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

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. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Charters in the 'Era of Accountability'

More than $900 million in state and local tax dollars, some of it approved by local voters, will be transferred this school year from local schools to nonprofit, publicly funded Ohio charter schools that did not exist 20 years ago. Who is watching how all of that money is spent? -- Columbus Dispatch
I'm just reading one of those tracts, attacking the idea of elected school boards, from a right-wing think tank, the Fordham Institute. The tract refers to this as "the era of accountability" and in this particular report uses the word accountability no less than 14 times or about twice per page. Another of Fordham's anti-school board screeds is actually called: Governance in the Accountability Era.

Coming from them, that phrase always makes me laugh. Why? Because the think tank also doubles up as as a school voucher proponent and one of the main sponsors of privately-run charter schools in the state of Ohio. And as I have pointed out before, here, here, and here, Ohio is the state with arguably the worst charters in the nation and the ones with the least public accountability. The Institute itself, has even referred to Ohio charters as "a laughing stock". And while Fordham talks a lot about Public accountability & private-school choice, they have also provided cover for some of the worst operators in the state, like White Hat's David Brennan. 

Part of the problem is that there's no school board oversight of privately run charters and the think-tankers want to keep it that way.

SEE HOW THEY RUN...Watch how operator Jim Sinclair of Lorain Preparatory Academy of Excellence, practically goes underground when a reporter tries to find out some basic information about his school. And...
That was not out of the ordinary in calls to nearly 300 Ohio charter schools — funded with state and local tax dollars and, by law, subject to the same transparency rules as traditional schools. The calls were made as part of a school-choice project by the Akron Beacon Journal and the News­Outlet, a consortium of journalism programs at Youngstown State University, the University of Akron and Cuyahoga Community College.  
Tea-Party Gov. John Kasich, speaking at the February meeting of the Ohio Newspaper Association, responded to a Beacon Journal editor’s question about inability to obtain basic information from charter schools.
“We’ll work with you any way we can. I’m not going to hide from you,” Kasich said. “In terms of this specific information, where you can’t get anything about these charters, we have to dig into that."
But why do we have to "dig", Governor? Isn't this the era of accountability?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How Cuomo engineered de Blasio's defeat on charters with help from Wall St.

Cuomo at staged rally: “You are not alone. We will save charter schools.”

Javier Hernandez and Susanne Craig, writing in the New York Times, tell an eerie tale about how Gov. Cuomo backed by powerful Wall Streeters and hedge-funders was able to defeat Mayor de Blasio's effort to hold back the charter operators' assault on public schools. 

The Governor, who has always been in Wall Street's pocket, even had chief charter hustler Eva Moskowitz stage a protest of charter school supporters for the media in Albany, one at which he "spontaneously" appeared, telling the crowd that he would be their savior. Moskowitz runs a group of charters and pays herself nearly a half-million/year salary.

According to Hernandez and Craig:
As the governor worked to solidify support in Albany, his efforts were amplified by an aggressive public relations and lobbying effort financed by a group of charter school backers from the worlds of hedge funds and Wall Street, some of whom have also poured substantial sums into Mr. Cuomo’s campaign (he is up for re-election this fall). The push included a campaign-style advertising blitz that cost more than $5 million and attacked Mr. de Blasio for denying space to three charter schools. 
 A lot was riding on the debate for Mr. Cuomo. A number of his largest financial backers, some of the biggest names on Wall Street, also happened to be staunch supporters of charter schools. According to campaign finance records, Mr. Cuomo’s re-election campaign has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from charter school supporters, including William A. Ackman, Carl C. Icahn, Bruce Kovner and Daniel Nir.
Right-wing billionaire Ken Langone organized Republicans for Cuomo earlier this year knowing that a real Republican had no chance of defeating him. He's donated lots of money to Cuomo's war chest in exchange for the governor's support for charter schools, and issue near and dear to Langone's heart.
Langone: "I talk to him about charters. He gets it."
Kenneth G. Langone, a founder of Home Depot who sits on a prominent charter school board, gave $50,000 to Mr. Cuomo’s campaign last year. He said that when the governor asked him to lead a group of Republicans supporting his re-election, he agreed because of Mr. Cuomo’s support for charter schools.
“Every time I am with the governor, I talk to him about charter schools,” Mr. Langone said in an interview. “He gets it.” 
Noticeably missing from de Blasio's rearguard were AFT and UFT leaders Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew. Without the teacher unions at his back, and in order to salvage his expanded Pre-K program,  the mayor obviously was forced to make a tactical retreat on charters.

My takeaways from this early defeat in de Blasio's battle to redefine New York politics:
  1. The election of a progressive mayor means little if the grass-roots movement that elected him returns to the barracks when the election is over. 
  2. So-called mayoral control of the schools is a myth. What we saw in N.Y. last week was an exercise in corporate control of the schools. So long as the Wall  Streeters and hedge-funders own the governor and most other state politicians, the cities and their schools will be largely at their mercy. 
  3. Mayor de Blasio must pick and choose his battles carefully in accordance with how many troops he has behind him. His election shows that he has the support of the city's poor and working families. But to maintain that support he has to rely on them and organize them to win victories for them. 
  4. While BdB enjoys support from most rank-and-file teachers and other unionists, AFT and UFT leaders or unreliable allies at best. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My memo to Sheldon Adelson

The wing-nut billionaire is in the market for a few good Republican pols. I guess his stable is running low on horses. He's got a few old nags but no winners in his gold-plated paddock. So when they read his want ads, GOPers sprinted as fast as their hooves would carry them, out to Vegas to kiss Adelson's ass ring.

On the outside is Romney running neck and neck with Jeb Bush. Chris Christie is wheezing as he rounds the turn. Then there's Rand Paul and the guy from Wisconsin (whatshisname?) bringing up the rear.

And the winner is --- oops, there ain't no winner.
“I don’t want to spend millions on another loser,” said Adelson, who purchased both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in 2012. The casino magnate was scathing in his assessment of the candidates he declined to buy, calling them “a third-rate grab bag of has-beens and dimwits.” -- Borowitz
Forbes reports that in the two days since he hosted the Republican Jewish Coalition’s meeting with all these losers and ne'er-do-wells, at his Venetian Resort and Hotel,  Adelson personally made $2.1 billion — 21 times the $100 million he reported giving away during the 2012 presidential election. So he can easily afford to buy a potential winner. So I decided to drop Adelson a line and offer some suggestions.

Here's my memo to Sheldon: 

Mr. Adelson (or may I call you Sheldon?),

I sympathize with you in your effort to purchase a potential 2016 GOP winner among this gaggle of cretins and boneheads. Here's my advice to you. Believe me Sheldon, I may be broke, but I know what I'm talking about.

Don't get hung up on party labels. We've got a mayor here who's a Democrat in name only and who would be a perfect buy for you. He's a proven winner with the Chicago corporate big boys and local 1%ers. A big cog in the Chicago machine (remember they all turned Republican the day that a black guy, Harold Washington, won the party primary back in '83) so they've had plenty of experience being Republicans. He's a pension grabber and union buster like you. He'll do anything to keep from taxing the wealthy and the corporations. And his brother is Ari, who I know you've done some casino business with in Vegas.

Rahm and Rauner
Rahm was a big supporter of the war in Iraq just like you. and he's even a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces (volunteered not once, but twice) which I know is dear to your own heart. I'm sure your pal Netanyahu will recommend him highly.

I know Rahm has said some unkind things about you in the past, but believe me, he's for sale --always has been-- and you guys can let bygones be bygones for the good of the cause. Bill Clinton got him for a steal back in the '90s, getting him a retainer from your friends at Goldman Sachs while he was still working on Clinton's campaign. When Rambo (he likes to be called that) resigned from his position in the Clinton administration, he joined Bill's pals at the investment banking firm Wasserstein Perella, where he worked until 2002. Although he didn't even have an MBA or prior banking experience, they still made him managing director at the firm’s Chicago office in 1999 when he made $16.2 million in his two-and-a-half-years as a banker. It's nice to have friends in low high places.

At Wasserstein Perella, he worked on eight deals, including the acquisition by Commonwealth Edison of Peco Energy and the purchase by GTCR Golder Rauner of the SecurityLink home security unit from SBC Communications. So if you need any references (besides mine), talk to your billionaire Republican buddy Bruce Rauner who I'm sure will give Rahm an A+ rating. It was Rauner who bankrolled his last mayoral campaign.

Your pal (I wish),
Mike Klonsky

P.S. Oh yes, and there's no delivery charge on purchases of $20 million or more.