Tag Archives: Jonathan Sackler

Ed Tech Spending Rampaging through North Carolina Public Schools

27 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/27/2020

A North Carolina cabal of school superintendents, politicians, consultants and technology companies has gone wild over the past seven years. In Chapel Hill, Education Elements obtained an illegitimate $767,000 contract. Chapel Hill-Carborro City Hills Schools (CHCCS) Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Jennifer Bennett, supposedly ignored school board policy and agreed to the contract in secret. It seems that when the state and local schools are spending on education technology, policies and law are being ignored.

After the Education Elements negotiations, Bennett sent a message to their Managing Partner, Jason Bedford, saying, “Need to get you guys to modify the [contract] if you can since if we include the whole potential payment value, then we have to take this to the Board since over our $90K threshold ….” This seems very damning, however, local citizens think they are being gas lighted. In the comments section on the school boards web site, several parents expressed the same opinion as parent Jeff Safir who wrote,

“I find it hard to believe that Jennifer Bennett acted alone and was the only person aware of the money being spent on the Education Elements engagement and I don’t understand why she is able to serve out the rest of her contract in an alternate capacity when the position is at-will ….”

Education Elements was created with funding from NewSchools Venture fund and a four other venture capital groups that invest in education startups. As noted in a previous article, “There are few districts in America that do not have a deeper bench when it comes to education theory, practical application and leadership talent than Education Elements.”  In agreement with this point, parent Kavita Rajagopal wrote,

“There is zero information as to exactly what our taxpayer dollars even bought from EdElements. I have spoken to numerous (double digits) teachers and not a single one found the training to be novel or particularly eye opening. Why are there no teachers at the table?”

Particularly galling to CHCCS parents is the fact that 20 of 40 teaching assistants working in special education were let go at the same time this contract was consummated. Parent Payal Perera wrote, “I was appalled to learn that the EC support staff funding was cut, while $750K was available for these other things!”

Mary Ann Wolf is President of the CHCCS school board. She is also a long time proponent of education technology. In a 2010 paper she wrote,

“Personalized learning requires not only a shift in the design of schooling, but also a leveraging of modern technologies. Personalization cannot take place at scale without technology. Personalized learning is enabled by smart e-learning systems, which help dynamically track and manage the learning needs of all students, and provide a platform to access myriad engaging learning content, resources and learning opportunities needed to meet each students needs everywhere at anytime, but which are not all available within the four walls of the traditional classroom.”

Wolf is Director of the Digital Learning Programs at The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University and is a member of the Digital Promise Micro-credential Advisory Board. She also presents at Future Ready symposiums.

In other words, Board President Mary Ann Wolf isn’t just a fan of putting kids at digital screens. She is a well paid leader in the movement.  The headline on the Friday Institute’s homepage proclaims, “Coaching digital learning institute.”

At the Friday Institute, Wolf had a colleague named Lauren Acree who in 2019 took a position as Design Principle at Education Elements. Parents in CHCCS are suspicious about why Wolf never revealed her connection to Education Elements when the scandal erupted.

It is not just North Carolina school districts ignoring past practices, policies and laws concerning education technology spending. In 2018, Mark Johnson, the Republican Superintendent of Schools, led a group of three local politicians and two superintendents of schools on an all expense paid junket to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Seven months later, Johnson announced a $6.6 million I-pad contract to supply the devices to North Carolina public school students in kindergarten through third grade. It was a no-bid contract that bypassed the state Department of Information Technology.

Johnson has great connections but he is not qualified to lead schools. In 2016, 33-years-old Mark Johnson became North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He garnered 50.6% of the vote besting his opponents 49.4% tally.

The young lawyer vacated his position as corporate counsel at Inmar, an international technology company, where he had worked for three years to take the Superintendent’s position. His only training and experience in education was a two year temp teacher stint with Teach For America (TFA).

Although he clearly lacked the qualifications of Professor June Atkinson, the incumbent, several billionaires including Arthur Rock, Michael Bloomberg, Jonathan Sackler and Steuart Walton contributed heavily to his campaign.

In 2016, Johnson also received support from the Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) PAC. It supports TFA alumni running for office. The Silicon Valley billionaire, Arthur Rock, is a board member of LEE along with Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma. 

Superintendents Organized to Sell Education Technology

In 2015, the Raleigh law firm Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP established The Innovation Project (TIP) with ten superintendents from North Carolina’s public school districts. The more than 100-years-old firm has deep ties to the business and political communities in North Carolina’s capital. For example, their self published history notes,

“Ed Gaskins was a member of EGH’s other predecessor firm, Sanford & Cannon. Sanford & Cannon was formed in 1965 by Terry Sanford (1917-1998), former Governor of North Carolina, and Hugh Cannon (1931-2006), one of Governor Sanford’s senior advisors who served as counsel to the governor.”

Why did law firm Partner Gerry Hancock initiate TIP as a service of the Raleigh law firm in their offices at the historic Briggs Hardware Store? Whatever the real motive was, by 2017, TIP had 26 superintendents of public education signed up and were ready to move onto the campus at North Carolina State University as a non-profit.

The Innovation Project’s Strange Road to Non-Profit Status

The odd TIP path to non-profit status began in 2013 two years before it was founded. Joe Ableidinger received EIN 46-3120883 for the non-profit World Class Schools. He was attempting to start two charter schools using computer based instruction. In July 2013, World Class Schools received a $100,000 grant from the Educause’s Next Generation Learning Challenges fund. An intiative financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The charter schools never opened and the non-profit changed its name to The Innovation Project in 2017.

TIP’s 2017 form 990 covering 7/1/2017 to 9/30/2018 is filed under the World Class Schools EIN 46-3120883 but with the new name. It lists two salaried employees Ann McColl and Joe Ableidinger.

In 2015, TIP received a startup grant of $150,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and soon after other foundations like the Belk Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation gave support. However a significant portion of their funding comes from membership dues. In a letter accompanying TIP’s invoices for the 2017-2018 school year, they announced cutting the dues from $36,000 to $30,000 per year.

TIP’s initiatives include establishing a virtual academy; creating their own version of turnaround schools called restart schools; establishing innovative classroom programs; addressing North Carolina’s teacher shortage and serving home-school families.

Unfortunately, this entire agenda with the exception of teacher shortages is being addressed by promoting education technology. For the teacher shortages, they have partnered with TNTP. In North Carolina, TIP could have partnered with the existing exemplary education professionals at University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University or Duke University to create alternate paths to teacher credentialing and professional development. Instead they chose to contract with the TFA created TNTP that is an unqualified light weight in education circles.

TIP also sites Mary Ann Wolf’s Friday Institute as a partner. (Update: On June 15 Wolf left the Friday Institute to become President of the Public Schools Forum also at North Carolina State University.)

On the TIP resource page, they list three sources under the category of Changes and Innovation.

  1. Center on Reinventing Public Education, Tracking Actions in Districts related to COVID-19
  2. Chiefs for Change,Tracking Innovation
  3. FutureEd, Tracking state legislation in response to COVID-19

Center on Reinventing Public Education is the billionaire financed organization promoting privatizing public education using the portfolio model of management. Chiefs for Change is the Jeb Bush founded organization promoting education technology, vouchers and charter schools. FutureEd sells the idea of putting children at digital screens instead of with actual teachers. This is the TIP agenda.

Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, was one of the superintendents accompanying Mark Johnson on that free trip to Apple Inc. She is also a TIP member.

In the paper Personalizing Learning in a Digital World: Four key priorities for digital and personalized learning,” the Digital Learning Institute thanked “Dr. Lynn Moody, …” for helping make the report possible.  

When Tip member Cathy Moore was deputy superintendent of Wake County Public Schools she was featured in a promotional video on the Education Elements web site. Today she is the superintendent.

Mary Ellis is a TIP member from the Union County Public Schools (UCPS). In 2015, while acting as Superintendent for UCPS, Ellis started a private endeavor called Educatrx Inc. She had three partners, two district technology leaders and Jason Mooneyham from the Chinese computer manufacturing company Lenovo.

In 2016, Ellis had legal corruption charges brought against her for conflicts of interest when her company facilitated a few technology deals including purchasing 10,000 Chromebooks from Lenovo. The district attorney dropped the charges.

Ellis is also a TIP consultant. In the 2017 TIP tax form, she is listed as being paid $121,629 for her services.

TIP creates classes for the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS). After reviewing NCVPS, state auditor Beth Wood said, “Be concerned that these online classes may not be preparing your children for the next grade or for college.” In the audit, Wood noted that eight of 12 NCVPS courses audited did not meet required curriculum content standards and there was no assurance that 11 of the 12 NCVPS courses analyzed met adopted standards for rigor. 

The vast majority of America’s school principals believe that students are experiencing too much screen time and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

Not all education technology is bad, but there are limitations. Students eventually need good graphing calculators, spread sheets, word processing and modern data acquisition capability. However, when the technology is little more than worksheets delivered by a digital device like those from I-ready and Education Elements not only is the screen time required unhealthy, the lessons are hated by students and ineffective.

To conclude this piece, here is a list of the 26 North Carolina school districts and their leaders that sent $30,000 or more to The Innovation Project in 2017.

  1. Alamance-Burlington Schools
    Dr. William “Bruce” Benson, Superintendent
  2. Asheboro City Schools
    Dr. Terry Worrell, Superintendent
  3. Beaufort County Schools
    Paul Higgins, Instructional Technology Director
  4. Cabarrus County Schools
    Dr. Chris Lowder, Superintendent
  5. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
    Dr. Pam Baldwin, Superintendent
  6. Craven County Schools
    Dr. Meghan Doyle, Superintendent
  7. Cumberland County Schools
    Dr. Marvin Connelly, Superintendent
  8. Edgecombe County School
    Dr. Valerie Bridges, Superintendent
  9. Gaston County Schools
    Mr. Jeff Booker, Superintendent
  10. Hoke County Schools
    Dr. Freddie Williamson, Superintendent
  11. Iredell-Statesville Schools
    Dr. Brady Johnson, Superintendent
  12. Johnston County Schools
    Dr. D. Ross Renfrow, Superintendent
  13. Kannapolis City Schools
    Dr. Daron Buckwell, Superintendent
  14. Lenoir County Schools
    Dr. Brent Williams, Superintendent
  15. Lincoln County Schools
    Dr. Lory Morrow, Superintendent
  16. Moore County Schools
    Dr. Robert “Bob” P. Grimesey Jr, Superintendent
  17. Mount Airy City Schools
    Dr. Kim Morrison, Superintendent
  18. Onslow County Schools
    Dr. Rick Stout, Superintendent
  19. Person County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Peterson, Superintendent
  20. Rockingham County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Shotwell, Superintendent
  21. Rowan-Salisbury Schools
    Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent
  22. Vance County Schools
    Dr. Anthony Jackson, Superintendent
  23. Wake County Schools
    Dr. Cathy Moore, Superintendent
  24. Warren County Schools
    Dr. Ray Spain, Superintendent
  25. Wayne County Schools
    Dr. Michael Dunsmore, Superintendent
  26. Wilson County Schools
    Dr. Lane Mills, Superintendent

The Billionaire Financed Racist Attack on Camden’s Schools

26 Jun

By T. Ultican 6/25/2019

The rape of public education in Camden, New Jersey is a classic example of “segrenomics.” In 1997, one of the only functioning organizations in the city of Camden was the public school system. This city often labeled “the most dangerous city in America” had 19,303 students registered into Camden City School District (CCSD). Ninety-five percent of those students were either Black (56.5%) or Hispanic (38.9%). In 2018, CCSD had 6800 students registered into its public schools.

In her masterpiece Cutting School, Noliwe Rooks defined “segrenomics.” She noted that to lift all children up requires racial and economic integration and she encourages us to educate poor students with wealthy students; not falling for the separate but equal fallacy. Unfortunately, today, poor children experience a recurrent push towards vocational education. Their schools often employ “cost effective” forms of funding and delivery such as cyber schools, students at screens and blended learning.  Rooks observes,

“While not ensuring educational equality, such separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education have provided the opportunity for businesses to make a profit selling schooling. I am calling this specific form of economic profit segrenomics. Segrenomics, or the business of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation, is on the rise.”

Camden

Camden Images

Camden, New Jersey Images

When crossing the Delaware River from Philadelphia on the Ben Franklin Bridge, you arrive in Camden, New Jersey. The small city of 77,000 was incorporated in 1828. It was a prosperous manufacturing center up until the 1950’s when its population peaked at 125,000 and manufacturing jobs started leaving.

By the 1990’s corruption and violence were wracking the city. In December of 2000, Mayor Milton Milan was convicted of taking bribes. Ralph Natale the former boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey mob turned state’s evidence against Milan. The Mayor’s predecessor, Arnold Webster pleaded guilty to illegally paying himself $20,000 in school district funds after he became mayor. A former CCSD board president pled guilty to embezzling $24,000. Worst of all, homicides were becoming common.

In 2012, the Daily Mail, a publication from the United Kingdom, ran an article about Camden, “The most dangerous town in America: Inside Camden, New Jersey where 39 people have been murdered this year.” It gave these bullet points:

  • 13 homicides in July – the most deadly month since a shooting spree in 1949
  • Murder rate was ten times New York City in 2011 — and on pace to be even higher this year
  • More than half of children live below the poverty line as city is ravaged by drugs
  • Police department forced to cut one third of officers in 2011 and arrests dropped to less than half of what they were in 2009

The web site Neighborhood Scout tracks violent crime in America. They state, “Our research reveals the 100 most dangerous cities in America with 25,000 or more people, based on the number of violent crimes per 1,000 residents.” From 2012 until today, Camden has been in the top 10 most dangerous American cities.

  • 2012 – 5th place
  • 2013 – 2nd place
  • 2014 – 3rd place
  • 2015 – 1st place
  • 2016 – 2nd place
  • 2017 – 4th place
  • 2018 – 4th place
  • 2019 – 8th place

To go along with political corruption and out of control violent crime, Camden is poverty racked. New Jersey TV 13 reported,

“Camden, N.J., is the poorest city in the nation. According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 32,000 Camden residents live below the poverty line. For a family of four, the poverty line is an annual household income of about $22,000.”

The Public Schools Are Failing – Really?

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In it, he discussed the idea that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability measures were purposely designed to open a path for privatizing schools. He wrote,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’”

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

In 2006, the state of New Jersey appointed a fiscal monitor to oversee all actions taken by the CCSD board. This was motivated in part by a cheating scandal and corruption concerns. As Mark Weber who blogs as the Jersey Jazz Man wrote, “The state appoints a fiscal monitor for the Camden district after members of the Legislature are shocked — shocked, I tell you! — that a city that has been under the thumb of a political machine for years might have some corruption.”

There appears to have been two types of cheating at CCSD. In type one, certain administrators were getting bonus for improved graduation rates and in the other type teachers were being pressured to cheat on the NCLB related testing.

The big downfall of high stakes testing and merit pay is they both drive unethical behavior. It is now clear that standardized testing only measures economic status. That explains why exclusively schools in high poverty areas have been closed for poor testing results. The tests of course do not measure the quality of the closed schools; they reflected average family income.

In 2011, Camden’s testing results and graduation rates were miserable. Only 45% of the student body graduated in four years and just 60% had graduated after five years. Graduation rates of less than 50% had persisted since the 1990’s. However, there have been success stories matriculating from Camden’s schools like Tevin Wooten of the Weather Channel.

It is disingenuous to blame Camden public schools, teachers and students for these poor outcomes.

Doctor Kerry Ressler is the lead investigator of the Grady Trauma Project. He has been interviewing inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least 1 in 3 of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives — and that’s a “conservative estimate” said Dr. Ressler. He stated,

“The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans. We have a whole population who is traumatized.

Marie Corfield who is “that teacher in that Chris Christie You Tube video” interviewed Doctor Keith Benson for her blog. Benson wears many hats. He is an Adjunct Professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, President of the Camden Education Association, Education Program Specialist for CCSD, Education Chair Camden NAACP and has a decade of classroom teaching experience. In the interview, he responded to a question about teaching traumatized children,

“When you’re dealing with children who live in concentrated poverty and a lot of violence, there are a lot of residual effects. … And that’s something that’s given very little regard by ‘reformers’ but it’s a very big hurdle in the educative process between teacher and student. So a lot of what we’re doing is building up students as individuals; showing love and care. And until we do those things, teaching content is a waste of time.”

“Some of these violent occurrences are in students’ families or their social network, so they bring those stories, that pain, that hurt into the classroom. What does that do to a child’s perspective on the future when people they care about have been seriously hurt or killed or incarcerated?”

In 2011, even while the Camden police and fire departments were imploding due to Governor Chris Christie’s budget cuts, the CCSD continued to take care of and educate the children. However, the schools had no control over the violence and poverty that their students were facing. Far from being failures, they were making heroic efforts to save as many children as possible. Those are the children and communities of color that politicians in New Jersey had turned their back on.

The Billionaire Attack

In January 2010, a big fan of privatizing public education, Chris Christy, assumed the the office of New Jersey Governor. In 1999, Christy had been a lobbyist for Chris Whittle and his Edison Schools. That is when Edison Schools had their Initial Public Offering. Their claim that Christy was touting said that they could educate America’s children at a profit and do it both cheaper and better than public schools.

The Jersey Jazz Man, Mark Webber, says the takeover of Camden schools was not inevitable. He claims, “The dismantling of Camden’s public school system was planned years ago, and that plan was funded by a California billionaire with an ideological agenda.

The California billionaire is Eli Broad. To advance the cause of public school privatization, Broad founded The Broad Academy, an unaccredited administration training program.

Broad’s theory is that public school administrators and elected school boards lack the financial background to run large organizations. Motoko Rich’s Times article explained, ‘“The new academy,’ he said, would ‘dramatically change this equation’ by seeking candidates in educational circles as well as recruiting from corporate backgrounds and the military, introducing management concepts borrowed from business.” He believes school leaders do not need expertise in education; consultants can be hired for that.

Broad was able to place several of his trainees into New Jersey including Bing Howell and Rochelle Sinclair. Howell served as a liaison to Camden for the creation of four Urban Hope Act charter schools. He reported directly to the deputy commissioner of education, Andy Smerick. Howell’s proposal for Camden suggests that he oversee the intervention through portfolio management — providing a range of school options with the state, not the district, overseeing the options.

The Urban Hope Act is a 2012 law that created a new class of charter schools called renaissance schools. It also has a teacher professional development component. Of all the excellent graduate schools of education in the state, the Act hands over professional development to Relay Graduate School, the fake graduate school started by the charter school industry.

The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test. This model inevitably leads to an ever more privatized system that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. It was created through billionaire funding as a systematic way to remove democratic control of schools from local communities.

Governor Christie took control of Camden’s schools in March 2013. CBS News stated, “Christie says he’ll appoint a new superintendent and the state will ensure every student has books and technology.”  The state took control in June and in August, True Jersey reported,

“The city of Camden could soon be getting a new superintendent. Gov. Chris Christie announced his selection of Paymon Rouhanifard as the first State Superintendent of the Camden School District.”

At the time Rouhanifard was 32-years old. He had 2-years teaching experience as a TFA corps member and no experience leading schools. From 2009-2012, he worked for the NYC Department of Education. Mark Weber described his job,

“Rouhanifard’s job at the NYCDOE was to go around New York and close neighborhood schools so they could be replaced with charters. Obviously, this is why then-Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Christie picked him for the job: he knows how to dismantle a public school system and turn it over to privatizers.”

Rouhanifard left his superintendent’s job in 2018 to become an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Walton Family Foundation. He also completed the Broad academy administration program in 2016.

Gates, Sackler, Arnold and the Walton Family have all joined Eli Broad in financing the privatization of Camden’s schools. Gates sent $2,700,000 to 50Can and $27,000,000 to the Charter Fund which are both organizations supplying money to privatize Camden’s schools. Jonathan Sackler sent $1,050,000 to 50Can. John Arnold sent $6,189,000 to the Charter Fund, $100,000 for common enrollment in Camden and $290,000 to Teach for America in Camden. The Walton family is the Charter Funds major donor and gives direct support to the charter school management companies in Camden.

Schools Disappearing

Privatization Chart Compares 2003 Enrollment Data with 2018

What chance does a small city that is poverty stricken and dominated by minority populations have against Billionaires who are out to end their right to vote on the control of their schools? This is what segrenomics looks like.