Archives for category: Billionaires

Tom Ultican tells the sad story of the Johns Hopkins University Education Policy Institute, which was once known for unbiased scholarship.

As he recounts the politicization of the Institute, he explains the upside of joining forces with privatizers, disrupters, standardized testing zealots, allies of Relay “Graduate School” of Education and the charter industry. The Institute is now the recipient of millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, Charles Koch, the Walton family, and other very rich luminaries of the philanthropic world.

In one of JHU’s consequential reports, it was commissioned to study the high-poverty Providence, RI, school district. Only weeks later, they turned in a gloomy assessment that set the stage for a state takeover. Then-Governor Gina Raimondo hired ex-TFA Angelica Infante-Greene, who never been a principal or a superintendent, as State Commissioner of Education. She, in turn, hired a new superintendent and deputy superintendent for Providence, who were both fired after the deputy was caught forcibly massaging boys’ toes.

Infante-Greene has now been inducted into Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change (which had previously designated by Chiefs as a future leader.)

Is it worth mentioning that the outcomes of state takeovers have been dismal?

Salon writes that the two leading candidates in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary—Andrew Yang and Eric Adams—are funded by major supporters of the Republican Party: billionaire Dan Loeb and Chicago-based Ken Griffin. Loeb was chairman of the board of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain.

Readers of this blog know why rightwing billionaires buy politicians. Charters and school privatization. Why do people like Dan Loeb, Ken Griffin, the Walton, and Charles Koch care so much about the issue. They believe that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. They know that 90% of charter schools are non-union and more of them will break the nation’s strongest unions in a shrinking segment of the workforce.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez endorsed civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley. Wiley is the only candidate who has openly opposed charter school expansion.

The New York Times and the Daily News endorsed Kathryn Garcia, who was most recently was Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation and is known for her competence. Although she is a graduate of the NYC public schools, she supports lifting the cap on charter schools. The city currently has nearly 300 charters that enroll 12% of the city’s children.

Big secret: Many public schools have longer wait lists than charters.

Walter Isaccson, author of best-selling biographies and former editor of TIME, wrote this awestruck article about Bill Gates in 1997. At the time, Bill was the richest man in the world, his marriage to Melinda was new, and he hadn’t yet decided that he was the smartest man in the world and knew everything better than those who had worked in their profession for years. This is Bill Gates before he decided to reinvent American education. It’s also a fascinating peek into the lifestyle of zthe then richest man in the world (he’s #3 now, behind Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk). And it includes a curious detail about Bill’s personal life: once a year, he spends a weekend with a woman friend, where they commune and discuss weighty things.

Several news outlets reported that Melinda Gates began to meet with divorce lawyers in 2019 because of Bill’s relationship to Jeffrey Epstein, convicted pedophile. Melinda thought he was repulsive, Bill did not. Bill said he had neither a business relationship nor a friendship with Epstein. Whatever it was, Melinda did not like it.

Just days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Bill left the Microsoft board because was in an inappropriate relationship with an employee:

Microsoft Corp. board members decided that Bill Gates needed to step down from its board in 2020 as they pursued an investigation into the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate, people familiar with the matter said.

Members of the board tasked with the matter hired a law firm to conduct an investigation in late 2019 after a Microsoft engineer alleged in a letter that she had a sexual relationship over years with Mr. Gates, the people said.

Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts. His specialty is following the gobs of money poured into “education reform.” His exposes of Dark Money in the 2016 charter expansion referendum was a crucial element in turning the public against the referendum (you can read more about him in his blogs and in my book Slaying Goliath.)

In this post, published here for the first time, Professor Cunningham writes about the innocence or naïveté of Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who met with a billionaire astroturf group and thought he was reaching out to ordinary parents and families.

Cunningham writes:

Who Got Suckered, Secretary Cardona or Readers of The74?

“The Pro-privatization education blog The74 recently published To Rebuild Trust with Families, Ed. Dept. Seeks Input from Outspoken Parents Group. The story purports to be about how Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona “seeks” the advice of parents and thus turns to the National Parents Union. But the National Parents Union isn’t about parents, it’s a front for oligarchs with “parents” in the name. So who got suckered here, Secretary Cardona or readers of The74?”

“Let’s start at the end of the post, with The74’s disclaimer:

Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The City Fund provide financial support to the National Parents Union and The 74.

Let’s not stop there. Here’s an excerpt from The74’s first ever piece of NPU puffery, Mothers of Invention: Frustrated with the Educational Status Quo and Conventional Parent Organizing, Two Latinas Gave Birth to a National Parents Union.”

Marquez and Rodrigues raised seed money and funding for the recent convening from several philanthropies that fund education initiatives: The Walton Family Foundation; EdChoice; the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; National School Choice Week; the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; and The City Fund, which in turn receives funding from Walton, the Hastings Fund, the Arnold Foundation (now Arnold Ventures), the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ballmer Group.

“Picture this. You’re a parent sitting at your kitchen table thinking about school just like millions of parents across the country. You call a friend across the country and decide to start a parents group. You’ll need some startup money so you divide up possible donors: ‘You call the Waltons, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, and John Arnold. I’ve got Mike Dell, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Mark Zuckerberg, and Charles Koch.’

“A few months after ‘giving birth’ Ms. Marquez disappeared from her position as secretary-treasurer. No word from NPU or The74 on what happened to her. 

“You’d have to know this to get the irony of The74 writing a headline about rebuilding “trust” with parents. Maybe rebuilding trust with the Waltons, Koch, et al. but not parents. 

“Here’s how The74’s post begins:

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Monday he wants “families at the table” as schools prepare for the fall, offering welcome news to parents who have felt shut out of efforts to help their children recover from the pandemic.

Last week, his staff took steps to fill up the guest list by contacting the National Parents Union, a network of advocacy groups that has been critical of distance learning, especially for low-income and minority students, and has pushed for schools to reopen.

On April 28, Christian Rhodes, chief of staff for the department’s Office of Elementary and Secretary of Education, met with Keri Rodrigues, National Parents Union’s founding president, and Marisol Rerucha, the group’s chief of strategy and partnerships.

Since then, the group’s representatives have been asked to work with the department’s School Climate and Discipline Work Group and the Office of Parent Engagement and Communication, and to be involved in a meeting regarding federal relief funds later this week.

“This is artful. It starts out with an actual quote from Secretary Cardona and then transitions to the only place one could go to hear the authentic voice of parents, NPU. If any of this is true, it is epically bad staff work. We can discuss corporate America’s value in education policy but Gates, Walton et al. have no problem getting a seat at the table. They just shouldn’t get one masquerading as parents. 

“Back to that kitchen table conversation. ‘Oh, and once we line up the Waltons and Gates and those other billionaires, we’ll need a chief of strategy and partnerships. Every parent group needs one of those.’

“Just wondering, who was the source for this information?”

“They feel like we represent a really important constituency,” Rodrigues said. “We were very clear with them. We’re not here just to be disseminating information from [the department]. We need to be informing policy.”

“It appears that the source was Ms. Rodrigues, not only a mother of invention but now able to read the feelings of DOE personnel. It doesn’t look like The74 spoke to any DOE source.”

The department’s invitation to the organization to be part of its “kitchen cabinet” follows accusations that the teachers unions have had greater access to the secretary and the administration than other interest groups. The National Parents Union represents groups that have largely blamed unions for slowing down the reopening process and say schools have failed their children during the pandemic. Parent organizations were not represented during Cardona’s March 24 reopening summit, and in early April, Rodrigues said she was “furious” that the department had not yet reached out to any groups within the network. With states facing a June 7 deadline to submit plans to the department for spending American Rescue Plan funds, some of those local groups now want to have more say in how districts spend that money.

“‘Kitchen cabinet’”? Here is something very basic from the concept of principal-agent theory. A principal, here the lead investor Walton Family Foundation, employs an agent, here Ms. Rodrigues, to pursue the goals of the principal. So you have an agent of the Walton family and its wealthy allies in Secretary Cardona’s “kitchen cabinet.” 

“Let’s continue with that paragraph because it’s really funny: “accusations that the teachers unions have had greater access.” With a link! But the link has nothing to do with accusations about teachers unions, it is to a Today.com story where First Lady Jill Biden is praising teachers for their matchless contributions to children’s development, Jill Biden honors fellow teachers in her 1st official event as first lady. I cannot make this up. 

“So who has made accusations against teachers unions? National Parents Union! Which is exactly what we should expect from an agent working for the anti-union Waltons and Koch.

“States are looking at revisiting what it means to have families engaged,” Cardona said at the Education Writers Association’s annual conference. “This pandemic taught us that we have to be nimble, we have to be flexible and we have to meet families where they are.”

As part of his “Help is Here” tour to local schools, mostly in the Northeast, the secretary has interacted with some parents who don’t represent particular advocacy groups. And Rodrigues said her group is directing the department to other organizations “doing important work.”

Cunningham concludes:

“Wait a minute, Secretary Cardona has already been meeting with real parents? I imagine one of the groups Ms. Rodrigues will be recommending is Massachusetts Parents United, which she also “founded” with millions in Walton backing and where the organizations Form 990 tax return shows that she was compensated $189,000 in 2019. 

“Here’s more artistry from The74, the very next paragraph:

“Rachel Thomas, a spokeswoman for the education department, said working with parents is “critical” to addressing academic inequities made worse by the pandemic.

“It’s with parents’ partnership that we can build our education system back better than it was before, and make sure our schools are welcoming environments that work for all students, not just some,” she said.

“The placement invites the reader to conclude that Ms. Thomas was responding to Ms. Rodrigues. But there’s no evidence she was. It’s just boilerplate. 

“The story goes on some, I provided a link above.

“National Parents Union is a sucker’s game. The question is, who got suckered, Secretary Cardona, his staff, or the readers of The74

“Or all three?”

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money, democracy, and oligarchy.]


Tom Ultican explains why he spends so much of his time fighting for public schools.

The original cause for my supporting public education was that my rancher father married a school teacher. Growing up on a southern Idaho ranch, I learned many philosophical and theoretical reasons for supporting the establishment and maintenance of public schools from my mother. However, it was from watching mom and her dedicated colleagues in action that I learned to truly respect and appreciate public school.

I remember stories of my father being warned that he better not treat that women wrong. For several years in a row she won the Elmore County sharp shooting contest. She didn’t like to chop a chicken’s head off so she would pull out her rifle and shoot it off.

Mom had some old school attitudes but maintained a mind of her own. There was a period in which she had to come home at lunch time and milk the cow. One Friday, after having to chase the cow across King Hill creek again, she had had enough; didn’t discuss it just loaded that cow into a trailer and took it to market.

In my home, there was no doubt about the value of education and also an abiding belief that the American public education system was unparalleled. My father was a high school basketball referee and an ardent supporter of music study.

As was common in the community, school events were family events. Helping the local school was one of the main missions of our civic organizations whether it was building viewing stands at the football field or sewing costumes for school plays.

My grandfather was an immigrant from Scotland who came to America on the Lusitania. Three years after his arrival that ship was sunk by a German U-boat killing 1,800 passengers and further pushing America into engaging with World War I.

It was through family in Scotland that my mother became familiar with the British Education system. She learned of its high stakes testing which was deciding a child’s education path; if that education would continue and weather it would be academic or vocational. To her, the great advantage for America’s schools was they did not have these kinds of tests determining a child’s future. American students were not immersed in testing hell.

Instead of being sorted out by testing, American students had multiple opportunities to reenter the education system in whatever capacity they desired. Immature 11-year olds, did not have their futures decided by dubious testing results.

Still today, Idaho has a greater than 90% white population making it one of the whitest places in the world. It used to be even whiter.

I did not meet a Black person until I was a 17 years-old high school student. That year the University of Idaho Vandaleers gave a concert at my high school. A local rancher’s wife threw an after party for the choir and that is where I met Ray McDonald. Not only was he a talented singer, he was also one of the top running backs in America who would soon be drafted in the second round by the Washington DC professional football team. All I really remember is I was star struck and he was a friendly guy who played piano.

Although there was very little racial diversity in the community there was significant religious diversity. We had Mormons, Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Assembly of God and other denominations attending our schools.

In a 2001 interview conducted at the Gathering, Richard DeVos lamented that it was awful that public schools had replaced churches as the center of communities. He did not identify whose church was going to be accepted as the community center.

The unifying factor in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho was the public schools. Children from rich families and poor families grew up together in those schools. At school functions, parents from the disparate religious sects came together and formed common bonds. Political decisions concerning community governance were developed through these school based relationships.

Public schools became the foundation for democratic governance in the region plus it was literally where people voted. To me, it is unfeasible that a healthy American democracy does not include a healthy public school system.

America’s Founding Fathers Believed in Public Education

The second and third presidents of the United States advocated powerfully for public education. Thomas Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing out of common farmers the enlightened citizenry that would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson contended,

“The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”

When Jefferson who was a former ambassador to France was queried about the French Revolution, he responded, “It has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.” He called for the establishment of universal free public education claiming it as a requisite for the survival of a democratic republic.

Jefferson and his peer John Adams were integral to the founding of the United States. Jefferson is credited as the main author of the Declaration of Independence. Our system of government with its bi-cameral legislative branch, judicial branch and executive branch came about in great measure because of John Adams’ advocacy.

Like Jefferson, Adams also saw public education as crucial for the survival of our fledgling democracy. In a 1775 essay, he wrote:

“reformation must begin with the Body of the People which can be done only, to affect, in their Educations. the Whole People must take upon themselvs the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expences of it. there should not be a district of one Mile Square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expence of the People themselves”

Shortly before the American Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had published the controversial novel Emile, or On Education. He was widely condemned by the ruling elite for the religious views expressed in the book. However, the main portion of the book was about education. Rousseau’s character in the book was a tutor for children of the wealthy. That was the nature of education in the 18thcentury. Only children of the wealthy had the wherewithal to be educated by private tutors or in one of the few private schools.

Jefferson and Adams were calling for egalitarian progress giving common people the tools required to be self-governing. They were calling for a public school system.

It was the Massachusetts education advocate, Horace Mann, who more than any American political leader was responsible for the nationwide spread of public schools. With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the fabric of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being that instrument.

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Integrating the Protestant religious view into the common schools caused a split in communities. The burgeoning Catholic immigrant population did not want their children indoctrinated with an anti-Catholic ideology. Following the civil war, these influences irrupted into the “Bible Wars.” Author Katherine Stewart shared that it was in this atmosphere that “President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse.”

Stewart also shared an insightful admonition from Grant:

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Early in the 20th century, public schools had been established serving every community from coast to coast. The results from this vast American public education experiment shine like a lighthouse beacon on the path of Democracy and social happiness. A nation that entered the century as a 2nd rate power ended the century as the undisputed world leader in literacy, economy, military power, industrial might, cultural influence and more.

Today, unbelievably, more and more forces are agitating to undo public education and even American Democracy itself.

As the 21st century dawned, the American public education system was facing a billionaire financed attack. Instead of financially enhancing public schools, libertarians called them “failures” and too expensive. They called public schools “monopolies” shutting out private business that would surely outperform “government schools.” Hopefully the aphorism attributed Lincoln is true: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

Steve Ruis writes in his blog that “class warfare” is over, finished, kaput. The top .001% won. They made out like bandits during the pandemic while most people struggled to pay the mortgage or the rent. No wonder they prefer to claim that charter schools and vouchers will raise up the poor. Of course, they won’t.

He writes:

From an article in The Guardian on Forbes magazine’s latest list of billionaires:

“Forbes annual billionaire poll includes a record-breaking 2,755 billionaires, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once again topping the list. Elon Musk, zoomed into second place with a $151bn fortune, up $126.4bn from a year ago, when he ranked No 31 and was worth “just” $24.6bn.”

“Elon Musk, zoomed into second place with a $151bn fortune, up $126.4bn from a year ago.”

“Together the plutocrats added $5tn to their wealth for a combined fortune of $13.1tn, up from $8tn on the 2020 list. A record 493 people joined the list this year – one new billionaire every 17 hours. The majority, 205, were in China. But the gains were widespread with gains across the world.”

“But it was the incredibly wealthy who made the biggest gains. The 0.001% did even better than their lesser peers. The top 10 richest people on the list are worth $1.15tn, up from $686bn last year.”

Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, which is part of the City University of New York. Gabor has written insightful articles about education in the New York Times and at Bloomberg.com. She is the author of After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Education Reform.

The following is a summary of a chapter in her forthcoming book, MEDIA CAPTURE: HOW MONEY, DIGITAL PLATFORMS, AND GOVERNMENTS CONTROL THE NEWS, which will be published by Columbia University Press in June. She prepared this excerpt for this blog.

She writes:

For the past twenty years, American K-12 education has been on the receiving end of Big Philanthropy’s efforts to reengineer public schools based on free-market ideas, with foundation-funded private operators taking over large swaths of school districts in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Between 2000 and 2005 alone, three foundations—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation—quadrupled their spending on K–12 education to $400 million. By 2010, the top 15 foundations had spent $844 million on public education.

Moreover, these Big Philanthropies coordinated their spending, investing in what Harvard’s Jal Mehta and Johns Hopkins’s Steven Teles call “jurisdictional challengers”—efforts aimed atupending traditional educational institutions, in particular public schools and school boards. Instead, the foundations funded a range of private and public institutions, including charter-management organizations and alternative teacher-development institutions such as Teach for America, as well as school-board candidates who would back the philanthropists’ reform agenda and help break the “monopoly” of public-school districts.

Diane Ravitch and a slew of other academics, bloggers and writers have documented the growing influence of Big Philanthropy and its convergence with federal education policies, especially under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, creating what the political scientist Sarah Reckhow calls “a perfect storm.”

As part of its soup-to-nuts strategy designed to maximize the impact of its gifts and expand its influence, Big Philanthropy has expanded its reach to universities, think tanks, government institutions, and the news media.

My chapter, “Media Capture and the Corporate Education-Reform Philanthropies,” in Media Capture, explores the efforts of the Big Philanthropy to shape public opinion by ratcheting up its spending on advocacy and, in particular, by investing in local news organizations. The philanthropies have supported education coverage at a range of mainstream publications—investments that often helped promote the foundations’ education-reform agenda. In addition, they have founded publications specifically dedicated to selling their market-oriented approach to education.

For the news media, battered by internet companies such as Craigslist and Facebook, which have siphoned off advertising revenue, funding from philanthropies comes at an opportune time. Nor can private foundations be faulted for supporting the news media, especially given the rise of “alternative facts” and demagoguery during the Trump era. Foundation funding has long been important to a range of respected news organizations such as The New York Times and National Public Radio, as well as established education publications, such as Education Week.This is not to say that this funding has unleashed a spate of pro-reform coverage. Indeed, I have published essays critical of the education-reform philanthropies in many foundation-funded publications. However, logic suggests that publications desirous of repeat tranches of funding will at least moderate their critical coverage.

What is particularly troubling are the large contributions to local news organizations—many of them earmarked specifically for education coverage—by foundations that explicitly support the takeover of local schools and districts by private operators. My chapter explores how philanthropic support of news organizations—including new publications founded and run by education-reform advocates—is aimed at creating a receptive audience for the foundations’ education-reform agenda.

The Gates Foundation’s effort to influence local and national policy via the news media is a case in point.

The Gates Foundation alone devoted $1 billion in the decade from 2000 to 2010 to so-called policy and advocacy, a tenth of the foundation’s $3 billion-a-year spending, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times.

Although much of that money went to analyze policy questions—such as the efficacy of vaccine-funding strategies—“the ‘advocacy’ side of the equation is essentially public relations: an attempt to influence decision-makers and sway public opinion.”

In 2011, The Seattle Times published an exhaustive article about its leading hometown philanthropic organization and asked: “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity?” (At the time, the Gates Foundation also was bankrolling a slew of education policies, including the common core, and building political support for “one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.”)

The Seattle Times showed how the Gates Foundation funding goes far beyond providing general support for cash-strapped news organizations:

“To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.”

Indeed, Gates usually “stipulates” that its funding be used for reporting on issues the philanthropy supports—whether curing diseases such as HIV or improving U.S. education. And although Gates does not appear to dictate specific stories, the Seattle Times noted: “Few of the news organizations that get Gates money have produced any critical coverage of foundation programs.”

The Seattle Times story was written before the newspaper accepted a $530,000 grant, in 2013, the bulk of it from the Gates Foundation, to launch the Education Lab. The paper described the venture as “a partnership between The Seattle Times and Solutions Journalism Network” that will explore “promising programs and innovations inside early-education programs, K–12 schools and colleges that are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing public education.” The Gates Foundation contributed $450,000, with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funding the rest.

In a blog post, the newspaper addressed the potential conflict of interest posed by the grant: “The Seattle Times would neither seek nor accept a grant that did not give us full editorial control over what is published. Generally, when a grant is made, there is agreement on a specific project or a broad area of reporting it will support.” The newspaper earmarked its funding for so-called “solutions journalism.”

It may be laudable for a publication to focus on “solutions” to societal problems. But almost by definition, a mission that effectively targets “success stories” diminishes journalism’s vital watchdog role.

Then too, Gates’s influence extends well beyond Seattle. The Associated Press documented the Gates foundation’s soup-to-nuts effort, in 2015, to influence education policy in Tennessee.

“In Tennessee, a Gates-funded advocacy group had a say in the state’s new education plan, with its leader sitting on an important advising committee. A media outlet given money by Gates to cover the new law then published a story about research funded by Gates. And many Gates-funded groups have become the de facto experts who lead the conversation in local communities. Gates also dedicated millions of dollars to protect Common Core as the new law unfolded.”

Meanwhile, the same year in Los Angeles, fellow philanthropist,Eli Broad, identified Gates as a key potential investor in his $490 million plan to dramatically grow the city’s charter-school sector. The plan included a six-year $21.4 million “investment” in “organizing and advocacy,” including “engaging the media”and “strategic messaging.” (The charter-expansion plan itself followed an $800,000 investment by a Broad-led group of philanthropists to fund an initiative at The Los Angeles Times to expand the paper’s coverage of K–12 education.) In 2016, Gates invested close to $25 million in Broad’s charter-expansion plan.

The Gates Foundation also served as a junior partner in one of the most audacious, coordinated efforts by Big Philanthropy to influence coverage of the education-reform story—the establishment, in 2015, of The 74 Million, which has become the house organ of the education-reform movement. The 74 has been a reliable voice in favor of the charter-school movement, and against teachers’ unions. In 2016, it published The Founders, a hagiography of the education-reform movement. And it has served as a Greek chorus of praise for the education reforms in New Orleans, the nation’s first all-charter district, while ignoring the experiment’s considerable failings.

Key contributors to the publication, which boasts a $4 million-annual budget, were the Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. Soon after it’s founding, The 74 acquired a local education publication, the L.A. School Report, which itself had been heavily funded by Broad. In 2016, Gatescontributed, albeit a relatively modest $26,000, to The 74.

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Jeanne Kaplan is a veteran civil rights activist who was elected to serve two terms on the Denver school board. She has been active in multiple campaigns to stop privatization and over-testing and energize a genuine effort to improve the public schools. She wrote this piece for this blog.


  THE SISYPHEAN TASK IN DENVER

The dictionary defines Sisyphean task as something you keep doing but never gets completed, an endless task.  In Greek mythology Sisyphus is punished by the god Zeus and is tasked with endlessly pushing a rock up a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down each time he nears the top.  I will leave the deeper philosophical meanings to others.  Simply interpreted, public education advocates residing in the Queen City of the Rockies, “transformers” if you will, will find similarities to this story as we reflect on our battle to defeat “education reform.”  In Denver’s case the Sisyphean task master has not been a vengeful god, but rather a school board member or a school board itself which through their betrayals continues to keep “transformers” tasked with pushing the education transformational rock up the mountain.

Call it the Sisyphean Challenge, Groundhog Day, a Broken Record, Déjà vu.  However you describe it, these “transformers” are experiencing another setback in their attempts to stop or at least slow down the business-based “education reform” model. In 2009 Denver voters thought they had put an end to the then still budding “education reform” movement.  “Transformers” won four of seven seats on the school board but quickly lost that advantage when, within hours of the election, one supposed “transformer” flipped sides.  For the next ten years education reformers had free reign in Denver. Four to three boards became a six to one board, became a seven to zero board.  All for “education reform.”  Forward ten years to today.  “Transformers” once again gained control of the Denver School Board in theory.  This time the transformer majority was believed to be 5-2.  But local education reformers – with a lot of help from national reform partners – once again figured out how to get their privatization agenda through this hypothetically anti-privatization 5-2 Board.  By consistently voting to renew and re-establish privatization policies and projects, today’s Board has deprived Denver voters once again of reaching the mountain top, and usually by a 6-1 vote.  And from today’s perspective the rock has once again rolled down the mountain.

The below listed organizations, initiatives and foundations have all had their hand in preventing educational transformation in Denver. The list is thorough but not comprehensive:

1 – A+ Colorado30 – Empower Schools
2 – Adolph Coors Foundation31 – Gates Family Foundation
3 – Anschutz Family Foundation32 – Janus Fund
4 – Bellwether Education Partners33 – KIPP – Knowledge is Power Program
5 – Bezos Family Foundation34 – Koch Family Foundations
6 – Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation35 – Laura and John Arnold Foundation
7 – Bloomberg Philanthropies36 – Laurene Powell Jobs – Emerson Collective
8 – Boardhawk37 – Leadership for Educational Equity
9 – CareerWise38 – Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
10 – Chalkbeat39 – Lyra Learning – Innovation Zones
11 – Chan Zuckerberg Initiative40 – Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
12 – Schusterman Family Foundation41 – Moonshot
13 – Chiefs for Change42 – PIE Network (Policy Innovators in Ed)
14 – City Fund43 – Piton/Gary Community Investments
15 – City Year44 – Relay Graduate School of Education
16 – Colorado Health Foundation45 – Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation
17 – Colorado Succeeds46 – RootEd
18 – Community Engagement & Partners47 – Rose Foundation
19 – Daniels Fund48 – School Board Partners
20 – Democrats for Education Reform49 – Stand for Children
21 – Denver Families of Public Schools50 – Students First
22 – Denver Foundation51 – Teach for America
23 – Denver Scholarship Foundation52 – The Broad Academy/The Broad Center
24 – Donnell-Kay Foundation53 – Third Way
25 – EdLeadLeadership54 – TNTP
26 – Education Pioneers55 – Transform Education Now (TEN Can)
27 – Education Reform Now56 – Wallace Foundation
28 – Education Trust57 – Walton Family Foundation
29 – Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

Below are some of the reform ventures coaxed through by these groups.  Many have been used to maintain the failing status quo.  Some have been used to make money for friends and colleagues.  Some have been outright failures.   But by its failure to address them or by its continued tolerance of them, the DPS Board has sanctioned the continuation of privatization in our city:

·      At a time when education reform was truly hanging on by a thread in Denver, the Board assured its continued existence for the foreseeable future by voting to renew the use of the racially biased state accountability system, going even further into reformland by promising to develop a new accountability “dashboard” (a key “reformer” tenet).  While testing is state mandated, the District did not even explore the possibility of waiving its obligation to rely on this system. This one decision has also allowed the proliferation of many of the above listed groups and has given new life to the overall privatization movement.  A lot of new players are making a lot of new money from the public education system in Denver. After all, what is the business model really about if it is not about making money?  This one vote has allowed the continuation of some of the most divisive and punitive practices such as:

1.     Relying on high stakes testing even though the Board has given lip service to wanting a waiver this year due to COVID; 

2.     Relying on a non-transparent Choice system, which some believe is being used to fill unwanted charters;

3.     Ranking of schools and continued competition resulting in winners and losers among students and schools;

4.     Relying on Student Based Budgeting where the money follows the student;

5.     Marketing of schools, whereby wealthier schools and schools with their own board of directors (charters and Innovation Zone schools) have a distinct advantage;

6.     Giving bonuses to employees of schools based on test scores.  

Other recent reform-oriented Board decisions include:

·      Voting to renew or extend all 13 charter school contracts that were up this year even when some were struggling for enrollment and academic success.  The Board claimed it did not want to disrupt kids and families.  Portfolio model.

·      Promoting school MERGERS as opposed to school CLOSURES for under enrolled neighborhood schools, somehow thinking voters won’t notice that merging schools results in the same failed policy as school closures, that campaign promises have been broken, and that charter schools are being treated differently.  Portfolio model.  

·      Voting to approve new Innovation Zones, the hybrid portfolio model that supposedly gives schools more independence while, unlike charters, is still under the control of the school board.  These Innovation Zones do, however, have their own administrative staff as well as their own boards and have ushered in their own cottage industry. Portfolio Model.

·      Working with City Fund funded School Board Partners for Board training. City Fund is a relative newcomer to the education privatization world and is largely financed by Netflix Reed Hastings and John Arnold of Laura and John Arnold Foundation.  Locally, City Fund has dropped $21 million into Denver’s own RootEd to assure “every child in Denver has the opportunity and support to achieve success in school, college and their chosen career.” This needs to be done equitably, of course!  And only within a non-union school!  Grant funding from private sources to promote private interests.

·      Hiring a Broad trained Superintendent search company, Alma Advisory Group.  Alma has also been involved in executive searches for both City Fund and The Broad Academy, two quintessential privatizers.  More than four months have gone by since DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova resigned.  Four metro Denver school districts have had superintendent vacancies this winter.  Two have already found their leaders.  Denver is still holding community meetings which if they follow DPS history, will end up be ing rather meaningless.  Most importantly, will this “reform” inclined group be able to bring a wide-ranging group of candidates forward? The Broad Academy, training leaders in education reform.

·      Continuing to allow and expand non-licensed teachers and administrators from programs such as Teach for American and Relay Graduate School of Education into DPS’ schools and continuing to tell the public they are just as qualified as professional educators.   Anyone can teach!

Why do these examples matter, you might ask?

For starters, review the list of organizations and people pushing privatization.  The sheer number is staggering.  Then check out the similarity of language in their missions, visions, and goals and the uniformity of strategies and messaging.

·      Every child deserves a great school. 

·      Every school deserves all the support it needs to ensure equity.

·      Every school should have parent and community partners.

·      Every school should be anti-racist, celebrate diversity, be inclusive.

These are all worthy goals, albeit very general ones.  But what is the overall strategy to achieve them?  Privatization and the business model focusing on innovative and charter schools using an accountability system based on high stakes testing to define success seems to be their answer.  And in spite of claims that “reformers” are agnostic as to the type of school they foster, there are a few common characteristics they demand in their privatized schools:  

·      the ability to hire and fire anyone at any time; employees do not have to be licensed; at-will employees if you will.  That’s right.  No unions in innovation or charter schools.  Anyone can teach. 

·      an accountability system based on high stakes tests; schools and employees evaluated and punished by the results of these racially inappropriate tests.

·      market-driven criteria used to define school success.  Winners and losers, competition, closures, choice, chaos, churn.

·      “learning loss,” the pandemic-based slogan, must be addressed by unrelenting dependency on high stakes testing.  No test waivers for this crazy school year.  “Reformers” must have that data, and they must remind everyone that in spite of Herculean efforts on many fronts, public education has failed. 

Add to this scenario the amount of money being spent to further this agenda. Determining this takes some patience because the tax records are often difficult to find and decipher. Then try to deduce who is benefitting from each program.  This also takes some digging, for let me assure you, public education has spawned not a cottage industry but rather a mansion industry!  Search the group you are interested in and check out its board and staff.  And finally, look at the effect all of this has had on kids.  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Isn’t it always about the kids?  In reality few of these extra ventures have had any effect on kids.  Fewer still touch kids directly.

Each privately funded unit on this list has had a privatized DPS connection of some sort.  Some initiatives are duplicative. Some are very narrowly focused. Some purport to be THE ANSWER to public education’s struggles.  There is no tolerance for differing beliefs.  Yet, after 15 years of experimentation Denver’s students remain mired in mediocrity, suffering from an ever narrowing curriculum and dependent on evaluations, ratings, and a definition of success based on racially biased tests.  Nationally, Denver Public Schools remains a leader in implementing “education reform” but alas, it also remains a leader in teacher and principal turnover and home to one of the largest achievement/opportunity gaps in the nation. 

We in Denver have been subjected to the high-octane version of “education reform” for more than 15 years.  Choice, charters, competition, closures have resulted in three unequal tiers of schools (charter schools, innovation zones, neighborhood schools).  Reformers call this “the portfolio model.”  I call it structural chaos. Michael Fullan calls it fragmentation, a system wrongly focused on “academics obsession, machine intelligence, and austerity.”  To those privatizers who say, “but you have no solution,” Fullan has one that would turn public education on its head and could possibly produce what all of us involved in the public education scene say we want: robust, equitable education for all.  Fullan has a solution for whole system success that would be focused on the human elements of public education:  learning and well-being, social intelligence, and equality of investments.   But in order for anything like this to work the superintendent and the board must be on the same page.  Elections matter.  And candidates need to understand what is at stake and what they have been elected to do.

Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. (Given today’s America it might have slipped to second place behind voting rights). I ran for school board on that belief, I witnessed its importance through the lives of my immigrant parents. I do not believe our democracy will survive without public education, but the cornerstone must change. Radically.  Dramatically.

Imagine if all of the efforts of those 50 plus organizations were combined into one united movement focused on an anti-racist, equitable systemic change.  And imagine how truly revolutionary, transformative and unifying this movement could be if it included voices and ideas not aligned with the business model but with people who are willing to truly look at things differently, people who were willing to be honest and show leadership.  Imagine how during this unique time in our nation’s history this new system could have resulted in a new and exciting way of delivering and evaluating teaching and learning, well-being, equity and equality.  Imagine how exciting this unique time in Denver could been had we taken advantage of this opportunity.  , Instead, DPS decided to continue with the status where money and power continue to rule, where a business model has been buttressed to portray a non-existent success, and where an elected Board of Education has turned its back on its mandate.

Historically “transformers” in Denver have been dogged in their attempts to get that rock to the mountain’s peak.  We have kept fighting even when betrayed by school board members, even when organization after organization has put down roots to continue the mirage of success, even when untold millions of dollars have been invested in programs that have yet to make a significant difference in educational outcomes.  Can we in Denver defy Greek mythology and end this Sisyphean nightmare? Or are there too many yet unknown obstacles in our path to stop us once again?  Elections will decide. Time will tell. 

Bob Braun was an education reporter for 50 years. After he retired from the New Jersey Star-Ledger, he began blogging and paid close and critical attention to the state takeover of Newark. This column, posted in 2014, is as timely now as it was when it first appeared.

Let’s get this straight. Those of us opposed to the structural changes to public education embraced by crusaders ranging from the billionaire Koch brothers and the Walton Family Foundation to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—along with Governor Chris Christie and Microsoft founder Bill Gates—are not opposed to the reform of public schools. We oppose their destruction.

We do not oppose making schools more accountable, equitable and effective—but we do oppose wrecking a 200-year-old institution—public education—that is still successful in New Jersey.

Public schools give students from all backgrounds a common heritage and a chance to compete against privileged kids from private schools. We don’t want schools replaced by the elitists’ dream of privately managed, publicly funded charter schools, which can be money makers for closely aligned for-profit entities.

We oppose eliminating tenure and find laughable the idea embodied in Teach for America (TFA), an organization that recruits new college graduates for short stays in urban schools, that effective classroom instructors can be trained in weeks if they’re eager and want breaks on student loans—breaks that come with TFA participation. We oppose breaking teacher unions, reducing education to the pursuit of better test scores and using test results to fire teachers. We want our teachers to be well trained, experienced, secure, supervised, supported and well paid. We want our kids to graduate from high school more than “college and career ready”—a favorite slogan of the reformers. We want them to graduate knowing garbage when they see it—to understand mortgages, for example, rather than just solving trigonometry problems.

Don’t call it reform, call it hijacking. A radical, top-down change in governance based on a business model championed by billionaires like Eli Broad, the entrepreneur whose foundation underwrites training programs for school leaders, including superintendents—among them, Christopher Cerf, New Jersey’s education commissioner from late 2010 until this past February. The Broad Foundation seeks to apply to public institutions, like schools, the notion of “creative destruction” popularized for businesses by economists Joseph Schumpeter and Clayton Christensen. In a memo forced into public view by New Jersey’s Education Law Center, leaders of the Broad Superintendents Academy wrote that they seek to train leaders willing to “challenge and disrupt the status quo.”

Sorry, but it’s neither clever nor wise to disrupt schools, especially urban schools. Irresponsible, distant billionaires cause unrest in communities like Newark, a place they’ll likely never get closer to than making a plane connection at its airport. These tycoons say they want to improve learning—to narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white. I don’t buy that. The gap is caused by poverty and racial isolation, not public schools. They want reform that doesn’t raise taxes and won’t end racial segregation. So they promote charter schools that segregate and pay for them with tax funds sucked from public schools. Bruce Baker, a professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, calls it “revenue neutral and nonintegrative” reform. What that means, Baker says, is “don’t raise our taxes and don’t let poor black and brown kids access better-resourced suburban schools.”

School reform once meant equity and integration. Now it’s called choice. Not the choice that would allow Newark kids to take a bus 15 minutes to Millburn. Not the choice that would allow the dispersion of disadvantage so the poorest attend the same schools as the most advantaged. It’s choice limited to a district. And choice limited to families who win a lottery for charter-school admission. “We’re letting poor parents fight it out among themselves for scrap—it’s Hunger Games,” says Baker.

Charters segregate. In Newark, where there are 13 charter schools, children with the greatest needs—special education kids, English-language learners, the poorest children—are stranded in asset-starved neighborhood schools. Disadvantage is concentrated, public schools close, and resources shift to charters. In Hoboken, three charter schools educate 31 percent of the city’s children, but enroll 51 percent of all white children and only 6 percent of youngsters eligible for free lunches.

Such skimming of the more able students lets proponents like Christie claim that charters outperform public schools. But charters serve a different population. In his devastating send-up of Newark’s North Star Schools, titled “Deconstructing the Cycle of Reformy Awesomeness,” Baker describes how charters achieve high test scores and graduation rates by shedding underperforming students. Half the kids—including 80 percent of African-American boys—dropped or were pushed out.

Charters are not the solution. “Overall, charters do not outperform comparable public schools and they serve a different population,” says Stan Karp, an editor at Rethinking Schools, an advocacy organization dedicated to sustaining and strengthening public education. He adds, “Nowhere have charters produced a template for district-wide equity and system-wide improvement.”

Many suburbs have resisted charters, but state-run urban districts like Newark cannot. In Newark, Christie joined with then Mayor Cory Booker, a devotee of privatization, to bring in Broad Academy graduates Chris Cerf to be state schools chief and Cami Anderson to be Newark superintendent. They were awarded a pledge of $100 million from Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg to support school reform in Newark.

Suburbs cannot escape other reforms, including federal insistence on relentless, time-consuming annual testing to measure student achievement and teacher performance. While states can opt out of testing, the price in lost federal revenues can be high. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a national political action committee, applauds these changes as “bursting the dam” of resistance from unions to test-based evaluation and merit pay.

The coalition of foundations, non-governmental organizations and financial institutions promoting privatization is an opaque, multi-billion dollar, alternative governance structure. They include the Broad and Walton foundations; the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation; the Charter School Growth Fund and the NewSchools Venture Fund (a pair of nonprofit investment operations overseen largely by leaders of for-profit financial firms); the training and support organizations New Leaders for New Schools, the New Teacher Project and America Achieves; as well as the advocacy groups Stand for Children and Education Reform Now.

At its most recent summit of education reformers—including Newark’s Anderson—the NewSchools Venture offered workshops on “How Disruptive Can We Be?” and a seminar on charter schools that was advertised this way: “Charter schools are being brought into the center of reform strategies, not just to provide new options for some students, but to transform an entire public education system, based on a diverse portfolio of autonomous school operators.”

Why is school privatization such a draw for investors? Is it just philanthropy? No, there is also profit to be made from the $650 billion spent annually on public schools. Some charter school operations are profit making, including nearly two-thirds of charter school operators in Michigan and many in Florida—and Christie has been pressing to allow profit-making charters in New Jersey. Salaries for operators of charter school chains can run as high as $500,000 a year. The New Markets Tax Credit, pushed by charter supporter Bill Clinton when he was president, allows lenders to reap higher interest rates. Then there are rents paid by charter schools to charter-related profit-making companies like Newark’s Pink Hula Hoop (started by TEAM Academy board members); legal fees; and the sale of goods and services.

The costs of this movement: urban schools stratified. It’s an apartheid system, with the neediest warehoused in neglected public schools and a few lucky lottery winners in pampered charters. It is stratification on top of a system already stratified by all-white suburban districts and $35,000-plus private schools.

More costs: unconscionable amounts of time, energy and resources devoted to test preparation. The brightest young people, says Baker, will leave teaching to short-stay amateurs rather than endure the unpredictability of evaluations that rate a teacher “irreplaceable” one year and “ineffective” the next.

New Jersey ranks at the top nationwide in educational achievement, reports Education Week. We are second in “chance for success,” third in K-12 achievement and fifth in high school graduation. These statistics include urban schools; if properly funded, they succeed. Look at Elizabeth: good schools, no charters. Christie left it unmolested and provided millions in construction funds kept from other cities—perhaps because the school board endorsed him.

New Jersey is not the basket case Christie says it is. Urban schools are not failure factories. We don’t need a hostile takeover by Wall Street.

Nancy Bailey is a retired teacher and a terrific blogger. She and I co-authored a book called EdSpeak and DoubleTalk: A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. We have never met in person but I asked her to help me revise a similar book that I published a decade earlier; it had become obsolete. Now it is the go-to book to understand education jargon and decipher hoaxes. It was a joy to work with her. Nancy wrote this post for me while I was out of commission having surgery.


Why I Write About Students and Public Schools

Democratic Public Schools

Ensuring that the public has access to good public schools after Covid-19 is more critical than ever. We cannot go back to continuous high-stakes testing and schools that punish teachers and students, especially our youngest learners. Schools should also not be allowed to continue to collect unregulated data through online assessments. Parents need stronger FERPA laws. 

I think we have also learned with this pandemic that parents and students value public schools, that technology is a tool but can never replace the classroom.      

Americans own our schools through a democratically elected school board, or at least we should. We lose that ownership when outsiders with ulterior motives to privatize or change schooling’s nature make schools more like a business. They convert the system to charter schools or change curriculums to serve companies that will make money on the school district’s new plan.

The more involved corporations become with public education, the more changes occur within public schools. Common Core, high-stakes standardized tests, the reliance on AP classes and SAT and ACT testing from the College Board, and many tech programs convert public schooling to a privatized system. 

It is crucial to protect public schools from individuals or corporations who wish to remove the “public” in public schools. Parents should be able to be involved in how their schools function. We need parents, teachers, and the community to be active participants in how public schools serve children bringing Americans together. 

School choice fans believe parents should choose their school, but this is a false argument. Most private school administrators will determine who to accept to the school. Charter schools may choose students by lottery, which is not parent choice either. Even if a student is randomly selected, charter schools can always counsel students out.

Charter schools were initially supposed to be for teachers to run. The charters doing the best jobs are likely run by or highly influenced by real teachers. But many charters are run by Educational Management Operations (EMOs) that set the rules and are prone to scandal. For years, charter schools have primarily served children of color, often with harshly run curriculum and punishing discipline. 

It is hard to see why America needs two systems of education. It further divides people, and charter schools are still substandard to a well-run public school system. Charters that work, run by real teachers, could become alternative schools in a public school system.  

Helping students work together in public schools—students with all kinds of backgrounds and students of color—will bring us together as a nation. The diversity in our country should be cherished, not destroyed by privatization. 

When public schools are valued, when school boards are elected and work with the constituents to better schooling for all children, it is the best that democracy can be. We must afford every child a chance to learn in a well-managed, excellently staffed public school. 

Teaching

I learned to be a special education teacher in the seventies when the All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 became law. It was amazing to see schools open their doors for all children, and universities begin offering specialized classes for different special education areas. I saw it as a shining moment in America.

My undergraduate degree was to teach students with emotional disabilities, with a minor in elementary education. I took challenging coursework. My student teaching took place at one of the best residential treatment centers in the nation, Hawthorn Center, along with an elementary school near Detroit where teachers worked well together, especially in reading. 

Hawthorn Center has struggled with funding since I student taught there, yet many parents desperately search for residential treatment. The elementary school where I student taught closed long ago. I struggle to understand this.  

In the meantime, Teach for America claims that you can teach with five weeks of training, or maybe it is six weeks now. Many from this group go on to lead schools in states and the nation when they never had the kind of preparation necessary to teach children! 

Writing

I write about these issues and more. It is sometimes overwhelming that public schools have so many concerns and how children and teens face such hurdles to get good schooling in America. There is no reason why this country should not have the best public school system in the world for all children!