter schools should not be confused with voucher schools, which are mostly private religious schools that receive public money for lower-income students to attend.”

Charter schools are privately managed companies that sell education services to the state. They are not much different than a construction company contracting to do road work. Just because they receive tax dollars does not make them a public company. In the most recent Busted Pencils pod cast, Network for Public Education (NPE) Executive Director Carol Burris made the point that to be a public school requires two aspects. (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be publicly governed. Parents have no vote on the governance of a charter school.

Burris also discussed the research paper jointly produced this June by NPE and The Schott Foundation, Grading the States: A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools. Not only did Wisconsin receive a failing grade, it was deemed to have the worst charter school laws in America. The reasons included: One of five states to allow for profit charter schools; if a school fails the property belongs to the charter owners not the taxpayers; nation’s longest renewal period of 5-years; and no conflict of interest requirements.

Destroy Public Education (DPE) Model Functioning in Milwaukee

The DPE model was first defined by researchers at the University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis (UIPUI). These scholars were Doctor Jim Scheurich coordinator of the Urban Education Studies doctoral program, Gail Cosby a doctoral candidate at UIPUI and Nate Williams who earned his doctorate there and now teaches at Knox College.

They concluded that a DPE model was being instituted throughout the nation. Three important points in the model are: (1) a funding conduit for national-local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local DPE initiatives; (2) the development of local organization networks that collaborate on the privatization agenda; and (3) a local-national collaboration between wealthy mostly conservative groups.

The national money flowing into Milwaukee to privatize public education comes from the usual sources including the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation and several others national non-profits.

The big local money is from the very conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. In 2016, the Bradley Foundation gave generously to ALEC, Freedomworks Foundation, The Federalists Society and Betsy DeVos’s Mackinac Center. Locally they gave $375,000 to the Badger Institute, $500,000 to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) and $100,000 each to Schools that Can Milwaukee and Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE). These appear to be yearly gifts.

Concerning school privatization in Milwaukee, the contributions to WILL and the Badger Institute are particularly noteworthy. The following statements on the WILL web site are from members of the Board of directors:

‘“WILL’s legal team was the missing link in education reform in Wisconsin and their research capabilities enhance our ability to develop effective policy.’  Jim Bender President, School Choice Wisconsin”

‘“WILL is at the forefront of the effort to expand parental choice in education. Whether publishing reports on how to craft high-quality choice policies or rigorous fiscal analyses that influence the debates in Madison, or even suing the state education bureaucracy for its failure to follow the law, WILL can be counted upon to fight for Wisconsin families.’ Jason Bedrick Director of Policy at EdChoice”

‘“After a lifetime of involvement in America’s conservative movement, I am proud to say that WILL is one of the most successful organizations I’ve been a part of and happy to see it grow and impact public policy.’ Mike Grebe Former Chairman, Bradley Foundation.”

The Badger Institute says of itself,

“The Badger Institute, formerly the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit institute established in 1987 working to engage and energize Wisconsinites …. The institute’s research and public education activities are directed to identify and promote public policies in Wisconsin that are fair, accountable and cost-effective.”

The Bradley foundation supplies the money, WILL provides the legal work and The Badger Institute lobbies the state. The school privatization ground game in Milwaukee is now run exclusively by PAVE. It has annexed Schools That Can Milwaukee. Borsuk writing in the Journal Sentinel observed,

I referred to Schools That Can Milwaukee in the past tense because it and another long-time Milwaukee education non-profit, known as PAVE, are merging. Plans for the merged organization are expected to be unveiled in coming months. There have been hints that some major players in town want a new approach to encouraging school improvement. Will the new organization be a vehicle for that? Keep an eye on this.”

Some Parting Thoughts

In the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that vouchers to religious school did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This decision re-wrote more than a century worth of precedence and further eroded the separation of church and state. No matter how this case was decided, it is patently un-American to force citizens to send money to religious organizations that they do not support.

Privatizing public education is a horrible idea. Public-schools are the bedrock upon which America’s democracy is built. Now strange conservatives and their fellow traveler in the Democratic party, the neoliberals, are claiming that democratically elected school boards are an anachronism. Know this; if someone is opposing democratic governance, they are proposing totalitarian rule by the wealthy.

iReady Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching

27 Jun

iReady is an economically successful software product used in public schools, by homeschoolers and in private schools. It utilizes the blended learning practices endorsed by the recently updated federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). iReady employs competency-based education (CBE) theory which is also advocated by ESSA. The outcome is iReady drains money from classrooms, applies federally supported failed learning theories and undermines good teaching. Children hate it.

Public education in America contends with four dissimilar but not separate attacks. The school choice movement is motivated by people who want government supported religious schools, others who want segregated schools and still others who want to profit from school management and the related real estate deals. The forth big threat is from the technology industry which uses their wealth and lobbying power to not only force their products into the classroom, but to mandate “best practices” for teaching. These four streams of attack are synergistic.

Profiting from Education Law

A group of billionaires with varying motives are using their vast wealth to shape America’s education agenda to their own liking. The last rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 called ESSA was larded up with provisions like the big money for technology which is listed in Title’s I and IV. It also specifies generous grants to promote both “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” (See page 1969 of the official law.) Charter schools, vouchers and social impact bonds are promoted in ESSA. All these initiatives drain money from the classroom and none have been credibly shown to improve education outcomes.

Billionaires Fixing Education

Some of the Unelected and Untrained Billionaires Driving America’s Education Policy

iReady is marketed by Curriculum Associates (CA) of Billerica, Massachusetts. It was originally formed in 1969 to publish workbooks. In 2008, their octogenarian CEO, Frank Ferguson decided it was time to hang up his spurs. Ron Waldron an equities manager at Berkshire Partners was Ferguson’s unlikely choice to take the reins. Unlikely, because he came to CA from the equities industry famous for selling company assets while sticking the debt with the original company. (The results are profits for the equities firm and bankruptcy for the managed company. An obviously criminal enterprise made legal through lobbying.)

Previous to working at Berkshire Partners, Waldron had a history of developing companies that profited off education law. From his biography at LinkedIn:

  • Northwestern: 1983-1987 BA American Studies
  • Harvard Business School: 1990-1992 MBA
  • Kaplan VP: 1992-1996
  • Score! Education Centers CEO: 1996-2001
  • Jumpstart CEO: 2002-2006
  • Berkshire Partners Operating Executive: 2006-2008
  • Curriculum Associates CEO: 2008 – Present

In 1946 at Brookline, NY, Stanley H. Kaplan started a test preparation business for Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) takers. By 1984, when he sold the business to the Washington Post, Kaplan had more the 100 SAT prep centers nationwide. When Waldron became Vice President of Kaplan, Stanley H. Kaplan still worked there. This was Waldron’s introduction to the testing industry.

In 1992 Score! tutoring centers started in Palo Alto, California. Four years latter, Kaplan bought Score! and Waldron moved over to become the CEO. Glen Tripp worked at Score!, the company his brother co-founded. He says of its demise:

“Over the next few years, we gained more resources and responsibilities than we ever could have dreamed of. We grew from 14 centers to 130 centers. But we lost our culture along the way. We brought in talent faster than we were able to absorb it. We invested less in our culture-building traditions. Our program got stale, and our performance faltered. Eventually, SCORE! was shut down. We had built something amazing and then watched it crumble.”

Kaplan and Score! profited off a provision in George Bush’s and Edward Kennedy’s 2001 rewrite of the Education Law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The United States Department of Education published this notice:

“This federal law allows parents to choose other public schools or take advantage of free tutoring if their child attends a school that needs improvement. … The law also supports the growth of more independent charter schools, funds some services for children in private schools, and provides certain protections for homeschooling parents.” (emphasis added)

I worked at a school in a poor and minority community and our school was designated as “needs improvement” by the federal government based on standardized testing. The school was forced to offer free tutoring services at places like Score! and write a letter to all parents indicating we were a “failing school.” I do not remember any positive results coming from the tutoring, but my workload increased. I had to provide the tutoring service regular updates about what my classes were doing.

Kaplan and Score! were shuttered in 2009.

Jumpstart was founded in 1994 as a non-profit aimed at providing children in poor often minority communities with pre-kindergarten programs. Waldron left the Washington Post family of companies to become CEO of Jumpstart in 2002. It is from Jumpstart, America got the infamous concept, “kindergarten readiness.” This relatively small “non-profit” still has more than eight people “earning” over $125,000 annually.

Waldron timed his 2008 move to Curriculum Associates (CA) well. Jeb Bush launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in 2008. In close cooperation with the Koch funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now. That same year, as reported in Mercedes Schneider’s book Common Core Dilemma, Bill and Melinda Gates agreed with Gene Wilhoit, President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and David Coleman founder of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) to provide millions of dollars for the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (Schneider 140).

Two years ago (2016), a self-described soccer-mom from Florida, Deb Herbage, wrote a well-documented article about the CA flagship product iReady. She gave it the title “i-Ready?…………More Like i-SCAM and Other Deceptions.” Herbage wrote:

i-Ready Diagnostic exploded onto the scene like … other “competency based education” (CBE) curriculums since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  It is now believed by many that the implementation of the CCSS and the focus on the standardized tests that went along with the CCSS was yet another extremely, well-crafted and timed implementation to distract parents, teachers, students and some school officials while district and state officials put in place the many ed-tech companies, corporations, investors, foundations, and non-profit companies … who all quickly and methodically jumped on the CCSS bandwagon …. While we were distracted with the CCSS and end of year standardized testing – in school districts all across the state of Florida and across the country, i-Ready Diagnostic, owned by Curriculum Associates, implemented and deployed their much touted “progress monitoring” curriculum – i-Ready Diagnostic.”

iReady Utilizes Discredited Education Theory

A report from the University of Utah Reading Clinic describes iReady as “a technology-based diagnostic (i-Ready Diagnostic) and instruction program for reading.” It continues,

“The Diagnostic Assessment is adaptive in that it adjusts the difficulty level of the questions presented depending on student response to previous questions. Upon completion of the assessment, the program links the student to lessons to complete online.” 

“i-Ready is a blended learning program. … with downloadable, teacher-led lessons that correlate with the online lessons.”

iReady mathematics uses the same approach as the reading program. The lessons are CCSS aligned and delivered with competency-based-education (CBE) principles.

The United States Department of Education promotes CBE claiming:

“Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

CBE is the updated name for outcome-based education which was the 1990’s name for Benjamin Bloom’s mastery learning. Dr. Bill Spady, sociologist and director of the International Center on Outcome-Based Restructuring, defined the connection between OBE and Mastery Learning in an article entitled “On Outcome Based Education: A Conversation with Bill Spady” (Educational Leadership, Dec. 1992-Jan. 1993):

“In January of 1980 we convened a meeting of 42 people to form the Network for Outcome-Based Schools. Most of the people who were there — Jim Block, John Champlin — had a strong background in Mastery Learning, since it was what OBE was called at the time. But I pleaded with the group not to use the name ‘mastery learning’ in the network’s new name because the word ‘mastery’ had already been destroyed through poor implementation.”

A 2015 Journal article by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway is called “A Brief Critique of Mastery/Competency Learning.” In it they make this important point:

“Our objection to mastery/competency/personalized learning is about how a learner comes to develop that mastery/competency. Reading a website, listening to a podcast that may or may not be complemented with a PowerPoint presentation and viewing a video-recorded lecture are various direct instruction strategies. And, it is well known that children can be drilled, drilled, drilled to successfully pass standardized tests: ‘… [there is] conclusive evidence that an appropriately instituted mastery approach to instruction yields improvement in student achievement…’ But there is no evidence that the type of ‘knowledge’ gained through direct instruction enables students to solve ‘uncharted problems,’ the sorts of problems that arise in living in our globally connected world. Just the opposite. “Knowledge” gained through direct instruction is memorized, so that information remains inert and unconnected to all the other knowledge in a learner’s head. And as Dewey points out, the core of learning is the ‘…intentional noting of connections…”’

The CBE theory of education has a long history of failure dating back to the 1920’s, however, it is one of the few methods available that can be easily delivered economically by digital means.

Instead of a structured course with a teacher, students will log into a computer and demonstrate competencies in an online environment. “Personalized learning” is a euphemism for a computer-based course delivered in isolation.

It is a terrible idea! The last thing a 21st Century student needs is to be shoved in front of another lifeless digital device. Students need to interact with “highly qualified” certificated teachers.

Computers are good at drilling information and conducting fact checks. However, educators have known for more than a century that this kind of teaching is destructive. To create understanding, all the modes of learning must be actively engaged. Drill and skill destroys the desire to learn and undermines development of creativity.

The educator known for his wonderful blog, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, wrote:

“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.”

Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, a teacher from Virginia, recently published her article, “Why iReady is Dangerous.” Teachers like Kassia exist in almost every school and district. It is professional educators like her that children need and not corporate software packages. Wedekind shares,

“When I started working for Fairfax County Public Schools twelve years ago I knew very little about math or how children learn math. But I was lucky to end up in a district that invests in teachers. I had amazing math coaches (who inspired me to become a math coach!) and support from the Title I office, I took courses in Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) and Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI), learned how to use the Investigations curriculum well, and wrote a book about nurturing young mathematicians through small group instruction. I say this to point out that tremendous resources were poured into me (and many others!) as a classroom teacher and a coach to help me learn to listen to students and teach and assess responsively.

“The best ‘screener’ is a knowledgeable teacher and our first question of any potential assessment should be, ‘Does it provide a window into student thinking or is student thinking hidden behind scale scores and graphs?”’

Children Hate iReady

Top three iReady definitions from the Urban Dictionary:

  • A stupid online computer program that supposedly brings your grades up but, instead, brings your grades down when you forget to do them. But worst of all, it’s built for common core.
  • A website for students that teachers think will help their grade, but in reality it makes them want to kill themselves.
  • A website that causes suicidal thoughts, depression, ptsd, anxiety, and adhd.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reports on 7-year-old Saige Price’s having gone at the New Jersey Board of Education.  Saige is in second grade at Briarwood Elementary School in the Florham Park School District, New Jersey.  Sage’s final comment was,

“When I got a low score [on the iReady] I would have to go back to the computer lab until I got a higher score.  I hated it.  It should be against the law.”

Deb Herbage shared several parent responses in her article:

“My son hates it because if he gets a question wrong, it throws him back a couple of levels ….. it “reads” to the kids, therefore taking away any reading practice they may get ….. and it is a huge data mining program. The license with the county states that although the data belongs to the county, Curriculum Associates have a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free license to use that data!”

“It’s a new program so there is little to no data collected yet on reliability. Our kids are guinea pigs.”

“All I know is that my daughter, in the 4th grade, read on a 4th grade level in 2nd grade never got past the 3rd grade work on IReady.  Everytime she made one mistake it threw her back to kindergarten. All it did was make her hate reading, hate the computer worse than she did and slowly destroyed all of the hard work we’d done building her confidence.”

iReady is Popular in Schools Led by Privatizer Friendly Administrators

On December 14, 2015, the Atlanta school board authorized superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen (who I have chronicled) to execute a $350,000 contract to purchase iReady Diagnostic.

In 2016, a local Baltimore blog tracking the implementation of STAT an ed-tech initiative advanced by the criminally indicted superintendent, Dallas Dance, carried a guest blog called “Advice to BCPS Parents from “Wrench in the Gears” and Why iNACOL Loves ESSA.” It began,

“Recent days have seen an uptick in conversations about online Competency-based Education or CBE, the scary wave of educational transformation rapidly sweeping over the country.  BCPS students, teachers, and parents are at the front edge of this wave with STAT.”

If your school system is using iReady, someone in leadership is drinking the Kool-Aid or is corrupt. These programs are an absolute waste of education dollars and they harm students.