Tag Archives: Politics

“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

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

Maybe Betsy DeVos was a Good Thing

17 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/17/2019

It is clear that President Trump selected a billionaire enemy of public education to be in charge of schools. However, Betsy DeVos is so easy to dislike and has shined such a big light on the destroy-public-education (DPE) movement that Democrats are fleeing the school choice agenda. If Hillary Clinton had become President, her policies may have permanently damage universal free public education. When WikiLeaks leaked John Podesta’s emails, Hillary Clinton’s campaign Policy Book and its K-12 public education policy recommendations were revealed. Those recommendations were aligned with the DPE playbook supported by neoliberals.

Group Thinks’ Historical Background

In the last two decades of the 20th century, there was a general consensus reached by governing elites that America’s public education system was in dire straits and needed reform. The impetus for this goes back to the Reagan era’s “A Nation at Risk”.  It masqueraded as a research paper, but was actually a polemic based on faulty understanding and a misreading of data. In 1991, researchers at the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico debunked the main points of “A Nation at Risk,” but their report was barely noticed. A growing consensus based on a century old illusion had developed among policy wonks, politicians and leaders in education philanthropy. They all accepted beltway common knowledge and agreed on a broad outline of what needed to be done to confront the “undeniable failure” of public education:

  • Institute standards
  • Use testing to hold schools accountable
  • Apply business based leadership principles and personel
  • Create alternate pathways for teacher certification
  • Develop competition
  • Provide school choice
  • Marginalize teachers unions
  • End the federalist system of school governance (i.e. locally elected school boards)

In 1985, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was established by Al From. Politico described the DLC thusly:

“The DLC was formed in the 1980s – the debacle of the 1984 Mondale campaign was a key motivator – to wage just that kind of intra-party war against what From and his allies saw as interest-group liberals content to consign the Democratic Party to minority status. The group and its best-known chairman, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, pushed balanced budgets, free trade, tough-on-crime policies, and welfare reform – all of which alienated the base, but became a key part of Clinton’s “New Democrat” agenda and his presidential legacy.”

The DLC was made up of a group of neoliberal politicians who took over the Democratic Party in the 1990s.  

When Bill and Hillary arrived in Washington DC, a large number of youthful “New Democrats” with elite educations joined them. Many, like Bruce Reed, had already worked in Clinton’s presidential campaign. Marc Tucker, a leader in the standards-driven education reform movement, saw like-minded reformers who also believed that the public school system was outdated and failing. In the infamous “Hillary Letter,” which Tucker began with the salutation “Dear Hillary,” he laid out several reform ideas that would completely change how education is done. He began:

“First, a vision of the kind of national — not federal — human resources development system the nation could have. … What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities, to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone — young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student. It needs to be a system driven by client needs (not agency regulations or the needs of the organization providing the services), guided by clear standards that define the stages of the system for the people who progress through it, and regulated on the basis of outcomes that providers produce for their clients, not inputs into the system.”

In 1989, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton had joined President George H. W. Bush at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for an education conference. The Charlottesville joint communiqué listed the four areas of agreement reached at the summit:

“The President and the nation’s Governors have agreed at this summit to:

  • Establish a process for setting national education goals;
  • Seek greater flexibility and enhanced accountability in the use of Federal resources to meet the goals, through both regulatory and legislative changes;
  • Undertake a major state-by-state effort to restructure our education system; and
  • Report annually on progress in achieving our goals.”

Clinton’s 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) embodied these principles. It called for all states to create standards and curricular frameworks. Though not mandatory, the Act along with the Clinton’s proposed goals 2000 prepared the way for the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, which was a federal takeover of public education.

In 1998, Bill Clinton wrote: “We have worked to raise academic standards, promote accountability, and provide greater competition and choice within the public schools, including support for a dramatic increase in charter schools.”

The Position Book

In December 2014, Dan Schwerin, Hillary Clinton’s speech writer, wrote in an email to John Podesta,

“We wanted to share with you this long book of policy memos that we gave to HRC for vacation reading.  As noted in the cover memo, this reflects months of work by a team of about a dozen volunteers who conducted more than 100 interviews with thought leaders in a wide range of fields.”

The K-12 section of the Position Book was presented by Ann O’Leary, who is now California Governor Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff. A Fortune magazine biography of O’Leary described her:

“O’Leary is a diehard policy wonk, especially keen on anything that affects families or education. As Clinton’s Senate aide in 2001, she was at the center of No Child Left Behind—a once popular education initiative that has since soured in the public mind. ‘It was a really important moment,’ she says of the law, which Ted Kennedy crafted and George W. Bush signed. ‘When you look back at what happened, this was serious, bipartisan, constructive work. We were committed to high standards and helping states get there.”’

In the Position Book, O’Leary informs Clinton,

“In preparing for our thinking on K-12 proposals, I solicited a memo from Chis Edley, who recently chaired the National Commission on Educational Equity and Excellence, to go along with the memo you previously received from Neera and Catherine Brown. I also had good conversations with Laurene Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed (highlights of my conversation noted below), and Dan solicited some thoughts from Kate Childs Graham (who is Randi’s speech writer). I have reached out to Linda Darling-Hammond and Randi Weingarten to solicit their ideas as well, and will schedule those conversations after the holidays.

On O’Leary’s conversation with Bruce Reed: Reed worked as a policy director in the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and then worked in various capacities throughout the duration of the administration. In 2001, he became CEO of the DLC and served there until it shut down in 2011 at which time he became Chief of Staff for Vice President Joe Biden. In November 2013, Reed left the Obama administration to become President of the Broad Foundation. Professor Jim Horn notes, “This is someone who has never taught a day in his life at any grade level nor had any background in pedagogy or education.”

Hillary-Clinton-Eli-Broad

Hillary and Her Long Time Friend Ely Broad at a Wedding – Google Images

The Reed highlights include;

  1. Hillary’s initial instincts still hold true – choice in the form of charters, higher standards and making this a center piece of what we do as a country
  2. Challenge of education reform: school districts are pretty hard, if not impossible, to reform – they are another broken part of democracy
  3. If you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; Denver does it, …. pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools
  4. Personalized learning tools – modeled in Summit Charters

Here is a different perspective. Summit learning has big money behind it but it is encountering big resistance from students and parents. The reality is that New Orleans’ schools are inefficient, undermine communities, have extremely high management and transportation costs, and still struggle academically. Denver’s schools have turned into a dystopian nightmare since neoliberal Democrats and big money Republicans took control. Democratic local control of schools is the bedrock of American democracy. The portfolio system in an undemocratic scheme to privatize public schools.

On O’Leary’s conversation with Laurene Powell Jobs: Laurene Powell Jobs is famous for having been married to technology genius Steve Jobs. She is a billionaire and co-owns Atlantic magazine. She studied economics and political science at University of Pennsylvania and received an MBA from Stanford; no education training. In 1997, she founded the Emerson Collective which promotes impact investing. She is board chair of The XQ Institute and College Track.

Highlights from Jobs recommendations;

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

Some tough realities undermine Jobs’ ideas. Her experiment in redesigning schools has met with failure and it is much more likely that new innovative education developments will come from public schools than charters. Jobs believes teachers are dim bulbs and that Teach For America (TFA) youths with no academic training and a five week summer course are better than the teachers she disrespects. TFA is a plague on American education and there is no way they should be receiving teaching credentials that take more than a year to earn. Her technology claim is also specious. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Andreas Schleicher noted when discussing a recent OECD study,

“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.”

Some input from Neera Tanden and Catherine Brown: Neera Tanden served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. She is currently the President of the Center for American Progress (CAP). Catherine Brown is a Senior Fellow at CAP. She worked on NCLB author George Miller’s congressional staff prior to becoming vice president of policy at TFA. She was also a senior consultant for Leadership for Educational Equity which is an organization that works to get TFA alumni elected to school boards. Neera and Catherine mainly presented political analysis but share these ideas.

  1. In spite of the challenges that remain, the standards-based reforms implemented over the last two decades have resulted in significant, positive change.
  2. Teach For America … offers a powerful proof point that it is possible to diversify the teaching force while retaining a high bar.

These points were both complete fallacies.

Ann O’Leary also informed Clinton, “There is strong agreement that we need high academic standards in our public school system and that the Common Core will help us to be more globally competitive.”

The Policy Book had no voices championing the public education system or suggesting it needed protecting.

Observations

The Clinton team was going to advance the DPE agenda. Unlike Betsy DeVos, they were not going to alienate neoliberal Democrats. In the final analysis, she and her policy wonks would have done far more damage to public education than we are seeing now.

This history also highlights the importance of being relentless in discovering what is the real education agenda of our Presidential candidates? Trump gave us DeVos. Enough said. Biden was part of Race to the Top, his brother is a charter school entrepreneur and his chief of staff became President of the Broad Foundation. Bernie Sanders is very clear and supportive of public education. He has put out a wonderfully thought-out Marshal Plan for Public Education. Elizabeth Warren has come out in full voiced support for public education and her plan zeros out federal dollars to charter schools. She has published a well thought out plan for public education. Pete Buttigieg is raking in large donations from DPE proponents like Reed Hastings.

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.

Inspire picture 5

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.”

Inspire picture 2

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.

Twitter: @tultican

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. 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) in San Diego. 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 be 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.

Twitter: @tultican

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.