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.

Top Utah Republicans join corporate education reform groups to attack anti-Common Core school board candidates

In May 2016 Utah’s Republican Governor, Gary Herbert, called on the Utah Board of Education to, “move past Common Core standards and get rid of mandatory SAGE testing for high school students.”

Governor Herbert wrote,

“I am asking the State Board of Education to consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

The Utah Governor’s strong action in opposition to the Common Core standards and its related Common Core testing scheme won him praise from conservatives and educators, but some of the state’s top Republicans are now joining the Utah business community and the state’s corporate education reform allies to try and keep pro-Common Core incumbents on the Utah Board of Education.

Following the loss of some pro-Common Core incumbents during the state’s summer primary, corporate education reform allies are now raising money to defend the remaining pro-Common Core, pro-corporate education reform candidates on the Utah School Board.

Earlier this month, Utah Policy.com, a Utah based political blog reported,

“Get ready for partisan, big money, races for the Utah State School Board…

[…]

[T]the primary race this year caught some GOP leaders off guard, as several well-liked (at least on Capitol Hill) incumbents were beaten June 28.

And now a “last ditch” effort is being made to save a few of the other incumbents as a group of business/reform groups are looking to raise money and set up PACs to help those endangered school board members.

Utah Policy.com added;

Over the weekend a quickly-formed school board candidate fund-raiser was put together by the Utah Technology Council, among others, with House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, called in to help raise money for some of the remaining school board incumbents feeling the heat from the Utah Education Association – the main teacher union in the state.

For Hughes it is an old battle – remember the failed private school voucher fight of 2007?

There are eight seats on the Utah School Board this year.  The Utah Education Association, which endorsed Republican Governor Gary Herbert against his Democratic rival Mike Weinholtz, this year, is supporting candidates in six of those races.

Rather than find common ground with the teacher’s union over support for the governor and opposition to the Common Core, the Republican elected officials and corporate education reform advocacy groups are now targeting the union endorsed candidates for defeat, including those that are running on an anti-Common core agenda.

As one Utah based anti-Common Core group posted, Common Core’s Role in Hot State School Board Race,

The State School Board race has never drawn much attention before. But this year, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, businesses and even top-tier elected officials are personally campaigning and fundraising for and against certain candidates.

Yesterday’s headline was: “Niederhauser and Hughes ask Business Leaders to Help Defeat UEA-Backed School Board Candidates“.  Yesterday, too, business organizations such as the Utah Technology Council and the School Improvement Association joined Niederhauser and Hughes in a fundraising webinar that promoted a slate of pro-Common Core candidates who happen to be not favored by or funded by national teacher’s unions.

The anti-common Core blogger added,

“…I don’t understand why these groups have chosen to campaign against both the anti-Common Core candidates as well as against the UEA-backed candidates…

[…]

Nor do I understand why our House Speaker and Senate President don’t see the hypocrisy in speaking against big money buying votes (NEA) while both of them are personally funded by big business money (Education First).

But my bigger questions are: how do the Speaker and the Senate President dare to campaign for Common Core candidates, thus going directly against Governor Herbert’s call to end Common Core alignment in Utah?

How do they dare campaign against the resolution of their own Utah Republican Party that called for the repeal of the Common Core Initiative?

Have they forgotten the reasons that their party is strongly opposed to all that the Common Core Initiative entails?

Have they forgotten Governor Herbert’s letter that called for an end to Common Core and SAGE testing just four months ago? (See letter here.)  For all the talk about wanting to move toward local control and to move against the status quo, this seems odd.

Of course, the answer to the anti-Common Core blogger’s lament is that the Common Core has always had strong support from mainstream Republicans.  In fact, it was George W. Bush’s administration that helped foist the Common Core and Common Core testing program upon the nation.

It should come as no surprise to the education advocates in Utah that even when their Republican governor calls for an end to the Common Core, there will be some top Republican leaders, along with the business community and pro-corporate education reform groups, that would seek to undermine his position.

The sad reality is that when it comes to the federalization and privatization of public education, many Republican and Democratic elected officials have no problem undermining their local students, parents, teachers and public schools.

A back-to-school wish for Connecticut (Guest Post)

Education advocates Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme were teachers in the Ridgefield Public Schools.  In this commentary piece that first appeared in the Danbury News-Times, they lay out their wish for Connecticut’s public schools.

Connecticut public schools are becoming unrecognizable.

Common Core top-down mandates and pedagogy are ingrained and embedded into the classroom and have infected all our public schools. TheFederal Government and large publishing companies have taken control of our schools, impacting every district in the state. And the taxpayer shouldn’t be fooled by the new “law.”

“The Every Student Succeeds Act” did not do away with the failed Common Core, and does not insure quality education for all our students because of its inflexibility. Common Core still exists in Connecticut, along with the federal government top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates which are destroying public education throughout our country. Connecticut is a state with diverse communities and students. We need to serve all our students.

The Connecticut State Department of Education and our local districts need to take control, decide standards, and write appropriate curriculum now. With the new school year starting, we have a chance to begin fixing the problems and issues facing our public schools. Elected boards of education need to do their homework, and be continuous learners on how to meet the needs of the students in their districts. They need to meet with staff and students, and engage in conversations that will have concrete results and not just rubber-stamp administrative requests. They need to follow the money spent on district initiatives and assessments carefully to be sure their budgets reflect informed decisions.

Our schools do not need more management, mid-level consultants and coaches. This overflow is creating mediocre rigid school systems and infers a lack of confidence in the teaching staff. Schools need administrators who are truly educational leaders who understand the truth about how students learn. They need administrators who care and have the courage and integrity to evaluate and support effective teachers who have the expertise to create a supportive environment for learning, and a commitment to quality education.

Unfortunately, the morale in many districts is low and teachers are uninspired with scripted lessons. Teachers need to sit through redundant professional development seminars trying to reinvent the wheel, and documentaries on what good education looks like in unconventional charter schools. Yet they are locked into rigid scheduling and told that their test scores must be even better. Teaching to the test has become an accepted practice. To reach this testing goal our young children are put into developmentally inappropriate programs with expectations that are known inhibitors to providing a quality education. This defies the research on how young children learn. If this trend continues public education as we know it will be gone.

We need right now a redirection for our schools, where Connecticut educators lead, decide, and create their own developmentally appropriate standards, meeting the diverse needs of the students. This is our wish for the new school year:

  1. Allow high-performing districts to keep the exemplary public schools they have by giving outstanding teachers a voice and the support to bring autonomy back into the classrooms.
  2. Empower at-risk districts to design and choose programs that work for them and meet their needs. We need to increase their funding and add more diverse magnet public schools, regional schools, and vocational technical schools to give students and parents opportunities and choices. Top down Common Core regulations are strangling our inner city schools, not serving at-risk students, and they are suffering the most.
  3. Celebrate excellence and an inventive spirit. Encourage projects that are designed to be knowledge based, hooked to the curriculum and embedding multiple disciplines, including writing, within the classroom structure. They must also make allowances for individual learning styles, opportunities to work alone or in partnerships, and time to share and articulate the research and the projects with classmates.
  4. Promote parent and community partnerships — parents, students and community coming together via conferences, science fairs, productions, apprenticeships, community service, etc.
  5. Get rid of block scheduling which is problematic and limiting especially at the elementary level. It fails all our students, especially those at-risk.
  6. Provide integrated school programs that promote supportive mentorships and long-term connections with students. These programs encourage the development of educational and social values.
  7. Change the current teaching trajectory immediately and begin again to value innovation, creativity, and classroom experience.

In Connecticut, we need a public school system of, by, and for the children it serves. Communities need to be engaged education advocates. Administrators need to stand up and do the right thing for children and teachers.

If we don’t act now, then the 21st Century may prove to be the demise of our Connecticut Public Schools, and a direct route to private and unaccountable charter schools.

You can read and comment on the original commentary piece at: http://www.newstimes.com/opinion/article/Op-ed-A-back-to-school-wish-for-Connecticut-9200717.php

Charter School Industry targets Massachusetts

A group of billionaires and corporate executives are using a front group called Great Schools Massachusetts and the New York based charter school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, to pour an unprecedented  amount of money into a campaign to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.

According to published reports, the charter school industry is on track to dump up to $18 million into a record-breaking campaign in support of Massachusetts Question 2, a referendum question on this year’s ballot that would effectively lift the legislative mandated cap on the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter school, pro-Governor Andrew Cuomo, anti-teacher group has led a series of expensive advocacy campaigns in New York State and Connecticut on behalf of the charter school industry.

Expanding first to Connecticut and then to Massachusetts, Families for Excellent School has become the preferred money pipeline of choice for a group of corporate elite who seek to anonymously fund the effort to privatize public education in the United States.

Thanks to the demise of campaign finance laws at the federal and state level, Families for Excellent Schools can accept unlimited donations from those who profit from or support the rise of charter schools, the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme.

While most of the money flowing into the Massachusetts Question 2 campaign can’t be traced, public documents reveal that a handful of hedge fund managers and corporate executives donated $40,000 each to kick start the campaign aimed at diverting even more scarce public funds from public schools to charter schools.

Most of the key players in the Question 2 operation are directly or indirectly associated with a handful of hedge fund companies including, Bain Capital, the Baupost Group and Highfields Capital Management.

Leading the effort from Bain Capital is Josh Bekenstein, the managing partner at the infamous company.  Bekenstein is a long-time charter supporter having donated massive amounts of money to pro-voucher, anti-teacher, pro-charter school groups including Stand for Children, Teach for America, and the KIPP and Citizen charter school chains.

In addition, Bekenstein has played an instrumental role for both New Profit, Inc. and the NewSchools Venture Fund, two of the major funders behind the charter school movement in Massachusetts and across the nation.

New Profit, Inc.’s “investments” include major donations to underwrite the faux teacher advocacy group called Educators 4 Excellence, which is actually another New York based, anti-union front group.  New Profit, Inc. also funds Achievement First, Inc., a charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the Achievement Network and Turnaround for Children, two more pro-charter school lobby and public relations organizations.

Through Bain Capital, and on his own, Bekenstein’s has also helped fund and lead Bright Horizons, yet another charter school chain with operations in multiple states.

Another Bain executive helping to fund Question 2 is Paul Edgerley, Bain Capital’s former managing director.  Edgerley has also donated millions in support of the privatization of public education, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to New Profit, Inc. and Strategic Grant Partners, a Massachusetts based foundation that has been funding the expansion of charter schools and charter school advocacy groups in that state.

Edgerly has also donated heavily to the Excel Academy Charter School system, which is managed by the for-profit National Heritage Academies.

Seth Klarman, President of the Baupost Group is a major Republican campaign donor at national level, and yet another key player in the Massachusetts pro-charter school campaign.  Klarman, who gave in excess of $3 million during the 2014 federal elections cycle, was also a major donor to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a political action committee created to benefit Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo and ensure Republican control of the New York State Senate.

Klarman has close ties to Eli Broad, serving with the billionaire on the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In addition, Klarman has been a major source of cash for a series of charter schools and pro-charter school sponsors including EdVestors, a Boston-based operation that, in turn, has funneled millions to a variety of charter school chains including the KIPP charter school chain.

Brian Spector, like Klarman, heralds from the Baupost Group and is another major Republican donor.  Spector’s involvement includes a leadership position with The Boston Foundation, an entity that funds a variety of charter schools in Massachusetts including Excel Charter Academy.

Charles Ledley, of Highfields Capital Management, is the groups token Democrat, having served as key donor and operative with Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now and Students for Education Reform, Ledley also provided funding for the successful effort to pass a major anti-teacher evaluation law in New Jersey, a law that requires that teacher evaluations in the Garden State be based on the results their students get on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory common-core standardized tests.

Using Education Reform Now as his funding vehicle, Ledley played a pivotal role in providing the money that Families for Excellent Schools needed to set up its operation in Massachusetts.  In addition to a six figure donation to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Ledley loaned Education Reform Now $250,000 to subsidize Family for Excellent School’s operating expenses in Massachusetts.

In addition to his own involvement in the charter school industry, Ledley’s wife, Rebecca Ledley, served as a board member of Students for Education Reform and the UP Academy Charter School chain.  She was also a director for K12, Inc., the major on-line, for-profit education company that has made millions from the corporate education reform movement.

Another $40,000 contributor to the Question 2 campaign in Massachusetts is Joanna Jacobson, the managing partner of Strategic Grant Partners.  Like the Boston Foundation, Strategic Grant Partners is a leading pro-charter school foundation that has provided funding to charter schools and advocacy groups supporting charter schools.  The entity has donated to Families for Excellent Schools, Stand for Children, Educators 4 Excellence and Teach for America’s Leadership for Educational Equity.

Jacobson is married to Jonathan Jacobson, the founder of Highfields Capital Management.  She also serves on the board of directors of the Brooke charter schools, a position she shares with Charles Ledley.

Meanwhile, billionaire Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments, also provided a $40,000 check to the Question 2 campaign.   Johnson, yet another major Republican donor, has also donated to a variety of charter schools including the Steppingstone Foundation, which operates College Success Academy. A fellow member of her family, Allison Johnson, serves on the Steppingstone board, while Joanna Jacobson, the managing partner of Strategic Grant Partners serves on the charter school’s advisory board.

Finally, yet another player in the Question 2 campaign is Paul Severino, , a major Republican donor who also matched the original $40,000 donation to kick off the Question 2 operation.

Together these corporate elite are part of an unprecedented effort to privatize public education at the state level.