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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Chicago school closings run on 'family values'

Catherine O'Connor Sugrue (Left) at CPS Board
meeting.  (Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.)
Catherine Sugrue, sister of Rahm's City Council floor leader, Patrick O'Connor, holds the newly created title of CPS director of school transition, reporting to Tom Tyrell, the retired Marine charged with safeguarding 30,000 displaced students. You follow?

According to the Sun-Times:
O’Connor noted that Sugrue is a former teacher who spent 17 years climbing the ladder at CPS before resigning three years ago to become an education consultant — first with Edison Learning, then with Innovative Consultants International. In a previous CPS job overseeing charters that she was at the center of a controversy surrounding allegations of grade-changing and strip-searching of students at Aspira Charter.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The city that works

Back in the early '70s, Chicago earned the nickname, the city that works. Then, like now, the phrase always required the addendum, works for whom? The same question might also be asked about the city's public schools. Under mayoral control, Chicago has been reconstructing a two-tier system of public schools: selective enrollment schools for top scoring students and those with well-connected parents, and under-resourced neighborhood schools for the majority.

Today that notion was reinforced by the news that billionaire union hater, corporate school reformer and Rahm Emanuel's patron, Bruce Rauner, used his political clout to wrangle a seat for his own kid at Walter Payton College Prep High School. Payton is ostensibly at public school, even though a third of its entering freshman students come from private schools. 98 % of its graduates go on to college and only 200 of 7,000 applicants gain admission by testing highest on standardized tests. But if you're Bruce Rauner's kid, forget about test scores. She couldn't pass them and her grades weren't good enough to get in to Payton.


Rauner, who actually lives in the wealthy suburb of Winnetka, used a phony Chicago address and a phone call to then schools CEO Arne Duncan to get his daughter accepted through the back door, taking a spot away from a likely needier kid who earned it. As you might expect, Duncan was only to glad to comply to this version of rich, white affirmative action.

According to Greg Hinz at Crain's, Rauner saw no irony in sending his daughter to a high school with union teachers. Writes Hinz:
 "The likely GOP gubernatorial candidate, whose biggest public claim to fame has been a crusade to reform education by sharply limiting the power of teachers' unions, which in his view are just a nasty special interest."
Rauner also bought himself one of the Noble St. Charter Schools and had it named after him. But he never consider sending a child of his own there.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rahm campaign donors, Chicago Hotel developers also bullish on charter schools

Here's a funny quote from the mayor of Chicago
"Government can no longer be an insider's game, serving primarily the lobbyists and well-connected." -- Rahm Emanuel

Chicago Tribune
Here's another funny one from his spokesperson:
"The mayor has instituted the highest ethical and transparency standards and does not accept contributions from entities that do business with the city," Emanuel communications director Sarah Hamilton wrote in an email response to the Tribune. "Nearly every Chicagoan does business in the city, and the mayor is happy to have their support."
Wilson, Rahm & Tisch
It's worth noting here that some of Rahm's biggest campaign donors, like the above-mentioned Donald Wilson of DRW Trading, also underwrite Chicago charter schools. Wilson has personally donated $30,000 since 2011 to Emanuel's other political fund, the Chicago Committee, including $10,000 in January.

Crain's Shia Kapos reports that hotel developer Wilson's foundation has already invested $2 million and long-term support into a new charter school, DRW Trading College Prep in North Lawndale, part of the Noble Network. The high school, which opened in August, falls under an umbrella network backed by millionaire Bruce Rauner. Wilson's sister also sits on Noble's board.

Writes Kapos:
Will Mr. Wilson be helping teach classes related to financial literacy? He chuckles at the suggestion but doesn't rule it out. After all, contemporaries such as former Exelon Corp. CEO John Rowe are familiar faces in charter schools. Mr. Rowe, a history buff, often lectures at Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

D.C. school rheeform: Another privatizer bellies up to the trough

D.C. Councilman David Catania, who's the head of the Council's new newly constituted Education Committee, wants to take Michelle Rhee's failed corporate-reform plan to the next level. He's handing out a big contract to Hogan Lovells, an international firm with "wide areas of practice in government and industry, including K-12 and higher education," to re-design the city's school reform plan. The firm's lawyers will supposedly "research school policies that have succeeded around the country, help determine what might work in the District and translate that into legislative language."

Hogan Lovells is one of the world’s largest law firms with $1.8 billion in revenue and 2,500 lawyers in 40 offices, including the US, Abu Dhabi, China, Vietnam, and Caracas. They are big in defense contracting, real estate, and aerospace. They used to operate in Chicago but shut down this city's operation in 2010 because of  "conflicts and deteriorating performance." Just this past month, they were hit with a huge malpractice suit by former clients, claiming HL gave bad advice following a failed development venture that led to a $36 million jury verdict against them.

Last year, HL put together a  research report called, "Evolution: Profiting from Uncertainty." That ought to tell you something about where this is headed.

Catania admits that the elected City Council members essentially know nothing about education and therefore need to contract out school reform planning to HL lawyers. Buckle up, D.C.

He might have considered asking educators.  I mean, they know a little about education.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

School Reform Mississippi-style

 Arkansas 1958 (Atlantic Monthly)

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed a charter school expansion bill into law continues the state's long tradition of two-tier schooling and racial segregation.

The new law is one that expands the authority to create charter schools -- public schools run by private groups that are freed up from government regulation. Charters in states like Mississippi and Alabama are the latest version of the "segregation academies" which allowed whites an escape from school deseg agreements after the Brown decision. For more than four decades after they were established, "segregation academies" in Mississippi towns like Indianola continue to define nearly every aspect of community life.

The Clarion-Ledger reports that at least 50 Mississippi school districts have student populations that are more than 75 percent black, according to an analysis of state Department of Education data. The majority of those districts’ student populations are more than 90 percent black. Justice Dept. investigations recently found the state operating schools that retain their "racial identity from the Jim Crow era,” 

Other measures signed by Bryant  include a pilot plan in four districts to partially pay teachers based on teaching evaluations and student test scores.

Also see:
Segregated Charter Schools Evoke Separate But Equal Era in U.S. (Bloomberg News)
Charter Schools and the New Segregation (Diane Ravitch Blog)
In North Carolina, school resegregation by charter? (Inst. for Southern Studies)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Making college accessible only to the rich

Despite all the talk about college readiness and 21st-century jobs, a college education is becoming inaccessible to all but the children of the rich or to those able to take on a burden of life-long debt. Like the indentured servants of old, today's poor or working-class students will graduate with dimming prospects for working in the field for which they are trained and will be working as much for the bankers as for their employer or themselves.

Yesterday's New York Times reports that on July 1st, the interest rate on many student loans is scheduled to double to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent — just as it was last year, when in the midst of an election campaign, Congress voted to extend the lower rate.  Today, student advocacy groups released an issue brief charging that the federal government should not be profiting from student loans, while more and more students bear a crushing debt burden.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

DFER's 'Education Warrior' Sen. Smith, busted trying to rig N.Y. mayor's race

Smith, in a conversation with a federal informant, expressed his feelings on the illegal payoffs. “Business is business.” 

Hedge-fund school reformers at DFER's held up State Sen. Malcolm Smith, as their all-time school privatization hero. They describe Smith here as "a proud supporter of public charter schools long before it became popular to do so within the Democratic Party." Smith was even honored with DFER's 2007 Education Warrior Award .

Oops! This from today's Daily News:
Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith was busted Tuesday with City Councilman Dan Halloran in a plot to pay cash for a spot on the GOP mayoral ballot — and a better shot at City Hall. FBI agents arrested four other suspects, including Bronx Republican Chairman Jay Savino and Queens GOP vice chairman Vincent Tabone, after the alleged corruption was exposed by federal officials. The two party leaders allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for helping Smith pursue his never-realized run for City Hall.
 My advice to the feds. Talk to hedge-funder Whitney Tilson.  

Walton paying for CPS propaganda campaign on school closings

Federico Waitoller and Stephanie Farmer from CReATE, present  research on school closings at today's City Hall press conference. But can education research counter the Walton-funded propaganda campaign? (Mike Klonsky photo)

The Walton Fund, philanthropic arm of the mega-billionaire Walton family (Wal-Mart), has given CPS nearly half-a-million dollars to underwrite Rahm's pro-school-closing propaganda campaign. The $478,000 grant went to setting up the  Profits Children First Foundation, an organization created by CPS which a spokesperson confirmed was to help facilitate the “community engagement process” over the school closings.

Walton dollars were also used to set up this website with a video showing a concerned CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett bemoaning the fact that her school district is not providing "all children" with a "high quality, 21st Century education." Thousands more were spent on website ads and ads on public transportation.

CPS spokesman Dave Miranda said the spots are "educational" and "not an ad campaign," and the primary goal is to spread awareness about community meetings scheduled to discuss each closure. Rahm has basically said that none of those community meetings will have any bearing on his decision to go ahead with the largest public school closing plan in this nation's history.

The CTU calls the campaign pure "propaganda." Jackson Potter, a CTU spokesperson told DNAInfo, “It's clearly a method they're using to try and sell a highly unpopular program that will have tremendous, disruptive consequences for the most vulnerable communities in our city.”

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rhee's millions

Michelle Rhee's anti-union group Students First is bankrolled mainly by a collection of corporate billionaires and power philanthropists. The group is not required by law to disclose its donors or what they give. She refused last week, to give L.A. Times reporters, Michael Mishak and Howard Blume, a list. But she names several in her new memoir, "Radical."

She uses their money to send out lobbyists to dozens of states to push anti-union and anti-teacher legislation with a staff of more than 120 based in her Sacramento offices.
"There is a really talented field of advocates, but it is … underpowered," said Ed Kirby, deputy director of the Walton Family Foundation, which has reported giving StudentsFirst at least $3 million. "The fact that StudentsFirst has joined the fight — that's a big deal." -- L.A. Times
Her wealthy patrons include the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, funded by John Arnold, an Enron oil exec who didn't go to jail, and hedge fund billionaire, who has pushed to rein in public pensions across the country. One of his former colleagues dubbed him "the king of natural gas." Mega-billionaire, Eli Broad, the Los Angeles arts and education philanthropist and a Democrat, is another supporter.

StudentsFirst spent nearly $2 million in last year's general election to support 105 candidates across the country. The vast majority, mostly Republicans, won their races.

Is Rhee really a 'public school parent'?

On March 29th, reporter Mishak had to make a correction to his and Blume's March 26th Times story. In the earlier piece they wrote:
The 43-year-old Rhee, whose children attend public school in Tennessee, where her ex-husband [Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman] lives, is guided by the free-market principles that characterized her tumultuous three-year tenure in Washington.
Harpeth Hall has a student/teacher ration of 9:1
Rhee continues to describe herself as a "public school parent."

But when AFTers dug  a little (like Mishak and Blume should have done) they found that Rhee was  lying, not telling the whole truth. Rhee’s older daughter goes to Harpeth Hall, Nashville’s fanciest girls school. But when Times reporters then asked her directly, she suddenly became shy about discussing where her children attend school "out of respect for their privacy,”

Writes Mishak:
Instead, after multiple emails and phone calls from Times reporters, she issued a statement apologizing for “misleading” the newspaper with her initial response. “It was not our intention to be misleading. It is our policy not to discuss where Michelle's children attend school out of respect for their privacy,” the statement says. “While it is true Michelle is a public school parent, we understand how that statement was misleading, and we apologize to the Los Angeles Times.”

Atlanta's testing scandal

I highly recommend these two excellent articles on Atlanta's testing scandal: Atlanta test cheating: Tip of the iceberg? by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post and Ex-Schools Chief in Atlanta Is Indicted in Testing Scandal by Michael Winerip in the New York Times. Both emphasize the connection between the widespread testing scandals and current policies and practices associated with corporate-style school reform,  No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top.

Writes Strauss:
In New York City, for example, Joel Klein became chancellor of the largest public school system in the country in 2002 and proceeded to institute a no-excuses mentality, attacking teachers unions, closing public schools and pushing the expansion of charter school. He touted a rise in standardized test scores, until, that is, it became clear that the test score improvements were phony. In 2010, state officials revealed that scores had been inflated, and thousands of parents who thought their children were performing on grade level learned that they weren’t. Klein quickly left his job and went to work for Rupert Murdoch.
Writes Winerip:
What made Dr. Hall just about untouchable was her strong ties to local business leaders. Atlanta prides itself in being a progressive Southern city when it comes to education, entrepreneurship and race — and Dr. Hall’s rising test scores were good news on all those fronts. She is an African-American woman who had turned around a mainly poor African-American school district, which would make Atlanta an even more desirable destination for businesses.