Archives for category: Broad Foundation

This was written by Kipp Dawson, an experienced teacher of English and social studies in middle school in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won a large grant from the Gates Foundation to apply its ideas about evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students. Things have not gone well, as Dawson reporters here, especially since the city schools have a Broad superintendent who is a true believer in test scores as the measure of one’s worth.

Before becoming a teacher, Kipp Dawson spent ten years as a coal miner. She knows the importance of collaboration with colleagues. In the mines, her life depended on it every day.

She writes:

Education “reformers” are pointing their “effective teaching” arrows in precisely the wrong direction. In real life, anyone who wants to see really bad teaching can walk into any “highly effective” teacher’s classroom in public school in any Broad-trained-superintendent’s district infested by any Gates-type teacher “evaluation” system and see what fear has turned “effective teaching” into.

The day begins with an administrator’s announcement over the PA system of how many days are left until the BIG test.

Children, our precious children, then go from room to room (or the little ones stay in one room) led by a teacher who fears every moment for her/his job, and “knows” the way to keep it is to get those high test scores from those actual real children from the real world who are going to make or break her/his employment by which circles they fill in on those answer sheets during all of those days. So fear guides her/him as lessons are planned, as letters are sent home to parents, and as children’s time in school is more and more frenziedly taken up with frenzied, fear-inspired “teaching” of how to fill in those bubbles, by golly, we’re gonna make this happen, aren’t we, kids. And if any parent of a “high achieving” child dares mention opting out of these tests, fear guides the teacher’s response — fear based on real possibilities that in and of themselves make this whole scene draconian.

This is what classrooms across this country are becoming/have become for our beautiful kids — kids who come to us to get away from the growing poverty and violence which in too many cases controls their lives outside of school.

Fear.

Fear is coloring the days of children and teachers alike. THIS is what “education reform” ala Broad and Gates hath wrought. This is what we teachers and our organizations need to recognize, stand up against, and fight. Alongside our real allies. Along with parents who are telling the truth about what is going on even as they do all they can to stop the attacks on us teachers, too many of whom have been pushed into being agents of this horror.

Let us raise high again, out of the dust this mess is creating, the images of what real teaching and learning can be like (for a quick refresher, go back to chapter 9 of Diane Ravitch’s “Death and Life of the Great American Schopl System” — “What Would Mrs. Ratliff Do?”). We have to stop this madness.

In the aftermath of David Sirota’s exposé of PBS accepting $3.5 million for a series about pension reform, funded by the Arnold Foundation (and since returned), another question naturally arises: why has PBS shown little or no interest in the corporate takeover of and turmoil in public education?

I appeared on Charlie Rose last year for about 15-20 minutes. But otherwise the viewers of PBS have not had any in-depth investigation of the corporate-funded assault on one of our nation’s most crucial democratic institutions. Why isn’t PUBLIC television interested in PUBLIC education?

Here is one lead, sent to me by blogger Jonathan Pelto, who received it from Oakland parent activist Sharon Higgins. This was a letter she wrote in 2009:

It begins like this:

“Last summer you initiated a series of conversations, underwritten by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, about the “crisis” in our public schools.

“In the past nine months, it appears you have had three of these full-hour conversations: Wendy Kopp (with Bob Wise on 7/1/08), Michelle Rhee (7/14/08), and Arne Duncan (3/11/09). Have I missed anyone?

“As a longtime viewer, I am extremely disturbed that you are now limiting your education interviews to pro-charter school forces only. This clearly reveals a problem with your journalistic standards.

“I am even more disturbed, but sadly not surprised, to find that the funding for these interviews is being provided by a pro-charter school organization, The Broad Foundation. Either you have not researched how this organization is influencing the public’s view of charter schools, or you are intentionally delivering their propaganda to the American public.”

Since Higgins wrote, Charlie Rose has interviewed Bill Gates, Joel Klein, and other leaders of the corporate takeover.

Clearly, balance is needed.

University of Washington scholars Wayne Au and Joseph J. Ferrare have written an excellent analysis of the big money that flooded the state of Washington to pass charter legislation in 2012. Although defeated three times before by voters, this time the proposal passed by a tiny margin. Its major funders were Bill Gates, who has no children in public school, and Walmart heiress Alice Walton,who lives in Arkansas. Substantial help was provided by other members of the Billionaire Boys Club and their claque (such as Stand for Children).

The more than $10 million they amassed was sufficient to buy what they wanted.

The moral of the story: a small number of very wealthy individuals and organizations bought a policy of their choosing. This subverts democracy. It subverts the principle of one man, one vote.

These are not reformers. They are plutocrats who use their vast wealth to buy what they want.

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Conclusions/Recommendations: This study concludes that, compared to the average voter in Washington, an elite group of wealthy individuals, either directly through individual donations or indirectly through their affiliated philanthropic organizations, wielded disproportionate influence over the outcome of the charter school initiative in the state, thereby raising serious concerns about the democratic underpinnings of an education policy that impacts all of the children in Washington State. This study also concludes that elite individuals make use of local nonprofit organizations as a mechanism to advance their education policy agenda by funding those nonprofits through the philanthropic organizations affiliated with those same wealthy elites. In light of these conclusions, the authors recommend that a mechanism for more democratic accountability be developed relative to education policy campaigns, initiatives, and legislation.

“INTRODUCTION

“To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, today’s plutocrats are not like you and I; nor do they resemble the politicians we elect. Even when they assume the authority to set public policies, they are, I fear, not sackable. (Bosworth, 2011, p. 386)

“With the backing of both major political parties, billionaire philanthropists, venture capitalists, business leaders, and a growing network of nonprofit organizations and research centers, charter school policy has evolved into a major component of the current education reform movement in the United States (Fabricant & Fine, 2012; Rawls, 2013). As of 2012, all but nine U.S. states allowed charter schools (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 2013), and in one of those nine, Washington State, charter school legislation was passed by popular vote in November 2012 (Reed, 2012)…..”

And more:

In this section we present the findings of our network analysis in two phases. First, through two tables, we present data on cash and in-kind contributions to the Yes On 1240 campaign and funding relationships between campaign donors, affiliated philanthropies, and organizational campaign supporters (Tables 1 and 2). Second, we visualize these relationships through a simple directed graph that traces the flows of sponsorship (material and symbolic) among policy actors (Figure 1).

YES ON 1240 CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

Several important findings arise when we analyze the contributions to the Yes On 1240 campaign.

Table 1: Yes On I-1240 Campaign Cash and In-kind Contributions of $50k and More

Yes On 1240 Donor
Donation Amount
1.
Bill Gates Jr. – Microsoft cofounder and current chairman
$3,053,000.00
2.
Alice Walton – heiress; daughter of Walmart founder, Sam Walton
$1,700,000.00
3.
Vulcan Inc. – founded by Paul Allen, Microsoft cofounder
$1,600,000.00
4.
Nicolas Hanauer – venture capitalist
$1,000,000.00
5.
Mike Bezos – father of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos
$500,000.00
6.
Jackie Bezos – mother of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos
$500,000.00
7.
Connie Ballmer – wife of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
$500,000.00
8.
Anne Dinning – managing director D.E. Shaw Investments
$250,000.00
9.
Michael Wolf – Yahoo! Inc. board of directors
$250,000.00
10.
Katherine Binder – EMFCO Holdings chairwoman
$250,000.00
11.
Eli Broad – real estate mogul
$200,000.00
12.
Benjamin Slivka – formerly Microsoft; DreamBox Learning cofounder
$124,200.00
13.
Reed Hastings – Netflix cofounder and CEO
$100,000.00
14.
Microsoft Corporation
$100,000.00
15.
Gabe Newell – formerly Microsoft; Valve Corporation cofounder
$100,000.00
16.
Doris Fisher – Gap Inc. cofounder
$100,000.00
17.
Kemper Holdings LLC – local Puget Sound developer
$110,000.00
18.
CSG Channels
$60,000.00
19.
Education Reform Now
$50,000.00
20.
Bruce McCaw –McCaw Cellular founder
$50,000.00
21.
Jolene McCaw – spouse of Bruce McCaw
$50,000.00
Source: Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (2012a)

Table 1 highlights that $10.65 million in total, or almost 98% of the $10.9 million raised for the Yes On 1240 campaign, was funded by 21 individuals and organizations who each donated more than $50,000 to the campaign (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012a).

Notably, Bill Gates Jr. is the biggest contributor ($3M) to the campaign, nearly doubling the next biggest contributions coming from Walmart heiress Alice Walton ($1.7M) and Vulcan Inc. ($1.6M),2 Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s company. As a more general finding, these amounts indicate that a number of select wealthy individuals with no immediate connection to Washington State (e.g., Eli Broad and Alice Walton) demonstrated a vested interest in charter school policy in the state. Another finding that emerges from the data is that wealthy individuals who are connected to the technology sector also demonstrated a vested interest in promoting charter school policy in Washington State (12 of the top 21 contributors to Yes On 1240 are strongly connected to the technology sector). Additionally, as might be expected given the interconnectedness of any sector of industry, several of these individuals have historical and industry-related connections to Microsoft Inc. and Microsoft Inc. cofounder and chairman, Bill Gates Jr.

It is also of value to highlight the $50,000.00 donation to the Yes On 1240 campaign from Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee because it illustrates the tightly woven interconnectedness of organizations and funding structures associated with education policy reform advocacy. New York State tax records from 2006 explicitly indicate that Education Reform Now, Inc., Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee, and DFER all share officers, personnel, office space, and paymasters (Libby, 2012). Tax records from 2007 further indicate that Education Reform Now Inc. and Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee share these same resources (New York State Office of the Attorney General, 2013). Thus, it is difficult to determine where DFER, Education Reform Now Inc., and Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee begin and end individually because, in essence, they represent a financially intertwined cluster of three organizations that seem to operate as a single organization with overlapping staff and resources. Consequently, even though tax records do not allow us to fully understand the exact relationship, the $50,000.00 donation to the Yes On 1240 campaign from Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee is functionally also a donation from Education Reform Now Inc. and DFER.

YES ON 1240 CONNECTED ORGANIZATIONS

As discussed above, four organizations, LEV, DFER, Stand for Children, and Partnership for Learning, publicly claimed credit for leading and coordinating the Yes On 1240 WA Coalition for Public Charter Schools (Yes On 1240, 2012a). An analysis of the in-kind donations to the Yes On 1240 campaign (that is, donations of labor or other services that are given cash value and added to the campaign donation total) supports this claim: Those four organizations predominate the in-kind donations database and are the only organizations listing “staff time” as donated in kind to the campaign (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012c). Further, as a university-based research center, they cannot be listed as having provided in-kind donations (or any donations) directly to a political campaign in the state. Because of their active role in providing direct, nonmonetary support for the Yes On 1240 campaign vis-à-vis being highlighted prominently in a campaign video (Yes On 1240, 2012b) and authoring a research report explicitly in support of I-1240 (Lake et al., 2012), we have included the CRPE here as a “connected organization” for their symbolic contribution to the campaign through the lending of their expertise.

PHILANTHROPIC CONNECTIONS TO THE YES ON 1240 CAMPAIGN

Cross referencing information gathered from the Google search engine, philanthropy websites, and available tax records (Foundation Center, 2013) produced the following 11 foundations directly connected to major donors to the Yes On 1240 campaign (in alphabetical order): Apex Foundation (formerly the Bruce & Jolene McCaw Foundation), Bezos Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Corabelle Lumps Foundation (formerly the Anne Dinning and Michael Wolf Foundation), the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund (connected through the Connie and Steve Ballmer advised Biel Fund),3 Lochland Foundation (Katherine Binder, cofounder, officer, and contributor), The Walton Family Foundation, and Wissner-Slivka Foundation. Using foundation databases, foundation reports, available tax records, organizational websites, and institutional reports, we then looked for whether or not these foundations provided funding to the Yes On 1240 campaign-related organizations.

Table 2: Philanthropic Support for Yes On 1240 Connected Organizations

Organization

Amount

Foundation

Center on Reinventing Public Education
$8,578,000
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
$701,000
The Walton Family Foundation
$512,813
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
Education Reform Now (Democrats for Education Reform)
$2,925,000
The Walton Family Foundation
$2,481,716
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
$600,000
Doris & Donald Fisher Fund
$500,000
Corabelle Lumps Foundation
$15,000
Bezos Family Foundation
League of Education Voters
$4,790,000
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
$257,000
Lochland Foundation
$160,139
Bezos Family Foundation
$1,000
Apex Foundation
Partnership for Learning
$4,700,000
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Stand for Children™
$9,000,000
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
$2,857,945
The Walton Family Foundation
$350,000
Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund
$120,304
Bezos Family Foundation
$55,000
Wissner-Slivka Foundation
$25,000
Lochland Foundation
$1,000
Apex Foundation
(Sources: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2013; Foundation Center, 2013; Libby, 2012; New York State Office of the Attorney General, 2013; Stand for Children, 2013; University of Washington Bothell Office of Research, 2013; University of Washington Bothell Office of Sponsored Programs, 2013)

“As Table 2 indicates, the philanthropic foundations connected to major contributors to the Yes On 1240 campaign provided a range of support directly to three of the four campaign-coordinating organizations and the CRPE: the Apex Foundation’s $1,000.00 contributions to each LEV and Stand for Children were the smallest, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s total contribution of $9,000,000.00 to Stand for Children was the largest. Further, while DFER received no direct philanthropic support, its sister organization Education Reform Now received ample support from campaign-connected philanthropies, and, as detailed above, the overlap of resources between the cluster of Education Reform Now Inc., Education Reform Now Advocacy, and DFER, is very fluid. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the most prominent here, haven given over $27 million total to Yes On 1240 campaign-connected organizations across multiple years, grants, and contracts. The Walton Foundation is second-most prominent, having contributed $6.48 million to campaign-connected organizations, followed by the Broad Foundation at $2.99 million in support for campaign-connected organizations. There is a precipitous drop in total support after these three, potentially indicating smaller amounts of financial support originating from smaller foundations (e.g., Lochland Foundation or the Bezos Family Foundation). Regardless of the amount, foundation support of the organizations directly involved in the Yes On 1240 campaign is indicative of ideological alignment around specific education reforms (in this case, charter schools) between funders and grantees/contractors.”

Peter Greene, a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania, here reviews Arne Duncan’s friendly chat with two teachers. In this chat, he assures them that Bill Gates does not have a seat at the table. Just look at that table! Do you see Bill Gates? No, all you see is Arne and two teachers. Proof! Bill Gates definitely does not have a seat at that table.

Peter reminds us that there are people–like you and me–who see the world as it is, and not as the masters of the universe want us too.

Were you fooled by Arne’s guileless reassurances.

Or did your spleen explode, like Peter Greene’s?

The Eli Broad Foundation gave Néw Jersey $430,000 for Broad-style corporate reform. There was one strange string attached: the money would keep flowing only if Chris Christie remained governor.

This is how Rick Cohen of the Non-Profit Quarterly described this cozy deal:

“The Broad Foundation grant is in support of various educational reforms in the state, with performance benchmarks such as a 50 percent increase in the number of charter schools or the number of high quality charter schools, depending on which way one reads the grant language. It is not the first Broad grant to New Jersey, having been preceded by extensive support to the state’s Department of Education aimed at “’accelerat(ing)’ the pace of ‘disruptive’ and ‘transformational’” change. The Christie-contingent Broad Foundation grant raises so many troubling questions that one hardly knows where to start.

“To begin with, Broad included conditions in this current grant that are astonishing, requiring that all public announcements of the program by the state have to be cleared with the Broad Foundation. The grant contains a lengthy provision about making documents, files, and records associated with the grant the property of the Foundation. Are these materials, generated and used by the government as a result of the grant, not to be disclosed to the public? Is the foundation telling government—and the legislature and the voters—what they should accept as public versus private? A foundation spokesperson’s contention that this only applies to a sliver of files containing “personal information” doesn’t seem to fit with the fact that Sciarra [David Sciarra of the Education Law Center] and his Center only found out about the terms of this Broad grant at all, much like other Broad funding in the state, by pressing for disclosure through the state’s Open Public Records Act. Giving some definition to the Foundation’s narrow commitment to transparency, the grant agreement adds, “If the state is legally required to make any of these materials public — either through subpoenas or other legal process — it must give the foundation advance notice of such disclosure so that TBF may contest the disclosure and or/seek a protective order.”

Who knew that one could buy education policy in New Jersey for so little? What a bargain!

The indefinite suspension (firing) of five principals in Newark–who spoke out against the closure of their schools– by Chris Christie’s appointee Cami Anderson is going viral! Time for an anti-bullying program in New Jersey.

Jersey Jazzman shows in this post that the bullying agenda of Governor Chris Christie is advancing in many New Jersey towns, but it is no longer hidden.

Veteran journalist exposed it, I used Bob Braun’s expert reporting on the national “The Ed Show” on MSNBC, and the fight is on for the future of public education is on in New Jersey. Legislators from affected cities in NJ have introduced a proposal requiring that school closings have not only state, but local, approval. Call it the reverse-ALEC bill, since ALEC pushes legislation to override local control regarding school closings, charter schools, and privatization.

One other amazing fact: the NJ agenda of school closings and charterizing was underwritten by the ELI Broad Foundation in Los Angeles. The Broad money went to NJ with one restriction: it is contingent on Chris Christie remaining as governor. The bully foundation supporting the bully governor.

In an earlier post about the indefinite suspension of several principals in Newark, who had protested the closing of their schools at a public meeting, I wrote that state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson was a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy.

Readers have informed me that she is not a graduate of said “academy,” but that she is associated with it through a fellow organization:

http://www.broadcenter.org/residency/join/partner-organizations1

This page says Anderson is a “Fellow of the second class of The Pahara – Aspen Education Fellowship.”
http://www.aspenactionforum.org/user/52

Some Pahara participants have done both.
http://www.aspeninstitute.org/news/2012/12/18/pahara-institute-announces-new-class-entrepreneurial-leaders-pahara-aspen-education

Apparently there is a connection between the Broad Foundation and the Pahara Institute and the Aspen Education Fellowship.

Other bloggers no doubt will connect the dots.

On the very eve of the weekend celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Newark’s state-appointed superintendent showed the citizens of Newark that they have no votes and they have no voice when it comes to the fate of their schools.

The Newark public schools have been under state control since 1995.

Cami Anderson, the current Newark Superintendent is a former Teach for America teacher and a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy, which is known for advocating the closing of public schools and the handover of public schools to private management.

At a public hearing called by Newark Councilman Ras Baraka to discuss school closings,  the principals of several schools spoke against their closing.

Anderson fired them for daring to dissent.

Here Jersey Jazzman describes the situation. 

He quotes Councilman Baraka, who said:

“Today Cami Anderson indefinitely suspended four Newark principals: Tony Motley of Bragraw Avenue School, Grady James of Hawthorne Avenue School, Dorothy Handfield of Belmont-Runyon, and Deneen Washington of Maple Avenue. She suspended the four principals because they spoke at a public forum on Wednesday in opposition to Ms. Anderson’s widely criticized “One Newark” reorganization plan which includes closing or “repurposing” nearly one third of Newark’s public schools.

Ms. Anderson’s action in suspending the four principals is the last straw in a chain of inept, and horribly out-of-touch decisions. The people of Newark need to hear the views of those within the school system who disagree with Ms. Anderson. The four principals have a constitutional right to speak out. The Newark school district is not a military dictatorship, and Ms. Anderson is neither an army general nor a police chief. Her behavior must be governed by the principles of our democracy.

Whatever one thinks of Ms. Anderson’s political and educational ideology, she has proven time and again that she holds in contempt the opinions of the people of Newark. From the beginning, she has not consulted with Newark’s parents, community and political leaders, or professional educators on any significant decision. Most recently, she announced and began implementing her ” One Newark” reorganization plan on the people of Newark with no consultation and no advance notice. In doing this, she ignited a firestorm of opposition from outraged citizens.

Anthony Cody watched videos of the hearing and has extensive clips from the testimony of each of the principals.

He writes as follows:

New Jersey is making headlines this month as the bullying tactics of Governor Christie have gone beyond shouting down individual school teachers, which many in the media seemed to find amusing, and into the realm of political scandal as the “Bridgegate” emails came to light.

Now Newark, New Jersey, is exploding, thanks to the attempts at intimidation by Governor Christie’s hand-picked superintendent of schools, Cami Anderson. Anderson came to Newark after working in New York City schools. Before that, she was employed with New Leaders for New Schools and Teach For America. She was trained by the Broad Academy, which literally wrote the book on how to close schools.  

Journalist Bob Braun today carries a report on the decision by  Anderson to “indefinitely suspend”  five of Newark’s principals. Braun explains:

The “incident” was a community meeting at the Hopewell Baptist Church last Wednesday where (H.G. James) spoke, praising the efforts of his students, teachers and parents.

James was one of five principals indefinitely suspended in one day by Cami Anderson, Christie’s agent in Newark. The others were Tony Motley, Bragaw Avenue School; Dorothy Handfield, Belmont-Runyon School; Deneen Washington, Maple Avenue School, and Lisa Brown, Ivy Hill School.

Four of the principals…tried to answer questions from local residents  worried about what would happen to their children as Anderson moves toward a wholesale transfer of public school assets to the KIPP Schools, a charter organization that operates TEAM Academy Charter Schools. Questions Anderson wasn’t answering.

The plot thickens when we understand what these community forums were all about. These forums were convened by mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, to give the community a voice in response to planned school closures. A video shows the principals speaking to their community.

It is not clear whether four or five principals were indefinitely suspended. It is clear that Christie, Cerf, and Anderson intend to hand the children of Newark over to charter operators, regardless of the wishes of their parents and the community. And it is clear that any school employee who disagrees will be indefinitely suspended.

This is not the way democracy is supposed to work. Public schools belong to the public, not to state officials to use as their plaything. Public officials are supposed to serve the public, not dictate to them.

The state-controlled districts in New Jersey–all predominantly African-American–are being treated like subjugated territories, in which the residents have no say about the control or disposition of their schools.

I agree with Anthony Cody: The destruction of public education in New Jersey’s state-controlled districts–deliberate and knowing–is far worse than Bridgegate. One involved an abuse of political power, an act of spite on the part of Governor Christie’s closest staff. The other involves the deliberate destruction of democracy and public education. It should be an impeachable offense.

Seth Sandronsky and Michelle Renee Mattison try to understand the logic behind school closures? Is it low academic performance? Under-enrollment? Right sizing? Why are the closures concentrated in neighborhoods populated by Frican Americans and Hispanics? What is their record?

They write:

“Will there be a time when the term “school to prison pipeline” becomes “the home to prison pipeline” or the “home to military pipeline” because there are simply no more schools to speak of? If you interpret the public school closure epidemic sweeping U.S. cities as a deliberate attack on primarily poor black, Latino, and immigrant communities, then you already understand more than many politicians, judges, CEOs, and education policy apologists/analysts will concede.”

They ask the obvious question: Does it make sense?

“How can it be that we live in a political climate where school closure is accepted by many as a strategy for improving educational opportunities? (“Honey, they are going to teach the kids better by shutting lots of schools down.”) Can you imagine an argument whereby more hungry people will be fed if more grocery stores and restaurants are closed? How do we intervene in this nonsensical climate to keep our schools open?”

They note that the Eli Broad Foundation wrote the playbook on closing schools. It’s time, they say, to write our own to stop the relentless and destructive assault on public schools.

Montclair, New Jersey, has long been proud of its fine public schools. But these days, not even good schools and good districts are exempt from the corporate reform steamroller. At present, a substantial part of the community is at war with the school board and the Broad-trained superintendent. A group of dissident parents, who happen to be among leading scholars of education —–including Ira Shor, Stan Karp, and Michelle Fine—wrote the following description of the turmoil in Montclair.

PREFACE FROM MONTCLAIR CARES ABOUT SCHOOLS:

Montclair, New Jersey is a progressive town with highly-regarded public schools noted nationally for successfully desegregating through a districtwide magnet system. Kids of all colors go to all schools; families of all colors, classes, and sexual preferences are welcome here.

But the town now has a renegade board of education issuing subpoenas to uncover names of critics posting anonymously on blogs and websites. And we have a schools superintendent, hired by the board in fall 2012, who lacks state certification but was trained by the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. The superintendent, Penny MacCormack, came to Montclair from the NJ State Department of Education run by Christopher Cerf, another Broad graduate. Liberal Montclair, which voted overwhelmingly against Republican Governor Chris Christie, now has a superintendent from his administration.

Our school board, appointed by the mayor, took a destructive turn a few years ago by embracing austerity, cutting effective programs and essential classroom aides, ending services needed by students, while piling up multimillion-dollar budget surpluses year after year. The board also tried closing two successful and integrated schools, a plan it abandoned only after sustained parent protests.

Things went from bad to worse after MacCormack’s hiring following a secretive search. In true corporate-reform fashion, the board and MacCormack have restricted comments by the public and the local teachers‘ union president at meetings. Community management not public dialogue is its stock in trade. MacCormack hurriedly declared that Montclair was woefully behind on adapting the Common Core standards; she pushed a new “Strategic Plan” with a new layer of quarterly skills tests in every grade. After some of these new district assessments somehow got onto the Internet in the fall, the board launched an investigation and issued its subpoenas – including to a fellow board member – the only one to publicly question the superintendent’s policies- and to Google and a local online news site in an attempt to find out the identities of a local blogger and online commenters critical of the district leadership.

The ACLU of New Jersey sued on behalf of the blogger and following public protests, including from the Town Council, the board has withdrawn the subpoenas seeking identities of online critics. But the board’s subpoena against its own board member is still live and demands him to turn over emails and phone records, in fact, virtually all records of everyone he talks to in the community. You can see the subpoena here.

Our group, Montclair Cares About Schools, came together last spring out of concern over the destructive direction in the schools. We speak at board and Town Council meetings, hold public forums and workshops, send letters to the editor of the town paper, and have an active and popular Facebook page.

In December, Montclair Cares About Schools presented to the board and residents a timeline of how we got to this sad point in our district. An edited and abridged version is below.
_____

Timeline of a Debacle: “Just Six Months Ago…”
(issued Dec. 16, 2013)

Just six months ago, Montclair Cares About Schools asked the board to please slow down their plan to impose a new layer of quarterly, district-wide tests. Had the board listened to MCAS instead of ignoring our suggestion, the costly and divisive events since last June 23 could have been avoided.

June 2013: MCAS posted a petition online asking the board to slow down implementation of the planned quarterly assessments. Within 48 hours, 370 parents and community members signed online and another 40 signed a hard copy. Since then, online signers have grown to 560. At the board meeting that night, Montclair High School students presented their own petition signed by about 578 students also asking to slow down implementation of the new assessments.

The board refused to respond to the pleas to slow down. Instead, it rushed ahead recklessly.

It rushed ahead even though the new quarterly assessments and related curricula changes mandated by Superintendent MacCormack would come in the same year as a complex and burdensome new teacher evaluation system imposed by the State.

July and August 2013: The district recruited more than 100 teachers to develop the new quarterly assessments for every K-12 class. The superintendent maintained the new tests were necessary to get students ready for the upcoming state PARCC exams scheduled to begin in 2015.

>The public was told that the district would generate open-ended assessments, attuned to the unique characteristics and concerns of our high-performing district.

>By summer’s end, despite great cost and rush, only the first-quarter tests and lessons were ready, not the whole-year curriculum. School started in September with teachers not having the yearlong curriculum ready for them to plan their lessons.

>Teachers also learned that the assessments would have to be graded on a Scantron-ready metric. Our school curricula were being dumbed down to make them computer-friendly for the new PARCC testing en route to all classrooms.

>Although supposedly every Montclair student would be subject to the new layer of assessments, Advanced Placement students were exempt, making these new Scantron tests directed at only certain students, in a district where fairness and equity matter.

>We also have no evidence that any accommodations were planned for students in special education taking the new tests.

September 2013: At the start of school, students throughout the district were given ‘surprise’ pre-assessment tests. Many were on material not yet taught. We have a copy of a memo telling teachers to make these assessments difficult so that teachers could demonstrate students’ improvement on the next round of tests and to NOT share the pre-assessments or how students performed on them with students or parents.

Based on these unannounced, unprepared, and unnecessary pre-assessments, students were pulled out of regular classes for math and English language arts support, often without any notification or explanation to parents. This disturbed parents, frustrated those children pulled out of classes, and in many cases altered the racial makeup of classes.

October 2013: On Friday, October 25, the district learned that at least 14 of the district’s 60 first-quarter assessments suddenly appeared on an unprotected website on the Internet. Teachers were supposed to administer these tests the following week.

Three things happened in the wake of the online publication of the assessments:

1. Suspicion about how the assessments got online landed immediately on people who were publicly critical of the assessments, the board and the superintendent.

2. As copies of the published assessments began circulating among parents, the cover was blown off the Superintendent’s and board’s claims that these assessments were creative and teacher-generated. Many were canned short-answer tests, a low standard for assessment. Some had been copied verbatim from model state exams and some were clearly developmentally inappropriate for their grades. So much for the high-quality, teacher-generated assessments promised to the public.

3. The true cost of the assessments became known: $490,000. A half-million dollars of our taxes wasted by the board to get us into this mess, with a huge legal bill to follow.

October 28 or 29: According to Baristanet, a local online news outlet, the District filed a police report about the unauthorized publication of the assessments around October 28. As we understand it, the police did not pursue this case because they judged that no crime had been committed.

November 1: The board held a hastily called meeting to vote to hire its own attorney for what it claimed would be an “independent” investigation into the online publication of the assessments.

The board attorney was quoted in news reports that he would “cast a wide net” and would be issuing subpoenas to “blogs and websites.” At that same meeting however, board Pres. Robin Kulwin told reporters that she believed the “leak” was internal.

Why, if the board president believed the leak was internal – that is, caused accidentally or deliberately by someone who works for the district – did the board authorize its attorney to cast a wide net with subpoenas directed at outside parties? This key contradiction has never been explained. Why a big dragnet for a local problem with no evidence of criminal behavior presented?

December 4: The ACLU of New Jersey sued the board to quash subpoenas that the ACLU said were defective and beyond the limited investigative authority of a local school board. The ACLU had previously approached the board asking it to withdraw the subpoena to its client. But unlike other school districts in New Jersey approached by the ACLU on similar matters, our board refused to stop hounding its critics.

December 5: A state judge acknowledged the merits of the ACLU’s claims by granting a temporary restraining order against the board to prevent it from issuing any more subpoenas or taking further action on the ones issued.

December 9: The Montclair Township Council voted to refuse a school board request to investigate a computer network server shared by the town and school district. The council resolution declared that the investigation “is contributing to divisiveness and strife among the people of Montclair,[and] is resulting in the diversion and expenditure of substantial funds.”

December 16 board meeting: We ask the board, how much money has been poured into this punitive and pointless investigation for which you have provided no evidence of criminal activity? Why are you targeting your critics?

We propose that evidence points to the following scenario:

• The assessments had been placed by the district placed on an unprotected site (as confirmed by the board’s own computer network coordinator).

• The assessments were found on GoBookee, a “spider” or scavenger site that retrieves documents from the Internet and then tries to sell them online. Considering this and other Montclair school documents are on this site, we think it likely that this is how the assessments got online.
• We believe no one “leaked” the assessments but that they were poorly secured on the web portals open to teachers. Given the rush and lack of care in this entire process of creating and mandating these new assessments, this is not surprising.

No crime was committed here, and we think the board knows it. The only offenses have been by the board by engaging in a witch hunt – an investigation of parents, educators and community members critical of the board. This investigation has violated freedom of speech rights, embarrassed this respected town, and most likely, as the ACLU asserts, broken laws.

The township council has spoken, parents have spoken, educators have spoken. Enough.
The superintendent and board leadership should take responsibility for any security breach, apologize to the community and cease this destructive investigation.

______

Epilogue: As 2014 begins, Montclair Cares About Schools continues its fight to expose and stop the damage to our good schools caused by this board’s and superintendent’s top-down, test-focused management and by its failure to tolerate public dialogue about our public schools. Our group endeavors to show alternatives. We hold public forums, workshops, living-room meetings for parents. We invite everyone interested in public education to visit our Facebook page.

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In addition to this joint statement, Ira Shor wrote the following letter to the editor of the Montclair Times to complain about the influence of the Broad Foundation in Montclair:

Dec. 29, 2013

Is Billionaire Eli Broad Running Our Schools?​

Why is the District refusing to release items regarding the Superintendent’s relation to the Broad Foundation? On October 31, 2013, I filed a request under NJ’s Open Public Records Act(OPRA) for documents regarding Supt. MacCormack’s financial disclosure that she received “more than $2000” in 2013 from the Broad Foundation. We need to know how much “more than $2000” Broad is paying her and for what services. Contrary to OPRA law, Mr. Fleischer, her COO, provided no requested documents and did not explain why he refused. OPRA requires district officers to meet legal requests in 7 business days or explain in writing why not. Mr. Fleischer had 35 days but provided no Broad items and explained nothing.

What is the Superintendent hiding? Who does she work for–Montclair’s families or billionaire Eli Broad and his campaign to standardize public schools? She attended the unaccredited Broad Academy whose “grads” follow Broad’s playbook, imposing one-size-fits-all curricula, endless bubble-tests, and high-priced consultants and testing technology. We have a right to know if she answers to Broad or to us.

The Superintendent and our Board have recklessly disrupted our good schools and squandered taxes on ridiculous subpoenas, while refusing to spend yet another huge surplus on things our kids need: smaller classes, foreign language, aides in all classes, librarians in all schools, instrumental music, and after-school mentoring for at-risk kids. Listen to our over-tested kids reporting fear and stress; listen to our under-supported teachers at monthly Board meetings; then, you’ll agree we should roll back the Broad agenda and its assessment train wreck. The refusal of my OPRA request joins other illegal refusals from Mr. Fleischer and the Supt.’s office. Stop hiding from those you should be serving. Open your books and files.

Ira Shor
302 North Mountain Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07043
973-337-6783

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