Archives for category: Disruption

This is one of the most important posts you will read today, this week, this month. If you want to understand the hoax of so-called “education reform,” read this post. Share it with your friends. Tweet it. Put it in Facebook. It rips the veil away from the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Thomas Ultican has found the beating heart of the Disruption movement, the organization where plans are hatched and funded to destroy public schools. He tells the story of the NewSchools Venture Fund, where very wealthy people collaborate to undermine and privatize one of our most essential democratic institutions: our public schools.

He begins this important post:


The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) is the Swiss army knife of public school privatization. It promotes education technology development, bankrolls charter school creation, develops charter management organizations and sponsors school leadership training groups. Since its founding in 1998, a small group of people with extraordinary wealth have been munificent in their support. NSVF is a significant asset in the billionaire funded drive to end democratically run public schools and replace them with privatized corporate structures.

Read this remarkable account that ties together the masters of the universe, who have decided to rearrange the lives of lesser mortals, that is, people who lack their vast wealth and political connections.

Amy Frogge is one of the heroes of my book SLAYING GOLIATH. A lawyer, she ran for the Metro Nashville school board with no foreknowledge of the privatization movement. She ran as a concerned citizen and a mother of children in the public schools of Nashville. The privatizers outspent her 5-1, but she won. When she got on the board, she realized that there was a sustained and well-funded campaign to replace public schools with charters. She became a truth-teller, motivated by her deep concern for the common good.

When she ran for re-election, she again faced a well-financed opponent, backed by Gates-funded Stand for Children and DFER. Frogge scored an overwhelming victory.

Amy Frogge is still fighting the fake reformers.

Every school board needs an Amy Frogge, who sees clearly and is not afraid to speak truth to power.

She recently wrote an open letter denouncing Eli Broad and his Broadies.

She wrote:

Dear Nashville (and others),

Please pay attention to those with whom you choose to align yourself on education issues. If you are supporting anyone funded or trained by California billionaire Eli Broad, you can bet you’ll end up on the wrong side of history.

Eli Broad created and funds a blog called Education Post. The folks who run it would like for you to believe they are just activists for low-income families and minority children- but in reality, they are dripping with dirty money. Education Post’s first CEO, Peter Cunningham, was paid $1 million for 2 1/2 years of blogging. Board member Chris Stewart, known online as “Citizen Stewart,” was paid $422,925 for 40 hours a week across 30 months as “outreach and external affairs director.” As author/blogger Mercedes Schneider concludes, “In ed reform, blogging pays juicy salaries.” (For the record, I have never earned a penny for any of my social media posts, of course.)

Paid Education Post leaders regularly try to infiltrate online Nashville education discussions (Nashville is a national target for charter expansion), and Education Post also pays local bloggers to write posts. Local bloggers Zack Barnes and Vesia Hawkins are both listed as network members on the Education Post blog.

Many of the big players in Tennessee were “trained” by Eli Broad through his Broad Superintendents Academy, which recruits business leaders with no background in education to be superintendents- with the purpose of privatizing schools (closing existing schools and opening more charter schools). The current Tennessee Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, is a “Broadie.” Two former heads of Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District (a ploy to expand charter schools without local approval) were Broadies: Chris Barbic and Malika Anderson. Former superintendents Jim McIntyre (of Knoxville) and Shawn Joseph (of Nashville) were also affiliated with the Broad network. Shawn Joseph claimed both McIntyre and former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance, a member of Education Post’s network, as his mentors.

The school “reforms” pushed by Broadies all center around profit-making through public education: standardized testing (money for private test companies), computer learning (money for IT companies and cost-savings on hiring teachers), charter schools, vouchers, scripted curriculum that can be monetized, etc. Broadies typically see teachers as expendable and believe teaching can be mechanized.

Since charters and vouchers have become an increasingly unpopular cause, the latest angle is for Broadies to increase the number of (sometimes rigged) vendor contracts for programs and services, as well as consultants, with school districts. Former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance went to federal prison for rigging no-bid contracts in a kick-back scheme. In a similar scheme, his mentee (Nashville superintendent) Shawn Joseph was caught inflating no-bid contract prices (in violation of state law) for vendors connected with the recruiter and Broadies who placed him in Nashville through a rigged superintendent search. (See comments for further information.)

Billionaires like Eli Broad who fund school profiteering efforts like to hire/fund people of color to act as front-men for their efforts. This provides the appearance that the push for “school choice” (i.e., charters and vouchers) is grassroots. When these folks are questioned or caught in the midst of wrong-doing, they are able to cry racism. Meanwhile, everyone has their hands in the cookie jar of funding meant to serve children.

The ploys used in school profiteering are particularly nasty- the worst of dirty politics. The goal is usually to smear, humiliate, shame and discredit anyone who is an effective critic of the school privatization agenda. Lots of money is spent on PR for this purpose. (I’ve even been attacked on this Facebook page by a paid “social media specialist” for my opposition to charter schools.)

You’ll notice that the atmosphere tends to become particularly dysfunctional and circus-like when Broadies are in charge or involved. You’ll also notice that Broadies like to push the narrative that locally-elected school boards are too dysfunctional to lead (even when the Broadie in charge is causing all the dysfunction!). This is because Eli Broad and those affiliated with him want no public oversight of public education spending.

So- when you witness education conversations on social media, be sure to figure out who is funding those claiming to promote “school choice” or to advocate for children in poverty. Follow the money, y’all. Always!

Peter Greene taught high school students in Pennsylvania for 39 years. Now he blogs and writes about education for Forbes, where people in the business world get schooled about education realities.

In this article, he makes clear that a Bill Gates has a horrible record in education policy and should butt out of New York.

Greene points out:

Nobody has expended more money and influence on US education, and yet even by his own standards for success—raising reading and math test scores—Gates has no clear successes. Nor are there signs that he is learning anything from his failures. Reading through years of the annual Bill and Melinda letter, and you find acknowledgement that their latest idea didn’t quite pan out, but the problems are never located within the programs themselves. Teachers didn’t have the right resources or training. The Foundation’s PR work didn’t properly anticipate resistance. After years of failed initiatives, the latest Gates newsletter concludes not that they should examine some of their own assumptions, change their approach, or invite a different set of eyeballs to look over their programs—instead, they should just do what they’re doing, but do it harder. “Swing for the fences.”

Currently the Foundation is focused on factors like curriculum and in particular computer-delivered education. This may seem like just the ticket for a governor who also questioned why his state is still bothering with brick-and-mortar school buildings. But regardless of what you think of the policies and programs that Gates is pushing, it’s important to remember that while he may be great at disruption, he has yet to build anything in the education world that is either lasting or which works the way it was meant to. And he can always walk away, having barely dented his fortune.

It is perfectly obvious that Cuomo’s invited Gates to “reimagine” education in New York because Cuomo’s wants to make distance learning permanent. Parents hate the idea. Students long to be back in school with their friends and teachers. Teachers want to see their students really, not virtually.

Cuomo should back off. He hasn’t talked to parents, students, or teachers, only to Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt of Google.

It’s also important to remember that the Constitution of the State of New York gives the governor zero authority over education. That power belongs to the Board of Regents.

Cuomo should take care of reimagining the economy, getting people back to work, and leave education to the appropriate state and local officials.

Naomi Klein coined the iconic book Shock Doctrine, about the way that the powerful elites use emergencies to expand their power because of the crisis. New Orleans was one of her prime examples of “disaster capitalism,” where the devastation of a giant hurricane created an opportunity to break the teachers union and privatize the public school system.

In this brilliant essay, published in The Intercept, Klein describes the many ways in which the plutocrats of the tech industry are turning the pandemic into a gold mine for themselves and planning a dystopian future for the rest of us.

Please read this provocative and frightening essay, which has numerous links to support her argument.

What she details is not just a threat to our privacy and our institutions but to our democracy and our freedom.

It is no coincidence, she writes, that Governor Andrew Cuomo is enlisting a team of tech billionaires to reimagine the future of the Empire State. They know exactly what they want, and it’s up to us to stop them.

She writes:

It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.

Anuja Sonalker, CEO of Steer Tech, a Maryland-based company selling self-parking technology, recently summed up the new virus-personalized pitch. “There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology,” she said. “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”

It’s a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails. Of course, for many of us, those same homes were already turning into our never-off workplaces and our primary entertainment venues before the pandemic, and surveillance incarceration “in the community” was already booming. But in the future under hasty construction, all of these trends are poised for a warp-speed acceleration.

This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors, and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploition. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fueled future was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality, and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.

And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication — eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail, or transportation.

That was the ancient past known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

In this post, Tom Ultican takes a close look at the takeover and privatization of the Indianapolis school district, funded by billionaires and managed by a well-funded group called The Mind Trust (which, of course, claims to be deeply concerned about “civil rights,” while stripping parents of color of their right to elect a school board that represents them). By Ultican’s reckoning, nearly 64% of the students in Indianapolis now attend privately managed schools.

He writes:

With the introduction of Innovation schools in 2015, Indianapolis Public Schools quickly became the second most privatized taxpayer supported schools system in America. It has zoomed past Detroit and Washington DC in the privatization sweepstakes to only trail the poster child for disaster capitalism, New Orleans. The right wing billionaire funded organization, The Mind Trust, has played a major role in this outcome.

He provides a handy list of the major funders of this betrayal of the public trust. Leading the charge is the Lilly Endowment, with a donation of $22.7 million, followed by the City Fund (Reed Hastings and John Arnold) at $18 million. And there are other familiar names, well known in the disruption industry.

Ultican traces the history of the disruption/privatization industry in Indianapolis and finds that its origins can be traced to the far-right extremists of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch brothers. You will not be surprised to learn that Teach for America and TNTP (the organization founded by Michelle Rhee) are integral to the privatization of Indianapolis’s schools. And Relay “Graduate School of Education” (the one with no real faculty or campuses or professors or researchers or library) is also in the mix.

Ultican reviews the sorry situation in Indianapolis, where disrupters have pulled the wool over the eyes of the public and the media with their dazzling sums of money, and he speculates about why billionaires are so devoted to undermining public schools and the teaching profession:

Why are billionaires spending so much to undermine professionalism in public education? It is probably not altruism. More likely, they want to reduce the biggest cost associated with education; teacher’s salaries. In the antebellum south, plantation owners preached anti-tax ideology because they owned the most and paid the most. Today’s billionaires aren’t much different. Most of them won’t put their children in public schools and really don’t value high quality public education. It seems the big motivation is to reduce tax burdens and simultaneously create new education industries.

Carl Cohn is a veteran educator who served as superintendent in Long Beach and in San Diego. He has received many awards for his service.

The selection of a new superintendent in Long Beach prompted him to write his thoughts about previous crises faced by the district and about the importance of teachers today. No superintendent can succeed without building relationships of mutual respect and collaboration with trusted teachers.

I first met Carl Cohn when he was selected to clean up the damage done by the first effort to disrupt a school district. That was San Diego. At the turn of the century, San Diego was one of the most successful urban districts in the nation—perhaps the most successful—but the school board decided it needed a massive overhaul. They hired lawyer Alan Bersin to disrupt the district. I described what happened there—including demoralization of teachers, and a philosophy of changing everything all at once because (as the saying then went) “you can’t jump over a canyon in two leaps.” The philosophy of the leadership was that change had to be abrupt, immediate, and “pedal to the metal.” Billionaires sent money. Books were written about the “bold” reforms. The infighting and controversy became so inflamed that the public eventually threw out the “reform” school board. San Diego, however, was the model for Joel Klein’s disruptions in New York City, which were the model for the same in D.C., and on and on.

I spent a week in the district interviewing teachers and principals and school board members. My last interview was with Carl Cohn. I saw him as a calming figure whose job was to restore morale, order, and professionalism. He succeeded.

After the collapse of the disruption era, the San Diego school board hired an experienced educator, Cindy Marten, who had been a teacher and principal in the district. Although she has had to impose devastating budget cuts, she has been a steady hand at the tiller. I met her in 2006, when she was a principal, running a progressive child-centered school. When I visited San Diego a few years ago, she took me for a drive, and I surprised myself for taking a paragliding ride at Torrey Pines. Needless to say, I am delighted that San Diego has such trustworthy, experienced leadership again.

I began my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education with the San Diego story. It is a cautionary tale. If you read one chapter in that book, read that one. It ends with my interview of Carl Cohn.

A wise reader, who is anonymous, posted this comment a few days ago. I thought it was wise because we hear so many Disrupters cheering about “the end of schooling as we know it” when the reality is that most parents and students can’t wait for real school to start again. You don’t hear those same voices saying that no one will ever work in an office again; no one will every go to a concert or a play; no one will ever go to a physical store. They clearly have an agenda, and their predictions are their wishes, but they fly in the face of reality. Life goes on. It is never the same after an earth-shattering event such as a pandemic. But many things will not change. Who knows? Schools may even change for the better as parents show their gratitude to teachers and their public schools, and as the backlash against distance learning grows stronger, based on experience.

He or she wrote:

No one is calling for the end of grocery stores for Instacart, restaurants for takeout, church buildings for live streaming, physical stores for their online versions, theatre/sports/concerts for streaming, conventions for talking heads on video, clubs for solo dance parties on Zoom, renting office space for work at home, theme parks for Virtual Reality machines, etc. in the advent of COVID-19. But, so many think that this is a “great opportunity” to shift students away from school buildings.

“But education is broken.” Talk to people in any other industry, and they’ll tell you about the broken parts of those too. But they aren’t using COVID as a means to COMPLETELY change it. Yes, there will be a permanent uptick in grocery delivery, online shopping, a day or two a week to work from home, and videoconferencing as some people fall in love with the platforms and get used to them. There may even be a parent in a two-parent household where one was laid off, and they figured out that they could live on one income by getting rid of one of their car payments and so they decide to do virtual school.

BUT, society will be itching to get back into going to concerts, stores, conventions, theme parks, airplanes, sitting inside of restaurants, church, to the office, and SCHOOL!

Thomas Ultican has analyzed the billionaire funders behind the pro-Disruption, anti-democracy website “Education Post.”

The major funders are the usual members of the Billionaire Boys and Girls Club: Bloomberg, Waltons, Chan Zuckerberg, and Mrs. Jobs.

Please open and read his post.

If you thought the Disrupters might have softened their tone during the pandemic, like, as a show of decency, you will be disappointed. They are still attacking, vilifying, and mocking anyone daring to defend public education, which is a cornerstone of our democracy. It must really upset them that after all these years and billions spent on privatization, only 6% of American students enroll in charter schools.

For some reason, I am one of their prime targets. I suppose I should take it as a compliment.

I will never answer in kind.

They are swimming in cash, but what they cannot buy is civility, kindness, compassion, or dignity.

In this recent article, Jeff Bryant examines Florida’s shameful response to the pandemic. As usual, legislators and Governor DeSanris took advantage of the crisis to add another voucher program, which will drain another $200 million from public schools to support for woefully inadequate voucher schools.

He writes:


“The COVID-19 crisis reveals the true intentions of people,” Kathleen Oropeza told me during a phone call. Oropeza is a public school mom in Orlando and founder of Fund Education Now, a non-partisan grassroots effort to advocate for public education in Florida.

Her remark was in the context of concerns about how state officials were governing schools as the coronavirus was spreading across the state and generating fears of how the disease would affect schools and families.

Days after the first victims tested positive in the state and the first deaths were reported, Florida lawmakers in the House seemed oblivious to the impending crisis and instead passed new legislation to expand the state’s voucher program, thus diverting an additional $200 million from the state’s public schools.

The bill passed despite evidence that many of the private schools that would receive the voucher money openly discriminate against LGBTQ children and families, are not required to hire certified teachers, and generally provide a subpar education.

But there is a bright side to the current crisis:

The rash of canceled tests across the country caused some knowledgeable observers to speculate on Twitter that the testing industry would not be able to withstand the financial difficulties of a nationwide cancelation. But what is also in danger is the whole policy imperative of the market-based education agenda.

Much in the same way that widespread teacher walkouts and the Red for Ed movement over the past two years revealed the overwhelming need for government officials to increase funding and support for frontline teachers, the mounting fallout of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing politicians and policymakers to acknowledge the importance of schools as vital community institutions that need resources and support rather than fiscal austerity, privatization, and punitive accountability—the pillars of the market-based education movement.

Even amidst the avalanche of reported school closings, advocates of the market-based approach were lamenting the failure of their decades-long efforts.

“Neither standards and accountability nor charter schools have lived up to their promoters’ lofty aspirations. And there is much public unhappiness with school reform,” wrote Kevin Carey in an analysis for the Washington Post. Carey, a policy analyst for a Washington, D.C., think tank that favored the education reform agenda, worked for years in policy shops that pushed market-based agendas.

Carey noted a rising political opposition to market-based education advocates from the right and the left, including Tea Party Republicans who object to Common Core Standards and federal overreach in local decision-making and among progressive Democrats who are angered by the unfairness and inequities caused by market-based solutions.

But while he asserted that “School reform began with the civil rights movement,” he completely ignored the econometric principles that ended up driving privatization policies rather than the moral values of human rights and justice that powered the civil rights movement. Market-based education advocates have long obsessed over rigid standards, outcome measures, and competition from charter schools rather than providing schools and students with what they really needed, especially in communities that rely heavily on schools as anchor institutions.

Will elected officials and think tank analysts recognize the failure of standards, testing,
accountability, competition, and market-based policies to close achievement gaps, to reduce poverty, to lift up the neediest students, and to achieve any of their alleged goals?

Please: would the “reformers” acknowledge the failure of their prescriptions and stop claiming, without a shred of evidence, that annual standardized testing is a “civil right,” when it is actually stigmatizing children who are repeatedly labeled as “failures” by the testing indistry?

I confess that I was very disappointed by the review of my new book in the New York Times. The reviewer thought that I should have presented “both sides,” not argued on behalf of public schools, which enroll 85-90% of American children. If we starve the public schools that enroll most children, we harm them and the future of our society. I debated whether to respond on this blog but then decided against it. Sometimes it is best to remain silent.

Happily, Neil Kulick, a teacher, critiqued the review. He posted his comment here.

Thank you, Neil!

He writes:

Your new book gives public school teachers (like me) hope. You are truly our champion. Thank you.

A while back, I read the review of “Slaying Goliath” in the NY Times. I did not quite like the review. Here is my reply to it:

Readers of Annie Murphy Paul’s review of Diane Ravitch’s “Slaying Goliath” (in the February 2 NYT Book Review) can be forgiven for thinking that Professor Ravitch has lost her way and written a book in which she exults in the failures of all who are interested in strengthening our public schools.

In fact, “Slaying Goliath” is a work of meticulous scholarship that chronicles the failure of every single “reform” in recent decades, most of them market-based (as if children or their teachers were commodities, or schools factories) and virtually all funded by billionaires who know little about teaching and learning but are glad to call the shots when it comes to our schools. Professor Ravitch is not against reform but rather the particular set of “reforms” that have been foisted on our public schools and our teachers and students, including so-called merit pay and the oddity of evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores. Her book ends with a call for genuine reform, which would require adequately funding our public schools so that they have a fair chance of educating a population that includes so many children born into poverty and who come to school already behind and lacking the supports at home of their more affluent peers. It would also require funding programs to support impoverished families. Our public schools are not broken; our society is.

Professor Ravitch accurately terms those who push (and, astonishingly, continue to push) for these failed reforms “disrupters,” because the purpose or effect of their actions is to undermine the very institution of the public school. And yes, Professor Ravitch does name names. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for one, is not an advocate of public schools. Rather she favors “choice,” as if that were an end in itself. But that choice does not include a well-funded public school for every child, though if Secretary DeVos had her way it would include a charter school. Charter schools, unfortunately, are generally no better than public schools, and some are militaristic, so that students learn not to question but to obey. Nor are charters known for serving the needs of children with learning disabilities or who have emotional or behavioral problems or for whom English is not their first language. They do, however, succeed in draining money from public schools.

Ultimately, Professor Ravitch is optimistic, believing that today’s “reformers” will inevitably lose, despite their vast wealth, because the “resisters” — parents and grandparents, schoolchildren, and their teachers — are multitudinous and motivated by passion. And they cannot be bought. As a public school teacher, I hope Professor Ravitch is right.

Some might wonder why public schools matter. Apart from the fact that the vast majority of American schoolchildren attend them, public schools are our best hope for a flourishing democracy. In public schools, children from diverse backgrounds come together as one community. They learn together, and they learn from each other. John Dewey understood how essential public schools are to our way of life: “A democracy,” he wrote, “is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.”* It is just this “conjoint communicated experience” that public schools afford.