Archives for category: Philanthropy

Three scholars have recently published a very informative book about the history of education in New Orleans. The authors tell this story by scrutinizing one very important elementary school in the city, the one that was first to be desegregated with one black student in 1960. The book is titled William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans (Peter Lang). The authors are Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White, and Martha Graham Viator.

This is the school that enrolled 6-year-old Ruby Bridges in November 1960. Her entry to the school each day, a tiny little girl accompanied by federal agents, was met with howling, angry white parents. Her admission to an all-white school in New Orleans was a landmark in the fight to implement the Brown v. Board decision of 1954. It was immortalized by Norman Rockwell in a famous painting called The Problem We All Live With.

The authors set the stage for their history by pointing out that the Reconstruction-era constitution of Louisiana forbade racially segregated schools. In the early 1870s, about one-third of the public schools in New Orleans were racially integrated. Some schools had racially integrated teaching staffs. School board members were both white and black. When Reconstruction ended, rigid racial segregation and white supremacy were restored.

The William Frantz Public School opened in 1938 as a school for white children. It occupied almost a full city block.It was one of the few schools built during the Depression. It was built to accommodate 570 children. The authors demonstrate the vast inequality between white schools and black schools. Not far away was a school for black children of elementary age. Not only were black schools overcrowded, but black neighborhoods had problems with poorly maintained sewers, streets, sidewalks, gas and water lines, and structurally unsound buildings. Black schools were dilapidated, students shared desks, and class sizes were often in excess of 60 children to one teacher. Black students had fewer instructional hours than white students, due to overcrowding. White teachers were paid more than black teachers.

Black citizens of New Orleans were outraged by these conditions but they were politically powerless. The white power structure did not care about the education of black children.

Then came the Brown decision of 1954, which declared the policy of “separate but equal” to be unjust. The federal courts moved slowly to implement desegregation, but eventually they began to enforce it. The federal district judge who took charge of desegregation in New Orleans was J. Shelley Wright, a graduate of the city’s white schools. He determined to implement the Brown decision, despite the opposition of the Governor, the Legislature, the Mayor, and prominent white citizens of the city, as well as White Citizens Councils.

In 1958, the Louisiana legislature passed several measures to weaken desegregation efforts including laws allowing the governor to close any school that desegregated, providing state funds to any students seeking to leave the traditional public schools, and granting the state sweeping power to control all schools.

Their well-written history brings the reader to the present, to the all-charter model that privatizers hold up as an exemplar for every urban district troubled by low test scores and white flight.

The section of the book that I found most interesting was their detailed account of the white reaction to the prospect of school integration, despite the fact that the black students who applied to attend white schools were carefully screened for their academic potential and their behavior. Ruby Bridges was the one and only student chosen to start desegregation. Crowds gathered every morning to spit and scream. They harassed not only Ruby, with her federal protection, but any white student who dared to enter the school. Their blockade eventually forced whites to abandon the William Franz Public School. A few persisted, but little Ruby never met them. She was assigned to a classroom with no other students and one teacher.

The whites who tried to stay in the school were subject to threats of violence. Some lost their jobs, as did Ruby’s father. They feared for their lives. The hatred for blacks by whites was explosive. The portrayal of malignant racism is searing.

A relatively small number of whites tried to calm the situation. One such group was called Save Our Schools. They reached out to the white parents of the school, trying to bring peace and reconciliation.

In perhaps the most disturbing response to an SOS mailing, a WFPS parent who had received a letter from SOS returned the letter smeared with feces. A handwritten comment on the letter stated the parent would rather have ignorant children then to send them to a “nigger school.”

The mob won. By the middle of the school year, fewer than 10 white students remained in the school, and they too needed protection. By 1993, not one white student attended the school.

As the tumult continued after Ruby’s admission, prominent whites funded private schools so that white students could escape the specter of desegregation. The Legislature passed laws to support the resistance to desegregation and to give vouchers to whites fleeing the public schools and to underwrite the private academies where racist white students enrolled.

When the battle over desegregation began, New Orleans schools enrolled a white majority. Racism led to white flight, and before long the school district was overwhelmingly black, as was the city.

The authors detail the problems of the district. Not only was it segregated and underfunded, but its leadership was unstable. The management was frequently incompetent and corrupt. Its accounting department was a mess. So was Human Resources. Teachers were not paid on time. The management was woeful. The state wanted to take control of the district before Hurricane Katrina. Three months before the disastrous hurricane, the state leaned on the district to hire a corporate restructuring firm at a cost of $16.8 million.

In June, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Orleans Parish School Board signed an agreement relinquishing the management of the district’s multi-million dollar operating budget to the state. As a result, the district entered into negotiations with a New York turnaround management corporation, Alvarez and Marsal, to oversee its finances. In the contract, the board not only surrendered financial control, it also granted the firm authority to hire and fire employees.

Alvarez & Marsal put one of its senior partners, Bill Roberti, in charge of the district. Before joining the management consultants, Roberti had run the clothing store Brooks Brothers. A&M had previously received $5 million for a year of controlling the St. Louis school district, which was not “turned around,” and collected $15 million for reorganizing New York City’s school bus routes, with poor results (some children were stranded for long periods of time, waiting for buses on the coldest day of the year).


Before the hurricane, the state created the Recovery School District (in 2003) to take control of failing schools. In 2004, it passed Act 9, which allowed the state to take over schools with an academic score of 60 or less and hand them over to charter operators. After the hurricane, the Legislature passed Act 35, which changed the criteria for takeover and paved the way for the Recovery School District to take charge of most of the city’s public schools. Parents got “choice,” but the new charter schools created their own admissions policies, and most did the choosing.

Prior to Act 35, schools with School Performance Scores below 60 were considered to be in academic crisis. Act 35 raised the threshold score to 87.5, virtually ensuring every school in Orleans Parish would be deemed in academic crisis, and therefore, eligible for takeover by the Recovery District…Act 35 achieved what Governor Davis, Leander Perez, and segregationists failed to do in 1960. Act 35, for all intents and purposes, allowed the State of Louisiana to seize control of the Orleans Parish school district…The takeover of the failing schools within Orleans Parish made the Recovery District the largest school district in the State of Louisiana. Had the threshold for the School Performance Score not been raised in Act 35, the Recovery District would have taken over only 13 schools and had a much reduced presence and influence in public education in New Orleans.

After the hurricane, district officials and Alvarez & Marsal issued a diktat permanently terminating the jobs and benefits of more than 7,500 teachers and other staff.

Sixteen years since Hurricane Katrina and the privatization of public schools in New Orleans, the debate about the consequences continues, as it surely will for many more years.

For those interested in New Orleans, I recommend this book, along with Raynard Sanders’ The Coup d’Etat of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System, Kristen Buras’ Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance. For a favorable view of the charter takeover, read Douglas Harris’s Charter School City: What the End of Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Means for American Education.



Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, which is part of the City University of New York. Gabor has written insightful articles about education in the New York Times and at Bloomberg.com. She is the author of After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Education Reform.

The following is a summary of a chapter in her forthcoming book, MEDIA CAPTURE: HOW MONEY, DIGITAL PLATFORMS, AND GOVERNMENTS CONTROL THE NEWS, which will be published by Columbia University Press in June. She prepared this excerpt for this blog.

She writes:

For the past twenty years, American K-12 education has been on the receiving end of Big Philanthropy’s efforts to reengineer public schools based on free-market ideas, with foundation-funded private operators taking over large swaths of school districts in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Between 2000 and 2005 alone, three foundations—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation—quadrupled their spending on K–12 education to $400 million. By 2010, the top 15 foundations had spent $844 million on public education.

Moreover, these Big Philanthropies coordinated their spending, investing in what Harvard’s Jal Mehta and Johns Hopkins’s Steven Teles call “jurisdictional challengers”—efforts aimed atupending traditional educational institutions, in particular public schools and school boards. Instead, the foundations funded a range of private and public institutions, including charter-management organizations and alternative teacher-development institutions such as Teach for America, as well as school-board candidates who would back the philanthropists’ reform agenda and help break the “monopoly” of public-school districts.

Diane Ravitch and a slew of other academics, bloggers and writers have documented the growing influence of Big Philanthropy and its convergence with federal education policies, especially under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, creating what the political scientist Sarah Reckhow calls “a perfect storm.”

As part of its soup-to-nuts strategy designed to maximize the impact of its gifts and expand its influence, Big Philanthropy has expanded its reach to universities, think tanks, government institutions, and the news media.

My chapter, “Media Capture and the Corporate Education-Reform Philanthropies,” in Media Capture, explores the efforts of the Big Philanthropy to shape public opinion by ratcheting up its spending on advocacy and, in particular, by investing in local news organizations. The philanthropies have supported education coverage at a range of mainstream publications—investments that often helped promote the foundations’ education-reform agenda. In addition, they have founded publications specifically dedicated to selling their market-oriented approach to education.

For the news media, battered by internet companies such as Craigslist and Facebook, which have siphoned off advertising revenue, funding from philanthropies comes at an opportune time. Nor can private foundations be faulted for supporting the news media, especially given the rise of “alternative facts” and demagoguery during the Trump era. Foundation funding has long been important to a range of respected news organizations such as The New York Times and National Public Radio, as well as established education publications, such as Education Week.This is not to say that this funding has unleashed a spate of pro-reform coverage. Indeed, I have published essays critical of the education-reform philanthropies in many foundation-funded publications. However, logic suggests that publications desirous of repeat tranches of funding will at least moderate their critical coverage.

What is particularly troubling are the large contributions to local news organizations—many of them earmarked specifically for education coverage—by foundations that explicitly support the takeover of local schools and districts by private operators. My chapter explores how philanthropic support of news organizations—including new publications founded and run by education-reform advocates—is aimed at creating a receptive audience for the foundations’ education-reform agenda.

The Gates Foundation’s effort to influence local and national policy via the news media is a case in point.

The Gates Foundation alone devoted $1 billion in the decade from 2000 to 2010 to so-called policy and advocacy, a tenth of the foundation’s $3 billion-a-year spending, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times.

Although much of that money went to analyze policy questions—such as the efficacy of vaccine-funding strategies—“the ‘advocacy’ side of the equation is essentially public relations: an attempt to influence decision-makers and sway public opinion.”

In 2011, The Seattle Times published an exhaustive article about its leading hometown philanthropic organization and asked: “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity?” (At the time, the Gates Foundation also was bankrolling a slew of education policies, including the common core, and building political support for “one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.”)

The Seattle Times showed how the Gates Foundation funding goes far beyond providing general support for cash-strapped news organizations:

“To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.”

Indeed, Gates usually “stipulates” that its funding be used for reporting on issues the philanthropy supports—whether curing diseases such as HIV or improving U.S. education. And although Gates does not appear to dictate specific stories, the Seattle Times noted: “Few of the news organizations that get Gates money have produced any critical coverage of foundation programs.”

The Seattle Times story was written before the newspaper accepted a $530,000 grant, in 2013, the bulk of it from the Gates Foundation, to launch the Education Lab. The paper described the venture as “a partnership between The Seattle Times and Solutions Journalism Network” that will explore “promising programs and innovations inside early-education programs, K–12 schools and colleges that are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing public education.” The Gates Foundation contributed $450,000, with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funding the rest.

In a blog post, the newspaper addressed the potential conflict of interest posed by the grant: “The Seattle Times would neither seek nor accept a grant that did not give us full editorial control over what is published. Generally, when a grant is made, there is agreement on a specific project or a broad area of reporting it will support.” The newspaper earmarked its funding for so-called “solutions journalism.”

It may be laudable for a publication to focus on “solutions” to societal problems. But almost by definition, a mission that effectively targets “success stories” diminishes journalism’s vital watchdog role.

Then too, Gates’s influence extends well beyond Seattle. The Associated Press documented the Gates foundation’s soup-to-nuts effort, in 2015, to influence education policy in Tennessee.

“In Tennessee, a Gates-funded advocacy group had a say in the state’s new education plan, with its leader sitting on an important advising committee. A media outlet given money by Gates to cover the new law then published a story about research funded by Gates. And many Gates-funded groups have become the de facto experts who lead the conversation in local communities. Gates also dedicated millions of dollars to protect Common Core as the new law unfolded.”

Meanwhile, the same year in Los Angeles, fellow philanthropist,Eli Broad, identified Gates as a key potential investor in his $490 million plan to dramatically grow the city’s charter-school sector. The plan included a six-year $21.4 million “investment” in “organizing and advocacy,” including “engaging the media”and “strategic messaging.” (The charter-expansion plan itself followed an $800,000 investment by a Broad-led group of philanthropists to fund an initiative at The Los Angeles Times to expand the paper’s coverage of K–12 education.) In 2016, Gates invested close to $25 million in Broad’s charter-expansion plan.

The Gates Foundation also served as a junior partner in one of the most audacious, coordinated efforts by Big Philanthropy to influence coverage of the education-reform story—the establishment, in 2015, of The 74 Million, which has become the house organ of the education-reform movement. The 74 has been a reliable voice in favor of the charter-school movement, and against teachers’ unions. In 2016, it published The Founders, a hagiography of the education-reform movement. And it has served as a Greek chorus of praise for the education reforms in New Orleans, the nation’s first all-charter district, while ignoring the experiment’s considerable failings.

Key contributors to the publication, which boasts a $4 million-annual budget, were the Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. Soon after it’s founding, The 74 acquired a local education publication, the L.A. School Report, which itself had been heavily funded by Broad. In 2016, Gatescontributed, albeit a relatively modest $26,000, to The 74.

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Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford Advocate. In this column, she reviews two important books: One shows how deeply embedded public schools are in our democratic ideology, the other describes that coordinated assault on the very concept of public schooling. The first is low professor Derek Black’s Schoolhouse Burning, the other is A Wolf at the Schoollhouse Door, by journalist Jennifer Berkshire and historian Jack Schneider.

Lecker writes:

In his scrupulously researched book, Derek Black emphasizes that the recognition that education is essential to democracy predated public schools and even the U.S. Constitution. He describes how the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, which applied to 31 future states, mandated funding and land for public schools, declaring that education was “necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.” Education was not explicitly included in the U.S. Constitution. However, after the Civil War, the United States required Southern states guarantee a right to education in their state constitutions as a condition for readmission. Northern states followed suit. State education articles were based on the notion that education was necessary to citizenship and democracy.

These lofty ideals were often not matched by reality. Enslaved African Americans neither had their freedom nor education. However, African Americans recognized early on that education was the key to full citizenship, and fought for the right to equal access and treatment for all. For Black, the struggle of ensuring equality in public education is intertwined with the struggle for political equality.

Black posits that attacks on public education throughout American history are attacks on democracy itself. Recent events prove his point. For example, Rutgers’ Domingo Morel showed that when majority African-American elected school boards won gains such as increased school funding, states took over those school districts, neutralizing the boards’ power. Northwestern’s Sally Nuamah found that in Chicago, where there is no elected school board, the city’s closure of 50 schools in one year despite protest by the African-American community decreased political participation by that community afterward.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” complements “Schoolhouse Burning” by detailing the specific mechanisms those who attack public education have employed in recent years. In this eminently readable book, the authors describe the “unmaking” of public education and the players behind this effort. They explain how the attacks on public schools are part of a larger effort shrink government and in general what the public expects from the public sphere. One target is the largest part of any education budget: teachers. Anti-public education advocates have pushed cutting state spending on education, attacking job protections, de-professionalizing teaching, weakening unions and promoting failed educational ideas like virtual learning- where teachers are replaced by computers. These “unmakers” also aim to deregulate education, including expanding unaccountable voucher and charter schools.

Schneider and Berkshire demonstrate that attacking public education has also torn at the social fabric of America. Attacking unions weakened the base for democratic electoral support. Deregulation resulted in the gutting of civil rights protections for vulnerable students in charter and voucher schools.

Put them both on your Christmas-Chanukah-Kwanzaa shopping list. They are important wake-up calls.

Tom Ultican discovered a fascinating study of tech philanthropists and their self-serving gifts. Gates, Zuckerberg, and other tech giants are “giving” in a way that supports their self-interest.

The study that Ultican reviews is “Education, Privacy, and Big Data Algorithms: Taking the Persons Out of Personalized Learning,” by Priscilla M. Regan and Valerie Steeves.

They argue:

“We argue that, although there has been no formal recognition, personalized learning as conceptualized by foundations marks a significant shift away from traditional notions of the role of education in a liberal democracy and raises serious privacy issues that must be addressed.”

“It presents yet another example of the transformation of the traditional role of public education as educating citizens to one of educating future workers and consumers, a contrast of liberal democracy with neoliberal democracy.”

“The edtech sector has been focused on the notion [of personalized learning] …. While companies have generated hundreds of products and a smattering of new school models are showing promise, there is little large-scale evidence that the approach can improve teaching and learning or narrow gaps in academic achievement.”

The authors also review Education Week as a model of education journalism that is underwritten by edtech foundations and helps to market their wares. Reporting by Benjamin Herold on Ed tech, however, is exceptionally critical.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has become “a de facto Ed tech sales firm.”

I have been saying for a long time that “personalized learning” is actually depersonalized learning because it attempts to replace human teachers with computer instruction. Education requires human interaction, not a connection between a human and a machine.

Despite my cynicism about the tech billionaires and their relentless pushing of Ed tech, I don’t think they are motivated by greed. When you are already a billionaire, what difference does more money make? I believe they promote Ed tech because that’s all they know. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Actually, I don’t think the tech billionaires have given much thought to their concept of education. They display little or no interest in literature, the arts, or any of the humanities. This reflects their limits and their ignorance. The fact that they have so much money and power threatens the very heart and soul of education. Education is not, should not be merely trading or transactions. It is and should be a way of life. Try explaining that to Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or any of the other tech titans—or state legislators or members of Congress.


What do you think the Walton Family Foundation has in mind when they seek out “innovative” approaches to schooling? We know that they speak their mind when they hand out millions every year to charter schools, school choice organizations, privatization advocacy groups, and Teach for America. They usually drop a few dollars in the bucket of their Bentonville, Arkansas, public schools, peanuts compared to the money for privatization.

Media Contact: Vanessa Steinhoff, 240-432-1428, vsteinhoff@wffmail.com                  

Walton Family Foundation Announces 

#SchoolsIN Campaign to Inspire, Spotlight 

Innovative Educational Approaches During COVID-19


Families, Students and Educators Invited to Share Their Creative, Surprising 

and All-Too-Real Moments This School Year on Social Media

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Today the Walton Family Foundation launched #SchoolsIN, a national campaign to provide inspiration, spotlight innovation and build an inclusive community in support of student learning. With COVID-19 shifting how learning happens across the country, the campaign is an opportunity to build awareness about creative approaches and emphasize the importance of continuing learning amid adversity. 

At this pivotal moment, America’s students, families and educators are reinventing when, where and how learning happens,” said Marc Sternberg, K-12 Education Program Director at the Walton Family Foundation. “As challenging as this school year is and will be, I’m inspired and energized by families and educators channeling frustration into inspiration in all settings. From parents to policymakers, we all must do whatever it takes to ensure learning continues and #SchoolsIN for students.”

The four-week campaign encourages families, students and educators to share on social media the ups and downs of keeping school in session – with a focus on student success during a difficult school year. From brilliant ideas to flashes of inspiration, and occasional moments of chaos, the campaign will chronicle and celebrate the wide range of experiences people across the country are having in all different types of educational settings, linked by the hashtag #SchoolsIN.  

The Walton Family Foundation has been supporting innovative approaches to teaching and learning for over 30 years, guided by the belief that a great education can put opportunity and a self-determined life in reach for every child, regardless of background. The foundation works alongside and sources ideas from families, educators, innovators and community leaders who have a bold vision for student success. This surfaces new ideas and practices that challenge traditional assumptions about where and how learning happens and what’s possible for children.

To learn more, visit www.schoolsin.org

# # #

About the Walton Family Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. In 2019, the foundation awarded more than $525 million in grants in support of these initiatives. To learn more, visit waltonfamilyfoundation.org and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram….

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Our blog poet on the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

Gates never gives without getting a tax break and never gives without strings attached.

That’s how you know it is not real philanthropy, but Billyanthropy.

“The Billyanthropist”

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you Common Core
And testing to the sky
I’d like to give you more

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you teacher VAMs
A lovely Chetty pie
And lots of charter scams

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you pseudo-science
And sellebrate the lie
With test and VAM reliance

Billyanthropist am I
Billyanthropy I do
Democracy I buy
Impose my will on you

A decade ago, Richard Phelps was assessment director of the District of Columbia Public Schools. His time in that position coincided with the last ten months of Michelle Rhee’s tenure in office. When her patron Adrian Fenty lost the election for Mayor, Rhee left and so did Phelps.

Phelps writes here about what he learned while trying to improve the assessment practices of the DC Public Schools. He posts his overview in two parts, and this is part 1. The second part will appear in the next post.

Rhee asked Phelps to expand the VAM program–the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and to terminate or reward them based on student scores.

Phelps described his visits to schools to meet with teachers. He gathered useful ideas about how to make the assessments more useful to teachers and students.

Soon enough, he learned that the Central Office staff, including Rhee, rejected all the ideas he collected from teachers and imposed their own ideas instead.

He writes:

In all, I had polled over 500 DCPS school staff. Not only were all of their suggestions reasonable, some were essential in order to comply with professional assessment standards and ethics.

Nonetheless, back at DCPS’ Central Office, each suggestion was rejected without, to my observation, any serious consideration. The rejecters included Chancellor Rhee, the head of the office of Data and Accountability—the self-titled “Data Lady,” Erin McGoldrick—and the head of the curriculum and instruction division, Carey Wright, and her chief deputy, Dan Gordon.

Four central office staff outvoted several-hundred school staff (and my recommendations as assessment director). In each case, the changes recommended would have meant some additional work on their parts, but in return for substantial improvements in the testing program. Their rhetoric was all about helping teachers and students; but the facts were that the testing program wasn’t structured to help them.

What was the purpose of my several weeks of school visits and staff polling? To solicit “buy in” from school level staff, not feedback.

Ultimately, the new testing program proposal would incorporate all the new features requested by senior Central Office staff, no matter how burdensome, and not a single feature requested by several hundred supportive school-level staff, no matter how helpful. Like many others, I had hoped that the education reform intention of the Rhee-Henderson years was genuine. DCPS could certainly have benefitted from some genuine reform.

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid.

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

The Central Office “reformers” boasted of their accomplishments and went on to lucrative careers.

It was all for show, financed by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, and other philanthropists who believed in the empty promises of “reform.” It was a giant hoax.

Ashley McCall is a bilingual third-grade teacher of English Language Arts in Chicago Public Schools. She asked in a recent post on her blog whether we might seize this opportunity to reimagine schooling for the future, to break free of a stale and oppressive status quo that stifles both children and teachers.

She writes:

“What if?” I thought. What if we did something different, on purpose? What if we refused to return to normal? Every week seems to introduce a new biblical plague and unsurprisingly, the nation is turning to schools to band-aid the situation and create a sense of “normalcy”–the same normalcy that has failed BIPOC communities for decades.

In her memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors states that “our nation [is] one big damn Survivor reality nightmare”. It always has been. America’s criminal navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the ways we devalue the lives of the most vulnerable. We all deserve better than Survivor and I don’t want to help sustain this nightmare. I want to be a part of something better.

What If We Designed a School Year for Recovery?

“What if?” I thought. What if Chicago Public Schools (CPS) did something radical with this school year? What if this fastest-improving urban district courageously liberated itself from narrow and rigid quantitative measures of intelligence that have colonized the education space for generations, and instead blazed a trail for reimagining what qualifies as valuable knowledge?

What if we put our money, time and energy into what we say matters most? What if this school year celebrated imagination? In We Got This, Cornelius Minor reminds us that “education should function to change outcomes for whole communities.” What if we designed a school year that sought to radically shift how communities imagine, problem solve, heal, and connect?

What if this messy school year prioritized hard truths and accountability? What if social emotional instruction wasn’t optional or reduced to one cute poster? What if we focused on district wide capacity-building for, and facilitation of, restorative justice practices?

What if the CPS Office of Social Emotional Learning (OSEL) had more than about 15 restorative practice coaches to serve over 600 schools? What if we let students name conflicts and give them the space, tools, and support to address and resolve them? What if restorative justice was a central part of this year’s curricula?

What If We Really Listened?

What if we made space to acknowledge the fear, anxiety, frustration and confusion students, staff, and families are feeling? What if we listened? What if we made space to acknowledge the anger and demands of students? What if our priority was healing? Individual and collective. What if we respected and honored the work of healers and invested in healing justice?

What if our rising 8th-graders and seniors prepared for high school and post-secondary experiences by centering their humanity and the humanity of others? What if healthy, holistic, interconnected citizenship was a learning objective? What if we tracked executive functioning skills and habits of mind? What if for “homework” families had healing conversations?

What If We Made Life the Curriculum?

What if we recognized that life—our day-to-day circumstances and our response to them—is curricula? It’s the curricula students need, especially now as our country reckons with its identity. What if we remembered that reading, writing, social studies, mathematics, and science are built into our understanding of and response to events every day?

She goes on to describe how this reimagining could infuse the school and the curriculum and the way teachers teach.

School reformers and billionaire philanthropists say they want innovation. Do you think Bill Gates, the Waltons, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, and their friends would fund districts that want genuine innovation of the kind Ashley McCall describes?

People have many times asked me if I had some good ideas for the billionaires who have been foisting terrible ideas on our public schools. What could they do instead of screwing up the nation’s public schools?

Like they have nothing better to do than to make students and teachers miserable with endless testing, pricey consultants, and mounds of paperwork. Like their best idea is to eliminate elected school boards and let clueless entrepreneurs play with other people’s lives. Like their best/worst idea is to give hundreds of millions of dollars to a bunch of guys—who have already failed at “school reform”—so they can do some more “reforming” without any accountability for the disruption they cause.

Friends, the billionaires need a new idea!

I found it!

Here is a problem they can solve just by spending money. If they do this, they won’t break anything. They won’t hurt any children or break up any communities.

Please, Bill. Mark. Jeff. You can do this!

John Arnold! Laurene Powell Jobs! You too!

Be a hero, not a villain!

Pay attention! Make someone happy.

Robin Wright wrote this story for the New Yorker.


In late March, an elegant four-year-old tiger named Nadia, at the Bronx Zoo, developed a dry cough and lost her appetite. The zoo had been closed for eleven days because of the coronavirus pandemic, and no employee had symptoms of the new coronavirus sweeping across New York. Out of an abundance of caution, the veterinary staff tested Nadia in April, as her problems persisted. It was not a simple swab. The zoo had to anesthetize the two-hundred-pound cat and take samples from her nose, throat, and respiratory tract, then ship them off to veterinary labs at Cornell University and the University of Illinois. Nadia is also no ordinary tiger. Malayan tigers are among the world’s most endangered animals; with fewer than two hundred and fifty left in the wild, they are threatened with extinction because of human poaching and loss of habitat. Nadia was born at the Bronx Zoo, as part of its Malayan-tiger breeding program. Her covid-19 test came back positive. By the end of April, seven other big cats—four more tigers, in addition to three lions who live in a separate exhibit—also tested positive, through samples of their feces. The zoo concluded that they had all been exposed to a human, probably a zoo employee, who was asymptomatic. The news about Nadia stunned staff at more than two hundred accredited U.S. zoos (not including animal “exhibitors,” like Joe Exotic, of “Tiger King” fame) and more than ten thousand zoos around the world. Within twenty-four hours, many introduced stricter handling protocols, more protective gear, and social distancing between humans and zoo animals—not just tigers but also other animals now believed to be vulnerable to covid-19, from great apes to ferrets and even skunks.

But Nadia’s test result six weeks ago was only the beginning of an unprecedented series of crises—some existential—faced by zoological parks dedicated to the study and survival of thousands of the Earth’s other animal species. Unlike entertainment centers, movie theatres, or sports stadiums, zoos can’t simply shut their doors or tell staff to work from home. Zoos still have to feed and care for animals—nearly a million, from six thousand species (a thousand of them endangered or threatened) in the United States alone—at a time in which revenues have plummeted to nothing, Dan Ashe, the president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told me. In the United States, at least eighty per cent of zoos and aquariums accredited by the A.Z.A. are closed, which means no ticket sales, no merchandise bought for the kids, no stroller rentals, and no food sales, all of which contribute to both zoo programs and long-term conservation worldwide.

“The amount of losses through the whole zoological community is staggering,” Steven Monfort, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., told me. “Most of us are trying to figure out how to get to the spring of 2021 and hope that there’s a vaccine or something so that visitation by then will be more normal.” With new social-distancing rules, most zoos expect to reopen eventually, but, at least initially, at roughly a quarter capacity—producing only a quarter of income, at best. “All of us have plans, but we don’t know how well those plans will work,” Monfort added.

Most U.S. zoos have laid off or furloughed up to half of their staffs, according to several zoos. In Portland, the Oregon Zoo has laid off a quarter of its staff, in addition to two hundred part-time employees. Sixty per cent of its revenue comes from ticket sales, but zoos generally operate on a seasonal basis, so, for nine months of the year, costs have long exceeded revenues. “If we can’t open, we will just run out of money by the end of September,” Sheri Horiszny, the Oregon Zoo’s deputy director, told me. “We won’t be able to operate as we have—possibly ever, and certainly for the immediate future.” The problem is global, she said. “Ninety per cent of the zoos on the planet were closed. Virtually all are now strapped—some are devastated.”

In northern Germany, the shuttered Neumünster Zoo has a wrenching contingency plan for its seven hundred animals if funding or the food-supply chain fail to help the facility survive. “If—and this is really the worst, worst case of all—if I no longer have any money to buy feed, or if it should happen that my feed supplier is no longer able to supply due to new restrictions, then I would slaughter animals to feed other animals,” Verena Kaspari told the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur last month. The zoo made a list of which animals it would euthanize first, she said. The zoo is noted for its panda twins, penguins, and seals. The last to go, Kaspari said, would be Vitus, a snowy polar bear that stands twelve feet tall.

In Canada, two playful pandas at the Calgary Zoo—Da Mao and Er Shun—are being sent back to China. The zoo’s star attractions, they are the victims of another aspect of the pandemic: the disruption of food supplies. The zoo was able to stockpile and freeze fish for the penguins, horse meat for the large cats, and protein biscuits for the primates. But each panda eats eighty-eight pounds of fresh bamboo every day. Calgary used to get its fresh bamboo flown in from China, but then flights from China to Calgary stopped. The only remaining route was a weekly flight from China to Toronto, but the bamboo wasn’t fresh by the time it reached Calgary. The zoo started importing bamboo from California, but then flights stopped from there, as well. The zoo then tried trucking bamboo from the West Coast of the U.S. to Calgary, in central Canada, but the trucks stopped in Vancouver first, and, by the time they arrived in Calgary, the bamboo was spoiled. The zoo then hired a courier company to pick up the bamboo from Vancouver. But access to the airport took three days—and more shipments of the bamboo spoiled. Finally, the zoo began trucking in bamboo from Victoria, a region near Vancouver, but bamboo is not an indigenous plant, so the region couldn’t supply the quantity needed.

“Every ten days, there was a curveball,” Clément Lanthier, the C.E.O. and president of the Calgary Zoo, told me. “These are very precious animals. I can’t take the risk of having to tell my staff that the pandas could starve because bamboo won’t get here until tomorrow or next week. So it’s time for the pandas to go back home.” The pair arrived in Calgary only two years ago—after six years of planning and a twenty-one-million-dollar investment.

The food challenge is staggering for zoos everywhere. “People’s perceptions of zoos is that we just pick up poop,” Horiszny, from the Oregon Zoo, told me. The Portland zoo made changes early on when it realized food was an issue for the entire planet. “But imagine if you have a dinner party with six to ten guests, and one is lactose intolerant, another has a gluten allergy, and a third is philosophically vegetarian,” she said. “We have two thousand ‘guests’ from two hundred and twenty species with different dietary needs. So every day we have a challenge meeting those needs.”

The cost of animal care can also be staggering. In 2018, the San Diego Zoo and its sister Safari Park spent more than two hundred million dollars on operations to feed and care for its animals. The Oregon Zoo budgets more than a quarter million dollars just to care for Chendra, its Asian elephant, for six months. The zoo has an innovative program to save the Oregon silverspot butterfly from extinction. But it costs a hundred and twenty-six thousand dollars for nine months—for a horticulturist to tend to the thousands of violet plants in a greenhouse that provide food for twelve hundred silverspot caterpillars. A human also needs to keep the caterpillars clean, watered, and fed until they become adults and can be released, the zoo’s director, Don Moore, told me. “Yes, it’s very expensive to feed animals!” he e-mailed. Zoos also have heavy medical costs, from artificial insemination of endangered pandas to providing medication and surgery for ill or aging animals. Ashe, the A.Z.A. president, noted that veterinarians provide twenty-four-hour care to the animals at zoo facilities. “They get better health care than you or I do,” he said.

The National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., is losing more than a million dollars a month that it has no chance of recouping. Like other zoos, it launched a covid-19 emergency-response campaign for donations. “But there’s no way, no philanthropic answer, that will fill the bucket of needs,” Monfort told me. “The question is what happens in the longer run.” The Washington zoo also manages long-term research programs in twenty-five countries, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 2018, American zoos, in total, contributed more than two hundred and thirty million dollars for field conservation worldwide—funds generated largely off ticket sales. “Without revenue coming in, it is challenging our members to find ways to keep up that commitment to conservation. We fear the bottom will fall out of that in 2020,” Ashe told me. “This dormant period is going to have a real impact on conservation in the field for animals,” ranging from elephants and giraffes to rhinos, manatees, orangutans, gorillas, and condors.

Zoos that qualify as small businesses—with fewer than five hundred employees—have applied for federal aid through the Payroll Protection Program. At least sixty per cent of the members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have won aid, Ashe told me. The current program covers payroll and other expenditures, but not animal care—and only for two months, through mid-June. Larger zoos—in San Diego, St. Louis, and the Audubon Zoo, in New Orleans—do not qualify. Others, in Cleveland and Little Rock, and the National Zoo, don’t qualify because of their ties to the government. Horiszny, of the Oregon Zoo, predicted that some zoos will never recover. “Virtually all are now strapped, some are devastated,” she said. “In natural disasters, some of those animals were sent to other zoos. Now there is nowhere to send an animal. Everyone’s in trouble.”

The pandemic has affected the behavior of animals, as well. Many species have demonstrated the same kinds of loneliness that people have. “It’s fair to say animals miss people as much as people miss animals,” Ashe, the A.Z.A. president, said. In zoos, humans offer a form of sensory stimulus to other species. Without them, the penguins, pandas, elephants, chimpanzees, and even camels and meerkats seem a little bored. “The variety of smells that come through the zoo every day are enrichment for them. Their day is less interesting or varied without us.” Some species—particularly elephants and great apes—notice the absence of humans. “They have strong bonds and enjoy interacting with guests and showing off,” Monfort, from the National Zoo, said. “When guests are not there, some tend to act a little needy.”

In Calgary, the normally nonchalant camels have been wandering up to the moat to interact with the few people still on site, while the gorillas come to the window when anyone passes by. “I walked by the meerkats in the Savannah building yesterday, and they ran right up to me,” Lanthier said. Chloe, the chimp matron at the Oregon Zoo, was so famous for kissing visitors (through a window) that the park hosted a kissing-booth party for her last year, when she turned fifty. She has been so lonely during the pandemic that keepers for other animals have been urged to call on her. “She was really craving attention,” Horiszny said. “The chimps, like us, are not experiencing life as usual.”

Last week, the Kansas City Zoo arranged for its three penguins to take a field trip to the local Nelson-Atkins Art Museum for a “morning of fine art and culture.” “We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and stimulate their days,” Randy Wisthoff, the zoo director, said, in a video posted on the museum’s Web site and the zoo’s Facebook page. “The penguins absolutely loved it.” The museum’s executive director, Julián Zugazagoitia, noted that the three Humboldt penguins “seemed to react much better to Caravaggio than to Monet.”

In Chicago, a Rockhopper penguin named Wellington has become an Internet sensation after the Shedd Aquarium posted videos of him hopping around other exhibits at the zoo. He now has his own hashtag, #whereswellington. He had a particularly winsome encounter, through a window, with a white beluga whale. They seemed fascinated with each other. The Chicago aquarium also let the sea lions roam around its administration offices. Zoos in Denver and Portland have let their pink flamingos wander along pathways where people once strolled. The Toronto Zoo took llamas and a donkey on an excursion to visit the polar bears.

In Hong Kong, Ying Ying and Le Le, the two pandas at the Ocean Park Zoo, have become more productive—literally—during the pandemic. After a decade together, they used the serenity of the shuttered zoo to finally mate for the first time, in March. Female pandas are fertile only once a year, and only for three days, a major reason for the species decline. The pandas having sex was such a breakthrough for conservation—and for the quarantined public—that the park put out a press release. A panda cub would be a rare bit of good news well beyond Hong Kong during this otherwise deadly global pandemic.

The blog started today with an account of the paltry amounts of money that our leading edu-philanthropists are contributing to alleviate the suffering of students and families during this crisis and to help public schools through the crisis.

By contrast, some principals and teachers in the Oakland Education Association have agreed to give half or all of their stimulus checks to the families of undocumented workers, who will receive nothing. In proportion to their wealth, the teachers and principals are about a million times more generous than the billionaires.

The educators at the Oakland Unified School District launched the Stimulus Pledge campaign Thursday in response to the enormous stress and despair they say they are witnessing among immigrant parents who have lost all income under shelter-in-place orders, but are left out of unemployment insurance and many other benefits.

“We are in contact with our families every day and what we are hearing is heartbreaking,” said Anita Iverson-Comelo, a principal at Bridges Academy at Melrose, in East Oakland. “We feel like we have to do something.”

At least eight teachers at Bridges Academy, including some making less than $50,000 per year, have pledged all or part of their stimulus checks, said Iverson-Comelo. She and six other principals, whose higher salaries might disqualify them from the coronavirus federal cash aid, also plan to donate.

Many families have no income at all and rely for food on the district’s “grab and go” food program. They sure could use some help from Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Reed Hastings or Jeff Bezos.

Speaking of billionaires, Robert Reich said on Twitter that Jeff Bezos has increased his net worth by $24 billion during the crisis but still won’t give Amazon workers paid sick leave.

Feeding the hungry is not on the billionaires’ agenda. It’s not innovative. It’s not a game-changer.

It’s an act of love.