Archives for category: Walton Foundation

Mercedes. Schneider read an article in Forbes about Carrie Walton Penner, the family member now in charge of education strategy for the Walton Family Foundation. Schneider blew a fuse. Maybe more than one. Carrie wants lots and lots of charters so that the free market will force the public schools to compete. Just like Walmart forces mom-and-pop stores to compete by cutting prices and forcing them out of business.

Schneider writes about the Walmart business model. While family members are billionaires, Walmart workers work for low wages, and some apply for food stamps. Walmart, she says, has even used prison labor to cut costs.

Walmart is closely allied with ALEC and favors the model legislation that helps big corporations and the 1%.

What really annoys Schneider is that Carrie promotes YES Prep as a model for the nation because, allegedly, 100% of its graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Since Schneider had only recently deconstructed the YES Prep story, she was flummoxed that the Forbes writer reported the tale without investigating the backstory. Like the 40% attrition rate. Like the schools’ requirement that students get accepted into a four-year college or they can’t graduate.

She concludes:

“This Forbes writer brushes off criticism of the likes of YES Prep as the “anticharter crowd derid[ing] the gains.”

“I’m fine with this labeling. I certainly do “deride” so-called “gains” that are little more that student deselection via student-handbook-encouraged attrition.

“But I will make a deal:

“When Carrie Walton Penner enrolls her children at a predominately-TFA-staffed charter school as their principal means of formal education, and when she publicizes their test scores as evidence that the charter model she promoted for other people’s children has served her children well, then I will consider the charters that she pays for with money that should go to paying Walmart workers a living wage as being “successful.”

“Not a minute sooner.”

EduShyster, aka Jennifer Berkshire, interviews political economist Gordon Lafer in this post. He explains the role of corporate education reform in a broad economic and political context. This is one of the most enlightening interviews she has conducted. I urge you to read it.

 

She asks Lafer whether Walmart is helping poor kids get a better education by swelling the coffers of the Walton Family Foundation, which generously funds charters and vouchers across the nation.

 

He replies:

 

First of all, the thing that correlates most clearly with educational performance in every study is poverty. So when you look at the agenda of the biggest and richest corporate lobbies in the country, it’s impossible to conclude that they want to see the full flowering of the potential of each little kid in poor cities. To say *I want to cut the minimum wage, I want to prevent cities from passing laws raising wages or requiring sick time, I want to cut food stamps, I want to cut the earned income tax credit, I want to cut home heating assistance. Oh but, by the way, I’m really concerned about the quality of education that poor kids are getting*—it’s just not credible. You’re creating the problem that you now claim to want to solve….Walmart has no trouble filling positions and operating with very high turnover because what’s demanded of people who work there is so little. They’re certainly not asking *where are we going to find more people who can do algebra and craft well-written paragraphs? In fact, the big problem with the *send every kid to college* argument is that there aren’t jobs for these kids after they graduate. You cannot find an economist who predicts that more than one-third of jobs in the US are going to require a college degree in our lifetime. The real question is not how can everybody be a college graduate, but how can people make a decent living. And here is where you see that the same corporate lobbies that are pushing education reform are doing everything possible to make that harder.

 

EduShyster pushed Lafer to explain how the corporate reform agenda made sense–especially the combination of budget cuts for the public schools combined with tax cuts for corporations. Lafer answered:

 

I think the direction that the most powerful forces in the country is pushing is a bleak and frankly scary one—that at some level they want us to forget the idea of having a right to a decent public education, which is one of the last remaining entitlements, and make it more like health care, which is increasingly seen as a privilege. What’s being done to schooling is, I think, devastating on its merits. It has ideological implications for lowering expectations for what you have a right to as a citizen or a resident. And it raises big, profound questions: How does your experience in school affect, not just your skill set for employment, but your sense of yourself as a person and what you think you deserve from life? I think that for the real one percent, the big political challenge is *how do we pursue a policy agenda that makes the country ever more unequal and that makes life harder for the vast majority of people without provoking a populist backlash?* One of the ways of doing that is by lowering people’s expectations, and one of the key places to do that is in the school system.

 

The good news is that the interview ends on a hopeful note. We can’t abandon hope, because if we do, we are lost from the get-go. We must believe that a political awakening will happen if we work hard enough to make it happen, and that the Robber Barons will be tamed. American history runs in cycles, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., argued, and we must not give up believing that we can make change. Because we can.

 

 

 

Lloyd Lofthouse, a regular commentator on this blog, has written a succinct history of public education, bullet points that show the good and the bad, as well as the recent efforts by billionaires to destroy public education.

David Callahan wrote an insightful article in “Inside Philanthropy” about something that most of us have noticed: the growing power of foundations that use their money to impose their ideas and bypass democratic institutions. In effect, mega-foundations like Gates and Walton use their vast wealth to short circuit democracy.

Callahan identifies five scary trends but they all boil down to the same principle: Unaccountable power is supplanting democracy.

He writes:

“1. The growing push to convert wealth into power through philanthropy

“Look at nearly any sector of U.S. society, and you’ll find private funders wielding growing power. Most dramatic has been the reshaping of public education by philanthropists like Gates and the Waltons, but the footprint of private money has also grown when it comes to healthcare, the environment, the economy, social policy, science, and the arts.

“Whether you agree or disagree with the specific views pushed by private funders, you’ve got to be disturbed by how a growing army of hands-on mega donors and foundations seem to get more clever every year about converting their money into societal influence. Love it or hate it, the Common Core is a great example: In effect, private funders are helping determine how tens of millions of kids will be educated for years to come. And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!

“Inevitably, the upshot of all this is a weaker voice for ordinary folks over the direction of American life. The veteran funder Gara LaMarche has a recent piece in Democracy that crystallizes the worries that many people have that philanthropy has become a powerful agent of civic inequality.

“2. How philanthropic dollars have become another form of political money

“Zeroing in on politics, we see philanthropic money increasingly shaping public policy and legislative outcomes. This trend isn’t new, of course, and along with Sally Covington, I wrote in the 1990s about the huge influence that conservative foundations like Bradley and Olin had over policy debates of that era by funding a network of think tanks and legal groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. Perhaps the greatest achievement of these funders was knocking off the federal welfare entitlement, after investing millions in work by Charles Murray and others.

“What’s different today is that many more funders, with much more money, are playing the policy game.”

The money quote: “And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!”

In city after city, state after state, wealthy funders are underwriting charter schools to replace democratically controlled public schools, school closings, mayoral control, state takeovers, and other means of removing democratic institutions. These funders have no compunction about privatizing “America’smost democratic institution.” They think they are acting in the public interest by removing the public from public education. Their wealth leads them to exercise power recklessly. They think they know everything because they are richer than almost everyone else. They are wrong. And their arrogance is dangerous.

Steve Zimmer is a member of the Los Angeles Unified School Board. He began his career in education with Teach for America, then stayed as a classroom teacher in Los Angeles for 17 years. When he ran for re-election, corporate reformers amassed a huge campaign chest to defeat him. He was outspent 4-1, but he won.

Zimmer is known as a thoughtful board member who cares about children, class size, and the quality of education for all children.

He posted the following on his Facebook page:

Friends,

It is less than 24 hours until Election Day.

I never imagined the right wing billionaires that tried to take me out of my school board seat in 2013 could donate more and distort the truth greater than they did against me. But that time has come. In tomorrow’s election for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the billionaires have outdone themselves, pouring over 11 million dollars into Charter School Operator Marshall Tuck’s campaign to unseat former teacher Tom Torlakson. This incredible cast of characters represents a who’s who of the corporate school privatization movement. Just take a look at who is on Marshall Tuck’s 500,000+ donor list. Each and every one of these donors has supported Republican campaigns, efforts to deregulate almost every major industry, gut workers rights and fight every sensible Obama initiative. And now several of the​m​ are among the largest donors to the Republican effort to take the U.S. Senate. Here are just a few:

Julian Robertson 1,000,000
Eli Broad $1,000,000
Michael Bloomberg $1,000,000
Bill Bloomfield $1,000,000
AliceWalton $1,000,000
Carrie Penner Walton $500,000
John Douglas Arnold $500,000

The billionaires have distorted Tom Torlakson’s moderate, successful record during his first term. They ignore the substantial improvements in all measurable areas throughout the state that have culminated in our first ever 80% statewide graduation rate. Because they mostly opposed Proposition 30, they want us forget that Tom Torlakson led they way towards rescuing our and fighting for all forms of local control. And in Marshall Tuck they have found the perfect private sector candidate. I’ve worked directly with Marshall. He is not a bad person and he is not trying to ruin our schools. But he fundamentally believes schools should be run as a business. He slashed classified jobs and promoted cut throat competition between schools as a charter school leader. As a candidate he has raised the ugly flag of demonizing teachers and has promised to drop t​he appeal of the Vergara lawsuit. He has also promised to force all California districts to have teacher evaluation systems directly linked to student’s standardized test scores.

We can’t let this happen. Tomorrow we have to show that public education in California is not for sale. Tomorrow we have to show that we can transform outcomes for students by working together not blaming those who have dedicated their lives to our schools. We can’t let these modern day​ robber​ barons steal this crucial election.

I ask you to do everything you can in the next 24 hours to turn out every progressive, every democrat, every person who care​s​ about our schools and every person who cares about democracy to vote for Tom Torlakson. The ultra rich controlling our democracy is not a new story. But the consequences if they are successful tomorrow will be unprecedented. I still believe we are more powerful than money. Let us all​,​ in California and throughout our nation, show the power of the people. Thank you for doing all you can.

Steve

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.

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