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

Friday, May 30, 2014

Zuckerberg's Latest 'Gift'

Fred Klonsky

Vast private donations have brought public dollars with them, giving America’s wealthiest people power over the  public agenda that some don’t think is healthy. -- Washington Post
I was interviewed this morning by CSM reporter Stacy Teicher Khadaroo about FB founder Mark Zuckerberg's latest $120M "gift" to San Francisco Bay Area Schools. What is it about the Billionaire Boys Club? They just can't seem to keep their grubby mitts off of public education. I wish they would stick to buying basketball teams.

Zuckerberg, the world’s 21st richest person, has a net worth that Forbes pegs at $28 billion. He claims that his $100M "donation" to Newark's public schools schools raised graduation rates by 10%. What horsecrap!
Where's the evidence?

We still don't even know exactly how that money was spent except that it was used to create a couple of new privately-run charter schools and that about a third of it was used to pay political and educational consultants and contractors through a slush fund set up by former mayor Corey Booker and Gov. Christie and provided a nice tax haven for MZ.

Maybe with Booker gone, new Mayor Ras Baraka can get to the bottom of it.

I told Khadoroo how Zuckerberg's 2010 "gift" helped set the tone for the continuing national erosion of public space and public decision making. I told her how the ACLU had to file a suit in 2011 to help local parents get records on how the money was spent. I told her how all over the country, power philanthropists are using gifts to resource-starved school systems, and in return, they reserve the right to effectively set education policy and funnel money to politically-connected consultants and for-profit programs.

I also told her to read our book on the topic. I hope she gets it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

IL Senate votes to kill Charter Commission. Bad news for Gülen charters?

Fethullah Gülen
The IL Senate voted to abolish the State Charter School Commission which had the power to override school district decisions to reject charter applications. The bill to abolish was sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood and passed the Senate 34-22. It now goes back to the House for possible action next week.

This watered-down version of the bill still leaves rejected charter operators a way into to local school districts. It would shift the Commission's authority to a newly created board to be impaneled by Gov. Quinn appointed Supt. Christopher Koch, with final decisions on rejected charter-school applications resting with the State Board of Education.

The Commission seems to have crossed the line when it overrode a CPS Board vote and cleared Des Plaines-based Concept Schools to open two new charter campuses in Chicago. The Sun-Times reported in December that Turkish billionaire and political intriguer Fethullah Gülen, who essentially owns Concept Schools and runs the biggest network of privately-run charters in the U.S., hosted House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and many other Illinois lawmakers on trips to Turkey in recent years.

And records show the state charter commission’s Springfield lobbyist is Liz Brown-Reeves  —  a former Madigan aide who accompanied lawmakers on their trip to Turkey in 2012. The Commission also received big funding from Walton and other private, pro-charter foundations.

I suspect this move is an attempt to clean up the the Gülen connection and create a buffer between the corrupt charter operation, Madigan and Gov. Quinn. Nevertheless, a win for school districts and the teacher unions who stood in opposition to the Commission. We'll see what happens in the House.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A handful of Common Core text/testing publishers buying up everything in sight

Captive audience marketing to kids on Channel 1 
Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just acquired Channel One and Curiosityville. HMH is one of the biggest text/testing publishers cashing in on the booming Common Core market, along with Pearson and McGraw-Hill.  In  2007, Pearson acquired Harcourt Assessment and Harcourt Education International.

Channel One News, founded in 1989 by school privatizer and captive-audience marketing guru Chris Whittle, produces daily news programs along with paid ads that are broadcast to nearly 5 million students in upper-elementary, middle, and high schools across the United States. The shows are delivered online and via satellite. On April 17, Channel One News devoted nearly one third of its program  to a “news story” about the U.S. Army.

Adding the video-production capabilities of Channel One to the publishing company will help it market its Go Math! program.
From Channel One's vantage point, the acquisition will mean the digital-content company "can leverage HMH's leading K-12 market position and its deep  relationships with school districts across the U.S. to offer innovative digital content and resources on an even broader scale," C.J. Kettler, Channel One's CEO, said in the statement.
A week after purchasing Channel One, HMH announced the acquisition of Curiosityville, which is marketed to parents and families to "help parents become great first teachers and children great learners" for school and life, according to its website. Terms of both sales were not disclosed.

PEARSON, a British conglomerate, continues to tout itself on its website as the world’s leading education company that operates in 80 countries, employs 40,000 people and generates 60 percent of its sales in North America. With its half-a-billion-dollar five-year contract with the Texas Education Agency, it is also by far, the leading tester in the Lone Star State.
Educator Jeanine McGregor acknowledged that Pearson has gobbled up several smaller publishing companies and warns if Pearson has a monopoly on assessment management, “they will be in a position to dictate the content taught as well as what the standards are.
Side Note: If you're thinking about getting a job at HMH, forget about it. The company was ranked the 10th worst place to work in America, according to a survey.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The great $660 billion public pension rip-off

Edward Siedle is president of Benchmark Financial Services and is a former investigator with the Security and Exchange Commission's Division of Investment Management. He writes in Sunday's New York Times:
Nearly a quarter of all state and local public pension assets have disappeared -- $660 billion in state workers’ retirement savings taken off the radar and swept into high-cost hedge, private equity, venture and real estate funds with little or no public oversight.
Kickbacks, bribery, self-dealing, fraud, tax evasion and outright theft have been protected as confidential “trade secrets” or “proprietary business information” exempt from disclosure to the public under various state freedom of information laws. Not surprising, the parties complicit in this secrecy strategy neglected to tell workers and other stakeholders about it. The policy itself was crafted and set in place in secrecy.
Read Siedle's entire account here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Duncan ignored his own I.G.'s warnings on charter fraud

The purpose of this report is to echo the warning issued by the OIG and to inform the public and lawmakers of the mounting risk that an inadequately regulated charter industry presents to our communities and taxpayers. 
NEW REPORT ON CHARTERS...“Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse,” authored by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education, echoes a warning from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General.

The report draws upon news reports, criminal complaints and more to detail how, in just 15 of the 42 states that have charter schools, charter operators have used school funds illegally to buy personal luxuries for themselves, support their other businesses, and more. The report also includes recommendations for policymakers on how they can address the problem of rampant fraud, waste and abuse in the charter school industry. Both organizations recommend pausing charter expansion until these problems are addressed.

The report explained that the problem has its roots in a historical disconnect between the original intentions that launched the charter school movement and the commercial forces that have overtaken it since. At first, the report noted:
    Lawmakers created charter schools to allow educators to explore new methods and models of teaching. To allow this to happen, they exempted the schools from the vast majority of regulations governing the traditional public school system. The goal was to incubate innovations that could then be used to improve public schools. i The ability to take calculated risks with small populations of willing teachers, parents, and students was the original design. With so few people and schools involved, the risk to participants and the public was relatively low. -- Salon
The report references a memorandum issued by the OIG to the Department. The OIG stated that the purpose of the memorandum was to, “alert you of our concern about vulnerabilities in the oversight of charter schools.” The report went on to state that the OIG had experienced, “a steady increase in the number of charter school complaints” and that state level agencies were failing “to provide adequate oversight needed to ensure that Federal funds [were] properly used and accounted for.”

IN NYC... In a contentious hearing Tuesday, City Councilman Daniel Dromm wondered aloud whether the city's 183 charter schools, which receive taxpayer money but are privately managed, were creating "educational apartheid" in the nation's largest school system. Mr. Dromm, a Queens Democrat, also said he wants more information about how charter schools discipline children and how much they pay their executives. --- WSJ

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Valerie Strauss reports in the Washington Post that British publishing/testing giant Pearson, has won another multi-million-dollar deal with one of the two multi-state consortia that are designing new Core-aligned states with federal funds.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is hiring Pearson, according to a news release, to develop test items and forms, deliver paper and online versions of tests, consult with states to come up with cut scores that determine what is a good score and what isn’t, report results to various constituencies, and analyze the scores.
 According to EdWeek, James Mason, who helped negotiate the contract, wouldn't put a price tag on the deal, but called it, "one of "unprecedented scale."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

'Tech vultures' LEAP towards profitability in Chicago

Millions of dollars intended to support innovations in resourced-starved public schools has long been funneled to privately-run charter schools. One of the chief funnelers in Chicago is non-educator Phyllis Lockett, a former leader of the Civic Consulting Alliance and New Schools for Chicago, a venture philanthropy organization that invests in the growth of privately-operated charter schools. She previously held marketing, sales and business development roles with Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, Kraft Foods and General Mills.

NSFC was originally established as The Renaissance Schools Fund by Chicago’s business and civic leadership (remember the debacle that was Arne Duncan's so-called Renaissance 2010?)  RSF raised $50 million, to create 13 charter networks and tripled the number of charter schools in Chicago. The Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA), is a consulting firm for government agencies.

Lockett was one of those people who made wild claims about charters, even touting them at one point as a cure for Chicago gun violence. Even while in the employ of Chicago Public Schools, she's mainly been a pitch woman for ed-tech companies.

But now Lockett is on the move. With a big investment from well-heeled corporate reformers, she's launched a new "education focused" non-profit, called LEAP Innovations, with $4.2 million in funding. Lockett said in a Wednesday interview that her goal is to raise $8 million to cover LEAP's first three years of operating expenses. Half the money is coming from the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation, which have historically backed privately run charter schools.

Chicago has the epicenter of tech company marketing to school systems and according to tech hustler and former Gates ed guy Tom VanderArk: 
Phyllis Lockett’s move from schools to tools is symbolic of the EdTech explosion in Chicago which rivals New York and may be second to the Bay Area in EdTech startups and funders. Lockett will help connect teachers to the tech sector while advancing short cycle trials and iterative development. Keep an eye on Chicagoland.
But except for buying some new furniture and window dressing, most of these millions will never really make it into classrooms and classroom teachers will have no say in how the money is spent. Rather, the money will go directly or indirectly the purchase of untested technology and required training of teachers.

As best I can tell, LEAP will be a conduit for tech companies competing for public school business. Lockett, who has no background or training in education, will then be in charge of evaluating whether these technologies "are working." Another component of the nonprofit, called The Collaboratory, will be a teacher training center. After all, these tech companies need more than a sales division. They also need public school districts to pay for training in the use of their products. The third focus will be working with schools to "overhaul" their teaching methods.

Among the seven Breakthrough Schools receiving the first round of Lockett's LEAP money, are some charter schools that don't even exist yet -- a middle school operated by KIPP and a school operated by Great Lakes Academy.

Reporter Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah wrote in Tuesday's Tribune about the nonprofit's first effort in that vein: Grants to seven Chicago schools to explore how gadgets, such as the iPad, can be used to tailor lesson plans to individual students.
"What happens is, you see all of these incubators and funds that have cropped up all over the country that are dedicated to education tech, but there's zero efficacy or validation as to what is actually working," Lockett said. "And educators are so overwhelmed with the budget pressures, with the accountability pressures, and they have no time to understand what's out there and what's good and what's not good. There are a lot of vultures out there."
Among the new technologies Lockett is selling are facial expression cameras, posture analysis seats, pressure computer mice, eye tracking devices, and computer programs to track a student’s mood be used in schools. The Tribune's Melissa Harris writes:
The first products LEAP will be testing through its pilot program focus on improving literacy among children in pre-K through eighth grade. Lockett expects reading instruction in the future to be far more individualized.For example, your computer's camera would follow your eyes as you read text online. Then, based on that eye scan, the software would be able to identify the words, phrases or even concepts that tripped you up and explain them in greater detail for you.
Yes, there's a lot of vultures out there.