Archives for category: For-Profit

Stephen Dyer, a former legislator, explains here why charters in Ohio are very different from those in some other states.

The question he does not address is whether charters in other states operate as secretively and non-transparently as those in Ohio. Don’t expect to get an answer from the Obama administrations’ Department of Education, which loves the charter industry. We will have to wait for an enterprising researcher or journalist to dig deep and investigate.

Charters in Ohio collect $900 million yearly from taxpayers, but there are important questions they will not answer.

Dyer writes:

“Now it is true that sometimes it’s tough to get information out of traditional public schools. As a former reporter, I remember many rounds I’d go with districts about whether I could get information. But I never remember failing to receive this kind of information:

“Who runs the building?

“Who is that person’s supervisor?

“Who is the management company in charge?

“How does one contact the school board?

“When does the board meet?

“Only 1 in 4 Ohio Charter Schools answered these five basic questions. That’s right. Only 1 in 4 Charters told members of the public, who pay $900 million a year for these schools, when the school board meets. And these schools are called “public schools” throughout the Ohio Revised Code. Perhaps this is why courts around the country are finding that Charter Schools aren’t actually public schools? Because they act like private schools?

“Look, Ohio taxpayers fork over $900 million a year for Charter Schools. They deserve to know how that money is being spent. Because they would be able to find the answers to these five questions on every single traditional public school website. You wouldn’t have to set up phone banks to find out the answers to these basic five questions, the way the Akron Beacon Journal did for Charters.

“Can you imagine if the Beacon called Akron Public Schools and they refused to tell them who the Superintendent was, or when the board met, or how to contact the board? I mean, that is just beyond imagination, right? But Charters, we are told, are just as public a school as APS. So why do they operate under such a shadow?

“Ohio’s Charter School system is a disaster. It needs serious overhaul.

“Ohio’s Charter Schools take far more kids from school districts that outperform the Charter than the other way round. They spend nearly 3 times as much on administration than the average school district. They spend more per pupil overall than traditional school districts. And because the state pays about twice as much per pupil for the typical Charter School kid than the typical traditional public school kid, kids not in Charters get several hundred dollars less in state revenue than the state says they need. So what’s the bottom line for Ohio’s Charter Schools in comparison with traditional public schools, overall?

“They perform far worse academically

“They cost the state far more

“They spend more per pupil

“They spend far more on administration

“They are far less transparent”

Why is this situation possible? Two reasons: charter lobbyists make large campaign contributions to politicians, especially Republicans. They are not public schools, and need not be transparent or accountable.

Let’s face it. Some people have the Midas touch.

Take Jon Hage, the CEO of the for-profit charter chain, Charter Schools USA.

He was named Floridian of the Year.

He has a yacht named “Fishin’ for Schools.”

And he has figured out a cool way to make his charters very profitable.

This comes from Coach Bob Sikes in Florida:

“This week’s hilarious story that Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage owns a yacht called Fishin’ 4 Schools overshadows what may be some major wrongdoing on the part of Hage. In a column that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Hillsborough League of Women Voters president, Shirley Arcuri revealed this little tidbit:

“Another area where the distinction between public and private is blurred for the benefit of for-profits is in the issuing of bonds. Although Florida law prohibits charter schools from issuing bonds, Charter School USA has found a way.

“When naming Jon Hage, CEO of Charter USA, as Floridian of the Year, Florida Trend in December 2012 contended that Charter School USA is the largest seller of charter school debt in the country. “It will sell $100 million worth of bonds this year, Hage says. … The bonds come with tax-exempt status because they are technically held by the nonprofit founding boards that oversee the schools.”

Endless to say, Hage is not and never was a teacher.

The Walton Family Foundation released its list of grantees in the education world, and once again, the foundation put its huge resources into privatizing American public education.

The billions that hard-working families spend at Walmart are used to support privately managed charters and vouchers and to undermine democratic local control and traditional public schools.

Some of the biggest recipients of the Walton family’s largesse are Teach for America (nearly $20 million), which staffs non-union charters; KIPP charter schools ($8.8 million); the Charter Fund, Inc. ($14.5 million); The Children’s Scholarship Fund (which gives our school vouchers) $8.56 million; and the California Charter School Association, $5 million. Parent Revolution got almost $2 million, the Black Alliance for Educational Options got $1.3 million.

Read the list and see who favors the privatization of public schools. Aside from a few dollars tossed to the Bentonville, Arkansas, public schools, it is a rogues’ gallery of privatization and teacher-bashing.

The Walton Family Foundation helped to underwrite the attack ads against New York City’s progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, because he dared to turn down three charter school proposals. Two of the three schools did not exist, so no child was evicted. The third rejection was meant to stop the expansion of Eva Moskowitz’s charter school inside PS 149 in Harlem, which required the eviction of severely disabled students to make room for her desired new middle school. Apparently the theory of the billionaires is that students with high test scores deserve public space more than profoundly disabled students, who have lesser rights.

As a result of pressure by the billionaires, the legislature passed a budget that gutted mayoral control by saying that the mayor was not allowed to reject any charter approved by Bloomberg’s school board; that the mayor was not allowed to charge rent to charters, even though they had just won a lawsuit declaring that they could not be audited by the State Comptroller because they are not “a unit of the state”; giving charters the right to expand in any public school where they are now co-located, without regard to the needs of the children already enrolled in that school; and requiring that the city pay the rent of any charter that rents private space. So, with the help of the Walton Family Foundation, the charter schools, which are not public schools and are not subject to public audit, get free space and may kick public school students out of their buildings.

This was a shameful law, purchased by people of vast wealth. They are intent on busting unions, crushing the teaching profession, and harming one of our democratic institutions. Their maleficent influence is unchecked. The money they spend each year is meant to transfer public funds to private hands. They use their power to hurt the very people who have made them wealthy, destroying their communities at the same time.

The age of the robber barons is back.

Florida legislators king to expand vouchers, even though the voters turned down an effort in 2012 to change the state constitution to permit vouchers for religious schools. The
measure was defeated 58-42, despite Jeb Bush’s efforts to pass it.
An earlier voucher program was struck down as unconstitutional by
the state courts. The only current voucher program is for students
with disabilities, called the McKay Scholarship Program. A journalistic
exposé called it a “cottage industry” of fraud.
the
writer won a major national award for this story from his
colleagues. Yet legislators want more.

The good news–for the moment–is that parents and teachers recently beat back the latest attempt to give away public money to religious schools. But be vigilant. Jeb & Co. will be back.

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?

Bill Moyers is one of my heroes. He is one of the few people in the media who is as concerned about the privatization and monetization of the public sector as I am. He has a long memory, and he has not forgotten that a good society needs both a strong public sector and a strong private sector. Nor has he forgotten that the real civil rights movement was about tearing down the walls of a segregated society and creating equal opportunity for all, not the current effort on the part of billionaires to promote school choice and decimate public education.

I enjoyed talking to him. Here is the full interview as it aired on PBS.

A teacher writes in response to an earlier post about the vendors making lots of money these days, but not schools or classrooms:

hahaha… I can laugh now, but, until I retired, I taught in a portable classroom, where termites would fly from the walls and I had to get rid of the smell of cat urine when I moved in.Yet, I had a smartboard, responders, laptop along with desk computer (T1 line plus wifi), and other electronic devices. However, once a device had problems (or needed batteries), well, things might not get fixed (I never did get a replacement hub for the one device I actually found extremely useful).

I was better off than my colleagues, one whose portable had mold, another whose portable had rotten flooring ready to cave in at the doorway, and then the ones who had no heat or cooling for much of the year (teachers complained, but it was only when a parent group complained, that the heat/cooler system was finally fixed). But, hey, we all had these electronics that were going to give us more points on tests!

At the last workshop I attended, the presenter certainly gave us some useful information, but when we asked her to help us with some specific problems, she drew a blank, not knowing how to respond. We told her, that we had 15 feeder schools, only three of which were in our district. She lowered her voice and informed us, “Oh, then I’m sorry, I cannot help you.” Then she quickly gathered up her materials and left. (I wondered why she couldn’t help us, until I discovered she was from an area with no out-of-district feeder schools.)

Yep. Lots of money out there to “fix” those poverty area schools.

Professor David Hursh of the University of Rochester visited New Zealand, where he explained so-called “education reform” in the United States. He very bluntly describes the bipartisan agenda that is proving to be harmful to students, teachers, and public education.

Hursh met with educators in Australia and New Zealand over a five-week period, encouraging them to resist the high-stakes testing movement.

In an earlier post today, I described the use of FUD (fear, uncertainty,and doubt) to destroy public confidence in public education and thus pave the way for privatization. The vendors of FUD say our education system, which made this country great, is failing; that it is obsolete; that we are losing the global race. It is a massive hoax, a fraud, a lie. They want to frighten the public and open the door to privatization and profiteering.

Robert Shepherd shows how FUD works in the marketing of Common Core, which was created to address our allegedly failing schools. Just remember: our schools are NOT failing. Our society is failing to address the real crisis of our time, which is that nearly one-quarter of our children live in poverty, and many are racially segregated as well. The Commin Core won’t change those scandalous realities.

Shepherd, an experienced curriculum developer, writes:

“And be these juggling fiends no more believed,
That palter with us in a double sense

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth

According to the amusing Wikipedia article on the subject, agnotology is the intentional cultural production of ignorance. It’s what advertisers and the leaders of oligarchical states do. They manufacture ignorance in order to further their goals. When it became clear to the cigarette companies that their product was extremely dangerous to people’s health, they started running ads that read “9 out of 10 doctors agree, there’s not a cough in a carload.” That’s agnotology.

One of the primary means by which the agnotologist works is equivocation. Equivocation is a kind of lying that SOUNDS as though it might be true. To see agnotological equivocation brought to the level of a high art, you need but look no further than the webpage from the Common Core State Standards Organization (the CCSSO) that describes the “myths” surrounding the Common Core. Each “myth” described on the Common Core page and in other Education Deform propaganda is, in fact, the unspun truth. In other words, the Education Deformers are highly accomplished agnotologists. A few examples will illustrate their technique:

“The Common Core State Standards were developed by teachers”

means that teachers had almost nothing to do with them, that a few teachers were selected to rubber stamp work done by amateurs from outside the profession who were hired with money from plutocrats and given the task of hacking those standards together based on the lowest-common-denominator groupthink of the state standards that preceded them.

“The standards were freely adopted by the states”

means that the USDOE gave the states no choice but to adopt them or suffer severe penalties that would come from not getting NCLB waivers. The “State” in “Common Core State Standards” is, quite simply, a lie. The standards were not developed by states but by a PRIVATELY HELD pair of organizations that hold a copyright on them.

“The new standards will unleash powerful market forces to encourage innovation”

means that the national standards will create markets at a scale at which only monopolistic providers of unimaginative educational materials can compete. It means the Walmartization, the Microsofting of U.S. education. It also means that in due time the CCSSO and the National Governor’s Association, or NGA, will start using the legal system to control the market for educational materials by deciding what materials will and will not receive its OK to claim alignment with its PRIVATELY HELD standards.

“The states are free to adapt the standards as they see fit”

means that the states can’t change them at all, that the most states can do is to add a few, but very few, standards to the CC$$ bullet list. The number of standards added can be no more than 15 percent of the total, and otherwise, the standards must be adopted without change (and without any mechanisms for change in the future other than the whim of the private organization that created the standards to begin with).

“The plutocrats have no seat at the table where educational policy is made” (Arne Duncan)

means that a small group of plutocrats paid for and directed the creation of the standards, the revised FERPA regulations, the new VAM systems, and the USDE technology blueprint. It also means that those same plutocrats are providing a lot of the money that is going into the development and marketing of the new national online bubble tests. It means that education policy is being made based on what serves the financial interests of the plutocrats. It means that the current deforms are the plutocrats’ business plan.

“The standards are not a curriculum”

means, in math, that they are a curriculum outline and in ELA that a) they dramatically narrow the possibilities for curricula and b) contain a great many items that clearly do specify curricula

“The standards don’t tell you how to teach” or “The standards do not specify pedagogical approaches

means that some pedagogical approaches are required in order for the standards, as worded, to be met and that MOST APPROACHES that might be conceived by independent teachers, scholars, researchers, and curriculum developers are precluded.

“The new national tests introduce breakthroughs in question types in order to test high-order thinking”

means that some minor online variants of fill-in-the-blank, matching, ordering, and other stock bubble test questions types have been introduced. So, for example, instead of filling in a blank, the student clicks on and moves an item to a blank.

“US schools are falling behind on international tests, thus making the standards and new national assessments necessary,”

means that US schools appear to be performing poorly if one does not correct for the socioeconomic status of the kids taking the test. If one does correct for SES, US schools and students lead the world.

“The Secretary of Education is the chief officer of the national public school system”
means that he is the fellow whom the oligarchs have put in charge of dismantling that system and replacing it with online and brick-and-mortar charters, voucher systems, and private schools run by well-connected profiteers.

“We’ve seen great improvements due to the accountability system put in place by NCLB”

means that scores have been almost flat and that the more than a decade of standards-and-testing that was supposed to “Leave no child behind” hasn’t worked at all to change overall outcomes or to put a dent in the achievement gap.

Poverty is not destiny”

means that the powers that be are going to ignore poverty and use the whips of VAM and testing instead.

So, agnotology, and, in particular, agnotology via equivocation, has become the PRIMARY MEANS OF GOVERNANCE of our K-12 educational system. In other words, our national education policies are, cynically, being formulated and enforced via LIES and, in particular, via means of that variety of LYING known as EQUIVOCATION.

And the leaders (LIARS) doing this governance are counting on having made the public so ignorant, via such equivocation, that it will not oppose their complete circumvention of democratic processes.

They are counting on the fact that their plutocrats, the guys with the checkbooks, can buy all the PR that is needed to keep the people in ignorance.

That’s how things work in a banana republic. The plutocrats purchase the political muscle to carry out their plans. In time, that muscle, the leaders/liars don’t even try to hide the fact that they are lying. They do it completely shamelessly. In fact, being able to lie shamelessly without having anyone call you out on it is a sign of enormous power, and to such people, to quote Kissinger’s infamous line, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

Erin Osborne warns in this powerful article at Salon.com that the profiteers are invading the classroom. They aren’t just selling pencils and textbooks. They are creating business ventures to make millions from controlling and directing the curriculum and testing, supplying the software and hardware that the new curriculum and testing requires.

Tellingly, she titles her article: “Keep Fox News Out of the Classroom! Rupert Murdoch, Common Core, and the Dangerous Rise of For-Profit Public Education.”

Arne Duncan spins a narrative that the Common Core standards mark a brilliant new direction for American education, in which achievement gaps will disappear as every child learns the exact same lessons in the same sequence in every state and school district.

But Osborne sees something else:

America’s most recent education reform, the Common Core State Standards, has divided teachers and parents across the United States. Whether or not the standards mark a step in the right direction for the education system, one thing is for sure. For the first time in American history, businesses are able to freely tap into the K-12 market on a large scale, and they aren’t waiting.

Make no mistake, she writes, the Common Core standards were designed to create a national market for goods and services (Joanne Weiss, tapped by Secretary Duncan to run Race to the Top, said that this was the purpose of national standards). Now, entrepreneurs are devising plans to get rich from taxpayer dollars:

How have the authors proposed we track the success of this reform? Testing, and lots of it. Along with the Common Core come two new major testing consortiums called SmarterBalanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Forget your No. 2 pencil; these aren’t the bubble tests you remember from school but adaptive computer testing that is required two to three times a year for every student in every grade. From the SmarterBalanced website, “The full suite of summative, interim, and formative assessments is estimated to cost $27.30 per student … These costs are estimates because a sizable portion of the cost is for test administration and scoring services that will not be provided by Smarter Balanced; states will either provide these services directly or procure them from vendors in the private sector.”

Big business in education isn’t new. Pearson and McGraw-Hill have dominated the textbook market while the College Board, makers of the SAT and Advanced Placement courses, are the veritable gatekeepers to higher education. The entire U.S. education system has been valued at nearly $1.5 trillion, second only to the healthcare industry. As media mogul Rupert Murdoch said after acquiring education company Amplify (previously known as Wireless Generations), “When it comes to K-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Until the creation of Common Core, businesses have found breaking into the K-12 market very difficult. States have historically written their own curriculums and standards, buying suitable materials and textbooks as they saw fit. Creating content that was accessible to multiple states was difficult and being able to approach the districts within their tiny budget window was nearly impossible. The nuanced field of state, local and federal funding and regulations that companies are forced to navigate takes years to master and states were the ones controlling the checkbook.

From a business point of view, why go to them when you can make them come to you? Many of the people who financially aided the creation of Common Core have investments in place in companies that would do quite well with the standards implementation. By using financial clout and political connections, billionaires, not teachers, were able to influence the landscape of our education system. If states wanted a chunk of the RttT money, they had to adopt Common Core. If they adopt Common Core, they have to pay for the assessments and proprietary materials that come with it. Products that are “Common Core Aligned” have flung the door to K-12 wide open. Still not convinced Common Core is more about money than education? Check out the American Girl back-to-school accessory set children can buy, complete with a mini Common Core-aligned Pearson textbook.

Osborne notes the number of start-ups that have jumped into the education business, seeing this lucrative market, and she also notes that most start-ups don’t survive:

Given the growing emphasis on technology in the classroom plus Silicon Valley’s affinity for gadgets, there are dozens of start-ups trying to cash in on the new market. Rupert Murdoch’s company Amplify has created its own tablet and Common Core-aligned games. According to CNBC, the amount of venture capital invested in education start-ups quadrupled, from $154 million in 2003 to $630 million in 2012.

Mick Hewitt, co-founder and CEO of education start-up MasteryConnect, said earlier this year, “I would be wrong if I said the Common Core and the dollars around it haven’t driven a lot of the activity for us.” MasteryConnect raised more than $5.2 million in investments, $1.1 million of which came from the NewSchools Venture Fund, which in turn has received more than $16 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since 2010. Hewitt does not have an education background.

Note the investment in this particular start-up by the NewSchools Venture Fund. NSVF is the epicenter of the for-profit approach to education. Its CEO Ted Mitchell was nominated by the Obama administration to become Undersecretary of Education, the second most powerful job in the Department. NSVF is not known as a friend of public education, but as a source of funding and strategy for charter chains, charter schools, and for-profit ventures.

It should not be surprising, really, that Secretary Duncan picked the head of NSVF to become #2 at the Department of Education. In 2009, he asked Joanne Weiss, who was then the CEO of NSVF to run Race to the Top. Once the Race to the Top competition was completed, Weiss then became Duncan’s chief of staff. Weiss memorably described the rationale for the Common Core this way in a blog for the Harvard Business Review:

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.

This was certainly the first time in history that the U.S. Department of Education created a program whose purpose was to stimulate new markets for entrepreneurs and investment.

Erin Osborne is an active member of the Education Bloggers Network, a group of bloggers who support public education. These were her first reflections on the recent conference of the Network for Public Education.

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