Archives for category: Corporate Reform

Jennifer Berkshire inquires into why so many Democratic leaders and pundits have refused to defend public schools, even though most parents are satisfied with their public schools. As the public schools are blamed for all the evils of modern life by extremists like Chris Rufo, Democrats refuse to stand up for the public schools. She explores why in this article.

Parents are not abandoning the public schools, but Democratic politicians are.

She begins:

Last spring, taking a break from waging conspiratorial campaigns against the republic, an assortment of luminaries associated with the Claremont Institute gathered to lay out a plan to foment a culture war against the nation’s schools. The Clubhouse event, entitled “Building A New Right: Red States vs. Wokeness,” featured a grab bag of Claremont fellows and friends. The star attraction was Manhattan Institute agitprop specialist Christopher Rufo, chief sower of the panics against critical race theory (CRT) and “grooming.”

In a now familiar exercise, Rufo sketched out his campaign to make CRT toxic as part of a larger propaganda war against public institutions. The ultimate goal, he explained, was essentially to do away with those institutions and redirect school funding to families and individuals based on their “values.” Rufo waxed apocalyptic about the scourge of “wokeness,” and yet he struck a hopeful note. After all, he reminded listeners, it had only taken the country a few years to go from the Black Panthers to Nixon.

In the ensuing months, Rufo’s propaganda campaign would grow increasingly lurid, but on this occasion, he urged his audience to raise the discussion to a higher level. Focus on “excellence,” he admonished them, and attack public schools for failing to meet that standard. Conservative communications guru David Reaboi, who helped seed a previous moral panic on the right against the sinister spread of Sharia law, weighed in with some messaging advice of his own: Go full bore against the teachers unions. Do damage.

Today, this coordinated plan to wage a public relations war against the nation’s public schools is an undeniable success. Forty-two states have moved to restrict teaching about oppression, race or gender. According to one estimate, more than one third of students in the country attend school in a state where educators are now subject to some kind of classroom gag order.

The achievement of Rufo and his allies is all the more astonishing, given the deep unpopularity of the policies they champion. Polls consistently show that voters across party lines are repelled by the GOP’s education extremism. Across the chasm of our current political divide, bipartisan majorities are largely in agreement that banning books and gagging teachers is bad.

And for all of the insurgent right’s bold rhetoric about mining parent outrage for electoral gold, the polls that matter most have shown remarkably poor results for candidates running on scorched-earth education platforms. In New Hampshire, New York, Montana, Georgia, Wisconsin and beyond, voters are rejectingright-wing culture warriors, often by wide margins—a movement that might be summed up as “keeping the crazy away from the kids.”

There’s just one problem, though: The leadership of the Democratic party doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.

Doug Ducey, the Governor of Arizona, has been funded by the Koch machine. One of his goals is to destroy public schools. Arizona voted vouchers down, by 65-35%. No matter. Kathryn Joyce wrote in Salon about Ducey’s latest effort to eliminate public schools, disregarding the referendum.

She writes:

Last Friday, while the country reeled from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, Arizona made history of a different sort. Legislators in the Grand Canyon State passed a universal school voucher bill that, once signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, will become the most wide-reaching school privatization plan in the country.

In his January State of the State address, Ducey called on Arizona lawmakers to send him bills that would “expand school choice any way we can,” and the Republican-dominated legislature obliged, delivering last Friday’s bill, which will open a preexisting program for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) up to the entire state. In practice, the law will now give parents who opt out of public schools a debit card for roughly $7,000 per child that can be used to pay for private school tuition, but also for much more: for religious schools, homeschool expenses, tutoring, online classes, education supplies and fees associated with “microschools,” in which small groups of parents pool resources to hire teachers.

Ducey said the law had “set the gold standard in educational freedom” in the country, and right-wing politicians and education activists quickly agreed. Corey DeAngelis, the research director of Betsy DeVos’ school privatization lobby group American Federation for Children, declared on Twitter that Arizona “just took first place” when it comes to school choice. Anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo — the Manhattan Institute fellow who this spring called for fostering “universal public school distrust” in order to build support for “universal school choice” — tweeted, “Every red state in the country should follow [Ducey’s] lead,” since the law “gives every family a right to exit any public school that fails to educate their children or reflect their values.”

RELATED: Salon investigates: The war on public schools is being fought from Hillsdale College

From the American Enterprise Institute, education researcher Max Eden happily concluded that “Arizona now funds students, not systems,” deploying a formulation that has become common among conservative education activists, as when last week the Moms for Liberty network chastised Arizona public school advocates who opposed the bill as “system advocates” rather than “education advocates.” From Rhode Island, anti-CRT activist Nicole Solas, a fellow with the right-wing Independent Women’s Forum, tweeted, “You know what happens when you abuse people? People leave you. Bye, public school.”

And back in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank founded in honor of former senator and right-wing icon Barry Goldwater, celebrated the law it had done much to create as a “major victory for families wary of a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” plus a cost-saving measure to boot, since the total funding parents would receive through ESA vouchers is $4,000 less than Arizona’s already paltry per-pupil funding for public schools.

By contrast, Democratic politicians and public education advocates described the law as the potential “nail in the coffin” for public schools in Arizona, as Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS Arizona) put it.

“The Republican universal voucher system is designed to kill public education,” tweeted former Arizona House Rep. Diego Rodriguez. “OUR nation’s greatness is built on free Public schools. The GOP goal is to recreate segregation, expand the opportunity gap, and destroy the foundation of our democracy.”

“I think it’s a very serious mistake and the result will be that, within a decade, Arizona will have a very, very poorly educated adult population,” added Carol Corbett Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education. “Maybe that’s the game…”


“It’s very easy to set up a one-room shop in a strip mall, give every kid a Chromebook and a plaid skirt, tell parents they’re on an accelerated curriculum and take that $7,000,” said Lewis. But it’s equally easy for those schools to “close up shop whenever they want,” as numerous low-quality voucher schools have been known to do, leaving students stranded partway through the school year. When that happens, said Lewis, “There’s no recourse to claw those funds back.”

Unfortunately, said Carol Corbett Burris, ESA programs have already demonstrated problems with that approach, through numerous cases of fraud, in which parents used the funds for things other than their children’s education.

“It’s like an insurance company giving parents of a sick child $7,000 and saying, ‘We don’t care if you go to a physician or a dentist — take that money and do what you believe is best,” Burris continued. “Parents may know best about many things, but they’re not professional educators any more than they are doctors, dentists or nurses.”

What’s more, SOS Arizona pointed out, the ESA funds could also be used to send taxpayer funding to the sort of private school being established by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, who recently announced plans to start a network of anti-“woke” Turning Point Academies, first in Arizona, then around the country. The first such school, with more than 600 students, is set to open in Glendale this fall, as the result of a partnership between Kirk and Phoenix megachurch Dream City. According to Newsweek, the academy will ban CRT, the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and what it calls “radical LGBT agendas.” Those 600-plus students, Lewis notes, will add up to some “4 million taxpayer dollars that go straight into Kirk’s academy.”

On a larger level, the new law also speeds up the same sort of death spiral that has afflicted public schools across the country, by steadily draining funds away from public education. While the immediate cost of ESA expansion — for students already outside the public school system — will draw on Arizona’s general funds, the money to cover children who leave public schools in coming years will be deducted from public school budgets. ..

“I think we’re witnessing the dismantling of public education in our state,” said Lewis. “Will it happen overnight? No. But the effects will be felt quickly and the blow to public schools will be unsustainable.” If even a few kids leave a neighborhood school, the difference in funding is noticeable. If six or seven do, “that’s a whole teacher [salary] down.” In her own school, where Lewis teaches third grade, that sort of downsizing would mean the immediate increase of her class size of 27 students to more than 40. “Or do you make the cuts elsewhere? Do you cut special education, which has already been cut to the bone? Or music, arts and after-school programs, which have already been cut to the bone? Do you not have an assistant principal? Then how many students don’t get what they need?”

“We are going to stop this by any means necessary,” Lewis said, including electoral work, public education, and possibly another ballot initiative, even if that means risking the “poison pill” cancellation of the state’s newly increased public school funds. “All options are on the table.”

Read more on the right’s systematic assault on public education:

Kathryn Joyce is an investigative reporter at Salon, and the author of two books: “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption” and “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.”MORE FROM KATHRYN JOYCE



Hillsdale College is one of the most conservative colleges in the nation. It describes itself as nonsectarian Christian. It sets itself up as the font of moral, patriotic education, whose students emerge as militant carriers of the Hillsdale message. Hypocrisy is occasionally exposed, as when it turned out that the former president of Hillsdale, an expert in high morality, was having an affair with his daughter-in-law. She committed suicide; he resigned with a golden parachute. Undaunted, Hillsdale continues to present itself to the world as the ultimate defender of faith, morality, patriotism, etc.

Now Hillsdale has a new shtick: it has created a curriculum for the Barney chain of charter schools. The curriculum is based on Trump’s “1776 Curriculum,” a time when men were men, women wore petticoats, and many Black people were enslaved. .

Today’s three posts delve into Hillsdale’s ties to three states where rightwing extremists are in charge.

First is Florida, where Hillsdale’s president Larry Arnn has developed a close relationship with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Hillsdale’s influence in Florida:

TALLAHASSEE — The spotlight was on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as it so often has been over the past three years.

“Our speaker tonight is one of the most important people living,” Larry P. Arnn said as he introduced DeSantis as the keynote speaker at the Hillsdale National Leadership Seminar on Feb. 23 in Naples. Arnn is the president of Hillsdale College, a politically influential private Christian college in southern Michigan.

“This person’s most important work is before him — and we need him.”

The introduction highlights the relationship between DeSantis and the conservative college, which 12 years ago set out to reshape public education through the growth of charter schools and in recent years has expanded its reach in Florida’s education system.

The college’s influence has been seen in the state’s rejection of math textbooks over what DeSantis called “indoctrinating concepts,” the state’s push to renew the importance of civics education in public schools, and the rapid growth of Hillsdale’s network of affiliated public charter schools in Florida.

Hillsdale also has had sway over the Republican-led Legislature. In 2019, lawmakers approved a law that allowed the college and three other groups to help the state revise its civics standards. Three years later, those guidelines are part of a DeSantis-led civics initiative that has concerned several educatorsabout an infusion of Christianity and conservative ideologies…

DeSantis talked about how since becoming governor, he has banned so-called sanctuary cities, fought lockdown policies during the pandemic, rejected “corporate media” pressures, and reshaped the Florida Supreme Court to what he referred to as “the most conservative Supreme Court of any state in the country.”

The governor also highlighted his push to reform the state’s education system by continuing the two-decades-long push by Republicans to expand school vouchers and charter schools. He also touted Hillsdale’s “flourishing” network of classical schools in Florida.

“I mean how many places, other than Hillsdale, are actually standing for truth, excellence and to produce people who will be leaders?” DeSantis said, after arguing that “woke-ism” is embedded in academic institutions.

A few months after DeSantis’ speech, two state-led efforts further highlighted the relationship between the governor and the college.

In April, the Department of Education made national headlines for its decision to reject dozens of math textbooks because they included references to critical race theory and other “prohibited topics” and “unsolicited strategies,” officials said at the time.

A Times/Herald review of nearly 6,000 pages of textbook examination showed only three of the 125 reviewers found objectionable content. Two of the three were affiliated with Hillsdale College. One was Jonah Apel, a sophomore student majoring in political science, and the other was Jordan Adams, a civics education specialist at the college.

The college declined the opportunity to review the math textbooks but suggested two consultants, neither of whom is a math educator.

Apel and Adams were invited by the state to review “prohibited topics,” though Florida Department of Education officials have not responded to questions inquiring why they specifically invited people to scour for contentious issues like critical race theory. The state paid “prohibited topic” reviewers $500 per review, $170 more than they paid others who reviewed books to ensure the books matched the rest of the state’s math standards, state records show.

Hillsdale has been actively involved in shaping DeSantis’s civics initiative, which is closely aligned with Trump’s 1776 Commission, as a project to glorify American history and minimize unpleasant episodes, like slavery and brutality towards Black and indigenous people.

Hillsdale’s approach to teaching history has drawn praise from DeSantis and former Florida Secretary of Education Richard Corcoran, as well as national conservative figures like former President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos.

Arnn, the college’s president, was appointed by Trump to be the chairperson of the president’s Advisory 1776 Commission, which was formed to “advise the president about the core principles of the American founding and to protect those principles by promoting patriotic education,” according to Matthew Spalding, who Trump appointed as the commission’s executive director. Spalding is the vice president for Washington operations and the dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale’s Washington, D.C., extension.

Hillsdale’s digital digest, Imprimis, features the writing of conservative thinkers like Christopher Rufo, who has worked with DeSantis to combat issues like critical race theory and gender identity.

Florida has seven Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools, with more on the way.

The subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee in charge of education has paid attention to the scandals and closures that mar the charter industry. It issued the following legislative changes for the federal Charter Schools Program for fiscal 2023:

1. A cut in appropriations from $440 million to $400 million for new charters.

2. Eliminate federal funding to for-profit EMOs (education management organizations).

3. Support the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations to provide accountability and oversight for the charter schools it funds.

4. Endorse ED proposal that new charters seeking federal funding analyze need and community impact.

5. Endorse ED proposal that new charters seeking federal funds demonstrate that they will be integrated, not segregated.

6. Note that 15% of federally funded charters either never opened or closed down before the grant ended, which shows why applicants must demonstrate need for their services.

Charter Schools Grants

The Committee recommends $400,000,000 for Charter School Program (CSP) Grants, which is $40,000,000 below the fiscal year 2022 enacted level and the fiscal year 2022 budget request.

CSP awards grants to SEAs or, if a State’s SEA chooses not to participate, to charter school developers to support the development and initial implementation of public charter schools. State Facilities Incentive Grants and Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities awards help charter schools obtain adequate school facilities. These programs work in tandem to support the development and operation of charter schools.

For-profit Entities.—The Department has long recognized the particular risks posed by for-profit education management organi- zations (EMOs). In response to a 2016 audit, the Department con- ceded to the Inspector General, ‘‘ED is well aware of the challenges and risks posed by CMOs and, in particular, EMOs, that enter into contracts to manage the day-to-day operations of charter schools that receive Federal funds. We recognize that the proliferation of charter schools with these relationships has introduced potential risks with respect to conflicts of interest, related-party trans-actions, and fiscal accountability, particularly in regard to the use of federal funds.’’ Since that initial acknowledgement by the Department regarding for-profit EMOs, the Committee has been made aware of concerning instances of criminal fraud, conflicts of interest, and inadequate transparency.

In addition, the Committee is deeply concerned that for-profit charter schools, including those run by for-profit EMOs, deliver concerning outcomes for students. A 2017 report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes compared student performance at non-profit charters, for-profit charters, and traditional public schools and found that for-profit charters perform worse in reading, and significantly worse in math, than non-profit charters. In addition, the report found that for-profit charters per- form worse in math than traditional public schools.

That is why the Committee is strongly supportive of the Department’s proposal to prohibit Federal CSP funding from supporting for-profit EMOs through its notice published in the Federal Reg- ister on March 14, 2022 (87 Fed. Reg. 14197). The Committee in- cludes bill language codifying the prohibition to establish this precedent for fiscal year 2023 and for future years. Moving for- ward, the Committee urges the Secretary to work with Congress on efforts to fully phase out the concerning for-profit EMO sector. Such efforts could include reasonable transition periods that allow schools run by for-profit EMOs to shift to independent or nonprofit management. In the interim, the Committee is committed to con- tinuing its oversight of the for-profit EMO sector and ensuring fewer taxpayer dollars enrich for-profit EMO shareholders.

Defunct CSP Grantees.—The Committee is deeply concerned by the Department’s analysis that fifteen percent ofthe charter schools receiving CSP funding since 2001 have never opened or closed before their three-year grant period is complete, rep- resenting an unacceptable waste of at least $174,000,000 in tax- payer funds. Accordingly, the Committee is strongly supportive of the Department’s fiscal year 2022 CSP notice (87 Fed. Reg. 14197) that requires applicants to demonstrate local demand for new schools. The Committee rejects the premise that grant failure and school closure is the cost of doing business in CSP and welcomes reforms that will improve its performance.

GAO Mandate from House Report 116–450.—The Committee con- tinues to be supportive of GAO’s work on the mandate included in House Report 116–450 regarding the Department’s oversight over CSP and whether the program is being implemented effectively among grantees and subgrantees. The Committee is particularly in- terested in theissue of CSP-funded schools that eventually closed or received funds but never opened; the relationships between charter schools supported by CSP grants and charter management or- ganizations; and enrollment patterns at these schools, especially for students with disabilities. Inaddition, the Committee is interested in recommendations on potential legislative changes to the program that would reduce the potential for mismanagement and inef- fective operations.

Oversight from the Office of Inspector General.—The Committee continues to support efforts by the Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to examine grantee administration of Replication and Expansion Grants, including charter management organization grantees. The Committee also supports the OIG’s efforts to evalu- ate whether the Department adequately monitored grantees’ per- formance and uses of funds for CSP competitions.

Students with Disabilities and English Learners.—The Com- mittee encourages the Department to continue including in their evaluation of State CSP grants the extent to which State entities are utilizing the seven percent of funding received under the pro- gram to ensure that charter schools receiving CSP grants are equipped to appropriately serve students with disabilities and, by extension, prepared to become high-quality charter schools. In ad- dition, the Committee urges the Department to ensure subgrantees are equipped to meet the needs of English learners. The Committee directs the Department to provide an update on these efforts in the fiscal year 2024 Congressional Budget Justification.

Charter School Effects on School Segregation.—The Committee is concerned by findings from a 2019 Urban Institute report which concluded that growth in charter school enrollment increases the segregation of Black, Latino, and white students. To address this concern, the Committee urges the Department to give priority to applicants thatplan to use CSP funds to operate or manage char- ter schools intentionally designed to be racially and socioeconomically diverse.

The Committee is strongly supportive of proposed requirements in the Department’s fiscal year 2022 CSP notice (87 Fed. Reg. 14197) that grantees show that they will not exacerbate school seg- regation. Accordingly, the Committee urges the Department to ex- amine the merits of diversity reporting that compares demographic data ofgrantees to that of local districts. The Committee directs the Department to share its assessment of CSP diversity reporting, along with any prospective plans for implementation, in the fiscal year 2024 Congressional Budget Justification.

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education and the Mayor of Boston reached an agreement not to label the Boston Public Schools “underperforming” and the state backed away from taking control of the district. Perhaps they realized that state takeovers typically make things worse, not better.

Our reader Christine Langhoff is a retired teacher in Boston. She added the following informed comment.

Christine Langhoff writes:

Despite the Boston Globe’s heartfelt desire for privatization – its education reporting is outsourced to privatizers and charteristas at The Barr Foundation – public pushback had an impact. The state has had zero success in the school systems where it intervened, when measured by the metric the state board loves: test scores. Boston scores, even during the virtual schooling of the pandemic, have been higher than in Lawrence, Springfield, Holyoke and Southbridge, where the state is in charge. They failed to get this done before Governor Charlie Baker – funded by the Kochs and the Waltons – leaves office this year.

Our newly elected mayor, Michelle Wu, has her own two young sons in BPS and is committed to public education. She has refused to back away from her advocacy for the schools. Her predecessor, Marty Walsh (now Biden’s Secretary of Labor), was himself a founder of a charter school, and underfunded the schools during all seven years of his mayoralty. He made no effort to solve the issues cited in the state’s report in his quest to defund, destabilize, and destroy the school system.

Wu has managed in a brief time to recruit two excellent finalists for the superintendent’s position. Both of them are true public school educators who live in Boston. Mary Skipper’s three children are BPS graduates and Tommy Welch’s kids are presently enrolled as well. Contrast with Laura Perille, who was named superintendent by Walsh, despite being completely unqualified save for the fact that she ran an umbrella group for the foundations bent on privatization. (Perille took over from Broadie Tommy Chang, who was responsible in LA for the disastrous rollout of laptops.)

It’s a new day for public education in the city of Boston. The Waltons are somewhere, licking their wounds in defeat once again.

The state board of education in Massachusetts, dominated by “reformers” is itching to take control of the Boston public school district. State takeovers have consistently failed. Failure never deters “reformers.”

Dear families, students, educators and community partners,

[Español aqui. Todos están invitados a unirnos para el foro comunitario y la protesta en DESE]  

The Receivership issue is heating up again. Yesterday, Commissioner Riley recommended that the Board vote to declare BPS an “underperforming district.” See the BTU bulletin here for more information. You are invited to join us for two events:

1) We are holding an EMERGENCY Town Hall this Sunday, June 26 from 7:00pm to 8:00pm to discuss what Commissioner Riley’s new proposal to declare BPS “underperforming” is and what would happen to BPS if the Board votes to do so. This will be a public town hall, and we encourage you to invite fellow families and students. Sign up now.

2) This Tuesday, June 28th, we will gather at 8 am outside the DESE headquarters (75 Pleasant St. in Malden) to rally against state takeover and for a BTU contract now. At 8:30am we’ll enter the meeting to watch public testimonies when the board meeting begins at 9am. RSVP at bit.ly/Rally628. There’s garage parking right next to Malden, easy Orange Line access, or if you’d like to take the bus with us from the BTU, email Daphne (dsoto@btu.org) to reserve your seat.

In solidarity,

Ari + the BTU

Sent via ActionNetwork.org. To update your email address, change your name or address, or to stop receiving emails from Boston Teachers Union, please click here.

Jan Resseger has established a reputation for writing well-researched, fearless articles about unjust education policies. In this post, she reviews a new book about the roots of corporate education reform. I have already ordered it.

She writes:

I remember my gratitude when, back in 2010, I sat down to read Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System, which connected the dots across what I had been watching for nearly a decade: the standards movement, annual standardized testing, the operation of No Child Left Behind’s test-and-punish, Mayor Bloomberg’s promotion of charter schools in New York City, and the role of venture philanthropy in all this.

Now over a decade later, many of us have spent the past couple of months worried about pushback from the charter school sector as the the U.S. Department of Education has proposed strengthening sensible regulation of the federal Charter Schools Program. We have been reminded that this program was launched in 1994, and we may have been puzzled that a federal program paying for the startup of privately operated charter schools originated during a Democratic administration.

Lily Geismer, a historian at Claremont McKenna College, has just published a wonderful book which explains how the New Democrats—Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the Democratic Leadership Council—brought a political and economic philosophy that sought to end welfare with a 1996 bill called the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” and envisioned privately operated charter schools to expand competition and innovation in the public schools as a way to close school achievement gaps. Geismer’s book is Left Behind: The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality. The book is a great read, and it fills in the public policy landscape of the 1990s, a decade we may never have fully understood.

In the introduction, Geismer explains where she is headed: “Since the New Deal, liberals had advocated for doing well and doing good. However, the form of political economy enacted during the new Deal and, later, the New Frontier and Great Society understood these as distinct goals. The architects of mid-twentieth century liberalism believed that stimulating capital markets was the best path to creating economic growth and security (doing well). The job of the federal government, as they saw it, was to fill in the holes left by capitalism with compensatory programs to help the poor, like cash assistance and Head Start, and to enact laws that ended racial and gender discrimination (doing good). In contrast, the New Democrats sought to merge those functions and thus do well bydoing good. This vision contended that the forces of banking, entrepreneurialism, trade, and technology… could substitute for traditional forms of welfare and aid and better address structural problems of racial and economic segregation. In this vision, government did not recede but served as a bridge connecting the public and private sectors.” (p. 8)

Geismer devotes an entire chapter, “Public Schools Are Our Most Important Business,” to the Clinton administration’s new education policy. She begins by telling us about Vice President Al Gore’s meetings with “leading executives and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. The so-called Gore-Tech sessions often took place over pizza and beer, and Gore hoped for them to be a chance for the administration to learn from innovators of the New Economy…. One of these meetings focused on the problems of public education and the growing achievement gap between affluent white suburbanites and students of color in the inner city…. The challenge gave venture capitalist John Doerr, who had become Gore’s closest tech advisor, an idea… The tools of venture capital, Doerr thought, might offer a way to build new and better schools based on Silicon Valley’s principles of accountability, choice, and competition… Doerr decided to pool money from several other Silicon valley icons to start the NewSchools Venture Fund. NewSchools sat at the forefront of the concepts of venture philanthropy. Often known by the neologism philanthrocapitalism, venture or strategic philanthropy focused on taking tools from the private sector, especially entrepreneurialism, venture capitalism, and management consulting—the key ingredients in the 1990s tech boom—and applying them to philanthropic work… Doerr and the NewSchools Fund became especially focused on charter schools, which the Clinton administration and the Democratic Leadership Council were similarly encouraging in the 1990s.” (pp. 233-234)

As she explains, the Clinton administration bought the idea that charter schools would be an effective way to end poverty. It encouraged the growth of the charter sector, not realizing that it was creating an industry that would fight accountability, lobby for more federal funding, and ignore frequent scandals and frauds.

It is a cautionary tale that reminds us that the best way to fight poverty is to raise incomes, create jobs, and support labor unions that will defend the rights of working people and advocate for higher wages and benefits.

Mike Deshotels is a retired educator in Louisiana, who blogs at “Louisiana Educator.” He wrote the following post about the now well-established all-charter district.

The state of Louisiana took over most public schools in New Orleans after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It turned them over to charter operators, who were expected to get better academic results than the underfunded public schools. The city’s experienced teachers, mostly African-American, like their students, were fired and replaced by inexperienced Teach for America recruits. Philanthropies and the federal government poured billions into the district to help privatization succeed.

Other states, impressed by the promises of privatization, pushed for more charter schools, and some for vouchers, like Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio. Michigan created the Education Achievement Authority (which failed), Tennessee created the Achievement School District, which boldly promised dramatic increases in test scores. It failed too. Still others, like Oklahoma, Nevada, and Texas, encouraged privatization and rapid expansion of charter schools.

Billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Charles Koch, Betsy DeVos, and the Waltons continue to fund the charter idea, as does the federal government, whose Charter Schools Program doles out $440 million annually to open or expand charter schools (many of which will fail or never open).

For the billionaires and the charter lobby, New Orleans was the shining star of the corporate reform movement, promising huge academic gains by firing teachers, closing public schools, and privatizing low-performing schools. New Orleans is the foundational myth of the charter movement.

Mike Deshotels shows here that the New Orleans “miracle” was and is a vast mirage. Fully a decade ago, in a dissent to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations that endorsed privatization of public schools, Linda Darling-Hammond wrote that “New Orleans remains the lowest-ranked district in the low-performing state of Louisiana.” Billions of dollars later, New Orleans continues to be the lowest performing school district in the lowest performing state.

Here is an excerpt from Mike Deshotels’ post:

This recently released report by the Louisiana Pelican Policy Institute, a business funded “good government” group has produced a dashboard that compares the most recent data on all public-school systems in Louisiana. It provides a way for us to compare expenditures and results in public schools. We can now get a good idea about whether the school reforms in New Orleans have lived up to their promises.

It is important to note that not all public schools in New Orleans at the time of takeover had been deemed to be failures. Even though the Orleans public school system, as a whole, fell into the bottom quartile of public school systems in the state based on academic achievement, there was a group of public schools in New Orleans that were performing well, even before 2006. Several highly selective schools had been producing high academic achievement and great college prep results. So approximately one-fourth of the Orleans schools were left intact because of acceptable results. Those schools, even though now converted into charters, continue to be selective in the students they serve and continue to produce exemplary results. But there is still a major problem with the state test scores of the other three-fourths – the reformed takeover schools.

The recent study shows that taken as a whole, the New Orleans all charter system is still ranking in the bottom quartile of all public-school systems in the state. This is in a state that performs near the bottom of all states on national testing and college preparedness. For example, the new dashboard reveals that for the four academic subjects of math, reading, science and social studies, only 18% of all New Orleans public school students are now rated proficient or better. (I averaged the results of the 4 academic subjects)

In the key subjects of math and reading, Orleans performs at the 24th percentile compared to all other state school systems. This is approximately the same as the Orleans school system performed before Katrina!

What about efficiency in the use of per pupil dollars? Has the new business-oriented model resulted in more efficient use of tax and grant dollars?

One thing that the all-charter system has been successful in doing is attracting a generous flow of charitable foundation money to these new experimental schools. A sizable portion of per pupil dollars in the reformed Orleans public system come from charitable and foundation grants. So the reformed all charter school system is certainly well funded.

The Pelican Policy Institute study has provided a rough measure of how the school money in Orleans is now allocated. Total per pupil funding of the New Orleans system now adds up to $24,434 per student. For Louisiana, this is lavish funding by any measure. The state average per pupil funding is now $11,755, less than half the per pupil amount for New Orleans. How do the New Orleans schools allocate their per pupil funding compared to all other public schools? According to the Pelican Policy dashboard, New Orleans now spends 23% of all its funding on administration and 36% on classroom instruction. (Salaries of the Charter managers are not published as far as I know) The state average for other systems in Louisiana is 8% for administration and 56% for the classrooms. (All non-charter public-school administrators and teacher salary schedules are public records)

Did the increased funding allow the reformed Orleans school system to hire a better quality of teachers? The state auditor recently found that more than half of the Orleans teachers are not certified as teachers. In addition, most of the teachers now employed in Orleans are Caucasian while 90% of the students are African American. This ignores studies that show that children learn better from real role models of their own ethnic type. So much for the new business approach.

Finally, on average, the other school systems in the state have 31% of students achieving proficiency in the 4 basic subjects tested. This compares to 18% achieving proficiency in the new reformed Orleans system.

 

A former Republican State Senator and the former State Auditor, a Democrat, wrote to argue on behalf of reforming the charter school law.

Bernie O’Neill (R-29, Bucks) is a former special education teacher for more than 25 years and a 16-year former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Eugene DePasquale is former Auditor General of Pennsylvania and former member of the state General Assembly, (D-95, York). He presently serves as a Resident for the Keystone Center for Charter Change at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

They wrote:

Our roles as former elected officials from both of the major political parties have given us unique perspectives into not only Pennsylvania’s political process, but also its public education system, particularly charter schools.

Charter schools in the state have grown tremendously in the 24+ years in which they have existed. It is estimated that nearly 170,000 children will attend a brick and mortar or cyber charter school in the current school year and that Pennsylvania taxpayers will spend an estimated $3 billion to fund charter schools.

Despite being in operation for more than two decades, Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law (CSL) has never undergone any significant revision, other than allowing the creation of cyber charter schools in 2002, even though there are numerous glaring problems with the law. That’s not because the General Assembly hasn’t studied and introduced a myriad of legislative proposals each year to enact meaningful reforms. However, the state’s legislative body seems to be unwilling or unable to fix the problems.

Reforming the CSL should be a bipartisan issue. At its core, charter school reform would 1) ensure that public education funds are spent efficiently and appropriately; 2) that charter schools are as accountable and transparent as other public schools; and 3) preserve and strengthen educational choice by bolstering the law to ensure only quality charter school options are available to students and families.

Choice in public education is well-established in Pennsylvania. However, the status quo results in taxpayers sending hundreds of millions of public education dollars more than what charter schools need to provide an education. This is especially true for cyber charter schools, which do not maintain a physical school building and for all charter schools when it comes to well-documented overpayments for special education services. There’s a word for this type of spending – wasteful. And residents across the state feel the impact of these overpayments when their local school districts are forced to raise property taxes because of these costs.

Charter schools are supposed to be public schools. However, the boards that operate charter schools are not elected and are not required to include any representation from the community which they serve. Further, charter schools can contract with for-profit companies to run virtually all operations of the school. Once a charter school enters into one of these contracts, the public loses the ability to see how their money is being spent.

For years, proficiency on state assessments and graduations rates at charter schools have, on average, been substantially lower than those of traditional local public schools. While there are many high-performing charter schools, the current CSL makes it very difficult to close poor performers. Look no further than the fact that every cyber charter school has been identified by the state Department of Education as being in need of improvement for many years.

The bottom line is this: we owe it to our children and to the taxpayers to make sure that we are doing everything possible so that students are getting the best education available and that we are getting the best return on investment for our tax dollars. That’s something that all legislators should be able to support no matter which side of the aisle they’re on.

It is time to end the paralysis in Harrisburg, stop the practice of passing off charter school expansion proposals that fail to address serious funding flaws and contain little accountability as real reform, and finally work in a bipartisan manner to fix the law.

Nora De La Cour is a high school social worker and former teacher in Massachusetts. She writes frequently about the attacks on public schools. In this brilliant article, which appeared in Jacobin, she shows how the privatizatizers have exploited the culture wars to promote their own agenda. They are not interested in better education or students. Their agenda is to destroy the public square.

In a nutshell: “A billionaire-backed network of free-market fundamentalists is ginning up controversy over “wokeness” in American schools with an ulterior motive: to demolish public education.”

Please open the link to read the article in full.

She begins:

In a Massachusetts school district neighboring the one where I work, four parents, backed by a conservative Christian organization, are suing the school committee and multiple district employees for calling students by their preferred names and pronouns without informing home. Because one of the defendants is a counselor, some of my counselor peers in the area are now on guard, afraid we could become the targets of litigation if we allow students to broach sensitive topics in our presence.

Setting aside the very real harm that kids and educators are exposed to as a result of the Right’s eagerness to linkacknowledgement of gay and trans people to sexual predation, there’s another problem here. It’s incredibly difficult to teach or counsel someone if you can’t call them what they wish to be called. Addressing students by their chosen names is a basic sign of respect that says, “I see you and I’m here to work with you.” If you need to call home to get permission first — potentially outing kids to their parents and inviting distressing blowback — you might miss the chance to form the human connection that undergirds collaborative scholarship.

Pandemic school closures reminded us that the social aspects of schooling are among the most vital for young people’s development and for society at large. Specific facts and figures (the what of school learning) can be easily forgotten and recalled with a few keystrokes. But the ability to establish a base level of trust with heterogeneous others in order to solve shared problems (the how of school learning) is absolutely essential for both a fulfilling personal life and engagement in the public square. It’s critical that educators be allowed to build that trust without fear of reprisal.

The Koch-backed parents’ rightsmovement aims to make that trust impossible. By pitting parents against schools, libertarian billionaires and Republican strategists intend to motivate voters in the short term and fully privatize K-12 education in the long term. As Christopher Rufo, the self-styled architect of the so-called war on critical race theory (CRT), has argued, “To create universal school choice [i.e., privatization], you really need to operate from a premise of universal school distrust.” Those poweringthe campaign against classroom “wokeness” are trying to hinder our ability to establish common ground from which to defend our last remaining public goods.

The illiberalism that dominates the Right can best be understood as the advanced stage of a long billionaire-funded plot to undo democracy in order to relieve capitalists of any constraints the rest of us might wish to place on them. This understanding clarifies why classrooms, the training grounds for democratic participation, are primary targets of radical right activism. If liberals are to have any hope of countering this coordinated attack, they need to remember the collective, public value of education.

Laying Siege to the Common Good

It makes sense to focus on the reactionary nature of all of this: the commitment to American exceptionalism animating the so-called CRT bans, the fresh fixation on classical education rife with chauvinist dog whistles, and the shockingly overt bigotry of the anti-LGBT “grooming” discourse. Ron DeSantis’s Florida, as some have observed, is looking more and more like Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. But while these efforts to reverse cultural change are incredibly alarming, we come up short when we try to understand what’s happening purely in terms of identity-based hatred. Intolerance has always been a feature of American politics. Why does it suddenly seem so viciously well-organized?…

Despite attention-grabbing campaigns to terrify them, a majority of public school parents remain satisfied with their children’s schooling. And massive amounts of outside funding notwithstanding, local parents’ rights candidates have in numerous cases failedto deliver decisive wins for the privatization movement. As in segregated Virginia, US families are not quite prepared to sign away their children’s right to publicly funded, democratically controlled schools. It’s the perfect time, in other words, for those looking to contest the radical right to offer a full-throated defense of public education and all public goods.

But Democrats, by and large, have been unwilling to mount that, scarcely standing up even against the horrific attacks on kids, families, and educators that we are seeing across the United States. And when you look at their record on education, it’s pretty clear why: for the past three decades of education reform, Democrats have ignored the social role that schools play in preparing children for engagement in the public square. Alongside Republicans, they have enabled the privatization of public schools. They have also privatized the ideaof schooling down to the individual level. In the view of the Democratic establishment, the sole remit of schools should be to boost “human capital.” Guided by this view, they have yoked the vision of education ever closer to the needs of employers — a kind of corporate indoctrination eerily similar to the “woke” indoctrination Rufo and his cohort tell tales about.

But Bill Clinton’s assertion that “what you earn depends on what you learn” has proven to be a dangerous oversimplification: Americans are more educated than ever before, and yet economic insecurity is rampant and rising. When public schooling is only justifiable insofar as it increases individual earning power, the case for it is wholly dependent on its utility to capitalist markets. Without acknowledging the higher collective purpose that education serves, we won’t be able to defend public schools ordemocratic governance.

Democracy or Capitalism

“Republican politicians and their strategists,” Nancy MacLean told Jacobin,

have seen . . . culture-war tactics help Jair Bolsonaro get elected in Brazil and Viktor Orbán get reelected in Hungary this spring. And, lo, the CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Committee) is traveling to Hungary . . . to learn from Orbán how to use the tools of democracy to rig the rules to achieve autocracy.

The long plot is reaching maturity.

The Right’s appeals to “the family” resonate in part because our oligarchic political system leaves families in the cold, allowing child poverty to soar even as parents spend long and exhausting hours working outside the home. Any effort to save our commons and restore a sense of public spiritedness must include a material response to the significant challenges that parents face.

We need to work fast to reclaim the places where we give one another the benefit of the doubt and collaborate in spite of our differences. Democrats can still enter the battlefield and expose the Right’s deceitful efforts to turn the public against itself. As MacLean argues, the movement Buchanan authored wants to save capitalism from democracy. We can counter it if we are willing to fight to save democracy — beginning with schools — from capitalism.