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.

Gates funded “independent” media cheers Gates plan to privatize public education in Liberia

In stunning expose written by Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), it becomes undeniably clear that Bill Gates has reached the point where his billions not only fund the myriad of corporate education reform initiatives that are sweeping the country and the world, but his investment in the media taints much of the coverage of these developments.

In an article entitled, This Guardian Piece Touting Bill Gates’ Education Investment Brought to You by Bill Gates, FAIR’s Adam Johnson explains;

The Guardian (8/31/16) published a broadly positive report on Liberian education, which is handing over the reins of 120 primary schools to a consortium of private education companies and NGOs in a pilot program exploring privatization of the West African nation’s schools. One passage in particular was especially glowing:

The deputy minister [of Education], Aagon Tingba, is reading The Bee Eater, a biography of Michele Rhee, a polarizing educational reformist and former chancellor of Washington, DC, public schools.

“She changed the lives of children in Washington, but people complained her methods were controversial. But she made a difference. So why can’t we do that here?”

What the piece failed to note—other than the fact that Rhee’s tenure left DC’s schools “worse by almost every conceivable measure” (Truthout, 10/23/13)—is that multi-billionaire Bill Gates is both the major investor of the company administering the Liberian education overhaul and the principal of the Gates Foundation, sponsor of the Guardian’s Global Development vertical, where the story appeared.

The story clearly labels the Gates Foundation as its sponsor. What it never mentioned is that Bill Gates is a major investor of the firm at the heart of the story, Bridge Academies International, having pitched in, along with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar, $100 million for the “education startup.”

Making the conflict more glaring is the fact that this is a personal, for-profit investment for Gates, not a charitable donation.

The Guardian claims its Global Development vertical, launched in 2011, is “editorially independent of any sponsorship.” According to its most recent tax filings in 2014, the Gates Foundation has an on-going $5.69 million grant to Guardian News Media Limited.

This is hardly the first time that the Gates subsidized coverage of himself has led to a positive news angle.  Adam Johnson adds,

The Guardian has run other puff pieces on the Gates Foundation in this vertical, such as “Gates Foundation Annual Letter: What Do You Think of Their Vision?” (1/22/15), which is basically an investment letter, along with “Melinda Gates Hits Out at ‘War on Women’ on Eve of Summit” (7/7/12) and “Bill Gates: Digital Learning Will Revolutionize Education in Global South” (1/22/15).

Johnson goes on to point out that,

FAIR has written for years about how Gates’ investment tentacles influence the media. He’s done softball interviews pushing common core with ABC (3/18/14), helped bankroll charter school reporting at the LA Times(8/24/15), funded the talking heads behind Race to the Top (9/1/10).

The Gates Foundation gives grants in the hundreds of thousands and often millions to such media organizations as NBCUniversal, Al Jazeera, BBC, Viacom (CBS) and Participant Media (the producer of pro-charter school documentary Waiting for Superman). Both Gates and the Gates Foundation are sizable shareholders in Comcast, which is the primary investor in Buzzfeed and Vox, as well the parent corporation of MSNBC and NBC News–the latter of which teamed up with Gates and other noted education experts like Exxon and University of Phoenix Online for the week-long charter school commercial “Education Week”.

And Johnson properly concludes;

In the case of the Guardian, Gates effectively owns an entire vertical, so when one of his investments is written up, one doesn’t notice the conflict of interest—like a fish doesn’t notice water. Because his influence is everywhere, it appears to be nowhere.

You can read and comment on Adam Johnson’s entire piece at: http://fair.org/home/this-guardian-piece-touting-bill-gates-education-investment-brought-to-you-by-bill-gates/

FYI – The following is background about Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting;

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints. As an anti-censorship organization, we expose neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are muzzled. As a progressive group, FAIR believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting and promote strong non-profit sources of information.

You can contribute to FAIR via the following link: https://www.cambeywest.com/subscribe2/?p=EXT&f=donate

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?

Washington – First mandate annual testing, then allocate $9 Million to reduce the “Assessment Burden.”

Call it the American Way!

President Obama and a bi-partisan coalition of Republican and Democratic members of Congress used the Every Child Succeeds Act to mandated that no child go untested each and every year, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Common Core standardized testing scheme is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory, not to mention a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars.

But now, in a yet another blatant effort to be as two-faced as possible, the Obama administration has announced a new $9 million “Enhanced Assessment Instruments Grant program” to assist states in efforts to “reduce the assessment burden.”

Mandate everyone gets tested, then allocate a few dollars to promote alternatives…

The school technology publication called, The Journal, reports that,

The Enhanced Assessment Instruments Grant program is the next step in the president’s action plan to improve the quality of academic assessments.”

The article adds;

The grant program builds on President Obama’s Testing Action Plan released last year. The plan aims to reform redundant standardized tests that are administered too frequently and fail to effectively measure student outcomes. As the next step in the plan, the Enhanced Assessment Instruments grant program, also called the Enhanced Assessment Grants (EAG) program, offers financial support for states to develop and use more effective assessments.

“The President’s Testing Action Plan encourages thoughtful approaches to assessments that will help to restore the balance on testing in America’s classrooms by reducing unnecessary assessments while promoting equity and innovation,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. in a news release. “This grant competition is the next step as part of that plan, and will help states and districts improve tests to allow for better depiction of student and school progress so that parents, teachers and communities have the vital information they need on academic achievement.”

The press release goes on to inform State education agencies and state education consortiums that;

Applicants that address these program objectives “by producing significant research methodologies products or tools, regarding assessment systems, or assessments,” will be chosen to receive funding for their projects, according to the department’s website.

Applications are available on Aug. 8. Applicants must submit proposals for the EAG competition by Sept. 22 and winners will be announced in January.

Chauk one more up for the greed and deceptiveness of the education testing industry and their corporate education reform allies in and of government.

The Malloy administration’s failed “school turnaround” program

Since taking office, Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-teacher, anti-public education initiatives have done tremendous damage to Connecticut public education system.  Few governors in the United States have implemented such a short-sighted, mean-spirited and down right stupid approach to education.

Among Malloy’s worst “accomplishments” has been his “school turnaround” program that has undermined the local involvement of students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Not only has the Malloy administration undermined the very people public schools were created to help, his efforts have cut deep into the fabric of Connecticut’s historic system of local control.

In her

latest column, education advocate Wendy Lecker takes on the Malloy administration’s failure school turnaround strategies.  In Policy can foster positive relationships for kids, a commentary piece that first appeared in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker writes;

Current education policy focuses on a failed strategy of school and district “turnarounds;” characterized by staff shake-ups and pedagogical practices that focus narrowly on raising test scores. This reform has been the Malloy Administration’s approach to school “improvement” since 2012. The evidence demonstrates that turnarounds produce at best temporary small increases in test scores, but at the high cost of destabilizing schools and communities in the long run.

While policymakers stubbornly pursue this dead end, they ignore evidence from science and educational practice pointing to methods that result in long-lasting improvements in both academic and life outcomes, especially for at-risk children.

A recent article in the science magazine, Mosaic, described a longitudinal study of children in Hawaii that examined why some at-risk children develop significant problems while others do not. The researchers found that for the one-third of at-risk children who did not develop problems, positive relationships, whether in the context of a community or one adult, were key. Even those who engaged in risky behavior as teens were able to turn their lives around with the help of a personal connection.

One of the researchers observed that resilience, often described as a trait, is instead an adaptive process; one that is helped by relationships.

Education reformers misread resilience as a trait they like to call “grit,” and consequently develop misguided policies such as the recent announcement by the federal government that the National Assessment of Educational Progress will create a standardized test to determine whether children have “grit.”

Understanding resilience the way these scientists have come to understand it would lead to a focus on more successful educational policies. Consistent with what science has discovered, it turns out that school programs and policies that promote the development of relationships are the ones that provide long-term educational and life benefits, especially to disadvantaged children.

It stands to reason that school mechanisms promoting a personal connection improve learning as well as social development. Neuroscientists have found that the brain does not recognize a sharp distinction between cognitive, social and motor functions. Consequently, research has shown that feelings of social isolation impair key cognitive abilities involved in learning.

Though they require substantial initial investments, educational policies that foster relationships save money in the long run.

Developmentally-appropriate preschool, with an emphasis on play, enables children to acquire the skills necessary to form healthy relationships. There is near universal consensus that quality preschool benefits children, increasing the chance of graduation, higher earnings, and decreasing placement in special education, involvement in the criminal justice system and the need for other social services. It also can save society as much as $16 for every dollar spent on preschool, by avoiding the costs of these later interventions.

Small class size, which fosters closer relationships between children and their teachers, has been proven to provide similar benefits, increasing graduation rates and earning potential, and decreasing the likelihood and cost to society of risky behavior. Research also shows that increasing class size has detrimental and costly long-term effects on at-risk children.

Now, new evidence from the Colorado Department of Education shows that increasing guidance counselors in secondary schools saved $20 for every dollar spent. Colorado implemented a grant program enabling 255 high schools across the state to hire more counselors and reduce their student-counselor ratio to a ratio of 216:1; a level below the 250:1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselors Association. As a result, the schools’ drop-out rates decreased, saving the state over $319 million dollars.

The program benefited low-income students of color the most. This result is consistent with research examining why students leave high school. As detailed in an earlier column, many students at-risk of dropping out or who have already left high school are more likely to remain or return if they can develop a relationship with a caring adult. Increasing the number of counselors increases the likelihood that at-risk high school students develop a relationship with such an adult.

Preschool, small class size and counselors are among the educational resources the plaintiffs in Connecticut’s pending school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, seek for Connecticut’s most disadvantaged children. Educational programs and services that foster positive relationships are proven to pay off for society, by preventing more costly social and academic interventions later on; and most importantly for our children, by increasing the chance that they develop into capable and productive adults.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Policy-can-foster-positive-9125538.php 

 

Charter School Political Action Committees target Connecticut legislative races

Look out, here they come again…

Outside groups have begun a campaign to persuade voters in New London and Bridgeport to support Democratic candidates committed to diverting even more scarce public funds to privately owned and operated charter schools.

As a result of Governor Malloy’s budget and corporate education reform agenda, while Connecticut public school students, teachers and schools are reeling from their deepest cuts in state history, charter school companies in the state will collect more than $110 million from Connecticut taxpayers, this year.

A massive amount of money considering these entities refuse to educate their fair share of students who face English Language challenges, children who need special education services, and students who have disciplinary issues.

But these schools simply aren’t satisfied with skimming off more than $110 million that should be going to help fund public schools and keep a lid on property taxes.  Charter schools want more and now they are trying to buy up candidates who will be loyal to their cause.

A national, pro-charter school, anti-teacher, corporate-funded group called Democrats for Education Reform has formed a new political action committee in Connecticut called Change Course CT.

Another New York based pro-charter group called Northeast Charter Schools Network has formed a second political action committee in Connecticut called Charters Care.

And these two big money groups are coming into Connecticut to add even more fire power to the existing pro-charter, anti-teacher groups that are already trying to influence public policy and elections.  ConnCAN, New York based Families for Excellent Schools and their political action committee, Connecticut Forward, are only three of a growing number of groups that are spending millions of dollars to persuade Connecticut legislators and candidates to turn their backs on Connecticut’s real public schools.

According to the CT Mirror’s story entitled, Charter school advocates playing in General Assembly primaries;

Change Course CT, a PAC associated with Democrats for Education Reform, a national group Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addressed during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week, has polled voters on two primaries in Bridgeport and one in New London.

“We just want to know what the dynamics of the races are,” said Amy Selib Dowell, the Connecticut director of Democrats for Education Reform.

She declined to say what they are doing with the polling data gathered in three districts: the 39th House, where Rep. Ernest Hewett of New London is challenged by Chris Soto; the 23rd Senate, where Sen. Ed Gomes of Bridgeport is challenged by Dennis Bradley; and the 126th House, where Rep. Charlie L. Stallworth of Bridgeport is challenged by Maria Pereira.

Charters Care is spending their money on “literature and T-shirts promoting Stallworth over Pereira, an outspoken opponent of charter schools, and Rep. Terry Adams of Bridgeport over Dan Dauplaise.”

As noted, these pro-charter groups are closely aligned to Governor Dannel Malloy’s and his anti-public school agenda.  The groups have spent more than $9 million lobbying Connecticut public officials since Malloy rolled out his corporate education reform agenda in 2012.

The timing could not be more suspicious.

Malloy may be on his way out, but one of his key life lines for his aspirations in Washington D.C. is the charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies.

Or, as the CT Mirror noted;

Malloy, the co-chair of the DNC’s Platform Committee, was a featured speaker at a Democrats for Education Reform event in Philadelphia…”

“Payment” to be collected later…

For additional background on these groups and their antics in Connecticut read the following Wait, What? posts;

Connecticut Charter School Industry spends another half a million dollars on lobbying elected officials

The Bevy of Billionaires undermining public education

Charter School Industry “invests” more than $9 million in Connecticut lobbying

Education reformers and charter school industry are jacking our legislature.

How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers by Ann Policelli Cronin 

Educator, public education advocate and fellow education blogger takes on the notion that the Common Core is good for children in her blog entitled, P.S. How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers.  She writes;

The New York Times, whose writers have seemed to lack knowledge about the Common Core, has been a PR firm for those misbegotten and ill-conceived educational standards. But finally on Sunday, July 24th, the newspaper published, ”The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students” by Diane Ravitch that is critical of the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush and the author of The Life and Death of the Great American School System and Reign of Error, pointed out that the Common Core has accomplished nothing that it promised and does not meet the educational needs of children. Ravitch explained that, as a country, we have spent billions to implement the Common Core, to prepare students to take the Common Core aligned tests, and to buy the technology to administer those tests online. The results are that math scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress  declined for the first time since 1990 and reading scores are flat or decreased, the achievement gaps based on race and income persist, teachers are demoralized, causing teacher shortages, and, most tragically of all, children are receiving an education which harms them.

I would like to add a P.S.

Diane Ravitch writes about the damage that the Common Core does to children with disabilities, English language learners, and children in the early grades. I know that to be true. My Post Script focuses on the damage that Common Core is doing to all students because, with Common Core, they are not taught to be thoughtful readers and effective writers and to develop as creative and critical thinkers and increasingly independent learners.

There has been false advertising about the Common Core, calling those standards “rigorous”. They are not at all rigorous. If they were, the National Council of Teachers of English would have endorsed them. After careful review, NCTE did not endorse the Common Core due to the content of the standards and the way they require reading and writing to be taught. It is preposterous to think that English language arts standards have been mandated for all k-12 students without the endorsement of the professional organization representing all elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers of reading and writing in the country.

And what is the objectionable Common Core content?

First of all, the amount of literature is restricted. We are the only country on the planet that specifies limits on reading literature. That means we not only limit the range of ideas with which students become familiar but we also reduce their opportunities to think divergently and create individual meaning in ways that only reading literature provides. Secondly, the kind of writing taught with Common Core severely limits the thinking students do because Common Core prescribes formulaic, impersonal writing. All Common Core writing assignments, according to David Coleman, the chief writer of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, must let students know  that ” no one gives a **** what they think and feel”. And thirdly, the volume of the grammar to be taught at each grade level requires that grammar be taught separately, not as part of the writing process, even though all research for the past 30 years says that is a waste of time. Worst of all, none of the standards are about teaching students to be engaged, active, thoughtful readers or effective writers for a wide range of purposes and audiences.

And how must teachers teach the Common Core?

Common Core teachers are purveyors of information. They teach as if the meaning of any piece of literature is “within the four corners of the page”. That outdated and discredited approach to teaching literature is called New Criticism- but “new” was the 1930’s. With it, Common Core teachers do not teach students to make personal connections, create their own interpretations, evaluate the ideas, or consider the cultural assumptions in what they are reading. The Common Core teacher requires students to dig out the one meaning from what they are reading, a meaning the teacher already knows. Since there is only one answer, there is no point in teaching students how to discuss their initial thinking with others, question the perspectives of others, and reconsider their original thinking, maybe even changing their minds because of questions or ideas offered by their classmates.

Also, writing is not used as part of the learning process to foster individual thinking because that thinking is not sought. And revision is, as the standards state, only “as needed”, not as a mandatory part of the writing process although revision always strengthens a writer’s thinking and makes the writer more effective.

And why is all this so bad?

Well, first of all, kids are not receiving an education that sparks their minds and touches their souls. Secondly, students are not learning the skills they need for their future. Tony Wagner, lead scholar at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has written two books (The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators), which discuss the skills students will need in the workplace. Wagner says that our future as a nation depends on our capacity to teach students to have the curiosity and imagination to be innovators. He says the competencies that students must learn in school are:

  • To approach problems as learners as opposed to knowers
  • To ask provocative questions
  • To engage in dialogue which explores questions with diverse people
  • To deal with ambiguity instead of right answers
  • To trust oneself to be creative and take initiative
  • To communicate orally and in writing by expressing ideas with clarity and personal passion
  • To analyze information and identify a path forward
  • To be curious, to be engaged with and interested in the world

You can’t get there from here when “here” is the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch is right.  We must stop hurting students. The Common Core must go.

You can read and comment on her commentary piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/07/29/p-s-how-the-common-core-hurts-kids-as-readers-and-writers/

Ann Policelli Cronin is a Connecticut educator. She currently is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education.

Koch Brother’s American Legislative Exchange Council pushing for more charter schools

Thanks in no small part to Donald Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the right-wing, corporate-funded, pro-privatization, anti-public education, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is meeting this week in Indianapolis.

At the top of their privatization agenda — More unaccountable charter schools.

The Center for Media and Democracy reports that at the meeting, “where corporate lobbyists sit side-by-side with state legislators in luxury hotels to vote as equals on ‘model bills’ that then get pushed to become law in states across the country,” a key issue will be the continued expansion of charter schools.  CMD explains;

The for-profit education companies that help fund ALEC, like K12, Inc., have a track record of poor results that tends to result in a high rate of school closures. K12, which was founded in part by junk bond fraudster felon Michael Milken, has a seat and a vote on ALEC’s corporate board.

Two new bills being considered by what ALEC now dubs its “Education and Workforce Development Task Force” could help poorly performing charters stay open without having to improve.

Under the Assessment Choice Act, instead of using a uniform assessment for students statewide, charters’ authorizers would take their pick from a “menu” of tests, unlike traditional public schools.

If propping up test scores isn’t enough to save a charter from closure, the “Student and Family Fair Notice and Impact Statement Act” promises to add new hurdles. Before closing or restructuring a charter school, this act would not just require that families be notified. It would also create a public hearing process in which parents, teachers, and “experts” could give testimony about the school, and the charter board would be allowed to suggest a response plan.

So, the corporate education reformers who taught standardized testing as the mechanism to rank order children, teachers and schools is now proposing legislation that would allow charter schools to exempt themselves from the use of the Common Core testing scheme.

Meanwhile, Trump’s running mate, one of the most anti-public education, anti-teacher governors in the nation is ALEC’s keynote speaker and was also scheduled to speak at an evening reception on school “reform” hosted by some of the biggest names in the corporate education reform industry.

While Hillary Clinton has unfortunately been a major supporter of the charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies, Trump-Pence are proving, yet again, that they would be a hundred times worse for the students, parents, teachers and public school of the nation.

K12 Inc – The Pride of Wall Street

Writing in their 2015 Annual Report, K12 Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Davis said;

Our strategy is simple: optimize student success, support market expansion in collaboration with current and future partners, and pursue targeted revenue growth.

Hyping their status as the leader in the for-profit corporate education reform industry, the company reported added;

The U.S. Market for K-12 education is large and online learning is gaining greater acceptance.

The notion that the country’s public school children are little more than lucrative profit centers for Wall Street investors has been growing since Rupert Murdoch famously called America’s public schools, a $500 billion untapped economic opportunity.

And by way of explaining the pro-charter environment and their ongoing success collecting public money, K12 Inc. explained;

Many parents and educators are seeking alternatives to traditional classroom-based education for a variety of reasons.  Demand for these alternatives is evident in the expanding number of choices available to parents and students.  For example, public charter schools emerged in 1988 to provide an alternative to traditional public schools and, have seen enrollments grow by 225% over the past 10 years….and there are approximately 6,400 public charter schools operating in 42 state and the District of Columbia with an estimated enrollment of over 2.5 million students.

While much of the attention related to education reform has focused on charter schools, the Common Core and the Common Core testing frenzy, Internet based, online virtual charter schools have become a significant part of the corporate education reform industry.

According to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), as of 2013, all 50 states “had established a significant form of online learning initiative, adding that, “1.82 million students participated in a formal online learning program.”

It was with this burgeoning sense of opportunity that a former Goldman Sacks executive and President Ronald Reagan’s former US Secretary of Education formed K12, Inc. in 2000.

With $40 million dollars from Wall Street investors, including $10 million from the infamous junk-bond dealer Michael Milken, Ronald Packard, a former Goldman Sacks executive and William Bennett, a former Secretary of Education, formed K12, Inc. so that they and their investors could profit off the children of the United States.

Other initial Wall Street investors included Andrew Tisch (Loews) and Larry Ellison (Oracle and Knowledge Universe), as well as Milken and his brother.

William Bennett, who by the 2000s had become a right-wing talk show host, served as the chairman of K12 Inc.’s board of directors until he resigned in 2005 following a series of racist comments that he made about African-Americans.

However, despite the controversy surrounding K12 and Bennett’s role in the company, the corporation’s profits have grown exponentially over the years, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for K12’s executives and shareholders.

K12 Inc. began by creating an online “education program” for children in Kindergarten through 2nd grade in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Today, a decade and a half later, K12 Inc. owns, operates or manages virtual schools in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.  In addition, the company sells online products to schools in all 50 states and around the world.

The company has been so successful that in 2007 it owners decided to take the company public, raising millions in capital as it joined the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: LRN).

By 2015, the company’s revenue exceeded $948 million, a 5.1 percent increase over the preceding year.   Since its inception, K12 Inc.’s revenue has exceeded $5 billion dollars, almost all of it paid for by American taxpayers.

The policy landscape supporting virtual charter schools has grown substantially over the years K12 Inc. has been in existence.  In just the last eight years, more than 157 bills passed in 39 states and the District of Columbia, all expanding the online school juggernaut.

In many cases, the anti-public school, pro-cyber school legislation was a result of aggressive lobbying and political involvement by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the member of its Digital Learning Subcommittee, a group of education reform entrepreneurs that includes K12 Inc.

Explaining an important aspect of its success, K12 Inc., its board of directors and staff have been especially active when it comes to political donations and lobbing activities at the federal and state level.

Federal Election Commission reports reveal that since its inception, individuals directly connected with K12 Inc. have donated well in excess of $1.5 million dollars to federal candidates and political action committees, helping to ensure that the company and cyber schools, in general, received a place of honor in both the administrations of President George W. Bush and Barak Obama.

The virtual school industry has received consistent and bi-partisan legislative and administrative support.

In fact, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top initiative and the recently adopted, Every Student Succeeds Act, all make room for the significant expansion of virtual schools.

In addition to the company’s work at the federal level, the Center for Media and Democracy reports;

Since 2004, K12 Inc. and its employees have pumped almost $1.3 million into state-level politics in 23 states (as of 2012), including contributions to candidates for office, party committees, and ballot initiatives.

On top of K12’s direct involvement in political campaigns, K12 Inc. has also focused on direct lobbying activities, spending more than $120,000 spent on federal lobbyists in the last two years, all while hiring more than 150 lobbyists in 28 states between 2003 and 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

A prime example of K12’s involvement in state politics can be found in the role it played in Georgia’s referendum to amend its state constitution in order to make it easier to open charter schools in that state.  K12 was a major supporter of the effort, donating at least $300,000 in 2012 to “Families for Better Public Schools,” a Georgia political action committee behind a constitutional amendment that would further the charter school industry by bypassing the legislature and state board of education to create a new, politically appointed commission that would have the authority to independently override state and local control and approve new charter schools and online virtual schools.

With additional financial support from the Koch Brother’s  Americans for Prosperity StudentsFirst, the Walton Family Foundation and other major corporate education reform players, the amendment passed with proponents outspending the opposition by about ten-to-one.

In yet another example, the Center For Media and Democracy reports,

In Pennsylvania, where ten percent of its revenue is generated, K12 Inc. has spent $681,000 on lobbying since 2007, according to the New York Times.  It registered 11 lobbyists in the state from 2007 through 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

K12 Inc. has also used ostensibly benign front groups to lobby and organize protests on its behalf. The K12 Inc. funded group Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools spent $250,000 on lobbying in the last five years, according to the Times.

The paper also reports that K12 Inc. is connected to My School, My Choice, a group that organized protests in Ohio against reforming the state formula for financing charter and online schools. The protesters turned out to be paid temp agency workers. Tim Dirrim, the founder of the organization, is the board president of the K12 Inc. managed Ohio Virtual Academy.

In states across the country and at the national level, political donations, lobbying, public relations and advocacy and extensive marketing campaigns have served as the building blocks of K12’s lucrative online schools.

However, perhaps the most telling points about how K12 Inc. and other online charter school succeed in the present economic and political climate can be found in the narrative that the company lists as “Risk Factors” in their most recent quarterly report to the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), factors that make it clear that the for-profit education reform industry has become an active part of the advanced capitalist system.

Warning Wall Street and its investors, K12 Inc. outlined the potential barriers to its success, noting;

  • From time to time, proposals are introduced in state legislatures that single out virtual or blended public schools for disparate treatment.
  • We have been, and will likely continue to be, subject to public policy lawsuits filed against virtual and blended schools by those who do not share our belief in the value of this form of public education.
  • Opponents of virtual and blended public schools have sought to challenge the establishment and expansion of such schools through the judicial process. If these interests prevail, it could damage our ability to sustain or grow our current business or expand in certain jurisdictions.
  • Beyond academic performance issues, some virtual school operators have been subject to governmental investigations alleging the misuse of public funded or financial irregularities. These allegations have attracted significant adverse media coverage and have prompted legislative hearings and regulatory responses.
  • As a public company, we are required to file periodic financial and other disclosure reports with the SEC…The disclosure of this information by a for-profit education company, regardless of parent satisfaction and student performance, may nonetheless be used by opponents of virtual and blended public schools to propose funding reductions or restrictions.
  • As a non-traditional form of public education, online public school operators will be subject to scrutiny, perhaps even greater than that applied to traditional brick and mortar public schools or public charter schools.  (A claim that is blatantly false considering there is little to no federal or state oversight of virtual charter schools.)

And finally, in what may be the most telling and honest observation of all, K12 reports;

  • Parent and student satisfaction may decline as not all parents and students are able to devote the substantial time and effort necessary to complete our curriculum.

While these “risk factors” paint a picture of potential problems facing K12 Inc. and other virtual schools, the supposed legitimacy of the virtual school industry has allows them to expand operations and continue to rake in the cash, all at the expense of taxpayers and real public schools.