Search results for: "randi"

EduShyster interviews two scholars (that is, grown-ups with doctorates at universities, not children in no-excuses charter schools) about their new study of the marketing and branding of schools. In the brand new world of school choice, schools have to find ways to attract both students and teachers.

Sarah Butler Jessen and Catherine DiMartino wrote a study called “Privatization, Choice, and Online Marketing” for the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Jessen and DiMartino explain to EduShyster that aggressive charter schools flood their target zones with mailings in order to produce more applicants than there are openings. This helps to brand them as “popular.”

This just in:

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the California Supreme Court’s decision to reject the plaintiffs’ petition for review in Vergara v. California.

“I am relieved by the court’s decision declining an appeal of the unanimous California Court of Appeal ruling upholding California educators’ due process rights. The billionaire-funded attack, from its inception, tried to pit our children against their teachers—people who make a difference in our children’s lives every day—rather than understand and solve the real problems ailing public education. Now that this chapter is closed, we must embrace our shared responsibility to help disadvantaged kids by supporting them so they can reach their full potential. While that starts with teachers, it also means providing programs and services that engage students and address their well-being.

“I hope this decision closes the book on the flawed and divisive argument that links educators’ workplace protections with student disadvantage. Instead, as the expert evidence clearly showed—and the Court of Appeal carefully reasoned—it was the discretionary decisions of some administrators, rather than the statutes themselves, that contributed to the problems cited by the plaintiffs.

“It is now well past time that we move beyond damaging lawsuits like Vergara that demonize educators and begin to work with teachers to address the real issues caused by the massive underinvestment in public education in this country. The state of California, like many others, remains in the throes of a serious teacher shortage. We need to hire, support and retain the best teachers, not pit parents against educators in a pointless blame game that does nothing to help disadvantaged students pursue their dreams.”

– See more at: http://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-calif-supreme-courts-decision-decline-hear-vergara#sthash.ZruIIJjh.dpuf

In an interview published in The Hechinger Report, Randi Weingarten expresses her belief that Hillary Clinton will change course from the Obama education policies. She expects that a President Clinton would select a new Secretary of Education, one who shares her expressed belief in strengthening public schools and supporting teachers.

Emmanuel Felton, who conducted the interview, writes:

While teachers unions have long been a key pillar in Democratic Party, they’ve been on the outs with President Barack Obama’s education department. The administration doubled down on Republican President George W. Bush’s educational agenda of holding schools accountable for students’ test scores. Under the administration’s $3 billion School Improvement Grant program, for example, struggling schools had options to implement new accountability systems for teachers, remove staff, be closed or converted into charter schools, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

These policies devastated some local teachers unions, including Philadelphia’s, which lost 10,000 members during the Obama and Bush administrations. Weingarten expects Clinton to totally upend this agenda, and hopes she won’t reappoint Education Secretary John King, who was just confirmed by the senate in March.

From the day he was elected, President Obama decided to maintain the punitive policies of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and made standardized testing even more consequential. He and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pressed for higher standards, tougher accountability, and more choices, especially charter schools. They used Race to the Top to promote the evaluation of teachers by their students’ test scores, a policy that cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Let’s all hope that Hillary Clinton, if elected, will recognize the damage done by the Bush-Obama education agenda and push the “reset” button for a federal policy that helps children, educators, and public schools.

A few years ago, when I visited Michigan, I spoke with about 80 district superintendents. The most common complaint from them was the money they had to spend every year advertising themselves in a fierce competition with other districts. The money follows the child, so larger enrollments meant bigger budgets. Each district, they said, typically puts about $100,000 into campaign to poach students away from neighboring districts.

They thought this was a huge waste of resources, since they also had to hire people to design their marketing materials.

This study reviews the practices of branding and marketing schools in a competitive environment.

The charter chain that does it best is Success Academies, which targets its audience, sends out mailers, and blankets the neighborhood with notices to parents. Its goal is to have more applicants than places, so it can advertise that it has a long waiting list.

When Success Academy opened its first school in Harlem, it had a marketing budget of $325,000. The public school with which it competed had $500 to print flyers and brochures.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Randi Weingarten is taking union pension funds away from hedge funds that attack teachers’ pensions. Leading hedge funds have contributed to organizations that want to eliminate defined-benefit pensions and substitute 401k plans for them. The hedge fund billionaires have also taken the lead in funding nonunion charter schools.

Randi has pushed the investment committees of unions to withdraw their pension funds away from hedge funds that are subsidizing attacks on teachers’ pensions.

Defenders of the hedge funds say that the unions should seek the best return on their funds, without regard to the politics of the hedge fund.

Randi has the better side of this dispute. Why should teachers invest their pension funds in a company that wants to take away their pensions?


Daniel Loeb, Paul Singer and dozens of other hedge-fund managers have poured millions of dollars into promoting charter schools in New York City and into groups that want to revamp pension plans for government workers, including teachers.

The leader of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, sees some of the proposals, in particular the pension issue, as an attack on teachers. She also has influence over more than $1 trillion in public-teacher pension plans, many of which traditionally invest in hedge funds.

It is a recipe for a battle for the ages.

Ms. Weingarten started by targeting hedge-fund managers she deemed a threat to teachers and urged unions to yank money from their funds. Then she moved to Wall Street as a whole.

Her union federation is funding a lobbying campaign to eliminate the “carried-interest” tax rate on investment income earned by many money managers. It is trying to defeat legislation that would increase the charitable deduction in New York state for donations to private schools. And it has filed a class-action lawsuit accusing 25 Wall Street firms of violating antitrust law and manipulating Treasury bond prices.

‘Given your strong support…for an organization which is leading the attack on defined benefit (DB) pension funds around the country, I was surprised to learn of your interest in working with public pension plan investors.’
—Randi Weingarten, in March 15, 2013, letter to hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb

Some pension funds have withdrawn money from hedge-fund managers criticized by the teachers union. And some hedge-fund managers stopped making donations to advocacy groups targeted by Ms. Weingarten.

Hedge funds, reluctant to buckle to the pressure, say Ms. Weingarten is doing a disservice to the teachers she represents, because funds should aim solely to earn the highest possible return on their assets. The personal beliefs or donations of hedge-fund managers, they argue, shouldn’t be a factor in that decision. At least one manager, Mr. Loeb of Third Point LLC, has increased his donations to a charter-school group, citing Ms. Weingarten.

Sander Read, chief executive officer of Lyons Wealth Management, which hasn’t been targeted, likened what Ms. Weingarten is doing to “hiring a dentist because of their political beliefs. You may see eye to eye on politics, but you may not have great, straight teeth.” None of the hedge funds targeted by the teachers unions would discuss the matter publicly, a sign of how sensitive the battle has become.

Ms. Weingarten said in an interview: “Why would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?”

The battles are rooted in a political fight over how to improve public education. Republicans have long sought major changes, such as creating new competition for public schools, including charter schools. Democrats largely have supported solutions backed by the unions, particularly increased spending for existing schools.

About a decade ago, some liberals joined conservatives in pushing to expand charter schools. Those efforts received financial support from hedge-fund managers including Mr. Loeb, Mr. Singer of Elliott Management Corp. and Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investment Corp., who together kicked in millions of dollars.

Some of those involved in the effort cast public-school teachers and their unions as obstacles to improving education. The reputation of the teachers union took a beating.

When Ms. Weingarten was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers in 2008, she aimed to restore public trust in public-school teachers and their unions.

As she rose in the union, she got close to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Last summer, the federation became the first union group to endorse Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign. Ms. Weingarten sits on the board of the super PAC supporting her candidacy, and the American Federation of Teachers has donated $1.6 million to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Ms. Weingarten’s federation represents about two dozen teachers unions whose retirement funds have a total of $630 billion in assets, a big chunk of the more than $1 trillion controlled by all teachers unions. The federation doesn’t control where that money is invested; the unions themselves do. But Ms. Weingarten can make recommendations.

She instructed investment advisers at the federation’s Washington headquarters to sift through financial reports and examine the personal charitable donations of hedge-fund managers. She says she focuses on groups that want to end defined-benefit pensions. Many of the same entities also back charter schools and overhauling public schools.

In early 2013, the union federation published a list of roughly three-dozen Wall Street asset managers it says donated to organizations that support causes opposed by the union. It wanted union pension funds to use the list to decide where to invest their money.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a think tank that supports increasing school choice and replacing defined-benefit pension plans with 401(k)-type plans for future government employees, is one of the groups to which donations were viewed unfavorably.

Lawrence Mone, its president, says the tactics amount to intimidation. “I don’t think that it’s beneficial to the functioning of a democratic society,” he says.

After KKR & Co. President Henry Kravitz made the list in 2013, Ms. Weingarten got a call from Ken Mehlman, an executive at the private-equity firm and former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Mehlman said KKR had a record of supporting public pension plans, according to Ms. Weingarten.

Ms. Weingarten agreed, removed Mr. Kravitz’s name from the list and invited Mr. Mehlman to talk about the firm’s commitment to public pensions at a meeting in Washington with 30 pension-fund trustees representing 20 plans that control $630 billion in teachers’ retirement money.

When Cliff Asness of hedge fund AQR Capital Management LLC found out Mr. Kravitz had gotten off the list, he called Mr. Mehlman, a friend. Mr. Asness also hired a friend of Ms. Weingarten’s: Donna Brazile, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who has been a paid consultant to the American Federation of Teachers.

Ms. Brazile arranged a lunch meeting between Mr. Asness and Ms. Weingarten, where they discussed ways to work together. Not long after, Mr. Asness’s firm paid $25,000 to be a founding member of a group that KKR’s Mr. Mehlman was starting with Ms. Weingarten to promote retirement security.

Mr. Asness was removed from the list. A year later, when Ms. Weingarten noticed he continued to serve on the Manhattan Institute board, she considered putting him back on.

In September of last year, when the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, considered increasing its hedge-fund investments, Ms. Weingarten saw another chance to apply pressure.

Dan Pedrotty, an aide to Ms. Weingarten who runs the hedge-fund effort, spoke to a Calstrs official about Mr. Asness’s continued service on the Manhattan Institute’s board. The Calstrs official then called Mr. Asness.

In December, Mr. Asness said he would step down from the Manhattan Institute board. His spokesman says he already had made the decision at the time of the call, after reassessing time spent on the boards of several nonprofit groups.

“Randi is committed to helping hard working employees achieve the secure retirement they deserve,” Mr. Asness said in a written statement.

Mr. Loeb, founder of the $16-billion Third Point fund, has been more combative. He is a donor to the Manhattan Institute and chairman of the Success Academy, which operates a network of charter schools in New York City.

‘I can appreciate that it may be frustrating for the certain plan sponsors to invest with managers who have different political views or party affiliations, an issue they must come to terms with due to their fiduciary responsibilities.’
—Daniel Loeb, in March 22, 2013, email to union leader Randi Weingarten

In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Loeb, Ms. Weingarten noted his support of a group “leading the attack on defined benefit pension funds” and said she was “surprised to learn of your interest in working with public pension plan investors.” Seeking business from union pension funds while donating to the group, she wrote, “seem to us perhaps inconsistent.”

The two agreed to meet.

Mr. Loeb emailed Ms. Weingarten, noting his fund’s average annual return of 21% over 18 years. “I completely respect the political considerations you may have and understand if other factors dictate how funds are allocated,” he wrote.

A week later, Ms. Weingarten wrote back to reiterate that unions were wary of investing with Mr. Loeb “given the political attack on defined benefit funds.”

In response, Mr. Loeb asserted that it must be “frustrating” for unions to invest with funds that “have different political views or party affiliations.” He added: “At least we can rejoice in knowing that as Americans we share fundamental values that elevate individual opportunity, accountability, freedom, fairness and prosperity.”

The meeting was called off, and Mr. Loeb was added to the list.

At a fundraising dinner that May for his charter-school group, Mr. Loeb stood up and said: “Some of you in this room have come under attack for supporting charter-school education reform and freedom in general.” He called Ms. Weingarten the “leader of the attack” and pledged an additional $1 million in her name.

“Both Randi and I believe America’s children deserve a 21st century education, and I hope the day comes when she embraces the positive change created by public charter schools,” Mr. Loeb said recently in a written statement.

In late 2013, state union officials pressed a Rhode Island pension fund to fire Third Point. The following January, the pension fund did just that, pulling about $75 million from Mr. Loeb’s fund. A spokeswoman for the state treasurer said at the time that Mr. Loeb’s fund was too risky.

Roger Boudreau, a member of the teachers union and an elected adviser of the Rhode Island fund at the time, says the donations played a role. “It’s fair to say that those kinds of donations are going to be looked at very critically,” he says.

Around that time, a giant billboard appeared above Times Square. “Randi Weingarten’s Union Protects Bad Teachers,” it read above a picture of her scowling face.

Ms. Weingarten immediately assumed the hedge-funders were behind the attack. The entity listed as the billboard’s sponsor is the Center for Union Facts, a Washington-based advocacy group. The group declines to disclose who paid for the billboard.

“We all guessed it had to be people like Dan Loeb,” Ms. Weingarten says. Mr. Loeb declined to comment.

The billboard kicked off a campaign against Ms. Weingarten by the Center for Union Facts, including radio and newspaper advertisements. “She’s the head of the snake, so it was appropriate to go after her personally,” says the group’s president, Richard Berman.

The ads directed people to a website that said she oversaw a “crusade to stymie school reforms and protect the jobs of incompetent teachers.” It listed her salary and called her a “member of the elite.”

In September 2014, Mr. Berman sent a 10-page letter to lawmakers, union officials and opinion leaders charging that Ms. Weingarten‘s “ineptitude is a threat against America, against hard-working teachers, and especially against our nation’s children.”

Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, responded in a letter to union leaders that Mr. Berman represented a “front group whose mission is to vilify and destroy unions.”

The Center for Union Facts, led by Richard Berman, is a rightwing, virulently anti-union public relations firm that specializes in demonizing unions; it has also defended the tobacco industry against critics.

Sheri Lederman’s victory over New York’s “arbitrary and capricious” evaluation system was national news. Contrary to speculation in the media, teachers’ unions did not do the research for the Ledermans. He was referred to experts by me and Carol Burris, and the expert witnesses referred him to others who had conducted research.

 

 

The following letter went to all members of AFT:

 

 

Randi Weingarten wrote:

 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the State of New York sided with educators in the fight against VAM (value-added modeling), calling an algorithm-based teacher evaluation “arbitrary and capricious.”

 

Long Island fourth-grade teacher and union member Sheri Lederman bravely took on the state’s VAM-based evaluations with a straightforward argument: Using a black-box formula to evaluate and punish teachers is, simply put, wrong.

 

The court agreed. We urge every teacher in the country to read an excellent article about what this case means for our profession.

 

In Sheri’s case, the judge based his decision upon, among other things, (1) “convincing and detailed evidence of bias against teachers at both ends of the spectrum,” (2) lack of any explanation for statistically significant swings in Sheri’s evaluations when her student scores were similar year after year, and (3) that grading teachers on a predetermined “curve” that required an arbitrary number of teachers to fail and limited the number of highly effective teachers had no rational justification. Therefore, the judge threw out Sheri’s faulty evaluation.

 

Sheri and her lawyer husband brought in some of the top experts in the country to dismantle this flawed system. The Ledermans corresponded with one of the leading proponents of VAM and obtained a concession that VAM scores “may be too high one year, too low in another.” In a remarkable email exchange, which was submitted to the court, this renowned VAM proponent acknowledged that test scores are themselves imperfect measures of student achievement and as a result “any given VAM observation may be higher or lower than a teacher’s true performance.”

 

Teachers and our unions have been saying it for years: VAM is unreliable, unstable and unfair. In state after state, that’s proven true.

 

And, like Sheri did in New York, the AFT is working to discredit VAM across the country.

 

When the unions brought a case in New Mexico, a judge ordered a preliminary injunction based on our evidence, preventing the state from using its VAM-based evaluations for high-stakes purposes until it can prove that the system is fair.

 

In Houston, another case brought by a group of courageous teachers with the AFT’s support will be heard this summer.

 

Here’s the simple truth that VAM proponents and the test-and-punish crowd just can’t seem to get: Classroom learning can’t be boiled down to a number.

 

Learning is highly qualitative, and full of things that can’t be measured with a test score or an algorithm. Reducing student achievement and the contribution educators make to a formula grossly misunderstands the learning process.

 

The ruling in Sheri’s case can now be cited in litigation all over the country. The tide is turning. In New York, the evaluation system is already being rebuilt from the ground up, and politicians who originally pushed VAM testing are walking it back. In other states, the Every Student Succeeds Act is creating the leeway for educators, parents and legislators to work together to create evaluation systems designed to support education, not to punish educators.

 

And in places where the test-and-punish crowd is still pushing wrong-headed evaluation systems, your union is fighting in the courts, in the statehouses and in the court of public opinion to make sure educators are treated with respect and students are given a fair chance.

 

The AFT is deeply committed to fighting back against unfair, punitive measures that hurt teachers and students and fighting for resources that our educators need. The AFT thanks Sheri for her efforts, which will benefit teachers throughout the country. Sheri is proud to be a member of the union, which is fighting this battle. VAM—used for individual teacher evaluations—is a sham. We will continue to fight until it’s discredited everywhere.

 

In unity,

 
Randi Weingarten
and
Sheri Lederman

 

 

Last night I posted a story about new allegations of sexual molestation of minors by Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, husband of Michelle Rhee, and former basketball superstar.

 

This story by an investigative reporter for an alternative weekly in Sacramento may be even more shocking, because the sexual allegations are not new. Why does this appear in a small alternative newspaper? The Sacramento Bee has been a reliable cheerleader for Mayor Johnson.

 

Cosmo Garvin of The Baffler describes in elaborate detail the way Johnson governed, with patronage, cronyism, a private email system that kept most governmental decisions secluded from public scrutiny, and money–lots of money–for those on the Johnson team.

 

Garvin writes:

 

He and his wife, Michelle Rhee—once the brightest star in the corporate-backed “education reform” movement—showed up at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. An adviser told Johnson’s hometown newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, that the couple was a “modern-day version of Bill and Hillary Clinton.” There was talk about a run for California governor or U.S. Senate.

 

 
At his peak, KJ was a figure to behold, an urban policy entrepreneur and brander-in-chief selling #Sacramento 3.0, a “world-class” city where kids would take Uber vehicles instead of buses to their charter schools, “never check out a library book,” and have “more smart devices than toothbrushes.”

 

 
In July 2014, Johnson rented the Sacramento Convention Center and threw himself a big party—a twenty-fifth-anniversary fundraising gala for St. Hope Academy. He raised $1.2 million at the event, largely from real estate developers and others with business before City Hall.

 

 
St. Hope is Mayor KJ’s charter school and development company. More than that, it’s his brand—the foundation of his own career in educational reform and politics. The keynote speaker at St. Hope’s silver jubilee was the NBA’s biggest-ever star, Michael Jordan, whom Johnson interviewed on stage, fittingly enough, about “developing your brand….”

 

By the fall of 2015, Johnson’s political career was effectively over. He was under scrutiny, again, for allegedly molesting a sixteen-year-old girl two decades before. And he was facing a new allegation of sexual misconduct; a city employee had filed a sexual harassment complaint. The City of Sacramento’s legal advisers warned Johnson not to hug or touch anyone at city events. So Johnson, deciding two terms in office were enough, announced that he will not seek reelection this November. His exit will coincide with the opening of the new arena, easily his most significant mayoral achievement.

 

 
Meanwhile, debt service on the bond-financed arena will reach about $18 million a year, draining money from the city treasury. Sacramento’s city finance department is warning that the city’s spending is already “unsustainable” and budget deficits are imminent. For now, however, Johnson is being credited with a dramatic makeover of the new arena district—where a decaying shopping mall had been before.

 

 
Aside from the arena, Johnson’s other legacy is something I call KJ Inc. It’s a particular way of doing public business, and it’s also a political machine: a blended network of nonprofit auxiliary organizations, political cronies, and paid city staff, powered by unlimited donations from downtown developers and corporate benefactors.

 

Last year, Johnson sued me for filing public records requests for city emails, part of an ongoing project to better understand KJ’s mingling of public resources with his private nonprofits. The suit appears intended to economically damage the small alternative weekly I write for—the only media outlet in town to write critically about Johnson’s arena deal, or his educational reform campaign, or his use of city resources for his private agenda. We’re still in court.

 

 
The lawsuit, the arena, KJ’s talent for diverting public resources for private gain, even the sex-creep stuff: to me, these facts seem to hang together under a common theme. The guy has boundary issues.

 

The mayor’s charitable vehicle is St. Hope, which runs charter schools. Johnson took over Sacramento High School and turned it into a charter. What had once been a comprehensive high school for 2,000 students became a school of 900, which required students to apply. Of course, test scores went up when the school was no longer open enrollment.

 

Garvin writes:

 

The flagship nonprofit of KJ Inc. is, of course, St. Hope. As mayor, Johnson has been able to leverage, from real estate and other local interests, about $3 million in donations to support the family business. The biggest donors include Sacramento’s biggest sprawl developer, Angelo Tsakopoulos; arena developer Mark Friedman and his family; and Kevin Nagle, part owner of the Sacramento Kings and majority owner of the Sacramento Republic soccer team. Nagle is also on the St. Hope board of directors. All these men have been big donors to Johnson’s election campaigns and to his strong-mayor ballot measure. But while they are limited by strict political campaign contribution limits, they can give unlimited amounts to Johnson’s nonprofits.

 

 
They, along with other business interests, also give heavily to Johnson’s Sacramento Public Policy Foundation (SPPF), which is more closely associated with Johnson’s job as mayor. SPPF collects donations from interested parties who want to curry favor with the mayor, and then distributes the cash to various policy initiatives under Johnson’s direction. For a time, these initiatives included an environmental brand called Greenwise Sacramento and an arts program called For Arts’ Sake. Neither of these groups ever did much, and both are now dead links on Johnson’s website.

 

 
The real project of SPPF is Johnson’s “Think Big” initiative, which the mayor advertises as a way to “promote transformative projects that catalyze job creation and economic development.” But Think Big would be more accurately described as a public relations shop for stadium subsidies, coordinated out of City Hall, with the labor of city employees.

 

The entanglement of public and private interests are by no means limited to Johnson. Other mayors have done the same, though so few adroitly.

 

This promiscuous mingling of public and private interests is now business as usual in Sacramento. Only rarely does it get Johnson in any trouble. In 2012 the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission fined Johnson $37,500 after learning that $3.5 million in behests to Johnson’s nonprofits from the Sacramento Kings and other donors had not been properly reported. Johnson called the nondisclosure a clerical error.

 

 
More typically, the operations of KJ Inc. go on with no public scrutiny at all. That’s especially true of Johnson’s use of City Hall to advance his brand of education reform, which seeks to roll back teacher protections and turn many more public schools into charters.

 

 
Johnson served on the board of the California Charter Schools Association. As president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Johnson pushed through pro-charter resolutions to speed the school privatization agenda on a national scale.

 

 
As it happens, the charter hustle is a Johnson family business. His (then future) wife and former St. Hope board member, Michelle Rhee, was hired by D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty as the first Chancellor of D.C. public schools in 2007. That year, the city passed reforms that took power away from D.C.’s elected school board and put control of the schools in the mayor’s office. This “mayoralization” of schools is a favorite KJ policy reform.

 

Mayor Johnson’s education reform organization is called Stand Up for Sacramento Schools, located in the same building as Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst offices.

 

Garvin says that “Stand Up for Sacramento Schools” does “next to nothing” for the public schools. It is funded by the Waltons and Eli Broad, to promote the corporate education reform agenda. It has showcased Teach for America, City Year, and multiple showings of “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” Last summer, it received $400,000 from the Walton Family Foundation.

 

It is mostly a political organization, leveraging the mayor’s office to promote Johnson’s ideological brand of educational reform, and to promote Johnson himself.

 

 
This prime directive is spelled out in a 2011 email from Johnson to a potential Stand Up recruit—cc’d to Johnson’s executive assistant, a city employee. KJ says a large part of Stand Up’s function is to support his efforts to “advocate for much-needed legislation around policies such as Race to the Top, ESEA [No Child Left Behind], and LIFO (‘last in, first out’).” LIFO is the practice of laying off teachers with less seniority, a policy much in vogue among educational reformers. Johnson also mentions Stand Up’s support for “parent trigger” laws in California, which enable parents to vote to turn neighborhood schools into charters.

 

Garvin goes on to describe how Johnson and his buddies managed to take over the troubled National Conference of Black Mayors, bankrupt it, and create a new organization led by–who else?–Kevin Johnson.

 

Mayor Johnson made a fine art of pay-to-play, as this paragraph shows:

 

In June 2014, Uber gave a $50,000 check to the AAMA. In August, Mayor Johnson penned an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle praising Uber as an exciting part of “Cities 3.0” and arguing against new regulations for such ride-share companies. In September, at the USCM fall meeting in Sacramento, Johnson held an entire session on the “sharing economy,” featuring Uber CEO Travis Kalanick as a speaker. Days before, the Sacramento Kings had announced that Uber was the official ride-sharing service of the Sacramento Kings.

 

There is more, much more.

 

One wonders, on reading this long and alarming story, where was law enforcement? Does California have ethics laws for public officials? Does no one care about the use of taxpayer dollars? Why was the Sacramento Bee quiescent? Were there no civic watchdogs?

 

In 2012, the University of Hawaii invited Michelle Rhee and Kevin Johnson to lecture on the subject of “Ethics in Education.” The video is posted here, if you are a glutton for more. 

 

Ironic that what finally ended Kevin Johnson’s ascent was not his public-private deals, not his financial transgressions, not his political machinations, but allegations of sexual abuse of children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many readers were upset to learn that Randi Weingarten was speaking at the Teach for America 25th reunion at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., last weekend.

 

Randi appeared on a panel with Howard Fuller, who advocates for charters and vouchers. Fuller founded the BAEO, the Black Alliance for Educational Options. He goes around the country promoting school choice to black leaders and communities. Many years ago, he was the superintendent in Milwaukee. When he became a choice advocate, he was funded by the rightwing Bradley Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and others.

 

Randi points out in her article that vouchers have been a failure in Milwaukee, but she wasn’t there to debate Fuller. She explains here why she decided to appear at the TFA event.

 

My purpose was not to debate Fuller; it was to have a conversation about a path forward, to end the ridiculous debate in reform circles that poverty and greater economic issues don’t matter, and to debunk the notion that individual teachers can do it all.

 

I caught some flack on Twitter and Facebook for even attending a TFA event. The AFT and TFA disagree on a number of fundamental issues regarding education. I believe that teacher preparation should reflect the complexity and importance of this work, and that a crash course simply doesn’t cut it — it’s not fair to corps members or their students. Further, I think that TFA’s model of inadequately prepared teachers and high turnover deprofessionalizes teaching by design. And it’s dead wrong when districts use austerity as the excuse to hire TFA recruits as replacements for experienced teachers.

 

Read on.

No Child Left Behind required states to have a 95% participation rate in state testing; so does the new Every Student Succeeds Act. However, the U.S. Department of Education recently sent a letter to states with high opt out rates warning that there would be serious sanctions if their participation rate drops below 95%. The only reason this would happen is if large numbers of parents opted their children out of the testing. The Education Department that sanctions might include withholding federal funds. This is ironic: suburban parents opt their children out, so urban children (the main recipients of Title I funding) will lose funding. Good thinking, bureaucrats!

 

Randi Weingarten sent a letter to John King calling on him to back off:

 

 

January 7, 2016

 

The Honorable John King

 

Acting Secretary Department of Education

 

400 Maryland Ave., SW

 

Washington, DC 20202

 

Dear Acting Secretary King,

 

I am writing to express my disappointment and frustration at the Dec. 22, 2015, letter signed by Acting Assistant Secretary Ann Whalen regarding participation rates on state tests and the U.S. Department of Education’s planned enforcement of the 95 percent participation rate requirement.

 

This Dec. 22 letter signals intent to vigorously enforce the 95 percent test participation requirement and outlines consequences that include withholding funds. The letter goes against the spirit of a Dec. 18 letter from Acting Assistant Secretary Whalen, issued less than a week earlier, indicating that the department would fully support states, districts and schools as they transition to implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act. As you are well aware, while the new ESSA requires states to test 95 percent of students, it allows them to decide how they will factor this requirement into their accountability system. States are now working out how they will move to new accountability systems, and they need the flexibility and support offered in your Dec. 18 letter, not the threat of sanctions contained in the Dec. 22 letter.

 

Make no mistake, the opt-out movement—the reason that so many states did not meet the 95 percent participation requirement in 2014-15—was a referendum on this administration’s policies that created the culture of overtesting and punishment. Your October 2015 “Testing Action Plan” admitted as much, and the overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of ESSA was a strong signal that the page must be turned on these policies.

 

With one year left in your administration, we ask that you step away from business as usual. America’s schools don’t need letters threatening to withhold much- needed funds. They need support as they work to figure out their new accountability systems, including how the 95 percent participation requirement will be included.

 

Congratulations on your new role, and we look forward to working with you this year on ESSA implementation.

 

Sincerely,

 

Randi Weingarten President

The Every Student Succeeds Act was released to the public on November 30, passed both houses of Congress with large majorities within 10 days, and was signed into law today by President Obama. That was fast. The good news is that No Child Left Behind is gone. There is so much we don’t know because there has been so little time to read it, discuss it, and hear different perspectives on how it will work.

 

 

Randi Weingarten here explains the charter portion of the law. Sure, some would prefer that the federal government stop subsidizing privatization. But this is a Republican-controlled Congress, so what did you expect? School choice is their favorite school reform.

 

Randi writes:

 

 

“This is what is in the bill on charters:

 
“The program is reauthorized through FY 2020 and replaced the current charter school grant program with a program awarding grants to states, and through them subgrants to charter school developers, to open new charters and expand and replicate high-quality charter school models. At the same time, ESSA strengthens and updates the charter school program by: · ensuring charter school quality, accountability and transparency including required fiscal audits; · incentivizes stronger charter school authorizing practices; · requires charter schools to improve community outreach and engagement · provides dedicated funding to expand and replicate the highest quality charter schools so that they can reach more students; · focuses on charter school practices recruitment, retention and discipline practices, particularly for underrepresented groups such as homeless and foster students. There is a grant priority for charter management organizations that operate racially integrated schools and prioritize serving a majority of low-income students. There is money for facilities assistance as the bill reserves 12.5 percent of the charter school program funding to be used for facilities assistance. ESSA also requires the Secretary of Education to address the recent findings of the Office of the Inspector General pertaining to operational challenges within the Charter School Program.”