Democracy and Education

20 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/19/2020

Democracy and free universal public education are foundational American ideologies. They have engendered world renowned success for our experiment in government “by the people”. Two new books – Schoolhouse Burning by Derek Black and A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire – demonstrate that these principles which were integral to the American experiment are shockingly under serious attack by wealthy elites.

After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles Koch 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. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world. In the excellent 2019 book, Kochland, Christopher Leonard states, “Koch would eventually build one of the largest lobbying and political influence machines in US history.”

Both the introduction to A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and the “Through History’s Eyes” chapter of Schoolhouse Burning mention the same quote from Charles Koch. In 2018, the Koch network held its annual three day gathering near Palm Springs, California. It was a 700-person confab of some of the richest people in America. Black wrote,

“Charles Koch told the audience that ‘we’ve made more progress in the last five years than I had in the last 50…. The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level…. We want to increase the effectiveness of the network … by an order of magnitude. If we do that, we can change the trajectory of the country.’ One of the donors at the summit explained that education is ‘the lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today … I think this is the area that is most glaringly obvious.’

“Let that sink in for a moment; change the trajectory of the country and do it through education. In other words, the agenda is not to improve education. The agenda is to change America.”

In Kochland, Leonard gave some context to the effects of the progress for the 160,000 households in the wealthiest 0.1% that Charles Koch was addressing,

“In 1963, the top 0.1 percent of households possessed 10 percent of all American wealth. By 2012, they possessed 22 percent. This gain came as the vast majority of Americans’ lost ground. The bottom 90 percent of Americans possessed about 35 percent of the nation’s wealth in the mid-1980s. By about 2015, their share had fallen to 23 percent.”

Clearly, the great transfer of wealth in America has been from the working class to billionaires and privatizing public education is seen as key to continuing and accelerating that trend.

Schoolhouse Burning Documents the Legal Evolution of Public Education

In the introduction Derek Black states,

“From it first days, the nation’s theory of government depended on educated citizens. The founders feared that democracy without education would devolve into mob rule, open doors to unscrupulous politicians, and encourage hucksters to take advantage of citizens even as they stood in line to vote.”

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 is the oldest working constitution in the world and had great influence in the writing of the US Constitution. It divided the powers of government into three branches – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Its education clause states that, “wisdom and knowledge … diffused generally among the body of the people [are] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties…. [Thus,] it shall be the duty of the legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of the commonwealth, to cherish the … public schools.”

Before the US Constitution was adopted, public education was written into the national legal framework. Black notes that every bound volume of the current United States Legal Code begins with a section called Front Matter which includes the four “organic laws” in chronological order. It is made up of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, the 1777 Articles of Confederation, the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the 1789 US Constitution.

Black outlined how the Northwest Ordinance fits,

“…, the Northwest Ordinance’s substance is a constitutional charter of sorts. Practically speaking, it established the foundational structure for the nation to grow and organize itself for the next two centuries. Precise rules for dividing up land, developing the nation’s vast territories, and detailing the path that these territories would follow to become states are not the work of everyday legislation. They are the work of a national charter. Those rules and their effects remain in place to this day.

“From this perspective, the Northwest Ordinance’s education agenda cannot be separated from our constitutional structure and vision. And it was under this constitutional structure and vision that George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison took office and served as presidents of the United States. To no surprise, all would assert education’s utmost importance and call for its expansion.”

In the north, the ideals of public education were fully embraced and the only debate was over the details. It was different in the antebellum south where poorer whites paid almost no taxes and the wealthiest southerners paid two-thirds of all taxes. Johann Neem explains in Democracy’s Schools, “Because of their political power and the way the tax burden fell largely upon them, slaveholding elites spread an antitax gospel to convince ordinary whites that taxes were a bad thing”

During the period of reconstruction following the civil war, the US congress made provisions for freed slave education and political rights to be enforced by federal troops.  The thirteenth amendment to the constitution which passed December 6, 1865 abolished slavery. In 1866, the fourteenth amendment which prohibited discrimination in various aspects of life and extended citizenship to African Americans was adopted.

Requirements for states being readmitted to the union included ratification of the 14th amendment and adopting a constitution that conforms to the “Constitution of the United States in all respects.”  This last provision was a demand to establish a republican form of government which in turn meant enshrining public education in their state constitution. Because of growing signs of recalcitrance, Congress imposed an education commitment as an explicit condition for the last three states to reenter the Union – Virginia, Texas and Mississippi.

The compromise of 1877 undermined legal protections for black people in the south and financial support for public education. A closely divided corrupt election pitted a Republican abolitionist from Ohio, Rutherford Hayes, against the Democrat Samuel Tilden of New York. Tilden gained the most votes but 20 electors were disputed. A committee of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats decided Hayes would become President provided he agree that

  • Troops will be recalled from the statehouse property in the three states. [South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana]
  • “Funds will be provided to build the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
  • “A southerner will be appointed as Postmaster General.
  • “Funds will be appropriated to rebuild the economy in the South.
  • “The solution to the race problem will be left to the state governments.”

All decisions were made on party line votes of 8 Republicans for and 7 Democrats opposed.

Throughout the south, segregated schools were soon mandated, spending on educating the newly minted citizens was reduced to lower taxes and voting rights were restricted. Black writes,

“Planters saw the value of competent workers but no value in ‘inflat[ing] the economic and political expectations of workers.’ The only thing education would accomplish would be to ‘spoil good field hands.’ Even worse, education would lead blacks to push for even more social and political equality.”

Thurgood Marshall and other lawyers from the NAACP won many court victories including the famous Brown vs. the Board of Education case that declared education “must be made available to all on equal terms.” Black says the one phrase the court omitted in its 1954 opinion was a clear declaration that education is a fundamental right.

After that case, the Supreme Court expanded desegregation efforts. In the early 1970s a backlash came with the election of Richard Nixon. Nixon campaigned against the Supreme Court and especially against forced desegregation. Between 1969 and 1974, he appointed four justices – Burger, Rehnquist, Powell and Blackmun. Rehnquist held the view that Plessy v. Ferguson which Brown overturned had been correctly settled. Even more troubling, Justice Powell while on the Richmond, Virginia school board and later the Virginia state school board supported school segregation and the massive resistance movement against Brown.

In the 1974 case of Millikan v. Bradley, the court dealt a death blow to desegregation efforts. Black shared,

“By a vote of 5-4, the Court insisted that plaintiffs needed to show intentional school segregation, not just in Detroit’s city schools, but in its suburban districts, too. Absent that, lower courts could not order metropolitan-wide school desegregation.”

By the 1990s, no new Federal Court orders to end school segregation were in the works and those underway were being ended. Since then schools have been re-segregating.

“Are You Trying to Scare People?”

A senior scholar asked this question after reviewing an early draft of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door. The authors’ response was, “In a word, yes.”

Schneider and Berkshire declare that ideas which for multiple decades have been considered fringe thinking are now central. The radical right and especially leaders in the religious right like Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, denounce the whole concept of public education.

So, what do these ever more potent deep pocketed funders and conservative politicians want? The authors lay out the four main principles of the radical right.

“1. Education is a personal good, not a collective one.”

“2. Schools belong in the domain of the free market, not the government.”

“3. To the extent that they are able, ‘consumers’ of education should pay for it themselves.”

“4. Unions and other forms of collective power are economically inefficient and politically problematic.”

The conservative enemies of public education today sound like Fred Koch and his John Birch Society did in the 50s and 60s. From A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door,

‘“Elementary and secondary education in the U.S. is the country’s last remaining socialist enterprise,’ declared Joseph Bast, CEO of the libertarian Heartland Institute, in a 2002 blog post. Bast was explaining his distaste for public education while making the case for so-called universal private school vouchers, which conservatives view as a way station en route to whole-sale privatization.”

The socialist charge has also been directed at teachers. Writing about the 2018 teacher uprisings Schneider and Berkshire explain,

“They demanded that the wealthy pay higher taxes to fund public education, employing a hashtag slogan – #RedforEd.… While the slogan, and the cause it represented, attracted widespread public support, conservative critics saw #RedforEd as something more nefarious. Leaders of Arizona’s teacher protest movement, warned one Republican state representative were using ‘teachers and our children to carry out their socialist movement.’”

The push to privatize public education had foundered until charter schools appeared and a newly formed Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was created to push the Democratic Party more to the center. A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door reports, “When the DLC unveiled its official agenda at a 1991 gathering in Cleveland, its head, a rising young Southern governor named Bill Clinton, gave school choice a full-throated endorsement.”

Not only has the push to privatize public education been a bipartisan effort of political elites from both major political parties but even more strangely they have also joined together in attacking labor. From the book:

“The irony is that weakening the influence of organized labor – teachers’ unions in particular – has been largely a bipartisan cause. Bill Clinton made his attack on Arkansas teachers a centerpiece of his 1983 gubernatorial campaign, burnishing his image as a new breed of Democrat who wasn’t afraid to take on the party’s own ‘special interests.’ And during Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House, tough talk against teachers’ unions as protectors of the status quo emerged as party orthodoxy. ‘It’s time to start rewarding good teachers, stop making excuses for bad ones,’ Obama proclaimed in a 2009 speech in which he praised the idea of merit pay for teachers, long a favorite policy tool of Republicans.”

In A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Schneider and Berkshire explain the pursuit of profits in education and the push to implement virtual learning. They ruminate on the history of government regulation (child labor – meat industry – healthcare products and practices) and the push to end regulation. Here like in school privatization there is a religious like belief in markets to be self-regulating and superior to any “big government” organization.

They delve into the marketing that comes along with market driven privatized education. Especially interesting is the potential for micro-targeting student families using companies like Facebook. It enables schools to target only certain demographics.

They also address teachers being pushed into the gig-economy and its ramifications.

The push for “personalized learning” at computers employing AI algorithms to guide students through lessons instead of teachers has the twin goals of reducing teacher costs and creating an edtech market. With cyber-schools, costs are reduced in two ways, facilities requirements are significantly cheaper and with their large class sizes teacher costs are reduced. Even more promising for cost reduction at cyber-schools is the prospect that all classes can be conducted by hourly paid gig workers. Schneider and Berkshire note:

“Of course, the replacement of flesh-and-blood teachers by personalized learning programs will not be universal. Students from privileged families will continue to be educated much as they always have been, with students and teachers coming together as communities of learners.”

Concluding Remark

There is a lot to these books. They highlight the multiple dangerous paths our nation is on which is indeed scary. Together Schoolhouse Burning and A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door paint – a maybe not probable – but a very possible grim picture for the future of public education in America. Even grimmer is that this attack on universal free public school is also an attack of America’s 250-year experiment with government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It is a credible attack on democracy.

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” Hawks Digital Learning

8 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/8/2020

The last Democrat and first woman to serve as Governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue, has become one of the nation’s leading advocates for digital learning. She presents herself as a simple country girl from a poor family, but doesn’t mention that her coalminer father became a rich mine owner by the time she was in college. She is known as a powerful political and financial operative with connections that go all the way to the incoming Biden administration.

Creating a New Career

Governor Perdue has a background in education. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in history, she taught kindergarten in 1970-71, ninth grade 1971-73 and high school 1973-74. She then returned to college where in 1976 she earned a Doctorate in Education Administration. Her thesis was focused on education gerontology.

Following earning the education doctorate, she worked in long term care and geriatric services. She ran for the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1986 and won. Four years later, she won a state senate seat; holding it for a decade before making successful runs for Lieutenant Governor in 2000 and again in 2004. This all positioned her to become North Carolina’s first female governor in 2008.

For Perdue, the wheels flew off the campaign bus in 2012. She was facing tanking polling numbers when members of her 2008 campaign pled guilty to finance violations. Greensboro businessman Peter Reichard, the finance director, pled to a felony and lawyer Julia Leigh “Juleigh” Sitton, a fundraiser for the campaign, pled to a misdemeanor in order to avoid a felony charge. Perdue soon announced she would not be a candidate for Governor in 2013.

The June following her exit from the Governor’s mansion, the Newsobserver.com reported, “Former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has recently finished her teaching fellowship at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and plans to launch an education consulting business from her home in Chapel Hill.” The next month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave Perdue a $250,669 grant to “develop a business and operation plan for the Digital Learning Institute (digiLEARN).”

That September digiLEARN received notice from the IRS of their successful application identifying them as a charitable organization. To do the heavy lifting at digiLEARN, Purdue brought in her advisor from the governor’s office on e-learning and innovation, Myra Best. Prior to joining Perdue in Raleigh, Best served as Director of the Business Education Technology Alliance (BETA) which established North Carolina’s first statewide Virtual Public School. BETA was a committee of 27 business, political and education leaders established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2002. The chair of the committee was Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue.

DigiLEARN’s about web page states,

“Digital Learning Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating digital learning for all ages with a goal of increasing personal learning options for students and expanding instructional opportunities for teachers and instructors. In addition, DigiLEARN will focus on cultivating an innovative economy for education technology start-ups and entrepreneurs.

“DigiLEARN was founded and is chaired by former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, with former Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer serving as vice chair.”

In 1997, the vice chair, Jim Geringer, was one of the governors who established the non-profit Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. It was an early adopter of cyber and competency based education. In a lengthy interview for the Wyoming State archives, Geringer speaks glowingly about the school and its methods.

The membership of the first digiLEARN board of governors made it clear that it was politically connected and aligned with the goals of the edtech industry. In addition to Geringer and Perdue former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise became a founding Director on the board.

In 2010, Jeb Bush and Bob Wise launched the Digital Learning Council which promoted cyber schooling and “personalized learning.” In 2015, North Carolina State University honored Wise at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation’s Friday Medal presentation. The institute notes, “The Friday Medal is awarded annually in honor of William C. Friday to recognize significant, distinguished and enduring contributions to education and beyond through advocating innovation, advancing education and imparting inspiration.”

Besides the three ex-governors, two North Carolina State Representatives – Craig Horn and Joe Tolson – were on the original board. Also on the board was one of edtech industries most widely published advocates, Tom Vander Ark. He became a national name in 1999 when named the Executive Director of the Gates Foundation in charge of education initiatives. In 2001 his notoriety grew when testifying before congress making the case for the now failed Gates small schools initiative. Teacher activist Anthony Cody wrote questioning Vander Ark’s 2016 push for new testing in a Washington Post piece,

“The growing ‘opt out’ movement poses a huge threat to the standardized testing ‘measure to manage’ paradigm.

“So what is to be done?

“Reinvent the tests once again, using technology. And who better for the job than Tom Vander Ark, formerly of the Gates Foundation, and now associated with a long list of education technology companies. The latest package of solutions is being called ‘competency-based learning,’ and it was featured prominently in the Department of Education’s latest ‘Testing Action Plan.”

Michael Lavine is also on the board. For almost 11 years he was Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center where according to his LinkedIn page, he “Founded research and development institute (a new division for the company) devoted to accelerating young children’s learning through the integration of proven and promising educational technologies.” For seven years, he served as an Advisory Board Member at Teach For America (TFA).

DigiLEARN focuses its activities on developing a network of support for competency based education and digital learning. Of particular note are their connections with The Friday Institute of Education Innovation and The Innovation Project both headquartered on the campus at North Carolina State University. They spend most of their billionaire provided largesse on Digital Scholars, a program developed to help teachers see the value in digital learning and to successfully institute it.

Liz Bell of EDNC (Education North Carolina) reported on the 2017 plan for establishing Digital Scholars:

“The program is operating on a $1.5 million budget, $900,000 of which will be for the 40 total Scholars training, travel, and experiences. The other $600,000 will be used to hire a full-time Digital Scholar, and for contracts, publications, and other expenses.”

“We have realized now that if you can put teachers really skilled in digital learning in every school in a state, or in every school in a district, then you can build to scale this thing we call personalized learning,” she [Perdue] said.”

A libertarian conservative named A. J. Dillon observed,

“This continued push in Digital Learning comes despite a study from January 2016 that says digital devices are a major distraction to students and achievement levels were suffering.

“The study was done by Bernard McCoy University of Nebraska Lincoln which was published in the Journal of Media Education and involved college students.

“A variety of recent research suggests that digital device access is lower academic progress, creating developmental delays for young children and has become a real distraction in the classroom. Digital learning is also proving to be very, very expensive.”

Dillon also urged her followers to read, “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax.”

Director Tom Vander Ark just published a new piece about Governor Geringer’s Western Governor’s University (WGU). In it he shares,

“WGU put together a skills architecture team alongside national competency networks. They then used EMSI, a common way to describe skills, to tag them to a competency and execute dynamic audits of performance.”

He quotes Marni Baker Stein, Provost and Chief Academic Officer at WGU,

‘“Over 90 institutions who are actively involved in this work. Ourselves, SNHU, Georgia State System, ACE, Wal Mart, Amazon, Udacity, US Chamber, more… Concentric Sky.’ (sic)

Vander Ark concludes,

“These developments will lead to a skills library that everyone can use and will encourage diversity in employment and educational institutions. Tagging all things to a skill makes them universally valuable — something that is particularly important with Human+ degrees.”

Behavioral badging in China (gamifying good citizenship) is quite similar to the dystopian future being offered here. Edtech enabled micro credentialing includes behavior modification using badging as a way to move schooling away from a rounded liberal arts program to a marketable skills program. Students complete small discrete skills at a screen and are rewarded with badges as proof of meeting the standard. Wall Street leaders in the online learning and edtech industries are making major investments in this scheme which holds the potential for destroying community public schools, generating large profits and lowering taxes on the wealthy. It has also proven to be bad pedagogy.

EDNC reported that this October, Lawmakers at the North Carolina Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee heard a proposal to make micro-credentialing a statewide system of professional development for teachers.

“Former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, head of digiLEARN, a nonprofit focused on ‘accelerating digital learning,’ is spearheading the development of a micro-credential program along with partners such as the state Department of Public Instruction, RTI International, and New America.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a chair of the committee, said that micro-credentials can help people better understand what kinds of teachers are in a classroom.” (Representative Craig Horn is a digiLEARN founding board member.)

Perdue, Vander Ark, Horn and everyone else at digiLEARN must be thrilled that Catherine Truitt is the incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction for North Carolina. Chancellor Truitt of the North Carolina branch of WGU is leaving the competency based cyber school for her new position.

Billionaires like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Laurene Jobs Powell have spent lavishly to create an education publishing group to get out their message of school choice and edtech. Both Perdue and Vander Ark are regular contributors to The 74 Million and Perdue is featured at The Education Post. One of her early pieces for Education Post was A Nation At Risk 2.0. In it Perdue echoed the calamity rhetoric of 1983’s “A Nation At Risk” declaring, “Right now, alarm bells should be clanging all over America louder than they were for President Reagan and business leaders more than 30 years ago.” She was decrying the slow implementation of edtech in schools.

Perdue has added a new position to her resume, Managing Partner for Education, at the Ridge-Lane Limited Partners. The former Pennsylvania Governor and first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, has partnered with financier R. Brad Lane to create the company. Their about page says it is “a strategic advisory and venture development firm … focused on root-cause solutions to grand challenges in Education, Sustainability, and Information Technology.

Along with Perdue, former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise is on the Ridge-Lane board. Also on the board is former New Schools Venture Fund CEO and Obama’s Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. He has strong ties to the investor community and the privatization movement. Two TFA alumni Hana Skandara and John White are on the board as is Chris Cerf.

With this lineup of education leaders there is little doubt that Ridge-Lane will be promoting both bad edtech and segregation engendering school choice.

Infecting the Biden Administration with Edtech Dogma

Prompted by an article I had written about North Carolina being ravaged with edtech spending, a profoundly shaken person contacted me to share their experience on Biden’s campaign Education Policy Committee. As the new administration prepares to take charge, many groups are meeting to develop an agenda to move America forward.  

In the Education Policy Committee, there was a tech sub-committee chaired by Bev Perdue. Reportedly the sub-committee had a large North Carolina contingent including Myra Best. The twenty member sub-committee was dominated by edtech supporters. Many members were people with backgrounds like former Amazon web-services director.

The committee’s attitude toward student privacy was unacceptable especially their positions on sharing data. My source described the sub-committee as the proverbial “foxes in the hen house.”

Edtech can be a wonderful thing for students and educators, but if the point is to make large profits off data and replace teachers with digital screens, edtech becomes a great evil. Unfortunately, Bev Perdue and digiLEARN are promoting the evil brand of edtech. Let’s hope the incoming administration can successfully filter out this tainted input.

Selling Edtech when Disguised as Philanthropy

27 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/27/2020

“Personalized learning” is being driven by foundations derived from companies that stand to profit by its implementation. Last year, George Mason’s Priscilla Regan and the University of Ottawa’s Valerie Steeves wrote the peer reviewed paper Education, privacy, and big data algorithms: Taking the persons out of personalized learning in which they state, “Other than the Carnegie Corporation, the private foundations who have been most supportive of personalized learning are those supported by the technology companies, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Google Foundation.”

In the case of the Carnegie Corporation, the authors note that the philanthropy has been supporting education causes since its founding in 1911. Recently, Carnegie has given monetary support to “personalized learning” but “typically in partnership with one of the tech foundations.”

Based on a listing of the fifteen largest education spending philanthropies in the first decade of the millennium,  the paper’s authors selected the technology linked Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the largest donor); Michael and Susan Dell (fourth largest donor); and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (#8 in 2010) for analysis. They added two newer giving organizations, the Google Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, to complete their list of five tech associated education grant making companies to analyze.

In their review of scholarly papers and the popular press, they identified five types of activities supported by tech foundations with their K-12 spending:

“The first activity … involves grants to public schools for adoption of edtech applications, including personalized learning initiatives, or to educational initiatives to organizations working in public schools (such as Teach for America) or to organizations providing alternatives to public schools (such as charter schools).

“The second entails grants or some form of funding support for edtech companies.”

“The third area of activity is tech foundation support for coverage of edtech, especially coverage in publications directed to education professionals.”

“A fourth area of activity is tech foundation funding for research into studies evaluating the results of edtech applications, including personalized learning.”

“The fifth area of activity is tech foundation funding for advocacy groups who work in K-12 education.”

Three important observations from Regan and Steeves paper:

“We argue that, although there has been no formal recognition, personalized learning as conceptualized by foundations marks a significant shift away from traditional notions of the role of education in a liberal democracy and raises serious privacy issues that must be addressed.”

“It presents yet another example of the transformation of the traditional role of public education as educating citizens to one of educating future workers and consumers, a contrast of liberal democracy with neoliberal democracy.”

“The edtech sector has been focused on the notion [of personalized learning] …. While companies have generated hundreds of products and a smattering of new school models are showing promise, there is little large-scale evidence that the approach can improve teaching and learning or narrow gaps in academic achievement.”

After investigating education journalism, the authors chose to focus on Education Week as representative. The 1981 non-profit bills itself as “American education’s newspaper of record.” It has a print circulation of 50,000 and an online subscribership of 750,000 made up predominately of educators. Education Week has gotten an infusion of grant money from philanthropic foundations including $10 million from the Gates Foundation since 2005.

The authors concluded, “It accordingly is a site where various actors involved in personalized learning, including, teachers, school administrators, developers, policy-makers and foundations, share their views.” They also note that Education Week intersects with all five of the activity types supported by the tech foundations. For the study, they reviewed articles from the five year period 2013 to 2017.

What is being Sold?

“Personalized learning”, “blended learning” and standardized testing are three of the bigger items being promoted. Huge lobbying by big tech has turned the United States Education Department (USED) into a de facto tech sales firm. Statements like this abound on the USED web site,

“Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. 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. This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs. It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student.”  

This grotesque distortion of reality is little more than propaganda backing technology based bad pedagogy. Tech provided schemes like “personalized learning” are founded on the behaviorist based mastery education theory. Besides promoting tech industry products, USED champions age inappropriate learning and publishes unfounded blather about better student outcomes.

The 1970’s “mastery learning” was so detested that it was renamed “outcome based education” in the 1990s and now is called “competency based education” (CBE). The name changes are due to the five-decade long record of failure. CBE is simply putting “mastery leaning” on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. In the 1970s teachers began calling it “seats and sheets.”

“Personalized Learning” is a euphemistic term that indicates lessons delivered on a digital device. These lessons are often organized with a playlist and come with a claim of using artificial intelligence to tailor the lessons to the recipient. The scheme is based on mastery learning theory.

“Credit recovery” is the fraud that has engendered soaring graduation rates. It is another way of implementing “personalize learning.” Students are completing semester long classes and receiving full credit for them in as little as one day. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. Today, fueled by this technology based scam, graduation rates are approaching 90%.

The current version of the national education law, The Every Student Succeeds Act, defines “blended learning”:

‘‘The term ‘blended learning’ means a formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches—(A) that include an element of online or digital learning, combined with supervised learning time, and student- led learning, in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience; and (B) in which students are provided some control over time, path, or pace.”

This means that a student gets lessons delivered to their digital device from a provider like the Khan Academy. Later the student’s teacher takes on the roll of tutor and helps them with their assignments during class. It is another way to de-professionalize teaching and sell technology.

There are many dark sides to education technology including personal privacy being sundered.

Education psychologist and author of “Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds”, Jane Healy, spent years doing research into computer use in schools and, while she expected to find that computers in the classroom would be beneficial, now feels that “time on the computer might interfere with development of everything from the young child’s motor skills to his or her ability to think logically and distinguish between reality and fantasy.”

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.”

Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen recently wrote an article for Atlantic magazine about the damage screen time is doing. She shared about the current group of teenagers she labels iGen,

“Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

Not all edtech is bad. In fact some is necessary and some greatly enhances learning. In my personal experience, I found Jupiter Grades, the online grade book to be a very valuable tool for communicating with both students and their parents. Student management systems like those provided by Illuminate Education are essential for managing attendance, enrollment and other things schools legally must track.

In the classroom, high speed data acquisition equipment, word processing capabilities and high end calculators are a boon. Textbooks that take advantage of technology to create hints and provide tools for exploration are excellent learning tools.

The difference between technology that enhances pedagogy and bad edtech is the underlying purpose. Technology that is designed to fill a need and enhance learning is normally a good thing. Technology that is designed to improve system efficiency the way robotics has increased production outputs per worker is generally bad for learning.

In the new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire explain,

“Because learning is deeply rooted in relationships, it can’t be farmed out to robots or time-saving devices. Technology, of course, is rapidly moving into classrooms. But just having more Chromebooks or online learning platforms hasn’t allowed for faster or larger batch-processing of students.”

Looking at the Scholarly Analysis

Regan and Steeves wrote,

“With respect to personalized learning, all five of the foundations emphasize that there are differences in the ways student learn and the importance of ‘flexible learning opportunities’ (Hewlett), ‘the right experiences to help students learn’ (Dell), ‘a truly transformative, personalized learning experience’ (CZ), and ‘the right learning materials’ (Google), which leads to the importance of ‘real-time assessments for gauging student learning’ (Gates) and ‘formative data … gathered as learning is happening … in-the-moment use of data in the classroom’ (Dell). None of the five foundations, however provide a definition of what they actually mean by personalized learning instead describing the importance of data and differences.

“Moreover, none of the five foundations offers actual evidence for the effectiveness of the innovations they are advancing although all discuss the importance of evidence.” (Emphasis Added)

 “Perhaps most interesting in our review of foundations’ Web sites was the almost universal absence of any mention of privacy or the implications of collecting all this data on students’ learning and personal characteristics that would be a necessary component to implement personalized learning, as well as an outcome of that implementation. … The absence of this topic from their overviews is startling given the attention companies like Google and Facebook have been forced to pay to both privacy and security.”

When looking at the EdWeek material the authors observed,

“The EdWeek data set … bifurcates into two, mostly separate, discourses. The first replicates the same themes we found in the foundation Web site materials. It consists of 14 articles written by eight authors, including senior EdWeek writers …; all eight authors are explicitly assigned to cover ed-tech from a business perspective …. For simplicity sake, we refer to this as the dominant discourse.”

“The second discourse appears almost exclusively in 14 articles written by Benjamin Herold, a staff writer who came to EdWeek from public radio and who covers ‘ed-tech, newsroom analytics, digital storytelling and Philadelphia’.”

One of the main themes from the dominant discourse is diminishing the roll of teachers.

“From this perspective, teachers are not experts in the education process equipped to make decisions about how and when to use edtech; instead, they must embrace the fact that, because of technology, ‘they don’t need to know it all. They’re not the experts’ …. Expertise resides in the edtech itself.”

The authors note, “And ultimately, when faced with hard numbers that suggest personalized learning is not effective, the dominant discourse falls back on the need to believe in the technology.”

Benjamin Herold’s articles pushed back against the dominant discourse. His basic argument is captured in the following quote attributed to a parent activist,

“As parent Karen Effrem, ‘the president of … an advocacy organization that supports parents’ right to control their children’s education’ says, ‘We’re sacrificing our children’s privacy, and we’re allowing corporations to make potentially life-changing decisions about our kids, all for technology that doesn’t actually help them.’”

School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

12 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/12/2020

Los Angeles, Oakland and Indianapolis are routinely targeted by pro-public school privatization billionaires. Local school board races that a decade ago required less than $10,000 in order to mount a credible campaign now require ten times that amount. Billionaires again spent lavishly to take control of school boards in these three cities.

The Good

For two decades Oakland has been California’s petri dish for school privatization. Eli Broad has placed four superintendents in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). Mayor Jerry Brown between terms in the Governor’s mansion helped establish the first charter schools in Oakland. Reed Hastings and “Doowop” Don Shalvey created one of the first ever charter management organizations (Aspire Charter Schools) in Oakland. The billionaire funded and pro-school privatization organizations New Schools Venture Fund, Educate78 and GO Public education are all headquartered in Oakland.

The general election on November 3 had four odd numbered district director positions on the ballot. The Oakland school board has seven seats. In an attempt to place school privatization friendly directors on the board, three out of town billionaires poured $625,000 into the Power2Families independent expenditure committee.

The former New York Mayor and Presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, also sent $300,000 to the GO Public School’s independent expenditure committee Families and Educators for Public Education in addition to the $400,000 he gave Power2Families.

For this board of education election there were six independent expenditure committees (IEC) operating.

  • Four pro-charter schools IECs:
    • Families and Educators for Public Education (GO Public Schools)
    • Charter Public Schools PAC (California Charter Schools Association)
    • Power2Families (founded by charter chain founder, Hae-Sin Thomas)
    • Committee for California (founded by Jerry and Anne Gust Brown) 
  • Two pro-public schools IECs:
    • Oakland Education Association Political Action Committee (Teacher Union)
    • Oakland Rising Committee sponsored by (Movement Strategy Center Action Fund a Local Grassroots Political Organizing Group )  

Jan Malvin, a retired UCSF researcher, created the following election spending graphic.

The chart shows that in terms of spending from direct contributions which have maximum contributions limits, the pro-public school candidates had a $48,000 advantage. In the unregulated independent expenditure spending, the pro-charter school PACs had a $580,000 spending advantage.

Campaign Flyer from the OEA

It turned out that the Oakland community was ready to fight back and win. In fact, “Mike ‘The Students Voice’ Hutchinson” achieved a clear victory over “Michael ‘The Billionaire” Bloomberg.”

The vote counting appears close to being done. However, Oakland employs Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) instead of a primary system. Voters rank candidates in their order of preference. When the votes are counted, if no one gains 50% of the vote, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Their votes are distributed based on rankings. This process continues until the winner passes 50% of the vote.

An unofficial RCV run shows that the leaders in the following vote count will be elected.

The Oakland community fought back against the billionaires’ spending advantage. They raised money, contacted neighbors and won a decisive victory by taking the seats in districts 1, 3 and 5. In district-7, they lost but achieved more votes, but were divided on who to support. When the new board is seated, it will have a clear pro-public school supporting majority.

The Bad

In March of 2017, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board election became the most expensive of its kind in history. Billionaire financed pro-school privatization organizations poured in almost $10 million to capture a majority on the board; which they did.

A special election was held in 2019 to replace the criminally malfeasant district-5 board member, Ref Rodriguez. Jackie Goldberg’s election swung the four person majority on the board back to the pro-public school side.

Rodriquez had hung onto his seat long enough to be the deciding vote making billionaire Eli Broad’s business partner, investment banker Austin Beutner, Superintendent of Schools. It was a curious hire because Beutner had no education training or experience.

Since superintendents work for the elected board, it is surprising if a superintendent of a public school district takes a position in a school board race. This year Beutner ignored that norm. He forwarded tweets supporting the campaigns of Marilyn Koziatek in district-3 and Tanya Ortiz Franklin in district-7. Beutner claims the tweets were not sent by him.

For the 2020 election cycle, the four odd numbered seats of the board were on the ballot. The three even numbered seats will be on the ballot in 2022. The seats up for election this year was comprised of the four vote majority on the board supporting public schools.

It was an opportunity for the billionaires to swing the board majority back in their favor and they did not let the chance slip away.

This LittleSis Map Documents Billionaire Education Spending in 2020

The three PACs mapped in yellow appear to be the main conduit for billionaire money going to independent expenditures this year. The wealthy real estate developer from Manhattan Beach, California, William E. Bloomfield, is pouring his money directly into private campaign companies normally hired by the PACs to produce their media and campaign mailings. The Campaign Company Group shown above is a fictitious company showing the total funding Bloomfield has spent with seven different companies to produce campaign materials for candidates he supports or opposes.

During the March primary election both District-1 Board Member George McKenna and District-5 Board Member Jackie Goldberg ended their campaigns for reelection by receiving more than 50% of the vote thus winning the seat. That left just districts 3 and 7 to be determined in the general election.

In district-7, incumbent Richard Vladovic was term limited from running. Teacher’s union favorite Patricia Castellanos faced off against the charter industry supported Tanya Ortiz Franklin. The district-3 race was between incumbent Scott Schmerelson and Granada Hills Charter High School employee Marilyn Koziatek.

There were four main independent expenditure groups active in the school board general election:

Pro-School Privatization

  • Families and Teachers United, Sponsored by California Charter School Association
  • Kids First, Established by Benjamin B. Austin
  • William E. Bloomfield, Is an Independent Expenditures Committee of One

Pro-Public Schools

  • Students, Parents and Educators, Sponsored by Teacher’s Unions

The table above shows almost $12 million dollars in independent expenditures spent to sway the election with nearly $10 million promoting school privatization. In the district-3 race, $3,586,443.03 was spent to defeat Scott Schmerelson and in the district-7 race, a whopping $6,387,455.15 went to ensure Franklin topped Castellanos.

The big spending Kids First PAC was established by Benjamin B. Austin who has a long history as a public school “destructor.” He worked as a Deputy Mayor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, he was appointed to the California State Board of Education by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he founded the Parent Revolution and wrote the Parent Trigger Law. Now he is bundling money to undermine democratic elections.

In district-3, Schmerelson who has 40 years of experience as a board member, teacher and school administrator had to fight hard and endure horrible slanders to defeat a charter school employee who has never taught and whose only school related work is in public relations.  In district-7, the massive spending to elect Tanya Ortiz Franklin worked. It gave billionaires a district majority for at least the next two years.

The Ugly

The local Indianapolis PBS station WFYI reported, “Reform Candidates Sweep IPS School Board Race In Expensive, Contentious Campaign.” They continued, “The four winners in the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners election will tilt the board firmly into support for the charter-friendly reforms ongoing at the state’s largest school district.”

When putative Democrat Bart Peterson was Mayor of Indianapolis, he led the beginnings of privatizing public schools there. He and his administrations school advisor, David Harris, founded The Mind Trust with major funding from local philanthropies including the Lilly Endowment. Lilly has gifted the organization more than $22 million in the last seven years and given lavishly to local charter schools. Indianapolis is now the second most privatized school system in America; second only to the New Orleans 100% privatized system.

The election results makes it certain that the privatization trend will continue. Bart Peterson is back with a new political action group dedicated to advancing his school privatization cause. Peterson’s new group is Hoosiers for Great Public Schools. This year there were five political action committees operating in Indianapolis.

Pro-Public Education

  • I-Pace – The Indiana Teachers Union PAC

Pro-School Privatization

  • Stand for Children Indy
  • Rise Indy
  • Hoosiers for Great Public Schools
  • Indy Chamber

The pro-privatization groups got a big assist from Billionaires Alice Walton ($200,000) and Michael Bloomberg ($100,000). They ended up with a ten to one spending advantage.

With their great financial advantage and a raging virus limiting door to door campaigning, the election was not close.

It truly is an ugly day for Indianapolis. Already more than 60% of the publicly financed schools are either charter schools or innovation schools. In either case, the elected school board has no control over their operations. They are run by private entities. This election insured that Indianapolis will continue on the course toward ending public education.

Ed Tech Spending Rampaging through North Carolina Public Schools

27 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/27/2020

A North Carolina cabal of school superintendents, politicians, consultants and technology companies has gone wild over the past seven years. In Chapel Hill, Education Elements obtained an illegitimate $767,000 contract. Chapel Hill-Carborro City Hills Schools (CHCCS) Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Jennifer Bennett, supposedly ignored school board policy and agreed to the contract in secret. It seems that when the state and local schools are spending on education technology, policies and law are being ignored.

After the Education Elements negotiations, Bennett sent a message to their Managing Partner, Jason Bedford, saying, “Need to get you guys to modify the [contract] if you can since if we include the whole potential payment value, then we have to take this to the Board since over our $90K threshold ….” This seems very damning, however, local citizens think they are being gas lighted. In the comments section on the school boards web site, several parents expressed the same opinion as parent Jeff Safir who wrote,

“I find it hard to believe that Jennifer Bennett acted alone and was the only person aware of the money being spent on the Education Elements engagement and I don’t understand why she is able to serve out the rest of her contract in an alternate capacity when the position is at-will ….”

Education Elements was created with funding from NewSchools Venture fund and a four other venture capital groups that invest in education startups. As noted in a previous article, “There are few districts in America that do not have a deeper bench when it comes to education theory, practical application and leadership talent than Education Elements.”  In agreement with this point, parent Kavita Rajagopal wrote,

“There is zero information as to exactly what our taxpayer dollars even bought from EdElements. I have spoken to numerous (double digits) teachers and not a single one found the training to be novel or particularly eye opening. Why are there no teachers at the table?”

Particularly galling to CHCCS parents is the fact that 20 of 40 teaching assistants working in special education were let go at the same time this contract was consummated. Parent Payal Perera wrote, “I was appalled to learn that the EC support staff funding was cut, while $750K was available for these other things!”

Mary Ann Wolf is President of the CHCCS school board. She is also a long time proponent of education technology. In a 2010 paper she wrote,

“Personalized learning requires not only a shift in the design of schooling, but also a leveraging of modern technologies. Personalization cannot take place at scale without technology. Personalized learning is enabled by smart e-learning systems, which help dynamically track and manage the learning needs of all students, and provide a platform to access myriad engaging learning content, resources and learning opportunities needed to meet each students needs everywhere at anytime, but which are not all available within the four walls of the traditional classroom.”

Wolf is Director of the Digital Learning Programs at The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University and is a member of the Digital Promise Micro-credential Advisory Board. She also presents at Future Ready symposiums.

In other words, Board President Mary Ann Wolf isn’t just a fan of putting kids at digital screens. She is a well paid leader in the movement.  The headline on the Friday Institute’s homepage proclaims, “Coaching digital learning institute.”

At the Friday Institute, Wolf had a colleague named Lauren Acree who in 2019 took a position as Design Principle at Education Elements. Parents in CHCCS are suspicious about why Wolf never revealed her connection to Education Elements when the scandal erupted.

It is not just North Carolina school districts ignoring past practices, policies and laws concerning education technology spending. In 2018, Mark Johnson, the Republican Superintendent of Schools, led a group of three local politicians and two superintendents of schools on an all expense paid junket to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Seven months later, Johnson announced a $6.6 million I-pad contract to supply the devices to North Carolina public school students in kindergarten through third grade. It was a no-bid contract that bypassed the state Department of Information Technology.

Johnson has great connections but he is not qualified to lead schools. In 2016, 33-years-old Mark Johnson became North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He garnered 50.6% of the vote besting his opponents 49.4% tally.

The young lawyer vacated his position as corporate counsel at Inmar, an international technology company, where he had worked for three years to take the Superintendent’s position. His only training and experience in education was a two year temp teacher stint with Teach For America (TFA).

Although he clearly lacked the qualifications of Professor June Atkinson, the incumbent, several billionaires including Arthur Rock, Michael Bloomberg, Jonathan Sackler and Steuart Walton contributed heavily to his campaign.

In 2016, Johnson also received support from the Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) PAC. It supports TFA alumni running for office. The Silicon Valley billionaire, Arthur Rock, is a board member of LEE along with Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma. 

Superintendents Organized to Sell Education Technology

In 2015, the Raleigh law firm Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP established The Innovation Project (TIP) with ten superintendents from North Carolina’s public school districts. The more than 100-years-old firm has deep ties to the business and political communities in North Carolina’s capital. For example, their self published history notes,

“Ed Gaskins was a member of EGH’s other predecessor firm, Sanford & Cannon. Sanford & Cannon was formed in 1965 by Terry Sanford (1917-1998), former Governor of North Carolina, and Hugh Cannon (1931-2006), one of Governor Sanford’s senior advisors who served as counsel to the governor.”

Why did law firm Partner Gerry Hancock initiate TIP as a service of the Raleigh law firm in their offices at the historic Briggs Hardware Store? Whatever the real motive was, by 2017, TIP had 26 superintendents of public education signed up and were ready to move onto the campus at North Carolina State University as a non-profit.

The Innovation Project’s Strange Road to Non-Profit Status

The odd TIP path to non-profit status began in 2013 two years before it was founded. Joe Ableidinger received EIN 46-3120883 for the non-profit World Class Schools. He was attempting to start two charter schools using computer based instruction. In July 2013, World Class Schools received a $100,000 grant from the Educause’s Next Generation Learning Challenges fund. An intiative financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The charter schools never opened and the non-profit changed its name to The Innovation Project in 2017.

TIP’s 2017 form 990 covering 7/1/2017 to 9/30/2018 is filed under the World Class Schools EIN 46-3120883 but with the new name. It lists two salaried employees Ann McColl and Joe Ableidinger.

In 2015, TIP received a startup grant of $150,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and soon after other foundations like the Belk Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation gave support. However a significant portion of their funding comes from membership dues. In a letter accompanying TIP’s invoices for the 2017-2018 school year, they announced cutting the dues from $36,000 to $30,000 per year.

TIP’s initiatives include establishing a virtual academy; creating their own version of turnaround schools called restart schools; establishing innovative classroom programs; addressing North Carolina’s teacher shortage and serving home-school families.

Unfortunately, this entire agenda with the exception of teacher shortages is being addressed by promoting education technology. For the teacher shortages, they have partnered with TNTP. In North Carolina, TIP could have partnered with the existing exemplary education professionals at University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University or Duke University to create alternate paths to teacher credentialing and professional development. Instead they chose to contract with the TFA created TNTP that is an unqualified light weight in education circles.

TIP also sites Mary Ann Wolf’s Friday Institute as a partner. (Update: On June 15 Wolf left the Friday Institute to become President of the Public Schools Forum also at North Carolina State University.)

On the TIP resource page, they list three sources under the category of Changes and Innovation.

  1. Center on Reinventing Public Education, Tracking Actions in Districts related to COVID-19
  2. Chiefs for Change,Tracking Innovation
  3. FutureEd, Tracking state legislation in response to COVID-19

Center on Reinventing Public Education is the billionaire financed organization promoting privatizing public education using the portfolio model of management. Chiefs for Change is the Jeb Bush founded organization promoting education technology, vouchers and charter schools. FutureEd sells the idea of putting children at digital screens instead of with actual teachers. This is the TIP agenda.

Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, was one of the superintendents accompanying Mark Johnson on that free trip to Apple Inc. She is also a TIP member.

In the paper Personalizing Learning in a Digital World: Four key priorities for digital and personalized learning,” the Digital Learning Institute thanked “Dr. Lynn Moody, …” for helping make the report possible.  

When Tip member Cathy Moore was deputy superintendent of Wake County Public Schools she was featured in a promotional video on the Education Elements web site. Today she is the superintendent.

Mary Ellis is a TIP member from the Union County Public Schools (UCPS). In 2015, while acting as Superintendent for UCPS, Ellis started a private endeavor called Educatrx Inc. She had three partners, two district technology leaders and Jason Mooneyham from the Chinese computer manufacturing company Lenovo.

In 2016, Ellis had legal corruption charges brought against her for conflicts of interest when her company facilitated a few technology deals including purchasing 10,000 Chromebooks from Lenovo. The district attorney dropped the charges.

Ellis is also a TIP consultant. In the 2017 TIP tax form, she is listed as being paid $121,629 for her services.

TIP creates classes for the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS). After reviewing NCVPS, state auditor Beth Wood said, “Be concerned that these online classes may not be preparing your children for the next grade or for college.” In the audit, Wood noted that eight of 12 NCVPS courses audited did not meet required curriculum content standards and there was no assurance that 11 of the 12 NCVPS courses analyzed met adopted standards for rigor. 

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 said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.

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.”

Not all education technology is bad, but there are limitations. Students eventually need good graphing calculators, spread sheets, word processing and modern data acquisition capability. However, when the technology is little more than worksheets delivered by a digital device like those from I-ready and Education Elements not only is the screen time required unhealthy, the lessons are hated by students and ineffective.

To conclude this piece, here is a list of the 26 North Carolina school districts and their leaders that sent $30,000 or more to The Innovation Project in 2017.

  1. Alamance-Burlington Schools
    Dr. William “Bruce” Benson, Superintendent
  2. Asheboro City Schools
    Dr. Terry Worrell, Superintendent
  3. Beaufort County Schools
    Paul Higgins, Instructional Technology Director
  4. Cabarrus County Schools
    Dr. Chris Lowder, Superintendent
  5. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
    Dr. Pam Baldwin, Superintendent
  6. Craven County Schools
    Dr. Meghan Doyle, Superintendent
  7. Cumberland County Schools
    Dr. Marvin Connelly, Superintendent
  8. Edgecombe County School
    Dr. Valerie Bridges, Superintendent
  9. Gaston County Schools
    Mr. Jeff Booker, Superintendent
  10. Hoke County Schools
    Dr. Freddie Williamson, Superintendent
  11. Iredell-Statesville Schools
    Dr. Brady Johnson, Superintendent
  12. Johnston County Schools
    Dr. D. Ross Renfrow, Superintendent
  13. Kannapolis City Schools
    Dr. Daron Buckwell, Superintendent
  14. Lenoir County Schools
    Dr. Brent Williams, Superintendent
  15. Lincoln County Schools
    Dr. Lory Morrow, Superintendent
  16. Moore County Schools
    Dr. Robert “Bob” P. Grimesey Jr, Superintendent
  17. Mount Airy City Schools
    Dr. Kim Morrison, Superintendent
  18. Onslow County Schools
    Dr. Rick Stout, Superintendent
  19. Person County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Peterson, Superintendent
  20. Rockingham County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Shotwell, Superintendent
  21. Rowan-Salisbury Schools
    Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent
  22. Vance County Schools
    Dr. Anthony Jackson, Superintendent
  23. Wake County Schools
    Dr. Cathy Moore, Superintendent
  24. Warren County Schools
    Dr. Ray Spain, Superintendent
  25. Wayne County Schools
    Dr. Michael Dunsmore, Superintendent
  26. Wilson County Schools
    Dr. Lane Mills, Superintendent

COVID Learning Loss Over-Hyped

15 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/15/2020

Warnings about learning losses due to the pandemic dominate education media; especially the media created and financed by billionaires. Based on a briefing by NWEA, McKinsey & Company claims “the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars) … solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses.” The Hoover Institute’s CREDO warns “the findings are chilling.”

One of my favorite education bloggers, Nancy Flanagan, says it well,

“Test-data estimates, alarmist language and shady research do nothing to help us with the most critical problem we have right now: keeping kids connected to their schoolwork and their teachers. However that’s offered and as imperfect as it may be.”

The popular blogger Peter Greene goes to the essence of the issue noting:

“So why has CREDO decided to throw its weight behind this baloney? Well, the testing industry is in a bit of a stir right now. The BS Test was canceled last spring, and nobody is very excited about bringing it back this year, either. So the testing industry and their reformy friends are trying to sell the notion that students and schools and teachers are adrift right now, and the only way anyone will know how students are doing is to break out the industry’s products and start generating some revenue data.”

The Billionaire Created Echo Chamber

The first COVID-slide bang on the bell came from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) which sells MAP tests. Their computer delivered assessments of mathematics and English are given three times each school year; fall, winter and spring. The tests are not aligned to one class level so they are only partially aligned with state curricular standards.

Using data from approximately 350,000 students who took MAP tests in school years 2017-18 and 2018-19, analysts at NWEA created a paper that guessed at what the negative education effects from the school shut downs would be. The paper was published on May 27, 2020 by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

In the paper, NWEA stated,

“In this study, we produce a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss and its potential effect on test scores in the 2020-21 school year based on (a) estimates from prior literature and (b) analyses of typical summer learning patterns of five million students. Under these projections, students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.”

“Specifically, we compared typical growth trajectories across a standard-length school year to learning projections that assume students are out of school for the last three months of the 2019-20 school year.”

In other words, NWEA used data from their computer generated testing which is noisy and only reliably measures student family economic status. They massaged this noisy data with debunked growth model algorithms which amplify noise. They assumed that no education at all occurred after March 2020 and correlated the results with disputed summer learning loss research to make their guesses.

Within four days, the famous consulting firm Mckinsey & Company produced its own report based on the NWEA paper. To the NWEA material they added some of their own economic predictions based largely on the work of Hoover Institute’s Eric Hanushek. He rose to prominence producing research showing “that there is no relationship between expenditures and the achievement of students and that such traditional remedies as reducing class sizes or hiring better trained teachers are unlikely to improve matters.”

Mckinsey’s consultants focused much of their report on the damage that is sure to visit minority communities. If the virus is not contained and school is not full time in person, they claim students will lose an average of seven months of learning. And they further state, “But black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year.”

Hard to comprehend how a student falls behind more than a year in one year.

On June 5, 2020, the well known neoliberal publication The Wall Street Journal weighed in. Using the NWEA report, they claimed “remote learning” did not work.

By June 9, the billionaire funded education news outlet, The 74 Media, Inc., jumped in with Learning Losses Will Widen Already Dramatic Achievement Gaps Within Classrooms. Their claim says, “Solid data about the specific concepts each student does or doesn’t understand will be crucial.” They are saying testing is vital.

Another billionaire funded education focused publication, EdWeek, delivered Tips for Measuring and Responding to COVID-19 Learning Loss.”

Based on the NWEA data the education publishing company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published “What Schools Can Do To Make Up For COVID-19 Learning Loss.Market Insider reported that the publishers of I-ready, Curriculum and Associates, says, “According to the findings, while ‘COVID slide’ can be significant, the effects differ markedly based on a range of variables, including age, race, and income level.”

All of these claims are based on one very faulty paper produced by NWEA in May and this is only a sample of what has been published.

The 74 Media, Inc. was founded by the former NBC and CNN news anchor Campbell Brown. It was funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation and others. Brown was erroneously convinced that teachers unions were protecting sexual predators and her husband Dan Senor, was on the board of Michelle Rhee’s anti-teachers union organization StudentsFirst. To this day, the publication adheres to its anti-teachers union foundation and promotes public school privatization.

The latest article in The 74 about the “COVID slide” along with a report from the Hoover Institute’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes  (CREDO) illustrates the billionaire financed media empire echo effect.

The 74 article says,

“Data released last week by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University provided a sobering estimate of the learning loss caused by school closures: Across 19 states, it ranged from a third of a year to a year in reading, and from three-fourths of a school year to 232 days in math. The report suggested frequent assessment going forward and said new approaches to teaching will be needed to ‘plot a recovery course.”’

This data is based on the much criticized CREDO days of learning metric. The report is saying that students can lose 232 days of math learning in 180 days. It is a specious argument; however their real agenda seems to be advocating “frequent assessment going forward.”

The 74 continues, For the report, CREDO worked with NWEA, a nonprofit assessment organization, to build on earlier estimates of the impact of school closures and the limitations of virtual instruction on student learning.”

CREDO added a projection of individual student future exam results to the NWEA data. It is not all that different than the exam score scandal in England this spring. The British government used projected computer-generated scores to replace exams that were canceled because of the COVID-19 and 40% of their students saw grades tumble. The bottom line is these projections are not that good.

The 74 reports: ‘“The takeaways from this analysis are upsetting, but needed,’ said Jim Cowen, executive director of the nonprofit Collaborative for Student Success, which advocates for high academic standards and holding schools accountable for student progress.” Cowen is also quoted recommending “those annual tests remain the best tool to inform accountability systems, school report cards, and continuous improvement efforts over the long-term.”

The bottom of the Collaborative for Student Success web page reveals, “The Collaborative for Student Success is a project of the New Venture Fund.” If unfamiliar with New Venture Fund, the article Organized to Disrupt details the massive billionaire pro-school privatization funding they receive.

Paige Kowalski, executive vice president of the Data Quality Campaign is quoted by The 74. The article states, “Kowalski stressed the importance of conducting assessments in the spring of 2021 and ‘getting at the heart of the data’ demonstrating why students might not participate, such as school buildings still being closed or parents opting out.”

The Data Quality Campaign lists as partners almost every organization in which billionaires working to privatize public education invest.

CREDO’s Conclusions

CREDO: “First, the findings are chilling – if .31 std roughly equals a full year of learning, then recovery of the 2019-2020 losses could take years.”

If the report was meaningful and learning could be measured in days the findings might be chilling. However the report is a gross use of arithmetic and learning cannot be measured in days. When days of learning related to standard deviation change is used in a study, the study is meaningless.

CREDO: “Second, the wide variation within states (and often within schools) means that conventional models of classroom-based instruction – a one-to-many, fixed pace approach — will not meet the needs of students. New approaches must be allowed to ensure high quality instruction is available in different settings, recognizing that different skills may be needed for the different channels.”

Here it appears CREDO is putting in a plug for competency based education (CBE) delivered by computers. CBE has a history of failure going back to the early 1970’s when it was known as mastery education or as teachers called it “sheets and seats.”

CREDO: “Third, the need for rigorous student-level learning assessments has never been higher.”

This is the apparent purpose of the paper; selling testing. People are starting to realize standardized testing is a complete fraud; a waste of time, resources and money. The only useful purpose ever for this kind of testing was as a fraudulent means to claim public schools were failing and must be privatized.

CREDO: “Fourth, the measures of average loss and the range around it immediately call into question the existing practice of letting communities plot their own path forward.”

Here CREDO has joined with the billionaire promoted call to end democracy and local control of schools. It is UN-American and disgusting. Even the Hoover Institute should be revolted. After all, they used to be champions of the American ideal.

This is not the first time America has faced a crisis and schooling was disrupted. There was the Spanish Flu, World War II, Segregation battles in the south, catastrophic storms, etc. Public school has been the one institution that continually rose to the occasion and taught the children.

Today, without much support from the federal government, public schools are once again stepping up to the challenge. Millions of cyber capable devices have been distributed, internet hotspots have been created and teachers are adapting to teaching on line. It is not wonderful and students are especially missing the social aspect associated with in person school, but it has value and students are learning.

The COVID-slide is about undermining public schools and is not a real phenomenon.

Education Improvement Thwarted by “Reform”

1 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/1/2020

For more than two decades, bureaucratic style top down education “reform” has undermined improvement efforts by professional educators. For budding teachers, beginning in college with the study of education and their own personal experience as students, an innate need to better education develops. However, in the modern era, that teacher energy to improve education has been sapped by the desperate fight to save public education from “reformers,” to protect their profession from amateurs and to defend the children in their classrooms from profiteers. 

Genuine advancements in educational practices come from the classroom. Those edicts emanating from government offices or those lavishly financed and promoted by philanthropies are doomed to failure.

The writer Kristina Rizga conducted a four years’ study of Mission High in San Francisco. She discovered a great school whose students do not test especially well. One of her clarion observations that almost all teachers would hardily second was,

“The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.”

Sadly, every business and government sponsored education innovation for the past 40 years has resulted in harm to American schools. Standardized education, standardized testing, charter schools, school choice, vouchers, reading science, math and reading first, common core, value added measures to assess teachers and schools, mandatory third grade retention, computer based credit recovery, turnaround schools, turnaround districts, and more have been foisted on schools. None of these ideas percolated up from the classroom and all are doing harm.

True Education Improvement Comes from Teachers and Classrooms

Before becoming a teachers union in 1906, the National Education Association (NEA) was our nation’s most important influence organization shaping public education policy. The 1891 NEA gathering in Toronto, Canada is still affecting schooling today and the debate engaged in there is still relevant.

It was at this meeting that James H. Baker’s committee made its report on the need for standardizing education. It’s a natural tendency that as a movement matures people will appear who want to standardize it. The main argument for needed standardization was the difficulty high schools were having creating classes that prepared students for entry requirements at Universities because the requirements were so varied. The Baker Committee report led to the establishment of the Committee of Ten and the first curricular standards in the United States in 1894.

In the same meeting’s proceedings, Francis W. Parker of Chicago representing the Cook County Normal School declared:

“The common school furnishes the essential principles in the development and perpetuation of a democracy, and its growth and progress has been purely democratic; it has been and is, ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people.’ … State and national officials are given little more than advisory influences.”

“Our foreign critics mistake variety and honest individual striving for chaos. … But that which is imposed upon a people by any authority below heaven breaks into atoms when the intelligence and power of a people can reach and control it.”

“Centralized power may be a necessity for infancy, but manhood sheds it off for the strong wings of freedom.”

 From Parker’s perspective, the variety in public education led to an organic process in which innovation was judged by educators freely adopting it or rejecting it. The Baker committee’s response to the college preparation issues frustrated educator autonomy. The national standards they called for have a long history of undermining creative thinking and democratic progress.

In Young Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon there is the story of how the standards based testing system adopted for selecting government employees during the Han dynasty stunted that society’s growth.

It has been estimated that in 600 AD, China had at least a 400-year scientific lead on the rest of the world. So why didn’t the industrial revolution occur in China? Former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, Justin Yifu Lin says, “I believe the real reason of the absence of scientific revolution was not due to the adverse political environment that prohibited the creativity of Chinese intellectuals, but due to the special incentives provided by the civil-service examination system.”  

Scoring well on these exams was the path to professional success. The Chinese civilization was in the ascendancy when exams focused on Confusion philosophy and government theory were instituted. How can we know if our civilization is headed for a similar kind of trouble?

In his book A study of History, historian Arnold Toynbee provided criteria for judging whether a civilization was in a stage of growth or decline. He wrote:

“We must ask whether, as we look back over the ground we have traversed, we can discern any master tendency at work, and we do in fact unmistakably decry a tendency towards standardization and uniformity: a tendency which is correlative and opposite of the tendency towards differentiation and diversity which we have found to be the mark of the growth stage of civilizations.”

Some of the greatest twentieth century education thinkers warned against allowing schooling to be dominated from the top. In Democracy and Education, John Dewey wrote,

“An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.” (Page 122)

“Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional.” (Page 203)

“His own purpose will direct his actions. Otherwise, his seeming attention, his docility, his memorizing and reproductions will partake of intellectual servility. Such a condition of intellectual subjugation is needed for fitting the masses into a society where the many are not expected to have aims or ideas of their own, but to take orders from the few set in authority. It is not adapted to a society which intends to be democratic.” (Page 356)

Paulo Freire opined in Daring to Dream: Toward a Pedagogy of the Unfinished,

“Neoliberal doctrine seeks to limit education to technological practice. Currently education is no longer understood as formative, but simply as training.” (Page 4)

The Swiss psychologists, Jean Piaget called Dewey’s discovery-based approach to education “constructivism.” Piaget believed that “children play an active role in making sense of things, ‘constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.” The philosophy of “constructivism” is a move away from the educational philosophies of behaviorism and social conservatism advocated by men like B. F. Skinner and Edward K. Thorndike.

In addition to Piaget’s work, there is the slightly different view from the Russian developmental psychologist, Lev Vygotsky. He believed education’s role was to give children experiences that were within their “zones of proximal development,” thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning. This approach to “constructivism” has lead to the idea of scaffolding. The teacher identifies the student’s needs and helps them through the “zone of proximal development” by questioning or other means until the student no longer needs the aide for constructing understanding.

In the mid-1920s two women who studied progressive education under John Dewey and William Kilpatrick at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College exerted a powerful influence over education policy in California. Helen Heffernan was the state Commissioner of Rural and Elementary Education from 1926-1965 and Corinne Seeds was the Director of the University Elementary school at UCLA from 1925-1957. Their reign saw the most filial, longest and largest implementation of progressive education that ever took place in the US.

However, their methods did not spread to neighboring states and after they left the scene progressive education receded in California. My mother was an elementary school teacher in Idaho for 40-years. I remember her saying in the early 1960s that when children transfer in from California they are usually at least a year behind. Dr. Larry Lawrence in a private interview said that even at the UCLA lab school when Jonathan Goodlad took over, he moved away from many of Corinne Seeds’ practices.

 It seems that teachers found some aspects of progressive education wanting. Unfortunately, about this time, organic development by education professionals was being replaced by centralized authoritarian control.

Top Down Control and Bad Policies

On October 17, 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed legislation elevating the Department of Education to a cabinet level position. Thus the table was set for the federal takeover of public education.

By the time Ronald Reagan’s administration published “A Nation at Risk” a growing call for standards based education had arisen. In the 1960s, psychometrician Benjamin Bloom’s levels of understanding theory had spread widely. Known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, it became the basis for ideas like “mastery education” which has many names and eventually leading to top down education standards.

Vanderbilt University Published a Bloom’s Taxonomy Graphic

IBM CEO Louis Gerstner was so adamant about the need for education standards that in 1994 he even wrote a book about it called Reinventing Education. As the keynote speaker for the National Governors Association (NGA) conference in 1995 which he hosted, Gerstner stated three urgent education goals for 1996: (1) high national academic standards with accountability, (2) the standards must happen NOW, and (3) don’t be sidetracked by academicians.

Corporate titans like Gerstner and Gates foisted their misguided standards on public education. Their costly standards have seriously degraded the development of creative thinking in both students and educators.

Neoliberals like the Charles Koch and the Walton family have joined with religious leaders in the Catholic Church and religious zealots like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to sell vouchers. Money is being siphoned away from public schools to pay for students to attend private religious schools. Evidence is very clear that student outcomes are harmed when they transfer to voucher schools and public schools are financially harmed. This is the same scheme segregationists used to fight for all white schools after the Brown vs. the Board of Education stuck down “separate but equal” schooling.

The other big school choice agenda is Charter Schools. In his new book School House Burning, Derek Black observes about the plutocrats promoting charter schools,

“In their minds, the scale of justice should tip away from mass democracy and the common good toward individualism and private property. That means less taxes, less government, less public education.”

The fraud and instability of the charter school industry has made this so called “reform” an abject and harmful failure. Because the industry is being finance by draining money from public schools, they are being degraded.

America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. In 2012, 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. These record setting numbers are the result of cheating and computer based credit recovery. It is another top down “reform” that is selling fraudulent corporate products while undermining education integrity.

Mandatory third grade retention for children who score too low on a reading test does lifelong harm to those children and the measuring stick is standardized testing which is very flawed.

Also, these tests are also not capable of measuring teacher or school quality. The only correlated student characteristic with this kind of testing is family wealth. The growth models called Value added measures often used to evaluate teachers are just fancy arithmetic applied to noisy standardized testing data. It is an expensive fraud.

All of these agendas have been forced onto public education by politicians and businessman. Instead of the democratic method of organic development by educators freely adopting what they perceive as the best pedagogy, we have allowed public education to be run by authoritarian methods reminiscent of the former Soviet Union.

Public education run democratically by local communities is the bedrock of American democracy. Today a rising oligarchy is demolishing that 1776 experiment. To revitalize the American ideal, start by freeing public education from a billionaire financed tyranny and associated political malfeasance.

California Plutocrat Education Election Spending

20 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/20/2020

Unlike 2018, fewer of the wealthy class appear to be spending so freely to control California school policy, but their spending still dominates campaign spending. Large amounts of money are being spent in an attempt to regain political control of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and there appears to be a concentration of money directed at key county school boards. They are also spending liberally on California state senate and assembly races.

Little Sis Map of Plutocrat Spending for Independent Expenditures

In this election cycle, the three PACs mapped in yellow appear to be the main conduit for billionaire money going to independent expenditures. These expenditures are unlimited as long as no coordination can be shown with a candidate’s campaign. The wealthy real estate developer from Manhattan Beach, California, William E. Bloomfield is pouring his money directly into private campaign companies normally hired by the PACs to produce their media and campaign mailings. The Campaign Company Group shown above is a fictitious company showing the total funding Bloomfield has spent with seven different companies to produce campaign materials for candidates he supports or opposes.

The Battle for LA

LAUSD is by far the largest school district in California and nationally it is second in size only to the New York City School District. Since the introduction of charter schools in the 1990s, LAUSD has become approximately 20% privatized. There are more charter schools in Los Angeles than any other city in the country. Political control of the LAUSD is seen as key to either slowing the privatization train or accelerating it.

In 2020, the four odd numbered LAUSD board seats were up for election. Since the charter school industry already has three board members not up for reelection, they only need to flip one seat to regain control of the board. In 2019, they lost control of the board when Jackie Goldberg received 71.6% of the vote in a special election to replace district 5 board member Ref Rodriquez who pled guilty to conspiracy charges.

During the March primary election both District 1 Board Member George McKenna and District 5 Board Member Jackie Goldberg ended their campaigns for reelection by receiving more than 50% of the vote thus winning the seat. In district 7, incumbent Richard Vladovic was term limited from running. Teacher’s union favorite Patricia Castellanos and the charter industry supported Tanya Ortiz Franklin were the two top vote getters in the primary. They will face off in the general election for the district 7 seat.

The most contentious school board race is between district 3 incumbent Scott Schmerelson and Granada Hills Charter High School employee Marilyn Koziatek. During the primary race, LA Times reporter Howard Blume opened an article writing, A million-dollar attack campaign is underway portraying Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson as greedy, corrupt and determined to score fast cash by exposing children to deadly vaping and McDonald’s French fries.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, Teachers Union President, said the ads were an “attempt to eviscerate Scott, a lifelong educator and champion of our public schools…. Scott’s likeness is literally made into a caricature, with clear anti-Semitic overtones.” Scott Schmerelson would hardly be the first Jew in Los Angeles to face anti-Semitism. 

Schmerelson finished his educator career as principal for 10-years at Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Middle School in South Los Angeles. He is also a former leader in the Association of California School Administrators.

Schmerelson probably became a more important target for the forces working to privatize public education when he vocally opposed investment banker Austin Beutner as the next Superintendent of LAUSD. He said he wanted a school chief with education experience.

Marilyn Koziatek’s campaign web address says,

“Marilyn is the only candidate who currently works in a public school. She leads the community outreach department for Granada Hills Charter, one of the highest-performing public schools in California.”

First of all, charter schools are not public schools. They are private businesses with a contract to provide services to the government. The public has no democratic influence over them. Secondly, Koziatek has never taught. She does PR for a private company selling education services which pales in comparison to her opponents almost 4 decades working in classrooms and leading schools.

The LA times reported in 2003, “The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to convert Granada Hills High School, which has among the best academic records in the school district, into an independent charter school.” (Emphasis added) The article also noted, “Board President Caprice Young hailed the vote as a victory for the charter movement.”

There is a rumor that Koziatek was forced into running by the highly paid Executive Director of Granada Hills Charter, Brian Bauer. The charter’s last tax form 990 (EIN 05-0570400) listed Bauer’s 2017 salary as $271,287. He is also on the board of the California Charter Schools Association.

The independent expenditures for Marilyn Koziatek and opposing Scott Schmerelson by the organization Families and Teachers United is sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. The Students, Parents and Teachers group supporting Scott Schmerelson and Patricia Castellanos is sponsored by the LA Unified Teachers Union.

In District 7, two Latinas are facing off, Patricia Castellanos and Tanya Ortiz Franklin. Neither candidate appears to have deep experience in education. Franklin taught elementary school for five years and worked part time at Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools while she attended law school. Castellanos was a community organizer and works as the Workforce and Economic Development Deputy for LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

In direct campaign contributions, as of 9/14/2020 Castellanos had almost a two to one advantage in contributors 581 to 347 and a money advantage of $206,562 to $95,146. Franklin has a large advantage from independent expenditures with Bill Bloomfield’s $3,327,483 to Castellanos $767,551 from the teachers union founded Student, Parents and Teachers.

In a way, the contest for school board seat 7 is between 27,000 LAUSD teachers and an extremely rich man from Manhattan Beach.

Last month, former assistant US Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch posted, Los Angeles: Vote for Scott Schmerelson and Patricia Castellanos for LAUSD School Board.” She asks if LAUSD will be controlled “by cabal of billionaires who favor privatization by charter schools,” or by parents of the 80% of students who attend public schools?

Spending Directed at the California State Legislature

Campaign data was accessed from the California Secretary of State between September 14 and 17. Total spending for the California State Assembly and State Senate candidates was tabulated for the three PACs and seven plutocrats in the map above. The data is presented in Tables 2 and 3. All 80 Assembly seats are up for election as are the twenty odd numbered Senate seats.

A reasonable analysis of the spending pattern indicates that candidates for State Assembly receiving $5,000 or more are being supported to drive the school privatization agenda. Candidates receiving more than $10,000 probably fall into the category of being heavily influenced and those receiving more than $20,000 are owned.

The candidates receiving less than $5,000 are likely getting those donations to insure they answer the phone and listen.

The spending in the Senate mirrors the spending in the Assembly and the analysis is similar with the exception of the even number candidates. Those candidates who are not on the ballot must be supporting the plutocrat agenda as equally as the candidates receiving more than $10,000.

Kevin Kiley ran for senate seat 1 and lost in the primary. His $30,200 dollars came from 6 plutocrats and EdVoice for the Kids. For the general election EdVoice has sent Brian Dahle, the incumbent who beat Kiley, $1500. Maybe Dahle will not be inclined to answer the phone.

Jim Walton skewed a little from the public school privatization agenda to make 24 direct contributions to republicans running for the California state legislature.

Billionaires Spending on Key County School Board Races

A significant amount of the spending by the three PACs shown in the Little Sis map above was concentrated into the race for five county school boards. The largest amounts were directed toward Alameda, Orange and Riverside counties. Table 4 details the spending.

Some Conclusions

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

On the other hand Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Obviously, democracy is compromised when seven plutocrats have the resources to skew election results in their direction. In this election two of the seven identified plutocrats are from Bentonville, Arkansas not California. However, it is becoming harder and harder to convince people to continue privatizing their public schools, to continue wasting money on standardized testing and to continue cutting taxes for plutocrats.

There is some good news. Fewer plutocrats are supporting the privatization agenda than in 2017 and 2018.  In 2017, billionaires spent more than $10,000,000 dollars to swing the LAUSD election and the following year they spent more the $40,000,000 dollars trying to elect Marshall Tuck as Superintendent of Public Instruction. This year the spending is not as intense or as widely distributed.

Residents of Alameda, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties can use Table 4 to identify who to vote against. Residents in the Los Angeles Unified School District can follow Diane Ravitch’s advice and vote for Scott Schmerelson in district 3 and Patricia Castellanos in district 7.  

School Choice is a Harmful Fraud

7 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/7/2020

Birthed in the bowels of the 1950’s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

Market Based Ideology

Milton Friedman first recommended school vouchers in a 1955 essay. In 2006, he was asked by a conservative group of legislators what he envisioned back then. PRWatch reports that he said, “It had nothing whatsoever to do with helping ‘indigent’ children; no, he explained to thunderous applause, vouchers were all about ‘abolishing the public school system.”’ [Emphasis added]

Market based ideologues are convinced that business is the superior model for school management. Starting with the infamous Regan era polemic,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 IBM’s Louis Gerstner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family, Bloomberg LP’s founder, Michael Bloomberg and SunAmerica’s Eli Broad. It is a central tenet of both neoliberal and libertarian philosophy.

Charles Koch and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by Friedman’s doyen, Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek, the brothers agreed that public education must be abolished.

To this and other ends like defeating climate change legislation, the Kochs created the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This lobbying organization has contributing members from throughout corporate America. ALEC writes model legislation and financially supports state politicians who promote their libertarian principles.

Like the Walton family and Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch promotes private school vouchers.

What is the main motive behind the mega-rich spending to undermine public education? Professor Maurice Cunningham of the University of Massachusetts claims what they really want are “lower state and local taxes.”

John Arnold is the billionaire Enron trader who did not go to prison when that company collapsed. He has joined forces with the billionaire CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, to sell the nation on the portfolio model of school management.  To achieve their goal, they created The City Fund. After its founding in 2018, Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Steve Ballmer all made significant contributions.

In brief, 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, they will no longer come under the purview of an elected school board.

Because standardized testing only reliably correlates with family wealth, this system guarantees that schools in poor communities will all eventually be privatized.

In 2014, SFGATE reported, “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who suggests that democratically elected school boards are the problem with public education, says they should be replaced by privately held corporations.”

When it came to privatizing schools, vouchers were a tough sell. Jeffry Henig of Teachers College noted to writer Jeff Bryant, “The Walton foundation itself was one of the early organizations to transition from vouchers to charters.” In an AlterNet article Bryant explained,

“Henig believes many conservatives view charter schools as a way to “soften the ground” for potentially more private options, though he isn’t entirely sure “the Waltons view charters as a Trojan Horse for eventually providing vouchers universally.’”

John Walton read “A Nation at Risk” and that set off his hyper focus on reforming public education. Throughout the 1990s he campaigned endlessly for new voucher legislation and saw his efforts repeatedly rebuffed. Shortly before his death in 2005, John joined Don Fisher and Buzz Woolley in establishing the Charter School Growth fund. Around the same time the Walton Family Foundation began financing charter school startups in communities across America.

No matter how stinking the thinking, a billionaires beliefs have influence. The billionaire led push to privatize public education is based on at least four completely bogus ideas:

1 – “A Nation at Risk” was a misguided fraud but it is still the motivating prime point for corporate driven education “reform.” Former New York Times Education writer, Richard Rothstein states,

“A Nation at Risk based its analysis of declining student achievement entirely on average SAT scores which had dropped by about half a standard deviation from 1963 to 1980. But much of the decline had been due to the changing composition of SAT test takers — in the early 1960s, the preponderance of SAT test takers were high school students planning to apply to the most selective colleges. By 1983, the demographic composition of SAT test takers had mostly stabilized, and average SAT scores were again rising, not declining.”

2 – The growing belief among wealthy elites that elected school boards are the problem is ridiculous. Saying democracy is a discredited way to run publicly financed organizations and elected boards should be replaced by privately run businesses is UN-American.

3 – Market based ideologues religiously believe in Adam Smith’s invisible hand. They are sure comparative school performance will provide families with improving schools that are striving to win the market. These proponents trust that this system will efficiently remove low-performing schools. A 2015 paper notes,

“This idealized theory assumes that all consumers are equally desirable customers for which providers will compete …  just because parents can voice a choice in the system does not mean they will get the choice they want. In New Orleans, the most desirable schools choose their students to a substantial extent.”

4 – Our present Secretary of Education is emblematic of people who believe it is terrible that public schools have replaced churches as the center of community life. Betsy and Dick DeVos have been using their Amway generated wealth to tear down the separation between church and state. They believe the public should provide vouchers to private religious schools and they promote home schooling.

Choice Drives Segregation by Race and Class

It is well known that integrated schools are beneficial for all races and classes and for the social development of society. Professor Peter Piazza’s “School Diversity Notebook” provides a short summary of the research validating this statement.

Data does not inform the decisions to segregate schooling. As Professor Piazza states, “Decisions to segregate are made in the gut or maybe (sadly) in the heart, but not in the head.”

A Matt Barnum article about school integration discusses what happened:

‘“School integration didn’t fail,’ Berkeley economist Rucker Johnson, who has conducted some of the most far-reaching research on school integration, recently argued. ‘The only failure is that we stopped pursuing it and allowed the reign of segregation to return.”’

Adding more perspective, Sonya Ramsey wrote The Troubled History of American Education after the Brown Decision for the American Historian. It is made available by the Library of Congress. In that paper she reported,

“From 1954 to the late 1980s, the rate of black children attending white schools rose tremendously in the South, from 0 percent in 1954, to 43.5 percent by 1988, only declining after the dismantling of court ordered desegregation plans to 23.2 in 2011. The South remains the least segregated area of the nation. The current resegregation of the public school are due more to the declining support for desegregation by local districts, the federal government, and the Supreme Court. In 2007 Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stated the following in his majority opinion in two court cases that used race in determining transfer policies and school plans to foster desegregation: “The way to stop race discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” [17] This decision turned a blind eye to decades of racial discrimination in public schools and struck a deathblow to Brown. The federal government’s focus on assessment testing in the 1980s also placed less emphasis on enforcing desegregation.” [Note 17: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/29/washington/29scotus.html]

Today’s school choice advocates precisely echo the language and schemes created by southern segregationists in the 1950s.

Last year three researchers – Julian Vasquez Heilig from the University of Kentucky, T. Jameson Brewer from the University of North Georgia and Yohuru Williams from the University of St. Thomas – collaborated on a study of the segregating effects of charter schools. Their paper clearly documents that charter schools are accelerating resegregation. 

In the literature search section of the study, they reported that the conservative oriented “American Enterprise Institute (AEI) conducted a study of the entire universe of charter schools in the United States concluding that parents were self-segregating along racial and class lines but that such segregation was simply a result of a ‘well-functioning education market.”’ [Emphasis added]

The researchers concluded that “Many of the nation’s charters can even be classified as “apartheid schools”—a term coined by UCLA Professor Gary Orfield for schools with a White student enrollment of 1 percent or less.” And “double segregation by race and class is higher in charter schools” than in public schools.

A personal 2019 study of Washington DC charter schools revealed that 64 of the 116 charter schools would be classified “apartheid schools” using Professor Orfield’s definition.

For their study, Heilig at al accessed the Common Core of Data (CCD) – the Department of Education’s primary database on public elementary and secondary education in the United States. This data was brought together with census and zip code data to reveal related school site and community demographic data.

A common defense of charter schools is that they purposely serve highly segregated communities. However, the researchers discovered “even when comparing schools that are located near each other—that charter schools are more segregated than nearby public schools.”

The paper contained six tables revealing the magnitude of segregation comparing charter schools with public schools. The following is Table 4 from the study that details growing charter school segregation in major cities.

Overall, the intensity of charter school segregation in America’s major cities is shocking. However, the city with the most charter schools, Los Angeles, looks relatively OK. This is a bit of an illusion because many of the charter schools in that city serve racially isolated white students.

In February, Anji Williams published “How Charter Schools in Hollywood Uphold the Racist Tradition of Redlining Segregation.” In Hollywood, the public middle school, La Conte, is almost 100% free and reduced lunch while the co-located Citizens of the World Charter School is more than 60% middle class.

The School Choice Advantage

For the Catholic Church and Evangelical Christians like Betsy DeVos, publicly provided vouchers for private religious schools opens a path to taxpayer support for their religious organizations. It is lamentable for their cause that every recent large scale study of vouchers have shown that students perform worse when they transfer to voucher schools.

For the Walton family, John Arnold and Charles Koch, school choice grants a path to undermining public education and lowering taxes. However, “when considering the extant literature on school performance comparisons, the minority of charter schools, at best, provide minimal academic benefits whereas the majority underperform public schools.” Worse yet, charter schools are unstable with half of them going out of business within 15 years.  

For Bill Gates, Reed Hastings and Michael Dell, school choice prepares a path for creating an education technology industry that has the promise of huge future profits. Unfortunately for them, digital learning has proven to have serious limitations. 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.

For the white supremacist, school choice presents a path for not having their children attending school with “those people.” The data shows it clearly works for their purposes.

For the mission of public education and the future of America, school choice is an atrocious policy.

Center for Reinventing Public Education the Billionaires’ Advocate

27 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/26/2020

In 1993, Political Science Professor Paul T. Hill established the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs on the University of Washington campus. The research group Hill founded is steeped in public school failure ideology. On their web site Hill let it be known “The Center has a definite point of view.” Among the points listed are:

“The ineffectiveness of big city public schools clouds the futures of millions of children.”

“Incremental efforts to improve urban public education without disturbing the school boards, unions, and central office administrators have failed, largely because roles, missions, and interests of those organizations are incompatible with effective schooling.”

“There are now far too few good public schools in big cities, in part because the entire structure of city school systems, from regulation and funding to teacher selection and professional development, is hostile to school quality.”

“To create good schools in urban areas where academic failure is the norm, we need an entirely different way of creating and operating schools.”

The CRPE 1999 “about” statement says,

“The Center pursues a national program of research and development on such proposals as charter schools, school contracting, choice, and school system decentralization, via alliances with the Brookings Institution, The RAND Corporation, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Chicago.”

Professor Hill, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, was a member of Brookings’ cadre of researchers convinced that American public education was failing. Furthermore, they shared a general agreement that market based business principles were central to the solution. They believed teacher’s unions and governance by locally elected school boards must overturned.

In 1990, Bookings had published John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools in which they asserted that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” A few years later, Brookings published Fixing Urban Schools co-written by Hill and Mary Beth Celio. It was a call for running schools by contracting with private operators like the Edison Project.

From its 1993 founding thru 1999, CRPE survived by doing research projects for the Brookings Institute, the Rand Corporation, the United States Department of education, the National Business Roundtable and a few others.

crpe-robinpaul

Hill hired researcher Robin Lake the year after founding CRPE. Lake conducted research on charter schools, contracting, and standards-based school decentralization. She led the evaluation of The National Business Roundtable’s national systemic reform initiative.

Big Money Started Arriving

CRPE was fortunate to be in Seattle, Washington where the world’s richest man decided to implement his opinions concerning education. The fact that he was so rich appeared to be his only qualification for what became an outsized influence over public education.

Bill Gates first big education “reform” initiative was his small schools agenda. He believed that smaller schools were more conducive to learning and retention than larger ones. To implement his small schools scheme, he contracted with CRPE to do evaluations and provide implementation advice.

The CRPE web site reported their involvement stating, “The project, supported by a generous gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, provides a range of services to new and emerging small schools that have an organizational structure and philosophical commitment compatible with the attributes of high achieving schools.”

Because all donations to CRPE go through the University of Washington Foundation, it is often difficult to identify the specific amounts of money granted to CRPE. In 1999, the Gates Foundation donated $2,000,000 to the Daniel J Evans School of Public Affairs to support Northwest Education. It is likely most of that money went to CRPE but not certain.

In 2000, Gates donated another $750,000. This time stating the donation is ‘to develop resources which will promote the creation of small high schools.” It is a reasonable assumption that all of this money was directed to CRPE.

In 2004, CRPE proudly reported,

“Over the past 10 years the Center has received support from many organizations and foundations. We would like to recognize and thank the

In 2009 CRPE Struck Gold

“School choice” has a long history of fermenting segregation. That history stems back to the negative reaction in the South to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v Board of Education. In Brown, the court overturned the public school policy of “separate but equal” saying it was “inherently unequal” and that it deprived the plaintiffs of the “equal protection of the law” prescribed in the 14th amendment.

Modern “school choice” ideology promoted by many white billionaires is little different from the strategies of southern segregationist in the 1950s and 60s. It still increases segregation and creates an “inherently unequal” and racist education system.

Promoting “school choice” has become a specialty at CRPE.

Doing School Choice Right” was a CRPE project funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. CPRE listed two salient goals for their study:

    • “Create models for how school districts can oversee public schools in multiple ways—including direct operation, chartering, contracting, and licensing private schools to admit voucher students. This study is conducted in partnership with the National Charter School Research Project.”
    • “Examine issues involved in moving toward pupil-based funding, particularly technical, legal, and regulatory barriers.”

Out of this study, the “portfolio school” management model was created. In October 2009, CRPE published Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report.” Lead author Paul Hill and associates stated,

“The report introduces the idea of a ‘portfolio school district,’ and shows how some leading school districts have put the idea into practice. A portfolio district is built for continuous improvement through expansion and imitation of the highest-performing schools, closure and replacement of the lowest-performing, and constant search for new ideas.”

In other words, it is an organized idea for managing the charter schools, innovation schools, public schools and voucher schools that make up the mix of schools in a district. Using standardized testing as a proxy for measuring quality, some percentage (5%) of the lowest performing schools will be closed every year. Invariably, the closed school will be replaced by a privatized structure outside of the purview of an elected school board.

Professors David Berliner and Gene Glass are leading experts in the education research community. In a recent article they convincingly demonstrated – again – that the only strongly correlated outcome associated with education standardized testing is family wealth.

That means that under the “portfolio school district” scheme public schools in poor neighborhoods will be closed and replace by privatized “choice” schools.

This novel idea brought CRPE a new mix of funders. Between 2012 and 2018, foundation tax records show that the Walton Family Foundation (EIN: 13-3441466) granted almost $4 million, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (EIN: 56-2618866) granted over $6 million, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (EIN: 26-3241764) granted more than $4.5 million and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (EIN: 36-4336415) gifted more than $1.3 million.

Unlike the other contributors to the University of Washington Foundation, The Gates Foundation does not explicitly name CPRE in its tax records. The $6 million dollar figure is a conservative estimate made from tax record descriptions.

This year, a CRPE news release stated that the Walton family had granted another $650,000 in support of 2020 operations. The new portfolio model induced funding stream appears to be continuing.

For the fiscal year ending June 30 2018, The University of Washington Foundation (EIN 94-3079432) took in grants totaling $132,838,893. After distributing the money they had a balance of $9,300,536 which is consistent with its past practices. Interestingly, Bill Gates Sr. is a Director of the fund.

By 2019, CRPE quit sharing who it funders are. In 2018, their listed funders were:

    • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
    • Carnegie Corporation of New York
    • Laura and John Arnold Foundation
    • Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
    • US Department of Education
    • Walton Family Foundation  

Changes at CRPE

CRPE went through big changes in 2012. Paul Hill stepped down as director (semi-retired) and was replaced by his longtime associate Robin Lake. The Center moved from the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs to the Bothell campus also on the University of Washington campus.

That same year, CRPE for the first time announced “policy partners.” They stated, “CRPE is one of five national education policy organizations that co-founded the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network, whose mission is to build, support, and promote a network of education advocacy organizations working to improve K-12 education in their states so that every student graduates world-ready.”

Image Clipped From PIE Home Page

The other “policy partner” listed in 2012 was CEE-Trust. In 2010, Doug Harris and Ethan Gray of The Mind Trust founded CEE-Trust. Its mission was to become a catalyst for new Mind Trust style organizations nationwide promoting school choice. The CEE-Trust web site revealed,

“CEE-Trust is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Joyce Foundation. CEE-Trust is also grateful for the past support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.”  

After a debacle in Kansas City, CEE-Trust changed its name to Education Cities in 2014. By 2015, CRPE was listing three “policy partners:” Education Cities, Policy Innovators in Education and a new one the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS). Today, CRPE Director Robin Lake is the board chair of NCSECS.

Education Cities was broken up into two new organizations in 2018. The founder, Ethan Gray, became a founding partner at John Arnold’s and Reed Hastings’ new organization The City Fund. Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat reported, “With big names and $200 million, a new group is forming to push for the ‘portfolio model.”’

It appears CRPE has found another deep pocketed “policy partner.”