Tag Archives: Politics

Is Inspire Charter School the Next A3 Education?

9 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/9/2019

Inspire Charter School mirrors the methods of A3 Education. It employs practices strikingly similar to those that led to May’s 67-count indictment against A3’s leaders. Furthermore, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) took the unusual step of sharing concerns about Inspire and A3 with California authorities. Both are virtual schools that concentrate on obtaining authorization from small school districts. These systems have a similar structure in which a central organization controls the schools that are contracting with it and they transfer funds among multiple organizations making it difficult to monitor their activities. Students at Inspire and A3 struggle academically.

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The First Inspire Charter School Opened in 2014

The Acton-Aqua Dulce Unified School District is infamous for authorizing suspect charter applications while not having the resources to adequately monitor those schools. It enrolls 1085 public school students and 14,734 charter school students. Acton-Aqua Dulce authorized Inspire’s first charter school which was located in Los Angeles County. Strangely, Inspire Charter grew from 151 students in the 2014-15 school year to 4,321 students in the 2018-19 school year and then closed up shop this June 30th.

Founder Nick Nichols needed a program that would service his target audience of home school students.  The Inspire 2016 tax form shows that he purchased curriculum from Academic Arts and Action for $149,625. This is notable because the chairman of Academic Arts and Action was Jason Schrock and the President was Sean McManus. That is the same Schrock and McManus indicted in the A3 scandal.

The education writer for the San Diego Union Tribune (UT), Kristen Taketa, has been relentlessly pursuing the Inspire story. She explains one of the the charters selling points,

“Inspire parents have been able to spend state-provided money on expenses they say are educational, from Disneyland annual passes to private ice skating coaching. The list of places where Inspire parents could spend school funds has included Costco, Amazon, Big Air Trampoline Park, Medieval Times, Guitar Center and the DNA testing company 23 and Me, according to Inspire’s list of approved vendors.”

Inspire provides each parent $2600 to $3000 to spend on field trips and other educational resources.

In 2015, Inspire rolled out a successful but legally questionable method for attracting students. They offered parents $200 paid out of enrichment funds for every student they recruited and they incentivized staff $100 in extra work hours for each learner they signed.

Last year Nick Nichols oversaw nine schools with 23,300 total students. In the 2016-17 school year, Inspire took in $76,018,441 yet their debt was skyrocketing. Their pay for officers went from $65,318 for the 2014-15 school year to $2,011,898 in the 2016-17 school year. Nick Nichols did especially well.

Inspire Income-Debt-Wages-Table

Data from Inspire Tax Documents

The UT’s Taketa reports, “Inspire expects to pull in $285 million in state funding this school year.”

Inspire just secured another $50,000,000 loan from the California School Finance Authority. With booming student daily attendance income and large financial backing from the state, it is strange that Nick Nichols chose now to take a temporary leave of absence. Former Mount Diablo Superintendent of Schools and Inspire’s chief operating officer, Steven Lawrence, is taking over as executive director.

Unethical and Academically Miserable

It is not just the CCSA but other destroy-public-education (DPE) groups like APLUS+, who labels itself “the leading voice for the personalized learning choice” are alarmed by Inspire. Aplus+ director Jeff Rice stated, “We are all concerned about actors like this who are repeatedly violating generally acceptable best practices.” Rice removed Inspire as a member school in 2016.

In March of 2018, the Winship-Robbins school district threatened to rescind Inspire North’s charter because of what then-Superintendent Laurie Goodman called “gross financial management.” Taketa revealed, “Four months after she issued the notice of violation to Inspire, Goodman left her job at Winship-Robbins and became Inspire’s director of leadership development, according to her LinkedIn profile.”

Inspire Charter School Network

Authorizing Districts are Small with Histories of Lax Charter Oversight

Shortly after the A3 Education indictments, Carol Burris, writing in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet observed, “From 2009-2015, McManus was the CEO of the Academy of Arts and Science Charter Schools for which he served as CEO from 2009-2016, developing his model of using cash-strapped, small districts as authorizers of online charter schools that draw students from all over adjoining counties in exchange for fees.” Herbert “Nick” Nichols has followed the same strategy at Inspire.

With the coming 2-year moratorium on virtual schools in California, it appears there was a big push to get six new schools authorized before 2020. Taketa shared, “Inspire has been submitting petitions to districts this summer to open new schools, but it withdrew at least two after district officials questioned Inspire’s practices.” Irvine Unified School District had their lawyer respond to Inspire’s charter school petition. The lawyer presented more than 100 requests for more information including:

“What systems, policies, and procedures does Inspire have in place to ensure that public school charter funds are being spent in a proper manner and that a gift of public funds is not taking place?”

“Does Inspire require parents to produce receipts for all purchases?”

“Has Inspire conducted an audit of these funds to be sure that they are properly spent?”

“Is the charter school required to contract with Inspire or may it contract with other vendors for services?”

Four Inspire Charter schools changed their name this summer. San Diego’s Inspire South became Cabrillo Point Academy and Inspire Central is now Yosemite Valley Charter. Inspire North has changed to Feather River Charter and Inspire Kern’s new name is Blue Ridge Academy. They all removed Inspire from their name. Attorney Sarah Sutherland who has represented school districts in charter school litigation noted, “They can morph their existence and change their names faster than anyone can keep up with recognizing they’re the same organization.”

Charter school competitors believe Inspire is using unethical practices to poach from other schools. Terri Schiavone, the Founder and Director of Golden Valley Charter School in Ventura said her school is one of many that are losing students to Inspire Charter.

Schiavone claimed on NBC channel 39, “They target a school and then they try to get as many of their teachers and students as possible.” She said families and teachers are given incentives like using instructional funds to buy tickets to theme parks and there is a lack of oversight and accountability. Schiavone also points out that parents can buy whatever they want from vendors who she says are not fingerprinted or qualified.

The UT’s Taketa observed, “There are virtually no state rules about how home school charter families are allowed to use enrichment funds, partly because home school charters are not well-known outside of home school circles.”

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An Enrichment Opportunity Posted on the Inspire Facebook Page

Poor academic performance plagues Inspire. The graduation rate was only 69 percent last year and just 7 of 209 graduates met California state college admissions requirements.

In 2014, California adopted the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System. These Smarter Balanced assessments are new computer-based tests that measure student knowledge of California’s English and mathematics common core standards. The results show 2 categories for students who achieved an arbitrary expectation level and 2 categories for students who did not. For simplicity the 2 met expectations results are added together. Using these results, the following comparison data table was constructed.

Testing Data Comparison Chart

CAASPP Data Comparing Inspire Results with California Results

Standardized testing does not do a good job of measuring school quality, but it does a very good job of identifying poverty and language learners. That is what makes these results so stunningly awful for Inspire. California data shows 60.9 percent students in poverty and 19.3 percent English language learners. Inspire schools report 38.8 percent students in poverty and 2 percent English language learners. With their demographic advantage, it is difficult to explain away Inspires miserable testing results.

Opinion

There are a few obvious questions about Inspire Schools that need an answer. Why did Nick Nichols step down in September? Why did Inspire close its oldest and apparently lucrative school? Is any district attorney currently investigating Inspire? If not, why not?

Terri Schiavone also mentioned on Channel 39 News,

“It’s very desirable for some parents to enroll in schools in which nobody’s looking over their shoulder. They can utilize whatever curriculum they want, including religious curriculum, which is illegal if using public dollars.”

The National Center for Education Statistics did a 2003 study on why parents choose to homeschool their children. They found that 72% cited being able to “provide religious or moral instruction”.

In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos sat down for a lengthy interview at The Gathering which Jay Michaelson described as the “hub of Christian Right organizing.” Betsy said,

There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.

Dick lamented the fact that schools have displaced churches as the center of community activities. He says that Bill Bennett’s new K12 Inc. cyber schools although not Christian could be a great help to evangelical homeschoolers.

I have always felt that it is an Americans right to choose where their children are educated. I also believe in free universal public education. However, it should not be the responsibility of taxpayers to pay for people’s private choices. If parents do not want their children in the free taxpayer funded school system, that is fine, but that choice should not be subsidized by the government.

Cyber schools have consistently achieved horrible academic results and at the same time been the center of amazing corruption and greed. Just look at what happened at A3 Education. It is time to end public spending on cyber education and to remember President Ulysses S. Grant’s admonition,

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”

“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.

TFA is Bad for America

18 Aug

By T. Ultican 8/19/2019

Teach For America (TFA) has become the billionaire financed army for privatizing public education. It is the number one source of charter school teachers and its alumni are carrying a neoliberal ideology into education leadership at all levels. TFA undermines education professionalism and exacerbates teacher turnover. Its teachers are totally unqualified to run a classroom yet their political support caused the US Congress to label them as highly qualified teachers. Big money and its political power have elevated TFA to being the nation’s most effective force driving the privatization of public education.

Defining  TFA Neoliberalism

This April, Angela M. Kraemer-Holland of DePaul University submitted her doctoral thesis in which she observed:

“TFA’s primary conception of itself is not as a teacher training organization, nor a non-university-based early entry recruitment program, but rather as a “movement” against a pressing and untenable social problem. Conclusions illuminate TFA’s efforts to shape participants’ understanding of teaching and learning—framing teaching as a temporary career—in order to create and sustain a broader movement in education and beyond that is reflective of neoliberal ideas.”

Kraemer-Holland’s conclusions echoes those of two TFA alumni working on their doctorates at Boston College, Randall Lahann and Emilie Mitescu Reagan. They co-wrote “Teach for America and the Politics of Progressive Neoliberalism” published by the Teacher Education Quarterly winter 2011. The classification of TFA as a progressive neoliberal organization is based on their definitions of these combined terms:

“Neoliberalism: Political ideology which calls for state policies that better enable entrepreneurs to compete in the free market. Policies which promote privatization, deregulation, individual choice, and the reduction of government expenditures are valued over those which increase, or promote the welfare state and government control of social and economic activity.”

“Progressivism: The idea that schooling and teacher education are crucial elements in the making of a more just society.”

Although neoliberalism is known to be a conservative ideology, within TFA there is the idea that the outcomes in education are more than just test scores and knowledge, but equity and justice as well. Lahann and Reagan write, “This space can be thought of as progressive neoliberalism.”

Whatever it is called, the faith is in the superiority of the market fundamentalism which Ruth Rosen defined as “the irrational belief that markets solve all problems.” In the book Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean quoted former congressman and leader of the “Contract for America” Dick Armey. He summed up the neoliberal view succinctly, “The markets are rational, the government is dumb.

Neoliberal ideology has been on the ascendancy since the 1970’s coinciding with the founding of the libertarian think tanks Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute. There is an inherent anti-democratic sentiment attached to the theory. In Democracy, Maclean provides a detailed description of the lavish spending since the 1950s by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch promoting their neoliberal based libertarian ideology. Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute. Their stands include an ultra-conservative property rights view and an anti-public education agenda.

Undermining Professionalism in Education

In the paper “Teach For America’s Preferential Treatment: School District Contracts, Hiring Decisions, and Employment Practices”, authors T. Jameson Brewer et al address why school districts want to hire TFA teachers. Their research led to these four points:

“(1) Districts realize the long-term savings potential that comes from converting open teaching positions to positions held exclusively for TFA (or otherwise short-term, not fully credentialed teachers).”

“(2) Districts are willing to pay additional up-front costs not only for the long-term savings but in the quest for increased test scores that can result from pedagogical practices of teaching-to-the-test that characterize TFA pedagogy.”

“(3) School board leaders have bought into the rhetoric of the ‘bad’ teacher and TFA represents a political opportunity to address that perception.”

“(4) In the case of a genuine teacher shortage, cost impacts become less important than filling positions.”

“While each rationale – or a combination of them – may explain why districts continue to honor and expand MOUs[memorandums of understanding] with TFA, we suggest that it is the long-term savings potential that is the most plausible.”

In the same paper it was mentioned that TFA alumni “tend to understand educational change through managerial terms; believing that inequity is a result of resource mismanagement and a lack of accountability and that solutions lay in merit pay for teachers, increased autonomy for leadership, standardization of curriculum, and an end to collective bargaining.

An article in Phi Delta Kappan had similar observations. In Rethinking Teach For America’s leadership models researchers, Tina Trujillo and Janelle Scott, noted that TFA alumni emphasized managerial goals. From their research they reported, “Over 80% of our participants depicted the causes of inequality in technical or managerial terms.”  The education reforms posited by the TFA alumni interviewed were:

  • “Scale back unions’ collective bargaining agreements in order to increase principals’ flexibility in personnel matters.”
  • “Increase teacher and principal effectiveness through tighter accountability.”
  • “Increase principal and teacher expectations.”
  • “Tie teacher compensation to student performance.”
  • “Hire better “talent.”’
  • “Standardize curricula and assessments.”
  • “Expand technology and data use.”

Clearly these former TFA corps members had completely assimilated the destroy public education message of failing schools, inept principals and bad teachers.

Prior to taking over a classroom, TFA teachers receive just five weeks of training. Their training is test centric and employs behaviorist principles. TFA corps members study Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion.

Lemov never studied education nor taught. He became involved with the no-excuses charter movement in mid-1990s. As glowingly depicted by Elizabeth Green in Building A+ Better Teacher, Lemov observed classrooms to develop his teaching ideas.

Most trained professional educators find Lemov’s teaching theory regressive. Jennifer Berkshire published a post by Layla Treuhaft-Ali on her popular blog and podcast “Have You Heard.” Under the title “Teach Like its 1885” Layla wrote,

“As I was reading Teach Like A Champion, I observed something that shocked me. The pedagogical model espoused by Lemov is disturbingly similar to one that was established almost a century ago for the express purpose of maintaining racial hierarchy.”

Treuhaft-Ali added, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.”

Amber K. Kim, Ph.D. made the following observations about Teach Like A Champion:

“ TLAC strategies are not proven using empirical methodology and published in peer reviewed journals. If there are studies, what are the variables? n? p value?”

“ TLAC is for “Other people’s children” (L. Delpit). Of course some TLAC strategies are effective and even fun, but the strict adherence to TLAC as a bible for teaching is reserved for students of color and low SES [Social Economic Status].”

This year California Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia introduced a bill to end TFA hiring in the state. Garcia is a former classroom teacher and understands the importance of teaching staff stability. In an op-ed for the San Diego Union, She noted that 80% of TFA teachers are gone within three years. Coincidentally, that is the amount of classroom time researchers believe it takes for teachers to become proficient. Garcia stated,

“Third-party trainees lack crucial experience before entering a classroom, receiving only a few weeks of training and do not need to have a degree in education. For teacher-credentialing programs, hopeful educators take two years to complete their educational training and serve as a student teacher for another year before entering the classroom as its sole credentialed instructor.”

“Yes, California has struggled with a teacher shortage for decades. The answer to that shortage is not placing untrained educators in schools who leave after a two-year stint. When teachers leave after only a few years, it just exacerbates the issue. It’s a Band-Aid fix on a bullet-hole problem.”

Garcia ordered her bill to the inactive file in May.

TFA is the Billionaire Army

TFA Army

It seems like every major foundation gives to TFA. Besides Gates, Walton, Broad, Dell, Hastings, and Arnold, there is Bradley, Hall, Kaufman, DeVos, Skillman, Sackler and the list goes on. According to TFA’s 2016 tax form, the grants TFA received that year totaled more than $245 million. US taxpayer give TFA $40 million a year via the US Department of Education.

The Walton (Walmart) family has provided TFA more than $100,000,000. In 2013, their $20,000,000 grant gave $2,000 more per TFA teacher going to charter schools than for public school teachers. Annie Waldmen reporting for ProPublica observed,

“The incentives corresponded to a shift in Teach For America’s direction. Although only 7% of students go to charter schools, Teach For America sent almost 40% of its 6,736 teachers to them in 2018 — up from 34% in 2015 and 13% in 2008. In some large cities, charter schools employ the majority of TFA teachers: 54% in Houston, 58% in San Antonio and at least 70% in Los Angeles.”

To enhance the opportunities in leadership for TFA teachers, TFA created the non-profit Leadership for Education Equity (LEE). The LEE board includes Emma Bloomberg (Michael Bloomberg’s daughter); Steuart Walton (billionaire); Arthur Rock (billionaire) and Elisa Villanueva Beard (TFA CEO). LEE finances TFA members and alumni who run for political office and provides campaign training. All LEE members get at least $2,000 but members with the right attitude will also get individual donations from board members. LEE, which received $29 million in contributions and grants in 2017, helped more than 150 alumni run in local and state races in 2018, according to an internal presentation obtained by ProPublica.

A LEE example: This May when Houston ISD voted to end their contract with TFA, board member Holly Vilaseca voted to renew it. Previously, Vilaseca had been a founding TFA teacher at a KIPP charter school. Walton family members and Arthur Rock gave a total of $20,000 to her 2017 school board campaign, in addition to $6,000 from LEE.

The history of the World is replete with examples of Youth movements being used by ruthless individuals for their own purposes. Four years ago, I wrote “Is TFA a Cult.” At the time, I thought that was somewhat farcical. Today, I believe it is true. Idealistic youths are recruited, taught a neoliberal view of good governance and those that take the bait are shaped for leadership and lucrative careers.

TFA corps members and alumni are the ground forces for privatizing public education the pillar of American Democracy. TFA is bad for America.

Five Decades of ‘MarketWorld’ Education Reform

27 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/27/2019

There has been a fifty-year push to reform education using business management principles. In the period, Harvard Business School has trumped Columbia Teacher College concerning pedagogy. Unfortunately, the results are an unmitigated disaster for most communities and students. This market based endeavor – financed by billionaires – has transformed public schools into non-democratic profit centers. It is the precursor to the ultimate goal of dismantling universal free public education.

The radical right is pushing to privatize everything from policing; to prisons; to schools. They have spread the gospel that governments are incapable of solving problems but businessmen can. In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan declared “…, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Viewing society as consisting of “makers” and “takers,” these apostles of privatization fear the tyranny of democratic majorities. They strive to make property rights the paramount civil right.

When it came to privatizing school, the right originally tried to use vouchers, but that was a tough sell. Jeff Bryant quoted Jeffry Henig an Education Professor at Teachers College, “The Walton foundation itself was one of the early organizations to transition from vouchers to charters.” In his AlterNet article Bryant explained,

“Henig believes many conservatives view charter schools as a way to “soften the ground” for potentially more private options, though he isn’t entirely sure “the Waltons view charters as a Trojan Horse for eventually providing vouchers universally.’”

When putative progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress or Democrats for Education Reform promote charter schools they are promoting an anti-democratic and anti-union position. When politicians like Corey Booker and Joe Biden say they support public charter schools, they are in fact supporting the radical right’s privatization agenda. When Bill Clinton eliminated depression era banking rules and “welfare as you know it” plus campaigned for school choice; he was advancing Charles Koch’s ideology.

Two recent books have brought the privatization agenda into sharp relief.

The first book is Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth plan for America by Nancy MacLean. Through serendipitous good fortune, MacLean stumbled onto Nobel Prize laureate James M. Buchanan’s unorganized papers shortly after his 2013 passing. They were in boxes and stacked on tables in his George Mason University cabin. The other more well known American Nobel Prize winning economist from the right is the Milton Friedman. However, MacLean discovered that Charles Koch, the financier of the radical right “bypassed Friedman for Buchanan.

The other book is Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas. He takes the reader inside the worlds of elite philanthropy in New York City and of thought leaders in Aspen, Colorado. He writes,

And what these winners wanted was for the world to be changed in ways that had their buy-in – think charter schools over more equal public school funding, or poverty-reducing tech companies over antitrust regulation of tech companies. The entrepreneurs were willing to participate in making the world better if you pursued that goal in a way that exonerated and celebrated and depended on them.

James M. Buchanan, John C. Calhoun and Segregation

James M. Buchanan grew up in Tennessee. His grandfather had been an unpopular governor of the state; however Buchanan was raised in near poverty. It was his academic abilities that took him from the obscurity of Middle Tennessee State Teachers College to a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago in 1948. The youthful socialist became a “zealous advocate of market order.” It was at the University of Chicago where Buchanan met Friedrich August Hayek and the Austrian School of Economics.

Writing in Atlantic Magazine Sam Tanenhaus disclosed, “Hayek initiated Buchanan into the Mont Pelerin Society, the select group of intellectuals who convened periodically to talk and plot libertarian doctrine.” After World War II ended, The Mont Pelerin Society was a relatively small group of economists mostly from Europe and the United States who were widely viewed as a fringe group. They were against initiatives such as social security, universal health care and public education. The title of Hayek’s 1944 book The Road to Serfdom encapsulates their antipathy to any government social endeavors.

Professor MacLean, who is a historian from Duke University, compared Buchanan’s economic ideology with John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was a son of the antebellum south, a senator from South Carolina and a Vice President of the United States. MacLean quotes him stating, “A ‘government based in the naked principle that the majority ought to govern,’ was sure to filch other men’s property and violate their ‘liberty.’” Calhoun was also a leading defender of slavery. In his most famous speech he said slavery is “instead of an evil, a good–a positive good.

Buchanan and Calhoun

Buchanan’s first plumb teaching assignment came at the University of Virginia in 1956. This was also when the “massive resistance movement” to Brown versus the Board of education and desegregation of public schools in Virginia was heating up.

In 1959, Buchanan joined with another new hire at the university, G. Warren Nutter (who later became a key Goldwater advisor) to write “The Economics of Universal Education.” They argued that the root of the desegregation problem was that “state run” schools had become a “monopoly” that should be broken by privatization. They said if the state sold off their school buildings and equipment, they could limit their involvement in education to setting minimum standards. Then all kinds of schools might blossom.

Since MacLean’s book was published there has been some push back against her tying Buchanan and his paper to the “massive resistance movement” saying he did not involve himself in desegregation politics only in the economic issues of education. However, Buchanan and Nutter did state in their paper, “Every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing.” In any case, schools in Virginia were closed. Black children stayed home while white children attended tax-subsidized private schools. In Prince Edward County, schools were locked closed from 1959-1964. MacLean says that for Buchanan segregation was just a side issue in his life-long libertarian pursuit.

Murray Newton Rothbard was an American economist of the Austrian School and a political theorist whose writings and personal influence played a seminal role in the development of modern right-libertarianism. MacLean discovered “Murray Rothbard encouraged Koch to study Lennin.” Not Lenin’s economics but his methods for advancing an unpopular ideology. On this point MacLean noted, “At a 1973 March log cabin meeting Buchanan stressed the key thing moving forward was that ‘conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.’”

In 1978, I saw the Communist Workers Party takeover the Iron Workers Union at National Steel and Ship Building Company (NASSCO). When watching the development of the radical right for the past few decades, similarities with the tactics of communist movement were unmistakable. Both movements are secretive, anti-democratic and motivated by extreme economic theory.

MacLean states, “The Mont Pelerin Society cause since the 1950’s is the end of public education.

Killing Public Education

In 1978, Congressman Ronald Mottl D-Ohio 23 introduced a bill promoting education standards. It was the first time a bill was proposed that amended the 1965 education law to promote a particular theory of education. Mottl’s bill went nowhere like another similar bill (H.R.371) introduced the next year by his colleague Tennyson Guyer R-Ohio 4. However, these were the first harbingers of education standards that emulated business practices.

In 1983, the Reagan administration produced the infamous “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” This polemic was neither factually nor pedagogically well founded. Serious academic research has subsequently shown this non-peer reviewed writing to be the misguided work of amateurs. Its glorification of business practices opened the door for federal control of education and fostered standards based accountability. It made legislation like the proposals introduced by Mottl and Guyer viable.

In Winners, Giridharadas labels – modern social reform based on the belief that business leaders and market forces are the sure way to a better society – “MarketWorld.” He explains,

In an age defined by a chasm between those who have power and those who don’t, elites have spread the idea that people must be helped, but only in market-friendly ways that do not upset fundamental power equations.

Giridharadas shares three criteria for being a “MarketWorld” thought leader speaking at the Aspen Institute or the Clinton Global Initiative or the main TED talk stage. Thought leaders should:

  • Focus on the victim, not the perpetrator.” Condemning a perpetrator is a “win-losey” solution not a win-win.
  • Personalize the political.” If you want to be a thought leader and not dismissed as a critic, your job is to help the public see problems as personal and individual dramas rather than collective and systemic ones.
  • Be constructively actionable.” … “People, especially the winners who shape tastes and patronize thought leaders, want things to be constructive, uplifting, and given to hope.

He gives examples including this one:

“What the thought leaders offer MarketWorld’s winners, wittingly or unwittingly, is the semblance of being on the right side of change. … Take, for example, the question of educating poor children in a time of declining social mobility. A true critic might call for an end to funding schools by local property taxes and the creation, as in many advanced countries, of a common national pool that funds schools more or less equally. What a thought leader might offer MarketWorld and its winners is a kind of intellectual counteroffer – the idea, say, of using Big Data to better compensate star teachers and weed out bad ones.”

Data shows that “MarketWorld” and libertarian philosophy has damaged public education and harmed all but the top 10% of wage earners in America. Giriharadas shares the following data table information and notes, “One hundred and seventeen million people had been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s.

Earning Level 1980 2014
Top 0.001 % $17,000,000 $122,000,000
Top 1% $428,000 $1,300,000
Top 10% $58,000 $116,000
Bottom 50% $16,000 $16,200

It is possible that Charles Koch and “MarketWorld” think this is a feature. To me, it looks like a powerful data set that says we need an empowered Government to protect Americans from ravenous billionaires and their self-serving anti-public education and anti-democratic views.

 

 

 

Charter Scandal a Product of Shabby Law and Ignored Oversight

7 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/7/2019

Notoriously clever operators of an online charter empire were indicted for allegedly stealing $50 million dollars. The Grand Jury of San Diego County heard the testimony of 72 witnesses and voted out a 67-count indictment against Sean McManus, Jason Schrock, Justin Schmitt, Eli Johnson, Steven Zant and six others. The charges were centered on the byzantine operations of the A3 Education organization which took full advantage of weak charter school laws in California.

From the indictment,

“Conspirators knowingly obtained state funding for children who were not assigned certificated teachers as required by law, were not in contact with the charter school, and who were not provided any educational services during the dates claimed.”

“Conspirators themselves, and through subordinates courted small school districts across California who were suffering budget woes and suggested they authorize charter schools as a means to generate additional state funding for the district in the form of oversight fees.”

The Small District Authorizer Model

Carol Burris was one of the first people to identify McManus as a predator. In her 2017 investigative report “Charters and Consequences”, she wrote about the Wise school which calls itself a Waldorf inspired charter school. She noted,

“No one really seems to be wise to Wise—except perhaps California STEAM Sonoma, which claims Wise Academy as its project.”

“The former Academy of Arts and Sciences CEO, Sean McManus, described Wise as “a boutique program that people usually have to pay for, so to be part of a free charter school appeals to a lot of people in the area.” Wise and the state funding it brings left the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and so did Sean McManus, who is now listed as the CEO of a new corporation–California STEAM Sonoma.”

“Despite its classroom schedule, Wise refers to itself as a ‘learning based resource center.’ This classification allows California STEAM Sonoma to sponsor the program, and the Liberty School District to acquire the cash cow.”

Wise is still in operation under the name Heartwood Education Collaborative. McManus exited the Academy of Arts and Science (AAS) in 2016. AAS renamed itself Compass Charter Schools. Shortly after leaving AAS, McManus cofounded A3 Education with Jason Schrock.

Heartwood Educational Collaborative

Heartwood (AKA Wise) Education Collaborative Independent Journal Photo

Carol Burris recently posted,

From 2009-2015, McManus was the CEO of the Academy of Arts and Science Charter Schools for which he served as CEO from 2009-2016, developing his model of using cash-strapped, small districts as authorizers of online charter schools that draw students from all over adjoining counties in exchange for fees.”

“And who gave the seed money to start this adventure?”

“The U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) did.”

“Eleven Academy of Arts and Sciences charter schools that used the for-profit K-12 curriculum received a total of $2,825,000 from the CSP state grant to California. Today, all 11 schools are closed.”

McManus and his associates at A3 implemented the small district authorizer model with a vengeance.

Previously, one of McManus’s first forays into using small district authorizers was with New Jerusalem Elementary School District which authorized the Academy of Arts and Sciences – San Joaquin and CalSTEM – San Joaquin. For unknown reasons, AAS closed both those schools and its renamed successor Compass Charter Schools has departed San Joaquin County. New Jerusalem only had 22 Public School Students this year but it had 4,809 Charter School Students, few of whom lived in their Tracy, California area. New Jerusalem appears more sinister than just a cash strapped small district.

Apparently, part of the problem McManus had at AAS was that some of their schools were blended learning academies which meant they had physical addresses. This led to a law suit by Los Angeles Unified School District for opening schools in their district without notification and the closure of some schools. A3 Education has been careful to only implement Independent study; AKA 100% cyber schools with no physical addresses for students.

A3 Small District Model

Based on California Department of Education Enrollment 2018-2019

All of the schools listed above with the various districts have the same business address, 3300 Irvine Ave. #330 Newport Beach, Ca 92660 which is A3 Education’s business address. The non-profit tax filings available for theses schools all show this address and have some combination of Rob Sikma, Kevin Tu, Eric Johnson and Klarc Kover on their boards. As an example see these legal documents for California Steam San Bernardino, California Steam Sonoma, University Prep and Uplift California.

Board member Eric Johnson is probably the person indicted in San Diego under the name Eli Johnson. Board members Sikma, Tu and Kover all testified before the grand jury investigating A3.

Various California news sources reported details about the alleged scheme to steal $50 million. San Diego’s Courthouse News wrote about the funding of the charter schools,

“The funds were then transferred to multiple companies owned by McManus and Schrock, including A3 Education, A3 Consulting, Global Consulting Services and Mad Dog Marketing. The money was spent on start-up investments and real estate and some funds were wired directly to themselves or family members, according to the indictment.”

“Another co-defendant, Steve Van Zant, 56, created the company EdCBO to provide back office services for A3 Charter Schools. He hid his involvement with EdCBO and McManus by filing all corporate paperwork under another person’s name, prosecutors say.”

The Los Angeles Times stated,

“From the affiliated businesses, at least $8.18 million went into personal bank accounts, some in Australia, and into charitable trust accounts for McManus, Schrock and their wives, and $500,000 went to a family member of McManus, according to the indictment.”

“McManus and Schrock also used $1.6 million of A3 Education’s funds to buy a private residence for McManus in San Juan Capistrano, the indictment states.”

“The alleged violations included Valiant Academy paying A3 about $3.6 million during the 2017-18 fiscal year. The invoices were approved for payment by McManus at A3 and another man, neither of whom were employees of the charter school, according to the district’s report.”

“The school also paid Mad Dog Marketing — a company that has common ownership with A3 — $288,000 during the 2017-18 fiscal year, according to the report.”

The Voice of San Diego added,

“An early step in establishing the A3 empire came when Steve Van Zant, a former superintendent of Dehesa Elementary School District, “brokered” the sale of an online nonprofit charter school to A3 for $1.5 million, prosecutors say.”

“In winter 2017, Chris Thibodeau was performing an annual audit of Cal Prep Sutter in Sutter County …. He noticed that McManus was listed as the CEO of Cal Prep Sutter, but that the school was also doing business with McManus’s company A3 Education.

The Voice of San Diego explained that prosecutors allege McManus and Schrock fabricated a set of minutes dated July 6, 2016 that said McManus was replaced as CEO by codefendant Eli Johnson. They purportedly used these false documents to allay Thibodeau’s concern about “related transactions.”

Sean McManus appears to have fled the country and is thought to be in his native Australia. The other 10-defendents have entered not guilty pleas.

State Charter Law was Designed to be Weak

Cyber Charters in California can serve all of the students in the home county of the authorizing district plus all of the students from bordering counties. That means these eight small school districts gave A3 access to millions of students.

A3 Athorizer Map

Voice of San Diego Map of Counties Served by A3

In the school year 2018-2019, Dehesa Elementary had 5010 students in online only schools. Of those 2267 were in kindergarten to third grade or 45.2% of the total. There were similar numbers in the other districts. Why would people put babies in front of computer screens? It must be that the main attraction for these cyber schools is home-schooling.

Since home-schooling does nothing to build community and is driven mostly by religious convictions, why should taxpayers fund it? All Americans should have freedom of choice, but taxpayers should not be expected to pay for private choices. The public already provides the world’s best public education system for free; taking funds from those public schools for the benefit of a small minority is inequitable.

The state of California puts more than $80 billion annually into k12 education. Because that money is a natural target for profiteers and scammers, extra vigilance is needed. However, California’s charter school law was developed to provide minimum vigilance.

During its early stages, several billionaires like Carry Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Arthur Rock made sure the California charter school law was designed to limit governmental rules and oversight. For example, charter schools are not required to meet the earthquake standards prescribed in the 1933 Field Act, which holds public schools to higher building code requirements. Since that laws enactment no public schools have collapsed in an earthquake. The picture of the Education Collaborative School above is evidence that students in a known earthquake zone are now at increased risk of injury and death.

A few weeks ago Louis Freedberg observed that a key weakness in California’s chartering law is that there are no standards for authorizers and a lack of expertise. He also wrote about the number of charter authorizers saying, “unlike many states, California has hundreds of them: 294 local school districts, 41 county offices of education, along with the State Board of Education.” Among these 336 authorizers, several are school districts of less than 1,000 students which have neither the capacity nor training to supervise charter schools. Some of these small districts look more like charter school grafters than public school districts.

A state audit dated October 17, 2017 reported,

“ActonAgua Dulce Unified’s and New Jerusalem’s decisions to authorize the outofdistrict charter schools we reviewed may have resulted partly from weaknesses in the districts’ authorization processes. Specifically, neither of the two districts has an adequate process for ensuring that petitions comply with state law.”

This state audit which was promptly ignored by Governor Brown and the legislature was pointing directly at the weaknesses in California’s chartering law that A3 Education is accused of exploiting. A3 is not the only organization that is using these weaknesses. K-12 Inc. is selling products into both A3 and California Virtual Academy. Furthermore, K-12’s relationship with California Virtual is legally questionable. Pearson Corporation is using Connections Academy to market their online products and Epic is also looking to expand their own dubious online schools.

Not only are state officials not reacting to warnings from auditors, they are providing the offenders loans through the Charter School Revolving Loan program. The A3 schools have received over $2,000,000 in loans through this program.

A majority of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Charter School Policy Task Force supported banning authorizing charter schools outside of district boundaries. Secretary of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond explained,

“Prohibiting districts from authorizing charter schools located outside of district boundaries would allow for greater local control and oversight of charter schools. In addition, such a prohibition would limit the potential for the detrimental practice of using oversight fees as a revenue stream, while incurring only limited expenses associated with authorizing the charter school.”

In addition, the task force unanimously backed a call to “create a statewide entity to provide training for authorizers.” A majority also proposed enacting “a one-year moratorium on the establishment of new virtual charter schools.” Concerning this last point Thurmond’s report said, “There  has  been  growing  concern  that  virtual  charter  schools  are  operated  without  appropriate academic rigor and oversight, providing a sub-par education for their students …”

A Few Points and Observations

A3 Education was looking to expand across the country. In 2016, Johnson, Schrock and McManus put together a proposal for Ohio Steam Columbus. The Colorado group Thompson School District Reform Watch reports that Justin Schmitt is still involved with Foundations Learning and Colorado’s Online Charter’s. They also note that Schmitt has virtual charter school interests in Arizona. Schmitt brought Mosaica virtual schools to California which A3 purchased and evidently Schmitt was part of the purchase. It is also interesting that A3’s Marketing Director, Mary Clare Coyle, lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

In an April EdWeek article, Arianna Prothero and Alex Harwin reported,

Nationally, half of all virtual charter high schools had graduation rates below 50 percent in the 2016-17 school year.The most high-profile study, done by economists at Stanford University in 2015, found that students attending an online charter school made so little progress in math over the course of a year that it was as if they hadn’t attended school at all.”

The charter school experiment is a national disaster. It has clearly failed and virtual charter schools have a lengthy history of corruption and poor performance. Shut them down and only allow elected school boards to provide online education. It is time for an extended moratorium on new charter schools while existing charter schools are carefully transitioned to management by elected school boards.

Maybe Alice Walton and Charles Koch think property rights are the only freedom to be valued. Maybe they want to end public education. Maybe they think markets are a magic elixir that never fails. I don’t! I agree with the statement in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains,Market fundamentalism – the irrational belief that markets solve all problems ….” I believe in democracy, human rights and public education.

 

Sketchy Epic Cyber Charter Has Gone National

4 May

By T. Ultican 5/4/2019

Epic is the business name for Oklahoma’s indigenous and fastest growing virtual charter school chain. In 2015, they moved beyond Oklahoma opening a business in Orange County, California and are currently in contract talks with Pulaski County, Arkansas to provide online education. EPIC’s fast growth has been accompanied by continuous legal problems, charges of political improprieties and claims of unethical aggressive marketing.

The Founders

Ben Harris and David Chaney, two long time friends from Oklahoma City, founded Epic.

Harris and Chaney

The Founders of EPIC Virtual Charter Schools

In 1999, One year after Harris was awarded a Master of Public Administration from Syracuse University, he and Chaney founded Advanced Academics Inc. Today Pearson Corporation the large British testing and publishing company owns Advanced Academics which sells credit recovery courses and software for virtual classes.

Both Harris and Chaney went to work for Jeb Bush in 2003 at the Florida Department of Children and Families. Harris was soon made the Deputy Secretary in charge of technology. He worked under Secretary Jerry Regier who had previously run health and human services in Oklahoma. It was here that Harris made a name for himself by privatizing the child welfare system. However, all was not well.

Megan Rolland of the Tulsa World reported,

“In July 2004, a whistle-blower investigation revealed that Harris had accepted trips, dinners and other favors from companies looking to contract with the social services agency.

“Harris resigned and a full criminal investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began. No charges were filed.

“The investigation did find that both Harris and Chaney were involved in a number of questionable contracts awarded to vendors that appeared to circumvent the state’s bidding process.

“One of those questionable contracts was awarded to Florida State University’s Institute of Health and Human Services, where Elizabeth VanAcker worked.”

“VanAcker also sits on the board of a nonprofit in Florida that has submitted seven charter school applications for virtual schools that propose contracting exclusively with Advanced Academics.”

“VanAcker’s company — formerly named Edmetrics — created the Epic 1 on 1 Charter School website for Community Strategies Inc.”

Rolland’s Report also shared some founding details about the business originally called Epic 1 on 1 charter schools,

 “Harris is listed as a registered agent for Community Strategies Inc., the nonprofit that is opening Epic 1 on 1 Charter School. He uses his home address on the corporate papers, and he worked behind the scenes to get the school approved by the University of Central Oklahoma.”

In 2009 – just prior to founding Epic – Harris was Chief Financial Officer of Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, California. The CEO of Velocity Sports Performance when Harris arrived there was Troy Medley, who is now Chairman of the Board for Epic in California.

Epic Found a Way into Orange County, California

Epic is an acronym for excellence, performance, innovation and citizenship. In California the non-profit business name is Next Generation Education. In Oklahoma the non-profit business name is Community Strategies Inc. Neither Epic founder, David Chaney nor Ben Harris, sits on the board of either Next Generation Education in California or Community Strategies Inc. in Oklahoma.

Rather, David Chaney serves as both superintendent of the nonprofit Epic Charter Schools and CEO of Epic Youth Services, a for-profit company that manages the school for a fee. Chaney owns the for-profit corporation, which originally had Harris’s home address listed on the incorporating papers.

A report in the Oklahoma Watch described the Epic business structure:

“The nonprofit contracts with Epic Youth Services, a for-profit company that manages the school for a fee of 10 percent of Epic’s gross revenue. Epic Youth Services, in turn, contracts with Advanced Academics, a division of Connections Education, a Pearson company. Calvert Partners and Beasley Technology also have contracts with Epic Youth Services.”

It appears that the structure is the same in California. In the Next Generation Education board meeting notes, Ben Harris is referenced as providing updates from the charter management organization (CMO) which is Epic Youth Services.

This Byzantine structure hides the fact that Epic is a for profit business cloaked in a non-profit’s suit, thus skirting California’s prohibition against for profit charters. It also means that in their tax forms, the non-profit only reports costs and no salaries. For example, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017 Community Strategies Inc. the Oklahoma non-profit reported revenues of $41,487,230 and expenditures of $40,105,203. However, the non-profit reported no salaries because the for-profit does payroll. There is no way for taxpayers to see how many public dollars are going into private hands.

In 2015, EPIC petitioned the Anaheim City School District (an elementary school district) for its first charter outside of Oklahoma. The districts staff investigated the petition, came back with a long list of deficiencies and made a strong denial recommendation. After reviewing the report the district board voted 5 – 0 to deny.

The following three deficiencies are among the more than 20 deficiencies cited:

(1) California charter law requires new charter petitioners to gather signatures showing a demand for the school. When Anaheim City School District started checking the signatures, the majority response they heard was “I don’t know what you are talking about.” They checked 109 of the 526 signatures and these are some of the responses,

“I’ve never heard of EPIC.”

“No, but if you ever need someone to sign a petition to help you with your funding just let me know.”

“I don’t remember signing any petition.”

“I like the school my kids go to, I thought I was just signing a petition saying I am in favor of charter schools.”

“No, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m in China.” 

(2) The plan for special education was almost non-existent.

(3) There was no workable plan for English language learners (EL’s).

A widely held belief says charter schools find ways not to enroll more expensive students to educate such as EL’s. The enrollment data for school year 2017-2018 indicates that Epic still has no viable support for EL’s. That appears to be a feature not a flaw.

EL Percentage

At Epic’s 2015 appeal to the Orange County School Board, Leslie Coghlan speaking for the Anaheim City School District explained their petition denial and concluded with,

We would also like to note that at our public hearings in the Anaheim City School District there were not any members of our community that came out to support the charter school at the public hearings. And one of our final concerns is that the Epic’s Oklahoma program is involved in litigation with the Oklahoma Department of Education and currently the subject of a fraud investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation concerning falsification of records to fraudulently receive payments from the Department of Education.

At that same 2015 hearing, Ben Harris defended Epic against the fraud investigation charge. He said, “This is based off a single news article several years ago that is proven to be false as no findings or issues have been raised.

In a 2016 article, KOSU radio of Tulsa and Oklahoma City reported on Epic’s California problems:

“In 2014, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin requested an investigation in to allegations of fraud at the school. … No charges have been filed, and no information has been released.”

“More recently, controversy over EPIC’s business practices came to light last month in an audit prepared by the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), which provides California school districts with financial and management support.

“The FCMAT audit alleges that Sue Roche, the founder of Oxford Preparatory Academy, which has two charter campuses in Orange County, formed an education management company called Edlighten Learning Solutions to launder school funds for personal profit.

“The audit lays out substantial financial ties between Edlighten and Ben Harris and David Chaney’s company, EPIC Youth Services. The audit says EPIC Youth Services received $5,000 a month from Edlighten for consulting services. The report contains emails between Roche and Harris, EPIC’s co-founder, in which they discuss moving personnel between Oxford Preparatory and their management companies to skirt legal issues.”

This February, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced that Epic is once again the target of both state and federal investigators. No additional information was released.

At Epic, a yearly $1500 payment is made into each student’s personal “learning fund” to buy school supplies or use for academically compatible activities. The Orange County Register noted, “Though money doesn’t wind up in the hands of parents or students, the learning fund can, for example, pay for horseback riding, music or dance lessons.” Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda called the practice, “predatory marketing.”

Virtual schools like Epic have a history of poor student outcomes. Even the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report sharply critical of virtual charter schools. And the Stanford study of online schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia found that during a 180-day school year, virtual students lost an average of 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days, or an entire school year, of learning in math.

“Why Would Anyone Support These Horrible Schools?”

A friend asked this question about Epic.

To get their foot in the door, Epic’s Ben Harris was able to use his personal connection with his former boss Troy Medley. Medley is currently President of Prima Health Credit of New Port Beach and he serves as Chairman of the Board for the charity Mortgage Miracles for the Kids. The President of Miracles, Autumn Strier – who previously worked for the Giuliani administration – joined Medley on the Next Generation Education (Epic) board as did another associated from Miracles, Chris Relth – a corporate head hunter.

Completing the five member Next Generation Education (Epic) board are Kenny Dodd, senior pastor at Claremont Emanuel Baptist Church in San Diego, and Alex Arcila of the Orange County Hispanic community. Medley is the board President.

Once Epic established an apparently reputable presence in Orange County, they were aided by the fact that this county is the most pro-business and privatization friendly place in California. For example, in the 2018 election for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond defeated former Charter School executive Marshall Tuck, but he didn’t come close to matching Tuck’s support in Orange County.

OC 2018 SPI Outcome

Orange County 2018 Election Tallies

During the appeal hearing at the Orange County School Board, the board staff concurred with the Anaheim City School District and recommended the appeal be denied. After the staff submitted their recommendations, representatives of the district made a presentation and Epic co-founder Ben Harris made a presentation. Public comment followed the presentations. There were just seven speakers all from Epic; Epic co-founder David Chaney, Epic’s attorney Michelle Lopez and the five Epic board members.

When the board voted on the Epic appeal, Orange County School Board Trustees Robert Hammond, David Boyd, Linda Lindholm and Ken Williams voted to grant Epic a charter.

This vote also reflected the power of billionaire spending on school privatization.

Buying the Election

Billionaire Money is Distorting Democratic Processes in Local Elections

All but one board member who voted to give Epic a charter received large campaign support from billionaires through three independent expenditure committees; California Charter Schools Association Advocates (CCSAA), Orange County Charter Advocates for Great Schools (which is sponsored by CCSAA) and the Lincoln Club of Orange County. David Boyd, Chancellor of The Taft University System, did not receive documented largess from the billionaires but his campaign did have odd financial support. He loaned his own campaign $72,000, got a $50,000 loan from Taft University and a $25,000 loan from Elizabeth Dorn’s campaign. More than $30,000 in loan debt was later forgiven.

In 2016, the Beverly Hills Billionaire, Howard Ahmanson Jr. (state major donor ID 479163) gave the OC Charter PAC $10,000 and the Local Liberty PAC (State ID 1291528) that Ahmanson finances provided them another $18,171.83.

Howard Ahmanson’s name sake father established the Ahmanson Family Foundation in 1952. Today, that foundation has slightly more than a billion dollars in assets. They give extensively to the arts and LA basin charter schools. In 2016, they gave $500,000 to the billionaire funded pro-school privatization youth group Teach For America. Howard runs the Fieldstad and Company arm of the Ahmanson foundation.

Roberta Ahmanson, Howard’s wife, is a serious Christian thinker and writer. She gave a speech titled “What Fundamentalism Gave Me” at the 2018 commencement for Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Like Betsy DeVos, she is part of The Gathering. Roberta and her husband see Epic as a tool that benefits the Christian home schooling movement.

Some Observations

The Epic contract with Epic Youth Services calls for an annual $125,000 fee for “development services” plus 10% of net revenue be paid to the for profit managers of the CMO, Harris and Chaney. This means that in 2016 Epic Oklahoma paid Epic Youth Services more than $540,000 for their services; this doesn’t include the California revenue. Ben Harris and David Chaney are becoming wealthy men. Because of aggressive marketing which even led to taking over an entire rural school district in Oklahoma and expansion in California, the 2016 $42 million in revenue probably isn’t a forth of the 2019 projected revenue.

In December, Oklahoma Watch reported, “Epic’s two leaders also outspent the political action committee for the largest teachers union, the Oklahoma Education Association, which has 35,000 members across the state.” This looks very much like a replay of Bill Lager’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and his large political contributions leading to the continued fleecing of taxpayers in Ohio.

It is not in society’s interest to have children educated in isolation. Socialization is an important part of education. As Americans, we should have freedom of choice but we should not expect taxpayers to pay for those choices. If people want to home-school or put their children in private schools, that is their choice. It is more than sufficient for taxpayers to provide a world class professionally run public education system. Public money should not be transferred into private profiteering pockets.

Atlanta’s Public School Board Voted for Privatization

23 Mar

3/22/2019 by T. Ultican

On March 4, the Atlanta Public School (APS) board voted 5 to 3 to begin adopting the “System of Excellent Schools.” That is Atlanta’s euphemistic name for the portfolio district model which systematically ends democratic governance of public schools. The portfolio model was a response to John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which claimed that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill who founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) began working out the mechanics of ending democratic control of public education. His solution to ending demon democracy – which is extremely unpopular with many billionaires – was the portfolio model of school governance.

The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio. It is a plan that guarantees school churn in poor neighborhoods, venerates disruption and dismisses the value of stability and community history.

Atlanta’s Comprador Regime

Atlanta resident Ed Johnson compared what is happening in Atlanta to a “comprador regime” serving today’s neocolonialists. In the 19th century, a comprador was a native servant doing the bidding of his European masters; the new compradors are doing the bidding of billionaires privatizing public education.

Chalkbeat reported that Atlanta is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model. The city fund was founded in 2018 by two billionaires, John Arnold the former Enron executive who did not go to prison and Reed Hastings the founder and CEO of Netflix. Neerav Kingsland, Executive Director of The City Fund, stated, “Along with the Hastings Fund and the Arnold Foundation, we’ve also received funds from the Dell Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Ballmer Group.”

City Fund has designated RedefinED as their representative in Atlanta. Ed Chang, the Executive Director of RedefinED, is an example of the billionaire created education “reform” leader recruited initially by Teach for America (TFA).

TFA is the billionaire financed destroy-public-education (DPE) army. TFA teachers are not qualified to be in a classroom. They are new college graduates with no legitimate teacher training nor any academic study of education theory. Originally, TFA was proposed as an emergency corps of teachers for states like West Virginia who were having trouble attracting qualified professional educators. Then billionaires started financing TFA. They pushed through laws defining TFA teachers as “highly qualified” and purchased spurious research claiming TFA teachers were effective. If your child is in a TFA teacher’s classroom, they are being cheated out of a professionally delivered education. However, TFA provides the DPE billionaires a group of young ambitious people who suffer from group think bordering on cult like indoctrination.

Chang is originally from Chicago where he trained to be a physical therapist. He came south as a TFA seventh grade science teacher. Chang helped found an Atlanta charter school and through that experience received a Building Excellent Schools (BES) fellowship. BES claims to train “high-capacity individuals to take on the demanding and urgent work of leading high-achieving, college preparatory urban charter schools.

After his subsequent charter school proposal was rejected, Chang started doing strategy work for the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). This led him to a yearlong Fisher Fellowship training to start and run a KIPP charter school. In 2009, he opened KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta.

While complicit in stealing neighborhood public schools from Atlanta’s poorest communities, Chang says with a straight face, “Education is the civil rights movement of today.

Ed Chang on BES

Ed Chang’s Picture from his BES Board Member Biography

Chang now has more than a decade working in billionaire financed DPE organizations. He started in TFA, had two billionaire supported “fellowships” and now has millions of dollars to use as the Executive Director of RedefinED. It is quite common for TFA alums like Chang to end up on the boards of multiple education “reform” organizations.

Under Chang’s direction, RedefinED has provided monetary support for both the fake teacher program, TFA, and the fake graduate school, Relay. In addition, they have given funds to the Georgia Charter School Association, Purpose Built Schools, Kindezi School, KIPP and Resurgence Hall.

The other obvious “Comprador” in Atlanta is APS Superintendent Meria Castarphen. A product of the prestigious Harvard Graduate School of Education where she was shaped to lead the billionaire financed privatization agenda. Unlike TFA, Harvard’s graduates are highly qualified. However, large contributions from billionaires with an agenda have corrupted the school’s intellectual honesty. The most notorious three “fauxlanthropies” working to destroy-public-education (DPE) have given generously to Harvard.

Harvard Grants

Using Philanthropy to Control Harvard – GatesWaltonBroad

The Post “A Rotten Peach Poisoning Atlanta Public Schools” documents Castarphen’s journey from Selma, Alabama to Harvard and finally to Atlanta. At Harvard, she became an expert in using high stakes testing to hold schools and teachers accountable. Unfortunately, as is widely known, standardized testing is completely useless for evaluating schools or teachers. The only thing measured with confidence is how nice the student’s homes are.

During her first stint as a school superintendent, the people in St. Paul, Minnesota saw her as a tyrant. Half the existing administrative staff quit during her three year tenure. Executive Director of Facilities, Patrick Quinn, stated, “Meria’s confrontational style has rendered the administrative work environment toxic.

She left St. Paul for the superintendent’s job in Austin, Texas. After five years, the Austin board did not offer her a contract renewal. She had alienated both the staff and the Hispanic community to such an extent several board members lost their seats and blamed her. In an article about Meria’s coming to Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) quoted Austin resident Vincent Tovar, “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving.

Castarphen’s first agenda in Atlanta was to rid the school system of its older more experienced educators and replace them with younger less expensive and more malleable teachers. She also introduced a turnaround strategy which turned APS into a charter district. It gave her more control and eliminated many teacher protections. A similar plan was rejected in Austin.

Two years ago, an announcement reminiscent of when the fox guarded the hen house appeared on the APS web-site. It reported,

“Today the Walton Family Foundation announced it will invest $2.1 million to support and evaluate the success of Atlanta Public Schools’ Turnaround Strategy. The grants will also help the district launch APS Insights, a first-of-its-kind data dashboard available this summer to share information about school options and quality with Atlanta parents.”

It is not clear that APS was in any real need of a turnaround strategy, but new data indicates the strategy has caused harm not improvement.

NEAP Data

National Assessment of Education Progress 8th Grade Math, Reading and Change in Scale Scores

By March of 2016, the APS  board approved Castarphen’s turnaround strategy and several neighborhood schools were identified for  potential takeover. APS closed and merged several schools and turned five schools over to charter-related operators. Now, APS is examining all schools, not just struggling ones.

AJC reported on the new scheme,

“The result could bring autonomous ways of operating schools and possibly more closures or mergers. It could change the district’s mix of charter, partner-operated, and traditional, district-run neighborhood schools. Sixty-one of 89 APS schools now are neighborhood schools.”

“Helping APS with the planning work is Denver-based Foxhall Consulting Services, whose fees are being paid by RedefinED Atlanta, a local, charter-friendly nonprofit, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a public records request. RedefinED agreed to give $235,000 to Atlanta Partners for Education, a nonprofit that supports the work of the school district, to pay for Foxhall’s consulting services and travel costs on behalf of the district.”

When AJC says “autonomous ways of operating” it means that local taxpayers will no longer have a vote on operating those schools. They will still get the tax bill but private companies will get the vote. The privatization scheme was compared to managing a stock portfolio by CRPE leading many people call it the “portfolio model.” In Texas, they call it the “System of Great Schools Network” and in Atlanta it is called the “System of Excellent Schools.” Whatever Orwellian name it is given; the purpose is to move public assets into private profit-making-hands.

Destroy Public Education Movement Atlanta Style

Professor Jim Scheurich and his urban studies team at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) observed a pattern in the destruction of public education. Based on their observations, the team developed a DPE model which is described in “A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement.” The destruction of Atlanta’s public education system fits that model like a print to a wood block. A few examples from the DPE model follow.

“Institute a local-national collaboration between wealthy neoliberals and other conservatives to promote school privatization and the portfolio model of school management.”

In Atlanta besides the relationship between the City Fund and RedefinED there is the relationship between the Walton Family Foundation and Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, the billion dollar “Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta” contributed more than $14,000,000 toward school privatization including $271,000 to TFA. Falcon’s owner and Home Depot founder, Arthur M. Blank also kicked in more than a half million dollars to the privatization cause including $69,000 to TFA.

Two other big national privatization “fauxlanthropies” spent big on privatization in the Atlanta area. From 2014 to 2018, Bill Gates sent more than $52,000,000 “reform” dollars. Between 2015 and 2016, the Walton family chipped in more than $5,000,000 and that was before they partnered with APS in 2017.

“Direct large sums of money through advocacy organizations to recruit, train and finance pro-privatization school board candidates.”

Every year the Buckhead Coalition, a chamber-like, invitation-only organization of 100 CEOs, recommends and provides support for local school board candidates. At the beginning of the year, 8 of the 9 school board members had been promoted by the Coalition. In 2017, campaign contributions for school board races totaled to greater than $700,000 which is a staggering amount for a relatively modest district with just under 55,000 students.

The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta sent $220,000 to Michelle Rhee’s Students First Institute known for putting money into local school board elections. Jason Esteves, the former TFA corps member and current President of the APS board, had a war chest of $167,000 for his reelection run in 2017.  One of his maximum contributions came from Steuart Walton of Bentonville, Arkansas.

“Institute a portfolio system of school district management that includes public schools, charter schools and Innovation Schools.”

That is the whole point of the “System of Excellent Schools.”

“Hire minimally trained teachers from Teach for America (TFA) or other instant-teacher-certification programs.”

TFA claims, “After 18 years in Metro Atlanta, we have a network of more than 1,500 corps members and alumni who are making an impact across the education ecosystem.”

“Use groups like Teach Plus and TNTP to provide teacher professional development.”

The charter industry created a fake education graduate school with no professors of education. The so called Relay Graduate School of Education reported last year, “Relay will offer the Relay Teaching Residency in Atlanta, which caters to college graduates and career changers who are seeking a path into the teaching profession.”

In densely populated areas, the DPE agenda invariably is coherent with an urban renewal effort often derisively labeled “gentrification.” That is certainly the case in Atlanta. For example, Purpose Built Schools advertise, “We are a philanthropically funded organization that grew out of the holistic neighborhood transformation efforts of the East Lake Foundation, Purpose Built Communities and Charles R. Drew Charter School.” Another example is the self-declared history of the Grove Park Foundation stating they “forged a series of new partnerships with Atlanta Public Schools, KIPP, the YMCA and several arts organizations to bring an A+ school, a new YMCA facility and new housing options for all income levels to the Grove Park neighborhood.

Final Observations

Shani Robinson’s book co-written with journalist Anna Simonton is called None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators. Shani was a first-grade TFA teacher when she became ensnared in this grossly unjust episode. It is not that some teachers did not deserve to lose their job, but none of them deserved a prison stay for making a bad choice when confronted with horrible education policy. Some Atlanta teachers got 20-year sentences.

In a Democracy Now interview, Shani shared that 35 educators either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial after being charged with racketeering under the RICO statutes created to bring down mobsters. Of the 35 charged, 34 were African-American and one was Filipino. At the time, the state estimated that 20% of the exams in the state of Georgia were fraudulent. There were other districts at least as guilty as APS. Furthermore, at the time, cheating was suspected in 40 US states while 15 of them were viewed as having pervasive cheating. The only teachers in America ever criminally charged and put in prison were in Atlanta.

Even more shocking, the state of Georgia knowingly used the fraudulent statewide testing results in its application for a Race To The Top grant. Georgia dishonorably won a $400,000,000 grant.

The Atlanta cheating event was used by black and white elites in Atlanta to fuel the current DPE movement and gentrification. When Robinson was asked where were Atlanta’s progressive black politicians at the time, she replied,

“Atlanta has always been known as “the city too busy to hate,” so it’s all about image. And historically, black and white elites have worked together to decrease any racial tension.”

Professionally run public education is being dismantled in Atlanta. The legacy of 200 years passed down by all our forefathers is being destroyed. Hate is not the correct response but neither is passivity. Democratically run public education is a pillar of Democracy and it is worth fighting for.