Tag Archives: Alice Walton

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.

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.  

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.”’