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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

California corporate 'reformers' file suit so they can fire teachers without due process

Students Matter, a front group for corporate-style school "reformers" has filed suit in Los Angeles in an attempt to undercut statewide collective-bargaining agreements and to make it easier to fire teachers without due process.

The L.A. Times describes Students Matter as a group founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David F. Welch, a research scientist who went on to co-found Infinera, a manufacturer of optical telecommunications systems based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Welch is also a founder of the New Schools Venture Fund, a powerful force behind the growth of privately-run charter schools.
The suit, Vergara v. California, provides a way for the reformers to do an end run around the State Legislature where their moves would probably meet with strong opposition from labor-friendly Democrats.
The group is partly funded by organizations known for battling teachers unions. The foundation of Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, which has backed numerous education initiatives, also supports it.
The group hired a high-profile legal team to argue its case. It includes Boutrous, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and Theodore B. Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration. Olson argued Bush v. Gore, over the contested 2000 presidential election, before the U.S. Supreme Court. Along with Boutrous, Olson also represented activists who sought to overturn California's ban on gay marriage.
Backing Welch, according to the Washington Post,
...are some of the most incendiary players in the national argument over the future of public schools, including Michelle Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor who got rid of tenure in the District in 2009 and went on to form an advocacy group aimed at eliminating it across the country. Parent Revolution, the group behind the controversial “parent trigger” laws, is another supporter.
Other organizations behind the suit include: Alliance for a Better Community, California Charter Schools Association, Silcon Valley Leadership Group, GO Oakland Public Schools, and NewSchools Venture Fund. The suit is also supported by Superintendents John Deasy in L.A., former Oakland Supt.Tony Smith, and Jonathan Raymond of Sacramento City Unified.

The defendants in the case, which include Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and other state officials, have been joined by the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Check out the Times comment section for a few good responses to the suit. 
Also see "Vergara v. California Lawsuit Threatens Fundamental Teacher Rights" by Linda Plack from the United Educators of San Francisco.

Why was Pearson invited?

Mixed in with the college presidents and philanthropists at the WH Ed Summitt were a handful of business leaders, including executives from Chegg, iMentor, Khan Academy, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and Pearson. Other businesses, like the textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education, said they were aware of the event but did not attend.  (U.S. News)

The madfloridian's Journal raises good questions about why Pearson Corp. was invited to join Duncan and the Obama's at this month's White House Education Summit.
Just paid 7.7 mil fine for breaking law. That's odd to me. Pearson is making huge profits off their education reform ventures. It seems that even when they break the rules to the tune of millions they are still welcome in high places. 
The fine madfloridian is referring to was handed down in December. The Pearson Foundation, the charitable arm of one of the nation’s largest textbook and test publishers, was forced to pay $7.7 million to settle accusations that it repeatedly broke New York State law by assisting in for-profit ventures. Pearson is a for-profit corporation, and they are prohibited by law from using charitable funds to promote and develop for-profit products. In this case they were caught misusing their non-profit arm to bribe N.Y. and other state educators with international junkets.

Friday, January 24, 2014

More from Davos

From Bloomberg
Filipino mogul Enrique Razon loathes rubbing shoulders with fellow billionaires in Davos. “It’s loaded with bloated self-importance,” the casino and cargo-terminal owner said in an interview today in the Swiss village, where he was wrapping up his second trip to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. “I’m here to do business, not save the world.” 
 Razon, who controls a $4.7 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is one of at least 80 billionaires in town. Most have spent their time attending panels on the state of the global economy, debating income inequality and attending parties with bankers.

Bill & Melinda are there

Gates insists the world's a better place than it used to be. For him and his 84 friends, maybe. The world’s 85 wealthiest people hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion, or half the world population, according to a new report from global anti-poverty group Oxfam.
The global economy has become so skewed in favour of the rich that economic growth in many countries today “amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.” 
Telling the world's poorest that they are better off that they were 50 years ago, just won't cut it. As for Gates' own benevolence -- Injustice Facts Tweets, "100% of Bill Gates' donations are tax write-offs, 94% of his donations go to paying staff and corporate research, 4% goes to needy people."

See my note to Cong. Eric Cantor about his Davos junket.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Uh oh. Is Pearson in trouble?

Arne Duncan and state around the country have all their Common Core eggs in Pearson's basket. Problem is, the basket's got a hole in it.

The Guardian reports that the British mega-publisher's 2013 earnings would be lower than expected due to higher restructuring costs and poor demand for its North America education business in its key selling quarter.
In education, where it is the world leader, it is seeking to grow in emerging markets and tap into the rise in spending by a burgeoning middle class.
Pearson, the 170-year-old education and media group which is in the middle of a transformation under new leadership, said US state budget pressures, fewer enrollments and higher investment needs has battered its profit margins. The company, which for years beat market expectations as it rolled out its education and testing business around the world, was hit by a string of managerial changes and slowing growth in 2013

The group said the poor performance, which wiped £900m off its stock market value, reaffirmed the need to push ahead with a restructuring to focus on digital services, emerging markets and an improvement in its US education division.

Also see: The coming Common Core meltdown by Stan Karp in the Washington Post

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Norway fund won't invest in Walmart because they breach 'human rights & labor rights'. Gates objects.

Report from Davos where the super-rich and powerful come to party and to strategize.
Norway has a population slightly larger than the state of South Carolina but its government-run wealth fund has $833 billion in assets, making it one of the largest investors in the world. It owns 1.25 percent of all the shares worldwide, 2.5 percent in Europe, and it has a unique ethical mandate. That sees it avoid companies such as Walmart, which Norway deemed to have breached "human rights and labour rights."

But Bill Gates wants to change all that. The world's richest man is pushing for a profits-only investment strategy for Norway's Government Pension Fund Global. What does he have to say about Norwegian investments? Plenty.

The Gates Foundation, the world's largest, has deep ties to the Walton Family Fund. Taken together, they make up the largest group of investors in corporate-style school reform, including privately-run charters schools. Neither will sign on to current moves to make foundations act in line with ethical standards of social equity or environmental protection.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's at stake in privatization?

I don't think so and neither does Counterpunch
The Jan.14th edition of Counterpunch asks and answers
Nothing short of genuine education itself is at stake. What particularly vitiates the learning process is the introduction of a corporate culture or “market” forces that insist on measuring “student learning outcomes” by “objective” standards such as standardized tests; that place an emphasis on competition so that there are inevitably “winners” and “losers;” that regard democratic structures that include teachers with disdain; that narrow the curriculum so that job skills alone are valued; and that think in terms of education as valuable only as a means to material rewards.
But on a more pragmatic and less ideological level, education offers a tremendous source of profits when private, for-profit companies are allowed to move in. For this reason for-profit educational institutions have mushroomed during the past several decades.

The privatization movement is now in full force as a consequence of the growing inequalities in wealth. With the decimation of those with middle income, wealth has become concentrated at the top. With wealth comes power. Corporate owners have therefore found it much easier to impose their will and values on the rest of society.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ohio charters leading in the race to the bottom with a little help from their friends

David Brennan, White Hat Charters
As I posted here three years ago, to get a charter in Ohio, all you need it seems, is lots of money for local Republican campaigns and a white hat.

When it comes to crappy, low-performing, and mismanaged charter schools, Ohio certainly leads the race to the bottom. Columbus alone, had 17 charter school failures in the past year. Nearly 30% of all Ohio charters have closed since 1997. The median life of an Ohio charter school is four years.
According to the Raw Story:
A handful of large corporate charter school operators appear to be responsible for wide swaths of the problem. For example, The Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Boys and the Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Girls closed in October after inspectors at the schools discovered that students faced unsanitary conditions and poor management. Both schools were operated by the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center. 
 The North Central Ohio Educational Service Center also sponsored 21 other community schools in Ohio. In 2013, the firm attempted to open 16 community schools, including six schools that failed to open or closed within a few weeks of opening. 
Among the largest charter school authorizers in the state is the Fordham Foundation (connected to the Fordham Institute), currently headed by Michael Petrilli. They oversee 11 Ohio charters and have been among the loudest advocates for the expansion of privately-operated charters, vouchers, and so-called "choice".

Here's a list of the others.

Now that so many Ohio charters are closing, Fordham and several other operators have turned on each other, pointing their fingers and calling each other "weak authorizers." But it's hard for any of them to cast the first stone.

For example,  it was Petrilli's mentor at Fordham, Chester Finn who wrote a  letter to the Columbus Dispatch explaining why Ohio children should be grateful to Finn's pal and White Hat Management founder David Brennan for “rebutting those who would keep them trapped in crummy district school.”

Brennan and White Hat Management are known as being the most corrupt of the charter operators. He has been accused of bribing public officials and corrupt financial practices. In May 2010, the boards of ten White Hat-managed charter schools in Ohio filed suit against their parent company.
"Brennan was helped along by the intellectuals of the Buckeye Institute and Fordham Institute. They provided valuable cover for free-market "education" plans, and eventually these institutions proliferated in Ohio more than in any other state in the union." -- Progress Ohio 
According to former White Hat teacher Amy Rankin:
It's no secret that Brennan's schools are failing -- at rates far worse than the abysmal public schools they're meant to replace. White Hat's 20 Ohio Life Skills Centers, for example, are all on either academic watch or emergency. Not one meets the federal standard for yearly progress.
Sorry Chester, the state's children aren't grateful.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

More on digedu...

Guest post by Donald Davidson, a Chicago school parent.

Digedu is in at least six CPS public schools already (Lane Tech AC, LaSalle II, Hayt, Senn, Lincoln Park HS, Goethe) and also being used at Noble St charters. They provide not only their software, but also lease the hardware (tablets) and provide a fast, dedicated broadband connection that is only available to the classrooms using their software/hardware.

It looks like a common set up in that they pay a teacher to write a curriculum for them as part of a "fellowship" and then in exchange provide the teacher with software/tablets/broadband for their classroom. (e.g.  Internet access is so poor in much of CPS, and technology budgets have been so slashed that this is something that teachers are understandably willing to take advantage of.

It is unclear whether teachers retain any IP for lessons that they write themselves as they use digedu's software (whether for the fellowship or afterwards). In addition, digedu is collecting and saving all the data that students create as they use the software; it seems like they are using it for further commercial development purposes. It is questionable whether parents are being notified of this even though COPPA requires it.

Digedu's Manager of Policy and External Relations was working in the Mayor's Office of Public Engagement until this past September:

Howard Tullman was just named the head of 1871, the tech incubator, a month and a half ago:

Here's a little pro-disruption, anti-human-teacher's screed he penned during the strike last year:

The Tullmans should be pretty set no matter who wins the governorship. Howard threw a fundraiser for Pat Quinn in October:

I'm pretty sure the "personalized" learning that Matthew Tullman got at his prep school in Colorado meant a low student-teacher ratio, not a low student-tablet ratio. (The current student-teacher ratio there is 7:1.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

digedu rides the Common Core Express with Tullman's connections

Glenn Tullman and Rahm
When it comes to cashing in, there's nothing common about the Common Core.

digedu is a three-year-old company that's trying to ride the Common Core wave. The company uses tablets to "help schools customize courses" to students who often are at different academic levels. digedu is now used by 5,000 students in more than 40 schools in 12 states. About half the users are in Chicago, where the largest customer is Lane Tech Academic Center, a middle school on the North Side. Among digedu's biggest customers are charter schools like the misnamed Cesar Chavez Charter in D.C.

The company is run by Matthew Tullman, the 25-year-old nephew of  former Allscripts Inc. exec Glen Tullman who now runs tech venture fund 7wire and who in turn, has put more than $2.5 million into digedu. The company has 17 employees, a number Mr. Tullman plans to nearly double this year. He expects customers will grow slightly faster, fueled by the push toward “Common Core” education standards that he says will entice educators to consider new curriculum tools, such as digedu which claims to share more than 3,000 Common Core-aligned lessons

But how did this upstart company manage to pull down those Chicago contracts?

Well for one thing, rich Uncle Glenn is connected. He's a big-time contributor to the Democratic Party machine. As things go these days, that also makes him a patron of Republican candidate for governor, Bruce Rauner.

According to the Sun-Times:
Millionaire businessman Bruce Rauner, whose self-funding has meant his competitors are free to tap into unlimited money, was himself the beneficiary of a $250,000 contribution. It came from Glen Tullman, the former CEO of Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, according to a newly filed campaign report.
But wait, it gets better:
 Tullman’s donation, however, flags a different potential Republican primary issue for Rauner, who already has been criticized for being too chummy with Democrats. Records show Tullman has contributed to Democrats — including Gov. Pat Quinn. Tullman is the brother of major Democratic donor and Democratic National Committee Trustee Howard Tullman, who has donated to former President Bill Clinton and who is friends with — and was briefly the landlord of — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Wow! These Tullman's get around, don't they? You bet, it's good for business.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Billionaire wing-nut throwing his money around Missouri 'school reform'

It's hard to imagine that a wackadoo wing-nut like Rex Sinquefield could be the director of a St. Louis children's social service agency or a trustee at DePaul University (where I teach). But nevertheless, there he is -- the billionaire teacher hater, who once called public education, "an invention of the Ku Klux Klan" to hurt African American children -- still throwing his money around so-called school reform.

This time he's personally funding a campaign for an amendment to the state constitution in Missouri that would break teacher tenure and put the state's teachers on a pay-for-test-scores regimen.
The “” initiative would limit teacher contracts to no more than three years. It also requires “teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted, and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system,” according to the summary on the group’s website.
Diane Ravitch blogs:
Sinquefield founded a fund that now manages over $300 billion. He is also founder and president of the Show-Me Institute, a libertarian policy belief-tank.
We have seen in state after state that conservative ideologues can buy politicians. But we will see whether they can also buy enough of the public, through advertising and public relations, to start the purge that Sinquefield believes is necessary.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Ward Room: Chicago charters, "a tangle of insider dealing, cronyism and political favoritism"

NBC's Ward Room report on charters offers an unequivocal assessment.
As charter schools continue to take root, however, one fact is clear: No process this steeped in political cronyism and insider dealing should be allowed to continue.
 The report recounts the way a politically-connected Chicago charter school operator, Concept Schools, Inc. (owned by Turkish billionaire Fethullah Gulen) used it's clout to receive approval and funding to open two schools in Chicago after being turned down by the Chicago Public Schools.

CPS said the charter’s current school, Chicago Math and Science Academy, wasn’t doing a good enough job to warrant expansion. So the company appealed to the Illinois State Charter School Commission, an agency created with the help of House Speaker Michael Madigan, a firm backer of charter schools in general and Concept in particular. Madigan is already implicated in the UNO charter scandal.
Concept is getting 33 percent more funding per pupil than other charters. The agency board included a retired chief executive of Caterpillar, Inc., who serves as president of the board of a Peoria school that’s managed by Concept. Politicians, including Madigan, took foreign trips as guests of an organization tied to the schools. More than half of the state charter commission’s budget has come from private contributions, including powerful corporations that back charter expansion.
The report concludes:
 The whole story is a tangle of insider dealing, cronyism and political favoritism, played out against a backdrop of massive transfer of public education funds from public to private schools in Chicago and across the state.