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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

From Walmart to the White House

Sylvia Mathews Burwell
As Wal-Mart workers are engaging in protests and Black Friday job actions nationwide, to shine another spotlight on the company's anti-worker policies and unlivable wages, the Obama White House is building a new, cozy relationship with the company.

Remember back in 2007, when candidate Barack Obama told union voters, "I won't shop at Wal-Mart" and when 8 days later, Michelle Obama resigned from the board of the anti-union company's supplier? My, how times have changed.

Since April, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the former president of the Walmart Foundation, has been serving as Pres. Obama's Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Before her stint at Walmart, Burwell held various top-level positions at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,

Burwell's appointment marked a thaw in the relationship between the Obama's and the Walton family and Walmart has become one of their biggest business supporters. The Walton Family Foundation is the largest single funder of non-union, privately-managed charter schools, which lie at the very heart of Obama's education policies.

"Obviously Wal-Mart has a lot of interests in, say, labor rights that are not in alignment with the best interests of the country. If she shares those views that would be an issue," said Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy & Research, reported The Daily Kos shortly after her nomination.

After being on the job for only six months, Burwell, became notable as the bureaucrat who wrote the memo that initiated the government shutdown.

I guess you could say, the circle is complete.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The wild expansion of privately-managed charters


For Immediate Release November 26, 2013

Contact:  Jamie Horwitz,

Private Education Management Organizations Running Public Schools Expand –
44 Percent of Charter School Students in 2011-12 Attended Schools Operated by EMOs

New report shows 908,000 students in 2011-2012 attended privately-managed schools in 35 states plus D.C. – a major increase from 733,000 enrolled a year earlier. Michigan (204 schools) Florida (177), Ohio (110) and Arizona (108) have the most privately-managed schools.

An increasing number of for-profit education management organizations are expanding into online teaching.

BOULDER, CO – Across the nation, schools managed by for-profit firms such as K12 Inc, National Heritage Academies and Charter Schools USA, as well as nonprofit education management organizations (EMOs) such as KIPP, continue to increase the number of students they enroll, despite a scarcity of evidence showing positive results. Students across 35 states and the District of Columbia now attend schools managed by these non-government entities. Oklahoma and Tennessee have added schools run by EMOs since the last edition of this report.
The report, Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Fourteenth Edition – 2011-2012, was released today by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), which is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“There is growth in number of schools and students served in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors, although growth among schools operated by nonprofit EMOs continues to outpace the for-profit sector. Growth has slowed for for-profits in brick-and-mortar school settings. The real growth in the for-profit sector is with companies that operate virtual schools,” said the report’s lead author Dr. Gary Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement and research at Western Michigan University. “The growth of virtual schools, which is fueled by millions in advertising dollars, is astounding because of the sketchy academic results reported by the schools that operate online.”

The report is the NEPC’s latest edition in its series of profiles of EMOs, companies that are contracted to manage charter schools and other public schools. The EMO sector emerged in the 1990s as part of an effort to use market forces and private entities to reform public education.
For-Profit Operators
Since the 1995-1996 school year, the number of for-profit EMOs has increased from 5 to 97, and the number of schools operating has increased from 6 to 840. Enrollment has grown from approximately 1,000 students in 1995-1996 to 462,926 in 2011-2012.
While the actual number of for-profit companies has grown very little over the past few years, many of the large and medium-sized EMOs are expanding into new service areas, such as supplemental education services and virtual schooling.
Imagine Schools was the largest for-profit EMO in 2011-2012 in terms of the number of schools it manages. The company managed 89 schools during the 2011-2012 school year, but it has lost a number of contracts since then. The next largest for-profit operators in
2011-2012, in terms of numbers of schools, are Academica (76) and National Heritage Academies (68).
However, in terms of enrolled students, the largest EMO is K12 Inc., which operates virtual schools. Because of the large enrollments in its schools, the total enrollment of K12 Inc.’s schools exceeded that of any other for-profit -- or nonprofit -- EMO, with 57 schools enrolling 87,091 students.
Nonprofit Operators
Nonprofit operators have shown more robust growth in brick-and-mortar school settings than for-profit operators, both in terms of new nonprofit EMOs and new managed
schools. A total of 201 nonprofit EMOs were identified and profiled in this year’s report, including 31 large nonprofit EMOs, 68 medium-sized and 102 small nonprofit EMOs.
The overall number of students in nonprofit EMO-managed schools has increased dramatically in recent years, from 237,591 in 2009-10 to 445,052 during the 2011-2012 school year. KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program -a national charter school network -- remained the largest nonprofit EMO, with 98 schools and just over 35,045 students in 2011-2012.
Virtual Schools
The number of virtual schools operated by EMOs increased from 60 in 2009-2010 to 91 in 2011-2012. This represents 10.8 percent of all schools managed by for-profit operators.
As noted, the largest for-profit operator is K-12 Inc., which operates full-time virtual schools. It should be noted that some of the largest for-profit EMOs are beginning to lose contracts with brick-and-mortar schools and are shifting attention into virtual education.   "Most virtual schools are charters, are full-time, and are statewide in their scope,” said the report’s coauthor, Charisse Gulosino of the University of Memphis. “As it stands, research, policy and practice have not kept pace with virtual schooling’s growth --reflecting the need for deliberation about its impact and implications for public K-12 education.”

Full Report is Available on the Web

Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Fourteenth Edition - 2011-2012 can be found on the web at:

The report is the nation’s most comprehensive examination of the private entities that operate public schools.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Helen Gym -- The New 'Pay for Play'

Helen Gym
Helen Gym, a Philadelphia public school parent and founder of Parents United for Public Education asks: "Is the ‘right to know’ the new ‘pay for play’"? Gym says that  throughout most of the decision-making process regarding the school closings, the public was kept in the dark.
“Pay to play” is a widely reviled practice in government, but that’s effectively what the District’s legal argument would establish through its challenge of an open records case in state court.
For more than 10 months, Parents United for Public Education and our lawyers at the Public Interest Law Center of  Philadelphia have been fighting to make public the Boston Consulting Group’s list of 60 schools recommended for closure and the criteria it used for developing the list. In 2012, BCG contracted with the William Penn Foundation to provide “contract deliverables,” one of which was identifying 60 public schools for closure. William Penn Foundation solicited donations for this contract, including some from real estate developers and those promoting charter expansion. The “BCG list” was referred to by former Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen in public statements. But District officials refused to release the list, saying that it was an internal document and therefore protected from public review.
Read the entire article at the Washington Post Answer Sheet.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An easy slide from Gates to Pearson

Kate James
A week ago I gave the example of Bruce Reed, the assistant to President Barack Obama and chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, being named president of the Broad Foundation, to illustrate the easy movement between government, corporate reform and power philanthropy. Another earlier example would be Joel Klein's transition from N.Y.C. schools chancellor to a power position within Rupert Murdoch's publishing empire.

This is a hallmark of current corporate-style school reform. It's similar in many ways, to the movement between government and the war industry, usually referred to as the military/industrial complex.

The latest example of the ed/corporate complex is PR exec Kate James, who is leaving the Gates Foundation to be chief corporate affairs officer at Pearson. Gates, funded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and U.K.-based Pearson, are under fire in educational quarters and the media in a number of areas.

According to PR industry analyst Jack O'Dwyer:
Pearson is portrayed by PR Watch and others as a for-profit octopus that has its tentacles around practically aspect of U.S. education, reaping billions of dollars in revenues. PRW cites instances of Pearson working with elements of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which PRW says is an organization of 2,000 mostly Republican state legislators and 300 corporate representatives that has an undue influence on state lawmaking.
Pearson, with revenues of $8.29 billion, is called “the largest education company in the world” and the “largest book publisher in the world” while the Gates Foundation is easily the world's largest foundation.

Pearson's properties include the Financial Times Group; 47% of Penguin Random House; 50% of the Economics Group which includes The Economist magazine; Prentice-Hall; University of Phoenix (largest for-profit online university system); Connections Academy, which operates online classes in many states, and numerous education-related entities. O'Dwyer's excellent blog also plugs Diane Ravitch's latest book, Rein of Error and cites WaPo's fine ed columnist Valerie Strauss. 
Valerie Strauss, writing in the July 15, 2013 Washington Post, says “Gates has exercised extraordinary influence in shaping modern K-12 school reform to his liking, leveraging cash from his vast Microsoft fortune to drive the public agenda—and taxpayer funds—toward standardized test-based accountability.” His vision includes “ways to measure everything, largely through testing,” writes Strauss.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Enron's "King of Natural Gas" turns to power philanthropy. Goes after "lavish" pensions.

John and Laura Arnold

Power philanthropist and billionaire hedge-funder John Arnold comes out of Enron's criminal enterprise. Arnold made millions trading natural gas derivatives at Enron and then billions from his hedge fund. He was known on Wall Street as the  "king of natural gas."  But when natural gas prices slumped, he turned full-time to running his foundation along with wife, Laura. According to the John and Laura Arnold Foundation, the fund has assets of $1.2 billion. They probably figured, if Bill and Emily could make the jump from Microsoft...

The pair have tried and reinvent themselves and escape further Enron tarring by setting up their own foundation "which seeks to effect transformative change in some of our nation’s most pressing and complex policy areas, including education, criminal justice, research integrity, public accountability and health care."

What is this "transformative change" they wish to bring to public education?

They have been one of the largest benefactors behind Paul Vallas' post-Katrina charter-ization of New Orleans two-tier school system. They have also been a force behind Michelle Rhee's Student First group and Teach for America. But their greatest passion seems to be so called "pension reform" The Arnolds have given millions to groups supporting ballot initiatives that would scale back what critics regard as "overly lavish public employee pension deals."

Anne Milgram, the former New Jersey attorney general hired to tackle the criminal-justice issue, has a name for all this: She calls it the "Moneyball" approach to giving, a reference to the book and movie about how the Oakland A's used smart statistical analysis to upend some of baseball's conventional wisdom.

Billy Bean, what hast thou wrought upon us and our "lavish" pensions?

But when Diane Ravitch and others called them out on this, they feigned hurt.You know -- "Don't hate us because we're rich" -- that kind of thing. They even copped to being liberals and Obama supporters, as if that would knock Ravitch off their trail.
I have been referred to as everything from a “young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation’s Koch brothers” (despite my very vocal support of President Obama and my numerous contributions to left-of-center causes) to a “lipless, eager little jerk.”
Whoever made the "lipless" remark ought to apologize. As you can see from the picture above, John has two lips.

 Ravitch admitted she was a little rough on them, and apologized for slightly overestimating how much money they made at Enron and even offered some suggestions about how the Arnolds could better spend their billions.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Look who's running the Broad Foundation

Bruce Reed
One of the characteristics of the Ownership Society is the fluid movement of key personnel back and forth between government and corporations. Carry this over into the world of ed reform and what's been called the education/industrial complex and you find similar movement between government, and power philanthropy.

The latest example has Bruce Reed, assistant to President Barack Obama and chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, being named president of the Broad Foundation, one of the big 3 in power philanthropy, along with Gates and Walton. According to a Broad Foundation release:
As the foundation's first president, Reed, 53, will oversee the activities and investments of The Broad Foundation's work to improve America's public schools. Founder Eli Broad will become chairman of the foundation.
Reed also has strong ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and co-authored with then-U.S. Rep. Emanuel, "The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America."

Since 1999, The Broad Foundation has "invested" more than $580 million in corporate-style school reform, focusing on the spread of privately-run charter schools and the training and insertion of many big urban district school superintendents.

Eli Broad is a powerful, politically-connected Los Angeles-based billionaire who was recently exposed for secretly funding a right-wing, anti-union group connected with the Koch Bros. He formerly helped run the failed giant AIG Corp., once the world's biggest insurer, into the ground.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How the D.C. charter hustlers play the game

Charter school hustlers in D.C. have come up with an innovative way to funnel public funds into their own pockets. In this case they  used the services of a local news personality, J.C. Hayward. to divert millions from Options Public Charter School

As the school’s board chairwoman, Hayward allegedly signed contracts and approved bonuses for the former managers. He was also a paid consultant” for Exceptional Education Services, one of the two for-profit companies involved in the case

D.C. officials have alleged in a lawsuit that three former managers at the Northeast Washington school diverted at least $3 million of that money to enrich themselves, engaging in a “pattern of self-dealing” that was part of an elaborate contracting scam. The civil case alleges that the managers created two for-profit companies to provide services to Options at high prices, sometimes with the help of a senior official at the D.C. Public Charter School Board.