Tag Archives: education entrepreneurs

School Choice Barbecued Cajun Style

5 Sep

Mercedes Schneider’s newest book continues her legacy of scholarship and philosophical prescience.  In School Choice; The End of Public Education? she documents and explains many facets of the issue. Three glaring problems with “school choice” as an education policy caught my eye: (1) Friedman’s choice ideology ends the concept of mandatory education for all, (2) “choice” has abandoned its original purpose and become a profiteering racket, and (3) “choice” is historically a method used to promote segregation.

School Choice Foundations

Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek who believed in classical liberalism especially the concept that it is in the common interest that all individuals must be able to secure their own economic self-interest, without government direction. In September 1944, the University of Chicago Press published Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. It was squarely against government programs like social security and Roosevelt’s new deal.

In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago. It was there that Milton Friedman and a host of young scholars met their sole mate Hayek. They saw government social programs as seeds for tyranny and public education was no exception. Friedman became known as the father of school choice when he wrote, “The Role of Government in Education” advocating school vouchers for universal private education in 1955.

I knew all of this but Schneider unearthed an amazing quote from the paper I did not know. Friedman was not only opposed to schools run by democratically elected boards; he also believed mandates for compulsory education were an obstacle to freedom:

“Perhaps a somewhat greater degree of freedom to choose schools could be made available also in a governmentally administered system, but it is hard to see how it could be carried very far in view of the obligation to provide every child with a place.” (School Choice Page 32)

Schneider commented, “Here we have the idea that for the market to be at its best, it needs to be free from any obligation to educate all children.” And she continued in some depth clearly illuminating this anti-humanistic and fatally flawed theory that is the foundation of “school choice” theory.

A Legacy of Segregation

Mercedes Schneider is a product of segregated schools in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. She says the Orleans Parish schools she attended have a history that “does not inspire pride.” Not only were the schools segregated, but more tragically, the parish refused to construct new schools for the growing back student population. Not just separate schools for whites and blacks but not of equal quality by design.

After “Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka” required the end of the farcical separate but equal policies, southern politicians turned to school choice and vouchers as a way to avoid integration. Milton Friedman’s timely paper was well received in the segregated south.

To this point Schneider states:

“Thus, what is clear about tuition grants, scholarships, or grants-in-aid, and the history of American public education is that these were tools used to preserve segregation. There it is: The usage of choice for separating school children into those who are ‘desirable’ and those who are not. Though it seems that most Southern states were ready participants in resisting the federal requirement to integrate their public education systems, Senator Byrd’s sentiment of ‘massive resistance’ was even formally declared in a U.S. legislative document commonly known as the ‘Southern Manifesto.’” (School Choice Page 22)

Today, it is not much different with the possible exception of more emphasis on class separation than in the past. Recently a blogger known as “educationrealist” posted this discerning observation:

“I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around to corrupt their little tigers, much less black or Hispanic. (White parents don’t really want too many Asians around, either, but that’s the opposite of the “bad kids” problem.)

“Parents don’t care much about teacher quality. They care a lot about peer group quality.”

Around 2003, a friend tried to convince my wife and I to send our daughter to High Tech High. This mother did not want her daughter to be exposed to all those bad influences at Mira Mesa High School. Mira Mesa High School is a quality school that graduates amazingly gifted students every year and sets them on to a course of academic and social success. But the new charter school that Bill Gates and Irwin Jacobs had put so much money into surely would not have all those feared “bad kids.”

“Begs to be Gamed”

“By 2015, according to the Education Commission of the States website, 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all had charter school laws. Of these, 33 states had charter authorizing bodies, yet only 15 states and Washington, D.C., had standards for charter authorizers and the requirement that charter authorizers annually produce formal reports regarding the charter schools they oversee. Furthermore, only 11 states and the District of Columbia specify performance criteria to determine whether a charter should be continued or revoked.” (School Choice Page 59)

Charter schools have become the vogue privatization vehicle of the 21st century. Schneider presents a detailed background of charter school formation starting with Ray Budde’s 1974 conference paper that proposed a new structure for school management that he called “charter schools” and AFT President Albert Shanker’s 1988 fascination with Budde’s idea. Shanker extended Budde’s ideas with his own “school with-in a school” concept in which teachers would be authorized to experiment.

Shanker quickly became disenchanted by the direction the charter school movement took. It became clear to him that the new charter school laws made corruption and profiteering inevitable. In various articles, he highlighted the cases demonstrating how dangerous and poorly regulated charter schools were. He wrote of the Noah Webster schools gaming the system in Michigan for $4 million and of Washington D.C. giving a charter to a man charged with assault with a deadly weapon whose head of school security was a convicted felon. Schneider shares this quote from Shanker:

“A pluralistic society cannot sustain a scheme in which the citizenry pays for a school but has no influence over how the school is run. … Public money is shared money, and it is to be used for the furtherance of shared values, in the interest of e pluribus unum. Charter schools and their like are definitely antithetical to this promise.” (School Choice Page 57)

I was fascinated by the quotes from Addison Wiggins Forbes magazine article about why hedge fund operators are so pro-charter school industry. One quote reads:

“About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.

“In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: … firms that invest in charters and other projects located in ‘underserved’ areas can collect a generous tax credit – up to 39% – to offset their costs.” (School Choice Page 101)

One of the most lucrative aspects of the charter industry seems to be facilities. Open a charter school and start a real estate company that specializes in leasing school facilities. Then you can charge yourself twice the going rates and the taxpayer picks up the bill. Schneider asks, “Why does the federal government not see through the potential real estate exploitation…?” Probably corruptions and cowardice have a lot to do with it.

Charter schools have never honestly out performed elected board directed public schools. In some cases, charter schools have gotten relatively good testing results, but on closer inspection these good testing results are not the result of good pedagogy. There are three common practices that help charters look good on testing; (1) instead of a balanced curriculum they focus on preparation for testing, (2) through various techniques, they only accept easier to educate students and (3) they do not back fill when students leave the school.

Instead of recognizing the amazing public education system we have in the United States our Congressional leaders are promoting charter schools both monetarily and with praise. Mercedes Quotes the Sense of Congress from their version of the new federal education law that is little more than a charter industry add. Paragraph 2 stated:

 “It is the sense of the Congress that charter schools are a critical part of our education system in this Nation and the Congress believes we must support opening more quality charter schools to help students succeed in their future.” (School Choice Page 151)

 Schneider concludes the charter school portion of the book with;

“Adequate monitoring of charter schools is not happening, by and large, and those individual using taxpayer money to serve their own interests by operating charter schools only contribute to damaging American public education” (School Choice Page 155)

 I have endeavored to give a taste of this wonderful effort by Mercedes Schneider and encourage everyone to not only read it but share it with others. If we educators can educate the public about how our legacy passed down from previous generations is being robbed, the public will stop these villains immediately. Remember, they are greedy cowards who will quail before public sanction.

Ciedie Aech’s Wonderful Book

20 Aug

There are few public school systems in America that have been more harmed by what Diane Ravich aptly dubbed “corporate education reform” than those in Denver, Colorado. Ciedie Aech tells the story of a professional educator working in the horrific and unstable environment that developed with the extra-legal federal take-over of public schools. In reality, this is a heart wrenching story, but Aech’s sarcastic humor turns it into a delight. Any teacher in America’s public k-12 system who reads “Why is you always got to be trippin” will immediately recognize many scenes Ciedie delightfully paints while telling this dreadful story.

About the Title

 “One day when noise from unsupervised students caught my attention, I stepped into the hallway to find a group of boys throwing friendly punches outside a neighboring classroom.

 “‘Gentlemen!’ I stated reactively, clearing my throat. Happy to ignore extraneous interference, the boys continued their game. ‘Gentlemen!’ I said again, this time a little more loudly. Straightening, the boys stopped to look my way. ‘Okay, let’s go,’ I directed. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in class?’ ‘Aw, Miss,’ two or three grumbled as the small group broke up and began to move away. Pulling at chronically sagging pants while smoothing intricately braided hair, a tall, thin young man hung back.

 “As a student who had attended one of my afternoon classes for more than six months, he knew me well. Watching his friends now amble unhurriedly down the hall, he turned to look at me in plaintive wonder. ‘Aw, Miss,’ he protested. ‘Why is you always got to be trippin’?’

 ‘“Why is I always got to be trippin’? …

 “If you don’t take pains to hold them together? If you don’t step in, over and over (and then over again) to pull them circuitously inward towards success – sometimes with no other help than the full power of your will? They struggle, they flounder; they deflate and fall apart. Desperately they count upon the people in their lives who make the effort to ‘trip.’”

 Background for the Story

If you are a fan of privatizing public schools and corporate education reform, Denver is your cup of tea. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute (one of those “think-tanks” that like the New York Times reports is more like a tax free lobbying firm than an honest evaluator of education policy) rated Denver Public Schools (DPS) the third best school choice system in the United States behind only New Orleans and Washington DC.

In the summer of 2005, Michael Bennet, who had spent the previous 2 years with his fellow Wesleyan alum, John Hickenlooper as chief of the mayor’s staff was appointed Superintendent of DPS. He previously earned a law degree at Yale and was editor of the Yale Law Journal. Prior to working for the mayor and future governor of Colorado, Bennet spent six years as the managing director of the Anschutz Investment Company. However, he had no training or experience as an educator or in education administration.

Two years before Bennet departed to become Colorado’s junior United States Senator, he hired another lawyer with no education background (other than tutoring English in Hong Kong) to be chief operating officer of DPS, Tom Boasberg. Before coming to Denver, Boasberg did a stint at the FCC, then went into the corporate world. When Bennet departed Boasberg who is now a member of Jeb Bush’s Chief for Change was elevated to Superintendent of DPS. Boasberg did obtain an administration credential from the unaccredited Broad Academy in 2009.

Then there is State Senator Michael Johnston another instant education expert from TFA. He is credited with writing the law that requires Colorado teachers to be evaluated by the discredited value added method based on standardized testing. He seems to be yet another elitist from Yale out to destroy public schools (Bennet, Booker, Malloy, King, etc.). The following from Mercedes Schneider paints a clear picture of the modern education privatizing tool:

“In his NCTQ bio, Johnston presents himself as, ‘the founder and former principal of MESA (Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts), a 7-12 Gates funded small high school in north Denver.’  It is increasingly common practice for former TFAers to become instant leaders and entrepreneurs, opening and leading schools without a solid educational foundation but with funding (in the case of Johnston’s school, Gates money). Johnston is a TFAer from Yale, and TFA really likes Yale. His Yale bachelors degree is in a generic major (philosophy); so, like many former TFAers ‘on the climb,’ Johnston made a quick stop to the Broad-financed Harvard Graduate School of Education for one of those educational policy masters degrees TFAers are increasingly fond of brandishing.  And make no mistake: Harvard educational policy is all about data driven assessment of supposed “teacher effectiveness.”  The Harvard Center for Educational Policy Research is funded by a cadre of now-all-too-familiar reformer foundations, including Broad, Gates, Joyce, and Rodel.”

 Just a few miles up highway 36 from Denver is Broomfield, Colorado home of the Walton family established and supervised, Charter School Growth Fund.  Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation and Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director of this non-profit venture capital fund that invests in charter schools. Annie Walton Proietti, niece of Carrie, works for a KIPP school in Denver. KIPP is a system to which the Walton family has donated millions of dollars.

How Ciedie Viewed the Beginning of the Harm

 “Proffered up by an unmistakably concerned and oft-professed-liberal activist, this emphatic assertion was accorded an immediate defense through an even yet more logical rationale: ‘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 had to be done? What was undoubtedly required? Was the immediate “non-negotiable” reformation of our nation’s lowest-income, lowest-scoring schools.”

 Ciedie points out:

 “When, in the name of a ‘benevolent’ intervention, you assertively malign, label, invade and destabilize those schools where, due to the wide array of issues attached to poverty and cultural disconnect, only around 40 percent of students graduate and move on to find success at a college – ultimately what you are doing in the name of your unprecedented ‘compassion?’ Is making sure that even this small but steady percent of minority students cannot progress and successfully integrate into society.”

 Soon after the reform invasion, she noticed:

 “With great determination, good educators closed their eyes. Industriously, good teachers taught themselves in an imitation of financially motivated “fixer” administrators; with great tenacity, good teachers refused a direct look at the deregulated chaos now dancing with impunity around an ever realigning array of testing and penalty practices. Hearing, and subsequently spouting, only a cautious reflection of the shallow district, state and federal dogma, good teachers offered up only a passively guarded support for the belligerent doctrine of accountability – a progressively more retaliatory doctrine which, year after year, continued to hold to the incontrovertible fact that: All of those unacceptable test scores?

“Were forevermore, always and only, the product of bad teachers.”

 About all the money for reform, Ciedie perceived:

 “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.”

In one vignette Ciedie is chatting with a fellow educator. It really hit home with me, because I too teach in a “failing school” with 70% free and reduced lunch and 20% language learners. It was like my personal experience:

“One year, a few days into my Thanksgiving Break, I met up with a friend – a teaching peer who, for the past twenty years, had been employed inside a high-scoring, long-term-stably-administrated secondary school located in the suburbs of a neighboring district. When our conversation predictably turned to issues of education, it immediately became clear that, in the modern age of a low-income school accountability, what we, as public school educators, had each experienced? Diverged dramatically.

“It felt, in fact, a little like discussing educational practices as they existed here on Earth… and somewhere way out in the far reaches of the universe. On Jupiter, maybe. At one point, we paused to count up the non-teaching/nonstudent-contact days we had each had so far that fall.

“She counted two.

“I counted seventeen.”

 I loved the following observation because I have been living it for fifteen years:

“Well, now: here’s a little secret. I suppose this could be confidential. I apologize if I’m letting the cat out of the bag.

“But: More inner-city, low-income-school teachers actually, with a full intention, chose to walk into those complicated buildings; chose to work, day after day, inside those low-income, culturally-complex schools; chose to spend year upon year standing right there in front of those so many assertively labeled “difficult” children because they wanted to – than you might think.

“Oh, man. Crazy, huh?”

 Ciedie asked the obvious question:

“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?”

 Bell the Cat

A wonderful allegory, that illustrates the folly of corporate education reform:

“Opening our scene, we move in upon a small group of administratively enterprising mice; a group of mice who have had it up to here with the never-ending litany of mouse citizen complaints about a Big Bad Cat: an omnipresent feline willing to wreak ongoing havoc upon poor, defenseless mice. Mouse-world constituents have made it more than clear: They will no longer tolerate such an unremitting harassment. Hence, the intentional meeting of mousey governmental minds.

‘“If only we knew when the cat was coming,’ sighs one contemplative legislator.

“‘A bell,’ offers another: ‘What if a bell was placed around the neck of the cat?’

‘“Yes, yes, a bell!’ A multitude of voices now loudly and animatedly agrees. Ah, the cheers; oh the excitement; and then, my, oh my, the adamantly mandated and heavily earmarked rodent legislation. A bell it shall be. An imperatively necessary warning bell to be placed preemptively around the neck of the cat. What a small, helpless rodent’s dream come true!

 “Oh – but then.

“Even with so many well-meaning and supportively exuberant legislators behind this exceptional plan; despite the brashly exacting orders which have been written into massively inflexible laws – well, gosh, as it turns out? Once these proudly enthusiastic little mice have calmed down; once each mouse has taken the time to get a direct look at reality – well, each legislator realizes that not one politician has thought of, nor painstakingly offered up, a true-life proposal for getting that excitingly legislated bell onto the neck of the cat.”

 Then Ciedie goes on to make many statements like this:

“However, in modern days; in magically modern days dedicated to the pursuit and procurement of suddenly available and minimally regulated bell-the-cat funding disbursals? Complicatedly diverse school boards comprised of multiple, non-political, equity-minded citizens – citizens who found it necessary to not only listen to, but act upon, the concerns voiced by frustrated educators, students, parents and old-school administrators:

“Well, school boards like these? Really got in the way.”

 Which leads to another observation:

“In truly compassionate days bent to the no-waiting miracles of a test-based accountability, it was not simply the mayor, now, but the mayor’s self-proclaimed Superhero Superintendent (two imperial monarchs willing to work side-by-side as an incontrovertible royalty) who both said so. Laboring hand-in-hand; uttering statements as a team – mutually these two powerful leaders could make it unambiguously clear: Both, they now claimed? Were unquestionably on board; both were ready to do whatever was necessary; both were willing, even, to spend an unparalleled amount of that governmental and/or philanthropic funding in their effort to prove just how bad the so many low-income schools placed under their royal jurisdiction: Really were.”

“In days of a statistical liability, it has become increasingly possible to find “public” school districts where the children of not only the superintendent but every member of the school board attend private schools.”

 Ciedie enlightens us to what good teacher are;

“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. Oh, very, very young.”

 About the TFA influx:

“Despite their designated unreliability; despite, even, their surely ungrateful lack of loyalty for stoically sticking around and “taking” the abuses created by an ever-shifting, funding-lucrative reform – huge numbers of these oft-labeled undependable Teach-For-A-Minute girls (and oh, yes, a lesser number of surely just as undependable Teach-For-A-Minute boys) were now being ever more massively produced.”

 A Very Sad Ending for Ciedie and Denver

“I was very assertively and unceremoniously sent home.

“Having no useful case against me save my age, my too often and too liberally expressed opinions, and, most annoyingly, my unhelpful ability to see directly through our district’s more than-a-decade-long loyalty to the implementation of community confusing smoke screens – taking advantage of a union-allowed option for a preemptive and, in days of a faster-and-faster-no-due-process-necessary modern-day evaluation, no concrete evidence required perp-walking/keys-confiscated/no-school-contact-allowed administrative leave – the district commandeered an abruptly unanticipated and overwhelmingly painful mid-year separation from my students, offering neither them nor any of my teaching peers an explanation as, strategically, they installed a brand-new never-taught-before replacement.”

A recent report by The Progressive Policy Institute (another of those tax-free lobbying firms masquerading as a “think-tank”) extols these reforms and brushes over the fact that their own data shows that the racial gaps in Denver’s schools have widened over the last decade.

In a rebuttal, Terrenda White of the University of Colorado, Boulder stated that the report utilized unreliable methods to establish cause and effect relationships. White also pointed out “widening gaps in achievement should have (but did not) temper the report’s call for aggressively expanding school choice as the best strategy for equalizing opportunity.”

Better Together Corporate Teacher’s Summit

2 Aug

My wonderful friend, Dr. Larry Lawrence, sent me a message last March alerting me to a free teacher’s conference that he was going to attend. He had attended the first Better Together conference in 2015 and was sure I would love to see the common core love fest in action.

On Friday, July 29, National University hosted the San Diego “Better Together California Teacher’s Summit.” I like National University and have nothing but praise for the wonderful job Dr. Judy Mantel and her excellent staff did. However, the conference underwriter was the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. That gave the proceedings a darker hue.

During the 2016 NPE conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, Diane Ravitch mentioned how much easier it would be if we got a deep pocket sponsor for our movement, but she jokingly lamented that Anthony Cody would not stand for it. When I arrived at the Town and Country Convention Center in San Diego’s hotel circle, I saw what she meant. They had breakfast prepared for all 700 of us. The ballroom was plushly appointed and there appeared to be hotel staff everywhere. Twenty event staff were already on duty when I arrived.

Unfortunately, I had not read the agenda closely enough and had already eaten. I was only hoping for free coffee.

The following graphic was periodically displayed while we were awaiting the proceedings.

Better TogetherVideo link connected us with a simultaneous event being held at California State University, Fullerton. Three massive screens projected keynote speaker, Ernie Hudson who was in Fullerton. Besides being a popular actor, Hudson is a wonderful speaker. His speech was moving and entertaining.

However, I wondered if an accomplished professional educator speaking would have been more appropriate. For example, I will never forget the address Professor Yong Zhao gave at NPE Chicago but then he didn’t blame teachers for his son’s problems and he doesn’t support standards based testing. Hard to imagine Gates’ money being spent on a speaker that does not support Gates’ ideology.

The Sponsors

The money came mainly from the Gates Foundation, however, the official sponsors were AICCU, the California State University and the New Teacher Center. The sponsors page of the Better Together California web presence lists many corporate supports including: TFA, The S.D. Bechtel Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the California Charter Schools Association, Chevron….

The New Teachers Center seemed to be the key organization overall in charge. Their funders page lists the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as $10,000,000 plus patrons. Thirty listed entities are credited with donating between $1,000,000 and $9,999,999 including: Carnegie Corporation of New York; The Joyce Foundation; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation; SeaChange Capital Partners; The Goldman Sachs Foundation; Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; National Education Association; and NewSchools Venture Fund.

In addition to New Teacher’s Foundation, Edcamp was another major force present at the summit. Started by the George Lucas Foundation Edcamp has a small presence in communities across the country. There are two Edcamp groups in San Diego County according to the Edcamp representative from Baltimore.

On his Edutopia internet page Lucas is quoted, “When I was in high school, I felt like I was in a vacuum, biding time. I was curious, but bored. It was not an atmosphere conducive to learning. Once I had the means to effect change in this arena, it became my passion to do so.” Sounds like another rich guy education “expert” with no training or experience, but he has a boat load of money so his opinion is important.

On the good side, Edutopia and George Lucas do not appear to have a pecuniary interests in privatizing public education.

I realize many people may wonder why I am not pleased that all of these rich people love kids so much. There is an insidious side. For example, instead of questioning the idea of adding engineering standards to basic science education, the conversation is shaped so all we discuss is how to best implement engineering principles into science education.

Before students reach approximately their junior year in college, they are not ready to study engineering. I am for shop class, cooking and pottery projects, but these are not engineering. There is no useful purpose in confusing teachers and students by larding a bunch of inappropriate engineering standers onto seventh graders. Unfortunately, there appears to be no room for dialog that does not support the philosophy of the wealthy CEO that demanded engineering standards.

We know that the Common Core was written hastily – in secret – by a group of 21 people, 19 of whom worked in the testing industry. As Peter Greene writes, “The Core were rushed together by a bunch of educational amateurs, who were sure we couldn’t wait another second to implement them because they would improve education immediately. They didn’t, and there’s no reason to believe that there will ever be actual improvement to come from the standards– only the illusion of improvement if teachers continue to come up with newer, better techniques and give the Core credit for them.” I think that is exactly the purpose of this corporate supported conference. It is for teachers to create the illusion.

I am annoyed every time I hear the phrase “common core math”. There is no such thing and mostly what people are calling “common core math” are the cooperative learning and constructivist ideas that John Dewey proposed in the early twentieth century.

Two Presentations of Note

Shortly after I arrived, the head of the science department in my district introduced me to a fairly new teacher from the middle school that feeds my high school. The conference used the Ted talk format calling them Edtalks. I was quite surprised that the first Edtalk was by this teacher, Alicia Johal.

Alicia is obviously bright and poised. Her talk featuring the underwater robotics team she is coaching was well presented and her PowerPoint slides made things look as amazing as possible.

Unfortunately, while Alicia was speaking Ciedie Aech’s book Why Is You Always Got To Be Trippin’ possessed my mind. Ciedie is from Denver, Colorado home some of our nation’s most pernicious and destructive education reform. In her book, she reported on a conversation she overheard about the kind of teachers we need. Ciedie tends to sarcasm.

 “’Wouldn’t you,’ he stated, leering suggestively at the five other males seated around his educational table. ‘Well, wouldn’t you rather have had young teachers; teachers who were young, perky and vivacious?’

“My.

“Not just young, but perky.

“And vivacious.

“Golly.”

The main afternoon presentation was by Kelly Galiagher from Magnolia High School in the Anaheim School District. He spoke about the importance of writing. He is a gifted speaker and even though the subject area is not new – he gave it life. However, one of his five points supporting the importance of writing was discordant.  His point four was that writing prepared students for common core testing. This obviously well considered individual cannot believe that test preparation is a worthy justification for his main point.

If this had not been a Gates funded event would Kelly have actually mentioned common core and testing as reasons for writing? I don’t think so.

Charter Schools

Charter school teachers were among the conference goers. They seemed like any other teachers; some impressive and some not. All of the charter school teachers I met were from schools that were locally formed and led. There were no teachers from KIPP, Magnolia (Gulen) or Aspire. I also did not meet a charter school teacher from a school run by a charter management organization.

The story I heard repeated was “I used to teach in public schools but when NCLB came along I was no longer able to do the right thing in the classroom. I have taken a pay cut but I love my school because I can teach the way I know it should be done.” From my personal experience, I found that to be a powerful argument.

I hope that a way is found to bring some of these schools under an umbrella of democratic control. The charter industry has developed into a demonic tool used to purloin public education dollars and destroy the public education system. As this trend continues to worsen, quality charter schools like Einstein Academy will be crushed right along with public schools. It is becoming clear that the market competition that would make schools improve is not a competition to better educate; it’s a competition to better market. Mom and pop charter schools will never survive that battle.

Personalized Learning

On every table in the conference ballroom was an invitation to a CUE Tech Fair. CUE’s web presence says, “CUE inspires innovative learners by fostering community, personalizing learning, infusing technology, developing leadership, and advocating educational opportunities for all.”

CUE, originally a sincere organization, has been corrupted. The personalized learnSDCCU Tech Fair Partnersing they call for is competency based education (CBE) delivered by computers and scored by a corporations. Instead of credits, students will earn badges from testing giants like Pearson Corporation. This graphic is from their web page.

Emily Talmage’s warnings about the CBE threat to the teaching profession, America’s culture and good education is well founded. From her latest post on this subject:

“Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an ‘ecosystem,’ in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and “innovative” assessment systems.

 “(The American Legislative Exchange Council and the major teacher’s unions and their associated networks are encouraging states join the innovative assessment pilot program designed by the International Association of K-12 Online Learning and the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and now allowed by the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)”

 This is a real and present danger to the teaching profession, quality public education and democracy in America. As enjoyable as lunch paid for by Bill Gates and conversations with fellow educators was, I feel the hidden purpose behind the Better Together California Teacher’s Summit was the end of the teaching profession and public education as we know it. That is not a good thing!

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.

 

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.

The California Charter School Fiasco

13 Mar

In 1992, California became the second US state to pass a charter school law. Today, twelve percent of all schools in California are charter schools with 9% of all state supported students attending charter schools. In these more than two decades; charter schools have enriched some people – have harmed public schools – have not improved publicly financed education – have increased segregation – have increased the cost of publicly financed education – have paid foreign based entities to operate schools in California – have generated massive fraud.

The California charter school experiment should be ended and these undemocratic publicly financed institutions should be carefully transitioned into the public schools system.

Peter Greene is a prescient commentator and observer of education policies and trends. Every day he posts at least one editorial about some education related claim or movement on his blog, Curmudgucation. Last week he wrote this comment about charter schools:

 “One of the great lies of the charter-choice movement is that you can run multiple school districts for the price of one.

 “A school district of, say, 2,000 students can lose 75 students and with them about $750,000 dollars of revenue, and somehow that district of 1,925 students can operate for three quarter of a million dollars less. And how does the district deal with that loss of revenue? By closing a building– because the more school buildings you operate, the more it costs.”

 I live within the boundaries of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). It is the second largest school district in California and eighth largest in the nation with 140,000 students. Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, wrote in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “San Diego was a surprising place to launch a major reform effort, because the district was widely perceived in the 1990’s as one of the nation’s most successful urban school systems.”

Today SDUSD is 20% charter. So, in San Diego we have a dual school system and that is one of the reasons many classes in both the privatized system and the public system must run such large classes. The money to pay for an extra layer of administration and in some cases to pay profits for investors must come from somewhere. It is coming out of the classrooms of what was once the envy of other urban school systems.

Steven Singer is a leader in the Bad Ass Teachers (BATs) movement. He writes a blog focused on education called Gadflyonthewallblog. A few weeks ago he published an article called “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice.” Reason four resonated with me:

 “4) Voucher and charter schools actually give parents less choice than traditional public schools

 “Public schools are governed by different rules than charter and voucher schools. Most public schools are run by a school board made up of duly-elected members from the community. The school board is accountable to that community. Residents have the right to be present at votes and debates, have a right to access public documents about how tax money is being spent, etc. None of this is true at most charter or voucher schools. They are run by executive boards or committees that are not accountable to parents. If you don’t like what your public school is doing, you can organize, vote for new leadership or even take a leadership role, yourself. If you don’t like what your charter or voucher school is doing, your only choice is to withdraw your child. See ya.”

Today, the charter school movement is nearly unregulated. Charter schools claim to be public schools but if you ask to see how they are spending public money, they claim in court that they are private businesses and we the public have no right to that information. In other words, charter schools are given tax money without any oversight. Of course that is a recipe for fraud and abuse.

Old Town Academy (OTA) made the news in January when it was able to have its charter renewed by SDUSD despite the restraining order against Tom Donahue its founding principal or the fact that OTA had not informed SDUSD that it was now being run by an out of town charter management organization called Tri-Valley.

In the Voice of San Diego’s report we read:

 “Chris Celentino, OTA’s current board chair and one of the school’s founding members, said when the school opened with a class of 180 students, half came from families that would otherwise send their kids to private schools. He attributes OTA’s ability to attract college-educated parents to its challenging and innovative curriculum.”

 And,

 “Whether it’s a product of innovative instruction, or has more to do with the fact that unlike at many traditional district schools, few OTA students live in poverty, test scores have remained consistently above the district average.”

 In addition to being unstable, Old Town Academy is really a publicly financed private school. Many parents do not want their children in school with “those people” so the poorly written charter school law made it possible to set up what is essentially a private school but charge its operating expenses to taxpayers.

In February the San Diego Union reported on the final stage of the Steve Van Zant charter school corruption trial:

 “Steve Van Zant, a key figure in the expansion of charter schools in San Diego County and elsewhere in California, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony violation of the Political Reform Act. Van Zant’s financial interests in growing independent charters, and his efforts getting them into school districts without notification, have raised questions about widely perceived shortcomings in state law that now even advocates say allow for exploitation. While superintendent of the rural Mountain Empire Unified School District, Van Zant received a stipend through his contract for each charter school the district authorized. The arrangement was in violation of conflict-of-interest laws, said Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr, who heads the public integrity unit.”

There was no effort here to improve education in California. It was simply greed driven corruption that used a poorly written charter law to purloin tax dollars.

College Preparatory Middle School was one of those out of district schools granted a charter by Steve Van Zant’s Mountain Empire School District. It opened with 83 uniformed students in a church in La Mesa. They now appear to be trying to execute the infamous charter school real estate scam.

The San Diego Union reported on January 31, 2016 that College Preparatory Middle School wants to build a major new facility in Spring Valley. The Union describes the financial proposal:

 “Under the financial arrangement, a Utah charter school developer and a Delaware subsidiary of a real estate trust headquartered in Missouri would finance the project with millions of California education dollars. College Prep would lease the new campus from the financiers for more than $620,000 a year, or 9.5 percent of the project cost. The charter could buy the campus after five years for 125 percent of the projected $6.8 million cost of the project.”

This is not about improving education or providing choice. This is solely about profits.

This year I wrote about the schools controlled by the Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen withdrawing its request for a charter in Oceanside. In California, his schools are called Magnolia Public Schools. There are eleven of them including one at 6365 Lake Atlin Avenue in San Diego, the site of the old Cleveland Elementary School.

Foreign nationals are literally running our schools and it is hard to find a mall that does not have some form of charter learning center trying to lure children into sitting at computers in the mall school. Most of the new charter schools in San Diego are mall cyber schools with some tutoring. They are notoriously poor schools but they are sprouting everywhere because they are profitable.

The charter school movement (aka privatization of public schools) is dangerous for children and for society. It is time to pull the plug on profiteers and fools raiding public coffers.