Thursday, March 26, 2009

Which Crisis Where?

As people talk about the crisis in America’s educational system, they aren’t talking about schools in places like Orinda, Lafayette, Piedmont, Danville, and San Ramon [for readers unfamiliar with the Bay Area, these are our leafy suburbs]. They use “America” broadly, but are actually referring to the “crisis” in schools and school districts which serve a large number of poor kids (ie. kids with brown skin). These schools are in every major urban area you can name.
America passed through a civil rights movement in the 1960’s thinking it would resolve the inequity that stemmed from our long history as slaveholders, but nearly fifty years later our schools are more racially and class stratified than ever before. In every community across the land, as one group was finally permitted to move in, the other group sold their homes, packed their bags, and moved away; it was all about self-selection and choice, you see.
So here we are in 2009, mostly believing that America’s race issue has been solved; Obama is president, right? However, you'll know for certain "it" hasn't been "fixed" if you live a life where you rub up against it everyday.

Certainly things have improved, and for some, things are getting better all the time. But for enormous numbers of people, their original problems have grown and been transformed into very, very deeply rooted issues relating to (hush hush, don't say it!) social class, where – after all that has been said and done – they have ended up in the very bottom stratum. Having been subjected to high rates of unemployment for generations now, these people and their children live an existence of geographic and social isolation. Their plight has come on America’s radar at this time, probably because of the immense and growing cost of incarceration, and our shock at the behaviors which have caused it (why we have a Three Strikes Law in California, for example). My God, take a look at its trajectory (one source is Kirwan Institute’s report “Brown Disparity Data: Then and Now,” April 2004).

Perhaps our nation has finally decided that it had better figure out a way to get all the kids in those communities more educated, but we definitely don’t want to spend too much. Oh yeah, and even though things have been really bad for a long, long time (we would all know this if we had been listening to the teachers all along), we are now going to call it a "crisis."
Crisis: 1.a. A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point. b. An unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending abrupt or decisive change. 2. A sudden change in the course of a disease or fever, toward either improvement or deterioration. 3. An emotionally stressful event or traumatic change in a person's life. 4. A point in a story or drama when a conflict reaches its highest tension and must be resolved. (The American Heritage Dictionary)
As for the approach to handling this task, there appears to be a basic philosophical split between perfectly intelligent people.
On one hand are the people who believe that the teachers, schools, and school districts who have been serving those children for years are the ones to blame for their low achievement; they are simply ineffective and have been for a long time. The solution this side proposes is to highlight the children’s lack of achievement with regular testing, to close their existing schools, and to eliminate the teachers in them – then more schools can be started anew. For the most part, a force of upper-middle class recent college graduates who were raised in leafy suburbs – and then certified to teach in a streamlined way – will serve 60 hours/week at the schools for two-years and then "se fue." The new schools will be operated on the business (rather than traditional) model, and competition between them will produce superior schools.
And on the other hand are the people who believe that the teachers, schools, and school districts – which have been tasked with serving these exceptionally challenging children for decades – have also been short-changed for years in terms of fiscal support, social capital, professional respect and other resources that would have helped them to help the children to do better. The solution they propose is to provide the pre-existing schools with sufficient support at long last, to have empathy and respect demonstrated to the individuals who have been toiling under such difficult circumstances for so long, and to focus on strengthening the components that are already there. They seem to take a “whole child,” “whole family,” and “whole community” approach.
You will find that these two camps were formally defined last year, calling themselves the Education Equality Project and the Broader Bolder Approach.
Most people seem to have a natural inclination to align themselves with one side or the other. Oddly, some people signed up with both, like the mutable, and very-much-wants-to-be-liked Arne Duncan. By the way, guess which camp has the fanciest website?
Among the EEP signatories are:
  • Antonio Villaraigosa
  • Adrian Fenty
  • Cory A. Booker
  • John McCain
  • Janet MurguĂ­a
  • Michael Lomax
  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Margaret Spellings
  • Roger Wilkins
  • Al Sharpton
  • Michelle Rhee
  • Jeb Bush
Among the BBA signatories are:
  • William Julius Wilson
  • Ted Sizer
  • Richard Rothstein
  • Diane Ravitch
  • Pedro Noguera, Ph.D.
  • Susan B. Neuman
  • Deborah W. Meier
  • Christopher Jencks
  • James J. Heckman
  • M. Joycelyn Elders, M.D.
  • Linda Darling-Hammond
  • T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.
It’s an interesting assortment of people. Which point of view has been getting the most press?
Be sure to Google the ones you don’t know sometime.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Challenge to Charlie Rose

This is the email message I sent to on March 25, 2009. It was cc’ed to Michael Getler, the ombudsman for the Public Broadcasting Service, in the comments form provided on the PBS website.

Title of message: Question re: series of conversations about the “crisis” in public schools

Dear Mr. Rose and staff,

Last summer you initiated a series of conversations, underwritten by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, about the “crisis” in our public schools.

In the past nine months, it appears you have had three of these full-hour conversations: Wendy Kopp (with Bob Wise on 7/1/08), Michelle Rhee (7/14/08), and Arne Duncan (3/11/09). Have I missed anyone?

As a longtime viewer, I am extremely disturbed that you are now limiting your education interviews to pro-charter school forces only. This clearly reveals a problem with your journalistic standards.

I am even more disturbed, but sadly not surprised, to find that the funding for these interviews is being provided by a pro-charter school organization, The Broad Foundation. Either you have not researched how this organization is influencing the public’s view of charter schools, or you are intentionally delivering their propaganda to the American public.

The so-called “success” of charter schools has not been consistently and objectively confirmed, and is still being actively debated. A number of studies and well-respected individuals in the field of education believe that the claims of charter school success are grossly misleading. Of course, their message is not being widely heard because it they do not have the funding provided by billionaires Broad, Gates, and the Walton family.

Another widespread and serious concern about the proliferation of charter schools is their potential for transferring the control of one of our largest public institutions into corporate hands. This portends a dangerous and undemocratic future for our nation. Please become aware of this fact!

You may, or may not, be aware that pro-charter school related propaganda, so much of which we see in the media these days (interviews, books, and newspaper articles about charter schools, KIPP schools, Teach For America, etc.), is heavily funded by The Broad Foundation. The Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation are intensely pushing charter schools on the American public, and funding vast amounts of their propaganda, too.

There are many people who have been investigating and tracking this phenomenon for some time now. All arrows surrounding today’s so-called “education reform” movement point back to Eli Broad. This is one individual who has manipulated his way into determining the future of our nation’s public education system. Many, many knowledgeable people are fearful of his intentions, and with good reason.

Eli Broad is most definitely the locus for the pro-charter movement. He has leveraged himself through his activities at The Broad Foundation, which includes a superintendents’ training program (, “Wanted: The nation’s most talented executives to run the business of urban education”), by manipulating the selection of school district leadership, by manipulating for the programs he conceives and supports to be implemented, and by other under-the-public-radar maneuvers. His wishes have a direct line to Joel Klein of NYC public schools, Michelle Rhee of DC public schools, Jack O’Connell of the state of CA public schools, and many, many more. These people are all in bed together, and have been put in that bed by Eli Broad.

Here is a list of non-Broad-connected, highly esteemed education experts, to which Mr. Rose should also give airtime:

  • Linda Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford
  • Deborah Meyer, senior scholar at the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University (last interviewed by CR on 5/15/95, a 14 minute minute interview)
  • Richard Rothstein, research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and Sachs Lecturer at Teachers College, Columbia University
  • David Berliner, Dean and Regents' Professor College of Education Arizona State University
  • Jim Horn, Associate Professor at Cambridge College
  • Susan Ohanian, teacher and author of books including "Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?"
  • Jonathan Kozol, is a non-fiction writer, educator, and activist (last interviewed by CR on 11/16/95, a 10 minute interview)

Here is a list of readings that will provide alternative-to-Eli-Broad point of views. They will get you started with learning the true scope of this “education reform” movement.

Today’s public school crisis is not the crisis you describe. Please do deeper investigation, and then present more objective information to your viewers.


Sharon Higgins

Oakland, CA

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In Mourning…

Dear Readers,

It is a very difficult time for those of us who live in Oakland. Yesterday afternoon, five of our experienced police officers were shot by an armed parolee, about four-and-a-half miles from my house. The shooter had a violent history and used an assault weapon in his attack. He was ultimately killed in the firefight.

Our valiant public servants had no chance to escape the viscous weapon in the hands of this man’s rage.

Three of the officers died yesterday, and a fourth was declared brain dead today. The fifth received only a minor injury and is physically okay. The faces of their fellow officers were covered with tears.

I was working at the computer in my dining room when all of this went down. I knew something serious had happened, because I could hear the sirens wailing, and wailing, and wailing. I had no idea it would be this bad.

Last night, I was obligated to work at the high school my daughter attends. Students are performing “West Side Story” and I am the Performing Arts Committee chair. I manage the lobby activities and coordinate the parent volunteers.

When I came home and watched the news, I cried for at least an hour. This morning when I looked at the headline on my Sunday paper, I cried all over again.

There are reports that some people in
Oakland are celebrating, but I know it is just a few. The perpetrator's grandmother looked so heartbroken before the cameras today as she gave her sad apology.

I spoke with two experienced Oakland public high school teachers who are certain that some of the highly stressed and grieving, soon to become very angry, police will now retaliate on residents who live in the community. Unfortunately, my good sense tells me to believe that they might be right.

This is all so difficult and twisted, and it just goes on and on...

This incident is just one more blemish on my city, for which outsiders will once again ridicule us with their contempt. Please everyone – read “The Code of the Street,” and try to understand.

Join me as I honor the fallen for their service and their sacrifice. My heart is with their families, coworkers and friends.

  • Sargeant Erv Romans, 43 years old
  • Sargeant Mark Dunakin, 40 years old
  • Sargeant Dan Sakai, 35 years old
  • Officer John Hege, 41 years old

I love you, and I’m so sorry we have lost you.

May you rest in peace.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

If I Was a Billionaire

Yesterday I calculated the growth of charter school enrollment for middle schools in Oakland. Currently, charter school enrollment is 21.74% of our district's total middle school enrollment, and 18% district-wide. At this current rate, charter middle school enrollment in OUSD will hit 30% in 2011-12. It will hit 55% in 2020-21, and 100% in 2036-37. Of course, the entire district is headed on that path.

Of course, what this means is that the education of
Oakland's children will be overseen by individuals who have NO connection to our city. The school boards we have elected for the last 100 years or so will become obsolete. Boards of directors of charter school organizations will take their place, the vast majority being outsiders who know nothing about our city, its history, and its complicated dynamics, nor do they care.

Beyond the unending back and forth about charters, this fight is about the loss of autonomy for
Oakland's citizens. I always thought self-determination was something our democracy was supposed to provide for us. The entrepreneurs are engineering something different, and our political leaders are letting it happen.

I don't know where any of you live, and if you are public school parents, or not. This storm is upon
Oakland, DC, NYC, LA, and many other cities. Has it landed in the community where you send your kids? What is the percentage of charter schools there?

If it hasn't yet arrived, then please tell me how you would respond if people who didn't even live in your town, and had never used your local public schools, were using their Money and Might to completely destabilize your school district? What is going on here reeks of their contempt for me, my family, and my neighbors.

Oaklanders never voted for this major change to their public school system after discussion and debate, if we had I would feel different. No, this situation was thrust upon us in a particularly devious way, and had to do with backroom deals and paybacks for campaign contributions.

There is no question that a handful of players are targeting other communities in the U.S. using the exact same technique, and feeding those communities with a lot of propaganda.

I worry about my fellow
Oakland residents. With the elimination of our public schools comes a loss of protected jobs, since many of the district's employees are Oakland residents. Of course, I can already hear the anti-union sentiment portion of the pro-charter mantra out there...

It's funny; no one bashed our firemen (unionized) when the Oakland Firestorm killed 25 people and destroyed nearly 4,000 homes. Bill Gates doesn't go around the country blaming our understaffed police force (unionized) for every single data point of our crime. But urban teachers, like those in
Oakland, are constantly getting broadly reamed - though ONLY by those same people who have never experienced, and know absolutely nothing, about our schools.

For those of us who live in an area where the majority of students who attend public schools are poor, a different variation of a two-tiered educational system has emerged. Poorer communities will soon have no say in how their public schools are run, but of course, wealthier communities will.

If I was a billionaire who wanted to bring about public education change, my approach would have been very different. It would have been a nurturing, rather than a destructive, one.

I would have provided information, encouragement and support to the people in struggling school communities. I would have spent some of my money on programs that would draw parents of low-achieving kids into the conversation, and give them the set of tools and skills which would have empowered them to help both their children, and their local schools. I would have provided lots of enrichment to deprived students and classrooms. To help the teachers teach better, I would have tackled the problem of low morale.

If I was one of the billionaires, my educational reform life's work would have been to find the ways that would strengthen things that were weak, instead of trying so very, very hard to break everything, and everyone, down.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Battle Begins

2007-08 SARC Template in Word - School Accountability Report Card (CA Dept of Education)

March 20, 2009

Dear Oakland School Board member,

Next Wednesday, you will receive petitions and proposals for two new charter schools. One is for Oakland Collegiate, a middle school, and the other is for Aspire Public Schools’ ERES Academy a K-8. I strongly, strongly urge you to decline both proposals.

And more importantly, I strongly urge you to IMMEDIATELY place a cap on the number of charter schools which OUSD will permit! For if you do not, the OUSD school board will soon be out of business.

Since 2002-03, the rate of charter enrollment for OUSD middle school students has increased an average of 2.8% per year. It currently stands at 21.74% of the total middle school enrollment of the district. I recently read in the Tribune that the district’s entire charter school enrollment is about 18%.

In 2005, we already had the state's highest percentage of students in charter schools, according to Gary Larson, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association. Only Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., had a higher percentage of students in charters.

At the current rate of growth I mentioned above, charter middle school enrollment in OUSD will hit 30% in 2011-12. It will hit 55% in 2020-21, and 100% in 2036-37. Every school level in the entire district is on exactly the same course.

What this means is that, unless the OUSD school board stops approving new charter schools, the school board will become absolutely obsolete. The future management of public schools in Oakland will be by the UNELECTED boards of directors of charter management organizations. It is very likely that most of them will NOT be Oakland residents, nor ever were.

For example, here are the 10 members of board of directors for Aspire Public Schools. Aspire already runs five of the 32 OUSD charter schools.

  • Walt L. Hanline: Superintendent of Ceres Unified School District.
  • Bill Hughs: former CEO of Noah’s Bagels, President of AG Ferrari Foods, President of and his current position as President of DaVita Rx. He is also a Director of two medical technology firms, Sensurtec and Fulfillium, and is Managing Member of Silicon Valley Investment Partners.
  • Beth Hunkapiller, President, San Carlos School District Board of Trustees
  • Bill Huyett, Superintendent, Lodi Unified School District: (Chartering District for University Public School and River Oaks Charter Academy)
  • Melvin J. Kaplan, Chief Executive Officer, Wellington Financial Group: Mel Kaplan has been a real estate investor since 1960. He is CEO of Wellington Financial Group, an entity that invests in commercial real estate nationally.
  • Steven L. Merrill, Venture Capitalis, former president of BankAmerica Capital Corporation, founder of Merrill, Pickard, Anderson & Eyre (MPAE), a privately held venture capital partnership.
  • Louise Muhlfeld Patterson: HR executive and trustee of college-preparatory schools. She was Vice President of Human Resources for American Express for 14 years. She implemented a Quality of Work life Survey for startup companies in Silicon Valley for Klein Associates.
  • Don Shalvey, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Aspire Public Schools, formerly Superintendent of the San Carlos School District in Northern California, a district of approximately 2,600 students and six elementary schools. He is also the co-founder of Californians for Public School Excellence, the organization that sponsored the California Charter School Initiative that raised the cap on the number of charter schools. Don has been a member of State Superintendent Delaine Eastin’s Charter School Committee as well as an advisor to the California Network of Educational Charters.
  • Richard C. Spalding, Founder, Thomas Weisel Healthcare Venture Partners and the ABS Ventures Healthcare investment group in January 2000, again leading the firm’s investments in life sciences. Prior to joining ABS Ventures, Dick was a Chief Financial Officer of public and private companies, an investment banker with Alex Brown, and a co-founder of the Palo Alto office of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison.
  • Joanne Weiss, Partner and COO at NewSchools Venture Fund: At NewSchools, Joanne focuses on investment strategy and management assistance to a variety of the firm's portfolio ventures, and oversees the organization’s operations. As part of this work, she serves on the boards of Aspire Public Schools, Education for Change, Green Dot Public Schools, Leadership Public Schools, New Leaders for New Schools, Revolution Foods, Rocketship Education and Teachscape.

And to give you another example of people who are on the boards of directors of charter management organizations, here are the board members of Education for Change. They have three schools in Oakland.

EFC’s board of directors:

  • Desten Broach, President of the Board, and a group product manager at Sun Microsystems. He is responsible for the complete life cycle and business success of several Sun software products. Prior to joining Sun, he held similar positions at America Online, Netscape Communications, and Intuit, Inc. As an aide to US Senator David Pryor, Mr. Broach focused on education.
  • Joanne Weiss, Vice President of the Board, (THIS PERSON IS ALSO ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS FOR ASPIRE PUBLIC SCHOOLS): Partner and Chief Operating Officer at NewSchools Venture Fund, where she oversees the organization's operations, as well as investment strategy and management assistance for many of NewSchools' ventures nationally and on the West Coast. As part of this work, she serves on the boards.
  • Jonathan Garfinkel, a Vice President at Texas Pacific Group, a private investment fund with $15 billion under management. Has also worked at NewSchools Venture Fund. He received a BA in Economics, an MA in Education, and an MBA all from Stanford University.

Harold Jones, the Deputy Director of External Affairs for the Port of Oakland.

NONE OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ELECTED BY OAKLAND RESIDENTS, YET THEY ARE RUNNING EIGHT OF OUR CITY’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS. In the not-to-distant future, similar people with different names will be your replacements. What will their accountability to the public, and the way public money is spent, look like?

This is certainly NOT Democracy. It is definitely something else.

These people, and others like them, are the future operators of OUSD, unless charter school expansion is halted NOW. Remember, this course was not chosen by Oakland’s citizens after public debate and discussion. It was pushed on our district while our local control was blocked.

Dear OUSD Board member, before this charter school future is a fait accompli, please make sure that it is the future that the citizens of Oakland want, after being informed of the dire consequences.

You must be aware that so many of Oakland's parents do not understand the future implications of this charter school movement, and won't speak up as I am. At this point I am nearly alone, but my voice is right and strong.

Please don't hand over our district to private individuals. Please give Oakland citizens the right to decide who runs their schools.


Most sincerely,

Sharon Higgins

Loyal OUSD parent since 1993

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is it Fiction, or Not? Not.

On September 26, 2007, the editors of the Oakland Tribune stated their opposition to AB 45 in an editorial entitled, “Oakland not ready for control over schools.” The bill, authored by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson and which proposed a gradual return to local control, was being presented before the California State legislature around this time. The Oakland Unified School District had been under state receivership since 2003.

Toward the end of the piece, the Tribune editor wrote:

“Given the past, we agree with local businessmen who have raised millions of dollars to help improve the schools and believe returning local control prematurely would be disastrous.”

Now, I am a person who has been reading the Tribune everyday for many years, particularly focusing on any article about OUSD, local schools, education, issues about children, urban issues, violence, and race. In fact, I’ve been compulsively clipping and saving these types of articles since 2001, so it particularly struck me odd that I had no idea who these “local businessmen” might be.

I had known that, since the state takeover, the school district had been run by Broad-trained people, but the Trib's description wouldn't fit them. It instantly irked me that a group of people – who the editorial would not even name – seemed to be having considerable influence on the direction of Oakland’s public schools. I posted my concern on a local community listserv.

Later that day I received a private response, and two follow-ups, from an Oakland resident who was very involved with the city at the time. Here’s the bulk of that message with all of the top secrets crossed out:

Dear S,

As a [position specified] I didn't want to have this on the yahoo group but I thought you should understand the backroom dynamics. The editorial states near the end that they agree with Oakland businessmen..... There is a group of Oakland business people led by [A, a wealthy local businessman] who are strong Eli Broad supporters, and charter school supporters and think that the downfall of the school system is the teachers and the unions.

Typically they don't invite me to their meetings but I was invited to one [several years ago]. Jerry [Brown] and [B, a specified Oakland councilmember] were there as well. It was mostly Caucasian business men with the exception of [C] and [D]. The guest speaker that day was Randy Ward who spoke about how he was trying to break the union to help the budget. There were various discussions. The businessmen expressed support for the Kipp (sic) model although they hated that you had to pay for the principal for a year of planning prior to the opening of the school. They are powerful and I'm sure want to keep their Broad educated leadership of the district which they currently have with the new "interim" administrator.

(Second message later that day)

I forgot to add that [C] and [D] tried to differ with them about the teachers being the problem but they weren't in listening mode…While I do believe there are problem teachers in the school district, I don't think that the problem with the district and our children's education is solely the fault of teachers and the union.

The whole time Randy was talking about his plan to close and reopen all the schools so that teachers have to re-apply for their jobs at lower salaries, [A] kept elbowing [B] mumbling things like "isn't he terrific" "great presentation" etc. sounding almost like Donald Trump on that ridiculous TV show that extols competition and dog eat dog business practices.

(Third message later that day)

I'm not sure I remember all the business people there. Jerry's friend [E] who is a developer… [F, another local businessman ]... [G] who I think owns [major Oakland business]. I think [H] was there who is the Jack London developer. [A] is the name of person who chairs the group as you found on the web… I don't recall who else was there - it's a blur of males in suits at the other end of the table.

Sorry, but at this time I do not feel comfortable revealing the entire content of these emails which were sent to me. Perhaps you would like to have an ice cream cone as you ponder who the players might be.