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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

$700 billion K-12 ed market is "ripe for disruption" says Klein

PW reports:
Asserting that the K-12 education market is “ripe for disruption," Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor, now executive v-p at News Corp. and director of Amplify, its education unit, offered a presentation of Amplify’s business model and plans to release hardware and software solutions optimized for a new generation of digitally savvy students and teachers. Klein outlined plans to release an open source tablet device, and specialized teaching software tied to it and to Common Core standards and data analytics, all in an effort to transform the basic model of American education. 
Klein says, "the educational market was worth about $700 billion total, and outlined a $17 billion K-12 market targeted by Amplify."

The language of the Ownership Society

In the Ownership Society, everything is turned upside-down. The new jargon of corporate-style ed reform turns Republican neocons and T-baggers into r-r-r-revolutionaries and democratic educators into "agents of the status quo."

Case in point -- Michelle Rhee, the teacher-bashing, union-hating former D.C. schools boss, is hawking her new book on her StudentsFirst website. The title? "RADICAL". Give me a f#@kn break.

That's right. This adviser to Tea Party govs in Florida and Michigan, now fancies herself as the new Saul Alinsky.

I haven''t read Rhee's book yet. But got this from from Valeria Strauss' review:
… There’s hardly any introspection on Rhee’s part as to why she was so widely unpopular with the District’s African-American parents, the ones whose support was crucial to her success in turning around the city’s schools. Instead, Rhee presents her time as chancellor as a battle between good (herself and Fenty) and evil (unions, other D.C. politicians), in which the evil side won.
There's nothing more un-radical than seeing the masses of predominantly-black voters in your city as "the evil side."

Monday, January 28, 2013

K-12Inc. A sewer of corruption

K-12Inc., the largest and most politically connected of the for-profit on-line learning companies, is at it again. They have been caught up in scandal after scandal, which never seems to keep them from getting lucrative, no-bid contracts with school districts.  The latest horror story emanates from Virginia where dozens of former K-12 employees are claiming that the company uses fraudulent tactics mask the astronomical rates of student turnover within their network of cyber charter schools..

NewsWorks reports that:
The former employees allege that K12-managed schools aggressively recruited children who were ill-suited for the company's model of online education. They say the schools then manipulated enrollment, attendance and performance data to maximize tax-subsidized per-pupil funding.
K12's motivation for manipulating the numbers, according to the suit, was to keep billing traditional public school districts for as many students as possible.
The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia has denied a request from K12 to dismiss the case. 
A trial could take place this spring.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How Sen. Steans greased the UNO charter deal

Greg Hinz has a great post on his Crain's blog today. It's all about the $35 million grant given to UNO, operator of a Chicago chain of privately operated charter schools tied into the old Daley political machine and now with connections to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. UNO Board Chairman Juan Rangel  recently served as finance chairman of Emanuel’s mayoral campaign The $35 million is as much as Chicago Public Schools gets for the entire city.

The money came from Springfield, through the back door, as part of an amendment to Sen. Bill 24 introduced by Senator (and billionaire heiress) Heather Steans. She and her sister Robin Steans have been active statewide in promoting privately-run charters, trying to grab the pension fund,  and opposing collective bargaining rights for teachers.

Hinz says Steans "was handling it at the request of somebody upstairs" [read, House Speaker Mike Madigan]. He says he was tipped off to the shady UNO deal by Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE). Good going, Julie W.!

Hinz writes:
 So it goes in our fair capital city. Education money is short, and CPS is talking about shutting schools. But those with friends have their ways. Welcome to the great state of Illinois.
And don't forget the City that Works -- Chicago.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Caterpillar: Why IL Dems go after teacher pensions

Slowpoke Comics
How much do Illinois' largest corporations pay in state income taxes? It's a complex question, but the answer is simple: Nobody knows. Well, almost nobody. The companies know, but they're not telling. Tax collectors know, but they're not allowed to tell. That leaves the rest of us with just one safe guess: as little as legally possible. -- Chicago Tribune
If you're looking for clues as to why a Democratic governor and House Speaker as well as a Dem-controlled legislature in Springfield, continues to go after the teachers pension fund instead of tax revenue from the biggest corporations, look no further than Caterpillar, Inc.

The company, the world’s largest construction-equipment maker, uses its campaign contributions to Democratic politicians like Michael Madigan, Dick Durban, and even Barack Obama when he was a state senator, along with threats to abandon Illinois for southern, right-to-work states like Georgia or move jobs offshore to China to leverage tax breaks.

From the Tribune:
"Cat," made waves last year when CEO Douglas Oberhelman wrote a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn complaining about the recent hike in state tax rates. "I want to stay here," he wrote from Cat's Peoria headquarters. "But as the leader of this business I have to do what's right for Caterpillar when making decisions about where to invest."  And invest it has, building plants in right-to-work states such as North Carolina, Texas and Indiana, typically after securing millions in state and local taxpayer subsidies — as is routine now in a system that pits state against state, city against city, in a race to the bottom for jobs.
The Peoria-based company, which reported year over year earnings growth exceeding 250 percent, is among several U.S. multinationals asking Congress to end U.S. corporate income taxes on profits earned abroad. The company pulls in around $3.7 billion of pretax income on about $42.6 billion in revenue, 68 percent of which came from offshore. Last year, Cat closed its Canadian locomotive plant in London, Ontario, after unionized employees refused to accept a big pay cut. 780 union machinists then went on strike  for four months at the Cat plant in Peoria.

Caterpillar Inc. used offshore subsidiaries in Switzerland and Bermuda to avoid about $2 billion in U.S. taxes from 2000 to 2009, boosting its earnings through a “tax and financial statement fraud,” according to a Caterpillar executive’s lawsuit.

Then on the political side you have Caterpillar Inc. Director Miles White, Chicago's highest paid CEO, who pulls down more than $25 million/year in compensation. He is also a big-wig in the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the most rabid group when it comes to raiding the teachers pension fund and busting the teachers union.

Since a progressive state income tax appears to be the only viable alternative to cutting the pensions and health care of retirees, we've got to get rid of pols who are tied to corporations like Caterpillar or no change can come.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The up and down sides of privatization

“If what gets measured is what gets managed, then what gets managed is what gets done.” -- From, "The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office," by Fishman and Ellis.
There are instances in which privatization can help achieve broad social goals, writes Eduardo Porter in today's NYT, "When Public Outperforms Private in Services", but while profit is one of the most potent incentives known to man — it also has dangerous drawbacks. Drawing on Fishman & Ellis' analysis of  the transformation of BP from government-run to private as an example, Porter shows privatization's potential for distorted objections and social devastation.

He offers offers of the the consequences of prison privatization along with that of of mortgage banks "blindly offering risky mortgages to shaky borrowers and bundling them into complex bonds to sell to unwary investors." The pursuit of financial rewards, by private companies or even nonprofit organizations, he says, "can directly undermine public policy goals."

There's no better example of course, than the privatization of public education.

Says Porter:
Rewarding teachers for how well their students perform on standard math and reading tests will encourage lots of teaching of reading and math, at the expense of other things an education might provide.
He goes on to quote Northwestern economics professor Burton Weisbrod who says:
“The more we reward those things that we can measure, and not reward the things we care about but don’t measure, the more we will distort behavior.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Levy's seminar

My brother Fred's blog carries a post which included a self-revealing letter from former N.Y.C. Chancellor Harold Levy for his upcoming private seminar for investors on making money on education. Levy has since become a Wall Street lawyer who now works for Palm Ventures in Greenwich, Conn. He's one of the high rollers in corporate school reform. He's also chairing The Capital Roundtable’s ENCORE full-day conference – Private Equity Investing In For-Profit Education Companies,

Here's some back-story to Fred's post.

It was Levy, in a NYT piece back in 2009, while working for Citigroup, who offered us his "5 ways to fix schools."  At that time, I wrote,
Levy, who obviously hadn't yet discovered the 5 ways while he was still in power, now wants to make it "mandatory" that all kids go to college for a year. I suppose he hopes that will keep them out of the job market and off the unemployment line for a while longer and hopes that the feds will pick up the cost of tuition ($8,000 average for state colleges and $25,000 for private). As for those kids who want to take a year off after high school, to work or travel? I suppose we could arrest their parents. How will this "fix" schools? Maybe Levy will tell us later.
Levy helped funnel $500K of DFER money to Shapton.
I also pointed out in the same post that,
Levy ...helped engineer the back-door shipment of $500K to [Al] Sharpton via hedge-fund school reformers DFER which apparently bought Sharpton's temporary allegiance to the "bedfellows" club at EEP.
At the time, Fred himself, pointed out this back-alley deal on his blog.

 So yes, Mr. Levy certainly has a lot to teach his Ownership Society seminarians about political intrigue, manipulation, and how to make a buck or two off of education.

Thanks Fred for keep this story alive.

Political payback for Walgreens CEO

Rahm & Wasson
As Chicago city retirees brace themselves for another hit on their healthcare plans, corporations like Walgreen's are feeling really healthy.

Back in November, I wrote about the scheme Rahm had cooked up with Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson whereby the mayor would offer parents Walgreens gift cards if they would show up on report card pickup day. Rahm called it, "incentivizing responsible parenting." I call it pay-back for Wasson's political support, particularly for contributing between $500,000 and $1 million to help the city cover expenses for the NATO gathering in May.

And now that the wheels have been greased, here comes some more gift giving -- a no-bid city contract worth about $700,000 to Walgreens so they can  "screen government employees who joined a wellness program to avoid a $50 increase in monthly health insurance premiums."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rhee: Hire me as a consultant and I will give you at least a 'B+'

Gov Scott and high-prices consultant, Rhee, visit a privately-run charter school in Opa Locka, FL.
In the crazy, mixed-up world of Michelle Rhee, the states with the best performing schools get poor grades while the worst ones  are on the top.

Louisiana and Florida, two of the worst states when it comes to providing support for public education and educating all of its children, got the highest marks on Rhee's so-called "report card." Massachusetts, a strong teacher union state, which usually ranks near the top, is downgraded by Rhee.

A quick glance (which is all this sham report deserves) reveals that top states are the ones that hire Rhee as a consultant and promote her StudentFirst agenda of school privatization, the parent trigger, and union busting. Not much research required there.

Because no self-respecting educator will be fooled into believing that T-Party govs, Bobby Jindal's and Rick Scott's states lead the nation in anything except polluting the Gulf and giving tax breaks for the rich, I will leave the point-by-point debunking to the media, the AFT, or the pros  at NEPC (I'm sure they will get around to it). Suffice to say, that after Rhee's test-cheating debacle in D.C., her credibility rating as an objective grader is somewhere between a D and an F.

In the meantime, here's what the AFT's Carolyn Fiddler has to say:
"The real issue with these report cards is that they fail to measure what matters most to parents, teachers and students. The report cards are silent regarding student achievement, school safety, small class sizes, early childhood education, investments in education, graduation rates or reading instruction."
But aside from that...

Louisiana Voice, a blog covering "graft, lies, and corruption" in JindalVille informs us:
The DOE on Monday "may have thrown a damper on Piyush’s [Jindal's] premature party with its own news release that shows Louisiana not faring so well in high school graduation statistics.  Louisiana, the U.S. DOE said, "is lobbing its own stink bomb, ranked sixth from the bottom in public high school graduation rate.
Also, see Diane Ravitch's post from yesterday, "Rhee: The Mask is off."

Monday, January 7, 2013

J.B. Pritzker: Chicago's busiest venture capitalist

J.B. Pritzker
Here's what the Pritzker's do when they're not busy running the family foundation, "reforming" public education or keeping their minimum-wage Hyatt Hotel workers from unionizing.
Mr. Pritzker's aim isn't ego gratification; it's all about making money, he insists. (Of course, in business the two go hand in hand.) But to move up to the top tier, New World will have to make more, larger investments on the West Coast. At the same time, Mr. Pritzker needs to build the tech cred of Chicago, his adopted hometown, and notch a headline-grabbing cash-out—one that has at least 10 figures—which so far has eluded New World.
Pritzker is a trustee and serves on the investment committee of Northwestern University and is a member of the Board of Governors of Northwestern University School of Law. He's also is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Commercial Club of Chicago.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Things get too hot for Melinda at WaPo. She quits the board.

Things are getting so hot over at WaPo's board, what with all these investigations of Kaplan, Inc.going on, that Melinda Gates had to bail, and in a hurry. The Post says, she gave no reason for her quick exodus while a family spokesman said she wanted to spend more time than before working and traveling for the Gates Foundation. That's a load of horse manure.

The power-philanthropist and wife of multi-billionaire Bill Gates, announced Friday that she was resigning immediately from The Post’s board of directors. Her presence on the board apparently created another conflict of interest for the Foundation, which seems to have COFs everywhere.

Melinda's resignation comes on the heels of the release of a report, funded partly by her foundation, which compares for-profit colleges to subprime-mortgage lenders that prey on low-income and minority students. WaPo gets more than half of its revenues from its for-profit higher-education unit, Kaplan, one of world's largest testing companies, which is also a huge player in the for-profit college and lending business. Over the last decade, Kaplan has moved aggressively into for-profit higher education, acquiring 75 small colleges and starting the mega-online Kaplan University.

The report, “Subprime Opportunity,”  authored by the Gates-Funded Education Trust, says that low-income students make up half of the enrollment at for-profit colleges and Blacks, Latinos and American Indians comprise 37 % and that the student-debt loads these students is much higher than at traditional universities.

Power couple Melinda & Bill
But Melinda Gates herself, remains uncritical of Kaplan's policies. She issued a statement saying she's "impressed with The Washington Post Company's work with Kaplan, whose new approaches to education are allowing students opportunities that would otherwise not be possible." Bill Gates’ review of “” (Kaplan Publishing) lauds Kaplan, Inc. CEO Andrew Rosen for making “a persuasive case” that traditional colleges are doing a poor job serving non-traditional students. Gates finds Rosen’s “insights truly important.”

This, even though the Post's Kaplan education unit has come under harsh scrutiny with news reports quoting former Kaplan employees who said that they had been instructed to use the Gates name to persuade students to take classes at the company.

A 2010 undercover investigation by the GAO  of 15 for-profit colleges found that recruiters for all of them, including Kaplan, made deceptive statements to prospective students. GAO videotaped a Kaplan recruiter addressing an applicant’s worries about paying back student loans: “I owe $85,000 to the University of Florida. Will I pay it back? Probably not.”

WaPo's board now has 11 members, including Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway company owns about 24 percent of the paper. Buffett is Bill Gates' partner in the giant foundation, contributing more than $30 billion to the enterprise.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Anti-union NLRB ruling confirms that charters aren't public schools

Charter school lobbyists are quick to remind critics that they are still public schools in need of public funding and public support. But when it comes to preventing their teachers from unionizing, they have no problem describing themselves as private entities, free from constraints and laws governing public-sector employees.

Pres. Obama's appointed NLRB has ruled that teachers at a Chicago charter school are now subject to private-sector labor laws, rather than state laws governing public workers.

WBEZ reports:
The ruling made by the National Labor Relations Board last month, said the Chicago Math and Science Academy is a “private entity” and therefore covered under the federal law governing the private sector. The decision overrules a vote taken by teachers last year to form a union in accordance with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. At the time, two-thirds of teachers at the school approved the union and it became official under state law. 
Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA) describes itself as a "public charter school". But CMSA, Inc. is actually a private, nonprofit corporation established under the Illinois General Not-for-Profit Corporation Act of 1986 for the purpose of operating a charter school. CMSA's affairs are conducted by a board of directors, which selects its members, and no public officials or government entities are involved in the selection or removal of members of the board of directors.

CMSA is managed by Concept Schools, a private, NFP based in Des Plaines, Illinois connected with something called the Gulen Movement, run and financed by recluse Turkish billionaire guru, Fethullah Gulen.

Illinois charter law already prevents any Chicago teacher from joining the CTU. That's why CMSA teachers weren't allowed to join the strike by their CPS colleagues in September.

The fact is there's nothing public about CMSA other than the funding it gets from Illinois taxpayers. Another good reason for school districts and teachers to oppose that funding and expansion of privately-run charters.