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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Next frontier for the charter school hustlers, 'Inner Ring' Suburbs

For those of you who aren't fluent in post-racial-era reform/speak, inner-ring is code for black and Latino suburbs. As the inner cities become whitenized, with hundreds of thousands of African-Americans being pushed out because of lack of jobs, limited access to social services, and unaffordable housing costs, these suburban districts are growing rapidly and are now being targeted for takeover by competing charter companies.

Local school districts, like Dist. 149 in south-suburban Dolton/Calumet City, IL are facing an all-out assault by the big charter chains. So far they've beaten back the attack but only by diverting much of their energies away from educating children to defending themselves before groups like the IL State Charter Commission. That Commission has the power to override decisions about charter expansion made by local school districts. In other words they can approve a charter school application whether a community wants it or not.

At the upcoming National Charter School Conference at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Allison Jack from the Illinois Network of Charter Schools will be presenting on "Inner Ring Suburbs: The Next Frontier of Charter Growth."

It's the next frontier, get it? And who knows what or who these new frontiersmen will find out there?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The sun continues to shine on Florida's charter school hustlers

Barbara Smaller, New Yorker

Attention charter operators and ed profiteers. Florida is the place if you like warm weather and easy money in real estate. I got to see how the charter game is played in the Sunshine State during my days at USF when Jeb Bush was the guv. Now, under Rick Scott and his ed adviser Michelle Rhee (not to mention disgraced former ed commissioner Tony Bennett), the state has opened up even wider for charter expansion.

Fresen (R) chairs the Education Committee
Florida Rep. Erik Fresen,  a Tea Party Republican, chairs House Education Appropriations hearings on charter expansion. But his sister Maggie, and brother-in-law, Fernando Zulueta  run Academica Charter Schools, one of the country’s largest and wealthiest for-profit charter school management firms, with more than 90 schools in Florida alone. Fresen also has worked as a land-use consultant for Civica, an architectural firm that has designed several Academica schools. Really?

Fresen is pushing a bill HB 7083 that would require school districts to make public school buildings available to charters and turn over closed public school to charters. It would also make it easier for out of state charter operators to compete for schools and school real estate.

Does this sound like N.Y.? It should. Only FL has no pols like N.Y. Mayor de Blasio ready or able to really take on the powerful charter hustlers like their state's versions of Eva Moskowitz. Florida charters are among the worst in the country. Gee, I wonder why.

The most recent windfall for Fresen (who also represents the state's gaming interests) and family came when Palmetto Bay council members on Monday unanimously approved plans for a 1,400-student charter school within a residential and commercial complex development. The charter school will be part of the Somerset Academy Inc. franchise managed by Academica. Fresen’s district includes a part of Palmetto Bay and in 2011, he sponsored changes in state law to limit municipal power over charter schools.

The Miami Herald reports:
According to Palmetto Bay Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, the property’s zoning designation and laws governing charter schools all converged in “a perfect storm” to force the council’s hand to approve, with no guarantees that the school would adequately address the traffic and congestion issues sure to arise with an added influx of 1,400 students every work day...
...“If you want a place with as little control as possible, put it in an Enterprise Zone. And then if you’ve got a school with legislated protection, so that [municipal] control over approving and not approving is very limited, you’ve got a double whammy of not being able to control any of the effects,” Stanczyk said.
BASEBALL CHARTERS...Bloomberg News reports that the politically connected Zulueta is working on a deal with Major League Baseball and celebrity (why?) Pitbull to have his charter school company partner with the Washington Nationals on a D.C.-based charter operation. The Rhee connection with D.C. pols and Sec. Duncan, should play a big role here. Academica opened Somerset Preparatory Academy in Washington last September as a toe-hold in the region. Pitbull opened up last year's National Charter Schools Conference and was introduced by Zulueta.

Names that pop up in the deal include Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, who insists "it’s not a gimmick. Since most charters don’t have a building when they receive authorization, she said, they need a cash infusion up front..." AND Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who "agrees that celebrity-brand schools are not to be dismissed."

I think Richmond, Zulueta, Rees, Fresen, Duncan, Scott, Pitbull... and their whole gang need to be dismissed.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Moscowitz' gang won't pay rent. Drop $3.6M on TV ads attacking BdB

Instead of paying their share of rent for co-occupying N.Y.C. public school buildings, Eva Moscowitz and her hedge-fund friends, have spent $3.6 million over the past 3 weeks, for TV ads attacking Mayor de Blasio.

According to the Daily News:
Families for Excellent Schools — founded by a deep-pocketed group of current and former financiers — has run a series of ads, including a heart-wrenching spot blaming de Blasio for taking away the “hopes and dreams” of 194 students by blocking Success Academy Harlem Central’s co-location plan. De Blasio earlier this month blocked three Success charter schools from co-locations in public school buildings while allowing five others to go ahead.

De Blasio signs paid sick leave bill into law.
“They have parents believing there’s no way they’re going to find space for these 194 students,” said Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the labor-backed lobbying group Alliance for Quality Education. “Do they tell them they’re spending $3.6 million on these ads in less than a month? Put that into the building that you say you can’t find.”

In the mean time, the mayor is moving ahead with his plan to offer prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds in New York City. He also signed the Paid Sick Leave Bill into law. Combined with previous legislation, more than a half-million New Yorkers will now be able to take up to five sick days without fear of losing their job.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

DFER brags: Our money beat Travis

Mitchell on the make and on the take.
School privatizers and charter hustlers from DFER are all over Twitter, taking credit for Christian Mitchell's  questionable narrow victory over progressive candidate Jay Travis. The IL branch of the N.Y.-based hedge-fund-started group dropped more than $50,000 into the Mitchell campaign through its newly-activated Chicago school reform PAC.

Instead of boasting, they should be headed back to the drawing board wondering why, with all their money and lots more from the likes of the likes of JPMorgan Chase & Co.PAC, Illinois Energy Association, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce PAC, and California billionaire Eli Broad, an incumbent like Mitchell was is this close to losing his seat to underdog Travis. 

Mitchell, backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan was leading Travis by only a few hundred votes as polls closed. But reports of widespread voting "irregularities" have thrown the outcome into question. Travis has not conceded. 

DFER's State Director Rebeca Nieves-Huffman, says her PAC will now turn its attention to Chicago’s 2015 aldermanic elections which she says will be a referendum on the future of education in the city.
“We are committed to supporting candidates in the upcoming city elections who share our vision, and we intend to hold elected officials accountable for their opposition to the policies our students need to succeed,” Nieves-Huffman said.
Huffman is an old hand at union-busting and comes to DFER from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) where she managed the grant-making work of the organization through its Fund for Authorizing Excellence and before that, from the KIPP Foundation.

In addition to Nieves-Huffman, the PAC has hired a Stakeholder Engagement Director, Sean Harden, who was Mayor Richard Daley‘s executive assistant and liaison to the interfaith community. They have also snagged Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle‘s budget spokesman, Owen Kilmer, who previously worked as a campaign operative for the Illinois Senate Democrats and as deputy press secretary for Gary Chico‘s 2011 mayoral campaign, to be the group’s communications chief.

According to the right-wing Illinois Observer, the PAC which was formed in 2011 but has lain dormant for nearly two years, has recently pulled in $60,500, including $21,000 from James and Paula Crown and $5,000 from Jennifer Steans, the sister of State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

The Crowns are also big financial backers of the statewide school reform PAC Stand for Children Illinois.

Its leaders expect to raise more than $1 million for 2015.

For a better sense on how DFER operates, see my blog post from last April. 
Here's more on DFER from School Finance 101.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Netflix education: Favoring markets over democracy

What's the No. 1 problem afflicting schools? According to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, it's elected school boards...Fickle voters create too much churn. You know, the darn democracy thing. So uncontrollable.-- San Jose Mercury News
Thanks to Diane Ravitch for calling out Netflix founder and CEO Rod Hastings as a major player in corporate-style school reform. Hastings, says Ravitch, is on the board of various charter schools and charter chains, including Rocketship and KIPP.

Hasting's goal is to get government out of schooling, get rid of publicly elected school boards, and turn schools over to private operators.

Ravitch writes:
ALEC has pushed the idea of a state charter panel, appointed by the governor (and sometimes the legislature), whose decisions override local control. The problem with school boards is that the local populace can replace them by vote. In other words, as Chubb and Moe argued 25 years ago in their book advocating for vouchers, Politics, Markets, and Schools, markets are better than democracy.
Here it is, right from the horse's [Hasting's] mouth.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The privatization of science replaces public good with super-profits

INTEL billionaire Gordon Moore and his new Thirty Meter Telescope which will sit on a Hawaii mountain top.
In Washington, budget cuts have left the nation’s research complex reeling. Labs are closing. Scientists are being laid off. Projects are being put on the shelf, especially in the risky, freewheeling realm of basic research. Yet from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, science philanthropy is hot, as many of the richest Americans seek to reinvent themselves as patrons of social progress through science research. 
American science, long a source of national power and pride, is increasingly becoming a private enterprise. This according to New York Times science writer William Broad who reveals that while government financing of basic science research is plummeting, private donors have filled the void, raising questions about the future of research for the public good.

According to Broad, this is philanthropy in the age of the new economy — financed with its outsize riches, practiced according to its individualistic, entrepreneurial creed. The donors are impatient with the deliberate, and often politicized, pace of public science, they say, and willing to take risks that government cannot or simply will not consider.

Growing health & wealth gap... Among the consequences of the growing privatization of scientific research, a widening of the historical racial inequalities in health care and disease research, disparities that decades of studies have shown to contribute to higher rates of disease and death among blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups.

Among the biggest players: Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor (and founder of the media company that bears his name), L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad, James Simons (hedge funds), David Koch (oil and chemicals), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Eric E. Schmidt (Google) and Lawrence J. Ellison (Oracle).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I can almost hear Bill Gates saying, "What do you mean you don't want our money?"

Vicki Phillips, who runs the Gates Foundation’s education division, said her team is “disappointed by Randi’s decision.” -- Politico
Our big investment in school reform. "hasn't led to significant improvements." --Bill Gates
I'm still learning on this one, but I have some idea what it was that prompted Randi Weingarten and the AFT leadership to turn their back on millions of dollars in Gates funding. Politico's Caitlin Emma with help from Stephanie Simon report that the break came "after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation’s approach to education reform." But that rank-and-file anger has been simmering in the union for years, ever since 2009 when the so-called Innovation Fund partnership was first sealed with a $2 million kiss from Bill and Melinda. So why now?

Of course, the revolt has grown louder these days, especially in N.Y. where thousands of union members are ready to go to the barricades in Albany over Common Core testing and teacher evaluation. Not to mention the  inner-Democratic Party battle is raging between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio over charter school expansion which could spill out into the upcoming national elections.

Gates at 2010 AFT Convention
Resentment over Gates influence within the union has spread way beyond the small group of activists who first stormed out of the AFT convention in 2010, when Bill first unveiled his model for teacher development and his so-called Value-Added Model (VAM) of evaluation based largely on student test scores. In recent months, Gates has used that funding as a lever, threatening to pull it from districts who oppose VAM.

It was also at this convention where Gates expressed his disappointment with the small schools movement and explained why he had shifted funding away from creating smaller learning communities over the past decade, focusing instead on testing and teacher evaluation.
Our work in schools began with a focus on making high schools smaller, in the hope of improving relationships to drive down dropout rates and increase student achievement. Many of the schools we worked with made strong gains, but others were disappointing. The schools that made the biggest gains in achievement did more than make structural changes; they also improved teaching.
Bill & Randi at Dec. 2010 Newsweek interview
Soon after, Gates and Weingarten gave this joint interview to Newsweek which had the aura of a puppet show with Bill's hand operating Randi's mouth.
Weingarten: What we’re seeing is that the United States, instead of moving ahead, is actually stagnating. We’re basically in the same place we’ve been, and these countries have moved forward. They’ve spent a lot of time investing in the preparation and support of teachers. Many of them teach a common curriculum, very similar to the common standards that Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have been supporting. And they create the tools and conditions that teachers need to teach, and they have mutual respect and accountability.
Since then, Gates has handed over $11 million in AFT funding. Pocket change for Bill to be sure, but more than enough to influence union policy, despite Randi's denials. She still denies the obvious, saying she doesn't believe Gates funding influenced the Innovation Fund’s direction. Hopefully the rift with Gates will create space for her to move further on Common Core and other issues, as she appears to be slowly doing, if her appearance at last week's NPE Convention is any indication.

At the 2012 AFT Convention there were already indications of rank-and-file pressure on the leadership. First there was the presence of the Chicago delegation, led by CTU President Karen Lewis. Gates was nowhere in sight and Diane Ravitch gave the keynote.

Now Diane Ravitch blogs about the break:
[Randi] understands that many members of the AFT do not trust the Gates Foundation, do not like Bill Gates’ public statements such as encouraging larger class sizes, or his unwavering commitment to measuring teacher quality by student test scores, despite the lack of evidence for its efficacy. I welcome this change and thank Randi and the AFT for severing ties with the Gates Foundation. Gates and Pearson have bought most of American education. Those who represent teachers should be free of their influence.
That's a bit of an overstatement. The AFT hasn't actually severed its ties with the Gates Foundation, which, according to Politico, funds other union projects besides the Innovation Fund.
The AFT’s executive council hasn’t formally voted to reject Gates funding for other projects, but Weingarten said she would be very cautious about taking such grants. “I don’t want to say ‘never never ever ever,’” she said, but “this is a matter of making common bond with our members and really listening to the level of distrust they have in the philanthropies and the people on high who are not listening to them.”
We're still watching of course.

Monday, March 10, 2014

No Austin City Limits at Rahm's fundraiser in Texas

Cash cow for Rahm's Texas pals.
What's Rahm doing at SXSW? What else? He's stuffing his election war chest at an Austin fundraising party put on by a group of heavy hitters who do bazillions in business up in Chicago.

According to Sunday's Trib:
The event will be held Monday evening at the home of Charlie Jones, one of the co-founders of C3 Presents, according to an invitation to the fundraiser that Emanuel campaign consultant John Kupper provided when contacted by the Tribune. Also listed as hosts are C3 co-founders Charles Attal and Charlie Walker. The concert promotions company has run Lollapalooza since 2005. It signed a contract with the Chicago Park District in 2012, during Emanuel's term, to continue operating it until at least 2021.
Other hosts at the Austin fundraiser include Ben Barnes, former Texas lieutenant governor and founder of political consulting, lobbying and crisis management agency Ben Barnes Group, which has offices in Austin and in Washington, D.C. Wyeth Wiedeman, a partner at the firm, is also a host, as is venture capitalist Tom Meredith, the former acting chief financial officer of Motorola and former CFO of computer giant Dell Inc.
Wow, 16-year run (hopefully Rahm will be long gone by 2021) and they pay virtually no taxes to the city. Who gets contracts like that these days? Well, the 3 Charlies do. Okay, I know what you're thinking. The mayor promised not to take any campaign contributions from from city contractors.

No prob, says Rahm flack Sarah Hamilton who claims that the rule does not apply in this case because C3 Presents has its deal with the Park District -- not the City. Oh and Emanuel's travel to Texas will be paid for by the mayor's political campaign and not taxpayer dollars, says Hamilton.  Uh, yes, but that's a few hundred bucks he laying out in order to raise millions.

A difference without a distinction, you say? Tell it to the judge.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Big shake-out in the test-prep industry predicted as SAT is revamped

The College Board is going to "radically revamp" the SAT — with the goal of putting SAT test prep companies out of business and aligning the test to the Common Core academic standards. But as long as Common Core is chained to high-stakes standardized testing, test-prep will continue to trump authentic classroom teacher and assessment.

According to Politico,
The overhaul reflects deep concern — among students, parents, teachers and college admissions officers — that the SAT did not fairly reflect the work teenagers did in school. It stems as well from a concern that the proliferation of pricey SAT tutoring services gave the wealthy a leg up over the meritorious.
 In a step toward that goal, College Board Pres. David Coleman announced a partnership with Khan Academy to provide free, online test prep materials — including thousands of practice problems and instructional videos. The College Board plans to train tutors and counselors to help students from low-income households to access the online test prep.

FairTest not impressed...Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer says,
“Providing free SAT prep is laudable, but it already exists through programs such as The partnership with the Khan Academy is unlikely to make a dent in the huge market for high-priced, personalized SAT workshops and tutoring that only well-to-do families can afford."    
Standardized tests continue to be a  lousy predictor of college success and a new study released last month by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that students who are admitted to college without submitting SAT or ACT scores do just as well as their peers in terms of college grades and graduation rates.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

IFT leader claims ALEC leader Dillard as his champion -- "A strong voice for teachers." Really?

Dillard (left) and Rauner. They're both worse. 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) represents the most reactionary, anti-people, anti-teacher, racist sector of the corporate establishment. They are the architect of  Stand Your Ground and a host of recent legislation aimed at restricting the voting rights of black and Latino voters and increasing the black prison population. Then there's Arizona’s punitive SB1070 immigration bill. They are strongly anti-union and have pushed legislation nationally to dis-empower teacher unions and take away collective bargaining rights of all public employees.

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute and the Michigan-based Mackinac Center between them successfully shepherded five model bills through ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task force — all targeting public sector unions.

The list goes on and on.

The Illinois Charter Quality Act, passed in 2011, expanded the authority to approve charter schools from school districts to an appointed state commission. On ALEC’s website, a similar bill is filed under “model legislation.” ALEC helped fund the effort to pass the Illinois Charter Quality Act. After the act was signed into law, the state created the Illinois Charter School Commission, which was then given authority to approve charter school applications. The rest is dismal history.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kirk Dillard, until quite recently, was ALEC's state chairman and is still an active member and supporter of ALEC. ALEC once named him “Legislative Member of the Year.” While he voted recently against the pension-busting SB7 bill in exchange for support from the IEA in his run against even-worse(?) union-buster Bruce Rauner, he is still on record supporting pension-cutting measures, like placing salary caps on pensions, raising the retirement age for teachers, and replacing the pension system entirely with 401K stock-market investment plan.

On social issues, he's Tea Party all the way, supporting concealed-carry gun laws and capital punishment and opposing marriage equality for gay couples. You name it.

OK, enough said about ALEC and Dillard, most of which is old news anyway. But yesterday, the IFT leadership followed the lead of the IEA in endorsing Dillard in the Republican primary and dropping lots of money ("six figures") into his campaign coffers. That alone should be shocking to IFT's own union members, who unlike the mainly suburban and rural IL teachers in the IEA, are nearly all urban democrats.

I wasn't shocked by the IFT's decision to back Dillard. I hate it but expected it and can even understand their rationale. It's basically the lessor-of-two-evils theory (on crack). After all, there are many compromises and tactical diversions that union leaders have to make, hopefully with the understanding and support of their rank-and-file members, especially if they truly believe that Rauner is qualitatively worse or more of a threat than Alec Dillard. I'm not so sure.

Montgomery applauds SB7, calls it a "model."
IFT President Dan Montgomery says the endorsement of Dillard "comes not only with significant resources, obviously, but the hearts and minds of our members who will work, have conversations with families and colleagues around the state to hopefully have Sen. Dillard be the winner in the Republican primary."

But even if you accept the Rauner-is-worse proposition, Montgomery goes way over the line in calling Dillard a "strong voice for teachers and retirees." 

That's not just about a lessor-of-two-evils tactical approach. It's a statement that is not only misleading and dishonest, but a sellout of everything teachers here and throughout the state of IL have been fighting for and against.

Shame on him.

Rahm and Rauner ride the same money train

There's a Republican Party in Chicago. It's called the Democratic Party.

Among it's top leaders are Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Republican candidate for governor, billionaire union buster, Bruce Rauner. Both are backed by the same wealthy corporate donors, especially those who are corporate school "reformers" and public school privatizers like Ken Griffin and Eric Lefkofsky —both on the 2013 Forbes list of billionaires. Members of Chicago’s Crown family, which has an estimated worth of $4 billion, also contributed to both campaigns. The Crown family also contributed to former Mayor Richard M. Daley. They have no problem with either's Democrat or GOP labels.

Remember, it was Griffin, J. Crown and Rauner himself who were among those who bankrolled the teacher union-busting group Stand For Children's incursion into Chicago.

Today's Sun-Times shows how both Rauner and Rahm ride the same corporate money train.
An analysis of campaign contributions since Emanuel ran for mayor and since Rauner launched his gubernatorial campaign shows an overlap of more than 100 campaign contributors...Chicago-based political consultant Don Rose said there’s another reason that goes back to an old idiom: “The common interest of which we speak is neither red nor blue but green.