Tag Archives: Corporate Education Reform

San Diego Foundation Biased Toward Privatizing Schools

13 Jul

San Diego Foundation was established in 1975 and has grown to almost $700 million in assets. It’s self-described purpose: “As one of the nation’s leading community foundations, The San Diego Foundation strives to improve San Diegans’ quality of life by creating equity and ensuring opportunities to be WELL (Work, Enjoy, Live & Learn).” In 2014, they gave over $10 million to educational endeavors. The following table illustrates the spending bias against public education.

 Category of Giving Amount Granted
University and College Grants and Scholarships $6,106,052
Civic education – Libraries, Camps, etc. $1,333,266
Charter School and Competency Based Education (CBE) $1,339,802
Private K-12 Schools $1,129,225
Public K-12 Schools (Not including charters) $373,628

Competency Based Education (CBE)

Peter Greene an education expert from Pennsylvania discussed CBE in terms of education reform ideas that should die. He wrote:

“Two years ago, CBE was barely on my radar, and honestly, having lived through the early-nineties disastrous fiasco that was Outcome Based Education, I’m still kind of amazed that we’re back here. But we are. What has changed since 1991? Computers, the internet, the cloud, the sheer raw data collecting and crunching power that a company like Pearson now has at its command. In a CBE world, neither teachers nor schools are necessary– just students at their computer terminal being put through their software-controlled paces, each keystroke and answer filed away (and put to all manner of uses) in their new lifelong data record. Public education and citizen privacy would all be washed away. CBE fans are ju-jitsuing themselves some support for the approach (Quick! Run away from the evil test and take refuge in this CBE sanctuary over here!) and ESSA has opened the door wide for new “personalized” and non-BSTest-based measures of student achievement. I still think there are some serious hurdles in CBE’s path, but if it clears those obstacles, we’ll be looking at a huge threat to public education in this country (and the absolute end of teaching as a career).”

The SD Foundation granted the Girard Foundation of La Jolla $550,415 which they promptly spent on CBE development. They gave Gooru $300,000 and $105,850 went to Make It Matter LLC. Gooru is creating technology that enables CBE and Make it Matter specializes in marketing computer based “1:1” education. Personalized one to one education means a child is stuck in front of a computer with no real human exchange involved. It is terrible education policy with a huge profit potential.

SD Foundation also gave Kid Spark Education of Solana Beach $550,000 dollars to work on CBE development.

Foundations Join Forces and Support Privatizing Schools

Besides sending over $200,000 to seven charter schools in San Diego County, SD Foundation gave $30,000 to Teach for America (TFA). TFA is a program that give college graduates 5 weeks of summer training and then state education leaders allow them to teach classes mostly in charter schools. They are inexpensive unqualified teachers.

SD Foundation spending on Universities is surprising. Almost 40% of that spending is on schools outside of San Diego County totaling $2,409,711. Grants and scholarships given in the county totaled $3,696,341. One would expect an organization that “strives to improve San Diegans’ quality of life by creating equity and ensuring opportunities” would spend a greater share of their education dollars in San Diego.

The largest single grant bestowed by the SD Foundation was $2,6 5 0,7 0 9 to the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego. The JC Foundation had net assets at the end of 2014 of $171,593,990.

The Jewish Community Foundation spending on education follows a similar pattern as the San Diego Foundation. They spent $466,830 for groups working to privatize public education most of which went to TFA ($406,330). They also spent lavishly on private schools including $146,000 to La Jolla Country Day, a decidedly upscale K-12 private school.

By far the largest grant by the Jewish Community Foundation was the $25,817,228 bequeathed to University of California San Diego. A major patron of both the Jewish Community Foundation and UCSD is the Qualcomm founder and billionaire, Irwin Jacobs.

Three more grants from the Jewish Community Foundation were interesting. They gave Cornell University $5,511,000. They also gave the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund $6,362,171.  The Goldman Sachs fund asset total at the end of 2013 was $1,500,395,380. And the JC Foundation gave the SD Foundation $1,515,800. Why give money back? It is like the Charter School Growth Fund giving their benefactors from Walmart $15,000,000 in 2013. Why?

Do They Understand What They Are Supporting?

There is no denying that both of these funds contribute to a host of worthy efforts. However, are these large concentrations of wealth undermining democratic governance? Are the people making grants to advance the privatization of public schools and promotion of CBE even aware of the ramifications of their grants?

The reality is that these two funds are large but not in comparison with many other funds around California and the US. Yet, they did put a combined almost $2,000,000 towards privatizing public schools in 2014 and only about $425,000 toward support for public schools which went mostly to wealthy neighborhoods.

Our neighbors up in Los Angeles have multiple huge funds. The table below lists the seven largest.

Fund Name Asset Total
Getty Trust, J. Paul $11,982,862,131
California Endowment, The $3,668,459,217
Hilton Foundation, Conrad N. $2,576,376,157
Broad Foundation, Eli & Edythe, The $1,941,410,735
Annenberg Foundation $1,663,095,893
California Community Foundation $1,457,110,000
Simon Foundation, Norton, The $1,349,804,152

The motives for today’s education reform ideology are complicated by greed and lack of understanding. Some people truly believe that America’s public schools are failing and need disruptive reform. They are wrong. For the past, 30-years public schools have been steadily improving. In a recent Atlantic Magazine article Jack Schneider wrote:

 “Finally, consider the outcomes produced by the educational system. Critics are right that achievement scores aren’t overwhelmingly impressive and that troubling gaps persist across racial, ethnic, and income groups. Yet scores are up over the past 40 years, and the greatest gains over that period have been made by black and Hispanic students. They’re right that the U.S. finishes well behind exam-oriented countries like Taiwan and Korea on international tests. But scores are roughly on par with countries like Norway, which was named by the United Nations the best place in the world to live; and students from low-poverty states like Massachusetts outscore most of their global peers. Critics are right that 40 percent of college students still don’t graduate. But almost half of all American high-school students now head off to college each year—an all-time high. And whatever the doom-and-gloom about schools failing to address workforce needs, it’s worth remembering that the U.S has the strongest economy in the world—by an enormous margin.”

 Save Public Schools and Taxpayers

It is time to support public education and stop tax dollar scammers. The main weapons in the drive to privatize schools and create new corporate profit centers are charter schools, standardized testing and CBE.

The charter industry has become fraud riddled. Being able to innovate by removing accountability has led to uncertified teachers, unsafe schools and unprofessional schools. California’s earthquake safety laws do not apply to charter schools. Many charter schools are basically publicly supported private schools. Charter schools have no accountability to taxpayers and no curricular accountability. It is time to end this dangerous, destructive and expensive experiment by immediately moving all charter schools under the management of publicly elected boards and state education laws. Anything less is to support this continued wanton and growing fraud.

Standardized testing is worthless. It does not measure student, school or teacher competence. Colleges are all well aware that the SAT is not a good indicator of student success; high school grades are better. The only valid outcomes from standardized testing are it correlates well to family wealth and it makes for good propaganda when taking over schools in poor communities. Other than that it is expensive and harmful.

CBE is the latest scheme to sell technology to schools, mine student data and sell testing services for outcome verification. It is a terrible idea if you want children to be well educated, creative and lifelong learners.

It is clear that all recent education agendas coming from corporate entities have been about what is good for the adults at those corporations. Reform has become almost exclusively about fleecing taxpayers at the expense of their children.

California’s Charter School Led CBE Invasion

29 Jun

This January (2016), Fortune Magazine announced that Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, has launched a new $100-million-dollar fund to support education initiatives and other groups. The notice goes on to state:

“Hastings is the fund’s sole trustee while Neerav Kingsland, the former CEO of charter school supporter New Schools for New Orleans, is serving as CEO. The fund’s website explains its philanthropic mission: “Currently, too many children do not have access to amazing schools. Our aim is to partner with communities to significantly increase the number of students who have access to rich and holistic educational experiences.”

The “rich and holistic educational experience” is to be delivered by charter schools employing competency based education (CBE).

Competency Based Education

The United States Department of Education promotes and describes CBE:

 “Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

 Instead of a structured course with a teacher, students will log into a computer and earn badges for demonstrating competencies in an online environment. “Personalized learning opportunities” is a euphemism for a computer based course delivered in isolation.

It is a terrible idea! The last thing a 21st Century student needs is to be shoved in front of another inert digital device. Students need to interact with “highly qualified” certificated teachers, adults who they can trust. Students need to; measure, calculate, weight, work in small groups, discuss ideas, write, and get professional feedback. Students need structure, stability and direction. None of this is provided online.

Technology in education is more of an expensive mirage than a useful tool and competency based education (CBE) is fool’s gold.

In 2003, I took the state of California’s 52-hour life insurance course. That meant 52 hours of seat time with an insurance industry veteran who made the subject come alive. Today that insurance course is online with an online exam. No real industry context is imparted and cheating on the exam is rampant.

This is the kind of education Hastings and his ilk are vigorously promoting. CBE means lower quality education delivered at great profit to corporate providers and testing companies.

CBE learning is embraced by President Obama, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, Education Secretary John King, The Walton family, the new federal education law, Pearson Corporation and many business executives. Few experienced education professionals not profiting from one of these entities support it.

Computers are good at drilling information and conducting fact checks. However, educators have known for more than a century that this kind of teaching is destructive. To create understanding, all of the modes of learning must be actively engaged. Drill and skill destroys the desire to learn and undermines development of creativity.

Big Money Being Poured into CBE

 In 2004, the Don and Doris Fisher Foundation along with the Schools Future Research Foundation each provided $100,000 to start the Charter Schools Growth Fund in Broomfield, Colorado. The Fisher Foundation is based on profits from GAP Inc. and the School Future Research Foundation was a Walton Family Foundation supported fund that seems to have disappeared. The original elected board of directors for the Charter School Growth Fund was comprised of John Walton, Don Fisher, and John Lock.

In 2010, the President-CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund, Kevin Hall, decided to purchase the struggling Dreambox Inc. of Bellevue, Washington for $15,000,000. By then the fund was so large and he could do it. He subsequently invested another $10,138,500 into Dreambox. [data from 2014 form 990]

A recent National Public Radio report on the Rocketship schools reported:

 “Rocketship students often use adaptive math software from a company called Dreambox Learning. The company was struggling when Reed Hastings, the Netflix founder turned education philanthropist and investor, observed it in action at a Rocketship school several years ago. His investment allowed Dreambox to become one of the leading providers of math software in North America, currently used by about 2 million students.”

 Kevin Hall left his $465,000 a year position at the Charter School Growth Fund to join Hastings on the board of Dreambox Inc. This company is now positioned to be the dominant supplier of software products into the CBE market. Pearson corporation has positioning itself to be the company that tests students and issues completion badges. If the big standardized test goes away, Pearson will do just fine supporting CBE.

In March, Emily Talmadge wrote a very interesting piece about CBE from a more national prospective. She reported:

“Since at least 2009, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has poured millions of dollars into the latest ed reform craze that has made headlines recently due to investments of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix.  When stripped of the misleading rhetoric that often surrounds it, “personalized learning” is the digital, data-driven system of schooling designed to trigger giant corporate profits along with tightly controlled, work-forced aligned learning outcomes.”

The foundations working to privatize public schools are almost all organized under IRS tax code 501(c)(3), which means they cannot engage in direct or even indirect support of political candidates and they must file an IRS form 990 every year. These forms detail who they gave money to and how much they pay top fund administrators. For following these and other rules, they become a tax free entity. The latest complete set of form 990’s is from tax year 2014 which details spending in 2013. The chart below is based on an analysis of selected 2014 form 990’s

Fund Totals

Fund Spending on Organizations Implementing CBE

 The 2013 spending of the following list of seven funds was analyzed: California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation (Broad), New Schools Venture Fund, Charter School Growth Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates), The Silicon Valley Fund, The Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Other than the data for the Gates fund, the information all comes from 2014 form 990’s. The Gates data came from his foundation web site.

The spending on these five schools was extraordinary in that the amounts given are far greater than the amounts these organizations typically give to other charter schools. Most grants to charter schools from these funds are significantly less than $50,000 unless it is for startup purposes. So what made these five schools worthy of $33,000,000 in 2013? They are all testing CBE principles on their students.

A look at some of the key board members of these funds reveals a small community of wealthy true believers.

 KIPP Foundation: Doris Fisher, John Fisher, Reed Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner

Silicon Valley Fund: John Fisher, Ted Mitchell

New Schools Venture Fund: Lauren Powell Jobs, Ted Mitchell

Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation: Eli Broad, Gregory Mcginity

Charter School Growth Fund: Kevin Hall, John Fisher, Carrie Walton Penner

California Charter Schools Assoc.: Reed Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner, Gregory Mcginity

 The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a little different than the other six organizations. It is not significantly about privatizing schools. There are many large community funds in California like this one and they support things ranging from community art to homeless shelters. However, funds like the San Diego Foundation and the Los Angeles Community Foundation have huge assets and they support charter schools at a much higher rate than they support public schools. A little light shined on these community foundations might make it less likely that they continue spending patterns that many of their board members probably do not understand.

All of this spending to undermine the present public education system is predicated on an article of faith held by wealthy (amateur education policy experts) reformers – “public schools are failing.”

In a June Atlantic Magazine article, Jack Schneider put it this way:

 “Thus, despite the fact that there is often little evidence in support of utopian schemes like “personalized online learning,” which would use software to create a custom curriculum for each student, or “value-added measures” of teachers, which would determine educator effectiveness by running student test scores through an algorithm, many people are willing to suspend disbelief. Why? Because they have been convinced that the alternative—a status quo in precipitous decline—is worse. But what if the schools aren’t in a downward spiral? What if, instead, things are slowly but steadily improving? In that light, disruption—a buzzword if ever there was one—doesn’t sound like such a great idea.”

 The evidence says America’s public schools are indeed continuously improving. But, misguided “do-gooders” are threatening to destroy the system and charter schools are the vehicle implementing their schemes. It is time for an OPT OUT of charter schools movement and a halt to CBE.

Privatizing California’s Public Schools

19 Jun

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and the Republican machine destroying public education in California or at least trying to privatize it; are promoting their jaded cause.

Three key players in the assault on California’s public schools are Walmart heiress, Carrie Walton Penner, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings and nativist republican politician, Steve Poizner. In 2001, they started EdVoice a lobbying organization that claims California schools are broken and must be reformed. In 2003 Poizner founded the CCSA. Walton Penner and Hastings remain as board members of both EdVoice and CCSA.

About These Key Players

In a 2008 Sacramento Bee Article announcing Poizner’s run for governor, it said, “Poizner, 51, sold a high-tech business in 2000 for $1 billion and has spent more than $24 million of his own money to launch his political career. A socially moderate, pro-choice Republican, Poizner has gone to great lengths to woo the conservative base of the Republican Party, touting himself as a fiscal conservative.” In 2001, Poizner took a senior fellows position in the Bush white house. He was elected California’s insurance commissioner serving from 2007 to 2011.

Reed Hastings is famous for being the founding CEO of Netflix. Joanne Jacobs wrote a puff piece about Hastings for EducationNext, a conservative pro-school-privatization  publication. She opened the article:

 “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has given millions of dollars to start charter schools. He’s put millions more into developing education software to personalize learning. But he doesn’t just give money. He makes things change. And he is not a fan of school boards.

 “The high-tech billionaire—he hit the “b” this year, according to Forbes—led and financed a 1998 campaign that forced the California legislature to liberalize its restrictive charter law. He served on the California Board of Education for four years. Hastings provided start-up funding for the Aspire Public Schools charter network and helped start and fund EdVoice, a lobbying group, and the NewSchools Venture Fund, which supports education entrepreneurs.”

 Many super-wealthy education reformers are not fans of democracy. There is a natural and dark human tendency to desire control over others. With their massive wealth, billionaire’s are capable of subverting democracy and enforcing their frequently uninformed opinions.

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

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

 “John Walton launched the foundation’s battle for school choice by throwing both money and influence into a succession of voucher referendums throughout the 1990s and beyond — only to see the cause defeated at the ballot box time after time, as numerous studies have chronicled. The public, it would seem, was nowhere near as keen on the idea of vouchers as the Waltons and their ilk.”

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

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

 Carrie Walton Penner serves on the boards of several organizations, including the KIPP Foundation, the Charter School Growth Fund, the California Charter Schools Association, EdVoice, Innovate Public Schools and the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

Reed Hastings is on the board of the California Charter Schools Association; the KIPP Foundation; DreamBox Learning, an education technology company; and the Pahara Institute, which provides fellowships to education leaders. On the business side, he served on Microsoft’s board until 2012 and is now on Facebook’s board.

This is a tight knit group of wealthy elites flexing their financial power to control education policy which means privatizing public schools.

The Hired Guns

Jeb Wallace is the CEO of CCSA. He is unusual in the pro-privatize set in that he did work in an elementary school in Los Angeles. He helped create a school within the school that led to a charter conversion. Wallace left LA to join Allen Bersin in San Diego to supervise charter schools in the San Diego Unified School District.

Bersin is cited by the Democrats for Education Reform as “a hero of education reform.” The citation says, “Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin is a lawyer with no training in education. In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch called Bersin’s tenure in San Diego a test run for corporate style education reform.

Wallace went from San Diego Unified to be COO of High Tech High, the new startup charter school sponsored by the Jacobs family, founders and major stock holders of Qualcomm Inc. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided a $9.4 million startup grant and has contributed another almost $4 million in support funding since 2000.

In 2009, Wallace moved on to be President and CEO of CCSA. The Association form 990 covering tax year 2013 listed his remuneration as $336,000.

Bill Lucia, who is the CEO of EdVoice, was a senior official at the Department of Education in the George W. Bush administration. Lucia has served as Executive Director of the State Board of Education and in a number of key staff positions within the California State Legislature, including Chief Consultant of the Assembly Education Committee, senior staff on the Budget and Appropriations Committees, and Chief of Staff and education consultant to the Chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus.

Lucia has worked in various senior education policy roles, including as COO and Director of Policy at EdVoice from March 2008 through March 2010. Prior to joining EdVoice, Lucia served as Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, leading the advocacy and legal defense team at the California Charter Schools Association(CCSA). Before joining CCSA, Lucia worked as Senior Assessment Policy Liaison for Educational Testing Service.

The most recent EdVoice form 990 lists compensation to Lucia as more the $250,000.

Compassionate Love for Children Motivates the CCSA Board

This calls to mind the observation Ciedie Aech made in her wonderful book Why Is You Always Got To Be Trippin’:

 “So. When big money gets thrown around under the socially responsible guise of helping less powerful and politically disenfranchised citizens – benevolently offering that helpful leg up, so to speak; well, it’s a funny but historical trend that quite often this particular kind of money? Somehow, sort of, gets redirected.”

 Diane Tavenner the CCSA board Chairman is the Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, a non-profit charter management organization focused on Silicon Valley. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $192,000.

Ana Ponce the CCSA board Secretary is Chief Executive Officer of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA). CNCA is a neighborhood network of 5 elementary and secondary schools serving over 2000 students within the greater MacArthur Park neighborhood near Downtown Los Angeles. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $205,000.

Christopher Nelson the CCSA Treasure is the Managing Director of the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund (Gap Inc. profits used to privatize public schools). His reported foundation earnings for 2013 – $475,000.

Cameron Curry a CCSA board member is the founder of the Classical Academy schools in north San Diego County. His organization has five sites serving 3,000 students. His reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $223,000.

Margaret Fortune a CCSA board member is the President and CEO of Fortune School of Education. There are five Fortune Schools in San Bernardino and Sacramento serving 1250 students. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $226,000.

Gregory McGinity a CCSA board member is the Executive Director of Policy for The Broad Foundation. His reported foundation earnings for 2013 – $303,000.

The 2014 form 990 report to the IRS reveals that 12 employees of CCSA were paid more than $150,000 each in 2013.

Swaying Elections

 In the lead up to the San Diego County school board election on California’s June 7 primary ballot, the Voice of San Diego reported, “Partly to ensure charter schools get a fair review when they petition to open a school, CCSA is backing four challengers in the election: Powell, Jerry Rindone, Paulette Donnellon and former state Sen. Mark Wyland.” There are similar reports from around California of big money political activity supporting candidates thought to be more charter school friendly.

In 2013, the CCSA reported taking in $22,000,000. The Association declares itself to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which means CCSA must adhere to the associated regulations.

One of the regulations prohibits 501(c)(3)’s from engaging in electoral politics. IRS code states:

 “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.” (emphasis added)

 It is hard to see how a fair reading of this code makes it possible for organizations like CCSA not to lose their 501(c)(3) status. Why are people like Carrie Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Jeb Wallace allowed to flout this law with impunity?

When researching for this report, I noticed that the California Foundation which has over $3 billion in assets and donates to charter schools shares the same address as the CCSA. (Correction; they only share the same zip code.)

I also noticed that many of the key people involved in privatizing California’s public schools were significantly involved in California and national republican party politics. Having groups like the Democrats for Education Reform and the Obama administration joining these Republicans in the effort to privatize public schools is difficult to comprehend.

Public schools are important to both American democracy and a vibrant just culture. They are worth fighting to save from arrogance, ignorance and greed.

Governor “Charter School”

8 Jun

I recently commented on a Diane Ravitch post writing, “I love Governor ‘Moon-beam’; I detest Governor ‘Charter-School;’” referring to Governor of California, Jerry Brown.

Ed Source recently reported:

“Brown started two charter schools in Oakland when he was mayor of the city, and has fought, through vetoes, attempts to encroach on their independence or dilute protections in the state’s charter school enabling law. This year, he vetoed AB 787, which would have banned for-profit charters, which operate primarily online charter schools. Brown said proponents failed to make a case for the bill, and the bill’s ambiguous wording could have been interpreted to restrict the ability of nonprofit charter schools to continue using for-profit vendors.”

Two consistent features of modern education governance are that politicians and business men who have power enforce their own particular biases even though lacking both educational experience and knowledge. The second feature is education policy is NOT based on research. As Anthony Cody describes, “Sadly, Lubienski, Debray, and Scott discovered that ‘research played virtually no part in decision making for policymakers, despite their frequent rhetorical embrace of the value of research.’”

Governor Brown (in the face of mounting evidence) is more concerned about the future of the charter industry than he is about fraud and the diminution of public schools. He obviously believes that public schools are failing and that privatized schools are the path to better education. Neo-liberal philosophy increasingly embraced by the Democratic party postulates that “private business will always outperform government institutions.”

Is it Cyber-Charter or Cyber-Fraud?

The private businesses being protected by Brown, cyber-schools, are increasingly seen as extremely poor quality and more fraud than education alternative. In February Steven Rosenfeld reported, “For the second time in three months, the Walton Family Foundation—which has spent more than $1 billion to create a quarter of the nation’s 6,700 public charter schools—has announced that all online public school instruction, via cyber charter schools, is a colossal disaster for most K-12 students.”

Steven Singer an education commentator and activist from Pennsylvania stated it succinctly, “If you’re a parent, you’d literally be better off having your child skip school altogether than sending her to a cyber charter. LITERALLY! But if you’re an investor, online charters are like a free money machine. Just press the button and print however much cash you want!”

The nation’s largest cyber-charter chain is Michael Milken’s K-12 Inc. (remember his junk bond fraud conviction) The state legislation, AB 787, that Brown vetoed was inspired by the suspicious activities of California Virtual Academy and its contracted management organization K-12 Inc.

Since California Virtual Academy is a non-profit it is supposed to operate independently from its contracted management company, K-12 Inc. In a series of articles focused of the failure of California’s on-line charter schools, Jesse Califati at the San Jose Mercury News described:

“According to the nonprofit’s application for tax-exempt status, California Virtual Academy at San Mateo has a board of directors whose members should be willing to cut ties with the company if they feel the school is getting a raw deal. Indeed, the application specifies that all agreements between K12 and the school are the result of ‘arm’s-length’ negotiations.

“But a review of minutes from the 2014-15 school year’s board meetings and records of the board’s relationship to administrators hand-picked by K12 suggest the board has little or no independence from the company. A K12 employee led the board meetings, and all 35 resolutions she encouraged the board to endorse won unanimous approval.

“The board’s open public meetings are held during the workday in a conference room or around an administrator’s desk in the Daly City-based Jefferson Elementary School District, which authorized the academy’s charter. And board members rarely attend the meetings in person. They usually just call in from home.

“All told, the board spent an average of 13 minutes in each meeting.”

 In another piece Califati recounted:

 “Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education, worked for K12 as a consultant before Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the post in 2011. In March 2015, the board voted against shuttering a school run by the company that California Department of Education staff said should close because it was in financial disarray, marking the only time such a recommendation has been ignored.”

Privatized Systems Are Unstable and Increase Costs

The well-known education commentator Peter Greene states:

“Charters close because charter schools are businesses, and businesses close when it is not financially viable for them to stay open.

“The free market will never work for a national education system. Never. Never ever.

“A business operating in a free market will only stay in business as long as it is economically viable to do so. And it will never be economically viable to provide a service to every single customer in the country.”

 Center for Media and Democracy “has calculated, nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and the failure rate for charter schools is much higher than for traditional public schools.”

In addition to the unstable nature of free market charter schools, it is not possible to run a public education system and a privatized education system for the same amount of money as just a public system. In order to maintain the same level of support to classrooms and satisfy the quest for public school choice, it will require taxes to be increased to finance the dual system.

MGT Consulting conducted a research study of the charter school costs to Los Angeles Unified School Districts (LAUSD). In addition to the over $500 million dollars in lost revenue from students leaving the system, LAUSD incurred almost $100 million dollars in un-recouped administrative costs to oversee the charter schools. The school district has more than 40 people assigned to state mandated charter school oversight responsibilities.

A researcher at Columbia University Teachers College, Jason B. Cook looked into local community cost effects spurred by charter school competition. Among the discoveries he documents:

“A key finding of this study is that charter competition also decreases the TPSD [Traditional Public School District] revenues raised through property taxes by depressing appraised district-level residential property values.  I also find that charter competition causes districts to spend less on instructional and other current expenditures and spend more on new construction capital outlays. This reallocation is more than a simple proportional change. A one percentage point increase in charter competition increases the overall amount that TPSDs spend on capital outlays by 7.3 percent.”

 “Successful Charters” Have Glaring Flaws

The KIPP charter chain has approximately 100 schools and is widely considered to be a charter school success story. Center for Media and Democracy looked at their tax records from 2013 and saw these highlights:

“KIPP received more than $18 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $43 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;

“KIPP spent nearly $14 million on compensation, including more than $1.2 million on nine executives who received six-figure salaries, and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;

“KIPP also spent over $416,000 on advertising and a whopping $4.8 million on travel; it paid more than $1.2 to the Walt Disney World Swan and Resort;

“It also paid $1.2 million to Mathematica for its data analysis; that’s the firm that was used to try to rebut concerns about KIPP’s performance and attrition rates.”

Mary Ann Zehr wrote about a Western Michigan study of KIPP for Education Week:

“KIPP charter middle schools enroll a significantly higher proportion of African-American students than the local school districts they draw from, but 40 percent of the black males they enroll leave between grades 6 and 8, says a new nationwide study by researchers at Western Michigan University.

 “’The dropout rate for African-American males is really shocking,’ said Gary J. Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement, and research at the university, in Kalamazoo, and the lead researcher for the study. “Kipp is doing a great job of educating students who persist, but not all who come.”

In a related story the headline on Mike Klonsky’s latest post says, “Chicago neighborhood schools, not charters, [are] the driving force behind rising grad rates.” Based on findings by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research, Mike continues, “Well, it’s that time of year when the media spotlight is on all the privately-run charter schools that supposedly enroll 100% of their students in a college program. Of course they fail to mention they mean 100% of the 25% or fewer that make it from freshman year to the graduation ceremony.”

If the charter school generated dropout students are not misplaced by the dual system like the thousands of unaccounted for students in New Orleans, it is the public schools which must take them in.

It’s Not About Children; It’s About the Benjamin’s

Charter schools were originally considered an experiment. After a quarter of a century of doing considerable harm to local communities, and showing no unambiguously documented education successes (not even matching public school performance on testing), common sense dictates that we end this experiment. Unfortunately, charter schools have become an industry and feckless organizations like the California Charter School Association (CCSA) are spending millions of dollars to privatize public schools.

During the run-up to the recent California primary (June 7), it was an unpleasant surprise to learn that CCSA was spending $300,000 where I live on the four San Diego County Board of Education seats that were on the ballot. Diane Ravitch shared how much money the national charter industry was spending in California; posting on her widely followed blog, “There you have it: with all the issues facing the state, one-third of the $28 million spent by outside groups on state races is coming from charter advocates.” Charter schools have become an industrial complex. It is not about improved schools or choice; it’s only about the money.

Caprice Young was the first president of the California Charter Schools Association. Today she is leading the Magnolia Public Schools, a California Charter School chain that is known to be part of the controversial Turkish Imam, Fethullah Güllen’s charter school empire. The Los Angeles based education activist Robert D. Skeels posted:

“Magnolia, its parent Pacifica Institute, and their cult leader Fethullah Gülen are all high profile Armenian Genocide deniers. To make matters worse, their entire public relations campaign is paid for with money that is supposed to be used in classrooms. Magnolia enlisted the help of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) for this Gülen misinformation campaign, and CCSA’s “CEO” Jed Wallace is quoted in the press release in which misrepresentations about both Magnolia’s connections to the Gülen Network, and their audit results appear.

“The CCSA is currently attacking an Armenian candidate running for California Assembly, spending obscene amounts of money. That the CCSA, Jed Wallace, and Caprice Young are simultaneously attacking Armenian candidates for office, while working hand-in-hand with organizations that actively deny the Armenian Genocide is highly disconcerting.”

Last night (June 7) I heard Donald Trump call America’s schools “failed.” That must be the same lie that Governor “Charter-School” believes. America’s public schools are amazing. Even after two decades of denigration and slander by elites, our public schools are still the foremost education system in the world. Don’t allow greed and foolishness to destroy this bedrock of American democracy.

 

Charter Schools Strip Public System

27 May

United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) contracted with MGT of America Consulting, LLC for a report on costs to Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) caused by charter schools. MGT reported, “these data indicate that LAUSD has a nearly $600 million impact from independent charter schools. By far, the most significant financial impact to LAUSD is in the area of declining enrollment lost to charter schools” which they estimated as a “total net revenue loss in 2014-15 $508,280,866.” Within a few days the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) began attacking the report in an open letter to the LAUSD Board of Education.

CCSA said of the report: “This report is riddled with inaccuracies;” “It draws sweeping and often irresponsible conclusions based on limited information and obsolete data;” “It paints a distorted picture of charter schools’ role in L.A. Unified’s financial portfolio;” “Charters are essential to the district’s success.”

A fair reading of the report reveals that MGT’s representative was conservative, clear, careful and reasoned. MGT is a private research firm that has expertise in analyzing school and other governmental systems. They accepted a contract with the UTLA to research a set of specific questions and they do not appear to have a dog in this fight. Conversely, the $15 million budget that California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has to promote charter schools gives them an undeniable agenda.

CCSA Disputes and Reality

There are 24 findings stated in the MGT report. Each of the findings is explained in some detail and the source of the data is given. The CCSA disputes four of these findings in their open letter. The refutations bring to mind arguments about how many angles can dance on the head of a pin.

CCSA disputed the special education findings. MGT found, “the district has both a higher proportion of special education students than the charter schools (13.4% vs. 8.1%, as of December 2013) and of that proportion, has double the percentage of higher cost ‘Moderate to Severe’ special education students than its charters (30% vs 15%), as reported in the data compiled for the Independent Financial Review Panel report published November 10, 2015.”

CCSA says, “The report uses a number of outdated and erroneous statistics that paint a misleading picture of both the proportion of students with disabilities in charters schools and the fiscal impact on the District.” They claim a “recent analysis” shows the LAUSD over identifies special education students. They also point to data from the Office of the Independent Monitor that shows that LA charter school only served 3% less special education students in 2013-2014 not the 5% difference shown in the report. Why there is a discrepancy between the data provided by the Independent Monitor and LAUSD is not clear. The following chart based on data provided by LAUSD and the state of California indicates for some reason the percentage of charter school students in LAUSD is increasing.

SPED Percent LA

It may be that the CCSA is more worried about possible changes to California law than they are about this report. They stated, “The UTLA/MGT ‘Finding 5’ regarding Proposition 39 oversight fees is false. If a school district, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, charges a pro rata share, the facilities are not substantially rent free and the school district cannot charge the 3% oversight fee.” On this subject the MGT report explains, “LAUSD has fifty-six (56) charter schools currently co-located in LAUSD facilities and has elected to use the “pro rata share” approach for facilities charges. By doing so, the district may have determined it may not also charge the 3% oversight fee. However, the majority of the costs included in the pro rata calculation are direct costs that charters should already be paying that are associated with occupancy of the facilities (e.g. utilities, custodial, trash, grounds, etc.).” It does not look like a false claim at all but just a suggestion for the district to save a few dollars from going into the pockets of CCSA clients.

Poor Law Harming Local Schools

The MGT study illustrates how charter school law in California is fashioned to favor privately operated charter schools over public schools. If a local community passed a bond measure in the 1980’s to build a new public school, it is the law in California that the members of that local community – who still might be paying for that public school – will have no choice but to allow a private operator move into the facility. In addition, the charter school law requires the local school district to incur many direct and indirect costs to support charter schools.

In California, since its statehood, a super-majority (67%) was required to pass a school bond measure. In 2000, after losing an effort that March to mitigate the super-majority rules and the infamous proposition 13 limitations, supporters brought forward proposition 39 that would reduce school-bond super-majorities to 55% and did not seriously threaten proposition 13 protections enacted in 1978. It passed 53% to 47% in November.

In the official ballot summary for proposition 39 in the November 7, 2000 election the support message was signed by Lavonne Mcbroom, President California State PTA; Jacqueline N. Antee, AARP State President; and Allan Zaremerg, President California Chamber of Commerce. The statement against the proposition was signed by Jon Coupal, Chairman Save Our Homes Committee, Vote No on Proposition 39, a Project of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association; Dean Andal, Chairman Board of Equalization, State of California; and Felicia Elkinson, Past President Council of Sacramento Senior Organizations.

This proposition was a battle royal with every media source and elected official bloviating endlessly about the righteousness of their side. However, like in the official ballot measure statements, there was no discussion of the charter school co-location funding requirement in article six of the proposition.

When proposition 39 is coupled with the undemocratic charter authorizing system in California, citizens lose all democratic control of their local schools. With the three levels of government having the power to authorize charter schools it is almost impossible to turn down an charter request no matter how bad the schools previous history is or how inundated a community might be with certain types of schools. As former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch writes:

 “District officials in California have confided in me that it is virtually impossible to stop a charter proposal, no matter how bad it is or how little it is needed. If the district turns down the proposal, the charter advocates appeal to the Los Angeles County School Board, where they are often approved. In the off-chance that both the district and the county turn down their proposal, the advocates appeal to the state, where they are almost certain to win approval.”

CCSA Influencing Elections

Here in San Diego, it appears the CCSA is trying to pack the San Diego County Board of Education with charter school proponents. Four of the five seats on the Board are up for election on June 7. The Voice of San Diego reported, “Nine candidates will vie for the openings, including four incumbents: Gregg Robinson, Mark Anderson, Guadalupe Gonzalez and Rick Shea. All except Shea are community college educators.” And they continue, “CCSA is backing four challengers in the election: [Mark] Powell, Jerry Rindone, Paulette Donnellon and former state Sen. Mark Wyland.”

Evidently the fact that “The County Board denied six of the seven charters it has reviewed since 2011 is a cause for corporate spending. In all of those cases, County Board members went along with the recommendations of staff members who reviewed the document.” The County Board only reviews cases that have already been turned down by local school districts.

Stop Authorizing Charter at Least until Law Fixed

Public education run by democratic processes is a major good. The past two decades of school reform have produced nothing but negative results and profits. The more enthusiastically the corporate and billionaire driven reforms have been embraced the worse the results (see Denver, New Orleans and Washington DC). It is time to stop all new charter school authorizations in California. It is time to reject the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. It is time to embrace professional educators working democratically within local communities to restore public education in America. It is time to protect our great inherited legacy – public education – which is definitely not a privatized market driven education.

Competency Based Education and San Diego

15 May

A May 4 San Diego Unified School District  press release “announced a significant reduction in the amount of high-stakes standardized testing at local schools.” The next day, May 5, former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, wrote on her blog, “I met [SDUSD] Superintendent Cindy Marten when she was a principal. I could see her love for the children and her respect for teachers. For her courage in doing what is best for children, I add her to the honor roll of the blog.” Two days later, May 7, Emily Talmage (educator and blogger from Maine who has notable expertise regarding Competency Based Education, {CBE}) wrote, “A closer look at San Diego Unified’s agenda reveals that instead of shedding corporate-driven, top-down reforms as Ravitch claims, the district is instead embracing the highly profitable yet woefully under-researched 21st century version of ed reform that is rapidly sweeping the nation.” Talmage was referring to CBE.

Looking into the matter myself, I have concluded that both of these women are correct. Cindy Marten has been wonderful and the reduction in testing is real and significant. I work in a school district adjacent to Cindy’s and we too have recently selected a true professional leader who works for good, Karen Janney. Even though both of these women are extraordinary leaders, their school districts are targeted by corporate sponsors of what Emily insightfully labeled “the highly profitable yet woefully under-researched 21st century version of ed reform.”

Cindy Marten and StriveTogether

Talmage implies that Cindy Marten is in league with Bill Gates and his ilk because she is listed as hosting a StriveTogether conference in San Diego, October 2014. StriveTogether uses the creepy subtitle “Every Child. Cradle to Career.” Its parent organization is KnowledgeWorks whose self described purpose is; “Every student experiences meaningful personalized learning that enables him or her to thrive in college, career and civic life.” This means a software driven curriculum delivered by a digital device. KnowledgeWorks has a large corporate sponsorship comprised mainly of companies associated with technology and testing. But I don’t think Marten intended to align herself with StriveTogether or Bill Gates.

In 2011, the Sol Price Foundation started the City Heights Partnership for Children where Marten was serving as principal of Central Elementary. In 2013 the United Way took over management of City Heights Partnership for Children. Marten’s relationship with StriveTogether is through Partnership for Children and United Way. Talmage is correct about StriveTogether being a terrible front for corporate raiders targeting education dollars and Marten should rethink representing Partnership for Children at any events associated with StriveTogether. However, Gates money is ubiquitous and it is difficult to be socially engaged and not have some relationship with organizations that Gates supports; for example the PTA, AFT and NEA.

The 70-person committee tasked with creating a plan for San Diego Unified’s digital path forward last reported in December 2014. One of their goals that they provided to Marten and the school board was “implement competency-based learning and problem-solving-based assessment, aligned with Common Core standards.” This also can be correctly interpreted to mean a software driven curriculum delivered by a digital device and tested on-line.

As a classroom teacher for the past fifteen years, I find these goals reprehensible. Common Core is a set of standards paid for by Bill Gates, copyrighted by a non-profit Bill Gates finances and written by testing corporation employees (mostly College Board and ACT). The standards are poorly written and horribly aligned. Competency Base Education is one of those awful agendas that will facilitate purloining education dollars but sounds reasonable to people who have no significant time in a classroom or have been out of the classroom so long they have forgotten how important the human connection is for a successful learning process.

Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Soka Schools, touches on this subject in his book Soka Education, “Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.” Ikeda also mentioned that Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. Low cost on-line learning is spiritless, amoral and dead.

Why so much Spending on Technology?

 Education is my fifth career. My previous career was as a researcher in Silicon Valley developing advanced recording devices. I wrote code to run test equipment and take data. The database I developed would handle automatic data inputs and produce presentable reports. I evolved into a technology loving geek. When I became a teacher, it was clear to me that technology was the wave of the future which would significantly improve teaching. I was wrong.

Technologists who are often entrepreneurs; government organizations under the influence of these entrepreneurs; school information technology leaders; and fans of technology form a formidable vanguard of support for the untested belief in the efficacy of digital based education. And when these groups meet, they easily succumb to the dangers of group think.

On October 23, 2015, most of the top technologists in San Diego County schools gathered to brief each other on what they were doing and to learn about new education technologies. The event was billed as a “Market Briefing.” The news release by The Center for Digital Education said. “The Center for Digital Education hosted a Market Briefing event in San Diego, CA. IT leaders from some of the largest districts in San Diego were [on] hand for a special briefing on their technology plans, priorities and focus for the coming years.”

The Center for Digital Education belongs to eRepublic. Take a quick look at the eRepublic web pages and you will learn how eRepublic can help you create and market digital products to all levels of government. They are not education specialist. They are sales facilitators, who understand how to co-opt government employees and make them allies. At conferences like “Market Briefing,” digital tools are seen as unquestionably essential to the path forward for 21st century education.

The Obama administration is 100% on board with Competency Based Education. His department of education has literally hundreds of citations from reports, mostly by think tanks supported by technology companies, which sell the virtues of CBE. The department’s stance on CBE is made clear here:

 “Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others. This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs. It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student.”

This statement is typical of the statements supporting CBE and other digital learning schemes. It is all assertion with no evidence. The Achilles heel of “corporate education reform” continues to be that the evidence does not support the claims.

When the government and corporate America is applying so much pressure for schools to embrace CBE and other digital strategies, it is little wonder that school boards and superintendents acquiesce. This week, the leadership (which I like and respect) in my school district (Sweetwater) announced that the board voted to: “Accept the technology task force recommendation to continue purchasing student devices for grades 9-10, and direct staff to enter into contracts and execute lease agreements for such purchase, and to maintain the iPad program at middle schools for the 2016-2017 school year, and allow the technology task force to continue its work for the 2016-2017 school year.” If they had conducted a more thorough cost benefit analysis, they might have hired more teachers or janitors instead of purchasing I-pads and laptops.

The Sweetwater Union High School District’s technology plan was published in 2014 before the present leadership took the helm. However, it is clear that the push for a 1:1 digital device ratio and facilitating online learning are still being pursued. The evidence supporting these policies in the Technology plan is provided by corporate America. Here is an example:

 “’Schools with a 1:1 student/computer ratio are cutting the dropout rate and reaping this broader benefit.’ On another front, there are the cost-savings associated with reduced printing, copying and paper usage. According to Project RED, ‘It is estimated that high schools where every student has a computer and which use an LMS [learning management system] could cut copy budgets in half. On a national basis that would equate to savings of $400M a year for high schools alone.’” (page 81)

 This is just one of many statements citing Project Red as evidence for these policies. The problem is Project Red in not an independent research organization without an agenda. They are funded by some of the largest companies in the world including Pearson Corporation, a company that hopes to dominate the online education world.

Technology does have a place in education and online learning is possible. But, it cannot be done on the cheap. Computer learning systems that are little more than drill and skill systems are terrible. School leaders need informed educators and constituents to help them protect community schools from corporate greed and government malfeasance. One to one digital policies do not pass a rigorous cost-benefit analysis and Competency Based Education appears to be more scam than legitimate education policy.

A Recommendation for Beyond Measure

1 May

Vicki Abeles, the director of the documentary film “Race to Nowhere”, writes about the damage modern education reform is doing to our children and our culture. Her book, Beyond Measure, subtitled “Rescuing an Overscheduled, Over Tested, Underestimated Generation” jumps into the readers face starting with the amazing poem in the forward and continues gaining powerful momentum through chapter five. Abeles is trained in law and not education and that fact leads to my one criticism; her suggested solution, starting in chapter six, reflects the tendency of those without deep educational experience to discover silver bullets that will fix everything.

Abeles writes, “Without even realizing it, our driving goal has become all about preparing for the college application, not preparing for the college experience or life beyond. Performing, not learning. Amassing credentials, not growing. Not even really living.” (page 7)

She writes of observing her own daughters’ growing stress and of her staying up until midnight or later to do homework. But the event that got her attention was the suicide of 13-year-old Devon Marvin. Devon was viewed as one of the success stories in the community. When her mother Jane investigated Devon’s emails and text messages, the only cause for the suicide appeared to be a math test. “’She was torn up about this math.’ Jane told me. ‘Here’s a child who had always been so successful on so many fronts – and a stupid math grade.’” (page 9)

Abeles explains how eighteen-year-old Emily recounted slipping into deep depression her junior year and contemplating suicide. Here is Emily’s powerful quote that Abeles shares:

 “Junior year is supposedly the most important in high school and my effort just wasn’t going to cut it, not if I wanted to go to a decent college, and without a degree from a top university I was not going to be successful…. I had failed. All those years of late nights studying for AP classes followed by 5 AM water polo or swim practices, what would they come to? Nothing, just like me. In a world where we must excel in not one but many areas, I had not done so in any. I would rather be dead than face the years to come, sure to be filled with constant reminders of my failure. In my mind, there was only one way out.” (page 10)

 After sharing powerful anecdotal evidence, Adele opens chapter one, “Sicker, Not Smarter”, with a quote from Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician Stuart Slavin:

 “My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. This is particularly disturbing given the fact that having mental health problems in the teen years predisposes to mental health problems in adulthood. It is even more profoundly disturbing when one considers that there is absolutely no evidence that this educational approach actually leads to better educational outcomes.” (page 15)

 Abeles developed personal contact with multiple mental health and brain development experts in the writing of this book. She writes:

 “We think of the years from zero to three as the critical period for brain development, but Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg underscores that adolescence is another one. ‘[T]he brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk,’ writes Steinberg. ‘If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.’” (page 31)

 The book takes on many of the bad ideas in education “reform”. She spends chapter three debunking the idea that rigorous daily homework assignments and longer hours are desirable. Among the many pieces of evidence she cites that homework is out of control, harming family life and not valuable is the comparison with Finland. “One of the consistent superstars on this test [PISA], Finland, logs the least homework time – an average of less than 3-hours per week for 15-year-olds (and Finish students spend fewer days and hours each day in school than their American counterparts).” (page 76)

Chapter four is titled “Testing: Learning Beyond the Bubble.” Abeles writes: “The outcome is not, as the tests intended, a good education for all. In fact, it is nearly the opposite. Standardized tests have driven American education into a vise grip of regimentation.” (page 99)

And she makes the cogent point:

 “Policy makers made matters even worse when they attached powerful consequences to standardized test scores – teachers’ job evaluations, schools’ funding, and students’ high school diplomas and college admissions – thereby plunging the entire American education system into a stultifying culture of fear.” (page 100)

 Abeles not only debunks the value of standardized testing but provides evidence of the mental health harm high stakes testing is engendering. She cites the work of Brent Fulton, Richard Scheffler, and Stephen Hinshaw at UC Berkeley who looked into 2015 ADHD rates. They found evidence that rates shot up dramatically with the introduction of high stakes testing. (page 106)

Abeles turned to solutions in chapter 6 and here I have a small criticism. In her research for this book and other projects she became enamored with High Tech High in San Diego. The High Tech High (HTH) program and curriculum evolved from the work of Larry Rosenstock and colleagues in the New Urban High School Project, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Gary Irwin son of Qualcomm founder Jacob Irwin and Bill Gates were the main financiers of the startup of HTH. Gary Irwin is still involved with HTH as the Chair of its board of directors.

HTH uses a constructivist approach to education called problem based learning. At HTH students work with teaching teams that guide 50 students. My friend, Professor Larry Lawrence, toured HTH this March and related observing some of the same attributes Abeles notes. Students were relaxed, happy and seemingly engaged in their projects. However, Professor Lawrence soon noted that the high school only had one math class for all students. This concerned him. A student guide confessed that she did not feel challenged in her math class.

Also, public schools do not have the financial wherewithal to have only 50 students assigned to a team of teachers. This is California where we equitably provide financing for students to attend schools that have teachers serving 180 students each day in classes often exceeding 40 students.

In 2001, I was enrolled in a master’s of education program at UCSD. At the time, I was enamored with Dewey’s constructivist ideas and the problem based approach to teaching. Unfortunately, California state standards and NCLB rules made it impossible for public schools to implement or continue with these ideas.

Today, as I study problem based learning, I perceive that it is not a magic elixir for improving education. It is simply a promising idea that can be implemented along with other teaching strategies.

Not everyone is happy with the preparation of students from HTH because of their somewhat narrow approach to learning. I do not want to denigrate HTH, but some educators have complained that students from HTH are not well prepared for the college classroom. Whatever the reality is, the HTH approach is not the sole “silver bullet.”

The bottom line is that Vicki Abeles’ book is an important work that brings to light many aspects of the terrible damage being done by the test, punish and privatize era of education reform.