Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Richard Brodsky was one of New York’s most enlightened state legislators. He is currently a senior fellow at the Wagner School at New York Univetsity.

In this article, he describes the new politics of education: the policy debates are now dominated by hedge fund managers and rightwing billionaires.

When people like me say these things, the corporate reformers say derisively, “Conspiracy theory.”

Brodsky is a level-headed veteran of state politics. This is what he says:

“The usual participants [in legislative debates about education] have been school boards, parents, unions, the education establishment and the occasional adventurous elected official. Starting a few years ago, and more so now, there are new players in New York. The brawny and outspoken new kid is the hedge fund community.

“Say what? Well, there are millions in hedge fund dollars now floating around. Generalities are a little dangerous, but it’s fair to say that a lot of it is from conservative, big money, Wall Street hedge fund types like Home Depot’s Ken Langone, head of Republicans for Cuomo, who says, “Every time I am with the governor, I talk to him about charter schools. He gets it.” The newest entry is something called “Families For Excellent Schools.” While there certainly are “families” involved, the organization is led and funded by hedge fund managers and assorted right-wing billionaires. They’re very anti-union, anti-tenure, pro-test and pro-charter school.

“Right-wing billionaires and hedge fund managers have a right to be heard. And sometimes they may offer intriguing and important insights. There are valid critiques of many of our current practices. And teachers unions can be criticized. But the issues are too important to be left to attack ads and lawsuits funded by wealthy elites.

“What’s worse is that huge amounts of public education dollars are involved. It turns out that hedge funds are using taxpayer subsidies to fund the charter school movement. Under President Bill Clinton, a tax break called the “New Markets” tax credit has provided a 39 percent tax break for hedge funds that invest in charter schools in underserved communities. Like Albany, for instance. It’s one thing for the financial community to speak out against teachers unions, to fund lawsuits against tenure and to push high-stakes standardized testing as a matter of corporate citizenship. It’s another matter when there are big tax subsidies at stake.

“If the candidates for governor won’t talk about how these things impact New York, we’re left with big corporate money, with a real financial interest in the outcome, dominating the debate.

“In the end, the charter school movement challenges the existence of public schools, not just some of its policies. The drive to privatize education is part of a national attack on government and the empowerment of large corporate interests.

“To me, a healthy debate about the policies could be a good thing. But if we’re going down a path of privatizing public education, I’m worried. Public schools created the American national success story. Whatever their real shortcomings, they need to be strengthened and they need to be funded. And I don’t want that fight to be distorted by huge tax subsidies going to charter schools, even as we reduce federal and state aid to public schools. That’s the wrong kind of financial aid to education.”

Jeannie Kaplan reports here on Jonathan Kozol’s recent visit to Denver. Denver is a city that has become totally devoted to corporate style “reform” for a decade. Now the corporate reformers own the entire school board plus they have a U.S. Senator Michael Bennett.

Kaplan shows how Kozol’s message explains corporate reform, now deeply embedded in Denver:

“THE SHAME OF THE NATION shows how the business model has become the blueprint for education “reform.” Education “reformers” use business jargon to describe their activities: “rewards and sanctions,” “return on investment,” “time management,” “college and career ready,” “maximizing proficiency,” “outcomes,” “rigorous,” “managers and officers,” “evaluation,” “accountability,” “portfolios of schools” (like a portfolio of stocks – get rid of the losers, keep the winners).

“Mr. Kozol describes the infiltration of business into education this way:

“Business leaders tell urban school officials…that what they need the schools to give them are “team players.”…Team players may well be of great importance to the operation of a business corporation and are obviously essential in the military services; but a healthy nation needs it future poets, prophets, ribald satirists, and maddening iconoclasts at least as much as it needs people who will file in a perfect line to an objective they are told they cannot question.” (p. 106)

“Here is how Denver Public Schools has adopted this business tenet. Every email sent by a DPS employee is signed and sent with the statement at the bottom, My name is Jeannie Kaplan, I’m from Youngstown, Ohio… and I play for DPS!

“Further business verbiage: In DPS principals are no longer principals but building CEOs or building managers. At the district level there is a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer, a chief academic officer, a chief strategic officer, and within the school buildings themselves there are managers for everything under the sun. You get the picture. And with all of these managers and officers DPS has witnessed increases in facility and resource imbalances and increases in segregation while academics have remained stagnant. Corporate reform is a failure in the United States. But politics, money and lies will not allow it to go quietly into the night, and Denver’s students and communities are paying the price.”

Kozol’s message is the opposite if corporate reform:

“We now have an apartheid curriculum . Because teachers and principals in the inner city are so test driven, inner city children who are mostly students of color are not allowed to have their voices heard through stories and questions, while white students are given that flexibility, opportunity and creativity.

“Test preparation is driving out child centered learning. Testing mania has become a national psychosis, driven by business.

“Racial isolation/segregation which does terrible damage to young people, is on the rise. In SHAME, education analyst Richard Rothstein points out how important it is for children of color to become comfortable in the majority culture and how devastating this new segregation is in the long term: “It is foolhardy to think black children can be taught no matter how well, in isolation and then have the skills and confidence as adults to succeed in a white world where they have no experience.” (p. 229). That Tuesday night Mr. Kozol referred to the new segregation as a “theological abomination.”

“And finally, of course, Mr. Kozol believes small class size, enriched curricula, and equitable resources and facilities would offer an equitable education for all children. This recent article in the Huffington Post clearly and disturbingly describes the safety and health hazards brought into Chicago public schools because business has invaded public schools. Bugs, moldy bread, trash left for days, leaks left unfixed. You can bet the East coast decision makers who are driving this “reform” did not attend schools under these conditions.”

Jeff Bryant, a sharp observer of education trends, points out that the well-funded corporate reform movement has hit a brick wall: they have lost the PR war against public schools and teachers, and they know it. It turns out that the public really does support their public schools, really does respect teachers, and thinks that their local public schools need more resources.

 

The evidence is everywhere, especially in their own publications. They write that they want a new conversation; they want a restart on accountability; they know that the public is rising up against their obsession with standardized testing. They surely know (although they don’t admit it) that charter schools do not outperform public schools unless they engage in skimming, and that many for-profit charter chains are frauds and scams that promise the moon but take public money away from public schools while providing a third-rate education to hapless children lured in by their advertising.

 

Do the reformers have any new ideas? No, it is the same old, same old. They will not give up their obsession with standardized testing; they will not give up their faith in test-based evaluation of teachers; they will not abandon their love of charters and other forms of privatization.

 

When you hear the reformers denouncing budget cuts or racial segregation or for-profit schools, when you hear them call for reduced class sizes and higher standards for new teachers, then you can believe in their sincere reformation. Until then, it is old wine in new bottles. Or old wine in old bottles, rebranded.

“All I really need to know I learned in smoke-filled back rooms.” (apologies to Robert Fulghum)

0. *****Always accept grant money from Bill Gates.****

1. Test everything that moves (even the classroom goldfish)

2. Play with cut scores.

3. Don’t hit teachers (Just fire them)

4. Always leave things in more chaos than when you found them.

5. NEVER (EVER!!) CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.

6. Never admit you are wrong and never (ever!) say you are sorry.

7. Wash your hands of everything that goes wrong.

8. Flush after each school closing.

9. VAMs and failings (students, teachers, schools) are good.

10. Unions and teacher independence and creativity in the classroom are bad.

11. Mandate a Fair and Balanced (TM) curriculum – teaching some Common Core math and some close reading and never (ever) allowing students to draw or paint or sing or dance or play or go out for recess and making sure they do a minimum of 4 hours homework every day (especially in kindergarten)

12. Take a shot of whiskey every afternoon.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for Diane Ravitch, hold secret meetings, and stick together.

14. Beware the American Statistical Association. Remember Vergara: The student test scores go down and the teacher firings go up and nobody really knows how or why, but we all like that.

15. Statistics and standardized tests and VAMs – they all lie. So do we.

16. And then remember the Common Core books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – Test”

The Common Core standards are copyrighted. The copyright belongs to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Theoretically, states are not allowed to alter them. States can add standards, but they cannot alter what has already been written,  which is treated as a holy scripture or the two tablets brought down from Mount Sinai. This, in fact, is a major defect of the standards, because there is a protocol for standard-writing, which the CCSS violates. That protocol, described very clearly by the American National Standards Institute, says that any standard-writing process must include a means of revising them; CCSS does not. It also says that all stakeholders must be involved in the discussion; this was not true for CCSS. And it says that no single interest should dominate standard-writing (as the Gates Foundation did by paying for everything).

 

Mercedes Schneider brings up another worrisome, if speculative point: since the CCSS are copyrighted, could the holders of the copyright sell it? The likeliest buyer, of course, would be Pearson. Suppose Pearson offered the two D.C.-based organizations $100 million? Would they refuse it? In that case, a private, for-profit organization based in the United Kingdom would be sole owner of the United States’ standards. Why not? It makes about as much sense as having the “national standards” developed and written by a committee that included no classroom teachers, a committee led by a Yale- and Oxford-educated entrepreneur who had never taught, a committee that included no experts on cognition or early childhood education, a committee that had an ample representation from the testing industry.

 

Some supporters of CCSS think that the standards could be used all by themselves, disconnected from the testing. But that is not the plan. The plan is a system. The system begins with standards, then testing, then teacher evaluation based on the testing, the testing must all be done online, which makes possible data mining and the creation of a longitudinal data base that follows children from pre-Kindergarten through at least the end of high school. At every step along the way, some corporation has a stake in the process: the testing industry, the technology industry, the consultants who sell teacher evaluation rubrics, the data mining entrepreneurs whose numbers are multiplying, the Big Data industry. I am sorry if this sounds conspiratorial. I don’t believe in conspiracies. It is all out there in the open.

Journey for Justice, led by Jitu Brown of Chicago, has filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, on behalf of children and parents in Newark, Chicago, and New Orleans, claiming that they are victims of discrimination.

 

Their children, parents say, are the victims of reformers. Maybe they mean well, but the results for the children have been disastrous.

 

Far from being “leaders of the civil rights issue of our time,” as the reformers assert, the reformers are violating the rights of black and brown children.

 

Jitu Brown, founder of the Journey for Justice, is a spokesperson for the angry parents of these cities. He says “reform” is actually “a hustle.”

 

Brown, a lifelong Chicago resident who has been working with inner-city schools and neighborhood organizations since 1991, says that school choice has really just been an excuse for politicians to sack neighborhood schools and funnel government money to charter operators, which operate schools that on average take just 64 percent of the money that their district counterparts take.
Brown points to a number of examples in which, he says, Chicago Public Schools intentionally sabotaged successful schools in an effort to prop up charters, using tactics like offering laptops and iPads to lure high-performing students out of traditional public schools and into charters.
“These people are almost like drug dealers and the children are the narcotics, and they flip ’em until they’re able to finally make enough profit,” he says. “That’s how drug dealers work. It’s no different. It’s really no different.”
A report from the Chicago Teachers Union (pdf) released last year detailed how Simon Guggenheim Elementary School in West Englewood was set up for failure, while Jacob Beidler Elementary School, in East Garfield Park, was set up for success. The two schools have similar percentages of low-income students, and both are in communities facing high rates of violence, but Guggenheim, the report says, was denied resources in order to destabilize the environment.
Brown alleges that Chicago Public Schools has done this on several other occasions, citing examples like Beethoven Elementary on the city’s South Side. Once a high-performing school in a poor community, it was inundated over a number of years with students from closed schools in different neighborhoods around the city that ultimately dragged the school’s test scores down to a level where it is now failing.
“[The school district has] been closing schools in this neighborhood since 1998 as they’ve been trying to gentrify the area,” he says. “Those closings accelerated around 2004. We realized that it wasn’t really about school improvement; it was about freeing up that public area for the incoming gentry….”

 

“In Newark, students and their parents in the city’s South Ward boycotted the first day of school to protest One Newark, the school-choice enrollment plan that moved some children far from their neighborhood schools. Weeks later, hundreds of high school students walked out of class in protest.
“More than a month after school started, some parents say that hundreds of children still have not been assigned a school, and frustrations over transportation issues, uncertainty about where to send their children and dissatisfaction over closed neighborhood schools have led to many more not showing up for class.
“For me, as a parent, I know that my children deserve better,” says Sharon Smith, a mother with three children in Newark schools. “And not because they’re just mine, but because every child deserves the best opportunity that they can receive with education. But that’s not happening here. The parents here are stuck with whatever decision the district makes.”
Smith and other critics have chided One Newark on behalf of families without cars, who, she says, sometimes have to put children on two buses to get them to school. The plan doesn’t provide wholesale transportation, and many charter schools don’t offer it.
Zuckerberg’s $100 million matched donation has vanished, mostly into pockets of contractors and consultants and given to teachers unions as back pay. As Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, famously remarked in a New Yorker story about the debacle, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

 

 

Several major technology companies signed a pledge not to sell or misuse private student data. Critics were not reassured.

 

According to a story in Education Week,

 

K-12 student-privacy pledge released Tuesday and signed by prominent ed-tech providers prompted immediate statements of concern from some advocacy groups about whether self-regulation will do the job of protecting student data.

 

The voluntary Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy, co-authored by the Software and Information Industry Association or SIIA, and the Future of Privacy Forum, and signed initially by 13 companies and one non-profit, includes six “do’s” and six “don’ts” of handling student data. The signers—including Amplify, DreamBox Learning, Edmodo, Follett, Knewton, Knovation, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Microsoft, and Think Through Math—agree to abide by the provisions of the pledge effective January 1, 2015.

 

Among key elements of the pledge are promises to:

 

Not sell student information
Not behaviorally target advertising (which means targeting advertising based on a student’s web-browsing behavior)
Use data for authorized education purposes only
Not change privacy policies without notice and choice
Enforce strict limits on data retention
Support parental access to, and correction of errors in, their children’s information
Provide comprehensive security standards
Be transparent about collection and use of data
The pledge was created as parents’ worries about the privacy and security of their students’ data have resonated in state legislatures, and as the state of California enacted a strict privacy law last month. It also follows the collapse of inBloom, a controversial data management company that was striving to be a single repository for up to 400 pieces of information about each student whose data were uploaded to the cloud—but that fell under the weight of protests from parents, some educators, and others.

 

Software companies selling products to K-12 schools have been concerned, too, that their mission to collect and use student data to help educators better teach their students will not be permitted by law. “Without data, we are flying blind,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, founder and executive director of Data Quality Campaign, a national nonprofit that advocates for the effective use of education data to improve student achievement, in a statement in support of the pledge.

 

Range of Reactions to Pledge

 

The National School Boards Association and the National PTA joined the organizations that released the pledge with their endorsements in the launch announcement. Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, said he thinks the pledge is helpful. “It states, pretty clearly and crisply—in language a non-lawyer can understand—what’s not going to happen with your data,” he said. Schools and districts are looking for that kind of assurance in an industry standard about the collection, management, and use of personal information, he said.

 

But Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters based in New York City and co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, said in a statement that “we need legally enforceable provisions requiring parental notification and consent for the disclosure and redisclosure of personal student data, as well as rigorous security standards.” She predicted that the pledge would not reassure parents about data sharing, data-mining and data breaches.

 

Mark Schneiderman, the senior director of education policy at SIIA, said that, when companies make public pledges like this one, it is enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC.

 

It is worth remembering that the CEO of Knewton, working with Pearson, boasted that education is the most data-minable sector of the economy. Data mining is big business.  Can we trust them?

Jonathan Pelto reports that Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut announced he will stay the course on his corporate education reform policies, despite the huge scandal associated with the Jumoke charter school. Jumoke was one of the governor’s star charters until it was revealed that its CEO had a criminal past and a fake doctorate. Malloy supports tying teacher evaluation to test scores, despite the fact that this method has worked nowhere. And as Pelto reminds us, he proposed eliminating (not reforming but eliminating) teachers’ due process rights. He also advocated a no-union policy in the state’s poorest schools. He seems to have bought hook, line, and sinker the reformer claim that unions and tenure depress student test scores, even though the highest performing schools in the state have unions and tenure.

Why would a Democratic governor advocate for the failed policies of corporate reform? One guess. Connecticut has a large concentration of hedge fund managers, whose ideology and campaign contributions are aligned. In their highly speculative business, no one has unions or tenure. When stocks or investments go bad, they dump them. They think that schools should live by their principles. They should read Jamie Vollmer’s famous blueberry story. You can’t throw away the bad blueberries. Unless you run a charter school. Then you can exclude bad blueberries and kick out other bad blueberries.

Kristen Buras, a professor at Georgia State University who recently published a book about “education reform” in New Orleans, here warns the people of Nashville not to copy the New Orleans model.

 

This is what happened in New Orleans, according to Buras:

 

 

The attempt to turn around neighborhood schools by closing them and opening charters caused greater harm than Hurricane Katrina. I fear the same destructive “reforms” will strike Nashville.

In 2005, Louisiana’s state-run Recovery School District (RSD) assumed control of most public schools in New Orleans and handed them over for private management and profit making by “nonprofit” charter school operators.

Experienced veteran teachers in New Orleans were unlawfully fired and replaced by transient, inexperienced recruits from beyond the city, with most departing after two years. Teach For America stood ready to supply new teachers. Most of all, it stood to profit.

Neighborhood schools were closed without genuine community input. Meanwhile, charter school operators have paid themselves six-figure salaries, used public money without transparency and appointed unelected boards to govern the schools.

Community members have filed civil rights lawsuits, including one by Southern Poverty Law Center alleging thousands of disabled children were denied access to schools and federally mandated services in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Moreover, there are charter schools in New Orleans with out-of-school suspension rates approximating 70 percent.

Charter school operators in New Orleans do not care about children — they care about making money. They do not want to serve children who are “expensive” or may compromise the business venture.

 

It is the same story in city after city that takes New Orleans as its model.

 

Good news about Buras’ book: Originally published in hardcover for $125, it is now available in softcover for $43. It is a must-read to learn about what happened in New Orleans from the perspective of families and students, not entrepreneurs and politicians.

 

 

 

 

Daniel S. Katz, a professor of education at Seton Hall University, explains on his blog how to recognize a phony education reform group.

The key is, as always, follow the money. If the group is funded by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the John Arnold Foundation, or the Helmsley Foundation (among others), you can bet there are no grassroots. If they not only have said funding but an expensive location and grow rapidly, and if they advocate for charter schools and test-based evaluation of teachers, there are no grassroots, only faux reform roots that are part of the movement to privatize public education. The “reform” movement likes to pretend that it has a broad base so it funds numerous “front” groups. We have not seen so many front groups since the 1930s. Today, as then, they represent no community, no one but the funders and the elites and those with a hidden but anti-democratic agenda.

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