Tag Archives: Dreambox

Destroy Public Education (DPE) for Dummies

22 Feb

America’s public education system is being deliberately destroyed. If you graduated from high school in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s, it is such an unthinkable concept that it is difficult to even imagine. Not only is it possible, it is happening and a lot of damage has already occurred.

Just this morning, I learned that a Republican legislator has proposed privatizing all the schools in Muncie, Indiana. Almost all the schools in New Orleans were privatized after hurricane Katrina. Half the schools in Washington DC and a quarter of the schools in Los Angeles are privatized. However, ninety percent of America’s K-12 students attend public schools. (Note: Charter schools are not public schools, they are schools run by private businesses that have government contracts.)

DPE Movement False Taking Points

  • Public schools are failing.
  • Teachers’ unions fight for the status quo and against education reform.
  • Standardized testing is a tool that fairly holds teachers and schools accountable.
  • Standardized testing proves America’s schools are not competitive internationally.
  • Teacher quality can be assessed with value added measures.
  • University professors of education are out of touch and an obstacle to school improvement.
  • Teacher training and professional development is better run by non-profit organizations and consultants than universities.
  • A college graduate with five weeks of training is qualified to be a teacher.
  • Experience over rated when it comes to good teaching.
  • Advanced training such as a master’s degree in education is not worth extra pay.
  • No excuses charter schools are superior to neighborhood public schools.
  • Business principles and experience are the key ingredients needed for reforming public schools.
  • Market forces and competition are the principles required to improve schools.
  • Public education needs disruption.
  • Schools districts should be managed using the portfolio model – close failing schools and replace them with higher performing charter schools or voucher schools.
  • Failing schools should be transformed into successful schools by changing the administration and replacing the existing teachers.

None of these points are true but they are repeated so often by extremely wealthy people and their sycophants that they sound true. It is all a part of the one great lie, “public schools are failing!”

Seminal Events Along the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Trajectory

In 1983, Terrel ‘Ted’ Bell, the 2nd Secretary of Education in the United States, created the “National Commission on Excellence in Education.” It gave us the infamous “A Nation at Risk.” Beyond just claiming that public education in America was failing and needed drastic reform; the claimants said that reform needed the leadership of people who were not professional educators.

A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform” looked deceptively like a genuine peer review research paper, however, it was not. It was a political polemic attacking public education written by businessmen and a famous Nobel Prize winning chemist, Glenn Seaborg. Without substantiation they said, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” And claimed, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

In 1991, Julie Miller wrote about a research study conducted by the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico. Her Education Week article, “Report Questioning ‘Crisis’ in Education Triggers an Uproar,” is one of the few reports on this government study that seriously questioned claims in “A Nation at Risk.” Miller’s lead paragraph reads,

“Three researchers at a federally funded research center in New Mexico have sparked an uproar with a study of American education that concludes that policymakers and pundits who bemoan a system-wide crisis are both overstating and misstating the problem.”

“A Nation at Risk” propelled us down the road toward education standards, testing and competition as drivers for education reform. A huge mistake.

The Washington Post ran a retrospective article asking “experts” which president deserves the moniker “education president?” Christopher T. Cross, chairman of an education policy consulting firm replied:

“… The unlikely duo of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were the driving forces to put education on the national map in a significant way. Bush did it by convening the Charlottesville Summit in September of 1989, Clinton by securing passage of the Improving American’s Schools Act as an amendment to ESEA and the Goals 2000 Educate America Act, both within a few months of each other in 1994. What Bush had begun, with Clinton’s support as then-governor of Arkansas, Clinton saw to fruition.

“The significance of these actions is that they did cast the die for accountability in the use of federal funds, made an attempt at national assessments in math and reading, and did create national goals for education.”

Charlottsvill Summit 1989 Bush

President Bush and the nation’s Governors on the steps of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, September 28, 1989. – Picture from the Bush Library

The Charlottesville joint communiqué listed the four areas of agreement reached at the summit:

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

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

In 1998, Bill Clinton wrote:

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

The philosophy of education these “education presidents” put forward accelerated the harm being perpetrated on public schools. It was completely misguided and undermined local democratically oriented control of schools. At least with local control vast harm to the entire nation is not possible.

From 2002 to 2011, The Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education established by the National Research Council studied the results and unintended consequences of test based accountability. When looking at high school exit exams they concluded, “The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”

A 2013 study by Tom Loveless at the Brookings Institute stated,

“Education leaders often talk about standards as if they are a system of weights and measures—the word “benchmarks” is used promiscuously as a synonym for standards. But the term is misleading by inferring that there is a real, known standard of measurement. Standards in education are best understood as aspirational, and like a strict diet or prudent plan to save money for the future, they represent good intentions that are not often realized.”

In 2001, Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush united to complete the federal takeover of public education. The federal education law rewrite that they promoted was called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It mandated standardized testing, incentivized charter schools and demanded schools be held accountable; judged solely by testing results.

Standardized testing is not capable of measuring school or teacher quality, but makes a great messaging tool that can misleadingly indicate that schools are failing. The education writer, Alfie Kohn, wrote in his article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow:

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

Barak Obama and the Democratic Party’s embrace of neoliberal ideology in regard to education became apparent at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. The hedge fund dominated group Democrats for Education Reform convinced Obama to dump his presumptive Secretary of Education nominee, Linda Hammond-Darling, and appoint Arne Duncan. Obama and Duncan put into place the test centric and competition oriented Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative. For the first time ever, in accord with neoliberal theory, states were forced to compete for education dollars.

RTTT was all about objective measures and competition. To win RTTT monies, states had to agree to enact Common Core State Standards (or their equivalent), evaluate teachers and schools based on testing results and open a path for more privatized schools (charter schools). The Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, enthusiastically embraced RTTT even parroting Milton Friedman, saying he wanted to destroy “the public-school monopoly.”

Consistently in the background of the DPE movement from the late 1970’s on has been an evangelical Christian disdain for public schools. Writer Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children chronicles the undermining of the separation of church and state in school.

Stewart witnessed the infamous Texas school book selection process in 2010 dominated by evangelicals. She describes attending evangelical missionary conferences aimed at infiltrating schools and converting students. She describes President Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, winning at the Supreme Court arguing against the separation of church and state in public schools. All Americans concerned about – freedom of religion; Shielding children from unwanted religious indoctrination at school; and protecting public education – should be concerned.

U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is a devout member of an evangelical church, Mars Hill Bible Church. It seems apparent that our education secretary has an evangelically based anti-public education agenda. Arguing the relative merits of school policies with her misses the point.

It is more likely that religious ideology is the point.

A Large Group of Billionaires are Funding and Steering the DPE Movement

Charter Schools have proven to be second rate, unstable and plagued by fraud. There are some exceptions but the experiment would have been abandoned as a failure without the unrelenting support of billionaires.

It is the same with voucher schools. Only high end expensive private schools compete well with public education but a poor person with a voucher still cannot afford the tuition. Affordable voucher schools are substandard. However, vouchers have opened the door for government support of religious schools and that is probably why voucher laws keep getting proposed.

There are many billionaires pouring money into the DPE movement. The following is a little about just a few of them.

Bill Gates (Microsoft founder – Harvard dropout) – Spends about $500 million a year on education – he pushes portfolio district theory, charter schools, Teach for America (TFA), standards, testing, teacher merit pay, and the list of bad ideas goes on. He has spent multiple billions of dollars on the writing and institution of the common core state standards. He also spends big money influencing education research and education journalism. Makes large political contributions.

Reed Hastings (Netflix Founder and CEO) – Charter school advocate who served on the board of the California Charter School Association; was the primary advocate of California’s charter school co-location law; Investor in DreamBox Learning a company creating software to teach kids at computers. Has said that elected school boards need to be done away with. Supports TFA. Makes large political contributions.

Michael Bloomberg (Publisher and former New York mayor) – Charter school supporter, supports education technology and TFA. Makes large political contributions.

John Arnold (Made a fortune at Enron and with a Hedge fund; retired at 38 years old) – Supports the portfolio model of education and school choice, gives big to charter schools and TFA. Makes large political contributions.

The Walton Family (Wealthiest family in America, owns Walmart) – Support charter schools, vouchers and TFA. Makes large political contributions.

Eli Broad (Real Estate Developer and Insurance Magnate) – Supports charter schools, TFA and other efforts the undermine the teaching profession. Makes large political contributions.

No less important are Mark Zuckerberg, Laurene Powell-Jobs, Doris Fisher, Michael Dell and several more.

This billionaire group all gives large contributions to TFA. Although, these youthful college graduates have no training in education, they are useful troops on the ground in a cult like environment. Most TFA candidates are unaware of their complicity in undermining public education in America.

The super wealthy can legally contribute large sums of money for local elections without publicity. They take advantage of federal tax code 501 C4 that allows them to give to a dark money organization like Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children which then funnels the money into the current hot campaign.

Across the United States, school board elections have become too expensive for most common citizens to participate. Elections that used to cost less than $5,000 to run a successful campaign are now costing over $35.000. In the last school board election in Los Angeles more than $30 million was spent.

Conclusions

It is unlikely that government spending on education will end any time soon. However, as schools are increasingly privatized, public spending on education will decrease.

Today, we have come to expect high quality public education. We expect trained certificated teachers and administrators to staff our schools. We expect reasonable class sizes and current well-resourced curriculum. It is those expectations that are being shattered.

Many forces are attacking public education for diverse reasons, but the fundamental reason is still rich people do not like paying taxes. Choice and the attack on public education, at its root, is about decreasing government spending and lowering taxes.

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.