Eye Opening Book: The Power Worshippers

20 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/20/2020

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

Worshippers Cover Photo

Trump is a Gift from God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Education, Environmentalism and Social Welfare are Evil

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

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

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

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

Katherine Stewart explains Rushdoony’s perspective,

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

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

Ralph Drollinger a Masculine Christian

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

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

Drollinger at UCLA

Drollinger During the 74-75 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always about Power, Never about Abortion

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

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

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

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

Trump’s “Russia Thing” Came from Religious Nationalists

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Twitter: @tultican

Amplifying Profits Selling Harmful Pedagogy

19 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/19/2020

Amplify education Inc. has a two decade history of trying to profit by selling education technology. The bottom line is even if their pedagogy was good – which it is not – it would be unhealthy for children. The big dream of replacing teachers with digital screens and making gobs of money has a fatal flaw. The last thing 21st century children need is more screen time. Amplify’s lessons are dangerously unhealthy and deliver low quality teaching.

A History of Profiteers and Disrupters

Greg Gunn a former associate of the Carlyle Group who had earned a Masters of Electrical Engineering from MIT joined with Larry Berger to found Wireless Generation. Berger was a graduate of Yale University with a BA and had been a White House fellow working on Educational Technology at NASA during the Clinton administration. In 2010, News Corporation paid $360 million dollars to acquire Wireless Generation and renamed it Amplify Education, Inc. Including performance incentives, Larry Berger pocketed $40 million and agreed to stay on as head of curriculum.

Amplify Political Celeberties

Amplify a Commercial Venture Profiteering off Public Education

The mogul, Rupert Murdoch, proposed buying a million I-Pads for delivering classroom instruction. However, the Apple operating system did not allow the flexibility needed to load the Wireless Generation software. Amplify chose a device manufactured by the Taiwanese company Asus. The android operating system met their needs and the tablets were well regarded in the market place but they were not designed to withstand the demands of school use. One other issue was that Wireless Generation had never developed curriculum but Murdoch wanted to beat Pearson and Houghton Mifflin to the digital education market place.

In July 2012, Amplify publicized its development partnership with AT&T. Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobility declared, “Together, we plan to bring to market a 4G mobile tablet-based experience that we believe will significantly enhance teaching and learning for grades K-12.”

The following March, Amplify announced its new tablet for teachers and students. CEO Joel Klein stated,

“We want to transform the way teachers teach and students learn. Technology has revolutionized the world, but not the classroom. Our hope is that this tablet will help change that.”

That same March of 2013, Amplify also won a $12.5 million dollar contract with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop a digital library of formative assessments. It was the second contract awarded to Amplify by Smarter Balanced. The first one came in 2012 calling for Amplify to partner with ETS developing software to analyze results from common core assessments. Both were part of the $175 million dollar grant by the US Department of Education to the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

The corporate plan was rolling along nicely and then the wheels came off. In Guilford County, North Carolina the school district won a Race to the Top grant of $30 million dollars which it used to experiment with digital learning. The district’s plan called for nearly 17,000 students in 20 middle schools to receive Amplify tablets over the next three years. When a charger for one of the tablets overheated, the plan was halted. Only two months into the experiment, not only had a charger malfunctioned but another 175 chargers had various issues and 1500 screens had broken.

The following year Amplify tried to reestablish itself as a leading player in the digital learning markets. CEO Joel Klein called the new offerings a potential “game-changer” and “unlike anything anyone has ever seen in public education.” The company claimed the Guilford County problems had been fixed.

By August of 2015, News Corporation announced it was exiting the education business. The corporation took a $371 million dollar right off to get out of the digital curriculum business. The next month, News Corporation announced it had sold Amplify to members of its staff. In the deal orchestrated by Joel Klein, he would remain as a board member and Larry Berger would assume leadership of the company.

A New Billionaire Savior Appears

It was soon learned that the real buyer of Amplify was Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple. She purchased Amplify through her non-profit the Emerson Collective.

Ed Surge reported, “Emerson Collective has also invested in a slew of edtech startups including AltSchool, FreshGrade, Nearpod and, most recently Udacity’s $105 million round. She is also on the board of NewSchools Venture Fund (an investor in EdSurge.)” In the same month that she bought Amplify, Powell Jobs launched XQ: The Super School Project, a $50 million challenge inviting teams to submit plans to re-invent high schools.

Laurene Powell Jobs has no respect for public school educators and the schools they work in. When Wiki Leaks leaked the Clinton campaign’s emails, Powell Jobs’ recommendations to Hillary Clinton were revealed. She offered four uninformed policy positions in a conversation with Ann O’Leary:

  1. “Re-design entire K-12 system – we know how to do it, but it comes down to political will.
  2. “Think about Charters as our R&D … must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable.
  3. “Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline.
  4. “Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teachers and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; …”

When “we know how to do it” does not include significant input from practicing professional educators, the reasoning is obviously erroneous.

Charter schools have been R&D for fraud, embezzlement and abuse but certainly not for delivering positive innovations. Her slap at teachers unions and work place protections for teachers is consistent with other billionaires and with creating professional educator shortages.

While I was working in public schools, I found the teachers to be every bit as intellectually competent as any of the engineers I met while working in Silicon Valley. Suggesting that Teach For America teachers are even remotely competent to lead a classroom shows gross ignorance of education reality. They are uneducated and untrained.

Technology has a place in education. It is essential for schools to have modern functional lab equipment. Students need access to good word processing programs and video recording equipment to engage in creative endeavors. Some lessons can be supplemented by technology but screens will never replace a live professional educator.

Real education requires life to life communion between teacher and student. Daisaku Ikeda, writes in his book Soka Education,

“Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.”

Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. Low cost learning at a screen is spiritless, amoral and dead.

There has been a refocus on “personalized learning” since the Powell Jobs acquired Amplify. (How can isolation at a screen be called “personalized learning?”) In a puff piece about Amplify, Ainslee Harris claims,

“Amplify booked $59 million in revenue in 2016, its first year of independence, and $74 million in 2017. This year, it’s on track to book $125 million, making it one of the few education startups to break the $100 million mark.”

The Powell Jobs team has taken control of the Amplify board. Russlyn Ali (Managing Director of Education at the Emerson Collective), Brad Powell (Managing Partner of Emerson Collective) and former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings have joined Larry Berger on the board. People like Stacy Childress (CEO of New Schools Venture Fund), Linda Roberts (Office of Education Technology, US Department of Education) and James B. Hunt Jr. (Former Governor of North Carolina) have departed.

Bad Pedagogy and Unhealthy Practices

The vast majority of America’s school principals believe that students are experiencing too much screen time and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.” The OECD runs the international testing known as PISA. They came to their conclusion by analyzing the results from the more than 70 countries whose data they monitor.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

A recent post by Nancy Bailey addressed problems with Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program for teaching reading. Teacher evaluation committees from Rochester, New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma condemned the program. Some of the comments:

“It builds on content so kids in primary grades learn about ancient civilizations, and it shows some vertical articulation, but it doesn’t have good scope and sequence when learning skills. It’s not developmentally appropriate to introduce a skill or curriculum or new learning concept and then not refer to it again for a very long time.”

One teacher said that her principal was “very disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of neat stuff in the hall, but CKLA doesn’t allow for much creative-type work. I didn’t want to hang worksheets in the hall.”

“I wouldn’t want my children taught this way. I don’t know the rationale behind adopting it. The curriculum doesn’t light up the eyes of kids. It removes the autonomy from the teacher. I guess if people have come through an alternate route and don’t have a teaching degree, you can teach it without much experience.”

The math and science programs are just as regressive. In Seattle, an anonymous donor paid $100,000 to have Amplify Science piloted in 20 middle schools. An NPR report noted,

“Former school board member Peters said it’s difficult to compare results the first year of a new test: Pass rates dropped across the board in 2018 when it was introduced. But her analysis shows pass rates dropped the most at the Seattle schools using Amplify Science — despite the curriculum’s promise to help students meet the new standards.”

‘“The students that fared the worst were low-income students using Amplify Science,’ Peters wrote in an email to the board.”

Because of political pressure to implement computer learning, Seattle’s school board ignored the pleas of teachers and parents and bought the Amplify Science program. Its biggest selling point was that it is aligned with the Next Generation Science standards which are also an abomination.

Conclusion

The reason schools are buying these terrible education technology frauds is that professional educators are no longer making curricular decisions. All large modern businesses including schools require a significant digital infrastructure. This means that there must be an information technology group headed by an expert. That expert who loves technology and has no pedagogical expertise becomes the leading voice concerning the purchase of digital equipment. That explains in part why school districts in financial difficulty are still purchasing pricey education technology software and hardware. Board members believe they have no choice and that they are implementing professional advice.

Amplify Education, Inc. is another modern snake oil salesman. The only reason they did not disappear in 2003 is that the federal government and investors like Rupert Murdoch have poured billions of dollars into this company. It is past time for the fraudulent STEM ideology, education testing scam and the sale of low quality education technology products to be stopped. Taxpayers are being fleeced, schools are being bankrupted and children are being harmed.

Twitter: @tultican

Harvard Propaganda Supports Mind Trust Madness

4 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/4/2020

Ivy League schools are losing their luster to the stranglehold of billionaire money. The Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at the Harvard Kennedy School produces Education Next. It is not the kind of objective journal expected from an academic institution. The driving force behind PEPG is Paul Peterson a choice zealot who trained many of the academics contributing to Education Next.

Influenced by super-wealthy people like Bill Gates and the Walton family, Education Next’s reform ideology undermines democratic control of public schools. It promotes public school privatization with charter schools and vouchers. The contributors to the Education Next blog include Chester E. Finn, Jay P. Greene, Eric Hanushek, Paul Hill, Michael Horn, Robin J. Lake and Michael Petrilli. Robin Lake’s new article The Hoosier Way; Good choices for all in Indianapolisis an all too common example of Education Next’s biased publishing.

The Propaganda Source

The portfolio model was a response to John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which claimed that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” It is interesting that the late John Chubb was a committed conservative living in Charles Koch’s hometown of Wichita, Kansas. His widow, Angela Kennedy-Toon, still lives there and is a Managing Partner at an Ed Tech company. Her company profile lists Angela’s close education follows as Chester Finn, Michael Horn, Frederick Hess, Wendy Kopp and Jeanne Allen.

It was a social scientist Paul Hill who developed the portfolio model of school management.

Paul Hill studied political science at Seattle University then completed a Masters in political science at Ohio State in 1966. With the election of Richard Nixon in 1969, Hill, who was working as a Republican congressional staffer, got an administration job as a Research staff member, Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1972, Hill was awarded a Doctorate in Political Science by Ohio State University and became Assistant Director for Policy Studies, The National Institute of Education,U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. He was there until Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1977. After leaving government service, Hill worked as a social science researcher at the Rand Corporation for the next two decades.

In 1993, Hill founded the Center on Reinvention Public Education (CRPE) on the campus of the University of Washington. While building his organization, he also worked out the mechanics of ending democratic control of public education. His solution is known as the portfolio model of school governance.

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

Robin Lake was one of Hill’s first hires at CRPE. She became his closest confederate and when he decided to reduce his work load in 2012, Lake took his place as the Director of CRPE. Lake and Hill co-wrote dozens of papers almost all of which deal with improving and promoting charter schools. Since the mid-1990s Lake has been publishing non-stop to promote the portfolio model of school management and charter schools. Lake’s new article up on Education Next is her latest in praise of the portfolio agenda for resting school control from local voters.

Like a large number of the contributors to Education Next, neither Robin Lake nor her mentor Paul Hill have practiced or formally studied education. None-the-less, they have been successful at selling their brand of education reform; which is privatization. They describe their organization, CRPE, as engaging in “independent research and policy analysis.” However, Media and Democracy’s Source Watch tagged the group an “industry-funded research center that . . . receives funding from corporate and billionaire philanthropists as well as the U.S. Department of Education.” A report from Seattle Education lists some of the funders:

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • The Broad Foundation
  • Fund for Educational Excellence
  • Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
  • National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
  • The Seattle Foundation
  • US Department of Education
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • The Brookings Institute
  • The Business Roundtable

Education Next Cover

Harvard’s Education Next Makes Propaganda Look Swell – Lake’s Article Header

Undermining Public Schools

“The Hoosier Way” recounts what Lake depicts as the heroic history of Republican State Senator Teresa Lubbers’ seven-year long campaign to enact a charter school law in Indiana. It explains that in 2001, Lubber finally won when Democratic Governor Frank O’Bannon signed her bill into law. Lake goes on to explain, “Over the next decade, under Governor Mitch Daniels and state schools chief Tony Bennett, state legislators passed a whole package of reform bills: launching a voucher initiative, expanding charters and giving them rights to unused district buildings, allowing virtual charters, and overhauling teacher accountability.”

These are all presented as positive things for students in Indiana and especially in Indianapolis where newly elected Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson embraced charter schools.

During the 1999 mayors race Peterson hired David Harris a 27-year old lawyer with no education background to be his education guy. Under the states new charter school law, mayors were given the power to bestow charters. David Harris was soon running Mayor Peterson’s charter school office. By 2007 Harris and Peterson had authorized 16 charter schools in Indianapolis.

Today, charter schools which are not accountable to local residents of Indianapolis are serving nearly 50% of the cities students. Plus, 10,000 of the 32,000 Indianapolis Public School (IPS) students are in Innovation schools which are also not accountable to local voters. The organization most responsible for the loss of democratic control over publicly financed schools in Indianapolis is The Mind Trust.

Indianapolis enrollment graph Changed

The First Charter Schools in Indianapolis Opened in 2003

Tony Bennett served as Superintendent of public schools in Indiana during the administration of Republican Governor Mitch Daniels. Bennett was “widely known as a hard-charging Republican reformer associated with Jeb Bush’s prescriptions for fixing public schools: charter schools, private school vouchers, tying teacher pay to student test scores and grading schools on a A through F scale.” He left Indiana to become Florida’s Education Commissioner in 2013, but soon resigned over an Indiana scandal involving fixing the ratings of the Crystal House charter school which was owned by a republican donor.

In 2011 before leaving, Bennett was threatening to take action against Indianapolis schools. The Mind Trust responded to Bennett with a paper called Creating Opportunity Schools.” Lake writes,

“In response to a request from Bennett, The Mind Trust put out a report in December 2011 calling for the elimination of elected school boards and the empowerment of educators at the local level. … At the same time, Stand for Children, an education advocacy nonprofit, was raising money to get reform-friendly school-board members elected, and much of the public debate centered on The Mind Trust’s proposal. … A new board was elected in 2012 (the same year Mike Pence became governor) and the board quickly recruited a young new superintendent, Lewis Ferebee, to start in September 2013.” (Emphasis added)

Lewis Ferebee was a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. He was selected to continue the Jeb Bush theory of education reform. It is the theory Bush developed while serving on the board of the Heritage Foundation in the 1990s.

Stand for Children is the infamous dark money organization that funnels money from financial elites into local school board elections. The organization began after Jonah Edelman helped his mother Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, with a 1996 rally. He took advantage of the situation and the contacts to start Stand for Children. In the early 2000s, Edelman’s pro-privatization anti-union agenda alienated many of his early supporters.

A 2016 paper from the neoliberal organization Progressive Policy Institute explains how The Mind Trust looked to attract like minded national organizations to Indianapolis:

“The Mind Trust convinced Teach For America (TFA), The New Teacher Project (now TNTP), and Stand for Children to come to Indianapolis, in part by raising money for them. Since then TFA has brought in more than 500 teachers and 39 school leaders (the latter through its Indianapolis Principal Fellowship); TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows Program has trained 498 teachers; and Stand for Children has worked to engage the community, to educate parents about school reform, and to spearhead fundraising for school board candidates.”

Lake states, “Ferebee, Harris, and Kloth formed what one observer called a civic triangle to focus on creating high-performing schools.” By “high performing schools” they mean charter schools dominated by unqualified TFA temp teachers who have assimilated the school privatization philosophy. The third member of the “civic triangle” is Jason Kloth, a Teach for America alumnus, named deputy mayor of education by Republican Mayor Greg Ballard.

Lake also informs us that “The Mind Trust brought school-board members and local civic leaders to New Orleans, which was implementing the portfolio model—characterized by broad school choice for families (based on a “portfolio” of charter and district-run schools), plus autonomy paired with accountability for educators.”

However, members of the black and brown community including the NAACP started realizing that it was their communities that were being robbed of public schools. Lake noted,Despite support from local newspapers’ editorial boards, the black community recoiled and many people saw The Mind Trust as a group of elitists writing plans to take over the local schools.”  In 2013, to counter these problems, The Mind Trust hired a beautiful young black female lawyer, Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, to change its approach to minority communities and solve the issue.

Robin Lake concludes that testing data from a recent CREDO study at Stanford University shows the success of the portfolio model in Indianapolis. Dr. Jim Scheurich, Urban Education Studies Doctoral Program Indiana University – Indianapolis (IUPUI), points out that Lake didn’t mention that the CREDO report and its methodology have been criticized by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy (nepc.colorado.edu) center multiple times. Scheurich also notes that CREDO “receives large pro-charter funding.”

The CREDO study claims to meaningfully measure learning growth to 0.01 of a standard deviation (σ). The reality is Growth models are plagued by error and do not give reliable measurements. There is no way a difference of 0.01 σ can be measured meaningfully. Furthermore, the CREDO studies are not peer reviewed which makes them clearly untrustworthy.

The Metastasizing Affliction

Robin Lake is the director of CRPE which birthed the portfolio model and is engaged in pushing the model into schools nationwide. In 2018, two billionaires, Reed Hastings and Jon Arnold, agreed to put up $100 million each toward promoting the portfolio model of school management. Since then, billionaires Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Steve Ballmer have all contributed to their new organization, The City Fund.

Ethan Gray was Vice President of The Mind Trust before he and David Harris founded an organization called Education Cities. Education Cities became the national organization spreading their ideology. In the summer of 2018, David Harris, Ethan Gray and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo all left their respective organizations to become founding employees of The City Fund.

There is a deep corruption infesting elite institutions in America. For Harvard University to publish biased articles by people with well known agendas exemplifies this metastasizing affliction.

Denver, Colorado has a school district that is often held up as an exemplar of the portfolio model. Far from being an exemplar it is a dystopian nightmare and warning. This year, Denver voters defeated the dark money controlling their school board. Big money was no longer enough. Indianapolis voters need to follow Denver’s example and throw off the billionaire’s yoke.

Twitter: @tultican

Selling Education Growth Models

25 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/25/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CORE and PACE Funders

Information Clipped from the Funders Pages of CORE and PACE

Promoting Education Growth Models

Standard Growth Model Design

Tultican’s Fundamental Education Growth Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The simplest model to understand is the gain-model.

Page 37 Gain Model Example

Graphic from the Practitioners Guide – Illustrating Gain-Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are PACE and CORE Advocating Education Growth Models?

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @tultican

Providence Public Schools Threatened

13 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/13/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Up Providence Public Schools

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

RI Neoliberals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parnership for Rhode Island

Corporations Represented by the Partnership’s Chief Executives Officers

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

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

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

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

Poverty and Language Learners Underlie PPSD’s Testing Data Struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poverty Comparison

US Census Data Showing Income and Poverty Rates

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @tultican

“We Are the Resistance and We Are Winning.”

1 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/1/2020

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

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

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

Goliath_0001

Disruption and Changing Course

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

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

In Slaying Goliath Ravtich shares,

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

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

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

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

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

Strategy of the Disrupters

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

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

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

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

What do disrupters want? They want:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Victorious Resistance

Tom and Diane in Indianapolis

Tom Ultican and Diane Ravitch at the 2018 NPE Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Concluding Analysis

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

Twitter: @tultican

The Best Book of 2019 – Kochland

26 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/26/2019

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Koch Wichita Business Journal

Charles Koch during a 2014 Interview with the Wichita Business Review

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

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

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

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

Leonard reports,

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

The First Big Cash Cow

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

Pine Blend

The Pine Bend Refinery – StartTribune Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koch Defeats Climate Change Legislation

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

Climate Denier Scientist Paid by Koch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @tultican