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

Monday, December 26, 2016

New for-profit ed management company won't pull Ohio charters out of the muck.

Few states rely so heavily on for-profit management companies as does Ohio. Lately, corporate reformers at the Cambridge Education Group, have formed a new charter school network in to try and clean up the mess created by their former notorious company, for-profit White Hat charters. But Cambridge's new name is not enough to pull them from the muck and corruption of "free market" education.

The company was formed in 2012, founded by Marcus May, a former White Hat executive.

Beacon Journal staff writer, Doug Livingston writes:
The Akron company and the 20 Ohio charter schools it manages are seeking to disentangle themselves from the likes of White Hat Management, a primordial force in Ohio’s charter school movement.
 But Cambridge claims to be different. It has no interest in owning school assets or signing property leases that make it hard for school boards to fire the management companies they hire.
But, writes Livingston, "Cambridge, for all its promise, can’t shake a past rife with questionable business relationships."

Summit Academy, White Hat, Concept Schools of Illinois and Imagine Schools of Virginia and other for-profit charter networks, all like to buy the school buildings they manage, drawing revenue from rent and putting school boards at a disadvantage if they wish to shop around for a new operator. Cambridge school boards — starting with Towpath Trail High School on Market Street — are collecting property deeds, eliminating their use as bargaining chips.


Ohio’s charter schools ...
Drawing state dollars from local school districts, charter schools presented a cheaper, market-driven alternative to government-run schools.
■ Ohio law allowed for the first charter schools in 1998.
■ Nearly 40 percent of the 595 charter schools that ever opened in Ohio have closed. Financial difficulty is cited three times as often as academic failure. More than half the time, closure is voluntary, according to a state directory of shuttered charter schools.
■ Ohio’s charter schools rank among the lowest in the nation in advancing student learning.

May founded Rearden Capital and d’Anconia Development to provide financing and line up private investors to purchase school property, often with an option for the schools to buy the property later. “Rearden” and “d’Anconia” are the neoliberal protagonists in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s ode to an unfettered free-market capitalism. Such is the philosophy May and others bring to public education.

A grand jury in Florida indicted School Warehouse and Newpoint Education Partners, May’s version of Cambridge in Florida, on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white-collar crime.

And so it goes. It's White Hat without the hat.

THE FALLOUT... The Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, one of Ohio’s leading charter-school lobbying and advocacy organizations is disbanding after a decade of shaping the state’s charter-school policy. Some say its demise stems from Ohio’s poor charter-school record, which is causing national funders to pull their support.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Did Moskowitz cut a deal with Trump?

Last month, charter schools' biggest hustler, Eva Moskowitz, who pulls down a half-million/year as the operator of N.Y. Success Academies, was in the running for Trump's Sec. of Ed post. She didn't get the job. Trump gave it to fellow plutocrat and religious zealot Betsy DeVos instead.

The Trump transition team may have been frightened off by the spate of negative press about her schools' discipline practices and internal workings and the ongoing federal investigation conducted by the Office of Civil Rights, as well as mounting criticism from local elected officials. It is unclear whether Moskowitz could have even been confirmed as a cabinet official of an agency that is investigating her schools.

But that didn't stop Moskowitz, a Clinton supporter, from swearing loyalty to Trump and his plan for market-driven public schools.

Moscowitz bought space here for $68M.
Then, no sooner had she plopped down $68M in school money for the purchase of ground-floor classroom space in a glitzy Midtown tower, when the auditors caught up with her.

Today she is under fire for financial mismanagement and allegedly ripping off the taxpayers and even her own Success Academy schools for millions of dollars, including thousands that were supposed to have been spent on services that were never delivered to students with special needs.

The Observer reports: 
An audit  by city Comptroller Scott Stringer discovered rampant inaccuracies in the financial reports of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter school chain—including internal assessments that created the appearance of lower administrative costs, bills to the city for special education services the company could not prove it ever provided and duplicative payments that the chain’s management arm collected from its schools.
 The audit found that in fiscal year 2015, Success Academy schools paid the Success Academy Network an extra $624,342 for services that the Network should have provided in exchange for its $18.3 million management fee. Those services include staff training and professional development, printing, copying and student assessments.
All this has me wondering if this was the real purpose of the Moskowitz's flirtation with Trump. Was she running to him for cover, offering fealty and rendering unto Caesar in exchange for protection? Was she looking at a possible job in the Trump administration as an escape route from the arms of city prosecutors?

We'll soon find out if her gambit worked.

Cross-posted at Mike Klonsky's SmallTalk blog.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bill Gates is the perfect partner for Trump. No billionaire left behind.

“But in the same way President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that... whether it’s education or stopping epidemics … [or] in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that [Trump’s] administration [is] going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation.” -- Bill Gates
Okay, so now that Bill Gates has jumped aboard the Trump train, that means no billionaire is left behind. Right? (Bloomberg??).  Gates' comparison of Trump to JFK may sound like a stretch to some. To me too. But Gates claims it's all about innovation. JFK did champion the Cold War space race with the Russians while Trump seems to have joined the other side. But maybe Gates means they both pushed war with Cuba. I don't know. The world's a much different place now. I'm pretty sure Gates wants no part of a trade war with China.

What I do know is that Trump is a perfect fit for the world's richest man and his muscle-foundation. For one thing, Gates is all for deregulation of industry, a promoter of nukes and is one of the world's great all-time polluters. The Gates Foundation's record in Africa (no Virginia, he wasn't just about vaccines) is criminal and the foundation was also one of the biggest stockholders in BP Oil when the great Gulf oil spill happened.

For another, like Trump he's a great believer in strong-man, autocratic leadership and finds democratic processes messy and too expensive and time consuming for someone with his economic leverage.

As an example, Gates was forced to spend millions on a referendum in Washington State authorizing charter schools. It failed three times before winning in 2012 by 1 percent of the vote. Voting is much to stressful and expensive a process for the world's richest man.

As for the rest of the Gates Foundation's education reform initiatives, they won't have to change much under Trump rule. I doubt the Gates' will be dumping any more funds into Common Core Standards, even though Betsy DeVos has been a supporter of CCSS in the past. Gates was already starting to back away from the standards back in August and DeVos is not likely to pursue them given the influence of the anti-common core Alt-right's influence in the regime. On the campaign trail, Trump referred to Common Core as a “disaster” and Trump voters are generally wildly anti-Common Core as well as anything even faintly federal.

Bill and Melinda will likely embrace Betsy DeVos' choice (charter and voucher) mania as they always have. As for DeVos' penchant for blurring the lines between public and private, and between state and religion, Gates has never had a problem with either. I remember the foundation once giving millions to the Discovery Institute, a group pushing the teaching of Intelligent Design.

Gates is big on using student test results as a basis for evaluating teachers. We'll have to wait and see how DeVos falls out on that.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

My investment tip for the DeVos era. Charter school real estate.

Clockwise from top left: the Coral Springs – Imagine School, Imagine At South Vero, Plantation – Renaissance Charter School, Championship Academy of Distinction Davie Campus, and Charter School Capital CEO Stuart Ellis

I'm thinking back to the time when hedge-fund school reformer Whitney Tilson mocked me for suggesting that he and his investment group were profiteering from privately-run charter schools.
"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!
Turns out I was spot-on and he was covering up. 

So this is the time of year I like to hand out more free investment advice to my readers. You're welcome. 

With the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Trump's education chief, charter school real estate profiteers and corporate reformers like Tilson are rubbing their hands together with glee. This is a great time to get into that market while stock prices are still relatively low. 

Charter School Capital, an academic investment group based in Portland, just scooped up five charter schools spread throughout Florida for $71.74 million. The sellers were MG3 Development Group and ESJ Capital Partners, a pair of local real estate companies. The deal illustrates how investing in nontraditional real estate like schools can be lucrative, especially when other markets like residential and commercial properties appear to be cooling down. 
The deal breaks down to $17,935 per enrolled student. Not bad.

More from the Real Deal...
Despite their controversial status among educators, charter schools have become hot commodities in the real estate community, with a slew of new speculative projects breaking ground in South Florida over the past year. Notably, the W.P. Carey investment trust bought a Broward County preparatory school for $68.6 million in June as part of a larger $167 million deal to acquire three U.S. private academies.
Of course, if profiteering off of the lives of primarily poor, black and Latino students makes you puke or keeps you from facing yourself in the mirror, I would suggest you find another area of investment.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gwen Ifill interviewed George Bush in 2004 about the 'ownership society'

We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of the great, path-breaking journalist, Gwen Ifill, who died yesterday at the age of 61. Much too soon.

I'm happy I got to meet Gwen once in D.C. and tell her personally how much I thought of and respected her.

She appears in our book, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society which highlights her 2004 give-and-take with Pres. George W. Bush on the Jim Lehrer Newshour, in which Ifill credits Bush and V.P. Dick Cheney with coming up with the term, Ownership Society. 
GWEN IFILL: During the campaign, President Bush and Vice President Cheney coined a new phrase to describe the economic promise of a second term. They said they would create an “ownership society,” one that would lower taxes and shift more of government’s burden to individuals.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe our country can and must become an ownership society. When you own something, you care about it. When you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of your country. 
The ownership society terminology was coined to reassure Bush's relatively small, but single-minded Republican base that "free market" reforms, including the privatization of public space, would be pushed aggressively in the 2004 election campaign.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Pritzker gives Hillary a pat on the head and wants her to move into ed philanthropy.

Chicago Billionaire J.B. Pritzker was the chair and chief money bungler bundler for the Clinton campaign. He's the heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune and hotel union-buster supreme. He told Crain's that his aim, "isn't ego gratification; it's all about making money". I suspect it's both.

Last month I called him out on his special-ed hustle with Goldman Sachs. It allows private firms to foot the initial bill for public education services and then be repaid with interest if those services reduce the number of kids in special ed. They call it "social impact" investing. I call it a plot to reduce services for needy kids -- or public education meets the Ownership Society.

Chicago Mag calls him, "the other mayor of Chicago" even though he's lost every political election in which he's run (I think it's one). He's even got a Chicago charter school named after him.

In this morning's Sun Times, Pritzker hands out the party line on the election postmortem. Like the rest of the Democratic leadership, Pritzker takes no responsibility for the defeat and puts all the blame on Comey, the pollsters, and men. He forgot about the Russians and the electoral college for some reason.

So the story goes,
 He praised Clinton for running “a campaign of substance” and made up of “the best statisticians and data analytics people in the world.”
If any of that were true, H.C. would have won by a landslide. What were the substantive issues of her campaign? Basically, "I'm not as bad as Trump and the Russians are rigging the election." Certainly nothing young potential voters or much of anyone else could get excited about. She barely mentioned the education.

And if her statisticians and data analysts were so great, couldn't they at least have told her to visit Wisconsin at once during the entire campaign, instead of spending silly time in Arizona a week before doomsday? Or maybe they did and she just wanted to hang out with her pal, McCain.
“She ran the campaign while Republican bullets were flying and with a media that gave him (Donald Trump) more airtime and enjoyed following his antics more than they did talking about the qualifications and experience of what it would take to be president,” Pritzker says.
Republican bullets flying? Really? Well yeah, it's an election campaign. Unless of course, he's not being metaphorical and mean real bullets, like the kind supposedly fired at her in that cockamamie story about her landing "under sniper fire" in Bosnia.

But the thing that really got me in the Pritzker interview was this...
Looking ahead, Pritzker expects Clinton, now “a statesperson of historic importance,” to advise leaders. And he hopes she’ll become a force in philanthropy — ideally in early childhood education. That issue is especially important to Pritzker, who was co-chair of Clinton’s Education Policy Working Group. Clinton’s view of education is a “big reason” Pritzker supported her.
No mas, please. Hands off public ed. We've been philanthro-peed enough. No more school-closers and privatizers needed. Just pay your damn taxes Mr. Pritzker and leave the schools alone.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Crooked pol Calderon, tied to Michelle Rhee, finally going to jail

Michelle Rhee, former D.C. school chancellor and darling of the far-right and corporate reformers, used Students First money to buy politicians like former CA State Sen. Ron Calderon. Now it looks like Calderon is finally on his way to prison while Rhee has ended up at a fertilizer company. 

Good riddance to both.
More than three years after FBI agents raided the Capitol office of former state Sen. Ron Calderon, the corruption case against the Montebello Democrat finally comes to an end.
Calderon, who pleaded guilty in June to one count of mail fraud for accepting tens of thousands of dollars and jobs for his children in exchange for official acts, is set to be sentenced at noon in federal court in Los Angeles. Originally charged with 24 counts, including bribery, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns – allegations that could have netted Calderon a maximum 396-year sentence – prosecutors are now requesting that he serve five years in prison. -- Sacramento Bee
Calderon would never have been elected in the first place were it not for Michelle Rhee. She funneled $371,000 to him, which helped put his losing campaign over the top. In exchange, he agreed to sponsor anti-union, charter school legislation, SB441.

He went on to make similar quid pro quo deals with payday loan companies, the fireworks industry and others, until finally taking a bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as a filmmaker calling himself, "Rocky Patel".

Okay, so he's not the brightest bulb on the tree.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Billionaire pipeline investor Hamm is also a big charter school backer

Billionaire Hamm is Trump's main energy advisor. 
Billionaire Harold Hamm is the founder CEO of energy giant, Continental Resources. Continental is the largest leaseholder in the nation’s premier oil play, the Bakken Play of North Dakota and Montana. Based in Oklahoma City, the company also has a leading presence in the Anadarko Woodford Play of Oklahoma and the Red River Units Play of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

Hamm recently announced to investors that oil it obtains via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin is destined for transport through Standing Rock Sioux territory via the Dakota Access pipeline.

MORE ABOUT HAMM... He's Donald Trump's energy adviser and a likely pick for U.S. Energy Sec. should Trump be elected.

As you might have already guessed, Philanthro-capitalist Hamm is also a big player in the world of school privatization and charter schools. His favorite seems to be ASTEC charters, the first charter in Oklahoma.

He's also appealing his divorce settlement which called for him paying out $1B to ex-wife Sue Ann. He claims a drop in oil prices negatively affected his finances. It seems that $18 billion doesn't go as far as it used to.

Will ASTEC be next on the chopping block?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wall St. investors make a killing at CPS

The Chicago public school system needed money—fast. Never letting a good crisis go to waste, Wall St. investors stepped in to save the day -- and make their day.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Chicago-based Nuveen Asset Management have made realized and paper profits exceeding $110 million on purchases this year of $763 million in Chicago Public Schools bonds. The school system has said it needed the money to replenish its dwindling coffers before the new school year and to build and repair facilities.

The terms of the bond sales highlight the choices the school district faces after years of pension shortfalls and relying heavily on borrowing. The 397,000-student school district struggled to sell municipal bonds in February until Nuveen bought about one-third, and the district decided in July to borrow directly from J.P. Morgan for fear that investors might balk again, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Board of Education said.

J.P. Morgan, the country’s largest bank by assets, made a 9.5% profit on $150 million in bonds it bought in July and sold in September, or 82% annualized. Nuveen, an investment firm managing $160 billion, has bought $613 million in bonds since February for a total return, including price gains and interest payments, of about 25%. That is almost 50% on an annualized basis, an especially large gain at a time of near-zero interest rates.

The school system’s bonds are a favorite for John Miller, Nuveen’s co-head of fixed income, who said the firm bought when the market feared a default, a concern he called overblown.
“At the end of day, this school system is critically important to Chicago—to the whole country really,” he said.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Another 'shift' at the Gates Foundation. More mea culpas.

“I want the foundation to be the neutral broker...” -- Melinda Gates

I suppose this means that the power philanthropists are now projecting themselves as disinterested reform partners rather than who they are -- the most powerful, top-down, non-governmental (unelected) shapers of global social/economic policies in history. Not to mention, being a shell for tax avoidance for the world's richest man. 

Melinda's quote comes from yesterday's Washington Post, supposedly signaling some introspection and a strategic adjustment of Gates Foundation investments in Common Core. The changes come in the face of mounting criticisms of corporate-style school reform and of the foundation itself. Much of that criticism is coming from black community organizations, the opt-out movement, and from within oppositional forces within the Democratic Party as election time draws near.  

Some are anticipating a shift away from current reform policies with the election of Hillary Clinton. I'm not counting on it. 

It seems like every five years or so, faced with stinging criticism from those most affected by their reform interventions, Gates Foundation leaders go through similar self-adjustments while sticking to their same overall theory of change.They tweak their top-down reform funding strategies, admit they've bet on the wrong horse, leave old projects hanging, and promise next time, to be "better listeners". But how real is their self-crit? It's usually limited being "too impatient" or "too naive" about great amount of time it takes to bring the uninsightful, unwashed masses to buy into their interventions. 

And here's the latest:
CHICAGO — Melinda Gates said she and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, learned an important lesson from the fierce pushback against the Common Core State Standards in recent years. Not that they made the wrong bet when they poured hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting the education standards, but that such a massive initiative will not be successful unless teachers and parents believe in it.
“Community buy-in is huge,” Melinda Gates said in an interview here on Wednesday, adding that cultivating such support for big cultural shifts in education takes time. “It means that in some ways, you have to go more slowly.”
 That does not mean the foundation has any plans to back off the Common Core or its other priorities, including its long-held belief that improving teacher quality is the key to transforming public education. “I would say stay the course. We’re not even close to finished,” Gates said.
In the past, some within the philanthropy community have charged that Gates has effectively bought the silence of would-be critics. 

“The danger isn’t in what people do tell you—it’s in what they don’t,” departing foundation CEO Patty Stonesifer warned in the 2007 annual report.
In other words, Stonesifer says, the Gates Foundation needs honest feedback and criticism to help it figure out how best to improve the health of the world’s poor, boost food production in Africa and improve schools in the U.S.
Honesty can be hard to come by, though, when you’re handing out staggering amounts of cash. And some question how sincere the foundation is about listening to critics.
“They’re not really fostering tough debate,” said Pablo Eisenberg, a columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. “They have not solicited and gone after people who will tell them the truth.”
Last year, Bill Gates himself acknowledged the foundation’s struggles in a speech at an event in Seattle, marking the 20th anniversary of its Global Health initiative. He said, that on the measure of “which of these inventions would go on over time to actually save lives, I have to say at the time I was pretty naive about how long that process would take”. 

Gates pushing Common Core in Honduras.
Faced with increasing criticism of their health investments in third-world countries, Gates copped to "underestimating the effort required to implement new technologies in countries without basic services, including clean water and reasonable medical care".

But that hasn't stopped the foundation from pushing Common Core in underdeveloped countries like Honduras. 

Naive? Really?

Remember when they ditched their $2B investment in high-school reform and small schools, claiming that their pet projects didn't produce fast enough results (standardized test scores)? Bill Gates' 2009 letter, which was posed as a self-critical evaluation, actually blamed the Gates-funded schools themselves for not being "radical" enough and indirectly, the teacher unions for not being faithful to his top-down model. 
These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum. We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.
The letter marked the foundation's shift away from public school reform to a one-track strategy of underwriting privately-run charters and the management organizations that run them. It's a strategy that ultimately helped widened educational inequality and accelerated school re-segregation.

After that it was on to "teacher quality" and the pushing teacher evals based mainly on test scores. But then...
The foundation... publicly acknowledged pitfalls in overemphasizing test scores and argues that while test scores should play a role in teacher evaluations, those evaluations must also give teachers the feedback they need to improve through classroom observations, student surveys or other subjective methods.
It seems that now the foundation is trying to adapt it's investment strategies to the new reform environment under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which shifts more decision-making power from the federal level, back to the states. Now, along with pouring dollars into national Common Core efforts and placing foundation people inside the D.O.E., Gates will have to push reform interventions state by state making it that much tougher to gain quick results.
Gates said the foundation also will work to persuade states to invest in databases that gather information about students, tracking their backgrounds, experiences and performance from preschool to college and career.
But Gates self-critique misses the mark. It's not about you going more slowly so that school community folks can finally get it. It's not about teachers and parents "believing" in Gates' initiatives. Gates-ism is not a religion. Neither is it about getting a "buy-in" for reform products -- in this case the aforementioned "big cultural shift". BTW, the term buy-in should be banished forever from reform lexicon along with every other cliche that sees reform as a commodity.

But are they betting on the right horse?
Not buying-in is Black Lives Matter

This from EdWeek:
Organized under the Movement for Black Lives, the agenda also targets some of the most powerful philanthropic backers of the charter school sector—the Walton Family Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—for bankrolling what it calls "an international education privatization agenda".
According to WaPo:
Last week, the Movement for Black Lives — a coalition of dozens of black-led organizations, including the Black Lives Matter Network — released a policy platform that decried the Gates Foundation as part of a “systematic attack” on public schools that “strips Black people of the right to self-determine the kind of education their children receive.” It called for an effort to invest in, not close, struggling schools serving black children, and it accused education policymakers of listening to unelected philanthropists instead of students, teachers and parents.
That critique will be a tough one for Gates to tweak.

For more background, take a look at this WaPo piece by Lindsey Layton from 2014: "How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution." Here my favorite line from Layton's piece...
Gates grew irritated in the interview when the political backlash against the standards was mentioned. “These are not political things,” he said. “These are where people are trying to apply expertise to say, ‘Is this a way of making education better?’ ”
The one thing you don't want to do is get this man "irritated".

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Charter patron, union basher Whitman buys into the Clinton campaign

An actress dressed as union basher, "Queen Meg" greets members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) during a rally at the CNA offices in Oakland.

I may live to regret these words, but I will unabashedly be voting for Hillary Clinton in November. Having said that, let me point out that many fellow Clinton supporters give me the creeps. Oh well. Strange bedfellows and all that.

If Hillary loses to neo-fascist Trump in November, it won't be because she ran out of cash. Lately, in a backlash against Trump's continued spewing of disgusting anti-immigrant and anti-woman garbage, there's a growing group of conservative Republican Wall Streeters throwing their money behind Clinton.

The latest GOP billionaire to endorse HC is former eBay and Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman who revealed that Clinton, had reached out to her in a phone call about a month ago, one of the first indications that HC was aggressively courting Republican leaders.

Whitman has called Trump a "fascist", a "demagogue" and "a threat to American democracy" (she's obviously been paying attention) and tells NYT:
“I will vote for Hillary, I will talk to my Republican friends about helping her, and I will donate to her campaign and try to raise money for her.” 
Hillary getting millions in Wall St. cash comes as no surprise to anyone. Bernie Sanders made it a central issue in his primary run. But for Californians, who overwhelming voted against her in her own run for governor, and for educators in particular, any Whitman influence in the Clinton campaign or a position in a Clinton regime, would especially odorous. 

Whitman, who backed Romney in 2012, has spent millions and much of the past decade pushing for expansion of privately-run charter schools and other privatization initiatives. In her losing run (paid for with $144M of her own money) for governor against Jerry Brown, she made lifting the cap on charter school expansion a centerpiece of her campaign. 

In 2011, she bankrolled Silicon Valley charter schools to the tune of $5 million through her Whitman-Harsh Family Foundation. One of those schools, Summit Preparatory Charter High School, was featured in the anti-public-school 2010 documentary “Waiting for Superman.” 

Whitman also sits on the board of Teach for America (TFA). 

She is virulently anti-union. Her position on immigration is more closely aligned with Trump than with Clinton. And Whitman has been a leading voice for abolishing the state's capital-gains tax which accounts for more than $11 billion in state revenue. 

Now $11B may not sound much these days, but to put it in context, the estimated cost to CA taxpayers for free UC tuition for every in-state student (Bernie's much maligned campaign centerpiece) is $3B. 

Should this make Clinton supporters uncomfortable and vigilant? Yes indeed. Should it keep us from voting against Trump in November. Absolutely not.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Charter billionaires invade WA to attack supreme court justice

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen
In September, WA's state supreme court ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional because they are governed by appointed — rather than elected — boards and therefore are not “common schools” eligible for state education funds. The chief justice, Barbara Madsen, wrote that “money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools.”

Now, charter supporters, including billionaires like Eli Broad, Paul Allen, Connie Ballmer, Ken Fisher and Alice and Jim Walton, are backing a campaign to oust Madsen.

Much of the money is flowing in from outside the state. The political arm of an organization called Stand for Children is backing Madsen's pro-charter opponent, with some $116,000 in July alone.

Most of the cash is coming from Connie Ballmer, a philanthropist married to former Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, who gave $500,000. Others include Vulcan Inc. and Netflix founder and Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings.

Fisher funded a new political action committee called Judicial Integrity Washington. In recent weeks, the PAC has spent $100,000 on radio ads for Madsen's pro-charter opponent, Greg Zempel.

In 2011, Stand for Children’s Jonah Edelman, co-founder and chief executive officer, was caught on video, bragging about how he manipulated people to get reform legislation passed in Illinois.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Privatization has become the standard conservative response

Privatization guru Milton Friedman
Donald Cohen at TPM gives us a good history of privatization and the current attack on public space and public decision making.

Today, after 50 years of attack on government, privatization is a standard conservative response to tight public budgets, a key pillar of attacks on government, and a lucrative market opportunity for domestic and global corporations. Large corporations operate virtually every type of public service including prisons, welfare systems, infrastructure, water and sewer, trash, and schools. For example:
In 1988 AFT president Al Shanker proposed a new idea: To create charter schools where teachers could experiment and innovate and bring new ideas to the nation’s public schools. Today, nearly 3 million children attend charters, and large corporate chains and billionaires are funding the rapid growth of privatized, publicly funded charters.
“Cities have been discovering that public services do not necessarily have to be reduced by government or paid for by taxes,” the Privatization Council’s David Seader told the Milwaukee Journal in 1986. Individuals can pay for what they use and private companies are ready to take their money.

Cohen on Bill Clinton
Perhaps Clinton’s most significant contribution to privatization was ideological. The NPR reports redefined government services in market terms – “citizens” became “customers” of public services and competition became a guiding management principle.
A new pro-public movement, with this history in mind, is growing quickly, says Cohen.

It has become clear that the 40-year conservative assault on government is enriching some and leaving more and more Americans behind. Groups across the country are organizing and starting to see success. Water systems are being remunicipalized, private prison companies are losing contracts (and both Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to end for-profit incarceration), and a growing movement is focused on rebuilding our national commitment to public education.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What is the BIA and what the hell are they doing in Uganda?

Shannon May
Some might see it as the great white hope coming to save and fix the poor in Africa. I see it as cultural imperialism -- taking the worst aspects of American corporate-style school reform and spreading, with the might and power of power-philanthropy and the World Bank, to countries that can least afford to resist.

Bridge International Academies (BIA) is a for-profit organization active in privatizing public education in several African countries including Liberia, Kenya and Uganda. They have already built 412 for-profit schools in Kenya in six years. BIA co-founders, Shannon May and her husband, Jay Kimmelman, have raised more than $100 million from Bill GatesMark Zuckerberg, and the  Omidyar Network (eBay founder Pierre Omidyar) to push their "Education in a Box" model in Africa.

According to the Washington Post:
BIA — which is supported by the World Bank; Pearson, the world’s largest for-profit education company; and billionaire education philanthropists Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, among others — operates a chain of for-profit schools in a few African countries, charging what it says is an average of $5 a month to families for high-quality nursery and primary education in places where public education is poor or nonexistent.
Curtis Riep, a Canadian doctoral student, doing research about BIA, on behalf of Education International (a federation of 396 associations and unions) was recently arrested by Ugandan authorities. Riep was arrested on charges of "impersonating a BIA officer" and trespassing, but was cleared of all charges and released two days later. But the episode put a spotlight on BIA and how the company works.

According to Education International, the whole affair was a set-up by BIA in order to intimidate Riep and any other researchers from shining a light the group's operations.

The Bridge formula is designed to be replicable. Its 5,000 trained teachers read scripted lessons from e-reader tablets. Parents pay an average of $6 per pupil, and have access to a 24-hour hotline.

May, who earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from UC Berkeley, explains the formula, referred to here as "Academies in a box" or "McDonaldization".

Instead of hiring expensive teachers with degrees, Bridge contracts experts to develop scripted lessons that instructors follow on computer tablets. Lessons are identical for each grade, down to the words of encouragement instructors give their pupils. It’s so streamlined that all the gears in the institution—lessons, attendance, time sheets, tuition payments, and teacher oversight—can be conducted with cheap mobile phones, cutting human administration to a bare minimum.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it. Not wonder Gates is enthralled.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Eye-opening interview with Arne Duncan at school privatizers summit.

Former Ed Sec. Arne Duncan and his former assistant James Shelton at NewSchools Venture Fund Summit. Now both work for billionaire Mark Zuckerberg at the Emerson Collective. 

It's that time of year again, when the hedge-funders, corporate reformers and power philanthropists gather at the NewSchools Venture Summit to strategize about school privatization, charters schools and how to get the biggest bang for their edu-investment dollars.
Among the regulars at NSVF is former Ed Sec. Arne Duncan, who is now working for billionaire philanthropists Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan at the Emerson Collective.

Duncan's interview with EdWeek's Alyson Klein regarding his legacy, is an eye-opener. Duncan's either self-delusional or skillfully trying to reinvent himself as if the last two decades of corporate-style school reform and testing madness hadn't happened on his watch (including his time as Chicago's schools CEO).

As you might expect from EdWeek, Klein's interview questions are pretty softball; i.e., "What are you most proud of over your seven-year tenure as Secretary of Ed?" and "What do you see as your three biggest failures?" I guess she forgot to ask about his favorite color or his pick in the NBA finals.

To the first question:
Duncan ticked off three things: pouring $1 billion into early childhood education, an all-time high graduation rate (fact check on administration's role in making that happen here), and increasing Pell Grants.
Not on the list: The two K-12 initiatives he's best known for, the $4 billion into Race to the Top initiative and the $3 billion School Improvement Grant, both of which have yielded mixed results so far.
To the second:
Duncan ticked off one he's mentioned a number of times before—not being able to get Congress to go along with an even bigger investment on early childhood education. The fact that so many of our children enter kindergarten behind means "we're just setting our kids up for failure from the start," he said.  
He also mentioned that the Obama administration failed to get immigration overhaul done and, therefore, didn't give immigrant kids a path to citizenship. "We could not get our Republican friends to back that," he said.
And he brought up another missed opportunity, the failure to get meaningful gun control legislation done: "In our worst nightmare we never imagined we'd have 20 babies killed and five teachers and a principal."
You see what he does here? It's an old politician's trick. Like when they're asked about their biggest weakness, they usually reply: "I'm much too sensitive to the needs of others" or "I work too many hours and neglect my own health."

With Duncan, it's more like, "I failed to get everyone else to do all the great things I wanted them to do." He's got a point. Even though he snuggled up to the Republican Congress, the racist and anti-union governors and the hedge-fund reformers, neither he nor his boss, President Obama, were able to reauthorize the national education law for seven years. And the Republicans refused to allocate the needed $75 billion for Obama's proposed universal pre-school program.

But, as Klein points out, Duncan is hush-hush when it comes to Race To The Top, his disastrous, autocratic move to force school districts into closing thousands of schools and replacing them with privately-run charters. Duncan also doesn't mention his role in doubling down on the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind testing/teacher evaluation mayhem, from which the nation's schools may never fully recover.

Or as Klein notices:
Not on Duncan's list of failures? Two things that many other folks would probably cite: requiring states that wanted flexibility from the mandates of No Child Left Behind to tie teacher evaluations to test scores at the same time that assessments and standards were changing, and hugging the Common Core State Standards so tight that they became politicized.
She might have also mentioned his failure to act on the widespread corruption among charter school operators. Or his abandonment of the fight against racial school re-segregation.

Klein must not have done her homework or maybe just forgot to ask Duncan about mayoral control of the schools. She should have remembered that when Duncan was first appointed, he made the expansion of mayoral control his number-one priority. He even threatened to withhold stimulus dollars from school districts that don't implement top-down mayoral control of the schools.

He went so far as to say:
"At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed," Duncan said. He offered to do whatever he can to make the case. "I'll come to your cities," Duncan said. "I'll meet with your editorial boards. I'll talk with your business communities. I will be there."
Well, he's at the end of his tenure. The number of mayors in control has certainly not increased. Why not ask him straight-up? Arne Duncan, by your own standards, have you failed?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Power philanthropy rules the schools. Shelton moves to Z'berg.

From left, James H. Shelton III, a former deputy secretary of the United States Department of Education; Priscilla Chan; and Mark Zuckerberg. (N.Y. Times)

Power philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, and Mark Zuckerberg aren't content to offer funding to worthwhile education projects. For them, it's more a matter of leveraging their unparalleled wealth, through their tax-exempt foundations, to exercise direct power of public institutions like the nation's schools with little or no public accountability.

In the last 20 years, the U.S. Dept of Education has become little more than a conduit for power philanthropy with top bureaucrats moving freely between the DOE, the top ed-tech and testing corporations, ed-reform think-tanks, and the mega-foundations. Some, like Diane Ravitch, have called this growing mutualism the edu-industrial complex.

James H. Shelton III, a former deputy secretary of the DOE, is the prototypical edu-industrial manager. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced that they had hired Shelton to oversee their efforts in education, in the latest example of former federal officials who are taking up jobs in Silicon Valley.

The New York Times reports:
Mr. Shelton’s hiring is part of a stream of Washington officials going to work for tech titans. Among them are Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, who is now senior vice president for corporate affairs at Amazon, and David Plouffe, a former senior adviser to President Obama who is chief adviser and a board member at Uber.
The trend is more recent in education. Former federal education officials often used to enter politics or take up positions at universities and research groups.
But in March, the Emerson Collective, an organization set up by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, said it had tapped Arne Duncan, the former education secretary, to lead an effort focused on young people in Chicago.
The advent of nontraditional philanthropic vehicles seems to be drawing new interest from veteran education officials. Both the Emerson Collective and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are limited liability companies, an organizational structure that enables investing and advocacy, as well as philanthropy.
In the past, I have referred to Shelton as "the man from Gates" because he was a key player in Bill Gates' successful push to drive Common Core as federal policy. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hired Shelton, a program officer at the Gates Foundation, to serve first as his head of innovation and then as the deputy secretary, responsible for a wide array of federal policy decisions. Shelton helped engineer Duncan's disastrous Race To The Top. He also led the Investing in Innovation Fund

Gov. Christie, Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Booker and Zuckerberg.
Shelton has previously worked for the NewSchools Venture Fund and co-founded LearnNow, a school management company that later was acquired by Edison Schools. Before entering the education world, he worked at McKinsey & Company advising corporate CEOs.

Investigations are still ongoing around Zuckerberg's previous "investments" in urban school reform. Nobody seems to know what happened to the $100 million Zuckerberg and Chan put into Newark in 2010.

Despite a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, 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 crony political and educational consultants and contractors through a slush fund set up by former mayor (now U.S. Senator) Corey Booker and Gov. Christie. We also know that it provided a nice tax break for Zuckerberg who has also pledged $120 million to schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For more on the Newark mystery, read Dale Russakoff's book, “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?”

Monday, April 25, 2016

Elizabeth Warren calls SEC's approval of Cohen's firm 'a mockery'. Corrupt hedge-funder, charter supporter.

Hedge-funder Steve Cohen
“The commission has permitted a recidivist hedge fund manager, well-known for his former company’s willingness to evade and ignore federal law, to once again profit from – and potentially exploit – investors.” -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Whenever I read about some crooked hedge-fund billionaire mired in scandal, I always check to see if and how they're involved with charter schools. I rarely come up empty. 

Billionaire hedge-funder Steve Cohen is one of the major underwriters of privately-run charter schools. The couple's Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation is a top donor to the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), Achievement First, Families for Excellent Schools Cohen, whose SAC Capital paid $1.2 billion in a security fraud case last year. 

The Guardian reports:
On Thursday, [Sen. Elizabeth Warren] sent a missive to Mary Jo White, SEC chair, telling her she was making “a mockery” of the regulator’s core mission.
Warren, a scourge of Wall Street, is disappointed with the agency’s decision to approve Stamford Harbor Capital to act as investment adviser to outside clients. The reason? The firm is associated with Steven Cohen, former manager of SAC Capital Advisors, who pleaded guilty to insider trading in 2013 and paid a record $1.8bn fine.
Turns out, Cohen indirectly owns Stamford Harbor Capital. He is to receive as much as 50% of client profits, but won’t have any supervisory role, according to Bloomberg.
“Steve Cohen owns the entity, but consistent with his January agreement with the SEC he will not supervise the activities of anyone working on its behalf,” Jonathan Gasthalter, a Stamford Harbor spokesman, told Bloomberg.
 “The commission has permitted a recidivist hedge fund manager, well-known for his former company’s willingness to evade and ignore federal law, to once again profit from – and potentially exploit – investors,” Warren wrote in her letter on Thursday. “This is an unacceptable outcome from the nation’s primary enforcer of securities laws, and it is the latest example of an SEC action that fails to appropriately punish guilty parties, deter future wrongdoings and protect investors.”
Why is the White House covering for Cohen? While he has been a big contributor to conservative super PACs like Chris Christie's America Leads, he's also a big backer of Dem. candidates, including Connecticut Gov. Malloy.

The Hartford Courant's Jenny Wilson reports:
Wall Street billionaires who have invested heavily in the expansion of charter schools contributed more than $200,000 to Democrats in the 2013-14 election cycle, helping Gov. Dannel P. Malloy secure re-election.
The campaign contributors earned their fortunes as hedge fund managers and private equity investors before earning reputations as "education philanthropists." They have helped bankroll charter school movements throughout the country, spending to influence elections and to support advocacy movements.
Major U.S. hedge fund managers are on pace this year to more than double the amount they gave in the 2012 election campaign, with independent fundraising groups backing Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and Republican rival Ted Cruz receiving the most so far.

Bernie Sanders has eschewed donations from Wall Street. He has racked up a string of wins in early state nominating contests with attacks on Wall Street and calls for a more equitable distribution of the country's wealth.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Power Philanthropy -- The NRA of WA charter schools

Billionaire charter school power-philanthropists Bill Gates, Reed Hastings (left), Alice Walton, Paul Allen.

Joanne Barkan's power-structure research has been cited on the pages of this blog on several occasions. Now she's written another scathing expose of power philanthropy, "Charitable Plutocracy: Bill Gates, Washington State, and the Nuisance of Democracy" in NPQ,

Barkan takes a deeper look in how Gates and fellow philanthro-billionaires leveraged their tax-exempt foundation money to force privately-run charters down the throats of Washingtonians after the leadership of both houses of the WA legislature opposed the 2012 charter bill. When it died in committee, the activist billionaires stepped in, with Gates in the lead, to finance yet another charter school ballot initiative—the state’s fourth.

According to the Washington Times, their lobbying campaign to save Washington’s charters spent nearly $1.9 million to influence the public and state lawmakers.

Writes Barkan:
Call it charitable plutocracy—a peculiarly American phenomenon, increasingly problematic and in need of greater scrutiny. Like all forms of plutocracy, this one conflicts with democracy, and exactly how these philanthropists coordinate tax-exempt grantmaking with political funding for maximum effect remains largely obscure. 
The Washington charter saga highlights the workings of charitable plutocracy. Multibillionaire philanthropists use their personal wealth, their tax-exempt private foundations, and their high-profile identities as philanthropists to mold public policy to a degree not possible for other citizens.
Among the biggest funders of the WA charter school push were, Gates ($1 million), Alice Walton (from Arkansas, $600,000), Mike and Jackie Bezos (parents of founder Jeff Bezos, $500,000), venture capitalist Nicolas Hanauer ($450,000), Katherine Binder (chair of EMFCO Holdings, $200,000), Paul Allen’s Vulcan, Inc. ($100,000), and Reed Hastings, from California (Netflix cofounder and KIPP charter schools board member, $100,000).

These guys are not "do-gooders".

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sleazeball U

“I really felt stupid that I was scammed by Trump,” Guillo said. “I thought that he was really legit.”
Don't feel so bad, Bob. The whole Republican Party is being scammed by The Donald.  
Students borrowed $36,000 to attend Trump University and all they got, according to Rubio, was a "picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump.”

In three pending lawsuits, including one in which the New York attorney general is seeking $40 million in restitution, former students allege that the enterprise bilked them out of their money with misleading advertisements. their lawsuits, former students say they were given lessons that were useless or even illegal and that they were badgered into taking course after expensive course.

Trump University launched in the mid-2000s as an Internet venture owned by Trump. For several years, it also offered weekend classes in hotel ballrooms across the country to teach financial tips. Some students paid more than $30,000 for a chance to learn Trump’s investment magic and participate in mentorship programs, court records show. (Trump also sold Trump University merchandise, according to an archived website, including hats.)

It's not that Trump never had anything of value to offer. In a blog associated with his sleazy "university", he complained about Judith Miller’s reporting in The New York Times ahead of the 2003 Iraq invasion.

But students shouldn't have had to pay big bucks for that. They could have got that on my blog for free.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Who's behind National School Choice Week?

Launched five years ago by the Gleason Family Foundation—which spent more than $4.3 million on the project in 2014, Nat'l School Choice Week has grown rapidly through the backing of advocacy groups and deep pockets of funders focused on promoting charters, vouchers, and tax credits that aid private schools, including religious and for-profit ventures. -- Dustin Beilke at PR Watch

According to the Center for Media and Democracy:
"The National School Choice Week website’s Partners page provides a who’s-who gallery of Koch network groups, corporations, and billionaires promoting privatization," said Lisa Graves, CMD’s Executive Director, adding: "although the week features many local events, it is backed by national entities, some of which are hostile to the idea of public schools and whose goals have included full privatization. No story about National School Choice Week is complete if it does not mention the special interests behind the choice agenda."
NCSW’s website lists numerous partners, including the Walton Family Fund, ALEC, SPN, the Freedom Foundation, FreedomWorks, Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the James Madison Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—many of which have ties to the Koch brothers’ political network. David Koch ran for Vice President in 1980 on a platform that included privatizing public schools, and his brother Charles started pushing school choice in the 1960s. Together they have funded an array of groups that spread that agenda.

As CMD has documented, the charter school industry has been fueled by more than $3.6 billion from the federal government over the past two decades in addition to billions from states and from wealthy choice advocates like the billionaire Walton and DeVos families. This surge in cash has created a league of lobbyists urging legislators to send more tax dollars to this industry.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Davos Blues

 Davos: ‘This week, some of the richest people on Earth will gather high up a snowy mountain in the world’s biggest tax haven.’ Photograph: Ruben Sprich/Reuters

"We’ve been conned by the rich predators of Davos", writes Aditya Chakrabortty in today's Guardian:
The great mistake made by the mainstream left and right, even by NGOs such as Oxfam, is in imagining that the super-rich, now enjoying such massive riches, are somehow playing by the same rules as the rest of us. That they are “wealth creators” providing jobs and investment for the rest of us, or that they might give up their tax havens. If that ever were the case, it isn’t now. A tiny minority has gained from massive tax cuts and legislative leniency about where they shove their money. They have siphoned off gains in salaries and profits wherever possible and enjoyed hundreds of billions flowing into their asset markets. Meanwhile, the rest of us who provide the feedstock for their revenues see our welfare states hollowed out, our wages frozen and our employers failing to invest. But none of that matters very much in Davos.

Friday, January 15, 2016

How Koch Bros. use their millions to buy influence over southern schools.

Charles Koch
A recent Facing South investigation revealed that right-wing industrialist Charles Koch gave more than $108 million to 366 colleges and universities between 2005 and 2014, with 85 percent of that money going to schools in the South.

The Koch money has funded academic programs, scholarships, professorships, conferences, lecture series, and economics centers, all for the purpose of promoting the free-market agenda embraced by Koch and his brother David, owners of the Koch Industries oil and chemical conglomerate. While other wealthy Americans, such as conservative businessman and Houston Texans owner Robert McNair and liberal financier George Soros, have donated big sums to universities, none match Charles Koch's sharp focus on promoting a particular ideology within the academy.

Read the entire Facing South report, here. 

The Koch's come by their power-grabbing piggery honestly. It seems that daddy was a German industrialist who helped the nazis on a giant oil refinery project. In the letter to company employees, David Robertson, president and COO of Koch Industries, said Fred Koch’s work for the Nazi regime was one of many international projects and predated World War II, according to Fortune Magazine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What happened to the feds' probe of Chicago Public Ed Fund? Where'd everybody go?

Rahm and Griffin.
Back in April, 2015, we heard that the feds were in town, supposedly looking into the Chicago Public Education Fund (CPEF) and its involvement in the Barbara Byrd-Bennett/SUPES no-bid contract scandal. Remember? Subpoenas were flying and the names of some of the biggest players in corporate school reform were being dropped to the press.  Among those names were CPEF's billionaire board members, Bruce Rauner, Penny Pritzker,  Susan CrownMellody Hobson (wife of George Lucas), and the state's richest man, Ken Griffin

While the Fund wasn't the target of the investigation, and no-bid contracts with kickbacks are usually no big deal in Rahmville, it was reported that its board had given SUPES a $380,000 contract to train area network chiefs and their deputies. But when things started getting hot, they quietly discontinued their funding. 

Ace Catalyst reporter Sarah Karp, now with the BGA, made the point then, that if the Fund had been more transparent about its de-funding of SUPES, "taxpayers might have saved the $12 million of the more than $20 million SUPES was paid before its contract was cancelled".  But transparency is a no-no around CPEF's fancy downtown headquarters (nice view of the lake).  

As Karp puts it:
No one outside The Fund’s staff and board of directors knows how it decides which programs to support, what the results have been and how or whether the results are communicated to CPS.
So since April, there's not been a word in the media about CPEF or the investigation. Where'd everyone go? 

Griffin just sold his condo for $16M.
Rauner, now the governor, was at one time the CPEF board president. He denied any culpability in the SUPES affair, telling the feds that it was his pal Rahm Emanuel and not him, who brought SUPES, Gary Solomon, and Byrd-Bennett into town. 

Pritzker's off playing Obama's Sec. of Commerce, leaving Rahm holding the bag on school closings. She was a member of the school board that approved them along with the SUPES deal. 

And hedge-funder Griffin? (among Rahm/Rauner's largest campaign contributors). He took a bit of a hit when wife Ann divorced him. But he's still in the game, bigger than ever.

His most recent deal... Crain's reports that Griffin just sold his Chicago condo at the Waldorf Astoria for a mere $16M, the same price he bought it for 17 months earlier. The sale was the second-highest home sale in the Chicago area during 2015, after an $18.75M purchase at the Park Tower by an associate of Lucas and Hobson.

I'm sure this is all on the up-and-up, but it turns out that Griffin originally bought the place from ("an entity connected with") himself and then sold it to ("an entity connected with") himself. 

Sounds like a win-win. It always is for these guys.