Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

When we think of the phrase “the American dream,” we think about a belief that everyone has a fair chance to better themselves, to get a free education, to land a job that provides them the means to be self-supporting and live in a good home. Behind the phrase is an assumption of fairness and opportunity, of earning good wages for your work and knowing you can take care of yourself, your family, and your old age.

That “dream” is slipping away. To understand why, read this important essay-review by economist Robert Kuttner in the “Néw York Review of Books.” It is a review of two books that helps explain the profound transformation of work in our time.

One of the books is by David Weil: “The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad For So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It.” The other is by Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt: “Private Equity at Work: When Wall Street Manages Main Street.”

Kuttner describes a new system in which employers outsource work to contractors, keeping a close watch on the quality of the product but taking little or no responsibility for salaries and working conditions. He gives two examples for starters: the treatment of workers building NYU’s satellite campus in Abu Dhabi, and the factory fire in Bangladesh that killed more than. 1,100 workers producing luxury items for wealthy consumers.

 

Kuttner writes:

 

“The same system of outsourced employment increasingly operates at home. In the past generation, there has been a drastic change in how work is organized. Regular payroll employment is becoming the exception. The employer of record is no longer the corporation, but a web of intermediaries. The outside contractor demands stringent worker performance, even as it drives down wages, job security, and benefits….

 

“This system, which began in peripheral occupations such as janitors or security guards, has become pervasive. FedEx workers wear the company’s uniforms, drive its trucks, and adhere to stringent rules; but they are independent contractors, not company employees. At many leading hotels, room cleaners and desk clerks actually work for management companies, not for Marriott or Hilton. The technician sent by Comcast to fix your cable may well be a freelancer, not an employee. When you go into a government building, the receptionist/guard is likely not a civil servant, but the low-wage hire of a security firm.”

 

At this point, the rest of the essay unfortunately goes behind a paywall. You might find it worthwhile to subscribe (a one-week online subscription is only $4.99). I have the print edition, and I will quote a bit more.

 

“The new system frees corporations from the obligations of a tacit social compact in which employees’ loyalty is reciprocated, companies have an incentive to invest in workers, and people can look forward to predictable careers. Moreover, the entire structure of workers protections and benefits legislated beginning in the New Deal is predicated on the assumption that the employee is on the payroll of the company that makes the product. A casual worker has fewer rights, and those that carry over are harder to enforce. A contract workers or temp pays his or her own Social Security taxes, can seldom collect unemployment compensation, rarely receives company-provided health insurance or pension benefits, and has scant opportunity to organize or join a union.”

 

In the current economy, inequality of income and wealth grows, and at the same time there is a disconnect between productivity and earnings “because it allows corporations to batter down labor costs–people’s paychecks.”

 

“In explaining inequality, many economists emphasize the importance of education and technology, contending that widening gaps reflect shifts in the demands for skills and the failure of America’s educational system. Yet the old postwar social compact calling for far greater equality was respected at a time when most Americans did not go to college and many factory workers had not completed high school. Since 1980, college graduation rates have soared yet inequality has increased. Generally, it has widened among college graduates, not just between those with college degrees and those with only high school diplomas or less.”

 

Kuttner says that the new economy represents a shift of political power. Employers have been trying for over a century to lower labor costs. In this new era, with unions having lost numbers and political power, employers find it easier to outsource and replace workers with temps. Financial deregulation, he says, set off the latest round of work degradation. The second book he reviews “explains how the business strategies of these [private equity] investment companies logically destroy and degrade jobs, not for economic efficiency or better management but to transfer wealth from workers to financial profiteers.”

 

Private equity is, he says, “a sly rebranding of what used to be called leverage buyouts (LBOs), or more coarsely, corporate raids….Contrary to the industry’s claims about being experts in turning companies from losers to winners, private equity typically targets healthy companies rather than underperforming ones, the better to extract cash reserves. Having loaded the balance sheet of the company with debt–debt incurred in the purchase of that very company–they hire managers to run as lean and ruthless an operation as possible. They borrow even more money to pay themselves ‘special dividends,’ to recoup their initial small equity outlay many times over even if the operating company goes broke. The big losers in this game are the company’s workers….

 

Since the general partners of private equity firms make such outsized returns, investors want a piece of that action. But Applebaum and Batt cite data showing that most of the returns to limited partners do not beat the performance of the S&P 500. Even more peculiar is the fact that some 35 percent of the investment capital put up by limited partners comes from pension funds–which represent the deferred wages of workers. So workers’ own funds become part of the financial system that drives down workers’ wages and often plunders other pension systems.”

 

Kuttner writes:

 

“For reasons unrelated to education or technology, a great many jobs can be configured either as casual labor or as normal payroll employment. In many states, for example, home health aides are individual contractors with low wages and insecure employment to match. But in states with strong unions, such as California, home health aides have won the right to form bargaining units and are compensated as payroll employees. Warehouse workers for Walmart are hired and employed by logistics contractors; they are low-paid and subject to arbitrary dismissal. Elsewhere, however, many warehouse workers are salaried employees and receive middle-class compensation….The general trend to lower-paid work has little to do with education, technology, or management ‘efficiency.’ It is a pure transfer from labor to capital.”

 

The best way to halt job degrading is, one, to enforce the laws on the books; and two, to strengthen workers’ rights to join unions, “since unions remain the best defense against gratuitous job job-degrading.”

 

When you think about education “reform” in the context of job-degrading and rising inequality, the pieces begin to fit together with the larger transformation of our economy to the highest levels of inequality since the age of the Robber Barons.

Laura Chapman read Stephen Dyer’s post about Ohio’s ranking on Education Week’s “Quality Counts” and called for skepticism:

She writes:

“The Quality Counts reports in EdWeek are representing the data that the Gates Foundation wants to see publicized along with mandated reporting from USDE. These data systems have been jointly funded by USDE and Gates since 2005.

“This is to say that every reader of this annual dedicated report on education in the United States should pay attention to what is NOT reported, including, for example, cuts to studies in the arts, physical education, studies in the humanities, foreign languages. The continued use of flawed measures for teacher evaluation, including VAM and versions of SLOs.

“In addition, EdWeek gets editorial support from 18 foundations, and their support is targeted so that, for example, the headlines and prime editorial space this week is devoted to teacher education programs and why so few have been shut down.

“The topical coverage of teacher education is funded by the Joyce Foundation. This reporting is parallel to the launch of full scale attacks on the absence of a national passion for firing teachers…with absurd discussions of the potential benefits of firing 25% in order to raise test scores.

“In other words, what counts as “quality” is determined by those who get to decide, and on what criteria.

“I live in Ohio where charter corruption is rampant, where few voters bother to examine the views of candidates running for the State Board of Education, where there is a data warehousing program that rarely makes the news that it deserves. There are many reasons to question whether education in Ohio is better or worse than last year, or the year before, and so on. Putting too much emphasis on stacked ratings among states, from year to year, is a version of the stack ratings within each state imposed on schools.”

Kristen Buras recently published a book about the dissolution of public education in Néw Orleans and its replacement by privately managed charter schools, staffed largely by inexperienced Teach for America recruits after the abrupt dismissal of 7,500 veteran teachers. Her book is titled “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.”

In the current issue of “The Progressive,” Buras explains what happened in Néw Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The story is different from what the major media say. It is important because so many public officials and civic leaders want to turn struggling districts into another Néw Orleans. Beware.

It begins like this:

“Within days of Hurricane Katrina, the conservative Heritage Foundation advocated the creation of a “Gulf Opportunity Zone,” including federal funds for charter schools and entrepreneurs. Slowly but surely, the narrative of disaster turned to one of opportunity, even triumph. We were told that families abandoned in the storm were finding new hope in transformation of the city’s public schools by charter school operators.

“Report after report praised New Orleans as a model for urban school districts across the nation. Charter school operators, most of them white, declared “school choice” to be the new civil rights movement.

“Now, almost a decade later, New Orleans is the nation’s first all-charter school district. Charter advocates describe the district’s achievements as nothing short of a miracle.

“The truth is quite different: Flooding New Orleans with charter schools has been disastrous.”

– See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/12/187949/charter-schools-flood-new-orleans#.dpuf

Joseph Ricciotti, a retired educator, asks the question posed in the title: Why are Democrats in Connecticut acting like Republicans?

 

He cites the advice of two veteran Connecticut teachers who expressed the hope that Governor Dannel Malloy would replace outgoing Commissioner Stefan Pryor with an educator. Imagine! An educator as state commissioner of education!

 

He writes:

 

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist for Gov. Malloy and President Obama to know that the Democrats across the nation lost in the mid-term elections because they governed like Republicans.

What will it take for Malloy and Obama to understand that teachers are among the Democrats largest constituency and cannot be taken for granted. In simple terms, teachers and parents are disgusted with the privatization movement with its focus on high-stakes testing and teacher evaluations tied to the tests.

It is a well known fact that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has earned the dubious distinction from many teachers and parents as a misguided, non-educator secretary with his agenda of testing, punitive accountability and, most of all, Common Core.

In essence, these principles are Republican principles and Democrats cannot win elections by acting like Republicans. If, for example, Jeb Bush were to be president, Common Core would undoubtedly be his highest priority.

Commissioner Pryor, another non-educator, also shares this vilification in Connecticut as both Pryor and Duncan should be replaced with educators that meet the criteria suggested by the award winning teachers from Ridgefield.

The Connecticut Department of Education under Pryor is now an agency without credibility, driven by special interests, charter school advocates and ideologies that are not based in reality. Pryor and other corporate reformers have discounted the real factors that hold children back: poverty, fear and instability.

Sadly, it is their belief that “bad teachers” are responsible for troubled schools and that the student SBAC tests aligned with Common Core will somehow expose “bad teachers” by partly basing teacher evaluations on student test scores. In essence, these beliefs are systematically destroying confidence in public education and, as a result, Commissioner Pryor has lost the confidence of teachers and parents.

It is time for new leadership and a new direction for public education in Connecticut.

 

 

Gary Rubinstein has written a series of letters to leaders of the “reform” movement. Some have replied. Up to this point, he wrote to people he knew during his years at TFA. Now he has started what (hopefully) will be a series written to “reformers I don’t know,” and he writes his first letter to Joel Klein, whose book he is reading. He patiently and civilly explains to Klein why the reform movement is floundering and foundering. He explains why TFA doesn’t make much difference; why merit pay doesn’t work; why ed tech is limited as a classroom tool; and why value-added measurement of teachers by test scores doesn’t work.

 

Since Gary has made a specialty of calling out inflated claims, he ends on this note:

 

 

The one that I really got you on was P-Tech. I wrote about how they only had a school average of about 30% on those tests. You thought this number was skewed by the fact that they require so many of their students to take the test so it is unfair to compare to a school where not so many kids take it. But when I dug deeper into the public data I learned that only 1.8% of the P-Tech students passed Geometry and 1.6% passed Algebra II. Even if every student in the school took those tests, that would be only about 5 kids passing for each test. That is really bad. P-Tech is a test score disaster. I know that you used it in the introduction to your book about how the choice to shut down a school and open another can lead to great improvement. In this case, this particular school hasn’t accomplished much. Yet, you defend this school so vigorously. Why? I think you would have more credibility if you were to admit that P-Tech is a disaster, at least when it comes to math Regents. When you give free passes to people you have relationships with — whether it is P-Tech or AP scores in Louisiana or KIPP schools in New Orleans that have low test scores — aren’t reformers supposed to be all about ‘increased autonomy for increased accountability’? When you selectively hold people and schools that you don’t have a connection to more strict accountability than the ones you do, I don’t respect that.

 

One of your friends and now a co-worker at Amplify is education reform celebrity Geoffrey Canada. I actually am very much in favor of wrap-around services as a way of helping kids overcome some of the out-of-school factors that serve as obstacles to their learning. Unfortunately when you look at the test scores at Harlem Children’s Zone, they are horrible. I know this may make it seem like wrap-around services are underrated, but in this case the poor test results are an example of a very badly run school, despite the wrap-arounds. I know this because a former student of mine who is now a very happy teacher at Success Academy spent her first miserable year of teaching at Harlem Children’s Zone. She said it was a very toxic environment where nobody in charge knew what they were doing. You surely know that Canada ‘fired’ two different cohorts of students since their bad test scores were, I suspect, dragging down his reputation. To throw away two groups of struggling kids is completely at odds with the sorts of things you write in your book about how all kids can thrive if permitted to learn in the right environment.

 

Finally, I’ve noticed many inconsistencies in many of your arguments. When critics say that graduation rate is up to back up their point that schools are not in crisis, you point to the flat long term NAEP scores to refute them. Then when critics say that New York City has not made great improvements during your tenure and use the lack of NAEP gains (that first test that was administered before you got there doesn’t count, you know!) you point to the increased graduation rate. I think you need to pick what metrics you think are valid and stick to them.

 

I hope Klein writes Gary Rubinstein a reply.

Sorry I missed this great post when it came out in November. Jersey Jazzman, one of the nation’s best education bloggers, foretells the handover of the York City public schools to a for-profit charter chain and excoriates the state officials who are permitting this travesty to happen.

 

He digs into the stats on York City to show that it is performing about where you would expect given the socioeconomic disadvantage of its students. York City, he says, needs help, more resources, not a for-profit charter chain to siphon money out of its budget.

 

He writes:

 

Let’s recap:

Tom Corbett abdicated his responsibilities to the children of York and defunded their schools.
He sent in his personal hack to force the district to turn those schools over to a private, for-profit corporation through a shell non-profit.
The hack — as if he were a made man — told the district if they didn’t take his offer, he’d take over.
No one knows how much money the charter company is going to make on this deal.
Trust me, folks, we’re just getting started…

 

Meckley believes this plan is warranted because York’s schools aren’t performing up to snuff. But the truth is that they are exactly where we’d expect them to be, given the demographics of the city.

 

Do you want to see a photo of Jon Hage’s gorgeous yacht? Look here. He is the CEO of Charter Schools USA. The yacht was up for sale recently. He lives well. His business is very profitable with taxpayer dollars.

 

Jersey Jazzman asks:

 

And what kind of performance have the good people of Florida received for all of that money?

 
The chain was considered high-performing until this year. And on Tuesday the Orange School Board voted 7-0 to deny its applications for three new campuses.

 
Because charters are publicly funded per pupil, Charter Schools USA would receive about $27 million a year to run the three schools at capacity if approved.

 
“Their performance in Orange County is abysmally poor,” board Chairman Bill Sublette said of the Renaissance schools. “They’re underperforming the schools in the area that they’re drawing from. How can we look taxpayers in the eye and approve them?”
But Jonathan Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA, said he is proud of all of the company’s schools, including Chickasaw.

 
“We do an excellent job over time, even with the lowest-performing students,” he said. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to turn those scores around in a year.” [emphasis mine]

 
JJ: I guess David Meckley knows better than the entire Orange School Board. Maybe CSUSA’s history in Indiana convinced him:

 
“The four takeover schools in Indianapolis lost huge numbers of students — between 35 and 60 percent at each school — between the start of classes in 2011 and when the takeover operators took over in 2012. Schools are mostly funded on the basis of their enrollment, so the departures came at a steep cost for the private operators.
On top of that, the takeover schools saw their share of a pot of federal funds for low-performing schools that is controlled by the state shrink as more state schools became eligible to claim that money. Tindley lost $212,000, and Charter Schools USA’s three schools lost more than $601,110 because of across-the-board reductions.
Together, the cuts have left takeover operators with much higher costs than they anticipated.
Sherry Hage, CSUSA’s chief academic officer, says the operator is planning to stick with its schools despite the costs. But for some, the price tag is proving too high. Earlier this month, Tindley shocked state education officials by threatening to pull out of Arlington shortly after the start of the school year unless the nonprofit could get $2.4 million in additional aid.”

 
– See more at: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2014/11/york-pa-and-death-of-public-education.html#sthash.wCR7cUKg.dpuf

 

 

 

 

 

 

A well-funded charter advocacy group, deceptively named “Families for Excellent Schools,” has opened in Boston.

It claims that it supports all excellent schools, whether charter or public, but the record says this group is a cheerleader for charters and against public schools. As the story in the Boston Globe says, FES spent something like $6 million (earlier coverage had numbers like $3.6 million or $4 million but eventually reporters settled on $5-6 million) to stop Mayor Bill de Blasio from reigning in charter expansion. Due to FES’ efforts, Governor Cuomo and the legislature required Néw York City to provide all charters free public space or to pay their private rent.

What kind of families can raise $4-6 million in a matter of days to bash the mayor and promote charters? The family of billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones and the Walton family, just your typical American families.

Recently the Néw York Post ran an article about Al Sharpton, saying that he received money from corporations in return for not campaigning against them as racist. The story said that the firm of former Chancellor Harold Levy paid Sharpton $500,000 to help a client who was competing to manage a gambling franchise.

Leonie Haimson, CEO of Néw Tork City’s most activist group Class Size Matters, writes that the NY Post left out the key details of that transaction.

She writes:

“Left out of this account is the most interesting part of the story. It’s not just that the money for Sharpton was ostensibly for “equity” and funneled through Education Reform Now, the non-profit arm of Joe William’s pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform. The larger context is that ERN was merely a pass-through, and the money was directed to Sharpton through the Education Equity Project, founded by then-Chancellor Joel Klein, in exchange for Sharpton agreeing to co-chair the group and adopt Klein’s aggressive anti-teacher, pro-charter stance.”

This is a comment by one of our frequent participants, identified as Teacher Ed:

 

Virtually every component of corporate “reform” imposed across this country is based on disasters that “reformers” have fabricated and tyrannical racketeering. Clearly, this is being done in order to privatize public education and raid tax dollars, while diverting attention away from the real disasters of poverty, a severe decline in the number of jobs with livable wages, a diminishing middle class and the inequitable distribution of wealth.

 

Are we supposed to wait until the perpetrators turn the screws and receive their dues for each part of this scheme before lawsuits can be filed? Is that how it works with the mob, too –payoffs have to be made first by victims before anything can be done about all the threats and dire consequences to result from not kowtowing to demands?

 

Is it possible to file a lawsuit that addresses virtually ALL of the components of the corporate “reform” business plan that is rapidly unravelling the fabric of American education? Maybe the ACLU could manage it, if only someone who cares would help fund it.

We have all wrestled at one time or another with the deceptive rhetoric of “reformers.” They seem to have a common phrase book, written by PR whizzes, in which they have co-opted terms like “reform,” “great teachers,” “innovation,” “personalized,” and to have created terms like “a child’s zip code should not be his/her destiny,” a sentiment with which no one can disagree. Their solutions, typically, consist of privatizing public schools by handing public dollars over to private corporations to do the work of government, and dismantling the teaching profession by lowering standards for entry to young people without any professional preparation, eliminating due process, eliminating extra pay for additional degrees, and seeking to eliminate extra pay for experience. No reform movement in the past ever had this agenda. Reformers in the past wanted public schools to get better, not to replace them with privately managed schools or schools operated for profit. Reformers in the past wanted teachers to have better preparation, not to take away certification requirements. Reformers were not union-busters.

 

Education writer Steve Hinnefeld, on his blog, writes about the way the so-called reformers have corrupted the English language. I agree with him, and we see it all the time, such as when a pro-charter group calls itself “Save Our Public Schools” and circulates a petition to replace public schools with privately managed charters. However, I disagree with Steve on two of his definitions. I can’t think of a better term than corporate reformers, to demonstrate that their assumptions come from the corporate world, such as their belief in data, data-driven decision-making, standardization, incentives, and sanctions. Other people use terms like “deformers,” but that is more of an insult than a label. If Steve has a better term than “corporate reform,” I want to hear it.

 

I also challenge the claim–perhaps he does as well–that charter schools are public schools. They get public money, but that does not make them public schools. Lockheed gets public money. So does almost every private university. Charters have sued in different states to prevent public audits, on the grounds that they are private corporations, not subject to public audit. They have been taken to court by workers for violating state labor laws; they said they were private corporations, not public schools. When you hear this defense again and again, it is persuasive. I am persuaded.

 

Meanwhile, I welcome any suggestions from Steve or others to create a name for those who are leading the charge for more charters and vouchers and who are eager to strip teachers of due process, collective bargaining, and reduce their benefits.

 

I would also welcome suggestions for the name of “our side.” We do not “defend the status quo.” The status quo is headed by Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton Family, Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, and ALEC; it consists of high-stakes testing, privatization, and hostility to the teaching profession. We don’t like the status quo. We want better schooling for all children. We want the arts and history and physical education; we want experienced teachers; we want librarians, school nurses, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists and after-school programs. Are we “the real reformers”? We fight for better education, for better schools, for high standards for entry into teaching, for respect for teachers and parents, and for kindness for children. What should we call ourselves?

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