Archives for category: Rhode Island

Rhode Island is a mess. Two years ago, the state took control of the Providence public schools. The Governor, Gina Raymond, is a former hedge funder and not a friend of public schools. She loves charter schools and welcomed them to her state. She is now Biden’s Commerce Secretary and has been succeeded by her Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, who is also a privatizer. The relatively new State Commissioner is Angelica Infante Green, who comes from Teach for America and had a desk job in the New York State Education Department. She is a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. The Providence Teachers Union originally supported the state takeover, hoping that it would bring new resources to the schools. Instead, the takeover has meant disruption, turmoil, threats to teachers, and bitterness between the hard-charging, inexperienced State Commissioner and the teachers.

Mary Beth Calabro, the president of the Providence Teachers Union, has been a teacher for 24 years and president of the union for five years.

Less than two years later, and with the COVID-19 pandemic overshadowing nearly all of the takeover, Calabro now says that the relationship between the union and Infante-Green has deteriorated beyond repair, and she is asking state lawmakers to give control of the school district back to the city of Providence. She is also calling for Infante-Green and Superintendent Harrison Peters to be removed from their positions.

The union voted “no confidence” in both the state commissioner and the city superintendent. Calabro warned that the district was forcing teachers out with its hard-nosed tactics.

“We had hope that our state takeover here would provide the much-needed support, resources, and changes to help our students move forward,” Calabro said during a Monday press conference. “And we had hope that our educators’ collective skills, experience, and expertise would be seen as a welcome part of transforming out schools. Sadly, our hopes have died.”

The state commissioner made clear from the beginning that she wanted to control the union and its contract:

The most recent sticking point between the union and management has revolved around a provision in the current union contract that gives veteran teachers preference over newer teachers when it comes to hiring. Seniority tends to be a sacred cow for public employee unions, and the teachers have resisted changes that would give Infante-Green and Peters more control over the hiring process.

Both Infante-Green and Peters say they believe the Crowley Act, the state law that gave them the power to take control of the school district, allows them to make unilateral changes to the contract. But they fear that such a tactic would send the two sides to court, prolonging a series of negotiations that has already resulted in the city paying more than $1 million to lawyers advising management.

The Boston Globe turned to Brown University professor Kenneth Wong, who was previously known for praising mayoral control as the answer to urban school problems.

Kenneth Wong, an education policy expert and professor at Brown University who has advised city and state leaders on a wide range of school funding and reform initiatives over the past decade, said he sees the next few weeks as crucial to finding common ground.

Wong said the state deserves some credit for some initial progress during the takeover. The state has issued a clear set of goals for Providence schools, like raising the graduation rate from 73.6 percent in the 2018-19 school year to 89 percent by the 2024-25 school year, and slashing chronic absenteeism from 37 percent to 10 percent during the same period.

Frankly, it is hard to see why the state deserves any credit for setting ambitious goals when it has not supplied the means to reach them and is driving away experienced teachers. The one thing that we supposedly learned from the ambitious “national goals” of 1989 was that setting goals is easy, reaching them is hard.

Here is a piece of advice for Commissioner Infante-Green: No teachers, no education. A good leader provides encouragement to the troops; a bad leader puts them in the line of fire.

Meanwhile, the new Governor Dan McKee, aligned himself solidly with the Walton-funded parent group that wants more charter schools. Democrats in the legislature have lined up behind a three-year moratorium on charters, but McKee made clear that if the bill passes, he will veto it.

The article in the Providence Journal accepted at face value that the pro-charter lobby was led by ordinary parents, but Maurice Cunningham of the University of Massachusetts has demonstrated that the group called “Stop the Wait, Rhode Island” is funded by the Waltons and other Dark Money billionaires. And see here as well.

Governor McKee is doing the bidding of the Waltons of Arkansas.

Maurice Cunningham is a professor political science at the University of Massachusetts who has developed a unique talent for exposing the workings of Dark Money in education. The usual source of Dark Money is the multi-billionaire Walton Family, but they are not alone. In this post, he reviews the remarkable story told by the media in Rhode Island. A group of ordinary moms got together to demand charter schools. They set up a website and commissioned a poll done by President Biden’s pollster. Where did the money come from? The media forgot to ask that question. The media’s lack of curiosity about the funding behind this group of moms is curious.

On February 25, five “frustrated mothers” organized to raise money for their passion: charter schools.

What we see here is quite common, a front purporting to be parents but actually funded and acting for wealthy privatization interests. In Massachusetts, Massachusetts Parents United claims to have been founded in 2017 by three moms in a library. From 2017-2019 MPU and its allied 501(c)(4) took in over $3.3 million (actually more, for technical reasons I won’t get into) and about half of that came from the Walton Family Foundation. The organization’s “mom-in-chief” paid herself just short of $400,000 in 2018-19. In 2020 the same mom founded the National Parents Union, which is not national, not parents, and not a union. But it is a money pit. Its financial backers include the Waltons, Charles Koch, and a boatload of America’s wealthiest oligarchs.

And you’ll never guess! But advocacy through polling is a major component of National Parents Union’s marketing strategy.

The story Golocalprov fell for is one of scrappy moms facing off against hidebound unions. But the real story is corporate and oligarchic interests masquerading behind parents versus teachers and the very notion of the public good.

Let’s hope that Maurice Cunningham is able to stir the Rhode Island news media to dig deeper and find out whose money is shaping the attack on the public schools of Providence.

Maurice Cunningham specializes in digging up the facts about Dark Money (political contributions where the donors’ names are hidden). His expose of Dark Money from the Waltons and other billionaires turned the public against a 2016 state referendum in Massachusetts to expand the number of charter schools, and it was defeated. I wrote about this campaign in Slaying Goliath.

In this post, published here for the first time, he exposes a “parent group” demanding more charter schools in Rhode Island.

Cunningham writes:

Parents who care about public education need to be wary of dark money fronts masquerading as concerned reformers. These are lavishly funded efforts with the goal of privatizing public schools. Rhode Islanders should take a long hard look at Stop the Wait RI.

This operation registered with the Rhode Island Secretary of State as a social welfare organization organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue on February 25, 2021. That status allows Stop the Wait to engage in a wide range of political activities including spending on political campaigns. The big advantage for a 501(c)(4) is that it can take in unlimited sums from individuals or corporations, spend generously on politics, and never have to disclose the names of the true donors—the real powers hiding behind the curtain. It’s dark money—political spending with the true interests hidden from the public. Stop the Wait’s web page is pretty explicit—its mission is to “preserve and expand school choice—including access to high-quality public charter schools.” Translation: privatization of public schools.

Privatizing fronts often present as an underdog group of grassroots parents. In politics though, power flows to money and so it’s key to know who is funding such groups. That’s tough with a brand new 501(c)(4) like Stop the Wait, but there are clues.

The first name on the Board of Directors is Janie SeguiRodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez works for the charter school chain Achievement First which is underwritten by among others, the WalMart heir Walton family. She is also on the board of a related corporation organized under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Parents Leading for Educational Equity. A 501(c)(3) can do reports, organize, advocate, communicate with the public, but can’t get into political campaigns. Contributions are tax deductible, so taxpayers subsidize this advocacy. Even though PLEE was only organized as a non-profit corporation as of July 13, 2020, only three months later, on October 19, 2020 the Rhode Island Foundation announced that PLEE was one of several organizations it had funded and offered it as an example for its new $8.5 million Equity Leadership Foundation. (It’s a little curious that a foundation funds an organization and evaluate it as a model of success in three months). The Nellie Mae Foundation was more patient—it waited all the way until December 21, 2020 before dropping two grants, one for $40,000 and the other for $120,000 into PLEE’s bank account. Actual check writers often give through donor advised funds, a tax advantaged option that keeps their interest in groups like PLEEever unknown.

Web searches indicate that PLEE has actually been around since 2018. But it couldn’t have taken in sums from foundations until it registered with the IRS. 

Ms. Rodriguez is a political veteran as well. She ran for city council in Pawtucket city wide in 2018 and in ward 5 in 2020, losing both (by two votes in ward 5). Another member of PLEErecently assailed teachers unions in a hearing over reopening Pawtucket schools. Look for more of this from PLEE and Stop the Wait. Across the country similar organizations are funded by anti-worker oligarchs like the Waltons and Charles Koch. Examples of right wing billionaire operations masquerading as parents groups include Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union

Using upbeat sounding front organizations funded by unidentified billionaires is what Jane Mayer in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right calls “weaponizing philanthropy.” But communities can beat the billionaires. Ask questions, demand answers, accept nothing less than an accounting of the true interests behind dark money fronts like PLEE and Stop the Wait, publicize your findings, contact elected officials. This is your democracy and your public school system.

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money.] 

The Rhode Island State Senate overwhelmingly passed a three-year moratorium on the opening of new charter schools. The vote was 30-6, with only one Democrat in opposition. Under the leadership of Governor Gina Raimondo, who is about to become President Biden’s Commerce Secretary, the state has welcomed charter operators (Raimondo was a hedge fund executive before she became Governor).

This delay offers state officials time to stabilize public schools in Providence and elsewhere, where charters have flocked and removed students and funding.

Linda Borg of the Providence Journal reports:

Sen. Ryan Pearson has seen Cumberland, one of his districts, lose a significant number of traditional public school students to charter schools. 

He argued that the latest charter expansion would have a devastating financial impact on the sending districts, as much as $92 million in lost tuition. The funding or per pupil expenditure “follows” the student from his or her original district to the charter school.

“Two weeks ago,” Ryan said, “I asked Providence for a plan” to explain how the district would make up for an estimated $80-plus million in lost tuition. “Fourteen days later, that plan has not arrived.”

School choice, he and others said, costs money. 

Under the leadership of Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island is a very charter-friendly state. Raimondo was a venture capitalist before she entered politics. Her husband was TFA.

The welcome mat is out for charter schools in the state. The latest proposal for a new charter comes from Excel Academy in Boston.

Linda Borg of the Providence Journal writes:

PROVIDENCE — Critics of a new charter school application say the Boston-based school will draw millions of dollars away from the traditional public schools and, combined with a proposed expansion of Achievement First, create two parallel school systems.  

Excel Academy hopes to enroll 2,100 students in kindergarten through grade 12 by the time it reaches full capacity in 10 years — at a cost of $7.4 million in lost local revenues to the Providence school district.  

“Frankly, it could be the best school in the universe,”  said state Rep. Rebecca Kislak of Providence. “I want to know why the mayor signed off on more than 6,000 additional charter seats at Achievement First and Excel. It’s a quarter of Providence’s public school students. I am incredibly concerned about what happens to the 75% of students left in the district’s schools…”

Kislak said the charter application speaks to a larger concern. 

“As a parent, it feels to me like the policymakers, the governor, the mayor and the education commissioner, are giving up and saying, ‘We can’t fix your schools. The best we can do is let a quarter of our kids go to these other schools.’ ”

State Sen. Sam Bell, at a public hearing Monday on the Excel application, said the charter’s attendance and discipline problems amount to “child abuse.”

He noted language in the 2019-2020 student handbook that states: “All student absences, including illness, suspension, appointments, vacations, excessive incomplete days, etc., count as absences.” Any student who exceeds 15 absences in a school year may be held back, according to the handbook.

Bell said the student handbook listed 35 reasons to give demerits to students. Excel, like Achievement First, is a “no excuses” charter school. He wondered whether its punitive discipline violated state law.

The school objected to his criticism.

Peter Greene turns his attention to Rhode Island and finds that it has been subject to a corporate education reform takeover.
Not only is the governor a former venture capitalist who made her reputation by taking an axe to teachers’ pensions, but her husband Andy Moffitt is a TFA alum who moved on to McKinsey. Not only that, he co-authored a book with Michael Barber of Pearson about “Deliverology,” a philosophy that turns education into data analytics.

Governor Gina Raimondo hired a TFA alum to lead the State Education Department; the new Commissioner immediately joined Jen Bush’s far-rightwing Chiefs for Change and led a state takeover of Providence schools. There is no template for a successful state takeover, so we will see how that goes. Think Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, funded with $100 million from Duncan’s Race to the Top. Think Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, which closed after six of boasts but consistent failure.

Read Greene’s incisive review of the First Couple of Rhode Island and remember that Governor Gina Raimondo is a Democrat, though it’s hard to differentiate her views from those of Betsy DeVos.

The Providence Journal published a scathing editorial about Governor Gina Raimondo’s dereliction of duty in demanding the full opening of schools next month while failing to provide sensible plans to do so.

It is titled “Rhode Island’s Education System Goes from Mediocre to Just Plain Chaotic.”

Raimondo is a former venture capitalist who redesigned the state’s pension system by cutting them. She is also a “reformer” who welcomes charter schools and is a favorite of DFER. And she is chair of the Democratic Governors Association.

The editorial begins:

On June 10, Governor Gina Raimondo asserted that all students would be back in the classroom on August 31.
This was after her confusing narrative that Rhode Island was “#1 in online learning,” a claim that sends chills through frustrated parents, educators, and students who knew another reality this spring.

Raimondo nearly every day proclaims Rhode Island is #1 at something, but the reality is that Rhode Island may only be #1 in ridiculous claims of being #1.

No state is #1 in this pandemic and certainly, neither this state nor any other are winning anything — it is all different degrees of losing.

Raimondo is not responsible for the disease and she has made a number of solid decisions, but also some major errors. The decision to return infected hospitalized nursing home patients to nursing homes caused the additional unnecessary spread and deaths. This helped drive Rhode Islands’s per capita death rate to be the 5th highest in the United States.

As part of her Trump-like doctrine to return to schools, she ordered all of the school districts to develop “their own” plan for returning to the classroom.

This chaotic approach of asking beaten down administrators and faculty to develop their own plans with little support has been an exercise in futility and frustration. Doesn’t the state have the expertise on the disease?

One would hope the state’s consultants – paid millions via a no-bid contract – would have more expertise on best practices than a principal in Exeter-West Greenwich does on how to design a safe school environment to protect children and faculty.

After Johns Hopkins University wrote a scathing critique of the Providence public schools, Governor Gina Raimondo and her new Commissioner of Education took control of the city’s schools. They just announced their turnaround plan and predicted that the low-performing schools of Providence would be on par with the top 25% of schools in the state in five years.

Among the major points of the plan:

It places enhanced focus on the performance of multilingual learners, who represent 34% of Providence students but have been shown to be missing out on an adequate education. Going forward, the district will place more attention on the recruitment of qualified English-as-a-second-language teachers, prioritize meeting the expectations laid out in a Department of Justice settlement over the district’s handling of multilingual learners and double the number of students served by bilingual programs over five years.

The district will renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union to make it easier to fire low-performing teachers, hire the best candidates and require additional professional development days, according to the plan.

In order to better engage families, the district will implement a central phone number or text-messaging system for information-sharing that will be accessible 24/7, create a parent and students bill of rights and start a “parent academy” that will train families in how to best advocate for their children. Peters already announced this spring that he plans to completely restructure central office.

The plan also prioritizes hiring more teachers of color, who are underrepresented in Providence schools compared with the student population, in part by partnering with local colleges and universities to attract more diverse candidates to the profession.

The turnaround plan includes an extensive series of metrics that the district aims to hit within five years of implementation, such as increasing the percentage of students who are present for nearly the entire school year to 90% from its current baseline of 62.7%.

To ensure accountability, the district will post updates on the plan’s implementation on 4PVDKids.com and publish a yearly report on its progress.

Nothing was said about additional funding.

Angelica Infante-Green, the Commissioner of Education in Rhode Island, selected Harrison Peters as the takeover superintendent of Providence.

Peters announced his initial plans, which sound sensible, like implementing restorative justice in schools and assessing which schools need emergency repairs.

However, the article suggests that the big reform plan will be rolled out in April.

Keep an eye on this because Peters is already a member of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change,” where he has been designated a “future” chief. Chiefs for Change is an organization that adheres to Bush’s harsh ideas about testing, school closings, school report cards, and charter schools. And, of course, Jeb is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for vouchers.

Charter advocates like to caricature public schools negatively while presenting charter schools as invariably successful.

We know neither portrait is accurate.

Rhode Island’s new state commissioner has decided to close one of the state’s oldest charter schools, which has been failing for years.

The Academy for Career Exploration, which was one of Rhode Island’s first charter schools when it opened in 1997 as the Textron Chamber of Commerce Academy, informed the state Department of Education last month that it would close rather than craft a reform plan that might have kept it open.

The high school serves more than 200 students, but Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green had reservations about extending its charter because of low performance, including a zero percent proficiency rate in math. Nearly 38 percent of students were considered chronically absent last school year.

Anyone who claims that private management of schools is a panacea, especially for poor children, is either misguided or misleading.