Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

One of the first and most important decisions that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona will make is whether to grant waivers to the states that want to suspend the annual federal testing mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some states–like New York–intend to request waivers, in light of the turmoil and unequal access to education caused by the pandemic. Others–like Texas and Arkansas–plan to proceed with their regular testing program regardless of the harm inflicted on students, teachers, and families by the past year.

Education Trust, headed by former Secretary of Education John King, has organized several groups to demand that Secretary Cardona refuse any requests by states for waivers. It makes no sense for a group of corporate reformers to insist that the Secretary of Education reject the requests of states that sincerely believe their students will be harmed if the federal government refuses to grant waivers at their request. Shouldn’t states have the authority to decide what is in the best interests of their students?

As I explained in my article in the Washington Post, the standardized tests have no diagnostic value. The tests are given in the spring, and the results are returned in the fall, six months later. Teachers never learn what their individual students do or do not know. The tests do not help the students or their teachers. They do not reduce inequity. They do not narrow or close achievement gaps. Because of the tests, schools have sacrificed the arts, civics, history, science, even recess. They have harmed the quality of education.

It is time to turn the corner on two decades of failed test-and-punish strategies. The last NAEP showed that the kids at the very bottom actually lost ground in recent years, despite (or because of) the heavy emphasis on testing. If we really cared about equity, we would reduce class sizes in the high-needs schools and make sure that they were staffed with experienced teachers. There are many positive ways to improve the schools, and more standardized testing is not one of them.

What can parents do? Opt out. It is wrong to test students this spring when access to education was disrupted by the pandemic. Do not allow your child to take the tests. They are pointless and meaningless, this year more than usual.

The Pastors for Texas Children sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education seeking relief from the deluge of federal funding for charters that is inundating Texas and undermining its underfunded public schools. PTC asks for regulations to prevent harm to the public schools that enroll the vast majority of children.

Read its letter in the PDF attached here.

Jake Jacobs, an art teacher in New York City, a leader of New York BadAss Teachers, and a writer for The Progressive, read and reviewed Hillary Clinton’s policy briefing book in 2017 and reviewed the education section for Alternet. I missed his article, but it’s worth reading now to understand how advocates of privatization have inserted themselves into both political parties and use their vast wealth to control public policy and undermine public schools.

Jacobs points out that Laurene Powell Jobs “has been close with the Clintons since the late ’90s, also sat with Betsy DeVos on the board of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. She set up billionaire “roundtables” with Clinton’s campaign advisors through 2015 while donating millions to Priorities USA, Clinton’s main PAC.”

Jacobs notes:

Notes taken by Clinton aide Ann O’Leary were made in interviews with Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed, President of The Broad Foundation (and former chief of staff to Joe Biden). According to the notes, the “experts” were calling for new federal controls, more for-profit companies and more technology in public schools — but first on the menu was a bold remake of the teaching “profession…”

Powell Jobs suggests letting principals “pick their teams,” making teachers individually negotiate salary (every teacher—really?), expanding online education offerings like Khan Academy and making teaching universities “truly selective like TFA and Finland.” This comment is perplexing because while Finland has demanding teacher vetting and training, Teach for America places inexperienced teachers in classrooms after a seven-week summer crash course...

Tying campaign donations to a singular issue like expanding charter schools might in days past been seen as a prohibited quid-pro-quo. But in this cycle, Podesta, O’Leary and [Neera] Tanden [director of the Center for American Progress and President Biden’s nominee to lead the crucial Office of Management and Budget, which sets priorities for federal funding] all busily raised campaign money from the same billionaire education reformers with whom they were also talking policy specifics.

But they did more than talk. On June 20, 2015, O’Leary sent Podesta an email revealing the campaign adopted two of Powell Jobs’ suggestions, including “infusing best ideas from charter schools into our traditional public schools.” When Clinton announced this policy in a speech to teachers, however, it was the one line that drew boos.

“Donors want to hear where she stands” John Petry, a founder of both Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Success Academy, New York’s largest network of charter schools, told the New York Times.  Petry was explicit, declaring that he and his billionaire associates would instead put money into congressional, state and local races, behind candidates who favored a “more businesslike approach” to education, and tying teacher tenure to standardized test scores.
..

Not mentioning education would become important in the general election. This policy book shows a snapshot in time when wealthy donors were pushing Clinton’s and Jeb’s positions together, seeking more of the federal privatization begun under George W. Bush and continued by Obama...

This was predicted by John Podesta, who bragged just after the 2012 election about nullifying education policy differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Sitting next to Jeb Bush, Podesta proclaimed “ed reform” a bipartisan affair, telling donors “the Obama administration has made its key priorities clear. The Republicans are pretty much in the same place…this area is ripe for cooperation between the center-right and center-left”...

The 2014 policy book reveals some essential lessons about how education policy is crafted: in secret, with the input and influence of billionaire donors seeking more school privatization and testing—regardless of what party is in power. Even as the backlash against testing and the Common Core grew, Clinton’s advisors pushed her to embrace them. Clinton vacillated, then fell silent on K-12 policy, and as a result, education issues were largely left out of the election debate. Today, under Trump, privatization marches on worse than ever.


Steve Hinnefeld, an Indiana blogger, reviews Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire’s new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and finds that it resonates with his own experience in Indiana.

He writes:

“A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” focuses on a fundamental debate on the nature of schools. Education, the authors argue, is best treated as a public good that belongs to everyone.

“Like clean air, a well-educated populace is something with wide-reaching benefits,” Berkshire and Schneider write. “That’s why we treat public education more like a park than a country club. We tax ourselves to pay for it, and we open it to everyone.”

The alternative: education as a private good that benefits and belongs to those who consume it. In that increasingly influential view, families should choose schools – or other education products and services — the same way they choose restaurants or where to buy their shoes, with little concern for anyone else.

The threats they describe are not a wolf but a veritable wolfpack: conservative ideologues who want to reduce taxes and shrink government, anti-union zealots, marketers bent on “selling” schools, self-dealers making money from ineffective virtual-school schemes and technology enthusiasts who envision a future in which algorithms replace teachers.

That may make the book sound like a polemic; it’s not, at least in my reading. The authors offer a fair and accurate reading of opposing views and acknowledge that public schools aren’t perfect. All too often, they admit, public schools have excluded or failed students of color, immigrants, religious minorities, students with disabilities and others…

I remember, in the late 1990s, being surprised when the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said it planned to push for vouchers. Democrats controlled the governor’s office and the Indiana House. Just a few years earlier, a well-organized voucher push led by prominent business officials fizzled out.

But, as Schneider and Berkshire document, voucher supporters have played a long game, carried forward by groups like Indianapolis-based EdChoice and the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2011, with a GOP supermajority in the legislature and Mitch Daniels in the governor’s office, Indiana approved vouchers. The program started small but grew to include over 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious, and over 36,000 students. Now there’s talk of expanding it further – or possibly of adopting education savings accounts, one of the “neo-voucher” programs that Schneider and Berkshire describe.

There is reason to hope, he writes, but also reason to be alarmed and vigilant.

Who knew that “adequate yearly progress” and “accountability” could be the subject of a comic novel? John Thompson just read that novel and he reviews it here.

Roxanna Elden’s Adequate Yearly Progress is a hilarious, satirical novel that nails the very serious truths about the real world effects of corporate school reform. Although Elden’s humor spectacularly illuminates the reformers’ often-absurd mindsets, she also reveals the good, bad, and the ugly of a diverse range of human beings.

Adequate Yearly Progress begins with Lena, a young, black, literature teacher returning to school at Brae Hill Valley High School in a high-challenge Texas neighborhood. The way she is greeted starts to reveal some of the flaws of the complex people who teach there. A colleague asked, “Don’t you read the news? Miss Phil-a-delphia?” She thus assumed that Lena comes from a city where everyone is in a hurry and no one attends church.

The news is that Nick Wallabee, a political celebrity without real-world experience in classrooms, but who had written a book on “easy fixes” to schools, has been hired as the district’s superintendent. Any discussion about Wallabee was likely to become a “morale-draining gripe session.”

The Wallabee administration starts by introducing a new accountability metric, the “Believer Score.” Stressing the positive, the administrator said the measure will “let you gain points by proving you believe all children can learn.” Teachers need to “just be ready to show that you fully embrace any new initiatives.”

The announcements caused “collective grumbling,” but hope was raised by the school’s principal, Dr. Barrios. He was known as “the superintendent whisperer,” who had always been able to buffer teachers from the ill-conceived quick fixes that are routinely dumped on schools.

Wallabee was a new type of micromanager, and even Barrios was unable to temper his new boss’ hubris. Wallabee asserted, “I know there are adults (spitting out the word adults) … who take issue with being held accountable.” He proclaimed the willingness to break eggs to make an omelette, and it became clear that Brae Hill Valley HS and Barrios were targeted.

The school was turned into a “Believers Make Achievers Zone.” A series of “three-ring binders, the highest level of the organizational hierarchy” would guide the process. Brae Hill Valley became a “Curriculum Standard of the Day Achievement Zone.” Teachers were given the first of a series of orders, and each Curriculum Standard of the Day must be written in its entirety on the board each day.

The next interventions were the “fearsome Office for Oversight of Binders and Evidence of Implementation,” the “Pre-Holiday Cross-Departmental Midyear Assessment Data Chart” (PHCDMADC), and the “Cross-Disciplinary Compare-And-Contrast Holiday Review Packet,” as well as worksheets to identify what students don’t know in order to fortify instruction. A non-educator, Daren Grant of “Transformational Change Advocacy ConsultingPartners,” then distributed the folder, “Research-Based Best Practices That Work,” and made surprise visits to classrooms, as well as the football team’s locker room during halftime.

Two of those visits foreshadow climactic outcomes.  Hernan Hernandez was perhaps the school’s best teacher, even though he refused to join the teachers union. A student who was exited from the “Demographics Don’t Determine Destiny” or Destiny Charter School arrived unexpectedly, and disrupted Hernan’s class. This happened as Daren, the consultant, dropped in.

Second, in perhaps the only type of activity in the novel which I had never witnessed in schools, he spoke to Coach Ray and his players, using the same data-driven vocabulary and reality-free exhortations in the middle of a game, as Coach Ray was exhorting the team to put on their “inner game face.”  (I would have loved to witness such a scene.) It foreshadowed a positive outcome that offset the sad result of the consultant’s dropping-in to Hernan’s class.

Coach Ray, brought much of the negative baggage of his family in Huntsville, the infamous prison’s town, to coaching, but he had another side that made him the story’s silent hero.

Also foreshadowing a crucial realization at the end of the novel, Lena seemed to have mixed but mostly negative feelings about a scene with white people clapping off-key and rapping a poem with the line “I got ninety-nine problems , but a b____ ain’t one of them”

A young Teacher Corp history teacher, Kaytee, was understandably outraged by her mentor who offered the “QUIT” or “Quit Taking It Personally” advice. Even though I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a veteran teacher who didn’t oppose the data-driven accountability systems that were imposed by non-educators, Kayte would be right to resent the response of some of her colleagues to those metrics. They called for the “neck-tattoo statistic.” Students who wear those tattoos can’t be expected to meet outcome metrics as well as poor children of color who don’t wear them.

Then, Wallabee sought to ramp up the types of teaching methods that Kaytee was taught in her Teacher Corp classroom management principle professional development class. The consultant said, “I’d like to start by having everyone in here physically unpack their preconceptions and assumptions and put them in the assumption box.” Her call to “raise the roof!” was followed by pressed palms reaching up to imaginary roof beams.

Kaytee seemed destined to rise in the reformers’ world after her blog post went viral when it was endorsed by the filmmaker of Show Me You Care and I’ll Show You My Homework. That anti-teacher film was followed by How the Status Quo Stole Christmas, which, of course meant How Teachers Stole Christmas.  That foreshadowed the possibility of a different education film genre, The Mystery History Teacher.

Reality started to set in, for instance, after Kaytee’s effort to teach a culturally relevant lesson was undermined by the technology which was supposed to drive “transformational” change. Her video of Cesar Chavez “Fighting for Improved Hand Job Conditions” was blocked by the online autocorrect censor. Much worse, after being assaulted by a student and no disciplinary consequences were contemplated, she started having second thoughts about whether simplistic memes could really help students. 

Eventually, Kaytee found herself drafting a letter to a law school admissions office. She knew the best pitch would be something like how she had learned to “lead from the classroom and scale up her macro impact for low-income students.” But she wanted to write, “Dear Admissions Committee, I want to go to law school because I will do anything in this world to get out of being a teacher.”

As the “Crunch Time” which always proceeds high-stakes testing approached, even more test prep was mandated. During a faculty meeting, angry teachers asked whether the principal was “trying to tell us to teach nothing but test-taking skills?” Principal Barrios replied with the standard answer, “I don’t think that’s exactly what I said.” He thus stirred an “amiable laugh,” while exemplifying the culture of compliance that traditional teachers resent, and corporate reformers tried to exorcise. (To complicate things, those on all sides of the teacher wars complained that the principal hadn’t fired an obvious incompetent.  However, nobody else knew that Barrios was reluctant to fire the teacher in his late 6os because he  had cancer.)

As the year ended, reformers focused on the need to terminate teachers based on their “Believer Scores.” Because of their relationship with Global Schoolhouse’s test creation division, an administrator seeking to replace Barrios felt free to let favored teachers with high “Believer Scores” preview sample test questions, so that the two accountability metrics would line up with each other.

A scandal then leads reformers to shift gears and invest in a new virtual school charter network startup.

Another result was a great teacher was “selected out of the classroom.” On the other hand, these experiences help inform Lena’s growing enlightenment, inspiring the line in her poem, “Tapping their feet, shifting and creaking the seats, struggling students with ninety nine problems apiece.”

In a brilliant ending, that I don’t want to reveal too much about but which spoofs another test question meme, Elden asks, “What would an additional scene at the end of this story most likely be?”

Will an anxious principal be looking at the test scores, or will the new Global Schoolhouse School Choice Solutions be started? Will filmmakers shift from themes that demonize teachers, or will there be a happy ending for an excellent, unfairly fired teacher?

Or will the answer be, “All of the above.”

If you live in Missouri, get active to stop this dangerous effort to destroy your public schools!

Dear Friend,

If you love your public schools you need to drop what you are doing and get to work.

There is only one intent of Senate Bill 55–to destroy public education in Missouri. It was pushed through the Senate Education Committee early this morning and may go to the Senate floor for a vote as early as next week. 

1. Call your state senators NOW and ask them to support public schools by OPPOSING Senate Bill 55. You can find your Senator and their phone number by going here

2. Click here and send an email in opposition to Senate Bill 55 NOW.

3. Share this link with friends and family who live in the statehttps://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-senate-bill-55/

Below is the notice we just received from the Missouri School Boards Association information that provides background on the bill.

“The Senate Education Committee jammed through a mega bill on Thursday that will be heard on the Senate floor soon. Senate Bills 23 and 25 started out creating voucher schemes and expanding charter schools but were loaded up on SB 55 at the last minute with a long list of provisions hostile to public education that have never even had a public hearing. The bill now includes:

  • School Board Member Recall: Requires an election to recall a school board member if a petition is submitted signed by at least 25% of the number of voters in the last school board election.
  • Education Scholarship Account/Vouchers:Creates up to $100 million in tax credits for donations to an organization that gives out scholarships for students to attend a home school or private school – including for-profit virtual schools.
  • Charter School Expansion: Authorizes charter schools to be opened in an additional 61 school districts located in Jackson, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties or in cities of 30,000 or more and allows charters opened in provisionally and unaccredited districts to remain open even after the school district regains accreditation.
  • Turning MOCAP into Virtual Charter Schools: Allows students enrolling in MOCAP full time to apply directly to the vendor and cuts the resident school district and professional educators out of the process.
  • Home school students allowed to participate in MSHSAA activities. Districts are prohibited from belonging to MSHSAA unless home schooled students are allowed to participate in district athletics and activities governed by MSHSAA.
  • Limiting State Board of Education: Restricts members of the state board of education to serve only one full term.”

Read more on these issues here.

Please send your email, make your calls and thank you for all you do. 

Carol Burris

Executive Director

Network for Public Education

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire’s A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door. Schneider and Berkshire have collaborated on podcasts called “Have You Heard.”

Thompson writes:

The first 2/3rds of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire, is an excellent history of attacks on public education. It taught me a lot; the first lesson I learned is that I was too stuck in the 2010s and was wrong to accept the common view of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as a “joke” and a “political naif.” The last 1/3rd left me breathless as Schneider’s and Berkshire’s warnings sunk in.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door starts with an acknowledgement that DeVos isn’t the architect of the emerging school privatization tactics. That “radical agenda” has been decades in the making. But she represents a new assault on public education values. As Schneider and Berkshire note, accountability-driven, charter-driven, corporate reform were bad enough but they wanted to transform, not destroy public education. They wanted “some form” of public schools. DeVos’ wrecking ball treats all public schools as targets for commercialization. 

Schneider and Berkshire do not minimize the long history of attacks on our education system which took off after the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk blamed schools for “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation.” They stress, however, that it was a part of Reagan’s belief that our public schools and government, overall, were failing, and how it propelled a larger attack on public institutions.

Forty years later, free marketers are driving a four-point assault. They contend that “Education is a personal good, not a collective one,” and “schools belong in the domain of the Free Market, not the Government.” According to this anti-union philosophy, it is the “consumers” who should pay for schooling.

The roots of this agenda lie in the use of private school vouchers that began as an anti-desegregation tool. Because of “consumer psychology,” the scarcity of private schools sent the message that they were more valuable than neighborhood schools. But, neither private schools nor charter schools made good on their promise to deliver more value to families. Similarly, Right to Work legislation and the Janus vs AFSCME ruling have damaged but not destroyed collective bargaining.

Neither did online instruction allow the for-profit Edison schools or, more recently, for-profit virtual education charter chains to defeat traditional schools. Despite their huge investments in advertising spin, these chains produced disappointing outputs. For instance, DeVos claimed that virtual schools in Ohio, Nevada, and Oklahoma had grad rates approaching 100%. In reality, their results were “abysmal.”

To take one example, the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy had a 40 percent cohort graduation rate, not the 91 percent DeVos claimed. It received a D on the Oklahoma A-to-F Report Card for 2015-16. Also, in 2015, a Stanford study of 200 online charters found that students lost 72 days per year of learning in reading and 180 in math in a 180-day year.

Such dismal results prompted more calls for regulations for choice schools. Rather than accept more oversight, free marketers doubled down on the position that parents are the only regulators. To meet that goal, they borrowed the roadmap for Higher Education for-profits, adopting the tactics that failed educationally but made them a lot of money.

So, Schneider and Berkshire borrow the phrase “Lower Ed” from Tressie Cottom  as they explain how privatizers patterned their movement after Higher Ed where 10 percent of students attended for-profit institutions. Their profits came from the only part of public or Higher Education that could produce big savings, reducing expenditures on teaching. This meant that since the mid-1970s tenure-track faculty dropped by ½, as tenured faculty dropped by 26 percent. Consequently, part-time teachers increased by 70 percent.

Moreover, by 2010, for-profit colleges and universities employed 35,000 persons. They spent $4.2 billion or 22.7 percent of all revenue on marketing and recruiting. 

In other words, the market principles of the “gig economy” are starting to drive the radical “personalized” education model that would replace “government schools.” Savings would begin with the “Uberization” of teaching.  A glimpse of the future, where the value of a teaching career is undermined, can be found on the “Shared Economy Jobs” section of JobMonkey where education has its own “niche.” Teachers could expect to be paid about $15 per hour.

And that leads the system of “Education, a la Carte,” which affluent families need not embrace but that could become a norm for disadvantaged students. What is advertised as “personalization” is actually “unbundling” of curriculum. Algorithms would help students choose courses or information or skills and teachers (who “could be downsized to tech support”) that students think they need.

Worse, this “edvertising” is full of “emotional appeals, questionable claims, and lofty promises.” Its “Brand Pioneers” started with elite schools’ self-promotion and it led to charters adopting the “Borrowing Prestige” dynamic where the implicit message is that charters share the supposed excellence of private schools. And then, charters like Success Academy took the “brand identity” promotions a step further, spent $1,000 per student on marketing SA logo on You-Tube, Twitter, Instagram, baby onesies, and headphones.

Schneider and Berkshire also described the KIPP “Brand Guidelines” video which compares the charter chain to Target, which wouldn’t represent its business differently in different cities. So, it says that every conversation a KIPP teacher has about the school is “a touch point for KIPP’s brand.”

Similar edvertising techniques include the exaggerated size of waiting lists for enrolling in charter chains. Their marketing role is sending the message, “Look how many people can’t get in.”  Charters have even engaged in “market cannibalism,” for instance issuing gift cards for enrolling children in the school.

Worse, demographic trends mean that the competition between choice schools and traditional schools will become even more intense as the percentage of school age children declines, For instance, 80 percent of new households in Denver since 2009 didn’t have children. And even though corporate reformers and DeVos-style free marketers have failed to improve education, their marketing experts have shown an amazing ability to win consumers over.

So, here’s Schneider’s and Berkshire’s “Future Forecast:”

The Future Will Be Ad-Filled;

The Future Will Be Emotionally Manipulated;

The Future Will Be Micro-Targeted;

The Future Will Have Deep Pockets;

The Future Will Tell You What You Want.

Tracee Miller, a member of the St. Louis Board of Education, writes that she was shocked and dismayed to discover that a proposal to raise taxes for early childhood education was actually a disguised effort to divert more public money to charter schools. The truth leaked out:

Emails exposed via public records requests revealed that not only did the proposal lack specificity around fund distribution, but also that the funds could be redirected to economic projects unrelated to ECE. These articles also named local individuals and organizations affiliated with the deceit, illustrating the depth and breadth of political corruption connected with one ballot measure. Only it isn’t just one ballot measure.

The individuals peddling their agenda under the guise of education equity will continue to steer public dollars toward private programs and gain political capital unless we decide that public education is too important to jeopardize for the sake of private gain. We will all be complicit in the perpetuation of inequity if we choose to let this continue when we know the reality. I feel compelled to ensure, to the extent that I am capable, that the public is as aware of the even broader reach of these local actors. In reading about my experiences, I hope that St. Louis citizens will gain further awareness of the corruption at play in our education system and choose to eradicate that corruption once and for all. The same shadow groups who publicly say one thing yet do another behind-the-scenes, as they did with the ECE proposal, are working to restructure our city’s entire public education system without input from the larger community. It is incumbent upon residents of the St. Louis region to fully unearth the far-reaching influence of these groups, to assess the impact of their operating with impunity for so long, and to ensure that the community leads the way in making decisions that will impact the city’s children and its future.

Because of intense personal pressure, both public and behind-the-scenes, I spent countless hours trying to better understand the connections between groups and the strategies they were using. What I learned will strike fear into the heart of any public education advocate. Since 2018, The Opportunity Trust has funded new charter founders, has steered these founders to specific charter sponsors, and has paid for start-up and strategic planning costs to launch new charter schools or expand existing networks in St. Louis City. They do this even as St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) struggles with under-enrollment and the possibility of school closures. This work has been executed through tactics similar to those used in their attempt to push through the tax increase allegedly for ECE, and for similar self-serving purposes.

In addition to their work in the charter sector, The Opportunity Trust has launched numerous local non-profits and supported three cohorts of fellows, including many individuals connected with the SLPS district and Board of Education (BOE), to study other school systems that have implemented similar reforms. The Opportunity Trust is not a home-grown Missouri organization, and it and its associated organizations are not here to solve Missouri problems. The Opportunity Trust is the local arm of a national organization, The City Fund, whose model seeks to expand the number of charter schools, increase charter enrollment, fund the election of school choice advocates to elected school boards, divide public school districts into factions by treating schools as independent entities that function without the oversight of an elected board, and fund the election of school choice advocates to elected school boards, including at least one current member of the SLPS BOE. The City Fund does not make it clear when it is investing in a city, actively maneuvering funding through non-profits and PACs so that the money and their motives are harder to track.

Who might these “shadow groups” and individuals be? As Miller says, “The Opportunity Trust” is the St. Louis branch of the national group called “The City Fund.” The City Fund started life with $200 million from billionaires John Arnold (Texas) and Reed Hastings (California). It took a few minutes of scouring its web pages to find its list of “investors,” which include familiar names: The Walton Family Foundation; the NewSchools Venture Fund; the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; and other less familiar names, such as the California-based Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation, which supports innovative approaches to teaching, such as Teach for America; also George Roberts, San Francisco-based billionaire and founder of the powerhouse investment fund KKR.

Their agenda is to demand more charter schools, more scrutiny of public schools, and less scrutiny of charter schools. They are there to destroy public schools, not to help them.

Miller writes:

These organizations have made a practice of using distorted data to fundraise and garner support from individuals and organizations who champion the school choice movement. A salient example of this unethical use of data is the past year’s presentation hosted by ednextstl in collaboration with WEPOWER, EdHub STL, Equity Bridge, Forward Through Ferguson, and The Opportunity Trust. The data presented at this community event, where the audience was primarily composed of charter school employees, philanthropists, and self-named equity advocates, was so slanted that a third-party representative subsequently presented on that bias during a meeting of the SLPS BOE.

It is also critical to consider the motives of WEPOWER’s education advocacy campaigns. While budget transparency and community engagement should be pillars of any public education system, these tenets are not specific to traditional public school districts, though WEPOWER treats them as such. As recipients of public tax dollars, charter schools also have a responsibility to the community they serve, yet the group has not included any charter school in the demands they have issued; to-date, SLPS has been the sole target of WEPOWER’s demands. If what they seek to achieve is truly high-quality education for all students, this same level of scrutiny must be extended to charter schools as well. Instead, they have worked harder to push their agenda than they have to truly advance the quality of education in St. Louis, as was made evident in the ECE tax proposal.

Really, it is quite disgusting to see these elites circling the neglected and abused public schools of St. Louis with their discredited solutions that have such an empty track record. Their propaganda is powerful; their track record is abysmal. Will they trick another urban district into abandoning its public schools?

Tom Ultican writes here about the charter vultures descending on St. Louis to pick over the bones of their once glorious public schools. He notes that student enrollment in the district has fallen precipitously since the mid-1960s, when it was 115,543. The drop accelerated since then and it is now under 20,000. Ultican tells the sad story of the reformers who wasted money and opened charters to further enfeeble the district.

 From 2000 to 2020, the student population in St. Louis has again fallen by more than half from 44,264 to 19,222. Some of that decline can be attributed to the continuation of migration to the suburbs which now includes Black families. However, a large portion of the drop is due to the growth of charter schools. The charter school enrollment for 2020 was at least 11,215 students which represents 37% of the district’s publicly supported students. 

Like the national trend, the privatized schools chartered by the state, educate a lower percentage of the more expensive special education students; charters 11.4% versus SLPS 15.1%.

The “reformers” have had their “fun” with the St. Louis public schools. The one thing that they have not done is to improve them. They are raiders of the public schools.

Because of declining enrollment, 11 additional public schools are on the chopping block, candidates for closure. In a recent article in Medium, St. Louis parent Emily Hubbard called on politicians and civic groups to take some pro-active steps to save these 11 schools and what remains of public education. In case they didn’t know how to help the struggling public schools, she offered some ideas:

Here are some suggestions:
* Demand commitments from all your big donors to create an endowment that will fund north city schools for years to come
* Use your strength and connections to demand that county entities pay a white flight/greenlining/educational reparations tax (perhaps that can fund the endowment?)
* Demand a charter school moratorium; refuse to sponsor or delight in these entities that play such a big part in SLPS’s struggles
* Get right to the root cause of another of SLPS’s struggles and provide universal basic income for district families
* Before giving us coats and backpacks, make sure all the parents in the district are being paid fair wages at a job that doesn’t take hours to get to
* Create more non-slummy housing for families that need three bedrooms
* Demand whoever is in charge of it to create a more equitable funding situation than property tax 
*refuse to let charter schools get access to tax breaks and capital that SLPS is unable to access because they are just a plain ol’ public school district
* do what it takes to re-do the de-seg order so that the majority of Black children are able to benefit
* Put your children in St. Louis Public neighborhood schools (and not just the majority/plurality white ones) in a demonstration of solidarity with the families you claim to speak for.
* work out a deal with the city to do something about the unused buildings, free the district from the millstones
* If you want to dismantle the public school system, please just go ahead and say so instead of being all devious 
* if you think your family is too good for SLPS, please just go ahead and say so, instead of dancing around the issue
* repent publicly for not doing the things that you should’ve to care for the children in SLPS’s care, and for doing things that harm the children in SLPS’s care

Is anyone listening? Does anyone care? Will the leaders of the city allow the Wall Street bankers, the hedge funders, and billionaires from California and elsewhere to buy the public school system and close it down?

Jake Jacobs is a middle school art teacher in New York. He is the co-administrator of the New York BadAss Teachers Association, an organization of militant activist teachers.

He writes:

Joe Biden’s recent nomination of Miguel Cardona as a relatively lesser-known, less controversial selection for Secretary of Education was telling. It shows the incoming administration’s reticence to take a side in the ongoing battle over school choice and standardized testing, just like most members of Congress and the major U.S. media.

On the campaign trail, Biden drew cheers from teachers for his promise to end standardized testing, but he noticeably never added any such policy to his website. As was well known by teachers in those audiences, federally mandated tests provide no educational benefit but are the fuel in the engine driving charter school expansion.


President-Elect Biden did vow to cut federal funding to for-profit charter schools, however this affects only about 12% of charters (who could easily change their model while still enriching their for-profit management arms). Biden has acknowledged charter schools siphon money away from public schools, agreeing to new language in the (non-binding) DNC platform to discourage charters from discriminating against high-need students but as we know well, Democrats for many years have bent to pressure from deep-pocketed industrialists seeking ever more charter schools


Not much has changed since the same billionaires threatened to fund other candidates if Hillary Clinton didn’t continue to signal support for charters. Remember Eli Broad’s explicit ultimatum to withhold campaign cash if Hillary sided with teachers against charter schools? We do. 


But Broad also donated money to then-senator Kamala Harris, and like many ultra-wealthy education reformers, Broad made good use of the “revolving door”, hiring Biden’s former chief of staff Bruce Reed (2011-2013) to run his foundation. 


AS THE DOOR REVOLVES: The same day he revealed Cardona as his education nominee, it was announcedBiden rehired Reed as deputy chief of staff, despite pre-emptive protest from progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad who objected to Reed’s past hostility to safety net programs like Social Security. A former top advisor to President Bill Clinton, Reed’s own bio touts his oversight of the 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda.


Starting in 2015, Reed was a senior advisor for Emerson Collective, the “social change” LLC founded by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs who is also close to Vice President-Elect Harris. Though it’s not clear how Reed might influence Biden’s decision-making on K-12 education, he is expected to have a “major role” as Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff particularly shaping technology and data privacy policy. And echoing Trump, Reed calls for the elimination of Section 230 which protects internet companies from lawsuits over user postings.
In 2014, while serving as CEO of the Broad Foundation, Reed made worrisome comments to Hillary’s education advisors, suggesting in private that whole cities could be mass-charterized in the wake of natural disasters, calling New Orleans an “amazing story”. Reed also voiced support for personalized digital learning using the Summit Charters model.


TAX BREAKS LINKED TO CHARTERS: It’s great to see watchdog groups expose significant waste and fraud in the charter school industry, but because U.S. media is so silent about the political influence of pro-charter billionaires, hardly any attention is paid to the generous federal tax credits enriching investors through “nonprofit” charter school construction and financing as public schools struggle for resources. One such program, the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), did make it onto Biden’s web page, showing he wants to expand the credit to $5 billion per year and make it permanent.


It might not be controversial to use a seven year, 39% tax refund to incentivize wealthy investors to start caring about economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in dire need of manufacturing plants and low-income housing, but why does the NMTC favor charter schools over traditional public schools which are literally crumbling on our heads? 


I tried to find whose idea it was to include charter school construction, financing and leasing deals in the NMTC. 
The program itself traces back to 1998 when a “membership organization” called NMTC Coalitioncomprised mostly of banks, investment funds, developers, LLPs and LLCs came together under the management of Rapoza Associates, a large DC lobbying and government relations firm who supplies policy briefs and “comprehensive legislative and support services to community development organizations, associations and public agencies”. Sound a lot like ALEC?


Legislation was championed by then-Speaker Denny Hastert and Texas Rep. William Archer, both Republicans. The program was signed into law by President Clinton and went live as past of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, but it appears charter schools weren’t included until 2004. The California charter nonprofit ExEd claims to have “pioneered” NMTC charter financing deals, boasting of dozens under their belt. By 2017, more than $2.2 billion in NMTC allocations were deployed to expand charter schools nationally.


The contention was that although charter schools receive operational funding for enrolled students, they must procure and finance their own space, thus they needed a helping hand from Uncle Sam. Today however, 27 states have enacted legislation granting some level of access to district facilities, suggesting some re-examination is in order.


Operators also contended that their charter renewal terms, usually five years, are shorter than typical mortgage terms which range from 10 to 30 years. Thus the need for charters to quickly show results introduced a perverse incentive, driving all-out obsession for good scores on standardized tests so the school can not only guarantee their charter renewal, but demonstrate to lenders they are a safe bet (or attract even more expansion capital). 
STAKES RAISED FOR TEST SCORES: Because the NMTC tax credit and a host of other federal programs give charters significant fundraising advantages over public schools, it provides financial impetus to target nearby public schools for closure. Anything that can be done to raise scores – or lower the competition’s scores – will help their chances. This not only gives rise to round-the-clock test prep, but the notorious practice of cherrypicking students. 


The shiny new facilities help attract the best test-takers, while rigid “zero tolerance” discipline policies are employed to dump “troublesome” kids back on the public schools. Even though the deck is stacked, superior test scores create the “secret sauce” narrative used to sell politicians on charters and drum up support for more tax breaks.


Over the decades, poverty-stricken areas have been repeatedly carved up and designated as “Enterprise Communities”, “Empowerment Zones”, “Renewal Communities” or “Promise Neighborhoods”. In 2004, President Bush announced the “Opportunity Zones” program which Donald Trump renewed in his 2017 tax reform law, with support from Democrats like Cory Booker. This program could potentially dwarf the NMTC because it allows tax credits and deferments for trillions in untapped capital gains income. 


Although Opportunity Zone deals are available to public schools, they would need to first sign over their property to investors. But it’s not clear these programs even work. Besides being rife with cases of abuse like the Steven Mnuchin or Rick Scott front-page patronage scandals, a University of Iowa study of 75 enterprise zones in 13 states found little to no economic benefit and noted other harmful impacts such as displacement, gentrification, or giveaways for development in up-and-coming areas that would have happened anyway. 


As chronicled by Network for Public Education and noted by Congress, the array of creative charter school flim-flams has been incalculable – from exorbitant CEO salaries, predatory leases and consulting fees to management firms charging taxpayers to buy out a school’s name and logo. Even school districts got into the act, authorizing charters schools so as to generate oversight fees that help plug budget gaps. But there’s a marked difference between sketchy charter operators and multi-billion dollar programs designed to help charters replace existing schools.


SWEETENING THE POT: The tax credits, designed by the rich for the rich, are only the first layer of the subsidy onion for charter schools though. Linked to the tax breaks are tax-exempt charter school financing bonds traded in investment markets, and then even more inducement via a secondary tranche of bonds leveraged by government subsidies to backstop the first set of bonds against default. One such program, administered through the infamous No Child Left Behind Act is the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program, which not only assumes downside risk, it artificially buoys bond ratings and lowers interest rates for the borrower. 
These credit enhancements can be backed by federal or state funds, banks or private investors but again, the guarantees may be tied to academic performance benchmarks which precipitate discrimination against high-need students. 


To lure developers into distressed neighborhoods, enormous bond guarantee and credit enhancement funds (starting at $100 million) were created under the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) program, enacted as part of the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act. Charter school developers were among those offered access to long-term credit at below-market rates. In 2012, twelve of these CDFI fund management groups came together to form the Charter School Lenders Coalition, underwritten by usual suspects the Gates and Walton Foundations. The collaborative melded together ALL of the aforementioned programs with a stated goal of lobbying congressional reps to support more charters. 


Earlier this year, high-profile Democrats including Senators Sanders, Warren and Van Hollen co-sponsored legislation that would automatically deploy CDFIs in areas impacted by natural disasters or economic crises. 
If all these financial instruments are starting to sound complicated, it’s no accident – I’ve spared readers most of the dizzying acronyms like CDEs, CMOs, UDAGs and QALICBs, but the less everyday people understand, the greater the chance this all flies under the radar. Even the developers – be they charter operators or wealthy financial backers – require a lot of hand-holding by intermediaries to guide them through the maze of policy intricacies and applications. 


This is where yet another funding stream comes in, namely the federal Charter Schools Program, or CSP, which since 1994 has grown to into a $440 million annual slush fund for discretionary grants found to be so wasteful a third of 2006-2014 grantees never opened or quickly folded. Other recipients were found to be buying skyboxes or private jets, or unscrupulously charging themselves rent in cities and towns where local authorities are ill-equipped for oversight.


PULLING OUT THE STOPS: By the time Betsy DeVos took the helm, the U.S. Dept. of Education wasn’t just awarding start-up money to school-level charter developers but to all manner of other financial intermediaries including charter associations, nonprofits, state educational agencies, charter authorizers, and credit enhancement funds. The DeVoses know well that raining money on these entities will enrich real estate and banking interests, trickling down onto pro-charter candidates, local PACs and friendly media outlets. A week before the 2020 election, DeVos shamelessly announced the Trump Administration will start ignoring the crystal-clear prohibition on federal funds for charters affiliated with religious organizations, rupturing the separation of church and state. 


The NMTC technically expires on Dec. 31, 2020 but proposals for renewal have been very popular – the 2019 bill in the Senate had 37 bipartisan co-sponsors including Minority Leader Schumer, Amy Klobuchar and center-left Senators Jeff Merkeley and Sherrod Brown. The House version had 130 co-sponsors including Karen Bass and 22 other members of the Progressive Caucus. 


If there was an amendment to remove the exclusive carve-out for charter schools from the NMTC, it would allow the community investment to continue (for better or worse) but take the finger off the scale in the competition for educational resources. 


Such an amendment may not deter anti-union oligarchs like the Koch family bent on undermining public education. It may not deter data-mining tech billionaires seeking lucrative contracts or access to captive student audiences. It may not deter neoliberal social engineers who think their wealth ordains them to rejigger education as they see fit. It may not deter Betsy DeVos and her ilk from crusading for taxpayer-funding of religious schools.


But it could deter the garden-variety investor just looking to turn a buck, and it could bring attention to the little-understood giveaways to charter school investors. Also, it will flush out members of Congress afraid to go on record either for-or-against charters. As the battles over public education funding rage on, we hope incoming House members will infuse new energy into the fight, showing Biden, Harris and other policymakers the real-world harms and inequity built into charter school tax credits.

Nancy Bailey, writing with her usual perspicacity, calls out the consultants McKinsey and Company for a recent report encouraging schools to get tough with students to make up for the time “lost” during the pandemic.

For years McKinsey & Company has had a premier seat at the school reform table for the U.S., England, and worldwide, despite faulty reporting. Because of Covid-19, plans are being put in place to get tougher on students to make up for lost learning time. They use terms like high impact and high dosage tutoring. These plans often echo how students must learn for the future economy. But such pressure, after a year like no other, could be devastating to children.

The narrative goes like this: poor children of color from Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities have fallen behind in school due to Covid-19, so the country needs to ramp up instruction.

McKinsey & Company’s report “COVID-19 and learning loss—disparities grow and students need help,” outlines their ideas of equity and what they think should be done with students falling behind. They partnered with Chiefs for Change for the study.

Chiefs for Change, of course, is Jeb Bush’s outfit that promotes accountability and choice and digital learning.

To learn more about the report, open the link.