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

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?”