Archives for the month of: September, 2021

I received the following alarming notice from a friend in Illinois. Some organization wants to know whether schools in the state have any articles or books cited in “The 1619 Project.” This looks like the beginning of a McCarthyite witch hunt.

Subject: Interested in the 1619 Project? Work in IL schools and educational spaces? You’ll want to be aware of this. Public school districts are receiving this FOIA notice from a company called LocalLabs, a Chicago-based publisher (of sorts) that sells its FOIA research to news media outlets of all kinds. The librarians I work with are now scrambling with their districts’ attorneys and compliance officers to fulfill this request. I find it interesting that they’ve cherry-picked these particular titles and perhaps you do, too.

Their intent is unclear; their request, perfectly legal. It’s annoying for these personnel to have to take time away from students in order to comply but that’s our reality in schools today.

The request’s wording demonstrates a relative lack of understanding how school library holdings are cataloged, however, which is making compliance all the more time-consuming.

Here’s the form email they’ve been receiving from LocalLabs, which you can readily access through Googling.

I am writing to you on behalf of LocalLabs which is an online publication that reports on and informs the public about local government activities. If you are not the FOIA officer please forward it to the FOIA officer or reply to this email with the correct FOIA contact.

Pursuant to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, I am requesting electronic records (preferably non-PDF such as CSV, Excel) of the following:·

A list of all materials in your district that fall under the 1619 project. For reference, the 1619 project contains works with the following titles and authors:

“America Wasn’t a Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One”, essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones·

“American Capitalism Is Brutal. You Can Trace That to the Plantation”, essay by Matthew Desmond·

“How False Beliefs in Physical Racial Difference Still Live in Medicine Today”, essay by Linda Villarosa·

“What the Reactionary Politics of 2019 Owe to the Politics of Slavery”, essay by Jamelle Bouie·

“Why Is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music?”, essay by Wesley Morris·

“How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam”, essay by Kevin Kruse·

“Why Doesn’t America Have Universal Healthcare? One Word: Race”, essay by Jeneen Interlandi·

“Why American Prisons Owe Their Cruelty to Slavery”, essay by Bryan Stevenson·

“The Barbaric History of Sugar in America”, essay by Khalil Gibran Muhammad·

“How America’s Vast Racial Wealth Gap Grew: By Plunder”, essay by Trymaine Lee·

“Their Ancestors Were Enslaved by Law. Now They’re Lawyers”, photo essay by Djeneba Aduayom, with text from Nikole Hannah-Jones and Wadzanai Mhute·

“A New Literary Timeline of African-American History”, a collection of original poems and stories

o Clint Smith on the Middle Passage

o Yusef Komunyakaa on Crispus Attucks

o Eve L. Ewing on Phillis Wheatley

o Reginald Dwayne Betts on the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793

o Barry Jenkins on Gabriel’s Rebellion

o Jesmyn Ward on the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves

o Tyehimba Jess on Black Seminoles

o Darryl Pinckney on the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863

o ZZ Packer on the New Orleans massacre of 1866

o Yaa Gyasi on the Tuskegee syphilis experiment

o Jacqueline Woodson on Sgt. Isaac Woodard

o Joshua Bennett on the Black Panther Party

o Lynn Nottage on the birth of hip-hop

o Kiese Laymon on the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s “rainbow coalition” speech

o Clint Smith on the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina·

A list of all books written by authors Ibram X. Kendi (aka Henry Rogers) or Robin DiAngelo that are used in curriculum or libraries in your school district.

Peter Greene wonders if you have missed Michelle Rhee, once the Wonder Woman of the edreform biz, but recently absent from the national scene. After her meteoric rise to national prominence, when she was selected to be chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools after two years of TFA teaching, she was a colossus: on the cover of TIME as a miracle worker, featured in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” frequently interviewed on national TV. Her tenure in D.C. was controversial and stormy: she fired teachers and principals and made bold claims about test scores. When Adrian Fenty, the mayor who appointed her, was defeated, she left and started an organization called StudentsFirst, which she said would raise $1 billion and recruit one million members. she never reached either goal, but she traveled the country advocating for charters and vouchers and against teachers’ unions. She allied with Jeb Bush and other school choice advocates. as her star faded, she disappeared from public view.

Peter Greene says she is making a return public appearance at a Sacramento State University event on September27, where she is the keynote speaker. You can watch on Zoom.

The editorial board of the Charlotte Observer wrote about the state government’s failed search for “indoctrination” in the schools.

Charlotte Observer Editorial Board: North Carolina’s indoctrination-in-schools witchhunt was a big, embarrassing dud

North Carolina’s Lt. Governor Mark Robinson launched a witch hunt for teachers and schools “indoctrinating” students. But when  they released their report, the Charlotte Observer was less than impressed.

Lt. Gov Mark Robinson’s investigation of indoctrination in North Carolina schools landed with a loud thud Tuesday, despite the efforts of him and other N.C. Republicans. The probe, which Robinson has long promised would show “proof” of widespread indoctrination in classrooms, instead affirmed something more troubling — politicians trying to intimidate educators based on a false premise of classroom brainwashing.

Teachers will recognize what Robinson delivered Tuesday — a report with a lot of dressing and little meat. It’s the term paper of a student who didn’t do the work and didn’t have much to offer. It was a dud.

Robinson, of course, did his best to claim otherwise — as did Republicans who seemed to be half-heartedly rallying to his support. In an email to constituents, Senate leader Phil Berger couldn’t even bring himself to say that the report showed widespread indoctrination in N.C. schools, instead saying that parents and teachers disagree with Democrats who say “CRT-linked” doctrine doesn’t exist. (Note the goalpost moving going on – from early GOP claims of Critical Race Theory being taught in NC classrooms to now pointing out the mere existence of something resembling CRT in some places.)

Republicans and Robinson, however, would prefer that N.C. students aren’t exposed to topics that don’t conform with the GOP worldview. The Lt. Governor’s report is designed to provide political cover for a Republican bill that would regulate how teachers talk about race and history in classrooms. Such a bill would likely be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but it will set up a political fight Republicans appear to think will benefit them.

It’s a cynical sideshow that distracts from real issues our schools are confronting, and it’s one more way Republicans can say public schools are failing instead of truly addressing how to help them succeed. What’s going on is politics, not indoctrination, and it has had an unnecessarily chilling effect on teachers, making them self-conscious about what they say in class. That makes an already demanding job more stressful and less rewarding, and that’s not good for North Carolina’s schools or their students.

Read the full editorial here.

You can view the post at this link :

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post uses her awesome journalistic skills to try to figure out what Governor Ron DeSantis means when he says he intends to “end standardized testing.” I was confused by his statement, confused by his explanation, and remain uncertain about what he intends to do. Neither he nor the State Superintendent Richard Corcoran are educators. One suspects that they have political motives. (See here for full article.)

Strauss writes:

Strange things happen routinely in Florida — but nobody saw this one coming: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced this week that he is overhauling Florida’s standardized testing regimen in a way that drew praise from some chronic critics and pointed questions from Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor who pioneered the system DeSantis says he is dumping.

The announcement sparked a slew of striking headlines, some of which said that DeSantis was ending (a) standardized testing, (b) high-stakes testing or (c) the dreaded springtime assessment season that has demoralized teachers and students for years.

In fact, he isn’t ending standardized testing, he isn’t ending high-stakes testing, and testing in the spring isn’t disappearing.

There’s plenty we don’t know about the new testing system: The governor offered few details, and the Florida Education Department did not provide any when asked. But it is the first time that a state has announced it is setting up a new accountability testing paradigm, and it could spur other states to make a similar change to eliminate highly unpopular assessment programs.

Here’s what DeSantis said he is doing:

The governor announced Tuesday that he would ask the Republican-led legislature (which will do pretty much anything he wants) to end the Florida State Assessment (FSA) system, which tests students in reading and math and other subjects at the end of each school year.

Those tests — and others like them used in every state for years — are given at the end of each academic year, virtually always after significant test prep that eats up days of instructional time. Scores are not available until after the school year ends, and teachers don’t know which questions students got wrong.

The new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, DeSantis said, will give three short exams to monitor student progress in fall, winter and spring, giving teachers more time to teach as well as real-time data to target instruction — and will cost less money. He said the exams would be individualized, which would mean online adaptive tests that some Florida districts already use for progress monitoring.

“We will continue to set high standards, but we also have to recognize it is the year 2021 and the FSA is, quite frankly, outdated,” DeSantis said. “There will be 75 percent less time for testing, which will mean more time for learning.”

Many educators like progress monitoring for the reasons the governor enunciated: that it helps them measure growth in their students and adapt instruction in real time. But under the new plan, the state will decide which assessments are used, taking that choice away from districts and teachers.

Exactly which assessments will be used remains to be seen, as does the answer to these questions:

How will three short tests a year substitute for math and English and end-of-course subject exams that make up the current FSA suite of assessments?

Will there be three short tests for each subject?

Will the end-of-course exams in subjects other than math and English remain as they are now?

Another key issue: Was DeSantis saying that he was giving up the high stakes currently attached to test scores?

On the same day of the governor’s announcement, the Florida Education Department issued two lists — one of the things that are wrong with the FSA, and another of things that are good about the system to be created.

One item on the FSA-is-bad list is this: “high stakes test.” Student FSA scores are used for things that include deciding whether to allow a third-grade student move to fourth grade or a high school senior to graduate, assigning grades to schools and states on how well they are doing, giving bonuses to teachers, and determining eligibility for vouchers.

Assessment experts have long said that the exams are not intended to be used in that way, but states have used them in that way anyway.

The Education Department’s list praising the new tests doesn’t mention anything about high stakes. So is DeSantis really ending not only the FSA tests but also the high stakes attached to them? He was asked about this Tuesday when the announcement was made, and he let Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran respond.

No, Corcoran said, the high stakes linked to the current end-of-the-year tests would not go away.

They would remain unchanged.

If the stakes aren’t going away, that means the spring test will provide results used for high-stakes purposes. It is also possible that the other two exams could have stakes attached to them too. Some teachers are always concerned that teachers could be prepping kids for three standardized tests a year instead of one.

“I suspect the time needed for state tests will be about the same: three hours for each subject,” said veteran teacher Gregory Sampson. “With high stakes continuing to be attached, there could be even more test prep as districts have three tests to be ready for instead of one. Districts will probably do pre-progress monitoring tests to anticipate what their results will be.”

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, which was founded by Bush, who pioneered and has continued to champion the high-stakes standardized testing model used across the country, raised similar concerns (the irony can’t be overstated here). After praising DeSantis for moving “statewide assessments to an online and adaptive testing approach,” a foundation release asked:

• Does changing the nature of teacher-driven progress-monitoring tools create high-stakes stressors on students three times a year?

• Will educators be required to teach on a schedule set by Tallahassee to be “on track” for three statewide progress monitoring tests?

• Will the spring progress monitoring test simply be a replacement for the end-of-year test and result in teachers having less time to cover the full year of content?

Cindy Hamilton, co-founder of the Opt Out Florida Network, who has long criticized the state’s testing scheme, put it this way: “The Florida Department of Education has made it clear that these stakes are not going away. School grades, teacher evaluations, placement decisions, third-grade retention, those things are all still going to happen. With these stakes attached, the test becomes less about the student and more about the punitive consequences.”

Some Florida assessment reform activists also say they are concerned that DeSantis may be gearing up for a fight with the federal government.
The U.S. Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor K-12 education law to No Child Left Behind, requires that schools test students in reading and math once a year in grades three through eight, as well as once in high school — and in science three times, once each in grade school, middle school and high school.

The DeSantis plan has this timeline: The last FSA exams will be administered in spring 2022, and the following year will be a “pause” in accountability while “a new baseline for accountability” will be set. In the 2023-24 school year, a “unified” progress monitoring system will be established, new cut scores will be set and there will be a “return to accountability.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Education Department said that DeSantis had not told the federal agency of Florida’s plans. States have leeway in creating their own accountability systems, the spokesperson said, but they must meet federal requirements.
Bob Schaeffer, executive director of the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said there is concern that DeSantis may be getting ready to “bash Washington for inhibiting [states’ rights] by goading the U.S. Department of Education into rejecting a scheme that fails to comply with federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

After DeSantis made his announcement, he received praise from at least one critic: Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers union.

“It’s not everything we want, but it’s a huge step, and I hope it opens the door to more conversation about how to more effectively assess students,” Spar said, adding that the union wants to negotiate with the governor and legislature about the new system.

Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who has bucked the governor by imposing a mask mandate in the district’s schools, also praised the governor’s move. He tweeted: “Fewer, better state assessments with greater reliance on ongoing, real-time progress monitoring data enable timely academic recalibration opportunities that are right for Florida’s kids.”

While many in the education world lamented the quality of the end-of-year exams students have been taking, there is no guarantee that the new ones will be better.

The use of online adaptive exams means that the tests can be individualized as each student goes through the questions. If a student gets a question wrong, an easier question may appear next — which would be different from one given to a student who got the first one correct.

There have been studies showing that computer adaptive testing (CAT) can cut testing time by 50 percent or more without any loss in measurement precision. But there are important issues that could be of concern to educators.

For one thing, students usually can’t return to a previous question to answer it.

For another, questions on linear standardized tests are reviewed by subject matter experts, but that is difficult if not impossible to do with computer adaptive tests because there are many more questions and combinations of questions that are utilized, experts say. One report on CAT said that if “a CAT selects items solely based on the test-takers’ ability, content balance and coverage may be easily distorted for some test-takers.” Also, questions will be used repeatedly and therefore can be shared, raising test security concerns.

In a separate concern, student privacy advocates also worry that these online tests gather an enormous amount of student data that can be sold to third parties.

DeSantis’s announcement reflects what has been in recent years growing disenchantment with standardized testing, which in the past two decades reached a point where kids were going to testing pep rallies and spending hundreds of hours preparing for exams. Curriculums narrowed because only math and reading were tested, and schemes to use the test scores for various accountability purposes got out of hand.

The 2020 testing season was canceled by the Trump administration when schools were shut at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Biden administration required states to give the tests this year — despite criticism that the scores would reflect what everybody already knew: Students lost ground because of the pandemic.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said earlier this year that he would be open to talking to states about changes in their testing system — but it remains to be seen if DeSantis’s plan will pass federal muster….

Valerie Strauss is an education writer who authors The Answer Sheet blog. She came to The Washington Post as an assistant foreign editor for Asia in 1987 and weekend foreign desk editor after working for Reuters as national security editor and a military/foreign affairs reporter on Capitol Hill. She also previously worked at UPI and the LA Times.

A regular reader called Bethree summarized the Rhode Island situation, in which friends of the Governor won a $5 (plus) million contract, although the corporation was formed only weeks before the contract was awarded and was the high bidder.

She wrote:

Read the coverage 9/7,8,14 for the nitty-gritty (google McKee ILO). As a one-time procurement supervisor for an engrg co, I found it highly entertaining.

Summary: ILO was incorporated 2 days after McKee’s March 2 election, and invited by his office to submit a bid for the work March 23. 5 bids received in April: 3 bidders knocked out during tech evaluation.

The two remaining bids– $8million vs just under $1million, made it obvious that the scope of work was, shall we say, imprecise. Results of rebid (? Or perhaps just an arm-wrestling session—unclear): ILO $6million, other guy $3million. ILO was apparently given the nod due to its long work history of absolutely bupkis, sadly other guy’s 20-yr history as a state ed consultant just… didn’t measure up. But, no worries– West Ed gets to share the spoils: $5million for ILO [scope K12], $1million for WestEd [scope colleges, U’s]. “’The Review Team believes that no additional time should be wasted on this procurement or a rebid,’ the four-member panel’s final report said.”

“We’ve supported people who get the work done…” McKee said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. “So it didn’t matter who referred or who may have had a relationship. I just want good people who can figure out how to help the state of Rhode Island and education, and that’s what we got.”  

“Magee [CFC boss & close McKee buddy/ donor via his brother’s 50CAN PAC] said Chiefs for Change isn’t working with ILO on the contract.” ROFL. Let’s just pretend we didn’t notice ILO was incorporated virtually yesterday, and its partners left Chiefs for Change to form ILO.

The state’s bid package put ILO in the catbird seat from the get-go. Although RI is paying for this work out of Covid-19 aid fed funding, the scope asked for expansion of “municipal education offices” outside the purview of traditional LEA’s. That’s a scheme realized in Cumberland by then-Mayor McKee and buddy Magee of CFS. McKee has 5 more such offices planned, to be run out of his office, for the [state-run] Providence school system. A full half of ILO’s proposed workhrs are devoted to that thinly veiled ed privatization; stated goal “to address lost learning and catch up and long-term learning programs.”

That leaves $2.5million for safe school reopening during covid. How is ILO doing 2 wks after students returned to bldgs? “…RI Assoc of School Committees exec dir Tim Duffy… surveyed all school supts and school chairs… ‘So far, there’s only one district that’s asked the ILO Group to review their school reopening plans, and that was Little Compton. The rest… haven’t been contacted and are not even aware of the services the consulting firm offers… reopening efforts this year have been guided by the U.S. CDC, the RI Dept of Health and RI Dept of Education.” He also noted the timing of the ILO news: ‘School reopening has already happened.’ Duffy’s comments contrasted with ILO’s Tuesday, when partner Cerena Parker cited helping schools reopen as one of the consulting firm’s biggest accomplishments so far.”

Renee Sekel is a parent and public school advocate in North Carolina. She sends her children to public schools. She remembers when she naively believed that the state’s legislators supported public schools. Then the budget cuts started coming. Then charters. Then vouchers. Now, she says, public schools are in a race against time.

She wrote:

Four years ago, both Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina at least made a show of claiming to support public education, even as the legislature slashed budgets and passed one policy after another aimed at undermining public schools. What worries me today is how that rhetoric has shifted. Our Republican leaders now openly acknowledge that they are hostile to public education and would prefer to replace public schools with a voucher system. I know that the vast majority of North Carolinians from all across the political spectrum support public schools, but increasingly it feels like we’re in a race against time, trying to get citizens to understand that our schools are under attack. If it becomes orthodoxy in the GOP that public schools are anathema, and a critical mass is convinced that the schools their children attended−that they attended−should be destroyed, there is no going back.

The authorizer of the Hmong College Prep Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, wants to fire the superintendent of the school after learning of big losses in the school’s funds.

A St. Paul charter school’s authorizer has placed the school on probation and recommended the board fire its superintendent after she lost $4.3 million of the school’s money investing in a hedge fund.

The authorizer, Bethel University, said Hmong College Prep Academy’s failed investment “illustrates areas of great concern related to managing finance, governance and legal compliance.”

Christianna Hang, superintendent and chief financial officer, founded the school in 2004. It’s now the state’s largest single-site charter school, with around 2,400 students in the Como neighborhood, and is building a $43 million middle school with financing facilitated by the city of St. Paul.

Hang was looking for opportunities to pay for that project when she ended up wiring $5 million to a hedge fund in 2019, in violation of the school’s policy and state law. The school is now suing the hedge fund.

Bethel’s Aug. 30 letter also cited “significant concerns” about conflicts of interest regarding the superintendent, her husband and a former school board member.

The first conflict involved Bridge Partner Group, a company owned by Hang and her husband, Paul Yang. The board in January approved a contract with the company, effectively converting Yang from the school’s chief operating officer to an independent contractor on a fully guaranteed, five-year contract worth around $190,000 a year; the board later reversed that move.

The second conflict involves Northeast Bank, which was chosen to finance $7 million of the middle school project while one of its vice presidents, Jason Helgemoe, served as vice chair on the Hmong College Prep board.

Bethel has directed the board to spend 90 days making numerous changes at the school, including dividing superintendent and chief financial officer into two separate positions and hiring a financial consultant who reports directly to the authorizer.

In addition, Bethel is “recommending” the board fire Hang and replace her with someone with no prior ties to Hmong College Prep and for the board to appoint a chairperson who is not employed by the school; the current chair is a teacher.

If you are wondering why there is a Hmong charter school, Minnesota has a long-established practice of authorizing racially and ethnically segregated schools. Defenders of the practice say the children are more comfortable going to school with children of the same background.

I remember when Southerners said the same about segregated schools in the 1950s.

When was the last time your school had millions to invest in the market?

Lisa Haver, parent activist in Philadelphia, was thrilled when the state relinquished control of the school board in 2018. Now Philadelphia has mayoral control of its schools. Haver soon discovered that the appointed school board is not interested in parent engagement and shuts parent voices down.

She wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Just weeks into the new school year, Philadelphia school communities find themselves already dealing with chaos. Parents, students, and school staff, many navigating toxic flood waters after a devastating storm, were not notified of the district’s decision to open schools late until two hours after the first bell.

Students at several district schools had to avoid mountains of trash left in schoolyardson their first day back.

The district has revised bell schedules and school calendars with a stunning disregard for the needs of parents.

In June, when the Inquirer Editorial Board asked City Councilmembers what their priorities would be for their 2021-22 session, education was barely mentioned — not even by the Chair of Council’s Education Committee.

Another recent editorial lamented the erosion of trust between Councilmembers’ constituents and city institutions including those between the school community and the Board of Education that “have been exacerbated during the pandemic which Council could ameliorate by finding ways to navigate and, hopefully, reduce.”

But that doesn’t seem to be a concern for councilmembers. Some have joined protests at schools where teachers refused to enter toxic buildings. But other than one letter signed by a handful of councilmembers sent last February, Council has been largely silent on the silencing of their constituents by the board.

Haver points out that neither Superintendent William Hite nor his staff was held accountable for the fiasco at Benjamin Franklin High School, when two schools merged. Construction costs soared from $10 million to over $50 million. Students and staff were forced to endure an unsafe learning environment while construction proceeded. Accountability for multiple failures? None.

Nor did anyone on the board respond when the district’s principals endorsed a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Hite for his lack of leadership during the pandemic.

Mayoral control enables the silencing of parent voices.

I posted Aaron Regunberg’s article in The Providence Journal, in which Governor Dan McKee awarded a $5.1 million contract to a brand-new firm created by friends from Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. The contract was supposedly to help schools reopen.

He wrote:

Take the recent story of a $5-million “school reopening” contract given to Governor McKee’s longtime financial backers at the corporate education reform group Chiefs for Change (CFC). The head of CFC, Mike Magee, has directly contributed thousands of dollars to the governor, and his brother leads the Super PAC that spent hundreds of thousands supporting McKee during my primary challenge to him in 2018. As has been reported extensively by WPRI, just two days after Mr. McKee took office, the chief operating officer and director of operations of CFC incorporated a brand-new company, ILO Group, which almost immediately received a state contract to the tune of $5.2 million — an amount many millions of dollars more than the next-highest bid.

But it’s worse than that. WPRI in Providence reported that the head of the new firm that won the contract was still employed by McKee’s friends when the contract was awarded.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The head of a newly founded consulting firm was still working for one of Gov. Dan McKee’s close confidantes at the same time that her company was finalizing a controversial state contract worth up to $5.2 million, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

Separately, Target 12 has also learned that a key initiative the consulting firm is spearheading — the creation of alternative municipal education offices across Rhode Island — is slated to receive funding from under the terms of the company’s new agreement for a project in Johnston.

The consulting firm, ILO Group, has been making headlines ever since Target 12 first reported that the state awarded a lucrative contract to ILO soon after it was incorporated, despite a messy bidding process which state officials deemed unsuccessful.

The contract “had all the hallmarks of some of the deals that we’ve had in the past that come from the ‘I know a guy’ culture in Rhode Island,” said state Rep. Jason Knight, a Barrington Democrat and member of the House Oversight Committee, which is considering hearings on the contract.

ILO’s majority owner and managing partner is Julia Rafal-Baer, who was previously chief operating officer at the national education nonprofit Chiefs for Change. Chiefs for Change’s CEO is Mike Magee, a longtime adviser to McKee on education issues who worked for the governor when McKee was Cumberland mayor. Magee also served on McKee’s transition team last winter.

ILO filed incorporation papers with the Rhode Island secretary of state’s office on March 4, two days after McKee was sworn into office. But Target 12 discovered Rafal-Baer did not leave her old job when she co-founded the new firm and began bidding on the seven-figure state contract.

R.I. Board of Elections filings show Rafal-Baer continued to list Chiefs for Change as her employer, rather than ILO, when she made campaign donations during the spring. A spokesperson for ILO, Frank McMahon, confirmed Rafal-Baer kept her job at Chiefs for Change until June 28 — after ILO had won the state contract and just a few days before it took effect.

The most recent available IRS filings for Chiefs for Change show the nonprofit paid Magee $308,211 and Rafal-Baer $247,881 in 2019, making them the organization’s two highest-paid employees.

No decision yet on oversight hearings

As the bidding process began in March, Rafal-Baer had access at the highest levels.

The day after ILO’s incorporation papers were filed — March 5 — she and Magee were slated to participate in a half-hour Zoom meeting with the governor and the state purchasing agent, Nancy McIntyre, according to McKee’s schedule for that day. Also invited to the meeting were McKee’s then-chief of staff, Tony Silva, and the director of the R.I. Department of Administration, Jim Thorsen.

“The meeting was to discuss the state’s options for engaging additional support to assist with school safety related to COVID, including testing and other strategies for safe in-person learning,” said McKee spokesperson Andrea Palagi. She added that Rafal-Baer “was sent an invite for this meeting but did not attend.” The meeting was first reported by The Providence Journal.

Later in March the governor’s office solicited bids for a new education consultant to help with reopening schools and long-term policy planning.

ILO put in an initial bid of $8.8 million to do the work, while a rival firm with a two-decade track record in Rhode Island — WestEd — said it would cost only $936,000.

With the numbers so far apart, state officials reworked their request and asked for revised bids. On May 7, ILO lowered its bid to $6.5 million — but that was still far higher than WestEd’s revised bid of $3.5 million.

By late May, a four-member state review panel that included North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi abandoned the competitive procurement process and proposed splitting the work between the two firms. ILO got a contract for up to $5.2 million to help K-12 schools, while WestEd got $926,000 to help colleges.

The governor has emphasized that ILO is billing the state hourly for its services — at a rate of $223 an hour — and he expects the final price tag for the contract to come in “far below” the $5.2 million maximum.

Spokespersons for both organizations as well as the governor’s office have distanced Chiefs for Change and Magee from the bidding process that led to ILO’s selection. In a letter to legislators last week, McKee said Magee “has no past or current financial interest or management role in ILO,” and ILO’s spokesperson said Magee “did not participate in the preparation or submission of this proposal.”

In his letter to lawmakers, McKee said ILO “currently works with large-scale and small-scale school districts throughout the country.” When Target 12 asked for a list of the other states where ILO is working, however, a spokesperson for the company said: “It is ILO’s policy not to share the names of its clients.”

By the way, McKee’s friend Mike Magee is the brother of Marc Porter Magee, CEO of 50CAN, an organization whose sole purpose is to promote charter schools. New York BATS were none too happy with Rafal-Baer when she worked as Assistant Commissioner of Education in that state and was known as the state’s ”teacher evaluation czar.”. One of them wrote:

In reality, Dr. Rafal-Baer’s policies in NY were met with deep resistance, found “arbitrary and capricious” in state Supreme Court and suspended after costing taxpayers untold millions. Achievement gaps and school segregation widened, and teacher workforce morale has tanked, with untested, top-down initiatives the biggest reported driver of workplace stress by far.

In response to the criticism of the grant to the newly-minted ILO, Governor McKee wrote a letter to legislative leaders defending his decision to award the contract.

“While ILO is newly organized as a Rhode Island-based business, its team members have worked together for years and have an extensive background working in Rhode Island and throughout the country on education consulting projects,” McKee wrote. He noted that ILO’s managing partner – Julia Rafal-Baer, who owns a majority stake in the firm – is a Cranston resident…

But McKee didn’t mention that ILO’s proposed hourly rate for the work still totaled $228 an hour, compared to $123 for WestEd — meaning the bids were still nearly $3 million apart. Those numbers are too small and blurry to read in the supporting documents sent by the governor’s office. (Target 12 has separate copies of the original.)

In another section of the report, McKee also downplayed the overall price tag of the ILO contract, saying he doubted the firm would end up billing taxpayers for that much money in the end.

“To avoid unnecessary spending, the contract is to be billed hourly up to the amount of $5.1 million instead of a fixer retainer fee,” McKee wrote. “Based on ILO’s billable hours for work performed since the beginning of July 2021 when the contract began, we expect to remain far below this cap.”

Why teach for peanuts when you can be paid $228 an hour as a consultant? If you know the right people.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot selected Pedro Martinez, Superintendent of the San Antonio School District, as the Windy City’s public schools.

Martinez is a “reformer.” In San Antonio, he was known for his obsession with data and commitment to opening charter schools. He is a graduate of the tattered Broad Superintendents Academy. He is chairman of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. Chiefs for Change brings together superintendents who share the test-and-punish ideas of the failed corporate reform movement (closing low-scoring schools, opening charter schools, relying on high-stakes testing, evaluating teachers by test scores, collecting data about everything, distrust of unions, etc.).

Martinez is a graduate of the Chicago Public Schools. He holds an M.B.A. from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And, of course, he is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. He worked for Arne Duncan as Chief Financial Officer when Arne was Superintendent in Chicago. He was “Superintendent-in-Residence” for the Nevada Department of Education. Prior to that, he was superintendent for the 64,000-student Washoe County School District, covering the Reno, Nevada area.

Like Arne, Martinez was never a teacher or principal.