Archives for category: Fake

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.

 

The parents of a student in New Orleans were dismayed when they realized that their daughter would graduate from high school even though she could neither count nor read. She was surely entitled under federal law to extra help but she never got it. Now she is a statistic: a graduate. A victory for the all-charter system that failed her.

Dennis Lewis remembers the moment clearly. It was the beginning of the school year, and he was trying to convince his wife that their 18-year-old wasn’t getting the services she needed from her public high school in New Orleans. 

He pulled out a handful of coins from his pocket, and asked his daughter how much money he was holding. 

“Sure enough, she couldn’t count it,” he recalled.

 

The look on his wife’s face — who would die from an aneurysm just three days later — was devastating.

Denesha Gray had just started the 12th grade. A few months later, still unable to perform basic addition, she beamed as she walked across the stage and received her diploma from McDonogh 35 Senior High School.

Gray, who struggles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder, had been allowed to progress to this point despite several red flags. She couldn’t count money, and she read only as well as a second grader. The system also failed to provide her with the type of tailored education program that her diagnoses mandated until the very end of her high school career.

Gray’s story recalls a sad episode that was once held up as Exhibit A in the failure of New Orleans’ public schools — the story of Bridget Green, who, despite being her school’s valedictorian in 2003, could not pass the state’s graduate exit exam of basic skills.

But Gray graduated in 2018, after being educated almost exclusively in a school system that was held up after Hurricane Katrina as a laboratory for education reform.

Louisiana teacher and activist Lee Barrios posted this online comment in response to the article:

bit.ly/2KCE2k0

Just a sampling of not only how disastrous education reform has been for our public schools in general, but of the damage that continues to be done to the SPED children through pure neglect and, unfortunately, purposeful denial of every child’s right to a public education that meets their needs!  

Although this story thoroughly covers WHAT happened, as good journalistic reporting should, the public must now ask and demand the answer to WHY it is happening.  

Many of us (properly trained and experienced education experts) have been monitoring the progression of the educational experiment dubbed “reform.”  Our  children have been used as the guinea pigs for the experiment. There is no doubt as to WHY the experiment failed.  

As is true of all failed experiments, the hypothesis was flawed (an understatement).  It’s like an experiment based on the idea that if supplementing a cow’s feed with apple cider vinegar will result in increased milk production (true) that adding vinegar when watering our flowering plants will increase bloom. An adept scientist will know or learn enough about the components of the experiment FIRST to tell him from the start that the hypothesis is incorrect – worse than incorrect – it will kill the plant.  

Those who devised the various hypotheses of the educational experiment called reform include Presidents on down through the past few U.S. Secretaries of Education (Duncan, King, DeVos) to our State Superintendent John White.  And finally, placed in many of our classrooms are unqualified instructors (like Teach for America recruits) who are NOT qualified, properly trained or experienced educators.  It’s a fact.  Add to that lack of expertise along with the power and money of the backers of these experiments like  Bill Gates, the Waltons, and Jeb Bush bent on pushing their false theories.  Then quickly followed a long list of investors, politicians and charlatans and you have what we see today – our children, our public schools and our teachers “dying” – and many of us would say death by design. 

Many educators (and now parents) locally, nationally and even internationally have sounded the death knell for years. Our protests were particularly loud after Hurricane Katrina when the orchestrated takeover of New Orleans schools took place.

The volume increased in 2010 with the Race to the Top scheme pushed by Bobby Jindal.  We have been flailing our hands treading water ever since as John White was appointed State Superintendent via a waiver of qualifications by a corrupt or at least blind majority of BESE members whose campaigns were funded by millionaires and billionaires who succeeded in fooling the voting public that Might is Right!  

The single most important weapon used to facilitate the destruction of our public school system has been the use of our HIGH STAKES standardized test.  Imagine that.  One single test that combined with the disastrous Common Core Standards to which the test is aligned and the bogus unresearched  and unproven curriculum (that which is being taught in the classroom) has captured total control over our local school districts.  

And to make sure that the use of these three components of the experiment produce the desired results (privatization through school failure) an invalid accountability system was devised that has fooled the public into “believing” the results of John White’s manipulated and complicated formula of School Performance Scores. 

ALL FACTS folks.  We have the evidence. We have the proof which many of us allege to be fraud, malfeasance, and coercion.  But no one with the authority to conduct a full investigation has listened or taken action.  NO ONE!  It has been like standing at the bottom of the mountain warning that an avalanche is imminent but nobody in the restaurants and expensive homes below want to believe that the status quo is about to be disastrously broken!  Questioning if it could be possible that their lives are in danger of being changed forever.  

It too bad that the greatest victims have been our innocent children.  Let’s Stop!  This experiment is a failure!  

Lee P. Barrios, M.Ed., NBCT

Candidate – BESE District 1
La. Board of Elementary & Secondary Education

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Klein, education editor of Huffington Post, broke the story that rightwing groups have infiltrated NAACP chapters in California to create a fake rebellion against the organization’s 2016 call for a moratorium on new charters. The resolution passed by the National Civil Rights Group demands a halt until charters agree to be accountable, to cease diverting money from public schools, and to stop pushing out students they don’t want.

When three local NAACP branches in California passed April resolutions opposing the national group’s call for a charter school moratorium, school choice advocates greeted the news with glee. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVosvoiced her support in an interview. The Wall Street Journal published a flattering editorial about the move, describing it as a welcome “revolt.”

But leaders at the California state NAACP say this so-called “revolt” is fake news. They say the main member who pushed these actions ― a woman named Christina Laster ― is being paid by a right-wing group connected to the Koch brothers to infiltrate the organization and sow chaos. They also note that, despite the media attention, these resolutions were dead on arrival at the national organization for failure to follow proper submission protocol or rejection by higher committees.

In July, California leadership asked the national NAACP to initiate an investigation into the three branches ― Southwest Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino ― and their leaders’ motivations.

“It’s definitely a funded and deliberate effort to try and do a hostile takeover,” said Rick Callender, the second vice president for the California Hawaii NAACP…

Laster works for the California Policy Center, a conservative think tank that’s an affiliate of the State Policy Network. According to a 2012 report from theCenter for Media and Democracy, the State Policy Network is a main driver of legislation created by the pro-business American Legislative Exchange Counsel and has deep ties to Charles and David Koch, the energy billionaires who spend vast sums of money to promote conservative causes and candidates. The California Policy Center is dedicated to pushing education reform causes, with a focus on beating back the state’s teachers union. The group has been behind a number of lawsuits designed to hurt unions’ bottom lines.

An officer of the San Diego branch of the NAACP is  employed by the California Charter Schools Association, the charter lobby.

“These are people on the payroll of charter school associations and payroll of organizations that are trying to attack the greatest civil rights organization in the U.S.,” said Callender.

I’m on an Amtrak train on my way to Washington, D.C., to see the new Democratic members of Congress sworn in. A friend, Donna Shalala of Miami, is one of that group. It’s a bright new day in America. The Constitution and its balance of powers is coming to life to rein in an unhinged, ignorant, vengeful President who arrived knowing nothing about government or policy and has learned nothing.

Ann Gearan of the Washington Post reported on Trumps bizarre Cabinet meeting, the first of the New Year, in which he found plenty of time to boast about himself. Bear in mind that Trump has never worked in an environment in which anyone had the power to say no to him. In his family business, he was King. For his first two years in office, no one dared challenge him, and in the rare instance where they tried, they were ousted (think Mark Sanford) or quit (think Flake and Corker).

Now the Emperor must face hostile majority in the Houseof Representatives. Democracy lives. The King is mad.

Here is a summary of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting:

President Trump, 12 days into a government shutdown and facing new scrutiny from emboldened Democrats, inaugurated the new year Wednesday with a Cabinet meeting. It quickly became a 95-minute stream-of-consciousness defense of his presidency and worldview, filled with falsehoods, revisionist history and self-aggrandizement.

Trump trashed his former secretary of defense, retired four-star Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, as a failure after once holding him out as a star of his administration.

“What’s he done for me?” Trump said.

He claimed to have “essentially” fired Mattis, who had surprised the White House by resigning in protest last month after the president’s abrupt decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria.

And Trump, who did not serve in the military and received draft deferments during the Vietnam War, suggested he would have made a good military leader himself.

“I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?” Trump said.

Trump on Mattis: ‘President Obama fired him and … so did I’

President Trump spoke about his former defense secretary at a Cabinet meeting Jan. 2, saying he was not “too happy” with how Jim Mattis handled Afghanistan. (The Washington Post)
He took credit for falling oil prices, arguing they were the result of phone calls he made to the leaders of oil-producing nations.

“I called up certain people, and I said let that damn oil and gasoline — you let it flow, the oil,” he said.

And Trump defended his push to fund his promised border wall, parrying complaints from Democrats who have called the wall immoral by remarking, “Then we have to do something about the Vatican, because the Vatican has the biggest wall of them all.”

Trump is entering his third year in the White House with his presidency at its most challenging point.

Democrats bent on investigating his administration and stymieing his agenda will take control of the House on Thursday. The thriving economy he once touted as evidence of his success is showing signs of strain, with financial markets tumbling in recent weeks due in part to worries over his policies and stewardship of the government. And his new year began with former GOP presidential nominee and incoming Utah Sen. Mitt Romney penning a harsh critique, cheered by the president’s Republican detractors, that argued Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

Trump seemed mindful of all this Wednesday as he attempted to seize the spotlight by staging an unusual Cabinet meeting that was geared more toward garnering public attention than serving as a venue for the internal deliberations of his administration.

After saying last month that he would proudly take responsibility for the government shutdown over wall funding, he sought to blame Democrats for not sticking around over the holidays to negotiate. He said he stayed in Washington because the border security debate was “too important a subject to walk away from.”

“I was here on Christmas evening. I was all by myself in the White House — it’s a big, big house — except for the guys on the lawn with machine guns,” he said.

But Trump added confusion to the debate by undercutting Vice President Pence, seated nearby, in dismissing the offer he and other administration officials made to Democrats late last month of accepting $2.5 billion for the wall.

He described the recent stock sell-off as a “glitch” and said markets would soar again on the strength of trade deals he plans this year. But House Democrats may stand in the way of the first of those, a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and markets have been rattled most by the tariffs Trump has imposed on China.

Trump dismissed Romney’s scathing criticism of how he’s conducted his presidency, saying Romney should be more of a “team player,” and played down the idea he could face a primary challenge in 2020.

“They say I am the most popular president in the history of the Republican Party,” Trump said.

Amid concerns within his own party about whether he will pull troops out of Afghanistan, Trump offered a discursive and somewhat inscrutable account of the fall of the Soviet Union, blaming it on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump said.

His point was that the United States should pull out of hopeless and expensive wars, but he skipped over the many reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 as he held up the loss of empire as an example.

“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there,” he said, breaking with the stance taken by past U.S. administrations that the invasion was an illegitimate power play against a neighboring nation. “The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

The semblance of a traditional Cabinet meeting broke out from time to time, including when Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, joining by video connection, briefed the group on the administration’s border security efforts and set the tone by claiming, “Mr. President, now more than ever we need the wall.”

Trump’s Cabinet is pocked by vacancies, as the roster of deputies and placeholders around the table illustrated.

Mattis’s formerly prominent place at the Cabinet table was occupied Wednesday by a little-known deputy, Patrick Shanahan, who mostly looked down at his notes as Trump called Syria, where more than 2,000 U.S. troops are deployed, a lost cause of “sand and death.”

Several officials in attendance interjected praise for the president at different points.

“I want to thank you for the strong stand you have taken on border security,” Pence told him.

Trump, a large poster of himself evoking “Game of Thrones” on the table before him, complained about allies and partners from Afghanistan and Pakistan to India and Germany. They don’t pay their way or expect too much from the United States, Trump said, claiming anew that he is insisting on a reboot of the old expectations about U.S. aid and military obligations.

He claimed that if he wanted to, he could have any government job in Europe and be popular there. He cast his unpopularity among European publics as a sign he is doing his job well.

He defended his controversial negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by stating that if he had not reached out, there would have been a “big fat war in Asia.”

A second summit with Kim will happen soon, Trump predicted. He did not mention Kim’s veiled threat, in a New Year’s message, that the United States must not try his patience.

Trump’s critics and skeptics on North Korea say he lost leverage by agreeing to the first summit last year and would only lose more with another face-to-face meeting now.

The president, who frequently faces criticism for his light public schedule, also bemoaned the lack of credit he has received for what he views as the many accomplishments of his first two years.

“I have to tell you, it would be a lot easier if I didn’t do anything, if I just sat and enjoyed the presidency, like a lot of other people have done,” Trump said.

We will never find out how low they will go.

This one, at least, is funny.

Mike Pence held a rally in Michigan. He wanted to show his respect to the victims of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The “rabbi” invited to speak was not Jewish. He was a convert to Christianity and part of a group called “Jews for Jesus,” which seeks to convert Jews to Christianity.

But now it turns out that he was defrocked as a “rabbi.”

He was not only a fake rabbi, he was a fake fake rabbi.

There was a burst of semi-bewildered outrage this week when Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States, attempted to pay respects to the 11 Jewish victims of an explicitly anti-Semitic attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue two days earlier by appearing with a fake rabbi at his rally in Michigan on Monday. The “rabbi” in question, Loren Jacobs, subscribes to Messianic Judaism, a belief system that sees him spend most of his time essentially trying to convert Jews to Christianity. After all, if you think Jesus was the Messiah, you sound a lot like a Christian, and mainstream Jewish groups do not recognize Messianic Judaism as a Jewish faith.

It was, in general, a gesture of profound ignorance and disrespect. Jacobs, who reportedly attended “the Moody Bible Institute, a conservative Christian institute in Chicago,” invoked Jesus by name in his rally oratory and asked God Himself to back the Republican Party in the midterms. All God’s children, and all that.

But the tragicomedy only continued Wednesday, when NBC News came out with a stupefying new layer to the story. Jacobs is not, in fact, just a Fake Rabbi. He’s a Fake Fake Rabbi, which somehow doesn’t make him a real rabbi.

“Loren Jacobs, who was invited onstage by Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a rally in Michigan for a GOP congressional candidate, was defrocked 15 years ago, according to a spokeswoman for the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.”

Whatever Pence’s intentions, he certainly did not pay respect to the 11 Jews who were massacred in Pittsburgh, who were real Jews.

This is an unusually good opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times a few days ago.

Think Gates, Zuckerberg, Walton, Hastings, Koch, and many more who use their wealth to impose their ideas on what they consider lesser lives.

The author is Anand Giridharadas.

Please note the mention of charter schools, a bone used by the elites to distract us from wealth inequality and the necessity of providing a better education for all.

It begins:

“Change the world” has long been the cry of the oppressed. But in recent years world-changing has been co-opted by the rich and the powerful.

“Change the world. Improve lives. Invent something new,” McKinsey & Company’s recruiting materials say. “Sit back, relax, and change the world,” tweets the World Economic Forum, host of the Davos conference. “Let’s raise the capital that builds the things that change the world,” a Morgan Stanley ad says. Walmart, recruiting a software engineer, seeks an “eagerness to change the world.” Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook says, “The best thing to do now, if you want to change the world, is to start a company.”

“At first, you think: Rich people making a difference — so generous! Until you consider that America might not be in the fix it’s in had we not fallen for the kind of change these winners have been selling: fake change.

“Fake change isn’t evil; it’s milquetoast. It is change the powerful can tolerate. It’s the shoes or socks or tote bag you bought which promised to change the world. It’s that one awesome charter school — not equally funded public schools for all. It is Lean In Circles to empower women — not universal preschool. It is impact investing — not the closing of the carried-interest loophole.

“Of course, world-changing initiatives funded by the winners of market capitalism do heal the sick, enrich the poor and save lives. But even as they give back, American elites generally seek to maintain the system that causes many of the problems they try to fix — and their helpfulness is part of how they pull it off. Thus their do-gooding is an accomplice to greater, if more invisible, harm.

“What their “change” leaves undisturbed is our winners-take-all economy, which siphons the gains from progress upward. The average pretax income of America’s top 1 percent has more than tripled since 1980, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen more than sevenfold, even as the average income of the bottom half of Americans stagnated around $16,000, adjusted for inflation, according to a paper by the economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

“American elites are monopolizing progress, and monopolies can be broken. Aggressive policies to protect workers, redistribute income, and make education and health affordable would bring real change. But such measures could also prove expensive for the winners. Which gives them a strong interest in convincing the public that they can help out within the system that so benefits the winners.”

There is more, if it is not behind a paywall.

I like Twitter and post there daily. All of the posts here go automatically to Twitter, and I often send tweets from the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, the Onion, etc. whatever strikes my fancy. I often respond to Tweets directed at me, and I scan other’s Tweets for good stories and comments. On the other hand, I deleted Facebook because I object to its invasion of privacy, mine and others.

I have 149,000 followers, and I seldom look at their names. But one day recently I looked at the most recent additions and saw that one identified himself as a Sheik from Dubai, Prince Sheik Hamdan. I was impressed and intrigued. I followed him and asked by private message whether he was interested in American education. He responded promptly and said he was. We then had several exchanges in which he described his background and education and asked about mine. I googled him and he looked authentic. I told him things about me that are public knowledge—what I do, where I was born, where I went to college, in response to his questions.

I began to have fantasies of flying to Dubai to give him advice about education. I wondered how he would react when he learned I am Jewish.

But, born skeptic that I am, I began to wonder if I was being hoaxed. Everything he told me was on his Wikipedia page, but then a fraudster would know that information too.

He wrote:

“‎I know you maybe asking yourself the meaning of the name Hamdan,(Hamdān) is a name of Arab origin. It is a name of an ancient tribe in Yemen, which can also be found in modern Yemen. It is different from the name Hamdan (Arabic: حمدان Ĥamdān) although in English both names appear with the same spelling. I would love to know you better if you don’t mind.”

Then he wrote:

“I’m the third post-federation ruler, heads the Dubai Executive Council which supervises public sector and development strategies in the emirate. I was Born on November 14, 1982, began schooling in Dubai before moving to Britain, where i graduated from the Sandhurst military academy. Where did you school and how old are you?”

I replied with publicly available information about where I was born and educated.

He wrote:

“I really want us to be good friends. This year marks 11 years since His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE, became the ruler of Dubai on Friday He did appoint me Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum as Crown Prince of Dubai.”

Like, how lonely is this guy? I noticed in his bio that he writes poetry, and I complimented him.

He thanked me, then wrote:

“In September 2006 i was appointed as chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, entrusted with overseeing Dubai government entities. Also made significant contributions to the council, which was highlighted particularly by the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 that was launched in February 2007. what do you do for a living??? have you appointed to handle any office since you were born??”

Ah, we hardly knew one another but a day, and he wants to know me. I’m not that lonely. I say I am writing a book. I write:

“So, this is an awkward question. How do I know you are who you say you are and not a fake Twitter account. I am a public figure in the US, perhaps the leading name in US education. There are many pretenders on Twitter.” I was boasting, but then what do you say to a very important prince?

He responds:

“The internet has been grossly abused by scam artist and miscreants whose intention is to hurt. In as much as one should be careful, same time we should not allow negative to kill the positive potential in a realistic business, please read my proposal carefully is 100% Risk-free. So what do you do for a living ??”

Uh-oh. Here comes the pitch. My antennae are way up. I respond:

“I write and lecture for a living. I am writing a book now. What is your risk-free proposal? I am not in need of money or fame. I live to do good for others when I can.”

Pretentious, I know, but I was sending a signal that I am not interested in a big money grab.

But here it comes.

“I discover documents of a late client Mr. Andreas Schranner A German business magnate who work in devolpment of our great country Dubai. I discovered from my employers that Mr. Andreas Schranner, died in the plane crash Monday, 31 July 2000, (an air France jet liner) with his entire family, as you can confirm it yourself via the website below for (BBCNEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/859479.stm … …According to United Arab emirates/Dubai banking law after the expiration of 14 (fourteen ) years, if nobody apply for the claim it will confiscate as state treasury if
nobody apply for the claim, I am seeking for your support to stand as next of kin/ beneficiary to claim these funds”

Can you believe this? Am I that stupid? No. Do I want to claim to be the beneficiary of a stranger who died in a plane crash? No.

I replied:

“Congratulations.

“You don’t need my support. And you don’t need his money either.

“Why are you asking me to help you? You don’t need me.”

His answer:

“$12M (Twelve Million United State Dollars,) I have the power/right to add your name on the list as the legal beneficiary, the scan documents name list is right in my position. I am ready to share with you 40% for you and 60% will be kept for the Charity Project which you will have to help me supervise during the process of building this Charity Foundation.”

I didn’t answer.

No prince. No Sheik. No trip to Dubai.

Beware.

Arne Duncan spent seven years as U.S. Secretary of Education, imposing bad ideas every year of his tenure.

Now, having been in charge for longer than almost anyone (except Richard Riley, Clinton’s Secretary of Education), Duncan is smearing U.S. education wherever he goes, all to promote his new book.

Nowhere does he admit that everything he did was a failure.

Evaluating teachers by test scores was a massive failure. States used teacher evaluation as an excuse to level fund their schools, leading to a national teacher shortage and massive disinvestment.

Common Core was a massive failure.

Arne’s school turnaround program was a massive failure.

Most states have dropped out of the federal testing consortia, in which Arne invested $360 million.

Expanding school choice set the basis for Betsy DeVos’ privatization agenda.

Charter schools do not get better results than public schools unless they cherrypick their students and kick out those with low scores.

NAEP scores were flat in 2015 and again in 2017, having absorbed Duncan’s failed policies.

Does he ever learn?

No.