Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

The Massachusetts Teachers Association released this bulletin just now:

​For Immediate Release
​October 27, 2016

Contact: Steve Crawford, Crawford Strategies, 857-753-4132,​
Teachers Call for SEC Investigation into Possible Pay-to-Play Scheme

BOSTON – Deeply troubled by campaign contributions from investment firms overseeing millions of dollars in teacher pension funds, the presidents of the two Massachusetts educators’ unions today are calling for an investigation by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and state authorities into a possible pay-to-play scheme involving large donors supporting Question 2, the charter school expansion question that will be on the November ballot in Massachusetts.

A report published today by the International Business Times reveals that management of eight financial firms has contributed more than $778,000 to groups backing Question 2. Together, these financial firms manage over $1.275 billion in state money.

“This is about the integrity of our pension investments and the integrity of our elections,” said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni. “We need an investigation to find out whether these firms are wielding inappropriate influence in state government.”

“These disclosures are an indication of the degree to which forces seeking to undermine our public schools are spending huge sums to promote Question 2,” Madeloni added.

The IBT report details the ways in which the investment industry circumvents federal rules designed to restrict financial executives from giving campaign cash to governors with the power to influence state pension business. Governor Charlie Baker is a leading proponent of Question 2. Earlier this week, he held a series of private meetings in New York with financial industry executives whose names remain undisclosed.

Although federal law does not cover money donated to the governor’s policy initiatives, executives whose firms are prohibited from donating directly to Baker are still able to give to the dark money groups backing Question 2. But questions need to be answered about the propriety of these donations.

Baker appoints three members of the state pension board.

“Retirees need to know that investment decisions are being made based on their financial security, not to curry favor with Governor Baker and his pension board appointees,” said Tom Gosnell, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts.

On Monday, Governor Baker addressed the members of the conservative, pro-charter Manhattan Institute about his work on Question 2. Paul Singer, chair of the Manhattan Institute’s Board of Trustees, is a major financial backer of charter school expansion around the nation. Singer also owns Elliott Capital Advisors, one of the hedge fund companies in which the state pension board invests its money.


I posted Robert Pondiscio’s proposal this morning that a talented African-American teacher-journalist should take Peter Cunningham’s job at Education Post, and that other white leaders of the reform movement should step aside because the reform movement has too many whites (with little or no teaching experience) in leadership roles.

The woman he recommended is Marilyn Rhames. She wrote a response to Pondiscio’s proposal.

In a sharp response, she reminds reformers that the point of “reform” is supposed to be about improving the education of black and brown children, not high-paying jobs for reformers.

“I wanted very much to believe that you had moved closer to acknowledging the racist paternalism that exists in reform circles after you lauded my “stellar” resume. But in highlighting my genius, you subtly sounded the alarm: Marilyn Anderson Rhames is a major black talent who could very well take your job, Peter Cunningham (and other white ed leaders who signed the diversity pledge). What a way to endorse multiculturalism!

My Ivy League educated, teacher-journalist-mother African American self has the potential to make a seismic shift in the systemic injustice that blocks black and brown children from a quality education, so why didn’t your piece frame me in that light? Instead, you positioned me as a threat. In your piece, I was the “other” in an us-versus-them fight for limited, high-paying ed reform jobs. Your title says it all: “Reform Leaders: You’re Fired.”

Ain’t I a reformer? In light of all my brilliance, your title should have been, “Black Reform Leaders: You’re Finally Hired!”

Your piece states that my ex-boss Peter Cunningham, and the many other middle-aged, privileged, non-educator white men who manage the education reform agenda that impacts millions of black and brown children living in poverty, need to step down from their six-figure salaries and let the “foot soldiers,” like me take their place. Why stop at Cunningham? You could have offered your nice-paying job at the Fordham Institute to me. I just may be more qualified than you to do your job, too!

Oh, I forgot, that to you would be “suicide.””


I hope that you know that no high-performing nation in the world allows entrepreneurs, corporate charter chains, and non-educators to get public money to run privately controlled schools. You should also know, though your friends in the reform movement won’t tell you, that the surest path to a well-paying job and the middle class is a union job, with good pay, reasonable hours, and a pension. Surely you know that the money for the reform movement comes from the anti-union Walton family and Wall Street financiers. Rightwing governor’s like Scott Walker and Rick Scott love to create charters and offer vouchers while defunding the public schools that most black and brown children attend.

I invite you to stand with us to protect public schools from privatization and to fight for the resources and transformation in every state that will make every public school a good school for every child. We don’t have any billionaires on our side, but we have millions of parents and teachers and many others who understand that public education is a pillar of democracy. Privatization always produces inequality, winners and losers. Join us. We need you.

You will enjoy reading about Leonie Haimson’s busy and productive day. Leonie is a fighter for smaller class size, better funding for schools, and student privacy. She is founder of Class Size Matters and Student Privacy Matters. She is tireless (and unpaid). She is the most frightening antagonist for education reformers because they can’t understand people who are motivated by principle, not profit.

She started the day at the Harvard Club, outside the doors, protesting with other activists against the billionaires and dark money behind Question 2 in Massachusetts. Inside, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker had come to talk to the conservative Manhattan Institute about his efforts to lift the charter cap, thus expanding privatization of public education.

That afternoon, she learned that she and other allies had come a judicial decision to open the meetings of School Leadership Teams to the public.

She wrote:

“The Appellate court heard arguments from both sides on January 21, 2016 — and took nearly a year to rule. But finally, in another slam-dunk, unanimous decision, they reaffirmed the lower Court ruling that SLT’s are public bodies in state governance law, and thus their meetings must be open to the public. Much thanks goes to Michael Thomas, Tish James and the attorneys from NY Lawyers for Public Interest and Advocates for Justice who represented the Public Advocate and Class Size Matters in court.”

Leonie is on many boards, including the Network for Public Education and New York State Allies for Public Education, which organized the successful statewide parent opt out. She is already a hero of this blog. She is the right person to take on the billionaires. They can’t buy her or beat her.

Go, Leonie, go!

Julian Vasquez Heilig combed through the Podesta emails released by WikiLeaks in search of education-related comments. He found quite a few.

Reach your own conclusions.

I don’t think he included this one, where the Clinton campaign reacts to a question from the AFT about whether Joel Klein is involved in the campaign.

Education Week reported the story here.

Klein’s company Amplify lost about $500 million, when it was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Murdoch dumped it, and Laurene Powell Jobs picked it up for the Emerson Collective, probably for a song.

But Klein is still in the money. Despite the epic failure of Amplify, Rupert Murdoch is paying him $4.6M per year to sit on the News Corp board. (And don’t forget that he filed for a pension from New York City for the eight years he spent as Chancellor, closing schools and opening charter schools.)

Klein is now working as “chief strategy” officer for the failing Oscar health insurance company, which is also losing millions fast. Klein has not had much luck in the business world. This company was co-founded by Josh Kushner, the brother of Trump’s son in law, Jared Kushner.

More on Nevada.

The list of high school graduation rates was posted yesterday. Charter schools had the lowest rates in the state.

The legislature and governor bestow billions on billionaires for stadiums and tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. But public schools go without basic supplies.

To avoid paying for public schools, the legislature opens charter schools and offers vouchers.

But the vouchers explicitly violate the state constitution (which doesn’t necessarily mean the state courts will rule them unconstitutional since conservatives interpret state constitutions very loosely when vouchers are at issue).

And the charters include many of the lowest performing schools in the state (including the amply funded but highly disorganized Andre Agassi charter school) and have the lowest graduation rates.

Read this:

The school with the lowest graduation rate in the state is Silver State Charter School, where only 18% graduated. That’s even worse than ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) in Ohio, where the graduation rate is 20%.

Not to worry, reformers! There will be no accountability for charter schools! In fact, the state has hired a receiver to fix Silver State charter school at $25,000 a month…do what? Who knows? It’s Nevada, where kids don’t count, especially if they are poor and Hispanic.

David Sirota and a team of investigative reporters have discovered that the pension funds of teachers in Massachusetts are being tapped by Wall Street financiers to underwrite Question 2, which will authorize an expansion of non-union charter schools. Unions are spending millions of dollars to defend the public schools of Massachusetts against privatization. Meanwhile, their own pension funds are financing the campaign to increase privatization.

“When Massachusetts public school teachers pay into their pension fund each month, they may not realize where the money goes. Wall Street titans are using some of the profits from managing that money to finance an education ballot initiative that many teachers say will harm traditional public schools.

“An International Business Times/MapLight investigation has found that executives at eight financial firms with contracts to manage Massachusetts state pension assets have bypassed anti-corruption rules and funneled at least $778,000 to groups backing Question 2, which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. Millions more dollars have flowed from the executives to nonprofit groups supporting the charter school movement in the lead-up to the November vote. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, himself a former financial executive, is leading the fight to increase the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools in Massachusetts — and he appoints trustees to the board that directs state pension investments….

“This report is the latest in an IBT/MapLight series examining how anti-corruption laws are circumvented or unenforced. The cash flowing to the Massachusetts school initiative spotlights more than just a fight over education policy: It exemplifies one of the ways in which the securities and investment industry can get around a federal rule that was designed to restrict financial executives from giving campaign cash to governors with the power to influence state pension business.

“In the case of Massachusetts, since the federal rule does not cover money donated to governors’ policy initiatives, executives banned from donating directly to Gov. Baker are able to give to a constellation of groups that are pushing his pet cause — and that in some cases are advised by Baker’s political associates. Meanwhile, Baker’s appointees at the state pension board are permitted to continue delivering investment deals and fees to those same donors’ firms.”

The recent call for a moratorium on new charters by the NAACP, the Movement for Black Lives, and Journey for Justice has caused a crisis of confidence among corporate reformers. Suddenly they must confront the fact that they are leading “the civil rights issue of our time” by promoting school choice.

Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute tackles the problem head on. Specifically he calls on Peter Cunningham to step down as editor of Education Post and give his job to a talented woman of color who is a charter school teacher and accomplished journalist. This would be very painful for Peter, who raised $12 million to start the blog from the Waltons, Eli Broad, and Michael Bloomberg.

He further suggests that other white reform leaders make way for people of color. Farewell, Wendy Kopp, Mike Petrilli, Michael Feinberg, David Levin, Richard Barth, the Kramers of Minneapolis, and dozens more who must give up their good jobs in education reform. Now, if only the billionaires would turn over their fortunes to people of color…

Carol Burris concludes here her fourth installment of the sad story of the charter school movement in California. What once was a movement intended to help and collaborate with public schools has been taken over by the power-hungry and the greedy, intent on displacing and destroying public education.

California is now the “wild west of charter schools” because of the state’s refusal to oversee the operations of these schools. Public money is handed out to almost anyone who wants it, and supervision is almost non-existent.

Burris writes:

The shine is off the charter school movement. Freedom from regulation, the sine qua non of the charter world, has resulted too often in troubled schools, taxpayer fleecing and outright fraud. Charters have become material for late-night comedians. That is never a good sign; just ask the proponents of the Common Core.

The greatest blow to charter momentum, however, was delivered by the NAACP. When delegates’ voted for a moratorium on new charters, it unleashed the fury of the charterphiles. A piece on the pro-reform website Education Post was titled, “The NAACP Was Founded by White People and It Still Isn’t Looking Out for Black Families,” accusing the premier civil rights organization of being “morally anemic.” And yet, despite the vitriol and critique, the NAACP board of directors stood fast, supported its delegates, and issued a strong statement calling for charter reform.

The passage of Question 2 on the November ballot in Massachusetts, which would lift the cap on charter schools, once seemed a sure thing. Now support has plummeted. The ballot measure is down by 11 points, having lost support among Democrats, especially from the progressive wing.

The problems with loosely regulated charters can no longer be brushed aside.

In the past three posts of my series on California charters (here, here and here), I highlighted some of the serious problems that exist in a state with weak governing laws, a powerful lobby propped up by billionaires, and a governor who consistently vetoes bills aimed at charter reform. California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who is usually progressive, has a blind spot when it comes to charters. The governor’s enthusiastic fundraising efforts on behalf of the two charters he started in Oakland came under scrutiny in the Los Angeles Times.

As a result, the problems with charters in the state bear an eerie resemblance to the those found in far more conservative states. As I spoke with Californians, I often felt quite depressed. The story line became clear—a state that generally holds progressive values financially abandoned its public schools with the passage of Proposition 13, thus crippling school funding. That was followed by a scramble to a charter solution to compensate for years of underfunding and neglect. That, in turn, opened the door to profit making schemes, corporate reformers hell-bent on destroying unions, and frankly, a lot of irresponsible educational models, such as storefront charters, boutique schools and “academies” linked to for-profits like K12.

There is hope, however, that California can alter its course. Despite all of the obstacles that stand in the way, there are Californians who want charter reform. They are exposing corruption, illegality, profit-making schemes and schools that are clearly not in the best interest of children. In this final piece, I will highlight some of their work.

Open the piece to see the links and to learn more about Burris’s reasons for optimism.

Dr. John H. Jackson of the Schott Foundation (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Josie Greene, a director of another foundation (writing for herself, not her foundation), penned a powerful opinion piece about “a better education for all.”

As it happens, the purpose of this blog is to advocate on behalf of “a better education for all.” Not a better education for a few, or for some, but for all. That means better public schools for all children. That is why I oppose charter schools, school choice, and competition. As Jackson and Green post out, competition means winners and losers, and equality of educational opportunity will never be produced by competition but by a commitment great public schools in every district.

This is the letter that was posted by the Schott Foundation (I made two insertions of “bold” format):

A Question of Better Education for All

Dear Education Advocates,

Question 2, which will appear on Massachusetts voters’ ballots on Nov. 8, claims that it will increase educational choice and improve educational standards across the state. In fact, it would do the opposite.

For the past decade, Massachusetts has led the nation in academic achievement. Our students have even been top ranked internationally in a time when the country’s educational outcomes have slid year by year. Massachusetts accomplished this by taking bold steps that impact all students, most importantly changing the state’s school funding system to invest more in schools in high need, low-income areas so that all students have a better opportunity to achieve. There is still critical work to be done to close persistent opportunity gaps in the system, but we won’t get there if we go in completely the wrong direction. This would be to allow state officials to give up on investing in improving a system that serves all students in need.

Saying “yes” to Question 2 would move the Commonwealth off the path towards great public schools for all students. Question 2 proposes to use taxpayer resources to increase, by 12 per year, the number of charter schools that can only be attended by a few in the state.

When charter schools, which now serve only 4% of the state’s public school students, were added to the Massachusetts model, they were never intended to be a comprehensive “education plan” for a state or locality, but rather an experiment that might provide sparks of innovation whose best practices would be integrated into the main system. It is in that system that the great majority—a full 96%—of Massachusetts students are educated. While it’s true that, like any educational system, we have a mixed record on innovation as well as achievement—there are exemplary as well as troubled charter schools—the bigger issues we need to examine go to the heart of our commitment to high quality public education for all children in the Commonwealth.

Public schools and an equal commitment to all children are pillars of our democratic system. Accountability has been rooted in local control ever since Massachusetts pioneered the first statewide system focused on all children when it instituted compulsory K-12 education in 1852.

Charters run directly counter to this democratic value. The state can approve a charter school in a community over the strong objection of the school committee and all the other locally elected officials who are accountable to the voters in that town. Only the state, not any local officials, can examine the finances or exercise oversight over charter schools. As for their private boards, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s study of Massachusetts charter schools revealed that many board members do not even live in the district where the charter is located; 31% are financial or corporate executives, while only 14% are parents; 60% of charters in our state have no parent representation at all.

When the corporate concept of “competition” is used to justify the argument for increasing the number of charter schools (and student enrollment in them), we need only remind ourselves that competition means winners and losers.

When the corporate concept of “competition” is used to justify the argument for increasing the number of charter schools (and student enrollment in them), we need only remind ourselves that competition means winners and losers. Why would voters ever want to substitute that value for a commitment to ensuring a high quality education for every child? We should focus our attention and resources on what has been the most successful in proven outcomes in our state: Constantly improving our public education system. Charter schools draw funding away from public schools that educate the great majority of state students, ranging from accelerated learners to special education, and including English language learners, children with learning disabilities, and homeless children who register mid-year.

Expanding the number of charter schools reinforces a caste system of private, charter and public schools. This is not visionary leadership or the bold leap needed to keep all Massachusetts students advancing as leaders in the nation. There are social justice reasons for ensuring any changes to our current system are designed to improve the opportunity to learn for all students.

And there are compelling economic reasons as well. Equal education for all breaks the cycle of intergenerational poverty; it is the path to economic opportunity. Investing in a great education for all children in the Commonwealth is the only way to create a broad-based, diverse, well-educated workforce that is a magnet for employers and can fuel economic growth across the state. It also ensures full participation in our democratic society.

Voting “NO” on Question 2 will keep policymakers, educators, parents and students focused on the right question: What steps should we be taking to advance as the best public education system in the country for all Commonwealth students?

At a policy forum in Miami before the Council of the Great City Schools, surrogates for Trump and Clinton clarified their views, sort of.

Carl Paladino, remembered in New York for his racist and sexist emails during his campaign against Cuomo, promised that Trump would not put an educator in charge of the Education Department. That’s no surprise. In other settings, both Trump and Paladino have promised to turn all federal funding over to charters and vouchers and to abandon public education.

Clinton’s surrogate said that she is a “big backer” of charter schools, but not for-profit schools. That is not at all reassuring, since some of the most rapacious charter schools are technically non-profit but are managed by for-profit EMOs. And some rapacious charter chains are non-profit but pay their executives obscene salaries. And some non-profits are agents of privatization, even when the profit motive is absent.

The article also said:

During her 2016 campaign, Clinton’s position on charters became a bit less clear. During her time as a U.S. senator from New York, for example, Clinton was a supporter of charters. She’s even taken some grief from the teachers’ unions for that stance. But during this White House run, she also criticized charters for not necessarily accepting all the same students that traditional public schools do. And she’s said charters should supplement what public schools do and not replace them.

She was right. Charter schools do not accept the same students that real public schools do. They can admit those they want and kick out those they don’t want. And while it is admirable to say that charters should not replace public schools, the reality is that charters drain both resources and students from public schools, causing public schools to cut their programs and staff and to have even less capacity to serve the overwhelming majority of students.

The United States simply cannot afford to have a dual school system: one that chooses the students it wants, and the other required to accept all who apply. No high-performing nation in the world operates a dual school system.

If Clinton is to have an intelligent policy about public and charter schools, she must be better informed than she is now, and she can’t rely solely on charter advocates for her information about the way charters are systematically eroding public education in America. She need only look at what is happening in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and a dozen or more other states.

She might learn that more than 90% of charters are non-union. She might bear in mind that her strongest supporters have been the NEA and the AFT, whose jobs will be lost as charters expand.

Profit is not the only issue, though it is one. The central issue is privatization and the danger to America’s historic commitment to universal public education, doors open to all, not to some.

The good news is that one of the Podesta emails leaked by Wikileaks said that a group of billionaire reformers organized by Laurene Powell Jobs wanted to meet with Hillary but she couldn’t make time for them, and Podesta responded:

Probably worth the time. Not sure we can reassure them. Want to discuss by phone?

Note bene: she didn’t make time to meet with them, and the staff was not sure it could reassure them. That’s a good sign. Take that, reformers!