Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Perhaps you thought the voucher fight was over in Arizona in 2018 when voters rejected vouchers by a decisive margin of 65-35%.

But no, the clear and overwhelming decision of the state’s voters did not deter the Christofascists who are determined to destroy public schools by transferring funding away from them to any form of non public schooling, be it religious, private, homeschooling or a business run by a fraudster.

Governor Doug Ducey signed a law creating a universal voucher plan on July 6. The new law will subtract $1 billion from the state’s public schools.

SOS Arizona is once again leading the fight against universal vouchers, led by Governor Ducey and championed by the Republican legislators. The dark money behind the voucher campaign comes from the usual suspects: the Koch machine and the Betsy DeVos combine.

If Save Our Schools Arizona and its supporters can secure 118,823 valid signatures before September 24, the voucher expansion law will be placed on hold until November 2024, when voters get a chance to express their views, as they did in 2018.

The stakes could not be higher – this is a referendum to decide the future of education in Arizona and across the nation.

You can see more about the SOS Arizona signature drive here: teamsosarizona.com.

Beth Lewis, the director of SOS Arizona, wrote to provide the context for the battle over vouchers:

Universal voucher expansion is the KEY issue driving right-wing politics in the US, and hardly anyone is talking about the well-moneyed, dangerous forces driving it. The AZ legislature’s myopic focus on pushing private school voucher expansion over any other piece of legislation for the past 6 years is enough to tell us that — not to mention the massive focus FOX News has placed on vouchers since the bill’s passage here in Arizona. Recently, Christopher Rufo admitted he created the CRT furor in order to advance universal vouchers.

We desperately need folks to plug in – people all over the state can get petitions at our hubs: teamsosarizona.com or sign up to volunteer: bit.ly/SVEvolunteer.

As you know, we are truly the tip of the spear when it comes to privatization. Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children is mobilizing (somewhat ineffectively) against our efforts, and the battle lines are drawn. It is evident that universal voucher expansion will become a pattern across the US, as Republican Governors are all declaring that every red state should adopt this policy. We have seen the dangers of private school vouchers first-hand here in Arizona, and our public school system has been starved in order to give credence to those who wish to privatize our public education system.

Charlie Kirk is partnering with an incredibly rightwing Evangelical church (Dream City Church) to open Turning Point Academies across Arizona. Here is the June article from Newsweek describing their plans to proliferate campuses across AZ and then the nation. It is no coincidence this plan was announced the same month the AZ state legislature passed universal vouchers.

Kirk recently spoke at Freedom Night hosted by Dream City Church, and this expose in the AZ Republic shows the hateful ideology against LGBTQ and trans youth Kirk and the Church spread. It’s terrifying – and infuriating to think this is where our taxpayer dollars are headed.

It is abundantly clear that special interests who favor extremist Christian Nationalism are driving the bus on these issues – and it makes sense. Private school vouchers are the perfect solution for building a long-term, endlessly replenishing base of voters who also favor Christian Nationalism.

We only have 42 more days to collect the signatures to put this bill on the 2024 ballot. We expect massive legal battles, as dark money will pour in and the usual suspects will challenge every signature. We are confident we will push back successfully and get the measure on the ballot – we must, as goes Arizona, so goes the nation.

You can help these fearless, intrepid volunteers by sending a contribution to: sosarizona.org/donate.

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, is now a significant chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement. He attended the recent national conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia and recapitulates the excitement we shared at being in person after a 2-year hiatus.

After every conference, attendees say, “This was the best one yet.” They enjoy meeting people who are doing the same work to fight privatization of their public schools. By the end of the conference, attendees say they feel energized, hopeful, and happy to know that they are not alone.

I urge you to read Tom’s post. You will get a sense of the embarrassment of riches available to attendees.

I should add that the Nebraska Save Our Schools group shared the Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Activism. Nebraska is one of the few states that has managed to protect its public schools and keep out both charters and vouchers, despite being a Red State.

The Pastors for Texas Children, a co-winner of the award, has repeatedly blocked vouchers in the Texas Legislature and has consistently fought for funding for public schools. PTC has opened chapters in other Red states, where they mobilize clergy to support public schools.

A high point for me was interviewing “Little Stevie” Van Zandt, a legendary rock star and actor (“The Sopranos”), who is dedicated to getting the arts into schools, not as an extra, but across the curriculum. we had a wonderful conversation. He has funded lesson plans based on rock and roll, available free at his website TeachRock.

All of the general sessions were taped. I will post them when they become available.

Mercedes Schneider describes a new consulting team that is selling its services to states and districts. Most of its partners are protégés of Jeb Bush and learned his strategies of high-stakes testing, school choice, test-based accountability, and harsh treatment of teachers.

She writes:

Need help with your public or private business venture? Well, NY- and DC-based Ridge-Lane Limited Partners (LP) offers “venture development at the apex of public and private sector…”

Schneider reviews the bios of the firm’s principal actors, which are not reassuring.

She writes:

So, if you want to dip into some of this Ridge-Lane LP K12 “significant experience” (not in the classroom, mind you, but in Jeb Bush reforms, such as school grading, and Common Core, and PARCC, and pension funneling), then get your (or the taxpayer’s) proverbial checkbook ready so that these once state-ed superintendents can spin an income advising you out of those edu-dollars.

The Boss of bosses

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics, is an expert on the “Destroy Public Education” movement. In this post, he explores the oligarch money behind The City Fund and the cities it has targeted for privatization of their public schools.

He writes:

Born in 2018, The City Fund (TCF) is a concentration of oligarch wealth crushing democracy and privatizing the commons. John Arnold (infamous ENRON energy trader) and Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO and former California Charter Schools Association board member) claimed to be investing $100 million each to establish TCF. Their July 2018 announcement was delivered on Neerav Kingsland’s blog “Relinquishment” which recently started requiring approval to access.

The TCF goal is to implement the portfolio school management model into 40 cities by 2028. At present TCF says it is “serving” 14 cities: Oakland, Ca; Stockton, Ca; Denver, Co; Camden, NJ; Washington, DC: Memphis, Tenn; Nashville, Tenn; New Orleans, La; Indianapolis, Ind.; Atlanta, Ga; Fort Worth, Tx; San Antonio, Tx; Baton Rouge, La; and Newark, NJ.

The operating structure of the fund is modeled after a law firm. Six of the fourteen founding members are lawyers. They constitute the core of the team being paid to execute the oligarch financed attack on public education….

TCF has spent heavily to develop a local ground game in the communities of targeted cities. On their web site, they provide a list of major grants made by 12/31/2019; defining major grants as being more than $200,000. Many of these grants are to other privatization focused organizations like TFA and Chiefs for Change, but most of them are for developing local organizations like the $5,500,000 to Opportunity Trust in Saint Louis another TFA related business. The TFA developed asset, founder and CEO Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years. Table-1 below lists this nationwide spending.

In many ways, The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, Indiana was the model for this kind of development. A 2016 articlefrom the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) which is quite school privatization friendly covers its development from the 2006 founding by Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson and his right hand man David Harris until 2016. PPI noted,

“The Mind Trust convinced Teach For America (TFA), The New Teacher Project (now TNTP), and Stand for Children to come to Indianapolis, in part by raising money for them. Since then TFA has brought in more than 500 teachers and 39 school leaders (the latter through its Indianapolis Principal Fellowship); TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows Program has trained 498 teachers; and Stand for Children has worked to engage the community, to educate parents about school reform, and to spearhead fundraising for school board candidates.”

The Mind Trust became a successful example of implementing all of the important strategies for privatizing public schools. As a result, the Indianapolis Public School system is the second most privatized system in America with over 60% of its students attending schools no longer controlled by the elected school board.

Stand for Children which the PPI referenced is almost entirely about funneling dark money into local school board races. These nationwide efforts are now being bolstered by the political action organization staffers at TCF created, Public School Allies. Public School Allies was founded as a 501 C4 organization meaning it can contribute to politicians; however contributions to it are not tax exempt.

Billionaire funded organizations like Public School Allies can overwhelm local elections. For example, in 2019 they provided $80,000 to the independent expenditure committeeCampaign for Great Camden Schools. In the first school board election since the 2013 state takeover of Camden’s public schools, the three oligarch supported candidates won with vote totals of 1208, 1283 and 1455 votes.

Gary Borden was the Executive Directorof the California Charter School Association 501 C4 organization before he became a Partner at TCF. Now he is the director of Public School Allies.

A TCF Partner sits on the board of many of the local political organizations they fund. Kevin Huffman is on the board of The Memphis Education Fundand Atlanta’s RedefinED. Partner Ken Bubp is on the board of New Schools for Baton Rouge. Gary Borden is on the board of The Mind Trust. He replaced David Harris who appears to have resigned from TCF. Harris was also on the board of San Antonio’s City Education Partners. Unfortunately, their new web page no longer lists the board members.

Ultican goes on to describe the philosophy of The City Fund and its spin-offs: “…democracy is bad and privatization is good.”

Modern “school choice” ideology promoted by many white billionaires is little different from the strategies of southern segregationist in the 1950s and 60s. It still increases segregation and creates an “inherently unequal”and racist education system…

Ultican concludes:

The giant quantities of money concentrated in such few hands are destroying democracy. How is a citizen of an impoverished neighborhood who is opposed to having her public schools privatized going to politically compete with oligarchs from San Francisco or Seattle or Bentonville? Organizations like Public School Allies regularly come in and monetarily swamp any political opposition. That is not democracy.

I am convinced that John Arnold who is opposed to people receiving pensions sincerely believes charter schools are better than public schools. Likewise his partner, Reed Hastings, truly believes that elected school boards are bad. And Alice Walton really does think that vouchers are a good idea. However, I believe they are wrong and that the idea of offloading some of their tax burden is much more important to their beliefs than they will admit.

Witnessing the oligarch fueled attacks on the commons; I am convinced that billionaires need to be taxed out of existence if we are to have a healthy democracy of the people, by the people and for the people.

It may seem easy to criticize billionaires because of the First Amendment. It’s not. Several years ago, I wrote a post about John Arnold, mentioning the fact that he had been a high-flying energy trader at Enron. A few days later, I got notice from an Arnold spokesperson that he would sue me if I didn’t delete the post. Not wanting to fight a billionaire in court, I backed down. Good luck to Tom Ultican.

Gary Rubinstein writes here about the new leadership of the New York City Department of Education.

He begins:

Eric Adams will become the next Mayor of New York City on January 1st. He will hire David Banks as the new schools Chancellor. And Banks will bring in Dan Weisberg as his top deputy.

Dan Weisberg

Unfortunately Dan Weisberg is one of the most dangerous people in the country who could rise to be the second highest ranking administrator in New York City…

In the article from Chalkbeat, NY, Alex Zimmerman tries hard to sugarcoat the background of this controversial pick. He writes:

He has tapped Dan Weisberg — who runs an organization focused on teacher quality and handled labor issues under Mayor Michael Bloomberg — to be his top deputy. That move is likely to raise eyebrows with the city’s teachers union, which has previously clashed with Weisberg.

So what is this “organization focused on teacher quality”? Well it is TNTP which once stood for The New Teacher Project. TNTP was founded by Michelle Rhee in 1997. What started out as a Teach For America type program for training career changers to become teachers quickly became an education reform propaganda organization. In 2009 they got into funding ‘research’ and their first publication was called ‘The Widget Effect’ which argued the benefits of merit pay for teachers based on standardized test scores. This publication is still often quoted despite very shoddy statistical practices. Dan Weisberg was the lead author of ‘The Widget Effect.’ More recently they put out something called “The Opportunity Myth” about how most teachers have low expectations because they do activities that don’t completely adhere to the researcher’s interpretation of the Common Core Standards.

Fifteen years ago there were plenty of Michelle Rhee type reformers in leadership positions in school districts around the country. As that brand of reform failed to deliver results, those reformers took positions in think tanks where they could make a lot more money but where they would not have such direct power over school systems.

Back in the Bloomberg/Klein days, people like Weisberg would celebrate judicial rulings where parents would fight to not have their children’s schools shut down. Charter schools, in the wake of ‘Waiting For Superman’, were supposedly proving that all you needed to turn around a school was to staff them with non-unionized teachers. Teacher bashing was all the rage, they even had their own Walton funded movie flop ‘Won’t Back Down.’

But things are different now. Reformers are not as brazen as they once were. The charter bubble has burst a bit, though Bloomberg has $750 million that says he can revive it. But it will be hard. With the failures of projects like The Achievement District in Tennessee, it will a a tougher sell to say that we need to replicate their accomplishments. Back in the day, there would be so much talk of charters that were beating the odds with 100% graduation rates or 100% college acceptance rates. Those stores were debunked so often that even The74 hardly runs stories like that anymore. Does anyone know whatever happened to KIPP? The only charter chain that can even claim to get good test scores is Success Academy, and even reformers hardly like to talk about them since they boot (or discourage from enrolling) so many kids who might bring down their precious test scores.

So where does a teacher basher fit into the current system? As a New York City teacher with two kids in the system, I’m a bit scared to find out.

Gary follows up with anti-teacher, anti-union tweets by Weisberg, as well as congratulatory tweets from the hardcore reformers.

Hold on, tight, NYC teachers. You are in for a rough ride.

This post is Mercedes Schneider at her best, pulling together the strings of a tangled web involving money, power, TFA, Chiefs for Change, John White, the Rhode Island $5 million contract, and Julia Rafael-Baer.

Read it to the end. It’s rich with details that show how an ambitious young person can monetize her TFA experience and her network.

There is big money to be made in the education industry. Unfortunately, not for classroom teachers who devote their lives to their students.

I am posting this notice after the press conference described here, but the details are important nevertheless. A group called Oakland Not For Sale formed to fight privatization and just won a major settlement. For many years, the Oakland public schools have been a plaything for billionaire privatizers and a succession of Broadie superintendents.

MEDIA ADVISORY FOR: September 23, 2021, 3:30 PM PT

CONTACT: Melissa Korber, 510-541-9669 or Amanda Cooper, 917-930-7552

Parents, Teachers, Atty Dan Siegel Announce Settlement with OUSD Over Police Brutality at 2019 School Board Meeting,

Plans to Donate Funds to Fight Public School Closures & Privatization

Parent and Teacher Members of Oakland Not For Sale (ONFS) Will Hold Press Conference With OUSD School Board Member Mike Hutchinson To Address Settlement, Donation Plans and Update in Kaiser School Fight

Oakland, CA — On Thursday, Sept. 23, at 3:30 pm PT, Oakland Not for Sale (ONFS) will host a press conference for parent and teacher plaintiffs and their attorney Dan Siegel to announce a six-figure legal settlement with the Oakland Unified School District as well as plans to donate toward the fight against school closures and public school-supporting Board candidates in the 2022 election. OUSD School Board Member Mike Hutchinson will also be present.

“We have reached a settlement of our dispute regarding the school board’s October 2019 meeting. We reached an agreement for a total amount of $337,500 in damages,” said Saru Jayaraman, plaintiff in the litigation Jayaraman v. OUSD. “We’re thrilled to be announcing not only this settlement with the District, but our ability to now give a six-figure donation to our fight to stop public school closures and support candidates who will fight the privatization of the Oakland Unified School District. We’re also thrilled that in the same moment, we can declare victory in that Kaiser Elementary, which we fought to keep public, will indeed remain a public facility — and we will build on these victories with resources to continue to fight all future public school closures.”

The settlement resolves litigation filed by the parents and teachers, many of whom are members of ONFS, over police brutality at an October 2019 school board meeting protesting the proposed closure of Kaiser Elementary School. At the press conference on Thursday, parents and teachers will announce that they plan to make a six-figure donation to continue the fight against further public school closures and privatization. They will also discuss their victory in keeping Kaiser Elementary a public facility.

“While it isn’t exactly what we would have hoped, we’re happy Kaiser is being used as a public facility for students and that we were able to resolve the litigation,” said Amy Haruyama, OUSD teacher who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, taught at Kaiser Elementary, and now teaches at Sankofa United Elementary School.

These actions come in the context of a long history of OUSD School Board decisions to close 17 public schools, mostly majority Black and brown schools, almost all of which have been replaced with charter schools. OUSD’s history of closing schools and allowing them to be replaced by charters has been driven by both the state of California, which retains trusteeship over OUSD, and by outside billionaire charter school advocates like Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad.

ONFS was formed after the announcement that Kaiser Elementary School would become the latest in a long line of school closures that was intended for replacement by charter or private schools. After protracted peaceful public protest by parents, teachers, and students, and despite police brutality as a response to this protest, the School Board recently agreed to a public use for Kaiser Elementary. The school will house public early education .

Peter Greene wonders if you have missed Michelle Rhee, once the Wonder Woman of the edreform biz, but recently absent from the national scene. After her meteoric rise to national prominence, when she was selected to be chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools after two years of TFA teaching, she was a colossus: on the cover of TIME as a miracle worker, featured in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” frequently interviewed on national TV. Her tenure in D.C. was controversial and stormy: she fired teachers and principals and made bold claims about test scores. When Adrian Fenty, the mayor who appointed her, was defeated, she left and started an organization called StudentsFirst, which she said would raise $1 billion and recruit one million members. she never reached either goal, but she traveled the country advocating for charters and vouchers and against teachers’ unions. She allied with Jeb Bush and other school choice advocates. as her star faded, she disappeared from public view.

Peter Greene says she is making a return public appearance at a Sacramento State University event on September27, where she is the keynote speaker. You can watch on Zoom.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot selected Pedro Martinez, Superintendent of the San Antonio School District, as the Windy City’s public schools.

Martinez is a “reformer.” In San Antonio, he was known for his obsession with data and commitment to opening charter schools. He is a graduate of the tattered Broad Superintendents Academy. He is chairman of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. Chiefs for Change brings together superintendents who share the test-and-punish ideas of the failed corporate reform movement (closing low-scoring schools, opening charter schools, relying on high-stakes testing, evaluating teachers by test scores, collecting data about everything, distrust of unions, etc.).

Martinez is a graduate of the Chicago Public Schools. He holds an M.B.A. from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And, of course, he is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. He worked for Arne Duncan as Chief Financial Officer when Arne was Superintendent in Chicago. He was “Superintendent-in-Residence” for the Nevada Department of Education. Prior to that, he was superintendent for the 64,000-student Washoe County School District, covering the Reno, Nevada area.

Like Arne, Martinez was never a teacher or principal.

A while back, I read a vitriolic article in a rightwing publication that expressed contempt for the public schools and congratulated Betsy DeVos for trying to cut federal funding for schools.

The article asserted that public schools are “garbage” and the government should slash their funding. A major piece of evidence for the claim that money doesn’t matter was the failure of the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants program, which spent more than $3 billion and accomplished nothing. The evaluation of SIG was commissioned by the U.S Department of Education and quietly released just before the inauguration of Trump. The report was barely noticed. Yet now it is used by DeVos acolytes to oppose better funding of our schools.

The wave of Red4Ed teachers’ strikes in 2019 exposed the woeful conditions in many schools, including poorly paid teachers, lack of nurses and social workers and librarians, overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling facilities. The public learned from the teachers’ strikes that public investment in the schools in many states has not kept pace with the needs of students and the appropriate professional compensation of teachers. Many states are spending less now on education than they did in 2008 before the Great Recession. They reacted to the economic crisis by cutting taxes on corporations, which cut funding for schools.

Sadly, the Obama-Duncan Race to the Top program promoted the same strategies and goals as No Child Left Behind. Set goals for test scores and punish teachers and schools that don’t meet them. Encourage the growth of charter schools, which drain students and resources from schools with low test scores.

One can only dream, but what if Race to the Top had been called Race to Equity for All Our Children? What if the program had rewarded schools and districts that successfully integrated their schools? What if it had encouraged class-size reduction, especially in the neediest schools? Race to the Top and the related SIG program were fundamentally a replication and extension of NCLB.

When Arne Duncan defended his “reform” (disruption) ideas in the Washington Post, he cited a positive 2012 evaluation and belittled his own Department’s 2017 evaluation, which had more time to review the SIG program and concluded that it made no difference. The 2017 report provided support for those who say that money doesn’t matter, that teacher compensation doesn’t matter, that class size doesn’t matter, that schools don’t need a nurse, a library, a music and arts program, or adequate and equitable funding.

The Education Department’s 2017 evaluation shows that the Bush-Obama strategy didn’t made a difference because its ideas about how to improve education were wrong. Low-performing schools did not see test-score gains because both NCLB and RTTT were based on flawed ideas about competition, motivation, threats and rewards, and choice.

Here is a summary of the SIG program in the USED’s report that the Right used to defend DeVos’s proposed budget cuts.

The SIG program aimed to support the implementation of school intervention models in low-performing schools. Although SIG was first authorized in 2001, this evaluation focused on SIG awards granted in 2010, when roughly $3.5 billion in SIG awards were made to 50 states and the District of Columbia, $3 billion of which came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. States identified the low-performing schools eligible for SIG based on criteria specified by ED and then held competitions for local education agencies seeking funding to help turn around eligible schools.

SIG-funded models had no significant impact on test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment…

The findings in this report suggest that the SIG program did not have an impact on the use of practices promoted by the program or on student outcomes (including math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment), at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff. In higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as unobserved differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

These findings have broader relevance beyond the SIG program. In particular, the school improvement practices promoted by SIG were also promoted in the Race to the Top program. In addition, some of the SIG-promoted practices focused on teacher evaluation and compensation policies that were also a focus of Teacher Incentive Fund grants. All three of these programs involved large investments to support the use of practices with the goal of improving student outcomes. The findings presented in this report do not lend much support for the SIG program having achieved this goal, as the program did not appear to have had an impact on the practices used by schools or on student outcomes, at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff.

What NCLB, Race to the Top, and SIG demonstrated was that their theory of action was wrong. They did not address the needs of students, teachers, or schools. They imposed the lessons of the non-existent Texas “miracle” and relied on carrots and sticks to get results. They failed, but they did not prove that money doesn’t matter.

Money matters very much. Equitable and adequate funding matters. Class size matters, especially for children with the highest needs. A refusal to look at evidence and history blinds us to seeing what must change in federal and state policy. It will be an uphill battle but we must persuade our representatives in state legislatures and Congress to open their eyes, acknowledge the failure of the test-and-punish regime, and think anew about the best ways to help students, teachers, families, and communities.

The findings of the report were devastating, not only to the SIG program, but to the punitive strategies imposed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which together cost many more billions. 

My first reaction was, Money doesn’t matter if you spend it on the wrong strategies, like punishing schools that don’t improve test scores, like ignoring the importance of reducing class size, like ignoring the importance of poverty in the lives of children, like ignoring decades of social science that out-of-school factors affect student test scores more than teachers do.