Archives for the month of: January, 2021

The Wall Street Journal has the details on the money behind Trump’s incendiary “Stop the Steal—Save America” rally of January 6, which preceded a violent attack on the nation’s Capitol:

The rally in Washington’s Ellipse that preceded the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was arranged and funded by a small group including a top Trump campaign fundraiser and donor facilitated by far-right show host Alex Jones.

Mr. Jones personally pledged more than $50,000 in seed money for a planned Jan. 6 event in exchange for a guaranteed “top speaking slot of his choice,” according to a funding document outlining a deal between his company and an early organizer for the event. 

Mr. Jones also helped arrange for Julie Jenkins Fancelli, a prominent donor to the Trump campaign and heiress to the Publix Super Markets Inc. chain, to commit about $300,000 through a top fundraising official for former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, according to organizers. Her money paid for the lion’s share of the roughly $500,000 rally at the Ellipse where Mr. Trump spoke. 

Another far-right activist and leader of the “Stop the Steal” movement, Ali Alexander, helped coordinate planning with Caroline Wren, a fundraising official who was paid by the Trump campaign for much of 2020 and who was tapped by Ms. Fancelli to organize and fund an event on her behalf, organizers said. On social media, Mr. Alexander had targeted Jan. 6 as a key date for supporters to gather in Washington to contest the 2020-election certification results. The week of the rally, he tweeted a flyer for the event saying: “DC becomes FORT TRUMP starting tomorrow on my orders!”

How close we came to a bloody coup. Only a few yards and a few minutes separated the terrorists from their targets, the leaders of Congress and the Vice-President. Thanks to the overwhelmed Capitol Police who did their jobs, many lives were saved when a mob of thousands of people, stirred up by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, attacked the U.S. Capitol. The FBI has been investigating those who planned the siege of Congress. Did Trump know? Did his aides know?

When die-hard supporters of President Donald Trump showed up at rally point “Cowboy” in Louisville on the morning of Jan. 5, they found the shopping mall’s parking lot was closed to cars, so they assembled their 50 or so vehicles outside a nearby Kohl’s department store. Hundreds of miles away in Columbia, S.C., at a mall designated rally point “Rebel,” other Trump supporters gathered to form another caravan to Washington. A similar meetup — dubbed “Minuteman” — was planned for Springfield, Mass.


That same day, FBI personnel in Norfolk were increasingly alarmed by the online conversations they were seeing, including warlike talk around the convoys headed to the nation’s capital. One map posted online described the rally points, declaring them a “MAGA Cavalry To Connect Patriot Caravans to StopTheSteal in D.C.” Another map showed the U.S. Congress, indicating tunnels connecting different parts of the complex. The map was headlined, “CREATE PERIMETER,” according to the FBI report, which was reviewed by The Washington Post.


“Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in,” read one posting, according to the report.




The Post obtained hours of video footage, some exclusively, and placed it within a digital 3-D model of the building. (TWP)
FBI agents around the country are working to unravel the various motives, relationships, goals and actions of the hundreds of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Some inside the bureau have described the Capitol riot investigation as their biggest case since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and a top priority of the agents’ work is to determine the extent to which that violence and chaos was preplanned and coordinated.


[Self-styled militia members planned days in advance to storm the Capitol, court papers say]


Investigators caution there is an important legal distinction between gathering like-minded people for a political rally — which is protected by the First Amendment — and organizing an armed assault on the seat of American government. The task now is to distinguish which people belong in each category, and who played key roles in committing or coordinating the violence.


Video and court filings, for instance, describe how several groups of men that include alleged members of the Proud Boys appear to engage in concerted action, converging on the West Front of the Capitol just before 1 p.m., near the Peace Monument at First Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Different factions of the crowd appear to coalesce, move forward and chant under the direction of different leaders before charging at startled police staffing a pedestrian gate, all in the matter of a few minutes.


An indictment Friday night charged a member of the Proud Boys, Dominic Pezzola, 43, of Rochester, N.Y., with conspiracy, saying his actions showed “planning, determination, and coordination.” Another alleged member of the Proud Boys, William Pepe, 31, of Beacon, N.Y., also was charged with conspiracy.


Minutes before the crowd surge, at 12:45 p.m., police received the first report of a pipe bomb behind the Republican National Committee headquarters at the opposite, southeast side of the U.S. Capitol campus. The device and another discovered shortly afterward at Democratic National Committee headquarters included end caps, wiring, timers and explosive powder, investigators have said.


[Pipe bombs found near Capitol on Jan. 6 are believed to have been placed the night before]


Some law enforcement officials have suggested the pipe bombs may have been a deliberate distraction meant to siphon law enforcement away from the Capitol building at the crucial moment.




This video, taken at 8:15 p.m., is the last known sighting of the suspect before they alleged placed the bomb. (Obtained by The Washington Post)


Ready for war’


The FBI is also trying to determine how many people went to Washington seeking to engage in violence, even if they weren’t part of any formal organization. Some of those in the Louisville caravan said they were animated by the belief that the election was stolen, according to interviews they gave to the Louisville Courier-Journal.


Much of the discussion of potential violence occurred at TheDonald.win, where Trump’s supporters talked about the upcoming rally, sometimes in graphic terms, according to people familiar with the FBI investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an open matter.


After the riot, a statement posted on the website said moderators “had been struggling for some time to address a flood of racist and violent content that appeared to be coming primarily from a small group of extremists who were often brigading from other sites,” leading to inquiries from the FBI.


[FBI report day before riot warned of ‘war’ at Capitol]


One of the comments cited in the FBI memo declared Trump supporters should go to Washington and get “violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die.”
Some had been preparing for conflict for weeks.


Prosecutors say Jessica Marie Watkins — an Ohio bartender who had formed her own small, self-styled militia group and had joined Oath Keepers, according to prosecutors — began recruiting and organizing in early November for an “operation.”


Days after the election, Watkins allegedly sent text messages to a number of individuals who had expressed interest in joining her group, which called itself the Ohio State Regular Militia.


“I need you fighting fit by innaugeration,” she told one recruit, according to court papers.


The same day, she also asked a recruit to download Zello, an app that allows a cellphone to operate like a push-to-talk walkie-talkie, saying her group uses it “for operations.”


In conversations later that month, Watkins allegedly spoke in apocalyptic terms about the prospect of Joe Biden’s being sworn in as president on Jan. 20.


“If he is, our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights. . . . If Biden get the steal, none of us have a chance in my mind. We already have our neck in the noose. They just haven’t kicked the chair yet.”




In December, prosecutors say, Donovan Ray Crowl, a 50-year-old friend of Watkins’s, attended a training camp in North Carolina, while another friend, Thomas E. Caldwell, a 66-year-old Navy veteran from Berryville, Va., booked a room at an Arlington hotel, where Watkins also had a reservation for the days surrounding the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally.


Prosecutors say Caldwell had written earlier to Watkins that “I believe we will have to get violent to stop this, especially the antifa maggots who are sure to come out en masse even if we get the Prez for 4 more years.”


In the week leading up to the rally and riot, Watkins and Caldwell were in regular contact as they talked about various groups of people meeting up on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, according to an indictment filed this past week against them.


At different points, according to court filings and people familiar with the investigation, Watkins and Caldwell indicated a degree of impatience with Stewart Rhodes, the national leader of Oath Keepers, for not providing more direction.


Watkins messaged Caldwell that if Rhodes “isn’t making plans, I’ll take charge myself, and get the ball rolling,” according to the indictment. Caldwell replied that he was speaking to another person who expected a bus with 40 people to come from North Carolina. Caldwell allegedly told her that person, identified only as “Paul” in other court papers, “is committed to being the quick reaction force [and] bringing the tools if something goes to hell. That way the boys don’t have to try to schlep weps on the bus” — an apparent reference to weapons.


Caldwell added in a subsequent message that he didn’t know whether Rhodes “has even gotten out his call to arms but it’s a little friggin late. This is one we are doing on our own. We will link up with the north carolina crew,” according to court papers and the people familiar with the investigation.


On New Year’s Eve, according to the indictment, Watkins “responded with interest to an invitation to a ‘leadership only’ conference call” for what was described as a “DC op.”




The leaderless resistance concept


Such exchanges are critical early clues in the planning and coordination that went on before, during and after the riot. Videos from the Capitol show Oath Keepers such as Watkins dressed in military-type gear, moving in coordination with Crowl through the crowds around the building.


Watkins used the walkie-talkie app to tell others she was part of a group of about 30 to 40 people who are “sticking together and sticking to the plan,” according to court documents.


Caldwell, for his part, posted images to Facebook, writing: “Us storming the castle. Please share. Sharon is right with me. I am such an instigator!” Sharon Caldwell, his wife, has not been charged with any crime; Caldwell, Crowl and Watkins are accused of conspiring to obstruct Congress and other violations.


Thomas Caldwell’s lawyer has said his client expects to see the charges dropped or to be acquitted at trial. Caldwell, the lawyer said, is not a member of Oath Keepers.


Watkins has previously denied committing any crimes. “I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t destroy anything. I didn’t wreck anything,” Watkins told the Ohio Capital Journal, adding that the riot was a peaceful protest that turned violent.


Crowl’s lawyer has described his client as a law-abiding citizen who helped protect people during the riot.


In a phone interview this month, Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, told The Post that he gave no direction or signals to members of his group to storm the Capitol, and that he considers the entry by rioters a mistake that played into the hands of critics.


Rhodes said the only “mission” the Oath Keepers had organized to undertake in D.C. on Jan. 6 was dignitary protection for far-right personalities who had traveled to the city to participate in “Stop the Steal” events.


At the time of the riot, Rhodes said, he had just escorted one of the VIPs to a nearby hotel. Rhodes said one of his deputies “called and said, ‘People are storming the Capitol.’ I walked back over and found” fellow Oath Keepers, Rhodes said, but did not enter the building.





Rhodes disavowed any meaningful connection to Caldwell or Crowl. Rhodes said Watkins had played an important part in the group’s mobilization in opposition to demonstrations around police abuse in Louisville last year.


Former domestic terrorism investigators say the alleged discussion by Watkins and Caldwell about the group’s leader points to a longtime pattern among such extremists.


“Historically, within the right-wing extremist movements, leadership has produced rhetoric to spin up their members, increase radicalization and recruitment, and then stand back and let small cells or individual lone offenders follow through on that rhetoric with violent action,” said Thomas O’Connor, a former FBI agent who spent decades investigating domestic terrorists. “Domestic terrorism actually developed the leaderless resistance concept, taking the potential blame away from the leadership and putting it down into small groups or individuals, and I think that is what you’re starting to see here.”


Current law enforcement officials said they have not reached any conclusions about the interactions between leaders of extremist groups and their members or followers.


Investigators are examining who may have joined Caldwell and Watkins’s group, and whether any of those individuals, “known and unknown,” had links or communications with others at the Capitol that day or elsewhere.


Colin Clarke, a domestic terrorism expert at the Soufan Group, said the Jan. 6 attack represents a “proof of concept” for dangerous extremists.
“They talk about things like this in a lot of their propaganda, and the fact that the Capitol Police allowed this to happen, you can call it a security breach, or intelligence failure, but these people do not look at this as a failure, they look at it as an overwhelming success, and one that will inspire others for years.”

Julie Tate and Alice Crites contributed to this report.



Devlin Barrett writes about the FBI and the Justice Department, and is the author of “October Surprise: How the FBI Tried to Save Itself and Crashed an Election.” He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for National Reporting, for coverage of Russian interference in the U.S. election.



Spencer S. Hsu is an investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer finalist and national Emmy Award nominee. Hsu has covered homeland security, immigration, Virginia politics and Congress.

Aaron Davis is an investigative reporter who has covered local, state and federal government, as well as the aviation industry and law enforcement. Davis shared in winning the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2018.





The ultimate killer of robograding os Dr. Les Perelman of MIT, who recently retired as a professor teaching writing to students at MIT. Les Perelman and his students cracked the code of robograders and showed how easy it is to fool the computer scoring essays. Use long sentences. Use o score or multisyllabic words. Don’t worry about whether your assertions make sense or are correct. The robograder doesn’t care if you say that World War II started in 1902, because facts don’t matter. Perelman and his students created a device called a Babel Generator, into which you insert any three words and it will spit out a high-scoring incoherent essay.

Peter Greene describes an effort to reclaim the soiled reputation of the robograder. He describes several states where robograders are currently in use.

A few days ago, I published a list of states that are considering new legislation to defund their public schools while expanding the corporate charter sector and increasing the funding of vouchers for failing religious schools.

One state was inexplicably left off that list of infamy: North Carolina.

A bill has been filed in that state peppered with words like “equity” and “opportunity,” a typical ruse to divert attention from the main purpose of the bill: privatization of public funds and defunding of public schools.

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly want more public money to flow to unregulated and unaccountable private and religious schools, which are free to use any curriculum they want, free to hire unqualified teachers, free to kick out or exclude students they don’t want, for any reason. Such schools are not subject to federal regulations securing the civil rights of their students. They are not subject to the state’s accountability system that applies to public schools. They are free to discriminate against students they don’t want.

John Thompson is a historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma. He keeps us abreast of what is happening in his home state.

He writes:

Now that Oklahoma voters rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt’s recommendations and chose to accept hundreds of millions of dollars a year of Medicaid Expansion funds, policy-makers must ask what could go wrong with Stitt’s current effort to privatize up to $2 billion in Oklahoma Medicaid services. Nondoc reports that this week:

Amid an air of confusion over its own powers and responsibilities, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board voted this morning to authorize financial expenditures for contracting with managed care organizations, controversial entities that take a portion of public Medicaid funding for attempting to improve care coordination, increase patient compliance and decrease overall program costs.

Several of the “five major health care associations” that opposed Stitt’s plan “referenced Oklahoma’s past managed Medicaid effort from the 1990s, which was ended owing to many of the same concerns opponents are voicing now.”

Since the Oklahoma governor has repeatedly pushed to allow private entities to innovate in terms of fighting the Covid pandemic, the answer might be found in more recent history. For instance, last spring, Oklahoma Health Department contracted with a piano bar owner to purchase about $2 million worth of N95 masks from China!

(I wonder if Stitt refused to listen to public health experts and close bars when infections super-surged for fear that that would have been undermined such innovations…)

Recent issues of The Frontier help evaluate the effectiveness of Stitt-era innovations. The state is now trying to return $2 million of stockpile of the malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine. Stitt ordered the purchase after former President Donald Trump praised that untested treatment.

The Frontier and ProPublica also reported on problems with CARES Act expenditures, and concluded, “The scope of those problems is clearly visible in Oklahoma, which tied for the third-highest number of hospital closures in the country in the nine years before the pandemic.” They found that, “One hospital used more than $1 million in federal aid to pay off its years-old debt to a management company that left before Oklahoma’s first coronavirus case was diagnosed.

On the other hand, “Three Oklahoma hospitals that were purchased last year after filing for bankruptcy were unable to access more than $6 million in funds deposited by the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of the rollout for health care providers.”

The Frontier also reported on Payroll Protection Program (PPP) money that went to Oklahoma churches. It showed that “between $90.2 million and $153.9 million went to churches in Oklahoma;” for instance, the “Edmond-based LiveChurch.TV, received between $5 million and $10 million.”

The Tulsa World also reported on Stitt’s sending $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief money  to help private school students. Those grants ranged up to $6,500 per family.

Speaking of school privatization, this week the Epic Charter Schools board “accepted the resignation of 11-year member Mike Cantrell.” This occurred as the State Department of Education continued efforts to “recoup” $11.2 million of inappropriately spent state money. Cantrell still claims, “They don’t have a right to look at a private company’s records.” He calls the auditing process a “sham,” and speculated that maybe the auditor should be impeached.

Okay, this history of privatization by Stitt and his and Trump’s supporters hasn’t turned out well, but maybe we need more innovation, such as contracting with a bar owner to obtain PPE. How did that experiment turn out?

The same day as Stitt defeated OHCA board members who opposed his managed care of Medicaid policy, the Oklahoman reported:

Health officials got fewer than 10,000 masks from PPE Supplies and only $300,000 of the deposit back, according to the breach of contract lawsuit.

The Health Department is seeking the rest of its money back — $1.825 million, plus interest. It also is seeking punitive damages for “misconduct.”Whether its ideology-driven use of Covid funds to promote private schools, or using $25 million CARES Act funds for old-fashioned pork barrel politics, like defying medical experts by moving the public health lab from Oklahoma City to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University, Stitt’s schemes are destructive and wasteful. We can laugh at his more absurd misuse of federal money, but if he gets away with imposing managed care for Medicaid, the damage will be devastating. 

While other states are requesting waivers from federally-mandated tests this spring, Texas is moving forward, requiring all students to take in-person tests.

Given the stress and dislocation caused by the pandemic, this is madness. State Commissioner Mike Morath was never an educator, and apparently he lacks common decency. Instruction has been uneven for almost a year, and many students have experienced the trauma of severe illness and death in their family. What is Morath thinking? He is certainly not thinking of the well-being of students.

Texas public school students must show up in person to take the STAAR test this spring, and districts can apply for waivers to socially distance test takers, according to recent guidance released by the Texas Education Agency.

The state is moving forward with the state standardized tests, taken in grades three through 12, this spring and summer during the pandemic and requiring students to take them at a “monitored” testing site. School districts can set up sites outside of their schools, including performing arts centers, hotels and recreation centers where they can “ensure equitable access and maintain test security.”

Texas is requiring all districts to allow in-person learning for all students who want it, with few exceptions. A state survey at the end of October showed 2.8 million of 5.5 million students were learning on campus, meaning millions were still learning remotely.

Although some may be reluctant to return in person during a pandemic, Texas high school students receiving remote instruction who do not show up to take the required standardized exams may not be able to graduate. Texas has already said students in younger grades who fail required STAAR exams can move up to the next grade. And as of December, school districts will not receive state ratings this year based on how their students perform on the exams.

Madison Cawthorn is a Republican member of Congress from North Carolina. He was elected last fall when he was only 24, the youngest person ever elected to Congress. He spoke at the Trump rally that preceded the violent siege of Congress on January 6. He is to the very far-right of the Republican Party. He uses a wheelchair due to an automobile accident that almost took his life. He is considered a rising star in the Republican Party, due to his good looks and his rightwing bona fides.

Here are a few things you should know about him, drawn from a profile in Salon.

He was home-schooled. “According to his own claims in a sworn deposition, his work experience as recently as two years before his congressional run was limited to a job at Chick-fil-A, along with a part-time gig in a district office of former Rep. Mark Meadows.” He claimed that he planned to enter the Naval Academy but that he lost his chance because of the accident that almost killed him, but he was rejected by the Naval Academy before his accident. He enrolled in Patrick Henry College but dropped out after a semester. He was a protege of Mark Meadows, but ran against Mark Meadows’ hand-picked successor and beat her.

Cawthorn’s relationship with Mark Meadows and the Meadows family has shaped some of the most formative moments of the young conservative’s life, including the 2014 car accident that left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Indeed, in the four years between 2013 and 2017, Meadows recommended Cawthorn for the U.S. Naval Academy; had his son, Blake Meadows, find a Florida attorney to handle Cawthorn’s insurance case; hired Cawthorn in his congressional office; and apparently played a role in helping Cawthorn gain admission to Patrick Henry College, which he attended for just one semester, before dropping out with a self-reported D average.

Cawthorn entered Patrick Henry College in the fall of 2016, where he quickly managed to get a bad reputation for preying on young women. “Last October, weeks before the general election, more than 150 of Cawthorn’s former fellow students at Patrick Henry — roughly half the school’s total student body — wrote a letter alleging that his during his brief stint there he had engaged in “sexually predatory behavior,” lied habitually and committed vandalism.

Cawthorn apparently has altered his resume to make claims about his achievements that don’t stand up to scrutiny. In an article in The Nation, Sarah Luterman wrote about his habit of inflating his role in the Paralympics. Cawthorn has said that he was training for the 2020 Paralympics Games, now delayed until 2021, but Luterman interviewed several accomplished paralympians, and they threw cold water on Cawthorn’s boasts.

Cawthorn frequently said on social media that he was “training” for the Paralympic Games. Technically, such a statement could be true—but only in the sense that I could be training for the Olympic Games. “It’s like a kid saying they want to play in the NBA when they’re on their fourth-grade basketball team,” said Amanda McGrory, a three-time Paralympian who has earned seven medals in track and field. Cawthorn stated on the Christian inspirational podcast The Heal, “I had an opportunity for the Paralympics for track and field.” He did not have that opportunity, nor does it appear he took any meaningful steps that would have led him there.

Paralympians are the best at what they do. Qualifying is a long, complicated process. In addition to being a Paralympian, McGrory is the archivist and collections curator for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. She told me: “You have to be involved in a team, usually your college or a local club. And then from there, you establish times at qualifying races, and then from there you get scouted.” Patrick Henry College, which Cawthorn attended for a semester before dropping out, doesn’t have a disabled sports program.

In addition to not being on a team, Cawthorn does not appear to have competed in any qualifying races. Robert Kozarek, a former elite wheelchair marathoner, said he would have met Cawthorn at some point if he had been serious competition. Kozarek himself never qualified for the Paralympic Games. “The community itself is small. There’s probably 50 [elite wheelchair racers] in the entire country, and we see each other four, five, six times a year, at least.”

Cawthorn is a worthy addition to the Republican Party’s growing number of extremists, who feel they can say anything and get away with it. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership appointed him to the House Education and Labor Committee, despite his lack of formal education and character.

This is a fascinating report on the state of education in Iran, forty years after the revolution, emphasizing the resistance to privatization. The authors are Mohammad Reza Niknejad and Behnam Zoghi Roudsari. The authors shared the article with me. I was surprised and delighted to learn that my book Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools was translated into Persian. I almost cried as I thought about the madness of international politics, preventing likeminded educators and scholars from communicating about shared concerns.

An excerpt:

The privatization of education is hotly debated across the world. It hardly represents a uniform set of policies with experts, economists, civil society organizers, and state officials weighing potential gains and losses. Iran has been no exception to this pattern. As most theoretical literature predicts, the privatization of education in Iran has caused harm. According to experts, it exacerbates class divisions, consolidates social gaps, and leads to serious detrimental consequences in the classroom. With over a century of experience with institutions of modern education, Iran has its own unique history of debate and struggle over privatization and its implementation. This article provides an overview of that history and an assessment of the current state of education in Iran.

Sharp critiques of privatized education are voiced across the political spectrum in Iran. The Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Syndicates of Iran, for instance, an umbrella organization consisting of forty-four teachers’ unions across the country, released a statement on 2 May 2019 bringing to fruition a mass protest that had called for the “suspension of outsourcing plans and the abolition of private school licensing.” It called on the state to “[provide] higher quality, free and equal educational services in public schools.

Months later, in November 2019, after mass protests against fuel hikes, the Coordinating Council denounced “shock therapy,” joining the resistance against austerity measures. They remarked that privatization had “[transferred] national wealth and resources to powerful groups…and had pushed more children from classrooms into the streets and into work.”

The failure of privatization represents one of the few agreed-upon issues between reformist and conservative politicians over the past three decades. Its failure can be measured with reference to the goals outlined in “the 20-Year Prospect of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Issued by the Expediency Council, it constitutes a key legal document encouraging privatization in Iran. The goals it outlines include: achieving full employment, controlling inflation, and expanding GDP and per capita income. Fifteen years after it was issued, Iran is far from achieving these goals...

Despite antagonism between the Islamic Republic and the United States, Iranian education officials have followed the lead of their American counterparts in privatization efforts. They have done this in various ways, placing teachers on short-term contracts; commercializing the educational sphere; and outsourcing the design, implementation and assessment of exams to private contractors.

Before the era of privatization, teachers received formal training in teacher training colleges and universities and were granted thirty-year contracts. Legal adjustments have changed former institutional settings to the extent that under new outsourcing contracts with specific conditions (which are widened daily), schools can employ teachers on day-to-day contracts. These teachers are paid for by the day and in some cases by the hour. They are neither paid for their three-month summer vacations, nor for holidays and weekends. They are typically paid a small fraction of formally employed teachers and can be dismissed at any time without notice. Numbering around forty thousand, these teachers were especially hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

The Deputy Minister of Education Mojtaba Zeinivand notes that, at present, 10.18 percent of students in Iran are in private schools and that, by March 2021, the figure will reach fifteen percent. This trend might result in irreversible harm to the quality of education. Poorer classes and to a lesser extent urban middle classes will be deprived of educational opportunities.

The government’s tenacious efforts to enforce privatization plans have been matched with strong opposition by officials from different parts of government, academics, and education experts. In recent years, teacher’s guilds have organized against the privatization of education with widespread protests, as with the Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Syndicates of Iran in 2019...

As this narrative demonstrates, the privatization of education in Iran is a consequence of the lack of a well-defined role of education in a broader strategy of developmental planning, rather than a result of centralized decision-making by right wing policy-makers with a neoliberal agenda. The privatization of education has been part of a broader privatization process that can be described as a paragon of overloading a low capacity state with complex tasks resulting in increased corruption and insignificant developmental outcomes. A minority of closed circles of educational officials, acting in coalition with the highest classes of society and who maintain strong access to policy-makers, are still pushing these policies at the expense of the majority of society and in defiance of social cohesion and national prosperity. In a recent unprecedented reform initiative, more than two hundred educational decision-makers have been identified as holding a specific conflict of interest, shareholding, or an ownership stake in private education institutions.

These self-serving policies have serious and long-lasting consequences, including but not limited to political grievances and instabilities as well as the consolidation of class divides and inequalities. The current, myopic horizon of Iranian politics, primarily concerned with factional competition and the disastrous economic consequences of sanctions, all too easily overlook these consequences. Educational reform should not be postponed until other components of the system of governance are reformed. An alternative path forward can materialize by forming inclusive coalitions that give voice to key stakeholders in education and empowering them to formulate better policies. This would, in turn, signal a feedback to higher levels of decision-makers. The surprising power of small changes would, we hope, lead to a virtuous cycle of reform.

Steve Hinnefeld, an Indiana blogger, reviews Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire’s new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and finds that it resonates with his own experience in Indiana.

He writes:

“A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” focuses on a fundamental debate on the nature of schools. Education, the authors argue, is best treated as a public good that belongs to everyone.

“Like clean air, a well-educated populace is something with wide-reaching benefits,” Berkshire and Schneider write. “That’s why we treat public education more like a park than a country club. We tax ourselves to pay for it, and we open it to everyone.”

The alternative: education as a private good that benefits and belongs to those who consume it. In that increasingly influential view, families should choose schools – or other education products and services — the same way they choose restaurants or where to buy their shoes, with little concern for anyone else.

The threats they describe are not a wolf but a veritable wolfpack: conservative ideologues who want to reduce taxes and shrink government, anti-union zealots, marketers bent on “selling” schools, self-dealers making money from ineffective virtual-school schemes and technology enthusiasts who envision a future in which algorithms replace teachers.

That may make the book sound like a polemic; it’s not, at least in my reading. The authors offer a fair and accurate reading of opposing views and acknowledge that public schools aren’t perfect. All too often, they admit, public schools have excluded or failed students of color, immigrants, religious minorities, students with disabilities and others…

I remember, in the late 1990s, being surprised when the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said it planned to push for vouchers. Democrats controlled the governor’s office and the Indiana House. Just a few years earlier, a well-organized voucher push led by prominent business officials fizzled out.

But, as Schneider and Berkshire document, voucher supporters have played a long game, carried forward by groups like Indianapolis-based EdChoice and the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2011, with a GOP supermajority in the legislature and Mitch Daniels in the governor’s office, Indiana approved vouchers. The program started small but grew to include over 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious, and over 36,000 students. Now there’s talk of expanding it further – or possibly of adopting education savings accounts, one of the “neo-voucher” programs that Schneider and Berkshire describe.

There is reason to hope, he writes, but also reason to be alarmed and vigilant.

Mitchell Robinson is a professor of music education at Michigan State University who writes frequently about K-12 issues.

In this post, he explains what is necessary for schools to reopen.

The solution isn’t rushing to open schools before they are safe–the solution is for Congress to pass a stimulus package large enough and bold enough to pay people to *not* go to work, and that provides bonus/hazard pay for those who *do* need to work–health care workers, public safety personnel (fire and police), grocery store workers, etc.

And that stimulus package also must provide the federal and state resources to actually *do* something about making schools safe, which to my knowledge has happened in very few places. It’s not enough for school districts to “encourage” their employees to get vaccinated–school systems should be proactively securing enough vaccine doses for all employees to get two shots, and immediately set up the infrastructure for that to happen.

Now, what are the chances of that occurring? Slim and zero.

Because you can not systematically defund public schools for decades, eliminate teaching positions, school nurses, counselors, psychologists, and other support staff from school budgets, and fail to maintain school facilities, while simultaneously increasing class sizes, cutting health care and retirement benefits for school employees, lowering standards for who becomes a teacher, increasing the number of charter schools that compete for tax dollars, and implement voucher programs and “tax credit” schemes that function exactly like vouchers, and then expect public schools to function like well-funded, adequately resourced public institutions.

Shaming teachers and blaming unions won’t work.

Schools must be safe.

Then they can reopen.

So far, no one has been willing to pay the price.

If they are serious, they will.