Archives for category: Accountability

Samuel Abrams worked for many years as a teacher in a New York City public school. After earning his doctorate, he became executive director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. The Center consistently produces valuable reports about privatization. Consider joining its mailing list.

Here, Abrams reviews Joanne Golann’s recent book Scripting the Moves, a close analysis of “no excuses” charter schools. Open the link to read the full review and an excerpt from the book.

Abrams writes:

Few education initiatives have generated as much praise as well as philanthropic funding as the “no-excuses” charter school movement. Yet criticism of the movement has recently been growing, from both inside and out, so much so that KIPP (short for Knowledge Is Power Program), the movement’s standard-bearer, dropped its motto—“Work Hard. Be Nice.”—one year ago in acknowledgement of the conflict between the organization’s rigid code of conduct and its goal of fostering student independence.

No book captures the tension between these competing forces as well as Joanne W. Golann’s Scripting the Moves: Culture and Control in a “No-Excuses” Charter School (Princeton University Press, 2021). In this NCSPE excerpt, Golann lays the foundation for her analysis, a sociological case study based on 18 months of observations at a “no-excuses” charter middle school beginning in March 2012. In keeping with much case study research, Golann, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, does not identify the school or its location, other than to note it is not part of a large network of charter schools and is situated in a medium-sized former industrial city in the northeast. Golann gives the school a pseudonym: Dream Academy.

As Golann recounts, the “no-excuses” movement began with the founding of one KIPP middle school serving low-income minority students in Houston in 1994. Another KIPP middle school serving low-income minority students in the Bronx opened in 1995. With students at both schools posting top scores on state reading and math exams, KIPP won acclaim. “For its first eight years, KIPP Academy Houston was recognized as a Texas Exemplary School,” Golann notes, “and KIPP Academy New York was rated the highest performing middle school in the Bronx for eight consecutive years.”

A segment on 60 Minutes in 1999 made that acclaim national and brought to the fore the school’s “no-excuses” pedagogical strategy: a much longer school day (running from 7:25 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), strict behavioral expectations, and unyielding commitments by parents and teachers alike to student success, all in the name of guaranteeing that every student makes it to and through college.

Embodying KIPP’s unrelenting focus on deportment has been its ubiquitous prescriptive acronym, SLANT, standing for Sit up straight at one’s desk; Listen attentively to teachers and peers alike; Ask and answer questions; Nod in acknowledgment of instructions; and Track the speaker with one’s eyes.

In the wake of the segment on 60 Minutes, more positive coverage followed. In addition to a subsequent segment on 60 Minutes, laudatory articles appeared by David Grann in The New Republic, Bob Herbert and Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, Stanley Crouch in The New York Daily News, Leonard Pitts in The Miami Herald, and Jay Mathews in The Washington Post. Mathews built on those articles in his book about KIPP called Work Hard. Be Nice (Algonquin, 2009). The husband-and-wife team of historian Stephan Thernstrom and political scientist Abigail Thernstrom earlier praised KIPP for its resolve and methods in their book No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning (Simon & Schuster, 2003). Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter of his book Outliers (Little Brown, 2008) to KIPP’s impressive academic outcomes and linked them to the extended hours required of both students and teachers. Paul Tough likewise commended KIPP for its dedication to character education in his book How Children Succeed (Houghton Mifflin, 2012).

In conjunction with this positive coverage, the philanthropic spigot opened up. Doris and Donald Fisher, founders and owners of The Gap, gave $15 million to KIPP in 2000 to start replicating and afterward continued to give the organization about $5 million a year to that same end. Other foundations, including those steered by the Waltons and Gates, have since contributed many millions more. And in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education gave KIPP an Investing in Innovation grant of $50 million to further replicate.

By 2020, Golann reports, KIPP served 110,000 students in 255 schools across the country. Of these students, 88 percent came from low-income families; 95 percent were Black or Latino. Thirteen similar “no-excuses” networks evolved in KIPP’s shadow. By 2020, these networks, from Achievement First and Aspire to Success Academy and YES Prep, together enrolled another 200,000 students in 433 schools across the country. The demographics of Dream Academy, in particular, reflected those of KIPP: over 80 percent came from low-income families; about 67 percent were Black; about 33 percent were Latino.

To Golann, the problem with these “no-excuses” schools is not scalability, though scaling up these networks is indeed difficult. These schools depend on a finite number of young teachers who can work such long hours. They also depend on a finite amount of philanthropic funding to cover the cost of after-school music programs, supplementary tutoring, field trips, and college visits. More fundamentally, these schools depend on students and families that can handle the steep behavioral and academic expectations.

This last constraint is indisputable. In this regard, Golann cites the failure of Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD). “In 2010, Tennessee created the ASD to take over and contract with charter management organizations (CMOs) to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools,” Golann explains later in her book. “By 2014-15, eighteen of the twenty-three ASD schools were managed by CMOs, many operating from a ‘no-excuses’ framework. After five years of turnaround efforts, the ASD schools failed to show any significant gains in students’ academic outcomes.” The key difference between conventional “no-excuses” charter schools and those in the ASD, writes Golann, is that the former involve an application process as well as specific commitments from parents and students alike to follow a contract while the latter simply enrolled all students from the designated neighborhood.

As I document in “Education and the Commercial Mindset” (Harvard University Press, 2016), a similar story unfolded over the same time period in Houston, where the economist Roland Fryer applied the KIPP curriculum to nine district high schools and eleven middle schools in an undertaking called Apollo 20. Without the application process as well as student and parent contracts defining KIPP, Apollo 20, like Tennessee’s ASD, lacked the buy-in critical to the everyday operation of “no-excuses” schools.

Please open the link to complete the review and to read an excerpt from the book.

Maurice Cunningham is a political scientist with a deep interest in how Dark Money influences education policy. His motto is: “Dark Money never sleeps.” He is a master at following the money. He customarily blogs at a website called MassPoliticsProfs, but was kind enough to send me this post first.

He writes here about the groups pushing the attacks on critical race theory:

The Corporate Critical Race Theory Attack: Chaos is the Product

“The backlash” begins an opinion piece in Newsweek by Parents Defending Education outreach director Erika Sanzi, and these may be the most accurate two words published by those who are attacking “wokeness,” gender studies, and Critical Race Theory. The sad fact is that white backlash has a proven record of effectiveness in American politics and it is once again being employed in the service of right wing corporate interests. The end product desired has less to do with CRT than with spreading disruption, fear, and chaos across America’s most important democratic public institution, schools.

According to the Washington Post, as of June 24 CRT (a theory developed in law schools and not well known among most Americans) has exploded on Fox News. The term was heard on Fox only 132 times in 2020 but has been mentioned 1,860 times this year, escalating month by month. The narrative is that grassroots parents groups have discovered the threat CRT poses to their children in schools and have arisen organically across the country to form local parent groups, a movement noticed and captured by websites and the powerful Fox News. The truth is that of an oligarch-funded and coordinated campaign using time tested techniques.

Follow the Money

Over the past five years I’ve been following “education reform” groups created by billionaire investors with names like Families for Excellent Schools, Massachusetts Parents United, and National Parents Union which have presented diversity as their public face while attacking teachers. So when I saw the launch of Parents Defending Education on March 30 I took note because it follows a different path: white backlash aimed more at school boards, superintendents, and principals. The first thing to do when evaluating these groups is always, follow the money.

But as the financial backers of groups like PDE well know, public disclosure of funders will only come about nearly two years down the road, if then, in publicly available Form 990 tax returns for organizations with Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3)status as charitable organizations. PDE president Nicole Neily has refused to disclose the organization’s donors when asked by media outlets. It’s not just that she won’t. She can’t. Disclosure would likely reveal ties to radical right funders tied into the Koch network and similar underwriters. We know this thanks to work done by PRWatch and from Sourcewatch at the Center for Media and Democracy. They show that Neily is a political operative at Koch network funded operations like the Independent Women’s Forum, Franklin Center, and Speech First.

The Speech First association is instructive. Neily is founding president of that non-profit as well. Sourcewatch has identified some of its funders as the Bader Family Foundation for $30,000, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund: $500,250, Judicial Education Project for $1,000,000, and National Philanthropic Trust: $500,000. The real check writers will probably never become known. Form 990s show that Neily is the sole employee, earning $161,000 in 2018 and $150,000 in 2019. Speech First brings lawsuits against universities for policies touching on race. For this, it paid the law firm Consovoy McMullen $950,000 in 2018, and to get the word out paid the Republican communications firm Creative Response Concepts $106,000. Boiled down, Speech First is a pass through that allows wealthy conservative donors to remain hidden while paying Consovoy McMullen to attack universities.

And who represents Parents Defending Education? Why, Consovoy McMullen. William Consovoy also represents Donald Trump and clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. The firm is conservative legal royalty. PDE did not hire it after an especially successful bake sale.

Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, and Moms for Liberty

PDE launched its well-developed website featuring pages with links to its allies, most of which were branches of groups called No Left Turn in Education and Moms for Liberty. According to NBC, No Left Turn in Education was launched in 2020 when a parent from a Philadelphia suburb became enraged at her children’s school for teaching concepts of racism after the police murder of George Floyd. Elana Yaron Fishbein then sprang into action to attack wokeness and founded NLTE. In September she appeared on Fox’s Tucker Carlson program and the next day the group’s Facebook increased from about 200 followers to over 30,000 and there are now 30 chapters in 23 states.

But when I looked at local NLTE chapters’ Facebook pages linked to through the PDE site in April, I found sparse membership: Alabama, 7; Arkansas, 3; Delaware, 6; Iowa, 2; Idaho, 4; Indiana, 8; Michigan (Betsy DeVos home state), 13; Mississippi, 3; Montana, 2; North Dakota, 2; Massachusetts, 17; Hawaii, 1. All of the NLTE Facebook pages featured the same banner, a montage of diverse teens against a background of school lockers, each student smiling and engaged, not a pimple on their perfect teenage faces; probably models, most certainly not local students. As for Moms for Liberty, it too had sparse membership in its affiliates: Arizona, 17; Wright Co, Minnesota, 8; Corpus Christi Nueces, Texas, 70. Moms for Liberty’s creation story is similar to others in the anti-public education universe: “moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.” The story goes that two parents became upset with their local schools and started up a parents group. It happens. It’s a lot more unusual for the two grassroots moms to then book former Fox host Megyn Kelly for a fundraiser with tickets running from General Admission of $50 up to Presenting Sponsor for $20,000 with perks including a photo with Ms. Kelly and corporate logo on print and online marketing materials.

From Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, Moms for Liberty and on to groups like National Parents Union, the creation stories are similar. A handful of disgruntled moms talk over their frustrations, determine to start their moms or parents group to seek change, and then in pour the millions of dollars; contracts are quickly signed with nationally recognized public relations firms and pollsters (one newly birthed charter school-tied group in Rhode Island immediately hired a Biden pollster); the head mom is booked on Fox or featured in national media outlets. Conservative outlets like The Federalist, Washington Times, Campus Fix, and most importantly Fox News amplify the misleading message.

How to Attack Educators in a Few Easy Steps

The tactics for going after K-12 educators did not spring up anew but have been adapted from successful attacks on college and university professors. Isaac Kamola has explained this in an important article titled Dear Administrators: To Protect Your Faculty from Right-Wing Attacks, Follow the Money. Kamola finds that groups like Campus Reform and Campus Fix, which pay conservative students as “reporters” to whistleblow on their professors, are funded by wealthy right wingers including Koch who wish to gain leverage over what is taught and researched at America’s universities. These attacks follow a common script. Something a professor says or writes in research, a lecture, or even on social media is grabbed and most often taken out of context; there is never an engagement with the actual intellectual product. (In Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, Anne Nelson shows that Campus Reform is tied into right wing clearing house organizations the Leadership Institute and Council for National Policy). The targets are often scholars of color, especially women, and their work focuses on race or inquiries into capitalism. The out of context remarks are then percolated through a right wing ecosystem which includes web sites funded by the same network and all the way up to Fox News. Results can be stark. After Campus Reform did a story on a speech by Princeton University professor Keenga-Yamahtta Taylor the piece was picked up by Fox; threats against Professor Taylor were so virulent she cancelled talks in Seattle and San Diego. After Campus Reform misrepresented remarks by Trinity College professor Johnny Williams the campus had to be shut down due to threats and Williams was unfairly placed on leave. So the radical right knows how to generate chaos. Parents Defending Education has refined the play book further.

PDE relies upon two modes of attack on schools (which may include charter as well as public schools). The first, often well covered in the media and with appearances on Fox, is individuals who inundate school districts with public records requests. The second involves anonymous attacks on school personnel, concealment guaranteed by guidance offered by PDE to assure their agents remain hidden.

NBC News reported on one now famous Fox-supported attack by an individual wielding public law requests. A Maine parent named Shawn McBreairty was disgruntled with his local schools and joined No Left Turn in Education. He has filed over 50 public records law request with his Maine school district, tying up education professionals serving the public for his individual crusade. In South Kingstown, RI a parent whose child is enrolled but not yet attending kindergarten in the town filed 200 public records law requests “seeking copies of middle and high school curricula, lists of all books related to gender available in the library and 10 years’ worth of harassment complaints and emails.” The district estimated it would take 300 hours to fulfill the request. Local officials were undoubtedly right in assessing the attack as an effort to disrupt public education and attack a public good. The Rhode Island parent was rewarded with an appearance on Fox. When districts try to resist the onslaught of requests, corporate spokespersons like PDE’s Sanzi are ready with pro-wrestling sincerity to whine—to Fox News—about the people’s right to know. These groups weaponize the very openness of government to undermine government.

In a forthcoming work, Kamola and co-author Ralph Wilson show how groups like Speech First use discovery in lawsuits to create a “nightmare for administrators and their general counsel.” PDE and allies are now using public records lawsnationwide to achieve the same goal against public school districts.

While the public records requests are designedly onerous and discouraging, at least educators can tell where the attacks are coming from. The second tactic promoted by PDE is much worse, to encourage anonymous attacks against educators.

Take a recent example involving the Boston suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts. This was an anonymous complaint forwarded by PDE grumbling that Wellesley had violated civil rights laws by providing affinity rooms for students to process their emotions after anti-Asian attacks across the nation. Ms. Neily confessed she has no idea who submitted it to PDE or if anyone in Wellesley agrees with the complaint. This is a baked in design by PDE as we see from examining the operation’s website page that teaches How to Create “Woke At” Pages. It provides detailed instructions for how to set up “an anonymous, safe Instagram page.” First set up a Gmail account “that can’t be tied to you.” Gmail is recommended because the site creator will also need to set up “an anonymous Google Form . . . which allows you to receive anonymous tips” that shields the informant’s identity, even from the Woke At administrator. At all times “we recommend erring on the side of secrecy.”

The Woke At instructions encourage PDE’s local spies to check out social media pages of educators which may reveal woke attitudes. The Understanding Woke Jargon page catalogs terms like “social justice” or “antiracism” the group finds offensive. Questions to Ask School Officials offers gotcha questions that can be asked of woke school officials “with cameras rolling.”

Why the advice to always act with hidden identities? Because of the terrifying disposition of those “woke activists” who talk about “inclusion, equity, justice” but are really “divisive, toxic, and extreme.” PDE is one education organization that was absent on the day irony was taught, for it insists on secrecy while pretending it promotes transparency. Concealment is especially important “given how angry and retaliatory many woke activists get when criticized.” PDE understands that much of its audience consumes a heavy diet of Fox News. Research by Jeffrey M. Berry, James M. Glaser, and Deborah J. Schildkraut shows Fox’s “underlying strategy is to anger viewers by stoking their resentment of racial and ethnic minority groups” and building fear. For instance, after the images of George Floyd’s murder, which initially shocked even Sean Hannity, Fox repeatedly showed video of “rioting and looting by protestors, relying on film showing fires burning and Blacks running out of looted stores with stolen merchandise in their arms.” These images were repeatedly shown well beyond the first week, after which there was little new such behavior to report upon. But the coverage stokes ideas of lawlessness and fear.

Whether by an avalanche of public records requests or generating negative coverage from anonymous tipsters, PDE and its allies are in business to create disruption and chaos in public education.

Getting Results

As Kamola has shown with his work detailing the corporate backed assault on higher education, these tactics often work. They are now working at the K-12 level. Public records requests have tied up school boards and administrators. NBC reports that Washoe County, Nevada halted in person school board meetings “after residents filled a large auditorium and lobbed insults and threats of violence during the public comment portion.” When open meetings later convened in a smaller venue, many residents waited long hours in the hot sun to make their comments against CRT and anti-discrimination policies—including quite a fewwho do not even have students in the system. “During the most recent meeting, which lasted 11 hours, speakers railed at school board members, calling them Marxists, racists, Nazis and child abusers, among other epithets.” In Rockwood Illinois, the St. Louis Post dispatch reported, teachers called upon the school board and superintendent to protect them against “personal attacks and outright threats of violence.” In Camas, Washington, the state’s 2020 teacher of the year thanked the school board and administrators for defending her efforts to promote inclusion and access after some residents “railed against the school district’s ‘woke’ agenda, COVID-19 mask mandates, remote learning and racial justice and equity programs.”

After all, as No Left Turn Maine’s Shawn McBreairty said in an email to NBC News, “This is a war with the left, and in war, tactics and strategy can become blurry.”

As the corporate agitators behind all this understand, they are making public service exhausting and distasteful, a campaign to drive good community members away from serving. This isn’t an unfortunate byproduct. We’ve seen it at the university level. It’s intentional.

The Rise of the Right Wing Moms

In announcing PDE’s complaint against the Columbus, Ohio public schools for its willingness to address racism in the wake of the police shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, Ms. Neily acknowledged that no Columbus parent had complained, but that PDE was just a concerned group of parents. “We just all work from home,” Neily told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “We’re all working moms.”

That sounds cozy and homey but Neily is a well-compensated veteran of numerous right wing organizations, including not only Speech First but the Cato Institute. Sourcewatch reports that “Nicole Neily has worked for many Koch-affiliated groups.” Ms. Sanzi has worked for billionaire funded school privatization groups, also bringing home a hefty paycheck. According to research from Mercedes Schneider the Education Post, an online publication originally funded by Eli Broad, paid Sanzi $121,000 in 2016 and $131,000 in 2017. She is also a “senior visiting fellow” at the Fordham Institute.

This is another area where patterns are not immediately visible but things become more clear years down the road when Form 990s become available. What we see is that following the emergence of these organizations with their tales of concerned moms banding together is that the moms are actually political operatives or communications professionals being well paid. Take for example Keri Rodrigues, “mom-in-chief” of the Walton backed Massachusetts Parents United. One of the several creation stories is that Ms. Rodrigues (always identified as a former union organizer) and a few other mothers gathered in their local library and decided to start a parents group. Actually, Ms. Rodrigues had been state director for Families for Excellent Schools, which ran a losing ballot campaign to increase charter schools in Massachusetts in 2016. She is also a communications professional, having been a radio host. MPU and an affiliate paid Ms. Rodrigues over $388,000 in 2017-2018. But the mom-in-chief story has had some penetration.

When the CDC announced reopening guidelines for schools in May 2021 Ms. Rodrigues, now also of Walton and Koch backed National Parents Union, appeared on Fox News to accuse teachers unions of undue influence. The host accused “teachers unions of basically writing the guidelines” a claim that Ms. Rodrigues enthusiastically agreed with. There was no basis for that claim other than that the unions, like over fifty other advocacy groups, had offered comments to the CDC. But it was blown up by Republican senators from a letter provided by a Republican dark money group. And then on to Fox and the eagerMs. Rodrigues.

Thus we shouldn’t be too surprised by a recent Media Matters study that showed that a number of the concerned parents featured on Fox News criticizing CRT are actually Republican political operatives. Quisha King, an African American woman billed by Fox News as an “everyday American” who is “Northeast Florida co-chair of Moms for Liberty” and “mom of two daughters” is also a GOP political consultant who worked for the Republican National Committee in 2020. Though Fox News billed Ms. Neily as a parent fighting against CRT in schools, Media Matters added that she “has spent her entire career working in and for libertarian and conservative political advocacy organizations and think tanks . . . .” PDE senior fellow Elizabeth Schultz was noted by Fox’s Dana Perino as a former Fairfax County, Virginia school board member. But she is also a former Trump appointee to the Department of Education, under Betsy DeVos. Before being defeated for re-election to the school board Schultz was known for opposing “‘expanding the school system’s sex-education curriculum to include lessons on gender identity and transgender issues’ and supporting armed teachers in classrooms.”

Charles Koch’s Pincer Movement

Far right groups like Parents Defending Education are new born but billionaire funded corporate education reform groups like Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union have been around a bit longer. Families for Excellent Schools was successful in New York until its 2016 Massachusetts charter school campaign was badly beaten, its dark money donors were ordered to be disclosed by the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and its CEO was fired after #MeToo allegations surfaced. These groups often present themselves as leaning liberal, non-partisan but vaguely Democratic, featuring spokespersons who are women of color, and advocating for their privatization policies as being pro-civil rights. National Parents Union even released a statement defending Critical Race Theory on May 21, but it seems to have dropped the topic since. Why then would Charles Koch, a likely source of support for the right wing groups, also be funding National Parents Union?

But he is, through his Charles Koch Institute, which is partnered with the Walton Family Foundation in a joint venture called the Vela Education Fund. Vela dropped $700,000 on NPU to promote home schooling. NPU then spread Vela funds around in grants for home schooling. As Casey Parks explained in The New Yorker these foundations “advocate ‘school choice’—rerouting money and families away from traditional public schools through such means as charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, and vouchers, which allow public-education dollars to be put toward private-school tuition.” NPU had been launched by the Walton Family Foundation to help in the Waltons quest to undermine teachers unions. Recognizing the opportunity presented by closed schools Vela formed and wrote the $700,000 check even though NPUhad been in business only a few months. Vela has pursued other such opportunities including funding the far right Home School Legal Defense Association.

Coincidentally or not in 2017 the civil rights-proclaiming Ms. Rodrigues and the radical right Ms. Sanzi were partners in another venture named Planet Mom, which featured a podcast and proposed radio show. In her paid position at Education Post Ms. Sanzi wrote of Ms. Rodrigues “I consider her a partner in this work. And a friend.” It’s a small planet, after all.

The point is not Critical Race Theory, or charter schools, virtual schools, or home schools. The point is to undermine public education, keep taxes low, spread doubt of the efficacy of public goods, and demolish institutions like unions and local school communities that make demands on the Waltons and Kochs of the nation. It is, as Nancy MacLean has said, to put democracy in chains. Diverse-presenting National Parents Union and white backlash Parents Defending Education serve the same cause.

Whither We Are Tending and What to Do About It

I hope my colleagues in academia continue to speak out about the intellectual contributions of Critical Race Theory and the fine efforts of K-12 educators to provide the kind of schooling all our students need—open and honest about the nation’s race and history and our ongoing challenges, including corporate promoted white backlash.

On the other hand, don’t expect any engagement from Nicole Neily or the anti-CRT bard Christopher Rufo, who has helped spike this ridiculous campaign. In a triumphant appearance at the Claremont Institute, Rufo described his annoyance at scholars trying to bait him into a discussion of what CRT really means and proclaimed “I don’t give a shit about this stuff.” (Nine minute mark)

As Isaac Kamola has urged, start with follow the money and pursue that relentlessly. There’s a reason groups like PDE and NPU can’t come clean about their funding sources and amounts and that reason is that they know the public is suspicious of the Kochs and Waltons of the world and what’s more, the public and America’s billionaires are on a different page on policy issues.

These are corporate generated right wing attacks. Say it. Name names.

Come awake to the threat. Recognize what this is and that isn’t just about wokeness or even education but something else Koch and the Waltons can’t say out loud: to destroy the capacity of people to coalesce together and fight for a better life for themselves, a project that offends oligarchs ideologically and threatens their power and pocketbooks. They focus on educationbecause schools have been a fertile locale for white backlash but also a source of great progress, because teachers unions are a barrier to them, and because local community organizations defy them.

That means that teachers unions, school boards, superintendents, principals, lunch workers, school bus drivers, custodians, business, parents and students—everyone who serves their local school community—have to recognize that they need to fight together against this assault. In other words, join together to take action—exactly what the Waltons, Kochs, and other radical right billionaires fear.

And stand up for a real education for all our children, not the white(wash) backlash being promoted by phony AstroTurf fronts like Parents Defending Education. Remember, fronts are fronting for someone and in this case, fronting for radical right billionaires.

Money never sleeps. Follow the money.

Maurice T. Cunningham is recently retired as an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a union member. He is the author of the book Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, forthcoming in 2022.

Nancy Ackerman Will, a teacher in Traverse City, Michigan, updated my post today about the angry protestors at a recent board meeting, who accused school leaders of allowing critical race theory to “seep in” to the schools.

She posted this good-news comment:

I am an elementary music teacher for Traverse City Area Public Schools. I appreciate your article, but you should know that three days ago the TCAPS Board approved a revised Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging resolution with much stronger language to support our students. This time the meeting room was packed with people in support of the resolution, wearing red shirts in solidarity. Parents, grandparents, members of the faith community and students spoke in support of strengthening and passing the resolution.

I am pleased to say this was the end result. https://www.record-eagle.com/news/tcaps-board-passes-equity-resolution-7-0/article_64121fba-ee47-11eb-83b8-036d823f2f6c.html

Video of the 3 hours of public comment at the meeting and then two hours of the Board members crafting a final document can be viewed here: https://livestream.com/tcapslive/board/videos/224040779

The hearings about the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol opened with testimony by four police officers who were beaten and brutalized by the pro-Trump mob, trying to stop the certification of the election of President Biden.

This story appeared in USA Today.

The officers’ accounts provided a dramatic opening for the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, when Trump’s fanatical supporters tried to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.

“Here are highlights from their testimony.

“Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell

“An Army veteran, Gonell said his experience during the insurrection was more terrifying than serving in Iraq, where he had to conduct supply missions on roads laced with improvised explosive devices.

“Nothing in my experience in the Army or as a law enforcement officer prepared me for what we confronted on Jan. 6,” he told the panel, recounting hand-to-hand combat with the rioters that likened to a “medieval” battle.

“I did not recognize my fellow citizens,” Gonell said. One rioter, he said, “shouted that I —an Army veteran and a police officer — should be executed.”

“As he and his fellow officers were punched, kicked and sprayed with chemicals, “I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die’,” Gonell said.

“Six months after the riot, Gonell said he is still recovering from injuries.”

DC Metro officer Michael Fanone

Fanone, who nearly died on Jan. 6, has emerged as one of the most outspoken enforcement officials in the wake of the Capitol riot, during which he was beaten unconscious and suffered a heart attack.

In the months since Jan. 6, he has lobbied Congress to create a bipartisan, independent commission to probe the riot and lashed Republicans for downplaying the attack.

At Tuesday’s hearing, he moved into the spotlight once again.

“As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge, they grabbed and stripped me of my radio, they seized a munition that was secured to my body,” Fanone recalled. “They began to beat me with their fists and what felt like hard metal objects.”

At one point during the riot, Fanone was pulled from a line of police by a rioter who shouted “I got one!”

As he was beaten, he heard a rioter shout to “Get his gun! Kill him with his own weapon.”

” … I was electrocuted again and again and again with a taser. I’m sure I was screaming but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice,” he recounted.

“I have kids,” he responded in a plea for his life.

“I still hear those words in my head today,” Fanone told lawmakers.

An unconscious Fanone was later driven by another injured officer to a nearby hospital, where he was told he suffered a heart attack and multiple life-threatening injuries. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I thought I had seen it all, many times over,” Fanone said. “Yet what I witnessed and experience on Jan. 6, 2021, was unlike anything I had ever seen, anything I had ever experienced or could have imagined in my country.”

U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn recounted how pro-Trump protestors continued to swell at the side of the Capitol all morning on Jan. 6 before becoming violent after thousands had assembled.

Rioters chanted “Stop the steal!,” clinging to the false claim that Trump was still the true elected leader of the country. When Dunn said that he’d voted for Biden and inquired if his vote didn’t matter, the already hostile crowd became irate.

“One woman in a pink ‘MAGA’ shirt yelled, “You hear that, guys, this (N-word) voted for Joe Biden!” he remembered.

“No one had ever called me a (N-word) while wearing my Capitol Police uniform,” Dunn testified.

Dunn also recounted how the aftermath of the day had been a “blur” to him. At one point he broke down in despair in the Capitol rotunda and asked how the attack was even possible, he said.

In the months since the attack, Dunn has said he’s been in support groups for his mental health to deal with the trauma of the attack, declaring that “there’s absolutely nothing wrong” with seeking help. Two Capitol police officers have died by suicide in the months since the attack.

Dunn also directly addressed the rioters and insurrectionists who were at the Capitol that day, saying “democracy went on that night and still continues to this day… you all tried to disrupt democracy, and you all failed.”

DC Metro Police officer Daniel Hodges

Hodges said rioters bashed his head, kicked him in the chest, and sprayed him with a chemical irritant during the riot, among other assaults.

One attacker told him he would “die on your knees.”

During one scuffle, a rioter tried to take Hodges’ baton and another kicked him in the chest and moved his mask over his eyes, leaving him temporarily blind while under attack.

While at his post as rioters began to assemble, he saw people in the crowd in tactical gear, wearing ballistic vests, helmets and goggles, appearing “to be prepared for much more than listening to politicians speak at a park,” he recalled.

“Terrorists were breaking apart the middle fencing and bike racks and the individual pieces, presumably to use weapons,” Hodges told the committee.

In the haze, Hodges said he remembers seeing the “thin blue line flag, a symbol of support for law enforcement” being carried by the rioters who then attacked the very officers they claimed to support. Hodges was told he was “on the wrong team” by one of the attackers.

As he was being gassed and having his head smashed, Hodges recounted screaming for help until fellow officers were able to save him from the attackers.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ Nina Rees talked about congressional efforts to reduce federal funding of charter schools.
— Watch on www.c-span.org/video/

House Democrats want to ban for-profit charter management organizations, as Biden promised. Rees thinks this is terrible. CSPAN quotes the NPE report on for-profit EMOs (Chartered for Profit). Listen to call-ins at the end, which are opposed to charters. One call-in comes from Carol Burris, who wrote the NPE report. Rees makes for/profit charters sound benign. They are not. They are in it for the money.

Paul Butler is a professor at the Georgetown University School of Law.

In the Washington Post, where he is a contributing columnist, he writes that the disparate treatment of Nikole Hannah-Jones illustrates critical race theory. At the heart of CRT is the belief that systemic racism persists, despite legislative and judicial actions to banish it.

According to some leading critical race theorists, integration — thetraditional progressive route to racial justice — does not actually work for minorities. In this view, white supremacy is so embedded in most American institutions that people of color will never be accepted as equals — even when they are formally Reade entry.

UNC demonstrated that point after its journalism school offered Hannah-Jones, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, a prestigious professorship. The MacArthur “genius” learned that her initial appointment would be without tenure. She said she knew of no “legitimate reason” why “someone who has worked in the field as long as I have, who has the credentials, the awards, or the status that I have, should be treated different than every other white professor who came before me.” After a threatened lawsuit and huge public outcry, the university’s Board of Trustees voted 9 to 4 to extend tenure to Hannah-Jones….

Hannah-Jones’s rejection of a majority-White institution whose leaders clearly did not value her worth — and her embrace of a Black institution that did — embodied critical race theory’s foundational principles….

In a classic article published in 1976, Harvard professor Derrick Bell argued that during the Jim Crow era, Black students might have been better off if they had sought more resources for segregated schools rather than access to White schools. Bell’s premise was that actual integration would never happen, even if it were legally mandated, because of “massive white hostility.”

Critical race theorists described the heavy toll of desegregation efforts, including placing Blacks in hostile environments, in a way that resonates with Hannah-Jones’s explanation for her decision: “At some point when you have proven yourself and fought your way into institutions that were not built for you . . . you have to decide that you are done forcing yourself in….”

I have no beef with Hannah-Jones for declining a job at a journalism school that is literally named after the White man who, as he so delicately put it, “expressed my concerns” about her hiring. But, for now, I am okay with working at a university that in its early years was financed by the sale of enslaved people. I love my students and respect my colleagues, and have been part of the community’s efforts, still incomplete, to make reparations for that travesty. Sometimes, helping majority-White spaces be less racist and more inclusive feels transformative. Other times, it feels like an intellectual version of my great-grandfather’s job; he cleaned outhouses — i.e., shoveling White people’s excrement.

Much respect to Hannah-Jones for providing another example. Much respect to critical race theorists for keeping us focused on the crucial question: whether any approach can achieve racial justice in our flawed and divided country.

The Washington Post wrote about the teen who inspired Zaila Avant-Garde, the first African American to win the national spelling bee. A 13-year-old girl from Akron, MacNolia Cox, was among the first Black Americans to make it to the national spelling bee, 85 years ago. Her story says a lot about her determination, but also about the racism and segregation that she had to endure when she went to the championship bee in Washington, D.C. (Zaila is not only a spelling champion; she holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball skills. Watch the video. She’s amazing.) I had never heard of MacNolia Cox, but Zaila had, and she knew anything was possible.

About 3,000 people jammed into Union Station in Akron, Ohio, on the evening of Sunday, May 24, 1936. A military band played. A young man led some of the crowd in cheers; others burst into song. They were all awaiting the arrival of an unlikely hero: a tall and slender 13-year-old Black girl named MacNolia Cox. The shy eighth grader was Akron’s spelling bee champion.

A month earlier, MacNolia had stood on the stage at the city’s armory with 50 other children — the top scorers on a written spelling test. After 24 rounds, there were two spellers remaining. After 37 rounds, there were still two. Finally, MacNolia emerged victorious. With the proper spelling of “sciatica” and “voluble,” MacNolia became one of the first two Black children to qualify for the National Spelling Bee, held annually in the nation’s capital. The other was 15-year-old Elizabeth Kenney of New Jersey, who was also bound for Washington.

John S. Knight, the publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal, which sponsored the regional competition, fretted over MacNolia’s win.
“Washington is a segregated city,” he told Mabel Norris, the 21-year-old White reporter assigned to accompany MacNolia, her mother Ladybird and MacNolia’s White teacher, Cordelia Greve, to the competition. “You will have all kinds of difficulties,” he said.

But MacNolia wasn’t thinking about any of that when she boarded the Capitol Limited with a new suitcase filled with new clothes, all gifts from the city’s Black community to a family that could not afford such indulgences. For 30 days, while she diligently studied, MacNolia had been celebrated by Black communities across the country, by churches, social clubs, academics and politicians, even by vaudeville celebrities. Band maestro “Fats” Waller and tap dancer Bill Robinson brought her onstage at the RKO Palace in Cleveland. Her name was mentioned in the same breath as Marian Anderson and Jesse Owens — and now, this send off.

“This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” MacNolia declared with a wide grin.

“Bring back the championship,” hollered one person in the crowd.
“I’m going to try,” MacNolia promised as she settled in for her first train ride.

Hours later, near the Maryland border, MacNolia and her mother were ushered from their berths into the Jim Crow car.

The stories Mabel Norris wrote for the Akron Beacon Journal from Washington in May 1936 describe a fairy tale. Young MacNolia was whisked around the capital, seeing all the sights and even meeting President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Beacon Journal did not seem to think its readers wanted to hear the rest of the story.

Norris did not mention the segregated train cars, and she described MacNolia’s accommodations in the city as “one of the finest tributes to the Akron district champion.” MacNolia and her mother were staying in great comfort, as the guests of a prominent Black surgeon, T. Edward Jones, who lived near U Street, the city’s “Black Broadway.” But they were doing so only because they were not welcome at the Willard Hotel where the other White competitors stayed. MacNolia could not understand why, and her mother was at a loss to explain.

On the night before the competition, the 17 finalists were invited to a banquet at the Hamilton Hotel. Mabel Norris waited by the elevator for the pair to arrive, until she felt a tap on her shoulder. The spelling bee champion, in a white frock, stood behind her. Mother and daughter had not been allowed to use the front entrance to the hotel. Instead, they were directed through the kitchen and up the backstairs. In the banquet room, a two-seat table had been set apart from the head table where the White children sat.

But MacNolia seemed undaunted as she crossed the stage at the National Museum auditorium in her blue organdy dress and blue socks just before 10 a.m. on the morning of May 26, 1936. “As cool as a cucumber,” Norris wrote. “The least excited and nervous of the group.” Spelling, certainly, was the same no matter if you were Black or White…

There were 10 spellers left when the competition began airing live on the radio over the Columbia Broadcast System; Elizabeth Kenney had been the 11th. “P-R-O-M-E-N-A-D-E,” MacNolia spelled.
There were just five left when MacNolia got the word “Nemesis.” “Oh, no!” Cornelia Greve exclaimed. She flipped through MacNolia’s dictionary, filled with red check marks for the words the girl had studied, but there was no mark next to “Nemesis.” She had believed proper nouns would be excluded from the word list.

MacNolia looked up at the ceiling again and started to spell “N-E-M- … ” she began.

Mable Norris jumped up in protest as MacNolia finished the word, spelling it incorrectly. Norris, too, believed the word violated the contest rules. “No capitalized words shall be given,” she reminded the judges. Nemesis is a Greek goddess who exacts retribution against those who show hubris.

After a long, heated argument, the judges huddled to consider Norris’s objection. Norris walked over to the CBS announcer and made her case on the air: It was discrimination, she told the national audience. The judges were uncomfortable with the idea of a Black winner, she said, a charge the judges would deny.

MacNolia’s retelling of the next moment, published in “Whatever Happened to MacNolia Cox?,” a biography written by her niece Georgia Lee Gay, is unemotional: “It was supposed to be spelled with a capital letter and was not part of the official list, so the judges ruled me out of the contest.” MacNolia did not shed a tear when she was eliminated, but Norris remembered crying for her.

A Black girl’s triumph

MacNolia Cox returned to Akron to a welcome as grand as her send-off. She was feted with armfuls of roses and chauffeured in a car parade in her honor. The procession ended at her school, where MacNolia was introduced to hundreds of cheering classmates. The city’s former mayor wrote a poem that underlined her achievements: “A child whose forebears sold for gold / On slavery’s auction blocks / Has brought renown to our old town. / All hail, MacNolia Cox.”

But the attention soon faded. Gay wrote that the opportunities and college scholarships that were promised in the months after the bee never materialized and MacNolia was left scarred by the prejudice she experienced. “In some ways, she felt she would have been better off to have never won the Beacon Journal bee,” she wrote.

MacNolia Cox — then MacNolia Montiere — died in 1976 at the age of 53. Her obituary mentioned the Beacon Journal bee, but her story has now faded for most but her family — and one 14-year-old Black girl from Louisiana.

As she stood on the National Bee Stage on Thursday night, Zaila Avant-garde told reporters, she thought of MacNolia and what she had endured 85 years earlier. Then Avant-garde looked down and calmly spelled the winning word — M-U-R-R-A-Y-A — becoming the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

I remember the original promise of charter schools when the idea was first floated in the late 1980s. They would cost less than district schools because of no bureaucracy. They would be more accountable than district schools because they would lose their charter if they didn’t meet their academic goals. We now know that none of this is true. Charter leaders demand the same or more funding than their public counterparts. Although many charters close every year, many low-performing charters are not closed. And now we find that there is no financial accountability, that religious schools may become charters, that white-flight academies may become charters, and that some charter leaders pay themselves far more than district superintendents.

The latest example of charter refusal to be accountable is the Cornerstone charter chain in Detroit, where a major donor is battling in court to see a financial audit. The donor is especially interested in a jump in the charter leader’s salary from $500,000 to more than $800,000 in a two-year period, following the death of the original donor.

The story begins

A fissure has erupted between Clark Durant, the founder of Detroit’s Cornerstone charter schools, and the executors of the trust and estate of the schools’ largest funder: the late Bill Pulte Sr.

Last week Mark Pulte, the son of Pulte Sr. and a co-trustee of the William J. Pulte Trust, submitted a complaint to the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel. In it he called for an investigation into Durant as, well as the New Common School Foundation (NCSF), a non-profit Durant created to raise funds for the Cornerstone schools, a group of private, religious schools he opened in the 1990s, and subsequently transitioned into public-charter schools.

“I have grown increasingly concerned that NCSF, which is ostensibly a Michigan non-profit public charity whose mission is to educate disadvantaged students, is actually operating as a for-profit entity with the primary purpose of financially benefiting Mr. Durant,” Pulte, whose father has donated tens of millions of dollars to the foundation over the last two decades, wrote in the Nov. 30 complaint obtained by 7 Action News.

Pulte’s complaint comes in the midst of an already tense legal battle between the trust and the foundation.

In March, following a 7 Action News investigation into ethical questions surrounding rental contracts between Cornerstone’s public charter school boards (which Durant advises as CEO of the Cornerstone Education Group) and the NCSF (which acts as landlord, as well as a charity fundraising for the schools), the trust requested an audit from the foundation.

“The trustees remain confounded why your client refuses their reasonable request for an audit regarding the funds they have donated to the New Common School Foundation,” a trustee attorney wrote in a Mar. 12 email to the NCSF’s chairman Jeffery Neilson.

A while back, I read a vitriolic article in a rightwing publication that expressed contempt for the public schools and congratulated Betsy DeVos for trying to cut federal funding for schools.

The article asserted that public schools are “garbage” and the government should slash their funding. A major piece of evidence for the claim that money doesn’t matter was the failure of the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants program, which spent more than $3 billion and accomplished nothing. The evaluation of SIG was commissioned by the U.S Department of Education and quietly released just before the inauguration of Trump. The report was barely noticed. Yet now it is used by DeVos acolytes to oppose better funding of our schools.

The wave of Red4Ed teachers’ strikes in 2019 exposed the woeful conditions in many schools, including poorly paid teachers, lack of nurses and social workers and librarians, overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling facilities. The public learned from the teachers’ strikes that public investment in the schools in many states has not kept pace with the needs of students and the appropriate professional compensation of teachers. Many states are spending less now on education than they did in 2008 before the Great Recession. They reacted to the economic crisis by cutting taxes on corporations, which cut funding for schools.

Sadly, the Obama-Duncan Race to the Top program promoted the same strategies and goals as No Child Left Behind. Set goals for test scores and punish teachers and schools that don’t meet them. Encourage the growth of charter schools, which drain students and resources from schools with low test scores.

One can only dream, but what if Race to the Top had been called Race to Equity for All Our Children? What if the program had rewarded schools and districts that successfully integrated their schools? What if it had encouraged class-size reduction, especially in the neediest schools? Race to the Top and the related SIG program were fundamentally a replication and extension of NCLB.

When Arne Duncan defended his “reform” (disruption) ideas in the Washington Post, he cited a positive 2012 evaluation and belittled his own Department’s 2017 evaluation, which had more time to review the SIG program and concluded that it made no difference. The 2017 report provided support for those who say that money doesn’t matter, that teacher compensation doesn’t matter, that class size doesn’t matter, that schools don’t need a nurse, a library, a music and arts program, or adequate and equitable funding.

The Education Department’s 2017 evaluation shows that the Bush-Obama strategy didn’t made a difference because its ideas about how to improve education were wrong. Low-performing schools did not see test-score gains because both NCLB and RTTT were based on flawed ideas about competition, motivation, threats and rewards, and choice.

Here is a summary of the SIG program in the USED’s report that the Right used to defend DeVos’s proposed budget cuts.

The SIG program aimed to support the implementation of school intervention models in low-performing schools. Although SIG was first authorized in 2001, this evaluation focused on SIG awards granted in 2010, when roughly $3.5 billion in SIG awards were made to 50 states and the District of Columbia, $3 billion of which came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. States identified the low-performing schools eligible for SIG based on criteria specified by ED and then held competitions for local education agencies seeking funding to help turn around eligible schools.

SIG-funded models had no significant impact on test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment…

The findings in this report suggest that the SIG program did not have an impact on the use of practices promoted by the program or on student outcomes (including math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment), at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff. In higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as unobserved differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

These findings have broader relevance beyond the SIG program. In particular, the school improvement practices promoted by SIG were also promoted in the Race to the Top program. In addition, some of the SIG-promoted practices focused on teacher evaluation and compensation policies that were also a focus of Teacher Incentive Fund grants. All three of these programs involved large investments to support the use of practices with the goal of improving student outcomes. The findings presented in this report do not lend much support for the SIG program having achieved this goal, as the program did not appear to have had an impact on the practices used by schools or on student outcomes, at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff.

What NCLB, Race to the Top, and SIG demonstrated was that their theory of action was wrong. They did not address the needs of students, teachers, or schools. They imposed the lessons of the non-existent Texas “miracle” and relied on carrots and sticks to get results. They failed, but they did not prove that money doesn’t matter.

Money matters very much. Equitable and adequate funding matters. Class size matters, especially for children with the highest needs. A refusal to look at evidence and history blinds us to seeing what must change in federal and state policy. It will be an uphill battle but we must persuade our representatives in state legislatures and Congress to open their eyes, acknowledge the failure of the test-and-punish regime, and think anew about the best ways to help students, teachers, families, and communities.

The findings of the report were devastating, not only to the SIG program, but to the punitive strategies imposed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which together cost many more billions. 

My first reaction was, Money doesn’t matter if you spend it on the wrong strategies, like punishing schools that don’t improve test scores, like ignoring the importance of reducing class size, like ignoring the importance of poverty in the lives of children, like ignoring decades of social science that out-of-school factors affect student test scores more than teachers do.

The Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina recently offered the prestigious Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism to Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones is an alumna of the Hussman School who has received many honors for her writing. She recently won a Pulitzer Prize for “The 1619 Project,” which she organized and for which she wrote the lead essay, recasting the role of Blacks in American history.

But there was one hitch: Unlike previous winners of the Knight Chair, she would not receive tenure. This decision was made not by the faculty of the Hussman School, but by the trustees of the University. Mega donor Walter Hussman—for whom the journalism school is named— conveyed his disappointment to Board members and university officials about Hannah-Jones’ appointment. Hannah-Jones said she would not accept the offer unless it included tenure.

Black students and faculty were furious and saw the treatment of Hannah-Jones as evidence of systemic racism at UNC. The faculty of the Hussman School was outraged that the university board overrode their decision.

Yesterday the University board of trustees reversed their decision and agreed to offer tenure to Hannah-Jones. The vote was 9-4. They had to choose whether it would be more dangerous to offend the state’s Republican legislators or to offend their Black faculty and students and the faculty of the journalism school.

They chose.