Tag Archives: Vallas

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.

 

 

Philadelphia Story: Another School Choice Failure

12 Jun

For the last two decades, Pennsylvania’s political leaders have attempted to improve schools in Philadelphia without spending money. In 2001, Governor Thomas Ridge turned to Chris Whittle and his Edison Project to study the school system and create a reform plan. That December, the state of Pennsylvania disbanded the local school board and assumed total control of the district. Since then, citizens of Philadelphia have endured – with minimal input – a relentless school choice agenda and the loss of public schools in their neighborhoods.

Politicians – not wanting to spend on education – often claim the problem is public schools have become bloated and inefficient. This assertion is normally paired with an attack on teachers’ unions as being the enemy of good pedagogy and progress. The medicine offered to solve these ills is competition and market forces. It is theorized that competition will improve management and force teachers to do their job better. After two decades of implementing this theory in Philadelphia; test scores are still low, communities are still plagued by poverty and fraud is rampant. Worst of all, the public-school system has been significantly harmed.

Samuel E. Abrams wrote the book Education and the Commercial Mindset which begins with an examination of the Edison Project in Philadelphia. Abrams reports,

“In urban Philadelphia, property values are low and poverty is high. In 2000-2001, Philadelphia spent $7,944 per student on schools. The five school districts along the Main Line of the region’s commuter rail system, which services suburbanites living northwest of Philadelphia spent $11,421 per student.”

In the summer of 2001 just before leaving to become the first head of the Homeland Security, Governor Ridge commissioned Chris Whittle’s Edison Project to produce for $2.7 million a report on how to boost test scores and contain costs in Philadelphia. Ridge famously said, “Nearly a quarter million children are educated in it – or, truth be told, not educated.” (Abrams 110) Ridge’s successor, Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker was just as brutal saying, “After all, only 13 percent of the district’s high school juniors are able to read the newspapers with basic comprehension. And that’s not counting those who drop out.” (Abrams 110)

Edison’s report was not impartial. Both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News called it a charade. (Abrams 116) The report was overly critical of the school district and recommended that the Edison Project be put in charge of running it. Edison also called for reforming “failing” schools by turning them into charter schools or other private management.

Helen Gym (now on the Philadelphia city council) speaking for Asian Americans United, asked, “If this [privatization] is so innovative why aren’t they doing it in Lower Merion?” (Abrams 114) This turns out to have been a perceptive question. Lower Merion is 85% white and rich. Still today, there appear to be no charter schools in Lower Merion Township. Charter schools mostly exist in poor communities without the political capital to protect their schools.

Philadelphia PA Charter School Map

Created Using Fordham Institute’s Charter School Mapping Facility

On December 21, 2001, Philadelphia became the largest school district ever taken over by a state government. The district was to be led by a five-member School Reform Commission (SRC). Three of the members would be named by the governor and two by Philadelphia’s mayor. Edison was named the lead consultant to the district and given management of 20 of the 42 schools identified as most in need of improvement.

That summer, the SRC hired Paul Vallas to lead the school district. Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report wrote an article, “Serial School Privatizer “Chainsaw Paul” Vallas Gets Ready For His Next Job,” about Vallas’s political aims. In it he recalled Vallas’s record,

“Vallas next landed in Philadelphia, where, he surrounded himself with the usual dubious cloud of yes-men and consultants, engineered the privatization of a significant chunk of that city’s public schools, selling off public buildings to charter operators and well-connected developers and firing hundreds more mostly black teachers. … Vallas’s “blame the teachers, blame the deficits, blame the parents” rhetoric and practice exactly matched those of … Michelle Rhee. He left Philly schools in shambles, just in time to make New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

This may be a little unfair, but Vallas certainly has promoted the privatization of public schools wherever he served. He also opened the door for billionaire Eli Broad to infest Philadelphia with administrators trained at his unaccredited Broad Academy.

Broad believes that leaders of school district need financial and business management skills but require little or no experience in education. He also says that the best way to reform education is through competition and market forces.

Vallas is an example of the kind of school leader Broad sought to foster. He was someone who had little to no experience in education but understood finance. When Mayor Daily gained control of Chicago’s public schools, he made his budget director, Paul Vallas, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Here Come the Broadies

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch titled a 2013 opinion piece Broad Street Bully. In describing Broad trained administrators, he wrote,

“Paul Vallas, a former Illinois state budget director who arrived from Chicago in 2002 to take over Philadelphia’s schools, was an early archetype – and he won a $4.3 million grant from the Broad Foundation three years later to train new principals in an Academy for Leadership in Philadelphia Schools. His short-term successor here – a retired Army colonel named Tom Brady – was a graduate of a Broad academy.”

This was not the Tom Brady the Philadelphia Eagles defeated on the gridiron this past February. This Tom Brady was a 25-year Army veteran with no public school experience who attended the Broad Academy class of 2004.

Vallas left Philadelphia for New Orleans in the fall of 2007 and Brady led Philadelphia’s schools on an interim basis while the SRC searched for a permanent replacement.

In February, 2008, the SRC hired the late Arlene Ackerman, who had an Ed.D in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard. She came to Philadelphia from the Broad Center in Los Angeles where she was the first Superintendent in Residence at the Broad Superintendents Academy. Previous to that she had served as Superintendent of Schools in Washington DC (1998-2000) and San Francisco (2000-2005). In her obituary, the New York Times reported,

“In San Francisco, ‘she was unwilling to listen to different points of view and not able to work with the entire Board of Education,’ Mark Sanchez, its president, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2008.”

By 2009, Ackerman was not only Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, she was the newest member of the Broad Center Board of Directors. The following is the list of the board of directors from the Broad Center news release:

  • Joel I. Klein, board chair, chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Barry Munitz, board vice chair, trustee professor, California State University, Los Angeles
  • Dan Katzir, board secretary/treasurer, managing director, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
  • Dr. Arlene Ackerman, superintendent, The School District of Philadelphia
  • Richard Barth, chief executive officer, KIPP Foundation
  • Louis Gerstner, Jr., senior advisor, The Carlyle Group
  • Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent, Seattle Public Schools
  • Wendy Kopp, chief executive officer and founder, Teach For America
  • Mark A. Murray, president, Meijer Retail and Grocery Supercenters
  • Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Margaret Spellings, former U.S. secretary of education

Along with Ackerman on this list of well-known school privatization advocates is the power couple, Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth. Wendy founded Teach for America which now has a large presence in Philadelphia. Before Richard became CEO of the KIPP charter chain he was the Vice President in charge of operations in Philadelphia for the Edison Project. He went to KIPP in 2006. (Abrams 138)

Ackerman’s most lasting Philadelphia reform which is still in play today was called Imagine 2014. Ken Derstine an education blogger from Philadelphia noted, “While state funding to the district increased during the later part of the 2000’s under Governor Ed Rendell, much of this increased funding, and temporary funding from federal stimulus money, was devoted to School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Imagine 2014 initiative which poured money into charters, Promise Academies, and Renaissance Schools.”

The Imagine 2014 initiative is still the official board policy promulgated by the SRC. It is a policy driving public school closures, undermining district control and encouraging privatized schools. The policy introduction states:

“The Renaissance Schools initiative is articulated in the School District of Philadelphia’s “Imagine 2014” strategic plan and is predicated on the belief that the School District has chronically underperforming schools that are not serving the needs of students and families and have not made adequate yearly progress as defined by state and federal laws, and that these schools need fundamental change to facilitate a transformation of the learning environment. With an urgency to dramatically improve the learning environment in these underperforming schools, the School District is seeking innovative ways to transform low-performing schools through new school models that include: in-district restructuring (Innovation Schools) and external partnerships (Contract Schools and Charter Schools).”

Innovation schools are promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a politically conservative organization that publishes model legislation which is often introduced verbatim by Republican state law makers across America. ALEC receives major funding from the Charles Koch Foundation. The Philadelphia innovation school design meets the specifications of ALEC’s innovation school model legislation.

Phi Delta Kappan is a professional journal for education, published by Phi Delta Kappa International, since 1915. EdWeek carried an article by Julie Underwood and Julie Mead of Phi Delta Kappan discussing the effect and purpose of ALEC generated model education legislation. Their list of purposes includes, “Reduce the influence of or eliminate local school districts and school boards (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 96) to be carried out through model legislation such as Charter Schools Act, Innovation Schools Act ….”

Ackerman was given a $900,000 severance in 2011 after she and Mayor Michael Nutter had a disagreement over which charter management company would be given control of Martin Luther King High School.

Joel Mathis reporting for Philadelphia Magazine wrote, “The Boston Consulting Group was brought into the District shortly after Ackerman left to continue Imagine 2014 ….” The interim superintendent chosen to replace Ackerman was Leroy Nunery who had “an extensive background in the private sector, including a two-year stint overseeing the charter school division of the former Edison Schools, a controversial for-profit educational management company.” Nunery was not a Broadie but Eli Broad (rhymes with toad) would have approved.

The School Reform Commission picked William Hite to continue Ackerman’s imagine 2014 which is now called the Renaissance Schools Initiative. A Broad Center posts says, “William Hite served as area assistant superintendent for Cobb County School District before joining The Broad Academy class of 2005.” In 2013, Hite led the effort that resulted in closing 23 public schools. His original list called for closing 37 schools. He has also enthusiastically promoted both innovation schools and charter schools.

Hellen Gym

Public-School Champion and Council Women, Hellen Gym, Speaks Against School Closings

The destroy public education (DPE) playbook calls for a combination of outside money, local money and a local political leadership group. The national school privatizing umbrella organization Education Cities identifies Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) as the their cohort in Philadelphia.

PSP is a 501 C3 (non-profit) organization officially listed with the IRS as The Philadelphia Schools Project. PSP has an associated 501 C4 (independent political expenditures) organization called Philadelphia Schools Advocates. PSP lists among its $5 million donors: The J. Mahlon Buck, Jr. Family, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hamilton Family Foundation, Dorrance H. Hamilton, Patricia Kind, Jeannie and Mike O’Neill, Charlie Ryan.

The Results

A 2014 article in the Pennsylvania Gazette sums it up succinctly,

“Maybe you heard about the sixth-grader who died several hours after suffering an asthma attack at a school lacking the budget for a nurse last fall. Maybe you read about the firing this spring of three principals embroiled in a standardized-test cheating scandal that implicated 140 educators in 33 city schools. If you’ve caught any news about public education in Philadelphia recently, chances are it hasn’t been good. Headlines about the city’s school system have been so alarming, and so frequent, that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Standardized testing is useless for evaluating schools, districts or teachers. These testing results do correlate very well with wealth or lack of same in a child’s home. Since the 1990’s they have been used to label schools in poor communities as “failing.” It is a fraud.

However, since the gauge being used to privatize Philadelphia’s schools is standardized testing shouldn’t the privatizers be hoisted on their own petard. Based on testing data, the last two decades of DPE reforms have FAILED miserably.

In 2009, Philadelphia joined Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). The National Assessment of Education Progress tests the TUDA districts every two years. For a simple comparison, I have graphed the 8th grade mathematics and reading scores in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC and the national average.

Math and Reading

Graphs of NAEP TUDA Composite Scores Data

After two decades of closing and privatizing schools in Philadelphia to “improve tests scores,” these scores provide testimony to how fraudulent school reform has been.

Parents have also been learning by tough experience that charter schools are not public schools. In December 2014, two low-performing charter schools – Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners and Wakisha – ran out of money and closed suddenly just before the winter break.

This displaced more than 1,500 students and left parents and guardians in a nightmarish scramble to find another option. Since charter schools are private businesses and cannot be forced to take students, the public schools had to find a place for them.

The SRC recently shared,

“The SRC will remain as the governing body for the School District of Philadelphia until June 30, 2018. Mayor Kenney appointed nine members to the Philadelphia Board of Education (BOE) in April 2018. Beginning in July 2018, the Board will oversee the School District of Philadelphia.”

Still the citizens of Philadelphia will not be able to elect a representative to the school board that they can hold accountable for decisions about schools. Mayor control of schools is against American tradition and undemocratic.

It is time to end this billionaire driven fiscal! It is time to boycott all charter schools because they are like wood rot destroying the main pillar of democracy, public-education.