Archives for category: Education Reform

Becky Peterson writes in Business Insider about the philanthropic ventures of Apple founder Steve Jobs’s widow, Laurene Powell Jobs. While Powell is apparently trying to brand the Emerson Collective as a progressive foundation, its education ideas are firmly rooted in the failed ideas of the NCLB-Race to the Top paradigm. We learn in the article that Ms. Jobs relies on Arne Duncan and his former aide Russlyn Ali for her education advice.

The Emerson Collective’s big idea was the XQ Project, which awarded $10 million to ten schools to reinvent the high school. in addition to the seed money of $100 million, Emerson spent another $200 million on XQ, part of which was a mega program on all three networks to declare the failure of the traditional high school and the debut of the XQ Project.

Unfortunately for Chalkbeat, it had the temerity to report honestly about the failures of the XQ Project. The Emerson Collective was a major donor to Chalkbeat. And then the funding stoppped.

For the first few years, Chalkbeat and Laurene Powell Jobs looked like the perfect match. 

The billionaire philanthropist and widow of Steve Jobs was known for her interest in education and school reform, and the Chalkbeat nonprofit newsroom had a compelling mission to report deeply on education policy and practice.

So in 2015, Emerson Collective, Powell Jobs’ personal office, issued a two-year grant to Chalkbeat. It was the first in a total of $1.6 million in checks written to the publication and one of the earliest media grants from Powell Jobs as she steadily transformed Emerson Collective from a small social-change organization into one of the most well-funded and ambitious philanthropy and investment firms in the country.

Chalkbeat might have remained just another example of Powell Jobs’ incalculable generosity— one of thousands — if it weren’t for some of its coverage. 

In May, Emerson Collective stopped funding the publication altogether. The decision, a former employee told Insider, was at least in part a response to Chalkbeat’s critical coverage of an education organization that is one of Emerson Collective’s marquee projects. 

(Emerson Collective denies the characterization.)

It was a surprising display of institutional pettiness at the mission-driven Emerson Collective, and it did not go unnoticed among the staff, most of whom had signed on in large part because of its founder’s “sincere connection” to a variety of progressive causes

Ali first joined Emerson Collective to lead its education investments in 2012; then in 2015 she and Powell Jobs cofounded XQ Institute, an independent nonprofit backed by Emerson Collective. 

“I think we share a common belief that this is among the most, if not the most, important civil-rights and social-justice issues of our generation,” Ali said of Powell Jobs. “Education was the path out for both of us.”

Behind XQ is a controversial thesis that technology will fundamentally transform the future of work and require a brand-new approach to education. The US education system, Ali wrote in a 2019 essay in The Atlantic, is “faltering.” The best way out, Ali argues, is to “rethink and reinvigorate” the way schools teach.

To address this, Ali and Powell Jobs launched XQ: The Super School Project, and issued $10 million grants to 10 winners of a competition to rethink American high schools in 2016. They followed up a year later with an hourlong star-studded network TV special that included a live performance by Kelly Clarkson, a school-bus sing-along with Tom Hanks and James Corden, and a key question: “What if schools unlocked the power of technology to transform education?” 

All told, Emerson Collective has put about $300 million toward XQ Institute, making it one of its most well-funded projects, according to people familiar with its finances. 

As might be expected with that amount of spending, the effort has drawn some scrutiny. 

In the fall of 2019, Chalkbeat reported that XQ had occasionally leaned on wrong or misleading data to support its thesis in promotional messages. Another Chalkbeat article asked a more pointed question: three years after XQ first issued its grants, “is it working?”

Later that year, Emerson Collective decided to wind down its support for Chalkbeat and give the publication a final $200,000 “exit” grant. 

Ali had indicated in conversation that Chalkbeat’s negative coverage would no longer be a problem once its grant ran out, a former employee said. And according to an email from 2021 viewed by Insider, Ali considered Chalkbeat’s critical coverage to be too opinionated….

Chalkbeat CEO Elizabeth Green told Insider in a statement: “I’m a strong believer that philanthropically supported journalism can and must be rigorously independent. Emerson Collective made a big bet on Chalkbeat’s model early on, and during the many years they supported our education reporting, they were a generous donor. In addition to financial resources, Emerson provided us with fundraising training that enabled us to mobilize a strong and stable slate of supporters who make our fearless independent reporting possible.”

In August 2021, the question about Emerson’s coverage of education resurfaced. For years, Ali had been pushing to fund a different education website called The 74, which was more aligned with Ali and Powell Jobs’ politics. 

The media team wouldn’t fund it after deeming the website too political, so Ali asked Powell Jobs’ second-in-command, Stacey Rubin, to fund it using money earmarked for political organizations, according to an email viewed by Insider. 

So far, the funding hasn’t happened.

Ms. Jobs and Russlyn Ali preferred to support the pro-privatization website “The 74,” not independent journalism. “The 74” was founded by Campbell Brown, who is anti-public school and anti-union, a close friend of Betsy DeVos.

Good for Chalkbeat and Elizabeth Green!

A new international organization has released five case studies of low- and middle-income nations, demonstrating that PUBLIC EDUCATION WORKS.

I received this mailing:

We are delighted to launch a new important piece of research on public education, titled Public education works: lessons from five case-studies in low- and middle- income countries”. The study shows that well-organised public education systems are possible and working everywhere, with political will and use of locally relevant practices.

It showcases positive examples of public education in different contexts and settings. The cases – from Bolivia to Namibia, including Vietnam – challenge the disseminated idea that public education needs privatisation for quality and point to a rights-aligned and socially committed definition of quality – including the aim for social inclusion and equity, the engagement of community and local actors, valuing teachers and respecting local culture.  It concludes that public education must be the way forward for building more equal, just and sustainable societies.

The research was produced collaboratively by 12 organizations and is part of GI-ESCR’s continuous efforts to reverse the adverse impact of the commercialisation of education in the context of the unprecedented expansion of private-sector involvement in education.

The launch of this study is a follow-up to the publication of a policy brief released ahead of the Global Partnership for Education summit in July 2021. Its release during the virtual session of the World Bank’s Civil Society Policy Forum adds to the call on the World Bank and other investors to prioritize their support for public education in their efforts to build back more resilient and equitable education systems for all.

The research is available in three formats: a Working paper, Research brief and Policy brief.

To support the publicity of this new, exciting research, please share widely.


READ the Working paper or Research brief here

GI-ESCR is a non-governmental organisation that believes transformative change to end endemic problems of social and economic injustice is possible only through a human rights lens.

Please read the report of NPE’s Grassroots Network.

There are now more than 175 local organizations working for their public schools against privatization. If your group hasn’t joined yet, consider doing so.

Here is a small part of the monthly report:

Giving Voice to Friends of Public Education: NPE Action’s New Project 

The Network for Public Education is proud to announce a new project from NPE Action called Public Voices for Public Schools. Public Voices for Public Schools will give voice to former voucher and charter parents, educators, and community members who work tirelessly in their communities every day to improve our public schools, even as they fight well-funded efforts to privatize their schools. Public Voices for Public Schools will publish a story each Monday.  Go here to subscribe to the website and get each story as it is launched.  Please like them on Facebook and give them a follow on Twitter.

National Organizing

Defending the Early Years Advisory Board Member, Marcy Guddemi, will be talking about childhood trauma and the healing powers of play on October 23rd. For more information, go here. In their Cashing in on Kids series In the Public Interest shared that California’s online charter schools are performing poorly, even as enrollment soars. The Journey for Justice Alliancedeployed an emergency response team to New Orleans to assist communities impacted by Hurricane Ida. Go here to listen to Jitu Brown, National Director of J4J, discuss their work. The Schott Foundation posted on their blog this month that the eviction crisis is also an education crisis. Be sure to keep up with the latest on testing by reading the Fairtest newsletter. Rethinking Schools staff and editors are saddened by the death of their friend Jim Loewen, whose work did so much to help students and teachers to rethink U.S. history. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy posted a reportwith new information from the NYC Department of Education student data breach — with some critical unanswered questions, including lack of encryption and timely notification, both of which are required by NYS law. Parents for Public Schools publishedSeptember’s Kindergarten Readiness Calendar, from their friends at Excel By 5, Inc. The calendar this month is all about community helpers. PPS also advocated for competitive pay for Mississippi teachers this month in a statement to the Mississippi Senate Education Committee: Parents Across America has a public Facebook page that is great for interacting with others from across the nation about public education issues. Go here to join in the conversation.

I had the pleasure of reading the galleys of Audrey Watter’s fascinating new book—Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning—about the origins of education technology, which began with the search for a machine that could replace teachers: a teaching machine. She goes into detail about the pioneers of this innovation, notably B.F. Skinner, who tried relentlessly to find a publisher to produce and monetize his invention.

Watter’s’ book was published by MIT Press. You will enjoy it.

The search for the best “teaching machine” seems akin to the search for the Fountain of Youth or Shangri-La, but with a big profit when on the market.

You can listen to Audrey talk about her new book with Leonie Haimson on Leonie’s radio show.

Jan Resseger describes the crisis of early childhood education in this post.

The importance of early childhood education for healthy development has been repeatedly documented, most recently by the Learning Policy Institute. Yet the sector continues to be underfunded, teachers are underpaid, and they are in short supply.

She writes:

The kind of enriched child care envisioned by experts at the Learning Policy Institute does not exist, however, for most American families, particularly as problems have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week the Washington Post‘s Heather Long reported: “The numbers are staggering: The child-care services industry is still down 126,700 workers—more than a 10 percent decline from pre-pandemic levels, Labor Department data shows. While many industries complain they can’t find enough workers, the hiring situation is more dire in child-care than in restaurants right now. Young women in their late teens and 20s who are typically drawn to work at the day care centers are opting instead to take jobs as administrative assistants, retail clerks, and bank tellers… Veteran child-care workers are quitting… More than 10,000 workers have left the industry since June…. “

And for the NY Times, last week Claire Cain Miller provided examples from across the country: “At a Y.M.C.A. in San Antonio, 200 children are on wait lists for child care because of hiring problems. It raised average hourly pay for full-time workers to $12.50 from $10, but still can’t recruit enough teachers to meet the demand. In Ann Arbor, Mich., the school district had announced it was shutting down its after-school program. It managed to hire people to open at five of 20 elementary schools, those most in need, but that left out at least 1,000 children. And in Portland, Ore., preschool spots are few and far between, and elementary schools are running after-school care at limited capacity or have canceled programs altogether… Child care providers face challenges like those in many other service industries that are unable to find enough workers—low pay and little job stability. The median hourly pay is $12, and 98 percent of occupations pay more… Turnover is high in early childhood education, and jobs caring for school-aged children are only a few hours a day and often end in the summer… Some people are hesitant to work with unvaccinated children.”

Actually it is surprising to see major coverage of child care problems in the nation’s two biggest newspapers. The coverage last week was most likely a response to a new report released from the Department of the Treasury, published to push the child care investments—which President Biden has proposed and which Congress is currently debating—as part of the federal budget reconciliation package. The Treasury Department’s new report describes the problem clearly and concisely: “The child care sector is a crucial and underfunded part of the American economy. One in every 110 U.S. workers—and one in every 55 working women—makes a living in early childhood education and care. Parents of young children devote a sizeable share of their total income to child care. Children benefit enormously from high quality early childhood settings that nurture and support healthy development, all the while laying the foundation for future success by supporting early learning skills. An extensive body of research describes large potential economic returns to investments in early childhood education and care for preschool children, especially for children from less advantaged families… This report describes the existing child care system in the United States, which relies on private financing to provide care for most children, and documents how this system fails to adequately serve many families.”

Most childcare facilities are run by private agencies. Most American families cannot afford them. President Biden included a major boost for early childhood education, but the fate of his funding program hangs in the balance.

Aaron Regunburg began his career as a leader of the Providence Student Union. He subsequently served in the legislature and ran in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, capturing 49% of the vote. He lost to Dan McKee, who is now Governor, after succeeding Gina Raimondo when Biden appointed her to his cabinet.

Regunberg wrote in the Providence Journal that McKee seems to be engaging in pay-for-play with his financial backers at Chiefs for Change (started by Jeb Bush).

He wrote:

Governor McKee’s string of recent scandals raises the question of whether he may be dragging our state back to the bad old days of pay-to-play governance.

Take the recent story of a $5-million “school reopening” contract given to Governor McKee’s longtime financial backers at the corporate education reform group Chiefs for Change (CFC). The head of CFC, Mike Magee, has directly contributed thousands of dollars to the governor, and his brother leads the Super PAC that spent hundreds of thousands supporting McKee during my primary challenge to him in 2018. As has been reported extensively by WPRI, just two days after Mr. McKee took office, the chief operating officer and director of operations of CFC incorporated a brand-new company, ILO Group, which almost immediately received a state contract to the tune of $5.2 million — an amount many millions of dollars more than the next-highest bid.

Disgustingly, it appears ILO felt comfortable enough with this scheme that they barely pretended to provide useful services to our schools. As WPRI reported, almost no districts in the state received school reopening assistance from the company. In fact, the day after Governor McKee pointed to ILO’s work with Westerly to justify the millions they received, the chair of the Westerly School Committee wrote, “ILO is not doing any work in Westerly. At all.” She went on to stress she was “still unclear on exactly how this company can support RI school districts.” 

Linda Lyon is a local school board member and former president of the Arizona School Boards Association. she is a retired military officer. She expresses great concern about the tumult and anger at many school board meetings and speculates that some of the outrage is generated by paid shills. She writes here about why school boards matter and how citizens in every community can make a difference:

Although I can understand how the current climate would discourage good people from wanting to serve on school boards, it is exactly the time that they must. Otherwise, the bad guys win. What we’ll end up with is school board members who thrive on hateful discourse and self-destructive environments. We’ll end up with an exodus of good school board members, good administrators, and good teachers. Eventually, we’ll end up with a system of public education that is circling the drain. 

I don’t think of myself as a conspiracy theorist, but neither do I think we should be so naive, to think that all this is happening organically. Of the April Vail protests for example, Superintendent Carruth said, 

“There was a handful of people – I don’t know exactly how many – who either don’t have kids in the school district, don’t live in the school district, don’t live in the county, who came with the express purpose of whipping up that group.”

Yes, around the country, administrators and school board members have suspected outsiders of coming in to school board meetings to wreak havoc for political purposes. This is not a new strategy, as conservative strategist Ralph Reed, (former executive director of the Christian Coalition), once said he would “exchange the presidency for 2,000 school seats”. But the current political climate and ease message spreading via social media has whipped it into a frenzy. 

For those who are shocked at how low we’ve sunk at a country, and are committed to do their part to “Build Back Better”, there is almost no better place to start than to serve on your local school board. Ensuring our students are prepared to build a better future is why I first ran for the school board in 2012, and why I continue to serve. I can assure you that the other side is feverishly working to ensure they win this battle for hearts and minds and they’ve been very successful thus far in using school board seats as stepping stones to higher political offices.

Nancy Flanagan describes the political battles that have descended on school boards. Elected members probably thought they ran for office so as to oversee the budget and represent their constituents. They didn’t know that they would be constantly targeted by angry mobs, fighting over masking, vaccination mandates, and critical race theory.

She writes:

I am stunned by the vicious nature of the anti-mask, anti-vax protests—like this one in Oregon, which left the veteran superintendent, who simply followed state law, weeping as he was fired. Or this one—where parents literally pushed their unmasked teenagers past school administrators blocking the way.

How do parents expect their children to respect the rules and authority necessary for safe and productive schooling when those same parents are physically pushing the students to disobey?

The answer is: They don’t, anymore.

And it’s gone way beyond hot tempers at a school board meeting. There are firings and shouting and pushing and shoving. There are also death threats and other aggressions. There’s been a national paradigm shift around whom to trust, and who’s in charge.

Open the link and read the entire post.

Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote recently about Teach for America’s changing focus. Founded in 1990 to recruit college graduates to teach in urban and rural schools for a minimum of two years, TFA made bold claims about the success of its teachers in closing achievement gaps and raising test scores. For many years, they attracted hundreds of millions from corporate sponsors, foundations like Walton, Broad Gates, based on their certainty that their young teachers were better than experienced teachers.

Messenger wrote that teachers were leaving the profession because of demanding parents and school politics.

He thought that might explain why TFA was headed in a new direction.

He wrote:

It’s also a reason why a nonprofit organization that has been providing teachers to several area school districts is changing its focus with a bit of a twist that at first seems disconnected from the problem. Despite the teacher shortage, New York-based Teach for America is no longer providing teachers to the St. Louis Public Schools and other districts. Instead, it will work on training school leaders, like principals, administrators and school board members.

It’s a change that to some degree comes from a place of failure. Teach for America was founded in 1990 as an education reform organization, to try to boost academic achievement of students in urban settings and reduce the learning gap between white and Black students. But the numbers haven’t budged much after 20 years of training young teachers who make a two-year commitment to come to places like St. Louis and teach in public or charter schools.

“As a whole, student achievement is not growing the way we intended it to,” says Elizabeth Bleier, the interim executive director of Teach for America in St. Louis. Bleier came to St. Louis from Chicago. She taught in the St. Louis Public Schools for a few years, and then worked at charter school KIPP in the city for a few more, before going to work at TFA.

With 600 similar alumni in St. Louis, TFA plans to help mentor those teachers and former teachers. This week it announced its latest class of Aspiring School Leaders Fellowship, in which 15 existing public school or charter educators, many of them people of color, will be trained and mentored for a year while earning a principal certification through St. Louis University.

In turning the focus to training principals and other school leaders, Bleier says the goal is to improve school cultures so that teacher retention eventually improves. “There is a lot of teacher and principal turnover in St. Louis,” she says. “When there is a strong school leader, teachers are happier and stay longer. We want our people to be able to go into the schools and have an influence.”

It’s a demonstration of hubris on the part of TFA to believe that they can ”train” TFA teachers to be principals.

How will a staff of teachers, ranging in age from their early 20s to their early 60s react to the announcement that their new principal is 24-25 years old, with two years of teaching experience? It is hard to imagine that the insertion of a young, inexperienced TFA principal would raise morale and stop the exodus of teachers. It seems likely that they would prefer a veteran whom they can turn to for help with teaching problems.

Parent activist Trevor Nelson explains how parents organized to get accurate medical information to other parents and the public. Governor Doug Ducey took a strong stand against mask mandates, and anti-maskers turned school board meetings into screaming matches. Nelson organized parent opposition to policies that endangered their children. He tells his story here at ”Public Voices for Public Schools,” a new website created by the Network for Public Education.

He begins:

Arizona had a problem. The people showing up at our local board meetings were anti-mask and anti-vaccine. Meanwhile, other parents had stopped showing up to the meetings because they felt frustrated and fearful of speaking up at all. Getting yelled at, hooted out, called a liar, and threatened will do that to you. It was starting to feel like the 2020 election all over again. And yet for all of the rancor, I knew that most parents felt the way I did: desperate to get their kids back to school as safely as possible. 

My friend and fellow parent advocate Jessica Wani and I hatched a plan, with the help of some great Arizona healthcare workers to provide grounding in science and data. We’d begin collecting signatures from our fellow Arizonans to put pressure on the state government, local government and school boards, including as many representatives from the medical community as we could get. Even as our governor doubled and tripled down on his extreme anti-mask position, we were determined to demonstrate that when it comes to common sense safety measures in schools, public opinion is on our side.

We started small, with a single google form that people could easily sign, then we began to work on elected officials: boards of supervisors, city councilors, mayors, legislators—we reached out to all of them. And we kept our efforts intentionally non-partisan, making a point of not asking signers about their political affiliation. Next our scrappy team reached out to representatives of the medical community, including pediatricians, family doctors and public health experts.The number of signers quickly grew. By the time we put out our first newsletter, filled with the latest info about health and safety protocols in schools, we were up to 4,000 people. 

The puzzle pieces began to fall into place. As we reached out to medical experts, we also encouraged them to raise their voices. And they did. Doctors and other medical professionals started writing their own letters, reporting on what they were seeing on the ground in real time, as hospitals in Arizona began to fill with COVID patients. They also urged their own colleagues to get involved and help make the case for vaccines, masking and social distancing in schools.

Please read the rest of his account. He is well that the parents and medical community are up against a governor who wants to dismantle public education. But they keep fighting.