Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Who's behind 'Stand Your Ground' and school privatization? -- ALEC

Krugman
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman shines his light on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the force behind the so-called "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida and other states. The law is now being used as the basis for the defense in the murder of Trayvon Martin. When you turn the rock over on the current wave of union-busting, anti-immigrant, and school privatization legislation being pushed in states like Virginia and Arizona, there you will find ALEC.

Writes Krugman:
Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

Friday, March 23, 2012

New manifesto for corporate school reformers

Klein and Rice offer their manifesto the Council on Foreign Relations

Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice are the authors of the latest in a long string of Ownership Society Manifestos dating back to A Nation At Risk. They presented their report,  U.S. Education Reform and National Security to, of all people, the Council on Foreign Relations. It portrays public schools as a threat to our national security and sonds the national security alarm as a scare tactic to push their school privatization agenda.

The report supposedly  represents the findings of a task force of "prominent education experts, national security authorities, and corporate leaders" who claim:
Educational failure puts the United States' future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk. The country will not be able to keep pace—much less lead—globally unless it moves to fix the problems it has allowed to fester for too long.
It calls for an expansion of school vouchers and privately-run charter schools, along with Common Core standards as supposed cures for the U.S.' weakened global economic and security position.

Remember if was the Nation At Risk report back in 1983, which first raised the alarming connection between public education's supposed failures and imminent threats to national security.
If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.
The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss points out that severaql task force members, including Linda Darling-Hammond and the AFT's Randi Weingarten, signed on to the report (wrongly, in my opinion)  only for the purpose of offering their dissenting opinions as an attachment.

Thanks to Strauss for posting this piece of dissent by Carole Artigiani, joined by Darling-Hammond, Stephen M. Walt, and Weingarten.
“...National security requires a healthy economy, energy independence, investments in research and development, strong defense, a thriving civil society, a respected and involved diplomatic corps, and, most of all, a healthy and high-functioning political system. (The current political environment is a clear demonstration of what happens when we have a public—and public officials—who are uninformed and/or ill-informed about our nation’s history, our political system, and the values upon which it was built.)
“Certainly schools must play a critical role in assuring that these needs of national security can be met. Yet, while some of the data are disturbing, nothing in this report convinces me that that our public schools “constitute a very grave national security threat facing this country.”
“Indeed, claims of alarm can only set the stage for dramatic actions unsupported by evidence: in this case, market-based approaches to school reform, that, overall, have not demonstrated their effectiveness. Indeed, charter schools and vouchers are diverting funds and energy away from neighborhood schools, and the more successful ones rely on additional support from private sources (“voluntary taxation”), a situation that is neither sustainable nor scalable. 
They might have also taken note of this nation's engagement in "eternal war" on several fronts at once. It is that, and certainly not public education which has become the main cause of our weakened global security position as well as a threat to our economy, our democracy and public education here at home.

There's one better to make this point than Pasi Sahlberg, Finland's equivalent to Arne Duncan. Finland leads the world in reading and math scores which Sahlberg attributes to their de-emphasis on standardized testing and valuing of the nation's teachers. In a tweet the other day, Sahlberg asks: 
Would Finland do well in education if it was an empire? Or had over 20% child poverty rate? Or spent over 4% of GDP in defense? Who knows!
The question answers itself.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

If anyone had doubts... TFA reveals itself in deal with Imagine Schools, Inc.

Imagine Prep in Sunrise, Arizona
"The major problem with our government-operated public schools is best understood by comparing the government monopolies that operate public elementary and secondary schools in this nation and our public university systems." -- Dennis Bakke, founder of Imagine Schools, Inc.
I'm sure Wendy Kopp will say, it's "all about the kids." But some think it's more about real estate. WaPo's Valerie Strauss thinks it's about expansion of the TFA empire.

Whatever it's really about, Teach for America is partnering with the nation’s largest for-profit charter school network, Imagine Schools, Inc. Writes Strauss:
Imagine is based in Arlington, Virginia, with some 75 schools in more than a dozen states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia. The for-profit charter operator has been investigated in some states for the way it exercises control over the schools it manages, essentially ignoring the boards of trustees that are supposed to really run the schools.

It has also come under scrutiny for its complicated real estate deals that generate millions of public dollars for Imagine. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for example, detailed the deals involving six Imagine schools operating with public money in St. Louis. Essentially Imagine opened schools and then sold the buildings in which the schools operated to a company that then leased them back to Imagine at often extremely high rates, which are, of course, paid for out of public money.
Imagine Schools are run by Dennis and Eileen Bakke, members of The Fellowship, The Family, the powerful, but secretive religious cult that worked in Uganda to pass laws calling for the death penalty for gays. They are virulently anti-public school, anti-teacher and above all, anti-union. They are also part of the anti-union Christian management movement.

The Bakke's, The Fellowship, "Imagine" charter schools and their real estate arm, "Schoolhouse Finance LLC", seem like the perfect match for Kopp. Their large network of essentially private schools run with public money, will provide plenty of jobs for TFA's five-week wonders. But TFA's well-intentioned grads are likely to run into a buzz saw when they start teaching in Imagine's tightly-run, top-down controlled network schools.

According to a NewYork Times report:
Imagine is not shy about the way it wields its power, which it calls essential to its governing philosophy. “Imagine Schools operates the entire school, and is not a consultant or management company,” its Web site says. “All principals, teachers, and staff are Imagine Schools people. The Imagine Schools culture is meant to permeate every aspect of the school’s life.”
As for measurable student learning outcomes, Imagine schools rank near the bottom. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
Imagine Schools Inc., the nation's largest charter school operator, runs six charter schools in St. Louis. Together, their performance on state standardized exams is worse than any school district in Missouri.
An interesting side note -- Imagine Schools drew rave notices from Strauss' WaPo colleague, Jay Mathews back in 2008. His puff piece on the Bakke's failed to mention any of Imagine's performance issues or real estate dealings.



Saturday, March 17, 2012

Stand for Children back in Chicago flush with cash

Best antidote to Stand For Children, Rudy Lozano, Jr.
Union-busting school reformers  Stand For Children, are back in Illinois with deep pockets. This time around SFC is bankrolling a gaggle of Republican (and a few anti-union Dems) in local elections. In a letter to the Chicago Tribune, SFC's director, Mary Anderson lauds the conservative paper's endorsed, mainly Republican candidates list. 

Most importantly to Chicagoans, Stand tossed $70,000 behind anti-teacher candidates running in opposition to CTU-backed progressives, Rudy Lozano (21st District) and Kenny Johnson (26th District). CTU Political Director Stacy Davis Gates (no relation, I'm sure), says the best response to the STC invasion should be:

1.Vote for Rudy and Kenny
2.Tell your friends and family to vote for Rudy and Kenny
3. Volunteer this weekend and Election Day to help us Get Out The Vote

How P.S. 261 ran-off Success Academy charter school hustlers

From an opinion piece in the New York Times, "How charter schools can hurt", written by public school parent, Lucinda Rosenfeld:
A few weeks ago, for three days in a row starting at 3 p.m., a representative from the Success Academy charter school that is scheduled to open this fall in adjacent Cobble Hill stood outside the doors of P.S. 261, handing out fliers and attempting to recruit its students. On day two, outraged teachers asked the man to leave. He refused. On day three, a loose group of teachers, parents and students occupied the sidewalk next to him. Heated words were exchanged. It wasn’t until the next day, when a schoolwide rally unfolded in the front yard — and cameras from NY1 arrived — that the representative vanished. I can’t help wondering if this is the educational future that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had in mind when, in his State of the City address earlier this year, he called for 50 new charter schools to open in the next two years.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gates uses funding to force privately-run charters on school districts

Last spring, as the Texas Legislature debated massive cuts to public schools—one of many desperate measures to close a $27 billion biennial budget deficit—10,000 protesters massed in Austin for a “Save Our Schools” rally. In the end, the damage to the state’s already-underfunded schools added up to $5.4 billion, forcing districts to lay off tens of thousands of teachers and staffers. -- American Prospect
The Gates Foundation moved on Austin and and other districts, forcing them to sign a pledge to promote privately-run charter schools in exchange for funding. Gates calls it their District-Charter Collaboration Compact under which the foundation awards the districts—14 so far—$100,000. These districts also supposedly get a shot at another $40 million worth of grants.

Last fall, following the Austin school board signed such a pledge with local charters. The agreement, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said, would make Austin eligible for grants “from people and places that otherwise would not have given us the time of day.” A month later, the city again became a venue for protests—smaller, but equally vociferous—arguing against a new partnership.

According to Abby Rapoport, writing in the American Prospect:
It’s a story being repeated across the country. With most states cutting school funding, Gates and other private foundations are wielding outsize influence over public education, using their much-sought-after millions to fund and shape a top-down reform agenda. Like the other major (but smaller) players, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, Gates uses its funds to encourage public schools to adopt a more corporate approach.
 Of course there's little difference the power foundations and federal funding, in this regard. Arne Duncan has also used his control of federal dollars to make competitive grants to states and school districts through Race To The Top, in exchange for a promise to close neighborhood schools and turn them over to private operators.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Anschutz makes Koch Bros. "look moderate..."

Bankrolled L.A. mayor's corporate school  reform & 'Waiting for Superman"
Robert Skeels posts on Dissident Voice about Philip Anschutz' connections with Mayor Vilaraigosa's corporate school reform initiative in L.A. Anschutz has donated at least $100,000 to the Mayor's Coalition for School Reform — a slush fund to elect privatization friendly school board candidates for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
Anschutz, a reactionary that makes the fascist-friendly Koch Brothers look moderate in comparison, also funded Waiting for Superman, the poverty pimping propaganda piece by the smug mendacious hipster Davis Guggenheim. How far to the right is Anschutz? Master researcher and educator Kenneth Libby’s “Philip Anschutz and Walden Media: What Kind of Agenda?” exhaustive list shows huge sums of Anschutz’s fortune going to organizations that are anathema to social justice and public schools, including Hoover, AEI, Heritage, Cato, etc., along with school privatization favorites like KIPP and Alliance for Choice in Education.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Keeping an eye on the power philanthropists

The Walton Family Foundation "invested" about $160 million last year in  so-called Education Reform Grants. That's an increase of about $2 million from a year ago.  The foundation is one of the three biggest and most powerful ed philanthropies, along side the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the one most focused on promoting vouchers and charter schools.

According to WaPo's Valerie Strauss, the foundation gave $49.5 million to Teach for America over five years to double its teaching corps and $25.5 million over the same period to the KIPP charter school network to double the number of students it educates. 

 "The foundation’s strategy is clear from the grants," writes Strauss. "It is funding organizations that it thinks can help scale charter schools quickly and rapidly increase the pool of voucher students."

I would define the Walton strategy a little more broadly. It is mainly about promoting a far-right political agenda that goes far beyond corporate-style school reform. For example, the Waltons, along with the Koch Bros. and the DeVos family, were among the biggest backers of Gov. Walker's union-busting political agenda in Wisconsin and gave millions to conservative candidates in state legislative races.

Waltons are among the 20 richest

In other Ownership Society news, three Walton family members are listed in this year's rankings of the world's richest people. Topping the list again this year is Mexican communications tycoon, Carlos Slim, whose net worth fell $478.4 million in a day to $68.5 billion as of the close of markets on March 2 (poor guy). Slim is followed closely by Bill Gates ($62.4 billion, down $102.1 million on March 2 and up 11 percent year to date.) and Warren Buffett (declined $336.9 million to $43.8 billion on March 2 and is up 2.4 percent in 2012).

The combined net worth of the 20 richest people is $676.8 billion. Nine are Americans, including three from the family of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Coming in 8th in this year's race to the top, are T-Party sugar daddies, the Koch Bros., Charles and David.

Relative newcomer to the world of corporate school reform, Mark Zuckerberg, didn’t make the cut. He's only worth about $21 billion. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pearson's edu-testing profits soar

London-based Pearson Publishing, the standardized testing giant, reports a 72% "surge" in profits during 2011. But the profit picture in the U.S. is not as rosy as it looks. Most of the profits are coming from Penguin's ebook marketing. But it's Professional testing operation and its International Education unit, which includes Pearson schools and universities overseas., were also among the strongest performers, each increasing revenues by 15%.

However, Pearson's North American division actually saw a 2% dip in revenues because of what Dame Marjorie Scardino, chief executive, calls “austerity measures" affecting education spending in much of the developed world. But says Scardino, "we see significant opportunity in emerging markets in China, south-east Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa - which together accounted for more than 40% of our International education revenues in 2011."
Meanwhile, Pearson’s North American Education business saw revenues decline by 2pc in 2011, amid mounting pressure on the price of text books in the US, a slowdown in the number of people enrolling in college, and delayed State purchasing decisions. -- The Telegraph