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

Friday, August 31, 2012

McKinsey guy picked as new deputy supt. for Philly schools

Paul Kihn, now a consultant with the firm McKinsey & Co.'s education practice, will begin work in the district by Oct. 1, when new Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. starts. Hite confirmed the appointment Thursday night. Kihn will be paid $210,000. With McKinsey, he has worked with clients including "federal, state, and local public education systems in the U.S. and abroad, as well as charter management organizations and private foundations supporting educational reform efforts," according to the company's website.  -- Philly.Com

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The right-wing school privatization movement tries to change its image

In June 1995, the economist Milton Friedman wrote an article for the Washington Post promoting the use of public education funds for private schools as a way to transfer the nation’s public school systems to the private sector. "Vouchers," he wrote, "are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system." 
Rachel Tabachnick, a researcher and writer on issues pertaining to the Religious Right, has put together a comprehensive analysis of the current school privatization movement, "The Right's "School Choice" Scheme" on  It begins with Milton Friedman's 1995 treatise, "Public Schools: Make Them Private," and continues with the right's attempt to re-frame it's attack on public education as a civil-rights reform.

According to Tabachnick, voucher supporters recognized the need to reinvent the movement by obscuring its white, conservative support base and cultivating the support of Latino and African-American leaders as the face of the movement.
These leaders have valid complaints about inequality in public education and the failure of public schools to provide quality education to low income Black and Latino children. Having their parents support vouchers--and charters--in the name of improving education is a potent political force.
The most prominent among these leaders is Howard Fuller, the former Black Nationalist who brought vouchers to the Milwaukee school system when he led it in the early 1990s. In August 2000, he launched the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).  Its major funders included John Walton and the Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation, based in Milwaukee, which also funded Fuller’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, founded in 1995.
These funders, as People for the American Way commented in an extensive report on the group, are "better known for supporting education privatization and affirmative action rollbacks than empowerment of the African-American community or low-income families."   
The conservatives had found their standard bearer.

"I'm the evil billionaire Koch brother," he quipped. "You're not afraid of me?" [Updated]

David Koch 
"He wore a navy suit, red-and-blue checkered tie, and a couple of fancy-looking convention passes sure to open doors that we reporters couldn't dream of entering." -- Mother Jones reporter 
Mr. Koch spent a few minutes taking questions from reporters. “We’re in this for the long haul,” Mr. Koch said, regardless of whether Mitt Romney wins or loses in November. Asked whether there was too much money in politics, Mr. Koch, who with his brother donates almost exclusively to political organizations that do not disclose their donors, would have none of it.
“It’s a free society,” Mr. Koch said. “People can invest what they want.” -- NYT

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Duncan's darling Rhee shows up at GOP convention

Duncan campaigned for Rhee and Fenty in 2010.
Arne Duncan has long been one of Michelle Rhee's ardent fans. Violating all DOE protocols, Duncan went out on the stump for her and former D.C. mayor Fenty two years ago even at the risk of offending the district's African-American voters (they can't vote in the presidential election).

So what did Obama and the Dems get in return for their unflagging support of Rhee? Her first stop after getting booted out of the district was Florida, where she became Tea Party guv Rick Scott's top ed advisor.

Now the new darling of ALEC and the right-wing union union busters has shown up at the GOP Convention in Tampa to tout “Won’t Back Down,” a film produced by gay-hating conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz. Rhee's job is to connect the film with the corporate reform fraud know as the parent trigger.

The film was shown at the convention at an event sponsored by Rhee’s advocacy organization, StudentsFirst, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Referring to the film's negative portrayal of teacher unions, Rhee's fellow panelist Bush commented: 
"What I love about the film is it puts a human face on nerdy policy," said Bush, the former governor of Florida.“This is the one little Switzerland where the left and the right can agree.”
As NYT's Michael Winerip reported back in February, Duncan continues to pal around with Rhee even while his own Office of the Inspector General  has been investigating whether Washington school officials cheated to raise test scores during Ms. Rhee’s tenure.

I'm not sure who Bush means by "the left" unless it's faux-Democrat Duncan who is now being mentioned along with Rhee as possible Romney choices for a cabinet post. 

In a close November race, Arne Duncan could well become a major obstacle to Obama's re-election because of negative impact on the nation's 5 million teachers, many of whom see current administration education policies as being no different or even worse than the Republican's.

Obama would do well to dump him now or at least announce his post-election replacement.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"The creep of the marketplace"

Larry Cuban was superintendent in Arlington schools for seven years, a former high school social studies teacher for 14 years and professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, where he has taught for more than 20 years. Here his take on changes in market influences since his days in VA schools.
My experiences in Arlington with businesses, while revealing tensions and occasional conflict, have been bland compared to current back-and-forth criticism among policymakers and practitioners about “corporate reformers” and “privatization of public schools.” What is more disturbing, however, as I look back at my experiences as a teacher, administrator, and professor, is the gradual creep of marketplace values into schooling that go far deeper than charter schools, Teach for America, KIPP, and use of student test scores as the bottom line of schooling. --  Read Cuban's entire post on Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Charter school mythology -- Part I, The myth of authentic choice

By Mike Klonsky

This is the first part of a two-part series of posts on Charter school mythology.
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." -- Anatole France
Current conceptions of school choice were originally conceived by free-market, neo-liberal ideologues like the University of Chicago's Milton Friedman. In his 1955 article "The Role of Government in Education" Friedman first proposed a system of publicly operated schools with privately run but publicly funded schools, using payment vouchers issued to parents/consumers.

Corporate school reformers have taken up Friedman's choice banner and succeeded in framing their charter school narrative as a matter of choice vs. containment. Some  go so far as to equate public education with slavery, posing "choice", i.e.,  meaning charters and vouchers, as "the underground railway" carrying students to the "freedom" of privately-run schools. Charter school management companies are offered as modern-day Harriet Tubmans. Supporters of privately-run charters, like Joel Klein, Newt Gingrich and Arne Duncan, also frame the issue of choice as the "civil rights issue of our generation."

The notion of government and public education as being an non-competitive "monopoly," put forth by business groups like the Chicago Civic Committee, is a false and misleading one.  Competition and consumer choice have their place. Already derfunded urban public schools have to compete with private, parochial and wealthy suburban districts for students, teachers and funding. But a democratic solution to the problems and challenges confronting public education is not offered by another layer of market-driven choice.

More recently, choice advocates have drummed up the so-called parent trigger, a plan that gives 50 percent of parents in a school during any one school year the power to turn that school over to a private operator. This divisive plan is being pushed hard by conservative, anti-union groups like ALEC as well as by some more liberal-leaning groups like the  U.S. Conference of Mayors as a victory for school choice. In fact, the parent trigger is just another market-driven maneuver to dis-empower teachers and bust their unions, which are portrayed as enemies of choice. In no case have parent trigger initiatives led to any measurable improvement in schools.

This framing has been rendered skillfully, and promoted through the use of major studio films including Waiting For Superman and We Won't Back Down, both bankrolled by right-wing billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Authentic individual and family choice is an important component of good and fair public education, especially when it implies an enriched curriculum filled with varied options based on students interests, potential career pathways, and different routes to successful learning. But there are different kinds of choice, just as there are different kinds of reform. The one posed by charter and voucher proponents is generally a limited kind of consumer choice, viewing public education sinply as a personal shopping mall offering parents and students options like smooth and chunky. Authentic models of  choice have more to do with democratic social ownership, participation and decision making.

In that sense, privately-run charters aren't really public schools at all, but rather, private entities run with public funds. Teachers and other public employees can be fired at will, without due process,  and have no voice or choice, except to try and find jobs elsewhere. Teachers have little say over curriculum, assessment, work environment, or other essential matters.They have no collective bargaining rights and serve only at the whim or will of appointed charter boards and the administrator. Experienced teachers are being forced out of their jobs by austerity measures as charter schools are flooded with Teach for America (TFA) recruits. With the loss of over 300,000 public school teaching positions in the last two years, the competitive pressure upon teachers to find new jobs is severe.

Students have few if any real choices since the school generally chooses them,  rather than them choosing the school. Privately-run charters have become notorious for excluding students with disabilities and special needs, English-language learners and students with behavioral problems. KIPP charters,  for example, have become notorious for their extremely hig student attrition rates. Parents in charters are often forced to contribute funds for textbooks, after-school activities, and even to pay fines for petty rules violations. At one Chicago charter network, these fines amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars taken  from needy families.

Originally, charter schools were envisioned by their founders and supportera as agents of real democratic choice. Rather than competing with traditional schools for funding and high-scoring students, the early charters, many founded and led by teachers, were seen as a small but critical force within the public school system -- an incubator for experimentation, innovation, and new options for students. Rather than being market-driven and anti-union, early charters were staffed with union teachers and backed by many union leaders, including AFT President Albert Shanker. But Shanker's charter school vision included the maxim that they “would not be a school where all the advantaged kids or all the white kids or any other group is segregated.”

A 2010 study by researchers at University of Colorado-Boulder and Western Michigan University found that most charter schools were “divided into either very segregative high-income schools or very segregative low-income schools” compared to their sending districts, and that the pattern had changed little between 2000-01 and 2006-07. They also tended to enroll a lower proportion of special education students and English-language learners. Again we see this distorted version of school choice.

The charter school ethos calls for more autonomy in exchange for higher levels of accountability. But the only way to exercise that accountability is to close a charter school, an action that even further destabilizes the lives of children. Hundreds of charter schools have been closed for being low performers, financial losers or poor recruiters. Many have been closed because of mismanagement or scandal. Nationwide, 15 percent of the 6,700 charter schools that have opened over the past two decades have closed for one reason or another. The largest proportion of those closures, nearly 42 percent, were the result of financial woes, usually related to low enrollment or lack of funding. Twenty-four percent closed for reasons of mismanagement, and a smaller share, 19 percent, were shut down for academic reasons.

What is also at play here is the consolidation of power by the big charter school operating companies and the forced closing of small, resourced-starved, teacher or community-operated charter. When that happens, any notion of student or parent choice is tossed aside and students are shuffled around to whatever school will accept them. Closing charter schools often forces students to choose from other academically struggling or otherwise unsound schools.

Next comes the question of who can choose and how. I'm reminded of that old saw about rich and poor alike having the choice to drive a Mercedes or a Chevy. Participatory community engagement and even consumer choice requires a well-informed public with access to the necessary levers of power.

Because charter school enrollment is capped, keeping schools small enough in some cases, to offer the illusion of a specialized boutique, opportunities are generally marketed only to a targeted consumer base. If a family is not in the information pipeline or a parent doesn't have the knowledge or capacity to apply, or if the child is homeless or a ward of the court, charter enrollment is only available through the bounce of a lottery ball. This kind of exclusivity is not generally available to regular public schools, who must accept any and every child who is brought to their doors. Charters can also expel students who don't achieve at high enough standards or who fit their social or cultural mold, at will. These students are then placed (without choice) back into overcrowded neighborhood schools.

Finally comes the question of whether or not this type of market-driven choice has been a force for systemic school improvement. In Chicago, where an ever expanding system of charter-school choice has been in operation for the past two decades, test scores in reading and math have remained flat. School dropout rates continue to hover around the 50% mark and the so-called achievement gap between white students and students of color continues to widen.

Under a top-down governance system where the schools are controlled by the mayor and his hand-picked school board and  maintained under the leadership of  high-profile CEOs like Paul Vallas and current Secretary of Education  Arne Duncan-- and under corporate-driven initiatives like Renaissance 2010, the number of charter schools has steadily expanded. But according to a Sun-Times report, only one of nine Chicago multi-site charter operators — Noble Street — beat the districtwide average of all Chicago public schools for the percent of students passing state tests on every campus it oversees. This, even with the benefit of added funding, both from public and private sources as well as benefit of positive media spin, political connections and social capital unavailable to neighborhood schools.

To summarize, what is being touted by charter, parent-trigger, and voucher advocates as choice, offers teachers, parents and students only the narrowest of consumer options rather than real decision-making power. This type of market driven choice is only available to the few who have access to the necessary levers to assert themselves. And most importantly, decades of choice hasn't led to measurable improvement for public schools nationwide and in fact, it has been a drain on their resources and a force for downward pressure on student achievement.

Tim Bartik, senior economist for the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research says "there's no evidence to suggest that choice works very well." The reasons for that, Bartik said, have to do with the fact that unlike judging the quality of a consumer good such as an apple, it turns out that school quality is more difficult to evaluate
As a result, school choice has become another rationale for re-segregation with those with the most power and access using the system to isolate or unfairly benefit themselves at the expense of others.

After decades of experimenting with market-based, competitive education initiatives with little in the way of measurable statewide education improvement, it’s necessary for Chicago and other urban school districts to shift their emphasis away from privatization and towards systems of support for helping improve and transform community public schools. Times call for making the proper investment in proper education offering real choices for students, parents and teachers within a framework of public ownership and public decision-making.

In the words of John Dewey from his work, The School and Society:   
"What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy."
Part 2 will deal with the myth of charter school superiority.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A great Parent-Trigger Fact Sheet

Re-posted from Parents Across America's Blog

Researched by Caroline Grannan, San Francisco Parents Across America founding member

1. There have been no successful parent triggers anywhere. Only two parent triggers have been attempted, both in Southern California. [i]

2. The organization that created the parent trigger, Parent Revolution, organized both of those campaigns.[ii]

3. Parent Revolution has been inaccurately described as “grassroots” and as founded by concerned mothers. Actually, Parent Revolution was created by charter school operator Steve Barr, who founded the Green Dot charter school chain.[iii] Parent Revolution has a $1 million annual budget and 10 full-time staff members. Its funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and more.[iv]

4. In both of those two parent trigger campaigns, many parents at the targeted schools said they did not want their schools to become charter schools, and a number attempted to rescind their signatures from the petitions. [v] In both, conflict and controversy exploded among the parents at the schools.[vi]

5. In the first of those parent triggers (McKinley Elementary School in Compton, CA, December 2010), the charter school operator that had been poised to take over the school didn’t do so; instead, it opened a new charter school a few minutes away. Only a fraction of the McKinley families (apparently between 12% and 20%) moved their children to the charter school.[vii] With the charter school having opened nearby instead of taking over the school, the McKinley Elementary School parent trigger appears to have failed.[viii]

6. In the second parent trigger (Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, CA, January 2012), a July 2012 court ruling has been reported as a victory for parents. But actually, what the court ruled was that parents who wanted to rescind their signatures from the parent trigger petition could not do so.[ix]

7. The current status of the parent trigger at Desert Trails in Adelanto is that Parent Revolution is seeking a charter operator to take over the school, although many parents have said that they don’t want the school to become a charter.[x]


[i] There have been two attempted parent triggers, with petitions signed and turned in to officials. The first was at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, CA, in 2010. It has failed, with the school remaining under the same governance as before. The second is at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, CA, in 2012. It is still being fought out among factions of parents and school and district administrators. The ultimate outcome is unknown at this point.

[ii] This is borne out by ample news coverage and other sources. Here’s what the Los Angeles Weekly reported about the Compton parent trigger (Dec. 9, 2010): Parent Revolution decided to focus on McKinley Elementary School and approach parents there after researching the worst school districts in California. … (Parent Revolution’s paid) field organizers have canvassed a large chunk of the 10-square-mile city of Compton, knocking on hundreds of doors, walking its sidewalks and driving its streets, asking people if their children attend McKinley. … [Organizing director Pat DeTemple] set up a computer program to track trends in the progress of his staff’s work. The Los Angeles Times reported (Jan. 13, 2012) on Parent Revolution’s involvement in the Adelanto parent trigger (this version of the Times article posted on the Parent Revolution website): In Adelanto, the process has been transparent and fair, said Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles educational reform group that helped train and organize parents in both cities.

[iii] This Los Angeles Times article (May 11, 2009) describes how Steve Barr, founder of the Green Dot charter school chain, created Parent Revolution in 2009.

[iv] The Los Angeles Weekly (Dec. 9, 2010) described Parent Revolution’s funding: Parent Revolution, with 10 full-time staff members and a $1 million annual operating budget, is funded by blue-chip philanthropic endeavors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

[v] Los Angeles Times: Some parents are rescinding their signatures to convert McKinley Elementary into a charter school. Dec. 11, 2010) See also: San Bernardino County Sentinel (April 7, 2012): [A]t least 97 parents rescinded their signatures [in the Adelanto parent trigger].

[vi] The Los Angeles Weekly live blogging, Dec. 14, 2010: “We’re reporting live from the [Compton Unified School District] board meeting, packed with press and hundreds of angry parents — many of whom say they were tricked into signing the Parent Trigger petition without understanding its gravity. Above all, the air is buzzing with confusion. … More and more, the crowd reveals itself as anti-Parent Trigger.” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 19, 2012: “Some parents say the Desert Trails campaign has divided the campus, destroyed friendships and given rise to charges on both sides of harassment and deceit.”

[vii] The Los Angeles Times reported on Nov. 14, 2011, that 1/5 of the families at McKinley Elementary had transferred their children to the new Celerity Sirius charter – amounting to 1/3 of the families who had signed the petition. But actually, California Department of Education data show a drop of considerably less: McKinley enrollment dropped 12.9% when the charter opened – from 426 students to 371.

[viii] The Los Angeles Times (Nov. 14, 2011) described the outcome of the Compton parent trigger as “legal defeat when the petition was found lacking on largely technical grounds.” The Times editorial added: “Ultimately, the charter operator, Celerity Educational Group, decided to open a school a few blocks away instead, to predictions that this would wipe out McKinley by drawing away most of its students. But that’s not what happened.”

[ix] Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2012: Ruling supports Adelanto charter school effort: Judge rules that California’s ‘parent trigger’ law does not allow signatures to be revoked, meaning Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto could become a charter.

[x] KABC Los Angeles, July 23, 2012: Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ordered the Adelanto School District to accept the petition filed by the Desert Trails Parents Union within 30 days and to immediately seek proposals from charter school operators to take over Desert Trails Elementary School. Natasha Lindstrom, the local reporter who has been covering the Adelanto parent trigger issue, July 23, 2012. Many (parents) told me they didn’t want a charter. Both sides of Parent Trigger like the current principal, who only took (the) helm in October.

This fact sheet is also available as a downloadable pdf.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Indy is Vallas' latest privatization target

Legendary Ownership Society hustler Paul Vallas is at it again. His high-profile, high-profit target this time is Indianapolis. Here's a re-post of Diane Ravitch's August 13th post: "Saving School Districts Is Not a Full-time Job."
Paul Vallas is superintendent of schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He is paid more than $200,000 a year. He also runs a private consulting business that just landed an $18 million contract to reorganize the Indianapolis school district even as he remains full-time superintendent in Bridgeport. The board that appointed Vallas has been declared illegal by a court in Connecticut, but they extended Vallas’ contract so he will be superintendent even if a new school board with a different majority wins.
I know that Vallas saved Chicago, and saved Philadelphia, and saved New Orleans, but it is astonishing that he is able to work full-time in Bridgeport and save Indianapolis at the same time.

Klein back to pimping Murdoch's Amplify program

Murdoch & Klein
"What we're trying to do is really become a hub for serious thinking and trying to make sure that technology is a positive force," Klein said in an interview. "Because I've long said that just giving a kid a computer isn't going to change the game."
Now that Rupert Murdoch has hired the best criminal defense lawyer money can buy, former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein is freed up to do what he does best -- hustling Murdoch's products back to the public school system.

While the criminal investigation into the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal continues, Klein is back in New York to launch Amplify, News Corp.'s digital learning program. Amplify and AT&T will fund a pilot project that will put tablet computers in students' hands in order to "track student progress."

Klein said he has been working full-time at Murdoch's Amplify since mid-June after News Corp. hired general counsel Gerson Zweifach to focus on continuing fallout from the hacking scandal, which broke about six months after Klein started working at Amplify.

Given the ongoing investigation, we're not exactly sure what tracking their progress means. NYC would do well to track Murdoch's progress with a digital ankle bracelet.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hedge-fund vultures circling public ed

"This is a new frontier. The private equity guys and the hedge fund guys are circling public education." -- Diane Ravitch 
Stephanie Simon at Reuters reveals profiteers waiting in the wings to cash in on Common Core Standards. About 100 of gathered in a meeting last week at the University Club in Manhattan, billed as a how-to on "private equity investing in for-profit education companies." 
If they're as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They'll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it. 
"You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up," said Lytle, a partner at The Parthenon Group, a BostoThe conference last week at the University Club, billed as a how-to on "private equity investing in for-profit education companies," drew a full house of about 100.n consulting firm. "It could get really, really big."
In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.

Education entrepreneur John Katzman urged investors to look for companies developing software that can replace teachers for segments of the school day, driving down labor costs.
"How do we use technology so that we require fewer highly qualified teachers?" asked Katzman, who founded the Princeton Review test-prep company and now focuses on online learning.