Archives for category: Walton Foundation

Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, specializes in exposing the role of Dark Money in education. If you read my book, Slaying Goliath, you know that Cunningham’s research and blog posts helped to turn the tide against a state referendum in 2016 to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. Cunningham showed that “Yes on Two” Organization was funded by billionaires and that the billionaires were hiding their identities. Despite being outspent, the parent-teacher-local school committee won handily.

In this post, originally from February, Cunningham explains why the Waltons and Charles Koch are so devoted to privatizing public school governance. He’s right that they want to lower their taxes. They also want to smash teachers’ unions; more than 90% of charters are non-union. The corporate sector doesn’t like unions, and most private unions have been eliminated. The teachers’ unions are still standing, which annoys the billionaires.

Grassroots Arkansas is a coalition of parents and civil rights activists. When reading anything about Arkansas, bear in mind that in the background is the Walton Family. They pull the strings.

Grassroots Arkansas sent the following letter to Mike Poore, the state-appointed superintendent of the Little Rock School District:

Mr. Poore,

We realize that you have been serving the LRSD community as Superintendent for four years now, at the behest of Governor Asa Hutchinson and AR Sec. of Education, Johnny Key, and not at the will of the people of our community.

We are yet seeking your humanity and your ability to appreciate that you have the power and the authority to right some wrongs during your administration.

Under your watch, LRSD students have NOT experienced safety and equity in their public school education.

African American and Latinx students have disproportionately been over criminalized with you as Superintendent. Though, Johnny Key has the authority to overturn your decisions or make decisions without your permission, you have not shown strong leadership in protecting the students and educators you have been entrusted to serve.

Again, I understand that you were not brought here to make things better for our LRSD community, but to further promote the agenda of the billionaires who have used their wealth and power to dismantle public schools all over this country.

My appeal to you is to get off the train of destruction and join the moral movement to overturn systems of racism, poverty, and the oppression that results from both.

You have seen and read the news reports: nothing good comes from forcing educators and students back into classrooms during this Covid-19/Corona crisis.

Surely, you don’t want the blood of students and their families, school bus drivers, school cafeteria workers, school nurses, school environmental service workers, school secretaries, school teachers, school librarians, school counselors, school social workers, school paraprofessionals, and other school personnel and administrators on your hands.

Surely, you don’t want to put yourself at further risk of testing positive and potentially dying for the sake of helping billionaires stay ridiculously wealthy, while the community you are serving gets sicker and experiences mass, untimely and avoidable deaths under your watch.

We know that you have children and grandchildren. We hope that you would protect our LRSD community with as much or more love and protection with which you provide them.

We are asking you to take the high road of moral justice by calling for temporary remote, safe and equitable schooling until reputable scientists say so. And, we hope that you will wait until the number of persons in our being infected and dying by Covid-19/the Corona Virus are what we experienced in mid March of this year when you called for LRSD school buildings to temporarily close.

This is a more than reasonable ask of you.

You owe it to us to engage in a school by school assessment to ensure that no students or educators are without necessary means and access to the effective resources they need to begin safe schooling remotely on August 24, 2020.

Upholding Justice and Human Love,

Rev. Dr. Anika T. Whitfield
LRSD community member
Grassroots Arkansas, co-chair
Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign, co-chair

Maurice Cunningham is a dogged researcher into Dark Money and its role in the pursuit of privatizing public education. Cunningham is a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts. Open the link and read in full.

In his latest post, he reports that Koch money as well as Walton money, Zuckerberg money, Gates money, and Dell money, is supporting the “National Parents Union,” a front for the billionaires.

He writes:

There’s millions of dollars sloshing around Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union these days. Some of it is from Charles Koch…

The Koch connection was apparent when Charles Koch put a proxy on the board of National Parents Union. Now we know for sure Koch has money invested in NPU. Others holding stakes in NPU (housed in the same shop as Massachusetts Parents Union and run by the same team) include Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell, Reed Hoffman, John Arnold, Eli Broad, etc.

It’s not just Koch, the Waltons are tossing even more money at NPU.

NPU is also feasting on big bucks from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm.

Cunningham reminds us to “follow the noney. Dark Money never sleeps.”

And he adds:

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Louis Brandeis

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?

Most people thought that the Paycheck Protection Program would help small businesses survive the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. They were surprised to learn that charter schools, which never lost government funding, scooped up some of the $660 billion.

Guy Brandenburg posted the list of D.C. charter schools that picked up some dough from the PPP.

Many of the D.C. charters are backed by the billionaire Walton family.

For many years, the Walton family has owned the state of Arkansas. Their collective wealth exceeds $150 billion, yet Arkansas is one of the poorest states in the nation. All that money, and very little has trickled down. Perhaps you have seen the ads on national television about how much Walmart cares about its neighbors. The people of Little Rock know better.

Veteran journalist Cathy Frye reports on a dramatic series of events that occurred yesterday. Peaceful protestors closed down four Walmart stores in Little Rock.

Frye writes:

But why? Why close Walmarts?

To these anguished pleas, I offer this by way of explanation.

Because the Waltons need to understand that it’s time to relinquish their iron-clad grip on the state of Arkansas, on its economy, and on its public schools.

I worked for three years for a Walton-funded “nonprofit” organization called the Arkansas “Public” School Resource Center. If you scroll down this blog, you will find numerous posts about how APSRC operates. Its mission is to destabilize, deconstruct and resegregate public schools. It also is working with other Walton nonprofits to create a private-school voucher system in Arkansas.

The Waltons have put themselves, their politics, and their wealth above what is good for all Arkansans.

So here we are, in the midst of a pandemic and the Waltons are using this public-health crisis and the resulting school closures to retain and even strengthen their control over the Little Rock School District…Protesters shut down Walmarts because those stores symbolize everything that is wrong in Arkansas for those who are marginalized and oppressed.

You can’t put lipstick on a pig. The Waltons are the avaricious family that destroys communities and Main Street across America. Good on Little Rock for calling them out.

Cathy Frye is a veteran journalist who worked for the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, then quit when she decided she could no longer stomach being part of the Walton Goubdation machine.

She writes here about the plan to outsource schooling this fall to a tech corporation that is under investigation.

She writes:

I got curious and took a little gander today at the Arkansas Public School Center’s website. And yep, there it was – APSRC’s latest attempt to help its digital “learning” providers by – once again – taking advantage of the pandemic’s effects on public schools.

Pay attention, folks: This partnership – announced today – involves the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, the Arkansas Department of Education and an outfit known as Lincoln Learning Solutions. This partnership will affect how public schools operate during the 2020-2021 school year.

APSRC and the Arkansas Department of Education are endorsing a digital learning provider that is currently under investigation by the Pennsylvania State Auditor General’s Office.

Why an investigation? Because a five-year audit revealed that Lincoln Learning Solutions had received more than $110 million in taxpayer dollars. Now, Arkansas’ parents and schools are about to get sucker-punched in a similar fashion.

You can also be sure that someway, somehow, APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith will also find a way to profit from this. Smith does not believe in MOUs that offer no benefit to his Walton-backed empire – er, I mean, “non-profit” organization.

I dealt with digital-provider “representatives” – not educators but salesmen – for three years. They expected free vendor booths at each APSRC conference. They also expected to be wined and dined on APSRC’s tab. Initially, they got what they wanted via a grant awarded to APSRC’s teaching and learning department. But when the money ran out, they still expected to be wooed and catered to. And Smith didn’t seem to mind, which tells me that APSRC also was making money by supporting these digital providers.

APSRC has been trying for years – well before my time there – to sell this digital-learning crap to Arkansas schools. Problem is, this crap, aside from being crap, has been too pricey even for the better-off districts.

Open the link and read the rest. The Waltons are happy to disrupt public schools at any time.

Christine Langhoff is a retired teachers in Massachusetts who is an activist on behalf of public schools. She warns here about the unfolding plot to impose a state takeover of Boston public schools. Having been decisively rebuffed at the polls by the state’s voters in 2016, the Walton allies on the state board have found another way to disrupt and control the Boston public schools and install Broadies and other willing allies to advance their privatization agenda.

Christine writes:

Massachusetts’ state board of education has been moving inexorably toward a takeover of the Boston’s schools. On March 13, the same day as schools shut down, DESE announced a MOU with Boston’s superintendent. In response, Alain Jehlen, Board Member of Citizens for Public Schools, is taking a deep dive into how and why the state rates city schools so poorly on the Schoolyard News website.

Here’s Part 1:

“Boston has 34 schools (out of about 125) that rank in the bottom 10 percent in the state. BPS as a whole is 14th from the bottom out of 289 districts. Why is it rated so low?

“One major reason is that the rating system was designed in a way that almost automatically puts Boston and other urban centers with large numbers of low-income students and recent immigrants at the bottom.

“Here’s how it works: The state rates schools and districts mostly according to test scores. But there are two ways they could use the scores. State officials picked the one that makes urban areas look worse.”

https://schoolyardnews.com/one-reason-boston-gets-low-ratings-from-the-state-the-system-is-designed-to-give-bad-marks-to-f6c9ee3418d

The current board of education is loaded up with Walton connected folks. No doubt that has some impact on decision making.

Once again, Peter Greene has done us a great favor by reading a tedious billionaire-funded report that tries to prove what we know to be absurd: that the students and teachers of these United States really really need standardized testing. Having taught for 39 years, Peter knows this is hogwash.

Somehow, the United States became the most prosperous nation in the world long before the Big Standardized Tests we’re mandated by federal law in 2001. Nearly 20 years of the BS Tests, billions paid to testing corporations, and what is there to show for all this time, money, and effort: NAEP scores in reading and math have been flat for at least a decade, history and geography scores have declined, and students have lost time for recess, play, the arts, and whatever else is not tested.

It bears mentioning that no high-performing nation in the world tests all children every year from grades 3-8 as we do.

The report that Greene reviews and found wanting was produced by a DC organization called FutureEd, which wants to preserve the status quo created by No Child Left Behind.

Greene writes:

Defending the Future of the Big Standardized Test

What has happened to our beloved Big Standardized Test? Why do people keep picking on it? And can we lift it back up to its hallowed heights of the past? I have a report sitting in one of my tabs here that wants to answer those questions, yet somehow falls short. It’s FutureEd’s report The Big Test, and it is yet another attempt to repackage reformster alternate earth history. It’s not super long, but I’ve read it so that you don’t have to. Thank goodness I took my blood pressure meds today. Buckle up and let’s go.

Who Are These People?

FutureEd is a project of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. It was founded by Thomas Toch, whose previous work included some edu-flavored thinky tanks and executive director of Independent Education, a private school network in DC, and an editor at US News. He is one more self-declared education policy expert who has apparently never taught in a K-12 classroom.

FutureEd launched a few years back, with declarations of independence and lack of bias; one more entry in the “new conversation” pageant. But its independence was all that one can expect from a group funded by the City Fund, the Waltons, and Bill and Melinda Gates. Their senior fellows are drawn from 50CAN, Bridge International Academies, Education Trust, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Alliance for Excellent Education, and NewSchools Venture Fund. It’s a whole blooming field of Reformsters without any traditional public education advocates anywhere in sight.

Greene

In 1994, the Clinton administration started a small federal program and funded it with $4.5 million to help launch new charter schools. At the time, charter schools were a new idea, and there were not many of them. The first charter school had opened in Minnesota in 1991, and six states passed laws authorizing charters in 1992. In 1994, the idea was too new to have produced results or research. So Congress allocated a measly $4.5 million.

In the 26 years since the federal Charter Schools Program started, the charter idea has burgeoned into an industry with state charter school associations, lobbyists in D.C. and in state capitols, and support from numerous foundations, billionaires, corporations, and Wall Street. There is considerable research about charters as well as controversy surrounding their methods of selecting and retaining or excluding students. Charters now enroll 6% of the nation’s students.

Two things are clear:

1. The charter sector today is very well funded by billionaire patrons such as the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe abroad Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and Netflix founder Reed Hastings. It has no need of federal funding.

2. Some charters get high test scores (and are accused of skimming to get the “best” students), some get the worst scores in their states, and most get scores about the same as public schools with similar demographics. In the one all-charter district in the nation, New Orleans, about half the schools are rated D or F by the state. Although the charter industry sings their praises, it’s clear that charters have no secret sauce to lift up every child.

Yet despite the fact that charters have a huge number of financial angels with very deep pockets, despite the fact that they do not solve the deep-seated problems of American education, despite their spotty academic record, funding for the Federal Charter Schools Program has grown to $440 million per year.

Under Betsy DeVos, the CSP has become her personal slush fund to help The expansion of large corporate charter chains, like KIPP and IDEA. The original idea that the federal funds would launch entrepreneurial start-ups is long forgotten.

About two weeks ago, DeVos released the latest CSP funds and again favored the big corporate charter chains, which have many millions in reserve and long lists of billionaire patrons.

DeVos handed out the first $200 million to her favorite chain, IDEA, which has no financial need. IDEA won $72 million, having previously received more than $200 million from DeVos. IDEA, you may recall, is known for its lavish spending. Its board approved the lease of a private jet for nearly $2 million a year, but had to cancel the lease because of adverse publicity in Texas, where the chain is based. Its CEO hired a private jet to take him to meet with DeVos in Florida; he was the only passenger. The chain’s executives,lacking their own jet, are allowed to fly first class with their families, not exactly like public school employees on official travel.

The second biggest winner was Mater Academy, which won $57 million. It is affiliated with the for-profit (and very rich) Florida for-profit chain Academica.

The Network for Public Education published two reports about the CSP in 2019, documenting that the program is shot through with waste, fraud, and abuse. About 40% of the charters funded by CSP either never opened or closed not long after opening. The loss of federal funds was $1 billion. The first report—Asleep at the Wheel— is here. The second report—Still Asleep at the Wheel—is here.

Tom Ultican reviewed the two NPE reports and recounted Betsy DeVos’s unsurprising hostile response to them. Why would she relinquish control over $440 million, which helps corporate chains that divert money from public schools and advances DeVos’s long-term goal of wrecking the foundations of public education?

It is ironic that the Trump administration in its now forgotten budget for the coming year proposed to eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program by folding it and 28 other federal programs into a bloc grant to the states. At the same time, Trump and DeVos proposed The creation of a multi-billion dollar voucher program. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives made clear that these proposals were Dead on Arrival. Nonetheless, the charter lobbyists were shocked to discover that charter schools are just a stepping-stone to vouchers for DeVos.