Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Jeff Bryant has an excellent article in Salon about the year that the out-of-touch Establishment reformers saw their narrative of failure collapse. 


He writes:


A well-funded elite has labeled public education as generally a failed enterprise and insisted that only a regime of standardized testing and charter schools can make schools and educators more “accountable.” Politicians and pundits across the political spectrum have adopted this narrative of “reform” and now easily slip into the rhetoric that supports it without hesitation.


But in 2013 a grassroots rebellion growing out of inner city neighborhoods from Newark to Chicago and suburban boroughs from Long Island to Denver began to counter the education aristocracy and tell an alternative tale about schools.


The education counter-narrative is that public schools are not as much the perpetrators of failure as they are victims of resource deprivation, inequity in the system and undermining forces driven by corruption and greed. In other words, it wasn’t schools that needed to be made more accountable; it was the failed leadership of those in the business and government establishment that needed more accountability.


The uprising has been steadily growing into an Education Spring unifying diverse factions across the nation in efforts to reverse education policy mandates and bolster public schools instead of punishing them and closing them down.


2015 became the year the uprising reached a level where it forever transformed the hegemonic control the reformers have had on education policy.


NCLB is gone, and the battle for control of children’s education now shifts to the states, where parents and educators have a shot at taking back their schools. Hillary Clinton let slip her skepticism about charter schools and her recognition that teachers should not be evaluated by test scores.


The bigger, more important story emerging from 2015 is that the American public is increasingly at odds with a reform movement that seeks to remake schools into an image promoted by wealthy private foundations, influential think tanks and well-financed political operations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).


The evidence against the education establishment’s case piled up as the year rolled on, and the narrative of public education policy will never be the same.


The reformers are not about to give up and go away–yet. But as it becomes clearer that their goal is to destroy public education, their claims of “good intentions” ring hollow and the mask of reform falls away. As some point, the big money propping up this hoax will pull out. Wise investors don’t like to throw good money after bad. The Status Quo is failing, and the reformers own it now.

Will wonders never cease!


The LAUSD school board voted 7-0 for a resolution that rebuffs Eli Broad’s plan to take control of half the students in the district and enroll them in privately managed charter schools. After a lively discussion, the board passed a resolution that made clear it would oppose any effort to weaken the LAUSD public schools. This is a startling development, since some of the members were elected with Eli Broad campaign funds.


The focus of the discussion was a resolution put forward by Scott Schmerelson, strongly in opposition to a corporate takeover of the public schools. Some of the members openly acknowledged that the expansion of charter schools put the public schools at risk by diminishing their resources and programs. The Los Angeles Times noted with surprise that the board had selected its new superintendent by unanimous vote, and now voted to support the public schools by unanimous vote. The resolution directed Superintendent Michelle King “to analyze how the outside plan, which was developed by the Broad Foundation, will “affect the district’s enrollment, fiscal viability and ability to provide an outstanding public education.”


The Times writes:


Board member Scott Schmerelson, who authored the resolution, agreed to make changes proposed by other board members to soften some of the language describing charter schools, such as removing the word strangulation from a sentence describing the plan.


Schmerelson said he struggled to understand why Eli Broad and others did not work to improve traditional public schools by investing in successful programs.


“The point is that we have thrown the glove down to big business and they know they’d better be very careful how they work with LAUSD,” he said. “We’ll accept their help in limited forms, but they will not take over our district.”


Sarah Angel, managing director of regional advocacy with the California Charter School Assn., told board members that the resolution was polarizing. But board discussion settled some of her concerns. (I had to laugh when I saw that she called the resolution “polarizing,” because that was the same comment that the CCSA wrote in response to an opinion piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Times in support of public schools. According to CCSA, if you support charter schools, you are “for the children.” But if you support public schools, you are “polarizing.”)


Board president Steve Zimmer deserves credit and high praise for uniting the board behind a resolution in support of the public schools. Member Scott Schmerelson deserves credit and high praise for boldly and clearly opposing privatization and for laying out the disastrous consequences if the Broad plan were allowed to move forward.


My observer in Los Angeles watched the school board meeting and reported:


There was some pontificating, but basically, not one board member would say they were against the resolution. Just before the vote, Steve Zimmer spoke eloquently and signaled what I hope is the dawn of a new day at LAUSD. I want to send you his statement. When it was declared to have passed unanimously, the audience went crazy. In fact, a rhythmic chant of extreme support for Schmerelson and the resolution followed. While the camera was focused on the whole board and not specifically on Schmerelson, you could see his reaction. His body language was unmistakable. It was as if an extreme burden had been lifted from him. There is little doubt that he must have suffered greatly from attacks by the charter industry. In fact, you will hear Zimmer complain bitterly about nasty public comment from charter advocates made during the morning session and apparently before the resolution came up for a vote in the afternoon (I wasn’t watching at that time).


I would say that Schmerelson provided the board with a jump start to take the battle against privatizing education to a higher level.


When the video is available, I will post it.

Billionaire Reed Hasting, founder of Netflix, announced that he will create a fund with $100 million for the “reforms” he favors. He is a huge supporter of charter schools. Reed Hastings doesn’t like public schools. The CEO of the new fund will be Neerav Kingsland, who formerly ran New Schools for New Orleans, the charter-promotion agency in that city. In the past, Hastings has expressed his hope that one day almost every school in the nation will be a charter school and that local school boards will disappear. This is the culmination of the reform dream of abolishing local democracy and supplanting it with consumer choice.


This is why I canceled my subscription to Netflix.

The lone critic on the Indianapolis school board has decided not to run for re-election. Gayle Cosby asked critical questions about the board’s “reform” policy of eliminating neighborhood public schools and working closely with charter networks. Board members expressed relief that she is stepping down. Low-income residents will have no voice on the board.


A victory for the corporate reformers. Domination is never enough for them. They want total control, no dissent.

The ever perspicacious Jeff Bryant points his readers to the stories to watch in the year ahead. 


One is vulnerable governors, including two who have been among the worst in inflicting harm on public schools: Pat McCrory of North Carolina and Mike Pence of Indiana. Supporters of public education in both states should flock to the polls to restore public education.


Two is charter schools. There will be more financial scandals. There will be more community resistance to closing schools and handing the kids and buildings over to charter operators.


Three is the Opt Out movement. The more the federal government and states try to tamp it down, the more parents rebel and join the movement. Repression fires resistance.


Four is the Friedrichs case before the Supreme Court. If Friedrichs wins, public sector unions will suffer grievous harm.


Five is Chicago, which is a tinderbox because of Rahm Emanuel’s brutish handling of school issues and police brutality, with the emerging story of cover-ups.



John Thompson, historian and teacher in Oklahoma, writes here about a growing awareness in the mainstream media of the infusion of Big Money into education. The New York Review of Books is a major influence among highly educated people and has a reach far beyond professional educators.



The New York Review of Book’s Michael Massing, in “Reimagining Journalism: The Story of the One Percent,” proposes a new journalism to document and explain the effects of secretive corporate elites on our diverse social institutions. He basically calls for a very well-funded version of the Diane Ravitch blog.

O.K., it’s more complicated than that. Massing notes that “Education is but one area of American life that is being transformed by Big Money.” He wants a website that is staffed by top investigative journalists, and experts in the fields that are being taken over by “billionaires [who] are shaping policy, influencing opinion, promoting favorite causes, polishing their images—and carefully shielding themselves from scrutiny.”

Massing proposes a site, complete with reporters, editors, and “digital whizzes,” who “could burrow deep into the world of the one percent and document the remarkable impact they are having on so many areas of American life.” Similar to Ravitch’s blog, its purpose would be “tracking the major participants, showing the links between them, assessing their influence and impact, and analyzing the evidence on the performance of both public and charter schools.”

Moreover, Massing wants a site that:

Could also serve as a sounding board for people in the field, encouraging principals, teachers, parents, and grantees to send in comments about their dealings with these institutions. The most thoughtful could be edited and posted on the site, providing a bottom-up perspective that rarely gets aired.

Massing explains that “even amid the outpouring of coverage of rising income inequality … the richest Americans have remained largely hidden from view.” And, “journalists have largely let them get away with it.” We need sites that will cover more than education, but Massing, who has been influenced by the work of Mohammad Khan, Zephyr Teachout, and Ravitch, uses their work as a model for the 21st century journalism we need.


His website would:

Produce an ongoing record of the activities of the foundations and private donors trying to affect education policy. The political and lobbying efforts of the teachers’ unions and their allies would be included as well, showing how much money and influence they are able to mobilize in elections and for what candidates.


In the first of two articles, Massing describes Paul Singer, the CEO of the hedge fund Elliott Management as an example of “the ability of today’s ultrarich to amass tremendous power while remaining out of the limelight.” Singer is not merely a key funder of the blood-in-the-eye, anti-union StudentsFirst NY, but also the test, sort, reward and punish policies pushed by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and other corporate school reformers. The billionaire is the single largest donor to the Republican Party; a backer of Marco Rubio and many Tea Party candidates; a funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked John Kerry’s war record; a donor to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the anti-tax group, Club for Growth; and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “which has worked tirelessly to isolate and sanction Iran.”
To illustrate the secretive and far-reaching influence of the One Percent, Massing draws upon the Washington Park Project, and Kahn’s and Teachout’s “Corruption in Education: Hedge Funds and the Takeover of New York’s Schools.” 


They offered:

An eye-opening look at the large sums being spent by what it called “a tiny group of powerful hedge fund executives” seeking to “take over education policy” in the state. This “lightning war on public education,” they wrote, was “hasty and secretive” and “driven by unaccountable private individuals. It represents a new form of political power, and therefore requires a new kind of political oversight.”

Massing then praises the online Hechinger Report and Diane Ravitch who have sharply analyzed the record of the Billionaires Boy’s Club and education reform movement. He explains the need to further document the activities of the Gates, Broad, and Walton foundations, as well as analyze their real world effects on schools.

Yes, America needs websites for examining the structure of money and influence on all of our institutions. Ravitch and her contributors, commenters, and readers should all feel proud of our bottom-up efforts. Massing is correct; our nation needs to produce Diane Ravitchs to lead similar grassroots efforts in health, finance, economics, and politics. I bet it will happen.


David Kirp, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a smashing article in the New York Times comparing the failure of corporate reform in Newark and the success of incremental, collaborative reform in Union City, New Jersey.


Newark is a paradigm of all the bad reform ideas: Schools closed against the will of parents and students. Charter schools opened, some of which skimmed the students they wanted. Mark Zuckerberg, egged on by then-Mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie, put $100 million into the reformer dream that every student in Newark would achieve proficiency if every school were turned into a charter school. Zuckerberg’s $100 million disappeared down the rabbit hole, and Newark continues to struggle.



Meanwhile, Union City made real progress, without the help of Zuckerberg’s millions.





Kirp writes:


No one expected a national model out of Union City. Without the resources given to Newark, the school district there, led by a middle-level bureaucrat named Fred Carrigg, was confronted with two huge challenges: How could English learners, three-quarters of the students, become fluent in English? And how could youngsters, many of whom came from homes where books were rarities, be turned into adept readers?


Today Union City, which opted for homegrown gradualism, is regarded as a poster child for good urban education. Newark, despite huge infusions of money and outside talent, has struggled by comparison. In 2014, Union City’s graduation rate was 81 percent, exceeding the national average; Newark’s was 69 percent.


What explains this difference? The experience of Union City, as well as other districts, like Montgomery County, Md., and Long Beach, Calif., that have beaten the demographic odds, show that there’s no miracle cure for what ails public education. What business gurus label “continuous improvement,” and the rest of us call slow-and-steady, wins the race.



Two points to be made based on this article:


  1. Why does anyone expect politicians to know how to fix schools that struggle?
  2. Does anyone still believe that charters and vouchers and high-stakes testing will improve education for the nation’s poorest children?








Eileen DiFranco, a retired school nurse in Philadelphia, describes an episode from “The Twilight Zone” in which a sober family man encounters slot machines in Las Vegas and becomes an addict. He can’t help himself. He gambles everything and can’t stop.


She compares this gambling fever to the charter school addiction of districts like Philadelphia. No matter how many charter schools fail, the district leaders want more of them. They are in love with the lure and promise of magic and they can’t stop. Meanwhile, the public schools suffer as do the children who attend public schools, while millions are squandered on charter schools that are no better–and often worse–than the public schools.


She writes:


With their “no excuses” mantra, highly paid charter school CEOs promise school administrators that they will bring students up to grade level in no time at all. It all sounds so attractive. And believable. School districts all over the country have been sucked in by this big, brash idea that sounds wonderful on paper, but has largely failed to deliver on its promises. This has not stopped the charter school operators from repeating their claim of educational superiority over and over again until it takes on the ring of truth.


But the reality is that the charter schools’ claims contain more “truthiness” than actual truth. According to Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a national study by CREDO that many cited to tout the superior performance of charters actually found that “less than one hundredth of one percent (<0.01 percent) of the variation in test performance in reading is explainable by charter school enrollment.”


Let’s put that alleged 0.01 percent success rate into a Philadelphia perspective. The SRC has approved charter school establishment and expansion even while the traditional public schools languish. As children are injured, or even die, as did Laporshia Massey at Bryant Elementary, or as violence occurs, as it did at George Washington High School, the fault somehow lies with the resource-starved schools and not the SRC’s addiction to the lure of charter schools.


The underwhelming performance of charter schools for an overwhelming amount of money should set off alarms. Their quick solutions to educational woes follow the logic of past failures: Just hand over the money and we’ll do it all for you. In the end, however, there is only one certainty: If something is too good to be true, it is not the truth.


Several questions need to be asked about this scenario. The first is, why would the SRC allow the majority of Philadelphia’s children to attend dirty, unsafe schools without counselors, nurses, and assistant principals while other children clearly do not? Why is there hardly any discussion about this glaring disparity?


I have a couple of answers. The first is that there is a plan afoot to break public schools deliberately so that they can be handed over to charters. Thus, the SRC and Hite are wreaking havoc by deliberately deferring maintenance and cutting staff to dangerous levels in traditional schools. This practice effectively insures the failure that is necessary to hand over the now low-performing, intentionally broken “seats” over to more “successful” charter operators who feel justified in cutting into the resources available to District schools. This is being done in a calculated way in order to break the teachers’ union, the whipping boy of modern school reform.


The second is that District leaders and politicians are trying to appease elected officials in rural areas who perceive city schools and urban children as great leeches feeding off public dollars who divert resources away from more deserving populations. For them, giving more money to ”those” children in urban areas is like throwing money into a pit. The idea in the Pennsylvania House and Senate is that throwing money at schools doesn’t fix them, although they believe that having enough money fixes just about everything else.


The third is that the SRC has become the ball carrier for hedge fund managers for whom education is a place where they can make money. The fact that school reform is being led by MBAs rather than by educators is telling.


Philadelphia public schools are dying. Who will be held accountable? The legislature? Former Governor Tom Corbett? Superintendent William Hite?


The leaders are chasing a rainbow, bright promises that have never come through for the children. They are killing a democratic institution that society depends on and needs. Can they sleep at night?

Peg Robertson is a teacher in Colorado and a national leader of the Opt Out movement (she co-founded United Opt Out). In this post, she describes what happens to teachers in schools that are supposedly “turnaround schools.” They are “gaslighted.” Anyone who has seen the famous George Cukor film of the same name knows what it means to be “gaslighted.” Ingrid Bergman’s husband wants to kill her, and he tries to convince her that she is going mad. In Peg’s school, teachers are told that they caused low test scores, and officialdom works hard to persuade them that they cause failure.


She writes:


Gaslighting is such an insane reality to live in that it becomes incredibly difficult to focus on anything else except the ability to get through the day- it is designed intentionally so.



So let’s try to take a look at what’s really happening.



The first stage of Gaslighting is described as disbelief. Strange events, behaviors, and actions by others begin to occur. Perhaps you are told something that doesn’t seem true to you or simply just sounds bizarre. Perhaps someone you trusted speaks to you in a manner that seems fake, or staged.



In my case, the “disbelief” began with the supposed root cause of our turnaround status.



We were told: Students experienced lower-quality and less rigorous instruction that did not accelerate them to proficiency and beyond, because the CCSS was not used to guide instruction in all content areas.



Now, for someone like myself, who has spent hours upon hours researching and advocating for the end of corporate education reform this “root cause” at first, is quite laughable. We know that standards – good, bad, and ugly, in no way increase student achievement. Quite honestly, there’s no correlation whatsoever between standards and student test scores. This has been clearly confirmed by looking at NAEP scores and the standards used in the various states. So, simply put, it’s a lie.



And therein follows the disbelief. You are told a lie about this so-called turnaround status. And I can assure you that nationwide there is no root cause – in a school improvement plan housed on a department of education website – that will state the truth – the truth is clearly poverty and that has been confirmed as well. But in this gut wrenching fast move to privatize our public schools it is necessary to lie and necessary to beat people into compliance in order to cash in quickly – using policies which gaslight educators who ultimately must carry out these actions of educational malpractice.



So, you sit in disbelief at these lies. At first you think, okay, whatever, we can play this game. We’ll continue to do right by children behind closed doors and the policy makers can go screw themselves. That’s the first reaction. At this point you still believe you have some autonomy and you think you might be able to reason with the powers that be in order to figure out a way to “tweak” this to make it doable.



But then, the gaslighting process continues. The policy makers have a strangle hold on our public schools, and they will find various ways to continue to push forward their measures in a turnaround school. Perhaps they will bring in an auditor who interviews (interrogates) each staff member in an attempt to expose weaknesses that might confirm the so-called root cause. Perhaps they will bring in district personnel to dig through your data and observe your classrooms nonstop in order to, once again, find confirmation that your root cause is true, valid and that ultimately – you, the educators, are to blame for your low test scores. Perhaps they will bring in consultants, books, videos, or additional training to lead you to see how embracing their root cause will fix your failure. There are many ways they might move forward as they gaslight you. In my school, we were enrolled in the Colorado Department of Education turnaround program. We were labeled a Relay Leadership School and Relay indoctrination became the vehicle for our gaslighting.



This is a gripping story, and I urge you to read it all in total.

A major new report from the progressive One Wisconsin Institute finds that the right-wing Bradley Foundation spent more than $108 million, working with 130 partner groups, to privatize public schools in Wisconsin between 2005 and 2014. During the same period, the state’s public schools experienced dramatic budget cuts.


Key findings of the updated “P Is For Payoff” report include:



Bradley Foundation head Michael Grebe, a political insider who chaired Gov. Walker’s presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, continues to orchestrate a massive propaganda campaign to advance the privatization of public education;

An analysis of IRS Form 990 records and Bradley Foundation reports reveals over 130 organizations supportive of their education privatization agenda and working to advance their cause have received over $108 million from 2005 through 2014;

Bradley’s tactics have continued to evolve, now featuring litigation to advance their privatization agenda and intimidate opponents. Leading the effort is the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty which since its inception in 2011 has been larded with over $2 million from Bradley;

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the voucher program will cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $1.1 billion from 2011 through the end of the 2015–17 budget cycle. Meanwhile, a new report found that Wisconsin schools have suffered the 4th biggest cuts in in the nation through 2014.


The Bradley Foundation is one of the nation’s most active reform organizations. It hopes to reform public education out of existence. Watch how skillfully the Bradley Foundation followed the usual reformer script:


Original research by One Wisconsin Institute in 2013 first exposed the Bradley Foundation as a leading player in the campaign to gut public education and promote the unaccountable, radical privatization of K-12 education. The Milwaukee-based group spent millions to support organizations, think tanks, journalists and right-wing academics. They engaged in a campaign that manufactured a crisis, singled out their enemies, generated a cure, justified their scheme with pseudo-science, broadcast their message through the media, helped elect politicians to advance their agenda and kept them in line with high-powered lobbyists and well-funded pressure campaigns. [Emphasis added by me.]


Ross concluded, “Wisconsin families and public schools are left paying the price as billions of dollars that could have been used for public education are siphoned off for the Bradley Foundation’s ideologically driven experiment. Until a majority of policy makers are willing to stand up to the Bradley Foundation’s millions, Wisconsin’s tradition of great public schools will remain under assault.”


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