Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

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

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

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

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

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

He writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my daily reading, I have often come across references to “high quality seats.” [HQS]

See here. 

See here.

While googling, I saw pictures of “high quality seats,” but they looked mostly like lounge chairs, and I could not imagine a classroom filled with them unless the teacher-student ratio was 8:1, which would be a very effective classroom.

I confess that I don’t know what an HQS is.

in my naïveté, I assumed that learning requires teachers teaching and students exerting effort.

Now I see that the “high quality” learning is in the chair.

it seems to be reformer-speak for a seat in a school that is not a public school.

But since there are so many failed and closed charter schools, an HQS can’t be synonymous with a seat in a charter school. Many children in charters are in LQS (low-quality seats).

Where does one go to find a HQS? is there a store?

Do they sell them in Walmart? Not likely.

Do you know where to find the HQS that districts are searching for?

is that the simple answer to every problem?

When I googled, I inadvertently found the answer to my question. Jan Resseger wrote it in 2016. She said that the blather about HQS was a way of dodging the crucial question of paying for a good education for all children.

Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, specializes in exposing the role of Dark Money in education. If you read my book, Slaying Goliath, you know that Cunningham’s research and blog posts helped to turn the tide against a state referendum in 2016 to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. Cunningham showed that “Yes on Two” Organization was funded by billionaires and that the billionaires were hiding their identities. Despite being outspent, the parent-teacher-local school committee won handily.

In this post, originally from February, Cunningham explains why the Waltons and Charles Koch are so devoted to privatizing public school governance. He’s right that they want to lower their taxes. They also want to smash teachers’ unions; more than 90% of charters are non-union. The corporate sector doesn’t like unions, and most private unions have been eliminated. The teachers’ unions are still standing, which annoys the billionaires.

Peter Greene reviews a new charter school study from the Brookings Institution that exhibits near total ignorance of the perils of privatization. Any time that a study rests its case on DFER data, its a clue that it should not be taken seriously. DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) is an organization created by hedge fund managers to lobby for charter schools. Their “studies” and polling data supply talking points to advance their cause. Similarly, when a study cites Albert Shanker’s initial advocacy for charter schools but fails to acknowledge that he abandoned charters and concluded they were indistinguishable from vouchers, the author has done a slipshod job.

Charter schools began thirty years ago. The research on them has repeatedly demonstrated that some get higher test scores, some get lower test scores, but on average they have produced no amazing innovations, no secret sauce. The Brookings author doesn’t know that. She seems to think that charters have discovered remarkable innovations and those innovations should be replicated by public schools.

Her grand notion that charters will teach public schools how to succeed, he argues, is absurd.

He writes:

Since the [charter] movement is largely premised on the notion of unleashing free market forces–well, in that context, this proposal makes as much sense as telling MacDonald’s that they have to show Wendy’s how to make fries.

And:

There is zero reason to think that the charter world, populated primarily by education amateurs, knows anything that public school systems don’t already know. Charter success rests primarily on creaming student population (and the families thereof), pushing out students who won’t comply or are too hard to educate, extending school hours, drilling tests like crazy, having teachers work 80 hour weeks, and generally finding ways to keep out students with special needs that they don’t want to deal with. None of these ideas represent new approaches that folks in public education haven’t thought of.

And:

If charters were pioneering super-effective new strategies, we would already know. There is a well-developed grapevine in the public education world. If there were a charter that was accomplishing edu-miracles, teachers all over would be talking about it. Teachers who left that charter would take the secret sauce recipe with them, and pretty soon it would be being shared across the country. After decades of existence, charters do not have a reputation in the education world for being awesome–and there’s a reason for that. Puff pieces and PR pushes may work on the general public and provide fine marketing, but that’s not what sells other teachers.

Short answer– if charters knew something really awesome and impressive, public school teachers would already know and already be copying it.

Maybe the author of this paper should meet with Andre Perry, who led charters in New Orleans and left disillusioned. He is also at Brookings.

The IDEA charter chain hopes to double its enrollment in Texas. This is the free-spending chain that planned to lease a private jet for $2 million a year but backed off after bad publicity; that flies its executives and their families in first-class; that bought premium box seats for professional basketball games; that pays its executives exorbitant salaries; that has received more than $200 million in federal funding from Betsy DeVos.

If the expansion plan goes forward, the IDEA enrollment will grow from 50,000 to nearly 100,000; its annual budget will grow from half a billion to one billion. This is larger than the budget of the University of Texas at Austin. Just in the past five years, IDEA’s budget has tripled.

One state representative called for an audit, but was careful to praise the organization that is gobbling up public dollars and sucking the life out of community public schools.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE TERRY CANALES CALLS FOR COMPREHENSIVE STATE AUDIT OF IDEA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

For Immediate Release
August 18, 2020
Contact: Curtis Smith
(512) 463-0426 office

AUSTIN, TX – In a letter addressed to Commissioner Mike Morath of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Texas First Assistant State Auditor Lisa Collier, State Representative Terry Canales calls for a comprehensive and multi-agency audit of the IDEA Public Schools (IDEA) after recent disclosures of lavish expenditures for its executives. These disclosures included leasing of a private jet solely for the use of top IDEA officials and their families, chauffeured limousines, advertisements during the Super Bowl and World Series, travel expenses of over $14 million, and many more similar expenditures.

IDEA receives approximately half a billion dollars a year from the State of Texas to educate students. It has plans to almost double its enrollment to 97,000 students and add 27 new campuses by the end of 2021. If approved, state funding could double to approximately $1 billion annually. Additional state oversight is needed to ensure that state dollars are spent for their intended purpose and to prevent questionable use of state funds in the future.

“As public servants, the State has an obligation to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used for their intended purposes, and the recent disclosures of the expenditures at IDEA are alarming—to say the least,” said Rep. Canales. “Texas must ensure that our tax dollars are not being used for purchases like private jets and Super Bowl advertisements. I believe IDEA’s recent actions have raised clear and pressing concerns surrounding IDEA’s financial decisions. Other contracts, state agencies, and even universities that receive far fewer state dollars than IDEA receive more state oversight. So, given IDEA’s questionable expenditures, a financial audit of IDEA only makes sense,” continued Canales. “Let me be clear, I do not believe any of our neighborhood schools are at issue here. I salute the hardworking teachers and students of IDEA, and I wholeheartedly support the work that they are doing. I believe this issue is solely at the executive level of the school district.” said Rep. Canales.

A state audit conducted jointly by the Office of the State Auditor and TEA may ensure that public funds are used efficiently for their intended purpose and may improve public trust. An audit also may reveal the need for possible legislative changes to increase oversight and reduce risk to the State of Texas. For more information, contact the Office of State Representative Terry Canales.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission. Rep. Canales represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

Is Commissioner Mike Morath in IDEA’s pocket? Stay tuned.

Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of public instruction in Washington State, published this excellent letter to the Democratic candidates.

It overflows with wisdom and common sense.

An Open Letter to the Biden-Harris Ticket:

Mr. Vice President and Senator Harris, there is so much at stake with this year’s presidential election, including the very foundation of our country’s democracy – the future of our public education system. Led by Betsy DeVos and fueled by years of education privateers, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has been an utter failure in advancing student learning, racial equity, and gender equity over the last four years. Under DeVos, the USDOE has jeopardized the financial future of too many young adults and actively worked against civil rights protections for our most vulnerable students.

As Washington State’s elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, I have worked with leaders across the state to build bipartisan coalitions to improve student achievement, but this same bipartisanship and student-centric approach have been elusive under the DeVos regime. It will take federal leadership working alongside state education policy leaders to move us past an inefficient and deficit-based system.

What follows are ten critical steps necessary for a Biden/Harris administration to build the foundation for a truly equitable and outstanding American education system.

1)
Grant a national waiver of all federally mandated tests required under the Every Student Succeeds Act until Congress has an opportunity to amend the law. This will save billions of dollars and allow us to refocus resources on assessments that illuminate student growth and learning, are delivered locally, and are aligned to requirements that are properly situated at the state or local level, not the federal government. The USDOE should review and approve each state’s education assessment framework, but it is time to put the evaluation of learning back in the classroom with meaningful standards, trained professionals, and culturally responsive instructional practices.

2)
Deliver legislation to Congress to scale up the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – a far more cost-effective method of actually determining the overall education progress of states with a real opportunity to finally understand performance differences between the states. This assessment is already funded and supported by the USDOE. It is inefficient and costly to have a federally funded assessment of student progress and have 50 states and territories maintaining their own costly assessments. This proposal would save billions from the current system, and with robust sample sizes, can identify critical supports needed to close opportunity gaps for students furthest from educational justice.

3)
Invest in the teaching profession by diversifying the workforce, including establishing high-quality residencies for teacher candidates and early career teachers, and providing funds for ongoing meaningful educator training. Additionally, building educator capacity should focus on integration of social-emotional learning into instruction, anti-racist and student-centered teaching practices, and authentic family engagement. It is past time to shift away from destructive federal policies that force schools and educators to dwell on student deficits, as defined by federally mandated tests, instead of lifting up the unique contribution of every learner and every educator.

4)
Immediately deliver a budget request to Congress that triples the federal budget for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) from $13 billion to $40 billion. Congress and the USDOE have never fulfilled their obligation to this essential civil rights policy. One in seven students has a qualifying disability and these students deserve every accommodation necessary to fully engage in inclusive and least restrictive learning environments.

5)
By Executive Order, immediately suspend any federal dollars used to support school voucher programs. Require the USDOE to undertake a national examination of voucher systems, and require each state that uses vouchers to conduct third-party evaluation, with a USDOE review, that examines the effects of school voucher systems on school segregation, specifically the segregation of students of color and students with disabilities.

6)
Affirm that all federal funds are eligible to support DACA students and all migrant students. Make clear through executive order and USDOE rule that basic education rights for ALL students is a function of their residency, not their citizenship status. U.S. schools should focus on teaching and learning for ALL students, and the administration should ensure authorities overseeing immigration policy and citizenship status are upholding support of DACA and migrant students’ rights.

7)
Immediately reverse the USDOE’s recent rule change related to Title IX. This rule, promoted by Betsy DeVos, weakens protections for victims of sexual assault and retraumatizes them with forced cross-examinations by their perpetrators.

8)
Create a 10-year on-ramp with federal financial support to allow every school district in the United States to develop, implement, and evaluate dual-language programs for each of their students. The U.S. is linguistically diverse – this is an asset that should be celebrated, rather than viewed as a deficit! Every dollar spent on assessments for English language proficiency should be invested in high-quality dual language programs. We are losing a global battle for talent, and our students do not compete effectively in a global labor market because they lack bilingualism. Every student in the U.S. should learn two or more languages – as most of the world does – and this begins most effectively in early learning programs and early elementary school.

9)
Deliver an initial budget request to Congress of $100 billion to close the digital divide and invest in tribal lands by building out broadband connectivity in rural and remote communities. Make K-12 schools, indigenous communities, and reservation lands the highest priorities for “last mile” infrastructure. Our tribal communities are sovereign nations trapped by our failed national infrastructure. Tribal youth experience one of the largest opportunity gaps in the nation, and broadband can play a massive role in this powerful opportunity for equity.

10)
Provide every United States high school graduate two years of equivalent tuition to a public community or technical college through an education savings account. Students can use these funds for full associate degrees or industry recognized credentials, or use the funds as a universal baseline of financial assistance as they attend four-year colleges and universities.

Strengthening America’s education system should be the top priority for a Biden/Harris Administration. It does not mean expanding the control or scope of the USDOE, but rather putting the proper budget and policy levers in place that empower states and local school districts to close opportunity gaps, develop diverse pathways to graduation, and once again recognize the needs of individual students, employers, and the larger economy.

America’s future rests on its commitment to each and every learner in a high-quality accessible public education system that sees race, language, and individual student interests as strengths and assets upon which we develop the greatest and most innovative nation the world has ever known.

Chris Reykdal, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Thomas Ultican, who retired last year as a teacher of advanced math and physics in California, has studied school reform in many districts. He concludes that charter schools, created supposedly to improve education, especially for the neediest children, is a failed experiment.

He reviews the origins of the charter school idea and shows how AFT leader Albert Shanker became disillusioned. The premise of charters, he writes, was based on an illusion. Reagan’s “Nation at Risk” report unleashed a long era of handwringing about public school failure, but as he points out, NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz documented that the conclusions of that report were predetermined.

He writes:

Some powerful evidence points in the opposite direction and indicates that the results from US public schools in the 60s and 70s were actually a great success story.

One measuring stick demonstrating that success is Nobel Prize winners. Since 1949, America has had 383 laureates; the second place country, Great Britain, had 132. In the same period, India had 12 laureates and China 8.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis report on education achievement gaps states, “The gaps narrowed sharply in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, but then progress stalled.”

The digital revolution and the booming biotech industry were both created by students mostly from the supposedly “soft public schools” of the 60s and 70s.

Ultican then reviews the study by the Network for Public Education of charter school instability and closings.

Broken Promises” looked at cohorts of newly opened charter schools between 1998 and 2017. Ryan Pfleger, Ph.D. led the analysis of charter schools closures utilizing the Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD).

Before 1998, the massive government data base did not uniquely identify charter schools and the last complete data set available for all schools in American was 2017.

Startup charter school cohorts were identified by year and the cohort closure rates were tracked at 3, 5, 10 and 15 years after opening. The overall failure rates discovered were 18% by year-3, 25% by year-5, 40% by year-10 and 50% by year-15.

The NPE team discovered that half of all charter schools in America close their doors within fifteen years.

Many new charters do not survive their first year of operation.

It makes no sense to continue to expand a 30-year “experiment” whose results are so meager.

Control of the Los Angeles Unified School District is up for grabs in the 2020 election.

You can be sure that the LAUSD prioritizes public schools by voting for incumbent Scott Schmerelson and newcomer Patricia Castellanos.

The issue now is the same issue that has drawn a sharp divide on the school board for the past decade. Will the schools be controlled by a cabal of billionaires who favor privatization by charter schools or will it be controlled by people who are dedicated to the public schools of Los Angeles, which enroll 80 percent of the district’s children?

The charter lobby supports privatization and high-stakes testing for students and teachers.

California state law defines charter schools as “public schools” because the law was written by charter lobbyists. They have private management, private boards, and they are almost entirely free from scrutiny by public agencies; due to lack of oversight, several charter executives in California have been arrested and convicted of embezzlement from school funds. Lack of oversight explains why so many charters felt empowered to apply for and receive federal Paycheck Protection Program money as “small businesses.” They are charter schools when it is time to collect money available only to public schools, then they shape shift into “small businesses” or “non-profits” when it is time to collect money that is not available to public schools. That is called “double dipping.” It is wrong. It is unethical.

The charter industry is powerful in California due to the support of billionaires such as Eli Broad, Reed Hastings (Netflix), the Fischer Family (owners of The Gap and Old Navy), and Republican Bill Bloomfield. The candidates supported by California billionaires enjoy funding from out-of-state billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City. The fact that these billionaires are supporting the privatization agenda of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump doesn’t seem to bother them at all or make them think twice.

They want more privately managed charter schools, period, even though the vast majority of the district’s charter schools have empty seats (Schmerelson posted on his Facebook page that more than 80% of LA charter schools have vacancies). Once again, the billionaires are pouring money into a school board election. This one will be held on November 3, but early balloting will begin in a matter of weeks.

In the November election, there are two seats on the school board that will determine the near-term destiny of the district: Scott Schmerelson is up for re-election. He has served one term with great distinction. There is also an open seat, and one candidate stands out as a strong supporter of public schools, Patty Castellanos.

Scott is a career educator, who rose through the ranks in LAUSD as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. He has literally devoted his life to the students of LAUSD.

Patricia Castellanos is the parent of a child in the Los Angeles public schools and a community activist.

Both deserve a seat on the board of the second largest school district in the nation.

Peter Greene turns his attention to Rhode Island and finds that it has been subject to a corporate education reform takeover.
Not only is the governor a former venture capitalist who made her reputation by taking an axe to teachers’ pensions, but her husband Andy Moffitt is a TFA alum who moved on to McKinsey. Not only that, he co-authored a book with Michael Barber of Pearson about “Deliverology,” a philosophy that turns education into data analytics.

Governor Gina Raimondo hired a TFA alum to lead the State Education Department; the new Commissioner immediately joined Jen Bush’s far-rightwing Chiefs for Change and led a state takeover of Providence schools. There is no template for a successful state takeover, so we will see how that goes. Think Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, funded with $100 million from Duncan’s Race to the Top. Think Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, which closed after six of boasts but consistent failure.

Read Greene’s incisive review of the First Couple of Rhode Island and remember that Governor Gina Raimondo is a Democrat, though it’s hard to differentiate her views from those of Betsy DeVos.

Maurice Cunningham is a dogged researcher into Dark Money and its role in the pursuit of privatizing public education. Cunningham is a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts. Open the link and read in full.

In his latest post, he reports that Koch money as well as Walton money, Zuckerberg money, Gates money, and Dell money, is supporting the “National Parents Union,” a front for the billionaires.

He writes:

There’s millions of dollars sloshing around Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union these days. Some of it is from Charles Koch…

The Koch connection was apparent when Charles Koch put a proxy on the board of National Parents Union. Now we know for sure Koch has money invested in NPU. Others holding stakes in NPU (housed in the same shop as Massachusetts Parents Union and run by the same team) include Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell, Reed Hoffman, John Arnold, Eli Broad, etc.

It’s not just Koch, the Waltons are tossing even more money at NPU.

NPU is also feasting on big bucks from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm.

Cunningham reminds us to “follow the noney. Dark Money never sleeps.”

And he adds:

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Louis Brandeis