Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Idaho has its own member if the Billionaire Boys Ckub, the guys who want to privatize public schools, use online learning to decrease the need for flesh-and-blood teachers, and undermine the teaching profession.

A reader, Mary Ollie, writes:

“Idaho Education News is funded by the Albertson Foundation so its reputation as an “independent” news outlet is questionable. IEN reprinted this news release/advertisement from Bluum. Absent of course is any mention of details about KIPP or Terry Ryan (who came from Ohio to oversee Idaho’s charter school expansion)

“A look at the foundation’s 990’s shows contributions to Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and the Friedman school choice group. In addition, there are substantial funds provided to charter schools. Blogs by the foundation director have made support for charter schools and TFA very clear. This along with “Rural Opportunities” (better titled rural opportunities for investors) will be the death of rural public schools.

“Unfortunately Idahoans see very little of this because the mainstream media does not dig. In fact, the Statesman has been driving traffic to the foundation’s online “news” by providing links on its page. Often articles written by IEN reporters are printed without any disclaimer.

“That’s how they roll! And Idahoans are asleep.”

Recently the billionaire Koch brothers launched a public relations drive to show that they are good guys, just like you and me. They even allowed a few reporters to attend their usually super-secret meeting with donors at a luxurious place in California. But they were not allowed to reveal the names of the donors. Forget the fact that they plan to spend nearly a billion dollars on the 2016 Presidential race. Like you and me.

The intrepid Lee Fang reports on that meeting and how it relates to the Koch PR makeover.

Fang writes:

“Billionaire conservative activist Charles Koch on Sunday likened his political efforts to the struggles of Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass, saying that “we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”

“We know this because Politico and the Washington Post were allowed to attend Charles and David Koch’s fundraiser at a southern California luxury resort over the weekend, in exchange for a promise from the reporters that they would help keep the names of donors secret.

“They may as well have promised to keep what the donors are actually paying for secret as well.

“The two media organizations dutifully reprinted Koch’s claim that his political network is focused on reforming the criminal justice system, reducing irresponsible government spending and even “helping the lower class.”

“The reality of the Koch political agenda is wildly different.

“Koch executives have gained positive headlines recently by partnering with groups such as the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Pew Charitable Trust to promote alternatives to incarceration and other criminal justice reforms.

“But the political network developed by the Koch brothers — the one that wins policy debates on Capitol Hill and elects favored candidates at the ballot box — has continued to elevate a narrow set of issues relating to upper income taxes and environmental deregulation.

“Americans for Prosperity, the biggest political organ in the sprawling network of groups financed by the Koch brothers, has never lobbied the federal government on criminal justice reform. Rather, disclosures from the group show that it has dedicated its efforts to repealing the estate tax (a tax on heirs inheriting estates worth over $5.43 million), repealing a tax on medical device companies, and undermining Environmental Protection Agency regulations on industrial pollution.

“In Louisiana, a state with one of the highest rates of poverty in the nation, Americans for Prosperity has distributed a pledge to lawmakers, asking state officials to promise not to expand Medicaid, a program that provides healthcare to the poor.”

Read the rest. It gets better–or worse, unless you think that Charles Koch is like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kim Irvine, English teacher in Ogden, Utah, knows the new state superintendent quite well. Brad Smith, a lawyer with no education experience, was superintendent in Ogden, where he implemented a series of failed “reform” policies. So, it being Utah, he was elevated to state superintendent.

Kim Smith here describes the havoc and disruption he imposed on Ogden. Watch out, Utah parents and teachers! Know what to expect and push back hard. As hard as you can.

This is the canary in the coalmine…

Few people in this state realize that many Utah teachers are holding their collective breath waiting for the state superintendant to unveil his educational plan. There are concerns because his previously unsuccessful reforms as a district superintendent are often pointed to as an exemplar. Not many people across the state know what these reforms could look like, but the teachers, parents, and students from Ogden, do.

Based on that perspective, there are a few points that should be considered, especially for the parents whose students will be educated under this new plan. Recently, an article addressed ten signs of a failing district. [i] Please refer back to the article because the descriptions of these ten sign are both illuminating and powerful. Here are the ten signs:

  1. The large majority of teachers have fewer than 5 years experience.
  2. Teachers are overwhelmed with requests for data.
  3. Teachers receive no support from administrators on discipline issues.
  4. Professional development is limited to indoctrination and data.
  5. The message is tightly controlled, eliminating constructive criticism.
  6. School Board members serve as rubber stamps.
  7. The community is not involved in its schools.
  8. The district is top heavy with administrators.
  9. An overemphasis has been placed on technology.
  10. Not enough emphasis is being place on civics and citizenship.

Watch how closely this mirrors the events that happened in Ogden as Mr. Smith implemented his reforms.


One of the first actions as newly appointed superintendent that really caught the ire of the community was to fire all of the librarians in the district including many reading specialists, citing potential increases in the cost of benefits under the Affordable Care Act. [ii] Smith also went on to explain that Ogden School District is the only remaining district on the Wasatch Front to employ licensed teachers as media specialists in their libraries. [iii]This turned out to be false, but deaf to the public outcry by parents, teachers, and students, the librarians did, indeed, lose their jobs. Many had been in the district for decades. After all was said and done, a handful of librarians remained. [iv]

Scripted Teaching

The next concern arose because of mandated training and implementation of scripted curriculum. Although many requests were made to the district about the expense of this program, the district would never release exact numbers. It has been reported the cost of this scripted program is upwards of $800,000 a year for the English instruction alone. This is horrifying to anyone, but especially someone who understands that these supplies are “consumables”. They are basically a bunch of worksheets bound together that the students write in and are thrown away each year and replaced. This is a very expensive and not a very effective way to teach as many research studies show. “One program cannot meet the needs of all children. Teachers need to be trained and empowered to make decisions about how best to teach their students.”[v]

Teacher Attrition

Many teachers began to leave Ogden District for several reasons including heavy-handed discipline, scripted programs, and a huge increase in data gathering and analysis paperwork. Other teachers were simply non-renewed. The local paper reported, “District teacher turnover 57% from 2006 to 2013.” Actual numbers appear that the trend is not only not slowing, but also increasing. According to the district’s records just about the same number of teachers left again the next year which would bring the cumulative to 72% turn over in teachers. Smith said. “Reforms were implemented, and they are choosing to go elsewhere to work.”[vi]

Teacher, Jennifer Claesgens, whose resume includes a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education, experience teaching high school, and four years as an assistant professor at Northern Arizona University’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning, responded to having her teaching contract not renewed by speaking out. According to the Standard Examiner, “She wonders if the real reason she was let go was that she questioned some school policies. ‘I didn’t understand why we didn’t have finals at a high school, if we want students to be prepared for college. I didn’t understand why kids were allowed to play sports if they weren’t even in school that day, or were flunking classes…I questioned those things because I really feel that you need to have expectations of students.”’[vii]

Confiscation of Teachers’ salaries

Another large reason that teachers are fleeing the Ogden District are the ways, under the reforms, teacher discipline is handled. Currently, when a teacher is placed on what the district calls, “Tier Two Remediation,” they lose the state money. This represents several thousand dollars that is “confiscated” by the district. This practice has become rather commonplace in the Ogden School District, yet I haven’t heard of this happening to other teachers across the state. A concern here is that this seems to be a conflict of interest. The district is fiscally motivated to place teachers on discipline. Personally, I know several teachers who have had this happen to them. It is a stressful, demeaning, and hurtful punishment that pushes the boundaries of appropriateness, especially when Utah teachers struggle with low wages and shrinking benefits as it is.

Mr. Smith’s Superintendent Bonuses and OSD Board’s “Rubber Stamp of Approval for Renewed Contract

In the midst of all of this, the Ogden School District Board unanimously renewed Brad Smith’s contract for another two years. What surprised the community was to hear of Mr. Smith’s incentive pay and bonus plan, which seemed highly inappropriate due to the financial woes claimed by the district. The Standard Examiner covered the story, “…but his potential performance pay goes up. Before, Smith was assessed three times a year and got a $10,000 bonus each time he met the criteria. Now, Smith will be assessed four times yearly, and get $9,000 each time he meets criteria…” Board President Shane Story.[viii]

Even though many were present at this board meeting in protest of the many controversial policies, The Ogden School Board voted unanimously to renew Superintendent Brad Smith’s contract for two more years.[ix] This was particularly disturbing considering there was no formal offering of the job to other job applicants despite the public outcry. Here is a video of some of these concerns voiced at that meeting:


Data Shenanigans

But most importantly, it is vital to examine the data proffered by Mr. Smith as proof that his non-traditional methods actually work. Initially, the data showed that there were increases in student scoring at a few schools at the elementary levels, but those successes were short lived. There was minimal, consistent improvement at the secondary level. In 2014, as the state testing data came in, it became apparent that the reforms left a lot to be desired. The Deseret News reported shocking figures of proficiency rates in both the junior highs and high schools in Ogden District. Some of the most dismal were the math scores:

Ogden High= 4% proficient in math

Ben Lomond High= 5.9% proficient in math

Mound Fort Jr= 6.9% proficient in math

Highland Jr= 12.0% proficient in math

Mount Ogden Jr= 26.3% proficient in math

In 2014, two years after Mr. Smith started his sweeping reforms, the Deseret News reported the following:

“…Ogden, where English language arts scores fell by almost 77 percent — about 30 percent beyond the average drop experienced by Utah’s elementary schools. In the last four years, Dee and other Ogden schools have been hailed as having turned the tide in academic performance, fighting their way out of the bottom ranks through administrative overhauls and data-driven teaching initiatives. Between 2010 and 2013, Dee had gone from being among the worst-performing schools in the state to more than doubling its proficiency scores in language arts.”[x]

The paper even created a graph to illustrate how quickly the scores fell after being used as proof that Mr. Smith’s reform efforts were a smashing success. [xi]

Something else that is troubling about these numbers is that the math simply doesn’t add up to reflect authentic student growth and success. For instance, the graduation rates reported from Ogden District that same year were 71%. [xii]

Doesn’t that graduation figure become suspect when one considers that almost 90 percent of secondary students in Ogden District were not proficient in math? This means that almost 90% of the junior high and high school students in the district were not at grade level.

More and more testing…and now kindergarteners?

Lastly, many experienced educators are alarmed to hear the superintendent recommend standardized testing for our kindergarteners even though this flies in the face of a large body of educational research. [xiii] The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) has found that, “standardized testing in the early years causes stress, does not provide useful information, leads to harmful tracking and labeling of children, causes teaching to the test, and fails to set conditions for cooperative learning and problem-solving.” [xiv]


The Business Model in Education

So now that we await the new educational plan that the state superintendent plans to roll out in August, it is important to keep in mind that the business model does not work in education. Diane Ravitch, a national expert on education, historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University, and a former Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, describes Mr. Smith as follows: “Clearly, Ogden has decided to utilize a business plan. The superintendent has no education background. Class size doesn’t matter. Librarians don’t matter. The voices of concerned parents are ignored. As long as those test scores go up, the school board will declare success. After all, trained seals can perform no matter how many are in the pool.”[xv]

Concerns about Smith’s Reforms from the Community and Media

Alliance for a Better Utah describes Mr. Smith, “Between his credentials and behavior, educators in the state have plenty with which to be alarmed. Utah’s legislators historically have butted heads with educators, so a superintendent playing for the other team could have toxic consequences. The situation ought to be watched closely as Utah’s children will ultimately pay the price.”[xvi]

Recently, Paul Rolley, of the Salt Lake Tribune, pointed out some startling concerns in an article dated May 15th 2015 where he pointed out that Smith is a creation of the right wing:

“But Stephenson (Utah Senator) now has the education leader he always wanted. Smith, who immediately confronted the teachers union when he became superintendent of the Ogden School District and infamously slashed programs and people, seems to share Stephenson’s distrust of public school teachers and malevolence toward administrators bound philosophically to traditional education policies.”

Rolly went on further to express some concern over actions of state school board members as Smith’s reforms are adopted and the naysayers are eliminated:

“The few board members who met on their own and championed Smith have driven out other top professionals of the State Office of Education through their micro-managing and constant meddling, according to past and present education employees who have observed the recent carnage.”[xvii]


We, the Utah State Democratic Education Caucus is made up of parents, community leaders, students, teachers, administrators, and community members who are extremely concerned about the superintendent’s new 5 year educational plan especially since no one seems to be looking closely to the devastation he left behind in Ogden. Please, please heed our pleas. Be careful of glossy promises and slick brochures. Demand research backed programs that are authentic and peer reviewed, not just propaganda from vendors. We are your constituency and we are worried. At the beginning of this document we explained that this is the canary in the coalmine. The metaphoric canary is the remains of the Ogden School District. If you would like to speak to teachers, parents, or counselors who have seen this tragedy, we can arrange it. Please contact me and we will put you together.


Kim Irvine

Chair: Utah Democratic Education Caucus



[iii] Coverage from the local paper regarding firing the librarians and reading specialists:

~A few of the many letters to the editor from outraged parents fighting to keep the librarians



[v] Elaine Garan’s In Defense of Our Children: When Politics, Profit and Education Collide is a little book packed with insight and research.

[vi] Great information from local paper including stats and graphs on teacher attrition

[vii] Poignant story and video from the perspective of a talented, non-renewed teacher as Ogden fires 17 teachers

[viii] Great video interviews and coverage of Mr. Smith’s bonuses and other compelling issues:

[ix] Regardless of the public outcry, OSD Board unanimously renews Smith contract for two years.

[x] After reporting sweeping successes, the Deseret News points out several flaws

[xi] Deseret News graphic illustrating problems with previously successes in Ogden School District

[xii] Graduation data:

[xiii] Please go to 1:46:38 to hear Mr. Smith’s ideas on standardized testing for Utah kindergarteners.


[xv] National Education blog describes Smith:

[xvi] Alliance for a Better Utah describes Smith:

[xvii] Rolly article in Trib:

GSV Advisors is leading the movement to bring investors into public education and to create new companies to profit from public education funding. GSV stands for Global Silicon Valley.

Who are they, you might wonder? Here are their leaders. Note how much they know about investing and building equity. Note how little experience they have as education professionals (none).


Here is what I previously described as a “field guide to the education industry,” produced by GSV.


Here are some of the partnerships they have underwritten.


The founder of GSV is Deborah Quazzo. She is also on the boards of KIPP, Teach for America, and other “reform” (privatization) groups. Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her to the Chicago Board of Education in 2013 to replace billionaire Penny Pritzker. However, in early 2015, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the public schools had tripled their spending on companies where Quazzo had a financial interest (she said she recused herself from votes on those contracts). Demands for her resignation forced her to resign in June 2015.


In the movement to privatize public education, GSV is a national leader.


Steve Zimmer, a 17-year-veteran teacher in Los Angeles (he began via Teach for America), was recently elected President of the LAUSD school board.

In this speech to the AFT, he describes the many millions spent to defeat him.

I have known Steve for a few years, and I have always thought of him as soft-spoken. He is definitely NOT soft-spoken in this video. He goes after the billionaires who hope to privatize public schools, and he fights back, with a roar.

He unapologetically defends teachers. He is a firebrand fighting for collaboration.

A reader from Tennessee sent this comment:

“Well, well, Knox County Schools’ old friend The Parthenon group raises its ugly head out of the caves of East TN up to Chicago. In 2014 KCS Board of Education hired The Parthenon Group to do a “resource analysis” to the board about “improving “the school system. Parthenon made the usual recommendations – increase class size, cut librarians, counselors, etc- all about cutting costs. Some of us did a little investigating into Parthenon & presented this info to the school board in 2014. On the Parthenon Group’s website we located 2 presentations they gave to potential investors about money making opportunities in education. One of their prime examples for return on investment $$$ was Corinthian College. You may recall Corinthian’s fraud & its backdoor investor bailout by Duncan’s DoEd.

“Here is my speech to KCS BoEd made in March 2014 about The Parthenon Group.

“When I was much younger my Daddy & I went looking to buy a car. I decided on a car by first picking the one that was painted my favorite color and my Daddy always decided on a car by first looking under the hood. Thank heaven, I didn’t make the final decisions on buying cars for the family. I learned from my Daddy.

“After reading the Parthenon Group’s recommendations, our school community should should under their hood.

“Parthenon’s education group is made up of “entrepreneurial” consultants, mostly newly minted MBAs. It’s ironic that they would recommend disincentivize teachers in obtaining advanced degrees when 10 of them have MBA’s. Teachers are our children’s models for pursuing more education, not less.

“In 2009 & 2012 The Parthenon education group made 2 presentations entitled INVESTING IN EDUCATION. WHERE ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES & HOW CAN YOU CAPTURE THEM? and PARTHENON PERSPECTIVES : BALANCING OPPORTUNITIES & RISK, respectively.

“The target of these OTHER reports are businesspersons or business entities that want to start up a new for-profit school systems. Parthenon is selling potential profiteers happy fairy tales of “creative destruction.”

“Parthenon’s vision for their investors is what they envision for public education, including Knox Co Schools- that is, to kick public schools to the curb and take over via charters. The old public ed system will, like public utilities, be killed. And then–they’ll already be positioned to take over.

“Business types don’t like to be reminded of other unsuccessful “creative destructions” For example, how the death of public utilities spawned Enron.

“The long-term goal presented here is not to keep the public school system –it’s to grow for-profit schools to be much larger than the public system, then reduce public schools enrollment to those “less profitable” students.

“Note the questions slide 5: “How well can you supplement the management teams” and ” what is your experience as an activist owner? Translation: This is about business people taking over schools, and running them.
In the meantime, they can only suck up public funding through very creative “non-traditional” (translation: deceptive) strategies. Also slide 5.
Hence their question: “Will you do non-traditional structures? (non-profits…MINORITY INTERESTS! Getting rich while pretending to be a nonprofit–can you say scam?

“The one story of profitability & success is Corthinian Colleges. The more you read about Corinthian, the more slimy it is. Corithinain is currently under federal investigation in CA for fraud. Their stock price today is $1.55/ That’s a heck of an investment!! Their case here is so speculative and risky that you really would have to be insane or very ideological to do it. As an educator & a taxpayer I oppose hustlers like those in the Parthenon Group, who are eagerly inflating the next speculation bubble with breathless sales pitches

“Now, slide 11 from the 2012 pp points out how growth in the ed industry depends on a guaranteed failure mechanism, like the CC & PARCC- the testing delivery system for generation after generation of public school turnover. :“if Common Core gets teeth the achievement gap will get bigger.” Standardized tests have by design a lowest 5% of test scores every year.

“What kind of a person celebrates humiliating children to peddle investments? Only swindlers at Parthenon can “dispassionately” recommend increasing class sizes for Knox County’s voiceless poor and disabled children.

“Leading up to the wall St crash of 2008 a lot of traders who sold their clients derivatives knew they were selling junk. These Parthenon profiteers are definitely selling time-bomb edu-investments- cash in & leave while OUR children & taxpayers pay the price. We should be skeptical and demand evidence at every turn from these hustlers. Take nothing on faith. Look under the hood.

“Their business priorities are in direct conflict with the priorities of Knox County Schools, e.g. children, parents & education professionals. Cutting costs by Increasing class sizes & disincentivize teachers in obtaining advanced degrees is not an education plan. As an educator & a taxpayer I oppose hustlers like those in the Parthenon Group denying our children the education opportunities they deserve.”

John Paulson, a fabulously wealthy hedge fund manager, gave $8.5 million to Eva Moskowitz to expand her Néw York City-based chain of “no excuses” charter schools.

Last year, when Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to block the expansion of charter schools and to charge them rent for the use of public space–which he promised in the campaign–hedge fund managers gave millions to Governor Cuomo and spent several millions on a TV ad campaign attacking de Blasio. Eva brought thousands of her students and parents to Albany tolobby for her schools. The Governor and the legislature agreed that the city had to give free public space to charters or pay their rent in private space. In doing so, they ignored the law giving the mayor control of the schools.

“Success Academy, which was founded in 2006 by Eva S. Moskowitz, a former member of the City Council, is known for its high student test scores, as well as its sometimes polarizing methods. The network will have 34 schools as of this fall, but there appears to be enough demand for it to grow. This year it received more than 22,000 applications for fewer than 2,300 seats.

“Ms. Moskowitz has plans to grow to 70 schools within five or six years, and last year, she said she would like to have 100 schools within 10 years.”

Paulson sees Moskowitz’s chain as an antidote to poverty, but he seems unaware of her small proportions of the neediest students or the high attrition rate.

Rumors abound that she may run against de Blasio for Mayor in 2017.

Mercedes Schneider teaches high school English in Louisiana. She has ten weeks of unpaid vacation. What did she do on her vacation? She wrote a book about school choice. She set herself a goal of 1,000 words a day, and she stuck to it. She has written three books in three years. The first one was a bestiary of corporate reformers called “A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.” The second was “Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?” A book a year! My first book took seven years. I am impressed.

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about how a handful of very wealthy people invested in Andrew Cuomo and the Republican majority in the State Senate to gain control of public schools in Néw York City and state. The article says they want to continue former Mayor Bloomberg’s policies of closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The leader of this effort, the story says, is former chancellor Joel Klein, who now works for rightwing media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Unmentioned is the undemocratic nature of this purchase of public policy. There was a mayoral election. Bill de Blasio won handily, after making clear his opposition to Bloomberg’s education policies. So, the reformers lost at the polls but used their money to nullify the voters’ choice.

Carole Marshall is a retired teacher who taught in the schools of Providence, Rhode Island. She was invited to participate in shaping Rhode Island “strategic plan” for 2015-2020, but soon became disillusioned when she realized that the designers of the strategic plan were going through the motions, pretending to listen to the public. Before they even started the process, they knew exactly what they wanted. They surveyed parents but ignored their strong wishes for schools that emphasized student creativity and self-motivation. The ultimate plan proclaimed what the planners wanted all along: blended learning, where students spend hours on a computer and fewer teachers are needed.

The strategic plan was produced by a California organization called “the Learning Accelerator.” The leaders wrote recently that the state’s plan for 2015-2020 was created by thousands of Rhode Islanders “through a process that is built upon the principles of transparency, engagement, empowerment and respect.” But in reality the public has been kept in the dark about what is really happening and why. The process was not at all transparent, and what looked like engagement was really a dog and pony show with a completely different agenda.

The “sole method” of this organization, Marshall writes, is to sell blended learning through disruptive innovation.

Marshall warns that the plan sounds good but it is not. Who will benefit? Not teachers or students, but venture capitalists and vendors of technology products.


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