Archives for category: Democrats for Education Reform

I am late posting this article because it appeared about the time I started dealing with health issues (a bad fall that took out the ACL in my left knee).

It deserves wide reading because it is an accurate portrait of the money and power behind the charter school movement. I commend the writers, Javier C. Hernandez and Susanne Craig for getting the story that took place behind closed doors in Albany and executive suites in Manhattan. It is the best investigative report that I have seen in the “New York Times” on the money fueling the charter movement.

it answers a few basic questions? Why did Governor Cuomo take the lead in fighting to “save” charter schools after Mayor Bill de Blasio approved 14 out of 17 new charters? How did it happen that Eva Moskowitz bused thousands of students and parents to Albany on the very same day that Mayor de Blasio had scheduled a rally to support pre-kindergarten funding? Which billionaires and millionaires put up more than $5 million to create and air attack ads on television against de Blasio? Who masterminded the deal that gave charter schools preferred status over public schools in New York City? Who arranged that they could not be charged rent, that they could expand and push public school kids out of their buildings, and that the city had to pay their rent if they opened in private space?

Spoiler alert:

The deal in the legislature “gave New York City charter schools some of the most sweeping protections in the nation, including a right to space inside public buildings. And interviews with state and city officials as well as education leaders make it clear that far from being a mere cheerleader, the governor was a potent force at every turn, seizing on missteps by the mayor, a fellow Democrat, and driving legislation from start to finish.”

Money was always a potent factor in the backroom dealings:

“A lot was riding on the debate for Mr. Cuomo. A number of his largest financial backers, some of the biggest names on Wall Street, also happened to be staunch supporters of charter schools. According to campaign finance records, Mr. Cuomo’s re-election campaign has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from charter school supporters, including William A. Ackman, Carl C. Icahn, Bruce Kovner and Daniel Nir.

Kenneth G. Langone, a founder of Home Depot who sits on a prominent charter school board, gave $50,000 to Mr. Cuomo’s campaign last year. He said that when the governor asked him to lead a group of Republicans supporting his re-election, he agreed because of Mr. Cuomo’s support for charter schools.

“Every time I am with the governor, I talk to him about charter schools,” Mr. Langone said in an interview. “He gets it.”

And more is on the way, not only for Cuomo, who not only delivered for the billionaires who love charters, but for Eva Moskowitz, who will not only get a 8 new charters–not just the 5 that de Blasio originally approved–but lots of extra money, which will not be used to pay rent:

“Daniel S. Loeb, the founder of the hedge fund Third Point and the chairman of Success Academy’s board, began leaning on Wall Street executives for donations. Later this month, he will host a fund-raiser for Success Academy at Cipriani in Midtown Manhattan; tickets run as high as $100,000 a table.”

Moskowitz claims that her schools don’t spend any more than real public schools, so it remains to be seen how she pans to spend the millions that Dan Loeb will raise for her schools in a single night.

And the sweetest part of the deal for Moskowitz’s Success Academy 4 in Harlem is that her elementary school can now expand to a middle school and take more space away from PS 149, which was once considered the host school. First, she can evict the kids with severe disabilities (her own charter has none), then, thanks to Governor Cuomo, she can evict all the other students and take the entire school away, if she wishes. Sort of like a parasite that grows and grows.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio was being hammered by $5 million of emotional attack ads accusing him of “evicting” 194children from one of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools in Harlem, the Mayor called Paul Tudor Jones to plead for a truce.

Paul Tudor Jones is a billionaire hedge fund manager who is heavily invested in privately-managed charter schools. He manages $13 billion in his business. Being so very rich and successful, he decided to fix poverty. He created the RobinHood Foundation to raise money from his rich buddies, and it has done some good work. It raises $80 million in a single night at its nnual dinner.

Jones now has a big goal. He wants to save public education.

Never having been a teacher nor a public school parent (not clear if he ever attended a public school), he nonetheless feels fully qualified to redesign American education based on the same principles he learned as a successful hedge fund manager.

The money of Jones and his friends is now used to destroy a basic democratic institution, which they don’t like. Their money supports schools that cherry-pick students who are winners, just as they manage their investments. The idea of equal opportunity has no role in his world.

That may be why the negative TV commercials about de Blasio never explained that no students were being evicted from charter schools; they wanted more space to grow a middle school in PS 149 in Harlem, which meant the actual eviction of students with severe disabilities.

But in the world of Paul Tudor Jones, students with disabilities don’t count. They are not winners. They must be evicted to make more room for kids with high scores.

Aren’t we lucky to have Paul Tudor Jones to redesign American education? To tell us how to train teachers?

EduShyster volunteers to join the mighty and the very rich at Camp Philos, where our self-anointed thought leaders will figure out how to hasten the privatization of public schools and how to get rid of those expensive veteran teachers, while encouraging more young people to spend a year or two as “teachers” before finding their real career.

Is that a real Paypal button? If it is, I am donating to send our very own thought leader.

Wouldn’t it be funny if most of those who signed up were opposed to privatization and union-busting and teacher-bashing?

I am reminded of a long story or short novel by Joseph Conrad in which the protagonist is encouraged by the authorities to join a small band of anarchists who are planning an act of violence. He joins, blends in, and—spoiler alert!–belatedly discovers that all of them are double agents, like him.

If only that were true at Camp Philos, but alas, we know the agenda of these guys: They represent the Status Quo and the 1%. In Cuomo’s case, he represents Wall Street and the 3% of children in charters. He just brokered a state budget deal to cut the tax rate on banks and to shower money on privately managed charters, at the expense of the 97%.

Wow! How cool is this? You, me, and all of us are invited to join today’s thought leaders of education “reform” (aka, privatization and segregation) at a philophers” retreat.

I wish I were a thought leader in education, but apparently my thoughts don’t lead in the right direction (e.g., handing public money over to privately managed schools with no transparency or accountability, smashing unions, demoralizing teachers, eliminating pensions, making test scores the goal of education, firing teachers who can’t raise test scores higher and higher every year, stuff like that, which these days makes you a thought leader).

The meeting is billed as a three-day retreat, “a philosopher’s camp on education reform.” I wonder if the philosophers there will talk about Horace Mann or John Dewey or William James or William Torrey Harris or Sidney Hook? Somehow, I doubt they will. I kind of doubt that they ever heard of any of our eminent philosophers of education.

You too can attend for only $1,000. If you want to be a VIP, it will cost you $2,500.

Two other things: the meeting will be held at the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid. Is there a coded message here?

And for the benefit of the assembled philosophers, they might want to be reminded that they have a spelling error on the invitation. It is James Russell Lowell that once attended a meeting at that lodge, not James Russell Lowes. Do they know the difference? But when you are a thought leader in education, why bother with details?

Texas billionaire John Arnold, who has drawn attention for his interest in public sector pension reform (meaning that public sector pensions are too generous), is supporting both sides of the gubernatorial race in Rhode Island.

David Sirota wrote about how the Arnold Foundation underwrote a PBS special on the pension crisis and underwrote a Brookings Institution report on the same subject. PBS returned $3.5 million to the foundation because of Sirota’s disclosure.

Arnold is also a major supporter of charter schools, Common Core, and other “reforms” favored by corporate reformers.

The Providence Journal reports:

” PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Billionaire Houston philanthropist John Arnold is not only investing heavily in the political future of state General Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo — he’s also backing a national education effort showcasing her Democratic rival: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

“Arnold’s philanthropic organization, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, has awarded $4.25 million in grants over the last three years to “Education Reform Now,” 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with ties to the “Mayor’s for Educational Excellence Tour,” according to the foundation’s website.

“Taveras, a Democrat in his first term, is one of four mayors taking part in the tour, which is meant to highlight new education efforts in their cities.

The tour includes San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and is scheduled to stop in Providence on April 25.

“Education Reform Now” is operated by “Democrats for Education Reform,” a New York-based political action group that supports, among other things, closing down failing schools and establishing national education standards.

“Last week, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation confirmed that it helped finance the nonprofit and nonpartisan Brookings Institution’s report, “Pension Politics: Public Employee Retirement System Reform in Four States.”

“The report, released last month, highlights the state pension system overhaul that Raimondo spearheaded in 2011 as a national model.”

So, billionaire Arnold hails Raimondo as a “pension reformer,” and supports Taveras an an “education reformer.”

Peter Greene reports on a debate where Michelle Rhee and Dennis Van Roekel, among others, team up to defend the Common Core standards. They are, he notes, the sharpest minds of our generation. Oh dear.

The best criticism emanates from some of the CC defenders, as when Charles Barone of “Democrats for Education Reform” (the hedge fund managers’ advocacy group for charters and high stakes testing of Other People’s Children) defended the Common Core and called them the “Vietnam of educational issues.” Apt phrasing for a program that has become so toxic that it’s future is in doubt.

This morning, Joe Williams, the executive director of the hedge-fund managers’ “education reform” front group (“Democrats for Education Reform”) published an opinion piece in the New York Daily News opposing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten by taxing incomes over $500,000. As Mayor de Blasio has pointed out, the incremental tax to pay for U-PK would be the equivalent of a soy latte at Starbucks every day, about $1,000 a year for the city’s wealthiest residents. But the hedge fund managers say no. This may explain why the California Democratic party called out DFER last year and urged them to stop calling themselves “Democrats” when they are fronts for Republicans and corporate interests. Imagine someone who has a take home pay of half a million a year unwilling to pay another $1,000 to ensure that every child in the city has pre-kindergarten class. How embarrassing for DFER. Why not just call themselves Hedge Funders for Education Reform and drop the pretense. They are making war on the signature proposal of the city’s wildly popular new progressive mayor.

 

The Alliance for Quality Education, which advocates on behalf of the city’s children, fired off a press release:

 

 

“On Pre-K, Parents Blast Corporate Education Front-Groups for ‘Putting the Rich First’ Over Students 

 

NY, NY— Following the Daily News op-ed by DFER’s Joe Williams, a national leader in the education corporate reform agenda, which revealed they are advocating against Mayor de Blasio’s tax plan to fund pre-K, Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education, & Celia Green from New York Communities for Change released the following statement:

 

“Shame on the corporate front-groups for trying to get in the way of pre-K for New York City. They are simply ‘putting the rich first’ and shortchanging four year olds. The best plan would be to combine both the mayor’s and the governor’s plans—that would serve more kids in New York City and throughout the state. Mr. Williams is misrepresenting the facts when he says the Governor’s plan is more equitable; there is nothing equitable about leaving tens of thousands of four year olds out in the cold on pre-K. Every single child deserves to have access to high-quality pre-K, not just the rich who can afford to pay for it,” said Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education. 

 

“The corporate reform agenda was rejected in New York City, and now their front-group spokesman is cozying up to the Governor and millionaires. Opposing the Mayor’s plan because it will slightly raise taxes is out-of-touch with not only families across the city, but with the countless wealthy individuals in the city who support the Mayor’s plan. The bottom line is that I’m tired of protesting cuts to programs or living in fear as to whether they will still be there next year– that’s why we need a reliable funding stream through a small tax increase on the wealthy,” said Celia Green, parent leader with New York Communities for Change.

 

David Safier is a journalist and friend of public education in Arizona. In this post, he explains how the usual assortment of corporate reformers amd make-believe Democrats have descended on Arizona to push vouchers.

First, they donated handsomely to the campaign of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthaler, who uses his platform to promote the destruction of public education.

Now they are spreading campaign contributions to wispy-washy Democrats, hoping to divert more money away from public schools.

At some point, public education collapses, and Arizona has a pure choice system, with hyper-segregation.

And with it, the end of an essential democratic institution.

Is this what the plutocrats want?

Yes.

In an article about the retirement of veteran Democratic Congressman George Miller, a favorite of hedge fund managers (DFER) and other supporters of high-stakes testing and privatization, politico.com used language that showed a partisan bent.

It wrote:

“EDUCATION
Miller exit leaves hole in ed leadership
By MAGGIE SEVERNS and LIBBY A. NELSON and STEPHANIE SIMON 1/13/14 4:04 PM

“Rep. George Miller’s departure coincides with that of Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate education committee. Will their replacements be reformers or establishment-oriented Democrats?”

So a Congressman who is supported by Wall Street billionaires and by advocates of privatization is a “reformer,” while those who fight for equity of funding and support for teachers and public schools are “establishment-oriented Democrats”?

Are Duncan and Obama “establishment-oriented Democrats” or are they “reformers” fighting “establishment-oriented Democrats”? If the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education are not “establishment-oriented Democrats,” who is?

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to refer to a combination of the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Dell Foundation, the Arnold Foundation, Rupert Murdoch, Art Pope, Democrats for Education Reform, ALEC, and a galaxy of other powerhouses as “the establishment” or “the status quo”?

This is called “framing the narrative.”

Is politico.com supported by Walton, Broad, and Gates, or are they merely innocent dupes of the billionaire-funded status quo?

Nashville is in the cross hairs of the “reform” (AKA privatization) movement.

Here is a good overview of the situation.

With a respected superintendent nearing the end of his contract, with a mayoral election in the offing, with the school board majority up for grabs in the next election, Nashville is looking like a tasty prize for the privatizers.

And there are so many of them! Start with State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, who spent two years in TFA but otherwise has no experience as a principal or a superintendent. His major passion seems to be turning public dollars over to charter schools and passing laws to reduce the security and status of teachers. Then there is Governor Haslam, a reactionary who seems to despise public education and has the support of a compliant legislature. And don’t forget Karl Dean, the mayor of Nashville, who is eager to see private interests take control of public education in his city.

Nashville has been ripped asunder by the aggressive demands of the charter school crowd. The district has only 23 charters but those charters have “sucked up almost all the air” out of all public discussion of education, as if they and they alone held the key to success.

Although the district has chartered some 23 privately run schools to operate using district money, the role these charter schools play has sucked up almost all the air at Metro’s Central Office on Bransford Avenue over the past year-and-a-half.

The topic of charter schools — which have the autonomy to operate without the strings normally attached to traditional schools, including issues like how teachers are hired and fired or what class schedules look like — has polarized the district.

The division has created camps of pro-charter advocates, who argue that many of their schools are outperforming the district and MNPS should be more welcoming to the innovation. That has galvanized an equally entrenched anti-charter camp, which warns of the private investors and interests behind such schools and the taxpayer dollars the district must siphon from traditional public schools to fund these new ones. There has been little discussion trying to find a meeting ground in the middle.

The conflicts between the two are seemingly endless, starting in earnest with the district’s school board refusing a charter school targeted to open on the more affluent west side of town; the state fining MNPS $3 million for said rejection; battles with Gov. Bill Haslam, state education commissioner Kevin Huffman and House Speaker Beth Harwell over approval and costs of charter schools; a fight over leaked data showing charter schools kick out students weeks before state test time; embarrassing spats on Twitter and Facebook between board members and charter school advocates; the school board threatening to sue the state for its charter school law; a noisy protest by charter school advocates on the district’s front lawn; holding charter schools’ growth responsible for the district’s money problems; blaming under-capacity schools on the charter-school boom; and most recently, redirecting new charter schools to South Nashville or to convert select failing schools.

Four seats on the school board will be up for grabs in an election in seven months. The school board elections will attract some of the nation’s most notorious corporate reformers, including Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst (Rhee is the ex-wife of State Commissioner Huffman). The charter school advocates will spend heavily to gain control of the school board, in hopes of expanding the charters and transferring public funds to their own operations.

Make no mistake. This is a well-funded raid on the public treasury, intended to take money away from the public system and hand it over to the friends of those providing the money for the election:

“Democrats for Education Reform is excited to support candidates who will increase the capacity of our public school system to better serve Nashville’s children, whether those candidates are running for school board or in the upcoming mayoral race,” says Alex Little, chair of the Nashville steering committee for the pro-charter-school group, which has been quietly combing the city for board candidates.

Charter school and reform groups are no strangers to investing in politics, dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars into local and state races here in recent years.

At the state level, education-reform lightning rod Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization poured more than $200,000 into legislative races and some local ones, without being shy about throwing massive checks to key candidates.

Last cycle, Metro’s school board races attracted an unprecedented $400,000 among five races and funders of all stripes. Gathering sums more suitable for a bid for state representative than the local school board, Ingram Industries’ Margaret Dolan amassed more than $115,000 for the MNPS board seat she lost to underdog Amy Frogge from Bellevue. In the same cycle, former Teach for America executive Elissa Kim raised some $85,000, largely from fellow TFA types, to beat out the school board’s then-chairwoman, Gracie Porter, in East Nashville.

The biggest players last cycle included the pro-charter crowd, with Mayor Karl Dean and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce bringing influence and some money, and locally organized Great Public Schools and StudentsFirst dishing out dollars. Democrats for Education Reform, working out of Nashville, plans on joining the effort this year. That group is led by Natasha Kamrani, wife of Tennessee Achievement School District head Chris Barbic, whose job duties include taking over or hiring charters to turn around the state’s weakest 5 percent of schools.

 

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