Archives for the month of: January, 2020

Blogger and retired D.C. teacher G. F. Brandenburg reminds us that Dr. King was not always popular. White racists in the south and the north hated his advocacy for equal rights for black people. Followers of Malcolm X thought he was weak-kneed. Even supposedly liberal whites thought he went too far when he announced that he would lead a campaign against poverty. When he spoke out against the war in Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson was furious, and many editorialists and even other civil rights leaders distanced themselves from him. They thought that Dr. King was wrong to offend the President and wrong to link his stand on civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam.

We admire Dr. King today because he dared to take a stand on what mattered, even if it upset the powerful. You cannot comfort the powerful and the afflicted simultaneously. At some point, you must take a stand. You can’t claim to be on the side of “the kids,” at the same time that you oppose raising taxes for the public services that the kids and their families need. As the saying goes, a hero comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Dr. King never bowed to his critics.

Brandenburg writes:

When King spoke against the American war in Vietnam and against segregation and discrimination in Northern states, he drew a lot of sharp attacks, even from the NYT:

‘The New York Times editorial board lambasted King for linking the war in Vietnam to the struggles of civil rights and poverty alleviation in the United States, saying it was “too facile a connection” and that he was doing a “disservice” to both causes. It concluded that there “are no simple answers to the war in Vietnam or to racial injustice in this country.” The Washington Post editorial board said King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country and his people.” A political cartoon in the Kansas City Star depicted the civil rights movement as a young black girl crying and begging for her drunk father King, who is consuming the contents of a bottle labeled “Anti-Vietnam.”

‘In all, 168 newspapers denounced him the next day. Johnson ended his formal relationship with King. “What is that goddamned nigger preacher doing to me?” Johnson reportedly remarked after the Riverside speech. “We gave him the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we gave him the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we gave him the war on poverty. What more does he want?”

‘The African-American establishment, fearful of Johnson’s reaction, also distanced itself from King.

‘The NAACP under the leadership of Roy Wilkins refused to oppose the war and explicitly condemned the effort to link the peace and civil rights movements. Whitney Young, the leader of the National Urban League, warned that “Johnson needs a consensus. If we are not with him on Vietnam, then he is not going to be with us on civil rights.”

On this day, we remember the life and work of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is inspiring to read his speeches, and I urge you to do so.

Today you will hear politicians praise his legacy even while they betray that same legacy.

Dr. King was a champion of the weak and powerless. He fought for the rights and dignity of Black Americans, and he was a champion for all Americans whose basic needs had been ignored and whose rights had been trampled upon.

These days, one is likely to hear wealthy and powerful people claim that they are “leading the civil rights issue of our time” by pushing to eliminate public schools; Dr. King never, never opposed public schools. He wanted them to be desegregated and he wanted them to provide equality of educational opportunity to all children, so that every child had the ability to develop to his or her full potential. It is jarring indeed to hear Donald Trump declare (as he did in his first State of the Union Address) that “school choice” is the “civil rights issue of our time.” No, it is not. Dr. King never said that. His words should not be appropriated by billionaires, hedge fund managers, and those oppose Dr. King’s fight to eliminate poverty.

Steven Singer wrote this post about Dr. King’s education philosophy.

He writes:

When we think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we usually think of the towering figure of the Civil Rights Movement who gave the “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963.

However, as a teacher, I find myself turning to something he wrote in 1947 when he was just an 18-year-old student at Morehouse College.

While finishing his undergraduate studies in sociology, he published an essay in the student paper called “The Purpose of Education.”

Two sections immediately jump off the page. The first is this:

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.”

So for King it wasn’t enough for schools to teach facts. It wasn’t enough to teach skills, math, writing, reading, history and science. The schools are also responsible for teaching children character – how to be good people, how to get along with each other.

It’s a worthy goal.

Singer goes on to analyze the kind of school–public, private, or charter–that is likeliest to achieve Dr. King’s goals.



Alan Singer posts here a brilliant speech that he delivered about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. the civil rights movement, and Dr. King’s continuing legacy today. He reminds us that the issues that Dr. King addressed are still unresolved: racism, poverty, war, violence. He points out that when Dr.King was assassinated, he was helping low-wage sanitation workers in Memphis to organize a union to improve their wages, working conditions, and lives. The next time you hear a billionaire or right-winger claim that school choice is “the civil rights issue of our time,” ask him or her (or yourself) whether they are also fighting as Dr. King did to end racism, poverty, war, and violence.

Speaking recently at the Uniondale, New York, public library, Singer said (and this is an excerpt),

The traditional myth about the Civil Rights Movement, the one that is taught in schools and promoted by politicians and the national media, is that Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up, and somehow the whole world changed. But the real story is that the Civil Rights Movement was a mass democratic movement to expand human equality and guarantee citizenship rights for Black Americans. It was definitely not a smooth climb to progress. Between roughly 1955 and 1968 it had peaks that enervated people and valleys that were demoralizing. Part of the genius of Dr. King was his ability to help people “keep on keeping on” when hope for the future seemed its bleakest.

While some individual activists clearly stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, it involved hundreds of thousands of people, including many White people, who could not abide the U.S. history of racial oppression dating back to slavery days. It is worth noting that a disproportionate number of whites involved in the Civil Rights movement were Jews, many with ties to Long Island. In the 1960s, the Great Neck Committee for Human Rights sponsored an anti-discrimination pledge signed by over 1,000 people who promised not to discriminate against any racial or ethnic groups if they rented or sold their homes. They also picketed local landlords accused of racial bias. The Human Rights Committee and Great Neck synagogues hosted Dr. King as a speaker and raised funds for his campaigns on multiple occasions.

King and Parks played crucial and symbolic roles in the Civil Rights Movement, but so did Thurgood Marshall, Myles Horton, Fanny Lou Hammer, Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph, Walther Reuther, Medger Evers, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, as well as activists who were critics of racial integration and non-violent civil disobedience such as Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers.

The stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King have been sanitized to rob them of their radicalism and power. Rosa Parks was not a little old lady who sat down in the White only section of a bus because she was tired. She was only 42 when she refused to change her seat and made history. In addition, Parks was a trained organizer, a graduate of the Highlander School where she studied civil disobedience and social movements, and a leader of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP. Rosa Parks made a conscious choice to break an unjust law in order to provoke a response and promote a movement for social change. 

Martin Luther King challenged the war in Vietnam, U.S. imperialism, and laws that victimized working people and the poor, not just racial discrimination. When he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he was helping organize a sanitation workers union. If Dr. King had not be assassinated, but had lived to become an old radical activist who constantly questioned American policy, I suspect he would never have become so venerated. It is better for a country to have heroes who are dead, because they cannot make embarrassing statements opposing continuing injustice and unnecessary wars.

The African American Civil Rights Movement probably ended with the assassination of Dr. King in April 1968 and the abandonment of Great Society social programs by the Democratic Party, but social inequality continues. What kind of country is it when young Black men are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system than in college, inner city youth unemployment at the best of times hovers in the high double-digits, and children who already have internet access at home are the ones most likely to have it in school? What kind of country is it when families seeking refuge from war, crime, and climate disruption are barred entry to the United States or put in holding pens at the border? These are among the reasons I am recruiting everyone to a movement for social justice. These are the things that would have infuriated Martin Luther King.

I promised I would share excerpts from four of Dr. King’s speeches. Everyone has the phrases and speeches that they remember best. Most Americans are familiar with the 1963 “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and the 1968 “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis just before he died. These are four other speeches that still resonate with me the most today.

The first speech I reference is one for local Uniondale, Long Island, and Hofstra pride. In 1965, Dr. King was honored and spoke at the Hofstra University graduation. It was less than one year after he received the Nobel Peace Prize and three years before his assassination. In the speech Dr. King argued “mankind’s survival is dependent on man’s ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty and war” and that the “solution of these problems is . . . dependent upon man squaring his moral progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living in harmony.” I have no doubt that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, demands for gun control, climate activism, and calls for the impeachment of Donald Trump. 

In his Hofstra speech, Dr. King told graduates, families, and faculty, “we have built machines that think, and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. We have built gigantic bridges to span the seas, and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies . . . We have been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains . . . Yet in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, something basic is missing. That is a sort of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish. But we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

Read the rest of this powerful speech by Professor Singer about Dr. King’s relevance for us today.



Trump has tried to divert attention from his impeachment and trial by revving up fears that “religious freedom” is under attack in the nation, and he alone will protect it.

This is complete nonsense, but helps to explain why he appointed two new Supreme Court justices who have a history of overturning any efforts to separate church and state or to protect the secular nature of state action. Trump judges can be counted on to allow plaintiffs to discriminate against anyone who offends their religious beliefs. A pending decision by the High Court in the Espinoza case from Montana threatens to abolish state laws that prohibit public funding of religious schools.

Trump held a meeting in the Oval Office with representatives of religious groups who want official endorsement of prayer in the schools, and Trump assured them, as Valerie Strauss wrote in The Answer Sheet, that there is “a growing totalitarian impulse on the far left that seeks to punish, restrict and even prohibit religious expression” and said the steps his administration was taking “to protect the First Amendment right to pray in public schools” were “historic.” Actually, students and anybody else in a public school already have the right to pray in public schools, and his administration’s new guidance changes little from that of earlier administrations.

Valerie Strauss included the transcript of his inflammatory and false statements in her post.

Peter Greene wrote that Trump had solved a problem that literally did not exist, since students already have the right to pray in school if they wish. 

Greene finds it amusing that Trump has inserted himself into two issues–religion and education–in which he literally has no interest at all.

The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times notes that Trump has appealed to evangelicals’ fear that the secular state is persecuting them. It is a divisive and false message.

In an editorial published on January 17, the Times wrote:

Not for the first time, President Trump is trying to score political points with his evangelical supporters by unveiling a “religious freedom” initiative that suggests, cynically, that Christianity in America is under sustained attack and that the federal government must come to its rescue. Needless to say, that is not the case.

The initiative unveiled on Thursday is best seen not as a considered response to a real problem but as a political statement in which the president is aligning himself with Christian conservatives whose support could be essential to his 2020 reelection. Its centerpiece is a “guidance” letter from the Department of Education reminding public schools that they must certify that they allow students to engage in “constitutionally protected prayer.” That’s a reference to voluntary prayer, not the official prayers that were outlawed by the Supreme Court in the 1960s.

In other words, the heart of this initiative is a reaffirmation of existing law. Trump isn’t the first president to put schools on notice that they must respect religious expression by their students. Substantially similar guidance was issued by the Clinton administration in 1995. But Trump is a past master of repackaging existing law involving religious freedom to make it appear that he is delivering to his religious supporters.

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, took issue with Trump’s efforts to politicize religious issues.

When President Donald Trump leaked, at a rally for evangelical supporters in Florida on Jan. 3, that his administration would issue guidance about prayer in public schools, he started a mini-firestorm, and not just among the fired-up crowd.

When the guidance was released on Thursday (Jan. 16), however, it turned out to be hardly worth the excitement. According to long-settled legal and constitutional protections for religious expression in the public schools, public school students are free to pray, wear religious clothing and accessories and talk about their beliefs. Religious groups can meet on school grounds, and teachers can teach about religion as an academic subject. Religious liberty, in short, is already a treasured value in our nation’s public schools.

So why are the president and White House staffers making inflammatory and misleading statements, claiming our constitutional rights are under attack?

It could be that the administration simply wanted to remind public schools of their constitutional duties. But some comments officials made before and in their announcement of the guidance vastly overstated the supposed problem and echoed the claims of Christian nationalism, a dangerous movement that harms both Christianity and the United States by implying that to be a good American, one must be Christian…

For decades, public schools across the nation have modeled how religiously diverse populations can build relationships of trust and care, respecting the unique role that religion plays in people’s lives. Like our neighbors of all faiths, we are empowered by the First Amendment to live our beliefs in the public square, which includes the public school….

The law cannot anticipate the nuances of every situation that might arise at a given school, and sometimes a misunderstanding or misrepresented incident spurs a call to “bring back prayer” to our schools. In most cases, these misunderstandings simply create an opportunity to reaffirm commonsense guidance and constitutional principles that support voluntary, student-led religious exercise.

But using any incident to institute state-sanctioned prayer, written and delivered by school officials, should be deeply concerning for all Christians. For a Baptist, as I am, voluntary prayer is an important part of my religious practice, and it has been since I was a student in Texas public schools. Why should government schools have a say in how and whether our children pray?

Importantly, ensuring faith freedom for all isn’t only an issue of concern for Christians. If Christian nationalists were able to realize their goal and prioritize Christianity over other traditions in public schools, it is religious minorities who will suffer the most. In our religiously diverse society, why should our schools favor Baptists over Buddhists, Anglicans over atheists, or Methodists over Muslims.

Instead of demanding that a distorted vision of state-sanctioned Christianity be upheld by public schools, Trump should celebrate what public schools already are: a place where religious liberty ensures that Americans can work and learn together across lines of religious difference.

To guarantee religious freedom for students of all faiths and nonreligious students, we must embrace our nation’s constitutional vision that has served us well and push back against the dangerous influence of Christian nationalism.



In thinking back over the past decade, Peter Greene realized that Michelle Rhee was one of its defining figures.

For a time, she was everywhere. The media loved her stern and angry visage. She graced the cover of TIME and NEWSWEEK. She appeared on the Oprah show, NBC’s Education Nation, “Waiting for Superman.” And then she was gone.

For years, she was the face of the “reform” movement, a crusader set on busting unions, firing teachers and principals, and leading the way to nirvana. At one point, she boldly predicted that she would turn the public schools of D.C. into the best in the nation. After Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his race in 2010, Rhee stepped down as chancellor of the D.C.schools and launched StudentsFirst, which was anti-union, pro-testing, pro-Charter, and pro-voucher. Then it disappeared, never having raised the $1 billion she predicted.

Now the face of that same movement is Betsy DeVos, and the media doesn’t love her the way they loved Rhee, even though their goals are identical.

Like many of the big names in education disruption in the oughts, Rhee skated on sheer chutzpah. There was no good reason for her to believe that she knew what the heck she was doing, but she was by-God certain that her outsider “expertise” was right and that all she needed to create success was the unbridled freedom to exert her will.

And in 2010, it was working. The media loved her and, more significantly, treated her like a go-to authority on all educational issues. They fell all over themselves to grab the privilege of printing the next glowing description of the empress’s newest clothes. She was more than once packaged as the pro-reform counterpart of Diane Ravitch (though one thing that Rhee carefully and consistently avoided was any sort of head to head debate with actual education experts).

For the first part of the decade, it kept working. Students First became a powerhouse lobbying group, pushing hard for the end of teacher job protections. She was in 2011’s reform agitprop film Waiting for Superman. LinkedIN dubbed her an expert influencer. She spoke out in favor of Common Core and related testing. A breathless and loving bio was published about her in 2011; in 2013 she published a book of her own. She had successfully parleyed her DC job into a national platform.

2014 seemed like peak Rhee. I actually decided to stop mentioning her by name; I felt guilty about increasing her already-prodigious footprint. She seemed unstoppable, and yet by 2014 we knew that the TFA miracle classrooms, the DC miracle, the TNTP boondoggle, the StudentsFirst failures (far short of 1 million or $1 billion). Rhee was the Kim Kardashian of ed reform, the popular spokesmodel who did not have one actual success to her name. She was increasingly dogged by her controversies.

And then, in the fall of 2014, Michelle Rhee simply evaporated from the ed scene.

Greene traces the trajectory of her rise and fall in this post. What a spectacular rise it was, what an inglorious fall.

The parade has passed by, and she is no longer its leader. She is not even in it.

Ed Johnson, the conscience of education in Atlanta, fears that the school board is determined to unearth another Disrupter as its next superintendent.

He does not like the generic survey created by the professional search firm.

He offers a different example of the right way to find a worthy superintendent.

He writes:

Cita Cook: Suggestions for Hiring Next Atlanta Superintendent

Atlanta Board of Education recently hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA), an executive search firm, to search for the next Atlanta superintendent.  HYA’s search process includes obtaining community input by way of its Superintendent Search Survey.  The school board has scheduled the survey to be available through 28 January 2020.

One may easily perceive the survey is rather generic, embeds popular school reform language and ideology, can be used in a superintendent search process for any districts, and perhaps is not specifically germane to Atlanta needing to find a new superintendent.  When asked to clarify, an HYA team member confirmed yesterday the survey is HYA’s standard instrument that serves the firm’s superintendent search research interests, so is not specific and germane to APS alone.

Instead of filling out the HYA Superintendent Search Survey, Dr. Cita Cook provided the school board the following suggestions as responses, including an explanation as to why she had to do so.  Cita Cook is an educator retired from teaching at the levels of high school, community college, and university.  She regularly attends school board and district public meetings and is known for taking copious notes.

Cita offers:

I have always (at least since I was a teenager) rebelled against answering surveys in the ways in which they are usually written, partly because they are usually too vague, ambiguous, and unwilling to accept nuanced and complex answers.  I could not possibly answer the most recent survey due on January 28 without writing a paragraph or more on each statement that we are supposed to agree or disagree with, as well as about each skill listed, including ones not listed.

I hope this search will be much more flexible and creative than one based on a simplistic quantitative set of data that hides the sub-categories and disagreements within too many of the statements and survey answers.  I am, therefore, sending you a list of ideas about an APS Superintendent search that I first prepared in 2013 and have updated in recent months, including today.  If you have any questions for me, you can reach me at

Suggestions for the search, partially in reaction to the original 2019 Position Profile:

  • The Position Profile and other documents and processes (including surveys) should be clearly appropriate for an education position in an urban setting, not documents that could be used without much editing for a corporate CEO position or a non-education, non-profit leadership job.
  • Make it clear that this district needs a Superintendent with a deep understanding of and commitment to the need to uncover and overcome all kinds of inequities, including an awareness of how difficult and yet necessary this is.  Ask, for example, how they might take realistic steps toward making the District and education more equitable.
  • Do not make “transformative innovation” a priority or use the term “transformation” or “turnaround” because they are too categorical.  Since change can have negative, as well as positive, impacts, do not call for “change” or “innovation” just for the sake of change.  Raise, as well, the possibility that effective changes from the current practices might require undoing previous changes, including the possibility of returning to a version of what worked in the past or was not allowed to last long enough to show if it could work.
  • Instead of calling for support of “achievement,” encourage support for “learning,” as in a candidate who has “demonstrated development and execution of strategies that increase learning for all students,” including the ability to learn in different contexts and throughout life.
  • Rewordings of segments of an earlier standards for a Superintendent: “Demonstrated experience in managing and leading complex education and possibly other programs and organizations.”  “Demonstrated experience in acting with the highest levels of ethical and educational professional standards.”  Do NOT call for business or corporate standards or vocabulary (especially the term “talent management”), but you could suggest experience and ideas in how to educate business and corporate supporters in the basic principles of education, instead of the other way around.
  • Both the 2013 and the 2019 Position Profiles call for “knowledge of current and future policy issues, including the complexities and varieties of schools choice, such as charter schools, turnaround models, alternative education, and online and blended learning.”  Instead of these approaches, I and others would prefer that you call for an expert in helping neighborhood schools develop their own strengths, including through the community school model.  Ideally, we would ask for someone ready to develop a process for ending the existence of most or all non-neighborhood schools over time.  My fantasy candidate would have a sense of how to oversee developments so that fewer and fewer people would see the need to put their children in either charter schools or regular schools with wealthier parents.  This could also mean that those on the north side of Atlanta would no longer feel a need to fuss if their cluster borders were changed to include a greater variety of students.  Calling for “School Choice” is really announcing either or both the District’s leadership’s inability and unwillingness to figure out and learn how each school can be best for its community.
  • Expect the candidates to understand the social, political, economic, and educational history and complexities of Atlanta, its environs, and Georgia.  Someone who has not done enough homework to understand the different histories of North and South Atlanta should be removed from the list of candidates.
  • Both versions of the Profiles also call for “experience in motivating faculty, staff, and external stakeholders.”  Please do not ask for or allow any behavior reminiscent of motivational speakers and cheerleaders.  Instead, call for experience and ideas about how to encourage and support mutually respectful collaboration between the superintendent, other administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents and community members for key decisions concerning policies and practices.
  • Call for evidence of ability to have a respectful, collaborative relationship with employees at all levels and to create a district culture of Respectful Collaboration.
  • The new Superintendent should have had enough experience as a classroom teacher to understand the ways in which teaching is an art as well as a science and how important it is to match each teacher to the kind of classroom and subject matter that can benefit from and enhance their individual capabilities and knowledge in both content and pedagogy.
  • Instead of “An appreciation for the multi-cultural and diverse communities that comprise the APS District,” expect something more, possibly evidence of working well with communities in districts where most of the students were impoverished children of color, preferably in the South.
  • The new Superintendent needs to communicate effectively with a variety of people at all levels, from a CEO to a parent without a high school education.  And make them feel heard.  Too often, those who can speak to people at the top cannot do so with those at the bottom.  Ask for evidence that the candidates are ready to show respect for, listen to, and learn from ANY parents, neighbors, and community members, not just from individuals considered leaders.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 |

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Piet van Lier of Policy Matters Ohio has some proposals to “fix” Ohio’s disastrous voucher program.

The voucher program–called EdChoice–was recently amended to make 2/3 of the districts in the state liable to pay for vouchers for private and religious schools, many (or most) of which are not as good as the public schools. In addition, students who never attended a public school can apply for a voucher, meaning that the program is a subsidy for students already in private and religious schools.

His first suggestion is that the state should create a separate fund to pay for vouchers, instead of taking money away from public schools.

His second is that only students already in public schools should be eligible for vouchers.

He suggests that vouchers should be limited only to low-income students.

And he proposes that voucher-receiving schools should be required to meet the same academic standards and regulations as public schools.

I personally don’t believe that there should be any vouchers. Low-income students do not benefit by going to religious schools. Affluent families should pay for private and religious schools if they want them.

But all of these are good proposals to  limit the damage to the state’s public schools, which enroll 90% of students.




Gary read the book with care.

I can’t summarize what he said.

Please read what he wrote.

I can only say that I have long admired his candor, his fearless integrity, and his insistence on accuracy.

To get praise from someone with such high standards is indeed an honor for me.

State auditors are questioning whether two charter schools in Broward County had any students at all and are proposing that the schools repay the state $5.5 million.

Two charter schools in Broward County failed to adequately prove students attended during the 2017-18 school year and should repay a combined $5.5 million, the state Auditor General report says.

The report, released in late December, questions the student counts at Innovation Charter School in Pompano Beach and Imagine Charter in Weston. Officials at the two schools say they can verify their enrollments and plan to appeal to the state Department of Education, which will make the final decision.

If the department agrees with the audit, the schools would lose roughly an entire year’s budget: $1.6 million for Innovations and $3.9 million for Imagine. The Broward school district, which is responsible for dispersing state money to the schools, could withhold monthly allocations until the money is repaid. If the schools close, the district could get stuck with the bill.

“The district has met with the governing boards of the charter schools with respect to their plans to appeal these … findings and is prepared to assist them during their discussions” with the education department, said a statement from Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch’s office.

The auditors reviewed records from October and February of the 2017-18 school year; those are the two months when official counts are taken to see how much money schools should receive.

The report said Imagine could not adequately prove that its 948 students actually attended the school and Innovation couldn’t prove that its 386 kids were actually there.

Auditors can be so darned picky. Who ever heard of schools without students?

Samuel Abrams is the leading national authority on the history of Chris Whittle and the Edison Project. His book Education and the Commercial Mindset recounts the story of the Edison Project, its highs, its lows, its shape shifting.

Abrams was a teacher in a public high school in Manhattan until he earned his doctorate. Now he is director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization at Teachers College, Columbia University.

In this post, he updates the status of Edison.

EdisonLearning Terminated in Chicago

EdisonLearning, the for-profit school management company, is a shrinking shadow of its once prominent self. Launched with much fanfare in 1991 as the Edison Project and taken public as a Wall Street darling by Merrill Lynch in 1999 as Edison Schools, the company changed its name a second time to EdisonLearning in 2008. At its height, the company in 2003 managed 133 schools enrolling 80,000 students in cities across the country. The company is now down to running two credit-recovery centers in Ohio and six alternative schools in Florida.

The latest bad news for the company, reported Chalkbeat in September, came in Chicago. After five years of running four credit-recovery centers in the Windy City, the company saw its contract terminated. School district officials concluded that students at the company’s schools “weren’t receiving enough in-person instruction and that its online curriculum offered mostly low-level tasks.”

In addition to faulting EdisonLearning for inadequate instruction, district officials took EdisonLearning to task for charging its own schools significant fees to use the company’s software. One official on this account, according to Chalkbeat, derided the company as a “money factory.”

Such criticism dovetails with censure of the company by district officials as well as former employees in Ohio, as reported by ProPublica in 2015, for aggressive marketing and for overstating attendance to collect per-pupil funding from the state.

Transforming Edison into a profitable operation has been an unending enterprise, as documented in the book Education and the Commercial Mindset(2016). The company, as the Edison Project, was initially slated to run a national network of for-profit private schools. But that plan hinged on the introduction of vouchers. With Bill Clinton’s defeat of George H.W. Bush in 1992, vouchers stood no chance of becoming a national reality in the near future. The company accordingly transmuted into a subcontractor, selling its management services to municipalities as well as charter boards to run schools.

This new model led to substantial growth and much support on Wall Street. When Merrill Lynch took Edison Schools public in 1999, the company was valued at $900 million. But with growth came mounting losses. Upon reaching its peak with 133 schools in 2003, the company shifted gears to focus more on providing school districts with professional development, curriculum guidance, and computer software for assessing student progress. The company moved further in this direction in 2008 when it changed its name for a second time to EdisonLearning.

In 2013, the company was forced to split. Its owner, Liberty Partners, a private equity group based in New York that purchased the company in 2003 for $91 million, was winding down. In what amounted to a fire sale, Liberty managed to sell only EdisonLearning’s supplementary educational services division to Catapult Learning, based in Camden, NJ, for $18 million. The remainder of the company trudged on in managing 11 schools, four online academies, and 13 credit-recovery centers. As Chalkbeat reported, with the nullification of the contract in Chicago, EdisonLearning is now down to two credit-recovery centers and six alternative schools.