Tag Archives: philanthropy

“We Are the Resistance and We Are Winning.”

1 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/1/2020

Historian and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch’s, new book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools is due for release January 21. This masterpiece weaves together recent history with illuminating data concerning “corporate driven education reforms.

The reported community response to self-anointed reformers is spiritually uplifting. Ravitch presents strong evidence that resistance to their reforms is carrying the day.  She declares, “Judged by their own chosen metrics – standardized test scores – the fake ‘reforms’ failed.”

Diane tells a deeply personal story of her own journey through the education wars while bringing to life the experiences of teachers, students and parents harmed by “fake reforms.” In this captivating read, Ravitch describes the fight to save the commons.

Goliath_0001

Disruption and Changing Course

There is a parallel between Diane Ravitch and Elizabeth Warren. Both Warren and Ravitch were scholars whose research led them to a profound change of thought. Warren was fundamentally a moderate Republican when she began researching bankruptcy law. Ravitch was an advocate of top down standards based education reform. Through their personal research both these women awakened to personal error and went out to make amends. Warren became the bane of the banking industry and a tiger in Democratic politics. Ravitch threw up a stop sign in front of “corporate education reform” and has become its most virulent opponent.

When I mentioned something Ravitch wrote in 2012 to a teacher colleague, that veteran teacher in my neighboring classroom expressed open hostility toward her. He remembered Lamar Alexander’s resident scholar in the Department of Education and her full throated advocacy of standards and testing accountability. He remembered her papers published by the Brookings Institute. Since then, Ravitch has overcome many of her skeptics by working harder than anyone else and fearlessly leading the fight to save authentic public education.

In Slaying Goliath Ravtich shares,

“Having worked as assistant secretary of education for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the administration of President George H. W. Bush and for many years in some of the nation’s leading conservative think tanks, I had hoped that privatization and testing would produce sweeping improvement, especially for the neediest students. It didn’t. I couldn’t pretend otherwise. I came to realize that the privatization movement was a continuation of a decades-long campaign by right-wingers who hated public schools, which they derisively called ‘government schools.’ I renounced my own past views and determined to expose the well-funded smear campaign against American public schools and their teachers.”

What should we call the proponents of the choice agenda fueled by standardized testing driven accountability? What do we call those wealthy elites financing the push for charter schools, vouchers and public school closures? Ravitch refuses to call them “reformers” or what they promote “reform.” She recites various appellations people use; “deformers,” or the “financial privatization cabal,” or the “Destroy Public Education Movement.” She observes that “reform” has positive connotations that denotes ‘“improvement,’ ‘progress,’ and ‘uplift.’”

An oft stated goal of this corporate driven agenda is disruption. Disruption is an odd management theory championed at Harvard University in 1995. It posits disruption as a needed ingredient for innovation-driven growth. Ravitch decided they have named themselves.

“They are Disrupters. They are masters of chaos, which they inflict on other people’s children, without a twinge of remorse.”

From the beginning of the book on, Ravitch refers to the “Disrupters.”

Strategy of the Disrupters

A natural starting point for analyzing the era of the Disrupters is the Reagan administration’s 1983 polemic, “A Nation at Risk.” Ravitch shares that Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency with three goals for public education; (1) abolish the US Department of Education, (2) restore school prayer and (3) introduce school vouchers for religious and other private schools.

His Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, had other ideas. To save the department, he established “The National Commission on Excellence in Education.” In its report written by American business leaders and a venerated scientist, they did not call for prayer or vouchers, however, they blamed public education for the nation’s economic struggles which Ravitch saw as “no less destructive.” She cites an NPR report in which the authors candidly admitted that the data was “‘cherry-picked’ to make American public schools look as bad as possible.

When the Department of Energy commissioned engineers at the Sandia Nation Laboratories to study the current status of American education in 1990, they criticized “The Nation at Risk” as overly alarmist. Sandia found that test scores, graduation rates, and other indicators were actually improving. In Slaying Goliath, Ravitch’s shares an insiders perspective. She writes,

“At the time, I was assistant secretary of education for education research and improvement, and in 1992, I attended the Energy Department’s briefing about the Sandia report. I accompanied David Kearns, former CEO of Zerox, who was deputy secretary of education, to the meeting. He was outraged by the Sandia report, which contradicted the view of the Department of Education that American public schools were failing and needed radical change. The Energy Department never published the report, but it was immediately leaked to hundreds of influential researchers, who wrote about its findings. In retrospect, the Sandia report got it right. The late Gerald Bracey, a prolific and outspoken education researcher, was highly critical of the conventional wisdom, which I was then defending. I hereby personally apologize to him. He was right. The “crisis in education” was a politically inspired hoax, or as the eminent researchers David Berliner and Bruce Biddle later called it, a ‘Manufactured Crisis.’”

What do disrupters want? They want:

  • Inexperienced teachers with little or no training from organizations like Teach For America.
  • To replace teachers with machine teaching (“blended learning” – “personalized learning”).
  • To move fast and break things including school systems, historic schools and communities.
  • To eliminate local democratic control over schools.
  • To eliminate teacher tenure and seniority rights.
  • To eliminate teacher defined benefit pensions.
  • To eliminate teachers unions.
  • To evaluate teachers and schools with standardized test scores.
  • To lower taxes and reduce spending on education.

Ravitch goes into significant detail about who are the disrupters. She calls out the billionaires in the private sector driving the school choice agenda and highlights their spending. She states, “Every Republican governor is a disrupter, because they actively support privatization by charters and vouchers.” However, she notes that rural Republican officials understand that public schools are the anchors of their communities and do not support privatization. The Democratic Party also has many disrupters but not in as great of numbers as the Republicans and generally no Democrats support vouchers. The last two Democratic Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, were disrupters.

Conservative groups supporting disruption include the far right Heritage Foundation and the libertarian Cato Institute. Ravitch asserts, “The radical right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the key organization in the world of disruption advocacy.

She lists more than a dozen pro-disrupter “think-tanks” on the right including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center for Education Reform which Ravitch describes as liking “every choice in schooling except public schools.

Before his 1998 election to the governorship of Florida, Jeb Bush served on the board of the Heritage Foundation where he developed his education plans. Diane cites his A+ Plan for education as the “template for disruption.” It combines choice, competition, high-stakes testing, grading schools with A-F grades and accountability as the formula for excellence in education.

Two “liberal” groups, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), push most of the disrupter agenda. In her description of DFER Ravitch writes,

“In 2005, several hedge fund managers – Witney Tilson, Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, John Petry and Charles Ledley – launched Democrats for Education Reform at a posh party on Central Park South in Manhattan, where the inaugural speaker was a young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. DEFR, as it is deceptively called, was founded to support school privatization by making strategic campaign contributions. Inspired by DFER, charter schools became the pet passion of Wall Street.”

“It is likely difficult to throw a beanbag in a corporate or Wall Street boardroom without hitting a member of the board of a charter chain.”

The Victorious Resistance

Tom and Diane in Indianapolis

Tom Ultican and Diane Ravitch at the 2018 NPE Conference

The picture above was taken just over two months before the historic LA teachers strike on January 14, 2019. Following the massive teachers strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, the LA strike was the first one led by a sanctioned teachers union. When the teachers settled their strike after nine days, they did not get any bump in the original take home pay offer but they won big.

USA Today reported, “‘this is much more than a labor agreement,’ said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl. ‘It’s a very broad compact that gets to social justice, educational justice.’” The Los Angeles agreement included class size reductions in all grade levels, 300 additional school nurses, 80 new teacher librarians, one counselor for every 500 students and a 3 percent raise for teachers.

In Arizona, a group of six women established Save Our Schools Arizona to fight the Koch brothers initiated large voucher expansion proposal which was adopted by the Arizona state government. At the Indianapolis NPE conference, Beth Lewis and Sharon Kirsch of SOS Arizona were presented the first of a planned annual Phyllis Bush Award. Against all odds they landed a citizens’ initiative stopping the voucher expansion on to the November 6, 2018 ballot. Later we learned their initiative won with a whopping 65% of the vote.

Ravitch tells these stories and many more of the resistance taking on Goliath and winning.

The saga of Douglas County Colorado being taken over by school privatization forces in 2011 is unique and uplifting. The disrupters immediately established a district school voucher program. That was only the beginning of their agenda, but a bi-partisan group of parents fought back. Today there are no disrupters left on the school board in Douglas County and there are no vouchers.

The account of Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), leading the fight to stop the state from increasing the number of charter schools is amazing. The contest was played out at the ballot box over a referendum to expand the number of charters known as Question-2. Ravitch reports that the MTA directed Madeloni to negotiate with legislators and quotes Madeloni’s negotiating position,

We are glad to talk, but we will not accept any deal that involves any new charter schools. Now, what do you want to talk about?

Question-2 lost 68% to 32%. One of the largest contributors to the yes-on-2 campaign was the world’s now second richest women hailing from Bentonville, Arkansas, Alice Walton. She is an heir to the Walmart fortune.

A Concluding Analysis

Ravitch’s books like The Death and Life of the Great American School System and Reign of Error are scholarly efforts that serve for years as references. Yet, they are written in a fashion that gives the average reader access to the material in an enjoyable and understandable way. I believe that in Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools, Ravitch has upped her game. The stories are riveting and the scholarship underlying them is first rate. This is another game changing book from Diane Ravitch.

Twitter: @tultican

The Best Book of 2019 – Kochland

26 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/26/2019

This may be the finest book thus far in the twenty-first century. Kochland; The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America is the second book by former agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press, Christopher Leonard. His first book, The Meat Racket; The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business received rave reviews; however, Kochland is uniquely special. It is an economic history of America since 1967 that shows the deep changes in our economy that have given rise to a new kind of capitalism. Kochland is told through the lens of Koch Industries whose “annual revenue is larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and US Steel combined.”

Leonard weaves an epic tale of brilliance, philosophical intransigence, greed and ruthlessness. Over almost 600 pages, this enjoyable read clearly elucidates many of the troubling outcomes from the last 50 years like the rolling blackouts in California and the destruction of the labor movement.

Fred Koch, the family patriarch, graduated in Chemical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1922. In 1927, he won a patent for an improved petroleum refining process. Do to legal issues surrounding his patent, Fred ended up working in Stalin’s Russia between 1929 and 1932. This experience informed his extreme anti-communist views. He later joined with Robert Welch and a group of businessmen to establish the virulently anti-communist John Birch Society. In 1960, he published the pamphlet “A Businessman Looks at Communism” in which he claimed that the National Education Association was a communist front organization and that public school books were filled with pro-communist propaganda.

In 1961 Fred convinced his son Charles to leave his new job at Arthur D. Little, Inc. and come back to Wichita to work for the family business. Charles went to work there after an impressive career at MIT earning a BS in general engineering 1957, an MS in nuclear engineering 1958 and an MS in Chemical Engineering 1960.

Kochland is also the story of Charles Koch. In 1966, after five years working for his father, he became the CEO of the company then known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together into the company the family renamed Koch Industries as a tribute to their father. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world. Largest.org lists Cargill, the corporation headquartered in Minnesota and founded in 1865, as the world’s largest privately held company with revenue of $114.7 billion. Koch Industries revenue for the same year came in at $110 billion.

Charles Koch Wichita Business Journal

Charles Koch during a 2014 Interview with the Wichita Business Review

After Charles took over the company, he also started reading everything he could about what made people tick and how societies functioned. Leonard says, “Koch read the work of Karl Marx and other socialist thinkers. He read books on history, on economics, on philosophy and on psychology.” When he was a boy, his father had impressed upon him the evils witnessed in Russia and a fear of government overreach.

It was the works of Austrian economists and philosophers like Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that attracted Koch. He has been described as a libertarian and a conservative but “classical liberal” is a more apt description. Leonard observed, “Hayek, in particular, put forward a radical concept of capitalism and the role that markets should play in society, and his thinking had an enduring effect on Charles Koch.”

In writing about Koch’s 1974 speech to a Dallas gathering, Leonard noted, “Koch chastised the business community for having been seduced by the thinking behind the New Deal.” Koch declared, “Anti-capitalist feelings in the United States are probably more virulent today than ever before.” He went on to say that business leaders needed to fight back and proposed a campaign based on four elements:

  • Education: Public universities needed to be populated with people who would advocate for free enterprise and do research to support it.
  • Media Outreach: Businesses should appropriately “reward” the media when they promote free markets and withdraw support when they attack them.
  • Litigation: “Announce publicly and vigorously, both as individual companies and through associations, that they will not cooperate with the government beyond the legally compelled minimum in developing or complying with control programs.”
  • Political influence: Koch recommended lobbying and “litigation to affect bureaucratic behavior.” He cautioned that the temptation to game the system through lobbying ultimately undercuts business; therefore it should be a “limited program.”

Leonard reports,

“Charles Koch would remain remarkably true to this basic game plan over the next forty years. The only part that would change significantly would be the ‘limited’ nature of lobbying and campaign contributions. Koch would eventually build one of the largest lobbying and political influence machines in US history. But the rest of the plan was executed almost exactly as he laid it out in 1974.”

The First Big Cash Cow

In 1969, Charles Koch completed a secret plan to go from being a minority share holder to sole owner of the Pine Bend Oil Refinery near Rosemount, Minnesota. He convinced J. Howard Marshall to sell his share in the refinery for stock in the newly formed Koch Industries. He then went to the now minority owner, Great Northern, and convinced them to sell its stake. Leonard says, “Charles Koch saw something in the refinery that others didn’t see.”

Pine Blend

The Pine Bend Refinery – StartTribune Photo

Pine Bend was one of the few refineries in the United States that had access to a special form of Canadian Oil that was very cheap and it was set up to refine the dirty oil. Koch sold gasoline from Pine Blend into a retail market that was particularly expensive. Pretty much all executives at Koch industries call Pine Blend a “cash cow.” This acquisition continuously supplies the Koch machine with cash.

Leonard recounts in detail the decades-long family struggle over control of Koch Industries. During this period Charles refused to take the corporation public much to the chagrin of brothers Fred and Bill. Charles and David came out of the fight as co-owners of the company.

Koch was accused of stealing oil from Native Americans by errantly measuring the amount of crude drawn from storage tanks. They were also cited for breaking environmental protection laws at both their refineries (Pine Blend and Corpus Christy). Koch was gaining a reputation as a criminal corporation.

Koch Industries is infused with Charles Koch’s Market Base Management (MBM) theory. MBM is the common language spoken by all managers and most workers at Koch. It guides everything from trading to labor management to safety. Its glaring failure is the inability to solve safety problems at Georgia-Pacific. Deaths and major injuries are on the rise there. MBM when applied in labor relations is anti-union and creates a difficult high pressure environment for hourly wage earners.

Koch’s trading organizations along with the Koch financed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were heavily involved in the deregulation of California’s electrical grid and the underlying corruption that led to rolling blackouts across the state.

Koch was also a big players in the derivatives markets that played a central role in the 2008 financial meltdown.

Christopher Leonard chronicles all of these episodes and provides deep insight. He explains how the shift from managerial theory in the 1960’s to agency theory in the late 1970’s had changed corporate governance. His relationships created with scientists, managers, laborers and union officials and the telling of their stories sheds new light on the internal operations of Koch Industries.

He shows how neoliberalism captured both major American political parties and describes Koch’s development of the largest most effective political influence organization in America. Koch constructed his political assets patiently over the past fifty years. Sometimes known as the “Kochtopus,” it includes political organizations like Americans for Prosperity and think-tanks like CATO Institute. When the state based organizations are included, these political pressure entities number into the hundreds.

Koch’s entire corporate structure is always focused on gathering information which is one of the primary reasons under-girding its success. Koch always has an information advantage during negotiations. In the early 2000’s, Koch’s traders started learning about the effects fracking would have on energy markets. Operating under the radar, Koch built an oil superhighway (pipelines) out of the Eagle Ford region of south Texas to its Corpus Christy refinery and a Koch shipping terminal. When fracking caused millions of barrels of oil to start flowing from Eagle Ford, Koch had another “cash cow.”

However, the enormous profits from Corpus Christy and Pine Blend were being threatened by efforts in the Obama administration to fight global warming.

Koch Defeats Climate Change Legislation

Leonard states, “Koch Industries, Exxon-Mobil, and other firms spent millions of dollars to support the idea that there was an ‘alternative’ view about climate change between 1991 and 2009.” In 2009, it was Koch’s political network that undermined and eventually killed the Waxman-Markey “cap and trade” bill, the last major federal attempt to fight the growth in greenhouse gasses causing global warming.

Climate Denier Scientist Paid by Koch

Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon – Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Greenpeace)

Willie Soon claimed that the variation in earth temperature had to do with changes in the sun’s output. He was lavishly supported by Kock. Soon never mentioned in his 11 papers; the more than $1.2 million dollars he received from the fossil fuel industry. The New York Times reported, “Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, acknowledged … that Dr. Soon had violated the disclosure standards of some journals.”

Head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin A. Schmidt said, “The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless.”

It was congressman Mike Pence of Indiana who made the final argument on the house floor against Cap and Trade. But it was the Koch political machine that finally killed the bill in the senate. Koch’s intentionally obscured and complex organization led the fight. Their primary target was Republicans who stood against Koch on the issue of climate change. Leonard explains,

“These Republicans were the primary targets for a reason. Koch’s long-term plan was to reshape the Republican party, and these members would be made an example of. The strategy wasn’t necessarily new. But the means that Koch used to pursue were unprecedented.”

“In 2009 and 2010, Koch Industries’ political network created new Republican candidates, seemingly out of nowhere, who rose up and challenged sitting congressmen and senators. Koch’s chosen candidates attacked the incumbents from the right claiming that the Republican Party was insufficiently conservative and too accommodating of the Obama agenda. The overwhelming message was that comprise with Democrats must end.”

Charles Koch and Donald Trump see eye to eye on denying climate change and have forged a path of coexistence if not mutual admiration.

Kochland tells a long complex story that illuminates political and economic developments since 1967. When David Koch died in August, his much younger wife, Julia Flesher Koch, surpassed Alice Walton as the richest woman in the world. Charles Koch turns 85 in 2020. Will the new leadership that will certainly come to Koch Industries chart a less politically authoritarian direction which is not based on Malthusian concepts of social construction?

Twitter: @tultican

Ed Tech about Profits NOT Education

10 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/10/2019

Anthony Kim founded Education Elements in 2010. He sold Provost Systems – which built virtual schools – to Edison Schools in 2008 and was ready for a new project. His new company sells personalized learning systems and consulting services to several school districts. Education Elements is one of more than a hundred ed tech companies being supported by venture capital organizations hoping for one big score. It is representative of the education technology startup business.

With education businesses there is opportunity for magnificent profits because of the large scale of education spending. The United States alone spends $650 billion a year on public education. If businesses can convince people that learning at a digital screen is equivalent to or even better than a teacher led classroom, education technology would become America’s next great profit center minting many new billionaires. This allure of lavish profits is driving education technology.

The Venture Capital Firms

Crunchbase, which analyzes venture capital and startups, lists five venture capital companies investing in Education Elements.

Harmony is the only one of the five venture funds that does not focus specifically on education technology. They simply say, “Over the past 20 years, we have invested over $750 million in 80 companies.” They list their current investments which includes Education Elements.

NewSchools Venture Fund is the most strident in its commitment to disrupting public education. NewSchools is a non-profit that claims they are a “venture philanthropy working to reimagine public education investing in education entrepreneurs.” Their venture portfolio contains more than 150 companies.

Every year NewSchools 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.” The “Platinum” sponsors for the 2020 gathering are the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and The Walton Family Foundation who are also well-known leaders in the movement to monetize and privatize public education.

New Schools Venture Fund Donors

Twelve Organizations Contributing $5 Million Plus to NewSchools Venture Fund

Eleven of the twelve organizations listed above are known for promoting market based education reform. The twelfth, Anonymous, most likely has the same ideology.

Rethink Education is the third venture fund. It claims to focus on Crucial Life Skills, Personalized Learning, Vocational Preparation, Curation of Workforce Learning Resources, College Dropout Prevention.” Jenny Abramson is the founder and Managing Partner of Rethink. She is a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and a board member of the Washington DC charter school, DC Prep.

Imagine K12 is the forth fund investing in Education Elements. It was founded in 2011 as a startup accelerator for education technology companies. In 2016 Imagine merged with Y Combinator. The joint companies have invested in over 100 education technology focused companies.

Tugboat Ventures is the fifth fund invested in Education Elements which is one of its 35 listed properties.

The Board of Directors

Board of Education Elements

The Education Elements’ Board – (from Elements’ Web Page)

Dave Whorton, the founder of Tugboat Ventures, was also a founding board member of the NewSchools Venture Fund serving there from 1998-2015.

Howard Behar was a former president of Starbucks until his retirement in 2003. He served as a Director on Starbucks board 1996-2008. In 2014, Behar became a board member of the Biller Family Foundation. The Biller Foundation from Seattle Washington is notoriously pro-public school privatization. They have partnership relations with Green Dot, Partnership for Los Angeles, Stand for Children and Summit Public Schools.

Green Dot is a large charter school chain originally founded in Los Angeles. Partnership for Los Angeles was established by former Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa when his efforts to take over the school system were thwarted. Stand for Children is a dark money pro-school privatization organization from Portland, Oregon. Summit Public Schools is financially supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It provides computer based learning.

Jack Witlin was a Deloitte Consulting Principal. He retired in 2014 after a 44-years career. Witlin became a director of Education Elements in 2017.

Michael B. Horn serves as the head of strategy and senior partner for the Entangled Group, an education venture studio. He is also the co-founder of and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. He has written extensively about disruption as the savior of public education. He calls for disruptive change driven by technology and school privatization.

In a delightful takedown of disruption theory in the New Yorker, Jill Lepore riddled Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” One of his big examples was Seagate Technology. According to Christensen, Seagate disrupted the computer industry with its 5 ¼ inch floppy disk but was disrupted and doomed to failure when it was late to the market with a 3 ½ inch drive. Lepore noted,

“In 1997, the year Christensen published “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Seagate was the largest company in the disk-drive industry, reporting revenues of nine billion dollars. Last year, Seagate shipped its two-billionth disk drive.”

Most educators and anyone with common sense would tell us that the last thing students in a poverty stricken community need is more disruption.

Education Elements’ Leaders

Anthony Kim is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Elements. He started his career in education by helping higher education institutions with technology projects and data. He founded Provost Systems which developed online schools. After selling Provost to Edison Schools in 2008, he spent two years there as Executive Vice President of online education. Kim founded Education Elements in 2010.

Amy Jenkins, the Chief Operating Officer and Managing General Partner, began her education career as a TFA middle school English teacher in Oakland, California. After two years, she left the classroom for the education “reform” industry including a stint with NewSchools Venture Fund. Jenkins earned an AB in political science from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard.

Angela Kennedy-Toon is also known as Angela Chubb. She is another Managing Partner at Education Elements. She claims to have started her education career in a classroom 27-years ago and to have founded a charter school in Pennsylvania. Angela lives in Wichita, Kansas and was married to the late John Chubb who along with Terry E. Moe co-wrote Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools. That 1990 publication gave great momentum to school privatization and recommended ending locally elected school boards.

Angela says she follows Checker Finn, Michael Horn, Frederick M. Hess, Wendy Kopp and Jeanne Allen. People who have been observing education politics will recognize this list as all strident supporters of privatizing public education.

Angela’s facebook page has some wonderful pictures with Todd and Sarah Palin. Sadly on my recent trip to Anchorage, I learned that Todd and Sarah are divorcing.

Keara Mascareñaz is also a Managing Partner. After graduation from college she joined TFA and taught in a primary classroom for two years. She then worked for TFA for five years. Keara became a NextGen Fellow at the Pahara Institute in 2016 before joining Education Elements. Reed Hastings and Diane Tavenner are on the Board of Directors at Pahara which is a strong indication of the pro-public education privatization bias of Pahara.

Ray Rozycki is listed as Executive Advisor. He previously worked with CEO Anthony Kim at Provost Systems where he served as Chief Officer of Digital Education and VP of Virtual Education. Ray is involved with designing instructional and assessment platforms and developing formative assessments and eCourses.

Selling Bad Pedagogy and Enfeebled Expertise

Do to lobbying by billionaires like Bill Gates and Reed Hastings, the latest update to the national education law turned the US Department of Education (USED) into an education technology sales hub. Critically for companies like Education Elements, the federal technology pitch includes Competency Based Education (CBE). In order to have an inexpensive cyber based education system, there must be small skills that can be drilled and then tested. The USED says,

Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.

Unfortunately CBE is just an update of previous failed teaching strategies. In the 1970’s it was called Mastery Learning and in the 1990’s it was called Outcome Based Education. CBE is simply putting Mastery Leaning on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. It is still bad pedagogy. Computer based credit recovery is the fraud engendering the recent soaring graduation rates.

With no evidence to support their claim, Education Elements posts, “Personalized learning improves student engagement and achievement, develops students to be lifelong learners, and better prepares them for college and careers.” However, a Rand study commissioned by Bill Gates found no evidence for this claim. Also, the vast majority of 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.”

Education Elements also sells its consulting services to school districts. It asserts;

“We help your best people improve in several ways:

  • Develop action steps to prioritize and implement instructional approaches aligned to your district’s strategic plan.
  • Design new processes and methods to increase capabilities of teams.
  • Develop fluency in problem solving through design thinking strategies.
  • Build skills needed to become designers of learning focused on classroom design, content selection, and other key competencies for personalizing learning.”

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. If a school district is buying these kinds of services and education technology programs, they are wasting money and harming students.

Twitter: @tultican

Big Win for Denver Public Schools

7 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/7/2019

Denver voters rejected the portfolio model of school management on Tuesday. Candidates endorsed by the teachers union were the victors and the “corporate school reform” candidates lost. Leading up to the election, the education focused publication Chalkbeat pointed out,

“If candidates backed by the Denver teachers union win at least two of the three seats, union-backed members will have a majority on the board for the first time in recent history. That could set the stage for a shift away from encouraging school choice and school autonomy to more heavily investing in traditional schools.”

The teachers union endorsed candidates won all three of the seats up for election.

Big Money No Longer Enough

The board of directors’ at-large seat is voted on by the entire city. There were three candidates vying for the at-large seat: Tay Anderson, Alexis Menocal Harrigan and Natela Alexandrovna Manuntseva. Anna DeWitt filed for the seat and raised some money but was not on the ballot. Manuntseva did not have enough resources or organizational support to compete. The race was essentially between Anderson and Harrigan.

Harrigan was the most politically connected of the nine school board candidates. A Denver Post biography noted,

“Menocal Harrigan currently works in advocacy for expanding computer science education. She previously was an education adviser to then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Denver City Council aide and a staff member for Sen. Michael Bennet, who helped launch DPS’s current reform agenda during his time as superintendent.”

Anderson’s biography on the other hand looks anything but formidable. The Denver Post reported,

“Anderson, a Manual High School graduate, ran unsuccessfully for the District 4 seat in 2017, when he was 18. He currently works as restorative practices coordinator at North High School.”

Tay is now 21-years-old.

Harrigan received large contributions from Colorado billionaire, Phillip Anschutz, and from billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s daughter who lives in New York, Emma Bloomberg, and from a billionaire Teach For America champion from Silicon Valley, Arthur Rock. In total, she had over $350,000 supporting her campaign. Three independent expenditure committees spent more than $190,000 dollars in her support including $127,000 from Students for Education Reform (SFER).

It should be noted that Phillip Anschutz has a billion-dollar foundation located in Denver and owns Walden Publishing. Walden Publishing  was behind the school privatization movies ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Waiting for Superman.’

Surprisingly, Tay Anderson had more than $125,000 supporting his election including $40,000 from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). Committees that bundle many individual contributions are allowed to make large direct donations.

At-Large Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS At-Large Director

The board of directors’ seat-1 contest was a three way race between Diana Romero Campbell, Radhica Nath and Scott Baldermann.

Nath was endorsed by other groups skeptical of reform, including the Working Families Party and local parent and student group Padres & Jóvenes Unidos.

Baldermann was endorsed by DCTA.

Romero Campbell had the backing of groups that favor the district’s reforms, such as the advocacy organizations Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform.

Campbell is President of Scholars Unlimited, which offers tutoring and other educational programs. She previously was director of early learning and education at Mile High United Way.  Like Harrigan, she received donations from Anschutz and Bloomberg. She also had more than $100,000 in support from the same three independent expenditure committees as Harrigan: SFER, Students Deserve Better and Ready Colorado Action Fund.

However, Campbell’s in excess of $250,000 supporting her election was dwarfed by her opponent Scott Baldermann and she was not happy about that.  It does seem a little ironic to see a “corporate reform” candidate complaining about being outspent.

Scott Baldermann’s Denver Post bio says, “he is PTA president at Lincoln Elementary and a stay-at-home father. He previously owned an architecture business.” Evidently, Baldermann is wealthy enough to finance his own campaign with more than $350,000 while contributing $10,000 to both Tay Anderson’s and Brad Laurvick’s campaigns.

District 1 Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS Director Seat-1

The contest for the board of directors’ seat-5 was the most competitive of the day. The teachers union endorsed Brad Laurvick for the position. He is a Methodist pastor who participated in rallies in support of striking teachers. He has a son in DPS and a daughter who hasn’t reached school age.

Candidate Tony Curcio had the support of groups that favor many of the current reforms, including the advocacy organizations Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform. He also received support from Emma Bloomberg and the same three independent expenditure committees as Harrigan and Campbell: SFER, Students Deserve Better and Ready Colorado Action Fund. Curcio had almost $250,000 in campaign support.

Julie Bañelos, a former school teacher who ran for the board in 2017, was the third candidate for seat-5. She currently works for Catholic Charities and has an impressive resume as an educator. She is an outspoken opponent of the “corporate reform.” Part of her answer for why she was running says,

“The governing body of DPS needs a champion of equity for all our students, particularly for our black, indigenous, and people of color, English language learners, students receiving special education services, and LGBTQ+ youth. As a public servant, I will materialize the values of the whole community, not the interests of the powerful few.”

Bañelos had more than $14,000 in campaign support which would have been more than adequate a few years ago, but in 2019 with the other two candidates wielding more than $200,000 in support it was not sufficient.

District 5 Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS Director Seat-5

The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform appear to be the only candidates who supported the portfolio model of school governance. They received less than one-third of the vote. Candidates opposing privatizing public schools and closing schools received greater than two-thirds of the votes cast.

A Big Repudiation of the Portfolio Model of School Governance

Jeanne Kaplan was a former school board director in Denver and is a blogger. In a 2017 article, “What’s Next”, she described how the board was captured:

“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.”

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. Expanding achievement gaps; bloating administration; significantly increasing segregation; ending stable community schools; inefficiently busing children out of their neighborhoods and stripping citizens of their democratic rights are among the many jarring results.

This election result was a public repudiation of the portfolio model.

Neerav Kingsland, the Executive Director of the City Fund, recently wrote,

“Last year, Arnold Ventures commissioned CREDO (out of Stanford University) to study the effects of charter, innovation, and traditional schools in select cities across the country.

“Most of the cities included in the study were cities where Arnold Ventures (and now The City Fund) have partnered with local leaders to expand high-quality schools.”

The City Fund is a $200,000,000 dollar fund dedicated to expanding the portfolio model of school governance. The funds come from billionaires Reed Hastings (Netflix), John Arnold (Enron), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Michael Dell (Dell). City Fund is very secretive about its operations.

In his post, Kingsland tried to defend the miserable results coming from Denver which he cites as the national example for the portfolio model. The truth is transportation costs are up because of the inefficient structure. Administration costs have zoomed compared to the rest of the state of Colorado and the achievement gap is among the largest in the nation. On the 2019 NAEP reading and math tests, Denver’s students were still below both the national average and were also significantly outperformed by comparable cities like San Diego and Austin.

When Kingsland says “expand high-quality schools,” he means charter schools. And for him “quality” means the school scores well on standardized tests. Lawyers like Kingsland probably don’t understand how useless those tests are for evaluating teachers or schools. If they do, it must be an inconvenient truth.

Obviously, the Denver voters have seen through the corporate smoke and mirrors and are calling for a change. No more closing schools in a poor community because they have low test scores. Instead, help those schools and their educators. No more bringing in unqualified Teach For America corps member and pretending that they are ready to lead classrooms. No more following the dictates of the American Legislative Exchange Council and removing public schools from the purview of the elected school board. No more pretending that politicians and businessmen know better how to run schools than trained experienced educators.

No more using the portfolio model to privatize public schools.

Twitter: @tultican

Dallas Chamber of Commerce Accelerates Attack on Public Schools

24 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/24/2019

Elites living in upscale mostly white Dallas communities are spending heavily to privatize public schools. Dallas demographics are basically a three way split with Hispanics (41.7%), whites (29.1%) and blacks (24%). However, whites living in trendy neighborhoods like Highland Park where Teach For America (TFA) founder Wendy Kopp grew up dominate the business community. In 2012, 16-years after a group of wealthy outsiders failed in their effort to take over Dallas public schools a new privatization agenda was launched.

When reporting on the 2012 takeover effort, award winning columnist of the Texas Observer, Jim Schutze, described that first attempt,

“In 1996, when well-funded, mainly white reformers came in with big manila folders of statistics under their arms preaching about outcomes and incomes, there was open warfare. Board meetings dissolved into riots.

“The New Black Panthers threatened to show up at school headquarters armed with shotguns. Tangles between angry speakers and district security guards were beginning to make board meetings look like Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.

“The New Black Panthers painted the white school board members as bogus crackers. Then a neighbor of one white trustee proved them right by wiretapping the trustee using racial slurs. The superintendent resigned. The next superintendent got sent to the pen. A dismal series of financial scandals ensued. The school district wound up looking like bad fruit erupted in the merciless Texas sun. So here we go again?”

In 2011, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce paid for local political leaders to visit Denver, Los Angeles and Houston to learn more about charter schools. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and trustee Bernadette Nutall were in the group.

Before 2012, Dallas school board elections were very low key affairs. Two of the three incumbent school board trustees up for reelection ran unopposed in 2011 and the third district trustee had resigned. Mike Morath stepped forward to take that district two trusteeship. It was pretty much unheard of for a school board candidate to have raised as much as $10,000 for a campaign; however even though running unopposed, Morath’s campaign contributions totaled $28,890.00 and he spent $16,773.07.

Writing for In These Times, George Joseph explained the political change in a 2014 article:

“But since the beginning of 2012, hundreds of thousands of Super PAC dollars from Dallas’ richest neighborhoods began flowing into nearly all of the district’s school board elections. 

“Since 2011, Educate Dallas, a PAC backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber (the local Chamber of Commerce), has raised $661,953 in cash on hand for its school board war chest, and the Dallas-based education reform PAC Kids First, led by millionaire tech CEO Ken Barth, has raised $661,616. The majority of their donations come from Dallas’ famous aristocrats, including Barth, Ross Perot, Ray Hunt—an oil heir with a net worth of $5.8 billion—and Harlan Crow, a real estate heir and buddy of Clarence Thomas.”

In 2012, incumbent Bernadette Nutall was provided a campaign war chest of $54,527.06 to fend off a challenge by an unknown youth. Nutall had supported closing eleven “underutilized” schools in her district which made her popular at the chamber but angered much of her district. In that same election, Dan Micciche received $56,479.57 to run against Trustee Bruce Parrot in district-3. With an almost 60 to 1 spending advantage, Micciche easily won.

Once the new board was seated it proceeded to fire Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and replace him with Mike Miles a graduate of billionaire Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy. At the time, Miles was serving as superintendent of schools for Harrison School District-2 in Colorado Springs. The Dallas morning news stated that Miles had “been compared with Michelle Rhee, the go-get-em chancellor who has been villainized and lauded as she tries to repair the shattered Washington, D.C. school system.” The lone vote opposed to the Miles hire came from district-6 Trustee Carla Ranger. Ranger posted an informative quote from the Colorado Gazette on her blog:

“That tough and visionary approach to education is what impressed the Texans.  Blackburn [Board President Lew Blackburn] said that they liked the steps Miles took to improve Harrison, including pay for performance and the intense performance evaluations.”

The article “Dallas Chamber of Commerce Disrupts Dallas Schools summarizes Miles three year tenure,

“Miles’s reforms included a new principal evaluation process which led to large turnover. He also instituted a merit pay system for teachers and hired Charles Glover a 29-year-old administrator of the Dallas TFA branch to be Chief Talent Officer in DISD. After just under three years, he had managed to alienate the black and Hispanic communities as well as many experienced teachers and principals.”

In 2015, Michael Hinojosa was rehired as Dallas Superintendent of schools.

The year before, Trustee Mike Morath had proposed a scheme based on an obscure Texas law that would eliminate the democratically elected school board and accelerate charter school growth. George Joseph reporting on Morath’s “home rule” plan wrote,

Three inside city sources told the Dallas Morning News that the mayor and school board trustee Mike Morath, a major force behind the home rule effort, view home rule as best chance to replace the elected school board with complete mayoral control or at least an appointed school board. One source claimed the mayor’s spokesperson told him that “the mayor would run DISD or oversee it. You wouldn’t have trustees. If you did, they wouldn’t be making decisions.”

Morath’s “home rule” plan was quickly embraced by the local chamber of commerce through a political action non-profit, Support Our Public Schools. Houston billionaire and former Enron trader John Arnold contributed $150,000 to the cause. Communities throughout Dallas rose up and to defeat the plan but Morath’s prominence grew.

In 2015, new Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Mike Morath Commissioner of Education. With no education training and a few months experience as a substitute teacher, Morath became Abbott’s best possible choice. Conservative writer Donna Garner declared, “I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education.”

Chamber of Commerce and Billionaires Continue Buying School Board Elections

Stacy Schusterman

Tulsa Billionaire Stacy Schusterman a Dallas School Board Election Donor; Sampson-Energy

In 2017, Miguel Solis the incumbent from district-8 ran unopposed. In district-6, the incumbent Joyce Forman had token opposition and easily won with 87% of the vote. In district-2, the incumbent Dustin Marshall was in for a dog fight. In fact, his opponent Lori Kirkpatrick almost won outright during the general election with 49.8% of the vote to Marshall’s 47.0%. In the runoff, Marshall handily beat Kirkpatrick 66.3% to 33.7%. Money was the difference. Marshall could outspend Kirkpatrick by more than 6 times with his $338,302.63 funding advantage over her $52,913.76.

Chris Tackett put Dustin Marshall’s contributors into a pie chart.

Dustin Marshall Contributors Chris Tackett

Chris Tackett Pie Chart of 2017 Support for Marshall

The May 4, 2019 school board elections for districts 4, 5 and 7 had similar results. The chamber of commerce slate won a clean sweep, while candidates supported by community groups, the PTA and teachers’ associations were swamped under the massive spending.

Karla Garcia was forced into a runoff by her district-4 opponent Camile White. The three big corporate PACs Ascend, Kids First and Educate Dallas all generously supported Garcia enabling her to outspend White by a ratio of 18 to 1. Garcia’s $90,132.69 campaign fund allowed her to spend more than $78 for each vote received.

In District-5, Maxie Johnson outspent his opponent David King by more than 10 to 1. Educate Dallas, Kids First and the Texas Organizing Project all made large contributions to his total campaign fund of $74,992.93.

There was a bit of a contest in district-7. The chamber candidate Ben Mackey was opposed by Brent McDougal who had considerable community support. Mackey’s total campaign contributions of $138,416.27 was by far the largest in the May election and it dwarfed McDougal’s surprisingly large trove of $35,910.76. In addition to contributions from Educate Dallas and Kids First, Mackey got a $10,000 contribution from Tulsa billionaire Stacey Schusterman.

Dallas Chamber Joins State Republican Leaders and Billionaires in School Privatization Project   

Texas blogger Lynn Davenport recently wrote about a school board plan to turn over Martin Luther King, Jr. Arts Academy to a private operator. This plan is based on the 2017 state law, Senate Bill 1882, that pays districts $1800 for each student put in privately operated schools. In this case, a highly regarded non-profit CitySquare which has no experience running schools would operate Martin Luther King, Jr. Arts Academy as a charter school. In her discussion of the district policy change that would make this possible, Kirkpatrick wrote,

“MLK, Jr. Learning Center is a neighborhood school that was selected last year as a choice school, an arts academy being referred to as a ‘Baby Booker T.’ Trustee Joyce Foreman is the lone dissenter against the privatization agenda in Dallas ISD. She is up against a supermajority of trustees winning the race to hand the neighborhood and open-enrollment schools to non-educators and non-profits under the controversial SB 1882. Trustee Foreman asked, ‘Why would we want someone else to run our best schools?”’

A school board election commentary in the Dallas Morning News by metro columnist Sharon Grigsby had the title, “Good riddance to naysayers — Dallas ISD kids finally get the trustees they deserve.” In other words, anyone who speaks out against the privatization agenda is a “naysayer.”

Dallas’s largest and most influential newspaper also ran an editorial decryingso much resistance to this school district exploring partnerships with outside organizations.” Partnerships are a way of privatizing public schools by turning them over to charter schools or other nonprofits. The Dallas Morning News is clearly an integral part of the chamber of commerce push to privatize public schools in Dallas.

As insightful education writer Nancy Bailey notes, “The partners, not the public, will own Dallas’s public schools.”

Since Greg Abbott has been governor he has signed two laws that accelerate public school privatization and end local control. House Bill 1842 mandatesintervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years ….” Senate Bill 1882 incentivizes school districts to hand over control of failing neighborhood schools to charter operators (referred to as “partnerships”). In Dallas local leaders are proposing using this provision to hand over control of open enrollment schools whether they are failing or not.

There have been twelve Texas schools that have been taken over by private operators under the provisions of SB 1882 and have a set of new grades. Some schools saw testing score improvement but most did not.

Texas Tribune Partnership Chart

Texas Tribune Chart of First SB1882 Privatized Schools with Grades

These privatization decisions are all being made based on standardized testing which is completely incapable of assessing school quality. The only thing they are good at is assessing a student’s family financial condition and providing propaganda for privatization.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath, has created a program called the System of Great Schools. It is a plan to implement the portfolio model of school governance throughout the state of Texas. It is identical to the plan that billionaires Reed Hasting, John Arnold, Bill Gates and Michael Dell are financing through The City Fund. The portfolio school system management model systematically removes public schools from governance by elected boards and puts them under private control.

Dallas has a good public education system with a long history of success. That system is being hijacked by wealthy elites and their political henchmen. An awakened citizenry can stop this travesty.

Twitter: @tultican

New Orleans Education is Inefficient Expensive and Sad

2 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/2/2019

New Orleans’s public schools were targeted by the destroy-public-education (DPE) movement even before hurricane Katrina struck. Today, they are the national example of a privatized school system. DPE operatives like Neerav Kingsland, the former chief executive of New Schools for New Orleans and Managing Director of the secretive City Fund, use New Orleans to promote the portfolio management theory of school governance and to attract philanthropic dollars to their cause. However, the reality is that New Orleans’ schools are inefficient, undermine communities, have extremely high management and transportation costs, and still struggle academically. They are a sad but typical example of market-based education reform.

In 2002, George Bush signed into law the update of the Elementary and Secondary Education act known as “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). 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 NCLB accountability measures were purposely designed to open a path for privatizing schools. He wrote,

 “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).”

26-george-bush-signs-nclb-act-2002

George Bush Signs NCLB Law January 8, 2002 – Ron Edmonds/AP-File

In 2003, Louisiana state government passed a school take-over law aimed at the low scoring schools in New Orleans. The law created the Recovery School District (RSD) which would manage the schools the state took. School performance scores (SPS) were given to schools based on testing data, attendance, dropout rates and graduation rates. Receiving an SPS rating of academically unacceptable four years in a row made a school vulnerable to takeover.

By the end of the 2004-2005 school year, the state had taken over five New Orleans schools. RSD turned all five into charter schools operated by four groups: University of New Orleans; Middle School Advocates, Inc.; Knowledge Is Power Program; and Institute for Academic Excellence. All set to begin in the 2005-06 school year.

However, privatizing five schools did little to solve the corruption problem endemic in the Orleans Parrish School Board. There were six interim superintendents between 1998 and 2005. With a lack of stable central leadership, corruption, graft, and incompetence persisted. An FBI investigation led to 11 indictments in 2004 and by end of the school year in May 2005 the district was effectively bankrupt.

In July, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) contracted with Alvarez & Marsal, a financial turnaround firm from New York City with little experience in public schools. The first Alvarez & Marsal status report said,

“The conditions we have found are as bad as any we have ever encountered. The financial data that exists is (sic) unreliable, there has not been a clean audit since FY 2001-2002, there is no inventory of assets, the payroll system is in shambles, school buildings are in deplorable condition and, up to now, there has been little accountability.”

In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck.

Aug 30 2015 Photo by David J. Phillip - AP

August 30, 2005 Photo by David J. Phillip/AP

Before Katrina, OPSB, which ran the public schools in New Orleans, operated 123 schools; in the spring following the storm, it was running just four.

With OPSB out of the road and RSD in charge, philanthropies like the Gates and Broad foundations were ready to help. According to Mayor Ray Nagin who is in prison,

“They said, ‘Look, you set up the right environment, we will fund, totally fund, brand-new schools for the city of New Orleans. But we don’t want to go through what you’ve been through. All that struggle you’ve been having with that school board. We don’t want to do that. We want to come in clean.’”

In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klien labeled the action of these school reform philanthropists a prime example of “disaster capitalism” which she described as “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities.” She also observed, “In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision.”

In 2010, Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan infamously said, “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”

In 2009, Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) made it more difficult for schools to remain academically acceptable, effectively ending most of the remaining public schools in New Orleans. BESE raised the minimum SPS score for Academically Unacceptable status to 65 for the 2010-11 school year and 75 for the 2011-12 school year. In the coming school year 2019-2020, there will be no public schools in New Orleans. RSD has transferred management of charter schools to the Orleans Parish School Board which has renamed itself NOLA Public Schools.

NOLA Public Schools is Inefficient and Ineffective

At the 2016 Network for Public Education conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College of CUNY, Andrea Gabor, presented at a breakout session. She was working on a book subsequently published in 2018 with the title After the Education Wars. Andrea made it clear that she was not anti-charter school and in her book she presents the story of one particularly successful charter school, Morris Jeff, which exemplified the Deming approach to business management. She had just returned from New Orleans where she encountered many black families who were initially positive about the new charter schools after Katrina, but were now angry.

One New Orleans parent at the North Carolina session explained that during her eighth grade year she was in a class with 55-students. Their room was not air-conditioned and they were restricted to running the fan 10-minutes each hour to save on electrical costs. With the news of large scale spending on schools in black communities, residents did not care about the governance structure. It was the first significant spending on education in their neighborhoods in living memory.

OPSB was established in 1841 with a large assist from the champion of common schools, Horace Mann. However, Louisiana was a slave state and it was illegal to educate slaves. Gabor noted, “In 1867, Robert Mills Lusher, a new state superintendent of education and a ‘rabid Confederate and outspoken racist,’ argued that all-white schools should be ‘properly preserved as a bastion of white supremacy.”’ With the end of reconstruction in 1877, the schools in New Orleans were resegregated and remained that way until the 1960s.

Charter school advocates talk about the corruption and dysfunction in OPSB, however Gabor stated:

“But you don’t hear much talk these days about the legacy of white supremacy that disenfranchised the city’s majority-black residents and sought to keep them in ignorance. (As recently as the turn of the millennium, 50% of the city’s entire population was functionally illiterate.) Nor will you hear much about how the city’s white citizens fought hard against integration well into the 1960s and then, when the gig was up, fled the schools.” (Emphasis added)

Six percent of k-12 students in New Orleans are white, yet the academically top ranked and most sot after high schools are Lusher Charter School which is 53.2% white and Benjamin Franklin High School which is 40.2% white.

One more quotation from Andrea Gabor’s After the Education Wars:

“Since 2006, the average renewal rate of charter schools has been 64.8 percent. That means well over one-third of the charter schools launched since Hurricane Katrina have failed so badly that they have either been taken over or closed.”

Professor of Economics Doug Harris and his team at Tulane University are contracted to study school performance in New Orleans. It must be difficult to maintain neutrality when sharing office space on the seventh floor of 1555 Poydras Street with the pro-privatization group New Schools for New Orleans. Harris claims public schools improved considerably after Hurricane Katrina. In his new study, he attributes that success to performance-based closures and takeovers, as well as charter openings.

However, hurricane Katrina created major changes in New Orleans. The Enrollment was about 62,000 before the storm, and is 48,000 now. It is not only smaller, but less impoverished, with less concentrated poverty. Many of the poorest families left and never returned. Originally, per student spending was increased dramatically to get the schools back up and running. Now, the student spending is $1,400 per student more than before Katrina.

Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers University reviewed Harris’s study and disagreed with his conclusion. He thinks the post Katrina changes were so ubiquitous that before and after comparison studies will never be dispositive. Baker says,

“I’m not convinced that the data available have sufficient additional precision to answer any more useful policy questions. Perhaps more importantly, the uniqueness of the policy context, conditions and changes induced by “the storm” will always severely limit any policy implications for other settings.”

Today in New Orleans, it is not uncommon for students living within view of a school, to get on a bus and travel five miles to their assigned schools. Writing in the Washington Post, Emma Brown explained, “Students were no longer assigned to schools via attendance boundaries; instead, they decided where they wanted to go and entered lotteries for a chance to enroll.” The concept of a community school that a student and all her neighborhood friends and family attended has been eliminated. Brown also shared:

“It was state officials, elected by the state’s white majority, who took over the schools from the local school board, elected by the city’s black majority. The teachers who were fired were mostly black; many of those teaching now are white, and they come from somewhere else.”

“Students traveled an average of 1.8 miles further to get to school in 2011-2012 than they did before Katrina, according to the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans.”

“One in four students attended a school more than five miles away from home.”

Transportation is not the only inefficiency in the privatized system. Since each of the charter school organizations are stand alone learning education agencies, they must have their own set of administrators. Administrative costs have dramatically risen for NOLA education. However, the cost for teachers has been reduced by replacing the formerly experienced black educators that constituted 73% of the teaching staff with mostly white Teach For America corps members who have no academic training or experience in teaching.

A huge problem with low attendance bedevils the privatized system and an extraordinary 30% of NOLA teachers resigned last year. The latest state test scores (LEAP) were released, and the scores in New Orleans stalled or dipped.

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch sums up:

“So, here is the New Orleans model: Close almost all public schools. Replace them with private charters. Fire all the teachers. Replace most of the teachers with inexperienced, ill-trained TFA recruits. Close low-performing charters and replace them with other charters. Keep disrupting and churning. In the first two years, scores will go up, then stall. By year eight, “quality” will stagnate or decline. The schools will be highly stratified and racially segregated. The few high-performing schools will have selective admissions.”

Twitter: @tultican

“Let the Children Play” is Developmentally Appropriate Education

25 Sep

By T. Ultican 9/25/2019

Two education experts and fathers have issued a clarion call to “Let the Children Play.” Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle co-authored Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive. These two fathers with young children were both shocked by the education system they found when the American scholar Doyle took his family to Finland and Finland’s Education Director General, Sahlberg, brought his family to the United States. Their book is a tour de force about play practices globally and the research supporting the developmental need for children to play.

The authors document the stunning reduction in authentic outdoor self-directed play children in the United States and around the world are experiencing. They share a large amount of scholarly data indicating what a big mistake it is to reduce recess and they identify the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) as the cause for that policy error. Doyle and Sahlberg report on the amazing results both physically and academically being reported from diverse schools worldwide that have reintroduced significant authentic play. The book concludes with statements by 27 education scholars from Asia to Europe about the importance of high-quality play to human development.

Let The Children Play_0002

The Authors as Depicted on the Book Cover

In 2015 when William Doyle arrived in Finland as a visiting scholar with his wife and seven-year-old son, he found a school system that sent their children outside for 15-minutes every hour to participate in self-directed play. They sent children outside even when the temperature is as low as 5° Fahrenheit below which they stay inside to play. He shares that one day while watching children go to lunch one girl did a cartwheel in the hallway and noted “these children were expected to giggle, wiggle, and squirm from time to time, since that’s what children (especially boys) are biologically engineered to do …

That same year the former Director of Finland’s Ministry of Education, Pasi Sahlberg, came to Harvard as a visiting professor. He found a school system that was increasingly “based on stress, standardization, the de-professionalization of the teaching profession, and the systematic elimination of play in childhood education, even in kindergartens.” When he attempted to enroll his 3-year-old into a local preschool, he encountered “a stunning new concept in American education – ‘preschool readiness.’”  Sahlberg had heard that Harvard University which was in the neighborhood had developed the idea of “college-readiness” which had been pushed down as far as “kindergarten-readiness” for 5-year-olds. “But applying the idea to 3-year-olds seemed downright bizarre.

Yong Zhao is currently Foundation Distinguished Professor, School of Education, University of Kansas. He is quoted a few times in Let the Children Play. I heard this noted author and extremely amusing speaker address “college-readiness” and “kindergarten readiness” during his keynote speech at the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Chicago 2015. He said as a parent he was looking for “out-of-my-basement readiness.” Then he mentioned that he met Kim Kardashian in a Los Angeles elevator and observed, “Kim Kardashian has out-of-my-basement readiness.” He asserted that the only real “kindergarten-readiness” was if the school was ready for the five-year-old.

GERM is Eliminating Play

Pasi slide

Global Education Reform Slide by Sahlberg Presented at NPE 2018 in Indianapolis

Too often, curiosity and creativity are being sundered when children go to preschool, kindergarten or elementary school. “The global education race for ‘higher standards’ at lower financial costs have turned many schools to factories that try to produce standardized products efficiently on tight schedules.” Modern education reform is developmentally inappropriate. As Gloria Ladson-Billings, Distinguished Professor in Urban Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison states, “Anyone who fully understands child development knows that children’s ‘play’ is children’s ‘work.’”  

The Let the Children Play authors assert,

“The war against play is largely an unintended consequence of inept political attempts to ‘raise standards’ and ‘close the achievement gap’ by increasing ‘rigor’ and forcing academic demands on younger and younger children. It is a war being waged by an alliance of politicians, administrators, and ideologues, many of whom have one glaring weakness in common – they have little or no knowledge of how children actually learn. It is in effect, a conspiracy of ignorance, misguided policies, and misinformation.” (Emphasis added)

“This ‘GERM’ is … a virus spreading around the world, infecting school systems, and it is killing play in our schools.”

The book reports that according to data from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) “American children have suffered a startling drop of creativity” in the wake of recent decades of play deprivation. In 2011, Professor of Creativity and Innovation Kyung-Hee Kim of William and Mary reported on a review of 300,000 TTCT scores which had been constantly increasing until the 1980s and have been dropping steadily ever since. In the Creativity Research Journal, Kim reported “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”

There are many unsupported claims indicating that learning math and reading skills in preschool and kindergarten gives children an education advantage. Driven by people associated with GERM, these claims have led to an ever increasing academic focus for these children and a commensurate reduction in play. The advocacy group Defending the Early Years notes, “There is no research showing long-term advantages to reading at 5 compared to reading at 6 or 7.” Their founder Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige, who happens to be Matt Damon’s mother, states,

“The research is clear. Faster is not better when it comes to early education; young children need play and hands-on interactions for genuine learning to occur.”

A 2015 study at Stanford University, “The Gift of Time? The school Starting Age and Mental Health”, found a strong mental health benefit to a later school starting age and there was also a likely academic payoff. A German study of 400,000 15-year-olds found no benefit to early entry into school. A Danish study found that by delaying kindergarten by one year, 11-year-olds saw a dramatic reduction in hyperactivity and attentions deficit. New York City University Professor Joshua Aronson shared, “I have learned that American kids don’t suffer from ‘Ritalin deficiency’; they suffer from a lack of nature, play, and freedom that their hunter-gather ancestors enjoyed. Play and exercise demonstrably boost academic achievement.”

Deeper Play is the Key

How Play Helps Children Learn and Grow

The authors warn that more play in not necessarily better. For play to provide the benefits described above it must be high-quality play. The authors call it “deeper play” and define it with five main ingredients:

  1. Self-direction: “Self-directed play means that we let children decide their own play in a safe and rich environment where they are comfortable to explore their own mind and potential.
  2. Intrinsically motivated: “In intrinsically motivated play, children behave or perform an action because they enjoy it and find inspiration in the action itself.”
  3. Use of imagination: “Sir Ken Robinson says that ‘imagination is the source of all human achievement,’ and it is therefore an essential condition for creativity and innovation.”
  4. A process orientation: “Process-oriented play is enjoyable for the sake of the activity itself, and is not concerned with an end result or product.”
  5. Positive emotions: “When children play, they should have a deep sense of enjoyment and fun, and may also feel joy, gratitude, inspiration, hope, love, and a sense of flow, or the full absorption in the process.”

In the book’s much more complete explanation of the use of imagination, the authors note how children’s habits of mind and imagination are being undermined by an overemphasis on standardization and testing which is narrowing curriculum. They claim, “Standardization has become the worst enemy of creativity and imagination in teaching and learning in school.”

An study by Professor Rebecca Marcon of the University of North Florida observed 343 preschool students at three different schools. One was academically oriented, one encouraged play-based learning and the third was a blend of the first two. In ongoing studies Marcon reported “children who were in a [play-based] preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs.”

Let the Children Play discourages digital play. A clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics stated,

“Media (e.g., television, video games, and smart-phone and tablet applications) use often encourages passivity and the consumption of others’ creativity rather than active learning and socially interactive play. Most importantly, immersion in electronic media takes away time from real play, either outdoors or indoors.”

Reporting for the New York Times in October 2018, Nellie Bowles said that in Silicon Valley there is a “dark consensus about screens and kids”. She claimed, “Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.”

A 2015 report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicates that technology in classrooms has become a net negative. OECD’s Andreas Schleicher declared,

“In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools. We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.”

Play May Be Getting a Revival

There are several “play” pilot programs going on in the United States and throughout the world. In Fort Worth Texas, Professor Debbie Rhea of Texas Christian University created a program that tripled recess from 20-minutes a day to four separate 15-minute periods. In 2014, The Let’s Inspire Innovation in Kids (LiiNK) project started as a pilot in four schools; two using the program and two not using it to serve as a control group.  By fall of 2017 LiiNK had expanded to 20 schools serving 8,000 primary students. The authors report, “So far, the early results of Professor Rhea’s LiiNK experiment are so impressive, and so rapid, that the project may have the potential to trigger something close to a miracle in American education – more recess for children.”

China’s national Office of the Ministry of Education in 2017 announced a nationwide early education initiative with the theme “Play – Sparking the Joy of Childhood,” focusing on 3- to 6-year-olds. Academic subjects are banned.

There are play programs underway in Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai and Hong Kong. New Zealand and Scotland have also started large play focused programs. A small school district on Long Island is reporting amazing results from their new play-focused program.

I encourage people who care about education to read this well documented and thorough report on the crisis of play in school.