Archives for category: Walton Foundation

A mysterious group called “Families for Excellent Schools” has been f.ooding the airwaves in New York with multimillion dollar ad buys on television, touting the wonders of charter schools and the horror of the “143,000” children trapped in failing schools. The ads show minority children and families, giving the impression that these are the “families for excellent schools.”

In a tour de force of investigative reporting, Mercedes Schneider followed the money. There she is, in Louisiana, stripping away the mask of the millionaires and billionaires pretending to be “families for excellent schools” in New York City. Guess who they are? Not the families in the ads.

Some are named Broad; some are named Walton; some are named Moskowitz.

What a surprise.

The leading advocates for privatization are funding Marshall Tuck’s campaign for State Superintendent of Education in California. If you want to get rid of public schools, Tuck’s the guy. If you want to improve public education, vote for Tom Torkakson.

From the Torlakson website:

Pension/School Privateers Invest in Tuck for Schools Chief

A handful of ultra-wealthy donors who support school privatization and cutting public pension systems are behind a flood of spending supporting former Wall Street Banker Marshall Tuck’s campaign for state schools superintendent, campaign disclosure records show.

Far from “Parents and Teachers for Tuck,” the $4.7 million collected so far comes instead from sources that support school vouchers, privatization of public pension systems and using disruptive business tactics to overhaul public schools.

Major funders include:

$500,000 from Carrie Walton Penner, whose family made its fortune running anti-union, low-wage paying Wal-Mart. The Walmart 1% website reports that Penner’s biography includes serving on the board of the Alliance for School Choice – a school voucher advocacy group.

$300,000 from John D. Arnold, a former Enron trader and funder of efforts to persuade governments to cut public employee pensions. In February, the New York Times reported that a public television station returned $3.5 million Arnold’s foundation had paid to underwrite a series examining the economic sustainability of public pensions.

$1 million from corporate CEO Eli Broad. He drew statewide attention when it was revealed he had donated $500,000 to a group with ties to the Koch Brothers to defeat Proposition 30 and pass Proposition 32.

Here’s how Parents Across America, a public school advocacy group, described Broad’s approach: “Broad and his foundation believe that public schools should be run like a business. One of the tenets of his philosophy is to produce system change by ‘investing in disruptive force.’ Continual reorganizations, firings of staff, and experimentation to create chaos or ‘churn’ is believed to be productive and beneficial, as it weakens the ability of communities to resist change.”

Politico.com reported that StudentsFirst chose a staunch advocate of charters, vouchers, and privatization to replace Michelle Rhee. (As usual, the word “reformer” is a synonym for privatization and hostility to teachers’ rights):

“STUDENTSFIRST PICKS NEW PRESIDENT: Longtime education reformer Jim Blew has been selected by the StudentsFirst Board of Directors to serve as the group’s new president, replacing former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Blew has served as an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation on a host of K-12 education reform issues and he has directed campaigns for the Alliance for School Choice and its predecessor, the American Education Reform Council. He steps in at an integral time for StudentsFirst – when news broke in mid-August that Rhee was stepping down, reform activists said [ http://politico.pro/1rt7Uh8%5D she was leaving a trail of disappointment and disillusionment in her wake. Four years ago, Rhee pledged to raise $1 billion to transform education worldwide. But StudentsFirst has been hobbled by a high turnover rate. And activists said Rhee failed to build critical coalitions, instead alienating activists who should have been her allies with strategies they found imperious, uncompromising and even illogical.”

Daniel S. Katz, a professor of education at Seton Hall University, explains on his blog how to recognize a phony education reform group.

The key is, as always, follow the money. If the group is funded by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the John Arnold Foundation, or the Helmsley Foundation (among others), you can bet there are no grassroots. If they not only have said funding but an expensive location and grow rapidly, and if they advocate for charter schools and test-based evaluation of teachers, there are no grassroots, only faux reform roots that are part of the movement to privatize public education. The “reform” movement likes to pretend that it has a broad base so it funds numerous “front” groups. We have not seen so many front groups since the 1930s. Today, as then, they represent no community, no one but the funders and the elites and those with a hidden but anti-democratic agenda.

Jeff Bryant notices an interesting new phenomenon: Corporate reformers have dropped their triumphalist tone, and now they want to have a “conversation.” But the curious aspect to their concept is that the conversation they want begins with their assumptions about the value of charters, vouchers, collective bargaining, and tenure. As he shows, their “conversation” doesn’t involve actual classroom teachers or parent activists working to improve their public school. It typically means a “bipartisan” agreement between people who work in DC think tanks or veterans of the Bush and Obama administrations or grantees of the billionaire foundations promoting privatization.

In short, the “new” conversation isn’t new at all. It is a shiny new echo chamber where the voices of working teachers (not counting TFA and AstroTurf groups like Educators4Excellence and TeachPlus and others created and funded by Gates, Broad, and Walton) will not be heard.

A real conversation includes the voices of those who know the most about schools and teaching and learning: real working classroom teachers, as well as those who know the most about children, their parents. If the reformers listened to these voices, they would quickly learn that those who are most closely involved in education are not part of the Beltway consensus.

I recently saw photographs of John F. Kennedy giving a Labor Day speech in New York City during his Presidential campaign in 1960. He spoke in the center of the Garment District, on the west side of Manhattan. He spoke to tens of thousands of garment workers. Today, the Garment District has been replaced by luxury high-rise residences. Following NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the garment industry went to low-wage, non-union countries. The garment industry has few workers and no political power. The number of union members across the nation has dropped precipitously. The largest unions are public sector workers–especially, teachers–and they are under attack, as rightwing foundations, billionaires, and their favorite think tanks hammer away at their very existence.

What hope is there? Anthony Cody says there is plenty. He foresees the rise of “the teacher class.”

Here are a few quotes from a powerful statement. Read it all.

“The teaching class consists of educators from pre-school through college. This group is facing the brute force of a class-based assault on their professional and economic status. The assault is being led by the wealthiest people in the world – Bill and Melinda Gates, via their vast foundation, the Walton family, and their foundation, and Eli Broad, and his foundation. And a host of second tier billionaires and entrepreneurs have joined in the drive. These individuals have poured billions of dollars into advancing a “reform” movement that is resulting in the rapid expansion of semi-private and private alternatives to public education, and the destruction of unions and due process rights for educators.”

“As the latest report from Yong Zhao and ASCD illustrates, there is absolutely zero connection between the productivity of our economy and test scores. There may be some minimum level of academic achievement below which our nation’s economy might suffer, but our students are far, far above that threshold. So the entire economic rationale for our obsession with test scores and “higher standards” has been obliterated…”

Even liberal rationales for education reform are falling away. We have heard for the past decade that employers need students who can think critically and creatively, that everyone must be prepared for college. These arguments have been used to promote progressive models of education, along with the Common Core. The economic assumption here is that the middle class will grow as more students are prepared for middle class jobs. But the number of such jobs are shrinking, not growing. The supposed shortage of people prepared for STEM careers is a hoax, as we see with the layoff of 18,000 such workers by Microsoft. In fact, one economic projection suggests that in the next 20 years, 47% of the jobs of today will be gone as a result of technological advances and what Bill Gates terms “software substitution.” (see the full report here.)….”

“Teachers are paying attention. Study after study provides evidence that the central planks of corporate education reform not only fail to work, but are undermining the education of our students. This project that was supposed to be driven by data is collapsing, and would be long gone if our politicians were not being legally bribed to look the other way. Corporate education reform is a fraud, a hoax perpetrated on the public, with the active complicity of media outlets like NBC, which allows the Gates Foundation to dictate the very “facts” that guide their coverage of education issues….”

“Corporate reformers have diabolically targeted teachers where we were most vulnerable, by accusing us of placing our own interests above those of our students. Every element of corporate reform has been leveraged on this point. No Child Left Behind accused teachers of holding students back through our “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Due process has been undermined or destroyed because it supposedly provides shelter for the “bad teachers” responsible for low test scores.

“But this point of vulnerability is also our greatest latent strength going forward. Because teachers are deeply motivated by concern for their students, they are attuned to the devastating effects reform is having on them. Teachers are seeing what happens in communities when schools are closed – usually in poor African American and Latino neighborhoods. Teachers are seeing how technologically based “innovations” funnel both scarce funds along with student data to profit-seeking corporations. We have had more than a decade of test-driven reform, and teachers know better than anyone what a sham approach this has been. Teachers have seen and responded to the Michael Brown shooting, and though there are still difficult conversations ahead about race, teachers have a head start, because of our work with young people who are, like Michael Brown, vulnerable to racial profiling and the school to prison pipeline.

“Teachers have some important pieces of the puzzle, but we have not built the whole picture yet. There is a growing awareness of the discriminatory way laws are enforced, leading to huge numbers of African Americans and Latinos behind bars. But there is still a weak understanding of how this fits into a system that keeps communities of color economically and politically disempowered. School closures are a part of this disenfranchisement, as they rob communities of stable centers of learning. The disproportionate layoffs and terminations of African American teachers are a part of this pattern as well. We need a new civil rights coalition that brings these interests into sharp focus, and establishes alliances between teachers, students, parents and community members.

“When teachers bring a deep understanding of how our work has been hijacked and disrupted to bear on broader social issues, we find similar patterns elsewhere. We can see how profiteers are trying to sideline the US Postal Service, even though the level of service for the public will suffer. We see how the prison industry has turned into an enormous machine that sustains itself through vigorous lobbying, to the great disservice of many Americans. We see how laws governing debt are written to give tremendous advantage to financiers, while binding our students into a new form of indentured servitude. We see how leading Democratic Party politicians have taken campaign contributions in the millions from the sworn enemies of public education, and have become their servants….”

“The term “teacher leadership” has been used to describe a narrow range of activities often related to “getting a seat at the table,” or taking charge of professional development or Common Core implementation. But the real potential for teacher leadership arises when we take the lessons we have learned from a decade of being the targets of phony corporate reforms, and recognize our kinship with others who have been disenfranchised. The number of wealthy individuals who have sponsored this decade of fraudulent reform could fit in a small movie theater. Teachers number in the millions — our students and allies are in the hundreds of millions. The only thing that can beat the power of money is the power of people. But the people must be informed and organized. That sounds like work teachers ought to be able to handle.”

Sarah Reckhow and Jeffrey W. Snyder explain the new educational philanthropy–and how it intersects with federal priorities–in this valuable article.

They spot three significant trends:

“Our analysis proceeds in three parts. First, we examine phil- anthropic grant-making for political activities and demonstrate that funding for national policy advocacy grew from 2000 to 2010. Second, we analyze the shifting policy orientation among top education philanthropies. We find that most major education foundations increasingly support jurisdictional challengers— organizations that compete with or offer alternatives to public sector institutions. Meanwhile, funding for traditional public education institutions has declined. Third, we examine the range of actors and perspectives supported by philanthropic grants, applying social network analysis to identify overlapping patterns of grant-making. We find that top donors are increasingly supporting a shared set of organizations—predominantly jurisdictional challengers. We argue that the combination of these trends has played a role in strengthening the voice and influence of philanthropists in education policy.”

What are jurisdictional challengers? These are organizations that challenge the traditional governance of education, such as charter schools. More philanthropic money goes to these challengers, less money goes to traditional public schools, and more money goes to networks of jurisdictional challengers, like the NewSchools Venture Fund and Stand for Children.

This is a fine scholarly work that confirms what many of us saw with our own eyes. The philanthropic sector–led by Gates, Walton, and Broad and their allies like Dell–prefer disruptive organizations of charters to public schools. Indeed, they are using their vast fortunes to undercut public education and impose a free market competition among competing schools. As they go merrily about the task of disrupting an important democratic institution, they work in tandem with the U.S. Department of Education, which has assumed the task of destabilizing public education.

Big money–accountable to no one—and big government have embarked on an experiment in mass privatization. Do they ever ask themselves whether they might be wrong?

In recent days, there has been an extended discussion online about an article by California whistle blower Kathleen Carroll, in which she blasts Randi Weingarten and the Teachers Union Reform Network for taking money from Gates, Broad, and other corporate reform groups, in some cases, more than a dozen years ago. Carroll also suggests that I am complicit in this “corruption” because I spoke to the 2013 national meeting of TURN and was probably paid with corporate reform money; she notes that Karen Lewis, Deborah Meier, and Linda Darling-Hammond also spoke to the TURN annual meeting in 2012 or 2013. I told Carroll that I was not paid to speak to TURN, also that I have spoken to rightwing think tanks, and that no matter where I speak and whether I am paid, my message is the same as what I write in my books and blogs. In the discussion, I mentioned that I spoke to the National Association of School Psychologists at its annual convention in 2012, one of whose sponsors was Pearson, and I thought it was funny that Pearson might have paid me to blast testing, my point being that I say what I want regardless of who puts up the money. At that point, Jim Horn used the discussion to lacerate me for various sins.

Mercedes Schneider decided to disentangle this mess of charges and countercharges. In the following post, Schneider uses her considerable research skills to dissect the issues, claims and counterclaims. All the links are included in this piece by Schneider. Schneider asked me for my speech to the National Association of School Psychologists as well as my remarks to the TURN meeting, which are included.

I will make two points here. First, Randi has been my friend for 20 years, and I don’t criticize my friends; we disagree on many points, for example, the Common Core, which I oppose and she supports. I don’t hide our disagreements but I won’t call her names or question her motives. Friends can disagree and remain friends.

Second, I recall learning how the left made itself impotent in American politics by fighting among themselves instead of uniting against the common adversary. I recall my first job at the New Leader magazine in 1960, where I learned about the enmity among the Cannonites, the Lovestonites, the Trotskyites, the Mensheviks, the Schactmanites, and other passionate groups in the 1930s. That’s when I became convinced that any successful movement must minimize infighting and strive for unity and common goals.

Even earlier, Benjamin Franklin was supposed to have said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

David Sirota explains in the journal “In These Times” that there is a conflict between big-time philanthropy and democracy. He describes recent conference where the tech industry wrung its collective hands about inequality without acknowledging that it is a source of frowing inequality.

“Indeed, there seems to be a trend of billionaires and tech firms making private donations to public institutions ostensibly with the goal of improving public services. Yet, many of these billionaires are absent from efforts to raise public resources for those same institutions. Zuckerberg is only one example.

“For instance, hedge funders make big donations to charter schools. Yet, the hedge fund industry lobbies against higher taxes that would generate new revenue for education.

“Meanwhile, Microsoft boasts about making donations to schools, while the company has opposed proposals to increase taxes to fund those schools.

“To understand the conflict between democracy and this kind of philanthropy, remember that private donations typically come with conditions about how the money must be allocated. In education, those conditions can be about anything from curriculum to testing standards to school structure. No matter what the conditions are, though, they effectively circumvent the democratic process and dictate policy to public institutions. While those institutions can reject a private donor’s money, they are often desperate for resources.
In this, we see a vicious cycle that undermines democratic control. Big money interests use anti-democratic campaign finance laws to fund anti-tax policies that deprive public institutions of resources. Those policies make public institutions desperate for private resources. When philanthropists offer those resources, they often make the money contingent on public officials relinquishing democratic control and acceding to ideological demands.

“Disruption theory is usually the defense of all this—the hypothesis being that billionaire cash is the only way to force public institutions to do what they supposedly need to do. But whether or not you believe that theory, Gore is correct: It isn’t democratic. In fact, it is quite the opposite.””

The one thing we know for sure about the Walton Family Foundation is that it loves school privatization, I.e., charters and voucher. The other thing we know for sure is that WFF does not like public schools.

So, no surprise that the Walton Family Foundation funded a study claiming that charter schools are underfunded.

This is actually very funny, because when the idea of charters was first float in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we were assured that charters would save money because they would cost less. After all, they do not have bureaucracy, and they can buy their supplies at the lowest price, and they would be lean and efficient.

Except now they complain that they don’t get as much money as public schools!

Gee whiz, the friends of Eva Moskowitz held a dinner party a few days ago and raised over $7 million in one night for her charters.

It is hard to feel sorry for this island of privatization, to which Walton contributes about $160 million yearly, and which has the support of Arne Duncan, the NewSchools Venture Fund, the hedge fund managers, the Broad Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Arnold Foundation, the Dell Foundation, etc. as well as the legislatures of many states.

Cry me a river.

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