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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Look who's running the Lab School

I must have conjured her up. No sooner did I post  about the new, private GEMS Academy opening in Chicago with a tuition of about $30K ("Good News Rich People"), than their competition over at Lab School, hires a new director. Guess who?

It's none other than Robin Appleby. Who's that, you ask?
Before coming to Lab,  Appleby lived in Dubai, where she ran four campuses of the Global Education Management Systems American Academies consisting of 5,000 students. In that role, she also served as Superintendent and CEO of GEMS Dubai American Academy, an American and International Baccalaureate school comprising 2,300 students, representing 100 countries. -- Hyde Park Herald
Rahm must be so pleased. Now his kids can get a world-class education. John Dewey must be turning in his grave.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Techies vie with ed conglomerates for a piece of the Common Core market

It's ed tech start-up companies vs. the oligopoly at Stanford conference.

Silicon Valley tech companies, conferencing at Stanford, are trying to become the "Facebook of education," writes Lauren Hepler in the Silicon Valley Business Journal ("Online kindergarten? Tech bets on K-12 disruption"). The potential for superprofits has Valley heads spinning.

Hepler points out that, overall, the market for education is massive. She says the $1.5 trillion US education industry accounts for roughly 10 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, or the second-biggest sector after healthcare,

After meeting with power philanthropist Bill Gates, tech entrepreneur Mick Hewitt, co-founder and CEO of MasteryConnect, sees the looming implementation of government “Common Core” standards for reading and math in elementary, middle and high schools as an unparalleled opportunity for startups in the field.
“I believe we are truly at an inflection point,” Hewitt said at last weeks K-12 education technology event hosted by the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab, or VLAB. “I would be wrong if I said the Common Core and the dollars around it haven’t driven a lot of the activity for us.”
But these techie startups are up against corporate conglomerates that continue to dominate the K-12 market, writes Hepler.
“There was one word that kept me and my co-founders up at night,” Hewitt said at the VLAB event Thursday as he clicked to a presentation slide emblazoned with a Monopoly-style logo that read “Oligopoly”
He explained that a “marriage to textbooks” sold to schools by companies like Pearson and McGraw-Hill has for years blocked new entrants from providing educational alternatives.

But, Scott Drossos, the senior vice president of one-on-one learning for Pearson, said that although his company “has been accused of being acquisitive” — or buying up promising startups in the field — he sees monetization as a fundamental question not to be ignored.

Yes, monetization -- a keyword in the new lexicon of "public" education.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Difficult students an "outcast group, thrown into an abyss" by New Orleans charters

At many N.O. charter schools, including Sci Academy, plenty of teachers last for less than two years.

Here's the real deal on New Orleans charter schools as documented by Daily Beast/Newsweek writer Andrea Gabor. No, they're definitely not the panacea Arne Duncan claimed they were. For one thing, they were started on a faulty and racist premise -- that  young, white, inexperienced teachers were better for the predominantly-African-American N.O. students, than older, black veteran teachers.

Writes Gabor:
After the storm, the state fired the city’s unionized teachers, who were mostly middle-aged African-Americans, an action that has been challenged in court. While a few schools have hired back teachers who worked in the pre-Katrina schools, the city now relies heavily on inexperienced educators—mostly young, white, and from out of town—who are willing, at least in the short run, to put in grueling hours. But at many schools, including Sci Academy, plenty of teachers last for less than two years. In New Orleans, teachers with certifications from Teach for America number close to 400, five times the level a few years ago. Within the RSD, in 2011, 42 percent of teachers had less than three years of experience; 22 percent have spent just one year or less in the classroom, according to “The State of Public Education in New Orleans,” a 2012 report by the pro-charter Cowen Institute at Tulane University.
Gabor's piece goes on from there to reveal the way N.O. charters, under the pressure of current testing policies,  combined with the broad leeway given to charter schools to suspend and expel students, means the “difficult to teach” kids have been effectively abandoned.
“New ideas on how to teach disruptive and unmotivated students have not emerged from charter schools,” charges Barbara Ferguson, a former superintendent of public schools in New Orleans and a founder of Research on Reforms. “Whether the difficult-to-teach high school students are expelled by charter schools or whether they attended schools closed by the RSD, they are an outcast group, thrown into an abyss ... Neither the RSD nor the state Department of Education tracks these students to determine if they ever enter another high school.”

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tilson short-selling K12Inc.

Hedge-funder Tilson
You would think that the online learning company, K12Inc. would find synergy with hedge-funder Whitney Tilson, the money bags behind DFER and a co-founder of TFA and KIPP board member. But no! Tilson would never let ideological unity get in the way of super-profits. So Tilson is having his T2 Fund short-sell the hell out of K12 stock, hoping the company collapases. In fact, he calls the company “a catastrophe for education” in spite of solid financials.
So why is Tilson shorting K12? In addition to his research alleging that conditions and academic performance at each of K12’s online academies have declined significantly since its IPO, Tilson said he believed companies like K12 undermine the charter school movement in which he is deeply entrenched and that he has spent years fighting for.
“I try and separate my emotion from whether it’s a good investment,” Tilson said.
I could have told him and his investors that months ago. In fact, I did just that, last November. But would they listen? NOOOO. Now writes Buzz Feed,
The king of the privatized virtual learning world, K12Inc. has investors checking to see if they're still wearing their shorts. The problem continues to be extravagant costs stemming from huge salaries paid to top execs, plus K12 students scoring behind kids in brick-and-mortar schools.
So on one rare sunny day, Tilson and I will hopefully both be celebrating ( him with champagne and me with 4-buck Chuck) the death of K12Inc.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Billionaire charter supporter Ty Warner, busted for tax evasion.

Ty Warner

Ty Warner, the Beanie Babies billionaire who's fond of driving his white Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow convertible and arriving for appointments wearing a fur coat, a top hat and carrying a cane, has been busted for tax evasion. Yay!

It seems he tried to hide hundreds of millions in secret Swiss bank accounts to avoid paying taxes. But don't worry about him.  All he had to do was agree to a $53 million settlement which will likely make the whole thing go away.

Duncan and Agassi
While Warner doesn't like to pay any taxes, he does invest millions in privately-run charter schools through the Andre Agassi Foundation. Aggasi, the former tennis pro, has become a big-time charter school entrepreneur and a fav of Ed Sec Arne Duncan. Warner took about $6 million out of his secret Swiss account and gave it to Aggasi to help promote his Rocketship Charters.

Warner already was in trouble with Michelle Obama for marketing a line of black Beanie Babies named "Sweet Sasha” and “Marvelous Malia.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Forbes piece pounds charters

About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.
An article appearing in the Sept. 10th issue of Forbes, gives a swift kick in the rear end to charter schools. According to Forbes contributor Addison Wiggin, charter schools have selective enrollments, don't perform any better than regular public schools, and are part of a corrupt system that funnels public funds into the pockets of privatizers and corporate cronies through real estate deals and tax credits.

He writes:
Charter schools are frequently a way for politicians to reward their cronies. In Ohio, two firms operate 9% of the state’s charter schools and are collecting 38% of the state’s charter school funding increase this year. The operators of both firms donate generously to elected Republicans.
In Florida, the for-profit school industry flooded legislative candidates with $1.8 million in donations last year. “Most of the money,” reports The Miami Herald, “went to Republicans, whose support of charter schools, vouchers, online education and private colleges has put public education dollars in private-sector pockets.”
But it's not just about Republicans. Wiggin saves his best shots for Democrats like the ones in Philadelphis who closed  23 public schools  — about 10% of the total — to be replaced by charters. Not to mention Arne Duncan who "rolled out the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, doling out $4.4 billion in federal money to the states — but only to those states that lifted their caps on the number of charter schools."

Something I wasn't aware of was a program called EB-5 that encourages foreign investors who pony up $1 million in a wide variety of development projects — or as little as $500,000 in “targeted employment areas” — to buy immigration visas for themselves and family members.

“There’s a risk to taking education to Wall Street,” says Education Week — “one that helps explain why so few publicly traded companies cater to the educational needs of students in elementary, middle and high school.”

But EdWeek charter school blogger Katie Ash attacks Wiggin's piece for being "inflammatory." Wiggin doesn't mince words, says Ash, "and I'm sure many will take offense at his staunch views."

Not me. He's shooting straight.

Milwaukee targeted as next New Orleans-style "recovery zone"

Milwaukee's public school system, already hit hard by devastating budget cuts and teacher firings, has become the next big urban school system to be targeted for privatization. MPS, the home of the nation's first crippling school voucher system, is now threatened with a New Orleans-style "recovery zone" where dozens of public schools would be handed over to private companies to operate with poorly trained, non-union teachers.

Right-wing privatization groups, like WILL, are also trying to force MPS to sell off school buildings or hand them over directly to private charter school operators in what would be one of the largest real estate swindles in city history.

Among the groups vying for a piece of the action is Rocketship Charter Schools, owned by tennis player turned ed entrepreneur, Andre Agassi. Eight Rocketship schools are expected to open in Milwaukee, and plans to enroll about 4,000 students.


In response, a large demonstration is planned for Saturday, September 21, sponsored by Parents for Public Schools, Women Committed to an Informed Community, the Wisconsin Alliance of Excellent Schools, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association and dozens of other groups. Students, parents, educators and friends of public schools from around Milwaukee and across Wisconsin will assemble at Milwaukee High School of the Arts at 10:30 a.m., then march across the 16th Street Bridge to Forest Home Avenue School, where a rally will commence at 1:00 p.m. to proclaim the civil right of every child to a world class public education. Teachers and public education supporters from Chicago and other cities are expected to march in solidarity.

Attached is a flyer and list of co-sponsors.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Rahm's Midway privatization deal crashes and burns. Where are the feds?

I don't think so...
As if we needed another reason to dump mayoral control of the schools, look no further than the collapse of another corrupt City Hall boondoggle -- the privatization of Midway Airport.

In my August 22nd post, I showed how Rahm Emanuel's proposed privatization of Midway, part of the Mayor's so-called Infrastructure Trust, was a continuation of his and the previous mayor's ongoing efforts to privatize nearly all remaining public space in the city, including public schools. The plan, which targets unions and funnels billions into the pockets of foreign corporations represented by political cronies like lobbyist and former 12th Ward Alderman Mark Fary (husband of city Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino), has now fallen through. All but one of the bidders has reportedly pulled out of the deal in the face of ongoing City Hall corruption investigations.

According to the Tribune:
The privatization process has played out behind closed doors, and the Emanuel administration and the bidders have declined to discuss much in the way of specifics, making it difficult to immediately sort out what happened. What is clear, however, is that the stalled Midway effort is the latest hitch in Emanuel's attempt to privatize public assets to raise money and help the city dig out from under a mountain of red ink. The mayor's Chicago Infrastructure Trust also has gotten off to a slow start.
Fran Spielman writes in yesterday's Sun-Times:
Emanuel was facing mounting opposition from a City Council still suffering from the political after-effects of the widely-despised, 75-year deal that privatized Chicago parking meters.
Cronies: Ahmad, Emanuel & Scott (Heather Charles/Tribune)
But the real reason the mayor was forced to junk the Midway deal  probably had more to do with the recent indictment in Ohio of Rahm's former comptroller, Amer Ahmad, and his connection to the city's CFO Lois Scott. Scott who would have been the mayor’s point-person in selling the Midway deal to the City Council, has been implicated in the Ahmad scandal. She's one who recommended Ahmad to Rahm. It turns out that Scott's private financial firm worked on some $200 million in state highway construction bonds in Ohio and that Scott Balice Strategies LLC, co-owned by Scott, served as "financial adviser to the treasurer" on those Ohio deals. After Scott came aboard as Emanuel's chief financial officer in May 2011, she selected a firm that employed Ahmad's onetime boss, former Ohio Treasurer Kevin Boyce, for hundreds of thousands of dollars in city bond work.When Boyce was a public official, Scott's firm profited, and when Scott became a public official under Emanuel, Boyce's firm profited. And Ahmad was at the center of it all.

Ahmad was also placed on the  boards of all four of the City's largest pension funds. All this on top of the mayor's efforts to remove or hamstring Chicago's IG, Joe Ferguson, just made the deal too big a load for Rahm's PR department.

A previous Midway deal fell apart four years ago, leaving Chicago taxpayers with a $126 million down payment but no apparent way to shore up underfunded city pensions.

Where are the feds?

Also see: 
Ald. Waguespack: Emanuel camp skilled at shifting facts, changing stories
Pinstripe patronage at city hall should be taken ‘out of the hands of one person’: alderman