Tag Archives: Broad

Billionaires Push School Privatization

14 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/14/2017

President Donald Trump visited a private religious school in Florida on March 2, 2017, signaling once again that his education agenda will focus on school choice.

Trump DeVos Rubio in Florida

Photo by Alex Brandon of the AP taken from report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The argument for privatization schemes like charter schools and vouchers is that public schools in many low-income neighborhoods are abhorrent failures. Worse yet, the poor families living there have no affordable education options and are trapped. The question is asked, “why don’t poor people have some of the same choices as wealthier people?”

A possible solution is proposed, “Instead of sending public dollars to ‘failing schools,’ vouchers could be given to parents so their children can attend private schools.” Another popular option is to use tax policy and monetary incentives to encourage privately operated charter schools. The claim is made that – because of market forces and reduction in both operating rules and oversight – charter schools will innovate and provide improved pedagogy. The traditional public schools which are encumbered by state regulations and teachers’ unions will learn from these charter school innovations and market forces will cause them to also improve.

Unfortunately, there are three base assumptions here that are wrong. While it is true that some schools have been so poorly resourced and politically damaged by both racism and corruption that they are an abomination, in general America’s public school system is amazingly great – not failing, great!

Secondly, voucher-fed private schools are not that good. Private schools that compare favorably with public schools are much more expensive than any proposed vouchers.

As for the charter school claims; they have not innovated, they have increase education costs and the lack of oversight has resulted in an endless stream of scandal. In addition, the improved pedagogy which has been touted in advertising is refuted by refereed studies.

President Trump proposed spending $20 billion supposedly by repurposing title I funds to promote “school choice.” That is a stunning number. It is equal to more than two-thirds of the spending on the Manhattan Project. The US spent about $1.9 billion on the atomic bomb development. That was estimated to be equivalent to $30 billion in 2013. Another estimate says $2 billion in 1945 dollars was equivalent to $26 billion in 2016. Mr. Trump is calling for a nearly Manhattan Project sized effort to privatize America’s public schools. Does he believe public schools in America are in that kind of crisis or is this just another feckless politician demagoging education for his own selfish purposes?

Mercedes Schneider’s book School Choice makes a powerful arguments for why “school choice” is not only an idea that is unsupported by evidence but will cause extensive damage to our world’s greatest democratic institution. She shared this quote from the longtime teachers’ union leader and one of the original supporters of charter schools, Albert Shankar.

“A pluralistic society cannot sustain a scheme in which the citizenry pays for a school but has no influence over how the school is run. … Public money is shared money, and it is to be used for the furtherance of shared values, in the interest of e pluribus unum. Charter schools and their like are definitely antithetical to this promise.”


Russ Walsh teaches college reading at Rider University and publishes the blog, “Russ on Reading.” This March he wrote “School Vouchers: Welfare for the Rich, the Racist, and the Religious Right.” That’s certainly a novel take on the “3-Rs” of education. In this piece, Mr. Walsh explains vouchers:

“What are vouchers exactly? School vouchers come in many forms and since the general public is typically opposed to voucher schemes, politicians who favor them have come up with a variety of Orwellian doublespeak names for them like Opportunity Scholarships, Education Choice Scholarships, or the Education Savings Accounts. Another way states have found to get around calling vouchers vouchers is the scholarship tax credit. These schemes allow individuals and corporations to direct their tax monies to private institutions who then use the money for scholarships for students.”

Trump and DeVos went to a Catholic School in Orlando to praise and encourage Florida’s use of scholarship tax credits which appear to run afoul of the first amendment to the United States constitution’s establishment clause. It redirects public dollars to religious schools which does entangle church and state. The Americans United for Separation of Church and State say voucher programs undermine religious liberty.

In Florida, the tax credit voucher is called Florida corporate tax credits. A Florida League of Women Voters report states, “In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that vouchers paid by the treasury were unconstitutional. Florida corporate tax credits (FTC) became the vehicle to fund what initially were private school scholarships for children from disadvantaged families.”

This month a Texas Superintendent of Schools, John Kuhn, informed the Association of Texas Professional Educators about vouchers:

“Three different research studies published recently have found that voucher programs harm student learning—including one study sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Fordham Institute, both proponents of vouchers. Students who use vouchers underperform their matched peers who stay in public schools.

“You heard me right. I’m not just saying that vouchers don’t help very much. I’m saying voucher programs result in students learning less than if the voucher programs didn’t exist. Giving a student a voucher to improve his education is like giving a struggling swimmer a boulder to help him swim. The Walton Foundation study said: ‘Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.’ A study of the voucher program in Louisiana found very negative results in both reading and math. Kids who started the voucher program at the 50th percentile in math dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Vouchers are so harmful to children that a Harvard professor called their negative effect ‘as large as any I’ve seen in the literature.’”

Evidence from Sweden, New Zealand, Chile and several American metropolitan areas has consistently shown that privatizing schools with vouchers not only does not improve education outcomes, it harms them. When the monies for voucher programs are removed from public education budgets, the opportunities for the 85% of our students attending public schools are reduced.

Privately Run Charter Schools

At the behest of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s teacher’s union MGT of America studied the costs associated with charter schools in LA. MGT reported, “these data indicate that LAUSD has a nearly $600 million impact from independent charter schools.” Running dual school systems increases costs. Therefore, the evidence for benefit from charter schools needs to be clear and convincing.

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado recently published a compilation of refereed studies under the title Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms. A paper by Miron and Urschel says of charter school studies, “For example, all of the California studies either found mixed or positive results, while four out of the five Michigan studies and three out of the four Ohio studies produced negative results.”

In Learning, Miron and Urschel also noted:

“A third factor that overshadows the body of evidence on school choice is the predominance of partisan researchers and activist organizations that carry out the research. Especially in the areas of home schooling, vouchers, and charter schools, the bulk of studies that find positive impacts in favor of school choice have been conducted by advocacy groups.”

Two consistent features of modern education governance are that politicians and business men who have power enforce their own particular biases even though lacking both educational experience and knowledge. The second feature is education policy is not based on refereed peer reviewed research by professionals.

For decades, John Walton and the Walton Family Foundation promoted vouchers as the ideal fix for what Walton saw as needing fixed. In a Washington Post article Jeff Bryant wrote:

“Fully inculcated with Friedman’s philosophies, and motivated by the myth of school failure spread by the Reagan administration, the Waltons were ready for their education revolution to begin.”

After a series of defeats trying to promote vouchers, the foundation transitioned the privatization agenda to advancing charter schools. Bryant continued:

“According to a pro-union website, another member of the Walton family, Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation connected to the prominent KIPP charter school chain—on which the Walton Family Foundation has lavished many millions in donations—and is also a member of the California Charter Schools Association. Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director of the Charter Growth Fund, a ‘non-profit venture capital fund’ investing in charter schools.”

Search “charter school investment” and at least two pages of paid ads for charter school investment funds will appear. In March 2015, the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-sponsored an event in Manhattan called “Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.” In the Business Insider report on this event, reporter Abby Jackson wrote:

“Hedge funds and other private businesses are particularly interested in the growth and success of charter schools. The growth of charter networks around the US offer new revenue streams for investing, and the sector is quickly growing. Funding for charter schools is further incentivized by generous tax credits for investments to charter schools in underserved areas.”

An article by the Education Law Center’s Wendy Lecker states,

“As noted in a 1996 Detroit Metro Times article, while the DeVos’ ultimate aim was to abolish public education and steer public funds to parochial schools, they knew not to be blatant about that goal. Thus, they chose a vehicle that blurred the lines between public and private schools- a “gateway drug” to privatizing public education: charter schools.”

Here in California we have a plethora of billionaires and other wealthy people working to expand charter school penetration including; Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Doris Fischer, Carrie Walton Penner and the list continues.

America’s Public Schools Rock

As I wrote in a 2014 post, the declaration that America’s public education system is failing has a long history. Diane Ravitch reported the following quote from Jim Arnold & Peter Smagorinsky on her blog.

“Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.” In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a best seller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War. The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.”

By the middle of the 20th century, cities and villages throughout the USA had developed an impressive educational infrastructure. With the intent of giving every child in America the opportunity for 12 years of free education, this country was the world’s only country not using high stakes testing to deny the academic path to more than a third of its students. The physical infrastructure of our public schools was of high quality and schools were staffed with well-trained experienced educators.

This system that is the foundation – to the greatest economy in the world, the most Nobel Prize winners and democratic government – has passed the exam of life. It is clearly the best education system in the world. To diminish and undermine it is foolhardy. Arrogant greed-blinded people are trying to steal our legacy.

“Is TFA a CULT?”

12 May

By T. Ultican 5/12/2015

This question arose from the audience at a recent NPE (Network for Public Education) colloquium on the TFA (Teach for America) – my answer, “no, TFA is not a cult.” However, the question is not without merit. Cynical actors are taking advantage of sincere young people for personal power and profit. In the same way that military organizations take undisciplined and timid youths, isolate them, stress them and indoctrinate them with a certain ethic.

TFA indoctrinates its new corps members with a behaviorist and market based education ideology. It is not the Peoples Temple in Guyana but it is in the words of Chad Sommer “an incubator for transforming social justice minded youths into advocates for Koch-brothers style education policies.”

NPE held its 2015 convention two blocks up the street from Lake Michigan in the historic Drake Hotel. Sunday morning, I went from breakfast with hundreds of BATs, teachers, and parents, who believe public education is important enough to fight for, to a session focused on the TFA. On my way, I passed by a large open room with thirty or so well appointed tables just off the lobby. Since the construction of the Drake in 1920, high tea has been served there every day.

I recalled the story a teacher from Minnesota told me. In 1947, a public school teacher from a poverty stricken rural community not far from Minneapolis had driven her five eighth-graders to Chicago and treated them to high tea at the Drake. My new friend from Minnesota said that her eighty-year-old mother still counts that among the greatest memories of her life.

The expert panel at the TFA session:

Moderator: Julian Vasquez Heilig, Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program at Sacramento State University and a founding board member of the NPE.

Professor, Terica Butler earned her Doctoral degree from the Department of Instruction and Curriculum Leadership at University of Memphis in May 2014. Her research emphasis was on alternative paths to teacher credentialing which included researching the training of TFA corps members.

Annie Tan, is currently a special education teacher in Chicago public schools with a master degree in special education. She was a member of TFA corps class of 2011 placed in a Chicago charter school.

Chad Sommer, with a degree in marketing, became a member of the TFA corps class of 2011 placed in Chicago public elementary school.

 Jameson Brewer, Ph.D. student in Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana was a member of TFA corps class of 2010 placed at Carver High School in Atlanta, Georgia.

Katie Osgood is a special education teacher in Chicago currently working at a psychiatric hospital. She also taught special education in the Chicago Public Schools. She holds a Masters in Elementary and Special Education from DePaul University.

It may be possible to criticize the quality of some of this panel’s judgments, but one point is clear, their research and advocacy will not pave the way to personal profit or power in the same way that being pro-TFA could.

A path to political power and prestige is available to corps members and researchers who support these three positions: (1) Education outcomes are the responsibility of teachers and there are no excuses for teachers who fail to raise test scores. (2) Authoritarian leadership is required in both the classroom and in the administration of schools. (3) Market based principles are the path to scholastic improvement and standardized testing is the only reliable measurement of that improvement. Each of the panel members pushed back against these market-based “reform” positions that are profoundly embedded within TFA.

Professor Heilig opened the proceedings with a few brief personal remarks. He told us of his own experience at forums to discuss TFA and facing rooms packed by TFA corps members and supporters. He also mentioned that TFA with the backing of large private funding from organizations like the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations pays staffers on Ed-committees in Washington DC for both the Democrats and the Republicans.

TFA is an organization that is both willing and able to play power politics to get its agenda enacted.

Professor Butler observed that the summer five week training course did not equip the corps members for a full time teaching schedule in the fall. Summer-school students are only in class for four hours a day and there were normally four corps members assigned to each class. That meant that the TFA corps member student taught by sharing a class and only taught for 1 hour a day. Then in the fall they were hit with six hours a day in a classroom by themselves.

Jameson Brewer and Annie Tan were unusual corps members. They studied education in school and joined TFA to get a job when they could not find a full time teaching position. Somehow even during the height of the depression, TFA was able to place its corps members in classrooms across America.

Jameson who went through a university credentialing program prior to TFA told us that he became an example of how well TFA teachers perform in the classroom. He also shared the following table of data with us comparing TFA preparation with preparation by a typical teacher education program.

Student teaching Methods Observations
TFA 16-18 hour 125 hours 2
Typical TEP 630 hours 496 80

Chad Sommer was more typical of the TFA experience. He has written that I was “naively seduced by TFA’s do-gooder marketing pitch. I charged ahead on a mission to close the academic ‘achievement gap’ that TFA blames on incompetent (read unionized) teachers.” With a marketing degree in hand and five weeks of training which included a heavy dose of Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion (part of the TFA recipe for teaching), Chad became a new elementary school teacher at a public school in Chicago.

All three former TFA corps members agree that they were taking jobs that would otherwise have gone to a trained educator and Jameson Brewer says he directly replaced an experienced certificated teacher much to the chagrin of the principal that was forced to hire him.

The TFA Message to Corps Members

The fundamental messages these corps members received during training were that public schools in America are failing and the cause is bad teaching. Social conditions are just an excuse. Great teachers can overcome “achievement gaps” and not raising test scores means that the teacher is a failure. These failing teacher are said to have succumbed to “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The sole arbiter of success in a classroom is test scores. This was all part of the TFA academic impact model.

Teach for America and the ‘education entrepreneurs’ who developed the “no excuses” charter school movement (mostly TFA alums) believe that America’s schools are failing and that they have a mission to save our country’s future. People like Doug Lemov, Stacey Boyd and John King, with no substantial background in education (which they see as a strength), started schools.

They Derided education theories taught by university professors. It was clear to them that the first item to fix in schools was discipline so they put children in uniforms, made many rules about everything the children did and enforced those rules harshly. It reminds professional educators of 19th century pedagogy.

Based on behaviorist theory, the “no excuses” model is completely authoritarian and autocratic. While a really skilled practitioners might raise test scores employing these harsh tactics, there are terrible side effects. Students learn to hate learning and creativity is sundered. To use professor Zhao’s metaphor – Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer will be killed.

Annie’s Story

I met Annie Tan at breakfast on Saturday morning. As I was headed into lunch after the morning sessions I encountered Annie again. Being a friendly engaging person, she invited me to go with her to find a table. We walked to the front of the giant room accommodating at least 35 tables for 12 and sat down with Jose Vilson, the well-known blogger from New York, Peter Greene AKA Curmudgucation, Jennifer Berkshire AKA EduShyster, and Adell Cothorne, the principle who blew the whistle on Michelle Rhee. Also at the table was Peter Greene’s wife. It was an amazing hour and I discovered that Peter, his wife and Jose are trombone player like myself. Later, I learned that Peter and his wife met through their participation in a community orchestra.

Annie Tan graduated from Columbia University with an emphasis in special education. When she could not get a job, she joined the TFA and was sent to Chicago. Annie was assigned as a special education teacher at a charter school in Chicago. She was the only special education teacher on staff for grades K-4.

The only support she received was during her monthly TFA advisory visits. The school was led by a TFA alum and most of the staff was current or former TFA corps members. Few staff member had more than three years’ experience. In February, Annie’s TFA supervisor (not the principal) informed her she was failing as a teacher by not moving her students fast enough towards success on standardized testing and may be fired.

At the end of the year, she was fired. Four years later, she has a master’s degree in special education and is succeeding as a teacher in the Chicago Public School system.

I know from my personal experience that being labeled a failure is psychically devastating. Primary tenets of corporate inspired “reform” include disruption, labeling a certain percentage of people failures and firing them as a warning to those left behind.

During my first year of teaching, I worked under the Alan Bersin administration in San Diego. Diane Ravitch tells the story of Bersin and the corporate “reform” piloting done by San Diego Unified School District in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I was fired for not moving my students toward achieving standards even though my classes scored extremely well on the district end of course exams.

I had a credential in math, a credential in physics and high test scores but that was all trumped by the requirement to let go a certain number of first year teachers. I was a fifty year-old and that is probably the reason I was targeted. Even though I felt certain the firing had very little to do with my actual performance in the classroom, I was bothered by self-doubt about my abilities as an educator for the next decade.

I am guessing the Annie still believes in some corner of her mind that she failed at her first teaching job and that thought still undermines her confidence. Authoritarianism is a horrible creed and especially horrible when applied to an education environment.

TFA is a Cult

A great warrior for public education, Katie Osgood, made these three assertions: “TFA is a cult; its corps members are exhausted, isolated and only have TFA to attach to.” “TFA is destroying communities of color: they drive out teachers of color.” And “Tenure is a children’s right.” While I quibbled with her use of the term cult, I recognize she is the psychiatric professional and I certainly agree that they do use the techniques she describes to change youthful idealistic minds toward a market based ideology.

Her last two claims are unvarnished truth. Katy has been identified by TFA as the number one opponent of TFA on social media. She is relentless and impassioned. I am glad she is on my side. In her “An Open Letter to Teach for America Recruits” Katie writes:

“Many of you no doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement; that is the message TFA sells so well. But TFA is not progressive. The data-driven pedagogy, the fast-track preparation, the union-busting, the forced exploitation of your labor, the deep-pocketed affiliation with corporate education reform are all very conservative, very anti-progressive ideas.”


“Ask yourself: Since when did billionaires, financial giants, or hedge fund managers on Wall Street begin to care about the education of poor black and brown children in America? If you follow the money, you will see the potential for mass profit through privatization, new construction, union-busting, and educational service industries. Why would a group dedicated to educational justice partner with these forces?”

On further reflection, I think TFA just might be a cult.

Education Caste System

12 Jul

In 1999, motivated by idealistic impulses, I quit working on the next greatest hard drive to become a teacher. Like most people, I knew public education was in bad shape with bad teachers and poor administration. I hoped to advance the American promise that anyone’s child could become a captain of industry or even the president of the United States. America is supposed to be a meritocracy with equal opportunity for all.

I heard about “Nation at Risk” and I knew “Johnny” never could read. I was confident that a person with a successful engineering career under his belt could make significant contributions to public education. So it was off to the new masters of education program at University of California San Diego and my crusade to save public education.

These past 15 years have been enlightening. I soon learned what I knew about the state of public education was absolute baloney. The experienced teachers were amazing and once I got past the initial arrogance that blinded me to that fact, I realized that I had a lot to learn about teaching. I was not going to school the existing teachers; they were highly skilled and effective. My first two years in the classroom, I literally did not encounter any bad teachers who were not motivated to do a good job. The schools in San Diego were much better than the ones I attended 30 plus years earlier and the students were far more accomplished than my peers.

Concurrent with my entering the class room the bi-partisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was adopted. It soon became clear that education for working and middle class students was becoming more skills oriented with lessened creativity and minimal independent thought. The new education reform was based on standards and accountability for standardized testing results. This new theory of good pedagogy ignored the advice educators like Dewey and Herbart and adopted what Alfie Kohn mockingly dubbed the “longer stronger meaner” theory of education. This kind of pedagogy diminishes thought and creativity. It implies that thinking is for the children of wealthy people in private schools who are the natural leaders of society. The other students have utilitarian purposes but thinking undermines that value. It is all driven by an ancient and evil ideology that posits it is OK to use lesser human beings for the purposes of social elites.

El Puente founder, Frances Lucerna, has a similar observation:

“In the public schools now it’s basically all about standardized testing, and mechanical literacy. This is resulting in dumbing down, watering down, the experience that young people have in school. It is equivalent to telling students that they are not to go deep within themselves and think in complex ways about things, but that they need to go back to memorizing and stuffing their heads with knowledge that has nothing to do with their experience and their world. This is not by accident: there is a reason that this is happening, why it’s happening in public schools and not in private schools and other places. This is an education for followers, not for leaders. And that’s why I think a movement for change has to arise, and the arts are fundamental in this.” (Muses Go to School, Page 58)

In 1973 David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission produced “The Crisis of Democracy” a report in which they indicate that too much education for common people is a threat to democracy. On page 115 on the report they conclude, “The vulnerability of democratic government in the United States thus comes not primarily from external threats, though such threats are real, nor from internal subversion from the left or the right, although both possibilities could exist, but rather from the internal dynamics of democracy itself in a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society.” In other words, don’t teach common people to think, to have philosophy, or develop their own ideas – the elites of society will take care of that. It is not in the interest of the upper class to have too much education – too much democracy.

Of course, this elitism or classism is not new. I recently studied a lecture on an event that occurred in 1279. Twenty peasant farmers living in Atsuhara (present-day Fuji City, Japan) were arrested and falsely accused of stealing rice from a local priest. When the second most powerful figure in Japan questioned them, he did not ask about the charges. He offered clemency if they would just renounce their religious beliefs and join the approved Buddhist sect. Surprisingly, all twenty farmers refused the free pass. Three of them were executed and the other seventeen were exiled to remote regions of Japan.

Known as the “Atsuhara persecution” this event is significant in the history common people. Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Soka Schools said, “Set in 13th-century feudal Japan, this was truly a pioneering struggle for human rights that will shine forever in history.” In the same lecture Ikeda commented,

“…the devilish nature of authority fears the awakening of the people. To those in power who forget to serve the people and instead exploit them, wielding authority for self-serving ends, the presence of individuals who discern their true insidious nature and are determined to take a stand against them is a hindrance and inconvenience. That’s why the powerful do everything they can to crush them.” (July 2014, Living Buddhism)

Another struggle for rights that shines eternally in history is the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson penned these famous lines:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

As a boy growing up in rural Idaho, I was thrilled by these words. The precept that all men are created equal and have the right to seek an equal station based on merit excited my idealistic yearnings. For me, America was “that shining city on the hill.” It was some time before I started coming to grips with the contradictions that inhered from the beginning. Jefferson was a slave owner; women were denied human dignity and if you were not a member of the land owning class, the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God did not entitle you to equal station. But the ideas were pregnant with idealism and the potential for human advancement. It still gives me hope.

In our country, over the past more than two centuries there have been many advances in human rights, but the ugly side of human nature that wants to use others for personal purposes has not been conquered. It has merely transformed to forms which use less obvious and possibly more insidious methodology. Doctor Ikeda spoke directly to this point in a speech he delivered at Harvard University in 1993:

“I propose that self-motivation is what will open the way to the era of soft power. While systems depending on hard power have succeeded by using established tools of coercion to move people toward certain goals, the success of soft power is based on volition. It is an internally generated energy of will created through consensus and understanding among people. The processes of soft power unleash the inner energies of the individual. Rooted in the spirituality and religious nature of human beings, this kind of energy has traditionally been considered in philosophical themes. But without the support of a philosophical foundation to strengthen and mobilize the spiritual resources of the individual, the use of soft power would become nothing more that ‘fascism with a smile’, In such a society information and knowledge would be abundant, but subject to manipulation by those in power. A citizenry without wisdom would fall easy prey to authority with self-serving goals. For these reasons, the burden of sustaining and accelerating the trend toward soft power lies with philosophy.” (New Humanism page 189)

In the 1930’s the philosopher historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his masterpiece, A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.” In his deep study of more than three-thousand years of human history, Toynbee saw this pattern repeat.

Toynbee also saw a pattern that gave him pause about the future of our civilization. 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.” (A study of History page 555)

As I read the words of great men of character and think about my own observations, I am convinced this is a time of opportunity and peril. We must fight against the arrogance of elitism which looks down on common people as mere pawns and considers their own good fortune a matter of birth right or superiority. We must fight against the whole concept of Teach for America (TFA) and its untrained student teachers from elite schools which reeks of this kind of stinking thinking. The fraudulent charter school movement is the shoal of sharks rising from the depths to devour the children’s bread. Standardized education; standardized testing and common core standards seem to exactly match Toynbee’s description of the trends in decaying societies.

A witch’s brew of arrogance, greed and elitism is poisoning public education in America. Eli Broad (a billionaire home builder) did not think experience in education was valuable for administrators who run educational institutions, so he created his own non-certified institution that trains non-educators to lead the schools of common people. Bill Gates does not think class size matters. He sees no problem with classes of 50 students, but he sends his children to a private school in Seattle that has class sizes of 12 to 15. Michael Bloomberg does not think teacher education and experience is important. So he worked to privatize New York City’s schools so he does not need to waste money on experience and training. These attitudes would be indefensible if they were not promoted by extremely wealth elites.

We do not need to accept a society dominate by self-appointed elites who inherited their wealth and position or were able to unscrupulously bend financial law to their advantage. As educators we must educate the public and arm them against charlatans like: Jeb Bush; Arne Duncan; Democrats for Education Reform; Joel Klein; Michelle Rhee; Bill Gates; Andrew Cuomo; Daniel Malloy; Eli Broad; Bill Gates; the Walton family; etc.. We must give them the knowledge and wisdom to see the foolishness of these people. We need to make the nature and identity of the enemies of common people clear to all so no one is deceived by them. It is time to end the caste system in America and achieve the promise of meritocracy and opportunity for all.

DFER and Education Policies

16 Jul

            In August 2008, many teachers in America and this one in particular were thrilled about Barack Obama’s nomination. Linda Darling-Hammond was a leading spokesperson articulating the Obama campaigns’ education positions. Darling-Hammond had pushed for professional education standards for teachers and had presented data showing the importance of teacher training. Yet, by November Alexander Russo of the Huffington Post was reporting “The possibility of Darling-Hammond being named Secretary has emerged as an especially worrisome possibility among a small but vocal group of younger, reform-minded advocates who supported Obama because he seemed reform-minded on education issues like charter schools, performance pay, and accountability. These reformists seem to perceive Darling-Hammond as a touchy-feely anti-accountability figure who will destroy any chances that Obama will follow through on any of these initiatives.” In December, Obama tapped Chicago’s Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Because Duncan had no real education experience it was considered highly likely that Darling-Hammond would be the Deputy Secretary of Education. On February 19, 2009 the New Republic reported, “Darling-Hammond was a key education adviser during the election and chaired Obama’s transition education policy team. She has been berated heavily by the education reform community, which views her as favoring the status quo in Democratic education policy for her criticisms of alternative teacher certification programs like Teach for America and her ties with teachers’ unions.” They reported that she was going home to California to work on other priorities and would not be a part of the new administration.

            So, what happened and who were those “small but vocal younger, reform minded advocates that supported Obama” but hated Darling-Hammond? In August 2008 a pre-convention Democrats for Education Reform seminar, billed as “Ed Challenge for Change” previewed a coming attack from within the Democratic Party on teachers and especially their unions. David Goldstein of the American Prospect reported:

            “It was sponsored by a coalition of foundations, nonprofits, and businesses supporting the charter-school movement, including Ed in ’08, the advocacy group founded by Bill Gates and real-estate mogul Eli Broad. The evening provided a truly unusual spectacle at a convention: A megawatt group of Democrats, including Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., and former Gov. Ray Romer of Colorado, bashed teachers’ unions for an hour. Amid the approving audience were Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, an icon of the civil-rights movement; Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, (in)famous as a high-profile African American Hillary Clinton endorser; and Mayor David Cicilline of Providence, the reformer of that once-Mob-ridden New England city. Cicilline took avid notes.”

It was from this crowd that Darling-Hammond was receiving her harshest criticism and where the non-traditional (meaning no education background) leader of the Chicago school system, Arne Duncan, was championed as the next Secretary of Education. The loudest voices were those of a new organization calling themselves Democrats for Education reform (DFER), led by young extremely wealthy hedge fund operators from New York City.

            In the May 31, 2007 issue of New York Sun there was a report about one of the first victories of DFER:

            “A money manager recently sent an e-mail to some partners, congratulating them on an investment of $1 million that yielded an estimated $400 million. The reasoning was that $1 million spent on trying to lift a cap on the number of charter schools in New York State yielded a change in the law that will bring $400 million a year in funding to new charter schools. The money managers who were among the main investors in this law — three Harvard MBAs and a Wharton graduate named Whitney Tilson, Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, Charles Ledley, and John Petry — are moving education-oriented volunteerism beyond championing a single school.

“They want to shift the political debate by getting the Democratic Party to back innovations such as merit pay for teachers, a longer school day, and charter schools. …  The group — actually two separate political action committees — has raised money for senators Obama, Clinton, and Lieberman; Governor Spitzer; Rep. George Miller; state senators Malcolm Smith and Antoine Thompson; assemblymen Sam Hoyt, Hakeem Jeffries, and Jonathan Bing, and City Council Member Vito Lopez. They count the charter cap lift, signed by Mr. Spitzer in April, as their first major victory.”

The two political action committees the Sun mentioned are Education Reform Now, a 501c3, and Education Reform Now Advocacy, a 501c4. To lead these committees the hedge fund operators chose Joel Klein, the form chancellor of the New York City schools. It seems likely that Mr. Klein was influential in these young businessmen from elite schools developing the view of education reform they have adopted. Until April of this year, Klein has been the director of Education Reform now. In April he joined his former protégé, Michele Rhee at her advocacy group Students First which is also supported by DFER, the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation. When I looked on the DFER web site the first image that popped up was that of a favorite basketball player of mine and the current mayor of Sacramento, California, Kevin Johnson. He also happens to be Michelle Rhee’s husband.

On the DFER’s official web presence they take at least partial credit for the selection of Arne Duncan instead of Linda Darling-Hammond.

There is a glaring lack of experience or knowledge about education amongst the leaders of DFER. Michael Hirsch writing for the United Federation of Teachers explains, “What do these folks know about education? With the exception of Williams, who’s the hired help: nothing! Understand that DFER’s endgame has little to do with learning and everything to do with marginalizing public-sector unionized workers and bringing down the cost of taxes for social programs. It’s about creating new business and investment opportunities in areas that are still publicly run and serving as a pre-emptive strike against any hope for private-sector union renewal. Where better to start than with attacking teacher unions, one of the few labor strongholds in this country?” His point is a least in part validated by a cursory look at the present Board of Directors of DFER and the Board of Advisors:

Board of Directors

Kevin P. Chavous (chair) – Former Washington, DC, City Council member and chair of the Education Committee; Board Chair of Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).

Boykin Curry – Eagle Capital; Co-Founder of Public Prep. Public Prep launched in 2008.

Tony Davis – Co-founder and President of Anchorage Capital Group, LLC; Board Trusteer for Achievement First Brooklyn charter schools. Achievement First has grown into a network that includes 20 academies under ten charters in four cities.

Charles Ledley – Highfields Capital Management; Board Member of the Tobin Project.

Sara Mead – Bellwether Education Partners, Associate Partner; Former Director of Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.

John Petry – Columbus Hill Capital Management; Co-founder of Harlem Success Academy Charter School in NYC. Success Academy Charter Schools operate nine public charter schools in NYC.

Whitney Tilson –  Managing Partner, T2 Partners LLC and Tilson Mutual Funds; Board member of KIPP-NYC, and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

DFER Board of Advisors:

Steve Barr – Founder and CEO, Green Dot Public Schools.

Cory Booker – Mayor of Newark, N.J.

David Einhorn – Founder of Greenlight Capital, LLC.

Joel Greenblatt – Founder and Managing Partner of Gotham Capital.

Vincent Mai – Chairman of AEA Investors, LP.

Michael Novogratz – President of Fortress Investment Group.

Tom Vander Ark – Partner, Revolution Learning.

            In February another self-appointed expert on education policy from Seattle, Washington, loudly bashed teachers and their unions. An editorialist for the Seattle Times, Lynne K. Varner reported that “Major Democratic funder Nick Hanauer’s recent email blasting Democratic lawmakers for failing to buck the teachers union and push for education reforms will go down as the tough-love message heard around the state. ‘It is impossible to escape the painful reality that we Democrats are now on the wrong side of every important education-reform issue,’ wrote Hanauer, a Seattle venture capitalist, to other party faithful. ‘Today, the (teachers union) is literally strangling our public schools to death with an almost infinite number of institutionalized rules that limit change, innovation and excellence.’” In that same editorial Varner said, “Reformers watched in dismay as Democratic leaders blocked key reforms including exchanging an outdated seniority-based layoff policy for one based on performance and overhauling the billion-dollar health-insurance program for school employees.”

                Diane Ravitch famously anointed these modern education reformers, “the billionaire boys club” and has valiantly fought off their benighted positions. They call for the end of seniority rights, lessoning of health benefits for teachers, the destruction of the teachers union, privatization of public schools, standards based education, national standards, high stakes testing, no excuses, non-traditional school leadership, imbuing mayors with untrammeled control over schools, trigger laws, lessoning the rigor of teacher certification, and value added measures to evaluate educators. Every one of these positions undermines the American public education system which is not failing and never has been failing. There has been a forty year campaign starting with the Reagan administrations falsely premised document “A Nation at Risk” to convince people that our public schools are terrible. Of course any institution can be improved but destroying the greatest education system the world has ever known is not an improvement. Across the United States, schools are staffed with well trained, experienced and dedicated employees and lead by competent administrators. For students who live in poverty zones that are often drug riddled and crime infested, the local school is often the only functional institution in the area. On standardized tests, poor students do not perform as well as students who live in wealthier and safer communities, but these schools still produce students who excel and win their way into some of the world’s most prestigious universities. John Dewey observed in 1916, “education will vary with the quality of life which prevails in a group.” Even as President Obama was cheering the closing of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, many success stories from that school were following the path out of the poorest neighborhood in the state of Rhode Island opened by their school. These schools are not failing; the communities they are in are failing and schools are being unfairly blamed for it.

                At the DFER web presence is a section called the Brian Bennett Education Warrior Award. Not surprisingly, the awards go to political activists who opened the path for charter schools or who helped close “failing schools” or did some other deed that promoted the DFER agenda in most cases against the will of the local community. When citing previous heroes of education reform, the very first name cited is Alan Bersin. The citation says, “Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin led the way as one of the nation’s first ‘non-traditional’ big city school leaders, promoting ambitious reform to raise the quality of education and bolster student achievement. Bersin currently serves as the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection. Bersin was a founding board member of DFER.” By ‘non-traditional’ they meant he had no education experience or training. I worked one year under Bersin’s leadership. Amongst all teachers and most San Diegan’s the Bersin administration is considered a colossal failure. Today, San Diego Unified School District is bankrupt having just issued a 1000 certificated and a 1000 non-certificated layoff notices and still suffers from the loss of experienced teachers and administrators suffered during Bersin’s tenure.

                It was under Bersin that some of the first DFER style reforms were implemented. It is a fundamental tenet of DFER style reform that there are many failing schools and bad teachers especially in poor communities. DFER Executive Director Joe Williams (“the hired help who has some education experience”) reported about Bersin’s success in changing two “failing schools” into charter schools. He wrote about the valiant fight Bersin put on to defeat the anti-reform teachers union and misguided parents who stood in the road of real reform. In November 2006, Wilson stated, “The conversion of Gompers and Keiller  to charter schools in San Diego suggests that with the right combination of top-down and bottom-up pressure for reform, and with sufficient support for reform efforts from inside and outside of school districts, even the most troubled public schools are able to turn the corner toward educational success. The question is whether education policymakers will act on the lessons that schools like Gompers and Keiller teach us.”  Joe Williams claimed victory for the students and parents who lived in the service areas of Gompers and Keiller, but like most “reform” success it is a complete mirage, because the only thing wrong with the schools was they were in poverty stricken gang infested neighborhoods. The charter school replacements were not a magic bullet the repaired the neighborhood and are likely doing worse than their public school predecessors would have. For a comparison, I picked two public schools that are nearby and have similar populations, Granger middle school and Spring Valley middle school and used the vaunted but often misleading standards based testing data.

API (Academic  Performance Index-California)   AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress-Federal)

Gomper  charter              2011 API 657       2006 API 551       +102      Failed 2011 AYP

Keiler  charter                    2011 API 748       2006 API 687       + 61        Failed 2011 AYP

Spring Valley Middle       2011 API 786       2006 API 737       +49         Failed 2011 AYP

Granger Middle                2011 API 817       2006 API 693       +124      Achieved 2011 AYP

Data from California Department of Education.

                Like the supposed miraculous achievements of the Harlem Children’s Zone based on one class in one year or the dramatic improvement in the DC schools based on questionable testing practices, a closer inspection causes great doubt about actual success. The pattern is to claim victory for a reform and berate those who question the wisdom of the reform, but these claimed successes always turns out to be a mirage. The San Diego, New York and DC experiences are being repeated across the nation. Corporate entities are gaining more and more leverage over the education dollar and schools are not being improved! This week in San Diego, the San Diego Unified School district who recently announced the massive teacher layoffs because of budget shortfalls announced they were spending $15 million on i-pads.  The corporate lobbying influence is warping school leadership values to the point where how a corporation like the testing giant Pearson is affected becomes more important than the schools, students or teachers.

                During the 1990’s education reform in America turned in a positive hopeful direction. Throughout America young educators were being introduced to the thinking of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, Gardner, and others. They read case histories of how social constructivism was being introduced in classrooms around the globe. The Soka education revolution in Japan based on the ideas of Makiguchi and the Reggio Emelia preschools of Italy led by Loris Malaguzzi presented young educators with decades of practical application of constructivist theories. In Japan, the concept of lesson study and in America the developments of action research were leading to a model of continuous improvement based on peer reviewed application. Darling-Hammond’s professional teaching standards were codified in California promising a path of growing professionalism for educators in all California public schools. The factory model of education was being replaced by a more humanistic model that engendered a love of learning and engaged children in developing understanding. Then NCLB happened and progress in education was stopped by a mandated return to Edgar Thorndike’s behaviorist model that Dewey had resisted so strongly. All positive education reform and improvement in pedagogy stopped and was replaced with privatization, disrespect of the teaching craft and hubris. Ravitch, Meyers and Darling-Hammond were deemed anti-reform and the thinking of Whitney Tilson, Eli Broad and Bill Gates became the guidance for good pedagogy. It is as if night were called day. Sadly, educators and union members can no longer count on the Democratic Party – the support of one hedge fund manager seems to be drowning out the voices of 100,000 educators.