Tag Archives: testing

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 of school governance 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 APS 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 Atlanta. 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 contribution 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 of them 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

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. 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

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.

Ugly Teachers’ Union Smear from SPN Network

8 Aug

Edward Ring of the California Policy Center (CPC) just published a scurrilous attack on public schools, teachers and their unions. This mean spirited and factually challenged screed comes from a State Policy Network (SPN) member organization. The baseless attack is more evidence of a conspiracy to avoid federal tax law by masquerading as a non-profit while carrying out a political agenda.

Ring begins by saying private sector unions might not be so bad if they are controlled and admits unions “played a vital role in securing rights for the American worker.” He then delivers this jingoistic slam, “If they [unions] would bother to embrace the aspirations of their members, instead of the multinational corporations their leaders now apparently collude with, they might even support immigration reform.”

However, according to Ring, public sector unions are an abomination and teachers’ unions are the worst of the worst. He states,

“The teachers unions are guilty of all the problems common to all public sector unions. They, too, have negotiated unsustainable rates of pay and benefits. They, too, elect their own bosses, negotiate inefficient work rules, have an insatiable need for more public funds, and protect incompetent members. But the teachers union is worse than all other public sector unions for one reason that eclipses all others: Their agenda is negatively affecting how we socialize and educate our children, the next generation of Americans.”

When I decided to leave Silicon Valley and become a teacher, my new starting salary was one-third of my former salary and for the first time I had to pay for part of my medical insurance. I never worked so hard in private industry. I was never given a vote on who would be the principal at my school. My teaching colleagues were almost all moral and idealistic role models for their students. My personal experience says this anti-teacher fulmination is baseless bull-excrement.

Ring’s stated evidence for his claims includes,

“One of the most compelling examples of just how much harm the teachers union has done to California’s schools was the 2014 case Vergara vs. the State of California.”

“In particular, they questioned rules governing tenure (too soon), dismissals (too hard), and layoffs (based on seniority instead of merit). In the closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lead attorney referenced testimony from the defendant’s expert witnesses to show that these and other rules had a negative disproportionate impact on students in disadvantaged communities.”

Before that trial began David Callahan reported on who really brought the suit. His Huffington Post article noted,

“Of course, those nine kids aren’t really bringing the lawsuit; a wealthy donor is, in effect. A nonprofit called Students Matter has orchestrated the suit, and that group in turn was created by a successful tech entrepreneur named David Welch. He founded Students Matter in 2010 and hired the top tier legal team bringing the suit, which is co-led by Theodore Olson — who was George W. Bush’s Solicitor General.”

Callahan ended his article with this timely observation:

“What I will say here is that Welch’s laser-like philanthropy is yet one more example of how money can dramatically amplify the viewpoint of a single individual if deployed strategically. And when the money is targeted at efforts to change public education, it raises profound questions about the role of money in our democracy.

“The public schools, after all, have long been our most democratic institution. What does it say when one rich guy may be able to engineer a big change in this sector in the nation’s largest state?”

The expert witnesses in the Vergara trial were not unbiased professionals. One “expert witness” called was John Deasy who trained at billionaire Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators academy. He later wrote,

“During the Vergara trial, I testified from firsthand experience about the real harm that these laws have in our classrooms every day. I provided testimony about the barriers these laws create for administrators and the negative impact they have on students — and on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s many great teachers.”  

While it is true that it is possible for a California teacher to gain permanent employee status (tenure) in as little as 1 year and 9 months, it is not guaranteed or typical. I took 5-years. I worked for a year as an intern and then worked under temporary contract status for 2-years. It was only then that I was signed to a probationary contract which began my 2-year probationary period. I saw many “tenured” teachers fired during my fifteen years in the classroom and some of those firings seemed unfair.

The “barriers” administrators face are rules that stop them from favoritism or other negative behavior. I experienced rank favoritism my first year in the classroom when I had no protections. Midyear, my assignment was given to the daughter of a local well-connected family who had lost her job.

Only incompetent administrators are unable to fire “bad” teachers.

The “expert witness” that appeared to most influence the trial judge was Raj Chetty. Chetty is an economist from Harvard University who is known for his since discredited claim that teachers and schools could be evaluated using standardized testing. He called it value added measures (VAM).

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, Ph.D. specializes in research methodology at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She prophetically commented on Chetty’s testimony,

“Well…indeed, I believe we can chalk this up to a judge’s lack of understanding of the dangers of VAMs and being impressed by the sheer size of Chetty et al.’s data file. With that amount of data, they must be onto something right? I think we can also chalk this up to the defense in this case not (yet) doing an effective job debunking Chetty et al.’s methods. That, I believe, will be improved and also crucial next round. There are many holes to be punched, so in my opinion it’s the strategies of the hole punchers that are now critical to the cases to come across the country.”

Judge Treu’s verdict was reversed.

Famed statistician and education researcher Gene V. Glass tweeted:

Glass Tweet

Furman University Professor, Paul Thomas wrote, “But one has to wonder how much impact that testimony would have had if the judge had considered that most reviews of the study find it to be poppy-cock (see Baker on the Chetty et al. molehill and Di Carlo) ….”

Ring also opines, “And whenever it is necessary to reduce teacher headcounts in a district, the senior teachers stay and the new teachers go, regardless of how well or poorly these teachers were doing their jobs.”

There are many reasons to embrace seniority rights, but in education it is critical. In the first place, I have never had a job in which experience was more important. Most teachers will tell you that after 10 or even 20 years in the classroom, they are still learning and getting better. Secondly, there is no job more difficult to evaluate than teaching. Without seniority rights when politicians decide not to fully fund education, less expensive new teachers would be retained and proven deeply experienced teachers would be shoved aside.

Ring also used raw testing data reports to prove public-school and teacher failures. The federal education laws known as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top both employed this same methodology to evaluate schools and teachers. Unfortunately, the measuring stick used is no more precise than throwing darts at a spinning wheel. Testing under-girds the fraudulent scheme to privatize public schools. Ring stated,

“And as reported earlier this year in the LA School Report, according to the new “California School Dashboard,” a ratings system that replaced the Academic Performance Index, LAUSD is failing to educate hundreds of thousands of students. In the most recent year of results, 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, and 50 percent earned a D or F in math. Fifty percent of LAUSD’s schools are failing or nearly failing to teach their students English or math.

“In the face of failure, you would think LAUSD and other failing school districts would embrace bipartisan, obvious reforms such as those highlighted in the Vergara case.”

The state dashboard does not assign letter grades. The results of this testing are highly influenced by who is being tested. Since standardized testing does reflect poverty levels and percentage of language learners among the tested subjects, a quick look at a Los Angeles Unified School District shows that they are facing monumental challenges and doing reasonably well. They certainly are not failing.

LA Unified Data

Dashboard Data and Subgroup Data from California Department of Education

Eighty-four percent of Los Angeles Unified’s students are classified as living in poverty and 26.9% of their students are language learners. Statewide those numbers are respectively 60.5% and 20.9%. These statewide numbers are staggeringly large but still the much larger numbers from Los Angeles Unified make their Dashboard results appear to outperform expectations. If the LA numbers were removed, the state percentages of students in poverty and language learners would drop significantly.

This is another example of school privatizers misusing data to claim that public schools are “failing.”

The article also claims that teachers’ union members are teaching Howard Zinn’s Marxist ideology. It is back to “good old 1955” and the communist witch hunts. It states, “As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia.” In the FBI’s voluminous file on Zinn, he admits in an interview to being a liberal and tells FBI agents that some people might consider him a leftist, but that he was not now nor never had been a communist. Even after J. Edgar Hoover’s instance on finding solid evidence of Zinn’s subversive endeavors, none was unearthed. Zinn’s real crime appears to have been speaking out for justice and the powerless.

Federal Tax Law is Being Broken to Sell a Political Agenda

Tax exempt charitable organizations must adhere to IRS tax code 501(c)(3). The first line of the IRS code explanation states,

“To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” (emphasis added)

The article which is the subject of this post was published on the California Policy Center (CPC) web-page. CPC along with the Pacific Research Institute are the California members of the State Policy Network (SPN). In its 2016 tax form, SPN says its purpose is to generate, “state policy analysis and education – identify emerging and innovative solutions to state problems, work alongside think tanks to build momentum for wide-spread education about those solutions, and develop reform leaders the goal of this project is to create a robust movement of leaders advancing free market ideas in the states.” In other words, its whole purpose is to influence legislation.

A 2013 report from the Center for Media and Democracy documents SPN’s founding:

“SPN was founded at the suggestion of President Ronald Reagan, according to the National Review and SPN’s website. In a conversation with Thomas Roe, a South Carolina building supply magnate, Reagan allegedly suggested Roe create ‘something like a Heritage Foundation in each of the states.’ So in 1986, Roe founded the South Carolina Policy Council. Similar groups – self-denominated as state-based think tanks – formed in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and elsewhere at around the same time. Representatives of those groups met at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., and started to call themselves the ‘Madison Group.’ Roe later officially founded SPN as an ‘umbrella organization’ to provide ‘advisory services’ – bankrolled by Roe and other right-wing funders – in 1992.”

There is some evidence that the transition to SPN was bankrolled by David and Charles Koch through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In any case, the Center for Media and Democracy report states, “SPN and its members have become major sponsors and members of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

If you are very rich and do not want people to know you give money to privatize public schools, you can funnel it anonymously through one of the dark money funds that will contribute for you. It works simply enough. Just contribute say $50,000 to Donors Capital Fund or Donors Trust, tell them where to send the money and these tax exempt “charities” will donate for you.

The following is an example of the how funding of SPN network affiliates like CPC happens.

Donor Capital Fund 2016

In 2015, ten Individuals donated $242,000 anonymously to the California Policy Center (CPC) through the non-profit Donors Capital Fund.

A Conclusion

The article by Edward Ring was a slanted hit piece intended to undermine support for public sector unions and teachers’ unions in particular. This is clearly a political document that has nothing to do with charitable giving, but anyone giving money to further this political agenda can claim a charitable deduction. That means as a citizen I am supporting the propagation of a political ideology I find abhorrent.

Large giving to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the Federalist Society or the Center for American Progress is political giving. It not only should be taxed; the details of the donations should be made available to the public. Much of the giving at the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, etc. is clearly designed to promote a political point of view. That is not charity. That is politics. It does not or at least should not qualify for non-profit status.

If we stop this tax cheating, we might see fewer of these baseless attack articles that divide people and communities.

 

 

School Choice is a Bamboozle a Hornswoggle a Flimflam

3 Aug

Two central ideologies behind school-choice are markets always make superior decisions and the cost of having local control of schools is poor outcomes. Both ideas are demonstrably untrue, but big money and power politics keep them alive.

In 2017, a national survey showed a dramatic drop in support for charter schools. A related Chalkbeat article said,

The survey, conducted by the school choice-friendly journal Education Next, found that slightly more Americans support charter schools, 39 percent, than oppose them, at 36 percent. But that marks a drop from 51 percent support just last year — one of the biggest changes in public opinion seen in the long-running survey, according to Harvard professor and the magazine’s editor-in-chief Marty West.

An internet search of “charter school growth slowing” brings up articles from around the country concerning the charter slow down. Education Week noted, “Last year, more charter schools closed than opened in the Bay Area for the first time since California passed its charter law in 1992. (California was the second state to allow charters to open.)”

To address this choice crisis, two Billionaires are starting a new national organization. A July 31, 2018 Chalkbeat article by Matt Barnum explains,

“The City Fund, as the group is being called, will push cities to expand charter schools and district schools with charter-like autonomy. It represents a big increase in visibility and influence for advocates of the “portfolio model” of running schools, a strategy that’s been adopted by cities like New Orleans, Denver, and Indianapolis.

“The group was announced Tuesday morning on the blog of Neerav Kingsland, who leads education giving at The Laura and John Arnold Foundation. According to a separate presentation created by the group and viewed by Chalkbeat, the Arnold Foundation and the Hastings Fund have already given the group over $200 million.”

Reed Hastings (Netflix Founder and CEO) is a charter school advocate who served on the board of the California Charter School Association; was the primary advocate of California’s charter school co-location law; and was also a key supporter for lifting charter school limits in California. He is a primary investor in DreamBox Learning, a company creating software to teach kids at computers. He famously stated that elected school boards need to be done away with.

John Arnold made his fortune at Enron and a hedge fund. He retired at 38-years-old. His private non-profit, the Laura and John Arnold foundation supports privatizing schools and ending democratic local control. He gives lavishly to charter schools (example: Gifted the Charter Growth Fund – $13 million).

The portfolio model of school reform calls for viewing schools like assets in a stock portfolio. Based primarily on the results of standardized testing the bottom scoring 5% of schools should be closed and replaced with new charter or innovation schools (charter like district schools). A serious flaw in this plan is the problem of error causes standardized testing to be useless for evaluating schools or teachers. Testing is a terrible ruler.

Former Assistant US Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reacted to Arnold and Hasting promoting portfolio districts noting,

“Bonafide Reformer Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas has written several posts arguing that the portfolio model is a failure and that it is no different from a school district (although it is privately controlled). Read here. and here. The latter post is advice written to the Arnold Foundation about why it should not invest in the portfolio model. Sad. They didn’t listen.”

Innovation schools are promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). They are district schools which present an operation plan for improving test outcomes and then receive autonomy to carry out the plan. Whether innovation or charter, local control of schools by democratic means is ended.

Disruption is not a good feature in education. The portfolio theory violates the need for stability. Brooke Havlik writing for Nova Education’s “Science and Learning” published “Psychologists Find School Stability a Factor in Achievement Gap.” Brooke stated, “Two new studies published this month suggest that changing schools may have a negative impact on cognitive development and student performance, especially for students experiencing chronic, high-levels of poverty.” (emphasis added)

In cities like Denver and Indianapolis, the portfolio model almost exclusively effects schools in poor and minority communities. In other words, the students most negatively impacted by this theory have their schools closed and the community loses its democratic rights.

A New Paper from In The Public Interest (ITPI) Documents the Flimflam  

This spring, ITPI published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools.” The report documents $149,000,000 fraudulently purloined by factions of the California charter-school industry. The total of stealing stated is a summation of cases cited in media reports. The actual amount stolen is much larger.

The ITPI report also reveals how fortunes are created by gaining control of publicly financed assets. The report discloses,

“While charter schools constructed with general obligation bonds cannot be sold or used for anything other than the authorized school, schools constructed with tax-exempt conduit bonds become the private property of the charter operator. Even if the charter is revoked, neither the state nor a local school district can take control of this property. Additionally, schools constructed with private funding subsidized by New Market Tax Credits or acquired with private funds but whose mortgage payments are reimbursed through the Charter Facilities Grant Program (known as “SB740”) are typically owned without restriction.”

The American Federation of Teacher (AFT) released a new white paper, “Report on the Aftermath of the Great Depression: A Decade of Neglect.” It shares,

“Moody’s Investors Service, the bond rating agency, found that not only do charter schools tend to proliferate in areas where school districts already are under economic and demographic stress, but that charter schools tend to “pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs.” As a result, charter schools also can add to school district credit risks, increasing the cost of borrowing. A growing body of research documents this impact.”

  • “Los Angeles: Each student leaving for a charter cost the district $3,900 in lost services.
  • “Philadelphia: Two different studies in Philadelphia found the cost of lost services to be between $4,828 and $6,898 per pupil leaving.
  • “North Carolina: A student leaving an urban North Carolina school district costs between $500 and $700 in lost services. The effect is smaller in non-urban districts.”

A Case Study in Destroy Public Education (DPE) (Part 1)

R.B. Buzz Woolley is a wealth philanthropist and venture capitalist from La Jolla, California. A San Diego Reader report from 2011 said of him,

“On the political front, meanwhile, Woolley personally donated $6500 to the California Charter Schools PAC in March and $25,000 to the Alliance of California Charter Schools Independent Expenditure Committee in June. In May, he also kicked in $10,000 for Californians Against Special Interests, a primarily GOP group mounting an initiative for a so-called paycheck-protection measure banning direct deductions of labor union dues.”

Buzz and The Mushroom House

In 2015 Woolley Purchased the Mushroom House for $5 Million

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

In 2004, Buzz Wooley was the President of the then new Charter School Growth Fund. That year, Don Fisher (Gap Inc.) and Wooley each contributed $100,000 to the fund. They were the only contributors. John Walton (Walmart) and Greg Penner (Walmart) joined the board. The next year, Buzz Wooley resigned as President.

Charter Fund Officers 2005

Image is from the Charter School Growth Fund 2005 Tax Form

The other important figure in the Thrive Public Schools case study is Nicole Assisi. Nicole attended Coronado High School and UCLA where she earned a multisubject teaching credential. Her first teaching job was leading English classes at San Diego’s Mira Mesa High School – 2002-2003 school year.

In 2003, she moved on to High Tech High where she was a teacher and project-based learning trainer until 2005 or 2006. Her linked in profile says she worked at High Tech until 2006 but it also says that in 2005 she went to Los Angeles to be an Assistant Principal at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. In 2008, she moved on to be Principle on special assignment at De Vinci Schools (Formerly Wiseburn 21st Century Charter). She left De Vinci schools and returned to San Diego in 2013.

Nicole_CMO

Nicole Assisi from the Thrive Public Schools Web-Site

Along the way, Nicole earned a master’s degree in English and Communication/Media Studies from University of San Diego – 2004 and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Southern California – 2010.

A Case Study in Destroy Public Education (DPE) (Part 2)

The 34-years-old Nicole was provided with $8,960 from the Charter School Growth Fund and $100,000 from the Gates supported Educause to come to San Diego and start a charter school.

In the fall of 2013 she submitted a charter proposal to San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and then withdrew it. Soon after, she did the same thing at the Grossmont School District. Finally, in November, she resubmitted her completed proposal to San Diego Unified.

SDUSD’s charter review committee recommended her proposed Thrive Public Schools be authorized to start September 1, 2015 instead of 2014. They felt she needed more time to get a school organized and populated. In a surprise move the SDUSD Board voted 3-2 to reject the petition.

The next day Buzz Woolley’s Voice of San Diego ran an opinion piece by Nicole. She called herself “a sacrificial lamb” and said the Board “made a mockery of the entire charter-approval process, which I worked diligently to navigate.” She also wrote, “Thankfully, the County Board of Education has an opportunity to right this wrong when our appeal comes before them next week.”

The county also turned down the charter with a 3-2 vote. The county review committee had recommended against approving the charter.

Nicole really had no worries because the pro-school-privatizing State Board of Education (SBE) would come to her rescue. Though the law encourages the SBE to respect the decisions of counties and districts, it seldom does. In the spring, SBE voted 9-0 to authorize Thrive Public Schools.

The money started flowing Nicole’s direction. The known list of 2014 donations:  Woolley’s Girard Foundation $108,000, Gate’s Educause $254,500, Charter School Growth Fund $175,000 and the Broad Foundation $150,000 for a total of $688,000. The next year, Broad gave another $50,000 and the New Schools Venture Fund sent $100,000. There is another $144,000 promised from Educause.

Nicole has opened two more schools and a fourth set to open in September. Choice promoting publication, The 74, describes a co-located Thrive elementary school,

“The Juanita Hills campus is co-located with Carver Elementary, a pre-K-5 school that enrolls much higher proportions of disadvantaged students and English learners than Thrive. The two facilities share the same lot, but a long blue line has been painted down the center to separate them. A Thrive parent complained that though Carver had its own library on-site, Thrive kids couldn’t use it.”

Tom Vander Ark is a well-known promoter of education technology and public-school privatization. He described the Thrive education program,

“Curriculum such as Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop and CGI Math provide collaborative opportunities for small groups to work directly with the teacher, while other students work on Chromebooks or iPads.

“The middle school team uses Google Classroom to make and manage assignments. Math software includes ST Math and Zearn.

Kids at computers running software programs is lifeless, boring and de-personalized. It is bad education.

Thrive has actively developed the support of many neo-liberal and conservative politicians. Among their listed supporters are: State Senator Ben Hueso (D); Dede Alpert (D), Former Assembly Woman and State Senator; Kerry Flanagan, Chief of Staff, California Charter Schools Association; Tom Torlakson (D), Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of California; Jed Wallace, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Charter Schools Association; Mark Wyland (R), State Senator. These people are enemies of public education supporting the same benighted policies as Betsy DeVos.

The three existing Thrive schools opened in the administrative area of SDUSD known as the Crawford Cluster. Like most cities, it is in San Diego’s poor and minority communities where the privatization efforts are focused. One of the reasons SDUSD’s Board rejected the Thrive petition was to protect the existing schools. There were already four charter schools within the cluster boundaries.

Crawford Cluster Map

Crawford Cluster Map from SDUSD

In 2017, Thrive announced its big advance which stands to make founder and CEO Assisi a wealthy woman. The report in the San Diego Union says,

“The 35,000-square-foot facility will be the fourth San Diego campus for Thrive Schools and will open in about 12 months at the former site of Bayside Community Center at 6882 Linda Vista Road.”

“The project’s cost became more affordable for Thrive through the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program, which gives tax credits to for-profit businesses that are helping revitalize low-income communities.”

“Civic San Diego was eligible for the program and was allowed to sell the tax credits to whoever was making the investment. In this case, the credits were sold to the bank lending money to Thrive to buy the site.”

Although paid for with tax money, the deed will belong to Thrive Public Schools and CEO Nicole Assisi.

Some Ending Observations

Thrive Public Schools is a net negative for San Diego. SDUSD is far more professional, stable and capable. Thrive undermines SDUSD budgets and divides people like the students at Carver Elementary. The charter school experiment has failed. It was a bad idea and needs to end.

Put these schools under the supervision of elected school boards and quit stealing tax payer money. School choice truly is a Bamboozle; a Hornswoggle.