Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Peter Buffett has no taste for the 'Charitable/Industrial Complex'

Warren Buffett's son Peter, gets a seat at the power-philanthropy table. But he doesn't like what's being served up. He calls it, "Philanthropic Colonialism".
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity. 
 And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success.
Peter Buffett's problem is, he's stuck in the middle of the "Charitable-Industrial complex" and can't seem to find a way out.
 I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism....My wife and I know we don’t have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hedge-fund billionaire Cohen big player in charter schools. Fraud scandal could bring him down.

Whenever I read about some crooked hedge-fund billionaire mired in scandal, I always check to see if and how they're involved with charter schools. I rarely come up empty. The latest is possibly the biggest fish and the dirtiest one in the hedge-fund swamp.

Hedge-funder Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen, whose personal wealth is estimated at close to $10 billion, is the founder of the supposedly too-big- hedge fund,  SAC Capital Advisors. Cohen's firm, which once managed more than $15 billion in assets, is at the center of one of the biggest insider-trading fraud cases in history. Four employees have already been criminally charged with insider trading – two of whom have pleaded guilty. And an SAC affiliate has agreed to pay $615 million to settle SEC charges of insider trading.

Federal prosecutors have served grand jury subpoenas on Cohen and others at the firm seeking their testimony but Cohen took the 5th and refused to testify.

Cohen, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., is one of the highest profile figures in American finance and one of the world's richest men. He is among the handful of upper-tier hedge fund managers who pull in about $1 billion a year in compensation.

Now he faces possible fines and could be barred for life from managing investor funds.

According to NewsTime,
He's seen at least nine of his trusted associates charged or implicated in a rapidly metastasizing insider trading scandal, one that has cost his firm a record $616 million regulatory settlement and can be felt from hedge fund row on Connecticut's Gold Coast to Wall Street.
As I suspected, Cohen and his wife Alexandria, turn out to be big players in the charter school world. Through their tax-sheltered family foundation, they have given $35 million to "school choice" projects and more than $10 million over the last six years to Achievement First, Charter Network,as a way of pushing the development of  charter schools across Connecticut. Cohen, who strikes me as anything but a Robin Hood, is also on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation, which helped spawn Achievement First.

He has also given $40 million to support his six charter schools operating in the Bronx.

The Cohen's are sponsors of the Amistad Academy in New Haven, which is described here as, "a charter school serving minority students...using chants, rewards, and consequences."

I'm not sure what it is about hedge-funders like Boykin Curry of Eagle Capital, Whitney Tilson of T2 Partners, David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, Michael Novogratz of Fortress Investment Group, Carl Icahn and the rest that attracts them to the charter world. But I suspect it has more to do with free-market ideology than anything to do with teaching and learning.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rahm's Civic Committee pals pushed Moody's & S&P to lower IL bond rating

Rahm Emanuel claims that he's been forced to close schools, demolish school budgets and fire thousands of teachers because the city is broke. Why is the city broke? Rahm says it's because of a pension crisis with retired teachers and public employees unwilling to take cuts in their pensions and health care benefits. All this, says the mayor, has led to rating companies lowering Chicago's bond rating, making it even more expensive for the city to borrow money to keep public schools running.

But as Pres. Kennedy once said, "Things do not happen. Things are made to happen."

Now we learn that Moody's and S&P didn't just lower the state's bond rating. They were pressured to do so by Rahm's patrons over at the Civic Committee. In Chicago, the mayor runs the schools. But the mayor doesn't say, "boo" without a nod from the powerful Civic Committee.

How do we know that the Civic Committee made the call to S&P? The Civic Committee's Ty Fahner admits it. This from Capitol Fax:

If you go to about the 47-minute mark, you’ll hear an unidentified questioner say this to Fahner… 
“Maybe sometimes you gotta be irresponsible to be responsible. If a political solution really doesn’t produce a favorable outcome, maybe you really need a market solution. And a market solution, I don’t mean bankruptcy, I mean actually talking down the state rating even further so the state’s bonds essentially become below investment grade. And it drives up the borrowing cost to the state and all of us to a significant level enough that you really feel the public pressure…” 
* Fahner’s response…
“The Civic Committee, not me, but some of the people that make up the Civic Committee… did meet with and call - in one case in person - and a couple of calls to Moody’s and Fitch and Standard & Poors, and say ‘How in the hell can you guys do this? You are an enabler to let the state continue. You keep threatening more and more and more.’
“And I think now we’ve backed off. We don’t want to be the straw that broke the camel’s back… It hasn’t been irresponsible, but we have told them that we thought they were being irresponsible. But we stopped that a couple of months ago.”
h/t Brother Fred & Glen Brown

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

More problems with Rheeform

It was only a couple of years ago that Michelle Rhee was flying high on that broomstick of hers. Despite being booted by popular disdain, from her D.C. Supt. job, Rhee was being wined and toasted at N.Y. and Washington cocktail parties by both liberal and conservative elites as the new queen of corporate-style school reform. She even starred in a Hollywood movie, Waiting For Superman, before being hired as a union-busting consultant by Tea Part governors in Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Her rump Students First organization was promised a billion dollars by power-philanthropists like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, and the Koch Bros., the money to be used to bankroll anti-union political campaigns nationwide.

Lately however, some of the shine seems to be fading from Rhee's apple. Not only has Rhee been exposed for her role in a D.C. test-cheating scandal,  Politico reports that Rhee's group isn't even close to achieving its fund-raising goal.
Rhee’s group initially pledged to raise $1 billion in the group’s first year, but it has only posted nearly $30 million in its second year — a hefty sum for a single-issue advocacy group but far short of their initial fundraising ambitions.
And these days, $30 million will only buy a handful of elections, leaving Rhee's organization as thin at the top as it is at the bottom. According to Politico, Student First Pres. Kahlil Byrd is "stepping down" after less than a year on the job. Politico describes Byrd as a "longtime Republican — previously was head of Americans Elect, which sought to put a credible third-party ticket on the ballot in the 2012 election."
StudentsFirst has seen an exodus of Democratic staffers: Former Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan, Democratic lobbyist Ximena Hartsock and former Democratic fundraiser Tali Stein all left the group for other opportunities. Since its foundation, the group has had a high staff turnover. Byrd is the latest in a string of staff departures since the group was founded in 2010.
The Democrats may be starting to Rhee as political  baggage with mid-term elections coming up.

Monday, July 15, 2013

L.A. performing arts school principal -- "I've had it!"

"No one has found a way to fund any of the programs that are ongoing," Isaacs said in an interview. "We have a $65-million theater and no money to run it.

Norman Isaacs, the Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts' fifth principal in four years, has resigned over the district's lack of arts funding. The school fails Deasy's and Broad's funding test because it's a mainly-neighborhood school, not a charter.

Isaacs tells the L.A. Times:
 "We have a $65-million theater and no money to run it. It got to the point where I could not get the support from the district that was so very important, and I needed to call attention to that." 
When the school board decided that 70% of enrollment must come from the low-income neighborhoods adjacent to the school, wealthy funders, led by billionaire power-philanthropist Eli Broad, withdrew their support. Broad wanted the campus entirely removed from district control.

The Times reports:
...building interest in the school is difficult because, during tight budget years, the district reduced elementary and middle school arts programs that could feed students to the high school. Nearby Virgil Middle School, for example, had a highly regarded orchestral music program and later added a dance program. But budget cuts terminated both efforts, officials said.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

It's $20 million no-bid for Supes-to-Nuts with Gary Solomon in Chicago

The men who run Supes have, shall we say, a somewhat questionable track record. And all this in a city where major, well-respected universities already train principals, where 49 schools have shut down and others are losing teachers, classroom aides, clerks, lunch ladies and other workers and programs right and left, to the tune of $68 million in cuts -- or $82 million, depending on whose math you believe. -- Lorraine Forte at Huffington
A few principals attending the Chicago Supes training now in progress are texting me, telling me what a joke it is. It's not that the sessions are all that bad. It's that the principals themselves have taken it over. They are running it -- "sharing stories," they text me.

"Inmates have taken over the asylum," says one south-side principal. The joke is that BBB has given huckster Gary Solomon and his team a $20 million no-bid contract to run this thing. Supes, she says, brings nothing to the table. Any one of a number of local groups or university people could have easily facilitated.

Another text: We (the intellectually and skill bereft cohort) are now creating the sessions. 

So why does this Wilmette-based, Broad funded, pro-charter Supes Academy land the largest no-bid contract awarded in years for professional development?

Well, that's an easy one.  Byrd-Bennett worked for the company as a coach up until the time she came on board at CPS as a consultant. According to Catalyst, "There’s also conflicting information about Byrd-Bennett’s involvement with another company owned by the same individuals who run the Supes Academy."

Writes Catalyst's Sarah Karp:
Up until April 2012, Byrd-Bennett worked as a consultant to the Supes Academy. At that time, she was brought on at CPS as the chief education advisor to then-CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, a contract position for which she was paid $21,500 a month.
In addition, Byrd-Bennett is listed as a senior associate for a superintendent search firm called PROACT Search, in documents dated August 2012—four months after taking the position with CPS. PROACT is run by the same individuals who lead Supes: Gary Solomon, the executive director, and Thomas Vranas, the president. (Another Supes founder listed on its website, Tim Quinn, is managing director of the Broad Foundation; Byrd-Bennett worked as an executive coach for Broad through this past April.)
Byrd-Bennett is one of four contacts listed in the proposal for services submitted by PROACT in its bid to do a superintendent search for the Norwalk, Connecticut, school district. She has an e-mail address listed in the proposal. When PROACT won the contract, an official for the company was quoted in the local newspaper touting that Byrd-Bennett, who by that time had been named as Chicago’s CEO, was a contractor with the firm.
You can read the rest yourself. I'll defer to the new federal prosecutor to determine the legality of all this. But if the $96 million UNO charter deal was legal, and the Zimmerman shooting was legal, then this is probably legal also. Most of our cynical and corruption-hardened citizenry might just shrug offKarp's excellent Catalyst expose as just more-of-the-same, to go along with UNO charter chicanery, pension demagogy, TIF-type slush funds, and Rahm's DePaul basketball swindles of the taxpayers. And of course they'd be right.

But there are a few things I found unusual in this latest boondoggle. One, is the response by UIC's Steve Tozer, quoted in the article. You would think that UIC's ed school (of which I am a proud grad and former employee) would be upset that they didn't get the contract and that BBB went out of town to bring in her old cronies. Instead we have principal trainer Tozer saying things like $20 million “is an okay price to pay if Chicago can produce good leaders.”
Tozer says the University of Illinois, which has a well-regarded training program for urban principals, would have looked into bidding on the contract had the process been open. Tozer had not heard of Supes until the organization had already been hired. 
But Solomon has been hustling business here for years. He's a Broad guy who also worked with Paul Vallas and ran his Synesi consulting company which has been trying to get back into the city ever since Mayor Daley sent Vallas packing off to Philly.

Solomon ran Vallas' consulting company
The $20 million contract is the fourth awarded to Supes since October of 2012. The three other contracts include two for $2 million each and a third for $225,000 for consulting services. In 2011-12, the Chicago Public Education Fund paid for training of Chiefs of Schools and Network Chiefs.

Karp writes:
Solomon went on to be a sales associate and then a vice president for the Princeton Review, a test preparation company, and counted CPS as one of his clients.
In 2005, he ventured out on his own and created two companies, one focusing on consulting and the other on web development. In Philadelphia, he marketed the consulting company as using the “Paul Vallas method of school reform.”
Maybe Tozer is just being a team player, hoping UIC gets a subcontract down the road. After all, it doesn't look like Supes has the talent to handle this by themselves.

They could end up like the dog that caught the bus.

Cross-posted from Mike Klonsky's Blog

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rahm's great TIF school rip-off

David Orr
The city should send any extra development funds to the public schools, says Cook County Clerk David Orr.
"How do we explain to school kids that gym, music and art classes are canceled while profitable businesses are tapping into the city’s tax base?" Orr said Thursday in an annual report on Tax Increment Finance districts. -- DNAInfo
CPS Liar-In-Chief Becky Carroll jumps into the fray.
 "No combination of one-time fixes is going to address a structural financial deficit at CPS that has built up over decades and currently stands at $1 billion, including $400 million from increasing pension payments," said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. "We have made more than $600 million in cuts to the central office while doing everything we can to protect critical classroom investments. 
So Wendy Katten  calls her on it -- what $600 million in cuts?
“It just makes me laugh,” says Wendy Katten, who runs the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand. “If [the savings] are true, they should show us the line items.” 
L-I-C Carroll responds -- um, errr.
 CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll admits it would be impossible to find evidence of the reductions in the official budget book. “It is not the way it works,” she says... In other cases, the district saved money in one area, but paid more for something else-- and therefore, Carroll says, the reduction is not reflected in a line item. -- -- Catalyst
And she does all this with a straight face.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The 147 companies that run everything. It's only 'natural'

The 1318 transnational corporations that form the core of the economy. Superconnected companies are red, very connected companies are yellow. The size of the dot represents revenue (Image: PLoS One)

For some reason, the scientists who have suddenly "discovered" that a relatively tiny group of corporations, funds and banks have amassed enourmous wealth and power, find a need to distinguish themselves from the Occupy Movement which has been saying the same thing for years.
The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York's Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere. But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world's transnational corporations (TNCs). -- New Scientist
But we're scientists, not ideologues, says one of the scientists.
"Reality is so complex, we must move away from dogma, whether it's conspiracy theories or free-market," says James Glattfelder. "Our analysis is reality-based."
One thing won't chime with some of the protesters' claims: the super-entity is unlikely to be the intentional result of a conspiracy to rule the world. "Such structures are common in nature," says another.
Concentration of power is not good or bad in itself, says the Zurich team that made the discovery.
Okay. So it's not a conspiracy and your discovery of the extreme concentration of wealth and power is complicated and transcends ideology. Agreed.

But neither a good nor bad thing?

It's the "natural" order of things?


Sounds ideological to me.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Murdoch's Wireless Generation, education's NSA?

I'm half anticipating that a techie or two over at New Corp's ed division will jump ship and flee to Hong Kong after whistle-blowing Murdoch hacking of U.S. students' families. Maybe a Wireless Generation competitor like McGraw-Hill or Pearson, will offer them asylum on one of their privately-owned islands.

Former N.Y. schools chancellor, Joel Klein became Murdoch's go-to guy on damage-control after the company’s News of the World tabloid in Britain had hacked into the phone of a murdered 13-year-old, Milly Dowler. London hearings soon revealed that Murdoch's criminal enterprise was bribing officials and  hacking phones and internet (including police) nationwide.

In 2010, News Corporation paid $360 million for a 90% stake in Wireless Generation, a company based in Brooklyn that specializes in education software, data systems and assessment tools to help teachers analyze student performance and customize lessons.Once the British scandal died down (what short memories the "wireless generation" has), Klein led his company’s aggressive push into the U.S. education market.

Murdoch soon became the darling of U.S. corporate school reformers and keynoted Jeb Bush's 2011 Education Summit. Hundreds of cash-strapped public school districts (including Chicago) were encouraged to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts and have handed Murdoch's people control of all student records and family information. Murdoch/Klein's on-line teaching program, Amplify, is also a top industry seller.
Review from a former Wireless Generation employee-- "A lot of poor quality work passed off as final products, most everything is worked out in production leading to many hot fixes and more long hours. Little respect for teachers or end-users in many within the company.... No, I would not recommend this company to a friend."
The school data-mining business is very competitive and includes Gate-funded operation, inBloom. Aside from accessing student records, it is also being used to spy on teachers and violate their privacy in many ways, ultimately replacing them altogether in the classroom.

I'm not opposed to online teaching/learning or record-keeping and think the new technology has much to offer, especially in the area of integrated and personalized learning, pacing and remediation. But there's no evidence that Murdoch's products are a successful application of if Klein is just a good (well-connected) huckster.

I do know that Murdoch and Klein are the last guys, outside of Booz, Allen, Hamilton and the NSA, that should have their hands on student records and school information.

Just waiting for that whistle to blow.