Tag Archives: Betsy DeVos

Maybe Betsy DeVos was a Good Thing

17 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/17/2019

It is clear that President Trump selected a billionaire enemy of public education to be in charge of schools. However, Betsy DeVos is so easy to dislike and has shined such a big light on the destroy-public-education (DPE) movement that Democrats are fleeing the school choice agenda. If Hillary Clinton had become President, her policies may have permanently damage universal free public education. When WikiLeaks leaked John Podesta’s emails, Hillary Clinton’s campaign Policy Book and its K-12 public education policy recommendations were revealed. Those recommendations were aligned with the DPE playbook supported by neoliberals.

Group Thinks’ Historical Background

In the last two decades of the 20th century, there was a general consensus reached by governing elites that America’s public education system was in dire straits and needed reform. The impetus for this goes back to the Reagan era’s “A Nation at Risk”.  It masqueraded as a research paper, but was actually a polemic based on faulty understanding and a misreading of data. In 1991, researchers at the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico debunked the main points of “A Nation at Risk,” but their report was barely noticed. A growing consensus based on a century old illusion had developed among policy wonks, politicians and leaders in education philanthropy. They all accepted beltway common knowledge and agreed on a broad outline of what needed to be done to confront the “undeniable failure” of public education:

  • Institute standards
  • Use testing to hold schools accountable
  • Apply business based leadership principles and personel
  • Create alternate pathways for teacher certification
  • Develop competition
  • Provide school choice
  • Marginalize teachers unions
  • End the federalist system of school governance (i.e. locally elected school boards)

In 1985, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was established by Al From. Politico described the DLC thusly:

“The DLC was formed in the 1980s – the debacle of the 1984 Mondale campaign was a key motivator – to wage just that kind of intra-party war against what From and his allies saw as interest-group liberals content to consign the Democratic Party to minority status. The group and its best-known chairman, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, pushed balanced budgets, free trade, tough-on-crime policies, and welfare reform – all of which alienated the base, but became a key part of Clinton’s “New Democrat” agenda and his presidential legacy.”

The DLC was made up of a group of neoliberal politicians who took over the Democratic Party in the 1990s.  

When Bill and Hillary arrived in Washington DC, a large number of youthful “New Democrats” with elite educations joined them. Many, like Bruce Reed, had already worked in Clinton’s presidential campaign. Marc Tucker, a leader in the standards-driven education reform movement, saw like-minded reformers who also believed that the public school system was outdated and failing. In the infamous “Hillary Letter,” which Tucker began with the salutation “Dear Hillary,” he laid out several reform ideas that would completely change how education is done. He began:

“First, a vision of the kind of national — not federal — human resources development system the nation could have. … What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities, to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone — young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student. It needs to be a system driven by client needs (not agency regulations or the needs of the organization providing the services), guided by clear standards that define the stages of the system for the people who progress through it, and regulated on the basis of outcomes that providers produce for their clients, not inputs into the system.”

In 1989, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton had joined President George H. W. Bush at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for an education conference. The Charlottesville joint communiqué listed the four areas of agreement reached at the summit:

“The President and the nation’s Governors have agreed at this summit to:

  • Establish a process for setting national education goals;
  • Seek greater flexibility and enhanced accountability in the use of Federal resources to meet the goals, through both regulatory and legislative changes;
  • Undertake a major state-by-state effort to restructure our education system; and
  • Report annually on progress in achieving our goals.”

Clinton’s 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) embodied these principles. It called for all states to create standards and curricular frameworks. Though not mandatory, the Act along with the Clinton’s proposed goals 2000 prepared the way for the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, which was a federal takeover of public education.

In 1998, Bill Clinton wrote: “We have worked to raise academic standards, promote accountability, and provide greater competition and choice within the public schools, including support for a dramatic increase in charter schools.”

The Position Book

In December 2014, Dan Schwerin, Hillary Clinton’s speech writer, wrote in an email to John Podesta,

“We wanted to share with you this long book of policy memos that we gave to HRC for vacation reading.  As noted in the cover memo, this reflects months of work by a team of about a dozen volunteers who conducted more than 100 interviews with thought leaders in a wide range of fields.”

The K-12 section of the Position Book was presented by Ann O’Leary, who is now California Governor Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff. A Fortune magazine biography of O’Leary described her:

“O’Leary is a diehard policy wonk, especially keen on anything that affects families or education. As Clinton’s Senate aide in 2001, she was at the center of No Child Left Behind—a once popular education initiative that has since soured in the public mind. ‘It was a really important moment,’ she says of the law, which Ted Kennedy crafted and George W. Bush signed. ‘When you look back at what happened, this was serious, bipartisan, constructive work. We were committed to high standards and helping states get there.”’

In the Position Book, O’Leary informs Clinton,

“In preparing for our thinking on K-12 proposals, I solicited a memo from Chis Edley, who recently chaired the National Commission on Educational Equity and Excellence, to go along with the memo you previously received from Neera and Catherine Brown. I also had good conversations with Laurene Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed (highlights of my conversation noted below), and Dan solicited some thoughts from Kate Childs Graham (who is Randi’s speech writer). I have reached out to Linda Darling-Hammond and Randi Weingarten to solicit their ideas as well, and will schedule those conversations after the holidays.

On O’Leary’s conversation with Bruce Reed: Reed worked as a policy director in the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and then worked in various capacities throughout the duration of the administration. In 2001, he became CEO of the DLC and served there until it shut down in 2011 at which time he became Chief of Staff for Vice President Joe Biden. In November 2013, Reed left the Obama administration to become President of the Broad Foundation. Professor Jim Horn notes, “This is someone who has never taught a day in his life at any grade level nor had any background in pedagogy or education.”

Hillary-Clinton-Eli-Broad

Hillary and Her Long Time Friend Ely Broad at a Wedding – Google Images

The Reed highlights include;

  1. Hillary’s initial instincts still hold true – choice in the form of charters, higher standards and making this a center piece of what we do as a country
  2. Challenge of education reform: school districts are pretty hard, if not impossible, to reform – they are another broken part of democracy
  3. If you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; Denver does it, …. pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools
  4. Personalized learning tools – modeled in Summit Charters

Here is a different perspective. Summit learning has big money behind it but it is encountering big resistance from students and parents. The reality is that New Orleans’ schools are inefficient, undermine communities, have extremely high management and transportation costs, and still struggle academically. Denver’s schools have turned into a dystopian nightmare since neoliberal Democrats and big money Republicans took control. Democratic local control of schools is the bedrock of American democracy. The portfolio system in an undemocratic scheme to privatize public schools.

On O’Leary’s conversation with Laurene Powell Jobs: Laurene Powell Jobs is famous for having been married to technology genius Steve Jobs. She is a billionaire and co-owns Atlantic magazine. She studied economics and political science at University of Pennsylvania and received an MBA from Stanford; no education training. In 1997, she founded the Emerson Collective which promotes impact investing. She is board chair of The XQ Institute and College Track.

Highlights from Jobs recommendations;

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

Some tough realities undermine Jobs’ ideas. Her experiment in redesigning schools has met with failure and it is much more likely that new innovative education developments will come from public schools than charters. Jobs believes teachers are dim bulbs and that Teach For America (TFA) youths with no academic training and a five week summer course are better than the teachers she disrespects. TFA is a plague on American education and there is no way they should be receiving teaching credentials that take more than a year to earn. Her technology claim is also specious. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Andreas Schleicher noted when discussing a recent OECD study,

“In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools. We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.”

Some input from Neera Tanden and Catherine Brown: Neera Tanden served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. She is currently the President of the Center for American Progress (CAP). Catherine Brown is a Senior Fellow at CAP. She worked on NCLB author George Miller’s congressional staff prior to becoming vice president of policy at TFA. She was also a senior consultant for Leadership for Educational Equity which is an organization that works to get TFA alumni elected to school boards. Neera and Catherine mainly presented political analysis but share these ideas.

  1. In spite of the challenges that remain, the standards-based reforms implemented over the last two decades have resulted in significant, positive change.
  2. Teach For America … offers a powerful proof point that it is possible to diversify the teaching force while retaining a high bar.

These points were both complete fallacies.

Ann O’Leary also informed Clinton, “There is strong agreement that we need high academic standards in our public school system and that the Common Core will help us to be more globally competitive.”

The Policy Book had no voices championing the public education system or suggesting it needed protecting.

Observations

The Clinton team was going to advance the DPE agenda. Unlike Betsy DeVos, they were not going to alienate neoliberal Democrats. In the final analysis, she and her policy wonks would have done far more damage to public education than we are seeing now.

This history also highlights the importance of being relentless in discovering what is the real education agenda of our Presidential candidates? Trump gave us DeVos. Enough said. Biden was part of Race to the Top, his brother is a charter school entrepreneur and his chief of staff became President of the Broad Foundation. Bernie Sanders is very clear and supportive of public education. He has put out a wonderfully thought-out Marshal Plan for Public Education. It is not clear where Elizabeth Warren stands and her staff is concerning. She has supported testing and vouchers in the past but more recently opposed both strenuously. She needs to publish a plan for public education. Pete Buttigieg is raking in large donations from DPE proponents like Reed Hastings.

Is Inspire Charter School the Next A3 Education?

9 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/9/2019

Inspire Charter School mirrors the methods of A3 Education. It employs practices strikingly similar to those that led to May’s 67-count indictment against A3’s leaders. Furthermore, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) took the unusual step of sharing concerns about Inspire and A3 with California authorities. Both are virtual schools that concentrate on obtaining authorization from small school districts. These systems have a similar structure in which a central organization controls the schools that are contracting with it and they transfer funds among multiple organizations making it difficult to monitor their activities. Students at Inspire and A3 struggle academically.

Inspire picture 5

The First Inspire Charter School Opened in 2014

The Acton-Aqua Dulce Unified School District is infamous for authorizing suspect charter applications while not having the resources to adequately monitor those schools. It enrolls 1085 public school students and 14,734 charter school students. Acton-Aqua Dulce authorized Inspire’s first charter school which was located in Los Angeles County. Strangely, Inspire Charter grew from 151 students in the 2014-15 school year to 4,321 students in the 2018-19 school year and then closed up shop this June 30th.

Founder Nick Nichols needed a program that would service his target audience of home school students.  The Inspire 2016 tax form shows that he purchased curriculum from Academic Arts and Action for $149,625. This is notable because the chairman of Academic Arts and Action was Jason Schrock and the President was Sean McManus. That is the same Schrock and McManus indicted in the A3 scandal.

The education writer for the San Diego Union Tribune (UT), Kristen Taketa, has been relentlessly pursuing the Inspire story. She explains one of the the charters selling points,

“Inspire parents have been able to spend state-provided money on expenses they say are educational, from Disneyland annual passes to private ice skating coaching. The list of places where Inspire parents could spend school funds has included Costco, Amazon, Big Air Trampoline Park, Medieval Times, Guitar Center and the DNA testing company 23 and Me, according to Inspire’s list of approved vendors.”

Inspire provides each parent $2600 to $3000 to spend on field trips and other educational resources.

In 2015, Inspire rolled out a successful but legally questionable method for attracting students. They offered parents $200 paid out of enrichment funds for every student they recruited and they incentivized staff $100 in extra work hours for each learner they signed.

Last year Nick Nichols oversaw nine schools with 23,300 total students. In the 2016-17 school year, Inspire took in $76,018,441 yet their debt was skyrocketing. Their pay for officers went from $65,318 for the 2014-15 school year to $2,011,898 in the 2016-17 school year. Nick Nichols did especially well.

Inspire Income-Debt-Wages-Table

Data from Inspire Tax Documents

The UT’s Taketa reports, “Inspire expects to pull in $285 million in state funding this school year.”

Inspire just secured another $50,000,000 loan from the California School Finance Authority. With booming student daily attendance income and large financial backing from the state, it is strange that Nick Nichols chose now to take a temporary leave of absence. Former Mount Diablo Superintendent of Schools and Inspire’s chief operating officer, Steven Lawrence, is taking over as executive director.

Unethical and Academically Miserable

It is not just the CCSA but other destroy-public-education (DPE) groups like APLUS+, who labels itself “the leading voice for the personalized learning choice” are alarmed by Inspire. Aplus+ director Jeff Rice stated, “We are all concerned about actors like this who are repeatedly violating generally acceptable best practices.” Rice removed Inspire as a member school in 2016.

In March of 2018, the Winship-Robbins school district threatened to rescind Inspire North’s charter because of what then-Superintendent Laurie Goodman called “gross financial management.” Taketa revealed, “Four months after she issued the notice of violation to Inspire, Goodman left her job at Winship-Robbins and became Inspire’s director of leadership development, according to her LinkedIn profile.”

Inspire Charter School Network

Authorizing Districts are Small with Histories of Lax Charter Oversight

Shortly after the A3 Education indictments, Carol Burris, writing in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet observed, “From 2009-2015, McManus was the CEO of the Academy of Arts and Science Charter Schools for which he served as CEO from 2009-2016, developing his model of using cash-strapped, small districts as authorizers of online charter schools that draw students from all over adjoining counties in exchange for fees.” Herbert “Nick” Nichols has followed the same strategy at Inspire.

With the coming 2-year moratorium on virtual schools in California, it appears there was a big push to get six new schools authorized before 2020. Taketa shared, “Inspire has been submitting petitions to districts this summer to open new schools, but it withdrew at least two after district officials questioned Inspire’s practices.” Irvine Unified School District had their lawyer respond to Inspire’s charter school petition. The lawyer presented more than 100 requests for more information including:

“What systems, policies, and procedures does Inspire have in place to ensure that public school charter funds are being spent in a proper manner and that a gift of public funds is not taking place?”

“Does Inspire require parents to produce receipts for all purchases?”

“Has Inspire conducted an audit of these funds to be sure that they are properly spent?”

“Is the charter school required to contract with Inspire or may it contract with other vendors for services?”

Four Inspire Charter schools changed their name this summer. San Diego’s Inspire South became Cabrillo Point Academy and Inspire Central is now Yosemite Valley Charter. Inspire North has changed to Feather River Charter and Inspire Kern’s new name is Blue Ridge Academy. They all removed Inspire from their name. Attorney Sarah Sutherland who has represented school districts in charter school litigation noted, “They can morph their existence and change their names faster than anyone can keep up with recognizing they’re the same organization.”

Charter school competitors believe Inspire is using unethical practices to poach from other schools. Terri Schiavone, the Founder and Director of Golden Valley Charter School in Ventura said her school is one of many that are losing students to Inspire Charter.

Schiavone claimed on NBC channel 39, “They target a school and then they try to get as many of their teachers and students as possible.” She said families and teachers are given incentives like using instructional funds to buy tickets to theme parks and there is a lack of oversight and accountability. Schiavone also points out that parents can buy whatever they want from vendors who she says are not fingerprinted or qualified.

The UT’s Taketa observed, “There are virtually no state rules about how home school charter families are allowed to use enrichment funds, partly because home school charters are not well-known outside of home school circles.”

Inspire picture 2

An Enrichment Opportunity Posted on the Inspire Facebook Page

Poor academic performance plagues Inspire. The graduation rate was only 69 percent last year and just 7 of 209 graduates met California state college admissions requirements.

In 2014, California adopted the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System. These Smarter Balanced assessments are new computer-based tests that measure student knowledge of California’s English and mathematics common core standards. The results show 2 categories for students who achieved an arbitrary expectation level and 2 categories for students who did not. For simplicity the 2 met expectations results are added together. Using these results, the following comparison data table was constructed.

Testing Data Comparison Chart

CAASPP Data Comparing Inspire Results with California Results

Standardized testing does not do a good job of measuring school quality, but it does a very good job of identifying poverty and language learners. That is what makes these results so stunningly awful for Inspire. California data shows 60.9 percent students in poverty and 19.3 percent English language learners. Inspire schools report 38.8 percent students in poverty and 2 percent English language learners. With their demographic advantage, it is difficult to explain away Inspires miserable testing results.

Opinion

There are a few obvious questions about Inspire Schools that need an answer. Why did Nick Nichols step down in September? Why did Inspire close its oldest and apparently lucrative school? Is any district attorney currently investigating Inspire? If not, why not?

Terri Schiavone also mentioned on Channel 39 News,

“It’s very desirable for some parents to enroll in schools in which nobody’s looking over their shoulder. They can utilize whatever curriculum they want, including religious curriculum, which is illegal if using public dollars.”

The National Center for Education Statistics did a 2003 study on why parents choose to homeschool their children. They found that 72% cited being able to “provide religious or moral instruction”.

In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos sat down for a lengthy interview at The Gathering which Jay Michaelson described as the “hub of Christian Right organizing.” Betsy said,

There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.

Dick lamented the fact that schools have displaced churches as the center of community activities. He says that Bill Bennett’s new K12 Inc. cyber schools although not Christian could be a great help to evangelical homeschoolers.

I have always felt that it is an Americans right to choose where their children are educated. I also believe in free universal public education. However, it should not be the responsibility of taxpayers to pay for people’s private choices. If parents do not want their children in the free taxpayer funded school system, that is fine, but that choice should not be subsidized by the government.

Cyber schools have consistently achieved horrible academic results and at the same time been the center of amazing corruption and greed. Just look at what happened at A3 Education. It is time to end public spending on cyber education and to remember President Ulysses S. Grant’s admonition,

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”

DeVos Damages Detroit Schools

9 Mar

By T. Ultican 3/9/2018

The destroy public education (DPE) movement’s most egregious outcome may be in Detroit and it is being driven by a virulent Christian ideology.

In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering. Dick DeVos opined that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.” Betsy noted “half of our giving is towards education.”

Jay Michaelson writing for the Daily Beast described the Gathering:

“The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest.”

“The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity.”

In the Gathering interview, Betsy talks about how she and Dick both come from business oriented families. From their experience, they understand how competition and choice are key drivers to improve any enterprise. She says public education needs choice and competition instead of forcing people into government run schools.

She was also asked how she felt about home schooling? She replied, “we like home schools a lot,” and humorously shared, “not sure our daughters do, they were homeschooled for three years.” Then Dick added how impressed he was with Bill Bennet’s new project, K-12. He said it wasn’t a Christian oriented on-line curriculum but it was a complete education program that could help homeschoolers.

By the 1990’s Dick and Betsy DeVos were successfully influencing Michigan education policies and using private giving to drive their agenda. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVos’s philanthropy for Mother Jones.

“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”

As the new century opened, the DeVos agenda was being ever more adopted in Lancing. If improving the education of children in Michigan was the goal, then the DeVos education agenda has proved to be a clear failure. On the other hand, if destroying public education to accommodate privatized Christian schools was the goal, they are still on track.

DeVos Effect on NAEP Progress Graph

Going from 14th to 43rd is Anti-Progress – Graph Based on NAEP Data

This result from Michigan is consistent with education testing correlations throughout the world. Julie Halpert a writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan just published a new article in Atlantic Magazine called “What if America Didn’t have Public Schools.” In it she reports,

On a regional assessment conducted by the United Nations between 2004 and 2008, students in the all-public Cuba outperformed the largely private Chile in sixth-grade reading and sixth-grade math. In fact, Cuba is the only Latin American country with scores significantly higher than the regional average in both math and reading. Even the best students in Chile, Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute says, ‘couldn’t come close to touching’ Cuba’s results.

In his book Education and the Commercial Mindset, Samuel E. Abrams tells the story of the Swedes opting to privatize their schools. He wrote:

“Basic to the UR [the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company] series was a crisis of faith in Swedish education known as ‘PISA shock.’ Of all OECD nations, only Sweden had seen scores on the triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) successively drop with each administration of the exam since its introduction in 2000.”

Sarah and Christopher Lubienski conducted probably the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind, examining achievement in public and private or independent schools. Their study was published in 2014 by The University of Chicago Press under the title “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.” Some key findings:

“Further analyses indicate that academic growth is greater for students in public schools than for those in private schools.”

“While a simplistic look at the evidence suggests that private school students indeed score higher, closer scrutiny of the evidence rather conclusively demonstrates that this in not because public schools are failing but because they serve less advantaged students. In fact, public schools in this study actually add more value to their students’ learning.”

For the DPE movement, evidence about quality or outcomes in education are not relevant. For the billionaires driving education reform, it is about ideology and business.

DeVos Led Privatization Agenda Wreaked Havoc in Detroit

In 1999, under then Governor John Engler’s lead, Michigan did away with the elected school board in Detroit. They followed Chicago’s example and gave school control to the mayor. President Clinton had proclaimed mayoral control a success there.

The Associated Press’s Corey Williams explained:

“In the late 1990s, then-Gov. John Engler, a Republican, wanted to intervene in districts where more than 80 percent of students failed the state proficiency test or the dropout rate was higher than 25 percent. The state said the graduation rate of the 180,000-student Detroit district was about 30 percent; district officials said it was closer to 52 percent.”

 “The state returned control to an elected board in 2005, even though Detroit students still ranked among Michigan’s worst on standardized tests, the district was $48 million in debt and had a $150 million budget shortfall.”

 “There was never anything pointing to this financial crisis” before the takeover, said Martinez, who with other school board members were forced from office in 1999. “When we left office, … we had a $90 million surplus.”

The reinstated 2005 school board did not fare well. It had a huge debt to deal with and by 2007 an FBI corruption investigation. Williams reported that a long-time vendor, Norman Shy, pleaded guilty in federal court to receiving $2.7 million as part of a kickback scheme in which some principals and an administrator issued bogus orders for supplies.

One of the big drivers causing student enrollment to drop in Detroit public schools were the privatization efforts led by Betsy DeVos and her family. In 2001, the family started the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), whose political action committee aggressively lobbies for charter schools.

According to Politico’s Zack Stanton, “In 2002, the first election of GLEP’s existence, its PAC had more money than the Michigan Education Association, United Auto Workers, or any Democratic-affiliated PAC in the state.”

Stanton continues:

“…, 16 years after the DeVoses’ failed constitutional amendment, this constant push has totally remade Michigan education. The cap on the number of charter schools eliminated and attempts to provide public oversight have been defeated, making Michigan’s charters among the most-plentiful and least-regulated in the nation. About 80 percent of Michigan’s 300 publicly funded charters are operated by for-profit companies, more than any other state.”

Steven Henderson reporting for the Detroit Free Press adds:

“The results of this free-for-all have been tragic for Michigan children, and especially for those in Detroit, where 79% of the state’s charters are located.”

Table of a Developing Financial Crisis in Detroit Public Schools

School Year Budget Balance Student Population Governance
1998-1999 $90,000,000 180,000 Elected School Board
1999-2005 $150,000 ,000 150,000 Mayor
2005-2009 $200,000,000 95,000 Elected School Board
2009-2011 $284,000,000 67,000 1st Emergency Manager – Bobb
2016 Total Debt $2,100,000,000 48,000 Emergency Manager – 4
Total Decrease in State Money 1999 to 2016 $788,000,000

The main cause of the red ink at Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is stranded costs associated with a dramatic drop in enrollment. The extra-costs associated with privatizing DPS were all born by the public schools.

Enrollment Graph

Copied from the 2015-2016 DPS State Financial Report.

Not acknowledging their own role in creating the financial crisis in Detroit, the state government again pushed the elected school board aside in 2009. Education policy was theoretically left under the purview of the school board but financial management would be the responsibility of a governor appointed emergency manager. This time it was a Democratic Governor, Jenifer Granholm who selected a graduate of the unaccredited Broad superintendents’ academy class of 2005, Robert Bobb, to be the manager.

Not only did Granholm select a Broad academy graduate, but Eli Broad paid part of his $280,000 salary. Sharon Higgins, who studies the Broad academy, reports that a civil rights group and a coalition of teachers who oppose charter schools questioned “whether Bobb was in conflict of interest for accepting $89,000 of his salary from a foundation that supports private and charter schools.”

Bobb made significant cuts to DPS. He closed many schools and eliminated 25% of the districts employees. He also sold several school buildings. The Detroit News reported in March 2010, “Instead of a $17 million surplus Bobb projected for this fiscal year, spending has increased so much Bobb is projecting a $98 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30.”

Bobb blamed unforeseeable costs related to declining enrollment. Curt Guyette at the Metro-Times relates that many people blamed spending on high priced consultants and contracts. Guyette provided this example:

“Of particular note was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, hired by Bobb on a nine-month contract to be the district’s chief academic and accountability auditor. She received a salary of nearly $18,000 a month plus an armed personal driver. In addition, Byrd, a former chief executive officer of Cleveland’s public schools system, ‘brought with her at least six consultants who are collectively being paid more than $700,000 for about nine months of work,’ according to a 2009 Detroit Free Press article.”

In 2011, Republican Governor Rich Snyder ushered through two laws that had a negative effect on DPS. The first law, Public Act 4, gave the emergency manager total control and removed all powers from the elected school board. The second law, Public Act 436, created a state school district called the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) which took effect in 2013.

The EAA’s first task was to take over 15 of Detroit’s lowest performing schools. This immediately removed another 11,000 students from DPS and further stressed its finances.

Counting Robert Bobb there were five emergency managers at DPS between 2009 and 2016. Mercedes Schneider reports that “The most recent Detroit Public Schools emergency manager, Darnell Earley, is chiefly responsible for water contamination in Flint, Michigan.

By 2016, the schools of DPS were in such a disgraceful condition that the New York Times called them “crumbling” and “destitute.” The Times’ article included this quote: ‘“We have rodents out in the middle of the day,’ said Ms. Aaron, a teacher of 18 years. ‘Like they’re coming to class.”’

July 1, 2017 the EAA returned the fifteen schools to DPS and the Michigan legislature finally acted to mitigate the debt crisis created in Holland and Lancing not Detroit. Also on July 1, 2017 Nikolai Vitti the new superintendent of DPS took on the challenge or rehabilitating the public schools of Detroit.

The Destroy Public Education (DPE) Model Still Running

The researchers from Indiana who defined the DPE model are Gail Cosby, Nate Williams and Jim Scheurich. I paraphrased their model this winter in a December post:

  1. Business is the best model for schools.
  2. A local-national collaboration between wealthy conservatives. (Sometimes far right)
  3. Huge infusion of new dollars into school board elections. (Dark Money)
  4. Unified enrollment.
  5. Teach for America (or any instant-teacher-certification program) and groups like Teach Plus controlling professional development of teachers.
  6. Innovations Schools. An ALEC sponsored charter conversion model.
  7. A funding conduit for national-local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local DPE initiatives.
  8. Integration of charter schools into traditional public schools with rules favoring charter schools.
  9. Developing networks of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  10. Support for gentrification.

Education Cities bills itself as a national leader in the DPE movement. On their web-page, they list Detroit Children’s Fund and The Skillman Foundation as their partners in Detroit.

The Skillman Foundation has a little more than $400 million and they seem to be the main local financiers of the DPE movement in Detroit. Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) appears to be the political organizers. DCF says of itself:

“Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) has partnered with School Empowerment Network (SEN) to offer an intensive development opportunity for school leadership teams.”

“DCF is powered by a deep partnership with the Skillman Foundation. The Foundation has been working in Detroit since 1960 and is recognized as lead advocate for children in the city. Detroit Children’s Fund and the Skillman Foundation share staff, allowing DCF to leverage the Foundation’s deep relationships and knowledge.”

Instead of partnering with the venerable education departments at Michigan State and University of Michigan, Skillman partners with lightly credentialed and inexperienced non-profits to provide teacher professional development. Only a privatization agenda explains this strange behavior.

In the last few years, Skillman has made grants to; TFA $850,000, Education Cities $85,000,  and Relay Graduate School $40,000.

The DPE movement is harming America. What the Amway clan has done to Detroit should be labeled a hate crime. It is treason. We must protect our right to freedom of conscious. Our public schools are a cornerstone of America’s great democratic experiment and the source of protection for liberty. Do not bow down to the lords of Mammon, fight their greed and dangerous religious agenda.

White Man Fights Slavery; Calls for Ending Public Education

17 Nov

Lee W. Olson feels enslaved by having to pay taxes especially those that go to pay for public education. Taking action to end slavery, he filed three citizen initiatives with the Attorney General of the State of California. His “California Freedom from Slavery Act” initiative would end state and local taxes after 55-years of age. The “California Parental Rights Act of 2018” puts parents in charge of education standards. And the “California Education Tax Relief Act” exempts people with no children in public schools from paying taxes to support public schools.

Perhaps Olson would be better served to find another metaphor than slavery. People from a legacy of slavery, might be a little offended by the whining of a well-off white man. However, he is persistent.  In 2009, he filed three similar ballot initiatives addressing the same principles, if you can call them that.

Slave Home

Home of a Self-Identified California Tax Slave

Olson must be sincere in his motives; each of these initiative filings includes a $2000 fee. The Attorney General must “request the preparation of a fiscal impact analysis from the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office” before issuing a circulating title and summary. The state has less than 65 days for this process. The fee helps defray the cost of the approximately 200 of these proposals the state receives every election cycle. The proponents will get the fee back if they gather enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. Lee’s initiatives have yet to make a ballot.

Curmudgucation Inspired this Story

I read education blogs and one of my daily reads is a blog by Peter Greene of Pennsylvania called Curmudgucation. I met Peter at a National Public Education conference in Chicago. He is one of those guys that knows everything. Not in a know-it-all kind of way but in a he really has a great breadth of knowledge way. His blog is witty, creative and somehow, he is often one of the first people on the blogosphere to spy a new development.

November 10th, Peter wrote a piece he called “CA: A Silly Proposal.” His lead sentence, “It should be said right up front that this measure has little chance of making it all the way to becoming an actual law, and the only big mystery here is why a local news station would bother to cover it at all.” It seems that Peter somehow noticed the story of Lee’s no kids – no taxes for school initiative on a local Sacramento, California CBS affiliates morning news show.

I became intrigued and soon found that there was a trio of initiatives filed including the one Peter Greene referenced all submitted by:

Signature

Now that we have evangelical Christians setting up church in public schools and also running after school programs, plus corporations are legally identified as people with first amendment rights – I take kooky ideas seriously. Who is Lee Olson? How strong is the Committee to End Slavery? Do they have the ability to gather the required 585,407 signatures for each petition in the next six months?

Bolsa Chica

Google Maps Satellite View – 16458 Bolsa Chica Street, #165 Huntington Beach, CA 92649

The address appears to be an office for Olson Leland and Edwards, LLC, a real estate investment company. There promotion at connected investors reads, “Olson Leland & Edwards, LLC is a real estate company with 1 employee(s). This company has been part of Connected Investors since 07/24/2009 – Olson Leland & Edwards, LLC is a real estate company in HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA.” WPnumbers lists Lee Olson as chief executive.

A public records search finds that Lee W. Olson is 72 years old and lives in Westminster, California. A search of a real estate data, shows the Olson is 75 years old and retired. It also says a 2014 property assessment valued his home a little more than $500,000 which is modest by California standards.

To sum up, Lee Olson is a retired real estate dealer over 70 years-old and lives in Westminster, California. He still has some relationship to Olson Leland and Edwards, LLC and maintains a business address in Huntington Beach, California about 3 miles from his home. Except for the six state initiatives he has filed there are few other mentions of him in the media. He does own a web domain, http://www.lovetrumpseverything.com/, but there is nothing on it.

The Committee to End Slavery does not seem to be a functioning body. It has no web presence and there is not a mention of the group in the media that is not tied to Lee Olson’s state ballot initiatives.

Gathering over 700,000 signatures to ensure that 585,407 of them are validly registered voter signatures looks to be out of the realm of possibility. Peter Greene’s observation that why a media outlet would run this story is well founded.

Yet, A Dark Motivation Appears Here

It is the same motivation that is pushing Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos’s drive to privatize public education. It is motivated by a fundamentlist religious belief.

Lee Olson calls one of his proposed initiatives “California Parental Rights Act of 2018.” California’s Attorney Generals official summary says in part:

“PROHIBITS GOVERNMENT FROM ENFORCING EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS AND MAKES PARENTS AND GUARDIANS SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN’S EDUCATION. …

“Changes Constitution to prohibit state and local government from requiring parents and guardians to meet educational standards.  Gives parents and legal guardians the sole authority and responsibility to educate their children, including the right to determine the venue, curriculum, and methods of education.”

Olson’s web domain name seems related to the Christian oriented love trumps everything key to life or a similar evangelical groups. The findings he wrote for this initiative would at one time have been deemed the hateful discourse of a kook. Now they are a serious and dangerous attack on constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state.

In the findings for this initiative Olson writes:

“(1) The responsibility for the raising of children lies solely with parents, or legal guardians, in accordance with our Creators command given to parents, not the government, to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

“(2) The government has immorally usurped, at gun point, the Creator endowed inviolable right of parents to control the education of their children.

“(3) The government has used its powers of coercion not only to usurp the Creator endowed inviolable parent’s rights but also to promote immoral teachings contrary to the way the Creator has said the child should go.

“(4) The government schools reject abstinence from sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage and teach that fornication is not only okay but it’s expected.

“(5) The government schools teach that homosexual behaviors are morally acceptable and should be praised, contrary to the Creator’s instructions for healthy living, by idolizing and establishing Harvey Milk Day honoring a man known primarily for his homosexual exploits rather than any good done for the public. …

“(6) Government schools have a full court press on to eradicate Judeo-Christian moral principles from any discourse in the lives of California residents.

“(7) Government school promotion of immoral sexual behaviors, especially fornication and homosexuality, …”

How did Christianity become so infused with hate and bigotry? Are these really the views of Jesus of Nazareth? I certainly don’t believe he taught discrimination against gays and lying about sex education.

I heard the points Olson made about sex education at the July 24 San Diego Unified School District board meeting. A new sex education program was being adopted. A relatively large group of people apparently from the same Christian sect started denouncing the sex education curriculum as pornographic and against God’s Law. People in the audience were holding up Bibles and cheering on their speakers. One speaker who identified himself as Mr. Brookes said that this sex education program was against God’s Law and that it promoted deviance and rebellion. He also said that Planned Parenthood is evil and that they support this curriculum.

Olson is not just one crackpot looking for attention. He seems to be part of an American religious movement working to end public education and establish a Christian theocracy.

In Olson’s initiative that could be called “No Tax Money for Government Schools”, he also has a long list of frothy findings. Here are three:

“Parents pursuing alternative education are penalized unfairly by having to not only pay for their children’s education but also by being forced to pay for the education of other children (and university/college students) enrolled in government schools via various government taxes, or other schemes, which extract their financial resources at gun point.”

“The Committee to End Slavery fully supports the inviolable right of parents to control the education of their children, including in whatever setting they choose, even the uninformed choice of enrolling in government schools. Our Creator never assigned the right and responsibility of a child’s education to a government entity; the government has usurped that inviolable right and responsibility at gun point.”

“The Committee to End Slavery condemns the theft of property (money) from Californian’s, euphemistically called taxation, to pay for government schools. Especially when their primary purpose is to create a dumbed down populace easy to control and prepared only to service the (slave) labor needs of the oligarchy that rules over us.”

It appears there is very little reason involved here and disdain for our government at all levels. This kind of thinking seems like a natural development from Ronald Regan’s nine most terrifying words in the English language; “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I find this kind of hatred of America and its institutions worrisome.

It is About Ending Public Education

Olson’s three initiatives are aimed at the November 2018 ballot and were certified for signature gathering on November 9, 2017. Each initiative was given an ID and a cost estimate.

17-0028, “California Education Tax Relief Act” aka “No Tax Money for Government Schools”, cost $30 billion-dollar reduction in revenue.

17-0029, “California Freedom from Slavery Act” aka “Geezers Don’t Pay”, cost $60 billion-dollar reduction in revenue.

17-0030, “California Parental Rights Act of 2018” aka “Government Schools Are Evil”, cost cannot be calculated but possibly a lot.

Lee W. Olson’s initiatives are the work of a crackpot with too much money. However, he is not that far from our present mainstream school reform. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has an agenda that is not all that different from Olson’s. There is a dangerous sectarian attack being waged against both public schools and the constitutional guarantee in the second amendment of a separation of church and state.

American Style Taliban Invading Public Education

26 Oct

Christian soldiers have been marching off to war and elementary school is the battle ground. Writer Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children provides the disturbing evidence.

The Good News Clubs are after school programs, sponsored by evangelical Christians, in elementary schools across America. Stewart begins her narrative by describing how the 2001 arrival of a Good News Club in Seattle’s Loyal Height’s Elementary School splintered the community and created enduring angst.

Some parents reacted by removing their children from the school. Stewart quotes one dispirited parent as saying:

‘“Before, we were all Loyal Heights parents together,’ sighs Rockne. ‘Now we’re divided into groups and labels: you’re a Christian; you’re the wrong kind of Christian; you’re a Jew; you’re an atheist.’”

The wrong kind of Christians include all New Age churches, United Methodists, Congregationalists, Catholics and Episcopalians. We Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims can just forget about it.

The episode in Seattle conjures images of the nineteenth century religious riots in America.

Horace Mann, a Unitarian, became Massachusetts’s secretary of education in 1837. He resolved the conflicts around religious ideology being taught in school by restricting religious teachings to commonly shared Protestant values.

Stewart informs about the result, “Representatives of a number of sects immediately and vigorously attacked him, but large majorities agreed with this policy, and it soon became the norm in the ‘common school,’ or public school, movement.”

She continues, “Common school textbooks at the time were filled with racist characterizations of the Irish, and the Pope and his clergy were described as ‘libertine, debauched, corrupt, wicked, immoral, profligate, indolent, slothful, bigoted, parasitical, greedy, illiterate, hypocritical, and pagan,’ according to … Professor of History, David Nasaw.” Of course, the growing immigrant Catholic population did not like it.

  • In 1844 religious riots broke out in Philadelphia.
  • In 1859 Boston had its turn for rioting. A Catholic boy refused to recite the Protestant version of the 10 commandments and was beaten for thirty-minutes.
  • In 1869 a Bible War raged in Cincinnati when the school board tried to assuage sectarian conflict by banning reading the Protestant Bible in school.

Stewart apprises her readers of how seriously America’s leaders took these disputes, “In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse.” Stewart says concerns over religion in public schools continued growing and prompted another Grant speech in 1876:

‘“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions,’ he said. ‘Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.’”

Great landmark decisions on the relationship between religion and school were decided by the Supreme Court in the 1962 and 1963 with eight to one decisions banning formal prayer in school. Stewart observes that these decisions received three votes from the four conservative judges on the panel. She explains the reasoning:

“This approach drew principally upon the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which, according to Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation, erects ‘a wall of separation between church and state.’”

Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia Tear Down that Wall

The evangelical Christian movement gained prominence beginning with Jerry Falwell’s moral majority in 1979 and the arrival of in 1977 of Pat Robertson’s 700-Club on ABC. These two movements developed large followings and generated huge sums of money. A significant portion of that money was spent on legal activism.

Stewart quotes Clarence Darrow who is famous for among other things representing John Scopes in Tennessee’s “monkey trial.” Darrow declared:

“I knew that education was in danger from the source that has always hampered it – religious fanaticism.”

In the same vain, when discussing the legal strategy of the Christian right, Stewart asserts:

“It is an attempt to use the principles of tolerance to secure a place for intolerance, discrimination and religious bigotry in the public schools and elsewhere.”

A significant figure in the tearing down of the separation of church and state is Jay Sekulow, who as general counsel for the “Jews for Jesus” began arguing cases before the Supreme Court. Sekulow was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn. He converted to evangelical Christianity while attending Atlanta Baptist College (now Mercer University).

In 1990, Pat Robertson brought Sekulow together with a few other lawyers to form the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).  Stewart conveys:

“The new outfit lined up alongside the Liberty Counsel, which was founded in 1989 by Mathew and Anita Staver and became affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in 2004. In 1994, the Alliance Defense Fund, or ADF, added its name to the growing roster of Christian legal defense organizations with the backing of a group that reads like a Who’s Who of the new Christian Right: Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries; Larry Burkett, founder of Christian Financial Concepts; James Dobson, founder of Focus on Family; Marlin Maddoux, President of International Christian Media; Donald Wildmon, founder of American Family Association; and more than two dozen other prominent Christian ministries and organizations.”

In 2001, this massive legal artillery succeeded in undermining the separation of church and state most significantly with its victory in Good News Club v. Milford Central School. The upstate New York K-12 school denied a Good News Club’s application to run an after-school club. The denial was based on school policy and concerns about violating the Establishment clause. Stewart laid out the history and arguments for this case and concluded:

“The explosion of school-based church-planting in New York and across the nation that began in 2002 did not reflect a spontaneous eruption of religious enthusiasm. It was simply the direct consequence of the Supreme Court’ decision in the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School in 2001. An alien visitor to planet First Amendment could be forgiven for summarizing the entire story thus: Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, together with a few fellow travelers on the Supreme Court and their friends in the ADF and ACLJ, got together and ordered that the United States should establish a nationwide network of evangelical churches housed in taxpayer-financed school facilities.”

Church-Planting

 On Sunday Morning in San Diego, California if you are driving up Genesee Avenue toward the University Town Center mall you will pass the Grace City church. Most residence would think of it as University City High School, but starting in 2015 it became the domain of an evangelical Christian sect on Sundays.

UC High_Grace City

University City High School/Grace City – Photo by T. Ultican

Originally proposed in 1962, bonds to build University City High School were not passed until 1976. Legal roadblocks delayed the construction until 1980. The schools web site concludes its history of the school’s founding:

“In September 1981, the school opened. Twenty years of effort finally bore fruit. In every phase of the battle, the crucial factor to success was the willingness of the concerned, active and involved University City community who gave time, effort and money to carry the project through to its successful conclusion. A grassroots effort to build a community high school resulted in the beautiful, well-equipped complex.”

It is certain that many of the community residence who worked for and paid for University City High School would be shocked that the facility is now in regular use to advance a particular religious sect. Even more disturbing, that sect did not originate from within the community but was “planted” by non-resident proselytizing evangelicals.

Grace Citie’s founding family is Randall Tonini who served in the Compassion Christian Church of Savannah, Georgia and his wife Laura who met Randall at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee. Johnson University is a private Christian University. They left Savannah to come to San Diego on a religious mission.

The Grace City web presence states, “We are a part of a larger network of churches planted with the partnership of Stadia to bring the Gospel throughout San Diego County.”

Stadia’s “who we are” statement proclaims:

“Stadia began in the fall of 2003, when leaders of the Northern California Evangelistic Association (NCEA) met with leaders of the Church Development Fund (CDF) to create a nationwide church planting organization called Stadia. Since then, Stadia and our partners have planted almost 289+ U.S. churches and 189+ global churches and has mobilized sponsorship of over 25,000 children in impoverished communities.”

And about children they state:

“Children are close to the heart of God. So they are close to the heart of Stadia. “And whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.” 85% of those who make a decision to follow Jesus do so between the ages of 4 and 14.”

Luis Bush, a Christian big picture strategist, was the first to call it the “4/14 Window.” Stewart discusses this issue at length and adds profound context and insight. One of her many paragraphs on the subject reads:

“Bush’s ideas lit up the skies of the missionary community like a bright flare in the night, illuminating the path for evangelicals worldwide and missionaries in particular. ‘Political movements (like Nazism and Communism) trained legions of children with the goal of carrying their agenda beyond the lifetimes of their founders…. Even the Taliban places great emphasis on recruiting children,’ wrote Dr. Wes Stafford, president of Compassion International, one of the largest worldwide missionary groups, in an introduction to Bush’s 2009 book, The 4-14 Window: Raising Up a New Generation to Transform the World. ‘May God inspire you to join us in His battle for the little ones!’”

In discussing this ominous ideology towards other people’s children, Stewart’s thoughts resonate:

“It is easy enough to dismiss these new missionaries on account of their extremely narrow notion of what constitutes Christianity. It is easy to disdain them in the same way that they disdain United Methodists, Roman Catholics, and U.S. Episcopalians. It isn’t hard for most observers to detect the authoritarian impulses and undercurrents of hostility and aggression that drive them to seek ‘spiritual’ authority over others and embolden them to pit children against children, children against schools, children against their own parents.”

Fellowship of Christian Athletics

For the past few decades, I have been seeing more and more athletes at every level pointing skyward when they hit a home-run or score a touchdown. As a kid, I saw BYU players joining in public prayer after games, but now I see public high school kids doing that. From Stewart, I learned that this did not just happen. It is a result of a well-funded campaign led by a group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

With funding from people like Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-A, and non-profits like the Bradley Foundation, FCA has infiltrated sports programs at all levels, marketing their version of “muscular Christianity” to impressionable young men and women. FCA leaders imbed themselves in teams and form sports “huddles.” Thus a peer pressure forms that indicates not precipitating in the prayers and the overt religious gestures means not being a team player. Stewart shared:

“In San Diego, California, a long-serving vice principal who wishes to remain anonymous observes that thirty years ago, prayer played a peripheral role in high school sports. Now, he says, there are FCA huddles at nearly every high school in the region.”

Conclusion

Katherine Stewart’s book is written in an enjoyable and fascinating fashion and her personal research is extraordinary. The account of witnessing the infamous Texas school book wars of 2010 or her telling of attending evangelical missionary conferences or her description of the misinformation being disseminated to teenagers in the now federally financed “abstinence-only” sex education programs are illuminating. All Americans concerned about – freedom of religion; Shielding children from unwanted religious indoctrination at school; and protecting public education – should read this book. Reading this book has been an eye-opening experience.

U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is a devout member of an evangelical church, Mars Hill Bible Church. It is a widely held view within the evangelical movement that public education is a godless secular movement that provides an opening for Satan. That explains why so many evangelicals home school their children. It seems likely that our education secretary has an evangelically based anti-public education agenda. Arguing the relative merits of school policies misses the point.

It is more likely that religious ideology is the point.

San Diego Union Editor Continues Spurious Attack on Teachers and Public Education

30 Aug

The editorial says in the Trump era Democrats see themselves as protecting the disadvantaged but that is not true when it comes to schools. The editor claims, “When it comes to public education, however, there’s fresh evidence that state Democratic leaders are the ones siding with the powerful forces over the disadvantaged.”

Those powerful forces – in an era when billionaires like Carrie Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Eli Broad flex their financial muscle to privatize schools –  are teachers and their unions. The evidence presented is bogus and the conclusions reached are based on willful ignorance.

The Issue – California’s ESSA Evaluation Plan

The new Federal Education Law dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is an abomination. Diane Ravitch (education historian and former US Assistant Secretary of Education under Lamar Alexander) described (August 30th) a speech given by Professor Nicolas Tampio at Fordham University. She noted:

“‘ESSA requires states to remain within the standards, testing, and accountability paradigm . . . if they want Title I funds.’ That means that if a state wants to follow a more original model of educating, such as the John Dewey model, they forfeit federal funding. ‘“John Dewey said standardized tests can only be useful to help us figure out how to help a particular child, but they shouldn’t be used to rank children, because children have all sorts of special gifts, talents, and interests.’”

However, ESSA is the federal education law. It is touted as allowing states more flexibility in how to assess schools but requires each state to deliver a plan to the US Department of Education by this September. Testing and standards are still mandated. EdWeek detailed some of the federal requirements for school assessments:

“Specifically, the new law requires states to use at least one ‘indicator of school quality or student success’ that ‘allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance’ and ‘is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide,’ alongside academic data in their accountability systems. Schools must also be able to disaggregate data related to that indicator to show how it affects students in different subpopulations: those from all racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, children from low-income families, and English-language learners.”

It is California’s plan for meeting this requirement that is being bashed and particularly the California School Dashboard. The dashboard creates reports on demand built from mandated data reporting. It uses six state-indicators [(1) High School Graduation Rate; (2) Academic Performance; (3) Suspension Rate; (4) English Learner Progress; (5) Preparation for College/Career; (6) Chronic Absenteeism] and four local-indicators [(1) Basic Conditions (Teacher qualifications, Safe and clean buildings, Textbooks for all students); (2) Implementation of Academic Standards; (3) School Climate Surveys; (4) Parent Involvement and Engagement] to create reports.

The dashboard is easy to use and the information is easy to understand. I used the dashboard to access a report on San Diego Unified School district for spring 2017.

SDUSD Dashboard March 2017

It seems like the SD Union editor would like to return to the destructive ‘test and punish’ No Child Left Behind methods of assessing schools. That law was based on the false premise that standardized testing provides reliable information about quality of both schools and educators. It doesn’t.

In fact, many excellent institutions were destroyed by this misguided education policy. The one reliable inference that can be made from standardized testing is relative family wealth from one school to the next. That explains why no schools were closed in wealthy communities and many schools were closed in poor communities. Unfortunately, that is the benighted policy the editor of the San Diego Union is advocating.

In 1998 a scholar in New Zealand, Noel Wilson, wrote a thesis called Education Standards and the Problem of Error. The paper has never been refuted but it has been ignored. Basically, Wilson tells us that standards and standardized testing are so fraught with error that they are only useful as a mechanism of control. He ended his paper saying,

“We live in a world of complexity and uncertainty, a fuzzy multi-dimensional world of immense variety and diverse interpretations. What is challenged in this work is the myth that this complexity can be reduced to simple linear dimension by some sort of examination, as a preliminary to comparing with some standard of adequacy somewhere defined.”

The “Fresh Evidence”

We are told that there is “fresh evidence” supporting the claim that the ESSA plan developed by the Democrat led State Department of Education harms the disadvantaged. The editor presented this evidence:

“Thursday, Bellwether Education Partners — a national nonprofit think tank — released its evaluation of California’s proposal. While praising the plan’s vision of a first-rate education of all, the analysis is sharply critical of the plan’s most crucial components. The biggest complaints:

“The plan wouldn’t even manage to ‘capture individual students’ improvement over time.’”

This “fresh evidence” is provided by Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit consulting group from Boston Massachusetts. It’s Co-founder Andrew J. Rotherham, worked in the Clinton administration and has enthusiastically associated himself with efforts to privatize public education since. A profile in the Progressive gives details:

“He serves on advisory boards and committees for a variety of organizations including Education Pioneers, The Broad Foundation, and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. (CALDER). Rotherham is on the board of directors for the Indianapolis Mind Trust, is Vice Chair of the Curry School of Education Foundation at the University of Virginia, and serves on the Visiting Committee for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. [He is a] Board member for Democrats for Education Reform.”

Bellwether is a typical “non-profit” in the school reform business. Their 2015 form 990 tax filing shows that in 2014 the 10 listed Bellwether principals took in more than $2,000,000 in salaries. None of them made less than $150,000. Since their founding in 2012 they have received more than $1,000,000 per year from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a total of $7,400,000. The tax form also showed that in 2014 they took in almost $11,000,000 of which half came from foundation grants and half came from different government agencies for services rendered.

On the Bellwether web-page is a listing of the entities with whom they claim to work. The list below is showing a few of the hundreds of groups cited:

Achieve.org, ACT, Inc, The American Center for School Choice, American Enterprise Institute, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, Chiefs for Change, The College Board, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Education Reform Now, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Harmony Public Schools [aka Gülen schools], J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, K12 Inc., KIPP Foundation, The Mind Trust, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, Rocketship Education, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Teach for America,  Thomas B. Fordham Institute, The Walton Family Foundation, WestEd, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

This is basically a who’s who list of advocates for the privatization of public schools and the selling of computer delivered education, euphemistically called “personalized education.”

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, sits on the board of the California Charter Schools Association. He also founded Rocketship schools, which are charter schools that put their students in cubicles learning from computers. A few years ago, he purchased a small software company in Bremerton, Washington called DreamBox Learning and is well on his way to making DreamBox the top provider of software for computer based learning. One of the six board of director members for Bellwether is Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President, and CEO of DreamBox Learning.

The editor did not get his “fresh evidence” from the graduate school of education at San Diego State University or the University of California San Diego. Nor was the evidence obtained from education researchers at UCLA, Berkeley or Stanford. It came from a “think tank” that is often referred to as a propaganda arm for “corporate education reform.” That’s weak!

Teachers and Unions; Perennial Targets of Abuse

The editorial says, “the State Board of Education has come up with an anti-accountability – accountability plan.”

The editor then emulated Chicken Little:

“This is scandalous. It is the latest confirmation that the interests of the powerful California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — which oppose meaningful attempts to evaluate the performance of teachers, schools and districts — are paramount in Sacramento.”

This is a lie!

Teachers’ unions and their members are resources for getting school improvement right. No group cares more about good education than California’s teachers. Sure, they oppose bad education policy, but they do not oppose accountability as do the editor’s friends in the charter school industry.

The California plan is required because of federal law. It is not a good approach to assessing schools. Taxpayers are already supporting a superior approach provided by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of the six regional accrediting agencies in the United States. They send in teams of trained educators to spend a week or more observing and evaluating. Their final report is both an evaluation and a set of recommendations that must be addressed before a subsequent review.

Teachers have been through WASC reviews and know what authentic school evaluation looks like. Teachers also know how much damage the “test and punish” philosophy of school reform has caused.

This is Ignorance

The editorial alleges,

“The state board’s junk standards feel like the culmination of a plan that began in 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown trashed the “siren song” of data-based education reform — even as schools in Massachusetts continue to lead the nation thanks to such reform and schools in Florida make dramatic improvements with this approach. In 2013, the state moved to scrap its STAR school accountability testing program, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Obama administration. In 2016, Brown vetoed a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to make it easy to determine school progress.”

Yes, Governor Brown trashed the “siren song” of data-based education reform. When vetoing a bill that reduced testing data percentages for school evaluation, he said, “It does allude to student excitement and creativity, but does not take these qualities seriously because they can’t be placed in a data stream. Lost in the bill’s turgid mandates is any recognition that quality is fundamentally different from quantity.”

It is true that Massachusetts went to a standards based education model and testing regime in 1993. It also doubled its spending on education between 1993 and 2001. Their average test scores are excellent, however, they also are third in the nation for largest achievement gaps.

The 2012 Florida data cited above as evidence of dramatic improvement is probably the last positive evidence from Florida. Today, Florida is an abject example of how bad test based education and privatization policies can be. The National Education Association reported about the spring 2017 testing fiasco in Florida:

“The already diminished reputation of high-stakes testing took another hit this week with the startling news out of Florida that only 27 percent of fourth graders passed the state’s comprehensive assessment test (FCAT) for writing. That’s a drop from 81 percent the previous year. The scores for eight and tenth graders yielded similarly abysmal results.”

It is true that the CTA opposed Shirley Webber’s education bill that Brown vetoed. A CTA web-site report says, “CTA urged lawmakers to defeat Assembly Member Weber’s AB 2548 because it would impose new accountability restrictions on local schools before the State Board of Education and local districts have had a chance to implement fully the accountability provisions of the new Local Control Funding Formula.” CTA was not promoting anti-accountability. It was promoting workable accountability.

The editorial ends with, “So please come to the rescue, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Stick up for school accountability by standing up to a state which rejects it. Stick up for needy kids. Stick up for, yes, social justice.”

That is sick. Betsy DeVos is completely unqualified for her position although extremely wealthy. She is anything but a social justice advocate. Is she really a champion to the San Diego Union? Sadly, it seems the answer is yes.