Archives for category: Broad Foundation

Maureen Tracey-Mooney joined the White House staff as a Special Assistant to the President for Education.

She is a graduate of the notorious Broad Center, the plaything of billionaire Eli Broad, which teaches its “students” the value of applying business principles in education and the benefits of closing low-performing schools instead of helping them. According to the Broad Center, “As a Broad Resident, Maureen Tracey-Mooney worked with Achievement First as Director of Extended Learning.” Achievement First is a “no excuses” charter chain that is known for harsh discipline. It is based in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York and was funded by billionaires like Jonathan Sackler, who made his billions selling OxyContin and creating an addiction crisis that took at least 200,000 lives. (In 2019, the charter chain announced it would take no new donations from Mr. Sackler, who had already given $1.6 million).

Broad Resident: https://www.broadcenter.org/alumni/directory/profile/maureen-tracey-mooney/
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/05/white-house-announces-additional-policy-staff/

Maureen Tracey-Mooney, Special Assistant to the President for Education

Maureen Tracey-Mooney worked on the domestic policy team on the Biden-Harris Transition and supported the development of President Biden’s PK-12 agenda. Previously, she worked on President Obama’s campaign and transition. She served as then-Vice President Biden’s Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor in the first term of the Obama-Biden Administration, working on education, labor and other issues. In that role she supported the development of the Obama-Biden Administration’s successful Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge and President Obama’s Preschool for All plan. She left the Vice President’s office to earn her MPA from Princeton University and transition to local education work. Immediately before joining the transition she worked for the Newark Board of Education in New Jersey, where her work focused on the development of new teachers. Originally from Ohio, Maureen graduated from the University of Chicago; her life is possible because a generous friend gave her a kidney.

It’s heart-warming that President Biden has appointed genuine public school educators to the #1 and #2 jobs in the Education Department. Itis alarming that the education staff at the White House and among those surrounding Secretary Cardona and Deputy Secretary Marten are from the Obama administration’s failed Race to the Top, TFA, and DFER. Will we have another four years of the punitive “bipartisan consensus” that melded NCLB, Race to the Top, and Betsy DeVos?

Are the real educators mere figureheads at the top of the Department, while the big decisions are made by deformers in the White House, and stealth political types like Ian Rosenblum, now Acting Assistant Secretary who announced the “no test waiver” policy, responding to a campaign by his former boss, John King of EdTrust.

Biden already lied about his promise to cancel annual standardized tests mandated by the federal government, a policy unknown in any high-performing nation, a policy that has produced zero gains on the National Assessment for a decade.

Will he resume the failed policies of the past or chart a new course in education? Right now, based on personnel, the auguries are not good.

I recently received a copy of Hillary Clinton’s policy book, assembled for her by her most trusted advisors in 2014. This policy book was released in 2016 by Wikileaks after it hacked into John Podesta’s emails. The education section begins on page 156. Clinton’s lead education advisor was Ann O’Leary, who is now chief of staff to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Let me say at the outset that if I had read this brief before the 20116 election, I would have been disappointed and disheartened, but I still would have voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump. Despite my disagreement with her education advisors and plans, she was still 100 billion times better than Trump. Maybe 100 zillion times better.

Her education advisors came right out of the Bush-Obama bipartisan consensus that brought up No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core. The brief tells us that this wing of the Democratic party, which was in the ascendancy during the Obama administration, is an obstacle to improving American education. After thirty years of promoting charter schools and billions of dollars spent increasing their number, it is obvious that they are not a source of innovation, transparency, or accountability. The charter sector is a problem, not a solution. They have not brought great ideas to public schools; instead they compete with public schools for students and resources. Anyone who is serious about education must consider ways to help and support students, teachers, and communities, not promote schemes of uneven value that have opened the public purse to profiteers, entrepreneurs, religious zealots, and corporate chains.

What the brief teaches us is that the Democratic party is split between those who are still wedded to the failed bipartisan agenda that runs from Reagan to Clinton and those who understand that the Democratic party should commit itself to equity and a strong public school system that serves all children.

The education section of the policy brief makes for sobering reading. (It begins on page 163.) O’Leary wrote the education section of the policy brief. Among the “experts” cited are billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed of the Eli Broad Foundation. Among the policy papers is a statement by Jeb Bush’s spokesperson Patricia Levesque, recommending Jeb’s horrible ideas.

To sum up the recommendations:

  1. The brief lauds charter schools as a solution to the nation’s low academic performance (only a year earlier, CREDO had released a report saying that only one of every five charter schools outperforms public schools).
  2. The brief excoriates colleges of education and their graduates. It calls for Clinton to “professionalize teaching” by embracing TFA. TFA is likened to Finland as a model for finding excellent teachers. The brief does not mention that Finland would never admit teachers who had only five weeks of training into their classrooms. Every teacher in Finland goes through a multi-year rigorous program of preparation.
  3. The brief contends that tests should be “better and fewer” but should not be abandoned. Jeb Bush and Florida are cited as a model.
  4. The brief says: Don’t shy away from equity issues: While the root cause on inequity in our schools is still disputed – with reformers focused on the in-school availability of good teachers, good curriculum and rigorous course offerings and the unions focused on the challenges faced by teachers who are asked to find solutions to problems that stem from poverty and dysfunction in the community – there is an agreement that our public school system is one of the root causes of income inequality in our country, and that you should not be shy about calling it out and demanding we work to fix the inequities inside and outside the school building. [sic]
  5. Support the Common Core standards, which were already so toxic that they helped to sink Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. The brief says: Stand Up for the Common Core. There is strong agreement that we need high academic standards in our public school system and that the Common Core will help us to be more globally competitive. There is recognition, however, that the implementation of Common Core and the interaction with the testing regime has made many supporters nervous (including Randi Weingarten). However, all agree that you must stand for common core while working on the real challenges of how to implement it in a way that supports teachers. 
  6. The brief holds up New Orleans as a dramatic success, when in fact its greatest achievements were busting the teachers’ union, firing the entire teacher force (most of whom were African American, and turning public schools over to charter operators. We now know that about half of the charter schools in New Orleans are considered “failing schools” (ranked D or F) by the state’s own metrics, and that New Orleans is a school district whose scores are below the state average, in one of the lowest performing states in the nation. Hardly the “success” that should be hailed as a model for the nation.

Ann O’Leary interviewed Laurene Powell Jobs as an “expert” on education. One of Jobs’ strong recommendations is to reconsider the value of for-profit entrepreneurs.

Instead of just looking at the deficits of these schools, consider it a huge opportunity for transforming learning. Beginning to see some of this work in Udacity, Coursera – and we should be doing more of making the best in technology available to support students in getting skills and credentials they need. 

More from education expert Mrs. Jobs:

Re-Design entire K-12 system – know how to do it, but it comes down to political will. Public schools are a huge government program that we need to work brilliantly b/c it could change everything and be the thing that reduces income inequality; but we are stuck in system right now 

 Think about Charters as our R&D – only 5% of public schools still – MUST infuse ideas into the public school system, it is the only way – must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable; take away categorical funding, allow them to experiment and thrive 

 Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline – if Ed schools could be rigorous, highly esteemed, and truly selective like TFA and Finland, we’d see a different kind of teaching profession that would be elevated. Right now we have mediocre students become teachers in our classrooms; 

 Need transformation in our pipeline – Ed Schools should be like Med Schools – need to compensate teachers accordingly from $45K to 90K – have a professional union – like SAG; like docs and lawyers that have professional unions – individual contributors can negotiate; scientists and mathematicians; Teachers shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty 

 Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teaches and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; get to stay with your age cohort, but you have a “learn list” and “dashboard” set up to help you reach the needed content skills. This is happening with Sal Kahn and schools in Bay Area – need to learn from it and grow it. 

 Need to call out and address the inequities – Huge differential between what is taught in higher income and lower-income schools; the top 50 college admissions professionals in US know which high schools have rigor embedded; in low-income schools, kids top out and cannot get more; black 12th grader curriculum/school equivalent to 8th grade curriculum for white student 

Then Ann O’Leary interviewed “education expert” Bruce Reed, president of the Broad Foundation, but with zero experience in education:

 Hillary’s initial instincts still hold true – that choice in former [sic] of charters, higher standards and making this a center piece of what we do as a country – nation of opportunity – still all true, nothing has changed; turned out to be even more true than it was 30 years ago 

 Challenge of education reform: school districts are pretty hard, if not impossible, to reform – they are another broken part of democracy b/c no leader held accountable for success or failure; no one votes on school board – don’t’ know who it is; sups not elected; mayors don’t want to be involved. 

o New Orleans is an amazing story – when you make it possible to get political dysfunction and sick a bunch of talent on the problem – it’s the one place where grand bargain of charters has been kept the best 

 Problem with Charters as R&D: 

o Traditional system – less incentive and less freedom to do things in different ways – big part of charter success is to pick staff you want and pick curriculum you want – don’t have anyone to blame if you are failing; principal is ultimately accountable, but in traditional system principal is often without any power 

o Critical mass…. Get to certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools; Denver does it, letting go of micromanagement on curriculum, instead do transportation and procurement….pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools. 

o Critical mass…. Get to certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools; Denver does it, letting go of micromanagement on curriculum, instead do transportation and procurement….pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools. 

Jake Jacobs is a middle school art teacher in New York. He is the co-administrator of the New York BadAss Teachers Association, an organization of militant activist teachers.

He writes:

Joe Biden’s recent nomination of Miguel Cardona as a relatively lesser-known, less controversial selection for Secretary of Education was telling. It shows the incoming administration’s reticence to take a side in the ongoing battle over school choice and standardized testing, just like most members of Congress and the major U.S. media.

On the campaign trail, Biden drew cheers from teachers for his promise to end standardized testing, but he noticeably never added any such policy to his website. As was well known by teachers in those audiences, federally mandated tests provide no educational benefit but are the fuel in the engine driving charter school expansion.


President-Elect Biden did vow to cut federal funding to for-profit charter schools, however this affects only about 12% of charters (who could easily change their model while still enriching their for-profit management arms). Biden has acknowledged charter schools siphon money away from public schools, agreeing to new language in the (non-binding) DNC platform to discourage charters from discriminating against high-need students but as we know well, Democrats for many years have bent to pressure from deep-pocketed industrialists seeking ever more charter schools


Not much has changed since the same billionaires threatened to fund other candidates if Hillary Clinton didn’t continue to signal support for charters. Remember Eli Broad’s explicit ultimatum to withhold campaign cash if Hillary sided with teachers against charter schools? We do. 


But Broad also donated money to then-senator Kamala Harris, and like many ultra-wealthy education reformers, Broad made good use of the “revolving door”, hiring Biden’s former chief of staff Bruce Reed (2011-2013) to run his foundation. 


AS THE DOOR REVOLVES: The same day he revealed Cardona as his education nominee, it was announcedBiden rehired Reed as deputy chief of staff, despite pre-emptive protest from progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad who objected to Reed’s past hostility to safety net programs like Social Security. A former top advisor to President Bill Clinton, Reed’s own bio touts his oversight of the 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda.


Starting in 2015, Reed was a senior advisor for Emerson Collective, the “social change” LLC founded by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs who is also close to Vice President-Elect Harris. Though it’s not clear how Reed might influence Biden’s decision-making on K-12 education, he is expected to have a “major role” as Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff particularly shaping technology and data privacy policy. And echoing Trump, Reed calls for the elimination of Section 230 which protects internet companies from lawsuits over user postings.
In 2014, while serving as CEO of the Broad Foundation, Reed made worrisome comments to Hillary’s education advisors, suggesting in private that whole cities could be mass-charterized in the wake of natural disasters, calling New Orleans an “amazing story”. Reed also voiced support for personalized digital learning using the Summit Charters model.


TAX BREAKS LINKED TO CHARTERS: It’s great to see watchdog groups expose significant waste and fraud in the charter school industry, but because U.S. media is so silent about the political influence of pro-charter billionaires, hardly any attention is paid to the generous federal tax credits enriching investors through “nonprofit” charter school construction and financing as public schools struggle for resources. One such program, the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), did make it onto Biden’s web page, showing he wants to expand the credit to $5 billion per year and make it permanent.


It might not be controversial to use a seven year, 39% tax refund to incentivize wealthy investors to start caring about economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in dire need of manufacturing plants and low-income housing, but why does the NMTC favor charter schools over traditional public schools which are literally crumbling on our heads? 


I tried to find whose idea it was to include charter school construction, financing and leasing deals in the NMTC. 
The program itself traces back to 1998 when a “membership organization” called NMTC Coalitioncomprised mostly of banks, investment funds, developers, LLPs and LLCs came together under the management of Rapoza Associates, a large DC lobbying and government relations firm who supplies policy briefs and “comprehensive legislative and support services to community development organizations, associations and public agencies”. Sound a lot like ALEC?


Legislation was championed by then-Speaker Denny Hastert and Texas Rep. William Archer, both Republicans. The program was signed into law by President Clinton and went live as past of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, but it appears charter schools weren’t included until 2004. The California charter nonprofit ExEd claims to have “pioneered” NMTC charter financing deals, boasting of dozens under their belt. By 2017, more than $2.2 billion in NMTC allocations were deployed to expand charter schools nationally.


The contention was that although charter schools receive operational funding for enrolled students, they must procure and finance their own space, thus they needed a helping hand from Uncle Sam. Today however, 27 states have enacted legislation granting some level of access to district facilities, suggesting some re-examination is in order.


Operators also contended that their charter renewal terms, usually five years, are shorter than typical mortgage terms which range from 10 to 30 years. Thus the need for charters to quickly show results introduced a perverse incentive, driving all-out obsession for good scores on standardized tests so the school can not only guarantee their charter renewal, but demonstrate to lenders they are a safe bet (or attract even more expansion capital). 
STAKES RAISED FOR TEST SCORES: Because the NMTC tax credit and a host of other federal programs give charters significant fundraising advantages over public schools, it provides financial impetus to target nearby public schools for closure. Anything that can be done to raise scores – or lower the competition’s scores – will help their chances. This not only gives rise to round-the-clock test prep, but the notorious practice of cherrypicking students. 


The shiny new facilities help attract the best test-takers, while rigid “zero tolerance” discipline policies are employed to dump “troublesome” kids back on the public schools. Even though the deck is stacked, superior test scores create the “secret sauce” narrative used to sell politicians on charters and drum up support for more tax breaks.


Over the decades, poverty-stricken areas have been repeatedly carved up and designated as “Enterprise Communities”, “Empowerment Zones”, “Renewal Communities” or “Promise Neighborhoods”. In 2004, President Bush announced the “Opportunity Zones” program which Donald Trump renewed in his 2017 tax reform law, with support from Democrats like Cory Booker. This program could potentially dwarf the NMTC because it allows tax credits and deferments for trillions in untapped capital gains income. 


Although Opportunity Zone deals are available to public schools, they would need to first sign over their property to investors. But it’s not clear these programs even work. Besides being rife with cases of abuse like the Steven Mnuchin or Rick Scott front-page patronage scandals, a University of Iowa study of 75 enterprise zones in 13 states found little to no economic benefit and noted other harmful impacts such as displacement, gentrification, or giveaways for development in up-and-coming areas that would have happened anyway. 


As chronicled by Network for Public Education and noted by Congress, the array of creative charter school flim-flams has been incalculable – from exorbitant CEO salaries, predatory leases and consulting fees to management firms charging taxpayers to buy out a school’s name and logo. Even school districts got into the act, authorizing charters schools so as to generate oversight fees that help plug budget gaps. But there’s a marked difference between sketchy charter operators and multi-billion dollar programs designed to help charters replace existing schools.


SWEETENING THE POT: The tax credits, designed by the rich for the rich, are only the first layer of the subsidy onion for charter schools though. Linked to the tax breaks are tax-exempt charter school financing bonds traded in investment markets, and then even more inducement via a secondary tranche of bonds leveraged by government subsidies to backstop the first set of bonds against default. One such program, administered through the infamous No Child Left Behind Act is the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program, which not only assumes downside risk, it artificially buoys bond ratings and lowers interest rates for the borrower. 
These credit enhancements can be backed by federal or state funds, banks or private investors but again, the guarantees may be tied to academic performance benchmarks which precipitate discrimination against high-need students. 


To lure developers into distressed neighborhoods, enormous bond guarantee and credit enhancement funds (starting at $100 million) were created under the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) program, enacted as part of the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act. Charter school developers were among those offered access to long-term credit at below-market rates. In 2012, twelve of these CDFI fund management groups came together to form the Charter School Lenders Coalition, underwritten by usual suspects the Gates and Walton Foundations. The collaborative melded together ALL of the aforementioned programs with a stated goal of lobbying congressional reps to support more charters. 


Earlier this year, high-profile Democrats including Senators Sanders, Warren and Van Hollen co-sponsored legislation that would automatically deploy CDFIs in areas impacted by natural disasters or economic crises. 
If all these financial instruments are starting to sound complicated, it’s no accident – I’ve spared readers most of the dizzying acronyms like CDEs, CMOs, UDAGs and QALICBs, but the less everyday people understand, the greater the chance this all flies under the radar. Even the developers – be they charter operators or wealthy financial backers – require a lot of hand-holding by intermediaries to guide them through the maze of policy intricacies and applications. 


This is where yet another funding stream comes in, namely the federal Charter Schools Program, or CSP, which since 1994 has grown to into a $440 million annual slush fund for discretionary grants found to be so wasteful a third of 2006-2014 grantees never opened or quickly folded. Other recipients were found to be buying skyboxes or private jets, or unscrupulously charging themselves rent in cities and towns where local authorities are ill-equipped for oversight.


PULLING OUT THE STOPS: By the time Betsy DeVos took the helm, the U.S. Dept. of Education wasn’t just awarding start-up money to school-level charter developers but to all manner of other financial intermediaries including charter associations, nonprofits, state educational agencies, charter authorizers, and credit enhancement funds. The DeVoses know well that raining money on these entities will enrich real estate and banking interests, trickling down onto pro-charter candidates, local PACs and friendly media outlets. A week before the 2020 election, DeVos shamelessly announced the Trump Administration will start ignoring the crystal-clear prohibition on federal funds for charters affiliated with religious organizations, rupturing the separation of church and state. 


The NMTC technically expires on Dec. 31, 2020 but proposals for renewal have been very popular – the 2019 bill in the Senate had 37 bipartisan co-sponsors including Minority Leader Schumer, Amy Klobuchar and center-left Senators Jeff Merkeley and Sherrod Brown. The House version had 130 co-sponsors including Karen Bass and 22 other members of the Progressive Caucus. 


If there was an amendment to remove the exclusive carve-out for charter schools from the NMTC, it would allow the community investment to continue (for better or worse) but take the finger off the scale in the competition for educational resources. 


Such an amendment may not deter anti-union oligarchs like the Koch family bent on undermining public education. It may not deter data-mining tech billionaires seeking lucrative contracts or access to captive student audiences. It may not deter neoliberal social engineers who think their wealth ordains them to rejigger education as they see fit. It may not deter Betsy DeVos and her ilk from crusading for taxpayer-funding of religious schools.


But it could deter the garden-variety investor just looking to turn a buck, and it could bring attention to the little-understood giveaways to charter school investors. Also, it will flush out members of Congress afraid to go on record either for-or-against charters. As the battles over public education funding rage on, we hope incoming House members will infuse new energy into the fight, showing Biden, Harris and other policymakers the real-world harms and inequity built into charter school tax credits.

President-Elect announced that Bruce Reed will be his Deputy Chief of Staff. This is alarming news, though not surprising. Reed previously served as Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president. The toxic Broad Foundation gave grants to some of Betsy DeVos’s favorite causes.

This report from TYT (The Young Turks) describes why we should keep a close watch on Reed. He is not a friend of public schools. The Broad Foundation has spent many millions of dollars underwriting charter schools and funding campaigns for candidates who oppose public schools. Eli Broad has tried to buy control of LAUSD to replace more public schools with charters.

Reed has been an outspoken proponent of charter schools for decades, championing their rise inside the Clinton White House, where he led the Domestic Policy Council. But although Reed has publicly drawn the line at for-profit charter schools and vouchers, the Broad Foundation funded organizations that support both. 

Reed also frowned on community, or “mom-and-pop” charter schools, telling the Los Angeles Times in 2014, “There are high-quality charter management organizations that do extraordinary work.” He said, “School districts have made the mistake of thinking they know best.”

Pressed about Eli Broad’s controversial donations to pro-charter candidates for Los Angeles school boards, Reed said, “My general experience with political elected bodies is that the odds of them being thoughtful and well informed are never very good.”

It’s not clear how involved Reed was in directing the foundation’s funds, but in his L.A. Times interview, Reed named some of his allies. “We’re looking to partner with other like-minded foundations — Bloomberg, Gates, Walton, the Emerson Collective,” he said. (The Emerson Collective is a project of Laurene Powell Jobs.)

Reed did not name Dick and Betsy DeVos, but they had spent years building alliances with Democrats interested in education reform. Eli Broad, a Democrat, had sat alongside Dick DeVos on the Children’s Scholarship Fund advisory board co-chaired by John Walton. And although Broad in 2017 publicly opposed DeVos’s nomination to lead the Dept. of Education under Trump, he and Reed were backing her groups just a couple years before. 

DeVos Connections

The Broad Foundation had already been funding groups tied to the DeVos family when Reed came on board in November 2013. 

The Alliance for School Choice, for instance, was an early proponent of charter schools, including for-profits. A partner of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children, the Alliance’s founding board included both her and Walton.

According to In These Times, the two groups were “at the center of the pro-privatization movement.” One of the Alliance’s first project directors, James Blew, is now DeVos’s assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development.

Soon after the Alliance launched, the DeVoses reached out to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who was then a Newark City Council member. Booker joined the group and found common cause with the DeVoses. The board has also included Carrie Walton Penner, the Walton Family Foundation chair who was reportedly close to Hillary Clinton.

Ken Rice was an elected member of the Oakland Unified School District from 1997-2000. That was before the billionaire disrupters decided to take control of Oakland and turn it into their own petri dish for “reform” (i.e., privatization). Rice wrote the following description of the recent school board election, in which grassroots organizations stood together and beat the candidates of the out-of-district/out-of-state billionaires. He is a member of Educators for Democratic Schools (EDS), an Oakland-based organization composed primarily of retired public school teachers, administrators and school board members. When Ken Rice ran for school board, his race cost $12,000. Due to the intrusion of big money, grassroots groups are always outspent and usually overwhelmed. But Rice explains here how Oakland parents and educators fought back and won.

He writes:

Apparently Money Isn’t Always Everything–$300,000 Beats $900,000 In The Oakland School Board Elections!

In nearly 20 years of privatization push into Oakland, this is the first time since 2003 that Oakland schools will be returned to local control by a school board that values and embraces authentic public education. Remaining hopeful for the future, and look forward to strengthening and improving Oakland’s schools.” ~ Diane Ravitch 

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), the petri dish for school privatization for the past two decades, might have an answer.  I ran and was elected to the Oakland school board and served one term (1997-2000).  I raised $12,000.  My opponent raised about the same amount.  In those days the school board elections were neighborhood races funded by local supporters. There was no out of state money or PACs involved. 

That began to change about ten years ago:  huge donations from individuals and foundations began to pour into Oakland school board races.  The money was funneled through the California Charter School Association and GO (Great Oakland Public Schools), a pro-charter organization.  The money also came from Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow), and several more.  The goal was to elect a pro-charter, Board of Education. Unsurprisingly, the pro-charter organizations were successful.  

The Oakland school board has approved about 65 charter school applications over the last twenty years–many of them in the last 12 years.   Of those charters, about twenty have closed their doors—in some cases during the academic year, causing great dislocation to families who had to find another school for their children mid-year.  OUSD now has 30% of its 50,000 students in charter schools—the highest percentage of students in charters of any school district in California. 

What is surprising is what happened in the 2020 election.  For the first time in memory no incumbents were running for any of the four of the seven school board seats up for election.  Thus, there was a possibility of greatly changing the make-up of the school board, whose majority has opted for policies of charter school approval, school closures and lack of responsiveness to the greater Oakland educational community.  This was an opportunity to flip the board . . . and flip it did!

The charter community recognized this opportunity, and poured almost $900,000 into electing their candidates for the four open seats! Yet when the votes were counted, three of their four candidates lost.

Trying to understand how and why this happened can provide an insight into the educational landscape of not only Oakland, but urban cities nationally.  While it might be early to know for certain why the charter candidates were defeated, we can make some educated guesses.

Strong Local Candidates

Two of the three candidates who won had deep Oakland roots.  Two had been teachers (one in Oakland, one in San Francisco) and the other had worked in Oakland’s after school programs.   Two had been community activists around school issues for years.  

Oakland elections are calculated by ranked choice voting (RCV).  When the RCV was tabulated, Sam Davis, the candidate in District 1 received 62% of the vote.  Sam built a stellar campaign focused around school communities. He held zoom meetings with each school community in his district hosted by a combination of parents and teachers who worked in those schools.  VanCedric Williams, in District 3, got 61%.  VanCedric, a public school teacher for almost twenty years, had strong support from the teacher’s union as well as other unions. Mike Hutchinson in District 5 got 56%.  Mike had run for the Board previously, networked with other education activists nationwide, and had built a reputation of challenging Board policies by going to Board meetings for years and reaching out on social media. 

Backing of the Teacher’s Union

Last year, teachers in Oakland led a successful strike. The union’s ability to drum up enthusiasm with their members was one contributor to that success.  Teachers recognized that if their future demands were to be met, they needed to have a responsive Board.  Specifically, the current Board was considering a plan that would close up to 24 schools in Oakland, mostly in Brown and Black communities.  At the same time, none of the 44 charter schools in Oakland were under threat of closure.  Teachers made the connection between a charter friendly board and school closures of the public schools and were determined to change the direction of the district’s “blueprint”.

Teachers phone banked, texted, walked to drop off literature, and held zoom meetings in support of the three candidates who won.  As Sam Davis noted, many voters tend to rely on their friends and neighbors who know something about the schools.  The friends and neighbors were telling each other to vote for the candidates they trusted.

Backing of Other Groups:  Building a Coalition

The three candidates were endorsed by the Democratic Party.  This wasn’t an accident.  Educational activists pushed the local democratic clubs to endorse candidates who would not be friendly to charters and wouldn’t owe their election to big money.  These clubs, in turn, pushed the local Democratic party.  In California the state Democratic party has taken a critical stance towards charter schools, and this was replicated locally.  Organizers noticed that as people walked to the polls on election day, many of them carried the Democratic Party door hanger with them. Some of these candidates were also endorsed by :

  • The Alameda Central Labor Council
  • SEIU 1021
  • State Assemblyperson Rob Bonta
  • State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond
  • Network for Public Education

Also, other community organizations like Educators for Democratic Schools, Democratic Socialists of America, and Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club helped to call, text, and walk precincts.

The Word is Out

You can fool some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, or so Lincoln believed.  Over time, the general public has begun to understand that there is an attempt to buy their votes.  As I dropped off a flier at one home, a parent came to the door and asked, with hostility, “This isn’t the candidate who is getting all that money from Bloomberg, is it?”  Several media sources reported on money from Bloomberg ($500,000 from Bloomberg alone!) and others pouring into Oakland.  

After recovering from the astonishment that anyone would spend that kind of money for a school board election, voters became leery of candidates receiving those huge amounts of money.  In District 1 where I live–and the charter candidate received nearly $300,000!–I found glossy fliers in my mailboxes more times than I could keep track of.

It is profoundly disturbing and a huge threat to our democracy that this big money trend has filtered down to local school board races. The Oakland community fought back against the billionaires’ spending advantage, and when the new board is seated in January, it will have a clear pro-public school majority.  With appealing candidates and strong ground games, Oakland voters have shown that big money can be defeated. While Oakland will never go back to the days when a local neighborhood candidate spent only $12,000 to be elected, this recent victory over out of state billionaire bucks and their agenda sends a clear signal that our community will not be bought.

(Ken Rice is former OUSD board member, a member of Educators for Democratic Schools and currently has a daughter attending an OUSD school.) 

Jane Nylund, parent activist in Oakland, reports on the good news from that district. Oakland has been the Disrupter/Reformer playground for nearly twenty years. For most of those years, billionaire Eli Broad picked the superintendents.

Jane Nylund writes:

Good morning, the good news out of Oakland is that our grassroots campaigns for 4 school board seats beat back Bloomberg and his privatization machine. The board flipped 3 out of 4 seats, to elect the following:


District 1-Sam Davis

District 3-VanCedric Williams

District 5-Mike Hutchinson

District 7-Clifford Thompson


In addition, Oakland’s Measure Y, which passed by a whopping 77%, will provide $750 million for new school building construction/rehabilitation for our crumbling infrastructure. 


Measure QQ, giving 16 and 17-year olds the right to vote in school board elections, also passed by a wide margin.


In nearly 20 years of privatization push into Oakland, this is the first time since 2003 that Oakland schools will be returned to local control by a school board that values and embraces authentic public education. Remaining hopeful for the future, and look forward to strengthening and improving Oakland’s schools. 

Larry Buhl of Capitol & Main explains the LAUSD school board elections. They are shaping up as the nastiest and most expensive in school board history.

As usual, the combatants are charter school billionaires, who want more charters, versus the United Teachers of Los Angeles, who are fighting for public schools and to protect the gains they made in the strikes of 2019.

The charter side has far outspent the UTLA and their allies. The charter lobby has been entirely responsible for the vicious attack ads, especially those against incumbent Scott Schmerelson, a veteran educator. Early charter flyers against him were anti-Semitic. He was falsely accused of inflating his salary as a board member (an independent commission sets the board’s pay). Schmerelson was targeted with a barrage of lies. He was endorsed by every Democratic Club and labor union in his district, as well as the Los Angeles Times.

The biggest edge of the pro-charter forces is money. With the support of billionaires, their candidates are amply funded.

A pricey proxy war between rival factions — charter school advocates and L.A.’s main teachers union — is playing out in two runoff races that could determine control of the Los Angeles Unified School District board. On one side is United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). On the other are California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and charter allies Alice and Jim Walton; philanthropist and major charter backer Eli Broad; and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Because the two races could tip the balance of power on the board toward teachers unions and traditional schools, or to charter schools, both sides are spending an unprecedented amount of money on their candidates – and, in the case of the charter-friendly candidates, to attack their opponents.

Both sides have been spending increasingly larger amounts to influence the outcomes of LAUSD races, and this year’s race has now eclipsed 2017 as the most expensive in L.A. history. Most of the ads are created with money from independent expenditure groups, called IEs or just outside spenders. These groups face no fundraising limits, and the candidates, whose campaign money is dwarfed by the influx of IE cash, aren’t allowed to influence the IE ads or approve their content. Legally they can’t coordinate with IE groups at all.

In 2020, IEs have spent more than $13 million on just these two board races. That’s $10 million more than IE money spent on all 2020 Los Angeles City Council races combined. And charter school advocates have enjoyed a lopsided financial advantage. Pro-charter forces have already spent far more than they did in 2017. The total spent on negative ads by pro-charter IEs on all LA school board races this year tops $5 million, about ten times more than money spent by UTLA and allies. And the L.A. City Ethics Commission site shows that a new mailer has gone out nearly every day in October.


In this brief video, Dr. Leslie Fenwick, former dean of the College of Education at Howard University, explains why the “schemes” of corporate reformers always fail. She doesn’t hold back about charters, vouchers, Broad superintendents, and Teach for America.

The video is part of a series of hundreds of interviews of educators, conducted by former teacher Bob Greenberg. He calls his series the Brainwaves Video Anthology. After you watch Dr. Fenwick’s wonderful interview, you should browse his collection. It’s very impressive.

A decade ago, Richard Phelps was assessment director of the District of Columbia Public Schools. His time in that position coincided with the last ten months of Michelle Rhee’s tenure in office. When her patron Adrian Fenty lost the election for Mayor, Rhee left and so did Phelps.

Phelps writes here about what he learned while trying to improve the assessment practices of the DC Public Schools. He posts his overview in two parts, and this is part 1. The second part will appear in the next post.

Rhee asked Phelps to expand the VAM program–the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and to terminate or reward them based on student scores.

Phelps described his visits to schools to meet with teachers. He gathered useful ideas about how to make the assessments more useful to teachers and students.

Soon enough, he learned that the Central Office staff, including Rhee, rejected all the ideas he collected from teachers and imposed their own ideas instead.

He writes:

In all, I had polled over 500 DCPS school staff. Not only were all of their suggestions reasonable, some were essential in order to comply with professional assessment standards and ethics.

Nonetheless, back at DCPS’ Central Office, each suggestion was rejected without, to my observation, any serious consideration. The rejecters included Chancellor Rhee, the head of the office of Data and Accountability—the self-titled “Data Lady,” Erin McGoldrick—and the head of the curriculum and instruction division, Carey Wright, and her chief deputy, Dan Gordon.

Four central office staff outvoted several-hundred school staff (and my recommendations as assessment director). In each case, the changes recommended would have meant some additional work on their parts, but in return for substantial improvements in the testing program. Their rhetoric was all about helping teachers and students; but the facts were that the testing program wasn’t structured to help them.

What was the purpose of my several weeks of school visits and staff polling? To solicit “buy in” from school level staff, not feedback.

Ultimately, the new testing program proposal would incorporate all the new features requested by senior Central Office staff, no matter how burdensome, and not a single feature requested by several hundred supportive school-level staff, no matter how helpful. Like many others, I had hoped that the education reform intention of the Rhee-Henderson years was genuine. DCPS could certainly have benefitted from some genuine reform.

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid.

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

The Central Office “reformers” boasted of their accomplishments and went on to lucrative careers.

It was all for show, financed by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, and other philanthropists who believed in the empty promises of “reform.” It was a giant hoax.

Thomas Ultican continues his investigation of the tentacles of billionaire reformers, this time focusing on the tumultuous career of John Deasy, who resigned as superintendent of the Stockton, California, school district.

Ultican shows how Deasy rose to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, how Justin tenure there was marked by controversy as he walked in lockstep with the Eli Broad-Bill Gates agenda of charter school expansion, high-stakes testing, and huge investments in technology. His controversial decision to spend $1.3 billion on iPads and tech curriculum led to the end of his tenure in L.A.

On to Stockton, where the Mayor and three school board members were closely allied with the billionaire agenda.

A sad and cautionary tale about the destructive billionaire-funded movement to gut public schools.