Tag Archives: testing

The Billionaire Financed Racist Attack on Camden’s Schools

26 Jun

By T. Ultican 6/25/2019

The rape of public education in Camden, New Jersey is a classic example of “segrenomics.” In 1997, one of the only functioning organizations in the city of Camden was the public school system. This city often labeled “the most dangerous city in America” had 19,303 students registered into Camden City School District (CCSD). Ninety-five percent of those students were either Black (56.5%) or Hispanic (38.9%). In 2018, CCSD had 6800 students registered into its public schools.

In her masterpiece Cutting School, Noliwe Rooks defined “segrenomics.” She noted that to lift all children up requires racial and economic integration and she encourages us to educate poor students with wealthy students; not falling for the separate but equal fallacy. Unfortunately, today, poor children experience a recurrent push towards vocational education. Their schools often employ “cost effective” forms of funding and delivery such as cyber schools, students at screens and blended learning.  Rooks observes,

“While not ensuring educational equality, such separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education have provided the opportunity for businesses to make a profit selling schooling. I am calling this specific form of economic profit segrenomics. Segrenomics, or the business of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation, is on the rise.”

Camden

Camden Images

Camden, New Jersey Images

When crossing the Delaware River from Philadelphia on the Ben Franklin Bridge, you arrive in Camden, New Jersey. The small city of 77,000 was incorporated in 1828. It was a prosperous manufacturing center up until the 1950’s when its population peaked at 125,000 and manufacturing jobs started leaving.

By the 1990’s corruption and violence were wracking the city. In December of 2000, Mayor Milton Milan was convicted of taking bribes. Ralph Natale the former boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey mob turned state’s evidence against Milan. The Mayor’s predecessor, Arnold Webster pleaded guilty to illegally paying himself $20,000 in school district funds after he became mayor. A former CCSD board president pled guilty to embezzling $24,000. Worst of all, homicides were becoming common.

In 2012, the Daily Mail, a publication from the United Kingdom, ran an article about Camden, “The most dangerous town in America: Inside Camden, New Jersey where 39 people have been murdered this year.” It gave these bullet points:

  • 13 homicides in July – the most deadly month since a shooting spree in 1949
  • Murder rate was ten times New York City in 2011 — and on pace to be even higher this year
  • More than half of children live below the poverty line as city is ravaged by drugs
  • Police department forced to cut one third of officers in 2011 and arrests dropped to less than half of what they were in 2009

The web site Neighborhood Scout tracks violent crime in America. They state, “Our research reveals the 100 most dangerous cities in America with 25,000 or more people, based on the number of violent crimes per 1,000 residents.” From 2012 until today, Camden has been in the top 10 most dangerous American cities.

  • 2012 – 5th place
  • 2013 – 2nd place
  • 2014 – 3rd place
  • 2015 – 1st place
  • 2016 – 2nd place
  • 2017 – 4th place
  • 2018 – 4th place
  • 2019 – 8th place

To go along with political corruption and out of control violent crime, Camden is poverty racked. New Jersey TV 13 reported,

“Camden, N.J., is the poorest city in the nation. According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 32,000 Camden residents live below the poverty line. For a family of four, the poverty line is an annual household income of about $22,000.”

The Public Schools Are Failing – Really?

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In it, he discussed the idea that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability measures were purposely designed to open a path for privatizing schools. He wrote,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’”

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

In 2006, the state of New Jersey appointed a fiscal monitor to oversee all actions taken by the CCSD board. This was motivated in part by a cheating scandal and corruption concerns. As Mark Weber who blogs as the Jersey Jazz Man wrote, “The state appoints a fiscal monitor for the Camden district after members of the Legislature are shocked — shocked, I tell you! — that a city that has been under the thumb of a political machine for years might have some corruption.”

There appears to have been two types of cheating at CCSD. In type one, certain administrators were getting bonus for improved graduation rates and in the other type teachers were being pressured to cheat on the NCLB related testing.

The big downfall of high stakes testing and merit pay is they both drive unethical behavior. It is now clear that standardized testing only measures economic status. That explains why exclusively schools in high poverty areas have been closed for poor testing results. The tests of course do not measure the quality of the closed schools; they reflected average family income.

In 2011, Camden’s testing results and graduation rates were miserable. Only 45% of the student body graduated in four years and just 60% had graduated after five years. Graduation rates of less than 50% had persisted since the 1990’s. However, there have been success stories matriculating from Camden’s schools like Tevin Wooten of the Weather Channel.

It is disingenuous to blame Camden public schools, teachers and students for these poor outcomes.

Doctor Kerry Ressler is the lead investigator of the Grady Trauma Project. He has been interviewing inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least 1 in 3 of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives — and that’s a “conservative estimate” said Dr. Ressler. He stated,

“The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans. We have a whole population who is traumatized.

Marie Corfield who is “that teacher in that Chris Christie You Tube video” interviewed Doctor Keith Benson for her blog. Benson wears many hats. He is an Adjunct Professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, President of the Camden Education Association, Education Program Specialist for CCSD, Education Chair Camden NAACP and has a decade of classroom teaching experience. In the interview, he responded to a question about teaching traumatized children,

“When you’re dealing with children who live in concentrated poverty and a lot of violence, there are a lot of residual effects. … And that’s something that’s given very little regard by ‘reformers’ but it’s a very big hurdle in the educative process between teacher and student. So a lot of what we’re doing is building up students as individuals; showing love and care. And until we do those things, teaching content is a waste of time.”

“Some of these violent occurrences are in students’ families or their social network, so they bring those stories, that pain, that hurt into the classroom. What does that do to a child’s perspective on the future when people they care about have been seriously hurt or killed or incarcerated?”

In 2011, even while the Camden police and fire departments were imploding due to Governor Chris Christie’s budget cuts, the CCSD continued to take care of and educate the children. However, the schools had no control over the violence and poverty that their students were facing. Far from being failures, they were making heroic efforts to save as many children as possible. Those are the children and communities of color that politicians in New Jersey had turned their back on.

The Billionaire Attack

In January 2010, a big fan of privatizing public education, Chris Christy, assumed the the office of New Jersey Governor. In 1999, Christy had been a lobbyist for Chris Whittle and his Edison Schools. That is when Edison Schools had their Initial Public Offering. Their claim that Christy was touting said that they could educate America’s children at a profit and do it both cheaper and better than public schools.

The Jersey Jazz Man, Mark Webber, says the takeover of Camden schools was not inevitable. He claims, “The dismantling of Camden’s public school system was planned years ago, and that plan was funded by a California billionaire with an ideological agenda.

The California billionaire is Eli Broad. To advance the cause of public school privatization, Broad founded The Broad Academy, an unaccredited administration training program.

Broad’s theory is that public school administrators and elected school boards lack the financial background to run large organizations. Motoko 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.” He believes school leaders do not need expertise in education; consultants can be hired for that.

Broad was able to place several of his trainees into New Jersey including Bing Howell and Rochelle Sinclair. Howell served as a liaison to Camden for the creation of four Urban Hope Act charter schools. He reported directly to the deputy commissioner of education, Andy Smerick. Howell’s proposal for Camden suggests that he oversee the intervention through portfolio management — providing a range of school options with the state, not the district, overseeing the options.

The Urban Hope Act is a 2012 law that created a new class of charter schools called renaissance schools. It also has a teacher professional development component. Of all the excellent graduate schools of education in the state, the Act hands over professional development to Relay Graduate School, the fake graduate school started by the charter school industry.

The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test. This model inevitably leads to an ever more privatized system that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. It was created through billionaire funding as a systematic way to remove democratic control of schools from local communities.

Governor Christie took control of Camden’s schools in March 2013. CBS News stated, “Christie says he’ll appoint a new superintendent and the state will ensure every student has books and technology.”  The state took control in June and in August, True Jersey reported,

“The city of Camden could soon be getting a new superintendent. Gov. Chris Christie announced his selection of Paymon Rouhanifard as the first State Superintendent of the Camden School District.”

At the time Rouhanifard was 32-years old. He had 2-years teaching experience as a TFA corps member and no experience leading schools. From 2009-2012, he worked for the NYC Department of Education. Mark Weber described his job,

“Rouhanifard’s job at the NYCDOE was to go around New York and close neighborhood schools so they could be replaced with charters. Obviously, this is why then-Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Christie picked him for the job: he knows how to dismantle a public school system and turn it over to privatizers.”

Rouhanifard left his superintendent’s job in 2018 to become an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Walton Family Foundation. He also completed the Broad academy administration program in 2016.

Gates, Sackler, Arnold and the Walton Family have all joined Eli Broad in financing the privatization of Camden’s schools. Gates sent $2,700,000 to 50Can and $27,000,000 to the Charter Fund which are both organizations supplying money to privatize Camden’s schools. Jonathan Sackler sent $1,050,000 to 50Can. John Arnold sent $6,189,000 to the Charter Fund, $100,000 for common enrollment in Camden and $290,000 to Teach for America in Camden. The Walton family is the Charter Funds major donor and gives direct support to the charter school management companies in Camden.

Schools Disappearing

Privatization Chart Compares 2003 Enrollment Data with 2018

What chance does a small city that is poverty stricken and dominated by minority populations have against Billionaires who are out to end their right to vote on the control of their schools? This is what segrenomics looks like.

A Wise and Witty Review of The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch

28 May

By T. Ultican 5/27/2019

Maybe not as witty and wise as I had hoped but definitely positive and impressed. I admit; I am a Diane Ravitch fan-boy and this latest release from Garn Press reinforces that posture. Diane is a warrior of ideas who has stood courageously against lavishly financed purveyors of reactionary ideologies. Billionaires are calling for the privatization of democratically run public schools in America and she won’t have it. This book is a compilation of a decade of her winning arguments that have gone far toward stemming the tide of the theft of America’s public schools. Billionaires call that “reform”.

Wisdom and Wit

The Fundamental Argument

America’s super-wealthy espouse a position echoing the antebellum south. The scholar Johann N. Neem’s book Democracy’s Schools; The Rise of Public Education in America notes, “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.” That same gospel is embedded in the Tea Party and other Libertarian movements.

Franklin Roosevelt became President at the height of the Great Depression. In 1935, Roosevelt signed the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance law more commonly known as Social Security. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare extension. In the Social Security administration’s history of Social Security it describes the major challenges to the free market capitalistic system that Roosevelt faced. It claims Social Security Insurance was the least disruptive alternative available to him. The history states,

Social insurance, as conceived by President Roosevelt, would address the permanent problem of economic security for the elderly by creating a work-related, contributory system in which workers would provide for their own future economic security through taxes paid while employed. Thus it was an alternative both to reliance on welfare and to radical changes in our capitalist system. In the context of its time, it can be seen as a moderately conservative, yet activist, response to the challenges of the Depression. (emphasis added)

1936 Dorothea Lange Photo

1936 Photo by Dorothea Lange

Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek who believed in classical liberalism especially the concept that it is in the common interest that all individuals must be able to secure their own economic self-interest, without government direction. In September 1944, the University of Chicago Press published Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. It was squarely against government programs like social security and Roosevelt’s “new deal.” Hayek was opposed to Keynesian economics which posited “that government intervention can stabilize the economy.”

In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago. It was there that Milton Friedman and a host of young scholars met their sole mate, Hayek. They saw government social programs as seeds for tyranny and public education was no exception.

Ravitch picks up this story in the article “Big Money Rules.” The article begins with a quote from her blog,

“Americans for Prosperity opposes all government programs. Its primary purpose is to protect the Koch billions from taxation to pay for any programs that benefit others. If it was up to the Koch Brothers, they would eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and every other social program. They are rabid libertarians who oppose taxation and government. Their interest is protecting the Koch billions, not anyone else.”

She uses data from two books, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean and Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.

MacLean’s book tells the story of economist James M. Buchanan who is associated with the doctrine of economic libertarianism and the “public choice” model of economics. His basic argument is that bureaucrats and public officials serve their own interests. MacLean viewed Buchanan as having “a formative role” in establishing the anti-democratic “stand of the radical right.

While researching, MacLean discovered personal correspondence between Buchanan and the billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch. She found a plan “to train a new generation of thinkers to push back against Brown v. Board of Education and the changes in constitutional thought and federal policy that had enabled it.

Until the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, far right economists like Hayek, Friedman and Buchanan, were viewed as part of a small fringe minority. Three of Buchanan’s first doctoral students went to work in Reagan’s administration. Buchanan and his acolytes were responding to the threats democratic institutions posed to the preservation of individual wealth.

Attacking Social Security was a big part of their agenda. Buchanan declared that Social Security was a “Ponzi scheme.” In a paper for the Cato Institute he explained if “people can be led to think that they personally have no legitimate claim against the system on retirement” it will “make abandonment of the system look more attractive.” Ravitch observed, “The genius of their strategy was in describing their efforts to change government programs as ‘reforms,’ when in fact they were intended from the outset to result in their destruction.”

Gordon Lafer’s book documents the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to advance the Koch-Buchanan agenda. Ravitch writes, “In the first decade of this century, ALEC’s leading corporate backers contributed more than $370 million to state elections, and over one hundred laws each year based on ALEC’s model bills were enacted.” Lafer stated, “For the first time ever in 2012 more than half of all income in America went to the richest 10 percent of the population.

Public education is a significant target of the super wealthy. During the first almost two decades of the twenty-first century billionaires like David and Charles Koch (Koch Industries), Bill Gates (Microsoft), the Walton family (Walmart), the DeVos family (Amway), Eli Broad (KB Homes and Sun America), John Arnold (Enron), Reed Hastings (Netflix), Doris Fisher (The Gap), Michael Dell (Dell Computers) and others have savaged public schools while labeling themselves “reformers.” Ravitch counters, “It is perfectly clear that they have no desire to “reform” our public schools but to privatize and monetize them.

Ravitch goes on to state,

“I have nothing against the wealthy. I don’t care that some people have more worldly goods than others. I understand that life’s not fair. I just harbor this feeling that a person ought to be able to get by on $100 million or so and not keep piling up riches while so many others don’t know how they will feed their children tonight.”

Battling the Wealthy and Their Talking Points with Reason and Knowledge

When I came to education in 2001, like most Americans, I was convinced that public education was in decline and that the teaching corps was poor quality and lazy. I had heard a little about a “Nation at Risk” and George Bush’s goals 2000. I remember Bill Clinton pushing charter schools and standards. I heard that the failing school system in Milwaukee was going to allow children to attend private voucher schools. But like most people, I only had a vague conception of the reality of public education and having grown up with a school teacher mom, I still believed in public education.  

By 2005, I was convinced that most of what I previously thought about education was wrong. I quickly learned that almost all of the experienced teachers I met were way better than me and really cared about their students, their schools and their profession. In graduate school, I discovered that the Reagan administration’s “A Nation at Risk” was not a peer reviewed professional article of the kind that normally came from government offices. Rather it was a polemic filled with errors promoting a particular agenda of standards and accountability.

In 2010, when I read Diane Ravitch’s “The Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I was thrilled. A powerful voice was speaking up for public education and against the propagandistic attack. However, the veteran teacher in the classroom next door was underwhelmed. Unlike me, he had been teaching and paying close attention to education politics since 1978. He knew Ravitch as a conservative purveyor of top down standards and testing.

Ravitch admits that my colleague was right. She writes,

“By the time I left government service in January 1993, I was an advocate not only for standards but for school choice. I had come to believe that standards and choice could co-exist as they do in the private sector. With my friends Chester Finn Jr. and Joseph Viteritti, I wrote and edited books and articles making the case for charter schools and accountability.”

When Death and Life was published, Ravitch had become completely disenchanted by what she started referring to as “Corporate Education Reform.” She saw hundreds of millions invested in test-preparation while arts, science, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign language and physical education became the sad stepchildren of the tested math and English. She says, “Accountability turned into a nightmare for American schools, producing graduates who were drilled regularly on the basic skills but were often ignorant about almost everything else.

At the same time, she started to see how destructive of public education – especially to neighborhood schools – the choice movement had become. And worse yet, choice schools had eschewed innovation in pursuit of profits. Ravitch began refuting the conservative agenda. The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch is a compilation of those arguments.

American Students Don’t Test Well

Americans have never done well on international testing. Ravitch highlights Yong Zhao’s book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao says East Asian nations have top scores because of their heavy test preparations. Ravitch reports,

“Our students have never had high scores on international tests, not since the first international test of math was administered in 1964, and our seniors scored last among 12 nations. We went on over the half-century since then to out compete the other 11 nations who had higher test scores.”

She argues that standardized testing identifies poverty; not teaching. Ravitch points out the obvious, “No nation in the world has eliminated poverty by firing teachers or by handing its public schools over to private managers, nor does research support either strategy.” She pithily says, “When it comes to child poverty, we are number 1.

US Rankings reported in Wit and Wisdom:

  • Quality Pre-school #24
  • Good Pre-natal care #131
  • Industrial Nations Child Poverty #1

George Bush, George Miller and Ted Kennedy gave us the No Child Left Behind law. Barack Obama and Arne Duncan gave us the Race to the Top law. Both laws employed the same test based accountability and punish strategies. Ravitch notes we are nowhere near whatever the top is supposed to be and the same children who were left behind in 2001-2 are still being left behind. In 2014, she declared, “Now that we have endured more than a dozen long years of No Child Left Behind and five fruitless, punitive years of Race to the Top, it is clear that they both failed.

Democrats Embraced the Conservative Agenda

When Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education, Democrats were outraged. Michael Bennet who introduced the portfolio model of education management into Denver’s schools and Corey Booker who tried to charterize all of the schools in Newark, New Jersey spoke passionately against the appointment. Ravitch pointed out, “But the resistance of DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth – Democrats have been promoting a conservative ‘school reform’ agenda for the past three decades.” She also wrote,

“Democratic charter advocates – whose ranks include the outraged Booker and Bennet – have increasingly imported ‘school choice’ into the party’s rhetoric. Booker likes to equate ‘choice’ with ‘freedom’ – even though the entire idea of ‘choice’ was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.”

“As Democrats learned years ago, support for mandatory testing and charter schools opens fat wallets on Wall Street. Money guys love deregulation, testing and Big Data, and union busting. In 2005, Obama served as the featured speaker at the inaugural gathering of Democrats for Education Reform, which bundles contributions to Democrats who back charter schools.”

Ravitch says that evidenced-based Democrats ought to acknowledge that school choice doesn’t work. Charter schools are a failed experiment that increase segregation and do not increase performance. Students in vouchers schools lose ground compared to their peers in public school.

As Ravitch continued to attack “school reform” nonsense, she also used her blog to elevate the voices of others. Ravitch and friends have dominated social media for a decade. At the Network for Public Education conference in Indiana this October she could boldly open the proceedings with, “We are the resistance and we are winning!”

Diane and Tom

Ravitch States the Elements of Good Education

“Every school should be staffed with credentialed and well qualified teachers. Class sizes should be no larger than 20 in elementary schools, no larger than 24 in middle and high schools. Every school should offer a full curriculum, including the arts, civics, history and foreign languages. Every school should have a library and media center staffed by a qualified librarian. Every school should have fully equipped laboratories for science. Every school should have a nurse and a social worker. Every school should be in tip-top physical condition.”

Wisdom and Wit recounts the arguments about education for the past 20 years. In an open letter to her old boss at the Department of Education, Lamar Alexander, she wrote,

“In closing, may I remind you of something you wrote in your book of advice?

“No. 84: Read anything Diane Ravitch writes about education.”

That seems like excellent advice. Her next book, Slaying Goliath, comes out in January.

Atlanta’s Public School Board Voted for Privatization

23 Mar

3/22/2019 by T. Ultican

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

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

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

Atlanta’s Comprador Regime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Chang on BES

Ed Chang’s Picture from his BES Board Member Biography

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

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

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

Harvard Grants

Using Philanthropy to Control Harvard – GatesWaltonBroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEAP Data

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

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

AJC reported on the new scheme,

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

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

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

Destroy Public Education Movement Atlanta Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Public Schools in Portfolio District Crosshairs

26 Jan

By T. Ultican 1/26/2019

Radical market theorists are reshaping Texas education governance by instituting the portfolio district school model. It is a scheme promoted by the University of Washington based think tank, Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). To advance this design, the accountability system and justifications for closing public schools is adopted from Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Public Schools. This top down plan is being guided by Mike Morath Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

A quick glance at the CRPE web site reveals they see Texas as a target of opportunity. It states,

“We’re currently working on:

“…

“Analyzing how state education agencies can support local leaders on the portfolio strategy, such as through the Texas Education Agency’s new System of Great Schools Network.”

A few of the benefits that TEA claims for the System of Great Schools (SGS):

  • “Membership in a professional learning community of superintendents and senior staff that come together regularly to build understanding of the SGS strategy, …”
  • “Regular connection points with Commissioner Morath.”
  • “The district increases access to school choice options and helps families identify and attend their best-fit school.”

TEA’s SGS web site offers a complex excel file with a roadmap for implementing SGS strategies.

sgs implementation road map

Image of SGS Roadmap Excel Page Labeled “Top 12 Deliverables”

The “School Performance Framework” hyperlink in the Excel sheet opens Chicago Public School’s “School Quality Ratings Policy (SQRP) Handbook.” Much of the “objective” justification used for closing 50 Chicago schools in one year is in the handbook. Those 50 schools were almost all in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and employed mostly African-American teachers.

Enacting Unproven Agendas like this is not Conservative

On January 20, 2015 Republican Greg Abbott became the 48th Governor of Texas. One of his early decisions was to appoint Mike Morath Commissioner of Education. The very conservative Donna Garner – a Trump supporting retired school teacher and education policy commentator for Education View – was not impressed. She wrote,

“As a conservative, I appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott for the many courageous positions he has taken for Texas; but he really missed it on this one!

“I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education.”

mike_morath

Mike Morath from his TEA Biography Page

Morath’s appointment continues a more than a decade long period of Texas Education Commissioners lacking proven education training or experience. His education background consists of serving four years as a Trustee for the Dallas Independent School District and teaching an advanced computer science class at his high school alma mater after the previous teacher resigned suddenly. He completed the year.

Morath has referred to himself as a “super-nerd.” In 2015, the Dallas News stated, “Morath, 38, is a numbers whiz who excelled academically, earning his business degree in 2 1/2 years at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.”

Morath started a company that developed a management information system that streamlined federal food programs for low-income families. At age 36, he made enough money selling the company to semi-retire. Dallas Magazine shared,

“His next goal: searching for his special purpose. An evangelical Christian, Morath believed God would lead the way to this discovery.”

The same Dallas Magazine article also reported that his fellow Dallas Trustees found him “an arrogant wonk who won’t listen to others.” They were especially alienated when Morath tried to privatize the entire district using an obscure never used 1995 Texas law authorizing Home Rule Charters. The Texas Observer reported,

“The idea came from Mike Morath, a Dallas ISD trustee since 2011, when he ran unopposed for an open seat. He’s part of the new generation on the school board, an entrepreneur and policy wonk backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Educate Dallas PAC.

“Morath tells the Observer he spotted an off-hand mention of home-rule charters in a news story about another Texas city….  

“Drafting a home-rule charter, he figured, could be just the thing to give Dallas ISD the freedom it needs to make real changes. Morath shared the idea with a handful of local lawyers and businessfolk, and they in turn founded Support Our Public Schools.”

There were several big dollar contributors for Support Our Public Schools which is a 501 C4 organization meaning it is not tax exempt because its main purpose is to promote a political agenda. It is a dark money fund. Only Houston billionaire John Arnold openly admitted giving large sums to the group.

Garner made an interesting observation in her piece denouncing Morath’s appointment. She defined two types of schools:

  • Type 1 Education: More than a century of children educated in democratically run public schools by certificated teachers. They used technology like Big Chief Tablets and pencils to learn reading, writing, mathematics, science, and civics. They participated in physical exercise and team sports. They attended the school in their neighborhood which likely had several generations of history. “Americans became the leaders of the world because of the many scientists, inventors, technicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, writers, historians, and businessmen who used their Type #1 education to elevate themselves to great heights.
  • Type 2 Education: A philosophy of education that opens the door to subjective, digitized curriculum and assessments found in Common Core the Bill Gates financed national education standards pushed by the Obama administration and CSCOPE the Texas attempt to impose standards based scripted lessons on all teachers and schools. It is the same “innovative” school model pushed by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators; their 21st century transformational “visioning” approach to education. An approach that embraces the technology industry’s future ready agenda which supports greedy consultants, lobbyists, and vendors who make a fortune off education’s “Golden Goose” of public dollars.

future-ready-pledge

Promotion for the Future Ready Pledge by the Office of Education Technology

Garner’s article about Mike Morath’s appointment concluded,

“Mike Morath is not the right person for the Texas Commissioner of Education. He will not support whole-heartedly the Type #1 curriculum standards that the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education have worked so hard to adopt.  Morath’s philosophy of education is very closely attuned to that of the Obama administration’s Type #2 Common Core.  I am terribly disappointed in Gov. Abbott’s choice of Mike Morath as the Texas Commissioner of Education.”

Test to Privatize

Standardized-testing is NOT capable of measuring either school or teacher quality. The only strong statistical correlation related to standardized-testing is family wealth. In a paper on the limitations of standardized-testing the non-profit organization FairTest wrote,

“Test validity, experts explain, resides in the inferences drawn from assessment results and the consequences of their uses. Relying solely on scores from one test to determine success or progress in broad areas such as reading or math is likely to lead to incorrect inferences and then to actions that are ineffective or even harmful. For these and other reasons, the standards of the testing profession call for using multiple measures for informing major decisions – as does the ESEA legislation.” (Emphasis Added)

It is not an accident that 100% of schools designated as failures and slated for intervention are in poor communities. Likewise, it is not surprising that there has never been a school in a middle class community designated for closure or other interventions. It is only the schools in poor and almost exclusively minority communities that are slated for state intervention in Texas.

To evaluate a school, information about the accreditation of its teachers and their years of experience would be meaningful. As would information about class sizes, art programs, music programs and physical training. A review of the condition of the facilities would also make sense. Surveying students, teachers and parents would yield actionable information. Evaluating schools on the basis of standardized-testing is indefensible.

In 2012, TEA promulgated a rule that required any school designated a failure five years in a row based on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STARR) testing must undergo state intervention. In 2018, the first 52-schools that require intervention appeared on the states to-do-list.

An example of the interventions to expect comes from San Antonio. The Rivard Report shared,

“One of the schools that received an “improvement required” was Ogden Elementary in SAISD, which now has received a failing grade for five consecutive years. However, because of a partnership SAISD leveraged with Relay Graduate School of Education, state law permits Ogden reprieve from accountability consequences for an additional two years.”

Relay Graduate School of Education is a fraudulent school started by the charter school industry. In 2015, Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the school for Huffington Post:

“For those who are unfamiliar, Relay “Graduate School of Education” was singled out as an innovator by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last November, but it is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First, and it is housed in the Uncommon Schools affiliated North Star Academy. Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.”

The San Antonio Relay Graduate School is led by Dean Annie Hoffman. Prior to joining Relay, Hoffman completed her Masters of Education in Language and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her teaching career at Sherman Elementary in the Houston Independent School District.

Down the road in Houston, people are fighting mad about the threat to turn 10 schools over to a charter management organization to avoid state sanctions. Last spring, the Chronicle reported,

“HISD administrators sought to stave off potential sanctions by giving control over the 10 schools to a charter school operator, Energized For STEM Academy Inc., but district leaders retreated from that recommendation Wednesday. Their decision came less than 24 hours after a raucous school board meeting ended with two arrests and about 100 members of the public, nearly all of whom opposed the charter proposal, temporarily forced out of the administration building.”

“Had HISD trustees voted to surrender control over the schools, all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic student populations in high-poverty neighborhoods, the district could have received a two-year reprieve from any state sanctions.”

Six of the schools with a long track record of low tests scores were able to meet the required standards to have the threat removed. However, four schools still need to score well to ensure the district is not taken over by Mike Morath’s TEA. January 3rd, Governor Abbott tweeted,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

Charles Kuffner weighed in at Off the Kuff. He speculated,

“It should be clear why the state has been reluctant to step in, despite Greg Abbott’s nasty tweet. If the TEA takes over, then the TEA owns all of the problems that HISD is trying to solve. … That’s not their job, and there’s nothing in the track record of past takeovers by state agencies, here and elsewhere, to suggest they’ll do any better at it than HISD has done. There’s a reason why Abbott hasn’t had much to say about this since his Trumpian Twitter moment.

Bigger Money is Driving the Portfolio School District Model

In July of 2018, former Enron trader, John Arnold, joined forces with San Francisco billionaire and Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. They each pledged $100,000,000 to a new non-profit dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. They call it City Fund. Gates and Dell have also contributed to City Fund.

William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado Boulder wrote a short paper “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.” Their basic definition explains,

“Generally speaking, four reform strategies are combined, in varying degrees, in portfolio districts:  (1) performance-based (generally test-based) accountability, (2) school-level de-centralization of management, (3) the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools, and (4) the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools.”

The portfolio model promotes disruption as a virtue and posits no value for stable neighborhood schools. As schools are closed or reconstituted, the new schools are not democratically controlled. For example, the portfolio district in Denver, Colorado has 204 schools but 108 of them are no longer governed by the school board. They are governed either by private charter school companies or non-profit organizations.

texas portfolio model map

Map from the Texas Systems of Great Schools Web Site

Concluding Observations

In 2016, the highest paid Superintendent of Schools in Texas was Mark Henry from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. He received $383,402 to administer a 116,000 student district. At the IDEA charter school chain which has less than 36,000 students, that same year CEO Tom Torkelson made $513,970 and CFO, Wyatt Truscheit received $435,976. Plus, President JoAnn Gama took in $354,484 which is more than all but three public school superintendents in the state of Texas.

It is clear why charter school executives are for them, but data says charters do no better than public schools and are creating havoc with the public education system.

It is not just conservatives who are having issues with privatizing the public education system. Three Democratic Texas legislators, Gina Hinojosa, Mary González and Shawn Thierry reported,

“When charters cherry-pick students, neighborhood schools are left to educate a disproportionate percentage of more challenging children. Neighborhood schools are required by law to enroll all kids, regardless of disciplinary history, special needs or family challenges. Educating children who face more challenges in life is more expensive; the cost falls disproportionately on local public school districts.

“Yet, charters receive more funding from the state per student than 95 percent of all students in Texas. In El Paso, charters receive $1,619 more per student than El Paso ISD. In Austin, charters receive $1,740 more per student than AISD. This funding disparity holds true for many of the largest school districts.

“This lopsided funding model results in increasing funding for charter schools and decreasing it for traditional public schools. In the 2018-2019 biennium, charter schools received $1.46 billion more than the prior biennium, and traditional public schools received $2.68 billion less.

“Ultimately, this parallel system of exclusive schools, funded with increasingly more public money, is often a false promise that results in less access and less funding for many of our kids.”

Lessons from the Continuing Attack on Kansas City’s Schools

11 Nov

For three decades relentless harm has been visited upon public schools in Kansas City, Missouri. This city provides stark evidence for the fallacy of school choice and the folly of employing standardized testing results to gauge school quality.

Leaders from the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) presented at the recent Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. This article is in part based on that presentation.

The Major Cause of Racial and Economic Segregation

Richard Rothstein, Senior Fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, wrote about segregation as a function of government housing policy. He noted,

“With Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and then, after World War II, Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees, white middle-class families could buy suburban homes with little or no down payments and extended 30-year amortization schedules. Monthly charges were often less than rents the families had previously paid to housing authorities or private landlords.

“The government had an explicit policy of not insuring suburban mortgages for African Americans.”

KC Population Change

Population Shift Graphic Presented by Kansas City Public School Leaders at #NPE18Indy

As Rothstein reported, the dramatic population shifts in Kansas City began with the establishment of the FHA in the mid 1930’s and accelerated with the VA guarantees after WWII. The graphic above shows that trend continuing.

In 2007, a popular Democratic state senator from Independence, Victor Callahan, led an effort to remove seven schools from Kansas City by transferring them to the Independence School District. He also claimed that the Kansas City school district should disappear. Gwendolyn Grant, leader of the Greater Kansas City Urban League, supported the move contending that a more racially homogeneous school board would be less contentious. The move was ratified by large majorities in both Kansas City and Independence. It seems that Kansas City’s school teachers provided the only opposition to the transfer.

As a result, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) became even more racially isolated. Today, the district is almost 90% minorities (65% black and 25% Hispanic). Ninety-percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches which indicates high rates of student poverty.

In 1998, Missouri legislators enacted a charter school law that affects only two cities, Kansas City and Saint Louis. Evidently, legislators from rural areas would not vote for the law unless it was restricted to cities with populations greater than 500,000 people of which there are only two. The state department of education informs parents,

“Any student residing in the Kansas City 33 School District or the St. Louis Public School District may choose to attend a charter school if they reside within either city.

“As of August 2018, there are 20 LEAs [Local Education Agency] in Kansas City operating within 40 buildings and 16 LEAs in St Louis within 36 buildings.”

Local education agency means it operates as a school-district.

In 1964 Kansas City’s school enrollment was 77,000 students. Since then, the District enrollment has plummeted to less than 15,000 students.

Kansas City School Enrollment

Historical Enrollment Data Presented at #NPE18Indy

KCPS’s Unique History Highlights Fatal Flaw in School Choice Agenda

Education commentator at Forbes, Peter Greene, states the charter school dilemma, “You cannot run multiple school districts for the same amount of money you used to spend to operate just one.”

Greene’s point was illustrated during the KCPS presentation in Indianapolis.

Springfield, Missouri is a small city of just over 150,000 people in the Missouri Ozarks. Its school district is almost exactly the same population size as KCPS plus the Kansas City charter schools.  The Kansas City student population totals 26,500 students and Springfield Public Schools have 25,800 students.

In Kansas City there are 110 schools operated by the equivalent of six district administrations. Springfield has 53 schools run by one district administration. Kansas City’s education environment is very difficult for parents to navigate with its 23 different types of schools. Choosing between k-2, prek-5, 1-7, 6-12 etceteras, parents have a difficult time knowing how to guide their child into a coherent program. In Springfield, the education path is clearly defined.

The next two charts are from the NPE presentation. They show some of the comparative financial outcomes of a public system and the hybrid privatized and public system in Kansas City.

Efficiency Comparison 2

Efficiency Comparison I between KC’s Choice System and Springfield’s Public System

Efficiency 1

Efficiency Comparison II between KC’s Choice System and Springfield’s Public System

The KC/Springfield data strongly supports the obvious conclusion that maintaining classroom spending levels in public schools while expanding charter schools requires an increase in tax money. Without more money, the charter school experiment is being financed by reducing spending on public school students.

Destroy Public Education (DPE) Forces in Kansas City

All public schools throughout America have been harmed by the federal test and punish theory of education reform. The major fallacy of this theory is the tool for measuring school quality is useless. Not only is standardized testing not capable of measuring school or teacher quality, because of the problem of error associated with testing, reality is often opposite from the results.

Throwing darts blind folded would be an equally accurate method for judging schools as standardized testing. Eugenics was the genesis for standardized testing and only the profit motive keeps the testing fraud alive. School grades consistently outperform SAT scores for predicting college success yet we continue forcing families to pay for these tests.

A new study “What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non–Test Score Outcomes,” by C. Kirabo Jackson professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University was recently published. The conservative publication Education Next carried an article by Professor Jackson describing his findings. He concluded,

“I find that, while teachers have notable effects on both test scores and non-cognitive skills, their impact on non-cognitive skills is 10 times more predictive of students’ longer-term success in high school than their impact on test scores. We cannot identify the teachers who matter most by using test-score impacts alone, because many teachers who raise test scores do not improve non-cognitive skills, and vice versa.”

In the 1980’s a federal court ordered Kansas City to address the growing racial isolation. The method chosen was big spending on magnet schools and other expensive big ticket items in an attempt to lure white students back. It did not work nor did it raise the only measure of success that mattered – test scores.

Joshua M. Dunn an assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado studied the Kansas City desegregation experiment. He wrote,

“In the mid 1980s, federal district court judge Russell Clark ordered a complete overhaul of the school district.   No expense was spared.  All told, the court spent more than $2 billion in its quest to improve the KCMSD.  Every high school and middle school and half the district’s elementary schools became magnet schools with special themes such as classical Greek, Slavic studies, and agribusiness.  Special themes required special facilities, such as petting zoos, robotics labs, and a model United Nations facility with simultaneous translation capability.  One high school was so extravagant it was dubbed the ‘Taj Mahal.'” [Note: KCMSD stands for Kansas City Missouri School District which was the name before 2007.]

Previous to 2009, the ongoing destruction of KCPS was based on stinking thinking; then the real destroy public schools (DPS) players arrived. John Covington, a 2008 graduate of the fake-unaccredited Broad Academy, became the Superintendent of schools on July 1, 2009.

The Broad Academy for school administrator training was founded by billionaire Eli Broad. His theory is that top school administrators need business backgrounds and education experience is not required; consultants can be hired for that. Broad has poured literally hundreds of millions of dollars into privatizing public education.

By 2008, Kansas City had closed 30 of its schools which reduced the number to 61 schools. During Covington’s first year he claimed that diplomas from KCPS “aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.” His solution for this situation and a looming budget deficit was to close another 29 schools and layoff 285 teachers.

Fortuitously, his mentor Eli Broad had just updated his School Closure Guide.  The first line of the guide says, “This is a guide for school district operators considering school closures to address significant budgetary challenges.”

With no warning or explanation, Covington resigned in August, 2011. The reason finally came to light in a 2016 Kansas City Star article by Joe Robertson. Joe reported that Covington had told several head hunters that he had no intention of leaving KCPS:

“Then came a call from one of Covington’s contacts at The Broad Foundation. … Be ready, his contact told him, to receive a call from the foundation’s founder — Eli Broad.”

“The call came from Spain, Covington said. He (Broad) said, ‘John, I need you to go to Detroit’”

“That, Covington says, is the reason he left.”

“On Aug. 26, 2011, two days after he resigned as superintendent of the Kansas City Public Schools, John Covington was introduced as the sole candidate for chancellor of a new statewide school system in Michigan.”

Covington was the founding principle of The Education Achievement Authority. He administered the schools taken over by the state including fifteen schools in Detroit. The Authority was an abject failure.

Robertson’s article also noted,

“Reform-minded forces as powerful as state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and the Kauffman Foundation saw a chance to completely reshape public education in Kansas City and came to roost while lawmakers fought unsuccessfully into the final minutes of the 2012 legislative session to give the state the immediate power to take over the district.”

Ewing Marion Kauffman was a graduate of public schools. Before his death in 1993 he spent money and time promoting public schools. He was an eagle scout and he established the Kansas City Royal baseball team. He would undoubtedly hate the idea that the $2 billion foundation he established is now being used to undermine public education in his city.

Kauffman Foundation money was used to bring CEE-Trust to Kansas City. It was a Bill Gates funded spin off from Indianapolis’s proto-type privatizing organization The Mind Trust. The CEE-Trust mandate was to implement the portfolio theory of education reform. When local’s got wind of a backroom deal that had given CEE-Trust a $385,000 state contract to create a plan for KCPS things went south. A 2017 Chalkbeat Article says, “In 2013, a plan to reshape Kansas City’s schools was essentially run out of town.” It became so bad that CEE-Trust changed its name to Education Cities.

Now the same local-national money combination is funding a new group, SmartschoolKC, with the same portfolio district agenda. The new collaboration is funded by the Kauffman Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test. This model inevitably leads to an ever more privatized system that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. Objections to the portfolio model include:

  1. It creates constant churn and disruption. The last thing students in struggling neighborhoods need is more uncertainty.
  2. Democratically operated schools in a community are the foundation of American democracy. Promoters of the portfolio model reject the civic value of these democracy incubators.
  3. Parents and taxpayer no longer have an elected board that they can hold accountable for school operations.

As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights.”

New Team Leading KCPS

KCPS Team

KCPS Team Presenting at #NPE18Indy – Photo by Ultican

Mark Bedell certainly made a positive impression at the recent NPE conference in Indianapolis.

Unlike many youthful school leaders in America, Bedell did not come from Teach for America. He actually studied education. He has a BA in history, a master’s in education leadership and a doctorate in school leadership. He worked for twelve years as a teacher and in various administrative positions for the Houston Independent School District.

In 2012, he accompanied his Houston colleague, Dallas S. Dance, to Baltimore when the thirty-one year old Dance became the Superintendent of Schools. By 2016, Dance was on his way to jail and Bedell’s positive reviews brought him to the helm of KCPS.

Linda Quinley prepared the data for the NPE presentation. She came across as very competent.

Jennifer Wolfsie is a former parent who navigated KCPS’s Byzantine system with her own children and is a KCPS Board member. She is a staunch advocate for public education. The Kansas City Star has published her opinion pieces.

Bedell says that he believes charter schools are not going away. He is proposing a model for public schools and charter schools working together under public school leadership for the good of all students in an integrated system. The proposal presented in some detail sounded well thought out with tough minded requirements for privatized schools.

However, some of us are skeptical if operating non-democratic schools harmoniously within a democratic system is feasible. It sounds eerily like the Systems of Schools proposal by GO public education in Oakland, California. Diane Ravitch commented,

“I first heard that claim from Joel Klein, who became chancellor after being pushed out as CEO of Bertelsmann. Zero education experience. That was 2002.

“Months after starting, he said he would transform NYC from a “school system” to a “system of schools.” Last week, I heard that the Broadie superintendent of Atlanta presented the same language as innovative.”

I think that Bedell and the present team have a chance to significantly improve the education landscape in Kansas City. The question is will they be led by their ideals or will they come under the influence of enemies of democracy and public education like Rex Sinquefield?

My Favorite School is Just 23 Miles from Downtown Kansas City in Blue Springs, Missouri.

Thomas J Ultican Elementary

NPE Indianapolis: “We Are Winning!”

29 Oct

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

Ravitch listed a long string of victories including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pasi slide

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

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

Pasi Screen Time Slide

Slide Shows Correlation Between Screen-time and Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOS Arizona the First Recipients of the Phyllis Bush Award

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

SOS Arizona Grass Roots Award

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

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

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

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

Machine Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Sis the Antidote for Big Brother

Grading the States

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

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

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

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

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

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

LittleSis Map by Darci

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

NPE’s Diverse Environment is Manifesting Youthful Leaders

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

This year Jitu and J4J came with a message:

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

J4J introduced their #WeChoose campaign which has seven pillars:

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

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

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

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

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

New Leaders

Sampling of a Youthful Wave of Education Champions at #NPE18Indy

The NAACP was in the House

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

Derrick Johnson close

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

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

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

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

A Personal Perspective

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

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

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

Diane and I B

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

A Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA

29 Sep

By T. Ultican 9/29/2018

First it was KIPP, then it was YES Prep and now IDEA has become the point of the destroy public education (DPE) spear in Texas. KIPP flourished because GAP founders Don and Doris Fisher gave them big money. YES Prep so excited Oprah that she presented them with a million dollar check during a TV interview. Now, John Arnold has given IDEA $10 million to expand into Houston and the El Paso based Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development has pledged another $10 million for IDEA to expand into El Paso.

The oddest DPE inspired plan of all comes from Austin, Texas. In 2016, the Austin American Statesman reported that the relatively small KLE foundation is committing $16 million to IDEA. Odd because that represents more than half of the foundation’s assets and is 20 times greater than any previous grant. The Statesman article says, “The financial gift … will more than double IDEA Austin’s previous expansion plans by 2022, and the charter school says the donation will help it boost enrollment to 20,000 students, more than 12 times as many as it has now.”

A recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican says about the IDEA growth initiative, “Those plans include expanding to 173 pre-K, elementary, middle and high schools from Texas to Louisiana and Florida by 2022 — a goal of serving 100,000 students compared to 35,595 today.”

YES Prep, KIPP and IDEA have many similarities. All three charter school systems were started by Teach for America (TFA) alums. None of the founders had more than three years experience teaching, nor did they have any education training other than a five week TFA summer course. It is perplexing when industry leaders like Walton, Fisher, Broad and Gates lavish inexperienced and untrained school founders with millions of dollars.

Marketing and Publicity Are IDEA’s Strength

Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer wrote,

“IDEA is one of the hottest charter chains in Texas today, based in the Rio Grande Valley, with a recent expansion into Central Texas. The chain just won a $29 million federal Race To the Top grant, an extremely competitive program that only one other Texas school won (another charter, Harmony Public Schools).”

“IDEA is part of a preferred class of charters in Texas today, along with KIPP, Yes Prep and Harmony.”

This was written in December, 2012, the day after community members in Austin had succeeded in driving IDEA out of their neighborhood.

The other charter system that won Race to the Top money is believed to be part of Fethullah Gulen’s charter empire. The Houston Chronicle reported, “Long criticized by conservative Texans for alleged ties to a controversial Turkish scholar, the state’s largest charter school system now faces attacks from inside the Turkish government.” Turkey’s leaders accuse the Gulen cult of fermenting the coup attempt against President Erdogan and financing it with charter school money.

The IDEA internet site’s biography of co-founder Tom Torkelson states,

“By 2009, the U.S. News and World Report ranked IDEA Donna College Preparatory as the 13th best high school and second best charter high school in the nation. Also in 2009, IDEA Public Schools was the first-ever charter organization to be named the best school system in the state of Texas and received the H-E-B Excellence in Education Award. Today, The Washington Post’s latest rankings of America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranked all seven of IDEA’s eligible College Preparatory high schools in the top 200 high schools nationwide and in the top 50 in Texas.

A Huffington Post article describes the U.S. News school ranking methodology, “[The] rankings today were derived from its list of top high schools published in 2009 based on participation rates and how students in those schools performed on math and science AP exams.” U.S. News uses advanced class registration rates and testing data for their rankings. These are not a valid measures of school or teacher quality.

In 2016, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post rated IDEA charter high school the most challenging in the nation. Mathews rates schools by what he calls “the Challenge Index,” which is total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests given at a school each year and divide by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Charter schools that shed students without replacing them now own all of the top spots in this index; not deeply meaningful.

The H-E-B Excellence in Education award is given out by the H-E-B stores. In 2016 Caleb Swaringen a teacher at IDEA College Preparatory McAllen recieved $1,000 for himself and $1,000 for his school for receiving the H-E-B leadership award. H-E-B, with sales of more than $23 billion, operates more than 380 stores in Texas and Mexico. H-E-B awards are based on recommendations from the public.

2016 was a very good year for IDEA publicity. At the National Charter Schools conference, Gregory McGinity, executive director of The Broad Foundation, announced that IDEA had won the $250,000 broad prize. Broad also gave IDEA another $392,333 that same year.

IDEA claims “Since our first graduating class in 2007, 100% of our seniors have been accepted to colleges and universities nationwide.” They claim they educate underserved students and that their schools outperform other schools (meaning on testing).

Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd and The Texas Public Policy Foundation just published a new paper calling for Texas to streamline the charter application. They note that charter school growth has slowed and blame the onerous application process. They ask, “Why are public charter schools growing at slower rates if they have served communities so well?”

What Happens When IDEA’s Claims are Examined?

The name, IDEA Public Schools, is misleading. IDEA is not a public school. Just like a construction company contracted by a city to replace sewer lines is not a public corporation. In a recent Busted Pencils pod cast, Network for Public Education (NPE) Executive Director Carol Burris explained that to be a public school requires two aspects: (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be governed by an elected local entity such as a district board.

Diane Ravitch recently noted that courts have ruled that charter schools are not public schools. She shared,

“They are privately managed corporate schools. Federal courts have ruled that charter schools are ‘not state actors.’ The NLRB has ruled that charter schools are “not state actors.”’

In 2011, Austin’s then Superintendent of Schools Meria Carstarphen contracted with IDEA to assume the management of two elementary schools. Much of the community was outraged.

Statewide Organizing Community eMpowerment (SOCM) sponsored community forums on the IDEA question. They recounted,

“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 humorous Austin blogger who goes by Walter Crunkite related an incident from the first meeting between the community and IDEA leadership. He said,

“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.”

In late 2011, The Texas American Federation of Teachers (TAFT) contracted Professor Ed Fuller to research IDEA’s claims. He is employed as an Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis in the Education Policy Studies department in the College of Education of Penn State University and as Associate Director for Policy for the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). Fuller asserts,

“TAFT NEVER asked me to arrive at specific conclusions. They simply asked me to examine the data and report back.”

Fuller’s report is quite lengthy. He examines three claims: (1) IDEA educates “underserved” student populations; (2) One-hundred percent of IDEA graduates enroll in post-secondary institutions of education; and, (3) IDEA Charter schools outperform other schools.

Professor Fuller posted the report on his personal blog where he writes,

“My conclusions, for those of you who don’t want to read through the post, are as follows:

“1)      IDEA Charter schools do not enroll “underserved” students regardless of the measure used to identify “underserved.” Specifically, as compared to schools in the same market, IDEA schools enroll lower percentages of economically disadvantaged students, special education students, bilingual education students, students requiring modifications or accommodations on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), and students scoring below average on the TAKS mathematics or TAKS readings tests.

“2)      IDEA Charter schools send 100% of graduates to post-secondary institutions of higher education only if the actual number of graduates is the group of students examined. If we consider the number of students starting in the 9th grade … the percentage of IDEA students … is, at best, around 65% for the cohort of 9th grade students in 2009.

“3)      One reason why IDEA secondary schools outperform [on testing] high schools in the same area is because IDEA Charter schools lose a greater proportion of lower performing students than higher performing students. …”

Carstarphen’s Austin Independent School District (AISD) attacked Fuller’s report with a report of their own. Fuller wrote a defense of his study and noted that Dr. Julian Vasquez-Heilig, then a researcher at UT Austin and now Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State University Sacramento, had this to say about the two reports: “Dr. Fuller’s work is very comprehensive,” and “The AISD rebuttal is very weak in its methodology.”

David Knight and David deMatthews warn the people of El Paso that “choice” is not all that it is cracked up to be. They wrote,

“The IDEA charter chain is known for having a high graduation rate, but also known for the large number of its graduates who flunk out of college.”

“IDEA’s growth can also create an undue burden and disrupt natural proportions of students with disabilities enrolled in traditional public schools if they engage in what has been called ‘creaming’ or ‘cherry-picking’ students. According to 2016-17 publicly available data, all IDEA charter schools in Hidalgo, Texas, enroll only 4.8 percent of students with disabilities, while the state average is 8.8 percent.”

AlterNet carried an article by another critic of IDEA, Danny Weil. He stated, “IDEA is a retail charter outfit that standardizes curriculum downwards, away from critical thinking, embracing instead rote memorization and regurgitation, or what I call the ‘anorexic/bulimic’ learning model of intellectual atrophy, ossification, and decay.”

Money! Money! Money!

2016 Salaries

IDEA Leadership Photos with 2016 Salary Data

Compared with the highest paid Superintendents of Schools in Texas, three executives from IDEA would be in the top ten plus Torkelson and Truscheit would be numbers one and two respectively on the top paid list. The fourteen highest paid staff at this “non-profit” each received more than $150,000 per year for a total dispersal of $3,581,436.

At the end of 2016, IDEA’s asset value climbed to $680,172,540 and their year’s income was $332,775,059.

In addition to the $36 million dollars in support detailed above, between 2013 and 2016, IDEA received $1,914,875 from the Dell foundation  and $7,515,000 from the Charter School Growth Fund. They have also received $4,598,715 from the Gates Foundation.

A group of internal emails stolen from IDEA in 2011 have led to accusations that IDEA fired a 20-year veteran teacher and replaced her with a much cheaper Teach For America (TFA) teacher. Torkelson also wrote that TFA persistently selects teachers who perform better than those found with IDEA’s own hiring formula. It was revealed that of 135 new hires that year, 35 would come from TFA. Torkelson said IDEA would increase its hiring of TFA members to sustain its regional corps in the face of deep state budget cuts to TFA.

The problem here is that TFA teachers are unprepared to be in a classroom. They have not studied teaching methods nor have they completed the typical one year of student teaching under the supervision of an experienced credentialed educator. They are new college graduates with five weeks of TFA summer training. In Ciedie Aech’s delightful book Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin? She reports,

“As a journalist followed the teaching year of a suddenly deployed troop of Teach-For-A-Minute miracle workers, ultimately, he found only one greenhorn to be exceptionally able. (And so many others who were both frighteningly and disastrously unprepared.)”

John Arnold, IDEA’s New Billionaire Bestie

When Enron was collapsing in 2001, John Arnold was leading their energy trading group. Somehow, when his executive pals like Former CEO Jeffrey Skilling were going to prison, Arnold received an $8 million bonus. The company’s collapse decimated the retirement savings of rank and file employees. Many of these employees like those at Portland General Electric were only vaguely aware that Enron had acquired their company.

Ironically, Arnold soon started campaigning to end pensions. David Sirota reported that Arnold joined with The Pew Charitable Trust in the effort. Sirota asserts that the, “Pew-Arnold partnership began informally in 2011 and 2012 when both organizations marshaled resources to try to set the stage for retirement benefit cuts in California, Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas.” They succeeded in Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas.

Tyler O’neil tells us that John and Laura Arnold are Democrats. He notes,

“In the 2018 cycle, the Laura & John Arnold Foundation has given $930,244, and 83 percent to Democrats and liberals. John Arnold bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Barack Obama in 2008. The couple were slated to host a $10,000-per-ticket Obama fundraiser featuring Michelle Obama in October 2011.

“Both Laura and John Arnold donated $23,900 to the Democratic National Committee in 2008. Laura Arnold has donated more than $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).”

Most recently, John has joined with Reed Hastings in a national effort to destroy public education.

A Few Assertions

Without the staggeringly large monetary gifts from Billionaires, the IDEA system of schools would not exist.

IDEA’s education program is substandard and without the publicity primed by billionaire financed media outlets, they would be disparaged if noticed at all.

IDEA’s growth harms public schools because of the significant stranded costs incurred when children leave for the new parallel privatized school system.

IDEA has become, primarily, a road to massive wealth for a few insiders.