Tag Archives: Public education

Democracy’s Schools: A Good Read

21 May

The unprecedented development of a pan American public education system arose between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginning of the Civil War. In Democracy’s Schools, Johann Neem explains the origins of the egalitarian spirit manifested in the uniquely American system, the system’s rapid development from the bottom up and he presents evidence about ideological debates that are still unresolved in the twenty-first century. These explanations are informed by impressive scholarship.

Cover Photo_05192018

The Cover Art for Democracy’s Schools Employs Charles Frederick Bosworth’s Oil on Wood Painting, “The New England School” (ca. 1852)

Massachusetts philosopher and Unitarian church minister, William Ellery Channing, had a profound influence on egalitarianism in public education. He believed that within each person were “germs and promises of growth to which no bounds can be set.” Everyone was seen as inherently equal and deserving of education that develops the capacity for creating “self-culture.” Neem paraphrases Channing, “To educate some for work and others to appreciate beauty was to commit a crime against human nature.”

Neem states, “Nobody made the case for self-culture more strongly than Horace Mann.” Mann trained as a lawyer after graduating from Brown University. “In contrast to Democrats like Andrew Jackson, Whigs like Mann believed that the state had an obligation to improve individuals and society by developing their moral, intellectual, and economic potential.”

Mann’s wife of two years died in 1832. His deep depression caused good friend Elizbeth Peabody to introduce him to Reverend Channing. The reverend had a profound influence on Mann’s understanding of education. When Massachusetts established a board of education in 1837, Mann became its first secretary.

The establishment of public high schools exposed deeply held difference about education. The common schools which educated through the equivalent of middle school were rapidly embraced. With Mann leading the charge, they were adopted in one community after another. However, many Americans did not trust reformers calling for the establishment of public high schools. They wondered if higher education wasn’t just a way to justify elite privilege.

To reformers, public high schools would expose the most talented children to the kind of education that had been the exclusive heritage of the wealthy. However, their arguments did not prevail, and the public high school development advanced slowly. Neem reports, “by 1890, only 6.7 percent of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds were enrolled.”

Writing about the “overlapping consensus” for public education, Neem says,

“Since its inception, American public education has served many masters. It sought to educate citizens, to promote self-culture, and simultaneously to prepare people for success in the workplace. The public schools reflected the complicated aspirations of policy makers, education reformers, citizens, parents, teachers, and students. In America, schools benefited from an overlapping consensus in which the various stakeholders did not always agree on why schools existed but agreed that they ought to exist. This overlapping consensus fueled the dramatic growth in public school enrollment between the Revolutionary and Civil War.

“But since Americans did not always agree on the purposes of education, public schools also generated intense political conflicts. Perhaps for most Americans, schools were practical institutions. They gave young children basic skills, reinforced the community’s morals, and prepared them to be citizens and productive members of society. But to reformers, public schools would also elevate the human spirit. To do that, the following chapters argue, reformers sought to transform the content of curriculum and how teachers taught and ultimately, to make public schools free and universal.”

Jackson to Trump 200 Years; Same Dynamic

I agree with Newt Gingrich (a politician named after a salamander), the first Democratic President, Andrew Jackson, and today’s insurgent Republican President, Donald Trump, have commonality. In 1828, Jackson, one of the largest slave owners in Tennessee, became the champion of the common man against elites. In 2016, Trump, the wealthy New York real estate developer, cultivated the aura of a champion of the common people fighting against elite privilege.

In 1818, education reformers were pushing for liberal education for all free children. University of North Carolina President, Joseph Caldwell worried that many Americans had “become avowed partizans of mental darkness against light” who were “glorying in ignorance.” Jackson’s supporters did not trust elites and thought classical liberal education was old fashioned and elitist. They wanted just the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. These sentiments and concerns are still heard today.

Channing taught that the purpose of education was to develop human beings in God’s image. His protégé, Horace Mann, was attracted to the new “science” of phrenology. Phrenology conceived of the brain as malleable which gave Mann added confidence concerning the value of universal education. In some ways, today’s standards and testing are the modern equivalent of phrenology; uninformed, potentially harmful yet a policy guide.

An enduring tenant of American public education was championed by Ohio’s superintendent of schools. He argued that both girls and boys were endowed with the faculties “of memory, of reason, of conscience, of imagination, and of will” therefore, school must ensure “all of these are to be developed” in both sexes.

It was widely believed that self-control was the key for education to cultivate the best within us. “Otherwise, people would not be free, or self-made, but remain an unformed bundle of impulses with no ability to resist immediate temptation.” There were to be no excuses. Discipline was the precondition to freedom and a key purpose of education.

The first development in a new American community was invariably the establishment of a school. Community members naturally accepted that their religious beliefs would be reinforced at school. Neem described the understanding, “A good education required shaping character, and this required religion.” However, efforts to accommodate all faiths meant eliminating those ideas that were not common. The American Sunday School Union questioned the public schools’ determination “To Diffuse Knowledge without Religion.”

In a heated debate with Frederick Packard, American Sunday School Union Corresponding Secretary, Horace Mann upheld non-sectarianism. Packard responded that Mann’s non-sectarianism reflected the sectarian principles of his own Unitarian church.

Neem shares, “The Sunday school movement emerged in order to ensure that young Americans would receive the religious education that they did not get in common schools.”

The belief that Christianity belongs in the public education curriculum is still strongly    embraced by some sectors of today’s pluralistic society*. In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering where Dick complained that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.”

*Betsy DeVos while channeling Margret Thatcher claimed there in no such thing as society.

Development and Pedagogy

There was a divide between those who supported the reformers’ programs and those who wanted just the basics of reading and cyphering. Better-off farmers were generally in favor of liberal education including studying the classics. Poorer citizens had a tendency to embrace the less costly and more practical basics only. Neem reports, “Because of their political power and the way the tax burden fell largely upon them, slaveholding elites spread an antitax gospel to convince ordinary whites that taxes were a bad thing.” Today that same gospel is advocated by wealthy elites in America’s two major political parties with a more determined effort coming from conservative funders. (emphasis added)

America’s schools were a battlefield. Violence was used as both a method of discipline and motivation. Lessons were almost exclusively memorization and regurgitation. If the recitation was incorrect students were regularly struck across the cheek, ear or bottom. Students often had their hands struck harshly and repeatedly for minor infractions. Harsh discipline combined with drill and skill pedagogy is still practiced in modern “no excuses” charter schools.

Reformers were convinced that authoritarian pedagogy was ineffectual. They started looking to innovations in Europe for guidance. As early as 1817, Archibald Murphey of North Carolina was informing the state legislature about new approaches to education in Europe. In 1819, a New York school teacher, John Griscom, published A Year in Europe. Both Murphey and Griscom praised the schools of Prussia and the Swiss educator, Johann Pestalozzi.

In 1843, Horace Mann married Mary Peabody and for their honeymoon they toured schools in Europe. Mann recognized that schools in democracies could not promote “passive obedience to government, or of blind adherence to the articles of a church.” On the other hand, he was enamored by the organization of the Prussian schools. Schools were divided into age-based grades to facilitate age appropriate pedagogy. Most of all Mann was impressed by the teachers of Prussia. He called for improvement in the status of the teaching profession in Massachusetts and improvement in training.

A popular alternative to the Prussian model and Pestalozzi’s views on pedagogy was Lancasterianism named for its originator, Joseph Lancaster. Neem explains the popularity of Lancaster’s approach,

“This approach had several advantages. First, it was cheap because Lancaster relied on older students to teach. Second, some considered Lancaster’s emphasis on repetition and competition to be effective. In groups of ten or twelve, led by a monitor, students drilled in reading, spelling, or arithmetic. Each day, every student was ranked publicly, motivating students to excel or, at least, to avoid embarrassment. Students received “merit tickets” for behavior and performance.”

Mann worried that Lancasterianism taught students to compete for external rewards and glory instead of developing appropriate moral character. He felt the system deprived students the benefit of a qualified well-prepared teacher. Mann wrote, “One must see the difference between the hampering, binding, misleading instruction given by an inexperienced child, and the developing, transforming, and almost creative power of an accomplished teacher.” Reminds one of Texas businessmen paying cash rewards to students for passing AP exams, the push for scripted education and Teach for America.

Mann was so taken by his European experience, that he wrote in official reports of the inspiring, engaging, loving classrooms he observed in Prussia. Boston’s schoolmasters replied that education “amateurs” like Mann rarely cared about what actual teachers might think. Neem notes, “The teachers felt insulted by Mann’s tone, which suggested that Prussia’s teachers were doing great things while back at home every teacher was incompetent.”

Reformers believed that by tapping into children’s curiosity and interest they would become independent learners. Experienced teachers knew that students also needed discipline, or they would only engage in what they liked. Educators felt that though nice to appeal to children’s moral sense still “Massachusetts was not some prelapsarian Eden.”

Maybe the blindness to practical classroom reality explains some of Bill Gates’s serial education reform failures.

Charter Schools and America’s Curriculum

After the Revolutionary War, states recognized the need for an educated citizenry and schools, but they lacked the capacity to develop and fund public education. Concurrent with building public schools, state governments also encouraged citizens to create charter schools called academies. By 1855 there were more than 6,000 of these state-chartered schools operating compared to almost 81,000 common schools. Neem observed,

“But American leaders ultimately concluded that academies were unable to meet the nation’s need for an educated public and worse, that they exacerbated the division between the haves and have-nots. In the post-Revolutionary era, Massachusetts governor Samuel Adams asserted that academies increase inequality because well-off families who sent their children to academies would be less willing to pay taxes for the state’s common schools. ‘Citizens,’ Adams argued, ‘will never willingly and cheerfully support two systems of schools.’”

So, charter schools were not an invention of Ray Budd in a 1970’s paper. They had existed since the time of the American Revolution, however, nineteenth century politicians and reformers concluded they were not a good fit for democratically sponsored education.

Reverend William Holmes McGuffey was a stern task master in the classroom. He expected good behavior and would tolerate nothing less. He also disliked rote memorization and recitation pedagogy. In the 1820’s, McGuffey wrote the first edition of his reader. Its readings were laced with moral lessons and Biblical verses. It taught a protestant ethic. Between 1836 and 1920, the reader sold as many as 122 million copies and most of these copies were used by several students. It has been said that McGuffey was responsible for “making the American mind.”

In post-revolutionary war America, large numbers of Catholic Immigrants arrived, and they did not like the anti-Catholic lessons taught in common schools. Protestants viewed Catholics as antidemocratic because of their allegiance to the Pope who opposed democratic reform in Europe. Catholics did not want their children abused in common schools. They started developing their own school system and wanted government support for their schools. This was just one of multiple pressure points creating the “Bible wars.”

The fight over religion in school became so intense that in 1876 President Ulysses S. Grant declared:

‘“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. … Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

I have touched lightly on just a few of the early developments in public education chronicled in great depth by Neem. My main take away from this read is that in developing universal free public education in America the foundation for democracy was forged. That foundation is under attack today. Read this book and you will deepen and reinforce your own need to protect America’s public schools.

Newest Existential Threat to Oakland’s Public Schools

10 May

By T. Ultican 5/10/2018

A “Systems of Schools” plan has been introduced by the destroy public education (DPE) forces in Oakland, California. The plan basically posits that with 30 percent of students in charter schools, the system has become inefficient. Therefore, the school board needs to review resources and close schools in areas with too many seats and overlapping programs.

However, since Oakland’s school board has no authority over charter schools it is only public schools that can be closed or downsized unless charter schools voluntarily cooperate.

Continuing the Big Lie

A memorable line from “A Nation at Risk” reads,

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Yesterday (May 7, 2018) Steve Hinnefeld writing about this report for the blog School Matters noted,

“As Anya Kamenetz of NPR reported recently, its authors were sure the education system needed change and set out to create a report that justified what they thought. Remarkably, they cited falling SAT scores as evidence of decline – at a time when many more college-bound students were taking the test, leading to lower average scores.

“The authors ‘were hell-bent on proving that schools were bad,’ Lynn University professor James Guthrie told Kamenetz. ‘They cooked the books to get what they wanted.’

“A 1990 report produced by the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories broke down the flaws in the “A Nation at Risk” analysis but got little attention.

 ‘“It was great stuff,’ Golarz [former Indiana school administrator] said. ‘I remember, when it came out, thinking, ‘Finally, somebody’s unraveled this damn thing and showed all the flaws.’ But nobody read it.”’

“Nation at Risk” set the model for the DPE movement. Public education was so popular that to privatize it required denigrating it. Over the last 35 years, the DPE movement has developed an approach using local money in concert with national money to promote charter schools, denigrate public schools and campaign for privatization friendly policies like unified enrollment. The local money in Oakland is provided by the Rogers Family Foundation.

The article “Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish” describes the Rogers Family Foundation and it relationship to GO Public Schools Oakland, Educate78 (previously New Schools Venture Fund) and the Oakland Public Education Fund. The late T. Gary Rogers foundation is like the queen bee of DPE Oakland with the other organizations carrying out various political and financial activities including spawning AstroTurf organizations.

The well-financed and robustly staffed DPE-oriented GO is leading the ground assault. 1Oakland, a GO led AstroTurf organization, bashes public schools and promotes the “Systems of Schools” legislation. The 1Oakland web-page states, “In September of 2017, GO Public Schools Oakland brought together community, family, and student leaders to launch 1Oakland, a campaign that is working for an exceptional, equitable, and sustainable education system that reflects our commitment to all Oakland students.”

On the GO web-site a statement from Boris Aguilar, a 1Oakland Leader, is accompanied by typically misleading statements denigrating Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). It claims,

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, families organized and established charter schools and small schools as alternatives to OUSD’s overcrowded, low-performing schools. These schools often times provided creative and culturally responsive curricula in contrast to OUSD’s one-size-fits-all, “teacher-proof” scripted curriculum.”  

The organizing for charter schools in Oakland did not come from local families. It came from billionaires and politicians including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Carrie Walton-Penner, Jerry Brown and several other elites. The small-schools initiative was Bill Gates’s first big failed education reform idea. Small-schools generated many headlines like this one from the Washington Post, “How Much Bill Gates’s Disappointing Small-Schools Effort Really Cost.” The one-size-fits-all philosophy and scripted curriculum promoted by “education reformers” from the Bush and Obama administrations are far more prevalent in charter schools than public schools. When properly adjusted for poverty, OUSD testing outcomes reflect a high-quality steadily improving public school system.

Oakland Reach  is another AstroTurf organization with GO fingerprints on it. The Oakland citizens involved with this organization appear sincere and to have well-founded grievances. Unfortunately, they are being used to steal high-quality public schools from their own neighborhoods.

Oakland charter concentration and wealth maps

Oakland’s charter schools are all in the minority dominated flats with none in the wealthier Oakland hills as shown by these maps from Fordham and Maplight.

This new initiative’s  executive director, Lakisha Young, is also paid staff at GO. Sources say that some Oakland Reach leaders traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to be trained by Memphis Lift. Memphis Lift is an AstroTurf parent organization that has enough money to pay $15 an hour for parent “volunteers” to knock on doors. Teach for America promotes Memphis list on their web site.

The new message by these organizations is “we only want quality education and don’t care whether it comes from charter schools or public schools. People in our neighborhoods deserve to choose what is right for their children and grandchildren. ‘System of Schools’ will enable managing our portfolio of schools more efficiently.” A public school advocate, Jane Nylund commented, “Essentially, the campaign is designed to embrace what I would call a Kumbaya moment; a way to deal with what CRPE calls ‘toxic local politics.”’

CRPE is the Bill Gates financed Center for Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington. CRPE is leading the charge for portfolio districts which means managing a portfolio of schools like a stock portfolio; close the losers and open new schools. This theory ignores the well-known damage that instability causes students; especially those living in poverty.

The article “Education Cities is the National Organizer for the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement” relates how this national umbrella organization is providing leadership for privatizing public education across America. A recent Education Cities update says,

“Educate78 has started an #OUSDBudget blog series to delve into the Oakland Unified School District budget crisis. Most recently, the series has been tackling the question of whether Oakland has too many schools.  Educate78 is also excited to celebrate the launch of two initiatives from one of its major grantees, GO Public Schools. The new  Oakland REACH , a parent-led advocacy group and  1Oakland  –  a community-driven campaign  working with educators and elected officials to advocate for  policies that promote partnership and creatively re-design the school system in service of all students.”

The Citizens United Decision Effect on Oakland’s Schools

John Dunbar writing for Public Integrity explained,

“The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

 “In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.”

The first year that the Citizens United ruling effected Oakland’s school board election was 2012. It is now apparent that corporations and the billionaires who control them have a lot more money than labor unions or anyone else. James Harris, who proposed the “System of Schools” legislation, was the only 2012 challenger to unseat an incumbent. Reporting on that election, the East Bay Times said,

“This year’s school board elections have involved vigorous campaigning and far more money than usual — and, unlike recent election years, all four races were contested.

 “GO Public Schools, a group of parents, teachers and community members that formed in 2008, is more charter school-friendly than the union’s leaders, and it has promoted changes to traditional union staffing rules, which the union has opposed. The GO Public Schools PAC has received three large donations of $49,000 or more, including — most recently — the California Charter Schools Association, bringing its fundraising total to nearly $185,000.

 “The group threw its weight behind Hinton Hodge, Torres and Harris, mostly through independent expenditures and the organizing of volunteers. By contrast, the Oakland teachers union PAC, which is backing Pecot, Fuentes and Hutchinson, expected to raise about $20,000.”

The big money from billionaires was mostly funneled through Great Oakland Public Schools which is GO’s independent expenditure committee registered under tax code 501 C4. The following tables are based on data from the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission.

Go Expenditure Committee Table 2

In 2012, the support of GO helped Harris defeat incumbent board member Spearman in a close race. In addition, several well-known wealthy people gave maximum contributions to Harris, Hodge and Torres.

2012 Harris, Hodge and Torres
Received Max $700 Contributions from
Bloomberg Michael New York NY
Bradley Katherine Washington DC
Penner Greg Atherton CA
Rock Arthur San Francisco CA
GO-PAC Sponsored Oakland CA
Tepper David Short Hills NJ
Fournier Alan Far Hills NJ
Fournier Jennifer Far Hills NJ

Michael Bloomberg is the famous billionaire and former mayor of New York city. Katherine Bradley was the publisher of the Washington Post. Laurene Jobs Powell was Apple founder, Steve Jobs, wife. Stacy Schusterman inherited the Schusterman fortune and runs the $2-billion Schusterman Family Foundation. Greg Penner married into Walmart money. His wife Carrie is one of the richest women in the world. Arthur Rock is Silicon Valley royalty. He had a hand in founding several famous companies including Intel. David Tepper is a billionaire hedge fund manager from New Jersey as is Alan Fournier.

Go Expenditure Committee Table

The table above is of money contributed by a few wealthy elites compared to the total that GO’s independent expenditure committee recieved.

In 2016 Go spent a quarter of a million dollars to insure Harris and Hodge stayed on the board. In 2012 they had freely spent to elect Roseann Torres to the board, but in 2016 they spent $121,000 failing to have her unseated. Go has verbally supported London and Eng but provided them with little actual support. Go spent $65,000 to oppose Shanthi Gonzales.

The Board Discussed “Systems of Schools”

Board member James Harris proposed the “Systems of Schools” legislation. At the April 25th Board meeting, he said that Oakland had too many district and charter school programs. Because Oakland is the first California city to reach 30% charter penetration, he claimed Oakland had a unique need for his “Systems of Schools” plan. He rebutted the idea that the plan cannot work because the state law does not give the Board any power over charter schools. He compared that to accepting segregation and not taking any action just because it goes against unjust laws.

Board Vice President Jamoke Hinton-Hodge said she likes the “Systems of Schools” concept and that she was for charter schools because “traditional schools haven’t served black people well.” She also called for unity saying that GO, Oakland Education Association and “Diane Ravitch’s funded organization” need to find a way to work together.

I am guessing that Diane Ravitch is surprised to learn that she is funding an organization.

Director Roseann Torres said she did not see how “Systems of Schools” could work. She asked, “How do we enforce something if charters don’t come to the table?” She also noted that she was getting “100’s of emails” opposing the plan.

Board members Eng, London and Senn were non-committal but they all called for dialog and encouraged VP Hodge, Director Harris and Director Shanthi Gonzalez to sit down together and try to find some points of agreement.

I attended a presentation given by Shanthi Gonzales last fall and was favorably impressed. I wrote asking for her opinion. She was forthcoming and unambiguous. Her email response said,

“Director Harris is not wrong that there are areas in which we need to work together more, and special ed is the major one. As a result of the consistent dumping of high-needs students, we have a seriously unsustainable situation in OUSD, which is one of the drivers of our current budget crisis.

“But there is nothing stopping charter schools from ceasing their discriminating against SPED and high-needs students; they do not need a policy to do what they are legally required to do. The real goal is access to one of our parcel taxes, Measure G, and for us to kick OUSD students out of their own buildings to make more space for their students (they don’t like the split-site offers that we are legally forced to provide because we don’t have any more vacant sites).

 “A recent report from GO, the main supporters of this policy, found that OUSD spends $1400 on average more per student than charter schools in Oakland do, and they see that as unfair. Given that the same report also found that we have more SPED students, with more severe learning differences, and the students with the most severe academic challenges, it seems entirely appropriate to me that we would have more funding per student – serving higher needs students is expensive.

 “Until there is evidence to demonstrate what charters are saying, that they want to serve students more equitably, I do not see a need for this policy. Charter schools can simply do what they are legally required to do until they have evidence to demonstrate that they are serving students equitably. Then we can talk about a system of schools.

 “That is how I see it.”

Gordon Lafer, Ph.D., University of Oregon Labor and Education Researcher, has written a startling new paper for In the Public Interest called Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts. One of the tables in the paper demonstrates the special education issue Director Gonzales mentioned.

Oakland Special Education funding

This graphic shows how Oakland’s charter schools not only take fewer special education students but avoid high cost students leaving them to district schools.

Professor Lafer documents the debilitating costs for public schools caused by charter school expansion. Costs for which they cannot easily adjust. He reports,

“In a first-of-its-kind analysis, this report reveals that neighborhood public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools. In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District.”

Oakland may be close to losing their public schools but cities like San Diego and Los Angeles are not far behind. We desperately need a charter school moratorium and for all publicly financed schools to be put under elected board control.

Newest Existential Threat to Oakland’s Public Schools

10 May

A “Systems of Schools” plan has been introduced by the destroy public education (DPE) forces in Oakland, California. The plan basically posits that with 30 percent of students in charter schools, the system has become inefficient. Therefore, the school board needs to review resources and close schools in areas with too many seats and overlapping programs.

However, since Oakland’s school board has no authority over charter schools it is only public schools that can be closed or downsized unless charter school voluntarily cooperate.

Continuing the Big Lie

A memorable line from “A Nation at Risk” reads, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Yesterday (May 7, 2018) Steve Hinnefeld writing about this report for the blog School Matters noted,

“As Anya Kamenetz of NPR reported recently, its authors were sure the education system needed change and set out to create a report that justified what they thought. Remarkably, they cited falling SAT scores as evidence of decline – at a time when many more college-bound students were taking the test, leading to lower average scores.

 “The authors ‘were hell-bent on proving that schools were bad,’ Lynn University professor James Guthrie told Kamenetz. ‘They cooked the books to get what they wanted.’

“A 1990 report produced by the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories broke down the flaws in the ‘A Nation at Risk’ analysis but got little attention.

 ‘“It was great stuff,’ Golarz [former Indiana school administrator] said. ‘I remember, when it came out, thinking, ‘Finally, somebody’s unraveled this damn thing and showed all the flaws.’ But nobody read it.”’

“Nation at Risk” set the model for the DPE movement. Public education was so popular that to privatize it required denigrating it. Over the last 35 years, a model for the DPE movement required local money to unite with national money to promote charter schools, denigrate public schools and campaign for privatization friendly policies including unified enrollment. The local money in Oakland is the Rogers Family Foundation.

The article “Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish” describes the Rogers Family Foundation and it relationship to GO Public Schools Oakland, Educate78 (previously New Schools Venture Fund) and the Oakland Public Education Fund. The late T. Gary Rogers foundation is like the queen bee of DPE Oakland with the other organizations carrying out various political and financial activities including spawning AstroTurf organizations.

The well-financed and robustly staffed DPE oriented GO is leading on the ground in Oakland. 1Oakland is a GO led AstroTurf organizations bashing public schools. The 1Oakland web-page states, “In September of 2017, GO Public Schools Oakland brought together community, family, and student leaders to launch 1Oakland, a campaign that is working for an exceptional, equitable, and sustainable education system that reflects our commitment to all Oakland students.” 1Oakland has two visible purposes; (1) promote the “Systems of Schools” plan and (2) bash Oakland public schools.

A statement from Boris Aguilar, a 1Oakland Leader, is accompanied by a misleading denigration of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). It claims,

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, families organized and established charter schools and small schools as alternatives to OUSD’s overcrowded, low-performing schools. These schools often times provided creative and culturally responsive curricula in contrast to OUSD’s one-size-fits-all, “teacher-proof” scripted curriculum.”  

The organizing for charter schools in Oakland did not come from local families. It came from billionaires including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Carrie Walton-Penner and several others. The small-schools initiative was Bill Gates’s first big failed education reform idea. Small-schools generated many headlines like this one from the Washington Post, “How Much Bill Gates’s Disappointing Small-Schools Effort Really Cost.” The one-size-fits-all philosophy and scripted curriculum promoted by “education reformers” from the Bush and Obama administrations are far more prevalent in charter schools than public schools. When properly adjusted for poverty, OUSD testing outcomes reflect a high-quality improving organization.

Another AstroTurf organizations with GO fingerprints on it is Oakland Reach. The Oakland citizens involved with this organization appear sincere and to have well-founded grievances. Unfortunately, they are being used to steal high-quality public schools from their own neighborhoods.

This new initiative has an executive director, Lakisha Young, who is also paid staff at GO. Sources say that some Oakland Reach leaders traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to be trained by Memphis Lift. Memphis Lift is an AstroTurf parent organization that has enough money to pay $15 an hour for parents to knock on doors. Teach for America promotes Memphis list on their web site.

The new message from these organizations is “we only want quality education and don’t care whether it comes from charter schools or public schools. People in our neighborhoods deserve to choose what is right for their children and grandchildren. ‘System of Schools’ will enable managing our portfolio of schools more efficiently.” A public school advocate, Jane Nylund commented, “Essentially, the campaign is designed to embrace what I would call a Kumbaya moment; a way to deal with what CRPE calls ‘toxic local politics.”’

CRPE is the Bill Gates financed Center for Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington. CRPE is leading the charge for portfolio districts which means managing a portfolio of schools like a stock portfolio; close the losers and open new schools. This theory ignores the well-known damage that instability causes students; especially those living in poverty.

The article “Education Cities is the National Organizer for the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement” relates how this national umbrella organization is providing leadership for privatizing public education across America. A recent Education Cities update says,

“Educate78 has started an #OUSDBudget blog series to delve into the Oakland Unified School District budget crisis. Most recently, the series has been tackling the question of whether Oakland has too many schools.  Educate78 is also excited to celebrate the launch of two initiatives from one of its major grantees, GO Public Schools. The new  Oakland REACH , a parent-led advocacy group and  1Oakland  –  a community-driven campaign  working with educators and elected officials to advocate for  policies that promote partnership and creatively re-design the school system in service of all students.”

The Citizens United Decision Effect on Oakland’s Schools

John Dunbar writing for Public Integrity explained,

“The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

 “In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.”

The first year that the Citizens United ruling effected Oakland’s school board election was 2012. It is now apparent that corporations and the billionaires who control them have a lot more money than labor unions or anyone else. James Harris, who proposed the “Systems of Schools” Legislation, was the only 2012 challenger to unseated an incumbent. Reporting on the 2012 election, the East Bay Times said,

“This year’s school board elections have involved vigorous campaigning and far more money than usual — and, unlike recent election years, all four races were contested.

 “GO Public Schools, a group of parents, teachers and community members that formed in 2008, is more charter school-friendly than the union’s leaders, and it has promoted changes to traditional union staffing rules, which the union has opposed. The GO Public Schools PAC has received three large donations of $49,000 or more, including — most recently — the California Charter Schools Association, bringing its fundraising total to nearly $185,000.

 “The group threw its weight behind Hinton Hodge, Torres and Harris, mostly through independent expenditures and the organizing of volunteers. By contrast, the Oakland teachers union PAC, which is backing Pecot, Fuentes and Hutchinson, expected to raise about $20,000.”

The big money from billionaires was mostly funneled through Great Oakland Public Schools which is GO’s independent expenditure committee registered under tax code 501 C4. The following tables are based on data from the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission.

Candidate Year Donor
Count
Total

Raised

GO
Ind.
Money
Go
Supported
Losers
Donor
Count
Total

Raised

GO
Ind.
Money
Harris 2012 101 $35,750 $41,155        
Hodge 2012 92 $30,325 $62,827        
London 2012 116 $18,018 $0        
Torres 2012 145 $36,635 $37,847        
Eng 2014 102 $26,824 $550        
Gonzales 2014 266 $58,051 $0 Almanzor 60 $9,200 $65,294
Senn 2014 66 $18,525 $35,518 Shakir-Gilmore 75 $16,170 $35,466
Harris 2016 63 $27,536 $144,734        
Hodge 2016 54 $18,200 $104,761        
London 2016 91 $18,085 $4,439        
Torres 2016 78 $17,725 $0 Trenado 57 $19,550 $121,521
Candidate Raised Money $350,595 Go Raised Money $654,118

In 2012, the support of GO helped Harris defeat incumbent board member Spearman in a close race. In addition, several well-known wealthy people gave maximum contributions to Harris, Hodge and Torres.

 

2012 Harris, Hodge and Torres
Received Max $700 Contributions from
Bloomberg Michael New York NY
Bradley Katherine Washington DC
Penner Greg Atherton CA
Rock Arthur San Francisco CA
GO-PAC Sponsored   Oakland CA
Tepper David Short Hills NJ
Fournier Alan Far Hills NJ
Fournier Jennifer Far Hills NJ

Michael Bloomberg is the well know billionaire and former mayor of New York city. Katherine Bradley was the publisher of the Washington Post. Laurene Jobs Powell was Apple founder, Steve Jobs, wife. Stacy Schusterman inherited the Schusterman fortune and runs the $2 billion Schusterman Family Foundation. Greg Penner married into Walmart money. His wife Carrie is one of the richest women in the world. Arthur Rock is Silicon Valley royalty. He had a hand in founding several famous companies including Intel. David Tepper is a billionaire hedge fund manager from New Jersey as is Alan Fournier.

Go Expenditure Committee Table

In 2016 Go spent a quarter of a million dollars to insure Harris and Hodge stayed on the board. In 2012 they had freely spent to elect Roseann Torres to the board, but in 2016 they spent $121,000 trying to have her unseated. Go has verbally supported London and Eng but provided them with little actual support. Go spent $65,000 to oppose Shanthi Gonzales.

The Board Discussed “Systems of Schools”

Board member James Harris proposed the “Systems of Schools” legislation. At the April 25th Board meeting, he said that Oakland had too many district and charter school programs. Because Oakland is the first California city to reach 30% charter penetration, he claimed Oakland had a unique need for “systems of schools.” He rebutted the idea that the plan cannot work because the state law does not give the Board any power over charter schools. He compared that to accepting segregation and not taking any action just because it goes against unjust laws.

Board Vice President Jamoke Hinton-Hodge said she likes the “Systems of Schools” concept and that she was for charter schools because “traditional schools haven’t served black people well.” She also called for unity saying that GO, Oakland Education Association and “Diane Ravitch’s funded organization” need to find a way to work together.

I am guessing that Diane Ravitch is surprised to learn that she is funding an organization.

Director Roseann Torres said she did not see how “Systems of Schools” could work. She asked, “How do we enforce something if charters don’t come to the table?” She also noted that she was getting “100’s of emails” opposing the plan.

Board members Eng, London and Senn were non-committal but they all called for dialog and encouraged VP Hodge, Director Harris and Director Shanthi Gonzalez to sit down together and try to find some points of agreement.

I attended a presentation given by Shanthi Gonzales in the fall and was favorably impressed. I wrote asking for her opinion. She was forthcoming and unambiguous. Her email response said,

“Director Harris is not wrong that there are areas in which we need to work together more, and special ed is the major one. As a result of the consistent dumping of high-needs students, we have a seriously unsustainable situation in OUSD, which is one of the drivers of our current budget crisis.

 “But there is nothing stopping charter schools from ceasing their discriminating against SPED and high-needs students; they do not need a policy to do what they are legally required to do. The real goal is access to one of our parcel taxes, Measure G, and for us to kick OUSD students out of their own buildings to make more space for their students (they don’t like the split-site offers that we are legally forced to provide because we don’t have any more vacant sites).

“A recent report from GO, the main supporters of this policy, found that OUSD spends $1400 on average more per student than charter schools in Oakland do, and they see that as unfair. Given that the same report also found that we have more SPED students, with more severe learning differences, and the students with the most severe academic challenges, it seems entirely appropriate to me that we would have more funding per student – serving higher needs students is expensive.

“Until there is evidence to demonstrate what charters are saying, that they want to serve students more equitably, I do not see a need for this policy. Charter schools can simply do what they are legally required to do until they have evidence to demonstrate that they are serving students equitably. Then we can talk about a system of schools.

 “That is how I see it.”

Gordon Lafer, Ph.D., University of Oregon Labor and Education Research has written a startling new paper for In the Public Interest called Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts. One of the tables in the paper demonstrates the special education issue Director Gonzales mentioned.

Oakland Special Education funding

This graphic shows how Oakland’s charter schools not only take less special education students but avoid high cost students leaving them to district schools.

Professor Lafer documents the debilitating costs for public schools caused by charter school expansion. He reports,

“In a first-of-its-kind analysis, this report reveals that neighborhood public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools. In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District.”

Oakland may be close to losing their public schools but cities like San Diego and Los Angeles are not far behind. We desperately need a charter school moratorium and for all publicly financed schools to be put under elected board control.

LA Makes a Billionaire Privatizer Superintendent of Schools (Updated)

25 Apr

Eli Broad and friends have picked his wealthy business partner, Austin Beutner, to lead LA schools. Their kindred spirit from San Francisco, Reed Hastings, is chipping in for the cause as are Fisher, Walton, Bloomberg and several other billionaires. The selection of Beutner would signal another existential crisis for America’s second largest public-school district.

Update: When I originally published this article, a board member who had voted against Beutner, Scott M Schmerelson‘s came to the mic on Friday, April 27 and announced that no decision had been made. He said the next board meeting would be May 1. That was subterfuge.

1. The vote to hire Beutner was taken on April 20th.
2. Board member Richard Vladovic who was considered opposed to Beutner voted to hire him.
3. It was a 5-2 vote for his contract.

In May of 2017, these pro-privatization forces bankrolled a successful destroy public education (DPE) take-over of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). For the first time ever, a pro-charter school voting bloc is in control. Now, they appear ready to select Beutner as their leader.

On April 16, Howard Blume reporting for the Los Angeles Times said, “Austin Beutner has emerged as a leading contender to run the Los Angeles school district, with backers saying he is smart enough and tough enough to confront its financial and academic struggles.” However, the selection has been surprisingly stalled.

April 20, Blume updated the story for the LA Times. He speculated Beutner would be selected that day. Blume wrote, “Some of the city’s power brokers seem to be invested in Beutner, 58, who is himself one of L.A.’s more influential leaders.” However, later in the day, the Daily News reported, “The board met for hours Friday but announced shortly after 7 p.m. that it would be reconvening at 11 a.m. May 1 to resume the discussion”.

Four Finalist in Superintendent Bid

In the April 16 LA Times article, Blume also stated that in addition to front runner Beutner, three finalists are in contention. He noted:

“Interim Supt. Vivian Ekchian, who has been managing the district since King left on medical leave last fall, also made it to the second round, according to insiders. The other two apparent finalists are more difficult to confirm, but several sources have named Indianapolis Supt. Lewis Ferebee and former Baltimore Supt. Andres Alonso, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.”

Popular LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King resigned on January 5th. She had been fighting cancer since the summer of 2017 and had been on medical leave since the fall.

Superintendent Candidates

Four finalists for LAUSD Superintendent: Alonso, Beutner, Ekchian, Ferebee.

Lewis Ferebee

Ferebee has been the Superintendent of Schools in Indianapolis, Indiana since 2013. Influenced by The Mind Trust, Indianapolis has become a model for the DPE movement. The fact that Ferebee, who is a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, is a finalist speaks volumes about the direction the new LAUSD board is charting.

The 74, a noted DPE oriented publication started by Campbell Brown, said that when first appointed he looked like a strange choice then continued,  “But since he stepped into the role of superintendent in 2013, Ferebee has developed stronger relationships between traditional district and charter schools, grown the city’s network of innovation schools, and worked toward giving principals more decision-making power.”

Last week Ferebee removed himself from consideration. On April 18, the Indianapolis Star quoted him:

‘“Recently, I was announced as one of the finalists for the Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent position,’ Ferebee’s statement said. ‘After further discussing this endeavor with my family, the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners, and those handling the search process, I have withdrawn my name from consideration. It was an honor to have been considered for an opportunity of this magnitude.”’

Austin Beutner

He has no educational training or experience. His only qualification seems to be his willingness to do the job and the support he has from LA’s power elites. They claim his background in investment banking will lead to a solution to the charter school induced deficits plaguing LAUSD.

Beutner grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan just thirty miles up the road from Holland Michigan and the DeVos clan. His father, Roger Earl Beutner, was the Vice-President of Operations at AmWay. He and his siblings Sheryl and Brian all attended East Grand Rapids High School, a public school.

He went to Dartmouth in the fall of 1978 majoring in economics. That seems to be the extent of his formal education.

His Revolvy biography states,

“After graduation in 1982 he went to work at Smith Barney as a financial analyst. At the age of 29, he became the youngest partner at The Blackstone Group, one of the largest private equity firms in the world. In the 1990s he co-founded the investment banking group Evercore Partners which went public in 2006.”

Dartmouth magazine noted, “In the mid-1990s President Bill Clinton asked him to advise Russia on transitioning to a free-market economy. (During his three years in Moscow, Beutner met with both Yeltsin and Putin.)”

After recovering from a serious biking accident, Beutner started looking for new challenges outside the banking industry. In 2009, LA’s economy was in the tank, companies were leaving town and business insiders were not happy with Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa’s “feckless response.” Former mayor and billionaire, Richard Riordan, hosted a breakfast for city movers and shakers to discuss the issue. In a 2011 puff piece about Beutner, Gabriel Kahn of Los Angeles Magazine provided a description of the event:

“Riordan wanted to bring together some of the most prominent people in L.A. to see what could be done. Among those attending were Michael Milken, Eli Broad, and Disney senior executive Jay Rasulo, along with [George] Kieffer [from the LA law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips], City National Bank chairman Russell Goldsmith, and Jay Carson, who was chief deputy mayor at the time. Beutner also had a seat, though few of the guests knew him well. One after the other they rattled off ways to address L.A.’s most glaring problems: slash the lengthy business permitting process, do away with arcane business taxes, tackle runaway pension costs. Then Beutner spoke up. The proposals were all fine, he said, but until a person inside city hall is charged with implementing them, nothing would change. Those present took notice.”

Villaraigosa appointed Beutner to a new position he created, Deputy Mayor. He was given an extensive portfolio of responsibilities. Kahn wrote, “Beutner, who had decades of experience in investment banking but none in local government, was granted oversight of 12 city agencies, from the Port of Los Angeles to the Housing Authority.” He was the supervisor of 17,000 city employees.

Kahn ended his LA Magazine article with:

“No matter what happens, Villaraigosa says he wants someone doing Beutner’s job. After all, someone’s got to run the city.”

In February 2016, the San Diego Reader reported,

“Last May, when Chicago-based Tribune Publishing bought the San Diego Union-Tribune from developer Douglas Manchester, Austin Beutner seemed poised to take the city by storm. Appointed publisher of both the U-T and the Los Angeles Times, the former Wall Street wheeler-dealer and Democratic ex-deputy mayor of L.A. and friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton pledged to make over failing newspaper models and personally oversee everything from interviews with governor Jerry Brown to daily editorials.

 “Then Beutner was suddenly gone, dumped in September by Tribune after a reportedly failed attempt by his onetime associate, Democratic billionaire Eli Broad, to buy out the Times and U-T as part of Broad’s effort to build a personal Southern California newspaper empire.”

No training or experience in education but lots of money and connections. Isn’t this the requirement for top management positions in banana republics?

Andres Alonso

This finalist was the Superintendent of education in Baltimore, Maryland for six years. He resigned in 2013. Before Baltimore, he was chief of staff and then deputy chancellor for Teaching and learning during the first phase of New York’s Children First reforms. [Update: A reliable source says Alonso actually had no supervisory authority in NY. The information cited is from his Harvard biography.]

In his doctoral thesis Danial Voloch studied the Children First reform. He begins,

“During the first decade of the 21st century, Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg oversaw a radical transformation of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) into a portfolio management district in which the primary responsibility of the NYCDOE was not to develop the capacity of school leaders or teachers, but instead to create a marketplace through which strong schools could be created and failing schools could be closed.” (emphasis added)

Alonso was an early practitioner of the DPE favored portfolio management theory with its associated churn and disruption.

Upon his resignation the Baltimore Sun wrote of Alonso’s performance:

“Under Alonso’s leadership, city schools saw growth in test scores, graduation rates and enrollment, but his administration was dogged by fiscal problems and cheating scandals.

 “The first half of his tenure was marked by a series of reforms: closing more than one dozen failing schools and programs and creating several others that have thrived; decentralizing the system by cutting the headquarters staff by more than half; giving principals power over budget decisions; creating choice for city families, and competition among middle and high schools; and signing a landmark pay-for-performance teachers’ union contract that was hailed as a model in the nation. (emphasis added)

 “Test scores stalled, and a series of cheating scandals — found by the state to have taken place during the year the district’s progress was most celebrated — cast a cloud over the success story.

 Since leaving Baltimore, Alonso has been teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He does have extensive experience and training, but his philosophy of education leadership is deeply flawed.

Vivian Ekchian

Her LAUSD biography informs us that Ms. Ekchian is a 32-year veteran of L.A. Unified and has served in a variety of roles: teacher assistant, classroom teacher, principal, director of instruction, chief of staff to the superintendent of schools, chief human resources officer, chief labor negotiator, local district superintendent, associate superintendent, and acting superintendent. In January, LAUSD Board of Education voted unanimously to appoint Ms. Ekchian as interim superintendent.

She was awarded a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from California State University, Northridge, as well as a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of California, Los Angeles. Currently, Ekchian is working toward a doctorate in educational leadership through the University of Southern California.

She is a naturalized Armenian-American born in Iran to Armenian parents. Ekchian was raised and educated in Heidelberg, Germany so she naturally understands the challenges facing students with diverse backgrounds.

Of the four finalists for the position, Ekchian is the most experienced and most committed to seeing LAUSD succeed at its mission to maintain high-quality professionally run public schools in every neighborhood. Unfortunately, the new LAUSD board appears committed to the DPE path.

Who Does the LAUSD Board Represent?

It is widely acknowledged that the last LAUSD board election was the most expensive school board election in history. The spending by the DPE movement was approximately double that of the teacher’s unions. However, this is misleading.

Over 7,000 teachers voluntarily contributed and average of $9.50 a month for a total of $67,000 starting in January 2017. By the election in May, those 7,000 people had contributed over $300,000. On February 22, 2017, the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg contributed $500,000.

Broad Hastings Cartoon Coopmike48

Graphic Courtesy of the Big Education Ape

Howard Blume and Ben Poston wrote a post-election piece describing the sources the money spent on the election. They said,

“It’s an oversimplification to say the outcome was all about money, but charters spent more ($9.7 million compared with $5.2 million), and their candidates finished first in both races on Tuesday’s ballot.”

 “Based on spending since the March primary, pro-charter outside groups and individuals spent $144 for every vote cast for one of the charter-endorsed candidates. Unions spent $81 for every vote received by teachers union-backed candidates.”

 “More information will be revealed with ongoing disclosure filings, but Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix and a Democrat, appears to lead the pack with nearly $7 million donated since last September to California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates. Hastings, like others, does not appear in city filings as a contributor because he gave to the charter association. That association then spent money on the campaign or transferred funds to other pro-charter groups.”

 “How easy is it to figure out the source of the money in the school board races?

 “Not very. California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, for example, files with state regulators, not the city, and the state requires only a semi-annual report. It won’t be possible to look up who gave in the five months leading up to the May 16 election until sometime after June.”

Major contributors are required to file their contributions with the State of California. The following table is of contributions in 2017, most of which came in before May.

Spending Table

Data on Campaign Giving by Major Donors in 2017

CCSA Advocates is an independent expenditure committee associated with the California Charter Schools Association. Ref Rodriquez, who is charged with campaign finance and charter school money fraud, is the forth vote for the DPE side. Marshal Tuck is the DPE backed candidate for state superintendent of instruction. Kellen Gonez and Nick Melvoin were just elected to the LAUSD board. Much of the independent expenditure money went to them. Ed Voice, Ed Voice for Kids and LA Students are all independent expenditure committees supporting the DPE movement. LA Students is Richard Riordan’s independent expenditure committee. It has nothing to do with students.

Melvoin and Gonez claim they are not ruled by these big money spenders. Their vote for the next LAUSD superintendent will be telling.

A Rotten Peach Poisoning Atlanta Public Schools

17 Apr

Sadly, the Atlantic Public Schools (APS) are careening from one destructive tragedy to the next. On the heels of the great cheating scandal of 2009, APS hired a leader of the destroy public education (DPE) movement as schools’ chief. Her “district turnaround” model includes making APS an all charter system.

Somehow, I got included in an email conversation between Ed Johnson, well-known education activist from Atlanta, Georgia, and a group of professors who study education issues. Mr. Johnson who ran for the Atlanta school board and has had opinion pieces published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, shared data from the just released NEAP testing. He provided eight graphs supporting the following conclusions:

“This preliminary look at APS offers the immediate data story that, in recent years, APS White-Black academic gaps have been made worse.  It is the same data story the Georgia Milestones Assessment System also tells; details differ, of course.  So-called school transformation, school turnaround, school reform, school choice, and closing public schools and opening charter schools must be considered negative contributing factors, as they promote bold, disruptive change; scripted teaching; instruction delivery; personalized mechanistic learning; and rigid academic performance.  These matters are contrary to purposeful, systemic improvement of APS as a public institution or public good.”

I assume Mr. Johnson wound not mind sharing his statement from a private email. He clearly would like this story to be disseminated. On the other hand, I will share non-public statements for the professionals but not their names.

Professor A replied, “Atlanta has a superintendent who favors charters, TFA, Relay ‘Graduate School of Education,’ and all things Reformy. Austin was very happy to get her out.”

Professor B retorted, “Castarphen is a nightmare.”

Professor A responded, “I agree.”

A professional from Georgia noted,

“Yes indeed. She’s all the reform titans’ poster super— and having been in Atlanta a few years now she is very likely to move onto somewhere bigger and for a bigger paycheck soon. Consider yourself warned other major American cities.”

Meria Joel Castarphen

Carstarphan and her father

Picture from the Saporta Report

Carstarphen was born and raised in Selma, Alabama. Her mother was an educator who spent 30 years in the classroom. In addition to her mother, Meria was raised by her father, Joseph, along with three sisters. Bearing a light complexion and a magnetic smile, this articulate black woman radiates natural appeal.

She attended Tulane University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish. Upon graduation in 1992, she returned to Selma to teach middle school Spanish. After four years in the classroom, it was off to Harvard. In 2002, Harvard University Graduate School of Education awarded her a Doctor of Education in Administration, Planning and Social Policy Concentration in Urban Superintendency [I guess that is a word at Harvard].

Carstarphen’s career flourished, going to Columbus, Ohio in 1999 as Special Assistant to the Superintendent. In 2003, it was Kingsport, Tennessee to be Executive Director for comprehensive school improvement and accountability. Then, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) hired her to be their first ever, Chief Accountability Officer in 2004.

By 2006, the Washington Times reported, “The D.C. public school system’s $170,000 per-year chief accountability officer is scheduled to interview for a job with another school district today, less than 18 months after filling the newly created D.C. position.” The second highest paid employee at DCPS was headed for Saint Paul, Minnesota to be the boss.

Carstarphen the Bully Arrived in Saint Paul

Doug Belden of the Pioneer Press published a postmortem article called “Critics of Meria Carstarphen speak, hoping debate influences who succeeds her at helm of St. Paul schools.” Belden wrote of an interview with a local long-serving St. Paul Public Schools administrator:

“Mary Chorewycz says she used to tell people she wished Carstarphen had been a principal before becoming a superintendent, so she would have had the experience of not just coming up with a plan but also of working with people to get it enacted.

‘”If you verbally abuse those that must carry through that plan, it really diminishes the amount that is accomplished,’ said Chorewycz, former executive director of research and development, who left in 2007.”

 “One of the last straws for her, she said, was when Carstarphen came in one morning and harangued the group of nearly 20 senior leaders for about 40 minutes, telling them in a raised voice how incompetent they were.”

 “Chorewycz, an administrator in St. Paul schools for more than 30 years, said no superintendent in her experience “has prevented or inhibited so much through disrespect of people and ideas.”

During the three years from Carstarphen’s arrival in 2006, more than half of St. Paul’s top administrators left. Belden reported that the ranks of senior administration expanded, leading to a 20 percent increase in total administration salaries.

The Pioneer Press article quoted the district’s former Executive Director of Facilities, Patrick Quinn, “Meria’s confrontational style has rendered the administrative work environment toxic.”

Austin, Texas Hired a “Reformer”

To be fair, Carstarphen took on a difficult situation to become the superintendent of Austin Independent School District (AISD). Unfortunately, she used Austin’s financial issues to advance a DPE agenda. The Austin Statesman reported,

“Carstarphen has guided the district through difficult budget years. She and her administrative team inherited a $15 million shortfall in 2009-10 and closed that gap within one year, presenting a balanced 2010-11 budget. That same year, Carstarphen pushed the district to declare financial exigency — a state of fiscal emergency that would give the district greater leeway in terminating employees, including those with current contracts. The board balked at the idea, but less than two years later, in February 2011, followed her recommendation, which made way to ax more than 1,100 positions.” (emphasis added)

The “greater leeway in terminating employees” is a repeating theme for Carstarphen. Getting out from under state education law and gutting teachers’ rights are key levers in DPE aligned “reform.”

In 2011, Carstarphen ignored mandates to consult with the teachers union over school “turnarounds” and signed an agreement to turn the operation of Allan Elementary School and Eastside Memorial High School over to IDEA charter schools. Eastside Memorial High School had struggled for more than a decade to meet the standardized testing benchmarks set by the state of Texas and NCLB. Previously it was the first school in Texas shut down, reorganized and reopened under a new name. Allan Elementary  met the Texas benchmarks but this school in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood was also targeted for charter management.

The community near these schools fought back as reported in the Austin Statesman:

“The school board approved the partnership with what critics say was little discussion, prompting a backlash from students, parents and residents who protested outside the board room and marched in the streets. The charter operator also moved into Allan Elementary in the fall of 2012; 85 percent of students transferred out.”

Vincent Tovar a parent whose wife teaches in AISD, laid out a timeline of the IDEA debacle in his blog “Walter Crunkite.” The first entry says,

“November 3, 2011: First Community Meeting at Martin Middle School.  Tom Torkelson, CEO of IDEA, responds to an Eastside Memorial student’s question about Special Education.  Torkelson states that he doesn’t believe in dyslexia.  “Dys-teach-ia” is the problem.”

A group of education activists from Tennessee, SOCM, also produced a lengthy document about the IDEA opposition. They said,

“During the forums, it soon became amply clear that IDEA’s “direct teaching” curriculum consisted of little more than constant preparation for standardized tests with the students endlessly parroting answers to questions anticipated to be on the state’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). IDEA later even admitted that its students in the Rio Grande Valley wore uniforms which were color-coded, not on the basis of grade or age, but on standardized test-score achievement, thus insuring the humiliation of older siblings by their more test-savvy younger brothers and sisters attending the same school!”

A researcher from Penn State University, Dr. Ed Fuller, produced a study that severely undermined the claims that IDEA charter schools were producing miraculous education outcomes.

In the November 2012 elections, three board members were replaced. In December, the new board cancelled the IDEA contract but Eastside – because of NCLB and Texas law – required a turnaround plan. The following month, Carstarphen indicated that the district did not have time to create an in-house plan, so a new private operator would be needed.

In 2014, the official annual board review of the superintendent praised Carstarphen for some work but criticized her relationships with community and staff. They did not offer a contract extension.

Vincent Tovar said, “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving.”

Austin Turned Against IDEA

Picture from SOCM Documentation of Austin Community Meeting, 2011

Hardcore DPE Style Reform Heads to Atlanta

Mark Niesse reporting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lead his Carstarphen story with “The probable next superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools is coming off a controversial tenure in Austin, Texas, where public ire over budget cuts and a school closing rose as much as the improved graduation rates and finances.”

Carstarphen found a perfect home. Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, is a DPE campaigner. His education agenda pushes the non-democratic takeover of public schools and supports privatizing them.

Carstarphen again encountered difficulties with her new employees. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported,

“The lawsuit, first filed in late 2015, contends the school district “has been attempting to replace experienced, higher-paid teachers with relatively inexperienced teachers at entry level salaries” since Carstarphen took over the top post in July of 2014.

 “The plaintiffs allege in court documents that the school district conducted investigations, or “witch-hunts,” against long-serving teachers.”

Another Journal-Constitution report says,

‘“After the big cheating scandal they brought in someone and basically her philosophy was, I’m going to change the culture of APS,’ said Lori Hamilton, an attorney representing the teachers. ‘And that meant out with the old.”’

 “In a separate pending lawsuit, another group of former Atlanta educators is suing the school district in connection with the decision to hire charter school groups to manage several low-performing schools.”

Atlanta magazine ran a sponsored article from the Atlanta Public Schools called “Atlanta Public Schools embarks on another full year of its journey of transformation.” The article states,

“As it moves into the 2017-2018 school year, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) continues a journey of transformation that creates choice-filled lives for each and every child in Atlanta.”

 “APS is in its second year as a Charter District, … A hallmark of the APS Charter System Plan is the implementation of signature programming for each school cluster, including International Baccalaureate, STEM, or College and Career Preparatory.”

 “In addition to the district’s core academic curriculum, APS’ Social Emotional Learning efforts … now span the district.”

Not only does APS now embrace DPE-inspired frauds, like STEM and SEL, it openly partners on the district web site with some of the most virulent promoters of privatizing America’s schools. There is a notice titled “Walton Family Foundation to Support Atlanta Public Schools Turnaround Efforts; $2.1 million investment will also expand access to student and school performance data.” The message from the Waltons says,

“We commend Superintendent Carstarphen and APS leadership for taking bold steps to improve schools in Atlanta, and know that students, parents, and educators will all benefit from these initiatives,” said Marc Sternberg, K-12 Education Director at the foundation. “Children win when parents have the opportunity to choose a great school from multiple high-quality options, and cities win when high-quality schools can grow to serve all students.”

The APS web site describes a charter district and provides a link to a PowerPoint presentation promoting it. APS officially writes,

“A charter system is a school district that operates under a performance-based contract between the local board and the state board of education. Under the Charter System, Atlanta Public Schools would gain freedom and flexibility from many state education laws and regulations in exchange for increased accountability for student achievement. A key element to charter system is moving decision making closer to where learning takes place. That means leaving decisions to the school system and to the schools within the system. It also means involving more people in the decision making process.”

Fight for High Quality Public Schools in Every Neighborhood

Atlanta, Georgia, is losing its neighborhood public schools run by elected school boards, just like Washington DC, Denver, Oakland and Indianapolis. Many American urban areas are headed in the same direction. New Orleans has already lost nearly all its public schools.

This is a tragedy. A 200-year legacy of quality public schools in every American community and neighborhood is being stolen from the people. The result will be horrible. Government spending on education further reduced and people with children paying out of pocket for competent schools. The unifying aspect of public education will be sundered.

There is a point of view that says, “The top priority of government is education.” Today, wealthy elites for reasons of personal religious view; out of control hubris; and economic greed are stealing this gift inherited from our forefathers.

“We are many, they are few.” People have the power and it is time to use it to end this mindless destruction of our free high-quality and professionally run universal public education system.

Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish

28 Mar

By T. Ultican 3/28/2018

These are interesting times in Oakland, California. The public-school system is again teetering on the edge of financial collapse. The Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement has succeeded in privatizing more than a quarter of the district and has fomented financial turmoil. Concurrently, a dynamic young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammell, has been selected as the new Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). On that news, Oakland Magazine’s headline blared, “Finally Some Stability.”

Mike Hutchinson, an education activist from Oakland, told Capital & Main, that districts like OUSD are being used as a kind of policy Petri dish by charter supporters. It is how they are refining takeover strategies outlined for Los Angeles by the Broad charter expansion plan.

In the Capital & Main article author Bill Raden quoted Hutchinson,

‘“A lot of these policies were first tried out in Oakland,’ he said. ‘If you go back and look at the Eli Broad handbook on school closures, a lot of the source information that they used for that report is from Oakland. Because they used Oakland to experiment for a lot of these things.”’

It was Oakland’s famous mayor, Democrat Jerry Brown along with fellow Democrat Don Perata, who ignited the destroy public education (DPE) movement in Oakland.

Creating Economic Chaos to Privatize Schools

By 2003, OUSD Superintendent, Dennis Chaconas, succeeded in significantly improving many facets of the school district. Academic performance on state testing was up. The long overdue 24% pay raises that he and the board gave teachers in 2000 had halted the debilitatingly high teacher turnover rates.

However, as New York Times’s Dean Murphy reported:

“That Mr. Chaconas made enemies during his tenure as superintendent is not in dispute. Though he attended Oakland schools and taught here as well, from the very beginning he was considered a political outsider. The school board gave him the job in 2000 over the objection of Mayor Jerry Brown, who has made school reform a pillar of his term and who had pushed a City Hall official for the superintendent’s post.

“Mr. Chaconas acknowledges that as he focused on academics he paid too little attention to finances. Not enough money was allocated to pay for the raises for teachers, and the district did not count on a drop in state money because of its declining enrollment. Those and other problems went undetected, officials said, because of antiquated computer and bookkeeping systems.(emphasis added)

Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings noted,

“At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell [Democrat] and influential State Senator Don Perata [Democrat] were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.”

“OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.”

 “The loan from the state was spent by the state – with no outside oversight. The state administrator, a trainee of the Broad Foundation, spent the money as he saw fit.”

 “No audits were conducted for six years.”

It appears Chaconas realized that the OUSD accounting system was dated and needed modernizing. The conservative publication EducationNext said that in 2003 “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.

Like the Republican politicians in Detroit, Democratic politicians in California pushed OUSD into financial disarray. And like Detroit, Oakland’s financial issues were driven by declining enrollment stemming from the same drivers; school privatization, gentrification and suburban development.

One of the new privatized schools undermining OUSD’s financial health was founded by Mayor Jerry Brown. It is called the Oakland Military Institute (OMI). The OMI web-site relates this telling history:

“OMI was founded in 2001 after a hard-fought two-year campaign led by then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Governor Gray Davis [Democrat] helped secure the charter after local school boards rejected it. It was the first charter ever sponsored by the state, the first public military school and the first school sponsored by the National Guard.”

The elitist push to place military schools and no excuses charter schools like the KIPP franchise in minority neighborhoods is propelled by bigotry. The elites are implicitly saying “those people’s kids are not raised right and must be fixed.”

Politically and financially weak neighborhoods are easy targets for plunder.

Plenty of Uncle Tom’s and Stepin Fetchit’s to Carry the Billionaire’s Water

The Broadies of Oakland

Oakland School Superintendents Trained at the Unaccredited Broad Academy, Pictures from Broad Academy Bios

Since California took over OUSD, the district superintendent position has been a revolving door. The Black Organizing Project, took a strong position on the recent OUSD superintendent search. Attributing even greater significance to this latest selection because of the instability in the office of superintendent, they noted:

“… 9 superintendents in the last 16 years. …. It means for the last 16 years OUSD has not had a dedicated superintendent who is truly invested in the improvement and empowerment of Oakland youth, or creating healthy, supportive school climates.”

In 2003, the state of California took over OUSD and installed Randolph Ward, a recent graduate of the Broad academy, as superintendent.

The Broad Academy is an unaccredited administration training program for school leaders run by the Broad Foundation. Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said, “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.

Broad’s theory is that public school administrators and elected school boards lack the financial background to run large organizations. Rich’s Times article explained, ‘“The new academy,’ he said, would ‘dramatically change this equation’ by seeking candidates in educational circles as well as recruiting from corporate backgrounds and the military, introducing management concepts borrowed from business.

Chief school administrators trained at the Broad academy have a record of district disruption and fiscal mismanagement. John Deasy from the Broad class of 2006 was a disaster in LA. Jean-Claude Brizard from the Broad class of 2007 lasted just 17 months in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported, “The board gave Brizard low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district.” There is a long list of Broad trained failures and these harm people’s children.

Motoko Rich reportedDuring his time here, Mr. Ward opened two dozen small schools but also closed 14 schools. New charter schools were also opening, cutting into enrollment at district schools.” When Ward arrived in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.

Ward moved on to become the superintendent of San Diego County Schools. Wards tenure in San Diego did not end well. The San Diego Reader reported, “Six months after San Diego County Office of Education superintendent Randolph Ward resigned amid allegations of fraud and mismanagement, turmoil at the office continues.

Ward was succeeded in Oakland by his Broad Academy classmate, Kimberly A. Statham. Statham was elevated to superintendent for the remainder of the school year. She resigned at the end of the 2006-2007 school year to go to work for the new Superintendent of the Washington DC schools, Michelle Rhee.

Statham had come to Oakland from Baltimore with some baggage. The Baltimore Sun series “Where are They Now,”  announced, “Today’s installment features Kimberly A. Statham, the former chief academic officer for Howard County Schools who resigned following allegations of a grade changing scandal involving her daughter.

In Washington DC, Statham was actually hired by Deborah A. Gist. Gist said she was aware of the grade changing scandal. The sun article shared, ‘“We discussed it really briefly,’ Gist said. ‘It seems clear that it was an unfortunate situation, and that Kimberly had done the right thing, and that she did not do anything that would concern me at all.”’

Today, Statham is the Deputy Superintendent of Montgomery County public schools and her friend Gist is the Broad trained administrator tormenting Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Statham was followed in Oakland by a third straight Broad graduate, Vincent Mathews a 2006 Broad graduate along with classmate John Deasy. Matthews oversaw district operations as state administrator from 2007 to 2009. By the time Mathews departed there were 32 district charters and one county authorized charter for a total of 33 charters.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that in 2001, Mathews was the principal of the for profit Edison School in San Francisco where he was accused of falsifying grades and pushing out low performing black students.

Mathews was the last state appointed superintendent in Oakland. He left Oakland in 2009 to be an Area Superintendent for San Diego Unified School District. Today, he is the superintendent of schools in San Francisco.

It was five years before the OUSD board – influenced significantly by big money – hired another Broad graduate, Antwan Wilson; class of 2014. Wilson came to Oakland from Denver where he served under Broad class of 2009 graduate Tom Boasberg.

After two and a half years on the job, Wilson left Oakland to be superintendent of schools in the nation’s capital. Soon after Wilson left Oakland, huge budget problems were discovered causing the school board to immediately order more than $15 million in mid-year budget cuts. When Wilson left there were 40 charter schools serving more than 25% of the students.

In an article detailing some of the mismanagement and greed in Oakland, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported:

“Wilson brought in dozens of executive staff members from outside the Oakland district, creating new positions and departments that were not budgeted, and paying more than was customary in the district, …. In 2013, before Wilson arrived in Oakland, only four administrators earned more than $200,000; two years later, at least 26 did, ….”

Wilson pushed hard to create a unified enrollment system in Oakland, which is the big goal of charter school advocates. It gives them an appearance of legitimacy and opens up more sales opportunities. Motoko Rich reported, “Mr. Wilson says that a single application form, where parents rank their choices among all schools and students are assigned through a computer algorithm, will reduce the ability of well-connected parents to place their children in the most desirable schools and force charters to be more open about how they admit students.” (emphasis added)

Wilson has already resigned in disgrace from his Washington DC position. The Washington Times notice of his demise led with “D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned Tuesday amid a scandal over receiving preferential treatment in the transfer of his daughter to a school outside her district in violation of a policy he had written himself.

The DPE Strategy of Leveraging National Dollars with Local Dollars to Privatize Schools

Recently deceased T. Gary Rogers was the chairman and CEO of Oakland-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Inc., for 30 years. He also served as a former chairman of Safeway Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Levi Strauss & Co. The Roger Family Foundation he started with his wife Kathleen is a key local organizer pushing the Billionaire agenda of privatizing schools and promoting children being educated at computer screens. The foundation states:

“Today, Oakland’s local education ecosystem is in a much better place. The local charter sector continues to thrive, …. Agents for change have also taken root and sprouted. GO Public Schools Oakland, for example, has grown in its role in organizing, mobilizing, advocating, and engaging the community in local education governance and policy. …. The emergence of both the Oakland Public Education Fund (Ed Fund) and Educate78 have also added strong leadership and expanded the capacity of the local education ecosystem. The Oakland Ed Fund has emerged as the city’s trusted, go-to fiscal partner and funder convener, incubating nearly every significant education reform initiative supporting Oakland’s PK-12 system, including the Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenge in Oakland initiative.”

Education Cities, the soon to be replaced national organization for destroying public education, lists as its partner in Oakland, Go Public Schools Oakland. Go is a 501 C3 charity that funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. Great Oakland Public Schools is Go’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501c4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.

The Rogers Foundation describes Education 78,

“Founded in 2015 as a spinoff from the NewSchools Venture Fund, Educate78 exists to ensure that every student, in all 78 square miles of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. Educate 78 serves as a critical partner through their informed giving for quality schools development and in operating a school design lab, which provides tools, technical assistance, training, and coaching to both new charter school developers as well as district redesign teams.” 

The Ed Fund is a big 501 C3 foundation that that takes in large amounts of cash from mainly bay area billionaires and foundations then makes the money available to the privatization agenda. The Next Generation Learning Challenge is a Bill Gates sponsored initiative to promote the sale of technology into public education. It specifically promotes “blended learning” and “personalized learning.”

Many charter schools in Oakland are using children as guinea pigs for computer based learning strategies like “personalized learning,” which is truly an Orwellian moniker. The following chart lists foundation spending on this agenda (mostly in Oakland) in 2013.

2013 Sending to Promote Technoloty

Foundation spending on “Personalized” and “Blended” leaning in 2013

There is a New Sheriff in Town

A constant theme promoted by the DPE movement is “every student deserves a high-quality school.” When you hear a billionaire or one of his minions say this, you and your community are targets and your about to be fleeced.

The United States developed a unique education system that was the envy of the world and the great foundation upon which our democratic experiment in self-governance was established. Over two centuries, we developed a system in which every community had a public school.

These schools had professionals who earned their positions by completing training at accredited institutions. Government rules and oversight insured that school facilities were safe, and the background of all educators was investigated. In urban areas like Oakland there was a professionally run public school in every neighborhood.

Could it have been improved? Of course, and that is exactly what was happening before the last two decades of deceitful attacks on public education and professional educators.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell Photo

Johnson-Trammell has overseen OUSD since July 1, 2017

Oakland magazine reported,

“After a superintendent brought in from the outside left the Oakland Unified School District in debt and disarray, a coalition of angry parents, teachers, and community organizers demanded that the school board appoint an executive with strong local ties. This spring, the board responded by hiring Kyla Johnson-Trammell as the district’s new schools’ chief. She officially took command of the 37,000-student district on July 1.”

 “Johnson-Trammell initially was not even one of the four finalists for the superintendent’s job, according to a coalition of interest groups that claims credit for raising such a ruckus that the Oakland school board changed gears and tapped Johnson-Trammell for the job.”

This is good sign. The billionaires were not able to pick another Broadie because the community was done with being abused. I hope the Oakland community rallies around this bright young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammel, and shows the rest of California how to defeat the DPE movement. Let us once again have a professionally managed quality public school in every Oakland neighborhood.

Indiana’s Destroy Public Education Leader is Going National

19 Mar

Last week, a press release from The Mind Trust announced that founder and CEO, David Harris was leaving. Writing for Chalkbeat, Dillon Peers McCoy reported:

“Now, Harris is moving on from the city he helped shape to the national stage, although he still plans to live in Indianapolis. The national group is in the early stages of development, said Harris, who declined to provide more details about his co-founders or their plans. A release from The Mind Trust said the new organization aims to “help cities around the country build the right conditions for education change.”

Not the First Attempt to Go National

This is at least the third attempt Harris has made to take his brand to a national scale. In 2011, Ethan Gray then Vice-President of The Mind Trust became the founder and CEO of CEE-Trust. David Harris was on the Board. In the CEE-Trust’s earliest available web-page it states:

“CEE-Trust is led by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based non-profit that supports education innovation and reform.”

 “CEE-Trust is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Joyce Foundation. CEE-Trust is also grateful for the past support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.”

CEE-Trust ran into rejection and legal malfeasance accusations in Kansas City. Chalkbeat reporter Matt Barnum says of the episode, “In 2013, a plan to reshape Kansas City’s schools was essentially run out of town.” Soon after that, CEE-Trust was renamed Education Cities.

In 2015, Harris motivated the establishment of a Mind Trust clone in Cincinnati, called Accelerate Great Schools. Doug Martin, the author of Hoosier School Heist, reports that “Patrick Herrel, a former Teach for America recruiter and past vice president of recruitment for The Mind Trust, was picked by the corporate powers-that-be in 2015 to lead the Accelerate Great Schools.”

Gayle Crosby, a recent Indiana Public Schools board member, shared that in less than two years (January 2017) Herrel was back in Indianapolis:

“This month the brand new IPS board saw it fit to appoint Patrick Herrel to be the Director of Student Enrollment and Options.”

“Patrick left the Mind Trust and Indianapolis to be the Director of the Mind Trust #2 in Cincinnati.  Now he is back to run Student Enrollment and Options at IPS.  And he doesn’t come cheap:” $110,000 per year.

Who is Behind the New National Organization and Why Harris?

Harris is a lawyer and a political operative, not an educator. He never studied education nor has he ever spent meaningful time in front of a classroom and it seems he never attended public school. He does not understand education but he does understand the use of political power. He has a demonstrated ability to advocate, organize and use the levers of government. He is in possession of an innate wisdom; unfortunately, it is an evil wisdom.

His Mind Trust Bio tells us that he was a 27-year-old lawyer working at the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels when he joined Democrat Bart Peterson’s campaign for mayor to be his “education guy.” He spent five years as Mayor Peterson’s Charter Schools Director.

All of the news accounts about Harris leaving Mind Trust repeat this same talking point from the Mind Trust news release, “The Mind Trust also has recruited top national organizations such as Teach For America, TNTP and Stand for Children to Indianapolis.”

TNTP was called The New Teachers Project when Michelle Rhee used it to gain a national reputation by bashing teachers. TNTP and Teach For America (TFA) were founded by Wendy Kopp whose husband, Richard Barth, is CEO of the KIPP charter school chain. Without the generous funding by Gap founder Doris Fisher, KIPP would be unknown. TNTP and TFA only exist because of massive funding by Dell, Broad, Arnold, Gates, and Walton. Stand for Children is little more than a dark money conduit for the billionaire dollars flowing into the destroy public education (DPE) movement’s political campaigns.

Intellectually, these organizations are lightweights when it comes to education leadership and pedagogy. However, they have become the billionaire’s school privatization army. Many TFA members spend their two years in a classroom; then became a well-financed charter school founder or a teacher trainer at TNTP or a well-funded school board candidate.

If Harris knew anything about education, he would have never shunned the departments of education at the University of Indiana or Indiana State University or Purdue University. He would not have turned to TNTP to train school leaders. He would have never recruited TFA teachers with no education studies, no experience and five weeks of training. Obviously, improved education was not the goal.

Now that Harris is stepping down at The Mind Trust, he is being replaced by TFA alum, Brandon Brown.

David Harris and Brandon Brown

Photo from Chalkbeat of Brandon Brown (left) and David Harris (right) by Dylan Peers McCoy.

Lately, things have been really good at The Mind Trust. Last April (2017) Lindsey Erdody writing for the Indiana Business Journal said, “Mind Trust [is] drawing big dollars from national donors.” Lindsey quotes David Harris,

“I think we have recognized in the last year or so the significant national interest in supporting the work that’s happening here,” CEO David Harris said. “I don’t want to suggest we haven’t gotten any national funding before, but the big funding is really coming in now.” (emphasis added)

Erdody continued:

“Since 2015, The Mind Trust has raised $31 million, with sizable donations from national entities, including the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation and Austin, Texas-based Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.”

However, the biggest donation comes from Mr. Enron, John Arnold – $11.1 million. Erdody quotes Arnold,

 ‘“If Indianapolis is successful in doubling the number of kids that are attending high-quality schools, it will be one of the best investments that the Arnold Foundation has made,’ Arnold said in the video. ‘Indianapolis has this great chance and opportunity to show the nation what can be done.”’

I wrote a post about The Mind Trust in January. In it I shared the following table of grants supporting Harris’s organization.

Lilly Endowment

2014 Mind Trust $4,929,000

2015 Mind Trust $18,000

2016 Mind Trust $7,170,000

Total $12, 117,000

{Big Pharma Money}

Gates Foundation

The Mind Trust

Oct. 2012 – $1,420,000

Aug. 2011 $539,334

Total $1,959,334

{Microsoft Money}

 

Walton Family Foundation

2013 Mind Trust $23,000

2014 Mind Trust $650,000

2015 Mind Trust $1,200,000

Total $1,873,000

{Walmart Money}

 

Arnold Fund

The Mind Trust $11,075,000

{Enron Money}

 There is no official word about the new national organization’s co-founders, but it is nearly certain that Gates, Walton, Dell and Arnold will be involved.

The advent of this new organization must mean that the billionaire education privatizers are not happy with the results so far. Education Cities is just not getting it done. The billionaires want Harris to take the lead and not one of his lieutenants. Since, he is already making $300,000 a year at The Mind Trust, I can’t wait to see how much this new organization is going to pay him.

The David Harris Reform Agenda

Harris will use legislative initiatives and big money to undermine democratic control of schools and teachers’ unions. He will claim that laws protecting teachers and students are interfering with the ability to improve schools. He will push the “reformer” lie that public schools are failing. He will claim that this privatization agenda is only motivated by the conviction that “every child deserves a great school.”

Jim Scheurich, Professor IUPUI School of Education recently wrote an article he called, “Business is a Horrible Model for Education and ‘Educational Reform.”’ In it he states,

“This Big Money, working through the Mind Trust network, put up the money to get all of the current school board members elected. To do this, while it used to take $3-5,000 to run successfully for the school board, it now take $50-80,000. Thus, the Mind Trust network and the Big Money behind it made it nearly impossible for ordinary local people to run for the school board, and thus they bought the current school board.”

Denisa R. Superville writing in EdWeek about Harris’s resignation reports,

“The Mind Trust was a supporter of a 2014 state law that allowed Indianapolis to create ‘Innovation Network Schools’—schools that were freed from some of the restrictions on traditional public schools, including giving those schools full operational autonomy.  While the Innovation Network Schools remain part of the Indianapolis district, their teachers are not covered by the district’s collective bargaining agreement. 

In conjunction with the city and the school district, The Mind Trust launched the Innovation Network Fellowship to help school leaders refine their designs for new schools or to restart struggling ones. The group has helped to support 17 such schools.

Innovation schools are an agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Their web site summarizes the proposal:

“The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act creates a mechanism for schools, groups of schools, and districts to adopt plans that try new ways of delivering instruction and/or allocating resources. It creates a new classification of school districts, “Districts of Innovation,” that have one or more schools implementing these plans. Districts of innovation are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” (like honoring union contracts)

David Osborne reporting for the neoliberal Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) was full of praise for The Mind Trust. In describing their embrace of innovation schools, he said,

“Today it is innovating again: Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is authorizing ‘innovation network schools’: district schools with performance contracts and full charter-style autonomy. Some are charters, some are startups, and some are existing IPS schools that have converted to innovation network status. All have independent boards organized as 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations; all are outside the teachers’ union contract; and all use IPS school buildings. …Though other cities have their own versions of ‘innovation schools’ or ‘pilot schools,’ only Indianapolis has given them the full autonomy and accountability charters enjoy.” (emphasis added)

Stephen Goldsmith, Professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program, wrote in Governing magazine praising The Mind Trust. He highlighted the push for “Innovation Schools” writing:

The result was the creation of what are called “Innovation Network Schools” launched by the Mind Trust. Indianapolis now has nine of these schools, with more to come, that are accountable to and part of the Indianapolis Public Schools but whose teachers and principals operate with significant entrepreneurial freedom and with an authority to mold their schools as they see fit.”

The Koch brother funded ALEC, the neoliberals at the PPI, and the neoliberals at the Harvard Kennedy School all sing from the same hymnal. They are all preaching that teachers unions are an impediment to improving education, as is democratic control of schools by local communities. David Harris and his DPE allies teach that regulations controlling schools are stopping innovation and positive school reform. They advocate creating unelected entities and giving them unfettered control of schools. The only accountability will be meeting measurable objective targets on standardized testing.

Rules setup by district and state governments responsible for schools have a purpose. They are there to protect children, teachers and taxpayers. They are there to insure competencies in hiring and curricular selection. A Voice of San Diego article highlights one example of the increased risk to students from privatized schools not required to follow district and state regulations:

“California public schools are seen nationally as the gold standard for seismic safety under an exacting law called the Field Act.”

“[N]ot all schools are subject to the rules. Preschools aren’t covered by them. Private schools are covered by a separate, slightly less demanding law, which doesn’t apply at all to older private schools. And charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, don’t fall under the Field Act unless they accept state facilities money — something that is rare here — or use district buildings.”  

Conclusion

Before David Harris came on the seen in Indianapolis, there were professionally managed high-quality public schools in every neighborhood. Parents knew that just down the block their second grader was safe and cared for by certificated trained education professionals. That is gone.

After the Harris announcement, a victim of his style of education reform, shared:

‘“I honestly think that if The Mind Trust … hadn’t been in Indianapolis over the past 10 or 11 years, that IPS would not be decimated and flailing like it is now,’ said Chrissy Smith, a parent and member of the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that is critical of the current administration. ‘We would not see innovation schools coming in. We would not see the proliferation of charter schools.”’