Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Peter Piazza earned his doctorate in 2015 and wrote his doctoral dissertation about the activities of Oregon-based Stand for Children in Massachusetts. He is now working as a professional researcher. SFC is an organization that started out as an advocate for children, but then received millions from corporations and foundations to fight teachers’ unions and advocate for charter schools.

Piazza wrote this summation of his research for the blog:

Stand for Children: Misadventures in Massachusetts

In the upcoming school year, a new law restricting teacher job security will become effective in Massachusetts, after having taken a winding road to its fruition that was at best nonsensical and at worst deeply undemocratic. Better known as the Stand for Children compromise law, MA 2315 prohibits public schools from using seniority as the primary factor in teacher personnel decisions, ending a long tradition that had allowed districts to make these kinds of decisions themselves, through the collective bargaining process.

The law was originally proposed by Stand as a ballot question that would have had even more far reaching consequences for teachers. Then, Stand and the state’s largest teachers’ union worked out a compromise bill in private negotiations with their lawyers. That bill was passed through the state legislature in order to remove the original (and worse) proposal from the ballot in 2012.

I tried to follow as many of the twists and turns as I could in my doctoral dissertation, relying most heavily on interviews to reconstruct a deliberately obscure policymaking process. Much of this story will be frustratingly familiar to public education advocates-

• As others have noted on this blog (here and here) and elsewhere (see here, here and here), Stand was initially created as a genuine grassroots advocacy group. Following Race to the Top and Citizens United, the group abruptly turned away from local level membership and towards big money grants from national foundations, especially – of course – Gates and Walton (2010, 2011). Research found that in 2010 Stand’s Leadership Center – its 501(c)3 wing – was among the top 5 recipients of grants from venture philanthropy in educational advocacy.

• In Massachusetts, Stand, a registered 501(c)4 group, began accepting large donations around 2009 from “dark money” sources, including a shadowy but extremely influential organization called Strategic Grant Partners. Local donors to Stand’s (c)3 wing also included The Boston Foundation, a prominent Boston donor that launched the state’s Race to the Top Coalition which continues to advocate for neoliberal reform, and Bain Capital. Because (c)4’s don’t have to disclose their donors, however, it’s hard to trace the money all the way through. Reporting, however, has linked Stand’s MA office to the usual suspects of hedge-fund managers and investment bankers. In all, it was widely believed that Stand had nearly $10 million to spend on the ballot initiative, though, the group saved some money in compromise, ultimately spending a little more than $850,000, according to state campaign finance records.

• Long-time members in the state left publicly, in an open letter expressing both critique and confusion regarding Stand’s new direction. Without an active base of volunteers, most of the money spent on the campaign went to paid signature gatherers or lobbyists.

• Even worse: Stand’s national CEO, Jonah Edelman – the son of Marian Wright Edelman – told everyone on YouTube that the organization would bring its anti-union agenda to states like Massachusetts. After passing restrictions on job security in Illinois, Edelman referred to teachers unions when he infamously trumpeted that Stand was able to “jam this proposal down their throats.” He then stated baldly that “our hope and our expectation is to use this as a catalyst to very quickly make similar changes in other very entrenched states.”

But, in the Massachusetts example at least, there are potential sources of hope for public education advocates –

• Stand was almost completely conflicted within every major level of the organization. National leaders wanted a quick win, state leaders wanted more time to build relationships, and Stand’s community organizers genuinely wanted to do good community organizing.

Here’s my best short summary of the whole process: As told to me by a state level leader at Stand, “the original Great Teachers Great Schools campaign plan was over a three year time period. So we had the intention of building a coalition around it, spending a significant amount of time lobbying on it.” This would have lined them up to try to pass a traditional bill through the state house in 2014.

Then, the organization abruptly changed its plans, deciding instead to pursue a ballot question for the 2012 election. Another state level leader told me that this decision was made “basically five weeks” before the deadline for filing ballot measures. Potential allies in the business community and even their own staff assumed that the decision to go with the ballot question was likely driven by national leadership because the state office “wasn’t big enough to tell national ‘here’s the deal’.”

Then, amazingly, it turned again. When the campaign for the ballot question wasn’t going well – because Stand hadn’t built a state coalition of any kind – national leadership put clear and direct pressure on state leadership. As reported by a former staff member, during a visit from national in the winter of 2012 staff were “told explicitly that we need to win the campaign or essentially the Massachusetts chapter is going to cease to exist.” Thus, the compromise.

• Absent a major outreach effort, Stand had a very limited number of local allies. Only a few spoke at the legislative hearing for the ballot question, including (of course) a local investment banker; a parent and teacher member of Stand, each of whom had joined the campaign after it started; and a Boston city councilor, who would later – in his mayoral campaign – return a half-million dollar donation from Stand, stating that he did not want to accept money from outside special interest groups.

• The media praised the compromise as a big victory for Stand, but they largely got it wrong. Instead, the organization found itself almost completely isolated in the state. Likely allies in the business community balked at a partnership “because of that national-local issue, you don’t know who you’re talking to.” Community organizers told me that principals wouldn’t return their calls. When I asked Stand leaders what they might have done differently, they responded frankly: “I would have drafted the ballot question with more time. We drafted it in no time.” Without a chance to build a broader coalition, the organization was largely left standing on its own.

• In the compromise, they gave up a lot. More dramatic changes to teacher tenure and collective bargaining were removed from the compromise law, with the restrictions on seniority – not tenure – the only major parts that remained and even those were watered down. The compromised also pushed the effective start date from 2013 to the 2016-2017 school year.

In the end, this all contributed to a process that was troublingly undemocratic. Contrary to how they might be portrayed more broadly, state leaders and community organizers at Stand wanted to organize parents and teachers in Boston schools and wanted to work on other issues completely unrelated to the ballot campaign. They just couldn’t. Under pressure from national leadership, community organizers went out instead to find “folks that would be predisposed to arguing in favor of this anyways whether they had something substantive to say or not and get them on board” often by “giving a 30-second pitch to somebody at Stop & Shop” and getting them to sign an apple-shaped card.

Grad students are often asked to name/label things. I called this “neo-democracy” – an umbrella term for cases like this where big money and high-stakes pressure lead to shallow forms of democratic engagement at the local level, an increasingly common occurrence as neoliberal advocacy groups – like Stand, StudentsFirst and DFER among others – gain influence over state policy.

That’s the bad part, of course. But, it can be reversed, and it is every day by the many, many people who work to bringing public voice to public education. What can’t be reversed, at least not any time soon, is Stand’s reputation in Massachusetts. As others have noted, Stand hasn’t been very active in Massachusetts since. But, this wasn’t a page out of the astro-turf playbook. It was an unintended consequence of a clumsy advocacy process led by heavy-handed “direction” from the national level. And, it suggests that these kinds of groups may not be the smooth operators they appear to be, that without relationships and meaningful connections to the local level, money can of course buy something, but it may only be a flash in the pan.

Peter Greene received a notice from the Center for Education Reform, which has led the fight against public schools for almost 25 years, promising a reward to the charter school that created a video showing how great charter schools are. This was in response to John Oliver’s devastating critique of the charlatans who have profited off the deregulation of public money for nonpublic schools.

Right after the John Oliver piece appeared, the CER asked its followers to write Oliver and tweet him to tell him he was wrong. Apparently this didn’t do the job, so now it is offering a prize of $100,000 for a video showing the awesomeness of privately managed schools.

Greene writes:

I, too, would be interested to see what opportunities charters offer that wouldn’t exist without charters. Perhaps some videos will highlight charter-only perks like “getting away from Those Children” or “enjoying a constantly churning staff of underpaid unretained teachers” or “the delightful mystery of what exactly is being done with our tax dollars” or “the warm glow of knowing that we’ve helped some investors make a buck or ten” or even “the suspense of never knowing when my school might suddenly close.” Please, somebody, make that video…The “Our School Is Great” video is a common genre. Public schools all across the country make them– for free– all the time. But it’s completely in keeping with the charter school industry that, having failed to raise a groundswell of grass roots anger over the Oliver piece (which is now over a week old and yet the righteous indignation over it seems largely confined to people who make their living shilling for charters), the charter cheerleading squad must now pay somebody to stand up for them and help them fight back against this PR disaster.

When I read the CER announcement (I am on the CER mailing list), I was aghast that a school-related organization had that kind of spare money to hold a contest. The Network for Public Education certainly doesn’t. That kind of money represents a large percentage of our annual budget. It must be nice to have that kind of money. But I feel far better having the right principles, even though it doesn’t enhance our bank account. It is good to wake up every day knowing that you are on the right side of history, fighting to create better schools for all. I feel sorry for people fighting for better schools for a few kids, while sucking resources out of the schools that enroll the majority o kids. This is akin to providing 50 life vests for a ship that holds 1,500 passengers. The donor can feel proud of saving 50 lives, while ignoring the other 1,450 passengers. I want a safer ship, a well-trained pilot and crew, and life vests for all.

Phi Delta Kappa released its annual poll today. Nothing new except that Gallup is no longer the polling company. No headlines. The only obvious conclusion: the American public is confused about why we have schools and what they should be doing and whether they are doing it well.

The public doesn’t agree on what the purpose of public schools is. 45% says it is to teach academics. About a quarter think they should teach career readiness. Another quarter think they should prepare students for citizenship.

Just to be clear, the reason that public schools were first established and treated as a community responsibility was to prepare good citizens to sustain our society into the future. There are many subdivisions under the goal of preparing to be good citizens, which would include the academic skills needed to read, write, think critically, be informed about issues in science and history, and be in good health. Somehow, the central purpose has been lowered in status. When people lose sight of the central purpose of education, then they fall prey to bogus claims about choice, charters, and vouchers, about which sector can do a better job of teaching academic skills or career skills. We have public schools as a public responsibility to teach young people to become active and informed citizens. All the rest follows.

In reading through the inconclusive public opinion on almost every subject, one question caught my attention because of its wording:

Q. Charter schools are public schools that are run without many of the state regulations placed on other public schools. Do you think it’s better for charter schools to meet the same educational standards as other public schools or to set their own educational standards?

The answer was a split decision. 48% said meet the same standards, 46% said no.

The question assumes that charter schools are public schools.

But charter schools are NOT public schools. Whenever charter operators are sued, their defense is that they are not public schools. They are privately managed schools that receive public funding. As the NLRB ruled last week, and as federal courts have ruled, charter schools are not held to the same standards as public schools because they are NOT “state actors.” Public schools are state actors. Charters themselves plead that they are not public schools. In 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a charter operator in Arizona ran a private nonprofit corporation, not an agency of the state, in response to a lawsuit by a former teacher. In 2011, the staff at the New Media Technology Charter School wanted to form a union. They appealed to state law. The charter owner, however, said the school was not public and was not governed by state law; he said it was a private school subject to the NLRB. In the same year, teachers at the Chicago Math & Science Academy also wanted to form a union. There, too, the charter operator rebuffed them by saying the school was a “private” entity, not a public school, and was not subject to state law. (See pp. 163-164 of Reign of Error). Charter schools are run by private entities that receive government contracts. The receipt of public funds does not make an entity public. If it did, then every major defense contractor would be public, not private.

The answer is troubling as well as the question. If nearly half of the respondents think that charter schools do not have to meet the same standards as public schools, what is it they believe? Do they believe that charter schools should not be held accountable for student test scores? Do they think that charter schools should be judged by some other metric?

I have been reading PDK polls for years. I learned nothing new from this one, other than that the public has lost sight of why we have public schools. That may be the consequence of propaganda from the privatizers. If there is no agreement on why we pay taxes to support public schools, then any alternative will do, including schools run by churches and schools run by foreign nationals.

Leonie Haimson, parent activist in New York City, crusader for reduced class size and student privacy, lays waste to the charter privateers in this hilarious post!

First came the devastating resolution passed by the national convention of the NAACP, calling for a charter moratorium.

Then came the attack on charters by Black Lives Matter.

And the topper was John Oliver’s funny and accurate portrayal of charter school graft.

But the privateers (or privatizers, as I usually say) continue their assault on public education with propaganda and lies.

In Massachusetts, they claim that expanding charter schools will “improve public education,” when in fact it will drain money from neighborhood public schools and take away local control.

In Georgia, a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November authorizes the creation of a state district that will eliminate local control, like the failed Tennessee ASD, yet says it will empower communities.

This is Orwellian. That means when you say one thing but mean the opposite. Another word for lying. Like saying “reform” when you mean “privatization.”

Mercedes Schneider here describes a new entity that has joined the corporate reform movement. It is called SEN, the School Empowerment Network. It seems to be funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the billionaires who want to privatize all of public education and get rid of teachers’ unions. It is based in Brooklyn, New York, but gained its first contract in Michigan.

Michigan is the state where 80% of the charters operate for-profit. It doesn’t really need more charters. It does need accountability and transparency. The Detroit Free Press published a week-long series in 2014 about taxpayers being fleeced by the charter industry, which gets $1 billion a year and is never held accountable.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy reports on efforts by the charter industry in Ohio to block any meaningful oversight or accountability:

Here we go again-Legislators halt charter accountability, although the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) may have been up to mischief

It appears that legislators on the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) latched on to some technicalities regarding “retroactive dates” to stop rules promulgated to hold charter sponsors accountable. Jim Siegel’s August 23 Dispatch article gives a play-by-play account of the August 22 JCARR meeting. Those in control of the meeting brought in their junkyard dog to unleash on the ODE witness. But several charter advocates who testified were treated with kid gloves.

There is some speculation that ODE is angling to weaken charter accountability by intentionally creating an invitation for litigation within the rules.

One of the primary reasons for the failed charter school experiment is that sponsors (which have collected in the range of $270 million over the years in a non-transparent, unaccountable environment) set their own agenda which could amount to little or nothing in terms of providing assistance to the schools they sponsor. More than 200 charters have closed or failed to open. Tens of millions of dollars have been wasted primarily because charter sponsors have not done due diligence. Why? Because they didn’t have to.

The charterites were out in force to oppose the rules during the JCARR committee hearing. This should not have been a surprise. During the August 11 & 12 State Auditor’s Charter School Summit there was a great amount of whining about the proposed rules for sponsors. The Summit served as a springboard for the display of charter power at the JCARR meeting.

The charter industry and its legislative allies, once again, have thwarted charter accountability; thus, taxpayers and students are again left behind.

Here is the linked article, which is a podcast:

By Jim Siegel The Columbus Dispatch • Tuesday August 23, 2016 7:21 AM

Legislative Republicans blocked an agency rule today that is key to completing new charter sponsor evaluations designed to weed out poor performers.

Those first-ever sponsor evaluations, crafted to help bring more accountability to a charter system sharply criticized both in Ohio and nationally, are supposed to come in October but are now clouded with uncertainty. The move to block the new rule, which Republicans said largely hinged on the Department of Education trying to enact it retroactively back to Aug. 1, comes less than seven months after a sweeping charter school reform law took effect.

The acrimonious relationship between the Department of Education and GOP lawmakers was on full display before the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR). Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, fired thorny questions at Diane Lease, the department’s chief legal counsel, for several minutes.

Coley, R-West Chester, was a replacement on the committee for another senator who said he was on a family vacation.

“Had the department had its act together, you could have complied with all the rules of JCARR…w ithout imposing rules that have a retroactive effect,” Coley told Lease.

Lease referred to a “compressed timeline” in getting rules together for the October evaluations. “We believe we are doing what is required under the legislation. We don’t believe it’s retroactive.”

Coley replied, “I’m a trial lawyer. Don’t do that to me.” Earlier, he said the rule “ demonstrates the height of arrogance.”

The new sponsor evaluations are based on three parts — academic performance, adhering to best practices and compliance with state laws and rules. The rule up for debate Monday related to the compliance with 319 laws.

Segments of the charter school community have been fighting various aspects of the new evaluations, including asking that sponsors get an extra year before consequences take hold.

“This is a clear case of Republican charter school industry allies doing everything in their power to derail, disrupt and delay new reforms that would help hold charter schools to a reasonable standard of achievement,” said Rep. Greta Johnson, D-Akron.

The rule isn’t dead, but it is going back to the Common Sense Initiative office, which determines if agency rules have an unusually detrimental impact on businesses. The CSI office had already issued a report on the rule, but critics said the sample of charter sponsors was too small, and they submitted estimates before knowing what the department required of them.

The CSI will spend up to 30 days reviewing the rule again. Then the clock restarts on the JCARR process, which takes at least another 30 days.

“We may be back here the next month with the same impasse,” said Sen. Joe Uecker, R-Loveland, chairman of JCARR, referring to the retroactive date. “There is a distinct unwillingness on (the department’s) part to work with us on this.”

Some suggested Gov. John Kasich could implement an emergency rule that takes effect for 120 days. A Kasich spokeswoman said the governor has not been approached about that.

Even without the rule, all but two charter sponsors submitted validations on July 25 that they are following state laws.

“Even if there wasn’t a question about the dates, many of the same players would still be here saying the process wasn’t correct for some reason,” said Chad Aldis of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a sponsor that has advocated for more accountability.

“If legislators are really concerned about retro-activity, then we should take action to quickly rectify that issue.”

David Cash, testifying on behalf of charter sponsor St. Aloysius, estimated the cost of compiling the information at $240,000 for the sponsor’s 43 schools.

“In the eyes of (the department), student education takes a back seat to redundant client’s work,” Cash said.

Reps. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, and Cheryl Grossman, R-Grove City, voted to block the rule, while Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, voted to allow it.

“The department has said this is an extension of existing law, therefore nothing has changed,” Duffey said. “But on its face, the rule is amplifying the law and creating new hoops people have to jump through.”

The Georgia PTA, representing PTAs and a quarter million parents across the state, unanimously endorsed a resolution criticizing Governor Nathan Deal for deceptive language in a proposition that will be presented to voters in November.

A group that represents a quarter million Georgia parents says Gov. Nathan Deal and state lawmakers are being “deceptive” and even “intentionally misleading” with wording they have chosen for November’s constitutional amendment affecting schools. The amendment to the state constitution would eviscerate local control and create a statewide district modeled on Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District. In Georgia, the takeover district would be called the “opportunity school district.” The Governor says it would “increase community involvement” when it would actually supersede local control and tax districts to pay for schools no longer in their district.

It is a classic case of charter lies, and the Georgia PTA is irate.

Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot would create a statewide school district with a superintendent answering only to the governor. That superintendent would have the power to requisition local tax dollars and to take control of schools that perform poorly on a state report card based on measures such as test results, attendance and graduation rates.

Critics slammed the ballot measure itself as misleading when lawmakers and the governor authorized its two dozen words last year. Now, opponents of the proposed “Opportunity School District,” or OSD, are critical of 14 new words published this week, and are demanding what they feel would be clearer language.

The state leaders responsible, however, appear unwilling to change their wording.

This week, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp publicized the “preamble” that will introduce voters to the ballot item. Since many will not have done their research, the language could be influential. It was written by Deal and the two leaders of the state House and Senate, who by law write ballot preambles. The words the three men approved at a meeting in Deal’s office on Aug. 2 introduce the measure this way: “Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.”

That, says the Georgia PTA, is simply untrue.

“This deceptive language must not be allowed on the November ballot. … The preamble, and indeed, the entire amendment question, is intentionally misleading and disguises the true intentions of the OSD legislation,” the group said in a statement Friday. “Parental and community involvement is not increased by or required by the OSD enabling legislation.”

PTA delegates voted 633-0 in June against the ballot item itself because, the organization says, the resulting constitutional amendment would take funding from local districts and place their schools in the hands of a political appointee.

Lisa-Marie Haygood, president of the Georgia PTA, said in an interview that both the preamble and the ballot question mislead with “flowery language” that does not reveal what the legislation would actually do. The ballot question asks if the state should be able to “intervene” to improve failing schools, when the state would actually take them over.

Haygood fears the OSD will become a “profit hub” for charter school corporations, since the OSD superintendent would be able to convert OSD schools into charter schools. “There’s nothing in that legislation that improves schools,” she said. “It’s just about the money.”

Senate Bill 133, the legislation that would take effect if voters approve the constitutional amendment, lets the state take a school building and responsibility for its students while forcing the local district to pay for certain facility costs. The local district would also have to turn over local and state tax proceeds for the school’s operation and for the OSD administration.

The language is false, fraudulent, deceptive. It is ALEC-inspired. And it will turn children over to corporations.

EduShyster interviewed author Megan Tompkins-Stange about her new book “Policy Patrons,” which reports on the five years she spent working inside the big foundations that fund corporate-style reform: Gates and Broad, who pursue top-down reforms, and Ford and Kellogg, which are likelier to be “field-oriented.”

EduShyster says at the outset that the book shows the foundations to be “heavy with hubris,” certain that they have all the right answers. The Gates Foundation was giddy with joy to see how closely their goals meshed with those of the Obama administration.

EduShyster says, “We overhear the Broad folks reveling in their success in New Orleans and the failure of the opt out movement, and Team Gates crowing over, well, everything. But both have ended up getting some comeuppance of late—Gates over the Common Core and Broad over Eli Broad’s charter expansion plan in Los Angeles.

Tompkins-Stange responds:

I think what we’re seeing, with Gates and Broad in particular, is that they started from the point of view that *If you apply capital to X problem then Y solution will happen.* For example, if you make a vaccine available, disease will be eradicated. But that worldview hasn’t translated well to education, and the challenge for them now is how do they change their culture and their values in order to better operate within this context? Because what they’ve done up to this point is based on a very strategic, very technical way of looking at the world. You’re starting to see a real normative concern emerging in the field about not including people in public education reform, and not having the voices of these underrepresented groups that are going to be affected. Maybe now that we’re having this national conversation about power, race and oppression, that’s coming to the fore more as a topic of discussion within foundations.

One point that comes through loud and clear is that Gates and Broad find democracy to be a “hindrance,” an obstacle to the strategic plans that they have concocted with minimal interaction with those who will be affected.

Massachusetts will vote in November on Question 2, which would expand the number of privately managed charter schools, a dozen a year forever. The promoters of charters claim to be “saving” poor minority children. But the NAACP for New England sees through the propaganda.

The Chairman of the Education Committee of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP weighed in at the Boston Globe:

AUGUST 27, 2016

“IT IS precisely because of our grave concerns about the devastating impact on black and brown children that the NAACP is part of a broad-based statewide coalition to defeat Question 2, which would lead to unfettered charter school growth, taking billions of dollars in state aid away from local district public schools (“Charter question divides Democrats,” Metro, Aug. 16).

“The battle over this ballot question is not between teachers unions and low-income and minority families. On one side are those who believe that we must stop defunding the public schools that educate 96 percent of our students. On the other are those who support the diversion of billions of dollars of education resources to publicly funded, privately managed, selective, separate, and unequal charter schools.”

John L. Reed
Education Committee
NAACP — New England Area Conference
West Roxbury

Carol Burris writes in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet about the growing number of charter school scandals. She concludes that what they love best–no supervision, no oversight, no regulation–will be their undoing.

She notes that John Oliver was apparently the first major media figure to react with astonishment to the fraud and graft that has become a recurring theme in the charter movement.

And she describes the major scandals that have occurred in the few days after John Oliver’s broadcast: the charter school in Detroit that abruptly closed, stranding its students; the flight of 500 students from the Livermore charter schools in California back to their public schools; the financial scandals at a Los Angeles charter school where the principal charged tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses to his school credit card; the guilty plea by the founder of a Pennsylvania cyber charter school who admitted stealing $8 million in public funds.

How could these things happen over a long period of time with no one noticing?

Burris writes:

In January 2016, four university researchers published a paper likening the proliferation of charters to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. At the time, the paper received scant attention. How ironic that it may be a late-night comedian who might finally alert the nation to the charter crisis. As Oliver noted, “the problem with letting the free market decide when it comes to kids is that kids change faster than the market. And by the time it’s obvious the school is failing, futures may have been ruined.”

The truth is, the deregulation that the high-scoring charter schools love so much, also produces dismal charter failures, taxpayer fleecing and fraud. And that, in the end, could cause the whole charter system to collapse.


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