Archives for category: Walton Foundation

Jersey Jazzman has been working towards his doctorate in education research, and he has become quite expert at pulling apart flawed reports that trumpet some non-success.

In this post, he tears apart the quality of the research coming from the University of Arkansas’ Department of Educational Reform (I don’t believe there is another department in the nation with that title). The Department is funded to a large degree by the Walton Family Foundation, so it is not surprising that they are defenders of choice, vouchers, and charters.

In one of its latest reports, the choice advocate at the U of Arkansas “Department of Education Reform” claimed that charter schools are not as well funded as you think. Just because they are heavily subsidized by Walton, Gates, Broad, Dell, Arnold, the NewSchools Venture Fund, and a long list of other foundations as well as hedge fund managers everywhere is no reason to think that they are well funded.

Jersey Jazzman demonstrates in the post how flawed their evidence and logic are.

Max Brantley, regular columnist for the Arkansas Times, tells the sorry tale of the likely Walton takeover of the Little Rock school district. Read here and here.


Six of Little Rock’s 48 public schools have low test scores. Instead of bringing help to those needy schools, Walton-funded lobbyists are promoting a state takeover of the entire district. That way, all the schools can be turned into charters with private managers. This eliminates the elected school board; reformers don’t like school boards. They like state control and mayoral control.


In the second link, Brantley writes:


“Following the money on the Walton-Hutchinson takeover of Little Rock schools


“It’s not yet clear when the final House Education Committee battle will be fought on HB 1733 to allow the state to privatize any or all of a public school district judged to be in academic distress.


“It’s monumental legislation that would make all school teachers and administrators fire-at-will employees without due process rights. It would destroy the last remaining teacher union contract 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. CORRECTION: Fort Smith classroom teachers still negotiate with the Fort Smith School District. An anti-union organization they fund, the Arkansas State Teachers Association, has spent a great deal of money trying to solicit members in Fort Smith, a teacher there reports.


“This bill is the work of the Walton Family Foundation. People the Walton money supports — lobbyists Gary Newton of Arkansas Learns, Scott Smith of the Arkansas Public School Research Foundation, Kathy Smith of the Walton Family Foundation and Laurie Lee of Arkansas Parents for School Choice — are the leading lobbyists. Smith has been quoted by others as saying he’s the primary author (his organization gets $3 million a year from the Waltons), but it follows similar legislation introduced in other states, with poor to disastrous results (New Orleans).


(Concurrently and coincidentally, the Walton Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation are sponsoring a school study in Little Rock by the Boston Consulting Group, an outfit that has studied and recommended mass privatization in other cities.)


The goal is to make the Little Rock School District a laboratory for the pet education aims of the Waltons, who own the University of Arkansas, particularly the department ginning out propaganda in behalf of this bill. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is fully on board. He’s been resisting a solid plan to put competent people in charge in Little Rock and moving on fixing the six schools on which the entire district of 48 schools was placed in academic distress. His plan is to pass a law to overcome Johnny Key’s lack of a teacher certificate, master’s degree and 10 years education experience and become state Education Commissioner. Key would then find a Walton-favored outfit to run the six schools at issue and be poised to take over as many others as the Waltons deem necessary.


It’s been a long battle, but money does tend to win out.




Many tentacles. Lots of money….


If you think Johnny Key, who used Nick Wilson-style special language chicanery to increase the virtual charter school enrollment from 500 to 3,000 will stop at six Little Rock schools in the privatization scheme, I’ve got a Little Rock school to sell you for $1, subject to Walton approval.


The simmering pot full of Little Rock School District frogs (otherwise knowns as voters, taxpayers, parents, students and teachers) will soon be fully cooked, with no life left to jump out.

Little Rock students have formed the Little Rock School District Student Association to protest the state takeover of their schools and to demand representation in any entity that decides their future. This statement was written by Hannah Burdette, a founding member of the association.




Statement from the Little Rock School District Student Association:


On February 1st, students from the Little Rock School District (LRSD) met to organize the foundations of the Little Rock School District Student Association (LRSDSA). The team of students, working throughout Sunday afternoon, represented three of the five high schools in the district (Hall High School, Little Rock Central High School, and Parkview Art/Science Magnet High School). The students capitalized on momentum generated by the Arkansas State Board of Education’s recent takeover of the LRSD– and subsequent dissolution of the district school board– to create a groundbreaking camaraderie between students.


The LRSDSA plans to provide representation for the students of the district in the political bodies that dictate the future of education. The working mission statement of the LRSDSA was drafted during the meeting and reads, “The LRSDSA is an association of students united to amplify our voices and dedicated to empowering students to speak out in their classrooms, schools, and community in order to create continual implementation of reform in our district.” The students of the LRSDSA are students who stand, “dedicated to ensuring our voice and our vote in our education.”


The students founding the new association feel that their collective voices have gone unheard by the Arkansas State Department of Education. Over the past several weeks, these students spoke at out at LRSD Board of Directors meetings, community forums, and a special meeting of the State Board of Education to plead for the continuation of the LRSD Board of Directors. The LRSDSA believes that those in charge of a school district must possess an intimate knowledge of the communities surrounding struggling schools and be willing to recognize student voices as equal to those of administrators and teachers. This intimate connection is easily lost in bureaucracy, as demonstrated by the decision of five members of State Board of Education to vote for a State takeover, thereby disregarding the voices of students who spoke out and implored the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to allow students from each high school to work with the LRSD Board of Directors, community members, teachers, and administrators to to improve education across the district.


The Little Rock School District Board of Directors was a democratically elected body and provided a seat for a student ex officio at every meeting. Several students engaged in forming the LRSDSA worked on the campaigns of school board members, and many students formed personal connections with the board. The Arkansas State Board of Education currently allows for no official student representative at their meetings and often schedules these meetings during school hours, making it impossible for students to attend meetings concerning their education. The LRSDSA seeks to change that.


Additionally, the LRSDSA plans to make known to the Arkansas State Board of Education and to the public that they are displeased with both the dissolution of the LRSD Board of Directors and the silencing of student voices through a peaceful demonstration on Thursday, February 5th, 2015. At 5pm, students will march from the Arkansas State Board of Education at 4 Capitol Mall to the LRSD Central Office– the location of LRSD Board of Directors meetings– located at 810 West Markham. The organizing students emphasize that this demonstration will be done peacefully and encourage any community supporters to join them.


Written by Hannah Burdette, founding member of the LRSDSA, on behalf of her constituents.





Immediately after the Arkansas State Board of Education decided to eliminate the elected school board of Little Rock and turn the district over to state control, the Walton Foundation was ready to take charge.

“Notice apparently went out to Little Rock schools today about a focus group meeting with the Walton Family Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation “in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group.”

When BCG arrives, public education is in peril. They are a management consulting group with business experience.

Lloyd Lofthouse notes the expansion of the charter sector in past decade-plus and wonders how this will affect public schools. We know from many state and city studies that charters don’t outperform public schools and that many are run by for-profit corporations. No high-performing nation is embarked on the destruction of its public education system by imposing charters and vouchers and allowing non-educators to open schools.

Lloyd Lofthouse writes:

Is there a site that lists all the private sector charters starting with the biggest chain. If the Walton’s have more than 1,600 (about 28% of total), wouldn’t their corporate Charters be the largest chain.

I found this:

From school year 1999–2000 to 2011–12, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from 1.7 to 5.8 percent, and the total number of public charter schools increased from 1,500 to 5,700.

AN UPDATE: In November, U.S. News & World Report says, Number of U.S. Charter Schools Up 7 Percent, Report Shows.

The number of charter schools surpassed 6,000 at the start of the 2012-13 school year, as these schools – publicly financed, but privately run – steadily increased by 7 percent throughout the United States that year. This annual growth contributed to a 47 percent increase in the number of charter schools over the seven years since 2006-2007.

In addition: Charter schools now account for more than 60% of the public schools in New Orleans. Some are run by KIPP a chain with 162 schools.

There are 146 charters in the Gulen chain

Eve Moskowitz of $500k+ annual salary fame, runs more than 32 in New York—-is this small—the district where I taught for 30 years in CA had 19 schools and about 19,000 students.

And here’s an interesting piece in Forbes:

Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express to Fat City:

On Thursday, July 25, dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors gathered in New York to hear about the latest and greatest opportunities to collect a cut of your property taxes. Of course, the promotional material for the Capital Roundtable’s conference on “private equity investing in for-profit education companies” didn’t put it in such crass terms, but that’s what’s going on.

Charter schools are booming. “There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children,” according to Reuters.

Or this one from The Nation:

Venture capitalists and for-profit firms are salivating over the exploding $788.7 billion market in K-12 education. What does this mean for public school students?

Laura H. Chapman, in a comment on the blog, writes that overly prescriptive standards and overused standardized tests will be locked into place by bipartisan support (I add that what she describes is the Democratic embrace of the traditional Republican agenda of testing, competition, and choice.

In my view, these policies will not be rethought until politicians see a genuine uprising by students, parents, and educators. They listen to their constituents if the constituents make enough noise. We are not prisoners, we are citizens. We should make our voices heard.

Laura H. Chapmam writes:

In the near term, I think it unlikely that policies from this administration will go away soon, primarily because so many policies overlap those favored by Republicans who control Congress and state houses and state legislatures. Many who have political power endorse the “kill-public-education” policies of the current administration.

Reversals will require federal and state legislative action. My guess is that Republicans will favor the continued use of VAM and SLOs to rate teachers, and funding for charter expansion. Many state legislatures are in the midst of re-branding the common core or reverting to prior state standards, but standards and testing for hard-nosed “accountability” are not likely to vanish soon.

Many Republicans rely on ALEC-designed free-market legislation. Many foundations active in education support those views and have created a huge network of subsidized communications. In these networks, experts refine the arguments for private and for-profit education and hammer on the major themes of “getting the most bang for the taxpayer’s buck” and “parent choice.”

An example of this effort to control policy (in addition to ALEC) can be seen at the National Council of State Legislatures website where the agenda for policy on “education” includes a discussion of funding options for charter school facilities. The Walton Foundation paid for the report, which takes a swipe at public school districts for not “sharing” facilities, especially with out-of-district charters.

The Walton Foundation is among many others paying the cost for professionals in the media to deliver the “surround sound” for the public and policy-makers–with the failures of public schools providing the justification for alternatives. EdWeek journalism has been co-opted by 17 foundations who pay for coverage of topics they wish to forward as legitimate and newsworthy.

Republicans do not all think alike, including the common core and associated tests, but so far, the indications are that many current policies will just be rebranded and tweaked, with more block grants to states, and more tricks of the trade to cut spending for education.

An example of using the ruse of cutting costs is the promotion of “social impact bonds” (also known as “pay-for-success bonds”). These “innovative finance tools” for privatizing education have been given credibility by a $100 million kitty from the Obama administration. If you liked the “innovative financing tools” that tanked the economy, you will love these bonds–high profits if you invest in techniques of reducing the cost of public services, including education.

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.


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