Tag Archives: Laurene Powell Jobs

Organized to Disrupt

10 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/10/2020

The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) is the Swiss army knife of public school privatization. It promotes education technology development, bankrolls charter school creation, develops charter management organizations and sponsors school leadership training groups. Since its founding in 1998, a small group of people with extraordinary wealth have been munificent in their support. NSVF is a significant asset in the billionaire funded drive to end democratically run public schools and replace them with privatized corporate structures.

1990’s Silicon Valley was a Happening Place

Mark Andreessen had just co-written the world’s first web-browser, Mosaic, before he came to town from the University of Illinois to co-found Netscape. John Doerr left Intel in 1980 to join the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins where his reputation for picking winners became legendary. His wins include Amazon, AOL, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Google, Netscape and Twitter. Internet search engines were in their infancy when in 1999 Doerr convinced his partners to put $12.5 million into Google. Five years later that investment turned into billions.

Like elsewhere in America, every little strip mall in San Jose, California had a Blockbuster video rental store. In 1997, Reed Hastings and Netflix co-founder Mark Reynolds came up with a disruptive idea that put Blockbuster out of business. For a monthly fee, they offered DVD’s by mail with no late charges. Blockbuster did not adapt fast enough and went bankrupt.

In the Valley, everyone was aware that their business could be just one new technology innovation away from being the next Blockbuster.

“DoWopDon” Shalvey was the superintendent of schools in San Carlos, California a bedroom community about a third of the way up the peninsula between San Jose and San Francisco. When California passed its 1992 charter school legislation, Shalvey’s application for a charter turned into California’s first charter school. It officially opened in August 1994.

Apparently, Don Shalvey was an amateur DJ and very into music. His twitter handle is @dooWopDon.

Shalvey joined with Reed Hastings in writing a statewide initiative for the 1998 ballot that lifted the cap on charter schools and eased restrictions on starting one. At that time, Hastings was made president of Technology Network, a bipartisan lobbying group formed by Silicon Valley CEOs. With their support, the initiative quickly amassed more than a million signatures. Opposition from the teachers union ended as they were also fighting against other education proposals coming from Governor Pete Wilson’s office.

A deal was struck making the initiative unnecessary. Legislative leaders passed a bill containing the initiative’s key ingredients and union leader withheld their objections. The new bill green-lighted an unlimited number of charter schools and just as importantly the bill authorized a single board to oversee multiple charter schools. It was the birth of charter management organizations and a massive acceleration in new charter school development.

When Pete Wilson signed the new bill into law in May 1998, Shalvey and Hastings had $403,000 left in their initiative campaign fund. They decided to shift the money into a non-profit and founded what became the Aspire charter school network.

Meanwhile on the other side of the continent, Ann Smith graduated with a degree in political science and psychology from Columbia University in 1989 and started working for Wendy Kopp and the Teach For America (TFA) founding team. In 1993, she moved to the Silicon Valley area and co-founded the Bay Area Youth Consortium – AmeriCorps. In 1996, she left AmeriCorps to pursue a Masters in Business Administration at Stanford University.

Smith was co-chair of the Stanford business school’s entrepreneur club and she wanted to get Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as a speaker for the club. She asked her friend John Doerr to help and he agreed on one condition. In an education session at Al Gore’s house, the name NewSchools had been created. Doerr wanted her to come up with a use for the name.

Bezos spoke at the club and Smith worked on her assignment. She wrote a two page paper outlining the NewSchools Venture Fund. She had been inspired by what Don Shalvey and Reed Hastings had accomplished and thought to herself, “Why couldn’t entrepreneurial philanthropists come together to create networks of entrepreneurial education organizations?” Smith labeled the paper “Creating CMOs — scaling up with quality — with the help of venture-capital-style philanthropic investing.”

The history at the NSVF web-site says,

“NewSchools Venture Fund was created in 1998 by social entrepreneur Kim Smith and venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers.” (Byers is a colleague of Doerr’s from Kleiner Perkins)

“We were among the first and largest investors in public charter schools and the first to identify and support multisite charter management organizations, which launch and operate integrated networks of public charter schools.”

“NewSchools’ work to support digital learning tools began at our inception in 1998.”

Philanthropy Magazine notes that Reed Hastings helped, “to launch the NewSchools Venture Fund.”

Big Money and Political Connections

LittleSis NSVF Map

LittleSis Map of NSVF Massive Funding By Billionaires

While there is little doubt the Bill Gates and The Walton Family Foundation are the largest individual donors to NSVF, the $226,881,394 in grants documented in the map above are only a fraction of the total billionaire largess. Besides receiving help from Reed Hastings, over the last 20-years, billionaires John Doerr, Laurene Jobs Powell and John Sackler have served on the board, but there is no information about any of their monetary contributions.

Kim Smith was the founding CEO of NSVF. The second CEO was Ted Mitchell the former President of Occidental College and a founding board member of NSVF. Mitchell replaced Kim Smith as CEO in September 2005 and held the position until 2014. From 2008-2010, he was simultaneously President of the California State Board of Education.

Mitchell has also served on the boards of New Leaders, Khan Academy, California Education Partners, Teach Channel, ConnectED, Hameetman Foundation, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Silicon Schools, Children Now, Bellwether Partners, Pivot Learning Partners, EnCorps Teacher Training Program, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Green DOT Public Schools.

On May 8, 2014 EdSource reported, “Former State Board of Education president Ted Mitchell was confirmed Thursday as under secretary of education, the third-highest ranking official at the U.S. Department of Education.”

NSVF’s 2010 990-tax form had a note that claimed, “To date, the Organization has successfully received support from … the U.S. Department of Education.” From 2003-2007, NSVF reported $5,997,900 in grants from governmental sources. In 2008, the line requiring listing governmental grants separately disappeared from the 990-tax form. There is no longer an easily accessible method for gaining that information.

Contribution Graph

Enormous Grant Amounts Reported by NSVF and Selected Billionaires

In the graph above the billionaire giving in green is for yearly totals from the tax reports by the billionaires in the LittleSis Map above. The 2016 spike occurred because some unknown entity contributed $68,000,000 to NSVF through the donor directed foundation Silicon Valley Community Fund.

In 2016, Reed Hastings created a $100,000,000 fund within the Silicon Valley Community Fund. At the same time, Laurene Jobs Powell was serving on the board of NSVF when her XQ Institute was granted $24,750,000 in 2015 and $57,402,973 in 2016. Either one of them could have made the large contribution or maybe it was someone else.

Every year NSVF hosts a “Summit” in Oakland, California which they state brings together more than 1,200 educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, funders, and policy makers to share ideas on how to “reimagine learning.” These “Summits” are a must attend for the disrupter community and they drive contributions.

To replace Mitchell as CEO when he left for the Department of Education in 2014, NSVF brought in Stacey Childress from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Childress earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2000. Afterwards, she spent a year co-founding an enterprise software sales company and then returned to Harvard where she was a Senior Lecturer and Executive Director. In 2010, Childress became Deputy Director of the Gates Foundation. She has been CEO of NSVF since arriving in 2014.

Both Mitchell and Childress have received NSVF salaries in excess of $500,000. The 2018 NSVF tax-form explanation of their compensation method reads,

“The organization obtained compensation studies from several independent sources to compile information used as a metric for salary increases … A subcommittee of the Board of Directors (BOD) conducts the review of the CEO and develops a recommendation for the full BOD.”

This is similar to the method that has ballooned executive pay in corporate America while line worker wages have stagnated. It is a method that justifies those at the top getting an ever greater share.

Investing in Privatization and Education Technology

NSVF claims they have invested in 117 Ed Tech companies, 187 charter schools and 55 diverse leaders programs.

Among their Ed Tech investments are Class Dojo, EdSurge, LearnZillion, Phet Interactive Simulations and Education Elements. When NSVF makes a major investment in an Ed Tech startup, they require a position on the companies governing board.

One of NSVF’s founding board members, Dave Whorton, is also the founder of Tugboat Ventures. When NSVF invested in Education Elements so did Tugboat Ventures. Dave Whorton was made a member of Education Elements Board of Directors where he efficiently keeps an eye on funds from both Tugboat and NSVF.

When first founded, NSVF invested heavily in Aspire Public Schools because of their plan to create a charter management organization. In 2001, they granted $1,095,000 of their total of $2,468,000 in giving to Aspire.

As their wealth grew the grants to charter schools became very similar to the grants their funders were making. They have funded DC Prep, Phalen Leadership Academy, Rocketship Education, Success Charter Network, Yu Ming Charter School and almost 200 more.

The Yu Ming Charter is essentially a private Mandarin immersion school that has just submitted a material revision to their expansion plan that was rejected in December. It has been alleged the Yu Ming does not want new students above the kindergarten level. A parent comment on the Berkeley Parent Network says, “The teachers seem reluctant to admit kids who aren’t quite up to par in Mandarin as it can be really overwhelming for students to be new and they don’t want to see them struggle and be under water from the get-go.” To which Oakland Educator Jane Nylund responded,

“Real, authentic public education is hard; we deal with struggling students every day as expected, standard educational practice. We don’t find a way to reject them because they are ‘struggling’. This honest assessment by an involved parent is just more evidence of a ‘public school’ in name only, and not in practice.”

NSVF’s diverse-leaders investing is aimed at replacing quality teacher education at universities with for profit organizations that have very limited expertise. It is also aimed at selling the privatization agenda. NSVF invested in Branch Alliance for Education Diversity, edfuel, MindWorks Collaborative, National Charter Collaborative, School Board Partners, TNTP and fifty more organizations.

School Board Partners came out of Education Cities when The City Fund was established. They appear to want influence over school board members by offering training; a function every state already provides. They are a part of selling the privatization agenda.

TNTP was rolled out of TFA by Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee. Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they are unqualified.

Final Comments

Kim Smith staid on the board at NSVF and in 2011 co-founded Bellwether Education Partners. The next year she founded the Pahara Institute where she is the CEO. Her 2016 pay reported on tax forms signed by her was $419,576. (Update: Smith recently stepped down as the Pahara CEO.)

DoWopDon (Don Shalvey) is now Deputy Director of the College Ready Team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

NSVF along with scores of billionaire funded Foundations has been spending staggeringly large amounts of money to privatize public education and monetize it. This spending has been going on for decades now. So, why are about 90% of America’s students still attending public schools? The answer is simple.

The “disrupter” products are bad and Americans are not buying what their selling.

Persistent Billionaire Financed Attack on Oakland Public Schools Continues

29 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/29/2020

This month, a survey was launched in Oakland, California with the claim “This survey is a primary partnership between OUSD and GO Public Schools Oakland.” Apparently some Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board members were stunned by the news and were not happy about raising the stature of a billionaire financed organization dedicated to privatizing public schools. It seems the survey resulted from a secret negotiation between OUSD administrators, GO and possibly some OUSD board members.

On May 13, when OUSD Director Shanti Gonzalez learned about the Survey, she wrote to Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell,

Hi Kyla. Can you tell me more about the robocall that went out today that referred parents to GO’s website/survey and why it was decided to send this to parents? We don’t typically use our infrastructure to refer people to groups that engage in political activities, so I am curious.”

Two days later Gonzalez wrote again,

“I understand the desire to collaborate and avoid duplication of efforts, but please remember that GO plays two roles in the Oakland education arena. In this case, their intent was to support our efforts to understand families’ needs. Their other role is to shape the composition of the board of OUSD and ACOE [Alameda County Office of Education], and to support the growth of charter schools, at least historically.”

OUSD Director Roseann Torres was characterized as being hopping mad when she found out about the survey. In an interview Torres stated,

“The Superintendent will not respond to my emails about the survey. She doesn’t care that as a Director, I am her boss.”

On the other hand Director Jody London’s response to constituent questions about the survey indicates that she was informed. She writes,

“The OUSD Office of Equity and family engagement team are collaborating with GO and a number of other Office of Equity partners to reach as many families as possible with the survey that will provide very important information about our planning the reopening of school. The survey is standalone and initially only directed participants to GO if they wanted to provide information to receive the mailed school supplies thank you gift. That has now changed …”

“This more collaborative approach with a number of partners on the family survey will give us the best opportunity for a strong level of participation and useful feedback about reopening.”

Survey Sponsors 

Logos of the OUSD Survey Partners

Originally the above logos were depicted at the top of every page of the survey and a gift offering at the end of the survey required the takers to give their email addresses to GO Public Schools. After Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown became involved, the direction to GO Public Schools was replaced and logos at the top of each page were eliminated. People were directed to the OUSD web site to apply for the gift and the only logos shown were from OUSD and GO on the bottom of the intro page.

This survey is transparently GO’s and there is another survey by OUSD which is somewhat similar. The committee that created the second survey includes Teach For America (TFA), KIPP charter schools and others. It appears the content of both surveys are important to the charter industry. The GO survey seems to bias towards technology implementation and the other survey appears to be priming a unified enrollment system.

Privatization in Oakland Driven by Billionaire Dollars

Chris Stewart is a 2014 Bush Fellow, the CEO of Brightbeam and sits on the board of Great Schools. He feels the claims of billionaire dollars are unfair. He sees them as working to create “quality schools” or does his high six figure billionaire paid salary cause that opinion? Without billionaire dollars and a state take-over, Oakland public schools would be much healthier and the community would not be so divided.

The billionaire spending to privatize public schools in Oakland has been enormous.

Tax records document that just two foundations, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (EIN: 56-2618866) and the Walton Family Foundation (EIN: 13-3441466) have spent more than $240,000,000 on privatization efforts in Oakland.

The Silicon Valley Community fund was formed in 2006. It has become an extremely large donor directed fund with reported assets of about $8 billion dollars. In 2018, it took in almost $6 billion dollars. Only three years of their 1,500 page long tax reports (EIN: 20-5205488) are searchable but just those three years show more than $15,000,000 spent on privatizing schools in Oakland including a 2017 gift to GO of $1,000,000.

This year, The City Fund – which was founded by two billionaires in 2018 – reported spending $7,591,666 on privatizing Oakland public schools. The City Fund supports the implementation of the “portfolio model” of school administration to drive privatization.

The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. Oakland’s school board implemented this model in 2018 under the name “Citywide Plan.” The method makes it almost certain that schools in poorer and minority communities will be privatized.

In 2004, Don Fisher of the GAP and Buzz Wooley a San Diego investor put up $100,000 each to establish the Charter School Growth Fund. In 2005, Buzz Wooley resigned from the presidency and Jim Walton took his seat on the board. Since then the Walton Family Foundation has had significant influence over the fund. Between 2012 and 2017 the Charter School Growth Fund (EIN 05-0620063) spent $12,998,570 supporting privatized schools in Oakland.

The Ely and Edythe Broad Foundation (EIN 95-4686318) has spent a relatively modest $3,457,664 on privatized schools in Oakland. However, four different graduates of Broad’s strange education leaders training academy have served as superintendents of OUSD between 2003 and 2018. Diane Ravitch recently noted that “Broad Institute got accredited even though it has no faculty, no campus, no course catalogue ….” It was accredited by the Western States Schools and Colleges. There have been two common outcomes wherever “Broadies” serve; labor and community unrest accompanied by extreme budget issues.

The latest budget problems in Oakland trace directly to the tenure of Antwan Wilson the last Broad trained superintendent to run Oakland’s schools.

Are Billionaire Bought Board Members Now a Board Majority?

Roseann “Rosie” Torres is a lawyer who moved from her hometown of Stockton to Oakland in 2004. A civic organization she joined gave her a homework assignment to study the public school district budget. This opened her eyes to the tremendous inequities between the schools in the hills where she lived and those in the flats where much of Oakland’s minority population lived.

In 2012, school board member Noel Gallo convinced Rosie to run for the seat he was vacating so he could run for city council. Before his tenure on the school board SFGate reports, “In the mid-1990s, Gallo was a city employee during then-Mayor Jerry Brown’s two terms in office, working as a staff member for former City Manager Robert Bobb.” That is the same Robert Bobb who would take the Broad training course in 2005 and become the Detroit public school’s first emergency manager in 2009. Gallo introduced Rosie to GO Public Education.

In 2012, GO provided Torres with $37,847 in independent expenditures and helped her raise $36,635 in direct campaign contributions. These were historically large numbers but that same year GO was providing even larger campaign assistance to James Harris and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge. All three candidates were successful.

In addition, GO representatives introduced Torres to many Democratic politicians serving locally, at the state capital and in congress. Torres said she really did not know who GO was and it took her about six months after the election to figure it out.

After Torres turned against the GO privatization agenda, there assistance unsurprisingly ended. In 2016 when she ran for reelection, her total campaign money fell from the 2012 $74,000 to $17,725, however a group of local activists went to work for her and she won.

Torres will not be running for reelection this year. She needs a break from the pressure and drama.

In 2012, billionaires started actively engaging in local school board elections. All at once, school board elections in cities like Dallas became well funded and prohibitively expensive. That same year billionaires including Stacy Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Laurene Jobs Powell of Palo Alto, California and others started making max donations to certain Oakland school board candidates.

The direct contribution limits of $700 made the independent expenditures with unlimited spending the place where most of their money went. In Oakland, that independent expenditure money was funneled though the GO Public School Advocates committee.

Table of Independent Expenditures

In 2018, $146,000 of Michael Bloomberg’s $250,000 contribution was put into the campaign to elect Gary Yee. Six years earlier, Yee was the focus of a recall campaign which was mainly about his push for closing schools. With Yee’s election, forces for privatization and school closing seem to have gained a solid majority on the OUSD board.

Some Closing Observations

The state government is also being corrupted by the prolific billionaire spending that is undermining democracy in America. In 2018, AB1840 which provided extra funding for financially strapped Oakland and Inglewood school districts was signed by Governor Brown. The root of their financial problems was the same; paying the extra unfunded costs associated with charter school openings and financial mismanagement by Broad trained superintendents.

One of the mandates for receiving financial help was the involvement of the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) in stabilizing the budget. FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, this non-profit organization has developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

FCMAT appears to have two strategies for solving district financial issues; laying-off personnel and closing schools.

On Memorial Day (May 25), the State Senate Fiscal Review Committee met to consider the May revise including AB1840 money for Oakland and Inglewood. Jane Nylund an Oakland resident and educator submitted a comment that reads in part,

“I strongly oppose the amendments of the Trailer Bill to AB 1840 regarding disbursements to Oakland Unified School District for 2020-21.”

“These amendments strip our local discretion to draw from the variety of strategies for fiscal solvency, listed as (c)(1)-(5). The language is clear:  the District “MAY” use the strategies. It is not mandated to use any particular one of them.

“Given the current situation with Covid-19, and all the unknowns that come with it regarding schools, it is completely inappropriate that OUSD is held hostage to sell property that it may find necessary to keep open in order to mitigate health risks of Covid-19.”

Community based schools run under the authority of an elected school board have served as the foundation for American democracy for two centuries. Feckless billionaires operating from hubris or theological commitment or a desire to avoid taxes or a pursuit of more wealth are sundering those foundations.

Will activists of good will be able to throw off the yoke of billionaire financed tyranny and defend their public schools in Oakland?

Faulty Billionaire Financed Education “Study”

9 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/9/2020

This January, the new organization Brightbeam and its CEO Chris Stewart published The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.” The name clearly indicates the paper’s political leanings and the underlying data is suspicious. The paper is a polemic rather than a study. Like many “reports” coming from what Diane Ravitch labels the “disrupter” community, this 33-page document has not been submitted for peer-review. Never-the-less, it has been widely disseminated as legitimate research to the Brightbeam network including Education Post. It has also gone to hard right media like The Blaze and found its way into mainstream media like NBC and the Boston Herald.

About Brightbeam

Last year, Brightbeam was created to be the umbrella organization for the Education Post and other digital media sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) which is the legal moniker for the obscure billionaire financed organization providing the operating funds for this new digital publishing group. Brightbeam also controls the cyber platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free and it has influence over at least fourteen local internet publications in various American cities.

The billionaires financing Brightbeam include Michael Bloomberg, Alice Walton, Jim Walton, Laurene Jobs Powell and Mark Zuckerberg.

Chris Stewart who was named CEO of Brightbeam has been on the payroll at RIEF since its founding in 2014. The last available tax record puts his 2017 salary at $226,417.

The new “report” says, “Brightbeam is a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and a brighter future for every child.” A more apt description would be “a billionaire created organization dedicated to privatizing public schools and undermining teacher professionalism.”

Evaluating the “Study”

In his introduction to the paper, Stewart claims, “Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities.” Concerning the purportedly extra-large racial achievement gaps in “progressive cities” the paper states, “Of all the factors we looked at, progressivism is the greatest predictor.”

The authors’ explanation of their approach is skimpy. They write,

“To determine a rationale for what is a progressive city and what is a conservative city we relied on criteria developed independently by political scientists Chris Tausanovitch and Christopher Warshaw, who pooled data from seven large surveys of U.S. public opinion to rank the nation’s biggest cities in terms of conservatism. We then selected the 12 most conservative cities and the 12 least conservative cities from that list to establish the conservative and progressive cities that make up the base of this report.”

With those cities in mind, we pulled the publicly available school achievement and graduation data from public school districts in each of those cities. When we analyzed the achievement gaps between black and white students and the gaps between Latino and white students we found larger gaps than readers might expect from cities where progressive residents presumably hold the most political, administrative and cultural power.

Tausanovitch’s and Warshaw’s paper seems like a reasonable way to identify conservative and progressive leanings in cities. It is a five year old study and presumably attitudes have not gone through a sea change in that amount of time. However, the premise that the political ideology between those cities would have a dramatic effect on the achievement of minority students seems unlikely.

More troubling than the premise is the contention that standardized testing conducted using different testing regimes in 24 locations makes a valid comparison. Standardized testing provides data of questionable value even when everyone is taking the same test, but trying to align data from multiple testing types is fraught with error. The study provides almost no information about the data and methodology used.

On page nine, the study claims that the Black-White mathematics proficiency gap is 41.3% in progressive cities and 26.2% in conservative cities. This claim was checked by using the 2019 Nation Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) 8th grade math data for the 18 cities on the Tausnovich/Warshaw list that also had 2019 NAEP data. The average scale scores were subtracted and the difference was divided by the white student average scale score. The largest gap found was 21% in Washington DC. Even the 26.2% gap Brightbeam reported in conservative cities is a puzzle and the 41.3% number for progressive cities appears to be ludicrous.

Grade 8 Math Gap

Education Achievement Gaps Based on NAEP Data

San Francisco and Washington DC were rated respectively as number 1 and number 2 most progressive cities in the United States. The Brightbeam report states that in mathematics the Black-White achievement gap is 58% in San Francisco and 62% in Washington DC. Washington DC had the highest gap measured with NAEP data at 21%, however, that is almost 3 times less that the Brightbeam reported 62% claim.

San Francisco does not have easily attainable NAEP testing data, so the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) data for 2019 was used to check the gap claim. To calculate achievement gap measurements, percentages of all tested students who met or exceeded standards were summed for each ethnicity. Then a simple subtraction between the results of the various ethnic groups provided an achievement percentage difference. Using this method the Black-White achievement gap for mathematics was 32.7%. Outrageously high, but hardly the 58% gap that Brightbeam asserted.

While researching the achievement gaps in San Francisco, a fascinating correlation was discovered. The more an ethnic group utilized charter schools the worse their group’s education achievement.

San Francisco Charter Enrollment Chart

Negative Correlation for Academic Achievement in Charter Schools

The Brightbeam report states, “…three of the 12 conservative cities — Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Fort Worth — have effectively closed the gap in at least one of the academic categories we looked at, literally achieving a gap of zero or one.” To test this claim, the same methodology used for San Francisco was applied to Anaheim using 2019 CAASPP data for both Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement gaps in math and English language arts. The results are in the Table 1.

Table 1: Anaheim Education Achievement Gaps

Compared

ELA Gap Math Gap
Black – White 14.6% 10.5%
Hispanic-White 22.2% 16.0%

Clearly, the Education Achievement Gaps are much more significant than the zero or one point gaps which Brightbeam declares.

A 2018 Brookings Institute study of education achievement gaps in America said that gaps were still too large between demographic groups but that they have been steadily improving. On the other hand, they noted, “In contrast to the improvement in racial and ethnic achievement gaps, however, achievement gaps based on students’ eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch—our best proxy for poverty in the NAEP data—do not show much progress.”

Another Brightbeam contention involves graduation rates. It praises the rates in Oklahoma City noting, “The Oklahoma City public school district only graduates 73% of its high school students in four years but the graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher for black students than for white students and 5 percentage points higher for Latino students than for whites.”

While this statement is true, it implies that the cause for the relative higher success rate for Black and Hispanic students in Oklahoma City is the conservative nature of the city. Brightbeam ignores the huge five-year demographic change among the graduates and the 18.5% drop in the white graduation rate. That is not a success to be celebrated.

Table 2: Graduation Rates in Oklahoma City

Ethnicity 2014 2018
Graduation Rate Demographic Mix Graduation Rate Demographic Mix
Black 75.8% 9.7% 77.8% 25.9%
Hispanic 77.6% 11.8% 75.9% 52.7%
White 84.7% 55.1% 66.3% 12.5%

Fraudulent digital credit recovery has rendered high school graduation rates a meaningless parameter for measuring school merit. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. By 2012 – after the education technology industry became involved with providing high school credits – 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. Bizarrely, students have been allowed to finish semester long classes in less than a week and obvious cheating is being ignored.

Selling Out the Black Community

The Brightbeam report is targeting the black community with its anti-public schools and anti-progressive message. Their report concludes, “All of us have an outstanding debt to our children. But, to return to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., America, and most especially these progressive cities, has given our black and brown children a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

Keith Benson, Ed. D, is an amazing educator, thinker and leader in Camden, New Jersey. Keith is currently head of the Camden Education Association and has spent 14 years in the Camden classrooms. He is also active in and been a leader of the Camden branch of the NAACP. Last year Keith published “Seeing No Evil, “For the Children”:Identifying the Black education reform establishment’s purposeful blind spots in advocating for expansion of corporate education reforms.” This insightful paper addresses the kind of destructive leadership provided by billionaire funded Black led organizations like Brightbeam. Benson wrote:

“…in decades before where education reform, namely school choice was largely a fringe issue championed by anti-union, ideological white conservatives, today’s education reform movement gained momentum as pro-reform white benefactors expanded their public relations campaign to include Black and Latino ‘leaders’ to accomplish the same goal of collapsing urban public schools and teacher unions.”

“Michael Reagan, in ‘Think of the Children’ takes the ‘for the children’ argument to task calling it ‘pure BS…obvious political BS that has been used by politicians of both major parties’ and by people who lack ‘a legitimate or a reasonable argument.’ It is my contention here that the billionaire funded education reform movement and the Black Education Reform Establishment acting against urban public education for ‘the children,’ follows a similar rhetorical pattern.”

“In sum, through the education reform movement’s desire to close ‘failing schools’ and weaken teachers unions, it was experienced black teachers who bore the brunt of their contradictory advocacy which has only gained in strength and in allies that now includes the socially liberal, and persons of color. And while some critiques of urban public schools are accurate and warrant decisive systemic corrective action, it is simultaneously accurate that the single demographic most impacted by the policies advocated by today’s reformers are black educators, specifically, black women. Thus, while the Black Education Reform Establishment, as well as their wealthy white funders continuously champion dismantling urban teacher unions and closing “failing” schools in the name of benefiting the best hopes for urban black children, the Black Education Reform Establishment is targeting the same teachers most likely to help students of color achieve academically and usher them into post-secondary education.” (Emphasis added)

The billionaire sponsored paper from Chris Stewart and Brightbeam is not a study; not even close. It is propaganda. Mark Twain attributed Benjamin Disraeli with saying “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” The Brightbeam paper grossly violates all three of these categories of lies.

Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free

28 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/28/2020

During final months of 2019, the Education Post was reorganized. In 2014, four billionaires spent $5.5 million to establish a new digital media channel in response to the massive and effective push back against their favored education reforms. Actually, it was more than four billionaires. One of those funders was the Walton Family Foundation made up of multiple billionaires. The channel was called Education Post but its official non-profit name was the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) whose existence seemed to be purposely obscured. Peter Cunningham was listed on tax forms as President of RIEF, but publicly Cunningham was only known as the founding Executive Director of Education Post.

During the first four years of operation, the top contributor to REIF has been Michael Bloomberg. Available tax records show that between 2014 and 2017 he granted it more than $7 million and when added to the sizeable donations by the Waltons, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs Powell, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg the total is almost $20 million. Spending since December 31, 2017 is unknown because there is a lag time of almost two years for non-profit taxes to be filed and made public.

Last year, a new organization called Brightbeam was created. It claims to be an umbrella organization for the Education Post and other sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for RIEF. Two other digital platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free are controlled by Brightbeam and they share some of the same employees. The following LittleSis map shows the new structure of this digital media group dedicated to disrupting public education.

Education Post Reorganized

Billionaire Financed Digital Media Structure Supporting School Privatization

Professor Noliwe Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and was for ten years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. In her recent book, Cutting Schools, she coined the term “segrenomics” – the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation. She also pointed out that “between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment shrank in racially integrated schools, and yet this strategy is no longer discussed, and there is no ‘vocal pro-integration constituency’ pushing for it.” (The book is reviewed here.)

In the book, Rooks went on to state,

“In 1989, the National Business Roundtable urged its state and local affiliates to work more closely with state governments to radically restructure the nation’s public schools. The National Alliance of Business circulated pamphlets instructing CEOs and business groups on how to shape local school policy toward economic restructuring goals. President Reagan and his education secretary, William Bennett, were in full agreement with such sentiments. In regard to public schools, integration was out, business was in.”

The billionaires who created the digital media structure described by the map above subscribe to the philosophy that business should be leading America’s k-12 education. Their neoliberal ideology posits that democratic control of public schools is a problem and that a privatized system based on market competition is superior. That is what this new expanded digital media network is selling.

Protecting the Billionaires’ Assets

By 2014, the bloom was off the rose for the test to privatize movement. Former advocate of standardized testing based reform, Dian Ravitch, had released her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was a sensation which was reinforced by the work of other academics like David Berliner and Gene Glass who published Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. Scholars and teachers across America rose up to fight billionaire led education “reform.”

Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch founded the Network for Public Education (NPE) in 2014 which brought together many pro-public education advocates from across America. Bloggers like Peter Greene and Mercedes Schneider were gaining large followings as were a myriad other teacher bloggers fighting what they viewed as the destruction of their profession and the great American public school system which underpins democratic government. By 2018, Diane Ravitch was proclaiming at the NPE convention, “We are the resistance and we are winning.”

To counter the drubbing the billionaire education disrupters were receiving in cyber space, they created the Education Post. Its results must have been a disappointment. In 2019, they reorganized their effort to purchase influence in the realm of social media.

Peter Cunningham was hired to lead Education Post in 2014. He had been a speech writer and advisor for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. When fellow Chicago politician Barak Obama picked Cunningham’s colleague Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, Cunningham went along and became the department’s Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach. He has a long association with the school choice movement and currently serves on multiple boards associated with the charter industry. His first year’s salary was a little in excess of $200,000.

Cunningham was joined on the first board of RIEF by Emma Bloomberg, Bruce Reed and Kathleen McInerney.  The board appears to be selected as a function giving. That first year, $4,729,146 of the $5,479,146 in grants received by RIEF were from two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. Board member Emma Bloomberg is Michael’s daughter and Kathleen McInerney represents Bloomberg on other boards and works for Bloomberg’s long used accounting firm Geller & Co. Bruce Reed is President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation increased their “gift” to $1,000,000 and a fifth board member was added. Marc Sternberg who leads the foundation’s initiatives to improve K-12 education joined the board. In 2016, Bruce Reed quit the board and was not replaced. In 2017, that board seat was filled by Russlynn Ali, CEO of Laurene Jobs Powell’s XQ Institute. It was the third year Powell had been contributing a million dollars or more.

In 2020, the board has three new faces. The new umbrella organization Brightbeam lists the board of directors. Peter Cunningham and Mark Sternberg are still on the board. Bloomberg, McInery and Ali have been replaced by Arne Duncan, Sydney Chaffee and Lillian Lowery.

The current board is certainly still education disrupter friendly. Mark Sternberg was director of business development at Victory Schools Inc., a private management company for charter schools, in Manhattan in 2001. He had previously earned a B.A. from Princeton in 1995 and was a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx. He subsequently worked for Bloomberg’s New York City Department of Education where he served as senior advisor to the chancellor and the mayor’s office on education policy and strategy. He is a graduate of the Broad Academy class of 2013-2014.

Arne Duncan is widely recognized as the Secretary of Education during most of the Obama Presidency. He was and still is a well known advocate of test based accountability for schools and teachers. He supports school choice. He also went to work for Laurene Jobs Powell at the Emerson Collective as Managing Partner in 2016.

Sydney Chaffee was the controversial US Teacher of the Year selection in 2017.  She is a ninth grade humanities teacher at the Dorchester, Ma. Codman Academy Charter School; a TeachPlus Policy Fellow; and an EdX Policy Fellow. The Gates supported Council of Chief State School Officers select the US Teacher of the Year. When the teachers’ union in Massachusetts refused to congratulate her selection, right wing media was incensed. Chaffee has become very popular with education disrupters as a symbol of privatized education quality.

Lillian Lowery is a graduate of the 2004 Broad Academy. On July 1, 2012 she became Maryland Superintendent of Schools. That was the same month that education technology promoter and now convicted criminal, Dallas Dance, was hired as Superintendent of Baltimore’s public schools. Since leaving Maryland, she has served as CEO of the Ed Tech advocacy group Future Ready Ohio and as vice president for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at Education Trust.

Selling School Privatization

Chris Stewart is the African American CEO leading the umbrella group Brightbeam. The 2014 RIEF tax records show that he was paid $53,723 as “outreach and external affairs director.” In 2015 he established the blog Citizen Education. That same year he was paid $171,643 by RIEF yet claimed on the Citizen Education about page,

No I don’t have funding for this. Yes it costs money to make it happen.”

Stewart’s pay increased to $197,559 in 2016 still as “outreach and external affair director.” In 2017, he was paid $226,417 to be CEO of the “Wayfinder Project.”

Chris also serves as chair of the board at the Students for Education Reform’s Action Network a billionaire financed AstroTurf organization.

On March 25, Chris put his latest public education attack piece on the Project Forever Free blog that he controls. The piece has the farcical title They’re Worried We’ll Realize We Can Teach Our Kids Better at Home splashed across Diane Ravitch’s picture. In this baseless attack article, he shows a tweet by Arthur Camins that is addressed to @DianeRavitch, @teka21bat, @carolburris, @leoniehaimson, @Network4pubEd,  @AnthonyCody, @palan57, @StevenSinger3, @jeffbcdm and the @BadassTeachersA. He then writes, “Friends, is it petty for me to point out that Camins’ Tweet tags a group of nine people who couldn’t be less representative of democratic public education in a pluralistic society?”

It is much worse than petty. It is slanderous and senseless. Two of the addressed entities are organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people. The other seven people are selflessly donating countless hours to protecting students and public education from paid disrupters and data scammers. It is ironic that a man who works for anti-democratic billionaires would make such an outrageous claim, but that is why he is making the big bucks. Stewart is willing to do the bosses bidding.

Brightbeam’s web page lists the following local sites that they are working with to advance the privatization agenda.

  • The Black Wall Street Times Targets the Black community with school choice promotions.
  • Chicago Unheard Appears to be trying to engage Black parents of school age children to promote school choice.
  • CO School Talk – Elevating the education conversation. Colorado site pushing school choice.
  • EdLANTA – Because Georgia’s kids are always on our minds. Aimed at Black parents in Atlanta.
  • Good School Hunting – Because every kid deserves an awesome school. Seems to be a site for Brightbeam employee Erica Sanzi to proselytize for school choice.
  • Great School Voices – The watchdog on quality & equality in education. With an eye on Oakland, California. Site dedicated to selling school choice to the locals.
  • Indy K12 – Education is Power. Just what Indianapolis needs another school choice promoting entity to further destroy that cities already decimated public school system.
  • Kentucky School Talk – Great public schools for every kid in the Bluegrass State. Charter schools are not popular in Kentucky but this group is for choice.
  • New Mexico Education – Your home for all things education in The Land of Enchantment. A pro-charter school and billionaire style reform voice.
  • NJ Left Behind – The real scoop on public schools in the Garden State. Wants more money for New Jersey charter schools.
  • New York School Talk – A real look at our schools in the Big Apple. Another site pushing a variation of the billionaire agenda.
  • Philly’s 7th Ward – Finding solutions for all Philadelphia students. A very pro-charter school site.
  • The Second Line Education Blog A pro-choice blog for New Orleans; supports everything but public schools.
  • Volume & Light – Speaking out for Nashville Schools. It is all in for school choice.

This is clearly a propaganda effort but it is doomed to fail because they are selling a bad product. It is truly sad that these self-centered billionaires are not trying to improve public schools instead of destroying them.

Amplifying Profits Selling Harmful Pedagogy

19 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/19/2020

Amplify education Inc. has a two decade history of trying to profit by selling education technology. The bottom line is even if their pedagogy was good – which it is not – it would be unhealthy for children. The big dream of replacing teachers with digital screens and making gobs of money has a fatal flaw. The last thing 21st century children need is more screen time. Amplify’s lessons are dangerously unhealthy and deliver low quality teaching.

A History of Profiteers and Disrupters

Greg Gunn a former associate of the Carlyle Group who had earned a Masters of Electrical Engineering from MIT joined with Larry Berger to found Wireless Generation. Berger was a graduate of Yale University with a BA and had been a White House fellow working on Educational Technology at NASA during the Clinton administration. In 2010, News Corporation paid $360 million dollars to acquire Wireless Generation and renamed it Amplify Education, Inc. Including performance incentives, Larry Berger pocketed $40 million and agreed to stay on as head of curriculum.

Amplify Political Celeberties

Amplify a Commercial Venture Profiteering off Public Education

The mogul, Rupert Murdoch, proposed buying a million I-Pads for delivering classroom instruction. However, the Apple operating system did not allow the flexibility needed to load the Wireless Generation software. Amplify chose a device manufactured by the Taiwanese company Asus. The android operating system met their needs and the tablets were well regarded in the market place but they were not designed to withstand the demands of school use. One other issue was that Wireless Generation had never developed curriculum but Murdoch wanted to beat Pearson and Houghton Mifflin to the digital education market place.

In July 2012, Amplify publicized its development partnership with AT&T. Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobility declared, “Together, we plan to bring to market a 4G mobile tablet-based experience that we believe will significantly enhance teaching and learning for grades K-12.”

The following March, Amplify announced its new tablet for teachers and students. CEO Joel Klein stated,

“We want to transform the way teachers teach and students learn. Technology has revolutionized the world, but not the classroom. Our hope is that this tablet will help change that.”

That same March of 2013, Amplify also won a $12.5 million dollar contract with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop a digital library of formative assessments. It was the second contract awarded to Amplify by Smarter Balanced. The first one came in 2012 calling for Amplify to partner with ETS developing software to analyze results from common core assessments. Both were part of the $175 million dollar grant by the US Department of Education to the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

The corporate plan was rolling along nicely and then the wheels came off. In Guilford County, North Carolina the school district won a Race to the Top grant of $30 million dollars which it used to experiment with digital learning. The district’s plan called for nearly 17,000 students in 20 middle schools to receive Amplify tablets over the next three years. When a charger for one of the tablets overheated, the plan was halted. Only two months into the experiment, not only had a charger malfunctioned but another 175 chargers had various issues and 1500 screens had broken.

The following year Amplify tried to reestablish itself as a leading player in the digital learning markets. CEO Joel Klein called the new offerings a potential “game-changer” and “unlike anything anyone has ever seen in public education.” The company claimed the Guilford County problems had been fixed.

By August of 2015, News Corporation announced it was exiting the education business. The corporation took a $371 million dollar right off to get out of the digital curriculum business. The next month, News Corporation announced it had sold Amplify to members of its staff. In the deal orchestrated by Joel Klein, he would remain as a board member and Larry Berger would assume leadership of the company.

A New Billionaire Savior Appears

It was soon learned that the real buyer of Amplify was Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple. She purchased Amplify through her non-profit the Emerson Collective.

Ed Surge reported, “Emerson Collective has also invested in a slew of edtech startups including AltSchool, FreshGrade, Nearpod and, most recently Udacity’s $105 million round. She is also on the board of NewSchools Venture Fund (an investor in EdSurge.)” In the same month that she bought Amplify, Powell Jobs launched XQ: The Super School Project, a $50 million challenge inviting teams to submit plans to re-invent high schools.

Laurene Powell Jobs has no respect for public school educators and the schools they work in. When Wiki Leaks leaked the Clinton campaign’s emails, Powell Jobs’ recommendations to Hillary Clinton were revealed. She offered four uninformed policy positions in a conversation with Ann O’Leary:

  1. “Re-design entire K-12 system – we know how to do it, but it comes down to political will.
  2. “Think about Charters as our R&D … must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable.
  3. “Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline.
  4. “Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teachers and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; …”

When “we know how to do it” does not include significant input from practicing professional educators, the reasoning is obviously erroneous.

Charter schools have been R&D for fraud, embezzlement and abuse but certainly not for delivering positive innovations. Her slap at teachers unions and work place protections for teachers is consistent with other billionaires and with creating professional educator shortages.

While I was working in public schools, I found the teachers to be every bit as intellectually competent as any of the engineers I met while working in Silicon Valley. Suggesting that Teach For America teachers are even remotely competent to lead a classroom shows gross ignorance of education reality. They are uneducated and untrained.

Technology has a place in education. It is essential for schools to have modern functional lab equipment. Students need access to good word processing programs and video recording equipment to engage in creative endeavors. Some lessons can be supplemented by technology but screens will never replace a live professional educator.

Real education requires life to life communion between teacher and student. Daisaku Ikeda, writes in his book Soka Education,

“Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.”

Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. Low cost learning at a screen is spiritless, amoral and dead.

There has been a refocus on “personalized learning” since the Powell Jobs acquired Amplify. (How can isolation at a screen be called “personalized learning?”) In a puff piece about Amplify, Ainslee Harris claims,

“Amplify booked $59 million in revenue in 2016, its first year of independence, and $74 million in 2017. This year, it’s on track to book $125 million, making it one of the few education startups to break the $100 million mark.”

The Powell Jobs team has taken control of the Amplify board. Russlyn Ali (Managing Director of Education at the Emerson Collective), Brad Powell (Managing Partner of Emerson Collective) and former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings have joined Larry Berger on the board. People like Stacy Childress (CEO of New Schools Venture Fund), Linda Roberts (Office of Education Technology, US Department of Education) and James B. Hunt Jr. (Former Governor of North Carolina) have departed.

Bad Pedagogy and Unhealthy Practices

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 (OECD) said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.” The OECD runs the international testing known as PISA. They came to their conclusion by analyzing the results from the more than 70 countries whose data they monitor.

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.”

A recent post by Nancy Bailey addressed problems with Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program for teaching reading. Teacher evaluation committees from Rochester, New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma condemned the program. Some of the comments:

“It builds on content so kids in primary grades learn about ancient civilizations, and it shows some vertical articulation, but it doesn’t have good scope and sequence when learning skills. It’s not developmentally appropriate to introduce a skill or curriculum or new learning concept and then not refer to it again for a very long time.”

One teacher said that her principal was “very disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of neat stuff in the hall, but CKLA doesn’t allow for much creative-type work. I didn’t want to hang worksheets in the hall.”

“I wouldn’t want my children taught this way. I don’t know the rationale behind adopting it. The curriculum doesn’t light up the eyes of kids. It removes the autonomy from the teacher. I guess if people have come through an alternate route and don’t have a teaching degree, you can teach it without much experience.”

The math and science programs are just as regressive. In Seattle, an anonymous donor paid $100,000 to have Amplify Science piloted in 20 middle schools. An NPR report noted,

“Former school board member Peters said it’s difficult to compare results the first year of a new test: Pass rates dropped across the board in 2018 when it was introduced. But her analysis shows pass rates dropped the most at the Seattle schools using Amplify Science — despite the curriculum’s promise to help students meet the new standards.”

‘“The students that fared the worst were low-income students using Amplify Science,’ Peters wrote in an email to the board.”

Because of political pressure to implement computer learning, Seattle’s school board ignored the pleas of teachers and parents and bought the Amplify Science program. Its biggest selling point was that it is aligned with the Next Generation Science standards which are also an abomination.

Conclusion

The reason schools are buying these terrible education technology frauds is that professional educators are no longer making curricular decisions. All large modern businesses including schools require a significant digital infrastructure. This means that there must be an information technology group headed by an expert. That expert who loves technology and has no pedagogical expertise becomes the leading voice concerning the purchase of digital equipment. That explains in part why school districts in financial difficulty are still purchasing pricey education technology software and hardware. Board members believe they have no choice and that they are implementing professional advice.

Amplify Education, Inc. is another modern snake oil salesman. The only reason they did not disappear in 2003 is that the federal government and investors like Rupert Murdoch have poured billions of dollars into this company. It is past time for the fraudulent STEM ideology, education testing scam and the sale of low quality education technology products to be stopped. Taxpayers are being fleeced, schools are being bankrupted and children are being harmed.

Twitter: @tultican