Letter from a Teacher – “Ain’t We Got Fun?” by Jeannette Faber

As controversy swirls at the federal and state level, Connecticut educator Jeannette Faber challenges the status quo, writing;

One expectation that society/parents have of teachers is to help students “think outside of the box.” But what does this mean? It can mean a number of things, but as a veteran teacher, one way I try to help my students “think outside of the box” is by pushing them out if the “this or that” box.  Instead of “this or that,” it can be “this and that.” It seems paradoxical, but truth lies in paradox.

We also want our students to have a “first-rate intelligence.” American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

So, when it comes to solving our nation’s problems, maybe we need to step out of the “this or that” box and develop a “first-rate intelligence.”

Two major issues we as Americans care about, but are very polarized over, are health care and public education. Well, I have been a public school teacher for 21 years and am married to a physician who cares for a lot of Medicaid patients.

As a nation, we are trapped in the “this or that” binary when it comes to solving problems in these two sectors.

Capitalism OR socialism.  Compassion OR competition.

How do we step outside of these false choices and find better solutions?

I’d bet, like myself, that most Americans believe that capitalism is part of our national DNA. It is the force of our founding. It is captures and reflects the American spirit of individualism, entrepreneurship, and innovation.  But can capitalism left unchecked devolve to the point where the rich keep getting richer and the poor, poorer? And the middle class increasingly squeezed? Or out of reach? Our history tells us “Yes.” Our present economic reality also tells us “Yes.” The reality is that income inequality is now where it was at the time of the Gilded Age. This brings me back to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

My juniors read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It was originally published in 1922 in an American still economically divided from the Gilded Age, unknowingly headed just seven years later toward The Great Depression, and unaware that it would be another two decades before it would begin to build the great American middle class.  Since then, many forces have been at work over the last 30 years that are destroying that great middle class.

In chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby, when Gatsby is showing his mansion to Daisy for the first time, he asks Klipspringer to play the piano. He plays and sings that 1921 iconic song, “Ain’t we got fun?”

Ain’t we got fun?
Times are so bad and getting badder,
Still we have fun.
There’s nothing surer,
The rich get richer and the poor get laid off!

Here is the question: Can we be a nation that holds capitalism near and dear AND also decide to have education and heath insurance be not for profit? Maybe it could be called “capitalism with a conscience.”

Blue Cross/Blue Shield was founded in 1929, the year of The Crash. And it was founded as a non-profit. It became a for-profit company in 1994.

Public education was made compulsory through elementary school in 1918. The hope for education a century ago was that it would be the great equalizer. However, we spend more money on students from affluent communities and less on those from poor communities. And now, there are powerful corporate and billionaires forces, led by Betsy DeVos, that want to privatize public education. Do we really want corporations to profit for our children’s education?  As a teacher, there are no meaningful endeavors from which to profit in education unless one thinks that incessant standardized testing is meaningful.

School privatization would result in tax dollars being diverted from creating small classes, hiring excellent teachers, offering comprehensive resources, and many, many more areas proven to improve student learning.

The Affordable Care Act instilled the 80/20 rule limiting healthcare profits to 20%. Meanwhile, CEO’s of the major health insurance companies make tens of millions each year in salaries alone.

Married to a physician, the insurance and drug companies have a stranglehold on healthcare. And Medicare-for-all is not the answer as physicians and hospitals are paid so little by Medicare that they actually cannot afford to treat Medicaid patients. The ones who should be making the money in health care and in education are the health care workers and the educators. That is where there is value added. Does a CEO of an insurance company making over 20 million a year add value? Does a testing company making profits from standardized tests that cannot measure real learning add value?

So, once more, can’t we love capitalism and also agree that we should not seek to profit from health care insurance and education? If we outlaw profiteering in these two sectors, my bet is that it will increase the quality of public education and decrease the cost of health care.

But where we are now, and where we are head, just “ain’t fun.”

The war on education as public good (By Wendy Lecker)

In a recent commentary piece in the Stamford Advocates, Education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker provided an important analysis of the unwarranted and dangerous attack on public education that is taking place in the United States.  Wendy Lecker writes;

Political theorist Benjamin Barber, who died April 24, wrote about the importance of education as a public good. “Education not only speaks to the public, it is the means by which a public is forged.”

As he noted, education transforms individuals into responsible community members, first in their classrooms and ultimately in our democracy. Local school districts are also the basic units of democratic government.

Michigan professor Marina Whitman recently noted that the essence of a public good is that it is non-excludable; i.e. all can partake, and non-rivalrous; i.e. giving one person the good does not diminish its availability to another.

Some school reforms strengthen education as a public good; such as school finance reform, which seeks to ensure that all children have adequate educational resources.

Unfortunately, the reforms pushed in the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations attack education as a public good. For example, choice — charters and vouchers — is a favorite policy of all three administrations. Choice operates on the excludable premise of “saving a few.”

In operation, choice makes education rivalrous. As a New York appellate court observed, diverting funds from public schools to charters ‘benefit a select few at the expense of the ‘common schools, wherein all the children of this State may be educated.’”

The experience in America’s major cities reveals choice’s damaging results. At a recent NAACP hearing, New Orleans residents spoke of an all-charter system rife with fraud and mismanagement. The schools are highly segregated with poor children and children of color relegated to schools with limited resources, inexperienced teachers and long commutes.

Michigan’s policy of unfettered charter expansion, together with a money-follows-the-child school funding system decimated Detroit’s public schools, along with other poor districts, and has left schools across that state intensely segregated.

Chicago’s choice policies disenfranchised mostly communities of color, shuttering neighborhood schools to open charters with a history of excluding ELL students and students with disabilities and with expulsions at 10 times the rate of Chicago’s public schools.

Recent research from Roosevelt University reveals that Chicago’s policies toward charters are a major factor causing the fiscal crisis in Chicago’s public schools. Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emmanuel claimed to close neighborhood schools, in predominately poor and African-American communities, to “right-size” the district. However, he then proceeded to open a slew of charter schools in neighborhoods with declining enrollment, demonstrating that he had no interest in “right-sizing.”

The public school district, responsible for charter facilities, saw its debt burden increase markedly. A third of Chicago’s charters alone carried a debt burden of more than a quarter of a billion dollars. The charter strain, coupled with Chicago’s existing $6 billion debt, forced public schools to cut special education teachers, advanced courses, the arts, increased overcrowding and left schools without funds for basic supplies, such as toilet paper.

A new study in California similarly showed that its charter policy operates without regard to the health of the public school system. California has spent billions on charters without considering the quality of charters or the impact on host districts. The report, prepared by the organization, In the Public Interest, noted that to be eligible for school construction, a public school district must demonstrate the need for seats. However, charters have no such requirement. As a result, California has spent more than a billion dollars opening schools in areas with no need, and often opening schools that perform worse than public schools.

Connecticut’s policies regarding charters also fail to consider the impact on children in and out of charter schools. State officials turn a blind eye to segregation, exclusion and astronomical suspensions in charters. They ignore restrictions on over-saturating districts and directives to consider local opposition.

Across this country, public money is diverted from public schools to charters with no consideration of need, quality or the impact on the majority of public school students. The result is invariably the creation of exclusive schools, out of the reach of voter oversight, at the expense of public schools that serve everyone.

Charter advocates claimed charters would be superior without the constraints faced by local districts. However, after more than 20 years, charters are no better than public schools.

Moreover, they leave public schools without resources to serve the most vulnerable and communities disenfranchised by unelected school boards.

As Barber predicted, “What begins as an assault on bureaucratic rigidity becomes an assault on government and all things public … (destroying) a people’s right to govern themselves publicly … (and) to establish the conditions for the development of public citizens.” Reforms that gut public education attack democracy.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-war-on-education-as-public-good-11124896.php

The dangerous rise of privatization and corporate education reform

The charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement are making unprecedented gains in their effort to privatize public education in the United States.

With Betsy DeVos on the verge of becoming the United States Secretary of Education and President Donald Trump promising to divert $20 billion in federal funding from public schools to privatization through school choice programs, the movement to undermine public education must be deliriously excited about their prospects over the next four years.

Of course, the proponents of corporate education reform have been riding high for more than two decades thanks to the policies and politics of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of whom used their time in office to promote charter schools and the broader corporate reform agenda.

Although the corporate reform movement has made unprecedented gains in the last twenty years, its roots go back more than sixty years to Milton Friedman’s essay, “The Role of Government in Education,” which laid out the call for privatizing public education in the United States.

Friedman argued that the nation needed to scrap its historic commitment to local public schools and replace these hallowed institutions with a system in which parents could use public funds to send their children to “private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools or even ‘government schools,’” a derogatory term corporate education reformers use to describe local public schools.

For decades, Friedman’s proposal was relegated to academic debates about the potential advantages and pitfalls associated with privatization.

However, the situation started to change when the state of Wisconsin enacted the first large-scale school voucher program in 1989 and Minnesota adopted legislation allowing for the creation of charter schools in 1991.

Today, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws paving the way for charter schools and the number of charter schools in the country has reached about 6,900, enrolling a total of almost 3 million students.

And corporate education reformers claim that they have only begun their effort to privatize the country’s public schools.

So what are the fundamental elements of corporate education reform?

Educator and journalist Stan Karp, who works for the Education Law Center and serves as an editor of the  Rethinking Schools magazine, addressed this issue in a stark and direct way more than six years ago in a presentation that was reprinted in the Washington Post.

Stan Karp wrote;

“Corporate education reform” refers to a specific set of policy proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level.  These proposals include:

  • Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education
  • Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights
  • An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees
  • Closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters
  • Replacing  governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management
  • Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition
  • Increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff
  • Implementation of Common Core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation:

Together these strategies use the testing regime that is the main engine of corporate reform to extend the narrow standardization of curricula and scripted classroom practice that we’ve seen under No Child Left Behind, and to drill down even further into the fabric of schooling to transform the teaching profession and create a less experienced, less secure, less stable and less expensive professional staff.  Where NCLB used test scores to impose sanctions on schools and sometimes students (e.g., grade retention, diploma denial), test-based sanctions are increasingly targeted at teachers.

A larger corporate reform goal, in addition to changing the way schools and classrooms function, is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining and teacher unions and in the permanent crisis of school funding across the country.  These policies undermine public education and facilitate its replacement by a market-based system that would do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and employment: produce fabulous profits and opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many….

Standardized tests have been disguising class and race privilege as merit for decades. They’ve become the credit default swaps of the education world.  Few people understand how either really works.  Both encourage a focus on short-term gains over long-term goals.  And both drive bad behavior on the part of those in charge.  Yet these deeply flawed tests have become the primary policy instruments used to shrink public space, impose sanctions on teachers and close or punish schools. And if the corporate reformers have their way, their schemes to evaluate teachers and the schools of education they came from on the basis of yet another new generation of standardized tests, it will make the testing plague unleashed by NCLB pale by comparison.

Let’s look for a minute at what corporate reformers have actually achieved when it comes to addressing the real problems of public education:

First, they over-reached and chose the wrong target.  They didn’t go after funding inequity, poverty, reform faddism, consultant profiteering, massive teacher turnover, politicized bureaucratic management, or the overuse and misuse of testing.

Instead, they went after collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and seniority.  And they went after the universal public and democratic character of public schools.

Look again at the proposals the corporate reformers have made prominent features of school reform efforts in every state: rapid expansion of charters, closing low performing schools, more testing, elimination of tenure and seniority for teachers, and test-based teacher evaluation.

 If every one of these policies were fully implemented in every state tomorrow, it would do absolutely nothing to close academic achievement gaps, increase high school graduation rates, or expand access to college.

 There is no evidence tying any of these proposals to better outcomes for large numbers of kids over time.  The greatest gains in reducing gaps in achievement and opportunity have been made during periods when concentrated poverty has been dispersed through efforts at integration, or during economic growth for the black middle class and other communities, or where significant new investments in school funding have occurred.

Or take the issue of poverty.  Most teachers agree that poverty is no excuse for lousy schooling; much of our work is about proving that the potential of our students and communities can be fulfilled when their needs are met and the reality of their lives is reflected in our schools and classrooms.  But in the current reform debates, saying poverty isn’t an excuse has become an excuse for ignoring poverty.

Corporate reform plans being put forward do nothing to reduce the concentrations of 70/80/90% poverty that remain the central problem in urban education.  Instead, educational inequality has become the entry point for disruptive reform that increases instability throughout the system and creates new forms of collateral damage in our most vulnerable communities.

The “disruptive reform” that corporate reformers claim is necessary to shake up the status quo is increasing pressure on 5,000 schools serving the poorest communities at a time of unprecedented economic crisis and budget cutting.  The latest waiver bailout for NCLB announced recently by Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan would actually ratchet up that pressure. While it rolls back NCLB’s absurd adequate yearly progress system just as it was about to self-destruct, the new guidelines require states that apply for waivers to identify up to 15% of their schools with the lowest scores for unproven “turnaround” interventions, “charterization,” or closing.

Teachers and schools, who in many cases are day to day the strongest advocates and most stable support system struggling youth have, are instead being scapegoated for a society that is failing our children.  At the same time, corporate reformers are giving parents triggers to blow up the schools they have, but little say and no guarantees about what will replace them.

The only thing corporate ed reform policies have done successfully is bring the anti-labor politics of class warfare to public schools. By overreaching, demonizing teachers and unions, and sharply polarizing the education debate, corporate reform has undermined serious efforts to improve schools.  It’s narrowed the common ground and eroded the broad public support a universal system of public education needs to survive.

Since Karp’s assessment in 2011, we’ve seen the rise of the Common Core and its associated Common Core testing scheme, a system that is turning classrooms into little more than testing factories and profit centers for the testing industry.

And that is all before Trump and DeVos introduce their own brand of radical corporate education reform in the marketplace call American public education.

Loosely regulated, charter schools pose fiscal risk (by Jonathan Pelto) 

This article was first published in The Hill newspaper of Washington D.C.  You can read and comment on the article at: http://origin-nyi.thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/303815-loosely-regulated-charter-schools-pose-fiscal-risk?amp

While the subprime mortgage crisis remains the epitome of what occurs when greed and corruption go unchecked, a growing number of experts and observers are warning that a new economic scandal is taking shape in the United States.

In an article published earlier this month, Business Insider observed:

 “We just got even more evidence supporting the theory that charter schools are America’s new subprime mortgages.”

The magazine wrote:

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released the results of a damning audit of the charter school industry which found that charter schools’ relationships with their management organizations pose a significant risk to the aim of the Department of Education.

The findings in the audit, specifically in regard to charter school relationships with CMOs, echo the findings of a 2015 study that warned of an impending bubble similar to that of the subprime-mortgage crisis one of the authors, Preston C. Green III, told Business Insider.

With more than 6,700 charter schools spread across 42 states and the District of Columbia, fraudulent activities associated with the publicly funded, but privately owned, charter school industry have become the fodder for almost daily news stories.

According to an October 2015 investigation conducted by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion over the past two decades on the creation and maintenance of the charter school industry.  CMD noted:

“The Department of Education is pushing for an unprecedented expansion of charter schools while paying lip service to accountability, but independent audit materials show that the Department’s lofty rhetoric is simply not backed up by its actions.” The report added, “the lack of tough financial controls and the lack of public access to information about how charters are spending federal tax dollars has almost inevitably led to enormous fraud and waste.”

The impact of waste, fraud and corruption are hardly isolated, with newspaper and blog headlines like “Who Is Profiting From Charters?,” “The Big Bucks Behind Charter School Secrecy,” “Financial Scandal and Corruption; The Ugly Charter School Scandal Arne Duncan Is Leaving Behind and As Scandals Plague Charter Schools, Calls for Oversight Grow” becoming increasingly commonplace.

Recently, the depth of the charter school scandals even made it to John Oliver’s HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” where he observed, in Philadelphia alone, at least 10 executives or top administrators have pleaded guilty in the last decade to charges like fraud, misusing funds and obstruction of justice.

To Watch click – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I

To Watch click – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I

And earlier this fall, the Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog focused on the growing controversies surrounding charter schools observing:

Ohio and Utah are known in education circles for having extraordinarily troubled charter school sectors, and the same is true in Pennsylvania, where Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a report this year and declared his state’s charter school law the “worst” in the nation.

But there is yet another place with a scandal-plagued charter sector, and is one that is receiving far less national attention than it should be: California.

The Washington Post continued:

“There is a never-ending stream of charter scandals coming from California. For example, a report released recently (by the ACLU SoCal and Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group) found that more than 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law. A Mercury News investigation published in April revealed how the state’s online charter schools run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., the largest for-profit charter operator in the country, has ‘a dismal record of academic achievement’ but has won more than $310 million in state funding over the past dozen years.”

Charter schools were originally envisioned to serve as incubators of excellence where teachers and schools were given the flexibility to explore alternative strategies for helping children succeed. However, that model was quickly replaced by those who saw charter schools as a mechanism to profit off the privatization of public education. Today, billions of taxpayer dollars are being diverted from the nation’s public schools to charter schools and with those funds has come a growing crisis of so-called education entrepreneurs who are using some of those scarce public funds to line their own pockets.

With minimal oversight and regulation, the charter school scandals will grow until elected and appointed policymakers take dramatic action to overhaul the country’s charter school system and demand greater accountability from those involved.

Charter lobby chases cut of public funds (By Wendy Lecker)

Beware parents, teachers, school administrators, local education officials and Connecticut taxpayers! 

Not satisfied with diverting more than $110 million a year to privately owned, but publicly funded, charter school companies in Connecticut, the charter school industry is about to make a massive grab for even more public funds via a gimmick called “Money Follows the Child.”

Counting on the support from the ally, Governor Dannel Malloy, the charter school industry is intent on leaving Connecticut public schools will fewer resources and Connecticut residents with higher tax bills.

In her latest commentary piece entitled, Charter lobby chases cut of public funds, and first published in the Stamford Advocate, public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, lays out the issue.

As soon as Connecticut’s school funding decision in the CCJEF case was rendered, charter lobbyists in Connecticut began salivating at the prospect of using their political influence to craft a new school funding system that would benefit charter schools. Families for Excellent schools planned a rally for “fair funding” for charter schools and ConnCAN kicked its propaganda machine into high gear with polls and statements about the horrors of inequitable funding in Connecticut. The case is now on appeal, but the charter lobby is pressing its agenda now.

The embrace of the CCJEF decision by the charter lobby was extremely disingenuous, given that since the case was filed in 2005, neither ConnCAN nor any of the charter advocates even acknowledged the existence of CCJEF.

CCJEF was never about funding privately managed charter schools serving 1 percent of Connecticut students. The CCJEF plaintiffs seek adequate and equitable funding for the vast majority of children who attend Connecticut’s public schools — particularly in Connecticut’s poorest school districts.

However, ConnCAN, Families for Excellent Schools and Northeast Charter Network now see their opportunity to use the language of equity to serve their interests.

If you think it is illogical to call diverting public money intended for poor school districts serving the many to privately managed schools that serve the few “equity,” you are not alone.

In a growing body of case law, courts across the country are rejecting attempts to use their state constitutions to obtain equal funding for charter schools.

The most recent loss was suffered this month in New York by Northeast Charter Network — a well-funded lobby active in Connecticut — where an appellate court dismissed its attempt to get equal facilities funding for charter schools in Buffalo and Rochester.

New York’s decision is consistent with decisions in Arizona and New Jersey, where charter advocates sued for equal funding, and in Massachusetts, where charter advocates attempted to force the state to lift the charter cap. Washington State’s Supreme Court also ruled that charter schools are not entitled to equal funding, though on different grounds.

Charter advocates used similar arguments in these cases. They claimed that poor school districts have low student outcomes, so if a child chooses to go to a charter school they claim has better outcomes, that charter school has the right to equal funding.

In deciding these cases, courts have exposed the claims of charter schools as being at odds with the nature and purpose of the constitutional right to an adequate education.

First and foremost, these courts point out, charter schools do not have a constitutional right to anything. State constitutions protect children, not schools.

Choice is not a constitutional right, either. As the Massachusetts court explained, while the state must educate all children, there is no “constitutional right to choose a particular flavor of education.” Charters are the prime example of how school “choice” undermines constitutional notions of equality, as they often increase segregation, fail to serve English Language Learners, students with disabilities and other vulnerable children, and impose disproportionately harsh discipline on children of color.

The courts also note that while a state must adequately fund public education, there is no right to two parallel public school systems. They ruled that if a child can attend a district public school that is fully funded, then her right to an education is sufficiently safeguarded.

The courts emphasize that if the public school is not fully funded, the solution is certainly not to divert public funds to a charter school. As the New York court observed, funneling public dollars into a charter school is inconsistent with the State’s constitutional obligation, because “to divert public education funds away from the traditional public schools and toward charter schools would benefit a select few at the expense of” the majority of students in public schools.

These courts also note that charter schools are not like public schools. They are exempt from requirements that traditional public schools must follow. Most notably, they do not have to serve all children in a district nor provide all programs that public schools must provide. They were always envisioned as transitory, and can have their charter revoked if authorizing agencies conduct proper oversight.

Connecticut must reform its school funding system. But it cannot be misled by the charter lobby’s warped “save a few, forget the rest” mentality. Our leaders must ensure a well-funded public school system that serves all children, no matter what their needs. True equity means an adequate education for all.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Charter-lobby-chases-cut-of-public-10594980.php

Sackler ponies up $8,000 more in Charter School Industry’s effort to influence legislative races in Connecticut

As the 2016 Election came to a close, charter school aficionado and big-time campaign donor – Jonathan Sackler – whose company makes OxyContin, dropped $8,000 into the Charter Cares Political Action Committee, the entity that raised more than $86,000 to support a handful of pro-charter school legislative candidates during this year’s election cycle.  Sackler’s latest contribution comes on top of a $10,000 donation he already made to the charter school PAC.

During the General Election, Charter Cares PAC devoted their resources in support of two legislative campaigns, one effort for incumbent State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester) and the other for incumbent State Representative Andre Bumgardner (R-New London/Groton).

Cassano squeaked out a narrow victory while Bumgardner lost to his Democratic opponent.

Of the total amount of money Charters Care raised, the majority came from Education Reform Now, a shadowy New York based “Dark Money” group that refuses to identify its donors.

In addition to Jonathan Sackler, who is Governor Dannel Malloy’s biggest contributor, other major donors to Charters Care were individuals directly associated with Achievement First, Inc and ConnCAN.

Achievement First, Inc. is the large charter school management company that owns and operates charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.  ConnCAN is Connecticut’s leading charter school advocacy group that has led the record breaking lobbying effort in favor of Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school initiative.

According to reports filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Achievement First and ConnCAN connected donors to Charters Care included Brian Olson who donated $10,000 and Andrew Boas who contributed $4,500.

For more about Charters Care, Education Reform Now Network and their Connecticut campaign effort check out;

New York Dark Money, Pro-Charter Group pours another $15,000 into Connecticut legislative races

Charter School Industry drops $63,000 plus into Connecticut legislative races

Massachusetts Ballot Question #2 – Charter School Industry pours record breaking $26 million into stunning loss

As Diane Ravitch reported,

Voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly defeated Question 2, by a margin of about 62%-38%. Question 2 would have permitted the addition of 12 charter schools every year into the indefinite future.

A vibrant coalition of parents, educators, and students withstood a barrage of dark money and won. They organized, mobilized, knocked on doors, rallied, and they won. More than 200 school committees passed resolutions against Question 2. None supported it.

The bottom line that unified opponents of the measure was that charters would drain funding from the public schools.

As of November 1, 2016, the charter school industry had raised in excess of $26 million to fund their effort to undermine public education in Massachusetts.  Much of the money came from the infamous New York based billionaires and hedge fund managers who have been funding the charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform privatization “movement.

The following chart identifies the major sources of money that drove the record spending by the charter school industry.

 

TOTAL RAISED IN SUPPORT OF CHARTER SCHOOL QUESTION #2 (as of 11/1/16) $26,066,640  
Charter School Industry Entity Amount Raised Major Sources of Funds
Yes on Two $710,100
Alice Walton $710,000
Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools $2,418,518.04
Jim Walton $1.125 million

 

Alice Walton (Transfer from Yes on Two $710k)
MA Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund $150k

 

Massachusetts Charter Public School Assoc., Inc.  $100k

 

Great Schools Massachusetts $100k
Paul Sagan $100K
Charles Longfield $100k
Lawrence Coolidge $25K
Charles  Ledley $26k (Plus $40k to Great Schools Massachusetts
Great Schools Massachusetts  

$21,640,982

 

Families For Excellent Schools Inc. and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc. (NY)  $17.2 million

 

Strong Economy For Growth $1.1m

 

Expanding Educational Opportunities  575k

 

Great Schools For Massachusetts $501k

 

Michael Bloomberg (NY) $490K
Education Reform Now Advocacy (NY) $314k

 

John Arnold (TX) $250k
Edward Shapiro $225k

 

Bradley Bloom $150k
Ray Stata $100
Campaign For Fair Access To Quality Public Schools $100K

 

Cohasset Vc, Ltd (Dallas TX) $100k

 

Shari Redstone $100k
Robert Small $75k
Abigail Johnson $60k
Stephen Mugford $60k
Daniel Loeb (NY) $50k
George Conrades $50k
Longwood Ventures Partners $50k
Ross M Jones $50k
Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools Ballot Committee $722,040
Education Reform Now Advocacy         $155K

 

Campaign For Fair Access To Quality Public Schools $567k
Expanding Educational Opportunities $575,000
Suffolk Cares, Inc.                   $100K

 

State Street Bank and Trust Co.       $100K

 

Partners Healthcare            $100K

 

The Kraft Group$100k

 

Emc Corporation         $75K

 

Massmutual Financial Group  $50K

 

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated   $50K

 

 

As for why the Charter School Ballot Question #2 went down to a stunning defeat, Edushyster, the Massachusetts based education blogger, provides a full analysis in the recent blog post entitled, What Went Down in Massachusetts.

Edushyster writes;

I could give you a long list of reasons why Question 2 went down in flames. It was a complicated policy question that should never have made it onto the ballot. Yes on 2, despite outspending the ‘no’ camp 2-1 couldn’t find a message that worked, and was never able to counter the single argument that most resonated with voters against charter schools: they take money away from public schools and the kids who attend them. #NoOn2 also tapped into genuinely viral energy. The coalition extended well beyond the teachers unions that funded it, growing to include members of all kinds of unions, as well as social justice and civil rights groups, who fanned out across the state every weekend. By Election Day, the sprawling network of mostly volunteer canvassers had made contact with more than 1.5 million voters.

One, two, three part strategy
Question 2 was just one part of an elaborate three-pronged strategy dreamed up by charter advocates in Massachusetts, most notably our own Secretary of Education, James Peyser, to get rid of the charter cap. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s education reform eminence Chester Finn helpfully explaining in his new book how Massachusetts charter advocates had decided that things would go down:

There we see a coherent three-part strategy, beginning with a legislative move to amend the Bay State’s charter law. In case lawmakers balk, a ballot initiative is in the works, as is a legal move involving a prominent Boston firm that has filed a class-action suit to lift the charter cap, arguing that it unconstitutionally denies children access to an adequate education. As part of all three efforts, Families for Excellent Schools is organizing parents and other charter supporters to participate in an advocacy campaign.

Tellingly, Finn’s explication of Team Charter’s strategerizing is in a section entitled *From Grass Tops to Grass Roots.* A model of the *new parent power,* Families for Excellent Schools has successfully organized parents in NYC, most of whom already send their kids to charter schools, to demand more and more charter schools. Here they are marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, 30K strong. Now here they are, arriving in Albany by the busload. Theirs is a powerful spectacle, until one looks too closely and notices that the guys on the walkie talkies are all white and that the parents were told that they had to attend, or that the mayor wants to close their schools, and that their own charter schools had to be closed for the day in order to create the powerful spectacle.

In the spring of 2014, Peyser, who sat on the national board of Families for Excellent Schools, was imploring Boston’s charter schools to *take control of their own destiny by becoming a more potent political force.* By that summer, FES had a Boston offshoot, *seeded* thanks to the largesse of the New Schools Venture Fund, where Peyser worked, and the same Republican philanthropists who would get the #YesOn2MA ball rolling. And yet FES was an expensive flop from the start. What went so wrong? Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the group’s astonishing odiosity. Like refusing to say what they were about. Their first big event, a lavishly choreographed rally at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, made no mention of charter schools. Then there was *Unify Boston,* a months-long petition drive in which organizers gathered signatures from parents who wanted great neighborhood schools. When group leaders informed staff members that the actual goal of the campaign was to lift the charter cap, a revolt broke out. *It’s like they think people of color are stupid,* said one former FES organizer.

In the end, charter advocates couldn’t marshal a parent army for the same reason that has undone one ambitious #edreform vision after another: their logic model was flawed. *People aren’t against charter schools,* Yawu Miller, the managing editor of the Bay State Banner, Boston’s African American newspaper, told me when I interviewed him earlier this fall. *But they don’t want to see the kind of expansion that’s being proposed now. They think there’s a threat to the district school system if that happens.* As Miller pointed out, his son is on the waitlist for several charter schools. So is Save Our Schools parent organizer Malikka Williams. In fact, it turns out that almost everyone in Boston is on some kind of waitlist. Calculate the number of students who are waiting for in-demand Boston district schools the same way that charters do and you end up with a number in excess of 20,000.

You can read more of Edushyster’s analyses at: http://edushyster.com/what-went-down-in-massachusetts/

Additional Background on this nationally significant effort can be found via the following articles

How Long-Time Charter Funders Are Upping the Ante in Their Bid to Blow the Bay State’s Charter School Cap

Playing Three Card Monte With Dark Money

As MA Question 2 Funding Nears $32 Million, DFER Files a New Ballot Committee

 

New York Dark Money, Pro-Charter Group pours another $15,000 into Connecticut legislative races

Called the Real Reform Now Network, a New York based charter school front group, that won’t reveal the names of its donors, is expanding its effort to convince Connecticut voters to vote for pro-charter school candidates in this year’s general election.

Connected to the Northeast Charter School Network, the Real Reform Now Network pumped another $15,000 into Charters Care late last week.  Charters Care is a political action committee that is also tied to the Northeast Charter School Network.

In their latest filing, the PAC reports that their expenditures continue to be made in support of State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester).

As noted in an earlier Wait, What? post, the Center for Responsive Politics defines Dark Money organizations in the following way;

Politically active nonprofits – principally 501(c) (4) s and 501(c) (6) s – have become a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles. The term “dark money” is often applied to this category of political spender because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding – though a minority do disclose some or all of their donors, by choice or in response to specific circumstances.

These organizations can receive unlimited corporate, individual, or union contributions that they do not have to make public, and though their political activity is supposed to be limited, the IRS – which has jurisdiction over these groups – by and large has done little to enforce those limits.

Charter School Industry drops $63,000 plus into Connecticut legislative races

With $30,000 in “Dark Money” from a New York-based entity called Real Reform Now Network and thousands more from Connecticut’s deep-pocketed charter school players, a political action committee in Connecticut is funneling tens of thousands of dollars into its effort to promote the election of a handful of candidates running for the Connecticut General Assembly.

Charters Care, a political action committee registered with the Connecticut State Elections Committee and tied to the Northeast Charter School Network, was formed in July 2013.  NECN’s Connecticut Director, Jeremiah Grace, serves the PAC’s Chair.

The dark money Real Reform Now Network is also affiliated with the Northeast Charter School Network.  The group’s contact of record is Jill Shahen, who also serves as the Managing Director of the New York based Northeast Charter School Network.

As for the rising role of Dark Money group, the Center for Responsive Politics explains;

Politically active nonprofits – principally 501(c) (4) s and 501(c) (6) s – have become a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles. The term “dark money” is often applied to this category of political spender because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding – though a minority do disclose some or all of their donors, by choice or in response to specific circumstances.

These organizations can receive unlimited corporate, individual, or union contributions that they do not have to make public, and though their political activity is supposed to be limited, the IRS – which has jurisdiction over these groups – by and large has done little to enforce those limits.

In addition to the money collected from anonymous donors via Real Reform Now Network, Charter Cares PAC also raised $10,000 from both Jonathan Sackler and Brian Olson.  Sackler is a member of the Northeast Charter School Network’s Board of directors and both Sackler and Olson are founding members of ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy front group that has led the effort to promote Governor Dannel Malloy’s corporate education reform initiatives.  Other Major donors to Charter Cares PAC include Andrew Boas ($4,500), Andrew Balson ($4,500) Richard Ferguson ($3,000) and Alex Johnson ($1,000).  Boas and Ferguson are board members for Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Johnson is the former CEO of ConnCAN.

This isn’t the first time Real Reform Now Network has made an appearance in Connecticut.  The group also contributed significant funds to a failed effort to promote a charter school agenda in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

According to campaign finance reports filed by with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission by Charters Care, the bulk of the PAC’s money has been spent in support of State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester) and State Representatives Charlie Stallworth (D-Bridgeport); Terry Adams (D-Stamford) and Andre Bumgardner (R-Groton/New London).

“Harbormasters” – A new corporate education reform industry term for unelected entities seeking to privatize our public schools.

“Harbormasters have a mission to buoy the number of high-quality seats in their cities.” – Bellwether Education Partners on behalf of Education Cities

Definitions:

  • “Harbormasters” are unelected entities that seek to put themselves in control of managing public education in a particular community, and (b) “High-Quality Seats” is a euphemism for more charter schools.

So translated into English, the phrase “Harbormasters have a mission to buoy the number of high-quality seats in their cities” actually means,

If we are to succeed in our goal of opening more charter schools and continuing the efforts to privatize public education we will need more un-elected entities willing to step in and usurp the democratic process that presently stands in our way.”

When one follows this path of edu-jargon they will quickly come across groups like Bellwether Education Partners, Education Cities and similar corporate-funded organizations that are working to remove the term public from public education.

Take for example, Education Cities, a relatively new entity in the privatization game.

Education Cities’ primary mission is to develop and expand the notion of “harbormasters” as part of its ongoing strategy to expand the number of charter schools in targeted cities.

Education Cities claims it is a “nonprofit network” of 32 city-based organizations in 25 cities.  As the evidence makes clear, it is really just another charter school front group funded by the same cabal of big education reform foundations.

The organization traces its roots back to 2012, when the an Indianapolis, Indiana “educational venture capital fund” called The Mind Trust spun off a related entity it called CEE-Trust or Cities for Education Entrepreneurship.

The organization’s stated goal was to bring Indianapolis-like corporate education reforms to other cities around the country.

Changing its name to Education Cities in 2014, the entity collected more than $5.5 million during its first two years as a 501(c) (3).  Not surprisingly, major contributions came from The Broad Foundation; the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; The Walton Family Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, all leaders in the effort to privatize public schools in the United States.

Always keen on coining a phrase, the public relations mavens at The Mind Trust and Education Cities announced that their primary strategy was to install “harbormasters” as vehicles to promote and implement their privatization agenda.

And what, pray-tell are harbormasters and what role do they have when it comes to implementing the corporate education reform agenda?

Bellwether Education Partners, a leading corporate education reform consulting company, proudly explains the Harbormaster concept as follows;

If you DON’T work in education, a harbormaster is an official responsible for enforcing the regulations of a particular harbor or port, in order to ensure the safety of navigation, the security of the harbor and the correct operation of the port facilities. It’s the nautical version of an air traffic controller. I assume they look like this:

If you DO work in education, the term is a metaphor for a city-based nonprofit that plays a central role in funding and coordinating high-impact education initiatives.

The term was popularized by Ethan Gray, a Mind Trust team member who incubated and then launched Education Cities (formerly CEE-Trust — pronounced SEA-Trust), a member organization that convenes and supports harbormasters across the country. Education Cities is a current partner and former client.

Over on the Education Cities’ website, one learns that when you “partner” with Education Cities you get the opportunity to hire, pay or work with a slew of top education reform industry consultants including, none-other-than, Bellwether Education Partners

Other companies and organizations in on the slick deal include the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, Public Impact, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to name a few.

Expounding upon the benefits of harbormasters, Bellwether Education Partners adds;

By aligning vision, resources, talent and political will, these organizations become the strategic leaders of their community’s efforts to create more great schools. They can also be the recipients of heated opposition from those who seek to preserve the status quo. Both are valuable roles.

We believe that there are four main elements to the harbormaster strategy: supporting quality schools, strengthening effective educator pipelines, advocating for pro-student pro-teacher policy changes, and

In concert, these four strategies create the conditions for high-quality public schools to launch, grow and persist. Harbormasters often lead in one or more of those areas and work in close collaboration with other local stakeholders on the other efforts to accelerate the pace and sustainability of school improvement.

Here’s a list of the Education Cities member organizations. Bellwether has extensive experience working with harbormasters including New Schools for New OrleansThe Mind Trust in Indianapolis, Choose to Succeed in San Antonio, Accelerate Great Schools in Cincinnati, and The Boston Schools Fund.

It will come as no surprise to readers that Bellwether’s client list is not dissimilar to the list of organizations that make up Education Cities, a list that includes the following communities;

Baton Rouge, LA

Boston, MA

Chicago, IL

Cincinnati, OH

Denver, CO

Detroit, MI

Indianapolis, IN

Kansas City, MO

Las Vegas, NV

Los Angeles, CA

Memphis, TN

Milwaukee, WI

Minneapolis, MN

Nashville, TN

New Orleans, LA

Oakland, CA

Philadelphia, PA

Phoenix, AZ

Providence, RI

Richmond, CA

Rochester, NY

San Antonio, TX

San Jose, CA

Washington, DC

Wilmington, DE

Rather than work through democratically elected boards of education, where public policy belongs, harbormasters are designed to do an end run around the American political system and install pro-privatization gurus and consultants to take over and run privatization efforts.

And to date, their record speaks for itself.

In an article entitled, Why Harbormasters Are Critical to a City’s Ecosystem, the Senior Vice President of Growth, Development & Policy at Rocketship Education crowed,

…the idea of the harbormaster has taken shape in a variety of forms, in a few pockets of our country. In some places, harbormasters were borne of natural disaster, as with New Schools for New Orleans; elsewhere, it was a response to a generation of declining results, as with Schools That Can Milwaukee; or sheer volition, as with San Antonio’s Choose to Succeed; or the sound execution of a strategy, as with the DC Fund of NewSchools in collaboration with the CityBridge Foundation.

All four schools systems are widely recognized as examples where corporate education reform and privatization have or are failing the vast majority of students.

As if Rocketship’s references to New Orleans, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Washington DC were not unsettling enough, EdSurge, a corporation that helps schools “find, select and use the right technology to support all learners,” doubles-down on the need to replicate New Orleans’ failures with a piece titled, How the ‘Harbormaster Network’ Plans to Spread Nationwide Personalized Learning

For those who may be confused about the meaning of the education reform phrase “personalized learning,” you might start by reading the Wait, What? post, When THEY say “personalized learning” is, it is time to be afraid, very afraid.

In conclusion, while it is true that the corporate education reform “movement” is weighed down with a long list of failed policies, you have to give them credit for their prowess when it comes to developing marketing terms that seek to mislead their target audiences.

For example, next time you hear the term harbormaster in an education policy setting, you’ll know exactly what is being said (or not said) as the case may be.