Archives for category: Fake

What follows is an alarming story about a young man who hoaxed thousands of people on Twitter, including Trump. The real shocker is not this particular story—which is so absurd that it’s funny— but the fact that it is so easy to set up fake accounts, collect money for fake causes, and impersonate others. This is a cautionary story for our times.

Jack Nicas wrote:

Last month, between tweets disputing his election loss, President Trump posted an article from a conservative website that said his sister Elizabeth Trump Grau had just joined Twitter to publicly back her brother’s fight to overturn the vote.

“Thank you Elizabeth,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “LOVE!”

But the Twitter account that prompted the article was not his sister’s. It was a fake profile run by Josh Hall, a 21-year-old food-delivery driver in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. He actually thinks it’s his sister,’” Mr. Hall, a fervent Trump supporter, said in an interview last week.

It was a surreal coda to nearly a year of deception for Mr. Hall. Since February, he had posed as political figures and their families on Twitter, including five of the president’s relatives. He had pretended to be Robert Trump, the president’s brother; Barron Trump, the president’s 14-year-old son; and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. The accounts collectively amassed more than 160,000 followers.

Using their identities, he gained attention by mixing off-color political commentary with wild conspiracy theories, including one that the government wanted to implant Americans with microchips, and another that John F. Kennedy Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1999, was alive and about to replace Mike Pence as vice president.

“There was no nefarious intention behind it,” Mr. Hall said. “I was just trying to rally up MAGA supporters and have fun.”

Many of those “Make America Great Again” followers appeared to believe the posts. Records also show that some accounts served another purpose: directing people to give Mr. Hall money. They promoted a fund-raiser for a political group Mr. Hall created called “Gay Voices for Trump.” In an interview, he admitted that the group didn’t exist. The fund-raiser brought in more than $7,300.

Mr. Hall’s Twitter spree seems to be a case of mischief spun out of control, illustrating how a person simply needs a phone and some knowledge of the internet to start trouble that gets the attention of hundreds of thousands of people.

Mr. Hall was hardly the first self-professed Trump fan to try to profit off fellow Trump backers. Federal prosecutors, for example, said in August that Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former adviser, and three others had solicited donations to build a border wall and then pocketed more than $1 million.

Beware of salesmen in plaid jackets selling snake oil.

And he was hardly the first person to create a fake online persona. Fake accounts have been instrumental in the spread of conspiracy theories, and scammers have repeatedly posed as celebritiessoldiers and even Mark Zuckerberg to defraud people on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Those companies said they remove millions of fake profiles each year. Yet Mr. Hall showed that it was still fairly simple to impersonate key White House officials and the president’s family, including his teenage son, and amass tens of thousands of followers before Twitter took notice.

Millions of people have been lured down dark internet rabbit holes like QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory that claims satanic Democrats abuse and eat children and is fueled by someone posing as a government official. By comparison, Mr. Hall was a small-timer. His escapades in the alternate reality universe might have gone unnoticed — until Mr. Trump’s mistaken tweet elevated him to the big time of MAGA misinformation.

The New York Times identified Mr. Hall as the person behind the fake Trump accounts, which have now all been taken down by Twitter, and constructed a recap of his deception via screenshots of some of his tweets and an archive of many others collected by Ian Kennedy and Melinda Haughey, University of Washington researchers who use software to save millions of tweets about the election and pandemic. The Times also interviewed Mr. Hall, people close to him and people he misled online.

Mr. Hall said he became interested in politics in 2016 when he was a teenager, energized by Mr. Trump. “I kind of thought he was like a clown at first,” he said. “But the more I heard him talk, I realized: Yeah, he says kind of off-the-wall things, but I do agree with what he’s saying.”

He dreamed of becoming a conservative talk-radio host, he said, so he opted against college and decided to instead build a persona online. He sparred with liberals on Twitter; created a “public figure” page on Facebook; and self-published a 49-page e-book on Amazon called “Hall Nation” that detailed his “38 essential rules to live life in order to be happy and successful.” (The first rule? “Insults are a good thing.”)

Offline, he was not so successful. He struggled to hold a job, he said, including stints as a hotel clerk and sandwich maker. Most recently, he delivered food for DoorDash.

But online, he started to develop a small following. In January, he asked followers to help him pay for a lawyer, saying “a Planned Parenthood loving radical leftist” whom he used to date had accused him of harassment. He also began selling T-shirts that said “Josh Hall did nothing wrong.” He raised $815 on GoFundMe. Court documents indicate he is using a public defender. A hearing in the case is scheduled for later this month.

Mr. Hall said that around that time Twitter suspended his account without explanation. “Once I got banned from Twitter, my attitude was kind of like, ‘What the hell, I’m just going to have fun now,’” he said. (A Twitter spokesman said the company suspended his original account because he had created multiple accounts under different identities.)

So he started a new account under a different name: Rod Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois best known for trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. Mr. Blagojevich’s prison sentence had just been commuted by President Trump, making him a sudden ally in the eyes of some conservatives.

Our cat Dandelion (Dandy) resting on Mitzi’s bed. Mitzi was unhappy about this.

“OBAMA STARTED THE CORONAVIRUS,” Mr. Hall wrote on Feb. 27 under Mr. Blagojevich’s photo and a profile named @GovBlago. It was typical fare for the account, which eventually drew more than 26,000 followers. For much of the time it was active, the profile included a disclaimer in its bio that it was a parody account, which Twitter allows under some conditions.

The rest of Mr. Hall’s impostor accounts did not include such disclaimers.

Twitter eventually removed the @GovBlago account, prompting Mr. Hall to impersonate someone else in the headlines: Dr. Birx, the White House official working on the pandemic. “The media is lying to you about this virus,” he wrote as @DoctorBirx on April 22. The pandemic was “plotted by the powers that be to crash our economy in hopes that Trump will pay for it in November.”

The account didn’t gain much traction, so he moved on to a brand that was sure to attract more eyeballs: The Trump family. Mr. Hall said he went on Wikipedia to find Trump relatives who didn’t yet have Twitter accounts, and first landed on Robert Trump, the president’s brother.TRACKING VIRAL MISINFORMATIONWhy can’t the social networks stop fake accounts?Dec. 8, 2020As @BigRobTrump, he quickly gained more than 25,000 followers, partly by spreading conspiracy theories. “The coronavirus was planned and released onto the world by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” Mr. Hall said as Robert Trump. It was unclear if Mr. Hall believed such lies or if he thought they were just good at attracting attention, but they had become almost banalities in the conspiracy-filled corners of the internet where he spent much of his time.When Twitter removed the first Robert Trump account, Mr. Hall started a new one, this time under the username @UncleRobTrump. It did even better, ultimately collecting more than 77,000 followers from July to August.As the new Robert Trump account gained influence, Mr. Hall began using it to promote his own Twitter profile, @TheBiTrumpGuy.On that account, Mr. Hall, who said he is bisexual, called himself the founder of a group called Gay Voices for Trump. Mr. Hall used the fake Robert Trump profile to promote the group.

Mitzi, a wonderful 100-lb certified purebred mutt, at rest on her bed.

“Uncle Rob runs Gay Voices For Trump with @TheBiTrumpGuy, although I am very much a heterosexual male. It’s the Trump genes – we love women,” Mr. Hall wrote as Robert Trump in July. “But we are trying to reach out to LGBT and other minority voters. Josh is doing great work so please give him a follow and support him!” The tweets brought Mr. Hall’s real profile thousands of new followers.Tracking Disinformation ›

Not long after, Mr. Hall started messaging Trump supporters as Robert Trump, asking them to donate to a fund-raiser for his group, according to screenshots posted online by two people who received the messages.

“Hey patriot. Would really appreciate if you have a couple of bucks to spare to organization,” he wrote, according to one screenshot.

Mr. Hall denied he sent such messages and suggested that the screenshots had been fabricated. “I would tell you if I did,” he said. “I should have used better judgment and stuff. But I didn’t deliberately try and dupe people out of money.”

His fund-raiser on the website GoFundMe called his group “a grass-roots coalition of LGBT Americans” and said all donations would go to “field organizing, events and merchandise.” He brought in $7,384.

Mr. Hall admitted last week that the group didn’t exist. He didn’t do more than register about 100 people to vote. “I didn’t end up ever really doing anything with the Gay Voices for Trump,” he said. “So I never got the funds from it.” He said the money was still with GoFundMe.

A GoFundMe spokeswoman said that the organizer behind the fund-raiser — an account named Josh H. — had withdrawn the money. She said GoFundMe was now investigating how the funds were used and that the company would give refunds to any donors who requested one.

Mr. Hall didn’t respond to follow-up questions about the fund-raiser.

Moonrise over harbor in Greenport, New Tork

Josiah Bruns, an engineer from Goffstown, N.H., donated $100. With his donation, he left a comment: “Uncle Rob Trump asked me too.”

Mr. Bruns said in an interview that a QAnon message board had led him to the Robert Trump account, which also promoted the conspiracy theory. “We’re trained on the Q research board to always question everything,” he said, adding that he used those lessons to scrutinize the Robert Trump account. “I’m probably 65 percent sure that it was real.”

After The Times told Mr. Bruns that he had been deceived, he said he didn’t mind. In the future, he said, he would apply more research techniques he had learned from the QAnon movement to decipher what was real on the internet. The web is a minefield of lies, he said, “especially if it’s something you want to believe, because those are the easiest lies to fall for.”

In August, Robert Trump died. The news drew scrutiny to the fake Robert Trump account, and some of its followers began to suspect that Mr. Hall was behind it, given the pattern of tweets between the profiles. In response, Mr. Hall said on Twitter that the fake account was run by “a close political friend of mine” who “did not know about Mr. Trump’s serious condition.”

He began impersonating different Trump relatives, including Fred Trump III, the president’s nephew; Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s sister and a federal judge; and Barron Trump, the president’s teenage son.

“COVID is a scam,” he wrote on Aug. 23 as Barron Trump, a fake account that attracted more than 34,000 followers in eight days. On Aug. 25, the account posted: “Q is real. The more the media delegitimizes it, the more it shows that they’re scared.”

The Trump Organization, which has spoken on behalf of the Trump family members in the past, did not respond to requests for comment. The White House declined to comment.

The Twitter spokesman said the company eventually took down all of Mr. Hall’s accounts for violating its rules on impersonation and evading a previous ban from the site. In response to questions about why someone could create accounts impersonating the president’s teenage son and a White House official, the spokesman said in an email, “We’re committed to protecting the integrity of the conversation on Twitter, and we’re working hard to ensure that violations of our rules against impersonation, particularly when people are attempting to spread misinformation, are addressed quickly and consistently.”

A review on Saturday showed nearly 100 fake Barron Trump accounts were still active on Twitter, not counting those that identified as parodies.

Without a Twitter account, Mr. Hall felt left out after the election, as many fellow Trump supporters convened on Twitter to claim that the vote was rigged. “Why not make a comeback?” he recalled thinking. “I’m going to do something to spice things up.”

On the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 18, he created a new impostor, this time posing as the father of Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect. “My daughter is not who she portrays herself to be. She is dangerous for our democracy,” he posted.

The tweet got little attention, so he abandoned that fake for another Trump sibling. The final living sibling he hadn’t tried was Ms. Trump Grau, the president’s older sister, who is in her late 70s, lives in Florida and has hardly said anything public since her brother was elected.

Mr. Hall changed the name, photos and bio of the Mr. Harris account and erased the old posts. Then he started with a new message: “This election inspired me to break my silence,” he wrote under a photo of Ms. Trump Grau and the username @TheBettyTrump. “My brother Don won this election.”

He went viral again, collecting about 20,000 followers in 24 hours. Mr. Hall delighted many of his followers with dozens more juvenile and bizarre tweets, including claims that President-elect Biden is a pathological liar, Ms. Harris is a communist and Michelle Obama is a man.

Mr. Hall collected over $7,000 with his fake “Gay Voices for Trump” Twitter account. Photo by Ben Mack on Pexels.com

On Nov. 20, Mr. Hall said, he woke up and checked the president’s Twitter account, as he did most mornings. “I was like shellshocked,” he said.

He quickly began bragging on Snapchat that President Trump had tweeted about his fake account. “My friend was joking, ‘Maybe he’s not close with his sister, and you just brought him and his sister a lot closer,’” he said. “So I kind of felt good about that.”

Within hours, the account was outed as a fake.

Mr. Hall argued that his accounts were clear parodies, if anyone just looked at what they posted. As Ms. Trump Grau, for instance, he called the CNN anchor Anderson Cooper “Anderson Pooper” and said he would cover the legal fees of anyone who poured gravy down the pants of Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor.

“I’m a big Trump supporter, but I’m thinking, ‘He’s got to know that that’s a parody,’” he said. “How does he not know?”

Dan Alexander, a senior editor at Forbes who covers Trump’s businessses, writes that Trump really is a billionaire. His net worth, he says, is about $2.5 billion. That’s after taking into account more than $1 billion in Trump debts.

That makes it even more scandalous that Trump employs every accounting trick to pay no taxes in most years (while deducting $70,000 for his hair stylist), and only $750 in two years when he actually paid something to the government.

Dana Milbank has become my favorite columnist.

I hope you can open this column from the Washington Post, because he has added links to everything, too many for me to copy by hand. Since the Washington Post, like the New York Times, is making coverage of the pandemic open access, you might be able to open it.

The title: “This Cure for the Pandemic Is the Work of a Very Stable Genius.”

Forget vaccines and treatments. The very stable genius has a foolproof cure for the pandemic.

“If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” President Trump said at the White House Monday.

Precisely! And if I stop weighing myself right now, I will gain very few pounds, if any. What we don’t know cannot possibly hurt us. This is very much a part of Trump’s governing philosophy.

If he stops John Bolton’s book from being published, there will be very few damaging revelations, if any.

If his Office of Management and Budget stops releasing economic forecasts in its midyear review, the economy will have very few problems, if any.

If Trump’s Labor Department asks states to stop the release of their unemployment claims until later, there will be very few jobless people, if any.

If the administration stops the public disclosure of recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program, there will be very few cases, if any, of waste, fraud and abuse.

President George W. Bush famously advocated for testing so we could know if our children is learning. Trump takes the opposite view: If sunlight is the best disinfectant, Trump’s administration is festering. The administration literally shut down the transparency website “open.gov” and another one called “open.whitehouse.gov.” As The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reported, it removed some 40,000 data sets from data.gov in its first few months.

The head-in-sand strategy has become endemic during the pandemic. Florida fired the manager of its virus-data website after she objected to the removal of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced. Georgia reorganized its data in ways that made things look better than they were. Arizona attempted to stop the running of models showing the virus spreading. And the Trump administration for several weeks blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from issuing its guidelines for reopening.

Trump has evidently decided that if enough Americans are willing to suspend disbelief, there are few problems, if any, that can’t be solved by averting the public gaze. The thinking seems to go:

If we stop government reports and websites from mentioning climate change, Earth’s temperature will increase by few degrees, if any.

If we stop releasing certain information about illegal immigrants held by police, few will be denied due process, if any.

If we stop releasing records of visitors to the White House, we will have few unsavory visitors, if any.

If we stop disclosing violations of the Animal Welfare Act, few animals will be harmed, if any.

If we stop publicizing fines for workplace-safety violations, few workers will be harmed, if any.

If we stop collecting data on pay discrimination by race and gender, few employers will discriminate, if any.

If we stop the disclosure of administration officials’ ethics waivers, we will have few conflicts of interest, if any.

The administration has likewise stopped collecting various data on energy efficiency, police weaponry, labor-law violations, lending discrimination and discrimination in school discipline.

When Trump’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico came under scrutiny, the administration attempted to remove data showing the number of people without electricity and drinking water. Now that the administration is trying to implement a peace agreement in Afghanistan, it has stopped releasing data about insurgent attacks.

During impeachment, the White House withheld documents and witnesses from Congress, then claimed Trump couldn’t be convicted on the basis of secondhand information. The administration is still fighting, at the Supreme Court, to stop Congress from getting the grand jury material from Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The potential seems boundless. If the Trump administration stops measuring the federal debt, might it shrink? If Trump ignores the North Korean nuclear threat, might it go away? If he can stop enough people from believing the media, might the truth itself disappear?

He has, so far, gotten away with refusing to release his tax returns and refusing to provide a full accounting of his health. If he can stop Congress from seeing documents or talking to his advisers, stop inspectors general from investigating his administration and stop whistleblowers from blowing their whistles, there will be very few things Trump can’t get away with, if any.

And then comes the biggest test: If his voter-suppression efforts stop enough people from voting, there will be very few elections, if any, that he could lose.

Robert Shepherd writes comments on the blog frequently, and he also writes his own blog. He is a recently retired teacher in Florida who spent decades as a writer, editor, and developer of curriculum and assessments in the education publishing industry.

Since he has often expresssed his views of the current occupant of the White House, I invited him to assemble a Trump glossary.

He did.

Some people respond to crises with focused, quiet intensity. Not our 73-year-old President in the orange clown makeup. He can’t stop tweeting and blabbering randomly and profusely. And what does he tweet and blab about? Well, he suggests holding events at his resorts, he attacks perceived enemies, and he praises himself. And then on Memorial Day, while others are laying a wreath on the grave of Uncle Javier who died in Vietnam, Trump accuses a journalist of murder and goes golfing.

This demonstrated lack of concern for others (for victims and survivors of natural disasters and war and disease, for example) shows that Donald Trump doesn’t give a microbe on a nit on a rat’s tushy about anything but Donald Trump. Obviously, he cares only about money (sorry, Evangelicals, his only God is Mammon) and about himself.

But hey, Trump’s a romantic figure, a man in love. This must be his appeal. And when he speaks, in his toddler English, about the love of his life, Donald Trump, you can be certain that he will use terms like “a winner,” “the greatest,” “the best,” and so on. He will tell you about his “great genes” and his uncle who was “a super genius [which is a lot better than an ordinary genius] at MIT.”

OK, over the years, I’ve had my disagreements with the man to whom I variously refer as Moscow’s Asset Governing America (MAGA); Don the Con; IQ 45; The Don, Cheeto “Little Fingers” Trumpbalone; Vlad’s Agent Orange; the Iota; our Child-Man in the Promised Land; our Vandal in Chief; Dog-Whistle Don; The Man with No Plan and the Tan in the Can; President Pinocchio; Trump on the Stump with His Chumps; Jabba the Trump; Don the Demented; King Con; Donnie DoLittle; the Stabul Jenius; Scrotus Potus; The Mornavirus trumpinski orangii; Ethelorange the Unready; our First Part-time President, now become, in his nonresponse to the pandemic, Donnie Death. However, I do agree with him that in descriptions of Trump, SUPERLATIVES ARE IN ORDER.

The British writer Nate White wisely observed, in a post that Diane Ravitch shared on her indispensable blog, that Donald Trump’s “faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws.” Trump is a one-person compendium of human vices and failings. In this respect, truly, HE HAS NO EQUAL. And so I offer here an ABECEDARIUM of adjectives, each of which demonstrably describes the occupant of the now Offal Office in the now Whiter House, the fellow who has shamed us before the world, made us a laughing stock, and led the now Repugnican Party in an unprecedented Limbo Dance (“how low, how low, how low can we go?).

Trump is. . . .

abhorrent, amoral, anti-democratic, arrogant, authoritarian, autocratic, avaricious, backward, base, benighted, bloated, blubbering, blundering, bogus, bombastic, boorish, bullying, bungling, cheap, childish, clownish, clueless, common, confused, conniving, corrupt, cowardly, crass, creepy, cretinous, criminal, crowing, crude, cruel, dangerous, delusional, demagogic, depraved, devious, dim, disgraceful, dishonest, disloyal, disreputable, dissembling, dog-whistling, doltish, dull, elitist, embarrassing, erratic, fascist, foolish, gauche, gluttonous, greedy, grudging, hate-filled, hateful, haughty, heedless, homophobic, humorless, hypocritical, idiotic, ignoble, ignominious, ignorant, immature, inarticulate, indolent, inept, inferior, insane, intemperate, irresponsible, kakistocratic, kleptocratic, laughable, loathsome, loud-mouthed, low-life, lying, mendacious, meretricious, monstrous, moronic, narcissistic, needy, oafish, odious, orange, outrageous, pampered, pandering, perverse, petty, predatory, puffed-up, racist, repulsive, rude, sanctimonious, semi-literate, senile, senseless, sexist, shady, shameless, sheltered, slimy, sluglike, sniveling, squeamish, stupid, swaggering, tacky, thick, thin-skinned, thuggish, toadying, transphobic, trashy, treasonous, twisted, ugly, unappealing, uncultured, uninformed, unprincipled, unread, unrefined, vain, venal, vicious, vile, and vulgar.

Aside from those peccadilloes (we all have our faults, don’t we?), I have no problem with the guy.

Paul Thomas of Furman University describes two examples of “epistemic trespassing”: Ruby Payne’s theories about poverty and the current advocacy for “the science of reading.”

Epistemic trespassing occurs when a narrative is driven by people who are not experts in their field.

Laura Chapman writes:

“EdReports, an independent curriculum review nonprofit, rates curriculum on three gateways: Text Quality, Building Knowledge, and Usability. Amplify CKLA earned a green rating in all three.”

This should not be regarded as a trustworthy endorsement. Here is Why. Recall that the Common Core State (sic) Standards were first marketed as if they were not intended to be about curriculum (but they were), because the owners of the CCSS soon offered up “publisher’s criteria” for curriculum materials (2011). Those criteria morphed into a system for reviewing curricula, based on absolute compliance with the CCSS, including grade-by grade alignments. In 2013, the initial criteria for reviewing curriculum materials for compliance with the CCSS were called “drop dead” (meaning comply with these criteria or do not waste the time of reviewers). A year later, the language was softened to the idea that materials had to meet “gateway” criteria (2014), but with the same meaning,—comply or else the reviewers will not bother to look at anything else.

By 2015, the promoters of the CCSS had set up a non-profit called EdReports.org to function in the capacity of a consumer-reports of newly published math and ELA materials. The purpose was to rate publications that claimed to be in compliance with the CCSS.

EdReports is said to be the result of a meeting at the Annenberg estate of “the nation’s leading minds in math, science, K-12 and higher education.” I have not been able to find a list of participants in that meeting or the sponsors, but in 2014 professionals in branding and communications were hired to promote EdReports. You can see the strategy and their pride in getting coverage in national news, http://www.widmeyer.com/work/edreports-org.htmlincluding from Peter Greene at http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/search?q=EdReports

In August 2015 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1,499,988 to EdReports for operating support followed in 2016 with $6,674,956 for operating support. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gave EdReports.org $1.5 million in 2015 and $2 million in 2016.

Ed Reports.org is also funded by Broadcom Corporation (Board member from Broadcom is with EdReports), the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Overdeck Family Foundation, the Samuel Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation.

You can find more about the quest for absolute continuity from the writing of the CCSS, largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to current efforts to impose “approved curriculum materials” for any state that has adopted the CCSS… https://www.edreports.org/about/index.html

EdReports is a Gates funded review process initially marketed to ensure that “approved” curriculum materials were in compliance with the common core. Any curriculum materials that did not pass muster with three gateway “drop dead criteria” would not be subjected to further review.

Amplify does not want you to know the history of this phony system of rating materials. Bob Shepard has offered another excellent history of this absurdly wrong effort to standardize ELA curriculum.

I see that Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of Education, has found a position at Amplify. She also serves on the board of Gates’ relatively new lobby shop. She is not competent to make judgments about education, but that seems to qualify her to be a crony of the disrupters who will do almost anything to please a billionaire.

I just opened my email and discovered this brilliant post by Audrey Watters, whose critical voice on EdTech is indispensable.

Watters lists the 100 biggest EdTech debacles of the past decade, and seeing them all in one place is astonishing.

What strikes me is the combination of unadulterated arrogance (i.e., chutzpah), coupled with repeated failures.

What is also impressive are the number of entries that were hailed by the media or by assorted journalists, then slipped quietly down the drain, without impairing the reputation of the huckster who took the money and ran.

Again and again, we encounter EdTech start-ups and innovations that are greeted with wild acclaim and hype, but whose collapse is ignored as the parade moves on to the next overpromised miracle technology.

Whatever happened to the promise that half of all courses in school would be taught online by this year (false) or that most colleges and universities would die because of the rise of the MOOC (false)? Why do virtual charter schools make money even though they have horrible outcomes for students (lies, lies, lies)?

This post is stuffed with flash-in-the-pan technological disruptions that planned to “revolutionize” education, from K-12 through higher education but then tanked.

Please read it. Share it with your friends and colleagues.

Lessons: Learn humility. Believe in the power of human beings, not machines designed to replace them. Don’t let them sell you stuff designed to control the brains, emotions, and social development of students. Be wary. Be skeptical. Protect your privacy and the privacy of children.

Protect your intellectual freedom.

Read Audrey Watters.

 

 

 

 

Bill Phillis, retired deputy commissioner of the state education department, is a watchdog for Ohio schools, especially finances.

Charter schools in Ohio are called “community schools.”

He writes:

In 2014, the State Auditor’s office conducted an unannounced head count in 30 Ohio site-based charter schools. One charter had no students or 100% absenteeism. Eight had an absentee rate of more than 50 percent. Thirteen had an absentee rate of more than 30 percent.
More than a decade ago Scripps Howard News Service did a head count in several Ohio charters and found that as high as 66 percent of the students in one school were absent. Their report, Ghost Schools, was turned over to the Attorney General’s office but there was no public follow up.
The charter experiment should have been shut down at least 15 years ago.
William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540 | ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net| www.ohiocoalition.org

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, is outraged that Mayor DeBlasio is handing schools over to Laurene Powell Jobs and the charter-promoting Robin Hood Foundation.

Powell Jobs has handed out $100 million to jumpstart “innovative” schools. Four of the 10 schools to which she gave $10 million each have already failed. Her closest associate is Arne Duncan, whose Race to the Top was a disaster.

Over the last decade or so, the Robin Hood Foundation has primarily supported charter schools in its education portfolio, as might be predicted considering it was founded by hedge funders and its board is still composed largely of corporate executives and financiers.  According to Wikipedia, its board chair, Larry Robbins, is also the board chair of KIPP NY charter schools, and board chair of the Relay Graduate School, that trains teachers in the charter school “no excuses” regimented style of instruction. Robbins is also a member of the NY Board of Teach for America.

DeBlasio, who claimed to be a charter critic, has invited Robin Hood to open 18 new charter schools. Astonishing!

 

Haimson writes:

Given that these two private funders will help select the winners, or as Robin Hood put it, “will partner with the Department of Education on a rigorous selection process”, that means DOE will be sacrificing control for the design of these public schools to these two organizations for a relative pittance, compared to what it will cost to operate them.

But an even greater concern, as I expressed it to the Daily News, is that every new school will likely take space and funding away from our existing public schools, which are already underfunded and in many cases squeezed for space. Every new school makes overcrowding worse by eating up classroom space with the need to carve out new, replicated administrative and cluster rooms. 

We already have seen how worse inequities have resulted from the expansion of co-located charter schools in our public school buildings, as well as how the Gates-funded small schools initiative led to many of the remaining large high schools becoming even more overcrowded with the high-needs students that the small schools refused to enroll.  Many of these disadvantaged students at the large schools ended up more likely to be discharged, enrolled in low-quality credit recovery programs, or graduating without a Regents diploma  — all of which served the purposes of the organizations running the show as their small schools graduation data appeared better in comparison.  Another piece of evidence that DOE is caught in an infinite feedback loop: the Senior adviserto the XQ Institute is Michele Cahill, who ran the small schools initiative when she was at DOE. 

It feels as though we are seeing a rerun of the Bloomberg-Klein regime.

William J. Gumbert has posted a series of analyses of charter school performance and demographics in Texas, based on public data compiled by the state. This is a summary of earlier posts. You may recall from an earlier post about Houston that the state commissioner of education is threatening to take control of the Houston Independent School District because of the persistently low rest scores of one school, Wheatley High School. Please check out its demographics in the chart below.

 

By:  William J. Gumbert

 

Ever since the “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” report was released in 1983, corporate education reformers and privately funded, “public policy” organizations have promoted the “privatization of public schools”.  In 1995, the Texas Legislature gave in to the political rhetoric and authorized privately-operated charters (“charters”) to open and independently operate public schools with taxpayer funding.  As a result, taxpayers are funding a “dual education system” that consists of locally governed, community-based school districts and State approved charters.

Charters promised to improve student results by transferring the control of public schools to private organizations that had more autonomy to expend taxpayer funding without community oversight.  However, charters have not fulfilled their promise.  Despite the State funneling over $22.5 billion of taxpayer funding to privately-operated charters over the last 24 years, charters have not to produced better student outcomes than community-based school districts.   Most recently, 86.2% of community-based school districts received an “A” or “B” rating pursuant to the State’s 2019 Academic Accountability Ratings.  In comparison, only 58.6% of charters received an “A” or “B” rating. In addition, almost 1 of every 5 charters received a “D” or “F” rating from the State.

Despite the Perception – Charters Serve a Different Student Population:   Charter advocates have consistently promoted that charters serve a higher percentage of “economically-disadvantaged” and “minority” students from underserved communities.  But charters have also routinely stated that their student populations closely correlate with the school districts they choose to operate within. In this regard, Houston ISD and Dallas ISD collectively have over 75,000 students enrolled in State approved charters and both districts serve student populations that are at least 80% “economically-disadvantaged” and “minority”.   Thus, it is fair to say that both charters and school districts serve a high percentage of “economically-disadvantaged” and “minority” students.  However, the similarities in the types of students served by charters and school districts stop here.

The reality is that charters “underserve” many of the student subgroups that the “No Child Left Behind Act” identified as having potential achievement, opportunity or learning gaps in comparison to their peers.  The Texas Education Agency (“TEA”) tracks the performance of student subgroups in Texas public schools and while “economically-disadvantaged” and “minority” students are identified as subgroups, so are “at risk”, “special education”, “disciplinary” and “mobile” students.

With the needs of each student being unique, it is important to emphasize that a student can be included in more than one subgroup.   For example, a student can be identified solely as “economically-disadvantaged” or a student can be “economically-disadvantaged”, “at risk” and “mobile”.  The more subgroups that are applicable to a student, the more challenging it becomes to ensure that student is successful.   I highlight that “challenging” is not referenced as an excuse for schools to have low student performance, but rather to recognize the additional time, effort, care and resources that are required to help certain students overcome adverse circumstances and obtain a quality education.

A review of the student subgroups reported by TEA shows that privately-operated charters enroll a significantly lower percentage of “at risk”, “disciplinary placement” and “special education’ students than community-based school districts.  TEA data also demonstrates that charters enroll students with significantly lower “student mobility”.   Why?  It is hard to definitively say. But these types of students have proven to be more costly to serve, require the most effort to achieve good “test scores” and are the least likely to continue on the “road to college”.  It may also be that charters do not actively recruit students in these subgroups.  Either way, here are the facts.

 “At Risk” Students:  Students identified as “at risk” of dropping out are performing below academic standards and/or are confronting other challenges.  TEA’s definition of “at risk” includes a student that:

  • Did not perform satisfactorily on a readiness or assessment instrument;
  • Has a grade below 70 in 2 or more subjects in the foundation curriculum for the preceding or current school year;
  • Is of limited English proficiency;
  • Was not advanced from one grade level to the next for one or more school years; and
  • Has been placed in an alternative education program in the preceding or current school year.

As shown below, despite having a large presence in each of the 5 urban school districts listed below, some of the largest charters enroll 19.3% fewer “at risk” students.   In other words, for every 1,000- seat school campus, the school districts serve 193 more students that have been identified as “at risk” of dropping out.   While it may be surprising to some, the listed charters also serve a lower percentage of “at risk” students than the statewide average.

 

Privately-Operated Charter “At Risk”

Students

School District “At Risk”

Students

IDEA Public Schools 45.9% Houston ISD 71.7%
Harmony School of Excellence – Houston 43.5% Dallas ISD 63.2%
KIPP, Inc. – Houston 46.7% Austin ISD 51.3%
Uplift Education 54.8% San Antonio ISD 73.5%
YES Prep. 50.2% Fort Worth ISD 77.8%
Average – 5 Charters 48.2% Average – 5 School Districts 67.5%
5 Charters: Avg. Per 1,000 Seat Campus 482 Students 5 Districts:  Avg. Per 1,000 Seat Campus 675 Students
                                                                   State Average:   50.8% or 508 Students  

 

Disciplinary Placements:  TEA data shows that 73,713 students have been identified as “Disciplinary Placements” in public schools.  These are students that have previously had behavioral issues or been placed in a District Alternative Education Program (“DAEP”).  By law, privately-operated charters can exclude enrollment to this student subgroup and most charters do. In fact, charter proponents have previously stated that many charters are not prepared and could not afford to serve these students.  As such, the responsibility to deploy the educational services and resources needed to serve “disciplinary” students resides mostly with school districts.  Once again, despite having a large presence in the same 5 school districts, the same charters served only 11 “disciplinary” students and the school districts welcomed 6,532 “disciplinary” students.

Privately-Operated Charter Discipline

Students

School District Discipline

Students

IDEA Public Schools 0 Houston ISD 1,996
Harmony School of Excellence – Houston 0 Dallas ISD 1,843
KIPP, Inc. – Houston 0 Austin ISD 1,140
Uplift Education 0 San Antonio ISD 879
YES Prep. 11 Fort Worth ISD 674
  Total – 5 Charters 11   Total – 5 School Districts 6,532

 

 Special Education:  Students identified with physical or learning disabilities comprise an average of 9.1% of all students in Texas public schools.  But at the same charters listed below, only 6.2% of students are identified by TEA as “students with disabilities”.   The enrollment gap for “student with disabilities” among certain charters and school districts can be alarming, especially since it is permitted to occur with the State’s blessing.  For example, IDEA Public Schools is rapidly expanding in Austin ISD, but Austin ISD welcomes more than double the percentage of “students with disabilities”.   For every campus with 1,000 students, IDEA only serves 52 students with “special needs” and Austin ISD serves 109 students with “special needs”.  If Austin ISD served the same percentage of “students with disabilities” as IDEA, it would serve an estimated 4,500 fewer students with “special needs”.

Privately-Operated Charter Special Education Students School District Special Education Students
IDEA Public Schools 5.2% Houston ISD 7.1%
Harmony School of Excellence – Houston 6.3% Dallas ISD 8.2%
KIPP, Inc. – Houston 6.3% Austin ISD 10.9%
Uplift Education 7.0% San Antonio ISD 10.3%
YES Prep. 6.1% Fort Worth ISD 8.3%
Average – 5 Charters 6.2% Average – 5 School Districts 9.0%
  State Average: 9.1%  

 

Student Mobility:  TEA defines “student mobility” as the percentage of students that were enrolled at a campus for less than 83% of the school year.  In other words, the “student mobility” rate refers to the volume of students that were not consistently enrolled in a charter/school district throughout a school year.  With an inconsistent learning environment, students that regularly change schools are faced with unique social and educational challenges in comparison to other students.  For example, Education Week has reported that: “various studies have found student mobility – and particularly multiple moves – associated with lower school engagement, poorer grades in reading (particularly in math), and a higher risk of dropping out of high school”.

As summarized below, the “student mobility” rate of the listed school districts is a challenging 20.3%, while the “student mobility” rate of the charters is only 6.3%.   As such, for every 1,000-seat campus, the school districts must meet the unique challenges of educating 203 “mobile” students during a school year.  In comparison, the charter campus has a much more stable population with only 63 “mobile” students.

 

Privately-Operated Charter Student

Mobility Rate

School District Student

Mobility Rate

IDEA Public Schools 7.0% Houston ISD 19.2%
Harmony School of Excellence – Houston 10.0% Dallas ISD 19.9%
KIPP, Inc. – Houston 4.5% Austin ISD 17.9%
Uplift Education 5.5% San Antonio ISD 23.6%
YES Prep. 4.4% Fort Worth ISD 21.1%
Average – 5 Charters 6.3% Average – 5 School Districts 20.3%
5 Charters:  Avg. Per 1,000 Seat Campus 63 Students 5 Districts:  Avg. Per 1,000 Seat Campus 203 Students
                                                                   State Average: 16.0% or 160 Students  

Comparison of Campuses Located Within 3 Miles of Each Other:  While each student subgroup presents unique challenges, schools that are primarily comprised of students in multiple subgroups have the most challenges to consistently achieve high student performance. In this regard, it is not a coincidence that many school district campuses labeled as “low performing” by the State are comprised of students included in multiple subgroups.

The table below further illustrates the disparities of the student populations enrolled at State approved charters and school districts by comparing the student populations of 7 charter campuses that are located within 3 miles of a school district campus.   In each comparison, the charter campus competing for students with a nearby school district campus served fewer “at risk”, “disciplinary”, “special education” and “mobile” students.  It most cases, the differences were substantial.  On average, for each 1,000-seat campus, the comparisons revealed that the charter campuses served:

  • 325 fewer “at risk” students;
  • 65 fewer “special education” students;
  • 199 fewer “mobile” students; and
  • No charter campus enrolled a student with a “discipline placement”.
Campus “At Risk” Discipline

Placement

Special Education Student Mobility
Wheatley H.S.     (Houston ISD) 88.1% 36 19.0% 31.2%
YES Prep. – 5th Ward 51.1% None 7.6% 4.4%
Travis H.S.         (Austin ISD) 77.1% 46 14.2% 30.3%
IDEA Allan College Prep. 53.7% None 10.4% 8.6%
Morningside M.S.   (Fort Worth ISD) 88.0% 2 14.1% 25.9%
Uplift Mighty M.S. 67.8% None 10.7% 2.9%
Sharpstown H.S.    (Houston ISD) 90.2% 39 9.7% 30.9%
KIPP Sharpstown College Prep. 52.2% None 5.4% 4.4%
Douglass Elem.      (SAISD) 78.5% 6 9.6% 28.7%
IDEA Carver Academy 17.4% None 5.1% 9.5%
Andress H.S.         (El Paso ISD) 66.3% 51 21.1% 18.0%
Harmony School of Excel. – El Paso 49.4% 0 8.5% 12.1%
Carter H.S.          (Dallas ISD) 70.7% 20 11.8% 24.0%
Uplift Hampton Prep.  H.S. 39.5% None 6.4% 7.6%
Average –  7 School District Campuses 79.8% 26 14.2% 27.0%
Average –  7 Charter Campuses 47.3% None 7.7% 7.1%
Average Charter Difference Per 1,000 Seat Campus 325 Fewer Students 65 Fewer Students 199 Fewer Students

 

Conclusion:  The “A Nation at Risk” report started the false narrative that our public schools were failing and the attack on school districts has continued ever since.  These strategic attacks have served to fuel the “privatization of public education agenda” of corporate reformers and society-controlling billionaires that persuaded the Legislature to provide privately-operated charters with the freedom to expand in local communities with taxpayer funding.

The State has provided privately-operated charters with many educational advantages to produce better student outcomes than community-based school districts.  These advantages include less taxpayer oversight; greater instructional, staffing and enrollment flexibility; and the ability to stop serving students by closing campuses.  Privately-operated charters are also permitted to underserve certain student subgroups that have been identified as having potential achievement, opportunity or learning gaps, such as “at risk”, “disciplinary”, “special education” and “mobile” students.

With all the educational advantages afforded to State approved charters, common sense tells us that charters should be outperforming school districts by a wide margin.  But despite these advantages and 24 years of experimentation, the State’s 2019 Academic Accountability Ratings document that privately-operated charters continue to produce lower student outcomes than locally governed school districts!

It is time for the State to apologize to school district teachers, support staffs, administrators and Boards of Trustees across the State and admit that “privatization” was a misguided experiment.   It is time for the Legislature to apologize to taxpayers for increasing the costs of public education by diverting over $22.5 billion of taxpayer funding to privately-operated charters that have failed to consistently improve student outcomes in local communities.  It is time to implement education policies that are based upon the facts, not political charades or charter advertisements.  The future of young Texans is counting on it!

 

DISCLOSURES:  The author is a voluntary advocate for public education and this material solely reflects the opinions of the author.  The author has not been compensated in any manner for the preparation of this material.  The material is based upon information provided by the Texas Education Agency, TXSchools.gov and other publicly available information.  While the author believes these sources to be reliable, the author has not independently verified the information.  All readers are encouraged to complete their own review and make their own independent conclusions.