Tag Archives: Texas

Big Spending on Privatizing Public Schools in San Antonio

19 Oct

Federal dollars are supplementing deep pocketed Destroy Public Education (DPE) forces in an effort to privatize schools in San Antonio, Texas. The total monetary support for the preferred charter school systems exceeds $200,000,000. One “DPE” publication, The 74, published a lengthy piece glorifying the attack on San Antonio’s democratically run schools and praised local elites including the school superintendent trained by Arne Duncan and Eli Broad for leading the decimation of public schools in San Antonio’s poorest neighborhoods.

The article cited above ends with this disclosure:

“The George W. Brackenridge Foundation provided financial support for this project to The 74 [local San Antonio money]. The Walton Family Foundation [Walmart money with long history for working to privatize schools] , Bloomberg Philanthropies [Former NY Mayor spends heavily on charter school promotion], Carnegie Corporation of New York [Supports charter schools like Summit], the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [Paid for Common Core and lavishes money on charter schools], The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation [Literally wrote a guide to closing public schools], the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund [Biggest and earliest funder of KIPP], the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation [Tulsa Foundation that supports privatization friendly school board candidates across the nation], the Karsh Family Foundation [Oaktree Capital Management money from LA – supporters of KIPP], and Jon Sackler [Purdue Pharmaceutical money from oxycontin – supports school privatization school board candidates]  provide financial support to both KIPP and The 74.”

In other words, this article was a paid advertisement selling the privatization agenda. The George W. Brackenridge Foundation from San Antonio made a first time “contribution” to The 74 for this article to be published. An example of the author, Beth Hawkins, shading the facts reads,

“In 2009, a woman named Victoria Rico visited one of what were then KIPP San Antonio’s two public charter schools. A lawyer and the product of a family with a legacy in the city’s philanthropic community, Rico had been appointed to the board of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, whose sole area of giving was K-12 education.”

“Rico was blown away by what she saw at the school and began visiting other charter schools that were successfully replicating — opening new campuses where students were enjoying high academic growth.”

The message conveyed is a San Antonio elite with no agenda happened to visit a KIPP charter school and what she saw was so wonderful it called her to action. No mention of her having held board seats at three charter management organizations (CMO) Great Hearts Texas, Basis and IDEA. She is still on the IDEA board which seems like a conflict of interest considering she is in charge of grants from the Brackenridge foundation which gives to IDEA.

Victoria Rico’s Anti-Public School Crusade

Rico Graphic

Rico Picture from IDEA Board Web-Page

Victoria grew up with a family of three sisters in San Antonio. Her father James Lavoy Branton attended the US Air Force Academy and in 1961 earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) from the University of Texas. He and her mother Molly settled in San Antonio where they were very successful both locally and regionally.

Victoria followed in her father’s footsteps. She also achieved a JD from the University of Texas at Austin after earning a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. Upon completing her education, she returned to San Antonio, married and went to work in the local philanthropic community. Her new husband made a success of his cyber security and online corporate training companies which he founded.

In 2011, Rico published a proposed strategy for San Antonio to replicate charter schools which she believed to be “high-performing.” Victoria also invited leaders of the charitable network Philanthropy Roundtable and representatives of charter school networks to two meetings in San Antonio. Her message was that the city’s private and family foundations could make a greater collective impact if they joined forces to help underwrite new charter schools.

Out of these meetings, Rico founded a new organization, Choose to Succeed, to lead the collective effort to expand charter networks in San Antonio. Her goal was to add four more charter CMO’s to the exiting two currently operating in the city, KIPP and IDEA. The four new CMO’s she planned to court were BASIS Schools, Carpe Diem Schools, Great Hearts Academies, and Rocketship Education.

The 74 article reported on the strategy,

“Cultivating their growth in San Antonio would require more than $50 million in local donations, about $24 million of which has already been raised thanks to hefty pledges from Harvey Najim and his foundation, the Ewing Halsell Foundation, Graham Weston’s 80/20 Foundation and others. Cheering them on are former mayors Henry Cisneros and Phil Hardberger.

“The room oozed money, a point Rico’s husband Martin made when he announced that the software company he owns had pledged $50,000 and challenged others to pledge, too, noting that some there could raise him by a factor of 100.

“Notably absent was H-E-B Chairman Charles Butt, a billionaire well-known for his education philanthropy….

“His office said he was unavailable to comment on the Choose to Succeed initiative.

“H-E-B’s primary area of focus remains on improving and investing in our teachers and our Texas Public Schools,” company spokeswoman Dya Campos said in an e-mail.”

Rico is clearly a talented advocate for her cause. In January of 2013 My San Antonio reported,

‘”We have a real chance here,’ said Victoria Rico, chairwoman and trustee at San Antonio’s George W. Brackenridge Foundation, one of several organizations involved in the effort, called Texans Deserve Great Schools.

“Dan Patrick, the Senate education chairman, joined Rico at the group’s news conference, where he and others pointed to test scores that lag behind other states and nations as evidence that education in Texas needs reform.”

“Patrick said he was excited about the ‘comprehensive, multi-approach (school) choice plan’ put forward by the consortium.”

“Several of the group’s proposed changes favor charter schools, such as lifting the current cap on charters, providing facilities funding for charter schools and strengthening the state’s “parent trigger” law to make it easier for parents to intervene in struggling schools, including turning them into charters.

“’Our purpose as Texans Deserve Great Schools is to be a resource to the leadership of Texas,’ said Caprice Young, vice president of education for Houston’s Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

“Others involved in the effort include the Austin-based Texas Institute for Education Reform and Parent Revolution, a California-based organization that promotes parent trigger laws.”

The leaders at the meeting are some of America’s most well known advocates for the “DPE” agenda. Dan Patrick is the ex-bomb-throwing-conservative talk show host from Houston who is now the Lieutenant Governor of the state. He tries every year to push through a school voucher law that would allow taxpayer money to go to religious schools.

Before working for John Arnold, Caprice Young was the first President of the California Charter Schools Association. She is now the head of the mysterious Tukish Imam, Fethullah Gülen’s charter schools in California.

Rico’s campaign has been very successful in raising money. The 74 article claims they have raised $50,000,000 from local philanthropists. That number seems plausible. Between 2012 and 2016, three relatively obscure foundations contributed almost $20,000,000 to the six preferred CMO’s and Rico’s Choose to Succeed.

local money

Data from Tax Form 990 for Halsell, Najim and Brackenridge

The national spending by billionaire controlled funds for expanding charter schools is stunning. One example is The Charter School Growth Fund, which is under the influence of the Walmart heirs. That fund gifted IDEA Charter Schools $7,515,000 between 2013 and 2016. However, private funds cannot match the US Department of Education’s largesse. Between 2010 and 2018, the Department of Education granted IDEA $108,490,824 and over the same period gave KIPP $238,953,951.

Pedro Martinez Brought in to Sheppard the “DPE” Plan

Martinez Graphic

Martinez Photo from San Antonio District

Martinez is not an educator. He has never run a classroom or studied pedagogy. However, he does have a Masters in Business Administration from DePaul University and got his start in education working for Arne Duncan at the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Before leaving Chicago, he became the Chief Financial Officer at CPS.

Pedro attended Eli Broad’s faux school administrator academy in 2009. Broad’s theory is that school system leaders do not need an education background because they can hire consultants for that. It also appears that the Broad academy teaches a harsh top down style of leadership.

In 2011, George N. Schmidt reporting for Substance News in Las Vegas wrote, “Pedro Martinez resurrected as ‘instructional’ guru… Broad Foundation places former Chicago finance chief in Las Vegas administration.” In 2012, Martinez was on a short list of two people to become the Superintendent of Schools in Philadelphia. He lost out to fellow Broad trainee, William Hite. That same year he took the Superintendent position in Reno, Nevada.

Martinez was fired after just two years on the job in Reno for reasons that are shrouded in mystery. It seems to have had something to do with his firing the district’s police chief, Mike Mieras. The Reno News Review alluded to a common problem plaguing Broad trained leaders; authoritarianism leading to a disgruntled staff. The report said,

“District sources by the dozen have been leaking information, reluctant to go public—suggesting that Martinez has created an unhealthy climate of fear. Many of those sources have the same view, that Martinez wants only department heads who agree with him, and Mieras did not fill the bill. They also say the talk of departmental “restructuring” is a blind behind which the firing took place.”

After Reno, Martinez got a political appointment to be Superintendent-in-Residence for Nevada’s Department of Education where he was an advisor to the Governor’s office. In less than a year, leaders in San Antonio decided he was the most qualified person in America to be their Superintendent.

Pedro is a favorite of “DPE” groups. On the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) internet site, Martinez’s biography says, “He is a member of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs.” That is Jeb Bush’s organization dedicated to privatizing schools and selling technology into classrooms.

The 74, article praised Martinez embrace of the phony Relay Graduate School of education created by the charter school industry with no professor’s of education. The report said,

“Martinez’s decision to invite Relay to run schools — and train new district teachers — is something other districts are watching, says Magee. ‘The partnership with Relay is groundbreaking for a variety of reasons,’ he says. ‘One is that Pedro told Relay, ‘“You are going to be training teachers for our system, and we want to embed your training in our district.’”

The Magee quoted above is Mike Magee, a leader for Bush’s Chiefs for Change organization.

Martinez brought in Democracy Prep to take over Stewart Elementary and he has opened two schools to be run by Relay Graduate School.

District enrollment in SAISD is declining and ripping a hole in budgets. Martinez admits that the influx of charter schools is the cause but he embraces them anyway. To compensate for the falling enrollment, he laid off 31 administrators and 132 teachers. Now there are calls for Martinez to be fired; not because of the layoffs but because teachers were laid off on the basis of performance evaluations instead of by the contract rules.

Running Multiple School Districts Costs More

Peter Greene is an education commentator at Forbes. He explains why multiple schools systems drive up costs for education. This is one of his examples:

“Let’s assume that … six districts employ the same number of teachers that the old single district did. They probably don’t, because students don’t leave in neat class-sized numbers, so if five out of twenty-five fifth graders leave the public school, it can’t cut a fifth grade teaching position, but the charter will still have to hire one for those five new students. But let’s assume that the numbers work perfectly, and the exact same number of teachers is employed. Each of the six systems will still need its own superintendent (or CEOs or whatever you want to call your highest muckity-muck), building principals, psychologist, business manager, cafeteria manager– the list can be as long as you like, down to dean of student activities and administrative assistants all around. The six districts will employ more personnel than one did– and many of the “extra” hires will be the priciest personnel.”

Each charter management organization is a school district and the San Antonio plan is to grow six new districts concentrated in the Hispanic neighborhoods of zip code 78207. The residents are told that the public schools are failing and are shown misrepresented testing data as proof. They are promised “high quality schools” from the private sector. It is a lie from upside down world; the public schools which are being stolen are the “high quality schools.”

I will end with the words of a local San Antonio hero of public education, Luke Amphlett. He wrote,

“While school privatization ‘reformers’ are backed by big money donors and corporations, opponents include San Antonio’s Our Schools Coalition of community members, teachers, and parents, the Movement for Black Lives, the Network for Public Education, and the NAACP – the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.

“It’s big corporate money versus civil rights organizations, community groups, and teachers. The choice could hardly be starker. That’s why charter advocates pretend this argument is about teachers’ contracts and unions that are scared of change: if they were to tell the public the truth, they’d lose the argument before it started.”

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.