Tag Archives: Charter schools

Denver’s Portfolio Model School District Is a Failure!

19 Jan

Here is a predictable outcome from the portfolio district. On Jan. 18, 2019, a press release from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) says,

After ten hours of negotiations today, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools were unable to reach an agreement on a fair compensation system for 5,700 teachers and special service providers. DCTA members will vote Saturday and Tuesday on whether or not to strike.

The portfolio model which promotes disruption as a virtue is anti-union. It is not conducive to stable harmonious relations with either labor or communities and it is anti-democratic. Denver is held up as an exemplar of school reform; however the outcomes look more like a warning. Increasing achievement gaps; a bloating administration; significantly increasing segregation; ending stable community schools; and stripping citizens of their democratic rights are among the many jarring results.

Former Denver School Board Director, Jeanne Kaplan, wrote extensively about an article in EducationNext championing school reforms in Denver. It was based on a podcast by the guru of school reform and privatization in the Clinton administration, David Osborne. Kaplan noted,

“2009 was … the first time outside money appeared in [School] Board Election campaigns. Stand for Children came with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – our side, as Osborne notes, won the election. Each following election more and more reform money … appeared …. In addition to Stand, Democrats for Education Reform, Students First, and wealthy local businessmen, both Democrats and Republicans, … put enormous amounts of money and human capital to be sure … a unanimous board was achieved. Much of the money while identified by independent expenditure committee remains hidden as to who is making the individual contributions. In 2011 the people were able to hold on to a “mighty minority” of three: 4-3. In 2013 the minority dwindled to one: 6-1. In 2015 the Board was unanimously “reform”: 7-0.

This has become a central thesis of the portfolio model strategy. A Chalkbeat article quotes Ethan Gray of Education Cities on the strategy. Gray who recently went to work at the new City Fund which was established specifically to sell the portfolio model said, “We’re skeptical that systems themselves will actually go through some sort of self-driven transformation.” Chalkbeat reported that the new plan for growth had three strategies.

  • Strategy #1: Apply outside pressure. (Increase pressure on school districts by bringing in outside competition and supporting local competing initiatives.)
  • Strategy #2: Push for one-stop school enrollment. (This forces public school districts to help the privatized schools and gives them an equivalency in the eyes of the public.)
  • Strategy #3: Create a very different power structure. (Use financial resources to change the makeup of existing governing boards or establish mayoral appointed boards.)

In the 2017 Denver Public School Board election, four of the seven seats were on the ballot. The results:

  • At large seat: Former Lieutenant Governor Barbra O’Brian defeated a field of three candidates 40% to 35% to 24%. O’Brian spent $8.94 per vote, Robert Speth spent $0.77 per vote and Julie Banuelos spent $0.33 per vote.
  • Distict 2: Angela Corbian a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member beat Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan who had union support. Unfortunately, Gaytan had to spend time cleaning up after union blunders. The winner Corbian is currently an organizer for Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) the TFA offshoot that trains former corps members “to engage civically.” Cobian’s support included $67,000 from DFER’s Raising Colorado and tens of thousands of dollars from local and national “reformers.”
  • District 3: Dr. Carrie Olson, a 33-year DPS teacher won this seat with very little financial or people support from the teachers union. She astonishingly defeated Mike Johnson the incumbent who raised over $100,000 on his own and received almost another $100,000 from DFER and Stand for Children. Olson’s victory reduces the “reform” majority back to 6-1.
  • District 4: Jennifer Bacon another former TFA corps member won. She raised $70,000 on her own and shockingly received $139,000 from the teachers union. Bacon also received reformer money from TFA national board member Arthur Rock. The incumbent Rachael Espiritu had a large war chest of $97,000 from DFER and $93,000 that she raised but Espiritu was running in a district that had had its fill of reform. A third candidate in this district was 19-year-old Tay Anderson.

When analyzing this election, Jeanne Kaplan said the biggest losers were “Denver’s teachers, who are paying dues to an organization that turned its back on a 33 year teacher and endorsed a heavily funded alum of TFA…”

Dismal Results from Denver’s Portfolio District

school segragation chart

Chart of Racial Isolation Based on October Count for School Year 2017-18

Of Denver’s 204 schools, One-hundred have a population that is greater than or equal to 70% Hispanic. When the Hispanic and black students are summed 68 schools have 90% or more students from these minority groups. The AP reported in 2017 that charter schools were among the nation’s most segregated schools. There analysis found, “As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

Racial isolation is a characteristic of districts employing the portfolio model. This kind of profound segregation runs afoul of federal law, good education and decency. It does not comply with the 1954 Supreme Court decision known as Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

The big selling point for modern school reform was closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap is measured by finding the average score differences between ethnicity groups on standards based tests. A 2011 report in Education Week stated, With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, closing achievement gaps among these various student groups became a focus of federal education accountability…”

achievment gap 2017

Table of Reading and Math Achievement Gaps Derived from NAEP Testing Data

In the tables above – based on average scale scores – it shows national results have a smaller gap than the large city results. Predictably, Denver has among the nation’s largest achievement gaps after two-decades of “billionaire” led reform.

In the fall of 2015, the Center on Reinventing Public Education  (CRPE) which is the central think tank promoting portfolio models ranked Denver Public Schools 45th out of 50 urban districts for improving graduation rates.

Denver’s pro-privatization citizen oversight group, A+ Colorado (formerly A+ Denver) in a recently released report, showed concern over the district’s progress stating,

“Let’s be clear: There has been progress in DPS, particularly in comparison to other Colorado districts. But some student learning outcomes are stalled or improving far too slowly for the district to be successful.”

DPS received another black-eye this January when a Chalkbeat headline revealed, “Denver has 1 administrator for every 7.5 instructional staff — far above state average.” The article presented the following chart for administrators in Denver compared to the rest of the state over the past ten years.

administrator growth chart

Chart of Administration Growth during the “Reform Era”

In 2017 the New York Times ran an interactive article about a new way to compare schools. The article said,

“It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.”

The New York Times picked the comparison schools while the reader picks the district of interest. This simulator attempts to correlate by years of learning. The average between 3rd  and 8th grade should be five years. After 13 years of disruption and “reform,” Denver remains a little below average with lackluster growth.

student growth models

After Five Years Denver’s Eighth Graders Still below Average

All the closing schools and disrupting neighborhoods brought little or no significant change. Denver’s students are still measured as being about the same amount behind in 8th grade as when they started 3rd grade.

A 2015 hiring analysis revealed that DPS paid TFA $5000 to $7000 per recruit? TFA teachers are two year temps with a college degree and five-weeks of training. From 2012-2015, Denver taxpayers paid TFA $520,600 for 232 recruits at traditional schools and over $800,000 for 267 recruits at charter schools. DCTA President Henry Roman stated that teacher turnover is a crisis in DPS. He claims the average teacher tenure has dropped to two years.

Traditional teacher new hires have a college degree, one-year of post graduate pedagogy study and a year of supervised student teaching. They arrive at schools with the expectation of making teaching a career.

The reliance on untrained teachers along with recognizing and using a fake graduate school created by the charter industry explains why all of the spending on reform has not resulted in better performance. The fake graduate school is Relay Graduate School. It’s Denver Dean, Therese Zosel-Harper, is working on her PhD. Relay is an obviously fake graduate school because it has no credentialed education scholars on staff.

Where did the Portfolio District Model Originate?

A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) on the campus at the University of Washington three years after John Chubb and Terry Moe wrote a popular book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools which was published in 1990 by The Brookings Institution. That book which was a sensation among neo-liberals called for the end of elected school boards. Hill began thinking about the mechanics for making that happen.

In 2002, Hill wrote a paper sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation calling for changes in school governance,

“… [T]he last few decades of education reform have shown us that simply tinkering at the edges is not enough to ensure that changes will take place. Reforms need to be comprehensive and needs to affect every level of the education system.”

Hill’s statement and the book by Chubb and Moe were both motivated by the conviction that public schools in America were failing. It was not true then nor was it true in 1889, 1942, 1955, 1959, 1963 nor is it true now.

Jim Arnold and Peter Smagorinsky wrote,

“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.”

The paragraph above recalls more than a century of national failure to properly educate our citizenry yet in that same century America became the world’s leader economically, scientifically, militarily and culturally. Does this mean that education quality does not matter or is it more likely that the perception of American education failing – is and was an illusion? Based on this illusion of failure are we being driven toward failure with unproven market theories? That is what the portfolio theory is. It is an unproven market theory of education governance.

William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado Boulder wrote a short paper “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.” Their basic definition explains,

“Generally  speaking,  four  reform  strategies  are  combined,  in  varying  degrees,  in  portfolio  districts:  (1)  performance-based  (generally  test-based)  accountability,  (2)  school-level  de-centralization of management, (3) the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools, and (4) the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools.”

In Denver there are 204 schools; 106 public schools, 42 charter schools and 56 innovation schools. In accordance with portfolio district theory, Denver residents no longer have the right to vote on the governance of 108 of their publicly financed schools. In addition, both charter schools and innovation schools are generally non-union.

The innovation school concept is promoted nationally by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to ALEC model legislation these schools “are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” In Denver, innovation schools are given a three year contract during which they are run by a non-profit. The results (testing data) at the end of the contract will dictate whether the experiment on the school children continues.

Innovation schools have only existed in Colorado since 2009. When the DPS board approved them in 2016, Board President Anne Rowe claimed, “I’m trying to think of a time I’ve been more excited, more proud, more optimistic about what we can achieve for kids.”

Conclusions

While Interviewing DCTA President Henry Roman, Jeff Fard said when he moves into a neighborhood he expects to register his kids in the local community school. “If I don’t like the school, I expect to roll up my sleeves and work to make it better.” If he still doesn’t like the school, he will pay for them to go to a private school. This is how it is supposed to be in America; people work for the betterment of their own community and pay for their own choices. However, if you live in portfolio districts like Denver, unseen and unelected forces control the neighborhood.

As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights.”

It is past time for the citizens of Denver to take back their democratic rights and their public schools.

Sweetwater Schools Financial Problems Became Political Cudgel

9 Jan

The newly hired Chief Financial Officer of Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD), Jenny Salkeld, discovered a significant problem with the budget she inherited. She presented her findings to the Sweetwater leadership team in early September which forwarded her report onto the County Office of Education (COE). The SUHSD board also called in all bargaining units to suspend contract negotiations and inform them of the budgetary uncertainties. Sensationalism and subterfuge became the new reality in Chula Vista, California.

An October San Diego Union article reported,

“On June 25, the school board approved a budget for this school year that assumed the district had spent $328 million in unrestricted funding last school year and had $17 million in reserves going into this school year. In September, Salkeld presented a report showing that the district actually had spent $20 million more than that and started this school year with a negative reserve balance of $4 million.

“On top of spending more than previously estimated, the district received $6 million less in one-time state funding than it had expected.”

salkeld brief bio

After receiving Sweetwater’s alert about the accounting errors, the COE officially disapproved the 2018-19 budget the district had submitted. The reasons for disapproving the budget were the reasons Salkeld had reported. The county’s September 18 letter stated,

“The disapproval of the adopted budget is based on an assessment and analysis of the following major components of the district’s budget.

  • Preliminary 2017-18 negative unrestricted General Fund ending balance
  • Projected 2018-19 revenues overstated
  • Projected 2018-19 expenditures understated
  • Structural deficit in current and upcoming fiscal years
  • Cash concerns”

Apparently someone at the county leaked the budget information to the Voice of San Diego. The district which was in the process of understanding the extent of the problem did not have that opportunity. Instead they were faced with a withering public attack in both the San Diego Union and The Voice of San Diego. The headlines implied that a group of incompetent people at SUHSD were incapable of managing their affairs and were involved in possible fraud.

In the more than twenty reports in these two publications from September through December, it was obscured that it was the Sweetwater District which found the problem and informed the county. It was also never pointed out that budget analysts at the COE failed in their oversight responsibilities.

In November, the county approved Sweetwater’s revised budget.

Budget Shortfalls Throughout the State

Kristen Taketa reporting for the San Diego Union noted,

At least 10 districts in the county are projecting that they will not be able to meet their financial commitments next school year, including Chula Vista Elementary, Jamul-Dulzura Union, Mountain Empire Unified, Oceanside Unified, San Diego Unified, San Marcos Unified, San Ysidro, Sweetwater and Vista Unified. More districts won’t be able to meet their financial commitments after next year.

Teketa provided three reasons for what is a statewide public school funding problem:

  1. Rising pension costs: To address looming pension debt, the state in 2014 started increasing school districts’ share of pension costs. In 2013-14, school districts paid 8 percent of their teachers’ salaries to the state’s teacher pension fund. This year, they had to pay 16 percent.
  2. Rising special education costs
  3. Declining enrollment: Oceanside officials estimate that they can only compensate for 40 percent of revenue lost when they lose students. The student enrollment losses are attributed mostly to charter schools. California, unlike some states, does not financially mitigate the burden caused by charter schools on public school districts. The only option districts have is to reduce services to the remaining students.

Last May, In the Public Interest published a paper by University of Oregon’s Professor Gordon Lafer called “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.” He looked specifically at the impact of charter schools on San Diego Unified School District. Lafer found that the annual impact of student losses was $65,902,809 and that the cost per charter school student was $4,913.

By taking the 5500 students in charter schools instead of Sweetwater schools and multiplying that number by a conservative estimate of $4,000 in cost per student the total is $22,000,000 in stranded costs for the district; more than the budget error Salkeld discovered.

enrollment graphs

Charter Student Growth Compared with District Enrollment

What Caused the Budget Error?

Gene Chavira, President of the Sweetwater Education Association (affiliate of the California Teachers Association) said he believes this budget problem has roots that stretch back to the early 2000’s when Ed Brand was serving his first term as Superintendent. Chavira referenced some strange land sales from that period. Later, during Brand’s second stint as Superintendent, he and SUHSD CFO Diana Russo established two charter schools; another move Gene found suspicious.

The two charter schools were elementary schools belonging to SUHSD. The neighboring elementary school districts were unhappy and reacted by expanding their own charter schools to include the grades 7 – 12 that were serviced by Sweetwater.

After Brand came Jesus Gandara. In 2006, two Sweetwater board members, Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa, flew to Texas and personally interviewed Gandara before he was hired as the Superintendent of Sweetwater schools. It appears that the board members and their search firm ignored some obvious warning signs when they made the hire. In 2011, the board voted to fire Gandara for abuse and brought back Ed Brand to lead the district. Another odd decision, since he had just been forced out as Superintendent of San Marcos Unified under accusations of nepotism.

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned.

In 2015, five new board members and a new superintendent took leadership of SUHSD. Chavira recalled vividly that he and many others called on the new board to conduct a forensic audit, but the board – though for it in principal – rejected spending the more than $1,000,000 required. Chavira feels that was one of two big mistakes made. The second was that they did not replace the existing finance team.

board group photo 2018

2018 SUHSD Board – Standing from the left: Arturo Solis, Frank Tarantino, Nicholas Segura, Kevin Pike. Seated from the Left: Paula Hall, Student Member Brenna Pangelinan, Superintendent Karen Janney. Photo from District

Throughout the lead up to this current budget problem, the new board has been extremely popular. In the 2018 election, Hall, Solis and Tarantino ran for reelection unopposed. Professor Karen Janney was a student, a teacher and an administrator in SUHSD. She was forced out of the district by then Superintendent Gandara. After which, she taught education leadership at San Diego State University.

This group has accumulated some amazing talent and support. The 2016 audit committee added two new members, Maricela Garcia-Centeno and Bill Kowba making this a power house committee. Existing committee member, Trustee Paula Hall, works as a financial analyst in San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). Garcia-Centeno is a Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Fraud Examiner. Bill Kowba is a retired Rear Admiral who served both as Chief Financial Officer and Superintendent of SDUSD.

The audit committee’s 2016 report showed concerns regarding transparency and the need for more light shined on budget internals. They stated, “We are recommending the District direct the audit team so that work is not disproportionally focused on well regulated programs but performs a ‘deeper dive’ into areas that have potential of higher risk.

In 2017, the audit committee was recommendingdeeper testing for certain elements of the 2016-17 audit along with a recommendation for a special audit focusing on accounts payable, purchasing and contracts including ….” The implicit message was that the committee was not happy with the answers they were getting or perhaps not getting.

CFO Karen Michel and three members of her small team retired upon completion of the 2018-19 Sweetwater budget. All indications were that these were planned retirements.

After Salkeld’s report showing a $20,000,000 budget error, the county called in the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assist Team (FCMAT). On December 17th the FCMAT study was presented to the Sweetwater board. The Voice of San Diego reported,

“FCMAT’s chief executive officer Michael Fine told board members that 302 entries in the district’s accounting system were doctored to create the impression the district had more money than it really did. ‘That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up,’ he said, …”

This is a puzzling statement. In the report Fine says, “While the district prepares budget revisions throughout the fiscal year, detailed information provided by the district shows that budget revisions totaling millions of dollars include negative budget entries that lack sufficient supporting documentation.”  His study comes to several conclusions tending against Sweetwater that lack strong evidentiary basis and it has no details about what he later labeled “a cover-up.” Now, Fine will be conducting a fraud audit. If he does not find fraud, won’t he be open to a libel charge? Can his audit be trusted?

A December 21st Voice of San Diego headline states, “County Ed Office Takes Control of Sweetwater’s Board.” The county had issued a “stay and rescind” order which gives them veto power over some decisions made by the SUHSD board. This begs the question, why did the county which dropped the ball here jump so quickly into this drastic step when the district team which found the problem has been addressing it aggressively?

The SUHSD web-site has a response to the issues raised. The opening paragraph says,

“Over the past few months the Sweetwater Union High School District has faced significant challenges with respect to our organizational budget. … We realize that these issues may seem insurmountable at times, but we want to assure you that despite some of the doubts being cast in the public, we are moving forward with a stabilization plan that will ensure positive financial health.”

There is also a letter from Superintendent Janney about the “stay and rescind” order. She cites remarks by Dr. Mark Skvarna, a financial advisor from the county, about the limitations on the order. Janney writes, “This authority is specific to the actions that are ‘inconsistent with the district’s ability to meet its financial obligations.’”

The San Diego Union and the Voice of San Diego are Biased Against Public Education

Editorials in the San Diego Union continually attack teachers and their unions. An editorial leading up to the 2018 general election called for a former banker and charter school chief as Secretary of Public Instruction (SPI). Following a familiar destroy public education (DPE) script; another editorial created a false crisis as the predicate for an urgent plea to elect charter school executive, Marshall Tuck, over California State Assemblyman, Tony Thurmond.

In 2005, Buzz Woolley founded Voice of San Diego. It was the first digital nonprofit news organization to serve a local community in the country. Besides his interest in using new technologies for media, Woolley also is enthusiastic about education technology in the classroom. In 2013 Woolley’s Girard Foundation sent over $500,000 to companies developing software for “personalized” education and competency-based education.

The year before starting the Voice of San San Diego, Woolley and Gap Founder Don Fisher established the Charter School Growth Fund. John Walton (Walmart heir) and Greg Penner (Walmart heir) joined the board. In 2016, that fund had assets of $217,176,094 with a yearly income of $95,184,785.

A local media watch dog report tells the story of an education reporter losing her job while perusing a store about the COE. Blogger Maura Larkins wrote,

“Voice of San Diego dropped its coverage of SDCOE attorney shenanigans, and laid-off its stellar education reporter Emily Alpert.”

“Voice of San Diego benefactors Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs [founded Qualcomm], who claim to care about education, could have easily paid Emily’s salary with their pocket change if they’d wanted her to stay.”

“It seems Buzz Woolley, Irwin Jacobs and Emily Alpert weren’t on the same page.”

Some Concluding Words

Superintendent Janney may have been wrong to retain the inherited financial team; however, in 2015 she had a lot on her plate. A Trustee said that Janney began by focusing on education leadership in the district. There was a widely shared belief that several administrators were in positions by dint of cronyism and that many of them were incompetent. When she was alerted to the budget issue, Janney reacted professionally. She immediately informed stakeholders and the COE.

The budget error appears to have originated within the financial department. FCMAT Director Fine claimed it was a “cover-up.” Maybe he is right but he did not present much convincing evidence; only reporting that some entries that subtracted from the deficit were not sufficiently documented. It is hard to see the motive for financial professionals engaging in this “cover-up,” but people sometimes make strange decisions.

Two mainstream media outlets in San Diego that have regularly promoted privatizing public education and “corporate education reform” have been ruthlessly attacking SUHSD. They have indicated that the leaders in Chula Vista are incompetent and corrupt. The obvious dog-whistle here is that there are too many non-whites in SUHSD leadership.

The truth is that the SUHSD team is highly competent and has delivered a refreshing era of ethics and openness to the South-bay. Karen Janney is an educator with deep knowledge and experience, plus she is a gifted leader and public speaker. The present financial team led by Jenny Salkald is much more impressive than the county or state teams who have been nothing short of unprofessional.

The real investigation should be into whom or what is motivating this unjust attack on SUHSD? Also, why are we paying all those bloated salaries at the San Diego County Office of Education and for what?

Thrive Charter Schools All Hat and No Cattle

17 Nov

Excellent public relations and marketing mask a substandard educational program at the inappropriately named Thrive Public [sic] Schools (TPS). The misleading name indicates that this private business is a public school. It is not. Four years of assessments confirm that both San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and the County Office of Education (COE) were correct in 2014 when they denied TPS’s charter petition.

January 7, 2014 SDUSD staff felt that TPS was not ready to open and reported to the board, “Staff recommends approval of the petition to establish Thrive Public School (Thrive) Charter School, for a five-year term beginning July 1, 2015 and ending June 30, 2020.” TPS leaders wanted a charter starting July 1, 2014. SDUSD board concluded TPS is “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program” and denied the petition.

Founder Nicole Assisi turned to Voice of San Diego which was founded by one of her benefactors, Buzz Woolley. They ran her public complaint in which she declared,

“It was not the finest hour for the SDUSD board of trustees, which ignored district staff diligence and its own existing policies to deny a school that would have served the influx of families in Mission Valley. The neighborhood, by the way, does not currently have a single public elementary school. Families drive miles to get to their ‘neighborhood’ school.”

“Thankfully, the County Board of Education has an opportunity to right this wrong when our appeal comes before them next week.”

March 27, 2014 COE staff reviewed the appeal and concluded TPS presents an “unsound educational program and does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of required elements.” Interestingly, one of the reasons for denial was that the petitioner did not clearly identify the intended location for the new school. None of the four current TPS schools are in Mission Valley.

On July 9, 2014, the State Board of Education (SBE) which has gained a reputation for rubber stamping charter school petitions approved the TPS charter unanimously. Many of the Brown appointed SBE board members come directly from the charter industry.

This November 13, the SDUSD board took up TPS’s new petition for a five year charter beginning July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2024. Trustees unanimously rejected TPS’s renewal. In case of rejection the SDUSD staff  notes say, “Thrive must submit its renewal documents to the SBE by December 2, 2018, to comply with the SBE’s renewal submission timelines.”

Kristen Taketa reporting on the TPS decision for the San Diego Union said the state requires charter schools to either perform as well as comparable district schools on state testing, or it must improve its test scores over time. Taketa reported,

“The district’s analysis found that Thrive met neither of those benchmarks. … Thrive’s test scores have also declined every year since it opened in 2014.

‘“Where it may not capture the true value of what is happening and taking place at this school — as we’ve already said, the school is more than a score — it is the standard that we are stuck with,’ Trustee Mike McQuary said of the test scores at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“At the same time trustees claimed their hands were tied in denying Thrive’s renewal, however, trustees said Thrive was failing to meet an “extremely low bar” that all but two[out of 44] San Diego Unified charter schools have been able to meet in the past five years.”

In the Public Interest (ITPI), a bay area think tank, took a look at TPS’s charter renewal petition and noticed that the comparison schools listed were inappropriate because they did not serve a similar population. Even so, TPS outcomes were deficient.  ITPI stated,

“When comparing TPS to schools with similar student populations, the results are even starker. Below we examine TPS performance compared with a set of schools in San Diego Unified School District with similar student populations ….”

The ITPI policy brief is packed with charts that show Thrive students are not testing well. Three of their graphics follow.

Thrive Data Set 1

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Adjusted Peer Group Comparisons

Thrive Data Set 2

TPS and SDUSD Math and English Performance over Past Four Years

SDUSD’s staff report on the TPS petition contained many similar damning data sets. The TPS outcomes have fallen every year since its opening four years ago and schools in the peer group all significantly outperform TPS.

That data looks bad and even more troubling are the reports of uncontrolled bullying of SDUSD students by TPS students.

Thrive was the Creation of Big Money and Political Influence

Nicole and Danial FB

Daniel Assisi on his Facebook Page with TPS Founder and Wife, Nicole Assisi

Nicole Assisi, the founder of Thrive Charter Schools attended Coronado High School, a public school in Coronado, California. She matriculated to UCLA where she earned a multi-subject teaching credential. Her first teaching job was leading English classes at San Diego’s Mira Mesa High School in the 2002-2003 school year.

In 2003, she moved on to High Tech High where she worked until 2005 or 2006. Her linked in profile says she worked at High Tech until 2006 but it also says that in 2005 she went to Los Angeles to be an Assistant Principal at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. Her husband Daniel was director of Information technology at Camino Nuevo from 2006 to 2008.

In 2008 Nicole became Principle on special assignment at De Vinci Schools (Formerly Wiseburn 21st Century Charter). At DeVinci Schools, she worked with Don Braun who played a key role in undermining the Inglewood Public School District. That same year her husband Daniel Assisi went to work for the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

Nicole left De Vinci schools and returned to San Diego in 2013 to start TPS. The 34-years-old Nicole was provided with $8,960 from the Charter School Growth Fund and $100,000 from the Gates supported Educause to start her “non-profit.”

Once she obtained the charter authorization from the SBE, money flowed. The known list of 2014 donations:  Buzz Woolley’s Girard Foundation granted her $108,000; Gate’s Educause sent $254,500; Charter School Growth Fund kicked in $175,000 and the Broad Foundation delivered $150,000 for a total of $688,000. The next year, Broad gave another $50,000 and the New Schools Venture Fund pitched in $100,000. There is another $144,000 promised from Educause.

Destroy public education (DPE) careers pay well. Tax records reveal that Nicole’s start up “non-profit” has been lucrative. Her pay: year one $122,301; year two $133,747 and year three $142,541. Her husband holds a senior management position at the CCSA which means DPE money flows his way as well.

In 2017, TPS announced its big plan which stands to make founder and CEO Assisi a wealthy woman. A San Diego Union report said,

“The 35,000-square-foot facility will be the fourth San Diego campus for Thrive Schools and will open in about 12 months at the former site of Bayside Community Center at 6882 Linda Vista Road.”

“The project’s cost became more affordable for Thrive through the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program, which gives tax credits to for-profit businesses that are helping revitalize low-income communities.”

“Civic San Diego was eligible for the program and was allowed to sell the tax credits to whoever was making the investment. In this case, the credits were sold to the bank lending money to Thrive to buy the site.”

Although paid for with tax money, the deed will belong to Thrive Public Schools and CEO Nicole Assisi. This spring, ITPI published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools” which noted,

“Schools constructed with private funding subsidized by New Market Tax Credits or acquired with private funds but whose mortgage payments are reimbursed through the Charter Facilities Grant Program (known as “SB740”) are typically owned without restriction.”

All Hat

The old cowboy expression all hat and no cattle perfectly describes TPS. Their team is politically connected, supported by deep pocketed foundations intent on privatizing public education and has excellent marketing support but their schools are not very good.

TPS has developed support from neoliberal and conservative politicians. Their listed supporters:

  • Dede Alpert,  Former Assembly Woman and State Senator
  • Ben Boyce, Manager of Public Affairs at Southwest Strategies
  • Lisa Corr, Partner, Young Minney and Corr, LLP
  • Rod Dammeyer, Chairman, CAC; Board Member, Ca. Charter Schools Ass. & High Tech High
  • Tom Davis, Director of Events and Corporate Sponsorships, CALSA
  • Jon Dean, Chief Information Officer, Summit Public Schools
  • Donna Elder, Dept. Chair of Educational Leadership and Teacher Education, National U.
  • Kerry Flanagan,Cheif of Staff, California Charter Schools Association
  • Stanley V. Heyman, President, Heyman & Associates
  • Ben Hueso, State Senator
  • Heather Lattimer,Associate Dean, USD School of Leadership & Education Sciences
  • Diane Levitt, Director of K-12 Education, Cornell
  • Chet Pipkin, Founder, President and CEO of Belkin International
  • Robert Schwartz, Senior Advisor, New Teacher Center
  • Rebecca Tomasini, Founder and CEO, The Alvo Institute
  • Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of California
  • Jed Wallace, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Charter Schools Association
  • Matthew Wunder, Chief Executive Officer, Da Vinci Schools
  • Mark Wyland, State Senator

Looking elsewhere on their web-pages one finds that Boyce, Davis, Elder, Heyman and Flanagan are Thrive board members. With few exceptions, the other supporters are either school privatization friendly politicians or active participants in the DPE movement.

TPS’s board member and public affairs guy, Boyce, generates excellent media coverage. For example, KPBS ran two articles that appear to take TPS claims and publish them without fact checking. One of their articles describes how Thrive is doing a wonderful job with special education children. It claims, “At Thrive, students are in the 96th percentile for academic growth, meaning while all the students may not be at grade level, they’re improving more quickly than the majority of their peers nationally.”

The same PBS article stated, “Since opening three years ago, TPS’s special needs population has grown from 11 to 16 percent of the student body.” However, based on TPS’s report to the state the 2017-2018 school year special education student percentage was 9.2 percent.

A few years ago the former on camera CNN reporter, Campbell Brown, started a publication supporting privatized education called The 74. It is primarily funded by the Walton Family Foundation which was formed by the heirs of the Walmart fortune. The Walton’s also fund the Charter School Growth fund and other DPE organizations. Earlier this year The 74 ran a puff piece with the title “Thrive Schools: How an Innovative California Charter Network Grew to 700 Students & 4 Campuses in Only 4 Years Through a Focus on Math, Literacy & ‘the Light of Kindness’” Surprisingly, they described a co-located Thrive elementary school,

“The Juanita Hills campus is co-located with Carver Elementary, a pre-K-5 school that enrolls much higher proportions of disadvantaged students and English learners than Thrive. The two facilities share the same lot, but a long blue line has been painted down the center to separate them. A Thrive parent complained that though Carver had its own library on-site, Thrive kids couldn’t use it.”

The biggest national publicist for TPS is Tom Vander Ark. He has a long history of championing students at computer screens. He was also the first education advisor for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Vander Ark described the TPS education program,

“Curriculum such as Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop and CGI Math provide collaborative opportunities for small groups to work directly with the teacher, while other students work on Chromebooks or iPads.

“The middle school team uses Google Classroom to make and manage assignments. Math software includes ST Math and Zearn.

On October 26 the New York Times ran three articles about the dangers of screen time for children. One was called, “The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected.” The header for the article reads,

“America’s public schools are still promoting devices with screens — even offering digital-only preschools. The rich are banning screens from class altogether.”

The children trapped inside the TPS schools are being sacrificed to the toxic ed-tech agenda.

Some Final Points

Thrive Public [sic] Schools is a private business that does contract work for the state government. There are two requirements for the label public school. One is being financed by tax payers which TPS is. The other is being governed by an elected body that sets and collects taxes which TPS is not. TPS is not a public school just like Hazard construction doing work for the county is not a public construction company. The public in the name is simply deceptive marketing.

For most of two centuries, public schools in America have been the incubators of democracy. Privatizing public education is undermining American democracy.

It costs more to run two or more school systems. Charter schools are in essence school districts. To finance multiple systems requires either higher taxes or per child spending in public schools must be reduced. The second option is the one being used. The experience of Kansas City Public Schools illuminates this issue.

Bad schools like TPS survive because they are good at marketing; have deep pocketed benefactors and political allies.

Charter schools have developed a history of fraud, abuse and instability. It used to be “another day another charter school scandal.” Now, it’s multiple scandals every day. Sure there are fraud and scandal associated with all large organizations but the charter industry is out of control.

We urgently need a moratorium on new charter schools until the obvious harm being visited upon communities by the charter industry is understood and students are protected.

Big Spending on Privatizing Public Schools in San Antonio

19 Oct

Federal dollars are supplementing deep pocketed Destroy Public Education (DPE) forces in an effort to privatize schools in San Antonio, Texas. The total monetary support for the preferred charter school systems exceeds $200,000,000. One “DPE” publication, The 74, published a lengthy piece glorifying the attack on San Antonio’s democratically run schools and praised local elites including the school superintendent trained by Arne Duncan and Eli Broad for leading the decimation of public schools in San Antonio’s poorest neighborhoods.

The article cited above ends with this disclosure:

“The George W. Brackenridge Foundation provided financial support for this project to The 74 [local San Antonio money]. The Walton Family Foundation [Walmart money with long history for working to privatize schools] , Bloomberg Philanthropies [Former NY Mayor spends heavily on charter school promotion], Carnegie Corporation of New York [Supports charter schools like Summit], the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [Paid for Common Core and lavishes money on charter schools], The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation [Literally wrote a guide to closing public schools], the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund [Biggest and earliest funder of KIPP], the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation [Tulsa Foundation that supports privatization friendly school board candidates across the nation], the Karsh Family Foundation [Oaktree Capital Management money from LA – supporters of KIPP], and Jon Sackler [Purdue Pharmaceutical money from oxycontin – supports school privatization school board candidates]  provide financial support to both KIPP and The 74.”

In other words, this article was a paid advertisement selling the privatization agenda. The George W. Brackenridge Foundation from San Antonio made a first time “contribution” to The 74 for this article to be published. An example of the author, Beth Hawkins, shading the facts reads,

“In 2009, a woman named Victoria Rico visited one of what were then KIPP San Antonio’s two public charter schools. A lawyer and the product of a family with a legacy in the city’s philanthropic community, Rico had been appointed to the board of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, whose sole area of giving was K-12 education.”

“Rico was blown away by what she saw at the school and began visiting other charter schools that were successfully replicating — opening new campuses where students were enjoying high academic growth.”

The message conveyed is a San Antonio elite with no agenda happened to visit a KIPP charter school and what she saw was so wonderful it called her to action. No mention of her having held board seats at three charter management organizations (CMO) Great Hearts Texas, Basis and IDEA. She is still on the IDEA board which seems like a conflict of interest considering she is in charge of grants from the Brackenridge foundation which gives to IDEA.

Victoria Rico’s Anti-Public School Crusade

Rico Graphic

Rico Picture from IDEA Board Web-Page

Victoria grew up with a family of three sisters in San Antonio. Her father James Lavoy Branton attended the US Air Force Academy and in 1961 earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) from the University of Texas. He and her mother Molly settled in San Antonio where they were very successful both locally and regionally.

Victoria followed in her father’s footsteps. She also achieved a JD from the University of Texas at Austin after earning a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. Upon completing her education, she returned to San Antonio, married and went to work in the local philanthropic community. Her new husband made a success of his cyber security and online corporate training companies which he founded.

In 2011, Rico published a proposed strategy for San Antonio to replicate charter schools which she believed to be “high-performing.” Victoria also invited leaders of the charitable network Philanthropy Roundtable and representatives of charter school networks to two meetings in San Antonio. Her message was that the city’s private and family foundations could make a greater collective impact if they joined forces to help underwrite new charter schools.

Out of these meetings, Rico founded a new organization, Choose to Succeed, to lead the collective effort to expand charter networks in San Antonio. Her goal was to add four more charter CMO’s to the exiting two currently operating in the city, KIPP and IDEA. The four new CMO’s she planned to court were BASIS Schools, Carpe Diem Schools, Great Hearts Academies, and Rocketship Education.

The 74 article reported on the strategy,

“Cultivating their growth in San Antonio would require more than $50 million in local donations, about $24 million of which has already been raised thanks to hefty pledges from Harvey Najim and his foundation, the Ewing Halsell Foundation, Graham Weston’s 80/20 Foundation and others. Cheering them on are former mayors Henry Cisneros and Phil Hardberger.

“The room oozed money, a point Rico’s husband Martin made when he announced that the software company he owns had pledged $50,000 and challenged others to pledge, too, noting that some there could raise him by a factor of 100.

“Notably absent was H-E-B Chairman Charles Butt, a billionaire well-known for his education philanthropy….

“His office said he was unavailable to comment on the Choose to Succeed initiative.

“H-E-B’s primary area of focus remains on improving and investing in our teachers and our Texas Public Schools,” company spokeswoman Dya Campos said in an e-mail.”

Rico is clearly a talented advocate for her cause. In January of 2013 My San Antonio reported,

‘”We have a real chance here,’ said Victoria Rico, chairwoman and trustee at San Antonio’s George W. Brackenridge Foundation, one of several organizations involved in the effort, called Texans Deserve Great Schools.

“Dan Patrick, the Senate education chairman, joined Rico at the group’s news conference, where he and others pointed to test scores that lag behind other states and nations as evidence that education in Texas needs reform.”

“Patrick said he was excited about the ‘comprehensive, multi-approach (school) choice plan’ put forward by the consortium.”

“Several of the group’s proposed changes favor charter schools, such as lifting the current cap on charters, providing facilities funding for charter schools and strengthening the state’s “parent trigger” law to make it easier for parents to intervene in struggling schools, including turning them into charters.

“’Our purpose as Texans Deserve Great Schools is to be a resource to the leadership of Texas,’ said Caprice Young, vice president of education for Houston’s Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

“Others involved in the effort include the Austin-based Texas Institute for Education Reform and Parent Revolution, a California-based organization that promotes parent trigger laws.”

The leaders at the meeting are some of America’s most well known advocates for the “DPE” agenda. Dan Patrick is the ex-bomb-throwing-conservative talk show host from Houston who is now the Lieutenant Governor of the state. He tries every year to push through a school voucher law that would allow taxpayer money to go to religious schools.

Before working for John Arnold, Caprice Young was the first President of the California Charter Schools Association. She is now the head of the mysterious Tukish Imam, Fethullah Gülen’s charter schools in California.

Rico’s campaign has been very successful in raising money. The 74 article claims they have raised $50,000,000 from local philanthropists. That number seems plausible. Between 2012 and 2016, three relatively obscure foundations contributed almost $20,000,000 to the six preferred CMO’s and Rico’s Choose to Succeed.

local money

Data from Tax Form 990 for Halsell, Najim and Brackenridge

The national spending by billionaire controlled funds for expanding charter schools is stunning. One example is The Charter School Growth Fund, which is under the influence of the Walmart heirs. That fund gifted IDEA Charter Schools $7,515,000 between 2013 and 2016. However, private funds cannot match the US Department of Education’s largesse. Between 2010 and 2018, the Department of Education granted IDEA $108,490,824 and over the same period gave KIPP $238,953,951.

Pedro Martinez Brought in to Sheppard the “DPE” Plan

Martinez Graphic

Martinez Photo from San Antonio District

Martinez is not an educator. He has never run a classroom or studied pedagogy. However, he does have a Masters in Business Administration from DePaul University and got his start in education working for Arne Duncan at the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Before leaving Chicago, he became the Chief Financial Officer at CPS.

Pedro attended Eli Broad’s faux school administrator academy in 2009. Broad’s theory is that school system leaders do not need an education background because they can hire consultants for that. It also appears that the Broad academy teaches a harsh top down style of leadership.

In 2011, George N. Schmidt reporting for Substance News in Las Vegas wrote, “Pedro Martinez resurrected as ‘instructional’ guru… Broad Foundation places former Chicago finance chief in Las Vegas administration.” In 2012, Martinez was on a short list of two people to become the Superintendent of Schools in Philadelphia. He lost out to fellow Broad trainee, William Hite. That same year he took the Superintendent position in Reno, Nevada.

Martinez was fired after just two years on the job in Reno for reasons that are shrouded in mystery. It seems to have had something to do with his firing the district’s police chief, Mike Mieras. The Reno News Review alluded to a common problem plaguing Broad trained leaders; authoritarianism leading to a disgruntled staff. The report said,

“District sources by the dozen have been leaking information, reluctant to go public—suggesting that Martinez has created an unhealthy climate of fear. Many of those sources have the same view, that Martinez wants only department heads who agree with him, and Mieras did not fill the bill. They also say the talk of departmental “restructuring” is a blind behind which the firing took place.”

After Reno, Martinez got a political appointment to be Superintendent-in-Residence for Nevada’s Department of Education where he was an advisor to the Governor’s office. In less than a year, leaders in San Antonio decided he was the most qualified person in America to be their Superintendent.

Pedro is a favorite of “DPE” groups. On the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) internet site, Martinez’s biography says, “He is a member of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs.” That is Jeb Bush’s organization dedicated to privatizing schools and selling technology into classrooms.

The 74, article praised Martinez embrace of the phony Relay Graduate School of education created by the charter school industry with no professor’s of education. The report said,

“Martinez’s decision to invite Relay to run schools — and train new district teachers — is something other districts are watching, says Magee. ‘The partnership with Relay is groundbreaking for a variety of reasons,’ he says. ‘One is that Pedro told Relay, ‘“You are going to be training teachers for our system, and we want to embed your training in our district.’”

The Magee quoted above is Mike Magee, a leader for Bush’s Chiefs for Change organization.

Martinez brought in Democracy Prep to take over Stewart Elementary and he has opened two schools to be run by Relay Graduate School.

District enrollment in SAISD is declining and ripping a hole in budgets. Martinez admits that the influx of charter schools is the cause but he embraces them anyway. To compensate for the falling enrollment, he laid off 31 administrators and 132 teachers. Now there are calls for Martinez to be fired; not because of the layoffs but because teachers were laid off on the basis of performance evaluations instead of by the contract rules.

Running Multiple School Districts Costs More

Peter Greene is an education commentator at Forbes. He explains why multiple schools systems drive up costs for education. This is one of his examples:

“Let’s assume that … six districts employ the same number of teachers that the old single district did. They probably don’t, because students don’t leave in neat class-sized numbers, so if five out of twenty-five fifth graders leave the public school, it can’t cut a fifth grade teaching position, but the charter will still have to hire one for those five new students. But let’s assume that the numbers work perfectly, and the exact same number of teachers is employed. Each of the six systems will still need its own superintendent (or CEOs or whatever you want to call your highest muckity-muck), building principals, psychologist, business manager, cafeteria manager– the list can be as long as you like, down to dean of student activities and administrative assistants all around. The six districts will employ more personnel than one did– and many of the “extra” hires will be the priciest personnel.”

Each charter management organization is a school district and the San Antonio plan is to grow six new districts concentrated in the Hispanic neighborhoods of zip code 78207. The residents are told that the public schools are failing and are shown misrepresented testing data as proof. They are promised “high quality schools” from the private sector. It is a lie from upside down world; the public schools which are being stolen are the “high quality schools.”

I will end with the words of a local San Antonio hero of public education, Luke Amphlett. He wrote,

“While school privatization ‘reformers’ are backed by big money donors and corporations, opponents include San Antonio’s Our Schools Coalition of community members, teachers, and parents, the Movement for Black Lives, the Network for Public Education, and the NAACP – the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.

“It’s big corporate money versus civil rights organizations, community groups, and teachers. The choice could hardly be starker. That’s why charter advocates pretend this argument is about teachers’ contracts and unions that are scared of change: if they were to tell the public the truth, they’d lose the argument before it started.”

Editorial Demands “DPE” Operative Leads California’s Schools

6 Oct

A recent editorial in the San Diego Union called for electing a former banker and charter school chief as Secretary of Public Instruction (SPI). Following a familiar destroy public education (DPE) script; the editor creates a false crisis as the predicate for an urgent need to elect charter school executive, Marshall Tuck, over California State Assemblyman, Tony Thurmond.

Another Phony Baloney Education Crisis

The piece opens by stating,

“The 21st century has been a transformative time in public education. While most educators were disappointed with the mixed results of the 2002 federal law that linked aid to improving test scores — the No Child Left Behind Act — some states have seen dramatic progress. In union strongholds like Massachusetts and New Jersey, and in nonunion states like Florida and Texas, reforms that emphasize accountability from students, parents, teachers and administrators alike — and that use evidence-based best practices to standardize and improve teaching tactics — have boosted student achievement. These four states’ 2017 scores in the massive National Assessment of Educational Progress confirm this success.”

Stunningly a group that cheered on the federal take-over of public education by the No Child Left Behind ACT (NCLB) admits the results were “mixed.”  “Mixed” is a soft way of characterizing the abject and destructive failure that was NCLB. The editor implies that NCLB theory actually worked when citing the use of “evidence-based best practices to standardize and improve teaching tactics” as the reason for improved scores by the good schools on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing.

The writer informs us that California, instead of following the example of these four exemplary states instituted the mistaken Local Control Funding Formula and asserts,

“It came as no surprise when a thorough review by CALmatters last year found little evidence of improved academic performance after $31 billion in funding had been pumped into schools with high numbers of struggling students.”

“This history shows the urgency of electing Marshall Tuck as the next state superintendent of public instruction.”

Testing data has a long history of misuse. Thirty-five years ago the Regan administration published “A Nation at Risk” which was not an independently refereed paper. Rather it was a polemic that kicked off the “DPE” movement. If it had been refereed, the course of public education reform probably would have taken a different path. One of the key indicators used to prove that American schools were failing was the declining scores on SAT exams. This year Anya Kamenetz reporting for National Public Radio observed,

“In the early 1960s, college-going was still rare. It was mostly top students, largely well-off white males, who took standardized tests like the SAT and applied to college.”

Kamenetz agreed that the SAT scoring averages were indeed falling but speculated that it was the result of the robustly expanded test taking base. She also reported on the all but ignored review of American education testing data done by engineers at the Sandia National Laboratories. Their analysis refuted the “A Nation at Risk” claims. ‘”To our surprise, on nearly every measure, we found steady or slightly improving trends,’ one of the authors, Robert Huelskamp, later wrote.”

To test the San Diego Unions damning claims against California’s public schools, eighth grade math results from NAEP testing are compared.

NAEP Data 8th Math

NAEP 8th Grade Math Data with Percentage of English Language Learners

In 1998, an Australian, Noel Wilson, published his dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.” His work that has never been refuted basically says that error in standardized testing is too large to reliably compare student outcomes. Another major strike against standardized testing is called Campbell’s Law. Psychologist Donald Campbell observed, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Even with knowledge of the above, it is still interesting that between 2013 and 2017 only California did not see a decline in math results. That is the exact time period which the San Diego Union indicated that California’s schools were in decline because of the new funding formula. It is true that California’s scores are lower than the four states cited as exemplary, but it does not take much digging to find a compelling explanation.

It is well known that English language learners (ELL) score significantly lower on standardized testing. The federal data cited on the chart above shows how much larger the ELL population in California is than in any other state. Texas has the country’s 2nd largest ELL population at 16.8% but that is significantly less than California’s 21% ELL.

This year Education Week did a report on K-12 spending per student in the fifty states: California $9,417; Florida $9,737; Massachusetts $14,569; New Jersey $16,337 and Texas $8,485. In the Public Interest reports California is America’s 41st ranked state in per student spending.

The Brown administration pushed through a change in some of how schools are financed called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The state education bureaucracy used to dictate how moneys for programs like language learner support was spent. The LCFF gives local districts and counties control over how that money is spent and prescribes how their spending plan must be generated through an open process that includes parents, teachers and administrators. LCFF did not – as the editor said – pump $31 billion new dollars into schools; it changed how those dollars are administered.

The editorial calls for the more authoritarian top down approach to administration than the democratically designed LCFF scheme. The CALmatters report referred to is from a new non-partisan newsgroup out of Sacramento. There report actually said,

“Two years after the state adopted the new funding formula, it created new tests for measuring student performance. Experts say it’s too early to draw sweeping conclusions from the new test scores in 2015 and 2016, but they are still troubled that the early results show little improvement for the neediest students and, in many cases, a widening achievement gap.”

Billionaires Spending Big on Tuck

Tuck Direct Contributions

A Few of Tuck’s 327 Maximum Direct Contributors ID#1395234

The Waltons control Walmart and have been spending heavily to privatize public schools for more than three decades.

Bill Bloomfield is a rich guy from LA who has also poured $7,000,000 into independent expenditures for Tuck.

The Rogers family is the main local force behind the privatization of Oakland’s school system.   

Doris Fisher founded The Gap with her husband Don. They have spent extensively promoting charter schools and were the first significant benefactors for the KIPP franchise.

Eli Broad is the only person to found two fortune 500 companies. He announced plans to charterize half of Los Angeles’s schools and published a guide for closing public schools.

John Scully was the former CEO of Apple and consistently supports school privatization.

David Horowitz is a Republican activist who gained notoriety for his anti-affirmative action campaign.

Author Rock is Silicon Valley royalty who spends lavishly to support school privatization.

Peter Chernin was COO of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. He is also a movie producer of some note.

Reed Hastings is possibly the most dedicated destroy public education billionaire. He sat on the board of the California Charter Schools Association for many years.

Richard Riordan is the billionaire former Mayor of Los Angeles who spends millions on public school privatization.

John Arnold is the ex-Enron executive who did not go to jail. He and Reed Hastings have each invested $100 million in a new national school privatizing organization called The City Fund.

Jonathan Sackler is the heir to the billionaire inventors of Oxycontin. Besides selling addictive drugs, Jonathan invests in the privatization of America’s schools.

Les Biller is a former CEO of Wells Fargo bank. He and his wife have a foundation in Seattle, Washington where they give heavily to charter schools.

Julian Roberson Jr. is a hedge fund manager in Chicago who thinks California really needs Marshal Tuck.

Stacy Schusterman is an energy industry heir from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She has been particularly active in California school board elections.

Michael Bloomberg is the billionaire former New York mayor who spawned Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz and Michelle Rhee. He spends heavily on California school board elections.

The big money is not in direct contributions like those listed above. It is in the money for independent expenditure committees that do not have contribution limits. For example, the Ed Voice for the Kids Pac has already reported spending over $13,000,000 in support of Tuck (Id 1243091). There are many more of these PACs spending money to elect Tuck such as Education Reform Now Advocacy for Tuck and Charter Public Schools Political Action Committee.

PAC Money and Other Contributions Effecting Legislation

The teaching profession has historically always been vulnerable to political attack and intrigue. During my first year teaching, I experienced the effect of not having job protection. The daughter of a locally influential family lost her teaching position at another school. My principal took my position away and gave it to her. It was not because I was doing a poor job. In fact, he offered me a contract the next fall. Removing teacher job protections will make the profession even less desirable than it is now; it will undermine professionalism among educators and harm schools.

The union editorial criticized Thurman writing, “And his actions in July 2017 — when he openly sabotaged an effort by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to improve teacher tenure laws — showed that his loyalties, as with Torlakson, are more with the adult employees of schools than with students.”

Weber receives significant campaign money from the DPE movement. Ed Voice for the Kids Pac has given her $6,700. Doris Fisher has contributed $4,400. John Scully has given $6,000. Reed Hastings has given her $2,000. The California Charter Schools Association has contributed $6,000. The Charter Public Schools Pac kicked in $1,000. The Charter Schools Pac gave $3,300. “DPE” forces have contributed a total of $29,400 to Weber’s 2018 campaign (Id 1393376).

Weber introduced a bill to extend the probationary period for teachers from two to three years and strip them of due process rights. Taking away teacher protections has been a constant theme of the school privatization advocates. Thurmond countered Weber’s bill by introducing a similar bill that extended the probationary period but did not strip teachers of due process. The editor’s claim that professional educators only care about adults comes from upside-down world. The San Diego Union does not want teachers to have job protections equal to permanent employees at National Steel and Ship Building Company.

Dog-Whistles and Triumph Versus a Record of Failure

Candidates

Tony Thurmond was born in Monterey, California. His father was stationed at the Fort Ord Army base. Tony’s father abandoned his family of four children. Thurmond’s Panamanian immigrant mother became a school teacher and moved the family to San Jose.

Tragedy struck six-years-old Tony when his mother died of cancer. Tony and a brother moved to Philadelphia where they were raised by a cousin.

After graduating from high school in Philadelphia, Tony matriculated to Temple University where he was elected student body president and received a BA in psychology. He attended graduate school at Bryn Mawr earning a dual masters in Law and Social Policy and Social work.

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

After rising above his traumatic childhood and becoming educated, Tony married and returned to California in 1998. For the 20 years preceding his election to the California State Assembly, Thurmond served in various positions at non-profit social service agencies. Tony says it was his public school education that helped him become at 20-year social worker and serve on a school board, a city council and now the California State Assembly.

Tony has two daughters in public school.

Marshall Tuck received an MBA from Harvard University in 2000 and a BA in Political Science from University of California Los Angeles in 1995. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and has a wife and son.

He spent some time as a consultant at Mitt Romney’s Bain & Co. He was an investment analyst at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. He moved to Los Angeles to work at Salomon Brothers as an investment banker focused on both mergers and acquisitions. After a brief stint in sales for a Software company, in 2002, Tuck was hired by Green Dot Charter Schools as Chief Operating Officer.

In 2007, Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa had been rebuffed in his efforts to take control of Los Angeles Unified School District. He did convince a few donors to underwrite the takeover of a small number of schools in areas which had suffered years of poor standardized test results. They created a non-profit called Partnership for LA and Villaraigosa tapped Marshall Tuck to lead the Partnership.

Tuck had by then become the CEO of Green Dot. The year he left for the Partnership, Green Dot schools posted nine of the fifty lowest SAT scores among Los Angeles schools.

Tuck was extremely unpopular at the Partnership. The Sacramento Bee reported, “Teachers passed a vote of no confidence at nine of the schools at the end of the first year, leading to independent mediation.” An online education news paper in Los Angeles, School Matters, reported,  “Many of us hoped that when right-wing business banker Marshall Tuck was ignominiously forced to step down as the ‘CEO’ of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), that we might have heard the last of Tuck altogether.”

Tuck’s authoritarianism and lack of education background has led to serial failures, however, those forces trying to privatize California’s public schools find his style to their liking.

In 2014, when Tuck lost the most expensive SPI race in California’s history, his allies were there to take care of him. Even though he has no training as an educator, he was made Educator-in-Residence at the New Teacher Center (NTC). Bill Gates has granted NTC $26,305,252 since 2009.

This Contest is Very Important If You Value American Democracy

Marshall Tuck is the representative of the Destroy Public Education billionaires who are spending massive amounts of money to get him elected. It is widely understood that elected school boards are the soil from which American democratic government rejuvenates itself. Dark “DPE” forces are undermining democracy in this country by destroying the people’s 200-years-old public education system. They must be stopped.

 

 

A Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA

29 Sep

First it was KIPP, then it was YES Prep and now IDEA has become the point of the destroy public education (DPE) spear in Texas. KIPP flourished because GAP founders Don and Doris Fisher gave them big money. YES Prep so excited Oprah that she presented them with a million dollar check during a TV interview. Now, John Arnold has given IDEA $10 million to expand into Houston and the El Paso based Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development has pledged another $10 million for IDEA to expand into El Paso.

The oddest DPE inspired plan of all comes from Austin, Texas. In 2016, the Austin American Statesman reported that the relatively small KLE foundation is committing $16 million to IDEA. Odd because that represents more than half of the foundation’s assets and is 20 times greater than any previous grant. The Statesman article says, “The financial gift … will more than double IDEA Austin’s previous expansion plans by 2022, and the charter school says the donation will help it boost enrollment to 20,000 students, more than 12 times as many as it has now.”

A recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican says about the IDEA growth initiative, “Those plans include expanding to 173 pre-K, elementary, middle and high schools from Texas to Louisiana and Florida by 2022 — a goal of serving 100,000 students compared to 35,595 today.”

YES Prep, KIPP and IDEA have many similarities. All three charter school systems were started by Teach for America (TFA) alums. None of the founders had more than three years experience teaching, nor did they have any education training other than a five week TFA summer course. It is perplexing when industry leaders like Walton, Fisher, Broad and Gates lavish inexperienced and untrained school founders with millions of dollars.

Marketing and Publicity Are IDEA’s Strength

Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer wrote,

“IDEA is one of the hottest charter chains in Texas today, based in the Rio Grande Valley, with a recent expansion into Central Texas. The chain just won a $29 million federal Race To the Top grant, an extremely competitive program that only one other Texas school won (another charter, Harmony Public Schools).”

“IDEA is part of a preferred class of charters in Texas today, along with KIPP, Yes Prep and Harmony.”

This was written in December, 2012, the day after community members in Austin had succeeded in driving IDEA out of their neighborhood.

The other charter system that won Race to the Top money is believed to be part of Fethullah Gulen’s charter empire. The Houston Chronicle reported, “Long criticized by conservative Texans for alleged ties to a controversial Turkish scholar, the state’s largest charter school system now faces attacks from inside the Turkish government.” Turkey’s leaders accuse the Gulen cult of fermenting the coup attempt against President Erdogan and financing it with charter school money.

The IDEA internet site’s biography of co-founder Tom Torkelson states,

“By 2009, the U.S. News and World Report ranked IDEA Donna College Preparatory as the 13th best high school and second best charter high school in the nation. Also in 2009, IDEA Public Schools was the first-ever charter organization to be named the best school system in the state of Texas and received the H-E-B Excellence in Education Award. Today, The Washington Post’s latest rankings of America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranked all seven of IDEA’s eligible College Preparatory high schools in the top 200 high schools nationwide and in the top 50 in Texas.

A Huffington Post article describes the U.S. News school ranking methodology, “[The] rankings today were derived from its list of top high schools published in 2009 based on participation rates and how students in those schools performed on math and science AP exams.” U.S. News uses advanced class registration rates and testing data for their rankings. These are not a valid measures of school or teacher quality.

In 2016, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post rated IDEA charter high school the most challenging in the nation. Mathews rates schools by what he calls “the Challenge Index,” which is total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests given at a school each year and divide by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Charter schools that shed students without replacing them now own all of the top spots in this index; not deeply meaningful.

The H-E-B Excellence in Education award is given out by the H-E-B stores. In 2016 Caleb Swaringen a teacher at IDEA College Preparatory McAllen recieved $1,000 for himself and $1,000 for his school for receiving the H-E-B leadership award. H-E-B, with sales of more than $23 billion, operates more than 380 stores in Texas and Mexico. H-E-B awards are based on recommendations from the public.

2016 was a very good year for IDEA publicity. At the National Charter Schools conference, Gregory McGinity, executive director of The Broad Foundation, announced that IDEA had won the $250,000 broad prize. Broad also gave IDEA another $392,333 that same year.

IDEA claims “Since our first graduating class in 2007, 100% of our seniors have been accepted to colleges and universities nationwide.” They claim they educate underserved students and that their schools outperform other schools (meaning on testing).

Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd and The Texas Public Policy Foundation just published a new paper calling for Texas to streamline the charter application. They note that charter school growth has slowed and blame the onerous application process. They ask, “Why are public charter schools growing at slower rates if they have served communities so well?”

What Happens When IDEA’s Claims are Examined?

The name, IDEA Public Schools, is misleading. IDEA is not a public school. Just like a construction company contracted by a city to replace sewer lines is not a public corporation. In a recent Busted Pencils pod cast, Network for Public Education (NPE) Executive Director Carol Burris explained that to be a public school requires two aspects: (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be governed by an elected local entity such as a district board.

Diane Ravitch recently noted that courts have ruled that charter schools are not public schools. She shared,

“They are privately managed corporate schools. Federal courts have ruled that charter schools are ‘not state actors.’ The NLRB has ruled that charter schools are “not state actors.”’

In 2011, Austin’s then Superintendent of Schools Meria Carstarphen contracted with IDEA to assume the management of two elementary schools. Much of the community was outraged.

Statewide Organizing Community eMpowerment (SOCM) sponsored community forums on the IDEA question. They recounted,

“During the forums, it soon became amply clear that IDEA’s “direct teaching” curriculum consisted of little more than constant preparation for standardized tests with the students endlessly parroting answers to questions anticipated to be on the state’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). IDEA later even admitted that its students in the Rio Grande Valley wore uniforms which were color-coded, not on the basis of grade or age, but on standardized test-score achievement, thus insuring the humiliation of older siblings by their more test-savvy younger brothers and sisters attending the same school!”

A humorous Austin blogger who goes by Walter Crunkite related an incident from the first meeting between the community and IDEA leadership. He said,

“Tom Torkelson, CEO of IDEA, responds to an Eastside Memorial student’s question about Special Education.  Torkelson states that he doesn’t believe in dyslexia.  ‘Dys-teach-ia’ is the problem.”

In late 2011, The Texas American Federation of Teachers (TAFT) contracted Professor Ed Fuller to research IDEA’s claims. He is employed as an Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis in the Education Policy Studies department in the College of Education of Penn State University and as Associate Director for Policy for the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). Fuller asserts,

“TAFT NEVER asked me to arrive at specific conclusions. They simply asked me to examine the data and report back.”

Fuller’s report is quite lengthy. He examines three claims: (1) IDEA educates “underserved” student populations; (2) One-hundred percent of IDEA graduates enroll in post-secondary institutions of education; and, (3) IDEA Charter schools outperform other schools.

Professor Fuller posted the report on his personal blog where he writes,

“My conclusions, for those of you who don’t want to read through the post, are as follows:

“1)      IDEA Charter schools do not enroll “underserved” students regardless of the measure used to identify “underserved.” Specifically, as compared to schools in the same market, IDEA schools enroll lower percentages of economically disadvantaged students, special education students, bilingual education students, students requiring modifications or accommodations on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), and students scoring below average on the TAKS mathematics or TAKS readings tests.

“2)      IDEA Charter schools send 100% of graduates to post-secondary institutions of higher education only if the actual number of graduates is the group of students examined. If we consider the number of students starting in the 9th grade … the percentage of IDEA students … is, at best, around 65% for the cohort of 9th grade students in 2009.

“3)      One reason why IDEA secondary schools outperform [on testing] high schools in the same area is because IDEA Charter schools lose a greater proportion of lower performing students than higher performing students. …”

Carstarphen’s Austin Independent School District (AISD) attacked Fuller’s report with a report of their own. Fuller wrote a defense of his study and noted that Dr. Julian Vasquez-Heilig, then a researcher at UT Austin and now Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State University Sacramento, had this to say about the two reports: “Dr. Fuller’s work is very comprehensive,” and “The AISD rebuttal is very weak in its methodology.”

David Knight and David deMatthews warn the people of El Paso that “choice” is not all that it is cracked up to be. They wrote,

“The IDEA charter chain is known for having a high graduation rate, but also known for the large number of its graduates who flunk out of college.”

“IDEA’s growth can also create an undue burden and disrupt natural proportions of students with disabilities enrolled in traditional public schools if they engage in what has been called ‘creaming’ or ‘cherry-picking’ students. According to 2016-17 publicly available data, all IDEA charter schools in Hidalgo, Texas, enroll only 4.8 percent of students with disabilities, while the state average is 8.8 percent.”

AlterNet carried an article by another critic of IDEA, Danny Weil. He stated, “IDEA is a retail charter outfit that standardizes curriculum downwards, away from critical thinking, embracing instead rote memorization and regurgitation, or what I call the ‘anorexic/bulimic’ learning model of intellectual atrophy, ossification, and decay.”

Money! Money! Money!

2016 Salaries

IDEA Leadership Photos with 2016 Salary Data

Compared with the highest paid Superintendents of Schools in Texas, three executives from IDEA would be in the top ten plus Torkelson and Truscheit would be numbers one and two respectively on the top paid list. The fourteen highest paid staff at this “non-profit” each received more than $150,000 per year for a total dispersal of $3,581,436.

At the end of 2016, IDEA’s asset value climbed to $680,172,540 and their year’s income was $332,775,059.

In addition to the $36 million dollars in support detailed above, between 2013 and 2016, IDEA received $1,914,875 from the Dell foundation  and $7,515,000 from the Charter School Growth Fund. They have also received $4,598,715 from the Gates Foundation.

A group of internal emails stolen from IDEA in 2011 have led to accusations that IDEA fired a 20-year veteran teacher and replaced her with a much cheaper Teach For America (TFA) teacher. Torkelson also wrote that TFA persistently selects teachers who perform better than those found with IDEA’s own hiring formula. It was revealed that of 135 new hires that year, 35 would come from TFA. Torkelson said IDEA would increase its hiring of TFA members to sustain its regional corps in the face of deep state budget cuts to TFA.

The problem here is that TFA teachers are unprepared to be in a classroom. They have not studied teaching methods nor have they completed the typical one year of student teaching under the supervision of an experienced credentialed educator. They are new college graduates with five weeks of TFA summer training. In Ciedie Aech’s delightful book Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin? She reports,

“As a journalist followed the teaching year of a suddenly deployed troop of Teach-For-A-Minute miracle workers, ultimately, he found only one greenhorn to be exceptionally able. (And so many others who were both frighteningly and disastrously unprepared.)”

John Arnold, IDEA’s New Billionaire Bestie

When Enron was collapsing in 2001, John Arnold was leading their energy trading group. Somehow, when his executive pals like Former CEO Jeffrey Skilling were going to prison, Arnold received an $8 million bonus. The company’s collapse decimated the retirement savings of rank and file employees. Many of these employees like those at Portland General Electric were only vaguely aware that Enron had acquired their company.

Ironically, Arnold soon started campaigning to end pensions. David Sirota reported that Arnold joined with The Pew Charitable Trust in the effort. Sirota asserts that the, “Pew-Arnold partnership began informally in 2011 and 2012 when both organizations marshaled resources to try to set the stage for retirement benefit cuts in California, Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas.” They succeeded in Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas.

Tyler O’neil tells us that John and Laura Arnold are Democrats. He notes,

“In the 2018 cycle, the Laura & John Arnold Foundation has given $930,244, and 83 percent to Democrats and liberals. John Arnold bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Barack Obama in 2008. The couple were slated to host a $10,000-per-ticket Obama fundraiser featuring Michelle Obama in October 2011.

“Both Laura and John Arnold donated $23,900 to the Democratic National Committee in 2008. Laura Arnold has donated more than $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).”

Most recently, John has joined with Reed Hastings in a national effort to destroy public education.

A Few Assertions

Without the staggeringly large monetary gifts from Billionaires, the IDEA system of schools would not exist.

IDEA’s education program is substandard and without the publicity primed by billionaire financed media outlets, they would be disparaged if noticed at all.

IDEA’s growth harms public schools because of the significant stranded costs incurred when children leave for the new parallel privatized school system.

IDEA has become, primarily, a road to massive wealth for a few insiders.

Richie Rich’s Schools Targeted by Destroy Public Education Movement

21 Sep

Schools in wealthy white communities are no longer immune to the destroy public education (DPE) movement. A review of San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) in San Diego County makes the point.

SDUHSD serves an area within the 1845 Mexican land grant to Juan Osuna known as Rancho San Dieguito. Osuna’s 1822 adobe home still stands on a knoll in the Rancho Santa Fe section. The school district includes the beach communities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Carlsbad. Away from the beach it covers the communities of Rancho Santa Fe and Camel Valley.

A 2017 study sponsored by SDUHSD indicates how financially comfortable the families in this school district are.

Table 1: Economic Data

District Family Data

Sixty-five percent of the students come from families making more than $75,000 and almost a quarter of those families are making greater than $200,000 a year. Whites and Asians constitute 87% of the district population.

California’s 2017-2018 enrollment data by subgroups shows the dramatic difference between SDUHSD and the rest of San Diego County.

Table 2: Subgroup Percentages

Enrollment Data Table

During the no child left behind (NCLB) era, the school I worked at had 75% English learners and 80% socioeconomically disadvantaged. The big metric that literally determined whether a school survived was the academic performance index (API). Its 1,000 point scale score was based on California’s standardized testing. Early on my school focused on scoring higher than a 600 API and latter we challenged a 700 API. Failure to meet those goals, meant by NCLB rules, the school would be closed, a minimum of 50% of the staff would be let go and new management would assume the school (possibly a charter group). If a school scored more than an 800 API, it was golden. SDUHSD averaged over 900 API as a district. Schools for poor kids and minorities were set up for possible failure, but schools for wealthy people’s children were safe.

“The Times They Are A-Changin”

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” He noted schools were purposely setup for failure and wrote,

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

No schools in middle or upper-middle class neighborhoods ever failed API and faced NCLB’s existential penalty. However, these neighborhoods are no longer exempt from attack by DPE forces.

Naturally, the five elementary school districts that feed into SDUHSD have similar subgroup and demographic data as SDUHSD. In 2006, the ten elementary schools in Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) scored 75% proficient or advanced in mathematics and 74% proficient or advanced in English language arts on California’s testing. By comparison, San Diego County schools scored 57% proficient or advanced in mathematics and 49% proficient or advanced in English language arts. That is when a proposal came forward to create a charter school for gifted students in Encinitas.

Maureen Mo Muir, a member of the SDUHSD board, previously served on the EUSD board. In her online resume, she claims to be “Founder and member of charter with emphasis on the gifted and differentiated curriculum (under the guidance of USC Education Professor Sandra Kaplan).” Her school was called the Theory into Practice Charter School (TIP). It is surprising that she still brings attention to her part in the TIP fiasco.

State records show that TIP opened September 5, 2006 and closed August 5, 2008. A scathing article in the Voice of San Diego, painted a picture of malfeasance and fraudulent practices. The lengthy article details a trail of charter schools failures, odd failed corporations and many fraud claims following the founding leaders of TIP. Reporter Emily Alpert wrote,

“Principal Deborah Hazelton, an Oceanside elementary teacher, created Theory Into Practice Academy, a charter school that taught all children with the same rigor and complexity as gifted children.”

“Shortly after the [new] bylaws [which gave Hazelton’s company control] materialized, [Mike] Hazelton was hired as chief operating officer for $95,000 for the rest of the academic year. Two months later the school reported a $28,000 first-year deficit, instead of the $6,000 to $12,000 surplus Mike Hazelton had predicted. Its outstanding loans still worried the Encinitas superintendent. Yet the school also bolstered Deborah Hazelton’s pay from $87,000 to $110,000.”

“And in January the Hazeltons asked the board to start paying their corporation 1.5 percent of its annual revenues and a onetime $35,000 fee for curriculum and administrative support.”

“The corporation was overseen by a group that included the Hazeltons and teacher Lisa Bishop, who were already earning salaries from the school, and University of Southern California educator Sandra Kaplan, who sat on both boards.” (Emphasis added)

The TIP charter was revoked August 5, 2008. It was the last charter school within the SDUHSD boundaries until 2016.

I Believe in School Choice

America’s public education system with locally elected school boards is widely viewed as the bedrock upon which the world’s oldest democracy resides. A key advantage for American children was they were not barred from middle-school or high-school by a standardized test; a common practice in most countries. There were no high stakes tests in the United States.

One measuring stick demonstrating how successful the American system was might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America has 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. The US has never won at standardized testing but leads the world in creative thinkers.

In 2016 a new school was proposed in the Solana Beach. The School of Universal Learning (SOUL) petitioned SDUHSD for a charter. Marisa Bruyneel-Fogelman and Dr. Wendy Kaveney are cited as founders. The mission statement from the petition says they will “provide exceptional education that awakens individuals to know who they are, discover their passions and purpose, and thrive holistically, to achieve both mental and life mastery.”

In the presentation to the SDUHSD board, the following images among many similar ones were shown.

SOUL Presentation

New Age Philosophy Being Taught in Taxpayer Funded School.

SOUL Presentation 2

This looks wonderful but should taxpayers be expected to fund it?

SDUHSD’s board rejected the petition by a vote of 5-0. They gave the SOUL team an eight-page list of issues that needed addressing before the board could confer a charter. As an example, one of the items required,

“Clarification or revision to the SOUL Charter School’s recommended course sequencing for its students. Specifically, the Petition describes a four-year course sequence which appears to indicate that students should take up to eight courses per year to accomplish the recommended sequence. However, the bell schedule and narrative included in the Petition indicate that students will take only six classes, in addition to Integra.”

SOUL appealed the decision to the San Diego County Board of Education. That board voted 3-2 against giving a full 3-year charter but voted 5-0 to bestow a 2-year charter.

I believe in a parent’s right to choose their children’s school. If they want to send them to the New Universal Teaching School (NUTS) or Encinitas Country Day or Santa Fe Christian School, that is their prerogative. But don’t expect taxpayers to pay for that choice. They already pay for free public education.

School Board Election in Less than Two Months

Both libertarian-Republicans and neoliberal-Democrats are attacking public schools. The article A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement lists five separate groups that are working to end democratically controlled public schools. When voting this November, it will be important to identify if a candidate is associated with one or more of these groups.

  1. People who oppose public education on religious grounds often seeking taxpayers supported religious schools.
  2. People who want segregated schools where their children will not have to attend school with “those people.”
  3. People supporting both privatized schools and entrepreneurs profiting from school management and/or school real estate deals.
  4. Members of the technology industry which is using wealth and lobbying power to place many inappropriate products and practices into public schools. They often also promote technology driven charter schools.
  5. Ideologues who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.

For the first time, SDUHSD is electing school board members by area. During this election cycle, seven candidates are running for seats in 3 of the five Areas; 1, 3 and 5. The even numbered seats will be on the ballot in 2020.

SDUHSD Area Map

SDUHSD Area Map

Area 1, which is in west Encinitas, has two candidates, Maureen Mo Muir who is an incumbent and Amy Flicker a well know politically active resident serving on various committees and boards.

Mo Muir fits with both groups 3 and 5 of the DPE movement. She is very unpopular with teachers for her votes on bond spending and contract negotiations. She claims to be instrumental in founding the failed TIP charter school. Muir was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for the board seat she now holds.

Amy Flicker is the President of the Paul Ecke Central Elementary PTA. She has been a commissioner on the Encinitas Environmental Commission. That is the group that started the plastic bag crusade that ended grocery store plastic bags in California. She is also a member of two bond oversight committees; one in the Encinitas School District and the other in SDUHSD. Flicker is endorsed by the San Diego Democratic Party.

Amy Flicker is the choice most likely to protect public education.

Area 3, is made up of Cardiff, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe. It has two candidates, Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart.

Rhea Stewart served on the Cardiff Elementary School District Board from 2006-2010. Stewart has the endorsement of the San Diego Democratic Party. She belongs to group 4 of the DPE movement. She is strongly related to the technology industry and its pedagogical snake oil. Her LinkedIn page lists more than ten ed-tech professional associations including Apex Learning: Mathematics and Science Instructional Designer 2014 – 2017; West Ed: Mathematics Content Specialists Ed 2013 – 2014; Aventa Learning: Mathematics and Science Program Supervisor 2011 – 2013; and K12, Inc.: Mathematics Content Specialist 2007 – 2010.

Melisse Mossy is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group. She has taught school and is very involved in philanthropic activities.

Mossy belongs to group 1 of the DPE movement. She does not seem committed to public education and one wonders what her real agenda is. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states, “I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”

Even though Rhea Stewart’s professional life is wrapped around an industry that is undermining good pedagogy, I would still vote for her over a wealthy individual with a religious agenda.

Area 5, consists of Del Mar and Carmel Valley. There are three candidates for this seat, Lea Wolf, Kristin Gibson and Cheryl James-Ward.

Lea Wolf has lived in the Carmel Valley area for 20 years and has a daughter attending a district school. On her LinkedIn page she bills herself as a fiscal conservative. In a LinkedIn recommendation for David Andresen, she wrote, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” She has founded several technology companies including Deeds for Kids and IQNet Interactive.  Lea seems to fit in both group 4 and 5 of the DPE movement although not stridently so.

Kristin Gibson is currently President of the Del Mar Union School District. Kristin taught elementary school in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. Currently, she works as an educational consultant, which includes lecturing for San Diego State University’s School of Teacher Education, providing professional development for in-service teachers, and contributing to projects at the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education. She is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics.  Kristin does not appear to belong in any of the DPE groups.

Cheryl James-Ward is a professor of education leadership at San Diego State University, an administrator at the e3 Civic High charter school and wife of former superintendent of San Diego County Schools, Randy Ward. In June, she was a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Education. Even though the California Charter Schools Association spent more than $130,000 in independent expenditures for her campaign, she lost. Cheryl James-Ward is a devoted member of group 3 of the DPE movement.

In an interview with the San Diego Union, James-Ward said, “This is unfortunate as charters are public schools just like district schools. … There is also the misnomer that charters are taking money from district schools.”

Charter schools are no more public schools than Hazard Construction is a public corporation because they do some government contracts. To be a public school requires two things; (1) paid for by taxpayers and (2) public has a say in the governance. With charters the public does not have a say. Several major studies in the last five years have shown that charters do drain significant money from public schools including the latest one by Professor Gordon Lafer, “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.”

For Area 5, Kristin Gibson is the best choice.

Some Observations

Public schools in all neighborhoods are now targeted by the DPE movement. In San Dieguito, five of the seven school board candidates have a relationship with one or more of the DPE groups. Only Kristin Gibson (Area 5) and Amy Flick (Area 1) seem likely to stand up for the SDUHSD’s public schools against all privatizing and profiteering efforts.

America’s public education system is a priceless legacy that is under attack. We must be vigilant about who we elect to lead it. Members of both of America’s tribes, Democrats and Republicans are responsible for this outrage. Be informed. Don’t just vote your club; vote to save public education in America.