Archives for the month of: July, 2016

Andy Smarick, a prominent figure in the conservative think-tank world, has been chosen by his colleagues as president of the Maryland State Board of Education. He was appointed to the board by Republican Governor Larry Hogan. Maryland, once a blue state, has been turning conservative since Hogan’s election.

Smarick is known for his belief that low-performing schools can’t be turned around and that they should be “relinquished” to private operators. In his book “The Urban School System of the Future,” he lays out his vision of a portfolio district, in which public schools disappear, replaced by a dazzling array of charters.

Smarick worked in the George W. Bush administration. He was also briefly deputy superintendent of education in New Jersey. He is a fellow at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a member of the staff at Andrew Rotherham’s Bellwether Education Partners.

In 2010, when he was appointed in New Jersey, Jersey Jazzman summed up his resume, which is solidly in the anti-public school camp.

At the Democratic National Convention, the Muslim parents of a soldier who died in the Iraq War spoke about their son’s heroism and said that they are “patriotic Muslim Americans.” Khizr Khan waved a copy of the Constitution and asked whether Donald Trump had ever read it. He asked what had Trump ever sacrificed for his country.

Trump responded with a series of derisive comments about the Khans, suggesting that Hillary Clinton had written Khan’s remarks and wondering why his wife Ghazala was silent (she was interviewed on MSNBC the next night by Lawrence O’Donnell).

Republicans were embarrassed, and Democrats were outraged by his comments.

Ghazala Khan responded in the Washington Post to Trump’s mockery about her silence. Her article is eloquent and poignant. She couldn’t speak because she has difficulty speaking about the son she lost. She can barely manage to look at his photograph. Too much sadness, too much pain. Any mother who ever lost a child, as I did many years ago, can empathize with Mrs. Khan. Some pain is too deep to talk about. Trump can’t understand that.

When Trump was asked by George Stephanopoulos what he had sacrificed for his country, he said that he has created thousands of jobs. That was his sacrifice.

“I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve done― I’ve had― I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”

“Those are sacrifices?” Stephanopoulos interjected.

“Oh sure, I think they’re sacrifices,” Trump said, going on to tout his work to help build the Vietnam War memorial in Manhattan and raising money for veterans’ charities.

T.C. Weber, a Nashville public school parent who writes a blog called “Dad Gone Wild,” writes that Nashville is a much overlooked epicenter of the corporate reform movement.

Nashville has, for the last several years, been an under-the-radar playground for the education reform movement. People may be familiar with the stories of New Orleans, Newark, Los Angeles, and lately, Denver, but the battles have been just as fierce in Nashville. Things ratcheted up in 2008 when Karl Dean was elected mayor. Dean fancied himself as a bit of the next coming of Michael Bloomberg when he opened up the doors wide to the education reform movement and invited them in with open arms.

Those were the salad days for the reform movement in Nashville. Nobody could really predict the unintended consequences of many of the policies, and they all sounded so great, there was little opposition. Teach for America was invited to town with full mayoral support along with the New Teacher Project. Dean set up the Charter Incubator, which was designed to help grow more charters faster. Next thing you know, Ravi Gupta and Todd Dickson showed up in town to great fanfare with their charter school models. Life was good for the reformers. Then came the overreach.

In 2012, Great Hearts Academy was invited by a group of wealthy charter school advocates to open a charter school in Nashville. One that would be located in an affluent part of town but wouldn’t offer a transportation plan. The proposed school was also lacking a diversity plan. That’s when the battle lines began to be drawn. Previously, charter schools were something that happened to those “other people,” but now they were coming to middle class neighborhoods and people were starting to question why. Great Hearts’ application was denied after a fierce public battle, and despite a hefty fine imposed on Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) from the state, the days of easy expansion for charter schools came to an end. People had gotten a look behind the curtain and weren’t impressed.

Over the last four years, it has been one fight after another over charter schools. Fights that were often initiated by the charter community’s over-zealousness for expansion. Despite numerous studies showing the negative financial impact that charter expansion would have for MNPS, then-Mayor Dean and others continued to push for more expansion. Unfortunately for them, parents had begun to read the research and fight back. Over time, the efforts of charter operators to expand have been met with dwindling success until this year, when no new charter school applications were approved.

Now reformer money is rolling in to elect new school board members who will support charter expansion. Oregon-based Stand for Children is leading the way with corporate donations to school board candidates committed to privatization.

Back tracking just a bit, 2012 saw the first of the big dollar school board elections in Nashville. In District 5, Elissa Kim brought in just shy of $84K and ended up winning the election. Interestingly enough, District 9 candidate Margaret Dolan raised over $100k, but still lost to Amy Frogge, who raised only $17,864. The 2014 election saw a little less money invested and allowed the charter contingency to pick up two backers in Mary Pierce and Tyese Hunter. This year also saw a proliferation of negative mailers from outside groups. In all fairness, candidate Pierce did renounce negative mailers sent out by Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization during the campaign. Despite picking up these two seats, charter supporters were losing the fight for more charter growth and public sentiment was beginning to turn. This was largely due to board members Will Pinkston and Amy Frogge being far more effective at making the argument for temperance in charter growth than their opponents did for expanding.

That’s why, along with their opposition to vouchers and their insistence that the state properly fund public education, both Pinkston and Frogge have found themselves subject to a well-financed attack in their respective bids for re-election. Pinkston, specifically, is a prized target. His opponent, a small businessman with 5 children in MNPS, has somehow managed to raise $90K despite never having run for office before. That’s the kind of money you need for a statewide election, not a local school board position. It begs the questions why and how did the candidate become that skilled a fundraiser? With final disclosures still a week away, it’s not hard to envision the campaign beating the 2012 record of $113k raised. That’s just obscene. To make things worse, Pinkston and Frogge are not alone in facing abnormally well-funded opponents.

Voters of Washington State, wake up!

The billionaires who have been trying to privatize your public schools are up to their old tricks.

Bill Gates and his pals have been pushing charters schools since the late 1990s. There have been four referenda on charter schools in Washington State. The privatizers lost the first three, but swamped the race with millions in their 2012 campaign and won by a razor-thin margin, defeating the NAACP, teachers, parents, the League of Women Voters, and school board members.

Defenders of public schools sued to stop public money from going to privately managed charter schools. In 2015, Washington’s highest court agreed with them that charters are not common schools, as required by the state constitution, because their boards are not elected. Funding charter schools with public money, the high court ruled, was unconstitutional.

Now the billionaires are running a candidate against state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen, who wrote the 6-3 decision against funding charter schools with public money dedicated to public schools.

Some of the biggest proponents of charter schools in Washington state are pouring money into the race to defeat state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen, who authored last year’s decision declaring the privately run, publicly funded schools unconstitutional.

The political arm of Stand for Children spent $116,000 this month on independent expenditures supporting Greg Zempel, Madsen’s chief opponent, in what constitutes the biggest infusion of outside cash in a Washington judicial race since 2010. According to Mercedes Schneider, Stand for Children (aka, “Stand ON Children”) has collected $725,000 to knock out Justice Madsen. Justice Madsen has raised $30,000 for her re-election.

The group is funded by some of the same wealthy donors who supported the 2012 initiative to allow charter schools in Washington, which the court’s decision overturned.

Zempel, the elected Kittitas County prosecutor, has been critical of the high court’s 6-3 decision in the charter-schools case, as well as what he has described as the court’s tendency to be unpredictable in its rulings.

Madsen, the court’s chief justice, wrote the opinion in September that ruled charter schools cannot be funded the same way as traditional public schools, primarily because they are run by boards that are appointed rather than elected by voters.

State lawmakers passed a bill this year that aims to keep charter schools open, but the statewide teachers union has promised to challenge the new law in court as well.

Most of the Stand for Children PAC’s funding this year has come from a single source: Connie Ballmer, a wealthy philanthropist and wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who donated $500,000.

The PAC’s other two main donors are Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix; and Vulcan Inc., which is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The billionaires can’t buy the state Supreme Court, but they are trying their best to oust the judge who dared to stand in their way. Billionaires don’t send their own children to public schools, but think they have the right to kill them because they prefer privately run schools.

Hastings advocates for killing elected school boards and replacing teachers with technology.

There is only one thing that can defeat billionaires who want to buy our democracy: Voters.

Tell your neighbors. Tell your friends. Tell your colleagues. Save your public schools. Vote!

Show the billionaires that they can’t punish judges, they can’t privatize public schools, and they can’t subvert democracy!

To learn more about Bill Gates and his efforts to undermine public schools in Washington State, read parent activist Dora Taylor’s reports:

Emails reveal OSPI in contempt of Supreme Court ruling on charter schools in Washington State,

Emails reveal the “Gates Machine” in action after the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision that charter schools are unconstitutional,

The Mary Walker School District rescinds their request for charter schools in the Seattle Public School District,

The Silicon Valley Flex Academy in Santa Clara County, California, recently won a five-year renewal of its contract, from 2016 to 2021, but will not open this fall due to “fiscal unsustainability.”

A Morgan Hill charter school is closing its doors due to a terminated contract and financial troubles, which means almost 250 students will have to enroll in new schools before the start of the academic year, Santa Clara County education officials said Wednesday.

Silicon Valley Flex Academy at 610 Jarvis Drive served 240 students between grades six to 12 and opened in 2011 under a countywide charter, county education officials said.

In November, Santa Clara County’s Board of Education had renewed the academy’s charter for another five years from 2016 to 2021, according to the county office.

On Monday night, the academy’s board told the county the academy would close because of “fiscal unsustainability” after its service provider, K12, cut their contract, county officials said.

Classes for the new school year were set to begin on Aug. 11, according to the school’s website.

The county office is working with the charter school’s board along with Morgan Hill Unified School District and its Superintendent Steve Betando to register the students for the 2016-17 academic year.

If you love disruption, watch the charter industry in California, where schools open and close with frequency, almost as frequently as in Florida.

Peter Greene is our greatest debunker of phony ideas. Today he takes on a program called “the Learning Machine,” which big-time thought leaders are promoting. Think of a program that can “build intelligence.” Think of a mechanistic approach to human development. Think of turning out people that meet the specifications of their designers. Think of humans programmed to be corporate tools.

Learning Machine’s website has the phrase “Build Intelligence” right there on their page, which gives you an idea of were they’re coming from. But it’s this post from Natalie Smolenski, “Cultural Anthropologist & Dedicated Account Manager at Learning Machine,” that really captures just how deeply and fundamentally wrong this particular band of education reform is.

In “A DSM for Achievement,” Smolenski lays out how educated human beings can be produced just like toasters or wood screws. And do note– the whole article is not just Smolenski whipping something up on her own, but spinning off of a speech by Arthur Levine, President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, delivered as the keynote at the 2016 Parchment Conference on Innovating Academic Credentials. This is not just some insane notion from the fringes, but an insane notion that a lot of Really Important People are attached to.

I have a bedrock belief that sanity eventually conquers crazy ideas, no matter who else endorses them.

The fight to beat them back is very time-consuming. But it is a fight that is worth having.

We now know that the national convention of the NAACP endorsed a strong resolution opposing the expansion of charter schools, saying that they foster segregation, target communities of color, remove community and parent voice, and impose harsh discipline.

But what do civil rights groups think about testing?

Our reader Laura Chapman wrote about this question.

She wrote:

Before ESSA was passed, about 30 members of the 200 member of the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” lobbied Congress and USDE to continue the use of use of disaggregated test scores as if this was the only “objective” way to identify disparities in education. NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., participated in this effort.

Of course, the charter industry exploits these disaggregated measures to justify their test-centric schools and to promise they can do better than public schools in providing ”high quality seats” in struggling urban districts.

In April of 2016, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter to John King requesting that these features of ESSA not be compromised in the guidance letters he might issue to states.

Also in April, the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” published a survey of African American and Latino parents on what they want from schools. The survey promotion had this headline and lead-in:

“Parents: Schools Not Preparing Students of Color for Future.”

The survey was conducted by Anzalone, Liszt, Grove Research “a public opinion research firm specializing in message development and strategic consulting. For nearly 20 years, we have helped clients ranging from President Obama, to EMILY’S List, to Microsoft achieve their goals.”

The Survey promotion continued “From lack of funding to low expectations, a new survey finds that Black and Latino parents don’t trust public schools to help their kids succeed.”

Given this lead-in, I thought the survey might deal with “trust in public schools.” Not so. In fact we do not know much about the survey other than the published methodology does not meet minimal standards for research: For example, we do not know if the parents who participated in the survey by landline or mobile phone had children in public, charter, or parochial schools. We do know that the 400 African American and 400 Latino participants lived in Chicago or in Philadelphia. Perhaps Julian can discern the messaging function of the survey get the full survey not just the survey, and discern why the headlines were framed around “trust in public schools.” Education Majority poll summary.pdf?dl=0

My impression is that this is a push poll created to support a messaging campaign. I note, for example, that the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” received $878,338 in October 2015 from the Gates Foundation ”to make the national education policy conversation more reflective and inclusive of a civil rights framework of equity and access by including more diverse voices and perspectives.” That is Gates-speak for promoting access to charter schools.

The Gates Foundation has a sure-fire method of winning hearts and minds.

Mike Pence, candidate for vice-president, was the main attraction at the annual convention of ALEC, the extremist far-right legislative organization.

PR Watch reports:

The American Legislative Exchange Council will push bills to protect failing charter schools, silence political speech, and obstruct environmental protections in the ALEC 2016 agenda introduced at its annual meeting in Indianapolis this week.

ALEC faces renewed public attention as it gears up for the annual meeting, where corporate lobbyists sit side-by-side with state legislators in luxury hotels to vote as equals on “model bills” that then get pushed to become law in states across the country.

As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, Donald Trump chose an ALEC ally, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, as his running mate, while his party’s 2016 platform was clearly stamped in the Koch-fueled ALEC mold.

Pence Pushed ALEC Agenda in the Hoosier State

As Governor, Pence appointed an ALEC staffer to his cabinet, and pushed parts of the ALEC agenda into law, such as anti-worker bills like repealing the prevailing wage and privatizing public schools in various ways. He even sent a letter to state legislators urging them to join ALEC, which is widely described as a corporate bill mill. ALEC is funded by Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, huge global tobacco and drug companies, and other corporations that pay a premium to access ALEC lawmakers.

The article appeared before the convention opened. But its predictions were on target.

To learn more about ALEC, read this website, ALEC Exposed.

One of ALEC’s primary goals is the privatization of public education. Pence has faithfully followed the ALEC script in pushing for charters and vouchers in Indiana.

Despite threats and bribes, despite warnings and cajoling, the Great Opt Out Movement of New York maintained its momentum

About 22% of the eligible students in the state did not take the mandated tests.

Opt out numbers in New York City were low because test scores are needed for admission to middle schools and high schools.

But in parts of the state, like Long Island, about half the students didn’t take the tests.

The New York State Education Department released the test results on a Friday afternoon, a time widely known as the best way to bury news. See here for a local story. The story in New York Politico is here.

Good news for New York City: Its reading scores increased to the state average. This should make Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina happy, since they bet on helping schools instead of closing them.

Susan Ochshorn is an advocate for early childhood education and a deep-blue progressive.

In this article, she explores how she reacts to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

In her own decision-making, Ochshorn ordered a copy of Hillary’s book It Takes a Village. She liked what she read.

She writes:

The book is a love letter to America’s children. At Yale, Clinton had gotten permission to study child development, adding a year to her legal studies. She wondered about the kids she saw in New Haven, worrying about their journeys to adulthood. She reveled in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which transformed our attitudes about human ability and potential.

Clinton also weighed in on the nascent findings of neuroscience. Long before adverse childhood experiences entered the lexicon, and @acestoohigh became a Twitter handle, she understood the impact of toxic stress. “Some communities are so besieged by issues of survival that children’s needs get pushed aside,” she wrote. We get a glimpse of the young social justice warrior, side-by-side with Marian Wright Edelman at the Children’s Defense Fund.

Her framework is pure Urie Bronfenbrenner. A child psychologist, he emigrated from Russia in 1923, making his way to Ithaca, New York, and a distinguished career at Cornell. This scientist understood the need for interdependence; he knew that children, and their parents, don’t develop in isolation. First and foremost, he believed, every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her—the core of his elegant bio-ecological theory, which undergirds America’s bare-bones social policy, including Head Start, which he helped to design, community schools, and Promise Neighborhoods.

It Takes a Village is also personal. Clinton talks about the embarrassed silence that greeted her at her law firm when she became pregnant in 1979. She captures the transformation that Chelsea’s birth wrought, the quotidian details of early parenthood, including the horror she felt as her baby started foaming at the nose during a bungled breast-feeding session. She beautifully renders that sense of helplessness, and the aspirations for her infant, so deeply shared by all American parents.

I was captivated. But the interplay of my own nature and nurture complicated matters. In the New York primary, I voted for Sanders and split the delegates, my schizophrenia rearing its ugly head.

I’m a Brooklyn girl, an alumna of the high school that spawned Bernie Sanders. In the 1968 race between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, my father cast his vote for Dick Gregory, an African-American comedian, civil rights activist, and write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party. I’m also the daughter of a second-wave feminist, a member of Women’s Strike for Peace, who clawed her way to a solid career in mid-life.

I’ve been tangled up in blue, of the progressive hue.

Clinton is the smartest, sanest, and most competent one in this horrifying political nightmare. The media coverage of her has been seriously gendered. Why has no one given her credit for venturing forth into the maelstrom of health care reform? And yes, I long to see the ultimate glass ceiling broken. Yet, as a public servant, Clinton has adopted policies, or supported those of her husband, that have been seriously at odds with my core values—and in some cases, her own. Like mass incarceration and welfare reform, each of which had a devastating impact on black women, children, and men.

Early this year, in a conversation with Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matters, New Yorker editor David Remnick summed up Clinton’s stance in a meeting she’d had with movement representatives. “You’re interested in changing hearts,” he recounted her saying, “I’m interested, as a politician, in changing laws.” Garza’s vote would go elsewhere. “We’re always in a dialectical relationship between changing culture, or changing hearts or changing policy,” she said.

Clinton needs to be nimble, to move among the different elements of the dialectic, her heart open, policy responsive, and ear to the ground on the seismic cultural changes of our time. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and their supporters have pushed her along, and they’ll continue to do so. So will the “mothers of the movement,” those of slain black men, who have been given pride of place at the Democratic convention. Not to mention Michelle Obama, who stole the show with her spirited validation of her husband’s former opponent.

The choice is between someone we hope will show her true self: Hillary Clinton–and someone whose true self is abhorrent to all progressive values.

Let Hillary be Hillary.