Friday, December 30, 2011

Schools starve despite Michigan's billion-dollar surplus

T-Party Gov. Snyder says:"Let 'em eat cake."
Michigan is ending the year with an estimated $1.2 billion budget surplus. But T-Party Gov. Rick Snyder is sitting on the money rather than funding the state's cash-starved public schools and rehiring laid-off teachers.
Democrats and some Republicans want public schools to get a major share of any surplus. The State Board of Education has also called for a significant portion of any budget surplus to be invested in education. Public school funding was cut more than 2 percent in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. State aid to public universities was reduced by 15 percent. -- AP Wire
 Among the budget priorities set by the board: Financial relief to help districts cover pension costs; money to expand programs such as Advanced Placement and middle colleges, as well as more funding for professional development for educators, and a pool of funds to reward districts that are improving academically outcomes and/or their fiscal efficiency.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pearson under investigation in N.Y.


Pearson Foundation is the tax-exempt arm of the giant, British-owned textbook and test publisher. The New York Times reports today that the foundation is currently under investigation by the state's attorney general for trying to influence state education officials by paying for overseas trips and other perks and not even being cool about it.

NCLB and current corporate-style "reforms" have states paying millions of dollars annually to companies like Pearson to develop and administer the standardized tests required under the law, tests which are now being used widely to evaluate teacher performance. Pearson has also cashed in on a provision mandating tutoring for students as well as from the expansion of virtual learning programs. Pearson recently formed a partnership with the Gates Foundation to create online reading and math courses aligned with common core standards that some 40 states have adopted in recent months.

In New York, Pearson Education most recently won a five-year, $32 million contract to administer state tests, and it maintains a $1 million contract for testing services with the State Education Department, according to state records. The last contract was awarded after David M. Steiner, then the state education commissioner, attended a conference in London in June 2010 that was organized by the Council of Chief State School Officers and underwritten by the Pearson Foundation.
“Despite a history of scoring errors, contract manipulation and corporate misbehavior, there’s been almost no public oversight of companies such as Pearson,” said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for FairTest, an advocacy group opposed to standardized testing. “It’s great that New York’s attorney general has now decided to examine the examiners and begin holding them accountable.”
The real problem for Pearson is that the N.Y. state investigation could uncover revelations about the foundation's lobbying on the federal level as we head towards the 2012 elections. Pearson was one of the great beneficiaries from the federal stimulus package which saw some $6 billion go into book and materials. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Biden's brother, charter school con-man

Records show that the Mavericks in Education Florida charter schools, which have a high-profile lobbyist and cheerleader in Frank Biden, are not accredited high schools. This means their graduates may have trouble playing college sports or receiving federally funded grants or scholarships to college.  -- The Pulp

George Bush had his software swindler brother Neil who used his family connections and political clout to push his Ignite Company, which bilked schools in Texas and Florida out of millions of dollars. President Obama doesn't have a brother, but his V.P. Biden does. Frank Biden, it seems is cut from the same cloth as Neil Bush. Only instead of hustling software to schools that don't want or need it, Biden promotes his line of for-profit charter schools. He's president of Mavericks in Education Florida (what is it about Florida?) and has been working for the for-profit charter school outfit for several years. But his name did not appear on Mavericks’ state documents until December 5, 2011, after New Times’ Lisa Rab and others questioned the matter.

Now we know why. Biden is paid with taxpayer money. Yet, according to records, He owes the IRS $32,513.57 in unpaid income taxes for the years 2003 to 2005. The IRS reportedly began taking action in late 2007 and early 2008 against Biden, but the bill is still unpaid.

Now in an attempt to expand their charter school enterprise, despite low standards, non accreditation, and two lawsuits alleging the school does not offer legitimate diplomas, Biden and other Mavericks in Education members are accused of donating campaign funds to county school board members to buy their approval.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Can Chicago schools afford K12 Inc. exec salaries?

Reader J.C. (not Brizard) makes a good point. If Chicago mayor and school boss, Rahm Emanuel moves ahead with his plan to throw another large no-bid contract K12 Inc.'s way, a big chunk of that money will go towards covering boss Ron Packard's $5 million annual compensation package.

Not to mention other K12 exec salaries, including:
  • Chief financial officer Harry T. Hawks earned about $544,000 — significantly less than his 2010 package, which was worth $1.8 million.
  • George B. Hughes Jr., executive vice president of school services, received $717,000, down from $799,000 in 2010.
  • Bruce J. Davis, executive vice president of worldwide business development, earned $686,000. The company has high hopes for overseas expansion possibilities and recently bought part of a Chinese enterprise that teaches English online.
  • Chief marketing officer Celia M. Stokes earned $690,000. Stokes’s job goals included “developing branding strategies for our business units, improving marketing efficiency and developing our call center operations.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Marie Antoinette, Meet David Vitale

As soon as one speaker was removed by security guards, another stood up to take their place.
"Moral courage comes in many forms, but sometimes not at all. Faced with adversity last week, David Vitale retreated into executive session. Mr. Vitale is a banker who was picked by Rahm Emanuel to be president of the Chicago Board of Education. And as the Missile confidently presided over a cowed City Council on Wednesday, his schools emissary co-starred in melancholy political theater that gave insight into the mayor’s ultimate challenges."  -- "Marie Antoinette, I'd like you to meet David Vitale" by James Warren, CNC

Friday, December 16, 2011

Michigan passes horrible charter law

Rep. Rudy Hobbs
Michigan's new charter school law is among the worst in the nation. While lifting the cap on charters, SB 618 gives free rein to charter operators without any safeguards against mismanagement or controls on school quality.

The bill was passed, according to State Rep. Rudy Hobbs, D-Southfield, without a clear provision mandating  comprehensive student achievement data for each charter school operator. Writes Hobbs:
If a charter school operator wants to break its contract during the school year, which has occurred before in our state, they are free to still do so. And Senate Bill 618 was passed without any safeguard that charter school operators that manage an academy in the lowest 10% of schools statewide would be prohibited from opening up another charter until they fix the substandard school they already operate. -- Detroit Free Press

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

K-12 Inc. stock price plummets. Should we care?

Uh oh! The speculators are speculatin' and the short-sellers are short selling. K-12 Inc. stock is in free-fall and Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk (who denies holding any shares) sound downright panicky and hedgey. While he is not currently contracting with K-12, his Bellweather consulting company has done work with them in the past. The stock market is to edu-profiteers like Rotherham, what standardized test scores are to DOE bureaucrats and big-city mayors, indicators of their future employment and marketability.

The trouble began Monday when a New York Times story by Stephanie Saul, "Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools", called out K-12, not on its stock prices, but on how badly its "portfolio schools" like Agora Cyber Charter School are doing. 

Agora is one of the largest in a portfolio of similar public schools across the country run by K12. Eight other for-profit companies also run online public elementary and high schools, enrolling about 39,000 of the more than 200,000 full-time cyberpupils in the United States. The pupils work from their homes and often never even meet their teacher. There is no cafeteria, no gym and no playground. Teachers communicate with students by phone or in simulated classrooms on the Web. 

Problem is, nearly 60 percent of Agora's students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll. In other words, if K-12,Inc. was to be evaluated under NCLB or Race To The Top standards, they not only would be failing to make AYP, they would be marked for closure and replaced by -- well, er, umm, charter schools. "Kids mean money," writes Saul.
Agora is expecting income of $72 million this school year, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total anticipated revenues of K12, the biggest player in the online-school business. The second-largest, Connections Education, with revenues estimated at $190 million, was bought this year by the education and publishing giant Pearson for $400 million.
Articles like Saul's as well as a forthcoming study by researchers at Western Michigan University and theNational Education Policy Center, which will show that only a third of K12’s schools achieved adequate yearly progress, the measurement mandated by NCLB, don't exactly instill investor confidence. Neither does the potential these largely unregulated companies have for corruption and cheating. The need lots to customers to maintain profitability and it seem they're not above keeping students in the fold with some grades hanky-panky.
“What we’re talking about here is the financialization of public education,” said Alex Molnar, a research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education who is affiliated with the education policy center. “These folks are fundamentally trying to do to public education what the banks did with home mortgages.”
But those like Rotherham and former Gates Foundation honcho Tom VanderArk, who are among the main salesmen for cyber learning and who benefit directly from its marketability, will no doubt try and ride to the rescue.

Writes AR: 
"I’m not a stock analyst and I don’t invest in education stocks because of other work I do, but K12 Inc.’s stock dropping 23 percent yesterday on that NYT story seems like an overreaction. Sure there is an enthusiasm bubble around ed tech and online right now but K12 is established and has a diverse revenue stream and operations (think language programs with Middlebury, AP tools, etc…) and online learning is here to stay in some form."
Another rescuer may be Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who is getting ready to offer K12 another big contract. The Chicago Tribune reports that Rahm's hand-picked school board, "is considering awarding a share of a three-year, $1.9 million contract Wednesday to K-12 Virtual Schools LLC, a lucrative, publicly traded company that educators warn has a history of poor academic performance."

Arne Duncan, formerly the district's CEO, originally gave K-12 one of its first large no-bid contracts back in 2006. For those who don't remember, a year earlier former education secretary William Bennett, who founded the company in 1999, was forced to step down as board president after a series of racist remarks he made on the air and under the cloud of a GAO investigation. What he actually said, for those who missed it, was, " aborting black babies would result in a lower crime rate."

When Bennett was still with K-12, he let it be known that the company's curriculum had little respect for the dividing line between school and religion. In an online interview, Bennett explains:
We're centered in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we do not ignore faith and religion, we do not ignore the arguments against evolution, because there are some.
Such is the legacy of K-12 Inc. If it's stock price hits bottom, I don't mind.

Fastest growing occupations in the U.S. require no degree

'Zip-code apartheid' 
 
Edward Luce, writing in the Financial Times, reports on the changing face of the U.S. labor market. With the virtual decimation of our manufacturing sector and the flight of capital to emerging markets in the developing countries, a growing share of whatever jobs our economy is still managing to create is in the least productive areas -- the types that neither computers nor China have yet found a way of eliminating. 
 Of the five occupations forecast by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be the fastest growing between now and 2018, none requires a degree. These are registered nurses, “home health aides”, customer service representatives, food preparation workers and “personal home care aides”.
 "The food preparation industry cannot sustain a middle class,” says Dan DiMicco, chief executive of Nucor, one of America’s two remaining big steel companies, whose company motto is “a nation that builds and makes things”.

What does all this have to do with schooling in the Ownership Society? If you look at schooling mainly in the light of the U.S. trying to maintain or regain its position atop the global economy, things look bleak. Luce writes that U.S. education and training budgets have gone in the wrong direction in the past few years. State schools and vocational community colleges derive much of their funding from local property taxes. That model brings two big disadvantages. First, it means community colleges are victims of “zip code apartheid” – the lower the property values in an area, the less money there is to train the workforce or educate the children.
“Every American is going to have to get used to the idea of a completely different work style,” says Mr Camden, whose company farms out hundreds of thousands of temporary workers around the world, from lawyers to office assistants. “What you learnt in college five years ago may already be obsolete.”
Actually, what I learned, what we all should be learning  -- how to think critically -- will never be obsolete.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Brass-Knuckle Philanthropy


"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is big—really, really big" writes Caroline Preston in the Dec. 7, 2011 Chronicle of Philanthropy. Preston says that Gates’s $3-billion in annual giving dwarfs that of other foundations and lends it a level of influence not achieved by its philanthropic peers—or, for that matter, some governments.

Edward Skloot, director of Duke University’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society, agreed that Gates deserves careful scrutiny because of its size. He said the philanthropy practices a tough, “brass-knuckle philanthropy.”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A good blog post on 'Billionaire Education Policy'

'The word 'policy' makes us think of politicians and bureaucrats. But what happens when powerful policy-makers aren’t elected or appointed? Today, billionaires are shaping education policy in the United States. Buying political influence—-even legally...' -- Robin Rogers
Rogers, is an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is the author of  “Why Philanthro-policymaking Matters” in The Politics of Philanthrocapitalism, Society 2011. In the first of two posts at the Education Optimists blog, Rogers writes about "Billionaire Education Policy," which is also the title of her forthcoming book.

Referring to Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million "gift" to Newark Public Schools, Rogers writes:
All over the country, variations of the New York and New Jersey story are playing out: Philanthropists give money to resource-starved school systems, and in return, they reserve the right to effectively set education policy. Consultants and for profit programs present a potential conflict of interest by creating cash cows. [Mayor] Booker‘s claim that he was acting as a private citizen—and the fact that Zuckerberg’s money was just a pledge, not a guarantee of funding—raises questions. What is private and what is public? Is anyone accountable for what happens to this money? Do we need more transparency for private donations?
Rogers says that while the Occupy Movement focused public attention on inequality and the concentration of wealth and power, we rarely talk about "elite, strategic philanthropy,"  She takes note of a recent New York Times piece, “Policy-Making Billionaires”, and cites lots of great references on this important topic, but overall, she's critical of the lack of coverage of the rise of co-ordinated and strategic philanthropy by the very wealthy.

Rogers might want to take a look at our 2008 book, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society, and particularly the chapter on what we call "power philanthropy." She might also look at Phillip Kovacs'  book, The Gates Foundation and the Future of US “Public” Schools as an important source.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bloomberg: 62 in a class is OK... for other people's children

The mayor's daughters went to Spence, where class size hovers between  10 and 15.

“Double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for students.”
-- Mayor Bloomberg
Mayor Bloomberg told an MIT crowd that if he were king, he would fire half the teachers and double class sizes. The mayor of Wall Street contends that larger class size is a no-brainer, that the research is "unambiguous." He can't understand all the fuss over his remarks, which he now claims were taken "out of context."

Michael Powell, writing in yesterday's NYT, says there's an “autumn of the patriarch” feel to Mayor Bloomberg these days. He paints a vivid picture of the devastation caused by his education policies, especially in the city's poorest neighborhoods.
Many schools, particularly those serving the poorest, remain fractured. The Daily News discovered that Grace Dodge High School in the Bronx had failed to provide 300 students with English teachers. At Taft High School in the Bronx, the dropout rate spiked to 70 percent from 25 percent in the four years before it closed in 2006.
There’s a "final oddity," writes Powell.
Among the so-called meritocratic elite, low teacher-to-child ratios are beloved. The mayor’s daughters went to Spence, where classes hover from 10 to 15. Trinity, Dalton, Riverdale, Horace Mann: All charge $35,000 or more per year, and classes rarely exceed 12 in the lower grades. These schools boast of teachers with advanced degrees. That’s true of Brooklyn Tech. Yet teachers at the latter feel like paper tossed into a receptacle.
The mayor is right in one sense. The research on class size, where it exists, is "unambiguous." The preponderance showing the benefits to elementary school students of smaller class size, regardless of the quality of the teacher. Every major study (see Class Size Matters which provides a great clearinghouse for class size research) shows that smaller is better. 

Teaching children is much more than delivering information in a lecture hall setting. If Bloomberg had ever taught he would know this. Ironically, he does know it but only when it comes to the schooling of his own kids. A comparison could easily be made with Chicago's own ownership society mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who claims there's unambiguous benefits of a longer school day with more seat time for the city's poorest children, but then sends his own kids to a private school with shorter school days and school year. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gates bankrolls ALEC right-wing extremists

Founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other conservative activists and currently bankrolled by the Koch Bros., the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics. The Gates Foundation has just bestowed a $376,635 grant upon ALEC.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Stand For Children


Edelman's unsolicited confession

A Chicago News Cooperative story in today's NY Times, "Education Group Tries to Rebound After Diatribe," documents the crash-and-burn of the corporate reform group, Stand For Children and its national director, Jonah Edelman. The Portland-based group with pockets filled with cash supplied by the Gates Foundation and local one-percenters like the Crown and Pritzker families, along with the Citadel Group’s founder, Kenneth Griffin, made their move on Illinois laste year.

In a video, Edelman later admitted self-critically, how SFC poured millions into the campaign coffers of local politicians like State Sen. Kimberly Lightford in exchange for their backing of anti-union legislation which Arne Duncan hailed as a "national model. Edelman also revealed how SFC pressured teacher union leaders who went along with the plan at the expense of their own members, and how he fabricated talking points on the longer school day, which he and his billionaire patron, Jim Crown, then fed Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

According to the NYT story, the group has now hit bottom and can't seem to raise a penny in this year's election cycle. The state chapter of SFC has now installed Mary Anderson, a crony of machine boss Michael Madigan as its new director to take charge of the $3 million remaining from last year's fund-raising efforts. Madigan also came off looking like a tool in the Edelman confession.

A still-willing Lightford, vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she met with Anderson recently to discuss how they could work together to carry out the new education legislation. Lightford's only problem with Edelman was his honesty and transparency.
“For him to come to Illinois, and not understanding the politics, to suggest these things and expose private conversations was very immature of him.”
The good news is that Edelman's boasting and apologia seems to have discredited SFC and its tactics as well as the corporate reformers and easily buy-able politicians like Lightford who did their dirty work. In the long run, this may make it more difficult for them to run their game in Illinois and other states.

What is the Mayor of Wall Street smoking?

He looked like he was from another planet when he dressed as a hippie for a political show, but the mayor’s blueprint for fixing city schools have some asking “what was he smoking?” -- CBS News

In a speech at MIT, Bloomberg said Thursday he would accomplish more with less by slashing the teaching staff in half and doubling class sizes.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Michigan's 'nonpartisan' union busters caught in scandal

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, calls itself a "nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to improving the quality of life." But recently this far-right, free-market think tank has been exposed for its shady, very partisan, and possibly illegal lobbying of state politicians, aimed at nothing less than breaking the back of the state's teachers union and outlawing collective-bargaining in the state of Michigan.

According to Dave Murraywriting in the Grand Rapids Free Press, the Mackinac Center's true purposes were revealed in secret email communications with state lawmakers, including one from Mackinac's Jack McHugh to stateRep. Thomas McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, the newly appointed head of the House Education Committee. In his June 1 email, letting McMillin know exactly what was expected of him, McHugh wrote: 
“Our goal is (to) outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan, which in practical terms means no more MEA.”
McMillin, described as a "vocal school choice and reform advocate," was named head of the Education Committee after former chairman, Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, was recalled by angry voters earlier this month. Before being recalled Scott had become the darling of Michelle Rhee and Michigan's T-Party Gov. Rick Snyder, after leading the charge against teachers' collective bargaining rights and raids on their pension fund. Rhee's front group, Students First donated heavily to help Scott avoid a recall effort.

Doug Pratt, the MEA’s public affairs director, said the comment reveals the Mackinac Center’s conservative, anti-union leanings that he believes are often cloaked behind glossy publications.
“It’s right there in black and white, exposing the group for what it really is,” Pratt said. “That proves that the Mackinac Center is nothing but a front for corporate special interests intent on destroying the middle class.”
When Murray's story broke, McMillin, obviously trying to avoid Scott's fate, immediately tried to distance himself from Mackinac, claiming that McHugh's emails “don’t represent my views.”

For more on the Mackinac Center see Fred Klonsky's blog and the MEA's website.
Cross posted on my Small Talk blog.