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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bogus 'Parent Trigger' petition rejected by Anaheim board

Last month I wrote about an attempt in Anaheim, CA to privatize the management of another public school, using the so-called Parent Trigger law.

The law, which turns parent against parent in a community, gives a temporary majority, who are willing (often cajoled) to sign a petition, the power to hand their public school over to a private company. That company can then fire the principal and all the teachers as well as abrogate the district's collective bargaining agreement. It doesn't matter if next week, or next year, the majority shifts. The school can be privatized and there's little district parents and taxpayers can do about it.

Well, there is something they can do and they did it Thursday in Anaheim when the school board found that the petition submitted by a group of Palm Lane Elementary School parents failed to collect enough valid signatures to privatize the school.

According to a story in the Orange County Register, about 130 of the Palm Lane Elementary parents' signatures were determined to be invalid or unverified. Some parents signed the petition twice or two parents of one student signed the petition.

The privatization move at Palm Lane was backed by former State Sen. Gloria Romero's consulting group. the California Center for Parent Empowerment. Romero, a Democrat, has become the darling of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Bros. and receives funding from Walton, Broad and other powerful anti-union, pro-privatization foundations.

The discredited petition effort was also aided by the Hesperia, Calif.-based privatization consulting firm, Excellent Educational Solutions.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reed Hastings drops another $2M on his favorite charter

Netflix billionaire Scott Hastings, the teacher union hater who brought us the Vergara decision, announced he is giving $2M to a privately-run, Palo Alto-based charter school network.

According to
The $2 million will jumpstart a $17 million fundraising campaign that Rocketship is launching in order to open new schools over the next three years to serve thousands more “Rocketeers,” as the non-profit refers to its students.
Rocketship is a low-budget charter operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty, reduces its curriculum to a near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day. What supposedly set Rocketship apart from other charters was a financial model that allowed it to operate on government payments without continual infusions of cash from private donors. Most charters require additional funds to cover the costs of a longer school day, intensive tutoring and other expenses.

But facing a drop in student enrollment, the company recently announced it had scaled back its ambitions of rapidly enrolling 1 million students in 50 cities and went begging to their billionaire patrons like Hastings. Rocketship has been around for eight years and was celebrated early on for its ability to produce high test scores from a predominantly minority and immigrant student-base, but test scores have fallen in recent years. CEO and Co-Founder Preston Smith indicated that this was one of the reasons for slowed expansion.

Rocketship is organized as a 501C3, with a separate land holder, Launchpad LLC. The company suffered through a leadership transition after the exit last year of co-founder John Danner, who began a firm to supply software to schools. In the business world, it's called vertical integration.

"What happens when you have a relatively secretive organization that has an unelected board and has large growth plans?" asked Brett Bymaster, of San Jose, who organized his Tamien neighborhood to oppose a proposed Rocketship school there, filed a successful land-use lawsuit that has slowed the charter network and now runs a "Stop Rocketship" website that has attracted a local and national following.

Hastings is a powerful philanthropist for charter schools, currently serving on the board of the California Charter Schools Association and KIPP. He has also leveraged his power and money to push anti-immigrant legislation, including more English language testing on non-English-speaking students.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Adding charter schools to their investment portfolios

There's a couple of good Schooling in Ownership Society pieces in the media today. The first comes from my favorite education writer, Valerie Strauss (The Big Business of Charter Schools) in her Answer Sheet column, in today's Washington Post. 

Valerie Strauss
She has a link to one of my favorite headlines of all time at The Motley Fool investment blog. 
From Waterparks to Charter Schools, EPR Properties Has You Covered
 Are you looking to invest in giant water slides or movie theaters? How about charter schools and wineries? EPR Properties (NYSE: EPR  ) owns properties in all of these businesses and more.
Valerie helps make my case that public education has been a profitable business for the charter profiteers at the expense of students, families, communities and taxpayers.

When I first offered up that notion a decade ago, I was ridiculed by the very profiteers themselves.
"Trying to make a killing in the charter school business"?! Yeah, that's right, the charter school business is so profitable that I'm telling all my friends in the hedge fund business that they're in the wrong business. My message: "If you really want to make a lot of money, start a charter school!" LOL! -- Whitney Tilson 
LOL! indeed. In 2007, hedge-funder Tilson chided me for implying that there was a profit to be made in the charter school market while he and his group DFER were pursuing exactly that course.

Then there's the story of former football great, "Neon Deion" Sanders who tried to make a killing in the charter school business with Prime Prep Charter only to fail, fall into disrepute, and disgrace the once viable brand he worked so hard to create. Prime Prep was recently named by non-profit Children at Risk as the worst academic institution in North Texas. Don't miss this excellent piece (The Miseducation Of Deion Sanders) on his fall from grace, by Caleb Hannan at DeadSpin.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pearson's Power Philanthropy

An investigation by POLITICO finds that testing giant, Pearson Foundation’s charitable work repeatedly has been intertwined with the Pearson corporation’s business interests, potentially in violation of tax laws. Pearson now says it will shut down the foundation, permanently and move all of its philanthropic giving in-house. This after having to pay millions in fines stemming from their unethical and illegal funding practices in New York.

The Pearson Charitable Foundation was set up as an independent nonprofit with a mission to improve teaching and learning around the globe. But it has depended almost entirely on tens of millions in contributions from its parent, global publishing giant Pearson.

According to POLITICO's Stephanie Simon, Pearson foundation has worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop online courses aligned with the Common Core with the intent of letting Pearson sell most of them nationwide.

Does Pearson's foundation gambit sound a bit familiar? A little like Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, maybe? Or Walmart and the Walton Fund? It should. Increasingly these mega-corporations are using their foundations, not only to hide profits from the tax man, but to push a political agenda that benefits their ideological pursuits as well as their bottom line. Who pays for all of this? We do.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Quazzo's desperate letter to her troops. She's a walking billboard for an elected school board.

Rahm's hand-picked school board member Deborah Quazzo is pissed. She gives a bunch of "no comments" to Sun-Times reporters Lauren Fitzpatrick and Dan Mihalopoulos, in their latest expose of her companies. They reportedly raked in another $1.3 million from CPS-funded charters, including: Noble Network of Charter Schools, Urban Prep Academies, KIPP Chicago Public Charter Schools, LEARN Charter School Network and Perspectives Charter Schools.

She says, she can't talk about it because she is under investigation by the IG. But in private, she's making plenty of noise.

"Enough is enough", she threatens in a letter to her corporate friends and supporters as she tries to rally the troops in her behalf. I got a copy of the letter this morning. In it, she blames all her "unwanted publicity" on the Chicago Teachers Union, and a well-coordinated media conspiracy to defame her.
That said, with another story in Monday’s Chicago Sun-Times, I have now been featured in that paper seven times (including three front page stories) since December 22nd – as well as having had my office picketed by the Chicago Teachers Union.  The ink was not even dry on the initial cover article before an editorial was published the very next day calling for my resignation.  It is likely no coincidence that there is a City Club debate on the issue of an elected school board on Monday.  The seeming coordination is remarkable. 
She is a "private person", she says, "who has never sought publicity – favorable or otherwise" and is only serving on Rahm's board because she wants to help "all children". I don't blame her for wanting her dealings with CPS schools to remain in the dark. But maybe she should have thought of that before assuming a public position on the mayor' appointed board.

Most of Rahm's corporate backers protect their city and school board contracts simply by tossing a few grand into his already over-stuffed campaign fund or super PAC. They don't feel the need, as Quazzo obviously does, to sit on a board where they will attract public scrutiny.

She closes the letter with a paean to the mayor, an attack on "adult agendas" and a call for her hedge-fund friends to write angry letters on her behalf to the Sun-Times.
 Under the passionate leadership of Mayor EmanueI and the leadership at Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Public School students have a longer school day, access to full day kindergarten, and expansion of STEM and IB education among other initiatives.  Great progress is being made, as is seen in virtually all measures, but we still have a long way to go.  
I believe it is time for Chicagoans, and, individuals who care across the country, to stand up united against any force that distracts from our core mission – a better future for all Chicago’s children.  Adult agendas are driving focus away from what we should all care deeply about – the welfare of and future opportunity for ALL of Chicago's 400,000 students and for that matter all children in our country.  As an initial step towards that goal, I would so appreciate it if you would take a minute and express your views to the leadership at the Chicago Sun-Times.
She includes their names, pictures and contact information. 

Quazzo sounds pretty desperate. I think she's toast. Too much baggage for Rahm to carry. She should do the right thing and step down. Right now she's a walking billboard for an elected school board.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Schools Venture Fund creates new group for ed school deans pushing corp agenda

A small group of ed school deans are forming a new group called Deans for Impact, to push the corporate-reform agenda on new teacher training. The new group is being underwritten by the New Schools Venture Fund (see my January 26th post on NSVF).

Based in Austin, Texas, the group with about 18 members, launches this month with a $1 million grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Edweek's Stephen Sawchuck describes the group this way:
The new group's embrace of data-informed changes to teacher-preparation curricula—even, potentially, based on "value added" information—is likely to generate waves in the insular world of teacher preparation. 
 The idea of Deans for Impact was generated through informal conversations over a two-year period led by Benjamin Riley, a former director of policy and advocacy at the Oakland, Calif.-based NewSchools Venture Fund; David Andrews, the education dean at Johns Hopkins University; and Tom Stritikus, a former education dean at the University of Washington. (Mr. Stritikus now works for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)
Gee, what a surprise.
 AERA 2015 Annual Meeting Theme "Toward Justice: Culture, Language, and Heritage in Education Research and Praxis"Chicago, Illinois Thursday, April 16 - Monday, April 20
I'll be curious to see how the ed faculties as well as the students at these 18 schools respond to their dean's actions.

This might be a good time for a group of progressive college deans to get organized around promoting good teaching theory and practice (which doesn't include the discredited VAM or test-and-punish "accountability" models). Maybe something to think about for the upcoming AERA meeting in Chicago.