The Network for Public Education created a list of questions that journalists should ask the candidates. In this post on, I explained NPE’s agenda to improve our public schools and to repel the corporate assault on them.

K-12 education issues, of huge importance to the future of our nation, were almost completely ignored in 2012. They should not be overlooked in 2016 because the very existence of public education is under attack. Billionaires hope to privatize urban districts, then move into the suburbs and elsewhere.

For those of us who believe that public education is a public responsibility, the time to become active is now.

We oppose the status quo of testing and privatization. We seek far better schools, equitable and well-resourced, where creativity and imagination are prized, not test scores. We seek equality of educational opportunity, not competition for scarce dollars.

Please join the Network for Public Education and help us build a new vision of education for each child.

The former CEO of Chicago public schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty to charges of participating in a kickback in exchange for a $23 million contract for SUPES Academy, her former employer.

Prosecutors recommended a reduced sentence of 7 1/2 years in prison in return for her cooperation. Her sentencing comes later.

Further down in the story, one reads that Mayor Rahm Emanuel concealed his knowledge of the deal. Even more interesting, Byrd-Bennett’s co-conspirator is a close ally of Rahm Emanuel. He recommended Emanuel’s first CEO, J.C. Brizard, then recommended Byrd-Bennett. Emanuel claimed that his administration asked “hard questions” about the no-bid contract before it was approved.

This story illustrates what is wrong about mayoral control: no checks or balances. A perfect set-up for corruption.

“A federal indictment unsealed Thursday accused Byrd-Bennett in a massive scheme with the co-owners of SUPES Academy, a company she worked for before joining CPS. The federal probe was revealed in April after CPS acknowledged receiving grand jury subpoenas seeking an array of documents on the SUPES contract. Soon after, Byrd-Bennett took a paid leave of absence and then resigned in May.

“SUPES owners Gary Solomon, a consultant with ties to the Emanuel administration, and partner Thomas Vranas also were charged in the 23-count indictment, as was SUPES and another education consulting company the two ran. Solomon and Vranas are scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Wednesday, records show.

“The heart of the indictment involved more than $23 million in no-bid contracts awarded to SUPES to train CPS principals and other administrators beginning in 2012. A CPS committee set up to evaluate no-bid contracts initially balked at awarding SUPES a noncompetitive deal but less than a month later approved the plan, records show.

“According to the charges, Solomon agreed to kick back 10 percent of the total value of any contracts awarded to SUPES while Byrd-Bennett held the No. 2 post with CPS. She was later elevated by Emanuel to CEO.

“Much of the indictment centers on emails sent between Solomon and Byrd-Bennett that seem to make no effort to conceal the alleged kickback scheme. In one message, Byrd-Bennett even implied she needed cash because she had “tuition to pay and casinos to visit,” according to the charges.

“In a December 2012 message, Solomon assured Byrd-Bennett that trust accounts had been set up in the names of two of her young relatives — identified by sources as twin grandsons — and that they would be funded with a combined $254,000 as a “signing bonus” for her help in obtaining the contracts.

“The cash would be hers once she stepped down from her public post and rejoined his firm, Solomon wrote in the email….

“While Byrd-Bennett became the public face of the scandal, the Tribune has reported previously that Solomon’s ties to the Emanuel administration go back to the beginning of Emanuel’s tenure in office, predating the arrival of Byrd-Bennett. In fact, Solomon helped recruit Emanuel’s first schools CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, at the request of the mayor-elect’s transition team in February 2011.

“Solomon went on to recommend Byrd-Bennett, who was the lead trainer at SUPES when CPS hired her as chief education officer in April 2012.

“Emanuel and his aides have maintained that the mayor’s office had nothing to do with the SUPES contract. When asked in April if his administration had any role at all in the SUPES contract, Emanuel told reporters, “No, you obviously know that by all the information available. And so the answer to that is no.”

“On Monday, Emanuel acknowledged for the first time that his office had prior knowledge of the deal, saying his staff “asked some very hard questions” about the no-bid contract before the Chicago school board approved it.

“The comments came on the same day the Tribune reported the mayor’s office was more involved in the $20.5 million contract than previously disclosed and was fighting the release of public records that could shed more light on how the deal came to be.

“As part of that fight, the Tribune in June sued the city under the state Freedom of Information Act after the mayor’s office redacted or withheld about two dozen emails emanating from Emanuel’s office.

“While much of the picture remains missing, the email logs and documents the administration did release show frequent communication among key Emanuel aides, Chicago school leaders and the heads of the SUPES Academy consulting firm in the months, weeks and days leading up to Emanuel’s hand-picked school board awarding the contract.”

We are left to wonder: What did Mayor Emanuel know and when did he know it?

An afterthought: I served on two different boards with Barbara BB. I thought she was smart and honorable person. I liked her. I am sad for her. She swam with sharks, and she lost her moral center. Very sad.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former CEO of the Chicago public schools, is expected to plead guilty to charges of taking a kickback from a $23 million contract to a company she once worked for. Now, other contracts are under scrutiny, including a contract to a company owned by Robert Bobb, former leader of the Educational Achievement Authority in Detroit.

““Chicago Tonight” has learned of a probe into another contract where a firm with ties to Byrd-Bennett received CPS business. This as Byrd-Bennett is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to charges that she steered $23 million in CPS money to SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates in exchange for bribes and kickbacks.

“The arrangement in question: a $31 million contract to help CPS manage the controversial closing and consolidation of 50 schools that took place two years ago. It’s under scrutiny, “Chicago Tonight” has learned, because of ties between former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and one of the companies that received that business.

“A company called Global Workplace Solutions won the $30.9 million bid to help close the schools. The duties involved relocating records, removing contents, furnishings and equipment from the closed schools, and then securing the closed schools. A portion of the business was subcontracted to a company called The Robert Bobb Group, a company run by Robert Bobb, the former Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools. Bobb hired Byrd-Bennett in Detroit in 2009 as Chief Academic Auditor and paid her a salary of $18,000 per month.”

The Badass Teachers Association needs your help to expand their presence and voice. BATS are teachers who are bold, courageous, and outspoken on behalf of students, teachers, and public schools. They make a difference.

Open this link and Join the BATS.

Better yet, whether you join or not, send some money, as much as you can, whatever you can afford.

This is a great group, led by teachers. They deserve your support.

If you have read recently that the U.S. Department of Education cracked down on predatory for-profit colleges, don’t believe it.

Read this story in today’s New York Times.

When the Obama administration agreed to erase the federal loan debt of some former students at Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit school that filed for bankruptcy in the face of charges of widespread fraud, education officials promised to “protect students from abusive colleges and safeguard the interests of taxpayers.”

But the Education Department, despite a crackdown against what it calls “bad actors,” continues to hand over tens of millions of dollars every month to other for-profit schools that have been accused of predatory behavior, substandard practices or illegal activity by its own officials or state attorneys general across the country.

Consider the Education Management Corporation, which runs 110 schools in the United States for chefs, artists and other trades. It has been investigated or sued in recent years by prosecutors in at least 12 states. The Justice Department has accused the company of illegally using incentives to pay its recruiters. And last year, investors filed a class-action lawsuit, contending that the company engaged in deceptive enrollment practices and manipulated federal student loan and grant programs.

Education Management nonetheless received more than $1.25 billion in federal money over the last school year.

The career training and for-profit college industry has been accused in recent years of preying on the poor, veterans and minorities by charging exorbitant fees for degrees that mostly fail to deliver promised skills and jobs.

Despite stepped-up scrutiny, hundreds of schools that have failed regulatory standards or been accused of violating legal statutes are still hauling in billions of dollars of government funds. They include tiny beauty schools with staggering loan default rates and online law schools with dismal graduation records and no bar association accreditation. Without government funds, which account for the overwhelming bulk of revenue, few of these institutions could attract students or stay in business.

The for-profit higher education industry hired the best lobbyists from both parties, and this is the result. Government-funded fraud against students goes on. Business as usual.

What a story. First Lady Michelle Obama joined with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to christen a new $2.7 billion nuclear submarine.

Rauner has cut programs for the homeless mentally ill and for children with disabilities. He hates unions and public schools. He is a rightwing Republican who would cut every social program and privatize public education if he could get away with it. All to balance the budget without raising taxes on billionaires like himself.

The sub, of course, was built in Connecticut by union labor.

Bill Bush and Catherine Candisky of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch raise important questions about whether Ohio Department of Education officials lied when preparing the state’s application for federal charter funds. For most of the previous years, the press across the state had been filled with stories about the charters’ poor performance, about financial scandals, about abrupt charter school closings, about the absence of transparency or accountability or oversight in this $1 billion sector. That $1 billion was siphoned away from public schools, and in far too many cases, went into the pocket of wealthy campaign contributors to the GOP.

Both federal and state officials failed in their duty to monitor the use of federal funds and to tell the truth. The federal government should have known, and the Ohio officials should have been honest. But the scandal-scarred charter sector of Ohio won the largest federal grant for charter schools: $71 million.

In applying for a federal grant, the Ohio Department of Education said it would close “ poor-performing” charter schools, touted an automatic-closure law that shuts them down, and promised that only the best-rated charter sponsors would create new schools.

But it also said that, in the 2012-13 school year, Ohio had no “poor-performing” charters, even though about a third of charters didn’t meet a single standard on their state report cards that year and 60 percent of them got D or F grades on the Performance Index, a measure of how students perform on state tests.

The grant application also failed to mention that the automatic-closure law is currently suspended and won’t return until at least the 2017-18 school year.

And those “best-rated” sponsors? Two days after filing the application, the man responsible for drafting it, David Hansen, resigned for having scrubbed data to make sponsors rate higher. All his sponsor ratings were subsequently rescinded. The grant application said that only sponsors “rated ‘ exemplary’ or ‘effective’ under the state’s quality evaluation criteria will be invited to participate.”

Troubling facts like these continue to place a cloud over Ohio’s successful bid for the $71 million, five-year federal grant. The Ohio Department of Education wants an aggressive expansion of charter schools across the state.

“The goal is for high-quality schools,” said Kim Norris, agency spokeswoman. “It will be a highly competitive process with schools applying for the grant dollars.”

The state will funnel almost all of the money to entities hoping to start new charters — including new for-profit online charters, which now rank as some of Ohio’s worst-performing schools.

Mercedes Schneider, author, master blogger and high school teacher in Louisiana, writes here about a new video that will be screened across the state.

She writes:

“The 28-minute video near the end of this post, 2011: When the Billionaires Bought BESE, was produced by Louisiana journalist Mike Stagg.

“It is the edited-for-television version of his video research on the 2011 state board of education (BESE) elections in Louisiana– a BESE election in which an unprecedented amount of out-of-state cash flowed into Louisiana in order to advance a test-score-obsessed, corporate education reform agenda.”

She adds:

“It’s 2015, and the out-of-state money continues to flow, with California billionaire Eli Broad donating $250,000, and Arkansas billionaires, Alice and Jim Walton, contributing $400,000.

“The election is October 24, 2015, with early voting starting Saturday, October 10:”

Will the voters of Louisiana reject the out-of-state billionaires’ attempt to buy control of their public schools?

John Thompson, historian and teacher, explains why corporate reformers are in a bad mood. Nothing seems to be working out as planned. The word is getting out that Néw Orleans was not a miracle. Worse, black communities are angry at the white elites who took control of their schools.

Thompson writes:

“It has been quite a year for school reform anniversaries. This is the fifth year of the $500 million Tennessee Race to the Top, the prime funder of the $44 million Memphis Achievement School District, and the $200 million One Newark; the tenth anniversary of Katrina and the mass charterization of New Orleans; and the 15-year anniversary of the man-made Katrina launched by the Gates Foundation.

“The corporate reformers’ top-dollar public relations gurus must have anticipated a series of lavish celebrations of their market-driven reforms. But, reality intruded. It’s a safe bet there will not be ten-year and 15-year victory laps for those prohibitively expensive urban experiments that produced underwhelming results. If the Gates Foundation stays its course, even its education division may not be around for a 20-year birthday party.

“The reason why this was supposed to be the great reform victory lap of 2015 was that the incoming Duncan administration, heavily staffed by former Gates officials, rammed through the entire corporate reform agenda all at once. In 2009 and 2010, the contemporary school reform movement became the dog that caught the bus it was chasing. The wish list of market-driven reformers, test-driven reformers, and even the most ideological anti-union, teacher-bashers, became the law (in part or in totality) in more than 3/4ths of the states. Due to the Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and other innovations, competition-driven reformers were given the gifts and contracts that they claimed would reverse the educational effects of poverty.

“So, how did they do?

“The year that was supposed to be triumph at the top became the year of reckoning for accountability-driven reformers. Or should I say it became the year of the Billionaires Boys Club’s non-reckoning and avoidance of accountability?

“The anniversaries began with excuses over the disappointing outcomes in Memphis, as well as the Tennessee Race to the Top. True believer Chris Barbic worked himself into a heart attack and resigned as superintendent of the ASD. The money was spent, and instead of a series of victorious public relations events, reformers found themselves explaining away the outcomes. In the wake of falling test scores, the previous spring, Barbic told Chalkbeat TN’s Daarel Burnette, “I think that the depth of the generational poverty and what our kids bring into school every day makes it even harder than we initially expected. … We underestimated that.”

“The refusal to listen to people who understand extreme poverty is almost certainly one reason why Memphis is now first in the nation in young persons out of school and without a job.

“Barbic’s parting excuse was:

“Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

“Then came Dale Russakoff’s The Prize. It would have been more difficult for Newark to have proclaimed victory after the decline of Governor Chris Christies’s political fortunes, the election of Ras Baraka as mayor on an anti-One Newark platform, and the removal of Cami Anderson as the state-appointed superintendent. But, Russakoff’s best-selling account of the battle over “Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?” made it impossible to spin the corporate reform experiment as anything but an embarrassment. Russakoff revealed, “For four years, the reformers never really tried to have a conversation with the people of Newark. Their target audience was always somewhere else.” Elite reformers were seeking “a national proof point” which would demonstrate how they could provide incentives and disincentives to solve society’s problems.

“Partially because of their refusal to tolerate dissent and to learn from the people who best knew Newark schools, One Newark actually drove down student performance in its high-challenge Renew schools. And tellingly, Russakoff cites the creator of the growth model that was inappropriately imposed on teacher evaluations. He said that simply focusing on teachers and growth is “pretty obviously myopic” and “a lot of high-stakes accountability has become self-defeating.” But, reformers ignored such advice, so “nonetheless, test-based teacher accountability for student performance remained a primary goal of the reform movement.”

“Third, whether it was a tribute to the sincerity or the hubris of New Orleans reformers, they broke tradition and invited scholars and educators representing multiple perspectives to their ten-year celebration. In contrast to the opaqueness of the financial statements typically issued by charter school chains, NOLA reformers acknowledged that during the early years of their experiment an additional $8000 per student was invested, and a decade later it still receives an extra thousand dollars per student. The most prominent result of all that spending is that it turned much or most of the New Orleans African-American community against the do-gooders who came down to save them.

“True believers in mass charterization proclaimed large gains in test scores. But the conference featured panels of scholars who were very articulate in questioning whether those metrics reflect actual learning. Moreover, experts noted that the gains must be seen in terms of NOLA’s shamefully low pre-Katrina starting point; post-Katrina demographic shifts; curriculum narrowing, a focus on test prep and remediation that doesn’t prepare kids for college or life; and the nation’s 3rd highest rate of young people out of school without a job.

“Finally, the Gates Foundation ordinarily seems to be allergic to learning from others, but it certainly conducted its 15-year anniversary in a way that was cognizant of the New Orleans conference experience. The clear lesson was that scholars and educators with differing views should not be invited. As the Hechinger Report’s Meredith Kolodner reported, the event was presented to “a hand-picked audience.” Moreover, as Alexander Russo notes, the interview with the USDOE’s Ted Mitchell was closed to the press (due to a request by the USDOE), and the second day’s presentations were not live-streamed. If they were anything like the first day sessions, I doubt there would have been much of an audience anyway. The events I watched were merely infomercials.

“The Gates Foundation has spent about $4 billion on K-12 education since 1999 with nearly a billion of it going to its teacher effectiveness campaign. It still lacks a plausible scenario where its support of high stakes testing and charters will not damage the poorest children of color as in Memphis, Newark, and New Orleans.

“One would think that they would ask the same question as those who pushed the Memphis ASD, the federal RttT, and the Newark and NOLA experiments should ask. Why would the supposed beneficiaries of their largess be so livid, demanding that corporate reformers go home? If billions of dollars of test, sort, reward, and punish regimes were actually doing more good than harm, why would there be such a rejection of their programs?

“Even Bill Gates acknowledges, “Test scores in this country are not going up,” while taking solace in what he has been told are a few bright spots. He admits that a decade from now his teacher evaluation system may still be unwelcome by teachers. I doubt we will have to wait anywhere near that long before it is rejected. As Larry Cuban predicts, Gates’s value-added evaluations and other reformers’ panaceas will be “like tissue-paper reforms of the past … that have been crumpled up and tossed away.”

“Melinda and Bill Gates both seem perplexed as to why educators and patrons reject their gifts. Melinda remarked about how difficult it can be to persuade parents to accept their innovations. Bill said, “Nobody votes to un-invent our malaria vaccine.”

“Of course, Gates was criticizing the opponents of corporate reforms, not the reforms themselves. It’s a shame that he doesn’t seem to get an opportunity to be asked the seemingly obvious question. How is the malaria vaccine different than his education policies? The malaria vaccine works. Why not consider the possibility that educators and patrons oppose his education schemes because they don’t work?”

The Sacramento Bee, which has been very supportive of Mayor Kevin Johnson and also of corporate reform, posted a story about the postponement of the ESPN film about how he saved the hometown basketball team.

The article on the newspaper’s blog says the molestation accusations were reported long ago, they are old news, and the only thing new is the surfacing of the video of the accuser being questioned by the police. Putting a face on the alleged victim revived the story.

If you watch the video, it may strike you as odd that this teenager is questioned by a middle-aged policeman, who asks her intimate questions about what happened to her. Maybe this is standard police practice, but it seemed to me that she should have been questioned by a female police officer.

After reading the story, I was left with the impression that the newspaper thinks this story is no big deal, that it will blow over, and that life will go on for the Mayor.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 159,486 other followers