Archives for category: For-Profit

Denis Smith worked in the Office of Charter Schools in the Ohio Department of Education. In this article, he points out the paradox of tasking a state agency with both promoting charter schools while supposedly regulating them. This is a conflict of interest.


This explains, he writes, why it was predictable that David Hansen, who was supposed to regulate charter schools, got in trouble for cooking the books to make the charters owned by Republican campaign contributors look good, even though their schools perform poorly.


Hansen, the husband of Beth Hansen, Governor John Kasich’s chief-of-staff, was put in place by the governor’s team to head the Office of Quality School Choice. His background, as head of the right-wing Buckeye Institute, famous for maintaining a database detailing the salaries for thousands of public school teachers and devoid of salary information for CEOs of national for-profit charter school chains and other privatizers, is now being examined by charter watchdogs as they discover a series of conflicts-of-interest that raise basic questions about his actions.


Here are a few morsels:


“Hansen and ODE were ignoring the big fish,” Stephen Dyer observed. “And that was, unfortunately, Hansen’s undoing. None of these crackdowns were against schools run by big Republican donors — David Brennan of White Hat Management or Bill Lager of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — whose schools rate among the worst in the state and who educate about 20% of all Ohio charter school students.”


Plunderbund readers, in fact, were informed several days ago that Hansen is a serial data offender.


“This isn’t the first time Hansen has been caught altering charter school data to improve the image of these charter school operators. Hansen was President of the Buckeye Institute in 2009 when they put out a report on Ohio’s dropout recover schools. Similar to the current incident, Hansen’s group altered data to improve the apparent performance of the charter schools. The shady data changes resulted in “a dramatic overstatement of the graduation rates at the charters.” Many of the schools in the 2009 report were owned and operated by White Hat Management. Meanwhile, White Hat owner David Brennan was quietly contributing tens of thousands of dollars to the Buckeye Institute through his Brennan Family Foundation.”


Hansen was a cheerleader for charters who was supposed to regulate them. Never happened, never will happen,

Professor Yong Zhao is one of the most respected experts in the world on the dangers of standardized testing. I reviewed his latest book in the New York Review of Books. I urge you to read the book, as it explodes the myth that Chinese schools have mastered some secret methods of producing high test scores. Zhao shows in fascinating detail how those scores are produced, how they hurt students, and how they undermine creativity and individualism.


I recently received an email with a post by Emily Talmage of Save Maine Schools. She  warned about the big profits embedded in the revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These days, we have become accustomed to the entrepreneurs and lobbyists who put their fingers into public education funds, stealing money from classrooms. The author was rightly skeptical of the corporate sales pitch for “personalization,” which all too often means that computers will replace teachers and students will advance at their own pace through scripted lessons. We have all heard tech companies selling product with the phony promise of personalization, customization, and individualization, when it’s all about selling software with a scripted curriculum and making money, not about meeting the needs of students.


But as I read on, I saw that the author accused Yong Zhao of being deeply complicit in the “personalization” claims and furthermore of being a profit-seeker. I was very dubious that this was true. I have read all of Zhao’s books and have found him to be a deeply humanistic scholar who is technologically adept. I found it hard to believe that he was promoting companies in which he was an investor.


So I sent the post to Yong Zhao, who is one of best informed critics of standardized testing.


He responded with the following comment:


Dear Ms. Talmage,

I read your post about the ESEA reauthorization with great interest. Thank you for pointing out the potential financial motives behind education policies and defending the interests of all children against potential damages.

However, your characterization of my views and myself in the post is inaccurate.

First, my view of personalized learning is not the one you criticize in the post. There are different interpretations of personalized learning. The version of personalized learning I support in the Department of Education’s Ed Tech plan is not the Skinnerian approach you point out: “students progress at their own pace, moving from one lesson to the next when they have proven “mastery.””

I myself have criticized such views and a blind faith in big-data driven Skinnerian approach toward education. For example, last year at the COSN conference, I questioned the value and promises of personalized digital learning driven by big data in a debate with Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and now president of The Alliance for Excellent Education (, a DC-based non-profit organization that seems to an advocate of the type of technology in education you criticize (see its policy recommendations here: Some of the points made during the debate are summarized here:

I have also written about my views of education and personalized learning in various places; none would come close to the one you criticize. If you are interested, I just posted an excerpt of a chapter I wrote in a new book concerning personalized learning (the post is here: You can also find my views of personalized learning and student autonomy in my 2012 book World Class Learners. The essence of my view of personalized learning is to enable each and every child to pursue education opportunities that enhance their strengths and support their passion. I don’t believe in the idea of a one-size-fits all curriculum and approach.

Second, I am not the head an online learning company. Oba is not an online learning company. It is not even a company. It is the name of an online collaborative learning platform. It is designed to support learning communities organized by students and teachers. It does not deliver curriculum or instruction to students. Teachers and students use it to create lessons and collaborate with each other. It is an initiative within the University of Oregon. One version of it is completely free and the other version charges a very minimal fee of one dollar per student per year, which is much less than most commercial learning systems schools pay for. More important, I have no financial interest in Oba.

Third, my praise for China’s moving away from standardized testing is not to promote the version of personalized learning you criticize. It is to show how harmful standardized testing is and that a country that has long practiced the approach is moving away from it.

Fourth, my “touting” of ePals is specific about its work and intention to provide online learning communities across different countries to promote student-student understanding and mutual learning, not about it as an “online learning company.” The comment was made several years ago when it was about launch an effort for Chinese-English language learning. I do not know what the company does now. I never had any financial relationship with ePals.

Again, thank you for standing up for children. I hope this message helps clarify my stance on personalized learning.



This is a comment by Billl Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition:

Follow the money-yes, tax money

Tax funds have likely made White Hat Charter school operator David Brennan and ECOT operator Bill Lager very, very rich. (Some out-of-state charter operators are also cashing in on Ohio’s Wild, Wild West charter industry.)

The charters, that these fine, civic-minded gentlemen operate, generally speaking, perform at a pathetically low level.

Brennan’s total take on tax funds for charters since the beginning is in the range of $1 billion. Lager has not been in the business as long but is within reach of $1 billion total. This is money extracted from school districts thus, harming school district students. This enormous financial drain from school districts would be more tolerable if their schools were outperforming school districts.

With their respective stables of lobbyists and their multimillions in campaign contributions, they leverage legislation which expands their charter school empires and profits.
Although they contribute a lot to political campaigns, these donations constitute a small percentage of their cost of doing business.

Plunderbund, in a July 7, 2015 issue, posted the donations that Brennan and Lager made to certain House and Senate leaders.

Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger:

$12,155.52 from David Brennan in 2014
$24,311.04 from Bill Lager in 2013-14

Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Amstutz:
$67,500 from David Brennan (and his wife, Ann) between 1998-2012
$30,000 from Bill Lager in 2010-12

Majority Floor Leader Barbara Sears:
$10,000 from David Brennan in 2012
$40,000 from Bill Lager in 2010-13

Assistant Majority Floor Leader Jim Buchy:
$31,543.70 from Bill Lager in 2012-13
Senate President Keith Faber
$32,156 from the Brennan’s in 2012-14
$25,500 from Bill Lager in 2010-13

This pay-to-play scenario probably explains why House leadership derailed HB 2 with Senate amendments. This derailed legislation has a modicum of charter reform, some of which would likely affect the bottom line of Brennan and Lager.

Why are Ohioans not outraged about these shenanigans? Probably because they don’t know about them. Inform your fellow Ohioans.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Have you every wondered what “Race to the Top” was supposed to accomplish? Did it mean that we would be first in the world if we opened more privately managed charter schools, closed down more public schools (especially in Black and Brown communities), evaluated all teachers by test scores, and adopted the Common Core standards? If so, that clearly didn’t happen. Did it mean that the states who followed Arne Duncan’s instructions most faithfully would surge to the top of the NAEP tables? That didn’t happen either.


Be it noted that a “Race to the Top” is a bizarre metaphor for education in a democratic society. In any race, only a few reach the top, while most are left behind in the dust. That would seem to be a repudiation of the principle of equality of educational opportunity. For sure, it throws the goal of equity away.


For those who want to know what Race to the Top was really about, we have it straight from the horse’s mouth. Joanne Weiss wrote an article in 2011 that laid out the big idea that animated the nearly $5 billion program. Weiss was selected by Arne Duncan to run RTTT. Previously she had been CEO of the NewSchools Venture Fund, an organization dedicated to supporting and funding charter schools and charter chains. After the RTTT was completed, Weiss became Duncan’s chief of staff. You can’t get much closer to the action than Weiss was.


Weiss’s article was published on the Harvard Business Review blog. She called it “The Innovation Mismatch: “Smart Capital” and Education Innovation.”  The problem she identified as most crucial in American education was the mismatch between capital and the culture of the consumers. There was little incentive to innovate when the market was so fragmented.


She wrote:


The capital markets that fund education innovation — both for-profit and nonprofit — are largely broken. When for-profit investors fund technology solutions, they naturally seek good returns on their investments. To deliver those returns, developers cater to the largest possible market: large urban and suburban K-12 districts.
Unfortunately, these districts are notoriously weak consumers. They often buy technology and pursue innovation based on relationships and networking, rather than based on effectiveness. Given the relative dearth of valid, reliable measures of student achievement, few innovative programs can demonstrate their efficacy – so why not select solutions sold by someone you’ve worked with for years, or buy the products that come with the best give-aways, or purchase from the company everyone has heard of? The result is a large-scale market of technological mediocrity. High-quality solutions do not rise to the top – and effectiveness is neither recognized nor rewarded.


To make the market attractive to innovators–both for-profit and non-profit–the market needed to be consolidated. There were too many “homegrown, fragmented, one-off programs.” The question was how to scale up the marketplace for innovation, and Race to the Top was the answer.


Technological innovation in education need not stay forever young. And one important change in the market for education technology is likely to accelerate its maturation markedly within the next several years. For the first time, 42 states and the District of Columbia have adopted rigorous common standards, and 44 states are working together in two consortia to create a new generation of assessments that will genuinely assess college and career-readiness.


The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.


Thus, with almost every state using common standards and common tests, and with a massive data warehouse to track student and teacher progress, entrepreneurs would be attracted to work in a national marketplace, where their products would reach a national consumer base. This was the promise of Race to the Top and Common Core. It would enable entrepreneurs to market their products more efficiently and with greater success.


This idea was a first for the U.S. Department of Education. Never before was a major program launched by the federal government with the specific purpose of creating a national marketplace for entrepreneurs to hawk their wares to the schools.





This is an incredible article. Please read it.

Kristen Steele’s article is titled “Education: the Next Corporate Frontier: Exposing Power and Evil in a Neoliberal World.”

Steele is an environmental activist who realized that the push for corporate profits has invaded education, as it has so many other sectors of the global economy.

She begins:

“I’m no education expert. Having worked in the environmental and new economy fields for the last two decades, my main concern when it comes to schooling has been what children learn. Along with most activists I know, I’d like to see kids get outdoors more, learn about the intricacies of ecosystems, understand the urgency of climate change, experience growing their own food, and acquire the knowledge and understanding essential to becoming environmentally-conscious citizens. I’d like school reform to be a part of rebuilding vibrant local economies and sustainable communities. This is what I thought was at the heart of the struggle for better education. But there’s a battle being waged on a different front. One that will overwhelm and undo any improvements we’ve made if social and environmental activists don’t join in the fight.

“Over the last thirty years or so, private corporations have been steadily taking over school systems all around the world. Going hand in hand with “free” trade and development, the privatization of education is simply another step towards corporate control of the entire economy. If you’re tuned in to education news in the US, you may be familiar with the public school closures in Chicago, the so-called Recovery School District in New Orleans, and the proposed budget cuts in Milwaukee that have brought parents, students and teachers into the streets. But few of us hear about how students in Chile have been protesting for nearly a decade against rampant privatization that has increased economic inequality. Or how the UK government recently passed an education act allowing the conversion of all state schools into privately run “academies”. Or how Structural Adjustment Programs and development aid have paved the way for privatization of schools acrossAfrica, which has resulted in reduced enrollment of girls and exclusion of the poorest children. Or how similar takeovers are happening in Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, India, and many other countries.

“Privatization exists in different forms, including vouchers, public private partnerships, low-fee private schools, and charter schools. Whatever it’s called, it amounts to the same thing: private corporations gaining control of and profiting from an essential public function. In every country, the identical argument is used: public schools are failing, reform is needed and big business will do it best, providing choice and efficiency. If the statistics don’t match the argument, they are concealed or doctored to fit.

“Privatization in education is eerily reminiscent of every other sector that has come under corporate control; many of the justifications and methods are exactly the same. Just as in agriculture, technology is touted as creating “efficiency.” Just as in healthcare, we’re presented with the illusion of “consumer choice.” Just as in global trade, corporations are deregulated and given generous subsidies. Just as in manufacturing, skilled employees are displaced by underpaid workers with no job security. Just as in energy, the profit motive trumps the wellbeing of people and planet. Just as in politics, legislation is influenced by rich private interests. In none of these sectors has corporate control brought about increased wellbeing for any but the richest segment of society. Why will education be any different?”

Read the rest.

Send this article to your friends, your elected officials, members of your state and local school boards, journalists, anyone else you can think of. It is that important.

Groups like Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, Students First, Campbell Brown’s The 74, and foundations like Gates, Walton, Broad, Dell, Arnold, Helmsley, and dozens more are leading this mass takeover of a crucial public institution.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy calls on parents to mobilize against the politically charter operators:


Lesson learned: Parents parked PARCC and when they learn about the failed charter school experiment they will can charters

Regardless of the merits/lack of merits of PARCC, public school parents sent the message to state officials that PARCC was not good public policy. Hence, PARCC was kicked out of Ohio.

That testing debacle was too controversial for most lobbyists to touch; but parents took it on.

Public school personnel and advocates must inform their respective communities about the horrific failure of the charter school experiment; the one that rips one billion dollars annually from school districts. When parents become informed they will send the message to state officials to can charters.

It is apparent that the for-profit charter lobby is operating the charter train. House leadership derailed HB 2, as amended by the Senate, until September. It may never be put back on track.

It should be noted that according to a July 1 Columbus Dispatch article, ECOT founder William Lager gave $400,000 in direct campaign contributions in the last election cycle. “That does not include any money that he may have given to non-profit political organizations set up by House and Senate leaders.”


William Phillis
Ohio E & A |

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Alan Singer attended a conference in Madrid, where he delivered a paper called “Hacking Away at the Pearson Octopus.” He writes that the movement to break Pearson’s stranglehold on education is indeed global.


In April, protesters from teacher unions and global justice groups stormed the gates at Pearson’s annual general meeting held in London. Protesters accused Pearson of turning education into a commodity and profiting from low-fee private schools in poverty-stricken regions of Africa and India. They claimed is making millions by privatizing education in the global south. Pearson’s Chief Executive Officer John Fallon, forced to respond to dissidents, declared his enthusiastic “support free public education for every child around the world.” However he did not offer to provide Pearson’s educational services for free….


A joint letter from Great Britain’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the organization Global Justice Now, declared “From fuelling the obsessive testing regimes that are the backbone of the ‘test and punish’ efforts in the global north, to supporting the predatory, ‘low-fee’ for-profit private schools in the global south, Pearson’s brand has become synonymous with profiteering and the destruction of public education.”


ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “School curricula should not be patented and charged for. Tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed. Unfortunately, as the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, added the voice of American teachers to the protest movement. “We fight this kind of profit making to get kids a good education and fight for governments which gives students a high quality education…..’


According to Kishore Singh of India who works for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

“At the beginning of the new millennium, the international community made a commitment to achieve universal primary education for all boys and girls. Today, 15 years later, we find huge gaps between these commitments and reality. Across the world, 58 million children still don’t have access to schools, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Millions more fail to graduate, or fail to learn what they need to participate in society meaningfully. Capitalising on the inability of governments to cope with rising demands on public learning, private education providers are mushrooming. I see this not as progress, but as an indictment of governments that have failed to meet their obligation to provide universal, free and high-quality education for all. Education is not a privilege of the rich and well-to-do; it is the inalienable right of every child. The state must discharge its responsibility as guarantor and regulator of education as a fundamental human entitlement and as a public cause. The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states but also a moral imperative.”


Singer repeats:

“The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states but also a moral imperative.” A very good reason to hack away at the Pearson octopus.





The Center for Popular Democracy and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools reviewed reports of financial abuses by charter schools and concluded that more than $200 million in state and federal funds have been squandered. They examined records in only 15 states and estimate that what they discovered is only “the tip of the iceberg.” Most financial scandals and frauds come to light only after a whistle-blower speaks out or a state agency audits charter schools or an enterprising journalist digs into charter records. Many state laws governing charter schools confuse “flexibility” with a lack of oversight. Charter schools receive public money yet have gone to court to prevent public audits by state officials.


The report says that “According to standard forensic auditing methodologies, the deficiencies in charter oversight throughout the country suggest that federal, state, and local governments stand to lose more than $1.4 billion in 2015. The vast majority of the fraud perpetrated by charter officials will go undetected because the federal government, the states, and local charter authorizers lack the oversight necessary to detect the fraud.”


The report is alarming. Even more alarming is that the Obama administration intends to increase charter school funding by nearly 50% despite the absence of adequate supervision and oversight to prevent fraud.


Legitimate charter schools, serving students with high needs, should be first to expose the hucksters.


Regulations exist for a reason: to protect children and the public from fraudulent, unqualified, and incompetent operators who will prey upon them and profit because of the absence of oversight. How long will the public continue to tolerate this laissez faire approach to an industry that siphons money away from public schools without any accountability?



Here is the handbook of the for-profit education industry (although it does advise you to drop the label “for-profit”).


Here are some basic facts that it recites. The world spends many billions on education. The United States spends close to $2 trillion on education, nearly $900 billion on K-12.


This is a huge market for investors seeking to make a profit.


And then it launches into spin about how terrible the American public education system is, never mentioning that our students (white, Black, Hispanic, and Asian) now have the highest test scores ever on NAEP, the highest graduation rates in history (for all groups), and the lowest dropout rates (for all groups). It is the usual “sky-is-falling” hokum, all intended to persuade the public to turn their public schools over to hedge fund managers and equity investors and hucksters who know nothing at all about education.


There is also no mention of the many scandals that have surrounded the charter industry, as fly-by-night operators cash in on a newly deregulated industry.


The main point, the same point that Michael Moe of GSV Investors has been making for nearly 20 years, is that the education industry offers the opportunity to clean up for the canny investor and entrepreneur, by siphoning off taxpayer funds that were supposed to go to children and classrooms.


If you love Teach for America, charter schools, consultants, for-profit schools and colleges, online universities, and technology, you will love this report. If you loved No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and “Waiting for Superman,” you will love this report.


If you think that corporate reform is a pox on American education, read it and arm yourself for the battles ahead.





Bill Phillis is a watchdog for Ohio public schools. He is a man of great integrity who cares passionately about fair and equitable funding of the schools. He was Deputy State Superintendent many years ago and is now a fighting septugenarian, with no goal but the public interest. He created and leads the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy.

Here is his reaction to the collapse of charter school reform a few days ago:

“An initiative petition for a law or a constitutional amendment will be necessary to hold the charter industry accountable or phase it out

“High hopes were dashed by the refusal of House leadership to schedule HB 2 for a vote on June 30th. Democrats and Republicans, charter proponents and charter opponents were in support of HB 2 as amended by the Senate. Had the bill been scheduled it would most likely have passed; hence House leadership kept it off the House floor.

“This lack of House action on HB 2 demonstrates the absolute legislative control the for-profit sector of the charter school industry has on charter policy in Ohio. It matters not that the industry is laced with fraud, corruption and education malpractice. It matters not that Ohio is the butt of jokes regarding its deregulated, injudicious charter policy. Maybe Senate leadership permitted the Senate amendments with a nod from the House that the bill as amended would not pass in House. Who knows?

“When will Ohio taxpayers rise up to demand accountability of their legislators and the Governor? Until state officials are held accountable, charters will extract a billion dollars annually from school districts. Much of this money flows to for-profit management companies which is used for campaign contributions, cozy business arrangements, marketing and of course, PROFITS. When one thinks Statehouse turpitude can’t get worse, it does. Citizens must rectify this matter by by-passing the legislature and Governor with an initiative petition.”

William Phillis
Ohio E & A |

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215


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