Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chicago principals: If you want poor performing, filthy schools, privatize

Chicago principals don't think so.
If you want schools that dominate the bottom quartile, privatize their management. And if you want dirty, filthy schools, privatize their custodial services. That seems to be what Chicago principals are saying.

Ace Catalyst reporter Sara Karp writes:
The $340 million privatization of the district’s custodial services has led to filthier buildings and fewer custodians, while forcing principals to take time away from instruction to make sure that their school is clean. That is the finding from a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.
The survey follows by a week, a report put together by AAPLE member Troy LaRaviere showing a list of the 45 lowest-performing (test-wise) schools saturated with privately-run charters while the list of top-performing schools has none.

So the question continues to be asked, what is the source of this great love of privatization among school reform leaders and system bureaucrats? I think it's something in the drinking water at Harvard.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

State Supreme Court to hear case of fired N.O. teachers after Katrina

State Supreme Court will hear the case of 7,000 teachers wrongly fired after Hurricane Katrina. 
"Katrina accomplished in a day ... what Louisiana school reformers couldn't do after years of trying". -- American Enterprise Institute. 
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast exactly nine years ago, New Orleans school chief Paul Vallas saw the disaster as an opportunity to carry out his long-standing mission by replacing New Orleans' public schools with privately-run, union-free charter schools. He was brought in on the wake of  the firing of 7,500 teachers and other school employees -- most of them African-American -- and the crushing of United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), once Louisiana's largest labor union and its first racially integrated teachers' union and to deliver a crushing blow to the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), once Louisiana's largest labor union and its first racially integrated teachers' union. Vallas takes credit for installing the largest privately managed charter system in the nation.

His "grand experiment in urban education for the nation" worked, at least up until now and is seen by corporate reformers as a model for urban districts from Detroit to Chicago. The so-called Recovery School District (RSD)  has become the first district in the nation to do away completely with traditional public schools, replacing most of its older, veteran teaching force with younger, whiter 5-week wonders from TFA.

But a class-action lawsuit could finally bring some justice for the fired teachers. The case will be heard by the State Supreme Court on Thursday, Sept. 4th,  following lower court decisions that held the employees were wrongfully terminated. Teachers and their lawyers are expecting a positive decision.

Quinn chose Vallas as his running mate leaving thousands of IL teachers asking, why?

HE'S BACK...Now Vallas, the master of disaster and the king of school privatization, is gone from N.O., leaving behind a trail of lost, costly court cases and shattered public school systems from Haiti to Chile, from Philly to Bridgeport, CN. For some reason angry teachers will never understand, IL Gov. Pat Quinn has chosen teachers-union-buster Vallas as his Democratic Party running mate in his upcoming election against right-wing Republican billionaire Bruce Rauner. Good luck on that one, Governor.

Cross-posted at Mike Klonsky's SmallTalk Blog

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Chris Kershner, vice president of public policy and economic development for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce
“The business community is the consumer of the educational product. Students are the educational product. They are going through the education system so that they can be an attractive product for business to consume and hire as a workforce in the future.” -- Valerie Strauss in WaPo
Former CPS Liar-in-Chief Becky Carroll now heads up Rahm Emanuel's Super PAC
“This questionnaire will allow us to better understand where aldermanic candidates stand and help us to both plan our strategies well in advance of the election and be more nimble as races tighten up. We want to be well ahead of the curve so, as dynamics change ward by ward, we can be more flexible in directing our resources. That’s why we’re starting so early.” -- Sun-Times
JP Morgan’s “point person” in Detroit, Aaron Seybert  
“The working theory at up to the executive suite, is that spending $100 million in America’s most famously bankrupt city is a good investment. Good for Detroit, yes, but also good for JPMorgan. Best case, good for America.” -- NPQ
Frackers backing Rauner

Nelson Wood, a Mount Vernon-based oil producer who co-hosted the fundraiser, said his colleagues are tired of being idle.
“We just think Bruce Rauner will be the better choice. There’s a lot of consternation out there,” Wood said Wednesday. “The governor should have gotten this going a year ago." -- Capitol Fax

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How Greasy Deasy Funneled $1 Billion to Pals at Pearson, Apple

Greasy Deasy

Howard Blume at the L.A. Times reports that L.A. Supt. John Deasy (the man from Gates) and his chief deputy "developed a special relationship" with executives from Pearson and Apple, the companies that won a billion-dollar technology contract. Blume says it raises new questions about the fairness of competition in the effort to provide a computer to every student in the nation's second-largest school system.

It looks like Deasy's then-Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino did most of the dirty work, strategizing with higher-ups from Pearson, on how to ensure that it got the job by undercutting competitors in the bidding process..
"I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one," wrote Aquino, who was an executive with a Pearson affiliate before joining L.A. Unified.
 "Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly," Deasy wrote. "I want to not loose [sic] an amazing opportunity and fully recognize our current limits."
Conspiracy? Price fixing? Bribery? Sounds like a case for the federales. Where are you feds?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Corporate reform strategies not working say U.C. prof

NY Times
U.C. Berkeley Prof. David Kirp, writes in the New York Times, Teaching is Not a Business, that corporate reform is not working.
TODAY’S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.
Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. 
More Kirp:
 Charter schools have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rhee finds her true calling at Scotts Miracle-Gro, killing many birds with one stone.

Michelle Rhee has decided to make a new start. After formally changing her last name to Johnson (she's married to Sacramento Mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson), Rhee has announced her departure from StudentsFirst for Scotts Miracle-Gro. It looks like the hedge-fund school reformers and power philanthropists are growing tired of Rhee and have decided to pass the union-busting torch on to Campbell Brown.

Although she will stay on the board of SF, Rhee appears to have given up on the potential of the organization she founded. The organization has also just pulled out of five states, including Florida where Rhee served as chief education adviser to Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott. Perhaps the corporate reformer who Salon writer Jeff Bryant calls "education's Ann Coulter" now has her sights set on becoming the new Queen of Fertilizer.
Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has named the controversial former head of Washington, D.C., schools to its board of directors. Michelle Johnson, formerly Michelle Rhee, will serve on two of the Scotts board’s six committees – innovation and marketing, and compensation and organization, the Marysville lawn and garden company said Monday. -- Columbus Business First
IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT MANURE...Something you should know about Rhee's new company. The Ohio-based fertilizer and pesticides company is notorious for contributing to soil decay and water pollution. Think Toledo and Lake Erie. The company has only recently agreed to remove dangerous water pollutant, phosphorus from the Turf Builder line. But, as recent reports on Toledo's water problem shows, it's too little, too late.

The company has also violated US federal environmental laws by manufacturing and selling poisoned birdseed. The company entered guilty pleas to all charges in U.S. District Court in 2012.
According to court documents, Scotts Miracle-Gro was warned about the toxicity of these chemicals by two employees. One employee, a pesticide chemist, approached management about these dangers in the summer of 2007, whilst the other employee, an ornithologist, notified management in the autumn of that same year. The Scotts Miracle-Gro company ignored these warnings and continued to produce and distribute their poisoned birdseed products for at least another six months... According to court documents, Scotts Miracle-Gro sold more than 73 million packages of these poisoned bird foods nationwide to an unsuspecting public for a period of more than two years. Only 2 million of those 73 million units could be recalled.  -- The Guardian
In a separate civil agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scotts agreed to pay more than $6 million in penalties and spend $2 million on environmental projects under a settlement that resolves additional civil pesticide violations . The violations include distributing or selling unregistered, canceled or misbranded pesticides, including products with inadequate warnings or cautions. This is the largest civil settlement under FIFRA to date. -- U.S. Justice Dept.
Given Rhee's test-cheating experience as D.C. schools chancellor, should make her a perfect addition to the Miracle-Gro brand.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Rahm's Walgreen cronies now say they're not moving HQ to Switzerland after all

Wesson oils Rahm

INVERSION -- Rahm's union-hating pals and campaign funders at Walgreen's now say they won't re-incorporate in Switzerland as planned. The re-incorporation — in which a company’s headquarters relocates overseas for tax purposes — is called a corporate inversion
With political pressure mounting from the White House down, Walgreen Co. is poised to announce Wednesday that it will keep its corporate headquarters in north suburban Deerfield...Last month, Obama called companies that re-incorporate overseas to avoid taxes “corporate deserters.”
It seems like Walgreen CEO Greg Wasson likes to pop into Chicago every once in a while to help Rahm push one or another of his hare-brained corporate school-reform schemes in exchange for more tax breaks. Remember when Rahm cooked up this one  (while swimming) with Wasson to offer CPS parents gift cards loaded with 25,000 ”customer loyalty” points (worth $25) for attending report card pick up?

Also remember back in 2011 when the mayor and Wasson announced their “Chicago Hometown Investment Initiative” where Walgreen would supposedly provide hundreds of new jobs in exchange for $47 million in state tax credits and grants.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

NCRP calls for investigation of the Bremer Foundation

One of the philanthropic players on the Minn. charter school and public health scenes is the Otto Bremer Foundation. Among its charter school recipients is the scandalized Higher Ground Academy.

But it turns out that the foundation's trustees, while donating to many worthwhile causes, may have been helping themselves along with the privately-run charters. The watchdog group NCRP is now asking the IRS to investigate Bremer and take action if needed. NCRP’s executive director Aaron Dorfman sent a letter to IRS director for exempt organizations Tamera Ripperda detailing the many red flags among the trustees’ activities.

Dorfman writes:
Trustee compensation has increased by 1000 percent over the past 10 years, during much of which time the country was struggling with a recession. In 2013 alone, the trustees received more than $1.2 million from the foundation, compared to the $24,000 median trustee compensation among the country’s largest foundations. The foundation owns 92 percent of Bremer Bank, and the trustees also receive payment for their roles with the financial institution. Further, in recent years, the foundation has significantly increased its legal fees.
Recently, NCRP also called for an investigation by the Minnesota Attorney General. Her office has yet to confirm whether she’ll be launching an investigation.

The Star Tribune's Paul Olson writes:
Somebody once described a foundation as a pile of money surrounded by people who want some. The Otto Bremer Foundation, and its three trustees, may be a shocking case in point for that cynicism...Unfortunately, Bremer is not the first Minnesota foundation to come under this kind of scrutiny."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Griffin's divorce. Think of it as a stock split.

The Griffins

SORRY TO HEAR THE NEWS (No, really) that right-wing billionaire power couple, Ken and Ann Griffin are splitting up. Whatever happened to "'til death do us part"?

The Griffins have been the money-bags behind both Bruce Rauner's and Rahm Emanuel's political ascendency. They have also bankrolled much of Chicago's union-busting and corporate-style school reform policies.

For this to happen right in the middle of the Illinois gov's race must be unsettling, especially to Rauner's people. Griffin was in the headlines last month because of his record-breaking $2.5 million contribution to Bruce Rauner’s gubernatorial campaign.

But don't worry,  Rahm and Bruce. Think of it as a stock split. Remember, corporations are people too. Besides, there's a pre-nup. Just in case Ann goes the wrong way, politically speaking.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Charles Schwab -- A core member of the 'charter cabal'

Brokerage firm founder Charles Schwab rode the emerging wave of online investing to amass client assets of over $2 trillion, and a net worth of $6 billion. He's now become one of the biggest patrons of corporate-style school reform, investing millions in privately-run charters schools like KIPP, Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, and Michelle Rhee's operation, Stand for Children. Schwab also helps bankroll right-wing ed think tanks like the Fordham Institute.    

From Inside Philanthropy...
We're not sure why charters and finance billionaires go together like peas and carrots, but we'll save the theorizing for another article. What's notable about Schwab is that he's deeper into this area than many of the more glitzy hedge fund donors who get so much attention.
A $1 million gift to the Charter School Growth Fund in 2011 stands out, not only because of the size of the gift but also because of its destination. Founded in 2005, the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) is a bit like the mother ship of the charter school movement, working to grow and professionalize this alternative ed sector. A lot of the major players in the charter school funding world have given to CSGF, including Walton, Gates, Dell, Bradley, and Fisher. Schwab 's investment here is yet more evidence that it's a core member of the charter cabal. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's Gates' company Microsoft that needs a good "turnaround"

Bill Gates is fond of blaming the schools for failing to produce enough highly-skilled workers to grow the economy or enough properly-trained workers for his company. As if that is truly the purpose of PUBLIC education. Gates claims it's easier to find cures for malaria and other diseases than to “fix” American education.

Now that the economy is growing and recovering from the global financial collapse of the passed decade, shouldn't Gates be crediting the schools for the upswing? Instead, we get the news today that Gates' company Microsoft, despite its huge profits and its spending of billions on new acquisitions, is preparing to fire 18,000 workers in order for the company to "become more agile and move faster." 

About 12,500 professional and factory jobs will be cut. FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives said the cuts were about double what Wall Street was expecting. But he said they were necessary to streamline operations and clean up a "bloated management structure".
"Under the Ballmer era, there were many layers of management and a plethora of expensive initiatives being funded that has thus hurt the strategic and financial position the company is in, especially in light of digesting the Nokia acquisition," says Ives
That's right, it's Gates' company -- not the schools -- that's in need of a turnaround. There's plenty of talent coming out of the public schools. Maybe Bill should give Microsoft a Gates grant to restructure itself. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Revolving door from Rahm's City Hall to hedge-funder's office keeps turning

Matt Hynes
reported last month about Rahm's machine bagman Matt Hynes jumping ship to go spend "more time with his family." Remember Hynes, the son of former longtime Cook County Assessor, ward boss (19th) and big-time lobbyist Tom Hynes and brother of former state Comptroller Dan Hynes, was the guy who first put the great pension heist idea in Rahm's ear and got SEIU leaders to buy into it.

Now we know who Hynes meant by his "family".

Crain's reports:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's departing chief lobbyist has a new gig and, metaphorically, it isn't far from City Hall. Matt Hynes, who last month announced his departure as the the mayor's director of legislative counsel and government affairs, will be joining Grosvenor Capital Management L.P., the firm run by Emanuel confident and kitchen-cabinet member Michael Sacks.
Sacks is one of the biggest money-bags patrons feeding Emanuel's campaign trough. He was part of the Emanuel team that negotiated City Council's parking meter deal with operator Chicago Parking Meters LLC. Former mayor Daley now works for that firm. Sacks reportedly talks with Rahm several times daily.

Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd, one of Rahm's potential opponents in next year's race, voted “no” on the meter deal and says unpaid mayoral advisers are one thing. “It's another thing when you have them as active participants in a government function,” he says. “We want government-business partnerships, but not these types.”

Sacks is a big promoter of charter schools and serves as a mayoral adviser on the topic. He also sits on the board of After School Matters, Mayor and Maggie Daley's cash-cow after-school program which was used as back entrance to the old City Hall patronage system.

Hynes is not the first Chicago politico recruited by Sacks. Earlier moves to the firm include Kurt Summers, former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Mr. Emanuel's chief information officer, Brett Goldstein.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tri-Star charter hustlers banned in N.J., welcomed with open arms in Florida

Gallon, Kemp and Kelly in 2010 court hearing where they are banned from operating charters in N.J.

Former Plainfield superintendent and current charter school hustler Steve Gallon III's company, Tri-Star Leadership has been banned in the state of New Jersey. That in itself is no easy task to accomplish in the state where Gov. Christie has never met a corrupt charter operator he didn't adore. But not to worry for old Steve. Five months later, he and his company were welcomed with open arms in Florida where anyone with a pulse, no matter how corrupt or incompetent, can operate a chain of charter schools and receive millions in support from crony-corporatist Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott's regime.

In May 2010, Gallon was arrested and charged with hiring unqualified friends Angela Kemp and Lalelei Kelly and then lying about their residences so their children could attend schools outside their district. The charges brought against Gallon, Kemp and Kelly were dropped in January 2011 after the three agreed to serve probation and to never work in the New Jersey public school system again.

Just over a year after Gallon was hired to operate schools in South Florida, he rehired Kelly to work as a consultant and then hired Kemp to be the principal at Excel Leadership Academy in Palm Beach County.

Gallon then took up where he left off in N.J., making payroll decisions without prior authorization from the charter schools’ governing boards, drawing rebukes from the schools’ financial consultants. He hired a $40,000-a-year consultant who listed her residence as a Georgia home owned by Gallon. He launched a business venture with one of the volunteer board members responsible for overseeing Gallon’s work for the charter schools. The venture was later deemed a conflict of interest by Miami-Dade school district investigators. At least three consultants contracted by the governing boards warned their bosses of inappropriate actions under Gallon, records show. Yet Gallon stayed on as those who complained quit — or were fired.

Excel Leadership Academy in Palm Beach
Success Leadership Academy in Ft. Lauderdale and Excel Leadership Academy in West Palm Beach closed in the summer of 2013. Stellar Leadership Academy in Miami faced financial struggles but rebounded and continues to employ Gallon’s company. All three high schools for at-risk students were already reeling when their boards hired Gallon. The schools opened in 2005 under a private management company that selected the original board members and handled all school operations, from real estate and payroll to busing and curriculum. That company, White Hat Management, the most corrupt of a host of Ohio-based charter management companies, had operated a number of charter schools throughout Florida until they began pulling out of the state in 2011.

According to the Sun-Sentinel:
State statutes governing the conduct of public officials do not apply to the private operators that often gain power at charter schools, even though public money is at stake.
Both traditional public schools and charter schools receive public dollars based on their enrollment, and don’t charge tuition. Administrators at traditional public schools are accountable for every penny spent. But the private companies hired by many charter school governing boards don’t have to open their books.
And so it goes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Billionaire Griffin's influence will be felt no matter who wins the election

Chicago Magazine
The Billionaire Boys Club is flexing its electoral political muscles again in Illinois. The Sun-Times reports that Citadel hedge-fund CEO Ken Griffin has kicked in a tidy $2.5 million to fellow billionaire Bruce Rauner's already bloated campaign fund. That includes $71,000 worth of in-kind contributions for the use of Griffin's private jet. It's reportedly the biggest single Illinois political donation ever — in the modern-day era — to a candidate for governor of Illinois. It's also the biggest ever from an individual other than the candidate himself  in the post-Watergate era when public disclosure records were first required, said one political scientist.

Griffin has also given more than $1 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads SuperPAC and has donated heavily to the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. He's bigger than two-party politics and also gave heavily to both the Obama and Romney campaigns as well as to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's political war chest. Griffin and his wife, Anne Dias Griffin are both members of Rahm's kitchen cabinet as is Rauner himself.

Whether Rauner or Gov. Quinn prevails in November's election, Griffin's influence will be felt. The same is true for next year's mayor's race. And that doesn't bode well for teachers, unions, or the state's public school system. Griffin is one of the biggest corporate patrons of privately-run charter schools. He also helped underwrite Stand For Children's 2013 venture into Illinois and was heavily involved in their campaign to pass anti-teachers-union SB7 legislation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vergara Ruling, Californication

Best Tweet this morning comes from Pedro Noguera ‏@PedroANoguera
California court ruling is a setback for public education. When teachers lose so do kids. Don't blame tenure for the flaws of the system.
Judge Rolf M. Treu's ruling was based on the notion that teachers and students have conflicting interests, ie. what's good for teachers, like bargaining rights, is bad for kids. Treu even had the nerve to cite Brown v. Board as a rationale for his anti-teacher ruling.

Welch (3rd from left) and legal team.
The case was filed by a front group for the corporate "reformers" in an attempt to undercut statewide collective-bargaining agreements and to make it easier to fire teachers without due process. The legal costs were covered by  by Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch. Welch is also a founder of the New Schools Venture Fund, a powerful force behind the growth of privately-run charter schools.

Backing Welch, according to the Washington Post, were
...some of the most incendiary players in the national argument over the future of public schools, including Michelle Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor who got rid of tenure in the District in 2009 and went on to form an advocacy group aimed at eliminating it across the country. Parent Revolution, the group behind the controversial “parent trigger” laws, is another supporter.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the ruling "a mandate" for lawmakers and education leaders. Other organizations behind the suit included: Alliance for a Better Community, California Charter Schools Association, Silcon Valley Leadership Group, GO Oakland Public Schools, and NewSchools Venture Fund. The suit is also supported by Superintendents John Deasy in L.A., former Oakland Supt.Tony Smith, and Jonathan Raymond of Sacramento City Unified.

On the teachers side were Gov. Jerry Brown, the CFT and the CTA. They will appeal the ruling.

James Ryan, dean of Harvard University's graduate school of education, said the verdict "will likely cause lawyers in other states to think about bringing similar suits." But he pointed out that the decision explicitly called on the state Legislature to fix the unconstitutional statues at issue. As a result, there will likely be "back-and-forth" between the Legislature and courts for many years to come.

"This has a long way before it's over in California and it hasn't even started yet in other states," Mr. Ryan said.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

How world's richest man bought school reform

WaPo reporter Lyndsey Layton tells the story of how Bill Gates bought and paid for so-called school "reform".  He even got NEA and AFT leaders to buy-in to Common Core. 
On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality...What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.
Best quote in Layton's article ironically comes from right-wing Univ. of Arkansas prof Jay Greene:
“Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not.” 

Monday, June 2, 2014

SEC charges UNO with fraud. $37.5M from charter school 'investors"

Once you get past all the rhetoric about "business models" and charters sharing "innovations" with traditional schools, you're left with this.

Everyone in Chicago knows that UNO is too big to jail. But that didn't stop the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Monday from filing a complaint against Juan Rangel's UNO cabal, charging the clout-heavy Chicago charter school operator defrauded investors in a $37.5 million bond offering by misleading them about conflicts of interest in giving construction contracts to companies run by relatives of an UNO official.

Only surprise here is that a charter school can even raise $37.5M from "investors." Really?

That's different, I suppose, from the $98M investment in UNO charters made by Gov. Quinn, using taxpayer money. UNO leaders can shrug off the likely SEC fine. It will amount to chump change for them. And with backers like Mayor Emanuel and Boss Madigan, you can bet no one's going to jail on this.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Zuckerberg's Latest 'Gift'

Fred Klonsky

Vast private donations have brought public dollars with them, giving America’s wealthiest people power over the  public agenda that some don’t think is healthy. -- Washington Post
I was interviewed this morning by CSM reporter Stacy Teicher Khadaroo about FB founder Mark Zuckerberg's latest $120M "gift" to San Francisco Bay Area Schools. What is it about the Billionaire Boys Club? They just can't seem to keep their grubby mitts off of public education. I wish they would stick to buying basketball teams.

Zuckerberg, the world’s 21st richest person, has a net worth that Forbes pegs at $28 billion. He claims that his $100M "donation" to Newark's public schools schools raised graduation rates by 10%. What horsecrap!
Where's the evidence?

We still don't even know exactly how that money was spent except that it was used to create a couple of new privately-run charter schools and that about a third of it was used to pay political and educational consultants and contractors through a slush fund set up by former mayor Corey Booker and Gov. Christie and provided a nice tax haven for MZ.

Maybe with Booker gone, new Mayor Ras Baraka can get to the bottom of it.

I told Khadoroo how Zuckerberg's 2010 "gift" helped set the tone for the continuing national erosion of public space and public decision making. I told her how the ACLU had to file a suit in 2011 to help local parents get records on how the money was spent. I told her how all over the country, power philanthropists are using gifts to resource-starved school systems, and in return, they reserve the right to effectively set education policy and funnel money to politically-connected consultants and for-profit programs.

I also told her to read our book on the topic. I hope she gets it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

IL Senate votes to kill Charter Commission. Bad news for Gülen charters?

Fethullah Gülen
The IL Senate voted to abolish the State Charter School Commission which had the power to override school district decisions to reject charter applications. The bill to abolish was sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood and passed the Senate 34-22. It now goes back to the House for possible action next week.

This watered-down version of the bill still leaves rejected charter operators a way into to local school districts. It would shift the Commission's authority to a newly created board to be impaneled by Gov. Quinn appointed Supt. Christopher Koch, with final decisions on rejected charter-school applications resting with the State Board of Education.

The Commission seems to have crossed the line when it overrode a CPS Board vote and cleared Des Plaines-based Concept Schools to open two new charter campuses in Chicago. The Sun-Times reported in December that Turkish billionaire and political intriguer Fethullah Gülen, who essentially owns Concept Schools and runs the biggest network of privately-run charters in the U.S., hosted House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and many other Illinois lawmakers on trips to Turkey in recent years.

And records show the state charter commission’s Springfield lobbyist is Liz Brown-Reeves  —  a former Madigan aide who accompanied lawmakers on their trip to Turkey in 2012. The Commission also received big funding from Walton and other private, pro-charter foundations.

I suspect this move is an attempt to clean up the the Gülen connection and create a buffer between the corrupt charter operation, Madigan and Gov. Quinn. Nevertheless, a win for school districts and the teacher unions who stood in opposition to the Commission. We'll see what happens in the House.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A handful of Common Core text/testing publishers buying up everything in sight

Captive audience marketing to kids on Channel 1 
Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just acquired Channel One and Curiosityville. HMH is one of the biggest text/testing publishers cashing in on the booming Common Core market, along with Pearson and McGraw-Hill.  In  2007, Pearson acquired Harcourt Assessment and Harcourt Education International.

Channel One News, founded in 1989 by school privatizer and captive-audience marketing guru Chris Whittle, produces daily news programs along with paid ads that are broadcast to nearly 5 million students in upper-elementary, middle, and high schools across the United States. The shows are delivered online and via satellite. On April 17, Channel One News devoted nearly one third of its program  to a “news story” about the U.S. Army.

Adding the video-production capabilities of Channel One to the publishing company will help it market its Go Math! program.
From Channel One's vantage point, the acquisition will mean the digital-content company "can leverage HMH's leading K-12 market position and its deep  relationships with school districts across the U.S. to offer innovative digital content and resources on an even broader scale," C.J. Kettler, Channel One's CEO, said in the statement.
A week after purchasing Channel One, HMH announced the acquisition of Curiosityville, which is marketed to parents and families to "help parents become great first teachers and children great learners" for school and life, according to its website. Terms of both sales were not disclosed.

PEARSON, a British conglomerate, continues to tout itself on its website as the world’s leading education company that operates in 80 countries, employs 40,000 people and generates 60 percent of its sales in North America. With its half-a-billion-dollar five-year contract with the Texas Education Agency, it is also by far, the leading tester in the Lone Star State.
Educator Jeanine McGregor acknowledged that Pearson has gobbled up several smaller publishing companies and warns if Pearson has a monopoly on assessment management, “they will be in a position to dictate the content taught as well as what the standards are.
Side Note: If you're thinking about getting a job at HMH, forget about it. The company was ranked the 10th worst place to work in America, according to a survey.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The great $660 billion public pension rip-off

Edward Siedle is president of Benchmark Financial Services and is a former investigator with the Security and Exchange Commission's Division of Investment Management. He writes in Sunday's New York Times:
Nearly a quarter of all state and local public pension assets have disappeared -- $660 billion in state workers’ retirement savings taken off the radar and swept into high-cost hedge, private equity, venture and real estate funds with little or no public oversight.
Kickbacks, bribery, self-dealing, fraud, tax evasion and outright theft have been protected as confidential “trade secrets” or “proprietary business information” exempt from disclosure to the public under various state freedom of information laws. Not surprising, the parties complicit in this secrecy strategy neglected to tell workers and other stakeholders about it. The policy itself was crafted and set in place in secrecy.
Read Siedle's entire account here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Duncan ignored his own I.G.'s warnings on charter fraud

The purpose of this report is to echo the warning issued by the OIG and to inform the public and lawmakers of the mounting risk that an inadequately regulated charter industry presents to our communities and taxpayers. 
NEW REPORT ON CHARTERS...“Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse,” authored by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education, echoes a warning from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General.

The report draws upon news reports, criminal complaints and more to detail how, in just 15 of the 42 states that have charter schools, charter operators have used school funds illegally to buy personal luxuries for themselves, support their other businesses, and more. The report also includes recommendations for policymakers on how they can address the problem of rampant fraud, waste and abuse in the charter school industry. Both organizations recommend pausing charter expansion until these problems are addressed.

The report explained that the problem has its roots in a historical disconnect between the original intentions that launched the charter school movement and the commercial forces that have overtaken it since. At first, the report noted:
    Lawmakers created charter schools to allow educators to explore new methods and models of teaching. To allow this to happen, they exempted the schools from the vast majority of regulations governing the traditional public school system. The goal was to incubate innovations that could then be used to improve public schools. i The ability to take calculated risks with small populations of willing teachers, parents, and students was the original design. With so few people and schools involved, the risk to participants and the public was relatively low. -- Salon
The report references a memorandum issued by the OIG to the Department. The OIG stated that the purpose of the memorandum was to, “alert you of our concern about vulnerabilities in the oversight of charter schools.” The report went on to state that the OIG had experienced, “a steady increase in the number of charter school complaints” and that state level agencies were failing “to provide adequate oversight needed to ensure that Federal funds [were] properly used and accounted for.”

IN NYC... In a contentious hearing Tuesday, City Councilman Daniel Dromm wondered aloud whether the city's 183 charter schools, which receive taxpayer money but are privately managed, were creating "educational apartheid" in the nation's largest school system. Mr. Dromm, a Queens Democrat, also said he wants more information about how charter schools discipline children and how much they pay their executives. --- WSJ

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Valerie Strauss reports in the Washington Post that British publishing/testing giant Pearson, has won another multi-million-dollar deal with one of the two multi-state consortia that are designing new Core-aligned states with federal funds.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is hiring Pearson, according to a news release, to develop test items and forms, deliver paper and online versions of tests, consult with states to come up with cut scores that determine what is a good score and what isn’t, report results to various constituencies, and analyze the scores.
 According to EdWeek, James Mason, who helped negotiate the contract, wouldn't put a price tag on the deal, but called it, "one of "unprecedented scale."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

'Tech vultures' LEAP towards profitability in Chicago

Millions of dollars intended to support innovations in resourced-starved public schools has long been funneled to privately-run charter schools. One of the chief funnelers in Chicago is non-educator Phyllis Lockett, a former leader of the Civic Consulting Alliance and New Schools for Chicago, a venture philanthropy organization that invests in the growth of privately-operated charter schools. She previously held marketing, sales and business development roles with Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, Kraft Foods and General Mills.

NSFC was originally established as The Renaissance Schools Fund by Chicago’s business and civic leadership (remember the debacle that was Arne Duncan's so-called Renaissance 2010?)  RSF raised $50 million, to create 13 charter networks and tripled the number of charter schools in Chicago. The Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA), is a consulting firm for government agencies.

Lockett was one of those people who made wild claims about charters, even touting them at one point as a cure for Chicago gun violence. Even while in the employ of Chicago Public Schools, she's mainly been a pitch woman for ed-tech companies.

But now Lockett is on the move. With a big investment from well-heeled corporate reformers, she's launched a new "education focused" non-profit, called LEAP Innovations, with $4.2 million in funding. Lockett said in a Wednesday interview that her goal is to raise $8 million to cover LEAP's first three years of operating expenses. Half the money is coming from the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation, which have historically backed privately run charter schools.

Chicago has the epicenter of tech company marketing to school systems and according to tech hustler and former Gates ed guy Tom VanderArk: 
Phyllis Lockett’s move from schools to tools is symbolic of the EdTech explosion in Chicago which rivals New York and may be second to the Bay Area in EdTech startups and funders. Lockett will help connect teachers to the tech sector while advancing short cycle trials and iterative development. Keep an eye on Chicagoland.
But except for buying some new furniture and window dressing, most of these millions will never really make it into classrooms and classroom teachers will have no say in how the money is spent. Rather, the money will go directly or indirectly the purchase of untested technology and required training of teachers.

As best I can tell, LEAP will be a conduit for tech companies competing for public school business. Lockett, who has no background or training in education, will then be in charge of evaluating whether these technologies "are working." Another component of the nonprofit, called The Collaboratory, will be a teacher training center. After all, these tech companies need more than a sales division. They also need public school districts to pay for training in the use of their products. The third focus will be working with schools to "overhaul" their teaching methods.

Among the seven Breakthrough Schools receiving the first round of Lockett's LEAP money, are some charter schools that don't even exist yet -- a middle school operated by KIPP and a school operated by Great Lakes Academy.

Reporter Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah wrote in Tuesday's Tribune about the nonprofit's first effort in that vein: Grants to seven Chicago schools to explore how gadgets, such as the iPad, can be used to tailor lesson plans to individual students.
"What happens is, you see all of these incubators and funds that have cropped up all over the country that are dedicated to education tech, but there's zero efficacy or validation as to what is actually working," Lockett said. "And educators are so overwhelmed with the budget pressures, with the accountability pressures, and they have no time to understand what's out there and what's good and what's not good. There are a lot of vultures out there."
Among the new technologies Lockett is selling are facial expression cameras, posture analysis seats, pressure computer mice, eye tracking devices, and computer programs to track a student’s mood be used in schools. The Tribune's Melissa Harris writes:
The first products LEAP will be testing through its pilot program focus on improving literacy among children in pre-K through eighth grade. Lockett expects reading instruction in the future to be far more individualized.For example, your computer's camera would follow your eyes as you read text online. Then, based on that eye scan, the software would be able to identify the words, phrases or even concepts that tripped you up and explain them in greater detail for you.
Yes, there's a lot of vultures out there.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gordon Lafer On EPI Milwaukee Private Charter Schools Report

Don't miss this excellent Wisconsin Public TV interview with EPI economist and ed researcher Gordon Lafer criticizing "blended learning" at Rocketship charters.
Backers of these reforms are particularly enamored of a new type of charter school represented by the Rocketship chain of schools—a low-budget operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty, that reduces the curriculum to a near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day. Rocketship proposes that its model—dubbed “blended learning” for its combination of in-person and computerized instruction—can cut costs while raising low-income students’ test scores (Rocketship Education 2011).
The call for public schools to be replaced by such tech-heavy, teacher-light operations comes from some of the most powerful actors in local and national politics: the major corporate lobbies, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). It is these groups, rather than parents or community organizations, that provided the impetus for legislators to consider proposals for mass school closure and privatization in Milwaukee.
And here's Lafer's most recent report: Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Wal Mart special on charter schools

New York Times education writer, Mokoto Rich reveals the extent to which the billionaire Walton Family underwrites the entire national charter school enterprise. For example, in Washington D.C....
In effect, Walton has subsidized an entire charter school system in the nation’s capital, helping to fuel enrollment growth so that close to half of all public school students in the city now attend charters, which receive taxpayer dollars but are privately operated.
Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton gave $1.7 million to a Washington D.C. charter schools initiative alongside fellow billionaires Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer.
The Waltons are right up there with Gates and Broad.
 Walton’s investments here are a microcosm of its spending across the country. The foundation has awarded more than $1 billion in grants nationally to educational efforts since 2000, making it one of the largest private contributors to education in the country. It is one of a handful of foundations with strong interests in education, including those belonging to Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft; Eli Broad, a Los Angeles insurance billionaire; and Susan and Michael Dell, who made their money in computers. The groups have many overlapping interests, but analysts often describe Walton as following a distinct ideological path.
According to Rich, they are also the money behind many of the right-wing think tanks like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, as well as ALEC.

AND...Walton money also played a role in a recent attacks on N.Y. Mayor Bill de Blasio after he resisted the charter operator's rent-free incursions into public school buildings.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Philly fires thousands of teachers, then hires a new 'director of recruitment'

Here's how things work in the Ownership Society.

There's a revolving door between the private sector and what's left of the public. Take for example this week's hiring by the nearly-collapsed Philadelphia Public Schools, of TFA alum Kendra-Lee Rosati as director of recruitment -- whatever that it. Rosati will pull down $90K to start in this newly-created slot in the bureaucracy.

Rosati's last job was in Oklahoma with Teach for America, where her title was managing director of talent strategy and people experience, according to her Facebook page. She's also worked with KIPP Charter Schools as director of growth strategy from September 2012 until last July. Don't you love her job titles? It like her patrons told her, "call yourself whatever", when she printed her new business cards.

Remember, Philly schools have been decimated this past year, with dozens of school closings in black and Latino communities, thousands of teachers and staff (including nearly every school counselor) being fired, while private schools, privately-run charter schools and prisons being fed millions in public funds, diverted from public schools in Gov. Corbett's state budget.

But there's always room at the table for somebody, somebody sent.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ownership Society gathering at the Phoenician

At the Phoenician
Thanks to Gary Stager for the heads-up on the upcoming GSV Education Innovation summit, which he describes as a corporate takeover of public education being plotted in the open, is held at The Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.

Stager writes:
The Phoenician is a monument to its builder, Charles Keating, a criminal who helped destroy the United States economy during the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1990s. Surrendering the future of public education to Jeb Bush and the greedy cynics partying with him in Arizona is as vulgar and misguided as trusting Charles Keating with government backed banks.
The sponsors list reads like an Ownership Society who's who list, including Gates, Pearson, Kaplan, McGraw... Well, you get the picture.

Speakers include: Jeb Bush, Chris Cerf, Reed Hastings, Penny Pritzker, Cami Anderson, Margaret Spellings, Tom VanderArk... Yuck!  Kind of a rogues gallery of privateers, charter hustlers, union busters and Bush bureaucrats.

Spears must be checked at the door.

Follow up on the scrubbing of the Academica Charter story

Following up on the feds' investigation of Academica Charter Schools in Florida, and the scrubbing of the original Miami Herald story. Here's Bob Sikes' updated report in Scathing Purple Musings along with Kathleen McGrory's revised story in the Miami Herald.

Sikes writes:
Its hard to count the number of times that McGrory used “conflicts of interest” in her story. No word yet of whether or not the Federal Department of Education will use its SWAT team to raid the Zulueta compound. Or any of the offices belonging to the three Florida republican legislators with close ties to the Zuluetas.
According to McGrory:
A preliminary audit report obtained by the Herald/Times identified potential conflicts of interest between the for-profit company Academica and the Mater Academy charter schools it manages. One example the auditors cited was the transfer of money from Mater Academy to its private support organization, which shares the same board of directors. When asked about the potential conflicts of interest raised in the report, Academica attorney Marcos Daniel Jiménez, in an email to the Herald/Times, touted the charter school network's academic record and commitment to its students.
 Charter school critics said the Inspector General’s findings were a reason to push back on HB 7083, the bill that could weaken the power of school districts over new charter schools.
I suspect it was Jiménez' hollow denial of impropriety that caused the Herald to scrub McGrory's original story, although I still don't understand why they did it. The denial could have easily been reported in a follow-up story.  There must have been a phone call from somebody with clout. I suspect Rep. Frisen. Highly unusual.

Kenneth Wright, victim of D.O.E. raid in 2011. 
In some ways, it reminds me of a previously scrubbed article involving Duncan's I.G. troops invading  the Stockton, CA home of Kenneth Wright at 6 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in 2011. As I recall, Wright was wrongly suspected of reneging on his student loans. The original ABC News story was scrubbed after a phone call from the D.O.E. The next day it was re-posted, minus an interview with victim Wright.

The Washington Post picked up my story (without crediting me) and then waffled after receiving the same call from the D.O.E.'s clean-up man Justin Hamilton. While a few papers and some bloggers ran with Hamilton's sanitized version of the raid, he couldn't make it go away. Chalk one up for the independent media.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What happened to McGrory's Miami Herald story on Feds' charter investigation? I asked...

Fernando Zulueta, president of Academica, gets a drink at the bar in Cain at The Cove, an exclusive beach club in the Bahamas' Atlantis resort. Academica held a leadership retreat for principals of several charter schools there. MIAMI HERALD PHOTO

Last month I wrote about Florida's great charter school profiteers, Rep. Erik Fresen, his sister Maggie, and brother-in-law, Fernando Zulueta who runs Academica Charter Schools, one of the largest charter chains in the country.

Today, Bob Sikes at Scathing Purple Musings re-posts a story which he credits to columnist Mary McGrory from the Miami Herald, "Academica Charter Schools Under Federal Investigation." Actually, Sikes got it wrong. The great Washington Post Reporter Mary McGrory has been dead for 10 years. The piece on Academica was written by Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory. Regardless, it's a good, solid news piece about the Education Department’s Inspector General Office audit of the South Miami-based Academica Corp. as part of a broader examination of school management companies nationwide. The story implicates the powerful Zulueta family as well as Fresen.

McGrory writes:
The auditors found that three of the schools in the network — Mater Academy, Mater High and Mater East — entered into leases with development companies tied to the Zulueta family. Two of the leases were executed while Zulueta sat on the Mater board. In addition, Mater Academy hired an architectural firm from 2007 through 2012 that employs Fernando Zulueta’s brother-in-law, state Rep. Erik Fresen, the report said.
“We identified four related-party transactions, two of which indicated, at a minimum, the appearance of conflicts of interest between Mater Academy and its CMO [charter-management company],” the auditors wrote. Fresen declined to comment Friday.
But when I went to the Herald's site to look for McGrory's original piece, it was no longer there. Nor were there any links to it in any of the search engines. Was it scrubbed? Why? Did clout-heavy Rep. Fresen make a phone call? I wondered.

To find out, I called the Herald's news room and asked them what happened. I was told by Herald Editor Jeff Kleinman that the paper had "jumped the gun" and that the story was pulled because it was "incomplete" and would reappear in tomorrow's paper. Strange! Usually if a story is incomplete (which every news story is), you run a follow-up. You don't scrub the story and all the search engines.

But okay. I'll look tomorrow to see if and how McGrory's  piece been rewritten and find out what "jumped the gun" means.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rauner makes big profits off the jailing of children

Thanks to a lucrative state contract given him by none other than Gov. Quinn, Republican billionaire Bruce Rauner is making millions in the prison/industrial complex. Quinn says he didn't know Rauner was still associated with GTCR. 
Rauner formerly headed GTCR LLC, a Chicago private equity firm in which he still holds a stake as an investor. Since December 2012, GTCR has owned Correctional Healthcare Cos., which got a five-year contract with a five-year renewal option from the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice in February 2013 to provide medical, dental and mental health evaluations and treatment for the approximately 900 inmates, ages 13 to 20, of six state-run youth detention centers in the Chicago area and downstate. The state deal is worth as much as $99.3 million. -- Politics Early & Often
That would put him in the position, if elected in November, of overseeing a state contract he and his business partners stand to profit from. Rauner says he has no plans to divest himself of these holdings.
The for-profit company employs medical professionals who treat an average of 70,000 inmates a day at more than 250 correctional facilities around the United States. In Illinois, the company has drawn criticism in connection with a federal lawsuit filed in 2012 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois against the state Department of Juvenile Justice, accusing the state agency of inadequately treating detainees with mental health conditions.