Tag Archives: Politics

Charter Scandal a Product of Shabby Law and Ignored Oversight

7 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/7/2019

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

From the indictment,

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

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

The Small District Authorizer Model

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

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

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

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

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

Heartwood Educational Collaborative

Heartwood (AKA Wise) Education Collaborative Independent Journal Photo

Carol Burris recently posted,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A3 Small District Model

Based on California Department of Education Enrollment 2018-2019

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

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

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

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

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

The Los Angeles Times stated,

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

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

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

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

The Voice of San Diego added,

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

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

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

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

State Charter Law was Designed to be Weak

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

A3 Athorizer Map

Voice of San Diego Map of Counties Served by A3

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

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

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

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

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

A state audit dated October 17, 2017 reported,

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Points and Observations

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sketchy Epic Cyber Charter Has Gone National

4 May

By T. Ultican 5/4/2019

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

The Founders

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

Harris and Chaney

The Founders of EPIC Virtual Charter Schools

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

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

Megan Rolland of the Tulsa World reported,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epic Found a Way into Orange County, California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve never heard of EPIC.”

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

“I don’t remember signing any petition.”

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

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

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

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

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

EL Percentage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why Would Anyone Support These Horrible Schools?”

A friend asked this question about Epic.

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

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

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

OC 2018 SPI Outcome

Orange County 2018 Election Tallies

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

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

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

Buying the Election

Billionaire Money is Distorting Democratic Processes in Local Elections

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

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

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

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

Some Observations

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

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

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

Atlanta’s Public School Board Voted for Privatization

23 Mar

3/22/2019 by T. Ultican

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

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

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

Atlanta’s Comprador Regime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Chang on BES

Ed Chang’s Picture from his BES Board Member Biography

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

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

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

Harvard Grants

Using Philanthropy to Control Harvard – GatesWaltonBroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEAP Data

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

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

AJC reported on the new scheme,

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

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

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

Destroy Public Education Movement Atlanta Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dallas Chamber of Commerce Disrupts Dallas Schools

21 Feb

By T. Ultican 2/20/2019

Since 2012, the business community in Dallas has aggressively asserted control over Dallas Independent School District (DISD). For the first time, running for one of the nine DISD school board positions is an exceedingly expensive proposition. Besides wielding a political war-chest, prominent business leaders are supporting charter schools and advocating for increased hiring of untrained temp teachers from Teach for America (TFA). Money is also dedicated to advancing school vouchers. Democratic local control of public schools in Dallas faces serious threat.

A harbinger of this all out political attack by wealthy Dallas residents living in gated communities came just before the 2012 school board elections. Mike Miles was hired as Superintendent of Schools starting in July 2012. Miles came from a small school district in Colorado Springs, Colorado one year after training at the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. The academy Billionaire Eli Broad founded to train education leaders in his philosophy of school governance.

The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation has contributed $100’s of millions towards privatizing public schools and they have a remarkable record for placing their trainees in market-reform friendly school districts.

One of the documents studied by Broad’s administration students is The Broad Academy School Closure Guide. Broad-trained administrators are famous for; closing public schools, hiring consultants, bad relations with teachers, large technology purchases and saddling school districts with debt. Oklahoma educator and historian, John Thompson, wrote a series of articles documenting the disruptive history of Broad Academy graduates (1, 2, and 3).

Among the first hires Miles made was communications Chief Jennifer Sprague. Dallas magazine noted,

“The 31-year-old had performed the same job for Miles in Colorado Springs, at Harrison School District Two, where she earned $86,652. He brought her to Dallas for $185,000.”

Besides hiring pricey cronies, Miles brought the billionaire spawned reform agenda to Dallas and created discontent throughout the DISD organization. In one famous episode, Miles walked into Billy Earl Dade middle school and decided to fire the principal Michael Jones and ten teachers on the spot. Miles had inadvertently set the school up for failure when he reorganized it according to his “Imagine 2020” plan for closing public schools. The Texas Observer explained, “In closing feeder schools and expanding Dade’s home base, the district mixed rival gangs in Dade’s student body — a chemistry anybody in that part of town would have seen coming and warned against.”

On October 13, 2014, Miles held a 6:30 AM meeting with the reconstituted staff at Dade which was unexpectedly attended by Board Trustee, Bernadette Nutall. She said some faculty had asked her to come. Miles said she was not welcome. Juanita Wallace, outgoing head of the local NAACP and a fierce Miles critic was also there. Miles handled the situation by having Nutall physically removed from the school by three Dallas police officers.

What may have looked like decisive leadership when faced with an unhealthy school and a board member undermining his authority compounded an already huge mistake. Eric Nicholson wrote in the Dallas observer:

“In retrospect, Miles’ swift action last October clearly was a disaster. In the leadership vacuum that followed Jones’ dismissal, which was only partially and temporarily filled by Margarita Garcia, who quit before the end of the year because of health problems, chaos metastasized. The South Dallas community, already deeply wary of Miles and his reforms, coalesced even more firmly against him after watching his officers manhandle Nutall.”

In June, 2015, Miles resigned just weeks after the board voted 6-3 not to fire him but voted 7-2 to issue a “letter of concern.” It was the second attempt to fire Miles in 2 years. Miles was disgruntled over not getting a contract amendment that would immediately pay him the $50,000 per year set aside by the board until 2017.

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.

Miles returned to Colorado where he has founded a charter school.

Self-proclaimed “Reformers” Say they’re Data Driven – Really?

In the forward to her new book After the Education Wars, the business writer Andrea Gabor highlights two key points from Edward Deming’s teachings on management:

“Ordinary employees – not senior management or hired consultants – are in the best position to see the cause-and-effect relationships in each process …. The challenge for management is to tap into that knowledge on a consistent basis and make the knowledge actionable.”

“More controversially, Deming argued, management must also shake up the hierarchy (if not eliminate it entirely), drive fear out of the workplace, and foster intrinsic motivation if it is to make the most of employee potential.”

Merit pay is a Taylorist scheme that appeals to many American business leaders, but also has a long history of employee dissatisfaction and output quality issues. Researchers at Vanderbilt University studied merit pay for teachers and found no significant gains in testing data and in New York researchers documented negative results. Merit pay certainly violates Deming’s core principles.

Lori Kirkpatrick who ran unsuccessfully for the DISD board in 2017 writes a blog that is a treasure trove of district information. She created the graphs below showing the negative impact of merit pay on the DISD teaching corps. In Dallas the merit pay system is called the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI).

TEI Myth Graphs

Experienced Teachers Leaving DISD at Unprecedented Rates

A significant problem is that TEI not only violates Deming’s principles, it is unfair and based on bad science. TEI uses the thoroughly debunked Value Added Measures (VAMs) as a significant part of the evaluation. In 2014, even the American Statistical Association warned against using VAMs to evaluate teachers noting among other observations, “VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

As DISD has hired more untrained temp teachers from TFA and lost many of their most experienced teachers and principals, testing results have declined. In 2011, Dallas joined the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) group known as TUDA districts. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) runs the testing of the now 27 TUDA districts. There are three sets of comparison data from the bi-annual TUDA testing graphed below.

2011 to 2017 Math 8 scale score change

TUDA Math Comparison Data Graphed by the National Assessment of Education Progress

The graphs that follow compare Dallas’s school testing data with that of Albuquerque, Austin, San Diego and the national average for 8th Grade Reading and Mathematics.

NAEP Testing 8th Grade

Eighth grade testing was chosen because they have been in the system for 8 years and will likely be more reflective of the district impact than the other grade available, 4th grade. Albuquerque and San Diego were chosen because they have similar populations to Dallas. Austin was chosen because it is another Texas district. It could be argued that Dallas’s poor performance was caused by the deep cuts in education that Texas implemented in 2011; however, Austin did not see the same kind of steep district wide declines.

Dallas Business Elites Driving Market-based Reform

In 2011, the school board election for three available seats was cancelled because all of the candidates were unopposed. Mike Morath, who Texas Governor Abbott appointed Commissioner of Education in 2015, ran for his first term on the board that year. Even though he was unopposed, Morath’s 2011 required filings (A, B, and C) show a total of $28,890 in campaign contributions including $3,000 from the PAC, Educate Dallas, and $1,000 from the Real Estate Council. He reported $16,687 in campaign spending. The two other unopposed candidates, Nutall and Ranger, reported no campaign contributions or spending in 2011.

A Texas Observer article described how that all changed in 2012. It noted,

“In the recent Dallas school board election, an unprecedented river of cash poured into a handful of campaigns, the lion’s share from donors in downtown, the Park Cities, Preston Hollow and far North Dallas. That money came from affluent people, the majority of whom are white, some of whom must think that sending their own kids to a public school in Dallas is like sending them to the gallows.” (Emphasis added)

The Dallas business PACs, Educate Dallas and Dallas Kids First, began contributing money into school board elections in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Board member Bruce Parrot became their first target. He had opposed a five-year $3 million contract to bring in untrained TFA temp teachers. Parrot was outvoted by a 6-2 margin. The board adopted the TFA contract while making $110 million dollar in funding cuts that induced 700 teachers to retire and dismissed 1,000 support staff.

George Joseph’s 2014 report for In These Times explained:

“Educate Dallas and Dallas Kids First poured resources into his challenger, then-unknown candidate Dan Michiche. The two PACs contributed $20,239.97 and $26,470, respectively, to his campaign—record amounts for a school board race. In total, Michiche raised $54,479.57, a slam-dunk in the face of Parrot’s $950. Unable to compete with this funding, which went into mass negative leafleting and door-to-door campaigning by Dallas Kids First, Parrot was easily defeated.”

Eight of the nine current board members have received lucrative endorsements from Educate Dallas over the last two years.

The money has continued to grow. In 2017, Lori Kirkpatrick raised $14,721.76 during her campaign to become Area 2’s School Board Trustee. Lori’s impressive list of endorsements included; Network for Public Education, former DISD President Ken Zorne, Dallas City Councilman Phillip Kingston, East Dallas Votes, Annie’s List, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, former state legislator Dr. Harryette Ehrhardt, Dallas County Tejano Democrats and the National Education Association. In the general election, Lori came close to winning outright with 49.71% of the vote to incumbent Dustin Marshall’s 47.04%. In the runoff, Marshall received 66% of the vote. His financial support ballooned to an unprecedented $512,085.20. With a 34 to 1 spending advantage, Marshall easily won.

A sample of some of the $25,000 contributors to the business PACs:

Mr. Garrett Boone co-Founded Container Store Inc., in 1978. He serves as a Member of the advisory boards for The Dallas Women’s Foundation and Teach for America. Mr. Boone also has a family foundation that spends generously in support of market-based school reforms. Between 2012 and 2016, he gifted Stand for Children Texas (a dark money political operation) $210,000; Teach for America DC $75,000 and Teach for America Dallas $850,000.

Mr. Bennie M. Bray Co-founded Monarch Capital Partners and serves as its Managing Partner of Monarch’s Dallas Office. He served as Director of Ignite Technologies, Inc.

Mr. Harlan Crow is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Crow Family Holdings. He serves as a Director on several Boards including Crow Holdings, Trammell Crow Residential, Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Ms. Stacy Schusterman serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Samson Energy Company, LLC. Schusterman lives in Tulsa Oklahoma and gives generously to school board candidates supporting charter schools in many districts across America. She is the heir to the Schusterman energy industries.

Education Partnerships are Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Stacey Bailey was an adjunct professor in special education before she started writing full time to defend public education. Because of the sordid history Texas has with special education, she has paid close attention to education issues within the state. In a recent post on her blog, she wrote,

“When partners sign up to take over public schools, the community must do what that business organization wants them to do. Tax dollars will mingle with the donation just like charters.

“Dallas is selling their school district to school partners! From The Dallas Morning News: ‘Dallas ISD Must Not Let Go of Plan to Partner with Private Operators for District Schools.’

“This sounds like a massive overhaul meaning Dallas is about to privatize all of their public schools! Yet it’s presented to the public as a necessary transformation.”

This is not hyperbole. Before becoming Texas’s Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath promoted a home rule scheme to turn the entire district into a privatized charter district. Now, he is administering a new state law (SB1882) that pays districts an extra $1800 per student if they attend a privatized partnership school.

Dallas is Being Fleeced and it’s Time to Throw the Bums Out

Real teachers graduate from college and then spend the next year studying teaching and doing supervised student teaching. These educators are planning to make teaching a career.

TFA temp teachers graduate from college and then spend five-weeks in a TFA summer institute. The vast majority of them are planning to teach for two years while they build their resume for a real career. TFA teachers have become a mainstay of the charter industry.

Charter schools and voucher schools are private institutions paid with public funds. However, elected officials have no control over their governance. These privatized institutions are financed by decreasing the funding per student for the vast majority of students remaining in public school.

Strategies like the portfolio school governance model that Morath is promoting in Texas through his System of Great Schools are anti-democratic. The great public education system that is the foundation of democracy in America is being ruined.

Republicans who undermine local control and the separation of church and state are RINOs. What is their motivation? A few years back, Rupert Murdock noted, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone …” As David Sirota wrote in Salon,

“Stop pretending wealthy CEOs pushing for charter schools are altruistic ‘reformers.’ They’re raking in billions.”

These attacks on public education are attacks on American democracy. This prescient quote was shared recently on Diane Ravitch’s blog, “Education reformer John Dewey famously said, ‘Democracy has to be born again each generation and education is its midwife.”’

Sweetwater Schools Financial Problems Became Political Cudgel

9 Jan

The newly hired Chief Financial Officer of Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD), Jenny Salkeld, discovered a significant problem with the budget she inherited. She presented her findings to the Sweetwater leadership team in early September which forwarded her report onto the County Office of Education (COE). The SUHSD board also called in all bargaining units to suspend contract negotiations and inform them of the budgetary uncertainties. Sensationalism and subterfuge became the new reality in Chula Vista, California.

An October San Diego Union article reported,

“On June 25, the school board approved a budget for this school year that assumed the district had spent $328 million in unrestricted funding last school year and had $17 million in reserves going into this school year. In September, Salkeld presented a report showing that the district actually had spent $20 million more than that and started this school year with a negative reserve balance of $4 million.

“On top of spending more than previously estimated, the district received $6 million less in one-time state funding than it had expected.”

salkeld brief bio

After receiving Sweetwater’s alert about the accounting errors, the COE officially disapproved the 2018-19 budget the district had submitted. The reasons for disapproving the budget were the reasons Salkeld had reported. The county’s September 18 letter stated,

“The disapproval of the adopted budget is based on an assessment and analysis of the following major components of the district’s budget.

  • Preliminary 2017-18 negative unrestricted General Fund ending balance
  • Projected 2018-19 revenues overstated
  • Projected 2018-19 expenditures understated
  • Structural deficit in current and upcoming fiscal years
  • Cash concerns”

Apparently someone at the county leaked the budget information to the Voice of San Diego. The district which was in the process of understanding the extent of the problem did not have that opportunity. Instead they were faced with a withering public attack in both the San Diego Union and The Voice of San Diego. The headlines implied that a group of incompetent people at SUHSD were incapable of managing their affairs and were involved in possible fraud.

In the more than twenty reports in these two publications from September through December, it was obscured that it was the Sweetwater District which found the problem and informed the county. It was also never pointed out that budget analysts at the COE failed in their oversight responsibilities.

In November, the county approved Sweetwater’s revised budget.

Budget Shortfalls Throughout the State

Kristen Taketa reporting for the San Diego Union noted,

At least 10 districts in the county are projecting that they will not be able to meet their financial commitments next school year, including Chula Vista Elementary, Jamul-Dulzura Union, Mountain Empire Unified, Oceanside Unified, San Diego Unified, San Marcos Unified, San Ysidro, Sweetwater and Vista Unified. More districts won’t be able to meet their financial commitments after next year.

Teketa provided three reasons for what is a statewide public school funding problem:

  1. Rising pension costs: To address looming pension debt, the state in 2014 started increasing school districts’ share of pension costs. In 2013-14, school districts paid 8 percent of their teachers’ salaries to the state’s teacher pension fund. This year, they had to pay 16 percent.
  2. Rising special education costs
  3. Declining enrollment: Oceanside officials estimate that they can only compensate for 40 percent of revenue lost when they lose students. The student enrollment losses are attributed mostly to charter schools. California, unlike some states, does not financially mitigate the burden caused by charter schools on public school districts. The only option districts have is to reduce services to the remaining students.

Last May, In the Public Interest published a paper by University of Oregon’s Professor Gordon Lafer called “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.” He looked specifically at the impact of charter schools on San Diego Unified School District. Lafer found that the annual impact of student losses was $65,902,809 and that the cost per charter school student was $4,913.

By taking the 5500 students in charter schools instead of Sweetwater schools and multiplying that number by a conservative estimate of $4,000 in cost per student the total is $22,000,000 in stranded costs for the district; more than the budget error Salkeld discovered.

enrollment graphs

Charter Student Growth Compared with District Enrollment

What Caused the Budget Error?

Gene Chavira, President of the Sweetwater Education Association (affiliate of the California Teachers Association) said he believes this budget problem has roots that stretch back to the early 2000’s when Ed Brand was serving his first term as Superintendent. Chavira referenced some strange land sales from that period. Later, during Brand’s second stint as Superintendent, he and SUHSD CFO Diana Russo established two charter schools; another move Gene found suspicious.

The two charter schools were elementary schools belonging to SUHSD. The neighboring elementary school districts were unhappy and reacted by expanding their own charter schools to include the grades 7 – 12 that were serviced by Sweetwater.

After Brand came Jesus Gandara. In 2006, two Sweetwater board members, Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa, flew to Texas and personally interviewed Gandara before he was hired as the Superintendent of Sweetwater schools. It appears that the board members and their search firm ignored some obvious warning signs when they made the hire. In 2011, the board voted to fire Gandara for abuse and brought back Ed Brand to lead the district. Another odd decision, since he had just been forced out as Superintendent of San Marcos Unified under accusations of nepotism.

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned.

In 2015, five new board members and a new superintendent took leadership of SUHSD. Chavira recalled vividly that he and many others called on the new board to conduct a forensic audit, but the board – though for it in principal – rejected spending the more than $1,000,000 required. Chavira feels that was one of two big mistakes made. The second was that they did not replace the existing finance team.

board group photo 2018

2018 SUHSD Board – Standing from the left: Arturo Solis, Frank Tarantino, Nicholas Segura, Kevin Pike. Seated from the Left: Paula Hall, Student Member Brenna Pangelinan, Superintendent Karen Janney. Photo from District

Throughout the lead up to this current budget problem, the new board has been extremely popular. In the 2018 election, Hall, Solis and Tarantino ran for reelection unopposed. Professor Karen Janney was a student, a teacher and an administrator in SUHSD. She was forced out of the district by then Superintendent Gandara. After which, she taught education leadership at San Diego State University.

This group has accumulated some amazing talent and support. The 2016 audit committee added two new members, Maricela Garcia-Centeno and Bill Kowba making this a power house committee. Existing committee member, Trustee Paula Hall, works as a financial analyst in San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). Garcia-Centeno is a Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Fraud Examiner. Bill Kowba is a retired Rear Admiral who served both as Chief Financial Officer and Superintendent of SDUSD.

The audit committee’s 2016 report showed concerns regarding transparency and the need for more light shined on budget internals. They stated, “We are recommending the District direct the audit team so that work is not disproportionally focused on well regulated programs but performs a ‘deeper dive’ into areas that have potential of higher risk.

In 2017, the audit committee was recommendingdeeper testing for certain elements of the 2016-17 audit along with a recommendation for a special audit focusing on accounts payable, purchasing and contracts including ….” The implicit message was that the committee was not happy with the answers they were getting or perhaps not getting.

CFO Karen Michel and three members of her small team retired upon completion of the 2018-19 Sweetwater budget. All indications were that these were planned retirements.

After Salkeld’s report showing a $20,000,000 budget error, the county called in the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assist Team (FCMAT). On December 17th the FCMAT study was presented to the Sweetwater board. The Voice of San Diego reported,

“FCMAT’s chief executive officer Michael Fine told board members that 302 entries in the district’s accounting system were doctored to create the impression the district had more money than it really did. ‘That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up,’ he said, …”

This is a puzzling statement. In the report Fine says, “While the district prepares budget revisions throughout the fiscal year, detailed information provided by the district shows that budget revisions totaling millions of dollars include negative budget entries that lack sufficient supporting documentation.”  His study comes to several conclusions tending against Sweetwater that lack strong evidentiary basis and it has no details about what he later labeled “a cover-up.” Now, Fine will be conducting a fraud audit. If he does not find fraud, won’t he be open to a libel charge? Can his audit be trusted?

A December 21st Voice of San Diego headline states, “County Ed Office Takes Control of Sweetwater’s Board.” The county had issued a “stay and rescind” order which gives them veto power over some decisions made by the SUHSD board. This begs the question, why did the county which dropped the ball here jump so quickly into this drastic step when the district team which found the problem has been addressing it aggressively?

The SUHSD web-site has a response to the issues raised. The opening paragraph says,

“Over the past few months the Sweetwater Union High School District has faced significant challenges with respect to our organizational budget. … We realize that these issues may seem insurmountable at times, but we want to assure you that despite some of the doubts being cast in the public, we are moving forward with a stabilization plan that will ensure positive financial health.”

There is also a letter from Superintendent Janney about the “stay and rescind” order. She cites remarks by Dr. Mark Skvarna, a financial advisor from the county, about the limitations on the order. Janney writes, “This authority is specific to the actions that are ‘inconsistent with the district’s ability to meet its financial obligations.’”

The San Diego Union and the Voice of San Diego are Biased Against Public Education

Editorials in the San Diego Union continually attack teachers and their unions. An editorial leading up to the 2018 general election called for a former banker and charter school chief as Secretary of Public Instruction (SPI). Following a familiar destroy public education (DPE) script; another editorial created a false crisis as the predicate for an urgent plea to elect charter school executive, Marshall Tuck, over California State Assemblyman, Tony Thurmond.

In 2005, Buzz Woolley founded Voice of San Diego. It was the first digital nonprofit news organization to serve a local community in the country. Besides his interest in using new technologies for media, Woolley also is enthusiastic about education technology in the classroom. In 2013 Woolley’s Girard Foundation sent over $500,000 to companies developing software for “personalized” education and competency-based education.

The year before starting the Voice of San San Diego, Woolley and Gap Founder Don Fisher established the Charter School Growth Fund. John Walton (Walmart heir) and Greg Penner (Walmart heir) joined the board. In 2016, that fund had assets of $217,176,094 with a yearly income of $95,184,785.

A local media watch dog report tells the story of an education reporter losing her job while perusing a store about the COE. Blogger Maura Larkins wrote,

“Voice of San Diego dropped its coverage of SDCOE attorney shenanigans, and laid-off its stellar education reporter Emily Alpert.”

“Voice of San Diego benefactors Buzz Woolley and Irwin Jacobs [founded Qualcomm], who claim to care about education, could have easily paid Emily’s salary with their pocket change if they’d wanted her to stay.”

“It seems Buzz Woolley, Irwin Jacobs and Emily Alpert weren’t on the same page.”

Some Concluding Words

Superintendent Janney may have been wrong to retain the inherited financial team; however, in 2015 she had a lot on her plate. A Trustee said that Janney began by focusing on education leadership in the district. There was a widely shared belief that several administrators were in positions by dint of cronyism and that many of them were incompetent. When she was alerted to the budget issue, Janney reacted professionally. She immediately informed stakeholders and the COE.

The budget error appears to have originated within the financial department. FCMAT Director Fine claimed it was a “cover-up.” Maybe he is right but he did not present much convincing evidence; only reporting that some entries that subtracted from the deficit were not sufficiently documented. It is hard to see the motive for financial professionals engaging in this “cover-up,” but people sometimes make strange decisions.

Two mainstream media outlets in San Diego that have regularly promoted privatizing public education and “corporate education reform” have been ruthlessly attacking SUHSD. They have indicated that the leaders in Chula Vista are incompetent and corrupt. The obvious dog-whistle here is that there are too many non-whites in SUHSD leadership.

The truth is that the SUHSD team is highly competent and has delivered a refreshing era of ethics and openness to the South-bay. Karen Janney is an educator with deep knowledge and experience, plus she is a gifted leader and public speaker. The present financial team led by Jenny Salkald is much more impressive than the county or state teams who have been nothing short of unprofessional.

The real investigation should be into whom or what is motivating this unjust attack on SUHSD? Also, why are we paying all those bloated salaries at the San Diego County Office of Education and for what?

Review and Preview Thurmond v Tuck

1 Dec

This year’s biggest election win in California was for the down-ballot office, Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI). Tony Thurmond defeated Marshall Tuck in a proxy battle between billionaires supporting public school privatization and teachers’ unions fighting for democratically run neighborhood schools. More than $61,000,000 was spent on the SPI office doubling the previous $30,000,000 spending record set in 2014 when Tuck lost to Tom Torlakson.

Director of research at California Target Book, Rob Pyers, reported this year’s total election spending in California realized a new level. Target Book publisher Darry Sragow commented, “If blowing through the billion-dollar campaign spending ceiling in California doesn’t give pause to everyone in politics, I don’t know what will.”

Of the eight state-wide constitutional offices on the ballot, the governor’s race topped spending at $108,221,028 and the SPI race came in second totaling $61,170,451. Spending in the governor’s race was also heavily impacted by billionaires supporting the charter school industry. California has an open primary in which the top two vote getters reach the general election ballot regardless of party. Before June’s voting, billionaires lavished Anthony Villaraigosa’s campaign unprecedented independent expenditure money trying to get him to the November ballot.

Billionaires for Villaraigosa

Spending By Eight Billionaires for Villaraigosa over Newsom in 2018 Primary Election

When Villaraigosa lost badly in the June 6 primary, many of the same billionaires listed above turned their full attention toward electing Marshall Tuck SPI.

Following a brief career in investment banking, Tuck took a job at the politically connected Green Dot charter schools. Steve Barr a former chair of the Democratic Party who had served on national campaigns for Bill Clinton, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis founded Green Dot charter schools in 1999. He hired Truck in 2002 to be Chief Operating Officer (COO) and eventually promoted him to President and COO.

When Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa was rebuffed in his efforts to take control of Los Angeles Unified School District, he convinced a few donors to underwrite the takeover of ten schools in areas which had suffered years of poor standardized testing results. They created a non-profit called Partnership for LA. Villaraigosa tapped Marshall Tuck to lead the Partnership.

Tuck was extremely unpopular at the Partnership. The Sacramento Bee reported, “Teachers passed a vote of no confidence at nine of the schools at the end of the first year, leading to independent mediation.”

During this education reform era in which connections are more important than skill, experience and training, Tuck remained in good standing with the Destroy Public Education (DPE) financiers. Subsequent to loosing the formerly most expensive SPI race in California’s history; Tuck’s benefactors took care of him. Despite no training as an educator, he was given a job as Educator-in-Residence at the New Teacher Center. Bill Gates provides much of the centers funding including grants totaling $26,305,252 since 2009.

Reviewing the Campaign Contributions

Direct contributions to a candidate are no longer of primary importance. The money given to “independent expenditure” committees has no contribution limits. Legally, these committees are supposed to be separate from the candidate and are not to coordinate with the candidate’s campaign; however, the committees are often doing the bidding of the same people who created the candidate.

In Tuck versus Thurmond, the direct giving only accounted for 12% of total money spent. Although the direct money spent was comparatively small, it was revealing. In this race the contribution limit was $7,300 and it could be given twice (once for the primary and once for the general). Tuck received 377 maximum contributions for a total of $2,748,500. Thurmond received 170 maximum contributions for a total of $1,234,854.

The race is generally viewed as a battle between billionaires and teachers unions, but that obscures some realities. Tuck’s maximum contributions came from 259 sources of which 257 were individuals. Thurmond’s Maximum contributions came from 129 sources of which 16 were individuals. Tuck received max contributions from 76 non-employed people, 65 financial industry employees, 39 corporate executives and 29 billionaires. Thurmond received a maximum contribution from one billionaire, Tom Steyer and two corporate executives, Stewart Resnick and Linda Ray Resnick, who also were maximum contributors for Tuck.

The groups who gave maximum contributions to Thurmond were almost all organized by labor unions. Surprisingly, much of the money came from voluntary contributions and not union dues. For example, the California State Retirees PAC, made a maximum contribution to Thurmond. The largest amount contributed to the PAC by the 1404 contributors was $15.50. Another example is The California Federation of Teachers COPE which made two max donation to Thurmond. The money came from 1326 member organizations like the San Jose Federation of Teacher Local 957 whose members made voluntary contributions totaling to $73,391.

It was the PACs who drove the election financially.

Independent Expenditures Map

Independent Expenditure Example Map of EdVoice for the Kids PAC

The LittleSis map above shows eight billionaires contributing $9,769,200 to EdVoice for the Kids PAC. Plus four of them send $2,664,600 to Charter Public Schools PAC sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. That PAC contributes another $2,900,000 to the Ed Voice PAC. EdVoice then sends $17,953,882 to Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshall Tuck which spends $22,013,408 on things like TV ads, radio spots and mailers.

The spending by the three PACs and the billionaires were verified using records provided by the Cal-access data base for major donors. The total of independent expenditures for Tuck is a conservative estimate based on multiple news reports. The independent expenditures on behalf of Tuck were more than the record setting $30,000,000 total for this contest in 2014.

Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshal Tuck was a project of EdVoice. No students, teachers or parents are listed among the contributors to this PAC unless George Hume, Chairman of Basic American or investor Michael Stoppelman have children. This PAC name looked and sounded good when providing a deceptive and legally required source for political advertisements.

The opening page of EdVoice’s internet site says, “EdVoice is a nonprofit organization advocating for policies to increase measurable student achievement for all students in California and eliminate inequality of educational opportunity in public schools.” In other words, they promote using testing to label public schools failures and promote Betsy DeVos’s school choice ideology.

Bill Lucia, a connected Republican operative, is President and COO of Ed Voice. His Ed Voice biography states, “Prior to joining EdVoice, Lucia served as Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, leading the advocacy and legal defense team at the California Charter Schools Association(CCSA). Before joining CCSA, Lucia worked as Senior Assessment Policy Liaison for Educational Testing Service, and prior to that, spent five years in Washington D.C. working as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education and in the U.S. Senate.”

EdVoice is not a big money organization. In 2016, its total income was $400,136. However at least two billionaires associated with privatizing public education are board members, Eli Broad and Carrie Walton Penner. Susan Bloomfield is also on the board.

The Campaign

In March 2017, Marshall Tuck announced his candidacy for SPI. In April, Tony Thurmond announced. By the end of 2017, four candidates had joined the race with the addition of Lily Ploski and Steven Ireland.

Marshall Tuck had name recognition and solid campaign funding. By August 2017, Thurmond announced $1,000,000 in campaign contributions and early endorsements from Senator Kamala D. Harris, SPI Tom Torlakson, the California Federation of Teachers, and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. From that point on, the race was mainly between Tuck and Thurmond but Ploski’s and Ireland’s entry made it difficult for either Tuck or Thurmond to win 50% of the votes during the primary which would have ended the race.

When the year began, many supporters of public education were concerned because the candidate apposing Marshall Tuck was a one-term Assemblyman from Richmond, California with no name recognition. Not only that, he was a black man vulnerable to the race card. Then the Judases at the Association of California School Administrators endorsed Marshall Tuck for SPI.

That might have been the point at which Thurmond demonstrated he was a special guy. On the weekend of January 20th he spoke at the CTA delegates meeting. He already had their endorsement since October, but in this speech the delegates met a charismatic candidate who brought them to their feet cheering. He declared “no privatization of public schools in California. Not in this state. Not on my watch.”

At the California Democratic Party convention in February, the delegates overwhelmingly endorsed Thurmond over Tuck. Much of the sentiment at that San Diego convention was that Tuck was not a real Democrat. He was seen as being awash in Republican money while espousing their policies.

When Tuck tried to speak to the convention delegates, he was booed off the stage. Amusingly, Lee Ohanian of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University wrote an article titled “David Versus Goliath: A School Reformer Takes on the Democratic Party and Unions.” Amazingly in this article Tuck is David and Thurmond is Goliath. Ohanian wrote,

“A few months ago Marshall Tuck, a Democratic candidate who is running for the state office of California Superintendent of School (sic) Instruction, went to the California Democratic Party Convention to speak to his party about how to create better K–12 education in California. He went to the podium, but didn’t get a word out. Well, he may have said “I,” but that would have been about it. He was shouted down with a chorus of boos that drowned out his voice. The boos continued until his allotted time expired. No state Democratic party (sic) official quieted the crowd. The message was clear: this particular Democratic candidate, who wishes to change the status quo, is not welcome in his party. And you thought that the Democratic party embraced diversity?”

And you thought Stanford University was a credible research institution?

Thurmond turned out to be a consistent and gifted politician who won support at almost all debates, editorial interviews and campaign events.

A San Diego Union editorial read, “In his interview with us, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who finished second to Tuck in the June primary, seemed just as affable but not nearly as ambitious as Tuck.” In case that was too subtle; Tony is a black man.

On November 6, Thurmond became the first African American elected to statewide office in four decades.

The Preview is Looking Good

Calmatters interviewed Thurmond during the campaign.

‘“We talked to voters across the state and told them what this election means for each of us: it means giving every kid the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century, not just the ones that show the most potential,’ Thurmond said.

‘“It means funding our public schools at the level they deserve, not pouring money into our jails in prisons. It means providing mental health treatment for kids, not arming them with guns.”’

Calmatters also stated,

“Thurmond had said he favored a ‘pause’ on the growth of charters in California while the state examines the long-term impact they’ve had so far on its public education system. The assemblyman also said he supported more charter-school oversight and sympathized with school districts that had taken financial hits after losing students to charter schools.”

Politico reported on Thurmond’s first public statements since Tuck conceded.

“He called for a temporary ban on any new K-12 charter schools in the state, addressing reporters at the Sacramento union hall of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California. He said the state has reached a ‘tipping point’ with too many charters that have financially harmed public school districts, POLITICO’s Angela Hart reports.”

‘“I believe that we shouldn’t open new schools without providing the resources for those schools,’ said Thurmond, a Democratic assemblyman. ‘It is time to have perhaps a pause on the opening of new schools until we get clear about how we will fund any new schools.”’

“While charter school advocates believe their programs can force positive changes in traditional campuses, Thurmond took issue with the notion of ‘competition,’ which he framed in a negative light.”

‘“The truth of the matter is you cannot open new schools — charter or otherwise — and serve all the students in this state,” he said. “So if the model is built on saying let’s have competition in education, then you’re certainly leaving certain students to suffer and to not have the resources they need.”’

NPE Indianapolis: “We Are Winning!”

29 Oct

Diane Ravitch opened the fifth Network for Public Education (NPE) conference stating, “We are the resistance and we are winning!” She noted that “reformers” were envious of our domination of social media. When they hired mercenaries to staff their own multimillion dollar web-publications to counter us; they failed. We still dominate social media.

Ravitch listed a long string of victories including:

Leonie Haimson and her Class Sizes Matters organization successfully fought Bill Gates’ $100,000,000 Inbloom data base project that would have abrogated the privacy rights of countless children and their parents.

Jitu Brown led a thirty-two day hunger strike that saved the Walter Dyett high school, the only open enrollment high school in the Bronzeville community of Chicago.

Charter school growth has slowed significantly. Without the literally billions of dollars from “fauxlanthropists” and the federal government these often corrupt private businesses would have gone the way of the Edsel.

Diane concluded, “We’re winning. David is beating Goliath.”

Ravitch then introduced the famed Finish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, who coined the apt acronym for the worldwide school privatization phenomena by calling it the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). Sahlberg began with stressing that what happens in the United States is extremely important because what we do here affects the rest of the world.  He said, “You are making progress. The global situation is getting better.”

Pasi Sahlberg has served at the World Bank ​ in Washington, DC ​, the European Commission ​ in Italy and acted as an external expert to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) advising governments in more than 50 countries. He is a former Director General ​ at Finland’s Ministry of Education ​ and a Visiting professor ​ of Practice ​ at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also chairs the Open Society Foundation​’s Education Board and is a member of the Governing board ​ of the University of Oulu​, the Centre on International Education Benchmarking and the International Council of Education Advisors (ICEA) for the Scottish Government ​.  He is currently working in Australia as a Professor of Education Policy at the University of New South Wales in Sidney.

Pasi slide

Pasi’s Slide Demarking Bad Education Policy and Good Education Policy

Professor Sahlberg’s presentation dealt with the negative effects being observed throughout the planet due to implementation of “GERM” policies. He shared several data sets including one implicating “GERM” initiatives in the degradation of student mental health. The following slide shows a correlation between screen time pushed by captains of technology industries such as Mark Zuckerberg and student mental health.

Pasi Screen Time Slide

Slide Shows Correlation Between Screen-time and Mental Health

He also shared some surprising conclusions from education researchers at the World Band and the (OECD).

“School choice advocates often argue that the introduction of market mechanisms in education allows equal access to high quality schooling for all…However evidence does not support these perceptions, as choice and associated market mechanisms can enhance segregation.” –OECD, 2012

“There is no consistent evidence that private schools deliver better learning outcomes than public schools. Numerous risks, such as the exclusion of disadvantaged or less able or desirable students, social segregation, exploitation of families for profit and the undermining of public education [exist].” –World Bank, 2017

Pasi ended his presentation on a similar note to Diane’s. He listed off places around the world where “GERM” is being reversed:

Sweden is in the process of reversing the unexpectedly sad results of their 1990’s decision to embrace school privatization.

Chile (the first victim of “GERM”) is “abolishing school selection, banning for-profit schools and investing in the teaching profession.”

Scotland is embracing a whole-child curriculum that focuses on equity and strengthening the role of play in the lower grades.

Liberia is now resisting privatization by for-profit foreign operators and the de-professionalizing of education.

Australia is reviewing the value of NAPLAN their standardized testing program. They are focusing on equity, well-being and early childhood education.

Singapore is mandating less testing, less student rankings, and more whole-child education.

New Zealand is removing national education standards, adopting less testing, abolishing charter schools, and encouraging more teacher and student voices. The new government won office by campaigning on a public education platform opposed to standards, testing and privatization.

Professor Sahlberg concluded by saying, “The problem is not completely solved but we are moving in the right direction.”

SOS Arizona the First Recipients of the Phyllis Bush Award

This year, NPE established a new award for community activism and named it after founding board member Phyllis Bush. The new to be annual award went to Save Our Schools Arizona. Two passionate women from Arizona, Beth Lewis and Sharon Kirsch received the award for SOS Arizona which stopped David and Charles Koch’s plan to massively expand vouchers in Arizona.

SOS Arizona Grass Roots Award

Sharon Kirsch and Beth Lewis Receive the Phyllis Bush Award for SOS Arizona from Phyllis Bush – Photo by Anthony Cody

After being ignored by state legislators who passed the Koch brother’s voucher law, they were demoralized. When Governor Doug Ducey dutifully signed the law, Beth and SOS Arizona decided to fight. They ignored all advice and precedence by staging an unlikely referendum signature drive. SOS Arizona surprised the professionals by running a successful campaign forcing the voucher law to the ballot which under Arizona law put it on hold.

Immediately, the Koch brothers set up a legal challenge and the SOS Arizona team had to fund raise to hire legal representation. After fighting and winning all the way to the state supreme court, SOS Arizona prevailed and the fate of the voucher law will be decided by the state’s voters on November 6.

Machine Learning and Data Mining Two Trojan Horses from the Technology Industry

Machine Learning

This Expert Panel Delivered a Powerful Message on Tech Inspired Student Harm

Leonie Haimson, who has a long successful history of working to protect student privacy, said a key understanding is that nothing is free. When a technology company provides software, computers, tablets or any other tech product for free, they expect something back – data. And even if you trust company “Z” to respect your privacy, it is likely that the data collected at schools will be stolen if not sold.

Audrey Watters apprised about the history of education technology, teaching machines and the failure of tech companies to come anywhere close to meeting their predictions.  She shared, “Thomas Edison famously predicted in 1922, for example, ‘I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.”’

Audrey defined artificial intelligence (AI) as little more than predictive algorithms based on statistics. She gave two reasons parent and teachers should resist “personalized learning” and the oversold AI. First, the software is proprietary which means we only see the inputs and outputs but not the decision making process. Second she asserted,

“Algorithms are biased, in part, because they’re built with data that’s biased, data taken from existing institutions and practices that are biased. They’re built by people who are biased. (Bless your hearts, white men, who think you are the rational objective ones and the rest of us just play ‘identity politics.’)”

Peter Greene reinforced Audrey’s claims about AI being yet one more over-hyped product from the technology industry which comes with peril for students. He said it is as if somebody walked into your classroom and said these three students belong in the advanced class and those three should be moved to the remedial class but will not tell you how they know. You would not listen to them and you certainly should not be run by a black box with a secret algorithm.

Little Sis the Antidote for Big Brother

Grading the States

NPE in cooperation with the Schott Foundation recently published Grading the States. The breakout session on that topic became more of an advanced seminar in researching tax documents and coalitions of groups working to privatize public education.

Schneider described how non-profit organization must file tax forms that detail their giving called a form 990. Mercedes also explained that there is also a form 990 PF and if that is the form filed, the filer must also list contributions to the private foundation. Gates and Walton file form 990 PF.

Gabor explained how to find these forms. She said she prefers the Foundation Center for her personal searches. Andrea noted that finding some foundations can be difficult and that it is often better to use less information in a search when the common foundation name yields no results.

Andrea Gabor’s latest book is called After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform.

Darcie Cimarusti did a lot of the research for the new report, Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools. She shared her use of LittleSis in doing that research. It is a free database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations. Who do the wealthiest Americans donate their money to? Where did White House officials work before they were appointed? Which lobbyists are married to politicians, and who do they lobby for?

One form of data presentation from LittleSis is mapped connections. The screen grab below is of a map created by Darcie showing the moneyed connection around the 2017 LA school board election. On LittleSis, all of the shown paths are rollovers or links to data. For example, the link from Reed Hastings to the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) reveals $8,520,500 going to their independent expenditures committee.

LittleSis Map by Darci

Darcie’s Map of Billionaire Donations to the CCSA Independent Expenditure Committee

NPE’s Diverse Environment is Manifesting Youthful Leaders

Jitu Brown is National Director of the Journey for Justice (J4J), an alliance of grassroots groups fighting against privatization and for sustainable community schools in over 28 cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Dayton, Denver, Detroit, Eupora and Kilmichael Mississippi, Los Angeles, Newark, Patterson, Camden, Jersey City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Brooklyn, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Wichita and Johannesburg, South Africa!

This year Jitu and J4J came with a message:

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights. Only by organizing locally and coming together nationally will we build the power we need to change local, state, and federal policy and win back our public schools.”

J4J introduced their #WeChoose campaign which has seven pillars:

  1. A moratorium on school privatization.
  2. The creation of 10,000 community schools.
  3. End zero tolerance policies in public schools now. (Supports restorative justice)
  4. Conduct a national equity assessment.
  5. Stop the attack on black teachers. (In 9 major cities impacted by school privatization there has been a rapid decline in the number of black teachers.)
  6. End state takeovers, appointed school boards and mayoral control.
  7. Eliminate the over-reliance on standardized tests in public schools.

For a real treat check out this video of Jitu Brown leading the NPE conference in a chant he learned from a high school student in Chicago.

Jitu Brown introduced Sunday morning’s keynote speaker, Jesse Hagopian, a youthful teacher leader from Seattle, Washington. Jitu declared, “Jesse is a freedom fighter who happens to be a teacher.”

Jesse’s address was called “Black Lives Matter at School.” He reported that Black Lives Matter at School Week was observed by 20 cities in 2017 and that he hoped to further expand the movement. Hagopian listed three demands: (1) End zero tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; (2) Hire more black teachers (he noted there are 26,000 less black teachers since 2010) and (3) Teach ethnic studies including black history.

Saturday evening’s keynote speaker was Helen Gym, a city council member from Philadelphia whose political career was launched by fighting the horrible attack on public education in her city. Helen is a small person of Korean decent but she has giant courage and is an impassioned orator. Her address to the conference was titled “Victories for Public Ed in Philly.” Thanks to Helen and her friends, the seventeen-year long state takeover of Philadelphia’s public schools has ended. They now have a school board. Helen’s basic message was “we only get what we are organized to take.”

New Leaders

Sampling of a Youthful Wave of Education Champions at #NPE18Indy

The NAACP was in the House

The conference ended with an address by Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP. Derrick grew up in pre-DeVosian Detroit, which meant he attended authentic high quality public schools. He now lives in Jackson, Mississippi with his wife and children.

Derrick Johnson close

Derrick Johnson, President of NAACP, Speaking at #NPE18Indy – Photo by Anthony Cody

Derrick said the NAACP was not opposed to charter schools, but is calling for a moratorium until there is transparency in their operations and uniformity in terms of requirements. He said NAACP conducted an in depth national study of charter schools and found a wide range of problems that needed to be fixed before the experiment is continued.

Johnson has been quoted saying “For the NAACP, we have been far more aggressive toward bad public schools then we’ve ever been against charter schools.” He said “We believe the same [accountability] for public schools should apply to charter schools.”

When Jesse Hagopian asked Mr. Johnson about how best to promote Black Lives Matter at School. He responded positively to Hagopian but did add a note of caution saying it was extremely important that the movement be inclusionary.

A Personal Perspective

Almost four years ago, I attended my first NPE conference in Chicago. I was very motivated by what I saw and heard, however, I did have a concern. It seemed like the movement was dominated by older white teachers like me, who were approaching retirement age. I thought that did not bode well for the future of our movement to save quality public education.

This year the conference was even more motivational with a big positive difference. A large wave of diverse youthful professionals have taken leadership. The future looks very bright with so many brilliant young people who are growing their expertise in research and organizing. These youthful leaders are determined to save our public schools. They are standing up for a social good that is not related to Mammonism or self promotion. They are the resistance that is winning.

For me personally, I had the opportunity to cultivate deeper friendships with the many wonderfully individuals who I first met at NPE Chicago. That included once again speaking with my personal heroine and friend, Diane Ravitch. Diane and I were even able to take our fourth annual picture.

Diane and I B

Diane Ravitch and Tom Ultican at #NPE18Indy – photo from Diane’s phone