Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Here is a great article in The New Republic by staff writer Graham Vyse, asking the crucial question, “Can Democrats Save Public Education from Trump and DeVos?” It acknowledges that the Democrats paved the way for the school choice agenda of the far-right by touting privately managed charter schools for the past eight years.


So the question now is whether Democrats will really fight for public education or will they continue the pretense that privately managed charter schools are “public?” Will they continue to endorse charters and oppose vouchers? Can you be half-pregnant?


As the Democrats aped the Republicans on key social issues, like education, they lost their unique identity. Now there are only 14 states with Democratic governors. If they keep pretending to be Republicans, there will be even fewer.


Andrew Cuomo of New York has used the same language as Trump, referring to community public schools as a “government monopoly,” and he endorsed legislation to compel the city of New York to give free space to charters, even those that are able to pay rent, like Eva Moskowitz’s fabulously wealthy charter chain. Dannell Molloy has been a champion for charter schools in Connecticut and gives them preference over public schools. Jerry Brown in California opened two charter schools when he was mayor of Oakland, and he recently vetoed legislation to ban for-profit charter schools.


Will they fight the privatization agenda, now that it is the Trump agenda?

Jeff Bryant has written a stunning documentation of the damage done by the charter industry to public schools in North Carolina. It is worth your time to read it all. It is a preview of what lies ahead for public education in the Trump era, unless parents and educators and public-spirited citizens join to save their public schools. It is not a pretty picture.


The Tea Party Republicans in the legislature and Governor Pat McCrory in the state house set a course to undermine, underfund, and starve public schools while opening the state to charter schools, whether nonprofit or for-profit. Jeff Bryant shows how funding for the public schools is below 2008 levels, even though enrollment has grown by nearly 80,000. Public schools have had to make budget cuts, at the same time that charter schools and online charter schools take away students and funding. In North Carolina, as in many states, if a student leaves a charter school after October to return to the public school, the charter school gets to keep the full year of tuition and is not obliged to replace the student who left.


The board that oversees charter schools and decides which new charters to approve is filled with charter school advocates. As Donald Trump used to say, “It’s a rigged system, folks, it’s a rigged system.”


Bryant explains in detail how the for-profit charter management companies make money. He uses the example of National Heritage Academies, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the hometown of Donald Trump’s designated Secretary of Education. Half their teachers may be uncertified, which means they have lower salary costs. But the real money is in the real estate.


Bryant writes:


How do these schools make a profit? The best answer the reporter for the Charlotte Observer could find was in management fees for the EMOs [educational management organizations], which In North Carolina equal to 7 – 19 percent of total school operational costs.


But based on my inquiries, that figure represents a very small part of the profit these schools make.


Out Of Michigan And Florida


“North Carolina is one those states that is new to the charter game,” Ellen Lipton tells me in a phone call to her office in Michigan – home of National Heritage Academies. NHA is based in Grand Rapids, where Betsy DeVos also lives.


“The low per-student funding that tends to characterize Southern states generally kept charter school operators from moving into those states,” she contends. “But now states like Michigan are getting saturated” so the charter chains have decided to move south.

Lipton is a Michigan State Representative who has spoken out against the spread of charter schools through the state’s Education Achievement Authority, an appointed agency, similar to the Achievement School District North Carolina created last year, that takes over low-performing schools and turns them over to charter operators.


According to Lipton, NHA has “fine-tuned” the business of chartering to ensure they make a profit. She points me to a recent investigative report by the Detroit Free Press that finds, “It is difficult to know how charter management companies are spending money … Unlike traditional school districts, the management companies usually don’t disclose their vendors, contracts, and competitive bid documents.”


“NHA is a business model based on, not necessarily educating kids, but on being a facilities management company,” Casandra Ulbrich, another Michigan source, tells me.


Ulbrich is currently serving her second eight-year term on the Michigan State Board of Education and also works in education administration at a state community college.


She tells me how the NHA business model works: First, NHA forms a charter school board to “invite” NHA to manage a new school. The governing board is not independent of the management company, and members of the board can serve on multiple NHA charter boards across the state, thus creating a network of charter school boosters the work on promoting these schools.


After securing a contract to manage the new school, NHA purchases a building – it could be a storefront in a strip mall or an abandoned warehouse – and requests approval from an authorizer to open a school there. After the authorization, the charter board signs a lease agreement with Charter Development Company, LLC to take over ownership of the building. Charter Development Company, which has branches in all the states where NHA has schools, has its home office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the same address as the home office of NHA.


Now NHA and its related enterprises own the building and its contents, even if desks, computers, and equipment have been purchased with taxpayer money. It receives rent payments from the district. It owns the curriculum the school teaches. And if NHA is ever fired, the charter board – and by extension the district – is in the awkward position of having to buy back its own school.





In one of the closest elections in the country, Governor Pat McCrory conceded at last to State Attorney General Roy Cooper in the race for governor.


McCrory came to office as the formerly moderate mayor of Charlotte. Once in office, he joined the far-right wing Tea Party majority in the General Assembly to pass legislation for charters and vouchers, to eliminate the respected North Carolina Teaching Fellows program (which required a five-year education commitment and produced career teachers) and replaced it with a $6 million grant to Teach for America, and enacted law after law to reduce the status of the teaching profession.


To understand the damage that McCrory and his cronies did to the state read this summary of five years of political wrecking imposed on the state.

Mercedes Schneider turns her well-honed investigative talents to exploring the history and funding of Campbell Brown’s website, The 74.


Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has given generously to The 74. Brown sits on the board of DeVos’s American Federation for Children, which advocates for vouchers. Both share an interest in attacking teachers’ unions, teacher tenure, and public schools. DeVos gave Brown’s 74 a gift of $2.4 million in 2014. A token of friendship, I suppose. That’s what friends are for. We should all have friends like that.


Mercedes has done a phenomenal job of analyzing the tax records of The 74 to decipher its funders and its evolution.


Much information remains undisclosed. She urges its disclosure.

As I have reported on many occasions (see here and here and here and here and here and here), a for-profit company called Bridge International Academies has been building a market for low-cost, for-profit schooling in Africa. It has been negotiating with the government of Liberia to take charge of all primary education and expanding in Uganda. Investors in BIA include Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.


Last summer, the Ministry of Education and Sports ordered the closure of 87 for-profit academies, including the 60 or so managed by BIA, on grounds that they did not meet minimum standards or appropriate facilities for students. Teachers’ unions objected to the academies’  use of un-credentialed teachers. This month, the Uganda High Court ordered the closure of all of BIA’s schools in Uganda.


BIA has 63 campuses and 12,000 students in Uganda. They will remain open until December 8, when students take their exams.


CNN reported:


A legal tug-of-war between Ugandan authorities and a for-profit international chain of schools has led to the education provider being ordered to shut down in a matter of weeks, leaving the lives of thousands of pupils in limbo….



Bridge International Academies said it provides the best possible education to its students and that it will do whatever it can to make sure their schools continue to operate in Uganda.
Many students, parents and teachers protested after Uganda High Court ordered the closure of the low-cost private schools, which are backed by Microsoft and Facebook founders Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
Bridge International Academies has suggested that the opposition against their chain of schools was because the campuses competed against local state-run and private schools.
The Director of Education Standards for the Ministry, Huzaifa Mutazindwa, told CNN that the nursery and primary schools were not licensed, the teachers weren’t qualified and that there was no record of its curriculum being approved.
“The Ministry does not know what is being taught in these schools which is a point of concern to (the) government,” Mutazindwa said…

For its part, BIA — which runs more than 400 nursery and primary schools across Africa — has continuously denied the allegations that have been made by the government.
“There’s a lot of miscommunication and a lot of very serious, unfounded allegations. We would like to be given the opportunity to explain ourselves … The Ministry has been unwilling to give us an audience to set the record straight,” Uganda’s BIA director, Andrew White, told CNN.
In a statement, BIA addressed eight allegations that have been made about its operations. It said it teaches the Ugandan curriculum, all schools have good sanitation facilities and that the majority of their teachers are certified and registered. Those who aren’t certified and registered, it said, are attending in-service training.


When asked why the allegations were made if they weren’t true, White said: “We definitely feel like a lot of pressure has been applied to have a particular view of Bridge that is a negative one….”
One educational advocacy group agrees with the Ugandan authorities’ decision to close BIA.
President of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), Camilla Croso, told CNN that the quality of their schools is “totally inadequate and unacceptable.”
“They are profit making enormously,” she said. “It’s very indecent because they are looking at poor people as a profitable market.”
“It really is incompatible to have human rights and profit making because you are motivated and act in completely different ways.”



Julie Vassilatos, an activist parent of children in the Chicago public schools, writes here about Betsy DeVos.

She begins by offering a round up of some of the best posts about DeVos. We all must get up to speed on who she is.

In addition to being a fervent advocate for vouchers and charters, she has given generously to anti-gay organizations and organizations that promote creationism. I am trying to imagine what the U.S. Department of Education will do under her leadership backwards.

Julie points out that Arne Duncan paved the way for DeVos. Duncan and his Department made school choice a priority, leaving an opening for the next step, which is vouchers.

She would not have been able to accomplish what she did in Michigan without the federal government’s encouragement of privatization efforts for the past 8 years. She would not now be poised to bring full privatization to the nation if the field had not been tilled for this for the past 8 years. Duncan’s Department of Ed absolutely created the conditions for Betsy DeVos. She may be different in emphasis, but not in kind from Arne Duncan. She touts charters, choice, and competition; Duncan’s Department of Ed touted charters, choice, and competition. She likes vouchers; the Department of Ed never definitively closed the door on vouchers. She has given millions to unregulated charters; so did the Department of Ed. Federal visa policy and the New Market Tax Credit created the conditions to make charters very big–global–business.

All that was settled years ago. Now corporate ed control is poised to succeed in a totalizing way; all that was needed was a billionaire secretary of education who knows absolutely nothing about public education, is purely ideology-driven, and is well-practiced at controlling legislators with her cash.

Don’t fool yourselves–DeVos isn’t the sudden end of the world for public education, like a bomb being dropped. She’s more like the result of a slow-traveling virus or a zombie invasion. Our schools have been in peril for years. Now I think we will be able to see it more clearly. It’s time to get to work.

You can start here, by signing your name to the Network for Public Education’s letter to legislators insisting they not confirm her.

The Education Commission of the States posted a lineup of the partisan divide among the states. Republicans have a commanding lead over Democrats.

Of 50 states, 33 have Republican governors. Republicans control 66 partisan chambers, compared to 30 held by Democrats.

Republicans pick up three legislative chambers. The Kentucky House, Iowa Senate and Minnesota Senate switched from Democratic to Republican control. Republicans made history in Kentucky when they took 17 seats from the Democrats to gain control of the chamber for the first time since 1922, and only the third time in state history. Republicans now control all 30 legislative chambers in southern states.

Democrats pick up four legislative chambers. The New Mexico House, both Nevada Assembly and Senate and Washington Senate switched from Republican to Democratic control.

Tied chamber. Republicans also made gains in Connecticut, a reliably blue state, where the Senate is tied 18R-18D.
Three states with split/tied chambers. Colorado and Maine continue to have spit legislative chamber party control. This down from seven states pre-election (Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington). The Connecticut Senate is tied with 18 Republicans and 18 Democrats.

This means that a large number of states will look favorably on school choice, which Trump has described as his highest priority. Many states already have some form of voucher program; most–thanks to Race to the Top–permit charters. School choice–charters and vouchers–means less money for public schools. As public schools lose funding, class sizes will grow, programs will be cut, and alternatives will become more attractive.

If Betsy DeVos is confirmed as Secretary of Education, be prepared for an all-out federal assault on public schools. The same could be said of almost anyone Trump might select in her place (Falwell, Rhee, Moskowitz, etc.) The model is Race to the Top. The Department of Education might bundle $20 billion and dangle it before states as a competition, with eligibility dependent on laws permitting vouchers to religious schools and for-profit charters, even home schooling.

Friends and allies of public education, a cornerstone of our democracy for nearly 200 years, will have to organize and resist.

Join the Network for Public Education as we fight to defend public schools against privatization. 

For the past eight years, we collectively have had to figure out how to cope with lovers of privatization who claimed that they were reformers. They wanted to “save poor kids from failing schools” by opening privately managed charters that were all too often academically weak and financially unaccountable. They liked to fire the entire staff of struggling schools and hail their courage for daring to disrupt the lives of students and teachers. They praised high-stakes testing as part of their civil rights activism. They loved first-year teacher far more than those who made teaching a career. They also claimed that their disruption was done in the name of civil rights, and that they were progressives.

But now they have a problem. Trump has adopted their agenda of replacing public schools with charter schools. Shall they show Trump some reformer love or shall they express revulsion for his bigotry? Or both?

Historian and teacher John Thompson reviews the reformers’ dilemma:

The press release for Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) on the appointment of Amway heiress, Betsy DeVos, as Secretary of Education illustrates the moral and practical dilemmas faced by corporate school reform in the wake of the Trump election. DFER “applaud(s) Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.” However, DFER claims to be “deeply concerned by much of the President-elect’s education agenda, which proposes to cut money from Title I and to eliminate the federal role on accountability.”
DFER Statement on President-elect Trump’s Nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education – Democrats for Education Reform

Notably absent is a condemnation of DeVos’s devotion to vouchers, for-profit, private charters, and accountability-free virtual schools. Neither does DFER mention that 80% of the charters in her state of Michigan are for-profit.

DFER also protests that “our children are threatened by many of the President-elect’s proposals, such as kicking 20 million families off of healthcare, deporting millions of Dreamers, and accelerating stop-and-frisk practices.” It criticizes “Trump’s bigoted and offensive rhetoric [which] has assaulted our racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, causing millions of American children to perceive that they are less than full members of our communities.” The corporate reform think tank gives little indication, however, as to how much it will cooperate with DeVos’s rightwing agenda and the bigotry of Trumpism.

The reformers’ dilemma is not new, but now there is a new urgency to their need to look at themselves in the mirror. DFER isn’t likely to ask whether years of reformers’ attacks on loyal Democrats made a difference in Trump carrying Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Neither are they likely to question their faith in data-driven accountability even if they reckon with the finding that DeVos’s American Federation for Children reported to the Wisconsin elections board it spent only $345,000 on state legislative races in 2012. It bragged in another document that it spent $2.4 million in helping elect nine pro-privatization legislators.

But, what will happen if reformers cooperate with the “co-founder and current chair of the boards at the anti-teachers-union state advocacy groups Alliance for School Choice and American Federation for Children (AFC) and a close friend of teachers union opponent Campbell Brown?”

Oh, yeah, DFER and other reformers have already teamed with Campbell Brown, The 74, and an alphabet soup of hedge fund entrepreneurs in their legal assault on the due process rights of teachers. They have also collaborated with others, such as Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz, who promise to work with Trump. But, what happens if reformers go along with for-profit charters and online schools in order to advance their scaling up of “public school charters,” and Trump’s overreach in domestic and foreign policies is so extreme that it brings their new allies and agenda down?

Or worse, what if they help Trump and his racist, sexist, and xenophobic policies are implemented?

Corporate reformers haven’t been shy about their funding from the Gates and Broad foundations, which is worrisome enough. One would think that they would have at least been squeamish about support from the Walton, Arnold, Bradley, and DeVose families. They should consider a 2014 analysis of the DeVos family’s rightwing agenda which concluded that they “sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement.” Richard DeVos Sr. “was an early member and funder of the Council for National Policy, a secretive network of hardline conservative leaders founded by Left Behind author Tim LaHaye.” Betsy’s father was a founder of the conservative Christian, anti-choice Family Research Council. Her brother founded the infamous Blackwater private security company.

Amway heir Dick DeVos beat Big Labor in its own backyard. Next up: your state.

Disgraced Texas congressman Tom DeLay advanced their agenda under the informal name of the “Amway caucus.” Other DeVos allies include gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson, Texas investor Harold Simmons, Jim Boop, general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee,” who also was the chief architect behind the controversial 2010 Citizens United case” and, of course, Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

I’ve long tried to communicate with reformers. Despite their demonizing teachers, unions, education schools, school boards, and Democrats who see high-stakes testing and charters differently, many speak privately about the mixed feelings they felt when uniting with rightwing reformers. They did so, I’m often told, because they believed it was necessary for Democrats to prove their toughness by battling unions and other loyal party members. The Obama administration, for instance, supposedly adopted an ALEC-lite, Scott Walker-lite, and Betsy DeVos-lite education agenda in an effort to keep the far Right from completely destroying public schools. In doing so, they helped open the door to mass charterization, and electing a President with strong support from the Alt-Right.

Reformers must finally look in the mirror and contemplate the fact that they and their allies have common links to intertwined, mostly hidden, corporate funding networks that have choreographed an extremist, anti-government campaign. Media Matters explains about DeVos’s American Federation for Children (AFC):

AFC’s website also directs readers to visit websites for its “national allied organizations,” which include the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks (of which the Alliance for School Choice is listed as an associate member), the American Center for School Choice, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Cato Institute, the Center for Education Reform, Education Next, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), the Institute for Justice, K12 Inc., National School Choice Week (NSCW), Stand for Children, StudentsFirst, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The AFC website also lists “state allies,” many of which are also members of the State Policy Network.

Here Are The Corporations And Right-Wing Funders Backing The Education Reform Movement

DFER claims that it aims “to return the Democratic Party to its rightful place as a champion of children, first and foremost, in America’s public education systems.” To do so, however, it embraced the edu-politics of destruction. It used the Billionaires Boys Club’s money to help pioneer a new type of public relations spin that has culminated in what is now called “post-fact.” DFER shared a false “bad teacher,” pro-charter narrative throughout a web of like-minded think tanks and interest groups. Now it must decide how much it will collaborate with a President of the United States who might even owe his victory to the Russian propaganda machine, spreading its fake news across the digital social networks that reformers also used to share their intellectually dishonest soundbites.

And that brings us closer to the real danger which DeVos represents for schools, and the nation. She is not just a run-of-the-mill corporate school reformer who pushes reckless market-driven policies in order to bring disruptive innovation to public schools. Contrary to her otherwise universal commitment to “choice,” DeVos vigorously campaigns against women’s right to choose. She brings the same zealotry to the Right to Life movement as she does to the promotion of vouchers and for-profit education ventures, and her financing of so-called Right to Work union-basting.

For DFER to honestly claim that it is working with DeVos and Trump in order to help children, it would have to believe that privatized jails and prisons, privatized water systems, and expanded Blackwater’s mercenaries were scaled up for the benefit of nonviolent offenders, the citizens of Flint, Michigan, and Iraqi noncombatants (and the American soldiers who faced the retaliation sparked by Blackwater’s abuses.)

Mother Crusader (aka parent activist Darcie Cimarusti in New Jersey) made the discovery that Betsy DeVos had a photo of her and a student drinking Boxed Water, made by a company she invested in.

Lo and behold, the shilling photo is gone, vanished, disappeared. But just look what took its place!

Reformers have been trying to figure what to say about Trump and DeVos. It is embarrassing for people who call themselves “progressives” to acknowledge that their agenda of charters and choice has been embraced by the most rightwing president in the past century, if not all of American history. They want more charters, as Trump promises, but they have to distance themselves from a president who has been warmly embraced by the KKK and other neo-Nazi groups.

Shavar Jeffries of DFER and Peter Cunningham of Education Post (and former aide to Arne Duncan) try to wend their way through the political thicket in this article. THE LINK IS NOW WORKING. 

First, they list all the Democrats (like Rahm Emanuel and Andrew Cuomo) who support school choice. But they include Albert Shanker without admitting that after promoting the idea of charters in 1988, he denounced them as no different from vouchers in 1993, when he saw the business groups vying to run schools for profit. Documented in my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 127-128, revised edition).

Second, they give a nod to their friends in the unions, neglecting to mention that 93% of charters are non-union and are endorsed by all the Red State governors and right wing think tanks as a way to break unions.

Their biggest concern seems to be that DeVos might not adhere to the accountability regime established by George W. Bush. For them, high-stakes testing is a civil rights issue. Critics of high-stakes testing know that these tests measure family income and cause immeasurable harm to children who are poor, children with disabilities, and children who are English language learners. Just look at the Common Core scores in any state: most kids “failed” a test that was a grade level or two above their real grade. The highest failure rates were among the children with the greatest needs.

Accountability belongs at at the top. That’s where crucial decisions are made about resources and leadership. Yet the “reformers” still want to pin it on teachers and students.

As for “choice,” the results of 20+ years of vouchers in Milwaukee and Cleveland and Detroit, and of charters there and  in other cities should persuade everyone that neither vouchers nor charters address the needs of our children, especially those who are poorest. Their most damaging result is to drain resources from the public schools that enroll all children, making them less able to do their job.