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Dave McKenna of Deadspin writes here about the release under court order of emails written by outgoing Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson about his efforts to take control of the National Conference of Black Mayors, bankrupt it, and open a new organization that would promote charter schools. Johnson is married to controversial Michelle Rhee, who has been a beneficiary and advocate for charters and vouchers.

This is a must-read.


The emails come mainly from the early days of Johnson’s hostile takeover of the National Conference of Black Mayors—the mayor and his minions described their mission against the historic Atlanta-based non-profit as a “coup” when they launched it in 2013—and reveal lots of no-goodnik behavior from Johnson and his coup team, a clique of civil servants on the Sacramento payroll, staffers from Johnson’s huge web of nonprofit groups, at least three public relations outfits, volunteer hangers-on, and lots of lawyers from the firm of Ballard Spahr. (At least a dozen Ballard Spahr lawyers have worked pro bono for Johnson on NCBM litigation.) The records indicate that at some point Johnson changed his goal from running the NCBM to ruining it. Johnson’s team, for example, is found dispatching secret agents to spy on NCBM board members at hotels and restaurants while conspiring to sabotage a potential $2 million windfall for the NCBM scheduled to come just a few months before he filed to have the organization dissolved through the bankruptcy courts. The documents also appear to support detractors’ long-leveled allegations that Johnson mingled the NCBM’s mission with that of Michelle Rhee, his wife and fellow school-privatization demagogue.

The city clerk’s release of the documents completes a request made under the California Public Records Act in the spring of 2015 by Cosmo Garvin, a reporter for the Sacramento News & Review. Unlike the rest of the media in the state capital, Garvin covered Johnson tenaciously and aggressively. He knew Johnson was conducting business using Gmail accounts rather than his assigned government address, so he requested any records on the city’s public servers from those personal email accounts. On July 1, 2015, Johnson sued his own city and Garvin’s weekly newspaper to prevent hundreds of emails from being made public, claiming attorney/client privilege….

The bulk of the unsealed documents deal with Johnson’s takeover of the NCBM, a clandestine and ultimately disastrous effort that peaked in May 2013 when he succeeded in being named president of the group, only to be deposed by the group’s board of directors two weeks into his term. It’s been a non-stop legal battle ever since between Johnson and NCBM elders, with suits filed by and against the group’s executive director, Vanessa Williams, and a controversial bankruptcy petition all still pending. After civil litigation in Georgia courts, Johnson was restored as the NCBM’s president in early 2014, but was still clearly at war with his constituents.

Johnson’s only meaningful act after regaining the presidency was a request, filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia on April 30, 2014 to have the NCBM dissolved under Chapter 7 of the federal code. Then on May 1, 2014, just one day after the bankruptcy filing and before he’d even resigned as NCBM president, Johnson founded a clone non-profit group, which he dubbed the African American Mayors Association (AAMA). He named himself president of the new group, and brought many NCBM sponsors with him. He installed AAMA’s headquarters on Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C.—just three blocks from the White House. (The just-released documents indicate that AAMA’s prime real estate was originally offered by former NCBM board member Clarence Anthony for use by the NCBM.)…


As expected, the latest batch of documents—totaling several hundred pages—shows that Johnson’s misuse of attorney/client privilege staved off potential political embarrassments, many of them NCBM-related. He was, to give one telling example, preventing the release of his schedule for Sept. 9, 2013, which included preparation for a trip to Birmingham, Ala. The listed rehearsals included a “Students First Session” followed by “NCBM Prep.”

StudentsFirst is the charter school advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee. (Johnson is also a major player in the school privatization movement.) The email that Johnson tried so hard to hide provides a reminder that he and Rhee went to Birmingham together to exploit the attention being given the 50th anniversary of bombing of the 16th Street Church. Amid the solemn commemorations of that seminal moment in the American civil rights movement, they co-hosted a town hall meeting promoting charter schools.

One of the reasons Johnson would presumably want this played down is that the NCBM has historically opposed charter schools, and didn’t like Johnson using their group to further an education agenda that both membership and leadership vehemently opposed. Former NCBM president Robert Bowser told me in 2014 that the group had made their stance clear to Johnson after he proposed a resolution to get the NCBM to endorse charter schools. “We took a vote and said, ‘Hell no!’ to his resolution,” Bowser said. “The black mayors are not buying the charter schools, period.” Rhee, meanwhile, was overwhelmingly despised by Washington, D.C.’s black residents when she ran its public school system from 2007 to 2010; any hint that the NCBM was being used to serve her ends would likely be toxic to the group’s core constituency.

The Birmingham meeting, as it turned, didn’t provide any obvious payoff for Rhee. StudentsFirst, which was a cash cow—the Walton Foundation, one of many deep-pocketed benefactors, gave Rhee’s group $8 million just a few months before the Alabama getaway—quietly folded earlier this year, without donating billions of dollars to education projects or meeting any of the other megalomaniacal goals Rhee loudly predicted for her non-profit on Oprah Winfrey’s show at its founding. It’s rather fitting that while StudentsFirst’s website is now largely defunct, its fundraising page is still running and ready to accept donations.

There were excellent speeches at the Democratic convention. It would be hard to say which one was best.

But from an informal poll of friends and family, many people thought this this short segment was the high point of the convention. This is the parents of a Muslim soldier killed in action in Iraq while protecting his unit from a suicide bomber; his father waved a copy of the U.S. Constitution and urged Donald Trump too read it.

Or see this version, which includes a description of their son’s heroism.

One of my sons told me he wept as he watched it.

Julian Vasquez Heilig reports on his blog Cloaking Inequity that the National NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on charters.

Read the text of the resolution.

Delegates to the 2016 national convention of the NAACP in Cincinnati passed a resolution expressing their concern about the lack of public governance, the targeting of low-income communities of color, increased segregation, and harsh disciplinary policies associated with charter schools.

Do you think that the Walton family, ALEC, the hedge fund managers, Scott Walker, Pat McCrory, and every other Republican governor will stop claiming the mantle of the civil rights movement, now that their favorite “reform” policy has been denounced by the real civil rights movement?

Donald Trump doesn’t like the Washington Post. The Washington Post doesn’t like Donald Trump.

Trump has decided that the Washington Post will not be allowed to cover his campaign’s events.

So when Washington Post reporter Jose DelReal showed up as a member of the press at a campaign rally for Mike Pence in Milwaukee, he was denied admission.

When he sought to enter as a citizen, not a member of the press, he was denied admission.

Do you think it is okay for a presidential candidate to bar a member of the press from covering his campaign?

You know, the First Amendment.

It as Harry S Truman who said, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

Tim Slekar of BustED Pencils has created a short podcast with some of the leading education advocates on the subject of “The Schools Our Children Deserve.”

It includes interviews with Alfie Kohn on his book of the same name, and also with:

Anthony Cody
Julian Vasquez Heilig
Nancie Atwell
Dr. Jill Stein
Peter Greene
Ken Zeichner
Morna McDermott
Peggy Robertson
Andre Perry
Christopher Tienken
Nancy Carlsson-Paige

I think you will enjoy it. Please listen when you can.

Anthony Cody, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, strongly supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. Like Bernie’s many millions of followers, Anthony was deeply disappointed when Bernie lost the nomination and thoroughly disgusted when he learned that the Democratic National Committee had undermined Bernie’s campaign.

What to do now? Anthony will vote for Clinton, but not with enthusiasm.

He writes:

How will education reform be handled by a Clinton administration? We know that big money held sway over education policy under President Obama. Candidate Clinton has been vague and inconsistent, offering both criticism and praise for charter schools and high stakes tests. Tim Kaine has shown a better understanding of education issues. But in 2008, many of us thought that Obama would be better than George W. Bush on education, especially with Linda Darling-Hammond advising him. But then the hedge fund money talked, Darling-Hammond walked, and we got seven years of Arne Duncan. So the only thing that will keep Clinton from going the way Obama went is intense grassroots pressure.

All of this brings us to the great challenge this election presents to us. We have a balancing act to perform. While I plan to vote for Clinton, we cannot simply “get on board” the DNC campaign train. We cannot unsee the corruption, the deep flaws in Clinton and her corporate allies. There IS something wrong with taking big money for speeches from Wall Street financiers, especially when they invite you back time after time – and you refuse to share what you told them.

We must continue to uncover the corruption of both corporate Democrats and corporate Republicans. If grassroots organizing can reclaim the Democratic Party so it fights for working people, then that would be excellent. Such a reclamation is under way over in Britain right now and is worth watching. If corporate Democratic Party leadership clings to power and will not allow this to happen, then a third party alternative should be strengthened. I respect those who have already made this leap, but I cannot do so while Trump looms. I have joined Bernie Sanders effort to continue his political revolution and defeat Donald Trump, and look forward to the continued growth of this movement.

Jersey Jazzman takes pundit Alexander Russo to the woodshed in this post.

Russo is a good writer who leans reformy and can be counted on to stick a dagger in critics of corporate reform, like me. He recently slammed me on Twitter for daring to express concern about segregation as a problem. He claimed this was unheard of from me. I suggested he read “Reign of Error,” wherein I identify segregation and poverty as a “toxic mix” that harms children.

This is not the first time he has given me one of his not so subtle jabs. Usually I ignore them because I know that he lashes out in hopes of driving traffic to his Twitter account.

JJ doesn’t worry about defending me–I can do that on my own–but he takes the time to correct Russo’s mistaken belief that social justice is somehow disconnected from over-testing and underfunding. JJ argues that you can’t separate these issues from any discussion of social justice in schools, because there will be no sustained social justice in our schools in the absence of adequate and equitable funding.

JJ has honed his research skills and his rhetorical skills to a point where it is fruitless for critics to take him on. He wins every time. That’s what his experience as a teacher, a writer, and a doctoral student has produced. He is formidable. And right.

William Doyle describes an emerging international consensus about the appropriate and limited use of technology in the classroom.

Doyle starts from the proposition that “Technology in the classroom has so far had little positive effect on childhood learning.”

That’s the stunning finding of the OECDs September 2015 report “Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection.” The report found that despite billions of dollars of frantic government spending, where ICTs [information and communications technologies] are used, their impact on student performance has been “mixed, at best,” in the words of the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. “In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools,” said Schleicher. “We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.”

This supports a growing body of other research indicating that, with some exceptions like distance and special needs learning, there is little evidence that digital tools are inherently superior to analog tools in the hands of qualified teachers in teaching children the fundamentals of learning, especially in the early years.

For policy-makers, educators and parents, the implications of this research are enormous, and critical. The OECD report suggested that teachers need to be better trained in ICT. But it also found that children may learn best with analog tools first before later adding digital platforms, and that a few hours a week of classroom screen time may be optimal for children, beyond which learning benefits drop off to diminishing, or even negative, returns.

This argues not for the 100% screen-based classroom proposed by some enthusiasts, but for a far more strategic and cost-and-learning-effective model. In this vision of the “school of tomorrow,” teachers will use the analog and digital methods of their choice, including a few hours of student screen time per week – with a significant portion of school time being a “digital oasis,” where students learn through proven analog methods like paper, pencil, manipulatives and physical objects, crayons and paint, physical books, play, physical activity, nature, and face-to-face and over-the-shoulder interactions – not with digital simulations, but with the ultimate “personalized learning platform” – highly-qualified, flesh-and-blood teachers.

This kind of approach is already blossoming in many classrooms around the world, as teachers and students harness and control the power of technology, properly applied and integrated.

Hands-on learning and learning by play are staging a comeback:

In the global headquarters city of LEGO itself, inside the three-year-old International School of Billund in western Denmark, the concept of learning through play is being taken to the ultimate extreme. The LEGO Foundation-supported school offers children aged 3 to 16 an International Baccalaureate program through a curriculum based on creative play, delivered through a rich variety of analog and digital tools, including, naturally, LEGO education kits and programs.

“We want pupils to use their hands,” said the ISB’s head of school Camilla Uhre Fog to a journalist from the Times Educational Supplement. “We’re very hands-on. When hands are involved in learning, children really remember. If you’re in the middle of the creative process there is nothing worse than clearing up – if you cease the flow then you lose the dream, you lose everything.”

Molly Knefel writes in Truthout about the meeting at the Democratic convention with Clinton staffers and the hedge fund managers’ Democrats for Education Reform.

I am fully prepared for any disappointment that Clinton will bring and still hoping for any sign that she will support public schools, public school teachers, and the students who attend public schools.

It is satisfying to see that DFER spokesmen are fearful that Clinton might actually support the “social justice” goals of me, the Network for Public Education, and the millions of parents and teachers who feel betrayed by the so-called “reform” movement.

On other other hand, it is shocking to see Clinton staffers defending George W. Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind legislation. We thought that one had died and been buried, and yet here they are–representatives of the Democratic nominee–praising NCLB and its emphasis on accountability. It is a tired chestnut that NCLB alerted us to achievement gaps. That is utter nonsense. Everyone knew there were achievement gaps between different groups, and NCLB did nothing about them. Nothing. Testing does not close achievement gaps.

I suport Hillary Clinton. I will vote for her. But I will be a tough critic when her staff says dumb things that refute common sense and evidence about the harm that NCLB has done, especially to the most vulnerable children.

It is time for truth: Everything promoted by the corporate reform movement–charter schools, vouchers, evaluating teachers by test scores, closing schools that have low test scores (and high numbers of needy students)–has failed.

Their numbers are small. They represent hedge fund money, but very few people.

Their critics, however, represent millions of parents and educators and people who love their community public schools.

We are many, and they are few.

And, yes, Jonathan Alter, the Network for Public Education will continue to fight for social justice for children, for improving their lives as well as their schools.

Last year, Nevada adopted one of the most radical voucher plans in the nation. Of course, the vouchers are not called “vouchers,” but “education savings accounts.” But the principle is the same. Families will get a tax break worth more than $5,000 if they withdraw their child from public school and enroll them in a private or religious school. There are no limits on who may use these vouchers. In other states, vouchers are available only to those who are low-income or those who are enrolled in schools where test scores are low. In Nevada, anyone can use public money to go where they choose.

Here is a description of the debate.

Nevada is a state that has strong constitutional protections for public schools, but the governor and the legislature have decided that the state constitution doesn’t mean what it says.

One judge said the plan was unconstitutional in January.

One judge upheld the voucher program in May.

Here is what the state constitution says.


Article 11 of the Nevada constitution declares:

Sec: 9.  Sectarian instruction prohibited in common schools and university.  No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.

Section Ten.  No public money to be used for sectarian purposes.  No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.
[Added in 1880. Proposed and passed by the 1877 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1879 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1880 general election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1877, p. 221; Statutes of Nevada 1879, p. 149.]

You be the judge.

Do you see any ambiguity here? Do you see a constitutional clause that is permissive? Is the phrase “No public money to be used for sectarian purposes” ambiguous?

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