Friday, October 26, 2012

Billionaires jump into Louisiana school board race. Why?

An  article in the Oct. 17 Nation by  Matthew Cunningham-Cook, asks the question, "Why Do Some of America's Wealthiest Individuals Have Fingers in Louisiana's Education System?"

As Naomi Klein detailed in The Shock Doctrine, post-Katrina New Orleans has been Ground Zero for efforts to privatize schools and weaken teacher unions—hallmarks of education reform. After the hurricane, the vast majority of New Orleans public schools were taken over by the states’ Recovery School District—the district that was subsequently headed by John White. Nearly all of the city’s 7,500 public school employees were fired, although a few were later rehired. The post-Katrina shock also saw the advent of a limited voucher program and a massive expansion of charter schools, many of them for-profit. Education Secretary Arne Duncan actually said that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” and Michael Bloomberg repeated this position almost verbatim in a profile in Fast Company in 2011. And yet, the Recovery School District received a “D” on the state’s evaluation system in 2011, making it the second-lowest-performing district in the state.
The article takes note of the estimated 2,000 teachers who rallied against Gov. Jindal's "reform"  bill on March 14, but were not let into the committee room. It also mentions Karran Harper Royal, a leading activist who is a mother of a child with disabilities and who's running as a progressive candidate for the board. I met Karran last August at the SOS Convention and was impressed by her obvious leadership qualities. She is active in Parents Across America and deserves our support for her campaign.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sarah Silverman: Corporations are people

But are people people?


Consulting companies the bane of public space, schools...

BSG
Daniel Denvir has a great post over at The Atlantic Cities blog, "As Local Governments Shrink, Private Consultants Reap Rewards."

Denvir describes the trend of supplanting public space and decision making with corporate consulting companies. One of the main proponents of this strategy is Mitt Romney, who started in business with the Boston Consulting Company. After leaving BCG, Mitt Romney went on to work at Bain and Company consultants, from where he launched the controversial private-equity firm Bain Capital. For decades, consulting has been a top choice for MBA graduates like Romney.

In 2010, the Gates Foundation gave 15 cash-desperate states $250,000 to hire consultants to write applications for Obama's Race to the Top competitive education grant. The grants, which encourage districts to tie teacher evaluations to standardized tests and loosen restrictions on charter schools, draws heavily from the corporate-education reform model funded by the big three foundations.

Denvir writes,
Consultants, like Romney, have the appeal of "real-world" experience which, in early 21st-century America, means experience in the hard-nosed competitive marketplace outside of the public sector's one-time easy comfort. Since August 2008, the number of public employees has already been cut by 662,000 nationwide. Consultants draw on experience from a private sector that has relentlessly slashed employment, broken unions and outsourced work for decades.
 Consultants often recommend privatizing services like education and slashing public employee workforces, though sometimes governments might just be looking for outside expertise to validate decisions that have already been made.
 In Philadelphia, the $2 billion William Penn Foundation paid the bill for a Boston Consulting Group plan to restructure the city's fiscally-distraught (and state-government run) public schools in the wake of massive state budget cuts. The resulting "Blueprint" proposed a radical overhaul that would dismantle the central office and potentially transfer school-level management to private charter school organizations. 

Daniel Denvir is a staff reporter at Philadelphia City Paper and a frequent contributor to Salon and The Atlantic Cities.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Goldman Sachs exec exposes rip-off of Teacher Retirement Fund

Wall St. (N.Y. Times)
Greg Smith's book, "Why I Left Goldman Sachs," is being released Monday. It's a window into the culture of Wall Street and a company that routinely ripped-off clients, including teacher retirement funds. Smith was so disgusted with his firm, Goldman Sachs, that he quit via an open letter in the New York Times  in which he says:
"It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail."
The term refers to clients, including teacher retirement fund managers, who were easily persuaded to invest fund dollars into poor performing stocks the Wall Street-ers where anxious to dump. The funds lost millions and now teachers are being forced to pay the price with cuts in their hard earned benefits.

In an interview on CBS News' 60 Minutes on Sunday to promote the release of his book Smith says:
"What Wall Street will do is they will approach one of these philanthropies or endowments or teachers' retirement pension funds in Alabama or Virginia or Oregon and they'll say to them: 'We have this great product that is going to serve your needs'. And it looks very alluring to these investors but what they don't realise is that upfront they are immediately paying the bank $2m or $3m because of their lack of sophistication."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gates axes its L.A. front group


The Gates Foundation, has pulled the rug out from under it's national group formed to push for favored "reforms," including  teacher evaluations based on standardized testing.

Communities for Teaching Excellence, headed by former L.A. school board member Yolie Flores, is planning to close its doors next month. Although based in Los Angeles, the group had a presence in Hillsborough County, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; and in Pittsburgh — all locations where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the development of new teacher-evaluation systems.

Communities for Teaching Excellence was not hitting its marks in terms of generating press coverage and building community coalitions, said Amy Wilkins, chairwoman of the board of directors.

Best quote from Wilkins:
"Gates was such a big part of the funding. That made some of the partners and other funders nervous. How do you look like an independent actor? You have to show broad public support so you're not seen as a phony-baloney front for Gates. People criticized the organization for that and they didn't move closer to shaking that label."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We don't need no stinking approval -- we've got Gates $$


The Sun-Times reports that two private charter school operators are planning to open schools in Chicago even though they have yet to be vetted by CPS. Why are the owners of Foundations College Prep and Intrinsic Schools they so sure that board approval is coming -- even while CPS is supposed to be downsizing? Simple. They have Gates money behind them and in Rahm's world, money can buy you as many charters as you want, regardless of your track record or the needs of the community.
 “We have not approved any new charters, and don’t plan to discuss until that process is complete,” says CPS liar-in-chief Becky Carroll, winking at the two charter operators. 
Writes S-T reporter Lauren Fitzpatrick:

 How CPS can be promising in its Call for Quality Schools plan to open more charters while downsizing its buildings is something some 30 aldermen have questioned, demanding the City Council Education Committee hold a public hearing to explore. CPS officials have said they’ll be “right-sizing” the district that has 200,000 fewer children than seats.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who drafted a resolution, said Wednesday that a hearing is planned but not yet scheduled. “Movement toward charter schools without any reflective approach and analysis is just wrong,” he said.
Foundations College Prep founder Micki O’Neil, is a former investment banker (just what our kids need) who knows damn well her schools will be approved by the School Board.

Zaikos has MBA from Harvard
Intrinsic was founded by Melissa Zaikos, a Harvard business school grad and former Deloitte management consultant, and a graduate of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems. As far as I can tell, Zaidos has never operated a school before and Intrinsic has no track record. So what is Gates funding exactly?

Illinois Network of Charter Schools hustler-in-chief, Andrew Broy claims he doesn't know who’d been recommended for a new charter (no one, Andrew, according to Becky Carroll)  but says  that a foundation wouldn’t likely hand out money to just anyone.

No question that O'Neil and Zaikos are not "just anyone."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"They've positioned themselves as 'reformers'"

Cheryl Scott Williams, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, takes on the corporate reformers with a strong EdWeek commentary, "School Reform, But From Whose Perspective?"

Writes Williams:
Prominent national leaders from government, corporations, and philanthropic organizations, having positioned themselves as "reformers," hold the bully pulpit in not only proclaiming education professionals as inadequate in ability and practice, but also in controlling access to significant resources to define and support reform efforts... 
...In the end, we're all responsible for building and sustaining the best educational experience possible for all our children. To the extent we continue to polarize the debate, with privileged powerbrokers dictating investments and practices designed to circumvent the professionals now working in the field, we're doomed to failure. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Who's behind Washington state charter initiative? Who do you think?

Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton gave  $1.7M. (Mug Shot)
Washington voters have rejected the opening of public charter schools three times — in 1996, 2000 and 2004 — but this time around, big money is pouring in on the side of privately-run charter schools.

Valerie Strauss at the Answer Sheet posts:
To get an understanding of how America’s wealthiest people are using some of their fortunes to drive school reform, take a look at a list of the contributors to the pro-charter school initiative on the Washington state ballot in November. The first few pages — the ones with the biggest donations — is a who’s who of billionaires.

This all helps illustrate what education historian Diane Ravitch referred to as “the billionaire boy’s club” (which apparently has expanded to include females) in her  bestselling book, “The Life and Death of the Great American School System,” and her in subsequent writings. In this post, she wrote:
“Today, the question of democracy looms large as we see increasing efforts to privatize the control of public schools. There is an even more worrisome and allied trend, and that is the growing influence of money in education politics at the state and local levels.”
Friedman's market theory doesn't work

The Answer Sheet also carried a post worth reading by Marc Tucker, president of the non-profit National Center on Education and the Economy, called "Why the ‘market theory’ of education reform doesn’t work."

Writes Tucker:
The theory doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in theory (because most parents don’t place academic performance at the top of their list of things they are looking for in a school) and it doesn’t work in practice, either.  How do we know that?  Because, when we look at large-scale studies of the academic performance of charter schools versus regular public schools, taking into account the background of the students served, the results come out within a few points of each other, conferring a decisive advantage on neither.  It is certainly true that some charter schools greatly outperform the average regular public school, but it is also true that some regular public schools greatly outperform the average charter school.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pearson profits while parents protest N.Y. test madness


PARENTS UNITED From left, Lori Chajet, Abby Subak and Martha Foote outside Public School 321 in Brooklyn.
The New York Times reports today that many N.Y. parents are opting out of field testing the state's new round of standardized tests related to the Common Core standards.

Brooklyn parent Lori Chajet says:
“I want my school to use tests to help instruction, to help find out if kids don’t know fractions. I don’t want my child to feel like her score will decide if her teacher has a job or not.”
NUY says the tests are not cheap: Pearson, the company that creates the standardized exams and the field tests, charged the state about $7 million for testing services for the 2012 calendar year — 30 percent of that budget went toward field testing.

A group of parents talked about their concerns on the sidelines of soccer fields and during dance classes. And they came together in groups like Parent Voices, New York.

Jen Nessel leads the newly formed Community Action Committee of the P.A. at the East Village Community School in Manhattan. The group came together after the field tests in June, when nearly all parents in the school signed a letter, delivered to the principal, stating that they would decline to have their children take the test.

Officials said they weren’t concerned that large numbers of children would skip the field tests this month. “The numbers of the people who were boycotting in June were small,” Ms. Lopatin, of the city Education Department, said. But activists say that the boycott is just one step in changing the way schools approach testing and how parents and families fit into the conversation.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Foreign investment pouring in for charter schools

Reuters reports that wealthy individuals from as far away as China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars to build classrooms, libraries, basketball courts and science labs for American charter schools.
In Buffalo, New York, foreign funds paid for the Health Sciences Charter School to renovate a 19th-century orphanage into modern classrooms and computer labs. In Florence, Arizona, overseas investment is expected to finance a sixth campus for the booming chain of American Leadership Academy charter schools. And in Florida, state business development officials say foreign investment in charter schools is poised to triple next year, to $90 million.
It turns out that under a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can in effect buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects. In the past two decades, much of the investment has gone into commercial real-estate projects, like luxury hotels, ski resorts and even gas stations.

Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash-starved charter schools with cash-flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Foreign aid pouring into my Chicago neighborhood

Workmen put finishing touches on our new neighborhood soccer field built with foreign aid.

Corporations have found a safe tax haven here in Chicago and the State of Illinois. So much so that teacher retirement funds are being threatened, mental health clinics are being shuttered along with a hundred neighborhood schools, due mainly to lack of revenue. Under Rahm Emanuel's regime, Chicago is being turned into a beggar city which now operates on the charity and benevolence of the mayor's wealthy patrons and power philanthropists along with foreign aid. 

The latest example:  Down the street from a closed mental health clinic in my Logan Square neighborhood, a new astro-turf soccer field is under construction thanks to foreign aid from the oil-wealthy United Arab Emirates, the benevolence of British soccer moguls, and the Pritzkers, the billionaire union-busting family that refuses to pay their Hyatt Hotel workers a living wage.
“We have a philosophy of giving back to the community — America is a great, up-and-coming soccer market, but first we want to give back,” said Gary Hopkins, head of Manchester City’s international development team in the United States. He said that Manchester City will be providing three years of soccer programming, including training and bringing in coaches to work with kids interested in the game.

Hopkins is also author of Star Spangled Soccer: Selling, Marketing and Management of Soccer in the USA and says that interest in soccer among Americans took off after Chicago hosted the 1994 World Cup. -- Chicago Sun-Times

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A non-productive prison-based economy

“With those razor blades on that fence, they’d bleed to death before they’d get out of this field,” Hebeler said.
In Illinois, when pols talk about "job creation" they probably aren't talking about capital investment in manufacturing. Big corporate investors would rather do that in other countries where labor is cheap and regulations few. Instead, the only hope for jobs in communities like Thompson, is that the feds will come in with hundreds of millions of dollars -- not for infrastructure repair, schools, or anything productive -- but for more prisons. 

This helps explain the school-to-prison pipeline

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Latest corporate reform buzz words -- 'Portfolio Management'

The term “portfolio management” is borrowed from Wall Street, where the idea is to buy winning stocks and sell losers. -- The Notebook
It was originally an idea of early school reformers in New York and other cities, as a way to make innovative inroads into large, bureaucratically run school districts piece by piece. But like so many good reform ideas, the notion of downsizing and decentralizing has been largely taken over by today's corporate reformers bent on school privatization.

The latest plan cooked up by corporate reformers is called, portfolio management. That's where a collection of public schools are handed over to outside providers like universities or private management companies -- even the Catholic Church -- to run. Often these school are then turned into charter schools to modify or eliminate union protections completely, close schools and fire teachers in mass.

Philadelphia has now become the national model for this portfolio management approach. According to The Notebook:
The School District of Philadelphia now touts its expanding mix of traditional and charter schools as well as its Renaissance Schools – neighborhood schools run by charter management companies. The idea is to create a portfolio of school choices for parents. That array of options will grow even bigger as envisioned by the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact, which is promoting collaboration to improve all the public, charter, private, and Catholic schools in the city. Toward that end, the Philadelphia School Partnership has raised $50 million – half its goal – to fund promising programs.
Like most of these top-down reform plans, there is little mention of anything having to do with real school improvement, teaching and learning, teacher support and development, smaller schools or class sizes.

Here's Diane Ravitch's fake enthusiasm for the Philly plan:
Sign me up! 
The School Reform Commission with the guidance of its advisor the Boston Consulting Group (big proponent of privatization without unions and parent to Bain) thinks that if it can create a flexible workforce with performance pay and no job protections, this will attract better teachers.
This reader responds:
Oh boy, low pay and no protection of any kind, whatsoever. Sign me up. What is the thought process behind “better teachers without a union”? Do they truly believe those Gates funded teacher groups that claim they don’t need a union or a contract?  
The Philly reform plan is also part of an attempt to remove the district from  a 39-year old desegregation lawsuit. That suit, filed by the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, charged that Philadelphia schools were unlawfully segregated by race and denied minority students educational opportunities equal to white students. The parties agreed to end the lawsuit in July and make the portfolio management plan, including school closures and charters, a substitute for real substantial desegregation.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kaiser's "F" bomb on Latino leaders reveals his ties to DeVos family

Michael Kaiser
Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, responded to criticism of the Center's anti-Latino bias by telling National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Chairman Felix Sanchez to "go fuck yourself." While Kaiser, who fancies himself a Kennedy liberal, was forced to apologize, he remains atop the prestigious, heavily endowed, cultural awards group.

But a closer look at the Center's patrons reveals Kaiser's close ties to extreme right-wing billionaires like the Dick and Betsy DeVos who donated $22.5 million to the Center in 2010. It was this gift which allowed Kaiser to remain part of the center's leadership structure through 2017, directing what will be named the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. Kaiser will assume that role in late 2014, after his contract extension is completed.
Betsy DeVos said she was impressed by how Kaiser talked about "how we invest millions of dollars in the arts, and training artists, but how we invest very little in training the leaders who hire the artists and run the organizations. We want to help develop human capital and leverage that capital to the greatest extent possible."  
If you follow this blog regularly, you already know about the DeVos family. They are a powerful force behind school vouchers and privately-managed charter schools and corporate-style education "reform." They also finance the far-right Family Research Council, and Focus on Family as well as various white supremacist groups in their home state of Michigan. Betsy DeVos is sister to the founder (Erik Prince) of Blackwater (now Xe Corp.) the private security firm that has become one of the largest supplier of mercenary soldiers in the world. As a member of ALEC, she provided millions to anti-immigration groups in Arizona. and to the failed campaign to prevent the recall of racist pol Russell Pearce.  The DeVoses are also patrons of Wisconsin's Tea Party Gov. Walker and put millions into his campaign against the state's teacher unions.

Dick & Betsy DeVos   
Dick DeVos also owns the NBA's Orlando Magic. Read my favorite sports writer, Dave Zirin describe his own run-in with DeVos.

This is not to say that these Tea Party billionaires put those racist, disgusting words into Michael Kaiser's mouth. But when your whole career is built on currying favor from people like the DeVoses, it can't help but influence you. There have only been two Latino Kennedy Award recipients in the past 35 years, singer Plácido Domingo and Broadway performer Chita Rivera, No Latino has received the award in a decade.


Actor Jimmy Smits, one of the founders of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, told POLITICO that, upon hearing the news of the phone call between Kaiser and Sanchez, he was disappointed, but not surprised. For Smits, the current situation at the Kennedy Center reaches into the White House as well.
”The last thing you want is for the president and the first lady to find themselves presiding over an event that is locking out Latinos. You can’t leave that decision up to the producer, the White House and the board have to be involved in the final selection of these honorees. You do not want these awards to embarrass either the president or the Kennedy family again.”
Side thought: If a mayor of Chicago ever used such language to debase local black or Latino leaders (particularly a certain teacher union leader), he would certainly be run out of town. Right?