Archives for category: Walton Foundation

Mercedes Schneider here describes a new entity that has joined the corporate reform movement. It is called SEN, the School Empowerment Network. It seems to be funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the billionaires who want to privatize all of public education and get rid of teachers’ unions. It is based in Brooklyn, New York, but gained its first contract in Michigan.

Michigan is the state where 80% of the charters operate for-profit. It doesn’t really need more charters. It does need accountability and transparency. The Detroit Free Press published a week-long series in 2014 about taxpayers being fleeced by the charter industry, which gets $1 billion a year and is never held accountable.

Jeff Bryant writes here about Little Rock, Arkansas. Little Rock was the scene of one of the crucial battles in the movement to integrate public education after the Brown decision of 1954. When city and state officials refused to integrate Central High School, President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and sent in 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne to enforce the court order to admit black students.

Jeff interviews a large number of citizens of Little Rock, who tell the story of the district. For a time, it was successfully integrated, or at least parts of it were. But the resistance never went away.

At present, the Walton Family Foundation is behind a state takeover of the entire district, even though only six of its 48 schools have been declared to be “failing” schools.

State Senator Joyce Elliott said to Jeff:

“We are retreating to 1957,” Elliott believes. Only now, instead of using Jim Crow and white flight, or housing and highways, the new segregationists have other tools at their disposal. First, education funding cuts have made competition for resources more intense, with wider disparities along racial lines. Second, recent state takeover of the district has spread a sense throughout the community of having lost control of its education destiny. Parents, local officials, and community activists continuously describe change as something being done to them rather than with them. And third, an aggressive charter school sector that competes with local public schools for resources and students further divides the community.

And lurking in the background of anything having to do with Little Rock school politics is the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic organization connected to the family that owns the Walmart retail chain, whose headquarters is in Bentonville, Arkansas.

State Commissioner Johnny Key terminated Little Rock’s superintendent, Baker Kurrus:

The disenfranchisement of Little Rock citizens became especially apparent recently, when Commissioner Key suddenly, and without explanation, terminated the contract of Baker Kurrus, until then the superintendent of the Little Rock School District. (Key had originally appointed Kurrus himself.)

As veteran local journalist for the Arkansas Times Max Brantley explains, Kurrus was initially regarded with suspicion due to the takeover and the fact he was given the helm despite his lack of education background. But Kurrus had gradually earned the respect of locals due to his tireless outreach to the community and evenhanded treatment of oppositional points of view.

But many observers of school politics in Little Rock speculate Kurrus was terminated because he warned that charter school expansions would further strain resources in the district. In advising against expansions of these schools, Kurrus shared data showing charter school tend to under-enroll students with disabilities and low income kids.

He came to view charter schools as a “parallel school system” that would add to the district’s outlays for administration and facilities instead of putting more money directly into classroom instruction.

“It makes no sense” to expand charter schools, he is quoted as telling the local NPR outlet. “You’d never build two water systems and then see which one worked … That’s essentially what we’re doing” by expanding charters.

Kurrus also came to believe that increasing charter school enrollments would increase segregation in the city.

In a state where the Waltons have their headquarters, it is unthinkable that Little Rock have a superintendent who isn’t committed to the magic of charter schools. That contradicts the Walton philosophy. Kurrus had to go. Interestingly, one of the two charter chains (LISA) in Little Rock is identified by Sharon Higgins as Gulen charters.

A report on the academic performance of charters throughout the state of Arkansas in 2008-2009 found, “Arkansas’ charter schools do not outperform their traditional school peers,” when student demographics are taken into account. (As the report explains, “several demographic factors” – such as race, poverty, and ethnicity, – strongly correlate with lower scores on standardized tests and other measures of achievement.)

Specifically in Little Rock, the most recent comparison of charter school performance to public schools shows that a number of LRSD public schools, despite having similar or more challenging student demographics, out-perform LISA and eStem charters.

There’s also evidence charter schools add to the segregation of Little Rock. Soon after the decision to expand these schools, the LISA network blanketed the district with a direct mail marketing campaign that blatantly omitted the poor, heavily black and Latino parts of the city, according to an investigation by the Arkansas Times.xxx

In the state board’s vote to take over the district, as Brantley reports for the Times, members who voted yes had family ties to and business relationships with organizations either financed by the Walton Foundation or working in league with the Waltons to advocate for charter schools.

In another recent analysis in the Times, reporter Benjamin Hardy traces recent events back to a bill in the state legislature in 2015, HB 1733, that “originated with a Walton-affiliated education lobbyist.” That bill would have allowed an outside non-profit to operate any school district taken over by the state. The bill died in committee when unified opposition from the Little Rock delegation combined with public outcry to cause legislators to waver in their support.

So what the Waltons couldn’t accomplish with legislation like HB 1733 they are currently accomplishing by influencing official administration actions, including taking out Kurrus and expanding charters across the city.

The Waltons recently announced that they plan to spend $250 million annually to expand charter schools. They selected 17 urban districts that they would pour money into. One of them is Little Rock.

Politico reports that Hillary Clinton was booed when she spoke of cooperation between public schools and “public charter schools.”

I don’t think she has any idea of the depth of antagonism towards charter schools among teachers.

Maybe she doesn’t know that 90% of charters are non-union.

Maybe she doesn’t know that the far-right Walton Family Foundation (which hates unions) funded one of every four charters in the nation and has pledged to spend at least $200 million annually to create more non-union schools.

Maybe she doesn’t know that ALEC (which hates unions and public schools) is a huge supporter of charter schools.

Maybe she doesn’t know that the same “vast rightwing conspiracy” that hates her loves charter schools.

Maybe she doesn’t know that every Republican governor, as well as Donald Trump, is enthusiastic about charter schools.

Maybe she doesn’t know that charter schools have become the favorite ploy of those who want to privatize and monetize public education.

I have been trying to arrange a meeting with her, face to face, but so far have had no success.

I will keep trying.

I would really like to explain to her what is happening, how it threatens the future of public education, and how far it is from the original idea of charter schools.

Irony: on the same day that the New York Times reports that charters and competition have caused an unprecedented collapse of education in Detroit, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart) will pump another $250 million this year alone into starting more new charters.

The Waltons–who are all billionaires–are doubling down on failure. They are doing to public schools what Walmart does to communities: destroying the competition, disrupting the community, and targeting public education for privatization.

I vow never to set foot in a Walmart. I know that is difficult for people because in many communities, all the mom-and-pop stores folded after Walmart arrived. Now mom and pop are low-wage greeters for Walmart.

Walmart relies heavily on foreign imports for its products, thus contributing to the outsourcing of manufacturing in this country. It has undermined American workers and home-grown businesses. Now it wants to drive public schools out of business with the same predatory techniques. The Waltons are not good neighbors.

Harold Meyerson, editor of The American Prospect, writes in the Los Angeles Times that progressives in California should stay involved in state politics and join to defeat the power of big money.

As he shows, the big money interests have combined to elect conservative Democrats and defeat progressive Democrats. Because of the state’s “top-two” primaries, regardless of party, the big-money guys are picking malleable conservative Democrats and pouring millions into their campaigns to pick off progressive campaigns.

Bernie Sanders’ keystone issue was to limit the role of money in politics. In California, the moneyed interests are saturating legislative races with donations that their opponents can’t match.

Over the past two years, oil companies and “education reform” billionaires have been funding campaigns for obliging Democratic candidates running against their more progressive co-partisans under the state’s “top-two” election process. In this week’s primary, independent committees spent at least $24 million, with most of that money flowing to Democrats who opposed Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to halve motorists’ use of fossil fuels by 2030, and a substantial sum going to Democrats who support expanding charter schools.

Six years ago, according to the Associated Press, just one legislative primary race had more than $1 million in outside spending, and four had more than $500,000. This year, eight races saw more than $1 million in such spending, and 15 more than $500,000.

In a heavily Democratic district outside Sacramento, a November state Senate runoff will pit Democratic Assemblyman Bill Dodd, who opposed Brown’s legislation, against former Democratic Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada. Dodd has already benefited from one independent campaign funded by Chevron and other energy companies to the tune of more than $270,000, and from an education reform campaign funded by charter school proponents such as billionaire Eli Broad in the amount of $1.68 million.

Since progressives can’t match their millions, they should do their best to expose them and their surrogates as the puppets they are.

Public education in California is a plum for the billionaires. They want to privatize it. Who are the biggest spenders in the self-named “education reform movement”? Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Reed Hastings, and Alice Walton. None is a parent in public schools. None has children in public schools. Two do not even live in California.

This is NOT what democracy looks like.

This is a remarkable editorial that appears in the Los Angeles Times, of all places. The headline tells a story we did not expect to read on this newspaper’s editorial page:

Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda

Read that again. Slowly.

The editorial recaps the serial failures of the Gates Foundation in education: Small high schools (abandoned); evaluating teachers by test scores (not yet abandoned but clearly a failure, as witnessed by the disasterous, costly experience in Hillsborough County, Florida); Common Core (not abandoned, but facing a massive public rejection).

But it’s not all bad, says the editorial:

It was a remarkable admission for a foundation that had often acted as though it did have all the answers. Today, the Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run.

That’s not to say wealthy reformers have nothing to offer public schools. They’ve funded some outstanding charter schools for low-income students. They’ve helped bring healthcare to schools. They’ve funded arts programs.

This is not the whole story, of course. They have funded a movement to privatize public education, which drains resources and the students the charters want from public schools, leaving them in worse shape for the vast majority of students. And they have insisted on high-stakes testing, thus leading schools to eliminate or curtail their arts programs. As for healthcare in the schools, there should be more of it, but it should not depend on philanthropic largesse. Two children in the Philadelphia public schools died because the school nurses were cut back to only two days a week, and there were no philanthropists filling the gap.

Knowing how destructive the venture philanthropists have been–not only Gates, but also Eli Broad and the Walton Family, and a dozen or two other big philanthropies–one could wish that they would fund healthcare and arts programs, and perhaps experimental schools that demonstrated what public schools with ample resources could accomplish.

Still we must be grateful when the Los Angeles Times writes words like these:

Philanthropists are not generally education experts, and even if they hire scholars and experts, public officials shouldn’t be allowing them to set the policy agenda for the nation’s public schools. The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.

Allowing Bill Gates or Eli Broad or the Walton Family to set the nation’s education is not only unwise, it is undemocratic. The schools belong to the public, not to the 1%.

Since the editorial mentioned Bill Gates’ devout belief that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students, it is appropriate to recall that the Los Angeles Times was the first newspaper in the nation to publish ratings for teachers based on test scores; it even had hopes of winning a Pulitzer Prize for this ugly intervention by non-educators who thought that teaching could be reduced to a number and splashed in headlines. Let us never forget Rigoberto Ruelas, a fifth-grade teacher who committed suicide shortly after the evaluations were published by the Los Angeles Times, and he was declared by the Times to be among the “least effective” teachers. There followed a heated debate about the methodology used by the Times to rate teachers. That was before the American Statistical Association warned against using test scores to evaluate individual teachers. But the Los Angeles Times was taking Gates’ lead and running with it. It was not worth the life of this good man.

Mercedes Schneider received a copy of the Media Matters report on the corporate rightwing assault on public education, as did I and many others. She had the same reaction that I did. How can you list the rightwing think tanks, corporate groups, and foundations that are promoting privatization and forget to mention the three biggest funders of rightwing attacks on public education: Gates, Walton, and Broad?

 

There were some other glaring omissions. Stand for Children and Parent Revolution were there, but not Democrats for Education Reform, which funds candidates who support the rightwing agenda.

 

It seemed fishy. Mercedes did some digging and learned that Media Matters is led by journalist David Brock. Brock is active in the Clinton campaign. It must have been a political decision to omit the three biggest funders of privatization and anti-union policies. More than 90% of the nation’s 7,000 or so charter schools are non-union. The expansion of charters is an effective way to break the nation’s largest public unions. The funders know that.

 

After more digging, Mercedes concluded that the omissions were not accidental. I decided to trash the post I had written. But I was glad to see some acknowledgement–even if partial–for the struggle we are engaged in to save public education.

 

 

Melissa Sanchez of Catalyst Chicago reports that the Walton Family Foundation will no longer fund charter schools in Chicago due to its unfavorable political climate. This is a great victory for the parents and educators of Chicago! The climate is unwelcoming to charters because the public is resisting, understanding that charter expansion means public school death.

Hallelujah! Resistance works! Jitu Brown, Katen Lewis, and other community leaders deserve congratulations.

Sanchez writes that Chicago used to at the top of Walton’s list for new charter money. No more:

“Just a few years ago, Walton spent more money to help start charters here than anywhere else in the nation. In large part, the money flowed in because of the presence of a powerful pro-charter mayor who controlled the city’s school system.

“We’re very confident in the city’s leadership, particularly the mayor, to help expand and strengthen the charter sector in Chicago,” the foundation’s then-deputy director of education reform said in 2013.

“But now, a deep and seemingly intractable financial crisis, an unprecedented wave of public backlash against privately run charters and the district’s own slowdown of charter expansion have made Walton shift its course.

“The foundation—which says it has given start-up funds to one of every four charter schools nationwide—is pulling out of Chicago. Between 2009 and 2014, Walton gave nearly $7 million in direct grants to charters in Chicago, including the UNO Network of Charter Schools and Urban Prep Academies, among others, according to tax records. (Another $8 million was targeted to fund state policy and advocacy work, and to start charters elsewhere in Illinois.)

“We take no pleasure in this,” says Marc Sternberg, Walton’s director of K-12 education programs. “When you look at the Nobles and the Perspectives and KIPPs in Chicago and the impact they’re having, and when you look at their aggregate performance, Chicago does very well. It is unfortunate that there aren’t opportunities to help [organizations] like them grow their impact, especially when the need in Chicago is so acute.”

“Walton’s withdrawal is just one of the signs that Chicago’s once-rapidly expanding charter sector is facing a harder sell in an increasingly hostile political climate.”

Walton identified 13 other districts that it will target to destroy traditional public schools. These include Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, Memphis, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Denver, Camden, Washington, DC; Atlanta, Memphis, Houston, and San Antonio. New Orleans is already nearly 100% charter, but Walton won’t rest until every last public school is replaced by a privately managed charter school.

Walton no longer has Newark on its priority funding list. Another “hostile political climate.”

Parents, educators, and citizens in the 13 districts: You are forewarned! Walton is coming to eliminate your local public schools and replace them with corporate chain schools. If you fight back, you too can create a “hostile political climate” and send the billionaires packing!

Mercedes Schneider enjoyed the exchange between Jennifer Berkshire and Peter Cunningham. But she wondered who was funding Cunningham’s “Education Post.”

 

Read how she investigated the money flow.  It is a model of research and creative digging. She knew that money was coming from Walton, Broad, and Bloomberg. But guess who else funds Peter and his $12 million blog?

As I read the story in the New York Times about the overturning of the infamous Vergara decision, I realized that the article presented an opportunity for “close reading” and for critical thinking. Unlike the Common Core standards, which asks the reader to stick to the four corners of the text, I expect readers to draw upon their background knowledge to interpret the text, authors’ intentions, and missing information or context. In the end, however, we must recognized that it is a newspaper article, and space is limited. Nonetheless, what is written and what is omitted is left out matters, because the Times is a national newspaper, read by the public and the media, few of whom will ever read the decision or understand the background.

 

 

Why do philanthropists want to end teachers’ job protections? Why do billionaires like Eli Broad and the Walton family want to get rid of job protections? Did the plaintiffs prove that the children’s teachers were ineffective? Or did they just use test scores as “evidence”? Which states allow teachers to have due process rights? Which do not? Does the latter group of states–which have no job protections–have better schools than the former group? What is the Partnership for Educational Justice? What is its goal? Does a district attract better teachers when it does not have job protections? Why has recruitment of new teachers plummeted in recent years?

 

These are just a few questions that come to mind. What are yours?