Archives for category: Minnesota

Ever wonder who is the supplying the money behind the privatization of public schools?

It is a long list, and it starts with the U.S. Department of Education. Every year since 1994, your taxpayer dollars have been used to open schools that drain resources from your public schools while selecting the students they want. If your state has charters, you can expect that they will lobby the legislature for more charters. They will close their schools, hire buses, and send students, teachers, and parents to the State Capitol, all dressed in matching T-shirts, to demand more charters. Since the children are already enrolled in a charter and can’t attend more than one, they are being used to advance the financial interests of charter chains, which want to expand.

The big foundations support the growth of the charter industry: the Walton Family Foundation has put more than $1 billion into charters and vouchers; the Gates Foundation and the Eli Broad Foundation also put millions into charters, often partnering with the Far-right Walton Foundation.

There is a long list of other foundations that fund the assault on public education, including the John Arnold Foundation (ex-Enron trader), the Dell Foundation, the Helmsley Foundation, the Fisher Family Foundation (Gap and Old Navy), the Michael Bloomberg Foundation, and many more.

Here is a list of the funders of 50CAN, which started in Connecticut as ConnCAN, created by billionaires, corporate executives, and hedge fund managers, led by Jonathan Sackler, uber-rich Big Pharma.

Here is an example of a foundation that is very active in support of privatization. Check out where their money goes.

ALEC uses its clout with far-right legislators to promote charters and vouchers, as well as to negate local control over charters.

To see where the Walton Family Foundation spread over $202 million to advance privatization, look here.

The money trail is so large, that it is hard to know where to begin. Certain recipients do collect large sums with frequency, including KIPP, Teach for America, Education Trust, to name just a few.

As we say at the Network for Public Education, we are many, they are few. They have money, we have votes. Out ideas for children and education are sound, their ideas fail every time, everywhere.

Sarah Lahm tells the story here of how parents and teachers joined together to block the takeover of the St. Paul, Minnesota, school board by Teach for America.

 

Members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers worked closely with parents to field a parent slate, which was ultimately victorious. There was no out-of-state money in the race. This was a stark contrast with the school board elections in Minneapolis in 2014. That election was a TFA sweep, filed by $300,000 in mostly out-of-state contributions from friends of TFA.

 

Can grassroots collaboration beat big money? The answer is not definitive. But it seems certain that big money will always win unless parents and teachers stand together.

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota testing was briefly halted when Pearson servers became overloaded–were they not expecting so many students?–and a “denial-of-service” hacker broke into the system.

“An overloaded processor and a “malicious denial-of-service attack” led to the shutdown Tuesday of Minnesota’s statewide student testing system, the state’s testing contractor said Wednesday.

“Pearson, the testing company, apologized for the problems and said the system had been repaired. By late morning, though, Minnesota Department of Education officials were not yet ready to give the all-clear.

“We still need to hear from Pearson exactly what the issue is, how they have resolved it, and receive an assurance that testing can resume smoothly,” department spokesman Josh Collins said.”

In an age when hackers can break into the computer systems of major corporations, can Pearson expect to remain immune?

Did you know that charter authorizers in many states are paid a fee for every student who enrolls in a charter they oversee? Did you know this fee removes any incentive to demand accountability?

This article shows how fraught with self-dealing, conflicts, and indifference many of these relationships between authorizers and charters are. It is a wild, wild world out there.

Consider this:

“Nestled in the woods of central Minnesota, near a large lake, is a nature sanctuary called the Audubon Center of the North Woods. The nonprofit rehabilitates birds. It hosts retreats and conferences. It’s home to a North American porcupine named Spike as well as several birds of prey, frogs, and snakes used to educate the center’s visitors.

“It’s also Minnesota’s largest regulator of charter schools, overseeing 32 of them.. ”

“Many of these gatekeepers are woefully inexperienced, under-resourced, confused about their mission or even compromised by conflicts of interest. And while some charter schools are overseen by state education agencies or school districts, others are regulated by entities for which overseeing charters is a side job, such as private colleges and nonprofits like the Audubon wildlife rehabilitation center…..”

“In 2010, an investigation by the Philadelphia Controller’s Office found lavish executive salaries, conflicts of interest and other problems at more than a dozen charter schools, and it faulted the authorizer – the School District of Philadelphia’s charter school office – for “complete and total failure” to monitor schools. In 2013, more than a dozen Ohio charter schools that had gained approval from various authorizers received state funding and then either collapsed in short order or never opened at all. [That hasn’t stopped Philadelphia from opening more charters.]

“Considerable state funds were lost and many lives impacted because of these failures,” the Ohio Department of Education wrote in a scathing letter last year to Ohio’s charter-school regulators. The agency wrote that some authorizers “lacked not only the appropriate processes, but more importantly, the commitment of mission, expertise and resources needed to be effective….

“It’s not just Trine. In the esoteric world of charter authorizing, there’s long been confusion and tension over the basic role of authorizers. Are they charter-school watchdogs, or are they there to provide support?

“In Ohio, many charter authorizers fall on the “support” end of the spectrum. Some go so far that they sell “support services” – back-office services, for instance, or even professional development – to the very schools they regulate. It’s a way for these groups to make additional revenue on top of the fees they’re allowed to charge the schools.”

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reviewed the performance of the state’s charter schools and concluded that most were not meeting their academic targets and not closing achievement gaps.

 

Minnesota was the home of the charter movement, which began with high expectations as a progressive experiment but has turned into a favorite mechanism in many states to promote privatization of public education and to generate profits for charter corporations like Imagine, Charter Schools USA, and K12. Today, charter advocates claim that their privately managed charters will “save low-income students from failing public schools,” but the Minnesota experience suggests that charters face the same challenges as public schools, which is magnified by high teacher turnover in charter schools.

 

 

The Star-Tribune article by reporter Kim McGuire begins:

 

 

Students in most Minnesota charter schools are failing to hit learning targets and are not achieving adequate academic growth, according to a Star Tribune analysis of school performance data.
The analysis of 128 of the state’s 157 charter schools show that the gulf between the academic success of its white and minority students widened at nearly two-thirds of those schools last year. Slightly more than half of charter schools students were proficient in reading, dramatically worse than traditional public schools, where 72 percent were proficient.

 
Between 2011 and 2014, 20 charter schools failed every year to meet the state’s expectations for academic growth each year, signaling that some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable students had stagnated academically.
A top official with the Minnesota Department of Education says she is troubled by the data, which runs counter to “the public narrative” that charter schools are generally superior to public schools.

 
“We hear, as we should, about the highfliers and the schools that are beating the odds, but I think we need to pay even more attention to the schools that are persistently failing to meet expectations,” said Charlene Briner, the Minnesota Department of Education’s chief of staff. Charter school advocates strongly defend their performance. They say the vast majority of schools that aren’t showing enough improvement serve at-risk populations, students who are poor, homeless, with limited English proficiency, or are in danger of dropping out.
“Our students, they’re coming from different environments, both home and school, where they’ve never had the chance to be successful,” said April Harrison, executive director of LoveWorks Academy, a Minneapolis charter school that has the state’s lowest rating. “No one has ever taken the time to say, ‘What’s going on with you? How can I help you?’ That’s what we do.”

 
Minnesota is the birthplace of the charter school movement and a handful of schools have received national acclaim for their accomplishments, particularly when it comes to making strong academic gains with low-income students of color. But the new information is fueling critics who say the charter school experiment has failed to deliver on teaching innovation.
“Schools promised they were going to help turn around things for these very challenging student populations,” said Kyle Serrette, director of education for the New York City-based Center for Popular Democracy. “Now, here we are 20 years later and they’re realizing that they have the same troubles of public schools systems.”
More than half of schools analyzed from 2011 to 2014 were also failing to meet the department’s expectations for academic growth, the gains made from year to year in reading and math.

Peter Greene noted that Minneapolis followed the terrible examples of Los Angeles in 2010 and New York City in 2012 and published teachers’ value-added ratings in the newspapers for all to see. Even Bill Gates objected to this practice and said in a New York Times article that it would harm the relationship between supervisors and teachers to publish job ratings in the paper. Gates said that publishing VAM scores was an act of “public shaming” and no good would come of it.

 

Greene writes:

 

As promised, this morning brought the publishing of teacher ratings, including VAM scores, with a map and a pearl-clutching interview with the district’s superintendent. The gap is shocking, alarming, inexplicable.

 

I’m speaking of course of the apparent gap between Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s brain and reality. How does somebody with this gigantic an inability to process data end up as a superintendent of a major school system?

 

Superintendent Johnson is shocked– shocked!!– to find that under this evaluation system, it turns out that all the worst teachers are working in all the poorest schools! Hmmm– the poorest schools have the worst results. What’s the only possible explanation? Teachers!! [Pause for the sound of me banging my head on the desk.]

 

“It’s alarming that it took this to understand where teachers are,” Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said Friday. “We probably knew that, but now have the hard evidence. It made me think about how we need to change our staffing and retention.”

 

No, Superintendent Johnson. What’s alarming is that you don’t understand a damn thing.

 

Here’s what you have “discovered.” If you rip the roof off a classroom, the teachers that you send to teach in that classroom will get wet when it rains. You cannot “fix” that by changing the teacher.

 

But apparently that’s the solution being considered. “Okay,” says Superintendent Johnson. “Over here we have teachers who stay dry and their students stay dry, so we’ll put this dry teacher in the classroom without a roof and have a dry teacher for the wet rooms. That’ll fix it.”

 

And Superintendent Johnson appears willing to go further. “Maybe we just need to fire the wet teachers and replace them with new, dry ones,” she may be thinking. [Sound of me banging my head against the concrete slab of my basement floor.]

 

If you want a dry teacher in the room, build a damn roof on it.

 

Look. Look look look look look. We already know that poverty absolutely correlates with test results. Show me your tests results and I will show you where your low-income students are. Poverty and lack of resources and underfunding put these students in a classroom without a roof, and anybody you put in there with them will be a wet teacher.

 

Build a damn roof.

 

Minneapolis public school officials say they are already taking immediate action to balance schools’ needs with teachers’ abilities. The district has created programs to encourage effective instructors to teach at high-needs schools and mentor the newest teachers. District officials say they are providing immediate training for teachers who are deficient. And last year, the district fired more than 200 teachers, roughly 6 percent of its teaching staff.

 

Wrong. All wrong. In fact, worse than wrong, because you are now in the position of saying, “Hey, over here we have a room with no roof on it, and if you teach in there and get wet when it rains, we intend to punish you. Now– who wants to volunteer to teach in the roofless room?? Also, we’ll probably smear your good name in the local paper, too. Any takers?”

 

And to the students, sitting in that roofless room day after day, shivering and wet as poverty and lack of resources and insufficient materials and neglect by the central office rain down on them, this sends a terrible message. “We know you are sick and wet in your roofless room,” says the district. “So we are not sending a roof or even ponchos or an umbrella. We’re not going to spend a cent more on you. We’re just going to stand a different teacher up in front of you, to see if she gets wet when it rains.”

 

 

EduShyster interviews Sarah Lahm, who has been doing investigative reporting about reform monkey business in Minneapolis. She followed the money and asked questions about why some of our narion’s most beloved billionaires were dropping a load of money into a Minneapolis school board race. Out of the goodness of their hearts, to be sure.

EduShyster makes an interesting point: these monied reformers don’t believe in throwing money at schools but they do believe in throwing money at school board races!

One of the questions that we all wonder about is why billionaires are so determined to squash public education. When they see charter school frauds and scandals, does it give them pause? Will they get bored? We can’t let them continue on their path of disruption. If you didn’t win the last election, start organizing now for the next one. Frauds are frauds, and the public will catch on.

The reformers can’t keep railing against the status quo when they ARE the status quo.

Sarah Lahm, writing in “In These Times,” follows the money being spent in the Minneapolis school board race. She says that outside Minneapolis funders have spent $290,000 on the school board race. How can grassroots parent and community leaders compete for office when billionaires decide to lavish hundreds of thousands of dollars to control the local school board? It can be done. We have seen candidates in past few years–like Amy Frogge in Nashville, Monica Ratliff in Los Angeles, and Glenda Ritz in Indiana–win their election despite being vastly outspent. What is key is reaching voters and letting them know that they must not allow big money to buy control of their public schools. Let them know what is at stake. What matters is grassroots organizing. It can counter big money successfully. The joke in Minneapolis is that the flyers from the billionaire-backed group accuse incumbent Rebecca Gagnon of being the candidate of “Big Money,” when she has raised only $12,000!

 

Lahm writes:

 

New campaign finance reports filed in Minnesota show that the 2014 Minneapolis school board election is being buoyed by a tremendous amount of outside money, including a $100,000 contribution from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

 

Bloomberg’s money went to a group that calls itself the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund. This fund also benefited from a $90,000 influx of cash from California billionaire and venture capitalist Arthur Rock, and another $25,000 from Connecticut businessman Jonathan Sackler, a trustee of the Achievement First charter school chain.

 

A campaign finance report filed by the Fund this week shows that between July 30 and October 21, it raised $228,300 and spent $146,860 on such things as phone banking, strategy and campaign literature, including $8,500 for social media and website resources. In total, the group has spent more than $286,000 on the race this year.

 

There are four contenders for the two open at-large seats on the school board. So far, all of the Fund’s resources have been used to promote two candidates: Don Samuels and Iris Altamirano. In addition to a website that advises people to vote for Samuels and Altamirano on November 4, the Fund also sent out two glossy campaign mailers that advocate for Samuels and Altamirano and criticize incumbent candidate Rebecca Gagnon.

 

One of the Fund’s recent mailers says that Gagnon is “Good For Big Donors” and therefore “Bad For Our School Board.” Gagnon’s personal campaign finance reports show that she has raised a little more than $12,000, putting her well behind fundraising frontrunners Samuels and Altamirano, who have raised more than $65,000 and $41,000, respectively. The fourth at-large candidate, Ira Jourdain, has raised just over $3,000.

 

The Fund is chaired by Minneapolis resident Daniel Sellers, who also serves as executive director of both the local education reform advocacy group MinnCAN and the Minnesota chapter of its 501c4 advocacy arm, 50CAN Action Fund, which is also campaigning for Samuels. While some might question why out-of-state billionaires like Bloomberg and Rock would throw their money into the Minneapolis school board race, Sellers tells In These Times that he considers their investments nothing more than an indication of their support for the city and for the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund’s desire to raise awareness about the election.

 

What Bloomberg, Rock, and Sackler have in common is their love for privately managed charter schools and Teach for America.

 

The candidates supported by the billionaire-backed fund said they had nothing to do with the fund.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Network for Public Education has issued a BIG MONEY ALERT about efforts to swamp state and local school board races with outsize campaign contributions.

The ALERT focuses on a handful of races where corporate reformers are using their vast financial resources to win control. Many of the biggest donors are out-of-state and have no ties to the public schools other than a desire to promote charter schools, high-stakes testing, and test-based evaluations of teachers.

The race for state school superintendent in California has attracted the most corporate reform money. Marshall Tuck is the favorite of the billionaires and hedge fund managers. State superintendent Tom Torlakson is an educator with solid support among the state’s teachers and administrators. Torlakson is supported by teachers and their unions.

Tuck is the darling of the corporate ed-reform donors, having received such contributions as:

Eli Broad’s donation of $1,375,000;
Walton daughters and heirs, Alice and Carrie with $450,000 and $500,000 respectively;
Julian Robertson of the Robertson Foundation with $1,000,000;
Doris Fisher of the Donald and Doris Fisher Fund with $950,000;
Ex NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $250,000;
Houston billionaire and DFER friend John Arnold;
San Francisco venture capitalist and TFA Board member Arthur Rock.

If you know of other races where the big corporate money people are tilting the scales, please contact Robin Hiller, executive director of the Network for Public Education rhiller@voicesforeducation.org, or leave a comment here.

Sarah Lahm has written an important article about an infusion of corporate reform campaign money for a school board seat in Minneapolis.

Do corporate reformers see Minneapolis as the next Néw Orleans, the next city where they can privatize the public schools?

She writes:

“In the aftermath of a failed 2013 bid for mayor, former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels is running for a spot on the school board. If he wins, he will undoubtedly be able to thank the extensive financing and canvassing support he’s received from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER), and various people associated with Teach for America, which has been called a “political powerhouse” for its growing influence in policy and politics beyond the classroom.

“These groups often project an image of grassroots advocacy but are in fact very well-funded, often through the support of extremely wealthy hedge fund managers and large philanthropic foundations. Together, they and like-minded “education reform” proponents have dramatically, but not necessarily democratically, altered how public education works throughout the United States.

“While August campaign finance reports show Samuels out-raising his main competitor, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, by almost 4 to 1 through local donations, they also show that Samuels is getting tremendous support from outside of Minnesota. The D.C.-based 50CAN Action Fund filed a campaign finance report in Minnesota showing that it was devoting $14,350 in financial resources to the Minneapolis school board race, as well as in-kind donations valued in the thousands of dollars. Since 50CAN Action Fund is a 501(c)(4), its reports do not have to disclose which candidates it is supporting, but 50CAN Action Fund’s Minnesota chair Daniel Sellers told a reporter in July that the group had spent money on Samuels.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 166,883 other followers