Archives for category: Privatization

You probably know who Peter Greene is: a prolific high school teacher in Pennsylvania who specializes in skewering fools.

But do you know who Mike Barber is? He is actually Sir Michael Barber of Pearson. He wrote a book called Deliverology, which provides the theoretical construct for corporate reform. It argues for setting targets (test scores) and incentivizing people to reach them.

In this post, Peter Greene reviews Mike Barber’s latest book , which he wrote with two co-authors. The goal of the book is to explain why ordinary people have failed to do reform right. The problem is implementation.

Peter writes:

“Their new book has the more-than-a-mouthful title Deliverology in Practice: How Education Leaders Are Improving Student Outcomes, and it sets out to answer the Big Question:

“Why, with all the policy changes in education over the past five years, has progress in raising student achievement and reducing inequalities been so slow?

“In other words– since we’ve had full-on reformsterism running for five years, why can’t they yet point to any clear successes? They said this stuff was going to make the world of education awesome. Why isn’t it happening?

“Now, you or I might think the answer to that question could be “Because the reformy ideas are actually bad ideas” or “The premises of the reforms are flawed” or “The people who said this stuff would work turn out to be just plain wrong.” But no– that’s not where Barber et al are headed at all. Instead, they turn back to what has long been a popular excuse explanation for the authors of failed education reforms.


“Well, my idea is genius. You’re just doing it wrong!” is the cry of many a failed geniuses in many fields of human endeavor, and education reformsters have been no exception.”

Yes, Communism was a great idea but it was badly implemented. Mao’s Great Leap Forward was a great idea, badly implemented. All those millions of people who died? Collateral damage.

Peter writes:

“The implementation fallacy has created all sorts of complicated messes, but the fallacy itself is simply expressed:

“There is no good way to implement a bad idea.

“Barber, described in this article as “a monkish former teacher,” has been a champion of bad ideas. He has a fetish for data that is positively Newtonian. If we just learn all the data and plug it into the right equations, we will know everything, which makes Michael Barber a visionary for the nineteenth century. Unfortunately for Barber, in this century, we’re well past the work of Einstein and the chaoticians and the folks who have poked around in quantum mechanics, and from those folks we learn things like what really is or isn’t a solid immutable quality of the universe and how complex systems (like those involving humans) experience wide shifts based on small variables and how it’s impossible to collect data without changing the activity from which the data is being collected.

“Barber’s belief in standardization and data collection are in direct conflict with the nature of human beings and the physical universe as we currently understand it. Other than that, they’re just as great as they were 200 years ago. But Barber is a True Believer, which is how he can say things like this:

“Those who don’t want a given target will argue that it will have perverse or unintended consequences,” Sir Michael says, “most of which will never occur.”

“Yup. Barber fully understands how the world works, and if programs don’t perform properly, it’s because people are failing to implement correctly.”

You have to read it all. It is Peter Greene at his best.

Eva Moskowitz and Families for Excellent Schools plan a mass rally in Néw York City on September 30 to promote their goal of increased privatization.

Familes for Excellent Schools is not an organization of poor families of NYC, but an organization of hedge fund managers and billionaires who support privatization.

“Success Academy, the city’s largest and most influential charter network, again plans to flood the rally with its teachers and thousands of students and parents. Success parents are typically asked to take part of the day off from work to participate in the rally. A spokeswoman for the network confirmed students will have a half-day on Sept. 30 in order to attend.”

Mark the date on your calendar if you are a parent or teacher of the city’s more than 1 million students who attend public schools. In accordance with law, public schools are not allowed to close for half-a-day for a political rally.

Let me confess: I once thought Cornel West was way too radical. His politics were too extreme. Boy, was I wrong. Yet another bad judgment call on my part. Either the times have changed or I have changed. I now think that he makes sense.

As I watched this brief video clip of Cornel West facing down a panel that included Newt Gingrich, I found myself agreeing with everything he said. He called out progressives for their complicity with the far right and their silence in the face of intolerable abuses heaped on the weakest members of our society.

When he got to the part about the privatization of public education, I was cheering. His point was that we have to educate all the children, not just a favored few. We as a society are responsible for all our children.

Andrea Gabor, the Michael R. Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College in New York City, has recently written about the disappointing results of the chartering and privatization of almost every school in New Orleans.

Jonathan Alter was unhappy with her article in the New York Times because he is a fervent believer in the privatization of public education by charters.

The irony, as Gabor notes, is that she and Jonathan were classmates at the Francis W. Parker School, a noted private progressive school in Chicago many years ago. The “no-excuses” charters that Alter so admires are nothing like the Francis W. Parker School.

If you have read Lawrence A. Cremin’s The Transformation of the School, a magisterial history of progressive education, you know that Francis Parker preceded John Dewey as the “father of progressive education.” Here is the thumbnail sketch of the man who started the progressive education movement: Francis Wayland Parker (October 9, 1837 – March 2, 1902) was a pioneer of the progressive school movement in the United States. He believed that education should include the complete development of an individual — mental, physical, and moral. John Dewey called him the “father of progressive education.” He worked to create curriculum that centered on the whole child and a strong language background. He was against standardization, isolated drill and rote learning. He helped to show that education was not just about cramming information into students’ minds, but about teaching students to think for themselves and become independent people. This is the spirit that infused the school where Andrea Gabor and Jonathan Alter were both educated.

But now Jonathan Alter is a rabid advocate of “no-excuses” charters that look nothing at all like the Francis W. Parker School. Also, Alter is a fierce opponent of teachers’ unions. Generally, progressives support unions, because they understand that unions build a middle class and enable working people and poor people to raise their standard of living. That is not Alter’s perspective. He seems to think that having union-free schools is a recipe for success, even though there is no evidence for his belief and much evidence to the contrary (think Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, three unionized states that are the highest scoring states on NAEP).

In this post, Andrea Gabor gives some homework lessons to her former classmate.

Alter’s biggest mistake is that he fails to see public school systems as, well, systems. Even if he’s right that the “top quintile” of charter schools perform very well, that’s virtually meaningless from the perspective of creating a better system. There are good public schools as well as good charters, after all. A 20-percent success rate is meaningful only if you can show a path to scaling that success in a practical way.

The two questions we should be asking are: A) What is the best method by which to improve all schools? B) If, as in New Orleans, charter schools are used as Trojan horses for turning public schools into dumping grounds for the weakest students and, eventually, eliminating public schools altogether, what is the cost of doing so—to kids and to our society?

There is growing evidence that the market model of large-scale public-school replacement by charter schools—one based on a competitive race for limited philanthropic funding for whoever produces the highest test scores—is a zero-sum game that can only work by sidelining the most vulnerable kids.

Gabor goes, point by point, through the problematic nature of the New Orleans story.

I hope Jon Alter sits down with his former classmate and gives some more thought to his extreme views, which echo those of Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, ALEC, and the Koch brothers.

Destroying our nation’s public schools is not a liberal goal, or should not be.

Sing no sad songs for the nine charter schools that are ruled ineligible for public funding by the Washington State Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision.

Mercedes Schneider reports that the charters raised $14 million from their friends in the 1% community, enough to keep them going for a year while their friends figure out a way to circumvent the court’s ruling.

We will see how committed their billionaire allies are to charters after one year, or whether their real commitment is to privatization of public money intended for public schools whose doors are open to all.

The following item appeared this morning in’s education edition:

– “I guess it’s ironic or something that the only public school that will be open in Seattle tomorrow is a charter school,” tweeted [ ] education researcher Robin Lake, a nod to the Washington state Supreme Court ruling late last week that the state’s charter school law is unconstitutional.

What is even more ironic is that Robin Lake (of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington), which advocates for charters and “portfolio districts” and is Gates-funded) continues to refer to charter schools as “public schools” even after the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that charter schools were not eligible for public funding because they are not “common schools” (public schools), as defined in the state constitution, not answerable to an elected board but to a private board.

Apparently the Center on Reinventing Public Education does not accept the ruling of the state’s highest court as meaningful or definitive. What part of the ruling do they not understand?

Mercedes Schneider reports that the few charters in Washington State intend to stay open with private funding and continue to seek public funding.

A few days ago, the Eashington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that charter schools are not entitled to state funding because they are not “common schools,” as defined in the state constitution. They do not have democratic control but are run by private boards.

“Thus, the nine charter schools in Washington State in 2015-16 will almost certainly not be funded using public money. However, as Komo News reports, all nine schools vow that they will remain open this school year by raising the estimated $14 million they need via private donations.

“Note, however, that the intention is that charter schools draw public money and not just survive on private funds. So, these nine charters’ surviving the year on private donations is certainly a short-term fix. The public can watch to see who steps up with the temporary millions– unless the money does not come from a nonprofit– in which case the public might not know who is financing the effort.

“Meanwhile, as Komo News notes, the Washington State Charter Schools Association plans to petition the Washington State Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling (and to perhaps turn to the dissenting opinion of three judges who stated that they agreed that charter schools are not common (i.e., public) schools, but that they should be able to be funded via the general fund.”

Hmmm. Wonder who will put up $14 million? Maybe the same small group of billionaires who put up $17 million to pass the referendum on charters, which passed by about 1%.

Learn how the Waltons–the billionaires who own Walmart–are trying to replace public schools with privately managed charters and vouchers and to eliminate teachers’ unions. Learn how the people of Arkansas said no and defeated them in the state the Waltons think they own.

This article, by Kali Holloway, describes how the billionaires got beaten in their attempt to privatize all of Arkansas’s public schools.

This past January, nearly 60 years after Arkansas’ first desegregation efforts, the state board of education dissolved Little Rock’s democratically elected local school board, the most racially inclusive and representative of its majority-black constituency in nearly a decade. In making the decision, the state overruled widespread public outcry to take control of the largest school district in the state. Two months later, Walton Family Foundation-backed lobbyists launched a brazen legislative push to allow for broader privatization — or put bluntly, “charterization” — of schools across Arkansas. It was a move many believed revealed a carefully orchestrated effort, begun months prior, to undermine the state’s public school system, destroy its teachers unions and turn public funds into private profits.

Anyone with even a passing interest in public education knows how this story normally ends; one need only look to places like Philadelphia, where Walton dollars have helped launch an explosion of charters, or New Orleans and Detroit, where Walton funds have contributed to a system in which a majority of K-12 students now attend charter schools. Though it is not the only big-money contributor to the education reform movement (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a key player, as are countless millionaire hedge funders, investment bankers and other titans of finance), no single entity has poured more money into the push for “school choice” than the Walton Family Foundation. As a recent report from In the Public Interest and the American Federation of Teachers notes, “the foundation has kick-started more than 1,500 schools, approximately one out of four charters in the country. Over the last five years [WFF] has spent between $63 million and $73 million annually to fuel new charter openings.”

Yet despite the power and money of the Waltons, they got their backside kicked by the people of Arkansas when they tried to take over and privatize the state’s schools.

But this March, Arkansas proved the exception to the ubiquity of Walton rule. Following the introduction of House Bill 1733, which would have vastly expanded the potential for privatization of Arkansas’ public school districts, a collection of grassroots groups, urban and rural school advocates, educators, parents, and other passionate individuals committed to public education mobilized. Recognizing they were out-spent, the collective out-organized the Walton lobby, killing the bill before it even passed out of committee.The bill’s defeat was made all the more significant by the fact that it occurred in the Waltons’ own backyard. Like the family business, Walmart, the Walton dynasty’s philanthropic arm is headquartered in Arkansas. The Waltons loom so large in the state, in politics, banking, education, and of course, big-box retailing, one former Arkansas educator and public school parent told me that when HB1733 appeared, she imagined every public interaction would soon involve a Walton-backed entity. “Before long, you’ll be able to drop your kids off at a Walton charter school and then get your groceries at one of those Walmart Neighborhood Markets.”

In an era in which Walton money is, state by state and district by district, changing one of our most vital public institutions into a guaranteed investment scheme for the rich and powerful and popularizing the neoliberal notion that our schools are so irreparably broken they can only be saved by a new competition-based, market-driven education system, the defeat of HB1733 deserves an up-close look. It’s the rare story of a win that, for reasons both practical and symbolic, should get the attention of everyone who values the institution of public education.

In Arkansas, the Walton putsch began with a state takeover of the Little Rock School District, which had six schools (out of 48) in academic distress. This effectively transferred control from a majority black school board to a white state-level agency. Black voters and parents in Little Rock were left without a voice in the education of their children.

Education advocates didn’t like the swift takeover, nor the installation of non-educators in charge of the state and the district. They were:

“most disturbed by the fact that seven months after the takeover, the state still hadn’t offered a game plan for how it would repair Little Rock’s “academically distressed” schools. If the state had no clear strategy for fixing those schools, why had it bothered to take them over in the first place?

“What’s the plan to make these schools better?” Brenda Robinson, president of the Arkansas Education Association, asked when I spoke to her. “Literally, there’s really not a plan, there’s never been a plan. Right now, you’re still hearing community members out there saying, how are you going to get those six schools out of academic distress and keep the rest out? How are we going to do that? There’s not a definite…roadmap to say how we do this.”

The Walton takeover plan started with Little Rock, but its ambitions were much larger, as revealed by the introduction of HB 1733 in the legislature:

Reportedly written by Scott Smith, head of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, a nonprofit that receives $3 million in grants annually from the Walton Family Foundation, the bill would have granted the state power to take over any district deemed in academic distress in favor of an “Achievement School District.” As Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times wrote, the law would “make all school teachers and administrators fire-at-will employees without due process rights. It would destroy one of the two last remaining teacher union contracts in Arkansas. It allows for the permanent end of democratic control of a school district or those portions of it privatized. It would capture property tax millage voted by taxpayers for specific purposes, including buildings, and give them to private operators. It would allow seizure of buildings for private operators at no cost.”

In short, it looked an awful lot like charter legislation currently being passed around the country, often with the backing of Walton Family Foundation dollars. And that set off alarm bells for those on the side of Arkansas’ public education system.

Education advocates knew that this was a thinly veiled attempt to follow the pattern of New Orleans and the Achievement School District in Tennessee, which takes away all rights and voice from parents and the public.

Rural educators saw a threat in the bill to have the state takeover some or many or all of their schools.

Perhaps equally important in sparking an immediate negative response to the bill among Arkansas public education watchers was its familiarity. During the 2013 legislative session, Walton-backed forces had attempted to pass HB1040, a bill that sought to create a special, autonomous panel to handle all charter-related issues, thereby circumnavigating the state board of education. Though that legislation was defeated, it appeared to Grandon and others to be just the latest in an ongoing series of public school privatization attempts.

“This wasn’t our first dance,” Grandon said of HB1733 when we talked. “We’ve recognized the threat from privatization forces for years. In Arkansas, you can go all the way back to the late ’90s, when there was the Murphy Commission, then the Blue Ribbon Commission. All of those were financed and instigated by the same people who were pushing HB1733, and the purpose was to define public schools as failing and needing not just drastic improvement, but even a whole, ‘Let’s tear them down and rebuild them into something else, because there is no way to fix this monster.’”

Arkansans have become adept at “decoding” privatization attempts, and they decided they were not going to allow the Waltons to take over their public schools. Organizations from across the state agreed to collaborate on a nonpartisan effort to defeat the bill.

What followed was round-the-clock organizing on every possible front. Each group rallied its membership base, creating a groundswell of opposition from across the state that was impossible for House Education Committee Chair Bruce Cozart to ignore. “What you basically had was a collaboration, a combined effort from, you might say, all of the education groups in Arkansas,” Boyce Watkins, advocacy director for Arkansas School Boards Association told me. “And not just them, but the people they touch, which is a significant number of people. Now whenever you have that broad of a base contacting legislators and telling them, we don’t want this, then legislators are put in a position where they listen to that. They’re elected officials.”

The coalition of pro-public education groups was so effective that the bill was pulled on March 17, only 11 days after it was introduced.

The Waltons were beaten back, but observers expect them to return with a different strategy.

The education blogger for the Arkansas Times said:

“I also wouldn’t be surprised if that bill comes back written in such a way that it is very limited only to Little Rock, and therefore is more palatable to others within the state that may see Little Rock as a problem needing to be fixed….From my perspective, a lot of that comes from race and class and prejudices that people have that allow them to think about places like New Orleans or inner-city Memphis or Philadelphia or Little Rock as being different. That those are places with pathological problems.”

Neil Sealy said very nearly the same thing when I asked him about looking forward. “I don’t see a New Orleans scenario….But I do see a significant increase in charters. And a busting of the teachers union, a downgrade in certification for teaching, and continued [racial] segregation of the schools to parallel the segregation of the neighborhoods. And my fear is that, we got people to rise up this last session from all over the state, but is that going to happen this time around? I think HB1733 was an extreme bill. And my bet is it’s going to be not as extreme next time. And it could just target Little Rock.”

So, the Waltons will come back with their sure-fire formula for success: Limit the “crisis” to Little Rock, which won’t upset the white folks in rural areas; privatize the schools; get rid of the teachers’ union; lower standards for new teachers; foster more racial segregation.

It is an unlovely, powerless, and mean future that the Waltons have in store for the rest of us, but especially for black people and their children.

Now, here is an amazing bit of prescience.

Parents Across America, the group formed by parents to support public schools, wrote a letter to the state superintendent in 2013 explaining why charters in Washington State are unconstitutional.

Initiative 1240 is unconstitutional, they argued, for the following reasons:

We therefore urge the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to pursue a legal challenge to I-1240, based on the following grounds:

1. I-1240 would establish a charter school commission comprised of politically appointed members with no election by, or accountability to, the general public. It would allocate authorization and accountability for charter schools to this commission, circumventing state-mandated oversight of our public schools by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and local school boards. (Yet this commission would cost taxpayers an estimated $3 million.)The creation of such a commission would be in violation of state law which requires public oversight of all public schools. (See: Article III, Section 22, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Duties and Salary.“The superintendent of public instruction shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law.”)

2. Charter schools would not meet the definition of “common schools.” Since 1909, a “common school” has been defined as “one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to, and under the control of, the qualified voters, of a school district.” Sch. Dist. No. 20, Spokane County v. Bryan, 51 Wn. 498, 99 P. 28 (1909). The state constitution also mandates a “general and uniform system of public schools.” Instead, Initiative 1240 would create an unequal subset of schools that would be granted exclusive rights and resources not accorded all schools and all children. These schools would be exempt from public oversight, violating state law that requires all public schools to be “common schools” and part of a “uniform system.” Subsequently, if charter schools are not “common,” then they do not qualify for state funding as stipulated in Article IX, Section 2, which states: “the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.”

3. Initiative 1240 also violates state law as recognized by the McCleary decision of January 5, 2012 (McCleary v. State of Washington), which maintains that the state has a constitutionally mandated (Article IX, section 1) “paramount duty” to fully fund all of its public schools. I-1240 would divert funding from common schools to specific schools with unique rights, creating inequity, and further diluting already inadequate resources from our public (“common”) schools, which is in violation of this law.

On Friday, the Washington Supreme Court (the highest court in the state) ruled that charters are unconstitutional and the Court’s reasoning echoes the points made two years ago by PAA.

Well done, Parents!

This ruling gives hope to parents all across America, who see charter schools draining funding from their public schools, favoring the privileges of the few over the rights of the many.

Sorry, hedge fund managers!

When he began to run for the Republican nomination for President, Jeb Bush stepped down as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which he founded to spread the gospel of high-stakes testing, tough accountability, charters, and vouchers. The new chairperson is Condoleeza Rice, who shares Jeb’s views on corporate reform. FEE will hold its “national summit” in Denver on October 22-23. You might want to plan to attend to learn about the campaign to privatize public education. Be sure to check out the sponsors. I can promise that you will not learn anything about the financial scandals that have plagued the charter industry or the disappointing results of vouchers at this conference.


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