Archives for category: Accountability

The Washington Post has an interesting article about a curious phenomenon: Deaths caused by opiod abuse are rising, while prosecution of those involved in the supply line by the Drug Enforcement Administration has been ebbing.

The story begins:

“A decade ago, the Drug ­Enforcement Administration launched an aggressive campaign to curb a rising opioid epidemic that was claiming thousands of American lives each year. The DEA began to target wholesale companies that distributed hundreds of millions of highly addictive pills to the corrupt pharmacies and pill mills that illegally sold the drugs for street use.

Leading the campaign was the agency’s Office of Diversion Control, whose investigators around the country began filing civil cases against the distributors, issuing orders to immediately suspend the flow of drugs and generating large fines.

But the industry fought back. Former DEA and Justice Department officials hired by drug companies began pressing for a softer approach. In early 2012, the deputy attorney general summoned the DEA’s diversion chief to an unusual meeting over a case against two major drug companies.

“That meeting was to chastise me for going after industry, and that’s all that meeting was about,” recalled Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who ran the diversion office for a decade before he was removed from his position and retired in 2015.

Rannazzisi vowed after that meeting to continue the campaign. But soon officials at DEA headquarters began delaying and blocking enforcement actions, and the number of cases plummeted, according to on-the-record interviews with five former agency supervisors and internal records obtained by The Washington Post.”

What gives?

It is always useful to follow the money trail. The article mentions Purdue Pharmaceuticals, one of the biggest manufacturers of opioids.

Purdue has made one family into billionaires: the Sackler family of Connecticut, who made Forbes list of the nation’s richest families in 2015, with a family valuation of $13.5 billion. By some estimates, more than 2 million people are addicted to OxyContin is the US. Purdue has paid out hundreds of millions in fine, and the state of Kentucky is suing the company for nearly $1 billion. Not to put to fine a point on the matter, one article blamed the opiod epidemic on one company, with its aggressive marketing: “How the American opiate epidemic was started by one pharmaceutical company.” That company: Purdue, owned by the Sackler family.

What does this have to do with education?

Jonathan Sackler of the billionaire Sacklers is a big supporter of charters and privatization. Jonathan Pelto pointed this out in this post.

Charters? Check.

50CAN? Check.

StudentsFirst? Check.

Teach for America? Check.

Students for Educational Reform? Check.

And let us not forget daughter Madeline Sackler’s worshipful film about Eva Moskowitz called “The Lottery.”

It is ironic that people who fight for the public good must turn to crowd-sourcing and GoFundMe and Kickstarter campaigns, while those who push privatization of public schools can count on fortunes created by drug abuse, death, and addiction.

Peter Greene writes about a ruling in Pennsylvania that protects the privacy rights of teachers. The public does not have a right to know where teachers live, i.e., their home addresses. Sounds simple, no?

Today, when there are so many challenges to privacy, this is a ruling that is heartening.

Now, we need parents willing to challenge the right of school districts to agree to the data mining of their students without parental consent.

And parents who will sue when the district gives the names and addresses of their students to charter chains in search of students.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, former talk show host, really wants vouchers for the millions of students in Texas. Fortunately, he has been defeated year after year by a coalition of rural Tepublicans and urban Democrats.

The battle is on again this year. Patrick and his fellow ideological zealots are headed for a showdown on the issue. There is no evidence that vouchers “work,” and much evidence that they don’t. In a state like Texas, the voucher proposal is strongly opposed by a brave group called Pastors for Texas Children. (Make a donation if you can to help them.)

Supporters of vouchers insist that the schools that receive public funds should be exempt from state tests or any other accountability measures, which might limit their “freedom.”

“A bipartisan group of state representatives hammered private school choice proponents at a heated legislative hearing on Monday, signaling an enduring uphill battle in the Texas House for proposals that would use taxpayer dollars to help parents send their kids to private or parochial schools, or educate them at home.

“Rural Republicans and Democrats in the lower chamber have long blocked such programs — often referred to in sweeping terms as “private school vouchers,” although there are variations. Passing one has emerged as a top priority in the Texas Senate for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who unsuccessfully pushed a private school choice program when he was a Republican state senator from Houston and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.”

Of course, the proposal for vouchers is a pathetic excuse for failing to restore the $5 billion cut to the public schools in 2011.

Mike Klonsky reports on the Trump plan to get rid of public education, as described by Carl Paladino, a Trump surrogate and far-right extremist who owns charter schools in Buffalo, New York.

“If there was any doubt, Trump surrogate Carl Paladino made it perfectly clear that if his boss is elected his goal will be nothing less than the elimination of public education and complete liquidation of the nation’s teacher unions.

Paladino ran for governor against Cuomo and lost. He is the Trump of upstate New York.

Buffalo, NY | WNYmedia Network | Live Video | Video News

Klonsky writes:

“Paladino, Trump’s N.Y State co-chairman told a group of urban school superintendents yesterday, that Trump would seek to do away with “corrupted, incompetent” public school systems in America’s cities, replacing them with charter schools and vouchers for private schools.”

Clinton may or may not continue Obama’s disastrous education policies, but she will listen when we push back.

Please read the excellent letter in the New York Times by Jitu Brown, director of Journey for Justice, defending the decision of the NAACP to call for a moratorium on charter schools.

Jitu was one of the leaders of the Dyett hunger strike, in which a group of community activists refused to eat for 34 days until the city of Chicago agreed not to close the last open-enrollment high school in their community. They won and the school reopened this fall.

Jitu is an authentic civil rights leader in Chicago and nationally. He has organized parents in major cities to fight back and speak out against school closings.

He is also a valued member of the board of directors of the Network for Public Education.

In one of the most ethically-challenged actions of former Education Department officials, a group made a bid for the for-profit University of Phoenix, whose fortunes were waning due to regulations and oversight by the prospective new purchasers. The Wall Street Journal cried foul when the deal went public months ago, saying that the same government officials who drove down the UP stock price were taking advantage of the low price for their own gain.

Politico reports that enrollment at UP continues to fall, but the deal is moving ahead:

“WITH SALE ON THE LINE, UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX ENROLLMENT DOWN AGAIN: The parent company of the University of Phoenix reported another sharp drop in enrollment Thursday, while a proposed sale of the for-profit college giant continues to hang in the balance. Apollo Education Group told investors that enrollment at the University of Phoenix was 142,500 as of Aug. 31 – a more than 25 percent decline from a year earlier. New enrollments also fell by nearly 27 percent, to 19,400. A group of private investors with ties to the Obama administration are seeking to buy Apollo. The company had previously warned that if the sale wasn’t completed by early October, its worsening financial condition might sink the deal. But Thursday Apollo Education told investors that it currently meets the minimum financial standards required for the deal to close – and expects to continue meeting those standards going forward. Michael Stratford has more.”

To read the links, read here:

Graduation rates at for-profit institutions are abysmal.

They have been called predators in Cipongressional hearings. They prey on the unwary.

Their defenders and lobbyists are described here.

Valerie Strauss writes about a visit by President Obama to a highly selective public school in Washington, D.C. He brought with him his two Education Secretaries, Arne Duncan and John King.

He said he wanted every school to be as great as the school he was visiting, Benjamin Banneker. But there was much he did not mention.

Strauss writes:

“There’s no denying that Banneker is a top-performing school in the nation’s capital, and that 100 percent of its seniors graduate. But it’s unclear if Obama knows that if every school did what Banneker does, the high school graduation rate might plummet. That’s because Banneker is a magnet school where students must apply to get in — but the only entry grades are ninth and tenth. And they must maintain a B- average to stay. Kids who can’t cut it leave, but that attrition isn’t counted against the school’s graduation rate.”

He did not talk about his administration’s preference for charter schools over public schools. He did not acknowledge how Race to the Top had promoted privatization and led to the closure of thousands of public schools, mostly in communities of color. He didn’t talk about Common Core or the $$360 million that Duncan spent to create two testing comsortia aligned to Common Core, nor about the slow collapse of both consortia. He did not mention Dincan’s obsession with “bad teachers” or his mandate for evaluating teachers by test scores, which has generated a widespread teacher shortage.

President Obama is a brilliant man. Why is he so oblivious to the damage caused by Race to the Top, Arne Duncan, and John King?

Some years ago, I visited Constitution Hall in Philadelphia with my then-young children. The guide, a young man, said, “One of the most momentous events in world history happened in this room.” Long pause. He continued: “George Washington decided not to run for re-election. He could have but he didn’t. He could have appointed himself king. He was the most popular man in the new nation. But he stepped aside and there was another election. And he was succeeded by John Adams. Adams didn’t inherit the office. He had to win the election.” He went on to explain how unusual it was to have a peaceful transfer of power in a world of hereditary kings, tribes, and dynasties.

The young man’s reverence for our democracy has remained with me all these years. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election in Florida by 537 votes. The winning candidate, George W. Bush was the big brother of the Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush. Ralph Nader won nearly 100,000 votes in Florida. Gore had good reason to be angry and feel cheated. But Gore was gracious. He conceded, and he never complained that the system was “rigged.”

[There was one other election where the loser won the popular vote and may have even won the electoral college, in 1876, but a deal was struck that gave the election to Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel J. Tilden. The deal involved an agreement to end Reconstruction, withdraw federal troops from the south, and leave southern blacks to the mercy of southern whites. That was not included in my high school U.S. history textbook in Texas.]

What is remarkable in the election of 2016 is that the Republican nominee is claiming that the entire electoral system is rigged before the election has occurred. He offers no evidence for this belief. There is none. The election system is very decentralized, and besides, most states now have Republican governors. There is no rigging going on. At the conclusion of the third debate, he refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election if he lost. That shocked a lot of people. The next day he said he would accept the results “if he won.” Not good enough.

Donald Trump is trying to discredit the election and the American electoral process because he is behind in the polls. Clearly, he doesn’t understand that a basic rule of democracy is to be dignified and gracious, whether in victory or defeat. Instead, he prefers to sow doubt about the legitimacy of democracy itself. He must have been a horribly spoiled child, raised with a sense of entitlement. Maybe his father fixed all the games he played in so he could always win.

Nothing is so pitiable as a sore loser.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (Indiana) endorsed State Superintendent Glenda Ritz for re-election.

I add my strong support for Ritz, who has shown courage, integrity, and vision on behalf of the children of Indiana, even as Governor Pence and his allies have kept up a relentless attack on public schools and on Ritz personally.

The editorial says:

“In a year [2012] that saw sweeping Republican victories in Indiana, more than 1.3 million Hoosiers chose Democrat Glenda Ritz for state superintendent. No clearer repudiation of the state’s direction in education policy – school choice, high-stakes testing, Common Core, punitive school letter grades – could be found than in the resounding 2012 defeat of Superintendent Tony Bennett, the face of so-called education reform.

“But newly elected Gov. Mike Pence, the GOP-controlled General Assembly and deep-pocketed reform supporters did not get the message. They immediately set to work to diminish Ritz’s authority – at one point establishing a shadow education agency to undermine her work. The state superintendent has spent much of the past four years battling their obstructive efforts, but she delivered on her pledge to challenge the direction Indiana’s public schools were being taken. Today, Ritz remains the best candidate to prevent development of a two-tier system: private schools allowed to choose their own students and public schools left with fewer resources to serve everyone else. She’s best positioned to finally move to a student-centered testing system and to serve as a check on a voucher program with few safeguards.

“Republican Jennifer McCormick, superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools, has a solid record of serving students and public schools. But her promise to put students before politics is diminished by the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions she’s accepted from the very individuals and interest groups determined to steer money from public schools for private benefit….

“Ritz, a former school media specialist, defends her record, noting improvements in performance at nearly 200 schools targeted for assistance; supporting student success in career and technical education; an increased number of school safety specialists; continuing focus on family literacy; and a strategy to address a growing teacher shortage.

“The reason I speak about outreach so much is because that’s what my job is really about – serving kids in our schools, making sure they get what they need,” she said. “Where people say they have a perception I don’t work with somebody? I work with everybody. That’s the only way I can move things forward.”

“McCormick pledges to improve communication, which she argues is “very splintered, not real timely and not very manageable to try to find what you’re being told.”

“I would argue we don’t have a lot of real leadership at the (Department of Education) to give us the guidance that would be necessary for superintendents and principals and educators,” she said.

“It’s a valid complaint confirmed by other administrators, but it also ignores the full-court defense Ritz has been forced to employ. She would benefit in a second term from appointing an unofficial cabinet of advisers – retired administrators and teachers who can suggest ways to improve procedures for local school districts, particularly in improving the state’s testing program.

“As a district superintendent, McCormick might be better prepared for administrative duties, but she is not prepared for the inevitable political forces. As of Wednesday, she had accepted more than $195,000 – more than two-thirds of her total contributions – from school choice advocates. Some are the same donors who backed Bennett four years ago. The same legislators responsible for laws harmful to public education will return to the Statehouse in January.

“To ensure the votes they cast in 2012 continue to protect Indiana’s public schools and place students first, Hoosiers should choose Ritz once again.”

If you live anywhere near Philadelphia, you should not miss the premiere of the stunning documentary “Backpack Full of Cash.” It is an expose of the corporate education reform movement. It has the potential to inform the public about the billionaire-funded effort to privatize our public schools.

The producers and director are the same team from Stone Lantern Films that created the award-winning PBS series called “School” a decade ago.

“Backpack” is narrated by Matt Damon.

The producers found it far harder to raise funding for this film than for their “School” series. Try to see the film but also consider a contribution to their crowd-sourcing fund. They need our help to tell the story of an unprecedented assault on American public education. They have started a Kickstarter campaign to get your assistance in telling the story of the efforts to privatize public education. Please give whatever you can. This is a very professionally made film and it will help to educate the public about the dangers of corporate education “reform.”




Dear Friends and Supporters, 

We are very happy to announce the world premiere of our 95-minute documentary BACKPACK FULL OF CASH at the Philadelphia Film Festival with screenings to be held on two Saturdays, October 22 and October 29, 2016. BACKPACK producers Sarah Mondale and Vera Aronow will present the film and participate in a Q&A session after the screenings.

The film examines major threats to public education from the movement for market based reform, including the rapid growth of privately-run charter schools, vouchers and tax credit “scholarships”, cyber charter schools, standardized testing, and the attack on teachers. 


BACKPACK follows students, parents, teachers and activists through the tumultuous 2013-14 school year in Philadelphia and other cities, giving viewers an inside look at what happens to public schools when scarce taxpayer dollars are shifted into private hands. 

Key participants include children whose lives were upended by the dramatic events that rocked the Philadelphia school district in 2013-14, as well as local leaders including City Council member Helen Gym, Philadelphia’s Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney (former Principal of South Philadelphia High) and School Superintendent William Hite. The film also features interviews with historian Diane Ravitch, policy analyst Linda Darling Hammond, and journalist David Kirp, among other national figures.  One of our goals, as filmmakers, is to emphasize the importance of just, fair public schools that are places of hope for children of all backgrounds.

We are especially happy to be premiering BACKPACK FULL OF CASH  in the city where we spent so much time filming with the support and cooperation of so many wonderful people. Please join us at one of the festival screenings. We hope to see you there.


PFF25 Festival Screenings

Saturday, October 22, 2016 at 5:10PM

Prince Theater, Philadelphia, PA


Saturday, October 29, 2016 at 4:10PM

Prince Theater, Philadelphia, PA 

View the full program guide here.

Purchase your tickets here!

Thank you for supporting our work.  


Sarah Mondale – Stone Lantern Films and Vera Aronow – Turnstone Productions