Archives for category: Privatization

Last year, I posted about Kevin Welner’s “Charterland.”


Now David Safier of Arizona has turned it into a video, followed by a discussion.


Play the game and see who gets in. And who does not.

Last week, I posted about a conference sponsored by the pro-voucher American Federation for Children, celebrating the destruction of public education in New Orleans. The participants seemed gleeful. One speaker spoke of bankruptcy as a wonderful opportunity to eliminate public education and start over.

Peter Greene decided that it was his civic duty to listen to the entire panel discussion, and he shares his impressions here.

Greene tries to understand the spirit of jollity in the discussion:

The actual title of the panel is “Knocking Out Yesterday’s Education Models,” though Persson reports that Bradford makes a joke about the working title being “What Happens After You Blow It All Up.” If you watch it, I will warn you that the most disconcerting thing about the whole discussion is the jaunty, breezy, jolly, jokey tone of the whole business. As a teacher, it is beyond disconcerting about watching people discuss blowing up the work that you’ve devoted your life to while they laugh and smile and yuk it up like the whole destruction of traditional public education is hilarious….

Greene summarizes the presentations of each of the speakers. Here are a couple of examples:

Katie Beck

COO of 4.0 Schools, Beck has a Teach for America pedigree, and went through the Harvard College. She gets “how do you turn education into a more entrepreneurial space” as a question, so I guess we’re skipping over “why the hell would you want to do that?”

Her outfit likes to work with people who are “obsessed” with a problem and who want to make money from the solution. Okay, I’m paraphrasing, but I’m not loving her message, and she does that thing where every sentence ends like a question? Anyway, her term for institutional isomorphism is “the hairball” because, you know, traditional public school is just a disgusting mess. So, for instance, instead of starting with a charter that will spend $2 million and look like “an iteration of” existing schools, they help little boutique start-ups. Because anything that looks like the old way is obviously bad. I had the hardest time wading through Beck, who is so clearly focused on developing business without much interest in the education side of things. All of her ideas deal with the best way to get a business started up, with no concern expressed for the students who become the guinea pigs for these start-ups.

Bradford asks if for-profit people are any different to work with that the other altruistic folks. But she doesn’t work with “bad actors” who are in it to make a buck. And being for-profit helps those people keep themselves honest because when you’re obsessed with solving a problem, you have to ask “is this solving it enough that someone’s willing to pay for it.” Which I wouldn’t call “keeping honest” so much as “missing the entire point of running a school.”

Rebecca Sibilia

So here comes the lady who’s quote got us interested in this panel in the first place. If we want all of her comments will it, as she suggests, make her sound better. Well, no. The whole thing is even worse than the quoted portion, which tells us a little something about how she sees herself.

Bradford asks her how we pay for all this innovation. And she opens with, “The problem is, we can’t.” Which is a remarkably honest answer [insert my usual complaint about trying to run charter systems without being honest about the true cost.] She will now break down the three problems that EdBuild is trying to solve.

First, the way that we’re funding schools is “largely arbitrary” and “doesn’t make any sense.” And Sibilia seems far too smart to believe that baloney, but just in case, here goes: People set up schools in their community, for the students who live in their community, so they funded them by collecting money from everyone who lives in the community. Later on, state governments got involved in trying to even out the differences in funding inherent in a local-based system. There are lots of things to hate about how this is all playing out, but it’s silly to pretend that the system just fell from the sky for no reason at all. Her criticism about uneven funding outcomes seems to be that by favoring one district over another financially, you’re creating an artificial market bias. One might complain that some students are getting fewer resources than they deserve, but that doesn’t seem to be her concern. It;s the savage and unwarranted abuse of the free market that’s the issue.

Second, she doesn’t like the borders that are created by property taxes, which seems exactly backwards. Municipal borders exist, and folks who live within them are taxed. Not the other way around. She thinks this leads to a mistake– trying to get resources into those borders instead of “focusing on how we can break those borders” which is a less objectionable way to say “how we can get some students out.” Because “breaking the borders” instead of “getting resources into the borders” has to mean that we are going to just let some areas collapse in unmitigated poverty. Which, as we’ll see, is exactly her plan.

See, many states fund schools with property taxes, and in many states property taxes can’t go to schools of choice. “We’ve had charter schools for a quarter of a century, but we’re still treating them like an experiment. And so that’s a problem and we have to fix it.”

So, there is a ton of Wrong packed into that. First of all, the modern corporate charters these guys are talking about haven’t been around for twenty-five years. Second, they are experiments, and not very successful ones, at that, having not yet figured out how to stop some charters from being Ohio-style nests of incompetence and corruption. Third, charters have used their fledgling nature as part of their excuse to avoid the same oversight and accountability that public schools enjoy. Every time a charter wants to set up a new rule for itself, its argument is, “We’re a charter. We should be free to experiment and Try Stuff.”

Sibilia’s argument is that charters should get lots of sweet, sweet public tax money. Neither she nor other charter advocates make a convincing case for that.

But she’s going on about the evils of property taxes being linked to public schools, and she and Bradford share a laugh at how it’s still called millage, which apparently proves that it’s just so antiquated and uncool. Har. And she goes on to try to make a point that funding is based on the teacher, and not the student and their needs, but somehow property tax locks this in, and so places where the charters are getting a new teacher corps (young? cheap? unprofessional? she doesn’t explain the critical differences) are locked in. But until we can bust up the whole funding system (she also does not say what she wants to replace it with), none of the cool reforms being discussed here will be sustainable. And that much is probably true.

Bradford sets up her next bit by observing that some school districts are in trouble and he would argue most can’t afford to stay open, and that would be awesome, and I say, you know what would help with that? What would help is to stop allowing charters to suck the blood out of the public system. And all that brings us to the quote that has circulated, where she envisions bankruptcy as a great way to blow up a district, specifically getting rid of all its “legacy debt” so that they no longer have to pay for like buildings and pensions, which is totally cool because having a school district go bankrupt is no problem for students, just the adults. Which is just– I mean, I imagine that students would notice that their district is collapsing financially and cutting programs and teachers and resources with a chainsaw. “Bankruptcy is not a problem for kids,” is a statement that in the best of contexts is still grossly tone-deaf and reality-impaired. In the context of Sibilia’s discussion of how to blow up public schools so we can has charters, it’s even more tone-deaf and reality-impaired.

And while the tone of the whole panel is, as I said, disturbingly light and happy, Sibilia is just so thoroughly gleeful about the prospect of districts becoming bankrupt, their pensions zeroed out and their teaching staff scrubbed. I have seen people less excited about getting engaged to the eprson of their dreams.

Greene discovers that the most thoughtful member of the panel is Andy Smarick, who has frequently spoken of the urban school district of the future as one that has no public education. But Smarick in this panel reflects on the danger of unintended consequences.

What he says is, yes, we’ve got an old hide-bound system, and we might want to blow it up and replace it, but when you do that you break a lot of systems and policies that are tied to it. “When you tug on that thread, you see a lot of the fabric start to warp. This is not to say we shouldn’t pull on that thread–”


There is a downside to all this that should not be ignored. And he brings up Chesterton’s fence. Which is an old British notion that you don’t take down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place.

‘So, some of the worst changes to the revolutionary evolutionary point are when we, with great hubris, with great certainty, look at something and we think is messy, untidy, inefficient, and we don’t see the wisdom, we don’t see the long-standing virtue, value, that is in it that has been tested over time, that has evolved, and we technocratically with great brilliance the best and brightest among us decide we’re going to change that thing.’

He tells a story about forest management and mistakes made in the name of commoditized lumber. Or knocking down swamps and then discovering we’d made a mess. Or the human social capital destroyed with high rise public housing. So, he says, as we tinker with all the pieces parts of schools, “let’s at least have a little humility and recognize that with that change comes a casualty.” And that those casualties often are the least advantaged.

So, first time I ever wanted to give a certified reformster a round of applause. And I’ll add that I’ve known actual conservatives my whole life, and as I have watched ed reform unfold, I don’t understand why more alleged conservatives do not share Smarick’s point of view.

A few years ago, I dared Andy Smarick to read James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State.” He got the point. It is about “the best and brightest” imposing their grand ideas on the little people–with disastrous results.

He is thinking. That is a good sign.

Jeff Bryant aptly describes the battle for control of public education in New York City. A group of billionaires–actually, nine of them–have formed an organization called “Families for Excellent Schools.” The name, like all of those invented by the corporate reformers, is intended to confuse the public into thinking that the group consists of families who are eager to improve all schools or families who are on the waiting list for a charter school. In fact, the “families” that contribute to this group have one goal: to increase the number of charter schools, without regard to collateral damage to the public schools that enroll the other 1 million children in public schools.

The billionaires, as Bryant shows, have opposed Mayor de Blasio’s programs to expand universal pre-kindergarten, to support struggling schools instead of closing them, to provide more reading specialists and counselors, and to make more AP classes available. They have used their considerable clout to demand more charters and to oppose equitable funding for public schools. A lawsuit that ended years ago called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity directed the state to pay the city billions more to fund public schools, but Governor Cuomo has ignored the CFE decision and pretends that charter schools are THE answer.

Bryant writes:

Understand that de Blasio’s desire to ramp up funding for new education programs comes at a time when powerful forces who control state education policy in New York state are convinced public schools need to make do with less. As a recent article in The Nation explains, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo “has banked his gubernatorial legacy” on refusing to adequately fund his state’s public schools.

Reporter George Joseph traces Cuomo’s stubborn refusal to abide a court-ordered overhaul of the Empire State’s education finances to a “coalition” of extremely wealthy people – principally, only nine individuals – who back an organization, Families for Excellent Schools, and operate a Super PAC that has smashed almost all lobbying records in Albany, the state capital, and influenced elections with massive campaign donations.

Joseph finds that FES – combined with New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, another powerful organization financed by the same individuals – now largely shapes education policy in the state, a policy that strongly opposes the legally required equitable funding of New York public schools.

“The state owes its schools a whopping $5.9 billion, according to a recent study” Joseph points out. “Yet somehow in this prolonged period of economic necessity, billionaire hedge-fund managers continue to enjoy lower tax rates than the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers.”

The state’s stingy attitude toward education funding flies in the face of recent research studies showing funding levels for education have real consequences for students. Even people who are politically conservative recognize this.

The billionaires say that it is not necessary to “throw money” at the public schools, but meanwhile they don’t blink at spending $40,000 a year for their own child’s education in private schools that offer all the things that poor kids don’t have: small classes, the arts, beautiful facilities, up-to-date technology, no standardized testing, and no teacher evaluation based on test scores.

Instead, they fight doggedly for charter schools, which skim the most motivated students and families from the public schools, further harming them.

Is there a billionaire in the United States who wants to help all children, not just some children? Is there one who will join the fight against privatization of public education?

You may recall a few recent posts about Nashville Prep, a no-excuses charter school that boasts of its high test scores. This is the school that assigned a book called “City of Thieves” to seventh graders and caused local consternation. The founder of the school insisted that the school was actually using a bowdlerized version of the book, with the salacious passages removed. The National Coalition Against Censorship criticized the school for using a “censored” copy of the book.

This is also the same school that posted videos on its website about its practices; one was called “Six Minutes in Ms. McDonald’s Fifth Grade Social Studies Class,” and it showed children responding robotically and chanting answers to the teacher’s questions. As soon as the video was mentioned on this blog, the school blocked access to viewers.

Guess what? The U.S. Department of Education has just awarded $9.6 million to RePublic Schools, the sponsor of Nashville Prep, to spread its model throughout the South.

The Department’s press release says:

The U.S. Department of Education announced today a grant totaling $9,599,599 million to RePublic Schools. This five year grant under the Charter Schools Program (CSP) will enable RePublic to replicate its school model to serve more students and families and expand its computer science education initiatives across the South. With this investment, RePublic will grow from serving 1,335 students in 2015-2016 to 7,215 students each year by 2022.

With the combined millions of the federal government and foundations, the RePublic model will open more schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

More of your taxpayers dollars going to compete with and undermine public education.

Michael Grunwald, who usually writes about politics, not education, has posted a mostly admiring profile of Arne Duncan.

Bottom line: He really cares!

What he leaves out: Arne’s persistent support for privatization of public education.

He does touch on the opposition to high-stakes testing, but skirts the hot-button issue of teacher evaluation by test scores.

But he does feel bad about the instability that has occurred in Chicago since he left.

And Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell cries when he talks about Arne. Michael Grunwald probably doesn’t know that Ted gave up a $750,000 a year job as CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, the leading privatization organization in education, to join Arne.

As Grunwald says, you can’t understand Arne if you don’t understand basketball. I know a lot about education, but I don’t understand basketball. So that’s my problem.


The privatizers have been searching for the past decade for a “proof point” that privatization is the path to a great education that will lift all children out of poverty, thereby avoiding the necessity to raise taxes on the rich.

First, they focused on New Orleans, but despite their massive propaganda campaign, there are many doubts about the “success.” Even their own data report that at least 40% of charters are F-rated by a charter-friendly state department of education.

Then they tried Newark, buoyed by Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift (matched by others). That was a complete flop.

Then they started the “Achievement School District” in Tennessee, whose leader Chris Barbic promised to lift the schools in the bottom 5% to the top 25% in only five years. As of now, four years later, the first batch are still in the bottom 5%, except for two that reached the bottom 6%.

And now it is poor Camden, New Jersey’s turn. Camden, the poorest city in the Garden State, is the target for the elimination of public education. Camden is supposed to prove that charters can conquer poverty. No need to create jobs, build housing, make medical care available to all, or do anything else to improve the lives of the people of Camden.

Just yesterday, the privatizers held a conference on their plan of action. The State Education Commissioner was there. The Camden superintendent was there. The Democratic boss of South Jersey was there. The president of the State Senate was there. The minority leader of the State Senate was there. The executive director of KIPP in New Jersey was there. The head of the New Jersey Charter Association was there. Bob Bowdon, the pro-voucher filmmaker whose film “The Cartel” compared the NJEA to the Mafia, was there. Who was not there? Parents and educators from Camden.

Open these links (you don’t have to belong to Facebook to open them):

Don’t these bozos–forgive me, policymakers– ever learn anything? How many millions went down the drain in Newark?

The Los Angeles Times reports that the school board of Los Angeles is split over Eli Broad’s ambitious and undemocratic plan to create privately managed charters for half the students in the city’s schools at a cost of $490 million.

Newly elected board member Scott Schmerelson expressed his revulsion for the Broad plan:

“The concept amazes and angers me,” said board member Scott Schmerelson. “Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.”

Other board members were equally disturbed by Broad’s proposed takeover:

Board President Steve Zimmer also had a strongly negative response, saying that the financial impact would be devastating for the students who remain in traditional schools.

“Everyone understands 250,000 kids will not be part of this,” said Zimmer, who has criticized the rapid growth of charters. “There is collateral damage: We won’t be able to lower class size or provide comprehensive support our kids need.”

The private money, he said, “could ensure every child living in poverty in L.A. County … could have access to high-quality early education.”

Board member George McKenna, along with Monica Ratliff, said he wanted foundation money “directed toward the public schools that are already established and need all the private support that we can get.”

Ratliff also said that the charter plan underscores the need to hire a new superintendent who will promote L.A. Unified’s own successes. The district has launched a search to replace schools Supt. Ramon Cortines who has said he wants to leave by year’s end.

“It’s important that a superintendent publicizes that LAUSD schools are extremely competitive” with the best charter schools, Ratliff said.

It is almost unimaginable that people elected to oversee the public schools would support a call to privatize them, but charter founder Ref Rodriguez and charter cheerleader Monica Garcia applauded the Broad plan for privatization. Do they think they were elected to destroy public education? Weren’t they elected to improve public schools? Were they honest with voters when they campaigned? Would they have been elected if they had been honest in saying they wanted to join the board to hand their children over to Eli Broad and strip resources from the ones Eli doesn’t want?

Is Los Angeles prepared to abandon public education? Do the people of the city really want their children to be a “proof point” for privatization of public education? Do half the children serve the will of an egotistical billionaire?

Eli Broad was educated in the public schools of Michigan. Why doesn’t he work to improve the public schools of Los Angeles so that children in his adopted city have the same opportunity he had? Please, Eli, take the eighth grade Common Core tests and publish your scores so we can compare them to the children in the public schools that you treat with such contempt.

You can watch the live streaming of the UTLA protest against Eli Broad at the opening of his new museum here.

It will be live streamed TODAY at 9 AM Pacific Time, which is 12 pm EST.

Why picket Eli Broad?

He has funded every attack against the teaching profession, against teachers’ right to collective bargaining, and against public schools. This, despite the fact, that he graduated from the public schools of Michigan. He wants to fill America’s cities and communities with non-union charter schools.

In Los Angeles, his foundation has committed to opening enough charter schools to enroll 50 percent of L.A.’s students. Broad is committed to raise $1 billion from other foundations for his privatization plan. Imagine what he could do for the children of Los Angeles if he raised the same amount to reduce class sizes, to restore arts education and librarians, and to hire social workers and guidance counselors.

The president of the UTLA, Alex Caputo-Pearl has challenged Eli Broad to a debate. Broad has not responded.

Who elected him to privatize the public schools of Los Angeles and the nation?

It is hard to remember that we once had stable schools in this country. That was before No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top went into full implementation. Now, schools in African American and Latino communities are routinely targeted for state takeovers, turnarounds, transformations, and transfer to chartering entities, without the consent of the people who live in the communities and the people whose children attend the schools. The billionaires pushing the “parent triggers” want parents to have the power to turn their school over to a charter corporation, but they are unwilling to grant them the power to say “no” to a takeover or a closure ordered by the Mayor, the Governor, or some bureaucrat.

Takeover goes in only one direction: privatization.

If this subject interests you, you will find this brief report of great value. It summarizes the “systematic disenfranchisement of African-American and Latino communities through school takeovers.” It describes the failure of all of these measures, from the takeover of New Orleans to the takeover of Detroit to the takeover of Newark to the takeover of public schools in Tennessee. One thing that all these schools have in common is that they enroll children of color. The powerful assume that African American and Latino parents lack the political power to stop them, and so far they have been correct.

The hunger strike at Dyett High School in Chicago demonstrates that there are ways for the “powerless” to take power. With the strength of their will, they can force those who hold the levers of power to back down.

That same fortitude is needed in all the threatened communities. The same local leadership can change the outcome.

Fred LeBrun is rapidly emerging as the most astute education writer in New York State. He writes for the Albany Times-Union so there is a good chance that the Governor’s staff and the legislative staff read what he writes. I hope so.

In this article, he skewers Cuomo’s plan to put struggling schools into “receivership.” That’ll fix them. Millions will be burned while the state ignores the root causes of low-performance in school: poverty. It seems that all the schools on the Governor’s list are in poor communities. Black and brown children will be Cuomo’s playthings, as teachers and principals and other staff are fired and new ones brought in, who will also be fired.

It is painful to read. You know that millions of dollars will be spent on consultants, and by the time the money is all gone, there will be more schools to hand over to Cuomo’s hedge fund buddies to turn into low-performing charters.

LeBrun writes:

While New York public education struggles to resolve an idiotic dependence on standardized tests, waiting in the wings is another poorly-thought-out plan threatening more harm than benefit: school receivership.

So far you haven’t heard a great deal about it because the dramatic consequences are a year off, but you will. And, unlike the statewide disgust over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s testing obsession that affects every school district and has gotten a lot of press, the threat of receivership at the moment hangs over only 144 “struggling” schools — not districts — all of them among the state’s poorest. Of these, 20 are labeled by the state Education Department as “persistently struggling” because of the length of time they’ve been “struggling” and need to turn themselves around in just a year, or else. The rest have two years.

In the Capital Region, only Albany’s William S. Hackett Middle School is on the persistent list, but if a handful of schools in Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Amsterdam, including Albany High School, don’t show appropriate progress, they will join Hackett next year.

What happens now for schools like Hackett is as complicated as directions to Atlantis, and about as reliable.

Albany school Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard becomes the acting school receiver, with broad powers, for the next year. A required community engagement team composed of the principal, staff, teachers, parents and even students from Hackett will forward recommendations for improvements to the superintendent, who will use them to help create her intervention plan to turn the school around. The plan is due at State Ed for approval by the end of this month. Over the next year, the community team will look over her shoulder as the intervention plan unfolds.

In the meantime, the school receiver can do pretty much what she wants (with approval from State Ed): change the curriculum, replace teachers and administrators, increase salaries, reallocate the budget, expand the school day or year, turn Hackett into a community school, even convert to a charter school. Although there’s enormous rigmarole attached to much of it, including going charter. Remember, the receiver in this case remains the superintendent for the rest of the district, so she is answerable for any wild and crazy ideas to the voters through the school board.

Anyway, to help start the process, Vanden Wyngaard can apply for a grant from a $75 million pot set up by the state, although she’ll have plenty of competition from other “persistently struggling” school receivers in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Yonkers, New York City and elsewhere. She has a year to do her turnaround. Or the hammer falls and we are off to Neverland.

Then the state would appoint an independent receiver who is answerable only to State Ed. At which time the process of community involvement, an intervention plan, and the rest are repeated, only now change is apt to be far more radical, with wholesale staff firings. An independent receiver can be a person from an approved list that doesn’t yet exist, or an institution or charter school. Although charter schools upstate have been mostly a bust, as Albany well knows. Middle school charters in Albany could not save themselves, let alone others.

So. If you’re getting the idea that this receivership idea seems like a plan designed to fail and thus prepare the way for school privatizers to make a bundle, move over.

For one thing, the state has yet to give school receivers a clear idea of what would constitute appropriate progress to avoid an independent receiver. Presumably, we’ll know by the end of the month when intervention plans have to be approved. What is expected and how reasonable it is will answer a great deal.

Because just a year to show any marked improvement on any front for a school like Hackett, no matter how thoughtfully considered, broadly accepted by the community, or earnestly pursued, is absurd. Real change needs time for all stakeholders to become invested. Teachers at Hackett today are still complaining that attendance and discipline as major problems, just as it was when I substituted there, oh, a half century ago. These are, after all, manifestations of the poverty and despair underlying most of Hackett’s problems; they don’t go away. They are the community’s problems, not just Hackett’s.

And for any turnaround plan to stand a chance of success, it will need tons of money and sustained financing for years. Curiously, while the law creating school receiverships is rich in the detail of who can be fired and not rehired, on punitive measures, and what extraordinary powers a receiver may exercise, it does not specify who will pay for an independent receiver.

Keeping in mind, always, that the state has an abysmal record in meeting its education commitments. At the moment, the state owes New York City more than $2 billion in aid; Albany more than $37 million; Schenectady nearly $60 million.

So there you have it. A boondoggle in the making. Cuomo forced us to accept a mandate of an independent receiver for certain schools labeled struggling by his cohorts at State Ed, but so far there isn’t a hint of state money to pay for it. Can you imagine what that burden will do for school budgets like Albany’s?

Oh, and it gets better. Amusingly, the concept of “struggling” public schools is defined by the educational establishment as the bottom 5 percent of all state schools based on a host of criteria. Which means no matter how much struggling schools improve, there will always be 5 percent at the bottom who potentially need a receiver.

What a surprise. • 518-454-5453


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