Archives for category: Corporate Reform

Richard P. Phelps recounts his experiences as the director of assessment for Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Phelps was expected to expand the notorious IMPACT testing program, meant to evaluate teachers. Phelps visited hundreds of administrators and teachers and asked their advice about how to make the program better. They gave him good ideas, and he passed them on to top staff as recommendations. The professionals’ advice was rejected by two top reformers.

Phelps’ article was posted on the blog of D.C. activist Valerie Jablow. She acknowledged its origin in this editor’s note:

[Ed. Note: In part 1 of this series, semi-retired educator Richard P. Phelps provided a first-hand account of what went down in DCPS as ed reformers in the early days of mayoral control pushed standardized tests; teacher evaluations based on those tests; and harsh school penalties. This second part looks at the cheating scandals that arose in the wake of such abusive practices. Such accounts are all the more important now that the DC auditor has just released a bombshell report of poor stewardship of DC’s education data. Both articles appeared in Nonpartisan Education Review in September 2020 and are reprinted here with permission. For this part, the author gratefully acknowledges the fact-checking assistance of retired DCPS teacher Erich Martel and DC school budget expert Mary Levy.]

Phelps came to realize that the “reformers” really didn’t care about improving education or helping children. They were padding their resumes, building their career prospects in the lavishly funded reform world.

Phelps writes:

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.

Unfortunately, in the United States what is commonly showcased as education reform is neither a civic enterprise nor a popular movement. Neither parents, the public, nor school-level educators have any direct influence. Rather, at the national level, U.S. education reform is an elite, private club—a small group of tightly connected politicos and academics—a mutual admiration society dedicated to the career advancement, political influence, and financial benefit of its members, supported by a gaggle of wealthy foundations (e.g., Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace, Hewlett, Smith-Richardson).

Despite their failures, the elites who led DCPS moved on to remunerative positions. The game goes on. And it’s not “for the children.”

This interview was recorded by Town Hall in Seattle, which is a great venue for speakers but in COVID Times was recorded remotely. I interviewed them about their important new book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.

They had some very valuable insights, and the time flew by. I hope you will take a few minutes and join us.

As readers are well aware, the federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act continued the mandated annual testing of students in grades 3-8 in reading and math (as well as one high school test) that was the heart of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002. The Secretary of Education is allowed to grant waivers to states that ask not to give the tests. Last year, as the pandemic closed most schools, Secretary Betsy DeVos offered a blanket waiver to all states. She vowed not to do it again.

During the campaign of 2020, candidate Joe Biden publicly and unequivocally pledged to abandon the tests. He seemed to understand that they were not producing useful information and were squeezing out valuable instruction and subjects that are not tested.

Education Trust, led by John King, who was Obama’s Secretary of Education in his last year in office, created a campaign to demand that the Biden administration refuse all waiver requests and demand that everyone be tested, despite the pandemic. Education Trust, and most of the organizations that signed its two letters, are heavily funded by the Gates and Walton foundations.

The decision not to allow waivers, bowing to the EdTrust campaign, was announced by Ian Rosenblum, a low-level political appointee who previously worked for Education Trust New York and was an advocate for high-stakes testing. His boss was John King, who sent the pro-testing letters. The decision was made before Secretary Cardinal was confirmed. My guess is that the decision was made by Carmel Martin, who was an influential testing advocate in the Obama administration, then worked for the neoliberal Center for American Progress. She now works in the Biden White House as a member of the Domestic Policy Council. If I am wrong, I hope she corrects me.

Laura Chapman reviews the chronology here.

Thank you for all who helped to produce this rapid response and effective use of only two of the many databases for tracking the role of money in shaping policy.

I think it may be useful to put a timeline around some these flows of money and federal policies.

MAY 2020. Guidance for ESEA section 8401(b)(3)(A) testing waivers were published in May 2020 and almost every state or comparable jurisdiction requested and received these waivers for the 2019-2020 school year, well before the full force of the pandemic required large scale changes in schools. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/05/19/2020-10740/notice-of-waivers-granted-under-section-8401-of-the-elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965.

FEBRUARY 3, 2021. The Education Trust sent a letter to Dr. Miguel Cardona. This was after his nomination but before his confirmation on March 1. This letter was signed by 18 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. Find the letter here. https://edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Joint-Letter-to-Dr.-Miguel-Cardona-Urging-Rejection-of-Waivers-to-Annual-State-Wide-Assessment-Requirements-for-the-2020-21-School-Year-February-3-2021.pdf

The February 3 letter ends with two footnotes. The first is for McKinsey & Co.’s data about achievement before schools closed and the transition to remote learning began. This analysis includes “epidemiological scenarios” for learning loss (in months) for students who are white, black, and Hispanic. As usual, Mc Kinsey & Co. cares about the economic value of test scores “We estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses…. This translates into an estimated impact of $110 billion annual earnings across the entire current K–12 cohort.” https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-student-learning-in-the-united-states-the-hurt-could-last-a-lifetime

The second footnote refers to a Bellwether Education report justifying their use of “crisis” rhetoric about school attendance data. The report estimates that about three million school-age children had difficulty engaging in or accessing education in the spring and fall 2020. That estimate was based on data from multiple sources, including media reports.

I hope Dr. Cordona understands that McKinsey & Co and Bellwether Education are not great sources of trustworthy information about public schools. https://bellwethereducation.org/publication/missing-margins-estimating-scale-covid-19-attendance-crisis.

FEBRUARY 22. On this date Ian Rosenblum, “Delegated the Authority to Perform the Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Elementary Education” announced “guidance for state testing” with particular attention to the conditions required if waivers of any find were requested. Note that Dr, Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education. I have yet to discover how he was granted authority (or grabbed it) to assert national policy on testing for the 2020-2021 school year. It is worth noting that Rosenblum’s prior employer had been The Education Trust, (New York). Here is the Guidance letter.https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/stateletters/dcl-assessments-and-acct-022221.pdf

FEBRUARY 23. In no time flat, The Education Trust sent this second letter to the U.S. Department of Education, titled “Response From Civil Rights, Social Justice, Disability Rights, Immigration Policy, Business, and Education Organizations to the U.S. Department of Education’s Updated Guidance on Key ESSA Provisions in 2020–21.” This letter was signed by 30 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. This letter emphasized that local assessments were not suitable for accountability:

”We want to be clear: The Department must not, as part of its promised state-by-state “flexibility,” grant waivers to states that would allow them to substitute local assessments in place of statewide assessments or to only assess a subset of students. By design, these local assessments do not hold all students to the same standards and expectations. They do not offer appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities or English learners, as required under federal law for statewide assessments; they are not peer reviewed to ensure quality and prevent bias; and the results of these assessments will not be comparable from district to district.”

In effect, the only accountability measures that matter to The Education Trust and those who signed on to these letters are features of a factory model of education. Standardization is the ultimate criterion for data entering into decisions about federal policy. This factory model is also positioned as if the primary way to address equity and civils rights. We must “hold all students to the same standards and expectations.”

The February 23 letter also articulates a clear distain for assessments most likely to be meaningful to teachers, students, and parent caregivers; namely teacher and district developed evaluations of learning with these judgements student-specific, curriculum relevant, informed by face-to=face conversations and providing a meaningful pathway for guiding students.


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.

Maurice Cunningham specializes in digging up the facts about Dark Money (political contributions where the donors’ names are hidden). His expose of Dark Money from the Waltons and other billionaires turned the public against a 2016 state referendum in Massachusetts to expand the number of charter schools, and it was defeated. I wrote about this campaign in Slaying Goliath.

In this post, published here for the first time, he exposes a “parent group” demanding more charter schools in Rhode Island.

Cunningham writes:

Parents who care about public education need to be wary of dark money fronts masquerading as concerned reformers. These are lavishly funded efforts with the goal of privatizing public schools. Rhode Islanders should take a long hard look at Stop the Wait RI.

This operation registered with the Rhode Island Secretary of State as a social welfare organization organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue on February 25, 2021. That status allows Stop the Wait to engage in a wide range of political activities including spending on political campaigns. The big advantage for a 501(c)(4) is that it can take in unlimited sums from individuals or corporations, spend generously on politics, and never have to disclose the names of the true donors—the real powers hiding behind the curtain. It’s dark money—political spending with the true interests hidden from the public. Stop the Wait’s web page is pretty explicit—its mission is to “preserve and expand school choice—including access to high-quality public charter schools.” Translation: privatization of public schools.

Privatizing fronts often present as an underdog group of grassroots parents. In politics though, power flows to money and so it’s key to know who is funding such groups. That’s tough with a brand new 501(c)(4) like Stop the Wait, but there are clues.

The first name on the Board of Directors is Janie SeguiRodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez works for the charter school chain Achievement First which is underwritten by among others, the WalMart heir Walton family. She is also on the board of a related corporation organized under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Parents Leading for Educational Equity. A 501(c)(3) can do reports, organize, advocate, communicate with the public, but can’t get into political campaigns. Contributions are tax deductible, so taxpayers subsidize this advocacy. Even though PLEE was only organized as a non-profit corporation as of July 13, 2020, only three months later, on October 19, 2020 the Rhode Island Foundation announced that PLEE was one of several organizations it had funded and offered it as an example for its new $8.5 million Equity Leadership Foundation. (It’s a little curious that a foundation funds an organization and evaluate it as a model of success in three months). The Nellie Mae Foundation was more patient—it waited all the way until December 21, 2020 before dropping two grants, one for $40,000 and the other for $120,000 into PLEE’s bank account. Actual check writers often give through donor advised funds, a tax advantaged option that keeps their interest in groups like PLEEever unknown.

Web searches indicate that PLEE has actually been around since 2018. But it couldn’t have taken in sums from foundations until it registered with the IRS. 

Ms. Rodriguez is a political veteran as well. She ran for city council in Pawtucket city wide in 2018 and in ward 5 in 2020, losing both (by two votes in ward 5). Another member of PLEErecently assailed teachers unions in a hearing over reopening Pawtucket schools. Look for more of this from PLEE and Stop the Wait. Across the country similar organizations are funded by anti-worker oligarchs like the Waltons and Charles Koch. Examples of right wing billionaire operations masquerading as parents groups include Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union

Using upbeat sounding front organizations funded by unidentified billionaires is what Jane Mayer in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right calls “weaponizing philanthropy.” But communities can beat the billionaires. Ask questions, demand answers, accept nothing less than an accounting of the true interests behind dark money fronts like PLEE and Stop the Wait, publicize your findings, contact elected officials. This is your democracy and your public school system.

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

Our brilliant reader Laura Chapman, retired educator, decided to dig deep into the politics of education reform in Minnesota in response to a post about a dubious constitutional amendment sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank.

Chapman, who lives in Ohio, writes:

I am not from Minnesota, but this post sent me deep into some policies there. The idea is to frame education as a fundamental right to “quality schools” as “measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state.”

No. This law is written as if the standard-setting process is a business-as usual-review of existing standards and benchmarks for learning, with periodic revisions. It is not.

Right now, there is a huge controversy over the social studies standards. The battle is about whose histories count and whether conservatives should settle for anything other than patriotism as the major purpose of teaching American history. https://patch.com/minnesota/across-mn/controversy-over-mn-s-social-studies-standards-explained

Students Learning English (ELLs), are unlikely to pass the absurd requirements being proposed by the Federal Reserve (why bankers?) and as a constitutional amendment (why bankers?).

Minnesota has NO academic tests except those in English. According to a 2020 report from the Migration Policy Institute, and the 2015 American Community Survey, at least 193,600 Minnesota residents have children still learning English. All are in harm’s way. The largest foreign-born groups in Minnesota are from Mexico (67,300), Somalia (31,400), India (30,500), Laos including Hmong (23,300), Vietnam (20,200), China excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan (c), Ethiopia (19,300), and Thailand including Hmong (16,800). One of the fastest growing immigrant groups in Minnesota is the Karen people, an ethnic minority in conflict with the government in Myanmar. Most of the estimated 5,000 Karen in Minnesota came from refugee camps in Thailand. Ojibwe and Dakota are the indigenous languages of Minnesota.

Many of Minnesota’s charter schools are devoted to segregating and strengthening the identities of linguistic/ethnic groups. There are three dual language Spanish-English schools. Eight charter schools are devoted to immersion in these languages/cultures: Chinese, French, German, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. There are at least five Hmong immersion charter schools, and two for Ojibwe immersion. Two charter schools offer ELL education for East African families and one offers education using American Sign Language/English bilingual approach.

Recent reports also show how charter schools are racially segregated. In St Paul, one hundred percent of students at Higher Ground Academy are black or African-American. This percentage is about the same for Minneapolis’s Friendship Academy. In both cities the overall population of black or African-American residents is below twenty percent. By design, many charter schools in Minnesota are segregated schools. Will these schools be subjected to the wishes of the bankers or not?

In 2021, the Minnesota Federal Reserve, having no expertise in education, called in “experts” to make suggestions on a fix for so-called achievement gaps, meaning differences in scores on standardized tests. This “we-can-fix it” program was sponsored by all 12 of the nation’s District Banks in the Federal Reserve System. In other words, what happens in Minnesota may not be limited to Minnesota but extend to the orbit of District Banks in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Kansas City, New York City, Philadelphia, Richmond (VA), San Francisco, and St Louis,

Among the highly visible “experts” called in for this multi-state program were Geoffrey Canada, president of the well-endowed Harlem Children’s Zone (endowment about $148 million, and sponsor of Promise Academy brand of K-12 charter schools), and CEO Salman Khan, founder of online Khan Academy, and Kahn Academy for Kids. The papers for this program also featured the post-Katrina takeover of New Orleans schools as if exemplary. https://www.minneapolisfed.org/article/2021/feds-racism-and-the-economy-series-explores-racial-inequity-in-the-education-system.

Bankers are clueless about education but they have an agenda certain to harm thousands of students in Minnesota, especially ELL students, and if applicable to charter schools, the many students ill prepared to take a test only available in English.

The last thing we need to have are the nation’s clueless bankers making permanent changes in education based on proposed Minnesota’s model of “quality.”

This article was written by Swedish teacher Filippa Mannerheim and translated by retired Swedish educator Sara Hjelm. It appeared in the Swedish publication EXPRESSEN.

Mannerheim expresses her outrage at the corruption and inequity that have flowed from the Swedish policy of privatization. Her articles are a warning to those of us in the United States, as many states are now considering legislation to copy the Swedish free-market model, allowing anyone–including for-profit enterprises–to supply educational services to student.

Politicians let schools sink into a swamp of corruption 

Published 8 Feb 2021 

High school teacher Filippa Mannerheim. 

The Swedish Parliament. 

Photo: OLLE SPORRONG

Teacher Filippa Mannerheim sparked a great debate with her indictment against Swedish parliamentary politicians about the market school. 

All parties – except M and KD have responded – and Mannerheim is now writing her closing remarks. 

This is a cultural article, where writers can express personal opinions and make assessments of works of art. 

DEBT DEBATE. 

There was once a farmer who was terribly hard of hearing, something he was ashamed of. One day, while standing carving on an ax handle, he saw the surveyor coming walking on the road. “First he probably asks what I do and then I answer ‘Ax handle'”, the old man thought. Then he asks if he can borrow my mare and then I say: “The riders have ridden her back off”. And when he asks about my old echo, I answer “She is completely ruined and holds neither weather nor water.”  

– Good day! said the surveyor.  

“Ax shaft,” replied the old man.  

This story my father read to me when I was a child and I remember that we laughed a lot at the old man’s determined but damned answers. That the saga is now revived within me again, after 40 years, is no coincidence.  

After reading the six (non) answers from our parliamentary parties after my article “I accuse…!”, I am saddened by school policy. What is positive is that our Riksdag politicians have answers to all my questions. What is negative is that their answers rarely have to do with the questions.  

The Center Party proudly claims (after three months of reflection, while their formulations have gone back and forth between communicators and party leadership), that they at least want to increase freedom of choice and transparency in Swedish schools, but then make proposals that lead to the exact opposite – slippery as eels in their struggle to defend the corporations’ dividends. The Liberals write an answer so full of empty phrases that I have already forgotten what the message was. I think there was something about teachers being very important. 

The Social Democrats and the Green Party agree with me in substance but unfortunately can do nothing, “very boring, really.” The Western Party is outraged, the Sweden Democrats, as usual, blame the immigrants and the 

Moderates and Christian Democrats don’t bother to even put together an answer. Probably they have none.  

– Swedish schools are in deep crisis! Politicians, you must act! 

– Good day, ax handle, little friend. 

What exactly is politics for our politicians? I ask myself. Is it a polished, trembling index finger in the air, or is it a sincere description of the problem and a long-term and well-thought-out vision of what Sweden can become, based on knowledge, a sense of responsibility and an honest will to improve our society?  

Who knows? Not me anyway.  

In another fairy tale I recently read with my 

students, HC Andersen lets the little child 

shout the obvious: “The emperor is naked!” 

Many of us are shouting now, but without our 

rulers hearing us.  

Photo: CSABA BENE PERLENBERG / 

But this is not a fairytale. This is 2021 in a  small but extreme country in the north, where the majority of our parliamentary parties have made it clear to us voters that the Swedish school market, with its destructive consequences, will remain. The limited companies’ expansion at the expense of the municipal school, the unfair school choice system, the extreme and skewed construction of school fees that are running Swedish schools at the bottom, grade inflation, a rejected principle of openness and an increasingly segregated school system – all this we must continue to live with.  

This was not what we thought of the free school reform!  

Nevertheless, the majority of our political parties are determined to continue on the path that has led Swedish, tax-financed schools deeper and deeper into the dunes of corruption. The partners’ profits are too important to be legislated away. At the same time, meaningless messages are drummed out to voters as pale, Orwellian mantras: “All schools must be good!” “Free schools are good!”  

– Good day, ax handle.  

The fact remains: We are the only country in the world with this school model. No party, neither right-wing nor left-wing parties in the rest of the world, pushes the idea of ​​free establishment for commercial companies, an almost unlimited profit, lack of democratic transparency about how tax money is used and free for profit companies to choose and reject which children to teach. The Swedish school system is rigged.  

Several bourgeois opinion leaders and leading writers have happily begun to raise their voices against the market school. Even the Liberals have very recently expressed concern about venture capitalists as school owners. It gives a certain hope. But the fact that an overwhelming majority of our parliamentary parties cannot unanimously express that they are prepared to take responsibility and do something about the problems is nothing but outrageous. They simply do not want to stop being the only country in the world that prioritizes foreign venture capitalists over the country’s children.  

But Swedish schools are not the private property of politicians or limited companies to milk money and power out of. The schools belongs to us. The Swedish people. We pay for the party.  

In the 2022 election, we voters have the opportunity to use our votes wisely with the socially important school issue in focus. If we vote for a party that does not want to change the school system but only pretends to poke at it for the sake of visibility, the system will remain. And it will leave huge traces in our Swedish society.  

Parliamentary politician: I have nothing more to add in the matter. 

My accusation remains.  

By Filippa Mannerheim 

Filippa Mannerheim is a high school teacher of Swedish and history, as well as a writer and school debater.

The following article was written by Swedish high school teacher Filippa Mannherheim and translated by retired Swedish educator Sara Hjelm. It appeared in the Swedish publication Expressen. Sweden adopted a free-market system of schooling in the early 1990s, and the results have increased segregation without improving the quality of education or access to good schools. The free-market model, she writes, began with extravagant promises but has turned into a bonanza for entrepreneurs and profiteers.

Swedish education is a shame – you politicians have failed

Published 17 Nov 2020 at 06.15, updated 18 Nov at 10.05

Teacher and school debater Filippa Mannerheim.Photo: Press

Teacher and school debater Filippa Mannerheim today publishes an open letter on Expressen’s culture page to Sweden’s Riksdag politicians. “It is time to merge across party lines and stop the expansion of limited companies,” she writes.

This is a cultural article, where writers can express personal opinions and make assessments of works of art.


Parliamentary politicians!

I am a Swedish citizen. I am a teacher. I’m a parent. And I am deeply concerned about the future of Swedish schools. 

The Swedish school has been subjected to a world-unique experiment. In the rest of the world, it is unreasonable for limited companies to make unregulated profits on tax money. Despite this, we in Sweden donate hundreds of millions of kronor to shareholders in company groups year after year – money that was intended for our children’s education.

With the deregulation of the 1990s, the ambition was to create thriving, independent schools, foundations, parent cooperatives and small limited company schools with educational alternatives. Today, this vision has turned into an uncontrollable market where venture capital companies are expanding and devouring tax money at breakneck speed. 

The business model is simple: you buy smaller independent schools and incorporate them into the growing groups and then make a profit by targeting marketing to easy-to-teach, independent students, through special dress codes, requirements for high tempo and great drive or through English as a study language. With a sold-out, simpler student base, the corporation schools can reduce salaries, teacher density, resource staff and – to attract even more lucrative student customers – sprinkle with joy-ratings to show the school’s “high results”.

When the profitable students have been absorbed by the independent school, the municipal school is left with a more difficult student base and with the overall responsibility for all the municipality’s students. And when the municipal school’s student allowance must be increased due to the task becoming more demanding, the independent schools ‘student allowance is also increased and the groups’ profits can increase even more. A bomb-proof business model for venture capital companies but a devastating tax waste for the Swedish citizens. 

You, politicians, have made our common school a wet dream for venture capital companies.

Because while the school giant Academedia, now listed on the stock exchange, makes a profit of SEK 556 million before tax, the size of the children’s groups in the preschool increases and greatly exceeds the National Agency for Education’s benchmarks. While the International English School (IES) presents a profit of 254 million, many children are in classrooms without teaching materials and are taught by foreign teachers without Swedish qualification or by qualified teachers who earn SEK 3,000 less a month than their municipal colleagues. While schools and colleges are sounding the alarm about declining knowledge results, joy grades are rising, as grades have become a competitive tool on the market. While the independent school giants receive a rent discount for establishing themselves in the municipalities, children with diagnoses or a mother tongue other than Swedish are rejected, as they are more expensive to teach.

Before the National Agency for Education made all statistics about individual schools secret – because it became a “trade secret” – all this information was available to us. Today it does not do that anymore, which threatens our democracy. 

I accuse you of that.

Swedish schools bleed at the same time as resources are available. But the tax money that was intended to go to student support, small groups, more teachers, more resource staff, teaching materials and smaller classes ends up in tax havens instead. 

You, politicians, have made our common school a wet dream for venture capital companies. It’s shameful. It’s sad. It is unworthy of a knowledge nation. 

After Chile abolished profit-driven independent schools four years ago, we are left alone in the world with our school system. Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, England all have independent schools but profits are prohibited or strictly regulated. If the rest of the world can have well-functioning independent schools for parents to choose from, without the owners being allowed to pick out millions in profits – why can’t we? 

The company magnates have the money. Nine politicians have the power. I have, apart from my furious despair over the state of affairs, only my pen and my conviction that the truth about Sweden’s school system must emerge.

I’m accusing …! was written by Émile Zola and published January 13, 1898. Zola turned in the letter to the President of France and took a stand for the Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus who had been convicted of high treason.

Parliamentary politicians. This letter has become long and it is time to summarize: 

I accuse you, the Social Democrats! Your party name is a pathetic remnant from the time when you defended an equal school – for all children from all walks of life. Today you have voluntarily put your gag on one of Sweden’s most important issues – the marketing school. It is not democracy but its exact opposite: it is political pity.

I accuse you, the Moderates! You are talking about more controls, even though it obviously does not help against the corruption-like elements that the market school has produced, where joy grades, instead of education, have become a competitive tool in the fight for the most easily taught students. You have with your nonchalance betrayed our nation and its youngest citizens.

I accuse you, Liberals. You call yourself a “school party” and claim that teachers should be authorities in the classrooms. At the same time, you have turned children and parents into school customers and “grade shoppers” and teachers into servile sellers of grades, with the task of keeping customers happy for their own school’s survival. The system is morally corrupt and you are partly responsible. 

I accuse you, the Christian Democrats. Your reluctance to see how the interest in profit hits the school is depressing. You earn money when you should serve our children. To you, I have only one thing to say: Drive the traders out of the temple!

I accuse you, the Green Party. In 2013, your congress voted no to welfare gains. After that, your school policy has consisted of hand hearts on Youtube, despite the fact that you held the post of Minister of Education. Your contribution on the school grounds has been an unfunded “Read-write-count-guarantee” and a struggle for more sex and cohabitation education, while the school falls. 

I accuse you, the Sweden Democrats. You talk about assimilation, community and security. Yet you support a school system that increases segregation and allows jihadist schools run by people with links to Islamism and violent extremism and schools with religious indoctrination of children. And after a special lunch at Riche, you turned to the issue of banning profiteering and sat yourself on lap in the independent school lobby. 

I accuse you, the Left Party. You have been passive and have not even indicated that you would like to overthrow the government on this issue. The school groups’ profit-taking and expansion is a matter of destiny for our country and no matter how outrageous alone you are here in Sweden, you have the rest of the world on your side. Overthrow the government! This issue is not negotiable.

I accuse you, Center Party! You put venture capital companies’ right to millions in profits ahead of future generations and call Sweden’s principle of openness – the foundation of our democracy – a “hot pursuit of free enterprise”. You let your friends in business management legally steal our taxes – millions that were meant for education. You pose shamelessly with the groups great in photo, without being ashamed. You have let Sweden down. 

Knowledge, education and upbringing should be at the center of this socially important activity – not money.

My questions to you politicians are the following: What will happen to Sweden when more and more children do not get the education they need? When foreign venture capital companies gain more and more influence over the school and we citizens lose both transparency and the principle of openness? When tax money, through independent school groups, ends up in the pockets of fundamentalists and shareholders in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Malta? What opportunities will we have to govern the school in a democratic way when the power of foreign owners over our education system increases through the expansion of the school groups? 

One last reflection. Whatever it may now be worth to you: Schools are not just buildings with children and teachers inside. Schools are not just childcare while parents work. The school is a common community building, where we adults prepare future generations for the future. Knowledge, education and upbringing should be at the center of this socially important activity – not money. 

If we demolish this common building, which you, politicians, are well on your way to doing, society will also fall to pieces, slowly but surely. Your society, just like mine. Your children’s society, just like my children’s society. 

Parliamentary politicians. The time has come. It is time to merge across party lines and stop the expansion of venture companies and take back the tax millions and education to the Swedish people.

While we still can. 

By Filippa Mannerheim

Filippa Mannerheim is a high school teacher of Swedish and history, and a school debater.

This article was co-authored by a group of educators who oppose privatization. They have identified the primary driver of privatization in their different communities: The City Fund, subsidized primarily by corporate “reformers” Reed Hastings and John Arnold. The City Fund is led by experienced privatizers who have tried their hand in places like Tennessee and New Orleans, where the PR was great but the results were not. It opened its operations with $200 million in hand from its funders. Lots of money, no members, and a charge to go out into the nation and find cities where they could disrupt the local school board elections by underwriting advocates of privatization. They are undermining public schools and democracy at the same time. They should hang their heads in shame. They won’t.

The authors of the following are: Dr. Tracee Miller was an elected member of the St. Louis Board of Education. Dr. Keith Benson is president of the Camden Education Association. Christina Smith is Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition. Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6. Bobby Blount is a San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee. Don Macleay is a member of Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

They wrote the following article:


Education Privatization: Eerie Similarities in Stories from 15 Major US Cities

A new education reform movement has made its way across the country whose goal is not reform, but privatization. That coalition is led by billionaires forcing their extreme market bias onto our school system. Its framework steers tax dollars away from the public schools and toward their chosen consultants, partner groups, curricula, and other products and services without oversight from elected officials. The movement manifests in the expansion of charter schools and their enrollment, division of public districts into factions, incubation of community advocacy groups, promotion of anti-public school legislation, and influencing of state and local campaigns. 

To say that the proponents of this model engage in deceptive tactics would be a gross understatement. Aside from disguising their approach with buzzwords like innovation, transformation, and social justice, they funnel money through PACs, then through individuals and groups, to make their funding difficult to trace. This shroud of financial and ideological secrecy also makes the money, desperately needed in public education, easier for schools and organizations to accept.

One major national funder of this reactionary education philosophy is The City Fund. The City Fund distributes money from corporate school reform philanthropists, such as John Arnold and Reed Hastings, to local city organizations to accomplish the goals listed above. Its political organization, Public School Allies, makes campaign contributions to local school board candidates who are likely to adopt the same philosophy. “Reform” money has changed what used to be $1,500 local campaigns into $20,000 races for school board.The model being promoted by The City Fund and its affiliated organizations has been seen nearly to fruition in New Orleans and Indianapolis, and the stories being played out in other cities where The City Fund operates are eerily similar. 

We are education experts and advocates who represent cities and schools across the country that are being impacted by this movement and we refuse to be complicit. Our stories from Camden, Oakland, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, and St. Louis account for only a fraction of the cities where these movements are underway, and we hope that sharing our experiences will help others recognize the tactics wherever they appear.

Recent articles about The City Fund and its influence in St. Louis and in local school board races inspired us to contact each other. What we discovered is unsettling. The organizations funded by The City Fund present themselves as local grassroots organizations when nothing could be further from the truth. While propping up these local organizations with millions of dollars, The City Fund also places its own supporters on the organizations’ boards to influence their ideology and decision-making. These groups and their partner community advocacy groups have equivalents in at least 15 cities. A few examples of umbrella groups sponsored by The City Fund include The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, the Camden Education Fund in Camden, City Education Partners in San Antonio, redefinED in Atlanta, RootED in Denver, The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis, San Joaquin A+ in Stockton, REACH in Oakland, and New Schools in Baton Rouge. 

Naming more equivalent organizations here would be unhelpful, but recognizing their actions is critical to identifying their influence. In addition to the strategies listed earlier, organizations affiliated with The City Fund have engaged in a variety of similar behaviors. In most locations they have created a school-finder tool and promoted a common application for traditional and charter schools. These groups host community events or support the publishing of reports where skewed data imply the deterioration of public education, and often push the idea that charters are the only solution. They make similar demands of school boards and of individual board members to conform with their ideals, and react with similar misinformation when confronted by the public or the media.  The uniformity across cities is so striking that on several of our joint calls there was audible relief when one of us realized we weren’t the sole target of this deception.

These organizations are not home-grown local groups established to solve local problems, but are experts at pretending to be. While they employ well-meaning advocates who  are energized  by words like equity or opportunity and promote themselves as organizations who seek to understand community sentiment, these groups are the local arms of The City Fund, whose model seeks to, and has experienced frightening success in, advancing the privatization of public education. With privatization comes the loss of local control and democratic ideals. 

The City Fund does not make it clear when it is investing in a city; fortunately, we have the opportunity to learn from each other and to stop the corruption before it becomes so deeply embedded in our systems that it can’t be reversed. The individuals peddling their agenda under the guise of education equity will continue to steer public dollars toward their private programs and gain financial and political capital until we decide public education is too important to jeopardize for a scheme. We are all complicit in the perpetuation of inequity if we choose to let this continue now that we know the truth.

Co-authored by: 

Dr. Tracee Miller, former member of the Board of Education for St. Louis Public Schools; 

Dr. Keith Benson, President of the Camden Education Association and author of Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ; 

Christina Smith, Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition; 

Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6; 

Bobby Blount, San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee; 

Don Macleay, Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

One of the first and most important decisions that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona will make is whether to grant waivers to the states that want to suspend the annual federal testing mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some states–like New York–intend to request waivers, in light of the turmoil and unequal access to education caused by the pandemic. Others–like Texas and Arkansas–plan to proceed with their regular testing program regardless of the harm inflicted on students, teachers, and families by the past year.

Education Trust, headed by former Secretary of Education John King, has organized several groups to demand that Secretary Cardona refuse any requests by states for waivers. It makes no sense for a group of corporate reformers to insist that the Secretary of Education reject the requests of states that sincerely believe their students will be harmed if the federal government refuses to grant waivers at their request. Shouldn’t states have the authority to decide what is in the best interests of their students?

As I explained in my article in the Washington Post, the standardized tests have no diagnostic value. The tests are given in the spring, and the results are returned in the fall, six months later. Teachers never learn what their individual students do or do not know. The tests do not help the students or their teachers. They do not reduce inequity. They do not narrow or close achievement gaps. Because of the tests, schools have sacrificed the arts, civics, history, science, even recess. They have harmed the quality of education.

It is time to turn the corner on two decades of failed test-and-punish strategies. The last NAEP showed that the kids at the very bottom actually lost ground in recent years, despite (or because of) the heavy emphasis on testing. If we really cared about equity, we would reduce class sizes in the high-needs schools and make sure that they were staffed with experienced teachers. There are many positive ways to improve the schools, and more standardized testing is not one of them.

What can parents do? Opt out. It is wrong to test students this spring when access to education was disrupted by the pandemic. Do not allow your child to take the tests. They are pointless and meaningless, this year more than usual.