Tag Archives: Innovation Schools

Denver’s Portfolio Model School District Is a Failure!

19 Jan

By T. Ultican 1/19/2019

Here is a predictable outcome from the portfolio district. On Jan. 18, 2019, a press release from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) says,

After ten hours of negotiations today, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools were unable to reach an agreement on a fair compensation system for 5,700 teachers and special service providers. DCTA members will vote Saturday and Tuesday on whether or not to strike.

The portfolio model which promotes disruption as a virtue is anti-union. It is not conducive to stable harmonious relations with either labor or communities and it is anti-democratic. Denver is held up as an exemplar of school reform; however the outcomes look more like a warning. Increasing achievement gaps; a bloating administration; significantly increasing segregation; ending stable community schools; and stripping citizens of their democratic rights are among the many jarring results.

Former Denver School Board Director, Jeanne Kaplan, wrote extensively about an article in EducationNext championing school reforms in Denver. It was based on a podcast by the guru of school reform and privatization in the Clinton administration, David Osborne. Kaplan noted,

“2009 was … the first time outside money appeared in [School] Board Election campaigns. Stand for Children came with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – our side, as Osborne notes, won the election. Each following election more and more reform money … appeared …. In addition to Stand, Democrats for Education Reform, Students First, and wealthy local businessmen, both Democrats and Republicans, … put enormous amounts of money and human capital to be sure … a unanimous board was achieved. Much of the money while identified by independent expenditure committee remains hidden as to who is making the individual contributions. In 2011 the people were able to hold on to a “mighty minority” of three: 4-3. In 2013 the minority dwindled to one: 6-1. In 2015 the Board was unanimously “reform”: 7-0.

This has become a central thesis of the portfolio model strategy. A Chalkbeat article quotes Ethan Gray of Education Cities on the strategy. Gray who recently went to work at the new City Fund which was established specifically to sell the portfolio model said, “We’re skeptical that systems themselves will actually go through some sort of self-driven transformation.” Chalkbeat reported that the new plan for growth had three strategies.

  • Strategy #1: Apply outside pressure. (Increase pressure on school districts by bringing in outside competition and supporting local competing initiatives.)
  • Strategy #2: Push for one-stop school enrollment. (This forces public school districts to help the privatized schools and gives them an equivalency in the eyes of the public.)
  • Strategy #3: Create a very different power structure. (Use financial resources to change the makeup of existing governing boards or establish mayoral appointed boards.)

In the 2017 Denver Public School Board election, four of the seven seats were on the ballot. The results:

  • At large seat: Former Lieutenant Governor Barbra O’Brian defeated a field of three candidates 40% to 35% to 24%. O’Brian spent $8.94 per vote, Robert Speth spent $0.77 per vote and Julie Banuelos spent $0.33 per vote.
  • Distict 2: Angela Corbian a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member beat Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan who had union support. Unfortunately, Gaytan had to spend time cleaning up after union blunders. The winner Corbian is currently an organizer for Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) the TFA offshoot that trains former corps members “to engage civically.” Cobian’s support included $67,000 from DFER’s Raising Colorado and tens of thousands of dollars from local and national “reformers.”
  • District 3: Dr. Carrie Olson, a 33-year DPS teacher won this seat with very little financial or people support from the teachers union. She astonishingly defeated Mike Johnson the incumbent who raised over $100,000 on his own and received almost another $100,000 from DFER and Stand for Children. Olson’s victory reduces the “reform” majority back to 6-1.
  • District 4: Jennifer Bacon another former TFA corps member won. She raised $70,000 on her own and shockingly received $139,000 from the teachers union. Bacon also received reformer money from TFA national board member Arthur Rock. The incumbent Rachael Espiritu had a large war chest of $97,000 from DFER and $93,000 that she raised but Espiritu was running in a district that had had its fill of reform. A third candidate in this district was 19-year-old Tay Anderson.

When analyzing this election, Jeanne Kaplan said the biggest losers were “Denver’s teachers, who are paying dues to an organization that turned its back on a 33 year teacher and endorsed a heavily funded alum of TFA…”

Dismal Results from Denver’s Portfolio District

school segragation chart

Chart of Racial Isolation Based on October Count for School Year 2017-18

Of Denver’s 204 schools, One-hundred have a population that is greater than or equal to 70% Hispanic. When the Hispanic and black students are summed 68 schools have 90% or more students from these minority groups. The AP reported in 2017 that charter schools were among the nation’s most segregated schools. There analysis found, “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.”

Racial isolation is a characteristic of districts employing the portfolio model. This kind of profound segregation runs afoul of federal law, good education and decency. It does not comply with the 1954 Supreme Court decision known as Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

The big selling point for modern school reform was closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap is measured by finding the average score differences between ethnicity groups on standards based tests. A 2011 report in Education Week stated, With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, closing achievement gaps among these various student groups became a focus of federal education accountability…”

achievment gap 2017

Table of Reading and Math Achievement Gaps Derived from NAEP Testing Data

In the tables above – based on average scale scores – it shows national results have a smaller gap than the large city results. Predictably, Denver has among the nation’s largest achievement gaps after two-decades of “billionaire” led reform.

In the fall of 2015, the Center on Reinventing Public Education  (CRPE) which is the central think tank promoting portfolio models ranked Denver Public Schools 45th out of 50 urban districts for improving graduation rates.

Denver’s pro-privatization citizen oversight group, A+ Colorado (formerly A+ Denver) in a recently released report, showed concern over the district’s progress stating,

“Let’s be clear: There has been progress in DPS, particularly in comparison to other Colorado districts. But some student learning outcomes are stalled or improving far too slowly for the district to be successful.”

DPS received another black-eye this January when a Chalkbeat headline revealed, “Denver has 1 administrator for every 7.5 instructional staff — far above state average.” The article presented the following chart for administrators in Denver compared to the rest of the state over the past ten years.

administrator growth chart

Chart of Administration Growth during the “Reform Era”

In 2017 the New York Times ran an interactive article about a new way to compare schools. The article said,

“It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.”

The New York Times picked the comparison schools while the reader picks the district of interest. This simulator attempts to correlate by years of learning. The average between 3rd  and 8th grade should be five years. After 13 years of disruption and “reform,” Denver remains a little below average with lackluster growth.

student growth models

After Five Years Denver’s Eighth Graders Still below Average

All the closing schools and disrupting neighborhoods brought little or no significant change. Denver’s students are still measured as being about the same amount behind in 8th grade as when they started 3rd grade.

A 2015 hiring analysis revealed that DPS paid TFA $5000 to $7000 per recruit? TFA teachers are two year temps with a college degree and five-weeks of training. From 2012-2015, Denver taxpayers paid TFA $520,600 for 232 recruits at traditional schools and over $800,000 for 267 recruits at charter schools. DCTA President Henry Roman stated that teacher turnover is a crisis in DPS. He claims the average teacher tenure has dropped to two years.

Traditional teacher new hires have a college degree, one-year of post graduate pedagogy study and a year of supervised student teaching. They arrive at schools with the expectation of making teaching a career.

The reliance on untrained teachers along with recognizing and using a fake graduate school created by the charter industry explains why all of the spending on reform has not resulted in better performance. The fake graduate school is Relay Graduate School. It’s Denver Dean, Therese Zosel-Harper, is working on her PhD. Relay is an obviously fake graduate school because it has no credentialed education scholars on staff.

Where did the Portfolio District Model Originate?

A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) on the campus at the University of Washington three years after John Chubb and Terry Moe wrote a popular book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools which was published in 1990 by The Brookings Institution. That book which was a sensation among neo-liberals called for the end of elected school boards. Hill began thinking about the mechanics for making that happen.

In 2002, Hill wrote a paper sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation calling for changes in school governance,

“… [T]he last few decades of education reform have shown us that simply tinkering at the edges is not enough to ensure that changes will take place. Reforms need to be comprehensive and needs to affect every level of the education system.”

Hill’s statement and the book by Chubb and Moe were both motivated by the conviction that public schools in America were failing. It was not true then nor was it true in 1889, 1942, 1955, 1959, 1963 nor is it true now.

Jim Arnold and Peter Smagorinsky wrote,

“Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.” In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a best seller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War. The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.”

The paragraph above recalls more than a century of national failure to properly educate our citizenry yet in that same century America became the world’s leader economically, scientifically, militarily and culturally. Does this mean that education quality does not matter or is it more likely that the perception of American education failing – is and was an illusion? Based on this illusion of failure are we being driven toward failure with unproven market theories? That is what the portfolio theory is. It is an unproven market theory of education governance.

William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado Boulder wrote a short paper “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.” Their basic definition explains,

“Generally  speaking,  four  reform  strategies  are  combined,  in  varying  degrees,  in  portfolio  districts:  (1)  performance-based  (generally  test-based)  accountability,  (2)  school-level  de-centralization of management, (3) the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools, and (4) the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools.”

In Denver there are 204 schools; 106 public schools, 42 charter schools and 56 innovation schools. In accordance with portfolio district theory, Denver residents no longer have the right to vote on the governance of 108 of their publicly financed schools. In addition, both charter schools and innovation schools are generally non-union.

The innovation school concept is promoted nationally by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to ALEC model legislation these schools “are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” In Denver, innovation schools are given a three year contract during which they are run by a non-profit. The results (testing data) at the end of the contract will dictate whether the experiment on the school children continues.

Innovation schools have only existed in Colorado since 2009. When the DPS board approved them in 2016, Board President Anne Rowe claimed, “I’m trying to think of a time I’ve been more excited, more proud, more optimistic about what we can achieve for kids.”

Conclusions

While Interviewing DCTA President Henry Roman, Jeff Fard said when he moves into a neighborhood he expects to register his kids in the local community school. “If I don’t like the school, I expect to roll up my sleeves and work to make it better.” If he still doesn’t like the school, he will pay for them to go to a private school. This is how it is supposed to be in America; people work for the betterment of their own community and pay for their own choices. However, if you live in portfolio districts like Denver, unseen and unelected forces control the neighborhood.

As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights.”

It is past time for the citizens of Denver to take back their democratic rights and their public schools.

Indiana’s Destroy Public Education Leader is Going National

19 Mar

Last week, a press release from The Mind Trust announced that founder and CEO, David Harris was leaving. Writing for Chalkbeat, Dillon Peers McCoy reported:

“Now, Harris is moving on from the city he helped shape to the national stage, although he still plans to live in Indianapolis. 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.”

Not the First Attempt to Go National

This is at least the third attempt Harris has made to take his brand to a national scale. In 2011, Ethan Gray then Vice-President of The Mind Trust became the founder and CEO of CEE-Trust. David Harris was on the Board. In the CEE-Trust’s earliest available web-page it states:

“CEE-Trust is led by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based non-profit that supports education innovation and reform.”

 “CEE-Trust is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Joyce Foundation. CEE-Trust is also grateful for the past support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.”

CEE-Trust ran into rejection and legal malfeasance accusations in Kansas City. Chalkbeat reporter Matt Barnum says of the episode, “In 2013, a plan to reshape Kansas City’s schools was essentially run out of town.” Soon after that, CEE-Trust was renamed Education Cities.

In 2015, Harris motivated the establishment of a Mind Trust clone in Cincinnati, called Accelerate Great Schools. Doug Martin, the author of Hoosier School Heist, reports that “Patrick Herrel, a former Teach for America recruiter and past vice president of recruitment for The Mind Trust, was picked by the corporate powers-that-be in 2015 to lead the Accelerate Great Schools.”

Gayle Crosby, a recent Indiana Public Schools board member, shared that in less than two years (January 2017) Herrel was back in Indianapolis:

“This month the brand new IPS board saw it fit to appoint Patrick Herrel to be the Director of Student Enrollment and Options.”

“Patrick left the Mind Trust and Indianapolis to be the Director of the Mind Trust #2 in Cincinnati.  Now he is back to run Student Enrollment and Options at IPS.  And he doesn’t come cheap:” $110,000 per year.

Who is Behind the New National Organization and Why Harris?

Harris is a lawyer and a political operative, not an educator. He never studied education nor has he ever spent meaningful time in front of a classroom and it seems he never attended public school. He does not understand education but he does understand the use of political power. He has a demonstrated ability to advocate, organize and use the levers of government. He is in possession of an innate wisdom; unfortunately, it is an evil wisdom.

His Mind Trust Bio tells us that he was a 27-year-old lawyer working at the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels when he joined Democrat Bart Peterson’s campaign for mayor to be his “education guy.” He spent five years as Mayor Peterson’s Charter Schools Director.

All of the news accounts about Harris leaving Mind Trust repeat this same talking point from the Mind Trust news release, “The Mind Trust also has recruited top national organizations such as Teach For America, TNTP and Stand for Children to Indianapolis.”

TNTP was called The New Teachers Project when Michelle Rhee used it to gain a national reputation by bashing teachers. TNTP and Teach For America (TFA) were founded by Wendy Kopp whose husband, Richard Barth, is CEO of the KIPP charter school chain. Without the generous funding by Gap founder Doris Fisher, KIPP would be unknown. TNTP and TFA only exist because of massive funding by Dell, Broad, Arnold, Gates, and Walton. Stand for Children is little more than a dark money conduit for the billionaire dollars flowing into the destroy public education (DPE) movement’s political campaigns.

Intellectually, these organizations are lightweights when it comes to education leadership and pedagogy. However, they have become the billionaire’s school privatization army. Many TFA members spend their two years in a classroom; then became a well-financed charter school founder or a teacher trainer at TNTP or a well-funded school board candidate.

If Harris knew anything about education, he would have never shunned the departments of education at the University of Indiana or Indiana State University or Purdue University. He would not have turned to TNTP to train school leaders. He would have never recruited TFA teachers with no education studies, no experience and five weeks of training. Obviously, improved education was not the goal.

Now that Harris is stepping down at The Mind Trust, he is being replaced by TFA alum, Brandon Brown.

David Harris and Brandon Brown

Photo from Chalkbeat of Brandon Brown (left) and David Harris (right) by Dylan Peers McCoy.

Lately, things have been really good at The Mind Trust. Last April (2017) Lindsey Erdody writing for the Indiana Business Journal said, “Mind Trust [is] drawing big dollars from national donors.” Lindsey quotes David Harris,

“I think we have recognized in the last year or so the significant national interest in supporting the work that’s happening here,” CEO David Harris said. “I don’t want to suggest we haven’t gotten any national funding before, but the big funding is really coming in now.” (emphasis added)

Erdody continued:

“Since 2015, The Mind Trust has raised $31 million, with sizable donations from national entities, including the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation and Austin, Texas-based Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.”

However, the biggest donation comes from Mr. Enron, John Arnold – $11.1 million. Erdody quotes Arnold,

 ‘“If Indianapolis is successful in doubling the number of kids that are attending high-quality schools, it will be one of the best investments that the Arnold Foundation has made,’ Arnold said in the video. ‘Indianapolis has this great chance and opportunity to show the nation what can be done.”’

I wrote a post about The Mind Trust in January. In it I shared the following table of grants supporting Harris’s organization.

Lilly Endowment

2014 Mind Trust $4,929,000

2015 Mind Trust $18,000

2016 Mind Trust $7,170,000

Total $12, 117,000

{Big Pharma Money}

Gates Foundation

The Mind Trust

Oct. 2012 – $1,420,000

Aug. 2011 $539,334

Total $1,959,334

{Microsoft Money}

 

Walton Family Foundation

2013 Mind Trust $23,000

2014 Mind Trust $650,000

2015 Mind Trust $1,200,000

Total $1,873,000

{Walmart Money}

 

Arnold Fund

The Mind Trust $11,075,000

{Enron Money}

 There is no official word about the new national organization’s co-founders, but it is nearly certain that Gates, Walton, Dell and Arnold will be involved.

The advent of this new organization must mean that the billionaire education privatizers are not happy with the results so far. Education Cities is just not getting it done. The billionaires want Harris to take the lead and not one of his lieutenants. Since, he is already making $300,000 a year at The Mind Trust, I can’t wait to see how much this new organization is going to pay him.

The David Harris Reform Agenda

Harris will use legislative initiatives and big money to undermine democratic control of schools and teachers’ unions. He will claim that laws protecting teachers and students are interfering with the ability to improve schools. He will push the “reformer” lie that public schools are failing. He will claim that this privatization agenda is only motivated by the conviction that “every child deserves a great school.”

Jim Scheurich, Professor IUPUI School of Education recently wrote an article he called, “Business is a Horrible Model for Education and ‘Educational Reform.”’ In it he states,

“This Big Money, working through the Mind Trust network, put up the money to get all of the current school board members elected. To do this, while it used to take $3-5,000 to run successfully for the school board, it now take $50-80,000. Thus, the Mind Trust network and the Big Money behind it made it nearly impossible for ordinary local people to run for the school board, and thus they bought the current school board.”

Denisa R. Superville writing in EdWeek about Harris’s resignation reports,

“The Mind Trust was a supporter of a 2014 state law that allowed Indianapolis to create ‘Innovation Network Schools’—schools that were freed from some of the restrictions on traditional public schools, including giving those schools full operational autonomy.  While the Innovation Network Schools remain part of the Indianapolis district, their teachers are not covered by the district’s collective bargaining agreement. 

In conjunction with the city and the school district, The Mind Trust launched the Innovation Network Fellowship to help school leaders refine their designs for new schools or to restart struggling ones. The group has helped to support 17 such schools.

Innovation schools are an agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Their web site summarizes the proposal:

“The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act creates a mechanism for schools, groups of schools, and districts to adopt plans that try new ways of delivering instruction and/or allocating resources. It creates a new classification of school districts, “Districts of Innovation,” that have one or more schools implementing these plans. Districts of innovation are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” (like honoring union contracts)

David Osborne reporting for the neoliberal Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) was full of praise for The Mind Trust. In describing their embrace of innovation schools, he said,

“Today it is innovating again: Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is authorizing ‘innovation network schools’: district schools with performance contracts and full charter-style autonomy. Some are charters, some are startups, and some are existing IPS schools that have converted to innovation network status. All have independent boards organized as 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations; all are outside the teachers’ union contract; and all use IPS school buildings. …Though other cities have their own versions of ‘innovation schools’ or ‘pilot schools,’ only Indianapolis has given them the full autonomy and accountability charters enjoy.” (emphasis added)

Stephen Goldsmith, Professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program, wrote in Governing magazine praising The Mind Trust. He highlighted the push for “Innovation Schools” writing:

The result was the creation of what are called “Innovation Network Schools” launched by the Mind Trust. Indianapolis now has nine of these schools, with more to come, that are accountable to and part of the Indianapolis Public Schools but whose teachers and principals operate with significant entrepreneurial freedom and with an authority to mold their schools as they see fit.”

The Koch brother funded ALEC, the neoliberals at the PPI, and the neoliberals at the Harvard Kennedy School all sing from the same hymnal. They are all preaching that teachers unions are an impediment to improving education, as is democratic control of schools by local communities. David Harris and his DPE allies teach that regulations controlling schools are stopping innovation and positive school reform. They advocate creating unelected entities and giving them unfettered control of schools. The only accountability will be meeting measurable objective targets on standardized testing.

Rules setup by district and state governments responsible for schools have a purpose. They are there to protect children, teachers and taxpayers. They are there to insure competencies in hiring and curricular selection. A Voice of San Diego article highlights one example of the increased risk to students from privatized schools not required to follow district and state regulations:

“California public schools are seen nationally as the gold standard for seismic safety under an exacting law called the Field Act.”

“[N]ot all schools are subject to the rules. Preschools aren’t covered by them. Private schools are covered by a separate, slightly less demanding law, which doesn’t apply at all to older private schools. And charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, don’t fall under the Field Act unless they accept state facilities money — something that is rare here — or use district buildings.”  

Conclusion

Before David Harris came on the seen in Indianapolis, there were professionally managed high-quality public schools in every neighborhood. Parents knew that just down the block their second grader was safe and cared for by certificated trained education professionals. That is gone.

After the Harris announcement, a victim of his style of education reform, shared:

‘“I honestly think that if The Mind Trust … hadn’t been in Indianapolis over the past 10 or 11 years, that IPS would not be decimated and flailing like it is now,’ said Chrissy Smith, a parent and member of the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that is critical of the current administration. ‘We would not see innovation schools coming in. We would not see the proliferation of charter schools.”’