Tag Archives: DPE

LA Makes a Billionaire Privatizer Superintendent of Schools (Updated)

25 Apr

Eli Broad and friends have picked his wealthy business partner, Austin Beutner, to lead LA schools. Their kindred spirit from San Francisco, Reed Hastings, is chipping in for the cause as are Fisher, Walton, Bloomberg and several other billionaires. The selection of Beutner would signal another existential crisis for America’s second largest public-school district.

Update: When I originally published this article, a board member who had voted against Beutner, Scott M Schmerelson‘s came to the mic on Friday, April 27 and announced that no decision had been made. He said the next board meeting would be May 1. That was subterfuge.

1. The vote to hire Beutner was taken on April 20th.
2. Board member Richard Vladovic who was considered opposed to Beutner voted to hire him.
3. It was a 5-2 vote for his contract.

In May of 2017, these pro-privatization forces bankrolled a successful destroy public education (DPE) take-over of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). For the first time ever, a pro-charter school voting bloc is in control. Now, they appear ready to select Beutner as their leader.

On April 16, Howard Blume reporting for the Los Angeles Times said, “Austin Beutner has emerged as a leading contender to run the Los Angeles school district, with backers saying he is smart enough and tough enough to confront its financial and academic struggles.” However, the selection has been surprisingly stalled.

April 20, Blume updated the story for the LA Times. He speculated Beutner would be selected that day. Blume wrote, “Some of the city’s power brokers seem to be invested in Beutner, 58, who is himself one of L.A.’s more influential leaders.” However, later in the day, the Daily News reported, “The board met for hours Friday but announced shortly after 7 p.m. that it would be reconvening at 11 a.m. May 1 to resume the discussion”.

Four Finalist in Superintendent Bid

In the April 16 LA Times article, Blume also stated that in addition to front runner Beutner, three finalists are in contention. He noted:

“Interim Supt. Vivian Ekchian, who has been managing the district since King left on medical leave last fall, also made it to the second round, according to insiders. The other two apparent finalists are more difficult to confirm, but several sources have named Indianapolis Supt. Lewis Ferebee and former Baltimore Supt. Andres Alonso, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.”

Popular LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King resigned on January 5th. She had been fighting cancer since the summer of 2017 and had been on medical leave since the fall.

Superintendent Candidates

Four finalists for LAUSD Superintendent: Alonso, Beutner, Ekchian, Ferebee.

Lewis Ferebee

Ferebee has been the Superintendent of Schools in Indianapolis, Indiana since 2013. Influenced by The Mind Trust, Indianapolis has become a model for the DPE movement. The fact that Ferebee, who is a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, is a finalist speaks volumes about the direction the new LAUSD board is charting.

The 74, a noted DPE oriented publication started by Campbell Brown, said that when first appointed he looked like a strange choice then continued,  “But since he stepped into the role of superintendent in 2013, Ferebee has developed stronger relationships between traditional district and charter schools, grown the city’s network of innovation schools, and worked toward giving principals more decision-making power.”

Last week Ferebee removed himself from consideration. On April 18, the Indianapolis Star quoted him:

‘“Recently, I was announced as one of the finalists for the Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent position,’ Ferebee’s statement said. ‘After further discussing this endeavor with my family, the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners, and those handling the search process, I have withdrawn my name from consideration. It was an honor to have been considered for an opportunity of this magnitude.”’

Austin Beutner

He has no educational training or experience. His only qualification seems to be his willingness to do the job and the support he has from LA’s power elites. They claim his background in investment banking will lead to a solution to the charter school induced deficits plaguing LAUSD.

Beutner grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan just thirty miles up the road from Holland Michigan and the DeVos clan. His father, Roger Earl Beutner, was the Vice-President of Operations at AmWay. He and his siblings Sheryl and Brian all attended East Grand Rapids High School, a public school.

He went to Dartmouth in the fall of 1978 majoring in economics. That seems to be the extent of his formal education.

His Revolvy biography states,

“After graduation in 1982 he went to work at Smith Barney as a financial analyst. At the age of 29, he became the youngest partner at The Blackstone Group, one of the largest private equity firms in the world. In the 1990s he co-founded the investment banking group Evercore Partners which went public in 2006.”

Dartmouth magazine noted, “In the mid-1990s President Bill Clinton asked him to advise Russia on transitioning to a free-market economy. (During his three years in Moscow, Beutner met with both Yeltsin and Putin.)”

After recovering from a serious biking accident, Beutner started looking for new challenges outside the banking industry. In 2009, LA’s economy was in the tank, companies were leaving town and business insiders were not happy with Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa’s “feckless response.” Former mayor and billionaire, Richard Riordan, hosted a breakfast for city movers and shakers to discuss the issue. In a 2011 puff piece about Beutner, Gabriel Kahn of Los Angeles Magazine provided a description of the event:

“Riordan wanted to bring together some of the most prominent people in L.A. to see what could be done. Among those attending were Michael Milken, Eli Broad, and Disney senior executive Jay Rasulo, along with [George] Kieffer [from the LA law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips], City National Bank chairman Russell Goldsmith, and Jay Carson, who was chief deputy mayor at the time. Beutner also had a seat, though few of the guests knew him well. One after the other they rattled off ways to address L.A.’s most glaring problems: slash the lengthy business permitting process, do away with arcane business taxes, tackle runaway pension costs. Then Beutner spoke up. The proposals were all fine, he said, but until a person inside city hall is charged with implementing them, nothing would change. Those present took notice.”

Villaraigosa appointed Beutner to a new position he created, Deputy Mayor. He was given an extensive portfolio of responsibilities. Kahn wrote, “Beutner, who had decades of experience in investment banking but none in local government, was granted oversight of 12 city agencies, from the Port of Los Angeles to the Housing Authority.” He was the supervisor of 17,000 city employees.

Kahn ended his LA Magazine article with:

“No matter what happens, Villaraigosa says he wants someone doing Beutner’s job. After all, someone’s got to run the city.”

In February 2016, the San Diego Reader reported,

“Last May, when Chicago-based Tribune Publishing bought the San Diego Union-Tribune from developer Douglas Manchester, Austin Beutner seemed poised to take the city by storm. Appointed publisher of both the U-T and the Los Angeles Times, the former Wall Street wheeler-dealer and Democratic ex-deputy mayor of L.A. and friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton pledged to make over failing newspaper models and personally oversee everything from interviews with governor Jerry Brown to daily editorials.

 “Then Beutner was suddenly gone, dumped in September by Tribune after a reportedly failed attempt by his onetime associate, Democratic billionaire Eli Broad, to buy out the Times and U-T as part of Broad’s effort to build a personal Southern California newspaper empire.”

No training or experience in education but lots of money and connections. Isn’t this the requirement for top management positions in banana republics?

Andres Alonso

This finalist was the Superintendent of education in Baltimore, Maryland for six years. He resigned in 2013. Before Baltimore, he was chief of staff and then deputy chancellor for Teaching and learning during the first phase of New York’s Children First reforms. [Update: A reliable source says Alonso actually had no supervisory authority in NY. The information cited is from his Harvard biography.]

In his doctoral thesis Danial Voloch studied the Children First reform. He begins,

“During the first decade of the 21st century, Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg oversaw a radical transformation of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) into a portfolio management district in which the primary responsibility of the NYCDOE was not to develop the capacity of school leaders or teachers, but instead to create a marketplace through which strong schools could be created and failing schools could be closed.” (emphasis added)

Alonso was an early practitioner of the DPE favored portfolio management theory with its associated churn and disruption.

Upon his resignation the Baltimore Sun wrote of Alonso’s performance:

“Under Alonso’s leadership, city schools saw growth in test scores, graduation rates and enrollment, but his administration was dogged by fiscal problems and cheating scandals.

 “The first half of his tenure was marked by a series of reforms: closing more than one dozen failing schools and programs and creating several others that have thrived; decentralizing the system by cutting the headquarters staff by more than half; giving principals power over budget decisions; creating choice for city families, and competition among middle and high schools; and signing a landmark pay-for-performance teachers’ union contract that was hailed as a model in the nation. (emphasis added)

 “Test scores stalled, and a series of cheating scandals — found by the state to have taken place during the year the district’s progress was most celebrated — cast a cloud over the success story.

 Since leaving Baltimore, Alonso has been teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He does have extensive experience and training, but his philosophy of education leadership is deeply flawed.

Vivian Ekchian

Her LAUSD biography informs us that Ms. Ekchian is a 32-year veteran of L.A. Unified and has served in a variety of roles: teacher assistant, classroom teacher, principal, director of instruction, chief of staff to the superintendent of schools, chief human resources officer, chief labor negotiator, local district superintendent, associate superintendent, and acting superintendent. In January, LAUSD Board of Education voted unanimously to appoint Ms. Ekchian as interim superintendent.

She was awarded a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from California State University, Northridge, as well as a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of California, Los Angeles. Currently, Ekchian is working toward a doctorate in educational leadership through the University of Southern California.

She is a naturalized Armenian-American born in Iran to Armenian parents. Ekchian was raised and educated in Heidelberg, Germany so she naturally understands the challenges facing students with diverse backgrounds.

Of the four finalists for the position, Ekchian is the most experienced and most committed to seeing LAUSD succeed at its mission to maintain high-quality professionally run public schools in every neighborhood. Unfortunately, the new LAUSD board appears committed to the DPE path.

Who Does the LAUSD Board Represent?

It is widely acknowledged that the last LAUSD board election was the most expensive school board election in history. The spending by the DPE movement was approximately double that of the teacher’s unions. However, this is misleading.

Over 7,000 teachers voluntarily contributed and average of $9.50 a month for a total of $67,000 starting in January 2017. By the election in May, those 7,000 people had contributed over $300,000. On February 22, 2017, the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg contributed $500,000.

Broad Hastings Cartoon Coopmike48

Graphic Courtesy of the Big Education Ape

Howard Blume and Ben Poston wrote a post-election piece describing the sources the money spent on the election. They said,

“It’s an oversimplification to say the outcome was all about money, but charters spent more ($9.7 million compared with $5.2 million), and their candidates finished first in both races on Tuesday’s ballot.”

 “Based on spending since the March primary, pro-charter outside groups and individuals spent $144 for every vote cast for one of the charter-endorsed candidates. Unions spent $81 for every vote received by teachers union-backed candidates.”

 “More information will be revealed with ongoing disclosure filings, but Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix and a Democrat, appears to lead the pack with nearly $7 million donated since last September to California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates. Hastings, like others, does not appear in city filings as a contributor because he gave to the charter association. That association then spent money on the campaign or transferred funds to other pro-charter groups.”

 “How easy is it to figure out the source of the money in the school board races?

 “Not very. California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, for example, files with state regulators, not the city, and the state requires only a semi-annual report. It won’t be possible to look up who gave in the five months leading up to the May 16 election until sometime after June.”

Major contributors are required to file their contributions with the State of California. The following table is of contributions in 2017, most of which came in before May.

Spending Table

Data on Campaign Giving by Major Donors in 2017

CCSA Advocates is an independent expenditure committee associated with the California Charter Schools Association. Ref Rodriquez, who is charged with campaign finance and charter school money fraud, is the forth vote for the DPE side. Marshal Tuck is the DPE backed candidate for state superintendent of instruction. Kellen Gonez and Nick Melvoin were just elected to the LAUSD board. Much of the independent expenditure money went to them. Ed Voice, Ed Voice for Kids and LA Students are all independent expenditure committees supporting the DPE movement. LA Students is Richard Riordan’s independent expenditure committee. It has nothing to do with students.

Melvoin and Gonez claim they are not ruled by these big money spenders. Their vote for the next LAUSD superintendent will be telling.

DeVos Damages Detroit Schools

9 Mar

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

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

Jay Michaelson writing for the Daily Beast described the Gathering:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeVos Effect on NAEP Progress Graph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeVos Led Privatization Agenda Wreaked Havoc in Detroit

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

The Associated Press’s Corey Williams explained:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanton continues:

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

Steven Henderson reporting for the Detroit Free Press adds:

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

Table of a Developing Financial Crisis in Detroit Public Schools

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

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

Enrollment Graph

Copied from the 2015-2016 DPS State Financial Report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Destroy Public Education (DPE) Model Still Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver’s Schools are a Dystopian Nightmare

4 Feb

A group of Democratic politicians aligned with local monied interests decided to “save” Denver’s public schools. The man chosen to turn-around the “failing” school system was Michael Bennet, now the junior senator from Colorado. His history of success working for Philip Anschutz and his complete lack of experience in education somehow made him the choice.

For the two years prior to becoming Superintendent, Bennet served as chief of staff for Denver’s new Democratic mayor, John Hickenlooper. John is now the governor of Colorado replacing Denver’s former district attorney, Bill Ritter also a Democrat. Bill chose not to run for a second term.

This group of liberal Democrats initiated the Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement in Denver.

Bennet originally came west with Susan Daggett, also a Yale law graduate who he soon married. She had accepted a job with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in Montana. Michael grew up in Washington DC, his childhood witnessed a who’s who of Democratic Party luminaries because his father served as an aide to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, among others. Bennett was born in India where his father was aide to Chester Bowles, then the US ambassador to India.

The Rocky Mountain News reported on Bennet, “He worked six years for billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz, helping engineer lucrative oil and movie-theater deals, making himself wealthy in the process.”

In her wonderful book Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin? Ciedie Aech explains how these liberals sold DPE style reform.

“… ‘I wouldn’t send my children there.’

“Progressive declarations like this one, coming as they did from privileged-class and generally non-minority but avowed open-minded citizens, oh, they just made so much sense – to other privileged-class and generally non-minority but compassionately troubled advocates. Holding test scores high, progressive thinkers waved what they argued to be incontrovertible truth.”

“What was undoubtedly required? Was the immediate “non-negotiable” reformation of our nation’s lowest-income, lowest-scoring schools.”

Bad Ideology Based on Bad Assumptions

David Osborne writing in the reliably pro-DPE publication Education Next stated,

“In 2005, DPS was floundering. Out of 98,000 seats, 31,000 were empty, and many school buildings were half full. Almost 16,000 Denver students had left DPS for private or suburban schools. A financial crisis loomed, in the form of pension contributions the district could not afford.”

The DPS superintendents position was open, graduation data looked bad and so did testing data. The Denver Public Schools (DPS) board wanted radical change. They blithely ignored two highly qualified female candidates – Dr. Patricia Harvey, Superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools and Christine Johnson, President of the Community College of Denver – choosing Michael Bennett to be the next Superintendent.

In 1997, I took some business trips to the big Connor Corporation disk drive factory in Longmont about 35 miles north of Denver. IBM and other tech companies had built several large factories out on the grassy planes where the buffalo used to roam. These facilities were so big they had Burger Kings, Pizza Huts and other fast food outlets in the factory lunch rooms.

Several sizeable single-family housing projects were visible during the drive between Denver and Longmont. Housing and industrial policy made suburban living appealing, which meant DPS was losing students.

Concurrently with my visits, the state of Colorado started using standardized testing with its public schools.

Osborne’s Education Next article continued:

“DPS was so dysfunctional, Bennet concluded, that he could not fix it without significant outside pressure. So he asked several foundation leaders to create an organization of civic leaders, chaired by two former mayors, to push for change and support the board when it promoted reform. They called the initiative A+ Denver, and it has championed the portfolio strategy, along with the Piton, Donnell-Kay, and Gates Family foundations.”

A key DPE playbook move is to leverage out of town money with local money and political muscle to purloin control of public schools. DPS schools were not dysfunctional nor were they failing. In several Denver neighborhoods, the schools were the only functional government entity.

Ms. Aech identified the perceived problem in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“With great fanfare, these vigorously charted and impressively color-coded scores were poignantly presented to the nation. Here, citizens, was ironclad proof. Proof that poor and minority schools – oh, undoubtedly, my, just look at those test scores; these schools were surely, wall to wall? – Filled with bad teachers.”

To retrain all those bad teachers in Denver, Bennet turned to the high priestess of the bad teacher movement, Michelle Rhee and her The New Teacher’s Project (TNTP). He also started importing Wendy Kopp’s Teach For America (TFA) candidates.

More wisdom from Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“Good teachers; well, good teachers, and oh surely this was obvious – even glaringly self-apparent in the fast pace of magical days devoted to a truer national compassion: Good teachers? – Were young.”

The portfolio management theory of education councils paring away the losers the way a stock portfolio is managed. Close failing schools and replace them with a more efficiently managed charter school like a KIPP school.

The year that Bennet became superintendent, the heirs of the Walmart fortune opened the Charter School Growth Fund just 20 miles up highway-25 from downtown Denver.  Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the fund and Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director. Annie Walton Proietti, niece of Carrie, works for a KIPP school in Denver. There are other Walton family members living in and frequenting the Denver area.

Joining the Walmart school privatizers is Bennet’s business mentor Philip Anschutz. He has a billion-dollar foundation located in Denver and owns Walden Publishing. “Walden Publishing company was “behind the anti-teachers’ union movies ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Waiting for ‘Superman.’”

These wealth powered people along with several peers promote school privatization and portfolio district management ideology.

There is a widely held fundamental misconception that standardized testing proves something about the quality of a school. There is a belief among people who have never studied the issue that testing can be used to objectively evaluate teacher quality. It cannot! A roulette wheel would be an equally accurate instrument for measuring school and teacher quality.

Another Non-Educator with No Training

In 2007, Bennet asked Tom Boasberg, a childhood friend, to join DPS as his chief operating officer. Trained as a lawyer, Boasberg had worked closely as chief of staff to the chairman of Hong Kong’s first political party in the early 1990s, when the colony held its first elections in its 150 years of British rule. Before DPS, Boasberg worked for eight years at Level 3 Communications, where he was Group Vice President for Corporate Development.

In the spring of 2008, Bennet and Boasberg were ready to tackle the pension crisis seen as sucking money out of classrooms. One month after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Boasberg and Bennet convinced the DPS board to buy a $750,000,000 complicated instrument with variable interest rates. During the melt-down of 2008 Denver’s interest rates zoomed up making this a very bad deal for DPS. (Banking was supposed to be Bennet and Boasberg’s strength.)

A brief produced at the Harvard Graduate School of Education provides some history (and cheers the privatization of Denver’s schools).

“In 2008, DPS launched its School Performance Framework (SPF), used to rate schools’ performance based on a series of indicators, the most important of which was the year to year academic growth of students on state assessments.”

“In 2009 Bennet was elected a U.S. Senator and the board appointed Boasberg as superintendent.”

Somehow, Boasberg graduated from the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy in 2009 while serving as Chief Operating Officer of DPS. He has since become a member of Jeb Bush’s national DPE oriented group, Chiefs for Change as has the new Colorado State Commissioner of Education, Katy Anthes.

When Michael Bennet was running for his Senate seat, Colorado Pol studied his effect as Superintendent by analyzing Colorado’s CSAP data. They noticed that “the composite, 2000/2001 – 2003/2004 was the best run for DPS.” That run spans the years just before Bennet became Superintendent.

CSAP Data

Colorado Pol’s Graph of the CSAP data.

The Portfolio Model of School District Management is Ridiculous

I recently went to Idaho for my high school reunion. There were six of us there from my first-grade class of eleven. Nearly all the living members from the 47 of us who graduated together were there. A special bond develops between people who spend their formative years together.

During my fifteen years teaching at Mar Vista High School, I witnessed the same phenomena occurring with my students. Students would often tell me stories about each other from grade school and middle school. When those children graduated, they had formed the same difficult to describe deep human bonds I experienced.

Destroying human development opportunities by closing schools to “fix” education does not just seem foolish; it seems inhumane.

The need for stability in education is overwhelmingly documented. Brooke Havlik writing for Nova Education’s Science and Learning published Psychologists Find School Stability a Factor in Achievement Gap. Brooke wrote in the lead paragraph, “Two new studies published this month suggest that changing schools may have a negative impact on cognitive development and student performance, especially for students experiencing chronic, high-levels of poverty.” (emphasis added)

Yet we read in the Tom Boasberg’s biography at Scholastic.com, “… each year it [DPS] closes a half-dozen schools and creates 10 to 15 new ones, all while raising the “on-time” graduation rate from 60 to 70 percent.” This is not a heartless educator; this is a banker.

A questioning observation from Ms. Aech in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“Why was it, the question kept rising up over the years. Well, why was it that those schools most quickly and aggressively labeled as “drop-out factories” – schools slated for closure or an endless chain of reforms, schools forced through the fatal destabilization of restructure and redesign, schools branded publicly as being underused failures, schools negatively marked with the highly publicized letter grade of an F – well, why was it that such a large percent of these schools (shoot, pretty much all of them) had traditionally served as a home to non-dominant-culture, non-privileged-class, minority students?”

Running Multiple School Systems Adds Cost

The basic breakdown of K-12 schools in Denver; 104 traditional public schools, 58 innovation schools and 59 charter schools.

The 58 innovation schools belong to DPS but have contracts with the district giving them more autonomy. There is a process in place where a principal can write a plan about how his school will do things differently and will meet some specific testing targets. If the plan is accepted, the principal is free to run the school according to the plan and does not need to follow district operating procedures.

If the district operating rules are not important, why do any schools need to follow them? It looks like the district is abrogating its responsibilities to lead schools and institute wise policies through this Innovation school scheme.

The 104 traditional public schools have been led for the last thirteen years by non-educators.

The 59 charter schools have their own administrations. Some of them are independently run. Most of them are in various charter management organizations.

The fact is this kind of a system costs more to run. To hire competent teachers and maintain reasonable class sizes – taxes and spending need to be increased for a hybrid-system of both public and multiple private managements. Multiple management systems are more costly.

TFA Teachers are Untrained and Ineffective

According to Teach for America Colorado, this year there are 145 more TFA teachers in the Denver area. These kids get five weeks of training in the summer and then they are called teachers.

Putting untrained people in classrooms used to be against the law and it is still immoral.

Another observation from Ms. Aech in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“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.)”

TFA has effectively become storm troopers for the billionaires trying to disrupt, privatize and end public education. They are cheap, young and follow orders, but they are not even minimally trained educators.

Some New Data

This past December the New York Times ran an interactive article about a new way to compare schools. Reporters Emily Badger and Kevin Quealy describe:

“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.”

I ran a simulation comparing Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Milwaukee, Chicago and Denver. I only picked Denver. The New York Times picked the comparison schools. This simulator tries to correlate years of learning. The average between third and 8th grade should be five years. After 13 years of disruption and “reform,” Denver is not quite average.

National Eighth Grade Test Scores

Interactive Simulation result from the New York Times.

It is time for common sense to prevail. Bankers and Billionaires don’t know how to run schools. College graduates with no training do not know how to teach. Running multiple school administrations costs more.

Denver’s public schools were never failing. They probably needed more resources especially in poorer neighborhoods, but the schools labeled as failures were the anchors of poor-minority neighborhoods. Destroying their schools was akin to a hate crime. Maybe it would be fairer to call it a stupidity crime.

I have become a one issue voter. I do not care if you have an R or D after your name on the ballot. I want to know if you are ready to defend public education against charter schools, vouchers and fake teachers? Do you respect professional educators or do you think politicians should run schools by top down fiat? Are you ready to stand up to the out of control billionaire class for the sake of students?

 

TNTP Making Big Bucks from the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement

13 Jan

When TNTP comes to town, public school is targeted for education disruption. Clayton Christiansen probably thinks that is a good thing, but rational people who never went to Harvard correctly recognize that children need stability. TNTP tills the soil of privatization by undermining teacher professionalism and preaching a gospel of test-centric pedagogy.

Originally called The New Teachers Project, but like American Telephone and Telegraph becoming AT&T, they fancy TNTP.

In 2001 the TNTP web page described their founding:

“The New Teacher Project was formed in 1997 as a spin-off of Teach For America, …. Teach For America (TFA) has successfully recruited thousands of individuals into teaching in urban and rural areas, …. Wendy Kopp, the Founder and President of Teach For America, recognized the need for school districts to be able to replicate these effective recruiting and training practices. In this way, school districts could fill their classrooms with high quality teachers and begin to reduce teacher turnover. She established The New Teacher Project to address these very needs and promptly recruited Michelle Rhee to head up the new company.” (emphasis added)

In order to believe this, one must believe that a five-week course in the summer trumps a year at a college of education with at least a semester of supervised student teaching. It is also unlikely that significant numbers of these five-week wunderkinds will do much to reduce teacher turnover.

It is curious that TNTP reports their founding in 1997 but their tax returns show the year of formation to be 1995. Whatever the case, TNTP has struck gold.

The Money is Flowing

The big education philanthropies like the work TNTP is doing and are lavishing them with cash.

TNTP Money Graphic

Cash Flow Compiled from Tax Forms and Foundation Reports – by T. Ultican

In 2013 Mercedes Schneider reported on government grants to TNTP:

“Some TNTP initiatives also benefit from the support of federal grant programs and/or private funding. In 2010, TNTP was one of 49 organizations and institutions nationwide to win a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant.”

Schneider also wrote about the TNTP 2015 leadership shakeup in a post she called, “New TNTP President Among the First to Have Her NYC School’s Charter Revoked.” She shared:

“The TNTP bio blurb on Belcher includes a quick mention of her as founder of a New York City charter school: ‘Karolyn Belcher was one of TNTP’s first employees after its founding in 1997. After leaving for several years to found the John A. Reisenbach Charter School, one of the first three charter schools in New York State, she returned to TNTP in 2007.’

“What Belcher’s TNTP bio blurb does not mention is that Reisenbach, which operated only three years, from 09.2000 to 06/2004, has its charter revoked for its low test scores, teacher turnover, and financial issues.”

However, in a country dominated by big money education philanthropy, failure is not a big deal. In fact, by 2016, Belcher and several fellow early TFA cohort members were making big money at TNTP claiming to be education experts. Eleven of them were “earning” more than $200,000 yearly.

TNTP Top 15 Salaries edited

Snip Page 30 of TNTP Latest Form 990 filed in 2016

I suspect that most billionaires financing the DPE movement are true believers in their privatization and market theory of education reform. It is likely that they only talk with one another and have their damaging ideology ever further reinforced.

For the carpetbaggers from TFA, it looks like an old story. Reality is hard to recognize when your personal income is at stake; especially when that income is so grand.

Propagating the Billionaire Sponsored Education Ideology

Lubienski and Lubienski published “Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” in 2014. David Berliner a much published and widely respected scholar from Arizona State University, wrote of their paper:

“The Public School Advantage is a complete and thorough analysis of America’s many different kinds of schools—secular, charter, and public—and should end the arguments about which kind is better. Chris and Sarah Lubienski provide both the data and the clear explanations needed to understand the many false claims made about the superiority of schools that are not public. The result is a ringing endorsement of public school achievement.”

An excerpt from the Lubienski’s book was published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) in an anthology called “Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms.” Writing about researchers supporting market based reform and privatization they observe, “These … groups … having quite often declined or failed to pass their pro-market research findings through established, peer-reviewed academic journals, instead create alternative venues publishing and promoting their work – a strategy not unlike what is employed by corporate-funded deniers of climate change.” They also note that many authoritative claims about education are often little more the press releases with no evidence.

TNTP produced quasi-academic research papers like those described by Lubienski and Lubienski. A 2012 example is called “The Irreplaceables.” The paper defines the “irreplaceables” as the “top 20% of teachers in studied districts, as gauged by district data.” The gauge used is value added measures (VAM).

VAM has been widely discredited. By 2014, even the American Statistical Association weighed in with a paper concluding,

“The VAM scores themselves have large standard errors, even when calculated using several years of data. These large standard errors make rankings unstable, even under the best scenarios for modeling.”

 “The Irreplaceables” was not peer reviewed, but Bruce D. Baker a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers wrote a review for the NEPC. Professor Baker asked, “Among those 2005-06 Irreplaceables, how do they reshuffle between 2006-07 & 2007-08? His answer is in the graphic below.

Baker Graph

Professor Bruce Baker’s Graph

Professor Baker amusingly explains,

“Hmm… now they’re moving all over the place. A small cluster do appear to stay in the upper right. But, we are dealing with a dramatically diminishing pool of the persistently awesome here.  And I’m not even pointing out the number of cases in the data set that are simply disappearing from year to year. Another post – another day.

“From 2005-2010: Of the thousands of teachers for whom ratings exist for each year, there are 14 in math and 5 in ELA that stay in the top 20% for each year! Sure hope they don’t leave!”

Another poor paper by TNTP was called the “Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness.” This paper made a significant contribution to the attack on teachers. The authors define the “Widget Effect:”

“The Widget Effect describes the tendency of school districts to assume classroom effectiveness is the same from teacher to teacher. This decades-old fallacy fosters an environment in which teachers cease to be understood as individual professionals, but rather as interchangeable parts.”

It was a follow-on report from the earlier “Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts.” That report had generated a wide spate of teacher bashing in California as the following headlines and comments demonstrate.

September 29, 2006

Los Angeles Times

Escape Hatch for Incompetent Teachers Closed

“The New York nonprofit group New Teacher Project found in a November 2005 study of five districts including San Diego Unified that administrators had little discretion in filling roughly 40% of their vacancies because of union rules. Researchers also found that poorly performing teachers were transferring from school to school.”

September 10, 2006

San Francisco Chronicle

California Schools May Get Break from Bad Teachers

‘”There are a lot of states watching what’s happening in California, and I think it’ll have significant ramifications nationwide,’ said Michelle Rhee, chief executive officer of the New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit group that worked on the Scott bill.”

September 1, 2006

San Jose Mercury News

State Needs ‘Lemon’ Law For

“Scott’s bill could slow down the “dance of the lemons” — the annual migration of a minority of veteran teachers who either were burned out or who didn’t get along. They agreed to take voluntary transfers and gravitated to low-performing schools, where principals were desperate and parents less vigilant.”

The “Widget Effect,” faulted the fact that less than 1% of veteran teachers in America were evaluated as ineffective. The report called for multiple teacher evaluation inputs including the use of VAM. Arne Duncan, the new US Secretary of Education made the VAM component a requirement for winning Race to the Top school grants.

In 2017, two researchers looked into the effect of widely implementing the “Widget Effect” policy recommendations. In Revisiting the Widget Effect – by Matthew A. Kraft, Brown University and Allison F. Gilmour, Vanderbilt University, they state:

“In 2009, The New Teacher Project (TNTP)’s The Widget Effect documented the failure to recognize and act on differences in teacher effectiveness. We revisit these findings by compiling teacher performance ratings across 24 states that adopted major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems. In the vast majority of these states, the percentage of teachers rated Unsatisfactory remains less than 1%. However, the full distributions of ratings vary widely across states with 0.7% to 28.7% rated below Proficient and 6% to 62% rated above Proficient.”

Nothing changed with unsatisfactory ratings, but TNTP had clearly shown to be a major player in the world of education policy. They seemed to have gained greater influence on teacher evaluations than UCLA, University of Texas and Columbia University’s Teachers College combined.

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is a former middle- and high-school mathematics teacher who received her Ph.D. in 2002 from Arizona State University in the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with an emphasis on Research Methods. She commented in a blog for NEPC about the “Widget Effect” driven policies in New Mexico. Writing:

“While Kraft and Gilmour assert that ‘systems that place greater weight on normative measures such as value-added scores rather than…[just]…observations have fewer teachers rated proficient’ …, I highly doubt this purely reflects New Mexico’s “commitment to putting students first.”

New Mexico Bell Curve Evaluation

Professor Amrein-Beardsley’s Graphic

“I also highly doubt that, as per New Mexico’s acting Secretary of Education, this was ‘not … designed with quote unquote end results in mind.’ That is, ‘the New Mexico Public Education Department did not set out to place any specific number or percentage of teachers into a given category.’ If true, it’s pretty miraculous how this simply worked out as illustrated… This is also at issue in the lawsuit in which I am involved in New Mexico, in which the American Federation of Teachers won an injunction in 2015 that still stands today ….”

During my fifteen years as a classroom teacher, I observed that the students do a pretty good job of getting rid of poor teachers. Teaching is a demanding job and the ability to deal with students is not a gift that everyone has. Fifty percent of teachers quit the profession within the first five years and that significantly reduces the number teachers who should not be there. Good administrators get rid of the rest before they achieve full contractual rights. It makes perfect sense to me that less than 1% of teachers are evaluated as unsatisfactory.

Besides Pseudo-Academic Studies TNTP Undermines Teacher Professionalism

By 2001, TNTP was humming along. On its web site the advertising stated:

“We leverage the highly successful strategies of Teach For America to recruit, select and develop new teachers for difficult-to-staff school districts.”

“We create and run high-quality alternate routes to attract and prepare exceptionally talented people from non-traditional backgrounds to teach, particularly for high need areas and hard-to-staff schools.”

“We set up and run pre-service training institutes for high-achieving individuals without prior education backgrounds.”

The theory seems to be that anyone who went to college or worked in certain fields can teach. All that is required is a little summer training and “high-achieving individuals” will be good to go.

The new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, seemed to embrace this ideology when he visited Columbia University Teachers College in 2009. He said,

“More than half of tomorrow’s teachers will be trained at colleges of education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that schools and departments of education produce about 220,000 certified teachers a year. Now I am all in favor of expanding high-quality alternative certificate routes, like High Tech High, the New Teacher Project, Teach for America, and teacher residency programs. But these promising alternative programs produce fewer than 10,000 teachers per year.” (emphasis added)

Conclusion

Instead of relying on our amazing stable of genuine scholars doing the hard work of researching, studying, practicing and writing, we are being bamboozled into adopting the theories of neophytes that would never bite the hand of their paymasters. If TNTP has a contract with a school district, it is certain that district is a target for privatization.

TNTP is important for the DPE movement. It produces papers that undermine teacher professionalism and it works to circumvent proven teacher training led by universities. It also works to gain control of pedagogy in a way that narrows curriculum. Why? It is all about cutting costs and business transactions. It does not improve the quality of education in America; it harms it.