Tag Archives: education

DPE Forces Over-Represented on Charter Law “Action Team”

28 Aug

California’s lame duck Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, has formed an Action Team to review laws governing charter schools. Six of the thirteen Action Team members work for the destroy public education (DPE) movement. Ninety percent of the state’s students attend public schools yet 23% of the Action Team are charter school management executives. Also, 23% of the team are graduates of Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators’ academy.

Torlakson is quoted in the annoucement,

“In the past few years, we have updated virtually our entire K–12 education system. Now it’s time to look at the key laws governing charter schools, which have not been significantly changed in 26 years, to see how they can be modernized to better meet the needs of all public school students, including those who attend charter schools.”

This statement is malarkey. The original 1992 law capped charters growth at 100 schools statewide with no more than 10 in any one district. In 1998, Assembly Bill (AB) 544 expanded the statewide cap to 250 and allowed for an additional 100 charters each year thereafter. In 2000, proposition 39, which was advertised as a means to pass school bonds, had a little noticed provision that mandated charter school co-location with public schools. Legislation enacted in 2002 created the Charter Schools Facilities Program, which authorizes bond financing for new charter school buildings. A 2004 EdSource paper stated, “Since the passage of Senate Bill 1448—the Charter Schools Act of 1992—more than 30 other laws have addressed the operation, over sight, or funding of charter schools.”

 “Aren’t charter schools better quality than public schools?”

I have often heard this question from many otherwise well-informed people. It indicates a victory for marketing when this destructive myth persists.

The Executive Director of Network for Public Education (NPE), Carol Burris, spent a year studying California’s charter schools. In her 50-page finalized report called “CHARTERS AND CONSEQUENCES: An Investigative Series” she wrote,

“The majority of charter vs public studies indicate that overall achievement of charter schools is the same or worse than public schools. Like public schools, charters vary in student outcomes.… The charter high school graduation rate is 70%, far below the public high school rate of 85%.”

Charter schools operating outside of local democratic control should not exist because:

  • Elected school boards administering local schools are the bedrock of American democracy. Charter schools are private companies that are not accountable to voters.
  • Charter schools introduce inefficiency into the public education system by necessitating multiple administrations. It costs significantly more to fund these duplicate systems. The added costs reduce money supporting classrooms in both charter and public schools.
  • Charter schools are exacerbating school segregation. The AP reported in 2017,

“National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

In June, the Schott Foundation and NPE published “GRADING THE STATES A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools.” California was given a D+. The state’s charter school law is considered one of the nation’s most damaging. The reports says,

“Although the public school system is not perfect and has continual room for improvement, it is still the cornerstone of community empowerment and advancement in American society. The required inclusivity of the public school setting provides more opportunity for students to learn in culturally, racially, and socioeconomically integrated classrooms and schools, and that promotes social-emotional and civic benefits for students.”

“We look forward to the day when all charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.”

The California charter school law is causing real damage. In The Public Interest (ITPI) published “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts” written by University of Oregon Professor, Gordon Lafer. The Introduction states,

“In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District. The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.” (emphasis added)

These three districts are not the only ones in financial trouble. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) reportedly lost a half-billion dollars to charter schools in the 2014-2015 school year. LAUSD just claimed, “L.A. Unified faces a $504 million deficit for this current school year.” Their smaller neighbor in Inglewood is also having a debt crisis caused by unplanned charter school expansion.

Earlier this year, besides publishing Professor Lafer’s paper, ITPI also did their own research and published “Fraud and waste in California’s charter schools.” This paper begins,

“Public funding of California’s charter schools now tops $6 billion annually. … Most public school districts aren’t given adequate resources to oversee operators, especially large charter management organizations (CMOs), while all lack the statutory authority to effectively monitor and hold charter schools accountable. … waste in California’s charter schools has reached over $149 million.”

The California charter school law is in desperate need of reform, but is the Torlakson “Action Team” up to the task?

The Action Team

1 cochairman

Carl Cohn was twice appointed to the California State Board of Education (SBE) by Governor Jerry Brown. His second appointment announcement said,

“Cohn has been a professor and co-director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University since 2009. He was a distinguished leader in residence at San Diego State University from 2007 to 2008 and superintendent of schools at the San Diego Unified School District from 2005 to 2007. … Cohn is a Democrat.”

In 2015, the Governor removed Cohn from the SBE and appointed him as the first executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a state agency created in 2013 to help local districts navigate the state’s new local control funding formula.

Cohn has always been friendly towards charter schools if not a promoter. In 2007 he commented to the Voice of San Diego, “I want to make it clear that I like what’s going on at some of these charters, and I believe that district schools can learn from them.” Last year, Cohn was a featured speaker at the San Diego charter schools conference hosted by the Charter School Development Center, a non-profit that claims, “We Fight Against regulatory creep that distracts charter leaders from improving student achievement.”

Susan Bonilla was a high school English teacher at Mount Diablo Unified School District before she entered politics. After three years as a county supervisor, this Democrat won a seat in the state Assembly in 2010.

Bonilla was especially focused on STEM education and still promotes it. She surprisingly wrote a legislative proposal that would have reduced teacher work protections, increased probationary time and undermined seniority rights. It would have essentially made the decisions in the Vergara case state law.

Regarding another piece of legislation, the San Jose Mercury News reported, “Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla introduced Assembly Bill 1084 in response to this newspaper’s investigation of K12 Inc., the publicly traded Virginia company behind a profitable but low-performing network of ‘virtual’ academies serving about 15,000 students across the state.” The article pointed out that a student logged in for one-minute was considered present and that fewer than half the students graduated. Eventually, Bonilla shelved the bill when it became watered down.

Although not taking any other actions against charters, this bill to stop the fraudulent K12’s practices infuriated charter supporters. In 2015, the Sacramento Bee reported on her losing a race for the District 7 state Senate:

“The race attracted unprecedented levels of outside spending, with more than $7 million streaming into the district during the two-month runoff alone, more than three times what the candidates were able to raise.”

“Labor unions backed Bonilla, while the business community, charter schools and Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield supported Glazer.”

Since 2017, Bonilla has been State Director in California of Council for a Strong America, a national organization focused on increasing spending on children and families.

2 charter executives

Cristina de Jesus is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Green Dot Public Schools California. She oversees twenty-two middle and high schools across Los Angeles serving 11,500 students for which she is compensated handsomely. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, Green Dot’s tax forms revealed her total income as $326,242 while the schools took in $148,484,811.

Cristina is an alumnus of the Broad Administrators Academy class of 2016-2017.

Ana Ponce is the Chief Executive Officer of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy which is a neighborhood network of 5 elementary and secondary schools serving about 2000 students within the greater MacArthur Park neighborhood near Downtown Los Angeles. Tax records show that the Academy took in $43,377,256 in the fiscal year ending June 2016. Ana was compensated $193,585.

Originally from Mexico, Ana grew up in the neighborhood where her schools are located. She is an alumnus of Teach for America and The Broad Academy class of 2015-2016. She was profiled by the Aspen Institute.

Ponce is also the California Charter Schools Association Board Secretary and she was inducted into the Charter Schools Hall of Fame by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gia Truong is Chief Executive Officer at Envision Education. Envision has two strategies: operating charter schools and providing training and consulting services to others through its Envision Learning Partners division.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 tax records show that Envision took in $16,558,401 and Gia was compensated $229,127.

Gia attended Brown University where she earned a master’s in teaching social studies. She gained her administrative credential through the New Leader Principal Residency program. New Leaders (formerly “New Leaders for New Schools”) was founded in 2000 by a group including Jonathan Schnur, former education policy analyst for President Bill Clinton.

3 Privatizing Organzations

David Rattray oversees the Center for Education Excellence & Talent Development at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and UNITE-LA, the School-to-Career Partnership of Los Angeles. Rattray officially joined the Chamber in 2003.

Rattray and UNITE-LA have called for “a common, unified enrollment system for all public schools serving Los Angeles children ….”

Rattray also sits on the Board of Directors at Learning Policy Institute. It is a “think tank” financed by many foundations associated with school privatization. These funders include S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Nellie Mae Education Foundation; David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Stuart Foundation.

Charmain Mercer served as a Senior Researcher for the Learning Policy Institute and is now a Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Charmaine received her Ph.D. in politics and education policy from Claremont Graduate University, as well as her master’s degree in political science.

In a previous role, she served as the vice president for standards, assessment, and deeper learning at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Former Virginia Governor, Bob Wise, leads the Alliance which promotes “personalized learning” a misleading euphemism for isolating America’s children at digital devices.

Jonathan Raymond has led the Stuart Foundation as its president since July 2014. In the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2016 his total compensation was stated as $522,725. It may be unfair to say this foundation is for privatizing public schools. They appear to be focused on how to improve education and have not taken a strong stand either for or against charter schools.

President Raymond on the other hand has taken several positions embraced by school privatization leaders like Eli Broad.

In July, 2014, the Sacramento Bee reported,

“Jonathan Raymond came into the Sacramento City Unified School District nearly five years ago as a hard-charging superintendent, bucking the teachers union on tenure rules and seeking to use test scores in performance evaluations.”

“Forget about the flourish that was Raymond, who was a product of The Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains business and education leaders how to run school districts. Raymond arrived at Sacramento without a traditional schools background, having served as a nonprofit leader and private lawyer rather than working through the ranks.”

“Teachers also were angered over Raymond’s “Priority Schools” program to overhaul struggling campuses. The district inserted new principals, who were given authority to remove teachers regardless of tenure protections, which led to a legal battle.”

Raymond closed seven Sacramento schools in minority neighborhoods through his “Priority Schools” program.

Wes Smith, Ed. D. is Executive Director for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). In 2014, Smith and the ACSA refused to endorse either candidate in the heated Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) contest between, former charter school administrator, Marshall Tuck, and incumbent, Tom Torlakson.

This year the former investment banker, Tuck, is again running for SPI. Shockingly, after personally interviewing both Tuck and his opponent, Tony Thurmond, the ACSA endorsed the school privatization candidate, Tuck.

A tweet from the ACSA read, ‘“ACSA is proud to endorse a candidate who not only understands education leadership but is committed to working with educational leaders to improve student access and outcomes as well.’ – ACSA Executive Director Dr. Wesley Smith.”4 Public Education Support

John Rogers is a Professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education.  He also serves as the Faculty Director of Center X, which houses UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, Principal Leadership Program, and professional development initiatives.

He lists his research interests as

  • Re-envisioning public engagement and democratic education today in light of John Dewey’s scholarship and practice.
  • Understanding what and how youth learn about economic, social, and racial inequality inside and outside of schools.
  • Examining and developing strategies for engaging urban youth, community members, and educators in equity-focused school reform.

In a Capital and Main release, John Rogers noted that if Eli Broad is successful in taking over half the students in LAUSD then the district would lose its ability to maintain its financial integrity.

Sylvia Rousseau is an expert on diversity, urban school reform and school leadership. She is Professor of Clinical Education at USC’s Rossier School of Education. Sylvia is a former principal of Santa Monica High School; a former LAUSD assistant superintendent of Secondary School Services and a former superintendent of Local District 7, which means she took on the problems facing education in Watts.

Testifying about charter schools Rousseau commented,

“In the midst of the many conversations about charter schools offering a choice to parents, districts have the responsibility to ensure that parents have viable options. Otherwise it is not choice. As we move forward in the name of reform and progress, it is important to keep asking the equity question: who is benefiting and who is not. … When charter schools infringe on districts’ ability to fulfill this public mandate for all children, they have violated the public mandate.”

Terri Jackson has years of experience with both teaching and involvement in California Teachers Association (CTA) activities. She was re-elected as CTA Board member for District C representing Alameda and Contra Costa counties. This term ends June 25, 2019.

Jackson is the only practicing teacher on the Team. She has taught for 33 years and is currently a fourth-grade teacher at Stewart Elementary School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

Camille Maben: A seven-member First 5 California Commission selected the 16-year veteran of the California Department of Education, Camille Maben, as its executive director in November 2012. Maben was a strategic advisor to Superintendent Delaine Eastin from 1998 to 2003. Maben, a registered Democrat, has served on the Rocklin Unified School District Board of Trustees for 16 years.

Not too Hopeful about Torlakson’s Review Team.

With so many members of the team drawing huge salaries if the status quo is maintained, it is unlikely they will create many policy ideas for ending the destruction of public education.

I agree with the Schott Foundation, NPE and the NAACP that we need a charter school moratorium. During the moratorium, legislation can be written that carefully puts existing charter schools under the management of elected school boards.

The argument that says “remove rules and let educators do what they know is best” being the path to improved education is foolish and disingenuous. It is like saying “remove automobile safety rules and allow manufactures to build the kind of safe fuel-efficient cars they know are best” will insure safer more efficient vehicles. It is a silly argument and the reality is that large privatized charter school management organizations will continue to impose rules on teachers.

Let us embrace democracy for running schools instead of plutocratic nonsense.

 

DPE 2.0 The City Fund

18 Aug

Billionaire Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, has joined with billionaire former Enron executive, John Arnold, to launch an aggressive destroy public education (DPE) initiative. They claim to have invested $100 million each to start The City Fund. Neerav Kingsland declares he is the Fund’s Managing Partner and says the fund will help cities across America institute proven school reform successes such as increasing “the number of public schools that are governed by non-profit organizations.”

Ending local control of public schools through democratic means is a priority for DPE forces. In 2017, EdSource reported on Hastings campaign against democracy; writing, “His latest salvo against school boards that many regard as a bedrock of American democracy came last week in a speech he made to the annual conference of The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington D.C., attended by about 4,500 enthusiastic charter school advocates, teachers and administrators.”

When announcing the new fund, Kingsland listed fourteen founding members of The City Fund. There is little professional classroom teaching experience or training within the group. Chris Barbic was a Teach for America (TFA) teacher in Houston, Texas for two years. Similarly, Kevin Huffman was also a TFA teacher in Houston for three years. The only other member that may have some education experience is Kevin Shafer. His background is obscure.

The operating structure of the new fund is modeled after a law firm. Six of the fourteen founding members are lawyers: Gary Borden; David Harris; Kevin Huffman; Neerav Kingsland; Jessica Pena and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo.

Ready to Pilfer Community Schools and End School Boards

In a 2012 published debate about school reform, Kingsland justified his call for ending democratic control of public education writing,

“I believe that true autonomy can only be achieved by government relinquishing its power of school operation. I believe that well regulated charter and voucher markets – that provide educators with public funds to operate their own schools – will outperform all other vehicles of autonomy in the long-run. In short, autonomy must be real autonomy: government operated schools that allow “site level decision making” feels more Orwellian than empowering – if we believe educators should run schools, let’s let them run schools.”

This is a belief in “the invisible hand” of markets making superior judgements and private businesses always outperforming government administration. There may be some truth here, but it is certainly not an ironclad law.

The City Fund has distinct roots stretching back to early 2016. On April 4 that year, Kingsland announced on his blog, Relinquishment, “Very excited about this update: Ken Bubp and Chris Barbic are joining the combined efforts of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Hastings Fund.”

In January of 2016, Philanthropy News Digest reported, “Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings has announced that he has created a $100 million fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) that will be focused on education.”

SVCF is a donor directed fund, so Hastings’s fund is dark money with no way of tracking where its tax-free spending is directed. The SVCF 2016 tax form shows Neerav Kingsland earning $253,846 as a Managing Director of the Hastings fund. He was also simultaneously serving as Senior Education Fellow at the Arnold Foundation and was on the board at the California Charter Schools Association.

The SVCF was founded in 2006 and has grown to be one of the largest non-profit charities in America. The tax form cited above shows a total income in 2016 of $4.4 billion and end of year assets of $7.2 billion while making grants totaling to $1.9 billion.

SVCF Grants

A March 2018 article in Chalkbeat reported,

“Eleven years after founding a nonprofit that has dramatically reshaped Indianapolis schools, David Harris is stepping down to help launch an as yet unexplained national education group.”

“The national group is in the early stages of development, said Harris, who declined to provide more details about his co-founders or their plans. A release from The Mind Trust said the new organization aims to ‘help cities around the country build the right conditions for education change.’”

Much of the description of The City Fund sounds like the activities of the national DPE organization, Education Cities. At the end of July, the Education Cities web-site disclosed,

“Today, we are announcing that Education Cities is undergoing an evolution that we think will better support local education leaders.

“Several staff from Education Cities – including our Founder and CEO, Ethan Gray – are partnering with colleagues from the philanthropic, non-profit, district, charter, and state sectors to create a new non-profit organization called The City Fund.”

The City Fund has not shared a web-address, but they have clearly started work. Four of the announced members have updated their LinkedIn profiles indicating they started working for The City Fund in either June or July.

The City Fund’s central agenda is promoting the portfolio model of school reform. Schools scoring in the bottom 5% on standardized testing are to be closed and reopened as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school boards portfolio. Even Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas wrote an open letter to John Arnold warning about what a bad idea the portfolio model is. He began, “The Arnold Foundation invests heavily in another initiative that promotes rigorous science for medical and policy decision-making, yet they do not seem to apply that same standard of proof to their own education strategy.’

A Brief Introduction to The City Fund Staff

Staff Photos

The Founding City Fund Staff

All but two of the City Fund staff photos were taken from LinkedIn. Gary Borden’s photos is from his Aspen Institute bio. Doug Harris’s photo was clipped from a Chalkbeat article.

Chris Barbic founded one of the first miracle charter schools, YES Prep of Houston, Texas. Based on the claim that 100% of YES Prep’s students were accepted at four-year colleges, Oprah Winfrey gave them a check for $1,000,000. In an open letter to Barbic, his former Teach for America (TFA) colleague, Gary Rubinstein made it clear that there was no miracle.

Chris left Houston and YES Prep to become Superintendent of the state of Tennessee’s Achievement School District. He would be working under his old Houston TFA buddy Kevin Huffman. He accepted the challenge to turnaround the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee (about 85 schools) so that they are, based on their test scores, in the top 25% in five years. This was a fool’s errand, but politicians and amateur educators did not know it.

Barbic earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Vanderbilt University. His only formal training in education was as a member of the class of 2011 at Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators’ academy.

By 2014 while staring at one bad set of standardized test results after another and making no progress toward lifting the bottom 5% of schools into the top 25% of schools, Chris had a heart attack. The following summer (2015), he revealed his resignation for health and family reasons.

In 2016, the Arnold Foundation reported Chris was going to be a Senior Education Fellow at the foundation.

Gary Borden is Senior Vice President for charter school advocacy at the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Earlier this year he traveled the state supporting Anthony Villaraigosa’s failed campaign for governor. Borden asserted, “Any sort of an artificial pause on growth of charter schools is really detrimental to what parents have ultimately said they want and need in their public education system.”

Gary was appointed Deputy Executive Director of the California State Board of Education by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is on the board of two charter schools, Fenton Charter Public Schools and East Bay Innovation Academy.

Borden has undergraduate degrees in Economics and International Business from Pennsylvania State University, and a law degree from Georgetown University. His only  training in education is as a Fellow of the 17th class of the Pahara – Aspen Education Fellowship and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network – fundamentally a study in privatizing schools.

Ken Bubp says he is a Partner at The City Fund. Ken earned a Bachelor of Arts in History form Taylor University and an MBA from Indiana University – Kelley School of Business. He shows no training or experience in education.

From 2011 to 2016, he held various executive positions at The Mind Trust where he worked for Doug Harris. John Arnold made him a Senior Education Fellow at his foundation in 2016.

Bubp is a board member at New Schools for Baton Rouge working to expand charter school penetration and institute the portfolio model of school management.

Beverly (Francis) Pryce earned a degree in Journalism from Florida International University, a master’s certificate in Non-Profit Management from Long Island University and Accounting Management certification from Northeastern University.

After a brief period as a journalist at WINK-TV News, Beverly went to work for the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

Ethan Gray reports he will be a Partner at The City Fund. He was the Founder and CEO of Education Cities, a national nonprofit that supports the privatization of public schools. Before his role at Education Cities, Ethan served as Vice President of The Mind Trust where he helped develop the “Opportunity Schools” which are another type of school organization that ends democratic control.

Ethan holds an MA from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in education policy and management. He is a past member of the Board of Directors for the STRIVE Prep network of charter schools in Colorado, as well as the National Advisory Boards of Families for Excellent Schools, EdFuel, and Innovative Schools in Wilmington, Delaware.

David Harris: During his first run for Mayor, Bart Peterson invited David Harris a 27-year old lawyer with no education background to be his education guy. Harris became the director of the mayor’s new charter school office. In 2006, Harris and Peterson founded The Mind Trust.

The Mind Trust is the proto-type urban school privatizing design. Working locally, it uses a combination of national money and local money to control teacher professional development, create political hegemony and accelerate charter school growth. The destroy public education (DPE) movement has identified The Mind Trust as a model.

He is a founding member and served as chairman of the Charter Schools Association of Indiana. He also has been a board member of the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers.

Kevin Huffman: After serving three years as a TFA teacher in Houston, this 1992 graduate of Swarthmore returned to New York to study law. After a brief stint as a lawyer he rejoined TFA as Executive Vice President. He also married Michelle Rhee.

In 2011, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee selected Huffman to be Education Commissioner. By 2014, the Tennessean’s lead read, “Polarizing Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is stepping down from his position, leaving a legacy that includes historic test gains as well as some of the fiercest clashes this state has ever seen over public schools”.

Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reported one such clash, the effort to force Nashville to accept Great Hearts Academy. She wrote,

“This is the same Arizona-based outfit that has been turned down four times by the Metro Nashville school board because it did not have a diversity plan. Because of its rejection of Great Hearts, the Nashville schools were fined $3.4 million by Tennessee’s TFA state commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.”

Noor Iqbal has a Bachelor of Arts in History and Economics from Harvard University and studied at the London Schools of Economics and Political science. She has been working at the Arnold foundation since 2017.

Neerav Kingsland says his title at The City Fund is Managing Partner. Before going to the Arnold Foundation in 2015, Neerav and two other law students formed the Hurricane Katrina Legal Clinic, which assisted in the creation of New Schools for New Orleans. Kingsland would become the chief executive officer of this organization dedicated to privatizing all the public schools in New Orleans.

Mark Webber from Rutgers University made an observation about this Kingsland statement,

“This transformation of the New Orleans educational system may turn out to be the most significant national development in education since desegregation. Desegregation righted the morality of government in schooling. New Orleans may well right the role of government in schooling.” [emphasis by Mark]

Webber’s observation,

“You know what’s astonishing about that sentence? The blatant refusal to acknowledge that the most significant transformation in NOLA’s schools has been the reintroduction of segregation.”

Jessica Pena is a lawyer and was a Partner at Ethan Gray’s Education Cities. Prior to her role at Education Cities, Jessica spent six years with the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), an Education Cities member organization. Jessica was a founding PSP team member.

Liset Rivera shared that she is the Event Manager at The City Fund. Previously she was the Event Manager for Stanford University and for KIPP schools. She has a degree in marketing from San Jose State University.

Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo is a lawyer. She will be a Partner at Education Cities. Kameela was a senior executive at David Harris’s The Mind Trust. She studied Law at Indiana University and Sociology at DePaul. She has a biography at the Pahara Institute.

Gabrielle Wyatt earned a Master’s in Public Policy Social and Urban Policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Well known New Jersey journalist Bob Braun reported on Gabrielle in Newark,

“Until last August, Wyatt was only making $75,000 a year but Cami gave her an 80 percent raise from $75,000 to $135,000 for what the Christie administration calls a “promotion—normal career progression.”  Like so many of Cami’s cronies, Wyatt was imported from the New York City Department of Education, that nest of educational entrepreneurs that gave the world Christopher Cerf.”

Kevin Shafer: Little is known about Shafer. He might be the Chief Innovation Officer at Camden City Public Schools. That Kevin Shafer is on the Jounce Partners advisory board and he attended the Strategic Data Conference that Rick Hess was speaking at. He was listed as an organizer.

One Last Point

Regarding non-profit spending, the IRS rules state that tax-exempt funds, “may not attempt to influence legislation.” The Silicon Valley Community Fund, The City Fund, and many other funds spending to change how education is governed are breaking this rule with impunity.

 

 

 

Ugly Teachers’ Union Smear from SPN Network

8 Aug

Edward Ring of the California Policy Center (CPC) just published a scurrilous attack on public schools, teachers and their unions. This mean spirited and factually challenged screed comes from a State Policy Network (SPN) member organization. The baseless attack is more evidence of a conspiracy to avoid federal tax law by masquerading as a non-profit while carrying out a political agenda.

Ring begins by saying private sector unions might not be so bad if they are controlled and admits unions “played a vital role in securing rights for the American worker.” He then delivers this jingoistic slam, “If they [unions] would bother to embrace the aspirations of their members, instead of the multinational corporations their leaders now apparently collude with, they might even support immigration reform.”

However, according to Ring, public sector unions are an abomination and teachers’ unions are the worst of the worst. He states,

“The teachers unions are guilty of all the problems common to all public sector unions. They, too, have negotiated unsustainable rates of pay and benefits. They, too, elect their own bosses, negotiate inefficient work rules, have an insatiable need for more public funds, and protect incompetent members. But the teachers union is worse than all other public sector unions for one reason that eclipses all others: Their agenda is negatively affecting how we socialize and educate our children, the next generation of Americans.”

When I decided to leave Silicon Valley and become a teacher, my new starting salary was one-third of my former salary and for the first time I had to pay for part of my medical insurance. I never worked so hard in private industry. I was never given a vote on who would be the principal at my school. My teaching colleagues were almost all moral and idealistic role models for their students. My personal experience says this anti-teacher fulmination is baseless bull-excrement.

Ring’s stated evidence for his claims includes,

“One of the most compelling examples of just how much harm the teachers union has done to California’s schools was the 2014 case Vergara vs. the State of California.”

“In particular, they questioned rules governing tenure (too soon), dismissals (too hard), and layoffs (based on seniority instead of merit). In the closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lead attorney referenced testimony from the defendant’s expert witnesses to show that these and other rules had a negative disproportionate impact on students in disadvantaged communities.”

Before that trial began David Callahan reported on who really brought the suit. His Huffington Post article noted,

“Of course, those nine kids aren’t really bringing the lawsuit; a wealthy donor is, in effect. A nonprofit called Students Matter has orchestrated the suit, and that group in turn was created by a successful tech entrepreneur named David Welch. He founded Students Matter in 2010 and hired the top tier legal team bringing the suit, which is co-led by Theodore Olson — who was George W. Bush’s Solicitor General.”

Callahan ended his article with this timely observation:

“What I will say here is that Welch’s laser-like philanthropy is yet one more example of how money can dramatically amplify the viewpoint of a single individual if deployed strategically. And when the money is targeted at efforts to change public education, it raises profound questions about the role of money in our democracy.

“The public schools, after all, have long been our most democratic institution. What does it say when one rich guy may be able to engineer a big change in this sector in the nation’s largest state?”

The expert witnesses in the Vergara trial were not unbiased professionals. One “expert witness” called was John Deasy who trained at billionaire Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators academy. He later wrote,

“During the Vergara trial, I testified from firsthand experience about the real harm that these laws have in our classrooms every day. I provided testimony about the barriers these laws create for administrators and the negative impact they have on students — and on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s many great teachers.”  

While it is true that it is possible for a California teacher to gain permanent employee status (tenure) in as little as 1 year and 9 months, it is not guaranteed or typical. I took 5-years. I worked for a year as an intern and then worked under temporary contract status for 2-years. It was only then that I was signed to a probationary contract which began my 2-year probationary period. I saw many “tenured” teachers fired during my fifteen years in the classroom and some of those firings seemed unfair.

The “barriers” administrators face are rules that stop them from favoritism or other negative behavior. I experienced rank favoritism my first year in the classroom when I had no protections. Midyear, my assignment was given to the daughter of a local well-connected family who had lost her job.

Only incompetent administrators are unable to fire “bad” teachers.

The “expert witness” that appeared to most influence the trial judge was Raj Chetty. Chetty is an economist from Harvard University who is known for his since discredited claim that teachers and schools could be evaluated using standardized testing. He called it value added measures (VAM).

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, Ph.D. specializes in research methodology at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She prophetically commented on Chetty’s testimony,

“Well…indeed, I believe we can chalk this up to a judge’s lack of understanding of the dangers of VAMs and being impressed by the sheer size of Chetty et al.’s data file. With that amount of data, they must be onto something right? I think we can also chalk this up to the defense in this case not (yet) doing an effective job debunking Chetty et al.’s methods. That, I believe, will be improved and also crucial next round. There are many holes to be punched, so in my opinion it’s the strategies of the hole punchers that are now critical to the cases to come across the country.”

Judge Treu’s verdict was reversed.

Famed statistician and education researcher Gene V. Glass tweeted:

Glass Tweet

Furman University Professor, Paul Thomas wrote, “But one has to wonder how much impact that testimony would have had if the judge had considered that most reviews of the study find it to be poppy-cock (see Baker on the Chetty et al. molehill and Di Carlo) ….”

Ring also opines, “And whenever it is necessary to reduce teacher headcounts in a district, the senior teachers stay and the new teachers go, regardless of how well or poorly these teachers were doing their jobs.”

There are many reasons to embrace seniority rights, but in education it is critical. In the first place, I have never had a job in which experience was more important. Most teachers will tell you that after 10 or even 20 years in the classroom, they are still learning and getting better. Secondly, there is no job more difficult to evaluate than teaching. Without seniority rights when politicians decide not to fully fund education, less expensive new teachers would be retained and proven deeply experienced teachers would be shoved aside.

Ring also used raw testing data reports to prove public-school and teacher failures. The federal education laws known as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top both employed this same methodology to evaluate schools and teachers. Unfortunately, the measuring stick used is no more precise than throwing darts at a spinning wheel. Testing under-girds the fraudulent scheme to privatize public schools. Ring stated,

“And as reported earlier this year in the LA School Report, according to the new “California School Dashboard,” a ratings system that replaced the Academic Performance Index, LAUSD is failing to educate hundreds of thousands of students. In the most recent year of results, 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, and 50 percent earned a D or F in math. Fifty percent of LAUSD’s schools are failing or nearly failing to teach their students English or math.

“In the face of failure, you would think LAUSD and other failing school districts would embrace bipartisan, obvious reforms such as those highlighted in the Vergara case.”

The state dashboard does not assign letter grades. The results of this testing are highly influenced by who is being tested. Since standardized testing does reflect poverty levels and percentage of language learners among the tested subjects, a quick look at a Los Angeles Unified School District shows that they are facing monumental challenges and doing reasonably well. They certainly are not failing.

LA Unified Data

Dashboard Data and Subgroup Data from California Department of Education

Eighty-four percent of Los Angeles Unified’s students are classified as living in poverty and 26.9% of their students are language learners. Statewide those numbers are respectively 60.5% and 20.9%. These statewide numbers are staggeringly large but still the much larger numbers from Los Angeles Unified make their Dashboard results appear to outperform expectations. If the LA numbers were removed, the state percentages of students in poverty and language learners would drop significantly.

This is another example of school privatizers misusing data to claim that public schools are “failing.”

The article also claims that teachers’ union members are teaching Howard Zinn’s Marxist ideology. It is back to “good old 1955” and the communist witch hunts. It states, “As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia.” In the FBI’s voluminous file on Zinn, he admits in an interview to being a liberal and tells FBI agents that some people might consider him a leftist, but that he was not now nor never had been a communist. Even after J. Edgar Hoover’s instance on finding solid evidence of Zinn’s subversive endeavors, none was unearthed. Zinn’s real crime appears to have been speaking out for justice and the powerless.

Federal Tax Law is Being Broken to Sell a Political Agenda

Tax exempt charitable organizations must adhere to IRS tax code 501(c)(3). The first line of the IRS code explanation states,

“To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” (emphasis added)

The article which is the subject of this post was published on the California Policy Center (CPC) web-page. CPC along with the Pacific Research Institute are the California members of the State Policy Network (SPN). In its 2016 tax form, SPN says its purpose is to generate, “state policy analysis and education – identify emerging and innovative solutions to state problems, work alongside think tanks to build momentum for wide-spread education about those solutions, and develop reform leaders the goal of this project is to create a robust movement of leaders advancing free market ideas in the states.” In other words, its whole purpose is to influence legislation.

A 2013 report from the Center for Media and Democracy documents SPN’s founding:

“SPN was founded at the suggestion of President Ronald Reagan, according to the National Review and SPN’s website. In a conversation with Thomas Roe, a South Carolina building supply magnate, Reagan allegedly suggested Roe create ‘something like a Heritage Foundation in each of the states.’ So in 1986, Roe founded the South Carolina Policy Council. Similar groups – self-denominated as state-based think tanks – formed in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and elsewhere at around the same time. Representatives of those groups met at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., and started to call themselves the ‘Madison Group.’ Roe later officially founded SPN as an ‘umbrella organization’ to provide ‘advisory services’ – bankrolled by Roe and other right-wing funders – in 1992.”

There is some evidence that the transition to SPN was bankrolled by David and Charles Koch through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In any case, the Center for Media and Democracy report states, “SPN and its members have become major sponsors and members of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

If you are very rich and do not want people to know you give money to privatize public schools, you can funnel it anonymously through one of the dark money funds that will contribute for you. It works simply enough. Just contribute say $50,000 to Donors Capital Fund or Donors Trust, tell them where to send the money and these tax exempt “charities” will donate for you.

The following is an example of the how funding of SPN network affiliates like CPC happens.

Donor Capital Fund 2016

In 2015, ten Individuals donated $242,000 anonymously to the California Policy Center (CPC) through the non-profit Donors Capital Fund.

A Conclusion

The article by Edward Ring was a slanted hit piece intended to undermine support for public sector unions and teachers’ unions in particular. This is clearly a political document that has nothing to do with charitable giving, but anyone giving money to further this political agenda can claim a charitable deduction. That means as a citizen I am supporting the propagation of a political ideology I find abhorrent.

Large giving to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the Federalist Society or the Center for American Progress is political giving. It not only should be taxed; the details of the donations should be made available to the public. Much of the giving at the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, etc. is clearly designed to promote a political point of view. That is not charity. That is politics. It does not or at least should not qualify for non-profit status.

If we stop this tax cheating, we might see fewer of these baseless attack articles that divide people and communities.

 

 

School Choice is a Bamboozle a Hornswoggle a Flimflam

3 Aug

Two central ideologies behind school-choice are markets always make superior decisions and the cost of having local control of schools is poor outcomes. Both ideas are demonstrably untrue, but big money and power politics keep them alive.

In 2017, a national survey showed a dramatic drop in support for charter schools. A related Chalkbeat article said,

The survey, conducted by the school choice-friendly journal Education Next, found that slightly more Americans support charter schools, 39 percent, than oppose them, at 36 percent. But that marks a drop from 51 percent support just last year — one of the biggest changes in public opinion seen in the long-running survey, according to Harvard professor and the magazine’s editor-in-chief Marty West.

An internet search of “charter school growth slowing” brings up articles from around the country concerning the charter slow down. Education Week noted, “Last year, more charter schools closed than opened in the Bay Area for the first time since California passed its charter law in 1992. (California was the second state to allow charters to open.)”

To address this choice crisis, two Billionaires are starting a new national organization. A July 31, 2018 Chalkbeat article by Matt Barnum explains,

“The City Fund, as the group is being called, will push cities to expand charter schools and district schools with charter-like autonomy. It represents a big increase in visibility and influence for advocates of the “portfolio model” of running schools, a strategy that’s been adopted by cities like New Orleans, Denver, and Indianapolis.

“The group was announced Tuesday morning on the blog of Neerav Kingsland, who leads education giving at The Laura and John Arnold Foundation. According to a separate presentation created by the group and viewed by Chalkbeat, the Arnold Foundation and the Hastings Fund have already given the group over $200 million.”

Reed Hastings (Netflix Founder and CEO) is a 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; and was also a key supporter for lifting charter school limits in California. He is a primary investor in DreamBox Learning, a company creating software to teach kids at computers. He famously stated that elected school boards need to be done away with.

John Arnold made his fortune at Enron and a hedge fund. He retired at 38-years-old. His private non-profit, the Laura and John Arnold foundation supports privatizing schools and ending democratic local control. He gives lavishly to charter schools (example: Gifted the Charter Growth Fund – $13 million).

The portfolio model of school reform calls for viewing schools like assets in a stock portfolio. Based primarily on the results of standardized testing the bottom scoring 5% of schools should be closed and replaced with new charter or innovation schools (charter like district schools). A serious flaw in this plan is the problem of error causes standardized testing to be useless for evaluating schools or teachers. Testing is a terrible ruler.

Former Assistant US Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reacted to Arnold and Hasting promoting portfolio districts noting,

“Bonafide Reformer Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas has written several posts arguing that the portfolio model is a failure and that it is no different from a school district (although it is privately controlled). Read here. and here. The latter post is advice written to the Arnold Foundation about why it should not invest in the portfolio model. Sad. They didn’t listen.”

Innovation schools are promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). They are district schools which present an operation plan for improving test outcomes and then receive autonomy to carry out the plan. Whether innovation or charter, local control of schools by democratic means is ended.

Disruption is not a good feature in education. The portfolio theory violates the need for stability. Brooke Havlik writing for Nova Education’s “Science and Learning” published “Psychologists Find School Stability a Factor in Achievement Gap.” Brooke stated, “Two new studies published this month suggest that changing schools may have a negative impact on cognitive development and student performance, especially for students experiencing chronic, high-levels of poverty.” (emphasis added)

In cities like Denver and Indianapolis, the portfolio model almost exclusively effects schools in poor and minority communities. In other words, the students most negatively impacted by this theory have their schools closed and the community loses its democratic rights.

A New Paper from In The Public Interest (ITPI) Documents the Flimflam  

This spring, ITPI published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools.” The report documents $149,000,000 fraudulently purloined by factions of the California charter-school industry. The total of stealing stated is a summation of cases cited in media reports. The actual amount stolen is much larger.

The ITPI report also reveals how fortunes are created by gaining control of publicly financed assets. The report discloses,

“While charter schools constructed with general obligation bonds cannot be sold or used for anything other than the authorized school, schools constructed with tax-exempt conduit bonds become the private property of the charter operator. Even if the charter is revoked, neither the state nor a local school district can take control of this property. Additionally, schools constructed with private funding subsidized by New Market Tax Credits or acquired with private funds but whose mortgage payments are reimbursed through the Charter Facilities Grant Program (known as “SB740”) are typically owned without restriction.”

The American Federation of Teacher (AFT) released a new white paper, “Report on the Aftermath of the Great Depression: A Decade of Neglect.” It shares,

“Moody’s Investors Service, the bond rating agency, found that not only do charter schools tend to proliferate in areas where school districts already are under economic and demographic stress, but that charter schools tend to “pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs.” As a result, charter schools also can add to school district credit risks, increasing the cost of borrowing. A growing body of research documents this impact.”

  • “Los Angeles: Each student leaving for a charter cost the district $3,900 in lost services.
  • “Philadelphia: Two different studies in Philadelphia found the cost of lost services to be between $4,828 and $6,898 per pupil leaving.
  • “North Carolina: A student leaving an urban North Carolina school district costs between $500 and $700 in lost services. The effect is smaller in non-urban districts.”

A Case Study in Destroy Public Education (DPE) (Part 1)

R.B. Buzz Woolley is a wealth philanthropist and venture capitalist from La Jolla, California. A San Diego Reader report from 2011 said of him,

“On the political front, meanwhile, Woolley personally donated $6500 to the California Charter Schools PAC in March and $25,000 to the Alliance of California Charter Schools Independent Expenditure Committee in June. In May, he also kicked in $10,000 for Californians Against Special Interests, a primarily GOP group mounting an initiative for a so-called paycheck-protection measure banning direct deductions of labor union dues.”

Buzz and The Mushroom House

In 2015 Woolley Purchased the Mushroom House for $5 Million

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

In 2004, Buzz Wooley was the President of the then new Charter School Growth Fund. That year, Don Fisher (Gap Inc.) and Wooley each contributed $100,000 to the fund. They were the only contributors. John Walton (Walmart) and Greg Penner (Walmart) joined the board. The next year, Buzz Wooley resigned as President.

Charter Fund Officers 2005

Image is from the Charter School Growth Fund 2005 Tax Form

The other important figure in the Thrive Public Schools case study is Nicole Assisi. Nicole attended Coronado High School and UCLA where she earned a multisubject teaching credential. Her first teaching job was leading English classes at San Diego’s Mira Mesa High School – 2002-2003 school year.

In 2003, she moved on to High Tech High where she was a teacher and project-based learning trainer until 2005 or 2006. Her linked in profile says she worked at High Tech until 2006 but it also says that in 2005 she went to Los Angeles to be an Assistant Principal at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. In 2008, she moved on to be Principle on special assignment at De Vinci Schools (Formerly Wiseburn 21st Century Charter). She left De Vinci schools and returned to San Diego in 2013.

Nicole_CMO

Nicole Assisi from the Thrive Public Schools Web-Site

Along the way, Nicole earned a master’s degree in English and Communication/Media Studies from University of San Diego – 2004 and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Southern California – 2010.

A Case Study in Destroy Public Education (DPE) (Part 2)

The 34-years-old Nicole was provided with $8,960 from the Charter School Growth Fund and $100,000 from the Gates supported Educause to come to San Diego and start a charter school.

In the fall of 2013 she submitted a charter proposal to San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and then withdrew it. Soon after, she did the same thing at the Grossmont School District. Finally, in November, she resubmitted her completed proposal to San Diego Unified.

SDUSD’s charter review committee recommended her proposed Thrive Public Schools be authorized to start September 1, 2015 instead of 2014. They felt she needed more time to get a school organized and populated. In a surprise move the SDUSD Board voted 3-2 to reject the petition.

The next day Buzz Woolley’s Voice of San Diego ran an opinion piece by Nicole. She called herself “a sacrificial lamb” and said the Board “made a mockery of the entire charter-approval process, which I worked diligently to navigate.” She also wrote, “Thankfully, the County Board of Education has an opportunity to right this wrong when our appeal comes before them next week.”

The county also turned down the charter with a 3-2 vote. The county review committee had recommended against approving the charter.

Nicole really had no worries because the pro-school-privatizing State Board of Education (SBE) would come to her rescue. Though the law encourages the SBE to respect the decisions of counties and districts, it seldom does. In the spring, SBE voted 9-0 to authorize Thrive Public Schools.

The money started flowing Nicole’s direction. The known list of 2014 donations:  Woolley’s Girard Foundation $108,000, Gate’s Educause $254,500, Charter School Growth Fund $175,000 and the Broad Foundation $150,000 for a total of $688,000. The next year, Broad gave another $50,000 and the New Schools Venture Fund sent $100,000. There is another $144,000 promised from Educause.

Nicole has opened two more schools and a fourth set to open in September. Choice promoting publication, The 74, describes a co-located Thrive elementary school,

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

Tom Vander Ark is a well-known promoter of education technology and public-school privatization. He described the Thrive education program,

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

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

Kids at computers running software programs is lifeless, boring and de-personalized. It is bad education.

Thrive has actively developed the support of many neo-liberal and conservative politicians. Among their listed supporters are: State Senator Ben Hueso (D); Dede Alpert (D), Former Assembly Woman and State Senator; Kerry Flanagan, Chief of Staff, California Charter Schools Association; Tom Torlakson (D), Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of California; Jed Wallace, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Charter Schools Association; Mark Wyland (R), State Senator. These people are enemies of public education supporting the same benighted policies as Betsy DeVos.

The three existing Thrive schools opened in the administrative area of SDUSD known as the Crawford Cluster. Like most cities, it is in San Diego’s poor and minority communities where the privatization efforts are focused. One of the reasons SDUSD’s Board rejected the Thrive petition was to protect the existing schools. There were already four charter schools within the cluster boundaries.

Crawford Cluster Map

Crawford Cluster Map from SDUSD

In 2017, Thrive announced its big advance which stands to make founder and CEO Assisi a wealthy woman. The report in the San Diego Union says,

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

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

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

Although paid for with tax money, the deed will belong to Thrive Public Schools and CEO Nicole Assisi.

Some Ending Observations

Thrive Public Schools is a net negative for San Diego. SDUSD is far more professional, stable and capable. Thrive undermines SDUSD budgets and divides people like the students at Carver Elementary. The charter school experiment has failed. It was a bad idea and needs to end.

Put these schools under the supervision of elected school boards and quit stealing tax payer money. School choice truly is a Bamboozle; a Hornswoggle.

 

San Joaquin Valley in the DPE Crosshairs

15 Jul

Efforts to privatize public schools in the San Joaquin (pronounced: whah-keen) Valley are accelerating. Five disparate yet mutually reinforcing groups are leading this destroy public education (DPE) movement. For school year 2017-2018, taxpayers sent $11.5 billion to educate K-12 students in the valley and a full $1 billion of that money was siphoned off to charter schools. This meant that education funding for 92% of students attending public schools has been significantly reduced on a per student basis.

In July 2017, California’s State Superintendent of Education, Tom Torlakson, announced the revised 2017-2018 budget for K-12 education totaled $92.5 billion. Dividing this number by the total of students enrolled statewide provides an average spending per enrolled student ($14,870). The spending numbers reported above were found by multiplying $14,870 by students enrolled.

The five groups motivating privatization of public schools are:

  • People who want taxpayer supported religious schools.
  • Groups who want segregated schools.
  • Entrepreneurs profiting from school management and school real estate deals.
  • The technology industry using wealth and lobbying power to place products into public schools and supporting technology driven charter schools.
  • Ideologs who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.

The Big Valley

The San Joaquin Valley is America’s top agricultural producing region, sometimes called “the nation’s salad bowl” for the great array of fruits and vegetables grown in its fertile soil. Starting near the port of Stockton, the valley is 250 miles long and is bordered on the west by coastal mountain ranges. Its eastern boundary is part of the southern two-thirds of the Sierra bioregion, which features Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. It ends at the San Gabriel Mountains in the south.

Seven counties (Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Kern) govern the valley. Its three major cities are Fresno (population 525,000), Stockton (population 310,000) and Bakersfield (population 380,000). The entire valley has a population of more than 4 million with 845,369 K-12 students enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year.

Ironically, in possibly the world’s most prolific food producing area, there is food insecurity. In 2009 the problem became particularly severe. Sabine Blaizin reported, “The state of California declared a state of emergency in Fresno County, and from July to October, was trucking in tons of food to the hungry and unemployed.” Since 2009, the economic conditions in the valley have slowly but steadily improved.

San Joaquin Valley Map

Valley Can Published this Map with the San Joaquin Valley in Green

Some Data Observations

In her 2017 report on California’s out of control charter school system, Carol Burris made a point about the unsavory nature of the independent study charter school. She pointed out that these schools have poor attendance and terrible graduation rates. Unfortunately, they are easy to set up and very profitable. Of all the independent study charters, the virtual charters have the worst performance data and are widely seen as fraudulent. About one-third of the valley’s charters are independent study and half of those are virtual.

Charter Numbers Table

As the table above shows, Kings county is already at 17.1% charter penetration which is about the same percentage as San Diego. It is likely that Kings county district schools are struggling financially because they cannot adjust fast enough to the loss of students to the charter system. Several studies, including Professor Gordon Lafer’s “Breaking Point,” have documented this threat to public school systems caused by these minimally-regulated privatized schools.

The charter school industry notoriously avoids the more expensive students to educate such as special education students. The following chart shows that same trend is prevalent in the valley. In every category of more difficult and expensive students to serve, the charter school industry has managed to avoid their fair share.

Subgroup Percentages

GO Public Schools Targets Fresno

In Oakland, California, GO is the political organizer working on the ground to privatize public schools. It funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. The national organizing group for privatizing public schools, Education Cities, lists GO as its partner. GO is a non-profit operating under federal tax code 501-C3. Great Oakland Public Schools is GO’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501-C4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.

A December 2017 article in the Fresno Bee reported,

“Dozens of parents and community members attended a meeting at the Big Red Church on Wednesday to discuss how to improve Fresno Unified and the success of its students – but it wasn’t hosted by the district.

“Go Public Schools, a nonprofit that has worked with struggling schools in Oakland, created a branch of the organization in Fresno earlier this year, with the goal of ‘expanding access to quality education in Fresno’s most historically under-served neighborhoods.’

“Since Go Public Schools Fresno opened in June, it has hosted “house parties” across the city, where parents exchange ideas in their homes, and offered a 10-week course to Spanish-speaking parents, teaching them how to become more engaged in community issues and urging them to attend school board meetings.”

Go Public Schools Executive Director in Fresno is Diego Arambula. The article pointed out that Diego’s brother, Assemblyman Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno,  was present. This is another example of pretend progressives adopting the school privatization policies promoted by Betsy DeVos, Eli Broad, the Walmart heirs and David Koch’s American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

GO’s current campaign in Fresno is the Choosing Our Future Initiative. They claim,

“Our path forward is built on a set of 3 policy recommendations:

  • “21st century Success: We need to redefine success as it relates to the 21st century and commit to every child graduating prepared to succeed.
  • “Individualized Student Plans: We want to empower both students and educators with individualized data to ensure every child is making adequate annual progress toward graduating prepared to succeed. …
  • “Innovation Zone: Create an Innovation Zone to design and support transformational school models.”

Goal one is related to the DeVosian meme that schools have not changed in 100 years. The second goal is about selling technology. Their individualized learning plan undoubtedly includes “personalized learning” on digital devices. It is an unproven approach, likely to fail. The final goal is a call for the ALEC supported ideology to reduce democratic input into local school policy. It claims schools should be autonomous and freed from elected school boards and legislatures. This theory is being implemented in Denver, Philadelphia and elsewhere, a plan that posits disruption as a positive value for educating children.

Local elites like Larry Powell the former Fresno County Superintendent of Schools are supporting GO’s school privatization plan. Powell’s bio at the Central Valley Community Foundation says he has a daily radio feature called “Good News with Larry Powell” on iHeart Radio and is a Political Analyst on the NBC and CBS affiliates in Fresno. He has also served on 12 non-profit boards.

A recent editorial by Powell in the Fresno Bee echoes Betsy DeVos’s spurious “schools have not changed in 100 years.” Powell wrote,

“Amazing work has been done by our educators, but our core school model has remained largely unchanged. It’s been said that if Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today, the only thing he would recognize is public education.”

This well-known community leader who spent 43 years as a high school wrestling coach, history teacher and an administrator made this claim. Anyone who has spent time in a public-school classroom, knows this is not true. Powell gave his full-throated endorsement to all three of the GO policy recommendations; even praising the anti-democratic ALEC inspired innovation schools. He claimed,

“We must ensure that our educators are given the freedom to design a school model and system that best meets the needs of their current students. An innovation zone will provide school sites who are in the zone with additional academic and financial flexibility in exchange for increased accountability.”

It is unclear where that increased accountability comes from because the local school board loses their oversight ability. DPE forces generally define accountability based exclusively on standardized testing results which do not provide reliable information about teaching or school quality. Standardized tests are a proven waste of money, providing ways for businesses to purloin education dollars.

The June 21 2018 issue of the Fresno Bee published, “Kepler will keep operating after all. Does that mean Fresno is friendly to charter schools?” Reporter Aleksandra Appleton noted that even the California Charter School Association recommended the Kepler charter school’s authorization be revoked. Her lead sentence read, “The Kepler Neighborhood School will keep operating after the Fresno County Schools Board voted 4-1 Thursday to approve the charter school’s appeal, effectively reversing an earlier decision by Fresno Unified that would have led to the school’s closure.”

Stockton Got Their Broadie

Billionaire, Eli Broad, has been relentless in his efforts to privatize public education. To spearhead this goal, the Edythe and Eli Broad foundation created an unaccredited administrators school that teaches Broad’s management philosophy and ideology.

Broad-trained administrators are famous for hiring consultants, bad relations with teachers, large technology purchases and saddling school districts with debt. In May, Oklahoma educator and historian, John Thompson, wrote a series of articles documenting these perceptions about Broad academy graduates (1, 2, and 3).

Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said of Broad, “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.”

John Deasy is perhaps the most infamous of all Broadies. In 2014 when Deasy was forced out as Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, the New York Times reported,

“Mr. Deasy, a strong proponent of new technology in schools and of holding teachers accountable for improving student test scores, had faced mounting criticism from board members and teachers who saw him as an enemy. He testified against teachers’ unions this year in a lawsuit in which a California judge ruled that tenure protection laws deprived students of their basic right to an education and violated their civil rights.

“Detractors also criticized Mr. Deasy, who led the second-largest school district in the country, for the difficult rollout of an ambitious $1.3 billion plan to give iPads to every student in the district, which has an enrollment of 640,000 across 900 schools.”

Amazingly, this May the Stockton Unified School District Board voted 7-0 to hire John Deasy to be the superintendent of schools. Evidently, they wanted a star and were willing to pay the price. The Recordnet gave some partial details of Deasy’s agreement,

“His contract is set for three years and salary will be $275,000.

“Several gasps and laughs were heard as Board President Angela Phillips read aloud the employment agreement, which includes a $700 a month allowance for vehicle, cellphone and internet costs, plus mileage, five weeks’ vacation and various expenses. Deasy’s contract also states SUSD will reimburse him for moving and housing costs to Stockton not to exceed $15,000.”

It’s the Scammiest

In the 1980’s, Kraft Corporation ran a delightful commercial for their macaroni and cheese product. An ebullient little black boy who apparently had lost a baby tooth, looked at the camera and exalted, “It’s the cheesiest.” Every time that commercial came on, it made me smile.

But looking at the New Jerusalem School District of Tracy, California, I always think, “it’s the scammiest.” It doesn’t make me smile.

The districts wed site shares the history of the name:

“The Ebe Family came across the plains in covered wagons and settled near here about 1865.  In 1874, Mr. Henry Ebe, newly settled, donated two acres of land to San Joaquin County for a school in this area. In exchange for this, he required that the school be given the name “New Jerusalem’.” 

New Jerusalem does not look like a public-school district. It has a three-member elected board, a superintendent, an Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, a Budget Analyst, a person in charge of Accounts Payable, a Human Resources person, a Payroll department, a person in charge of the Nutrition Program and a person in charge of its Transportation Program. In 2016-2017 the district only had 29 kindergarten students in its one school. This large organization is supported by the 13 charter schools New Jerusalem authorizes.

New Jerusalem Enrollment

2016-2017 Data provided by the California Department of Education

Of their 13 charter schools, 8 are virtual. New Jerusalem authorized a charter school that is 250 miles away in Simi Valley, California and another one sixty miles away in Stockton, California.

The New Jerusalem web site provides instructions and forms for starting a charter school and getting it authorized by them.

A Final Perspective

The San Joaquin Valley is in the charter industry’s crosshairs. Their agenda is privatizing public schools and ending local control by democratic process. Most people are not surprised that libertarians, like David Koch, want to end public education but are often blindsided by Democrats supporting the same agenda.

Educate yourself and your neighbors. Don’t let people tell you that your local school is terrible and the Gates, Broad and Walton supported charter schools are superior. Both propositions are false.

Open Letter to the California Charter Schools Association

26 May

To: Steven Baratte, Managing Director, Communications, Southern California, California Charter Schools Association (CCSA)

Reference: Your May 21, 2018, email message to San Diego Free Press (SDFP)

Your message began, “I am the managing director of communications in Southern California for the California Charter Schools Association and wanted to introduce myself because I have seen an increase of charter-related stories on your website.” Then you claim without evidence, “Many of the stories contain inaccuracies about California charter schools and perpetuate falsehoods.”

Mr. Baratte, don’t you think a serious claim like this deserves a little evidence; a few examples? Every charter school article in SDFP has been rigorously documented and provides hot links to the documentation. One might disagree with the conclusions, but the evidence presented is accurate and well-sourced.

Furthermore, the writers of these articles are not paid. They, unlike paid employees of the CCSA, have no dog in this hunt. Evidence informs them that public education is under assault by the same anti-public-school and pro-privatization forces who created your organization. There is a shared belief among these writers that public schools are an irreplaceable foundation for our amazing democratic form of government. Furthermore, losing them would invite a dystopian future.

You write,

“While I think we can have differences of opinions on the value of charter schools, I also think we all want honest and accurate journalism. Most notably, in California, charter schools are free, public, and open to all.”

Unfortunately, charter schools have become profit centers for real estate developers and charter management organizations. Instead of fulfilling their original mission to be education innovators, they have too often become fraud infested enterprises lusting after tax dollars. It did not have to be this way.

San Diego Schools

San Diego Schools Map Created Using Fordham Foundation School Mapping Tool.

Here is some honest accuracy. Charter schools are not public schools and though theoretically open to all, they have a well-documented history of avoiding more costly students. A 2013 report from the National Center for Education Statistics supports that claim. This month an even more definitive report published by In The Public Interest was written by University of Oregon’s Professor Gordon Lafer. He offered this example,

“In 2015-16, for instance, charter schools accounted for 28 percent of all Oakland-area students (that is, all students who lived within the district boundaries and attended either charter schools or traditional public schools), and thus, under California’s special education funding model, received 28 percent of all special education funding for Oakland-area students. But they enrolled far less than their share of Oakland-area special needs students—just 19 percent of the total. The imbalance is yet more extreme in the most serious categories of special need. Of the total number of emotionally disturbed students attending either charter or traditional public schools in Oakland, charter schools served only 15 percent. They served only eight percent of all autistic students, and just two percent of students with multiple disabilities.”

Oakland Special Education funding

Calling charter-schools public-schools is false. It is political spin. That is too nice. It is a lie.

When the city of San Diego contracts with a construction company to repair roads, that company is still a private company. When the state of California approves a contract, known as a charter, with a private company to educate students, the company gets paid with tax dollars. It is still a private company and is not required to comply with open meeting laws, elected school boards, much of the state education code and budget transparency like a public school. They are private businesses.

You continue,

“To lump them in with, or call them, private schools is a disservice to those who could benefit from a public charter school and is wrong. And to suggest they are being privatized is also inaccurate. In California, all but a handful of charter schools are non-profits.  We are working on legislation to make all charters in California non-profit.”

Whether they are for-profit or non-profit they are private companies and the distinction between for-profit and non-profit is quite obscure. For example, Mary Bixby, San Diego’s pioneer in the strip mall charter school business, puts children at computers running education software. Very little personal teacher-student interaction takes place but teenagers who don’t like to get up in the morning can go to the strip mall and earn credits toward graduation. In 2015, the non-profit Mary founded paid her a “salary” of $340,810 and her daughter Tiffany Yandell received $135,947.

There probably are some students who benefit from charter schools, but that benefit means students in public school lose. The state attendance money follows the student to the charter school, but the costs don’t all go along. Professor Lafer’s study shows that the lasting impact per student is almost $5,000 dollars or more. In April, Hellen Ladd and John Singleton of Duke University presented a paper documenting similar outcomes in North Carolina. A study at Syracuse University by Robert Bifulco and Randall Reback also reported similar results in New York.

The following chart from Professor Lafer’s report presents the documented impacts experienced by three California school districts including San Diego Unified.

Cost of losing charter students

This chart says that every time a student in San Diego leaves the district there are less per-student resources available for those who remain. It costs more to finance two systems, plus many inefficiencies are introduced.

Isn’t CCSA a Political Organization Representing Wealth Elites and Charter School Operators Supporting School Privatization?

Mr. Barratte, you explained in your message, “They [charter schools] are authorized by school districts, county offices of education, or the state and are accountable to them, their parents and students.”

To address this statement, let me first introduce Carol Burris who retired from an award-winning career as a New York school administrator. She is the Executive Director of the Network for Public Education (NPE), a coalition of teachers, parents and students working to preserve public education in America. Burris conducted a yearlong study of the California Charter School Industry and last year, published a lengthy report called Charters and Consequences. She noted,

“CCSA does not disclose its funders on its website nor on its 990 form, but given its Board of Directors, who makes the list of big donors is not difficult to guess.

 “The 2017 Board of Directors include New York’s DFER founder, Joe Williams, a director of the Walton Education Coalition; Gregory McGinty, the Executive Director of Policy for the Broad Foundation; Neerav Kingsland, the CEO of the Hastings Fund; and Christopher Nelson, the Managing Director of the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund. Prior Board members include Reed Hastings of Netflix and Carrie Walton Penner, heir to the Walmart fortune.

 “The real power, however, sits in CCSA’s related organization, CCSA Advocates, a not-for-profit 501(c)(4) whose mission is to increase the political clout of charter schools on local school boards, on county boards, and in Sacramento. It is at all three levels that charters can be authorized in the state.”

In 2016, CCSA Advocates changed the nature of the San Diego county board of education elections by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into it. Previously it was a low-profile election in which local education professionals with small campaign budgets ran for seats on the board. CCSA succeeded in replacing two board members that they viewed as unfriendly to charter schools.

Now, CCSA Advocates is putting $162,000 behind Eric Lund’s bid to unseat incumbent Alicia Munoz and sending another $162,000 to support Cheryl James-Ward over incumbent Rick Shea. James-Ward is a charter school advocate and wife of ex-San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Randy Ward who trained at the infamous Broad academy. Like many Broad trained administrators, Ward is facing legal issues over money he awarded himself while in the Superintendent’s position.

The San Diego Union ran an issues piece in which Lund and Munoz answered a set of identical questions. The charter schools question read,

“The County Office of Education has been caught up in disputes over charter school authorizations, with some arguing that it has been hostile to applications at the behest of teachers unions which oppose charters. How do you think the county office has handled this issue?”

The CCSA supported candidate, Eric Lund, replied,

“Special-interest teachers unions are engaged in a full assault on great education in our county. They favor teachers before our kids by not assessing fairly each school that comes before the county Board of Education.

 “Past votes related to public charter schools have been directly along the lines of board members supported by unions. This demonstrates that special-interest teachers unions are controlling the board to block charter schools throughout San Diego. This is not in the interest of, or good for, our families and children.”

 Did Lund really say that teachers are against great education? Wow!

Munoz answered,

“A significant responsibility of County Boards of Education is to hold hearings on charter school appeals that have previously been denied by local school districts. The County Board of Education is not hostile to charter schools. In the last four years, the county board has approved one countywide charter application and three appeals. In addition, the board upheld one revocation and denied three appeals.

“The Education Code clearly spells out the criteria County Boards of Education must consider when deciding whether to approve or deny a charter school appeal. To arrive at an informed decision, the board relies on staff recommendations that are derived from hundreds of hours of work reviewing applications and evaluates each appeal based on educational and financial obligations. As public elected officials, board members have the fiduciary duty to protect the county office from financial liabilities, which is an important consideration in the appeal process.”

Does CCSA want rubber stamps for charter schools serving on school boards? It looks that way. Someone looking to protect children and the tax paying public is not appreciated. CCSA will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of them.

Burris reporting about CCSA money said, “Although it is a membership organization, only $1.6 million dollars came from charter school dues.” The rest of the greater than $22 million came from deep pockets (2014 data). When it comes to the California Charter School Association Advocates, the contributions can be verified and are jaw dropping. Since January 2017, nine people have donated more than $10 million dollars to CCSA Advocates and that is just the ones I found in a few hours poking around the state of California major donors data base.

Table of Billionaire Contributions

Nine Wealthy Elites Not from San Diego Who Powerfully Influence Local Elections

While poking around, I noticed that Reed Hastings contributed $2,000 to San Diego Assembly Women Shirley Weber. The note accompanying the donation says, “MADE THROUGH INTERMEDIARY CCSA ADVOCATES FOR GREAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS, FPPC ID# 1392154, 2350 KERNER BLVD., SUITE 250 SAN RAFAEL, CA 94901.” Maybe this donation helps us understand why she is so opposed to teachers having job protections such as due process and seniority rights.

One of the charter authorization appeals that county school board turned down was from College Preparatory Middle School (CPMS). The school in a church basement that was authorized by Steve Van Zant and the Mountain Empire School District. In 2016, Van Zant pleaded guilty to felony charges related to kickbacks. Concurrently the local school district went to court to stop satellite districts like Mountain Empire from authorizing schools out of their own district and won.

CCSA spent more than $70 thousand dollars defending CPMS. In a related case you defended the Van Zant style out-of-district charter authorizations saying, “This ruling will also impact students and parents who attend the resource centers by requiring them to travel longer distances or change programs, in some cases.”

At the same time this charter school scandal was occurring, CPMS was proposing a new school site with a suspicious sounding real estate plan. The San Diego Union explained,

“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.”

When seeking a new authorization authority to replace Mountain Empire School district, CPMS was rejected by the La Mesa-Spring Valley school district. It appealed to the county, but staff at the county concluded the proposal was not sound. The County Board of Education turned down the appeal. In March the San Diego Union reported that the California state board of education had authorized the CPMS charter by a vote of 9 to 2.

The Union Tribune report continued,

“School co-founder Mitch Miller said the next step for College Prep is building a larger school on land at 10269 Madrid Way in Spring Valley.

“Miller said construction would take about nine months, with the hope the school would open in January 2019 or shortly thereafter. The school will stay housed in La Mesa until the Spring Valley campus is ready.”

The charter school authorization process with multiple levels of authorization does not offer real protection, supervision or accountability for charter schools. I think we need a moratorium on charter schools while we put them all under the supervision of an elected school board. Only locally elected school boards should be allowed to authorize charter schools and they should operate under the rules of public entities supported by tax dollars.

Mr. Baratte, I see that you are on the board of a newly minted charter school in Linda Vista. You did not make the list of the top ten compensated employees at CCSA; all receiving more than $150,000 per year. However, you are doing well enough to donate $1,000 yearly to the Voice of San Diego. When a person’s large income is at stake, convincing them that what they are doing is wrong is not easy, but destroying public education in America is wrong. And that is what the charter industry is doing.

Democracy’s Schools: A Good Read

21 May

The unprecedented development of a pan American public education system arose between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginning of the Civil War. In Democracy’s Schools, Johann Neem explains the origins of the egalitarian spirit manifested in the uniquely American system, the system’s rapid development from the bottom up and he presents evidence about ideological debates that are still unresolved in the twenty-first century. These explanations are informed by impressive scholarship.

Cover Photo_05192018

The Cover Art for Democracy’s Schools Employs Charles Frederick Bosworth’s Oil on Wood Painting, “The New England School” (ca. 1852)

Massachusetts philosopher and Unitarian church minister, William Ellery Channing, had a profound influence on egalitarianism in public education. He believed that within each person were “germs and promises of growth to which no bounds can be set.” Everyone was seen as inherently equal and deserving of education that develops the capacity for creating “self-culture.” Neem paraphrases Channing, “To educate some for work and others to appreciate beauty was to commit a crime against human nature.”

Neem states, “Nobody made the case for self-culture more strongly than Horace Mann.” Mann trained as a lawyer after graduating from Brown University. “In contrast to Democrats like Andrew Jackson, Whigs like Mann believed that the state had an obligation to improve individuals and society by developing their moral, intellectual, and economic potential.”

Mann’s wife of two years died in 1832. His deep depression caused good friend Elizbeth Peabody to introduce him to Reverend Channing. The reverend had a profound influence on Mann’s understanding of education. When Massachusetts established a board of education in 1837, Mann became its first secretary.

The establishment of public high schools exposed deeply held difference about education. The common schools which educated through the equivalent of middle school were rapidly embraced. With Mann leading the charge, they were adopted in one community after another. However, many Americans did not trust reformers calling for the establishment of public high schools. They wondered if higher education wasn’t just a way to justify elite privilege.

To reformers, public high schools would expose the most talented children to the kind of education that had been the exclusive heritage of the wealthy. However, their arguments did not prevail, and the public high school development advanced slowly. Neem reports, “by 1890, only 6.7 percent of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds were enrolled.”

Writing about the “overlapping consensus” for public education, Neem says,

“Since its inception, American public education has served many masters. It sought to educate citizens, to promote self-culture, and simultaneously to prepare people for success in the workplace. The public schools reflected the complicated aspirations of policy makers, education reformers, citizens, parents, teachers, and students. In America, schools benefited from an overlapping consensus in which the various stakeholders did not always agree on why schools existed but agreed that they ought to exist. This overlapping consensus fueled the dramatic growth in public school enrollment between the Revolutionary and Civil War.

“But since Americans did not always agree on the purposes of education, public schools also generated intense political conflicts. Perhaps for most Americans, schools were practical institutions. They gave young children basic skills, reinforced the community’s morals, and prepared them to be citizens and productive members of society. But to reformers, public schools would also elevate the human spirit. To do that, the following chapters argue, reformers sought to transform the content of curriculum and how teachers taught and ultimately, to make public schools free and universal.”

Jackson to Trump 200 Years; Same Dynamic

I agree with Newt Gingrich (a politician named after a salamander), the first Democratic President, Andrew Jackson, and today’s insurgent Republican President, Donald Trump, have commonality. In 1828, Jackson, one of the largest slave owners in Tennessee, became the champion of the common man against elites. In 2016, Trump, the wealthy New York real estate developer, cultivated the aura of a champion of the common people fighting against elite privilege.

In 1818, education reformers were pushing for liberal education for all free children. University of North Carolina President, Joseph Caldwell worried that many Americans had “become avowed partizans of mental darkness against light” who were “glorying in ignorance.” Jackson’s supporters did not trust elites and thought classical liberal education was old fashioned and elitist. They wanted just the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. These sentiments and concerns are still heard today.

Channing taught that the purpose of education was to develop human beings in God’s image. His protégé, Horace Mann, was attracted to the new “science” of phrenology. Phrenology conceived of the brain as malleable which gave Mann added confidence concerning the value of universal education. In some ways, today’s standards and testing are the modern equivalent of phrenology; uninformed, potentially harmful yet a policy guide.

An enduring tenant of American public education was championed by Ohio’s superintendent of schools. He argued that both girls and boys were endowed with the faculties “of memory, of reason, of conscience, of imagination, and of will” therefore, school must ensure “all of these are to be developed” in both sexes.

It was widely believed that self-control was the key for education to cultivate the best within us. “Otherwise, people would not be free, or self-made, but remain an unformed bundle of impulses with no ability to resist immediate temptation.” There were to be no excuses. Discipline was the precondition to freedom and a key purpose of education.

The first development in a new American community was invariably the establishment of a school. Community members naturally accepted that their religious beliefs would be reinforced at school. Neem described the understanding, “A good education required shaping character, and this required religion.” However, efforts to accommodate all faiths meant eliminating those ideas that were not common. The American Sunday School Union questioned the public schools’ determination “To Diffuse Knowledge without Religion.”

In a heated debate with Frederick Packard, American Sunday School Union Corresponding Secretary, Horace Mann upheld non-sectarianism. Packard responded that Mann’s non-sectarianism reflected the sectarian principles of his own Unitarian church.

Neem shares, “The Sunday school movement emerged in order to ensure that young Americans would receive the religious education that they did not get in common schools.”

The belief that Christianity belongs in the public education curriculum is still strongly    embraced by some sectors of today’s pluralistic society*. In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering where Dick complained that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.”

*Betsy DeVos while channeling Margret Thatcher claimed there in no such thing as society.

Development and Pedagogy

There was a divide between those who supported the reformers’ programs and those who wanted just the basics of reading and cyphering. Better-off farmers were generally in favor of liberal education including studying the classics. Poorer citizens had a tendency to embrace the less costly and more practical basics only. Neem reports, “Because of their political power and the way the tax burden fell largely upon them, slaveholding elites spread an antitax gospel to convince ordinary whites that taxes were a bad thing.” Today that same gospel is advocated by wealthy elites in America’s two major political parties with a more determined effort coming from conservative funders. (emphasis added)

America’s schools were a battlefield. Violence was used as both a method of discipline and motivation. Lessons were almost exclusively memorization and regurgitation. If the recitation was incorrect students were regularly struck across the cheek, ear or bottom. Students often had their hands struck harshly and repeatedly for minor infractions. Harsh discipline combined with drill and skill pedagogy is still practiced in modern “no excuses” charter schools.

Reformers were convinced that authoritarian pedagogy was ineffectual. They started looking to innovations in Europe for guidance. As early as 1817, Archibald Murphey of North Carolina was informing the state legislature about new approaches to education in Europe. In 1819, a New York school teacher, John Griscom, published A Year in Europe. Both Murphey and Griscom praised the schools of Prussia and the Swiss educator, Johann Pestalozzi.

In 1843, Horace Mann married Mary Peabody and for their honeymoon they toured schools in Europe. Mann recognized that schools in democracies could not promote “passive obedience to government, or of blind adherence to the articles of a church.” On the other hand, he was enamored by the organization of the Prussian schools. Schools were divided into age-based grades to facilitate age appropriate pedagogy. Most of all Mann was impressed by the teachers of Prussia. He called for improvement in the status of the teaching profession in Massachusetts and improvement in training.

A popular alternative to the Prussian model and Pestalozzi’s views on pedagogy was Lancasterianism named for its originator, Joseph Lancaster. Neem explains the popularity of Lancaster’s approach,

“This approach had several advantages. First, it was cheap because Lancaster relied on older students to teach. Second, some considered Lancaster’s emphasis on repetition and competition to be effective. In groups of ten or twelve, led by a monitor, students drilled in reading, spelling, or arithmetic. Each day, every student was ranked publicly, motivating students to excel or, at least, to avoid embarrassment. Students received “merit tickets” for behavior and performance.”

Mann worried that Lancasterianism taught students to compete for external rewards and glory instead of developing appropriate moral character. He felt the system deprived students the benefit of a qualified well-prepared teacher. Mann wrote, “One must see the difference between the hampering, binding, misleading instruction given by an inexperienced child, and the developing, transforming, and almost creative power of an accomplished teacher.” Reminds one of Texas businessmen paying cash rewards to students for passing AP exams, the push for scripted education and Teach for America.

Mann was so taken by his European experience, that he wrote in official reports of the inspiring, engaging, loving classrooms he observed in Prussia. Boston’s schoolmasters replied that education “amateurs” like Mann rarely cared about what actual teachers might think. Neem notes, “The teachers felt insulted by Mann’s tone, which suggested that Prussia’s teachers were doing great things while back at home every teacher was incompetent.”

Reformers believed that by tapping into children’s curiosity and interest they would become independent learners. Experienced teachers knew that students also needed discipline, or they would only engage in what they liked. Educators felt that though nice to appeal to children’s moral sense still “Massachusetts was not some prelapsarian Eden.”

Maybe the blindness to practical classroom reality explains some of Bill Gates’s serial education reform failures.

Charter Schools and America’s Curriculum

After the Revolutionary War, states recognized the need for an educated citizenry and schools, but they lacked the capacity to develop and fund public education. Concurrent with building public schools, state governments also encouraged citizens to create charter schools called academies. By 1855 there were more than 6,000 of these state-chartered schools operating compared to almost 81,000 common schools. Neem observed,

“But American leaders ultimately concluded that academies were unable to meet the nation’s need for an educated public and worse, that they exacerbated the division between the haves and have-nots. In the post-Revolutionary era, Massachusetts governor Samuel Adams asserted that academies increase inequality because well-off families who sent their children to academies would be less willing to pay taxes for the state’s common schools. ‘Citizens,’ Adams argued, ‘will never willingly and cheerfully support two systems of schools.’”

So, charter schools were not an invention of Ray Budd in a 1970’s paper. They had existed since the time of the American Revolution, however, nineteenth century politicians and reformers concluded they were not a good fit for democratically sponsored education.

Reverend William Holmes McGuffey was a stern task master in the classroom. He expected good behavior and would tolerate nothing less. He also disliked rote memorization and recitation pedagogy. In the 1820’s, McGuffey wrote the first edition of his reader. Its readings were laced with moral lessons and Biblical verses. It taught a protestant ethic. Between 1836 and 1920, the reader sold as many as 122 million copies and most of these copies were used by several students. It has been said that McGuffey was responsible for “making the American mind.”

In post-revolutionary war America, large numbers of Catholic Immigrants arrived, and they did not like the anti-Catholic lessons taught in common schools. Protestants viewed Catholics as antidemocratic because of their allegiance to the Pope who opposed democratic reform in Europe. Catholics did not want their children abused in common schools. They started developing their own school system and wanted government support for their schools. This was just one of multiple pressure points creating the “Bible wars.”

The fight over religion in school became so intense that in 1876 President Ulysses S. Grant declared:

‘“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. … Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

I have touched lightly on just a few of the early developments in public education chronicled in great depth by Neem. My main take away from this read is that in developing universal free public education in America the foundation for democracy was forged. That foundation is under attack today. Read this book and you will deepen and reinforce your own need to protect America’s public schools.