Archives for the month of: September, 2017

Politico reports that a key position at the U.S. Department of Education will go to one of the nation’s most outspoken opponents of public schools, Jim Blew. Blew has long experience at the charter-loving, union-hating Walton Family Foundation and served as president of Michelle Rhee’s public school-bashing Students First. The position he is slated to assume is the policymaking arm of the department. It is supposed to be a nonpartisan, expert role, judging the efficacy of Department initiatives. It might as well be abolished because we already know that school choice, charters, vouchers, union-bashing, and inexperienced teachers will be the policies of this administration.

“TRUMP TO NOMINATE JIM BLEW FOR ED SPOT: Jim Blew, director of the education advocacy group Student Success California, is Trump’s pick to become the Education Department’s assistant secretary of the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. POLITICO reported he was the frontrunner in July. The administration announced late Thursday that the president plans to formally nominate him for the role. The announcement touted Blew’s experience as the former president of Students First, a national advocacy organization founded by former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. It also said that for more than a decade, he was a key adviser to the Walton family, serving as director of K-12 reform investments for the Walton Family Foundation.”

Larry Lee is a specialist in rural education and a native Alabaman. He explains here why the state superintendent resigned or was forced out after only one year and one day.

“Thank God and Greyhound”

By Larry Lee

In 1970 country singer Roy Clark cranked out a little tune, Thank God and Greyhound. When I got the news on Sept. 13 that Alabama’s state school superintendent had resigned, this song came immediately to mind.

And why not?

Since he took office one year and one day from his resignation, the reign of Mike Sentance had been one misadventure after another. It involved two governors, a rogue state school board member, the state Ethics Commission, a legislative committee digging into a smear campaign and questionable contracts and hires.

It was a reality show on steroids, something like Naked and Afraid Meets Honey Boo Boo.

As much as anything it’s the tale of some grownups acting like children and trying to advance their own political agendas instead of the 730,000 students who go to public schools in Alabama.

This calamity was set in motion a year before Mike Sentance showed up from Massachusetts. That was when former Governor Robert Bentley, who resigned in disgrace early in 2017, appointed a totally unqualified person to a vacancy on the state board. (What else can you call someone who never went to public school a day in his life and had just finished spearheading an effort to defeat a school tax in his home county?)

This person’s vote was crucial when the board selected Sentence to be superintendent in August 2016.

(Alabama is one of only seven states with an elected state school board. Eight members are elected from districts and serve four-year staggered terms. The governor chairs the board by virtue of their office, though they rarely show up. So, five votes win the day and the aforementioned member was one of the five who voted for Sentance. Along with the governor who appointed him.)

State superintendent Tommy Bice unexpectedly stepped down in March 2016. It wasn’t long before the circus began.
The application deadline for the state job was June 7, 2016. There were initially 12 applicants. Three were local school system superintendents in Alabama. Most were not from Alabama.

One was Michael Sentance from Boston. He had no formal training as an educator and had never been a teacher, principal or local superintendent. He served for one year in the mid-90s as Secretary of Education in Massachusetts, a policy slot appointed by the governor.

The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education is the person in the Bay State with responsibility of actually running K 12 schools. (This person is equivalent to Alabama’s State Superintendent.)

Sentance sought the commissioner job in 1998, but was unsuccessful. He last worked in Massachusetts in 2001. According to his resume’ his only employment from 2009 until coming to Alabama in September 2016 was an eight-month stint with a consulting firm.

Apparently, his primary job during this period was trying to find a job. Records show he applied for jobs in Kentucky, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Nashville and Ohio from 2009 to 2016. He even applied in Alabama in 2011, but did not get an interview.

Still, Sentance sent a letter to Alabama State Department of Education General Counsel Julianna Dean on June 27 saying he was withdrawing his application because of family concerns.

But at the urging of state board member Mary Scott Hunter, Dean called Sentance and asked him to re-consider. No other board members knew of this call or the involvement of Hunter. Sentance called Dean on June 28 to tell her he wished to remain a candidate.

Later in the process other board members raised serious concerns about allowing someone to, in essence, reapply weeks after the original deadline.

Another applicant, former West Virginia state superintendent Steve Paine, also withdrew. His resume’ was chockful of hands-on education experience. No one tried to talk him into reconsidering.

Clearly both Hunter and Dean overstepped their authority. Hunter is one of eight elected board members but did not consult other members before taking action. Dean is the board’s legal counsel and should not have complied with the directions of just one member.

This episode was the first inkling that something was amiss in the search process. Why do you want to make sure an applicant with so few qualifications remains, but one much more qualified is not given the same consideration?
From the outset, Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey was expected to be the leading candidate. He was definitely the clear favorite of many local superintendents. Prior to going to Jefferson County he worked at the state department a number of years and was chief of staff for Bice. Regardless the issue, Pouncey was usually the “go to” guy for superintendents because he went out of his way to help them.

But Pouncey is not a shrinking violet and defends public education with a passion.

However, in Alabama, as in many other places these days, there are people who do not appreciate this quality. They look to Jeb Bush and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for information about how education should be done and they don’t like road blocks.

One of these is state representative Terri Collins who chairs the Alabama House Education Policy Committee. Whether A-F school report cards, funding for Teach for America, charters, supporting the voucher program of the Alabama Accountability Act or the constant cry of “choice,” Collins is supportive.

She sent an email to state board members during the search process urging they not consider Pouncey, claiming the Speaker of the House had written Bice telling him to not allow Pouncey back in legislative chambers. There was no such letter.

And Pouncey’s sin? He stood up for public schools in a committee meeting when a state rep “went off” on them.
Another player is the Business Council of Alabama. They support vouchers, charters, school choice and say schools should be run like businesses.

BCA is also one of the state’s major political players through a very large political action committee. In 2016, this PAC invested more than $300,000 in state school board races.

Hunter has been a favorite of this group, getting $15,000 from them in 2010 and $75,000 in 2014.

(Hunter is not seeking re-election to her board seat in 2018 and is running for state senate. She earlier said she was running for Lt. Governor. Many feel her quest for higher office drives the majority of her actions and her decisions throughout the Sentance misadventure support this contention.)

Things really got funky at the state board meeting on July 12.

Each board member got an envelope with an unsigned “complaint” to the state Ethics Commission alleging that Pouncey plagiarized his 2009 doctoral dissertation for Samford University, as well as getting excessive help from department employees.

The Ethics Commission will not investigate unsigned complaints so the info became a moot point. In fact, six of the eight board members testified that they paid no attention to this letter and discarded it.
But Hunter saw things differently.

She gave the info to interim state superintendent Phillip Cleveland, directed him to give it to Dean and then called the executive director of the Ethics Commission to tell him about it.

Hunter, who is an attorney, was asked at a legislative hearing if she knew that the Ethics Commission does not investigate unsigned complaints. She said she did not, even though the board had recently had a retreat about ethics.

Not long after the letter surfaced on July 12, Hunter attended a statewide Business Council of Alabama event where she told several legislators that Pouncey would not be considered for state superintendent because of the ethics complaint.

This statement was untrue since there never was a legitimate complaint.

After Hunter’s call to the head of the Ethics Commission (she did not disclose that the complaint was unsigned), he asked his legal counsel to get a copy of the bogus info. This was hand-delivered to the Ethics Commission by the department’s general counsel.

The Ethics Commission lawyer sent a letter back to the education lawyer saying that they had received the info concerning Pouncey, who was identified in the letter.

Not long afterwards, a copy of this letter was leaked to media. Suddenly news sources across the state were reporting Pouncey was under investigation. All of this took place prior to the state board selecting the next superintendent on August 11.

Each board member could nominate up to five applicants to be interviewed. Seven were nominated. One was the choice of only two people and was eliminated. Sentence and another tied with three, so both were interviewed.
Seven members selected Pouncey. Only the governor and Hunter did not have him in their top five.
Six candidates were interviewed in early August.

Looking back, one has to wonder how well each was vetted by the department’s legal counsel. The requirements advertised stated that applicants should have “experience in successfully managing a large organization” and “experience in administering large budgets.” Alabama Code Section 16-4-1 requires that the state superintendent be “knowledgeable in school administration.” Two of the six interviewed did not meet these qualifications.

A former legal counsel for the state department said these two applications should have been tossed by general counsel and never even given to the board.

Sentance was an applicant for the Alabama job in 2011 and did not generate enough interest to get an interview. Five of the board members who made the 2016 selection were also on the board in 2011. However, they were never told that Sentence had previously applied. Nor were they told about the numerous job rejections he had in the last several years.

The board voted on Aug. 11. But even the process used that day was contested. The governor wanted to use paper ballots. However, one board member pointed out that such a vote must be done publicly. So, the paper ballots were discarded.

Someone would nominate a candidate, then a show of hands recorded. Sentance was nominated on the second ballot by Matt Brown, the governor’s 2015 appointee to the board, and by this time a lame duck board member having been soundly defeated in the Republican primary earlier in the year.

Sentance got four votes.

Then Pouncey was nominated. He too got four votes. No other candidate got more than three.
Since no one received a five-vote majority through the first “round,” Hunter nominated Sentance for the second time. The governor clearly counted votes before raising his hand to be the fifth and deciding vote.

There were 25-30 local superintendents in the audience that day. They began to file out, each looking as if they had seen a ghost.

And why not? Not a single superintendent had encouraged any board member to pick Sentance.

The education community throughout the state was dumbfounded. How do you pick a state superintendent who had no formal training in education, and had never been a teacher, principal or local superintendent?

It was a huge slap in the face. It was acknowledgement that five members of the state board felt those who work in schools and administrative positions are not professionals and training and experience mean little.

Those who voted for Sentance scrambled to explain why they did so. Governor Bentley hung his hat on the fact that 4th grade NAEP math scores in Massachusetts were the highest in the country and tried to rationalize that hiring someone from there would magically advance Alabama performance to the same level.

But he never mentioned that Sentance had not worked in Massachusetts in 15 years, nor that they spend $6,000 more per pupil than Alabama does.

Hunter said the longer she looked at Sentance’s resume, the more it grew on her. Yet she did not say that since he had not worked since he applied for the Alabama position in 2011, his resume was the same in 2016 as in 2011. And it obviously did not grow on her back then when she was in her first term on the board.

Alabama educators woke up the morning of Aug. 12, 2016 with a brand-new state superintendent selected with a process that was definitely tainted.

How much?

Enough so that Pouncey later filed a legal action against Hunter, the department general counsel and two of her associates and the interim superintendent.

He charged that they had acted in concert to discredit his name. This suit is awaiting a judge’s decision concerning dismissal.

Also, an internal investigation by a state department attorney (selected by Sentance) concluded that there had been collusion among these five individuals.

And though he called for this investigation, Sentence did not agree with its findings. This report has been given to the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General.

Why all the shenanigans?

There is little unity of purpose among board members and certainly was no consensus going into the selection process as to what the state’s top education priorities were and what kind of person and experience were needed to get us to that point.

Of the six finalists, three were local superintendents, one was a member of the governor’s cabinet and two were policy wonks from California and Massachusetts with no hands-on education experience.

So, there were two distinct groups with the cabinet member being something of a hybrid candidate.

Hunter’s vote shows how truly bizarre things were. Of the six candidates, she voted for FOUR of them. Two were local superintendents, one was the cabinet member and one was Sentence, a policy person.

In other words, she thought that all FOUR of these very different type people were equally qualified to run the state school system. That kind of thinking is impossible to comprehend.

Which brings us to the more plausible reason.


Pure and simple.

You simply don’t go through such a Keystone Kops routine unless your focus is on something other than what is best for students. Looking back through the magnifying glass of time, listening to testimony, reading through the department’s own documentation of wrong doing and watching one board member’s plans for higher office unfold, one comes to think this process was much more about STOPPING Craig Pouncey from being named superintendent than it was about finding the best candidate.

Why does one board member go rogue, ignoring fellow board members, giving directions to department staffers, spreading gossip to legislators, etc. unless they are primarily driven by political self-interest? Unless they are trying to ingratiate themselves to entities who have the capacity to give substantially to political candidates?

Such intentions may never be proven unequivocally, but there is ample reason to believe they are not far from their mark.

The result of it all?

One year and one day of an administration of someone totally unprepared for the job, someone who made one mistake after another, was infatuated with high-priced consultants, loved to hire staff who lacked sound judgement and common sense and was openly hostile to the board which hired him.

Sentance’s first mistake was coming to town with an attitude that reeked of “I am a lot smarter than any of you rednecks.”

Folks in Alabama are generally good, decent, hospitable folks, maybe with sometimes a touch too much pride for their own good. And when you tend to “high hat” them, you quickly run aground.

Sentance seemed to go out of his way to alienate Alabama educators. He denigrated teachers, said nothing kind about the universities who train them and had harsh words for very successful K-12 programs. He stirred up a hornet’s nest when he tried to reorganize the state’s career tech program. In fact, he had only been on the job six months when the Alabama Association for Career Technical Education called for his termination.

Sentance made no effort at all to understand Alabama. One of his most inane statements was that he understood poverty because “Massachusetts was the poorest state in New England.” There are 14 counties in Massachusetts. Berkshire County has the lowest median household income in the state. But of Alabama’s 67 counties, Berkshire has a higher median household income than 61 of them.

The average median household income in Massachusetts is 54 percent greater than in Alabama. Sentance’s attempt to find common ground with his new state fell flat on its face.

He had little empathy for local school systems and could not seem to understand that decisions made at the state level had real consequences by the time they trickled down to a school. On one visit to a high-performing elementary school in Mobile, he refused to visit classrooms.

He had never worked for a board before and had great difficulty trying to make this adjustment. Instead, he gravitated toward the governor and certain legislators; leading one board member to remind him at a meeting that “he worked for the board, not the governor.”

Communications between him and the board were strained at best. Work sessions turned into three or four-hour affairs while the board tried to pry info from him.

His single biggest blunder may have been the ill-advised state takeover of the Montgomery County school system. Systems are normally taken over in Alabama because of either financial or academic issues—sometimes both. This was the case with Montgomery.

So right out of the box Sentance let a no-bid three-year contract for $750,000 to bring in a new CFO who had held the same position with Huntsville city schools. Then he contracted for $536,000 to a Massachusetts consulting firm to do an assessment of about half the Montgomery schools. (Sentance once had a brief relationship with this company.)

The state determined that 27 of the 56 Montgomery schools were in trouble so they would take over only these schools. (Leaving many to wonder how you take over only one-half a system.) He brought in someone from the Mobile County system to be in charge of the intervention—even though his credentials for such work were questionable.

Sentance decided to give all 27 principals a 10 percent raise, while ignoring those at the best-performing schools. He rehired nine prinicpals whose contracts were up for renewal, even though the system planned to terminate four of them.

In Alabama, when the state intervenes, the local school board becomes powerless. Basically, the state superintendent becomes czar.

The Montgomery superintendent retired in July 2017 and Sentance said she could not be replaced as long as the intervention was in place.

The state board was very troubled by what was going on and put a hiring freeze in place at the state level to slow down the bleeding in Montgomery. But Sentance went to the Attorney General and got an opinion that said he was sole authority of the takeover and could not be questioned by the state board.

On July 17, 2017 Sentance wrote the Vice President of the board, Stephanie Bell of Montgomery: “you have sought to interject yourself again into the operations of the district, it is time to stop.”

Suddenly he was a man without a master and things only got worse. He hired someone from Philadelphia, PA to come and be the state’s “turnaround” specialist. This person shortly hired four colleagues from across the country and put them on the Montgomery central office payroll at a cost of about $500,000.

The Alabama Education Association has now filed suit against Sentance and Reggie Eggleston, who is in charge of the Montgomery takeover, contending that the state cannot deny the elected school board the right to hire a superintendent.

Under Sentance and his “leadership team,” the work environment at the state department was described as “toxic.” Too many necessary jobs went unfilled. State board members were inundated with complaints from their district school systems about the difficulty of getting calls and emails answered.

A state board member asked Sentance and another board member to join her in meeting and thanking department employees. He refused.

Finances became suspect. At a recent board discussion of the 2017-18 operating budget for the department, the CFO said they were looking at a possible deficit of up to $8 million. Sentance denied he knew about this. However, the CFO had documentation that he had been informed of the situation months earlier.

Unfortunately, the list of blunders and missteps could go on and on. But it would serve no purpose.

Remember, Sentance was chosen by only five votes out of nine. Hardly a mandate. Then in January of this year one of his votes (Matt Brown) left the board. A few months later Governor Robert Bentley resigned in disgrace and there went another vote.

And somewhere along the way, the longest serving board member, Stephanie Bell who voted to hire Sentance, became very concerned about what she was seeing and realized under his leadership we were only going from bad to worse.
She was elected board Vice President in July, which means she is presiding officer whenever the governor is not present, and soon began putting a process in place to bring the situation to some type conclusion.

The first effort was an evaluation by board members. Hunter chose to boycott the evaluation and not participate, while Sentance’s last remaining supporter simply gave him the highest marks possible on each factor being judged. (The evaluation document was prepared within a few months of Sentence’s hire and he participated in the process.)
The evaluations were harsh and the hand-writing was on the wall.

After Robert Bentley resigned, Lt. Governor Kay Ivey took his place. She is a one-time teacher.

After initially offering support for Sentance, she began to back off, due in part to the volume of email she was getting from educators around the state opposed to the superintendent.

And in spite of outcries from various Tea Party members who supported him and right-wing media who rushed to tout his competency, Sentance tendered his resignation letter on Sept. 13.

The board voted to accept it the following day.

The entire episode was not pretty.

Not by a long shot.

Way too much time, energy and resources were wasted on a battle that could have easily been avoided. And should have been had the search been conducted legitimately and had all board members been focused on the task at hand, instead of political agendas.

Ed Richardson was named as interim to replace Sentance. He served as state superintendent from 1995 to 2004, leaving to become president of Auburn University. He worked his way through the ranks as a teacher, principal and local superintendent before getting the state job.

He is known as decisive and no nonsense and is expected to take a close look at some of the initiatives Sentence started, especially the Montgomery intervention.

This was hardly Alabama’s finest hour.

Far from it.

The morale of educators was shattered. Critics of public schools had a field day. The legislature will certainly weigh in as to how the state governs the state system.

But a great many people learned that their voice really does count. The effort to dislodge Sentance was truly from the grass roots. It was not coordinated by some political action group and supported with funding. It was citizens, one by one, going to their computers to write the governor and their state board member and using social media to keep issues front and center.

Hopefully some of the voices will remain energized. And when four new state board members are elected in 2018 they will give special attention to the candidates and their motive for running.

Ed Richardson summed it up well when he told the Associated Press, “You’ve got to have credibility. And the way you do that is the next time you hire a superintendent, you ask, ‘Have you ever done this work before.’”
Let’s pray the next search committee heeds this advice.


Perhaps our blog poet was thinking of Leonard Cohen’s great song “Anthem” when he wrote this:

“The Fall of the House of Reform”

A crack, a crack in outer wall
The House of Reform, about to fall
A house of test and house of VAM
Of fake “Success” and charter scam
A house of standards built on sand
With Core arranged by Coleman hand
A house infused with sickly air
The flatulence of billionaire
The House was doomed from very start
An empty place without a heart
Expanding crack, lets in the light
As daylight breaks the longest night

Betsy DeVos apointed her friend and ally in the school choice movement, former Governor of Michigan John Engler, as chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Engler is a charter member of the “schools-are-failing” club. He recently retired as president of the Business Roundtable, an association representing some of the nation’s leading businesses, and before that was head of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Expect every release of NAEP scores to be a dire warning about how terrible our public schools are, how we are no longer globally competitive, and why we need drastic steps (school choice?) to close the achievement gaps.

Maybe some enterprising journalist will ask Engler about the failure of his reforms in Michigan, as reflected in NAEP scores. Since Michigan became a laboratory for choice, its NAEP scores plummeted.

As a seven-year member of that board, I can tell you we zealously protected the scores from politicization. Don’t expect Engler to maintain that tradition.

A new study released by the Leroy Collins Institute and conducted by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA finds that Florida’s schools are resegregation at an alarming rate. Here is the study that is cited in the article.

Bear in mind that Florida is the utopia of school choice. Its policies for the past twenty years have been shaped by Jeb Bush, and Betsy DeVos thinks that Florida should be a model for the nation.

“Student enrollment trends in Florida over the past decades show growing racial isolation for Hispanic and black students on some measures, with signs of continuous segregation on others,” the study said.

Some 32 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of black students in Florida attend “intensely segregated” schools, defined as have a nonwhite student body of 90 percent or greater, according to the study.

One out of every five schools was intensely segregated in the 2014-2015 academic year, about double the 10.6 percent of the schools that fell into that category in 1994-1995.

The more heavily segregated schools had more poor students. In schools with at least a 50 percent nonwhite school body, low-income students represented 68 percent of the population. Low-income students represented 82.5 percent of the population in the schools with a 90 percent or greater nonwhite student body.

“Florida is the third-largest state in the country and has the most diverse student body in our state’s history, yet one-fifth of our public schools are intensely segregated,” said Carol Weissert, a Florida State University political scientist who leads the Collins Institute. “Similar segregation is evident for low-income students. All Floridians deserve equal access to a quality education, regardless of race or economic standing.”

As the students have become more diverse, the schools have become more segregated:

Since 1980, Hispanic students have increased from 8 percent of Florida students to about 31 percent in 2014, the report showed. White students declined from 68 percent to just under 41 percent, while black students remained about 22 percent during that period.

The study also showed that the number of students defined as low-income has been rising over the last two decades, increasing from 36 percent in 1994-1995 to nearly 59 percent in 2014-2015.

Calling the trend “double segregation,” the report showed typical black students were likely attending schools with 68 percent low-income students, and Hispanic students were in schools with a 65 percent low-income population, “while the typical white student and Asian student are in schools where less than half of the students are poor.”

Florida’s answer to education issues: School choice. Charter schools, tax credits, virtual charter schools.

This is an avoidance of the problem, not a solution.

This past week marked the 60th anniversary of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower nationalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent the 101st Airborne to safeguard the nine black students who entered that school and defied the taunts of the white mob and the defiance of Governor Faubus.

Now, the Little Rock public schools are again segregated due to white flight and are under the control of the state board of education, thanks to the efforts of the Walton family, which pretends to care about children but cares only about union-busting and school choice.

The white power structure in Arkansas has reasserted control of the public schools.

The same story is playing out in Jackson, Mississippi, where white state leaders are taking control of the Jackson public schools. This effort was carried out behind closed doors. It attained a special urgency due to the election of a progressive black mayor in Jackson.

Jeff Bryant tells the story here. It is a story that shames our nation. Or should.

The truth of Little Rock repeats itself over and over in communities throughout the South and across the country.

Jeff Bryant writes:

More recently, I was in Jackson, Mississippi, researching a story about the current effort of the state to take over the local school district there, much in the same way Little Rock schools were taken over. Jackson is similar to Little Rock in that it is a school district populated predominantly by non-white students.

For two days, the Mississippi Department of Education staged a series of meetings that illustrated once again how white elites continue to define education opportunities for black and brown communities.

The racial symbolism of the events was inescapable.

MDE officials, who were predominantly white, presented their case in a room limited in seating and closed to the public over an hour prior to the meeting’s announced start time. Members of the State Accreditation Commission and the State Board of Education, who were predominantly white, decided the fate of Jackson schools in separate closed-door sessions completely sequestered from public view.

Some 100 local citizens, who were predominantly black, were relegated to an auditorium, where they watched events unfold on a live stream video that was often interrupted and garbled during transmission, and then they waited for hours to have decisions announced to them.

Local school officials, who had had a mere seven school days to muster a defense, presented detailed documentation of their recent and ongoing efforts to correct problems in the district, but the thick binders they presented were generally left unread on the meeting room tables as commission and board members convened in closed chambers to cast their votes.

Should the governor agree that Jackson schools are in a state of “extreme emergency,” as the state contends, the district’s school board is dissolved, the superintendent is dismissed, and an appointed conservator, reporting directly to the state Board of Education, is put in place to oversee the schools. In fact, the conservator has already been chosen.

The day the State Accreditation Committee decided to yank the district’s accreditation – a necessary step before proceeding to the Board of Education’s hearing the next day – Jackson’s recently elected progressive mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told those gathered on the sidewalk outside of MDE headquarters that they had just witnessed a “perfunctory exercise” in which “every commissioner who stepped into that room had already reached a decision.”

He declared “the burden of proof” in the state’s case “was not met.” And he called for ‘turn[ing] the page in Mississippi” and departing from the state’s history of denying black communities control of their schools. “We will not stand silently as they rob our children of an education.”

In D.C., we have a president who assails black football players who express their objection to racism; Trump portrays his attack on the athletes as a “defense” of the National Anthem. He would have us believe that he is patriotic and those who exercise free speech are not.

And we have a Secretary of Education who thinks that black colleges were created because black students wanted to exercise “choice.”

Has racism diminished since 1957, when the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School, protected by federal bayonets?

In many ways it has. We elected a black president. We see black actors on television and in the movies.

But in many ways, racism remains as virulent as it was in 1957. The selection by Alabama Republicans of Roy Moore as their Senate candidate reminds us that racism thrives; Trump reminds us daily that racism is alive. The efforts by the Waltons and other white elites to strip black communities of any role in their community public schools–and to offer them school choice instead–reminds us that racism comes in many forms.

Having lived her life in a billionaire bubble, Betsy DeVos expects deference. She did not get it at the Kennedy zdchool at Harvard last night.

Protestors unfurled banners and raised their fists as Betsy tried to speak about the glories of school choice.

One said “Our Students Are Not for Sale. Another said, “White Supremacy.” Another said “Dark Money.”

When she asked in her speech whether more money would solve the problems, a line that must have been greeted with applause when she spoke at ALEC, a student shouted out “YES.” This was not the answer she expected.

Betsy thought she was in a safe space, given that the event was sponsored by pro-choice scholars and the Koch brothers and the Gates Foundation, but she forgot that the audience was students.

Students were warned that they would be evicted if they were disruptive but that didn’t stop the protestors.

In the future, she will have to keep students out of her audiences. They are unpredictable.

(This post has been updated to add in the cost of Secretary Price’s travel on military jets: $500,000.)

As a member of Congress, Tom Price was a fiscal hawk. He begrudged every penny spent on the needs of poor people.

He also got into trouble for investing in health stocks while he was head of a committee that affected the price of health stocks. He should never have been confirmed, in light of his self-dealing and conflicts of interest.

As a cabinet secretary, he has hired private planes instead of flying on commercial flights. He has chartered jets to his vacation home and chartered jets to visit family.

He spent at least $400,000 on private charters. He has piously promised to reimburse the taxpayers only $52,000. Why only $52,000? Rachel Maddow explained tonight that he was repaying the cost of his “seat,” not the cost of the entire plane that he chartered. This is nonsense.

He also rode on military jets for his flights overseas, at a cost of $500,000 to taxpayers. In the past, the Secretary of Health and Human Services flew commercial jets. It is very expensive to fly in military jets. At the same time that he squandered taxpayer dollars on his travel, he was slashing jobs at HHS and pushing for legislation that would take health care away from millions of people.

This is corrupt.

Speak of hypocrisy, this is what his spokesperson said to cover his tracks:

“Last week, Price’s office explained that he had turned to chartered jets when needed for the most efficient and effective travel in managing his department and maintaining contact with the public.

“This is Secretary Price, getting outside of D.C., making sure he is connected with the real American people,” said Charmaine Yoest, his assistant secretary for public affairs.”

The “real American people” are found in his vacation home and his son’s home.

This phony should be fired.

We know the Trump administration gutted the Office of Government Ethics. Other cabinet members have also chartered private jets while firing employees.

Say this for DeVos. She flies in her own private jet, and requires only a security detail that costs taxpayers $1 million a month.


The Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance did everything possible to make Betsy DeVos feel comfortable, surrounding her with allies in the fight for school choice, but it wasn’t enough.

Protestors outside complained, and students in the audience asked unsympathetic questions about her enthusiasm for school choice, her admiration for for-profit charters, and her determination to roll back the Obama era regulations protecting civil rights. Not even her fellow panelists could save her.

When she was asked why she opposed accountability for charters in Michigan, she answered with a non sequitur. She said that the families with means had already abandoned Detroit, and the charters were a haven for those who remained behind. She forgot about the kids still enrolled in public schools, who are apparently non-persons. And her explanation made no sense.

As she left the stage, some students in the room called out, “What does white supremacy look like? That’s what white supremacy looks like.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Education awarded more than $250 million to states and charter chains to open new charters and expand existing ones.

In her statement accompanying the grants, DeVos said:

“These grants will help supplement state-based efforts to give students access to more options for their education, What started as a handful of schools in Minnesota has blossomed into nearly 7,000 charter schools across the country.”

“Charter schools are now part of the fabric of American education, and I look forward to seeing how we can continue to work with states to help ensure more students can learn in an environment that works for them.”

Shame on any Democrat who supports the DeVos agenda of charter schools and school choice. This is a flimsy, hard-hearted response to income inequality, poverty, and underfunding of schools that enroll students with high needs.

She is a one-woman wrecking crew, intent on destroying the legacy of Horace Mann and other genuine pioneers and reformers in the struggle for public education. Her legacy will be one of wreckage and destruction, untempered by any compassion for those in need. She should ask herself why she generates such antipathy.

Bloomberg News reports that Whitney Tilson, founder of DFER and advocate for TFA and other corporate reforms, has announced that he is closing down his hedge fund.

I do not repeat this news with any pleasure, as I grew to like Whitney Tilson even though I disagreed with him strongly about charter schools, KIPP, public schools, privatization, teacher tenure, and other issues. We never met, but we exchanged letters that he and I simultaneously posted. (See here and here and here.) I wanted to change the arrangement and ask him questions, so I wrote my questions but he never had time to answer back. By the way, all the links are included in the last post.

At one point, before we started our conversation we exchanged emails in which we wrote each other about our personal histories. Whitney comes from good people. I couldn’t feel anything negative about him once I got to know him by email, even though we still disagreed.

Whitney has a history of social activism. Maybe he will reconsider and join us in our fight to preserve the public sector against corporate raiders. I wish him well as he straightens out his business and his future.