Tag Archives: Alice Walton

Faulty Billionaire Financed Education “Study”

9 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/9/2020

This January, the new organization Brightbeam and its CEO Chris Stewart published The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.” The name clearly indicates the paper’s political leanings and the underlying data is suspicious. The paper is a polemic rather than a study. Like many “reports” coming from what Diane Ravitch labels the “disrupter” community, this 33-page document has not been submitted for peer-review. Never-the-less, it has been widely disseminated as legitimate research to the Brightbeam network including Education Post. It has also gone to hard right media like The Blaze and found its way into mainstream media like NBC and the Boston Herald.

About Brightbeam

Last year, Brightbeam was created to be the umbrella organization for the Education Post and other digital media sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) which is the legal moniker for the obscure billionaire financed organization providing the operating funds for this new digital publishing group. Brightbeam also controls the cyber platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free and it has influence over at least fourteen local internet publications in various American cities.

The billionaires financing Brightbeam include Michael Bloomberg, Alice Walton, Jim Walton, Laurene Jobs Powell and Mark Zuckerberg.

Chris Stewart who was named CEO of Brightbeam has been on the payroll at RIEF since its founding in 2014. The last available tax record puts his 2017 salary at $226,417.

The new “report” says, “Brightbeam is a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and a brighter future for every child.” A more apt description would be “a billionaire created organization dedicated to privatizing public schools and undermining teacher professionalism.”

Evaluating the “Study”

In his introduction to the paper, Stewart claims, “Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities.” Concerning the purportedly extra-large racial achievement gaps in “progressive cities” the paper states, “Of all the factors we looked at, progressivism is the greatest predictor.”

The authors’ explanation of their approach is skimpy. They write,

“To determine a rationale for what is a progressive city and what is a conservative city we relied on criteria developed independently by political scientists Chris Tausanovitch and Christopher Warshaw, who pooled data from seven large surveys of U.S. public opinion to rank the nation’s biggest cities in terms of conservatism. We then selected the 12 most conservative cities and the 12 least conservative cities from that list to establish the conservative and progressive cities that make up the base of this report.”

With those cities in mind, we pulled the publicly available school achievement and graduation data from public school districts in each of those cities. When we analyzed the achievement gaps between black and white students and the gaps between Latino and white students we found larger gaps than readers might expect from cities where progressive residents presumably hold the most political, administrative and cultural power.

Tausanovitch’s and Warshaw’s paper seems like a reasonable way to identify conservative and progressive leanings in cities. It is a five year old study and presumably attitudes have not gone through a sea change in that amount of time. However, the premise that the political ideology between those cities would have a dramatic effect on the achievement of minority students seems unlikely.

More troubling than the premise is the contention that standardized testing conducted using different testing regimes in 24 locations makes a valid comparison. Standardized testing provides data of questionable value even when everyone is taking the same test, but trying to align data from multiple testing types is fraught with error. The study provides almost no information about the data and methodology used.

On page nine, the study claims that the Black-White mathematics proficiency gap is 41.3% in progressive cities and 26.2% in conservative cities. This claim was checked by using the 2019 Nation Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) 8th grade math data for the 18 cities on the Tausnovich/Warshaw list that also had 2019 NAEP data. The average scale scores were subtracted and the difference was divided by the white student average scale score. The largest gap found was 21% in Washington DC. Even the 26.2% gap Brightbeam reported in conservative cities is a puzzle and the 41.3% number for progressive cities appears to be ludicrous.

Grade 8 Math Gap

Education Achievement Gaps Based on NAEP Data

San Francisco and Washington DC were rated respectively as number 1 and number 2 most progressive cities in the United States. The Brightbeam report states that in mathematics the Black-White achievement gap is 58% in San Francisco and 62% in Washington DC. Washington DC had the highest gap measured with NAEP data at 21%, however, that is almost 3 times less that the Brightbeam reported 62% claim.

San Francisco does not have easily attainable NAEP testing data, so the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) data for 2019 was used to check the gap claim. To calculate achievement gap measurements, percentages of all tested students who met or exceeded standards were summed for each ethnicity. Then a simple subtraction between the results of the various ethnic groups provided an achievement percentage difference. Using this method the Black-White achievement gap for mathematics was 32.7%. Outrageously high, but hardly the 58% gap that Brightbeam asserted.

While researching the achievement gaps in San Francisco, a fascinating correlation was discovered. The more an ethnic group utilized charter schools the worse their group’s education achievement.

San Francisco Charter Enrollment Chart

Negative Correlation for Academic Achievement in Charter Schools

The Brightbeam report states, “…three of the 12 conservative cities — Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Fort Worth — have effectively closed the gap in at least one of the academic categories we looked at, literally achieving a gap of zero or one.” To test this claim, the same methodology used for San Francisco was applied to Anaheim using 2019 CAASPP data for both Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement gaps in math and English language arts. The results are in the Table 1.

Table 1: Anaheim Education Achievement Gaps

Compared

ELA Gap Math Gap
Black – White 14.6% 10.5%
Hispanic-White 22.2% 16.0%

Clearly, the Education Achievement Gaps are much more significant than the zero or one point gaps which Brightbeam declares.

A 2018 Brookings Institute study of education achievement gaps in America said that gaps were still too large between demographic groups but that they have been steadily improving. On the other hand, they noted, “In contrast to the improvement in racial and ethnic achievement gaps, however, achievement gaps based on students’ eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch—our best proxy for poverty in the NAEP data—do not show much progress.”

Another Brightbeam contention involves graduation rates. It praises the rates in Oklahoma City noting, “The Oklahoma City public school district only graduates 73% of its high school students in four years but the graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher for black students than for white students and 5 percentage points higher for Latino students than for whites.”

While this statement is true, it implies that the cause for the relative higher success rate for Black and Hispanic students in Oklahoma City is the conservative nature of the city. Brightbeam ignores the huge five-year demographic change among the graduates and the 18.5% drop in the white graduation rate. That is not a success to be celebrated.

Table 2: Graduation Rates in Oklahoma City

Ethnicity 2014 2018
Graduation Rate Demographic Mix Graduation Rate Demographic Mix
Black 75.8% 9.7% 77.8% 25.9%
Hispanic 77.6% 11.8% 75.9% 52.7%
White 84.7% 55.1% 66.3% 12.5%

Fraudulent digital credit recovery has rendered high school graduation rates a meaningless parameter for measuring school merit. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. By 2012 – after the education technology industry became involved with providing high school credits – 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. Bizarrely, students have been allowed to finish semester long classes in less than a week and obvious cheating is being ignored.

Selling Out the Black Community

The Brightbeam report is targeting the black community with its anti-public schools and anti-progressive message. Their report concludes, “All of us have an outstanding debt to our children. But, to return to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., America, and most especially these progressive cities, has given our black and brown children a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

Keith Benson, Ed. D, is an amazing educator, thinker and leader in Camden, New Jersey. Keith is currently head of the Camden Education Association and has spent 14 years in the Camden classrooms. He is also active in and been a leader of the Camden branch of the NAACP. Last year Keith published “Seeing No Evil, “For the Children”:Identifying the Black education reform establishment’s purposeful blind spots in advocating for expansion of corporate education reforms.” This insightful paper addresses the kind of destructive leadership provided by billionaire funded Black led organizations like Brightbeam. Benson wrote:

“…in decades before where education reform, namely school choice was largely a fringe issue championed by anti-union, ideological white conservatives, today’s education reform movement gained momentum as pro-reform white benefactors expanded their public relations campaign to include Black and Latino ‘leaders’ to accomplish the same goal of collapsing urban public schools and teacher unions.”

“Michael Reagan, in ‘Think of the Children’ takes the ‘for the children’ argument to task calling it ‘pure BS…obvious political BS that has been used by politicians of both major parties’ and by people who lack ‘a legitimate or a reasonable argument.’ It is my contention here that the billionaire funded education reform movement and the Black Education Reform Establishment acting against urban public education for ‘the children,’ follows a similar rhetorical pattern.”

“In sum, through the education reform movement’s desire to close ‘failing schools’ and weaken teachers unions, it was experienced black teachers who bore the brunt of their contradictory advocacy which has only gained in strength and in allies that now includes the socially liberal, and persons of color. And while some critiques of urban public schools are accurate and warrant decisive systemic corrective action, it is simultaneously accurate that the single demographic most impacted by the policies advocated by today’s reformers are black educators, specifically, black women. Thus, while the Black Education Reform Establishment, as well as their wealthy white funders continuously champion dismantling urban teacher unions and closing “failing” schools in the name of benefiting the best hopes for urban black children, the Black Education Reform Establishment is targeting the same teachers most likely to help students of color achieve academically and usher them into post-secondary education.” (Emphasis added)

The billionaire sponsored paper from Chris Stewart and Brightbeam is not a study; not even close. It is propaganda. Mark Twain attributed Benjamin Disraeli with saying “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” The Brightbeam paper grossly violates all three of these categories of lies.

Review and Preview Thurmond v Tuck

1 Dec

This year’s biggest election win in California was for the down-ballot office, Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI). Tony Thurmond defeated Marshall Tuck in a proxy battle between billionaires supporting public school privatization and teachers’ unions fighting for democratically run neighborhood schools. More than $61,000,000 was spent on the SPI office doubling the previous $30,000,000 spending record set in 2014 when Tuck lost to Tom Torlakson.

Director of research at California Target Book, Rob Pyers, reported this year’s total election spending in California realized a new level. Target Book publisher Darry Sragow commented, “If blowing through the billion-dollar campaign spending ceiling in California doesn’t give pause to everyone in politics, I don’t know what will.”

Of the eight state-wide constitutional offices on the ballot, the governor’s race topped spending at $108,221,028 and the SPI race came in second totaling $61,170,451. Spending in the governor’s race was also heavily impacted by billionaires supporting the charter school industry. California has an open primary in which the top two vote getters reach the general election ballot regardless of party. Before June’s voting, billionaires lavished Anthony Villaraigosa’s campaign unprecedented independent expenditure money trying to get him to the November ballot.

Billionaires for Villaraigosa

Spending By Eight Billionaires for Villaraigosa over Newsom in 2018 Primary Election

When Villaraigosa lost badly in the June 6 primary, many of the same billionaires listed above turned their full attention toward electing Marshall Tuck SPI.

Following a brief career in investment banking, Tuck took a job at the politically connected Green Dot charter schools. Steve Barr a former chair of the Democratic Party who had served on national campaigns for Bill Clinton, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis founded Green Dot charter schools in 1999. He hired Truck in 2002 to be Chief Operating Officer (COO) and eventually promoted him to President and COO.

When Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa was rebuffed in his efforts to take control of Los Angeles Unified School District, he convinced a few donors to underwrite the takeover of ten schools in areas which had suffered years of poor standardized testing results. They created a non-profit called Partnership for LA. Villaraigosa tapped Marshall Tuck to lead the Partnership.

Tuck was extremely unpopular at the Partnership. The Sacramento Bee reported, “Teachers passed a vote of no confidence at nine of the schools at the end of the first year, leading to independent mediation.”

During this education reform era in which connections are more important than skill, experience and training, Tuck remained in good standing with the Destroy Public Education (DPE) financiers. Subsequent to loosing the formerly most expensive SPI race in California’s history; Tuck’s benefactors took care of him. Despite no training as an educator, he was given a job as Educator-in-Residence at the New Teacher Center. Bill Gates provides much of the centers funding including grants totaling $26,305,252 since 2009.

Reviewing the Campaign Contributions

Direct contributions to a candidate are no longer of primary importance. The money given to “independent expenditure” committees has no contribution limits. Legally, these committees are supposed to be separate from the candidate and are not to coordinate with the candidate’s campaign; however, the committees are often doing the bidding of the same people who created the candidate.

In Tuck versus Thurmond, the direct giving only accounted for 12% of total money spent. Although the direct money spent was comparatively small, it was revealing. In this race the contribution limit was $7,300 and it could be given twice (once for the primary and once for the general). Tuck received 377 maximum contributions for a total of $2,748,500. Thurmond received 170 maximum contributions for a total of $1,234,854.

The race is generally viewed as a battle between billionaires and teachers unions, but that obscures some realities. Tuck’s maximum contributions came from 259 sources of which 257 were individuals. Thurmond’s Maximum contributions came from 129 sources of which 16 were individuals. Tuck received max contributions from 76 non-employed people, 65 financial industry employees, 39 corporate executives and 29 billionaires. Thurmond received a maximum contribution from one billionaire, Tom Steyer and two corporate executives, Stewart Resnick and Linda Ray Resnick, who also were maximum contributors for Tuck.

The groups who gave maximum contributions to Thurmond were almost all organized by labor unions. Surprisingly, much of the money came from voluntary contributions and not union dues. For example, the California State Retirees PAC, made a maximum contribution to Thurmond. The largest amount contributed to the PAC by the 1404 contributors was $15.50. Another example is The California Federation of Teachers COPE which made two max donation to Thurmond. The money came from 1326 member organizations like the San Jose Federation of Teacher Local 957 whose members made voluntary contributions totaling to $73,391.

It was the PACs who drove the election financially.

Independent Expenditures Map

Independent Expenditure Example Map of EdVoice for the Kids PAC

The LittleSis map above shows eight billionaires contributing $9,769,200 to EdVoice for the Kids PAC. Plus four of them send $2,664,600 to Charter Public Schools PAC sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. That PAC contributes another $2,900,000 to the Ed Voice PAC. EdVoice then sends $17,953,882 to Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshall Tuck which spends $22,013,408 on things like TV ads, radio spots and mailers.

The spending by the three PACs and the billionaires were verified using records provided by the Cal-access data base for major donors. The total of independent expenditures for Tuck is a conservative estimate based on multiple news reports. The independent expenditures on behalf of Tuck were more than the record setting $30,000,000 total for this contest in 2014.

Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshal Tuck was a project of EdVoice. No students, teachers or parents are listed among the contributors to this PAC unless George Hume, Chairman of Basic American or investor Michael Stoppelman have children. This PAC name looked and sounded good when providing a deceptive and legally required source for political advertisements.

The opening page of EdVoice’s internet site says, “EdVoice is a nonprofit organization advocating for policies to increase measurable student achievement for all students in California and eliminate inequality of educational opportunity in public schools.” In other words, they promote using testing to label public schools failures and promote Betsy DeVos’s school choice ideology.

Bill Lucia, a connected Republican operative, is President and COO of Ed Voice. His Ed Voice biography states, “Prior to joining EdVoice, Lucia served as Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, leading the advocacy and legal defense team at the California Charter Schools Association(CCSA). Before joining CCSA, Lucia worked as Senior Assessment Policy Liaison for Educational Testing Service, and prior to that, spent five years in Washington D.C. working as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education and in the U.S. Senate.”

EdVoice is not a big money organization. In 2016, its total income was $400,136. However at least two billionaires associated with privatizing public education are board members, Eli Broad and Carrie Walton Penner. Susan Bloomfield is also on the board.

The Campaign

In March 2017, Marshall Tuck announced his candidacy for SPI. In April, Tony Thurmond announced. By the end of 2017, four candidates had joined the race with the addition of Lily Ploski and Steven Ireland.

Marshall Tuck had name recognition and solid campaign funding. By August 2017, Thurmond announced $1,000,000 in campaign contributions and early endorsements from Senator Kamala D. Harris, SPI Tom Torlakson, the California Federation of Teachers, and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. From that point on, the race was mainly between Tuck and Thurmond but Ploski’s and Ireland’s entry made it difficult for either Tuck or Thurmond to win 50% of the votes during the primary which would have ended the race.

When the year began, many supporters of public education were concerned because the candidate apposing Marshall Tuck was a one-term Assemblyman from Richmond, California with no name recognition. Not only that, he was a black man vulnerable to the race card. Then the Judases at the Association of California School Administrators endorsed Marshall Tuck for SPI.

That might have been the point at which Thurmond demonstrated he was a special guy. On the weekend of January 20th he spoke at the CTA delegates meeting. He already had their endorsement since October, but in this speech the delegates met a charismatic candidate who brought them to their feet cheering. He declared “no privatization of public schools in California. Not in this state. Not on my watch.”

At the California Democratic Party convention in February, the delegates overwhelmingly endorsed Thurmond over Tuck. Much of the sentiment at that San Diego convention was that Tuck was not a real Democrat. He was seen as being awash in Republican money while espousing their policies.

When Tuck tried to speak to the convention delegates, he was booed off the stage. Amusingly, Lee Ohanian of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University wrote an article titled “David Versus Goliath: A School Reformer Takes on the Democratic Party and Unions.” Amazingly in this article Tuck is David and Thurmond is Goliath. Ohanian wrote,

“A few months ago Marshall Tuck, a Democratic candidate who is running for the state office of California Superintendent of School (sic) Instruction, went to the California Democratic Party Convention to speak to his party about how to create better K–12 education in California. He went to the podium, but didn’t get a word out. Well, he may have said “I,” but that would have been about it. He was shouted down with a chorus of boos that drowned out his voice. The boos continued until his allotted time expired. No state Democratic party (sic) official quieted the crowd. The message was clear: this particular Democratic candidate, who wishes to change the status quo, is not welcome in his party. And you thought that the Democratic party embraced diversity?”

And you thought Stanford University was a credible research institution?

Thurmond turned out to be a consistent and gifted politician who won support at almost all debates, editorial interviews and campaign events.

A San Diego Union editorial read, “In his interview with us, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who finished second to Tuck in the June primary, seemed just as affable but not nearly as ambitious as Tuck.” In case that was too subtle; Tony is a black man.

On November 6, Thurmond became the first African American elected to statewide office in four decades.

The Preview is Looking Good

Calmatters interviewed Thurmond during the campaign.

‘“We talked to voters across the state and told them what this election means for each of us: it means giving every kid the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century, not just the ones that show the most potential,’ Thurmond said.

‘“It means funding our public schools at the level they deserve, not pouring money into our jails in prisons. It means providing mental health treatment for kids, not arming them with guns.”’

Calmatters also stated,

“Thurmond had said he favored a ‘pause’ on the growth of charters in California while the state examines the long-term impact they’ve had so far on its public education system. The assemblyman also said he supported more charter-school oversight and sympathized with school districts that had taken financial hits after losing students to charter schools.”

Politico reported on Thurmond’s first public statements since Tuck conceded.

“He called for a temporary ban on any new K-12 charter schools in the state, addressing reporters at the Sacramento union hall of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California. He said the state has reached a ‘tipping point’ with too many charters that have financially harmed public school districts, POLITICO’s Angela Hart reports.”

‘“I believe that we shouldn’t open new schools without providing the resources for those schools,’ said Thurmond, a Democratic assemblyman. ‘It is time to have perhaps a pause on the opening of new schools until we get clear about how we will fund any new schools.”’

“While charter school advocates believe their programs can force positive changes in traditional campuses, Thurmond took issue with the notion of ‘competition,’ which he framed in a negative light.”

‘“The truth of the matter is you cannot open new schools — charter or otherwise — and serve all the students in this state,” he said. “So if the model is built on saying let’s have competition in education, then you’re certainly leaving certain students to suffer and to not have the resources they need.”’