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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Schools starve despite Michigan's billion-dollar surplus

T-Party Gov. Snyder says:"Let 'em eat cake."
Michigan is ending the year with an estimated $1.2 billion budget surplus. But T-Party Gov. Rick Snyder is sitting on the money rather than funding the state's cash-starved public schools and rehiring laid-off teachers.
Democrats and some Republicans want public schools to get a major share of any surplus. The State Board of Education has also called for a significant portion of any budget surplus to be invested in education. Public school funding was cut more than 2 percent in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. State aid to public universities was reduced by 15 percent. -- AP Wire
 Among the budget priorities set by the board: Financial relief to help districts cover pension costs; money to expand programs such as Advanced Placement and middle colleges, as well as more funding for professional development for educators, and a pool of funds to reward districts that are improving academically outcomes and/or their fiscal efficiency.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pearson under investigation in N.Y.

Pearson Foundation is the tax-exempt arm of the giant, British-owned textbook and test publisher. The New York Times reports today that the foundation is currently under investigation by the state's attorney general for trying to influence state education officials by paying for overseas trips and other perks and not even being cool about it.

NCLB and current corporate-style "reforms" have states paying millions of dollars annually to companies like Pearson to develop and administer the standardized tests required under the law, tests which are now being used widely to evaluate teacher performance. Pearson has also cashed in on a provision mandating tutoring for students as well as from the expansion of virtual learning programs. Pearson recently formed a partnership with the Gates Foundation to create online reading and math courses aligned with common core standards that some 40 states have adopted in recent months.

In New York, Pearson Education most recently won a five-year, $32 million contract to administer state tests, and it maintains a $1 million contract for testing services with the State Education Department, according to state records. The last contract was awarded after David M. Steiner, then the state education commissioner, attended a conference in London in June 2010 that was organized by the Council of Chief State School Officers and underwritten by the Pearson Foundation.
“Despite a history of scoring errors, contract manipulation and corporate misbehavior, there’s been almost no public oversight of companies such as Pearson,” said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for FairTest, an advocacy group opposed to standardized testing. “It’s great that New York’s attorney general has now decided to examine the examiners and begin holding them accountable.”
The real problem for Pearson is that the N.Y. state investigation could uncover revelations about the foundation's lobbying on the federal level as we head towards the 2012 elections. Pearson was one of the great beneficiaries from the federal stimulus package which saw some $6 billion go into book and materials. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Biden's brother, charter school con-man

Records show that the Mavericks in Education Florida charter schools, which have a high-profile lobbyist and cheerleader in Frank Biden, are not accredited high schools. This means their graduates may have trouble playing college sports or receiving federally funded grants or scholarships to college.  -- The Pulp

George Bush had his software swindler brother Neil who used his family connections and political clout to push his Ignite Company, which bilked schools in Texas and Florida out of millions of dollars. President Obama doesn't have a brother, but his V.P. Biden does. Frank Biden, it seems is cut from the same cloth as Neil Bush. Only instead of hustling software to schools that don't want or need it, Biden promotes his line of for-profit charter schools. He's president of Mavericks in Education Florida (what is it about Florida?) and has been working for the for-profit charter school outfit for several years. But his name did not appear on Mavericks’ state documents until December 5, 2011, after New Times’ Lisa Rab and others questioned the matter.

Now we know why. Biden is paid with taxpayer money. Yet, according to records, He owes the IRS $32,513.57 in unpaid income taxes for the years 2003 to 2005. The IRS reportedly began taking action in late 2007 and early 2008 against Biden, but the bill is still unpaid.

Now in an attempt to expand their charter school enterprise, despite low standards, non accreditation, and two lawsuits alleging the school does not offer legitimate diplomas, Biden and other Mavericks in Education members are accused of donating campaign funds to county school board members to buy their approval.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Can Chicago schools afford K12 Inc. exec salaries?

Reader J.C. (not Brizard) makes a good point. If Chicago mayor and school boss, Rahm Emanuel moves ahead with his plan to throw another large no-bid contract K12 Inc.'s way, a big chunk of that money will go towards covering boss Ron Packard's $5 million annual compensation package.

Not to mention other K12 exec salaries, including:
  • Chief financial officer Harry T. Hawks earned about $544,000 — significantly less than his 2010 package, which was worth $1.8 million.
  • George B. Hughes Jr., executive vice president of school services, received $717,000, down from $799,000 in 2010.
  • Bruce J. Davis, executive vice president of worldwide business development, earned $686,000. The company has high hopes for overseas expansion possibilities and recently bought part of a Chinese enterprise that teaches English online.
  • Chief marketing officer Celia M. Stokes earned $690,000. Stokes’s job goals included “developing branding strategies for our business units, improving marketing efficiency and developing our call center operations.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Marie Antoinette, Meet David Vitale

As soon as one speaker was removed by security guards, another stood up to take their place.
"Moral courage comes in many forms, but sometimes not at all. Faced with adversity last week, David Vitale retreated into executive session. Mr. Vitale is a banker who was picked by Rahm Emanuel to be president of the Chicago Board of Education. And as the Missile confidently presided over a cowed City Council on Wednesday, his schools emissary co-starred in melancholy political theater that gave insight into the mayor’s ultimate challenges."  -- "Marie Antoinette, I'd like you to meet David Vitale" by James Warren, CNC

Friday, December 16, 2011

Michigan passes horrible charter law

Rep. Rudy Hobbs
Michigan's new charter school law is among the worst in the nation. While lifting the cap on charters, SB 618 gives free rein to charter operators without any safeguards against mismanagement or controls on school quality.

The bill was passed, according to State Rep. Rudy Hobbs, D-Southfield, without a clear provision mandating  comprehensive student achievement data for each charter school operator. Writes Hobbs:
If a charter school operator wants to break its contract during the school year, which has occurred before in our state, they are free to still do so. And Senate Bill 618 was passed without any safeguard that charter school operators that manage an academy in the lowest 10% of schools statewide would be prohibited from opening up another charter until they fix the substandard school they already operate. -- Detroit Free Press

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

K-12 Inc. stock price plummets. Should we care?

Uh oh! The speculators are speculatin' and the short-sellers are short selling. K-12 Inc. stock is in free-fall and Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk (who denies holding any shares) sound downright panicky and hedgey. While he is not currently contracting with K-12, his Bellweather consulting company has done work with them in the past. The stock market is to edu-profiteers like Rotherham, what standardized test scores are to DOE bureaucrats and big-city mayors, indicators of their future employment and marketability.

The trouble began Monday when a New York Times story by Stephanie Saul, "Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools", called out K-12, not on its stock prices, but on how badly its "portfolio schools" like Agora Cyber Charter School are doing. 

Agora is one of the largest in a portfolio of similar public schools across the country run by K12. Eight other for-profit companies also run online public elementary and high schools, enrolling about 39,000 of the more than 200,000 full-time cyberpupils in the United States. The pupils work from their homes and often never even meet their teacher. There is no cafeteria, no gym and no playground. Teachers communicate with students by phone or in simulated classrooms on the Web. 

Problem is, nearly 60 percent of Agora's students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll. In other words, if K-12,Inc. was to be evaluated under NCLB or Race To The Top standards, they not only would be failing to make AYP, they would be marked for closure and replaced by -- well, er, umm, charter schools. "Kids mean money," writes Saul.
Agora is expecting income of $72 million this school year, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total anticipated revenues of K12, the biggest player in the online-school business. The second-largest, Connections Education, with revenues estimated at $190 million, was bought this year by the education and publishing giant Pearson for $400 million.
Articles like Saul's as well as a forthcoming study by researchers at Western Michigan University and theNational Education Policy Center, which will show that only a third of K12’s schools achieved adequate yearly progress, the measurement mandated by NCLB, don't exactly instill investor confidence. Neither does the potential these largely unregulated companies have for corruption and cheating. The need lots to customers to maintain profitability and it seem they're not above keeping students in the fold with some grades hanky-panky.
“What we’re talking about here is the financialization of public education,” said Alex Molnar, a research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education who is affiliated with the education policy center. “These folks are fundamentally trying to do to public education what the banks did with home mortgages.”
But those like Rotherham and former Gates Foundation honcho Tom VanderArk, who are among the main salesmen for cyber learning and who benefit directly from its marketability, will no doubt try and ride to the rescue.

Writes AR: 
"I’m not a stock analyst and I don’t invest in education stocks because of other work I do, but K12 Inc.’s stock dropping 23 percent yesterday on that NYT story seems like an overreaction. Sure there is an enthusiasm bubble around ed tech and online right now but K12 is established and has a diverse revenue stream and operations (think language programs with Middlebury, AP tools, etc…) and online learning is here to stay in some form."
Another rescuer may be Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who is getting ready to offer K12 another big contract. The Chicago Tribune reports that Rahm's hand-picked school board, "is considering awarding a share of a three-year, $1.9 million contract Wednesday to K-12 Virtual Schools LLC, a lucrative, publicly traded company that educators warn has a history of poor academic performance."

Arne Duncan, formerly the district's CEO, originally gave K-12 one of its first large no-bid contracts back in 2006. For those who don't remember, a year earlier former education secretary William Bennett, who founded the company in 1999, was forced to step down as board president after a series of racist remarks he made on the air and under the cloud of a GAO investigation. What he actually said, for those who missed it, was, " aborting black babies would result in a lower crime rate."

When Bennett was still with K-12, he let it be known that the company's curriculum had little respect for the dividing line between school and religion. In an online interview, Bennett explains:
We're centered in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we do not ignore faith and religion, we do not ignore the arguments against evolution, because there are some.
Such is the legacy of K-12 Inc. If it's stock price hits bottom, I don't mind.

Fastest growing occupations in the U.S. require no degree

'Zip-code apartheid' 
Edward Luce, writing in the Financial Times, reports on the changing face of the U.S. labor market. With the virtual decimation of our manufacturing sector and the flight of capital to emerging markets in the developing countries, a growing share of whatever jobs our economy is still managing to create is in the least productive areas -- the types that neither computers nor China have yet found a way of eliminating. 
 Of the five occupations forecast by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be the fastest growing between now and 2018, none requires a degree. These are registered nurses, “home health aides”, customer service representatives, food preparation workers and “personal home care aides”.
 "The food preparation industry cannot sustain a middle class,” says Dan DiMicco, chief executive of Nucor, one of America’s two remaining big steel companies, whose company motto is “a nation that builds and makes things”.

What does all this have to do with schooling in the Ownership Society? If you look at schooling mainly in the light of the U.S. trying to maintain or regain its position atop the global economy, things look bleak. Luce writes that U.S. education and training budgets have gone in the wrong direction in the past few years. State schools and vocational community colleges derive much of their funding from local property taxes. That model brings two big disadvantages. First, it means community colleges are victims of “zip code apartheid” – the lower the property values in an area, the less money there is to train the workforce or educate the children.
“Every American is going to have to get used to the idea of a completely different work style,” says Mr Camden, whose company farms out hundreds of thousands of temporary workers around the world, from lawyers to office assistants. “What you learnt in college five years ago may already be obsolete.”
Actually, what I learned, what we all should be learning  -- how to think critically -- will never be obsolete.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Brass-Knuckle Philanthropy

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is big—really, really big" writes Caroline Preston in the Dec. 7, 2011 Chronicle of Philanthropy. Preston says that Gates’s $3-billion in annual giving dwarfs that of other foundations and lends it a level of influence not achieved by its philanthropic peers—or, for that matter, some governments.

Edward Skloot, director of Duke University’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society, agreed that Gates deserves careful scrutiny because of its size. He said the philanthropy practices a tough, “brass-knuckle philanthropy.”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A good blog post on 'Billionaire Education Policy'

'The word 'policy' makes us think of politicians and bureaucrats. But what happens when powerful policy-makers aren’t elected or appointed? Today, billionaires are shaping education policy in the United States. Buying political influence—-even legally...' -- Robin Rogers
Rogers, is an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is the author of  “Why Philanthro-policymaking Matters” in The Politics of Philanthrocapitalism, Society 2011. In the first of two posts at the Education Optimists blog, Rogers writes about "Billionaire Education Policy," which is also the title of her forthcoming book.

Referring to Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million "gift" to Newark Public Schools, Rogers writes:
All over the country, variations of the New York and New Jersey story are playing out: Philanthropists give money to resource-starved school systems, and in return, they reserve the right to effectively set education policy. Consultants and for profit programs present a potential conflict of interest by creating cash cows. [Mayor] Booker‘s claim that he was acting as a private citizen—and the fact that Zuckerberg’s money was just a pledge, not a guarantee of funding—raises questions. What is private and what is public? Is anyone accountable for what happens to this money? Do we need more transparency for private donations?
Rogers says that while the Occupy Movement focused public attention on inequality and the concentration of wealth and power, we rarely talk about "elite, strategic philanthropy,"  She takes note of a recent New York Times piece, “Policy-Making Billionaires”, and cites lots of great references on this important topic, but overall, she's critical of the lack of coverage of the rise of co-ordinated and strategic philanthropy by the very wealthy.

Rogers might want to take a look at our 2008 book, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society, and particularly the chapter on what we call "power philanthropy." She might also look at Phillip Kovacs'  book, The Gates Foundation and the Future of US “Public” Schools as an important source.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bloomberg: 62 in a class is OK... for other people's children

The mayor's daughters went to Spence, where class size hovers between  10 and 15.

“Double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for students.”
-- Mayor Bloomberg
Mayor Bloomberg told an MIT crowd that if he were king, he would fire half the teachers and double class sizes. The mayor of Wall Street contends that larger class size is a no-brainer, that the research is "unambiguous." He can't understand all the fuss over his remarks, which he now claims were taken "out of context."

Michael Powell, writing in yesterday's NYT, says there's an “autumn of the patriarch” feel to Mayor Bloomberg these days. He paints a vivid picture of the devastation caused by his education policies, especially in the city's poorest neighborhoods.
Many schools, particularly those serving the poorest, remain fractured. The Daily News discovered that Grace Dodge High School in the Bronx had failed to provide 300 students with English teachers. At Taft High School in the Bronx, the dropout rate spiked to 70 percent from 25 percent in the four years before it closed in 2006.
There’s a "final oddity," writes Powell.
Among the so-called meritocratic elite, low teacher-to-child ratios are beloved. The mayor’s daughters went to Spence, where classes hover from 10 to 15. Trinity, Dalton, Riverdale, Horace Mann: All charge $35,000 or more per year, and classes rarely exceed 12 in the lower grades. These schools boast of teachers with advanced degrees. That’s true of Brooklyn Tech. Yet teachers at the latter feel like paper tossed into a receptacle.
The mayor is right in one sense. The research on class size, where it exists, is "unambiguous." The preponderance showing the benefits to elementary school students of smaller class size, regardless of the quality of the teacher. Every major study (see Class Size Matters which provides a great clearinghouse for class size research) shows that smaller is better. 

Teaching children is much more than delivering information in a lecture hall setting. If Bloomberg had ever taught he would know this. Ironically, he does know it but only when it comes to the schooling of his own kids. A comparison could easily be made with Chicago's own ownership society mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who claims there's unambiguous benefits of a longer school day with more seat time for the city's poorest children, but then sends his own kids to a private school with shorter school days and school year. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gates bankrolls ALEC right-wing extremists

Founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other conservative activists and currently bankrolled by the Koch Bros., the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics. The Gates Foundation has just bestowed a $376,635 grant upon ALEC.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Stand For Children

Edelman's unsolicited confession

A Chicago News Cooperative story in today's NY Times, "Education Group Tries to Rebound After Diatribe," documents the crash-and-burn of the corporate reform group, Stand For Children and its national director, Jonah Edelman. The Portland-based group with pockets filled with cash supplied by the Gates Foundation and local one-percenters like the Crown and Pritzker families, along with the Citadel Group’s founder, Kenneth Griffin, made their move on Illinois laste year.

In a video, Edelman later admitted self-critically, how SFC poured millions into the campaign coffers of local politicians like State Sen. Kimberly Lightford in exchange for their backing of anti-union legislation which Arne Duncan hailed as a "national model. Edelman also revealed how SFC pressured teacher union leaders who went along with the plan at the expense of their own members, and how he fabricated talking points on the longer school day, which he and his billionaire patron, Jim Crown, then fed Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

According to the NYT story, the group has now hit bottom and can't seem to raise a penny in this year's election cycle. The state chapter of SFC has now installed Mary Anderson, a crony of machine boss Michael Madigan as its new director to take charge of the $3 million remaining from last year's fund-raising efforts. Madigan also came off looking like a tool in the Edelman confession.

A still-willing Lightford, vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she met with Anderson recently to discuss how they could work together to carry out the new education legislation. Lightford's only problem with Edelman was his honesty and transparency.
“For him to come to Illinois, and not understanding the politics, to suggest these things and expose private conversations was very immature of him.”
The good news is that Edelman's boasting and apologia seems to have discredited SFC and its tactics as well as the corporate reformers and easily buy-able politicians like Lightford who did their dirty work. In the long run, this may make it more difficult for them to run their game in Illinois and other states.

What is the Mayor of Wall Street smoking?

He looked like he was from another planet when he dressed as a hippie for a political show, but the mayor’s blueprint for fixing city schools have some asking “what was he smoking?” -- CBS News

In a speech at MIT, Bloomberg said Thursday he would accomplish more with less by slashing the teaching staff in half and doubling class sizes.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Michigan's 'nonpartisan' union busters caught in scandal

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, calls itself a "nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to improving the quality of life." But recently this far-right, free-market think tank has been exposed for its shady, very partisan, and possibly illegal lobbying of state politicians, aimed at nothing less than breaking the back of the state's teachers union and outlawing collective-bargaining in the state of Michigan.

According to Dave Murraywriting in the Grand Rapids Free Press, the Mackinac Center's true purposes were revealed in secret email communications with state lawmakers, including one from Mackinac's Jack McHugh to stateRep. Thomas McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, the newly appointed head of the House Education Committee. In his June 1 email, letting McMillin know exactly what was expected of him, McHugh wrote: 
“Our goal is (to) outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan, which in practical terms means no more MEA.”
McMillin, described as a "vocal school choice and reform advocate," was named head of the Education Committee after former chairman, Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, was recalled by angry voters earlier this month. Before being recalled Scott had become the darling of Michelle Rhee and Michigan's T-Party Gov. Rick Snyder, after leading the charge against teachers' collective bargaining rights and raids on their pension fund. Rhee's front group, Students First donated heavily to help Scott avoid a recall effort.

Doug Pratt, the MEA’s public affairs director, said the comment reveals the Mackinac Center’s conservative, anti-union leanings that he believes are often cloaked behind glossy publications.
“It’s right there in black and white, exposing the group for what it really is,” Pratt said. “That proves that the Mackinac Center is nothing but a front for corporate special interests intent on destroying the middle class.”
When Murray's story broke, McMillin, obviously trying to avoid Scott's fate, immediately tried to distance himself from Mackinac, claiming that McHugh's emails “don’t represent my views.”

For more on the Mackinac Center see Fred Klonsky's blog and the MEA's website.
Cross posted on my Small Talk blog. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

For-profit teacher certification is booming

This, according to a Nov. 26 New York Times report.

As you might expect, Texas leads the way in for-profit teacher certifications. More than 110 alternative certification programs — including iteachTexas, and nonprofits like Teach for America — produce 40 percent of all new teachers in Texas, according to an analysis of Texas Education Agency data by Ed Fuller, a Penn State University education professor and former University of Texas researcher.

For-profit programs dominate that market: in each year since 2007, the two largest companies, A+ Texas Teachers and iteachTexas, have produced far more teachers than any other traditional or alternative program. While virtually all paths to the classroom have seen declines since 2003, according to Mr. Fuller’s analysis, for-profit alternative certification programs have grown by 23 percent. 

Power philanthropy: 'Influence peddling writ large'

Political reporter Nicholas Confessore has an important piece in today's Times, "Policy Making Billionaires" which reveals the disproportional power over public policy and institutions held by and handful of the world's richest men.
“It’s sort of influence-peddling writ large,” said Richard L. Brodsky, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning research organization Demos and a former New York State assemblyman. “The notion that the society is better served by the super-rich exercising their charitable instincts is in the end anti-democratic.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

'Virtual' schools

The Nation reports:
If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida. It was one of the first states to undertake a program of “virtual schools”—charters operated online, with teachers instructing students over the Internet—as well as one of the first to use vouchers to channel taxpayer money to charter schools run by for-profits.

From Idaho to Indiana to Florida, recently passed laws will radically reshape the face of education in America, shifting the responsibility of teaching generations of Americans to online education businesses, many of which have poor or nonexistent track records. -- Lee Fang, How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bradley Foundation: Sugar daddy for racism and right-wing school reform

Mike De Sisti

From its headquarters at 1241 N. Franklin Place on Milwaukee's lower east side, the low-profile Bradley Foundation gives away millions of dollars every year, acting like a venture capital fund for conservative ideas.

Yesterday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel carries a feature on the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.The Bradleys were the main source of support for Gov. Walker's assault on Wisconsin's teachers and public employee unions. Indiana's T-Party Gov. Mitch Daniels sat on Bradley's board of directors. His teacher-bashing, anti-union school "reform" initiative was recently embraced by Ed Sec. Arne Duncan. 

Click pic to enlarge
They also provided support for the Milwaukee school voucher program and its main proponent in the African-American community, Howard Fuller and his Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) . They funded Charles Murray, author of racist book, "The Bell Curve," which argues that intelligence is predicated on race, and Dinesh D'Souza, author of "The End of Racism," which attempts to absolve Whites from discrimination against Blacks during slavery, claiming that Blacks were too uncivilized to be a part of society anyway.
With more than $600 million in assets, the Bradley Foundation provides a cornerstone for the conservative movement in Wisconsin and across America. It has been the financial backer behind public policy experiments that started in the state and spread across the nation - including welfare reform, public vouchers for private schools and, this year, cutbacks in public employee benefits and collective bargaining. Yet outside conservative circles, the foundation has kept a low profile. It receives a fraction of the attention given the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch and the Scaife family. 
But the Bradley Foundation is in a different league: From 2001 to 2009, it doled out nearly as much money as the seven Koch and Scaife foundations combined. -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Charter schools: public in form but private in essence

 "With these charter schools, people are trying to say, ‘I want a custom-tailored education for my children, and I want you, as my neighbor, to pay for it.’ ” -- Matthew Stewart, resident of upscale Millburn, N.J. 
There was no question about the early charter schools being public. An outgrowth of the small schools movement, these schools, usually a small number within urban school districts, were started and run by teachers who were all members of the local teachers union. The idea was to empower collaborative groups of teachers with innovative ideas about classroom practices that might produce better results for students than those found in bureaucratically governed traditional schools. It was hoped that these ideas and practices, if successful, could be shared with other schools in the district.

In other words, early charter schools were envisioned as a critical force for change within schools systems which were otherwise averse to change. But within a few years, the charter idea was hijacked by corporate reformers who saw in them the possibility of operating public schools based more on market principles and eliminating all collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public school employees. Charter schools were reorganized as part of independent and self-interested lobbying associations run with heavy funding from private, often politically conservative business-style reformers as well as private powerful foundations like Gates, Walton, and the New Schools Venture Fund or Chicago's Renaissance Schools Fund. 

Rather than being empowered, charter school teachers have become subject to the will and whims of boards of directors and stripped of their rights to make important decisions about how their students should be taught. According to a Univ. of California study, teacher attrition rates in charter schools have skyrocketed. Teachers now often face discriminatory practices in hiring and firing and charters have become notorious for their systematic exclusion of children with special needs and English-language learners. And as one might expect, none of this has made charters, on average, any more productive or successful by most measures.

Charters, in my opinion  are now both public and private. They are largely publicly funded. Established by public bodies. They can also have their charter taken away for non-performance, financial mismanagement, etc...
But they are also private in the sense that they are also funded privately in ways that shift power into the hands of private boards and power philanthropists. The are now commonly controlled by these corporate-style boards made up of representatives of private corporations or individuals, and management is often sub-contracted out to private (for-profit) management companies or CMOs, which operate without the counterweight of unions or collective bargaining agreements. This means that they are not necessarily bound by the rules of state labor relations board or rules governing the rights of teachers as public employees. Because teacher pay checks are often signed by private management companies, it is claimed, even by charter operators themselves,  that charters are private companies. Even in the sense that they are public, they are certainly not democratic.

Then there is the question of who they serve? Up until now, charter schools were almost entirely limited to inner-city neighborhoods, often being used as magnets as part of urban gentrification strategies by the banks and real estate interests. But recently, wealthier communities have adopted the charter model as a way of creating small schools with many of the features of elite, private prep schools, exclusively for their own children, but built and operated with public funding. Now, one out of five of the country’s 5,200 charter schools is in a suburb, including affluent communities like Los Altos, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

An L.A. Times story appeared recently, describing the move by some CMOs to market "boutique charters" in upscale communities like the town of Millburn, N.J.  or in Montgomery County, Md., north of Washington, D.C.

Bloomberg New reports that in Silicon Valley, an elementary school accepts one in six kindergarten applicants, offers Chinese and asks families to donate $5,000 per child each year. 
Bullis isn’t a high-end private school. It’s a taxpayer- funded, privately run public school, part of the charter-school movement that educates 1.8 million U.S. children. While charters are heralded for offering underprivileged kids an alternative to failing U.S. districts, Bullis gives an admissions edge to residents of parts of Los Altos Hills, where the median home is worth $1 million and household income is $219,000, four times the state average.
In summary, today's charters could be described as public-in-form, private-in-essence. Or essentially private.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Zuckerberg's money is being spent

According to this story in the Newark Star-Ledger, records obtained by the Education Law Center in Newark show that of the first $13 million spent out of the total $148 million donated, about a third has been been spent since September 2010 to pay political and educational consultants and contractors.

There's plenty to go around, especially if you're friends with Mayor Booker or Ed Commissioner Chris Cerf. The pass-through is called the Foundation for Newark's Future. Here's who's on the board (don't laugh).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More on Imagine charters, Inc.

This from WaPo's Valerie Strauss:
Essentially, Imagine sells its buildings to a company that leases them back to Imagine, which pays extremely high rent with public dollars. The paper reported that Imagine’s 2010 annual report shows that revenue grew to $265 million that year from $95 million in 2006. Furthermore, students in Imagine schools in St. Louis performed worse this year on standardized tests than practically any other school in the city. Now, Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro is urging Missouri Baptist University to close the six Imagine charters that it sponsors.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Are union-bashing charter reformers sobering up?

NYT's Joe Nocera ("Teaching With the Enemy") says Steven Brill was shocked when AFT prez Randi Weingarten held a book party for him at her home. To tell you the truth, I was too. But the real story Nocera tells is about Brill's own attitude adjustment while researching his virulent union-bashing book, ultimately leading him to make a u-turn and actually nominate Weingarten to become Mayor Bloomberg's next schools chancellor.

As most reviews have noted, however, as “Class Warfare” nears its conclusion, it suddenly veers in a different direction. Instead of bashing the union and Weingarten, Brill suggests that true reform is impossible without them. In fact, he proposes that Mayor Michael Bloomberg appoint her to be the chancellor of the New York City school system.When I asked Brill what caused his change of heart, he responded gruffly: “It’s called reporting.” The two years he spent researching school reform had given him a far richer understanding of the complexities involved in reforming the nation’s schools — and that understanding was sobering. 
Sobering, ah yes. That explains everything. 

Nocera himself seems at times to be incredibly naive and starry-eyed about charters schools, somehow imbibing  them as a class of schools where magical teaching and learning always takes place and spouting the usual cliches about unions being out to protect bad teachers.

But in the end, he too jumps on Brill's wagon and declares, "you simply cannot fix America’s schools by “scaling” charter schools. It won’t work."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Imagine, Inc.: Operating horrible charter schools for fun and profit

St. Louis charter school building has been sold and resold for 10 times original price.

Skeptical educators often ask me how it is possible to make a profit from operating a charter school. Here's one way.
Imagine Schools Inc., the nation's largest charter school operator, runs six charter schools in St. Louis. Together, their performance on state standardized exams is worse than any school district in Missouri. Nevertheless, those schools are generating millions of dollars for Imagine and a Kansas City-based real estate investment company through real estate arrangements ultimately supported with public education money. -- Post-Dispatch

Corporate "reformers" are buying local school board elections

Progressive candidate Emily Sirota (at left) lost the election to Anne Rowe who was financed by corporate front groups. 
A pivotal campaign in Denver

It's long been an accepted fact, even by the least cynical amongst us, that national elections are the playgrounds of the rich. Especially with recent court rulings that "corporations are people," corporate interests, secretly and openly, have flexed their muscles by backing pro-corporate, anti-union candidates and lobbying against environmental and other market regulations. But who would have dreamed that these same forces, operating with virtually unlimited funds at their disposal, would begin targeting local school board races?
Mike Elk at In These Times reports that increasingly, large donations from wealthy individuals and corporations are pouring into schools board races around the country to enact an agenda that attacks collective bargaining rights of teachers unions and increases the privatization of public education through charter schools and vouchers. Increasingly, it appears that outside corporate groups are becoming involved in school board races across the country from Illinois to Louisiana to Denver. Denver was their most recent target with their front group Alliance for Choice in Education serving as their conduit.

The fingerprints of national corporate organizations coordinating the money from companieslike Wal-Mart are all over the Denver School Board Race, writes Elk.
A corporate reform group called A+ Denver hired a prominent supporter of school vouchers named Van Schoales to be its executive director. Schoales previously worked for the national privatization reform group called Education Reform Now, which pushes vouchers and which is funded, in part, by Rupert Murdoch and was run by Murdoch’s top aide former NYC School Board Chancellor Joel Klein. In addition, the slate of pro-reform candidates has also been endorsed by the national organization Democrats for Education Reform (DEFR). “DFER’s endgame has little to do with learning and everything to do with marginalizing public-sector unionized workers and bringing down the cost of taxes for social programs.” 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rhee has become the darling of the far-right

Paul Scott, left, and Michelle Rhee.

Michelle Rhee rose to prominence during her days as D.C. school chancellor, with a big boost from the power philanthropists. Her tough accountability policies, mass firings of teachers and union bashing drew praise from the Democratic Party establishment, including Arne Duncan and Rhee's mentor, then N.Y. chancellor, Joel Klein. Once Rhee got run out of town by D.C. voters, her liberal Democratic facade was dropped. Like Klein, who went to work for the world's most notorious reactionary Rupert Murdoch, Rhee has become the face of right-wing education "reform" nationally.

Rhee has most recently been supporting a far-right Michigan politician, Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc) in his struggle to avoid being recalled next month. Scott, an anti-gay crusader and opponent of legal abortion, is also a vocal support of Gov. Rick Snyder who is cutting badly needed funding for public education from his budget.

The Flint Journal reports that Rhee's group Student First, has already committed $73,000 to help Scott. Students First has already poured nearly $1 million into the campaign to take away teacher tenure and weaken teachers' collective-bargain rights. Scott was instrumental in shaping anti-union legislation.

Rhee's support for this Tea Party politician implies that her supposedly non-partisan group is also backing Snyder’s economic and education policies, which have lead to significant reductions in the state’s K-12 school aid. Included among the budget that Snyder signed earlier this year was a whopping $300 million aid reduction to schools statewide. Additionally, there was a $100 million cut to aid to cities, which also serves to negatively impact schools.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Big money to be made in the teacher evaluation biz

Education reforms translate into big money for private groups writes Sarah Garland in the Oct. 24th American Prospect. Following the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, states paid millions of dollars annually to companies to develop and administer the standardized tests required under the law. Companies also cashed in on a provision mandating tutoring for students at struggling schools. Now, a movement to overhaul the teaching profession is creating a new source of revenue for those in the business of education.
Among those cashing in on teacher evaluation, according to Garland,  are: 
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
  • American Institutes for Research 
  • The New Teacher Project (TNTP)
  • National Institute for Excellence in Teaching
  • Mathematica
  • Pearson
  • Learning Sciences International
“There simply is not as much [money] to be made from professional development, or system design, as there is in testing students,” Charlotte Danielson, a researcher who developed a well-regarded teacher observation method that has been adopted by districts around the country, said in an email.
“There are real dangers,” said Monty Neill, director of FairTest, a group critical of standardized testing. “While observations make good sense, if you start bringing in outside people…you’re more likely to end up with arbitrary and capricious decisions from which someone makes money.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Murdoch's horrifying vision of public education

Rupert Murdoch (r) shakes hands with former New York City schools chief and now News Corp. employee Joel Klein during Murdoch’s keynote address at the National Summit on Education Reform. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Julianne Hing writes for Colorlines:
Banish the image of a classic American classroom from your mind—chalkboard, desks and all. The future of education has arrived, and next-era classrooms look like, well, call centers: students seated at individual corrals, some with headphones on, being taught and drilled on quadratic equations while a teacher monitors their progress from behind her own computer. With such individualized learning, students can absorb and master subjects “tailored to their pace and needs.” 
That was the picture painted by billionaire businessman Rupert Murdoch when he spoke last week at a two-day conference in San Francisco hosted by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education reform outfit. Murdoch’s News Corp. has been quietly developing virtual-learning and technology-driven products for K through 12 schools, and with his address Murdoch made his first large public splash into an arena he’s valued at $500 billion. For entrepreneurs big and small, American public school reform has become a prime business opportunity.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gates: We know more about teaching than educators do

Bill & Melinda Gates tell schools to operate like a business. They claim that they know more about how to teach than do teachers themselves.
It may surprise you—it was certainly surprising to us—but the field of education doesn't know very much at all about effective teaching. We have all known terrific teachers. You watch them at work for 10 minutes and you can tell how thoroughly they've mastered the craft. But nobody has been able to identify what, precisely, makes them so outstanding. This ignorance has serious ramifications. -- Wall Street Journal
This raises the question, however. What can educators learn from the Gates business model? Here's what the late Steve Jobs learned:
“Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.” -- Forthcoming biography

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Baton Rouge billionaire Grigsby wants to take the "public" out of education

Right-wing Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby has decided that public education is the "root cause" of all the state's problems -- even "the traffic that strangles the interstate around Baton Rouge during the weekday commute."

So while he opposes "throwing any more money" into public education,  he's created his own PAC so he can put millions of tax-free dollars behind conservative, anti-union candidates for the state school board.

He says he's focused on injecting "free-market principles" into what was once a "state monopoly" over public education. 
Grigsby refers to his favored candidates for the school board as "progressives," but in outlook, he's a classic conservative: a construction industry entrepreneur, a long-time supporter of Republican causes and a crusader against government waste who wears his religious faith on his sleeve. In the lobby of his office on Airline Highway, the 21 pieces of wild game he bagged on a spring trip to South Africa line the staircase.-- Times Picayune
State filings show Grigsby's Alliance for Better Classrooms, or ABC, political action committee, raised more than $250,000 between Sept. 13 and Oct. 11. Two days later, his wife, Barbara Grigsby, threw in another $100,000. Among the candidates receiving Grigsby money is Teach For America's Kira Orange Jones.  No surprise there.

Also see: 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why is Murdoch speaking at an "education summit" in the first place?

Teachers want to know

Teachers in the San Francisco Bay area picketed Thursday outside an education conference that features News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch as a keynote speaker, saying they believe he and other business leaders are out to profit from the so-called "reforms" discussed at the summit.

More than 100 demonstrators marched outside the Palace Hotel, which was hosting Jeb Bush's National Summit on Education Reform. The protesters, joined by activists from the Occupy Wall Street movement, chanted, banged drums and held signs with pictures of Murdoch and slogans such as "Hey Murdoch! Our Schools are Not For Profit."
"Corporations own all the media in the world. Why should they not own all the education as well?" activist Joe Hill yelled sarcastically.
Last year, News Corp. acquired Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company that sells software and services to K-12 schools with the help of former N.Y.C. schools chancellor, Joel Klein. In August, New York's comptroller rejected a $27 million contract with the educational technology company because of the phone-hacking scandal involving News Corp.'s British newspapers.

Foundation for Excellence in Education is chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and champions school vouchers, privately-operated charter schools and performance pay for teachers.  Speakers expected during this year's conference include Melinda Gates and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Bush.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Geoffrey Canada asks for leniency for convicted Wall St. crook

Another hedge-funder is going to prison for insider trading. Only this time, the imprisonment of convicted Wall Street crook Raj Rajaratnam could be costly to some corporate school reforms and charter school privateers.

Rajaratnam, 54-year-old founder of the Galleon Group hedge fund was sentenced to 11 years in a North Carolina federal prison where he could wind up as Bernie Madoff's cell mate. He was also fined $10 million and ordered to forfeit $53.8 million in what the judge said were illicit profits from trading on confidential corporate information.

But one of the biggest losers is the deal will be charter operator and star of Waiting For Superman, Geoffrey Canada, president and chief executive of the Harlem Children’s Zone. The New York Times reports that, Wall Street has been particularly fond of supporting his cause, which helps administer a range of social and educational services to families within a 100-block area of Harlem. And that is precisely why defense lawyers for Mr. Rajaratnam asked him to testify on behalf of their client, which he did. According to the Times, "Mr. Rajaratnam has been pretty generous to Mr. Canada’s charities."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pearson and the Texas Public School Profiteers

Text books, testing and virtual learning

Abby Rapoport writes about textbook giant, Pearson,  in the Sept. 6 issue of the Texas Observer.

Pearson, one of the giants of the for-profit industry that looms over public education, produces just about every product a student, teacher or school administrator in Texas might need. From textbooks to data management, professional development programs to testing systems, Pearson has it all—and all of it has a price. For statewide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams...

...Public education has always offered big contracts to for-profit companies in areas like construction and textbooks. But in the past two decades, an education-reform movement has swept the country, pushing for more standardized testing and accountability and for more alternatives to the traditional classroom—most of it supplied by private companies. The movement has been supported by business communities and non-profits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and often takes a free market approach to public education. Reformers litter their arguments about education policy with corporate rhetoric and business-school buzzwords. They talk of the need for “efficiency,” “innovation” and “assessment” in the classroom.

Littering the state with ineffective, profit-minded operators

Michigan leads nation in the percentage of charter schools run by for-profit companies
A legislative proposal to lift the state cap on charter schools would provide parents unprecedented options for K-12 education, but some critics fear it would litter the state with ineffective, profit-minded operators. The legislation, part of a sweeping package wending its way through the Legislature, would make Michigan among the least restrictive states. Other states have lifted caps in recent years as they competed for U.S. education grants. -- Detroit Free Press

Friday, October 7, 2011

Views from right field

Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher surprised a business group in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday when he said: "I am somewhat sympathetic [to the Occupy movement] -- that will shock you.

The Fed played a key role in one of the protest targets, the 2008 Wall Street bailout that critics say let banks enjoy huge profits while average Americans suffered high unemployment and job insecurity.

"We have too many people out of work," Fisher said. "We have a very uneven distribution of income. ... We have a very frustrated people, and I can understand their frustration."

Republicans claim that Obama is "inciting the mobs" by sympathizing with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. 
Republican Sen. Rand Paul joined in the attack on the White House, calling Obama’s comments “inflammatory,” and saying the protesters reminded him of the Paris mob during the French Revolution.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Obama: Wall Street protests show a "broad-based frustration"

President Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images/ 10/6/2011
President Obama said Thursday that the Occupy Wall Street protests show a "broad-based frustration" among Americans about how the U.S. financial system works.
"I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country ... and yet you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this in the first place."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Shining a new light on Daley's After School Matters

It looks like they're finally going after Daley's cash-cow after-school program which was used as back entrance to the old City Hall patronage system. According to this morning's Sun-Times:
After School Matters, the charity founded by Chicago’s former first lady Maggie Daley to occupy and educate teenagers, received $915,000 in contributions over a ten-year period from companies that got subsidies from the city, the city’s inspector general concluded Tuesday. (Read the report here.)  
I don't know why this story is just breaking. Back in 2006, I blogged about Gov. Blago's funneling of state education funds to politically-favored programs, like the dollar-bloated after-school program/political patronage bucket run by Maggie Daley. For example, just about any trucking company that wanted city business had to write a check to ASM. While it funded some worthwhile programs in the schools, it was also a clever way around the Shakman Decree which supposedly banned pay-for play. 

Interestingly, among those serving on the board of ASM were current mayor, Rahm Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule  (oops, sorry Rahm. I forgot, weren't supposed to mention family members).

I suppose this is the price we pay for mayoral control of our schools. When public education becomes an appendage of City Hall, schools and their programs become part and parcel of Chicago machine politics and the mayor's patronage system. It goes with the territory.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Teachers join Wall Street occupation

On Sunday, a group of New York public school teachers sat in the plaza, including Denise Martinez of Brooklyn. Most students at her school live at or below the poverty level, and her classes are jammed with up to about 50 students.
“These are America’s future workers, and what’s trickling down to them are the problems — the unemployment, the crime,” she said. She blamed Wall Street for causing the country’s financial problems and said it needed to do more to solve them. --Washington Post