Saturday, May 29, 2010

Grannan: Charters want accountability? That's a new concept.

Guest post by Caroline Grannan.

The charter school industry and its supporters earnestly assure the public these days that they want problem charter schools held accountable.

If that’s true, it’s good news. It’s also a drastic about-face for the charter school industry, which has long fought efforts to hold charter schools accountable. A May 25 New York Times article pointed out the same thing. The charter industry has been waging successful court battles against efforts to hold charter schools accountable.

“…[C]harter schools have at times resisted tougher monitoring,” the Times wrote. “In 2007, a group of charter schools and advocates sued the [New York state] comptroller's office, challenging its right to audit the finances and academic performance of such schools. Critics said the comptroller's office had no expertise to assess academics. “Last year, the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled that charter schools were in effect independent contractors and beyond the comptroller's reach.”

Not that I’m unsympathetic to those who change their minds. After all, I’m a big admirer of Diane Ravitch’s. She’s the former Bush administration education official and former booster of high-stakes-testing/choice/privatization education policies who announced her change of mind and heart in her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” Ravitch, who publicly described her soul-searching, now opposes the ideas she once championed, saying that in real life they have been shown to be not just ineffective but harmful to schools, children and public education.

It’s weird that (unlike Ravitch) the entire charter industry just changed its tune without missing a beat, though. There was no explanation and no discussion of the new philosophy or of renouncing the old philosophy. When did that new philosophy take effect?

Here in San Francisco a few years ago, our Board of Education (BOE) got beaten up by the charter world twice in a short period for trying to hold problem charter schools accountable. In one of those cases, the local, national and even international media eagerly, compliantly and unquestioningly leaped on the charter movement’s crusade, ganging up to blast the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) for its effort to hold controversial, for-profit Edison Schools Inc. accountable back in 2001. (More on that below.)

Then, in 2003, SFUSD had to deal with its own home-grown charter problem, a high school called Urban Pioneer that specialized in wilderness experience for disaffected students. In March 2003, two UP students died falling into a ravine at night on an unsupervised wilderness outing.

The ensuing scrutiny revealed that UP was also in financial chaos — “the budget allowed for just $2 per student per month and no janitors, testing or staff development,” according to the Chronicle. And UP was committing academic fraud, “graduating” students with far fewer than the required credits. The school’s test scores were rock bottom. Reportedly, the president of the school’s board of directors, a lawyer, had been intimidating would-be whistleblowers within the school into silence by threatening to sue them.

Yet when the SFUSD BOE began investigating the school, the charter lobby fought back hard, rousing the UP community and supporters to battle to keep the school open. Peter Thorp, best known here in San Francisco as founding principal of Gateway High School, our city’s most successful charter, spoke on behalf of the California Network of Educational Charters (now the California Charter Schools Association) against closing Urban Pioneer. I wasn’t present, but a friend who attended one of the public meetings tells me that the grieving parents of the deceased students had come to the meeting intending to speak, but were intimidated by the belligerent crowd and sat silently.

Meanwhile, despite its financial problems, UP somehow managed to scrape together the wherewithal to hire a high-priced damage-control PR specialist, David Hyams of San Francisco’s Solem & Associates. (Hyams had recently changed careers after many years as an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.) The Chronicle quoted Hyams as likening SFUSD to the Taliban and its investigation to a “witch hunt.”

Urban Pioneer was ultimately shut down, though you can still find people in the community to this day who somehow managed to miss the whole story and who view it as an outrage that SFUSD shut down a “successful” charter school. I haven’t pinned down the source of that version of the story, though it’s easy to guess.

The UP controversy roiled our school district at a time when it had been recently battered by its bloody encounter with Edison Schools, the then-high-flying media darling that was being hailed as the solution for public education.

Edison was running one charter school in our district, Edison Charter Academy (ECA) at 22nd and Dolores on the border between San Francisco's Mission District and Noe Valley. Our wild and woolly superintendent of the ’90s, Bill Rojas, had brought Edison in, supported by a rubber-stamp Board of Ed majority.

Edison-friendly Rojas left in ’99 to run the Dallas school district (which later fired him), and by 2001, the BOE was no longer dominated by unquestioning Edison and Rojas supporters. The district was encountering the same problems with Edison that many other Edison client districts were reporting, including significantly higher costs than projected, low performance and “counseling out” of challenging students who then landed in district schools. Edison made burdensome demands on districts (one SFUSD central office bureaucrat who worked on contracts said she spent nearly half her time over several months just working with ECA), while adding insult to injury by issuing press releases touting itself as superior to the clients who had hired it.

Edison was founded and run by flamboyant entrepreneur Christopher Whittle, a non-educator who previously owned Esquire magazine. Whittle had obviously made some good high-level contacts in media, and when the SFUSD BOE started asking tough questions about ECA, he mobilized those contacts. Editorials criticizing SFUSD and praising Edison popped up all over, in places like the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the London-based Economist and even random outlets like a Virginia newspaper that headlined its editorial “Dim Bulbs” (referring to the SFUSD BOE). The Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News editorialized strongly in favor of Edison. The Chronicle editorial page worked itself into such a state of outrage at our BOE that one headline on an editorial about SFUSD used the word “goosestepping” (that particular editorial was not about Edison, but the Edison issue was the spark igniting a general frenzy of hostility at the Chron at that time).

News coverage, including a Page 1 story in the New York Times, portrayed ECA as a huge success and hinted at San Francisco’s leftist “land of fruits and nuts” image to claim that our BOE was opposing successful Edison for entirely “ideological” reasons. The press “forgot” to do a key piece of the research, which should have been to find out what was going on in other Edison client districts around the nation. (The insider term for that type of "forgetful" journalism is “check it and lose it.”)

The New York Times story addressed that issue by using a quote from Whittle: “None of the 44 other cities where we manage schools has ever done anything like this.” Reporter Edward Wyatt used the quote without checking it, challenging it or further commenting, letting it stand as a statement of fact.

But actually, Whittle was lying. Edison had already been kicked out by the Sherman, Texas, school district. Other clients at that time were looking into severing their Edison contracts too — among them Macon, Ga.; Lansing and Flint, Mich.; Goldsboro, N.C.; and Wichita, Kans., none of them generally vulnerable to “land of fruits and nuts” caricatures.

The bashing wasn’t limited to public school critics or mainstream media. Commentator Peter Schrag, normally a public school supporter, wrote a long piece for the leftist Nation magazine telling the same (inaccurate) story. Joan Walsh, now editor of Salon and a media star herself — and at the time an SFUSD parent, though not at ECA — did the same in a long Salon article. (To Walsh’s credit, she is one of the very few journalists who later corrected factual errors fed to her by Edison spokespeople — perhaps the only one.) When one Edison press release described ECA as “a successful school in a failing district,” variations on that line appeared in various media, including Schrag’s Nation article.

For the record, ECA’s achievement at the time (based on California’s Academic Performance Index compilation of test scores) ranked it close to the bottom among SFUSD schools for 1999-2000, the data available at the beginning of the media frenzy. And when the scores from spring 2001 testing were released, ECA’s were dead last in the district.

I helped other advocates research information about Edison, and we used the less-nimble technology of that time to create an e-mail press release list and a website, Parents Advocating School Accountability. At one point I wrote up an account of the situation to share with friends who weren’t versed in it, partly because if they came across my name (I was quoted in the Page 1 New York Times article), I wanted them to have heard my version first. A friend who was a Chronicle copy editor was amazed to learn from me that ECA wasn’t the highest-scoring school in the district. Though the Chronicle’s news coverage had mentioned that ECA’s actual test scores were low, the whole tone of the crusade had given her that impression — even though she was actually copy editing some of the coverage.

Meanwhile, Edison was fighting SFUSD in court too, and California charter PR man Gary Larson was mobilizing ECA parents to storm school board meetings in matching T-shirts, chanting “My child, my choice!”

Why did Edison mobilize against SFUSD — and mobilize the media on its behalf — while keeping a low profile about the numerous other client districts that had the same problems with Edison and were doing the same thing? At the time, Edison was making two ambitious bids in major districts. In New York City, it was trying to win five schools and a solid toehold. In Philadelphia, it was attempting to take over the entire district. My guess is that the thinking was that all this news coverage with a strong tone of disapproval aimed at one “land of fruits and nuts” district would divert everyone from checking into how Edison was doing with its various client districts. The strategy seemed to work.

What this all amounted to was a mass attack on SFUSD for attempting to hold Edison accountable for its commitments to its client school district (and its students). The fact that the media leaped gleefully into the fray provides a good view of the risks of trying to hold a charter operator accountable.

In the end, the outcome in San Francisco was a compromise. Edison and SFUSD severed their contract and the charter-promoting California state Board of Education took over chartering the school (the degree of oversight and accountability now is utterly unknown to the public). ECA is quietly operating in the same location, as a rent-paying tenant in an SFUSD facility. It’s an attractive facility in a great location, too, and a lot of young parents in trendy, family-friendly Noe Valley would like to get it back.

Edison lost its bid for the New York schools and ended up with just a couple dozen in Philadelphia. By now, Edison Schools Inc. has lost 29 of its client districts at last known count — and I am definitely not keeping up, so I’m sure there are more. Here’s an account of Edison Schools’ situation from the PASA website.

It’s easy to see why anyone who has followed the history of charter schools would be surprised to hear from charter advocates that they now believe in accountability for problem charter schools. We shall see.


From the P.P.:

Bay Area readers will be interested in Vincent Matthews’ ties to Edison Schools, the NewSchools Venture Fund, and the Broad Foundation. Noticing that Matthews’ job history was one in chronic flux, in 2007 a reporter wrote, “He’s got a five-page resume that lists about 10 jobs.”

Vincent Matthews

  • pre-2001: Various teaching and administrative positions
  • 2001: Principal of Edison Charter Academy in San Francisco
  • 2003: Vice president for Edison Schools (regional director of Edison’s West Coast operations)
  • Next: Educator in residence for the NewSchools Venture Fund
  • 2006: Graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy
  • 2006: Appointed as a regional superintendent of San Diego Unified School District
  • 2007: Appointed as chief of staff for the Oakland Unified School District state administrator, Kimberly Statham, another graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy (Class of 2003).
  • 2007: Appointed as state administrator for the Oakland Unified School District
  • 2008: Appointed as state trustee for the Oakland Unified School District (receiving an enormous salary as such)
  • 2010: Appointed superintendent of the San Jose School District

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“Listening and Learning” = feigned interest + intentional shut out

Separate, but very similar, experiences of a set of public school teachers, members of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), students in Philadelphia, and Alexander Russo, inform us of the Department of Education’s modus operandi.

Earlier this week, nationally certified science teacher-coach Anthony Cody (of Teacher Magazine’s “Living in Dialogue”) reported on his recent “meeting” with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Cody initiated a campaign to provide a way for teachers to hopefully share their ideas with the administration. After six months of working on the project, he and 11 other teachers obtained what they had been seeking: an opportunity to talk to Duncan.

Here's Cody’s account of the meeting, “Talking into a Tin Can on a string 3000 miles long: Our Talk with Duncan”:

So we twelve finally had our thirty minutes to speak with Secretary Duncan. We spent weeks preparing what we would say. We polled the 2000 members of Teachers' Letters to Obama and got more than 270 teachers to take time to share their ideas of what we should say. We knew we would not have much time, so we paired up, and wrote short statements carrying our experiences and insights. We wanted to be critical but constructive.

I want to find positive things to take from what unfolded, but it is challenging. Here is what happened. We were given a magic phone number to call in. There were about six Dept of Ed people back in DC in a room with Arne Duncan, who introduced themselves one by one. Then Secretary Duncan took the mic and talked very fast. He talked about how wonderful teachers are, and how much they had learned about the problems associated with NCLB, and how they were looking forward to making many changes…

Then, about halfway through our thirty minutes, it was our chance to talk…

…In a conversation after the call, Alaska Teacher of the Year Bob Williams, who also missed his chance to speak, said that perhaps the whole experience was a metaphor. Secretary Duncan and his staff could hear one another very well, but teachers' voices had a very hard time getting through…

…The funny thing about the conversation was that the whole time, they seemed to think we had questions, and their job was to answer them. We had actually approached the conversation from a different place. We thought perhaps they might want to ask US questions, or hear our ideas about how to improve schools.

The day after the above post, Cody received a personal phone call from Duncan who is obviously trying to smooth things over to maintain the appearance of being a good guy.

But here's what Chicagoan Julie Woestehoff of P.U.R.E. had to say in a comment to Cody's post about the phone call from A.D.:

Anthony- As someone who dealt with Mr. Duncan for over eight years in Chicago, I support your degree of skepticism about any positive outcome of this phone call.

Duncan is where he is because he sounds very sincere when he lies, prevaricates, and covers up the truth. His role has been to pour oil on troubled waters, not to improve schools or educate children. He is the "aw shucks" face of the school privatizers, period.

However, the fact that you did get him to respond is definitely a sign that you're now perceived as a threat. You have brought together and made public so many powerful, compelling statements from teachers. Your strategic approach to the forum was just the kind of careful preparation and follow up work that devastates Duncan and his gang.

You can tell from his vague, pandering comments that he means to assuage you and your allies, not change direction.

But you don't have to roll over for such an obvious ploy. Keep doing what you are doing -- crank it up! lots of us will help! -- and pretty soon Arne's act won't be enough. They may have to actually do something different.

Stephen Krashen, as a member of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), took part in a different "conversation" with people at the Ed Department. He, too, reported being shut out. You think he’ll get a phone call, too?

From Krashen’s entry at Schools Matter: Are we participants or just an audience?

I just participated in the "conversation" between members of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and the US Dept of Education. It was supposed to be a conversation, and we had interactive software set up.

It wasn't a conversation. Even though only a few people were involved, maybe a dozen or so (not counting staff members), there was apparently no time for any interaction. The feds wasted a half hour telling us what we already knew, that is, what was in the Blueprint, then discussed (at length) a few of the questions that were sent in that they had selected. They even took time to discuss a question that wasn't sent in that a staff member thought was interesting.

I send in my questions in advance, as requested. None were answered.

I resent them during the session, as requested. None were answered.

I "raised my hand" electronically three times and got no response. Each time, my "raised hand" was electronically shut off.

None of my questions significantly overlapped with those chosen.

I asked how the feds could justify so much testing, more than we have ever had before.

I asked if they were aware of the evidence showing that the real problem in American education is poverty, not a lack of standards and tests.

I asked why there was such a push for STEM when we clearly have a surplus in these fields and are doing quite well in technology and science.

I asked why there was so much focus on college, why a high-school diploma will soon be a certificate of qualification for college when college is not for everybody: people have different interests, different talents.

Krashen only had four reasonable, clearly-stated questions to which he was seeking a response. Read more about them here.

Last fall, members of the Philadelphia Student Union were subjected to something similar. Duncan, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited their city as part of the “Listening and Learning Tour.”

Students, parents, teachers, and community organizations were left wondering who the group was really listening to, since none of us were included in the tour’s agenda. We were only able to speak with them through a locked and guarded wrought-iron fence...

The tour stopped at one of the Mastery Charter Schools located in West Philadelphia and also McDaniel Elementary School in the Point Breeze section of the city. There were no stops in any comprehensive neighborhood high schools, arguably the schools in most need of attention here in the city. We had been told that a press conference was to be held in the parking lot of McDaniel Elementary at 2:15 p.m., an impossible time for students, and an inconvenient one for parents. Nevertheless, and on extremely short notice, PSU and YUC mobilized a group of 30 students, parents and allies from among our stakeholder groups to attend the press conference. We arrived to find an empty parking lot with a lonely podium and a multitude of police and security agents on hand to deny us entry to the building. The press conference had been moved inside…

Two student organizers, one from PSU (Koby's first hand reaction to the encounter) [A must read] and one from YUC requested that Mr. Duncan and Reverend Sharpton return to Philadelphia to meet with grassroots stakeholders and those who are most impacted by educational reform policies. The students were surprised to be told that they were “meeting right now”. The pair did eventually commit to setting up a meeting on substantive issues such as teacher quality and transforming low performing schools.

Here's the footage of Duncan and Sharpton promising a future meeting, but there is no evidence that it has ever taken place. I wonder when the students of the P.S.U. will get their phone call?

In an effort to dutifully inform the public, Alexander Russo used to post Duncan’s weekly media schedule. Over the past year he has become increasingly irritated by the Department of Ed's information stonewalling and procrastination (classic passive-aggressive tactics).

March 3, 2009: "When, I wonder, will some journalist with access -- they won't give me an interview -- pin Duncan down on some of these mistruths and changed tunes? It's OK that he's thinking about things differently now, but it's not that OK that he gets to make things up or ignore his own record.”

March 12, 2009: "Think maybe John Merrow can get something besides canned talking points and that grimace of a smile out of the EdSec?"

July 23, 2009 in “DUNCAN: What Does That Guy Do All Day?:

A few days ago, I asked the nice people at the USDE press office for a copy of the Secretary's schedule, hoping to find out a little more about what that guy does all day in between press events (In Search Of The Secretary's Schedule). Some of you thought that was a good idea. Some of you probably thought it was ridiculous. After thinking it over for a little while, the word came back: No. I was politely directed to the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] site.

Now, I really didn't want to FOIA anyone. I'm really lazy and I wasn't even sure why I wanted to see the Secretary's schedule. But I felt like I had no other choice. My other request, which was to spend an "all-access" day with the Secretary, was also rebuffed.

Plus, I was curious about whether the Department -- bastion of transparency and accountability -- would do something amusing like invoking executive privilege or citing national security concerns.

So now I've done it. What happens next, I have no idea. But it's probably not good. My FOIA request is below. Duncan is doing some sort of RttT event with the White House on Friday and playing basketball in Louisville this weekend.

September 24, 2009: “Still no word on if and when we get to see the schedule and visitor logs for Arne Duncan, though the White House recently decided to release visitor information for the President.”

October 5, 2009: “But by now we're used to having things omitted from this highly selected list of media photo ops.”

October 20, 2009: "'s the official media schedule for the USDE for this week. In a word: Speeches, speeches, speeches, speeches. As always, education reporters, do remember to report these events as if they contained real news. References to "dog and pony show" and use of the words "spin," "propaganda," "more hot air" and wishful thinking" are generally frowned upon.”

November 2, 2009: "Of all the Secretary's news-free media events this week, I pick the Wednesday event with the President in Wisconsin as the biggest, emptiest, most gloriously rhetorical of the lot.”

November 30, 2009: Re Duncan's upcoming schedule of media events and photo ops: “Be assured there will be the usual mix of fear-mongering, repetition of talking points, and exhortation.”

January 4, 2010: Russo is becoming profoundly disenchanted, “The White House gives out monthly logs of visitors and lets pool reporters track nearly everything the President does. We get this measly schedule of photo opportunities (below). It tells us what is newsworthy and we believe it."

January 5, 2010: Frustrated by the ongoing lack of transparency, Russo compares the communication from the Department of Education to the communication from the White House. “The White House is releasing monthly visitor logs so we can see who's stopping by to see the President or his senior staff, but there's no such transparency (yet) from the Education Department. No, I can't give it a rest. No, I don't have anything better to do."

January 26, 2010: “Better late than never, the USDE released the Duncan media schedule for the week at noon Monday. However, as you'll see below, there's nothing on it."

April 23, 2010: Russo is now calling for heckling. "Nothing much to get excited about in Duncan's weekly media schedule for next week, though there's always hope that the teachers of the year will get brave and and heckle him. One year not too long ago the teachers got together and weighed in with policy recommendations, which was pretty cool. But mostly they just act meek and obedient, which is a shame. Maybe a couple will Twitter heckle him during the event, at least?"

Think Russo will ever get the information he's been seeking?

In early May, when asked to respond a survey by the Pew Research Center which found the department of education’s approval rating had fallen most sharply of all federal agencies (to 40 percent from 61 percent in 1998), Duncan said he encounters no public opposition,"Zero," he said. "There's just an outpouring of support..." to the "changes" and "investments," he added. It's not likely that Duncan is oblivious to the widespread opposition to his policies. So flat-out denial is how he has decided to spin the truth.

Duncan cheerfully markets the idea that he is listening, when in fact he does not. This is because his main goal is to implement the predetermined agenda set by the functionaries of the ed deform crowd. His purpose is to advance the privatization of public education.

These people are after a "politics free zone." "Politics free zone" (= absence of democracy) was a phrase DFER’s Joe Williams once used in his 2007 Center for Education Reform report about the history of the reform attempts in Oakland under a newly installed, Broad-trained state administration (read my entry here).

In the report, Williams explains that a group of "small school creators, activists, technocrats, and philanthropists" [no identifying names, naturally] had been waiting for an opportunity to make their major changes. When State Superintendent Jack O’Connell (recipient of large campaign contributions from Broad and pals) implemented a state takeover of Oakland Unified, their wish came true for a "politics free zone" where "the conditions were indeed ripe to try something big," and the local voice was rendered mute.

So don’t be fooled by Duncan's smiles and cheerful talk. Calling it "reform," ed deformers are now running things at the Department of Education. They are pursuing a specific plan and have zero interest in considering the views of people from outside their extremely tight DFER/NewSchools Venture Fund/Eli Broad/Bill Gates-type circle.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Who’s right: Arne or Michelle [Alexander]?

Arne Duncan: “I believe education is THE civil rights issue of our generation, the only sure pathway out of poverty, and the only way to achieve a more equal and just society.” (Facebook, Info page on May 20, 2010)

Michelle Alexander: “I believe that the mass incarceration of people of color in the United States is the most pressing racial justice issue of our time. And that it is a tragedy of as great proportions as Jim Crow was in its time.” (Bill Moyers Journal interview, April 2, 2010) [SEE THE CHART BELOW!]

Arne Duncan (b. 1964) earned a bachelors degree in sociology from Harvard then played professional basketball in Australia for four years. He returned to the U.S. where investment manager John Rogers employed Duncan to run Rogers' new non-profit education foundation (Ariel Education Initiative). Duncan eventually also sat on a number of non-profit boards and was also “on a team that later started a new public [charter] elementary school.” John Rogers and Duncan had attended the same private school in Chicago and were longtime basketball buddies. Duncan started working for Chicago Public Schools in 1999 – first as Deputy Chief of Staff for CEO Paul Vallas, then as its CEO. He became U.S. Secretary of Education in 2009. Duncan credits his childhood experience of spending afternoons in his mother's inner-city tutoring program “with shaping his understanding of the challenges of urban education.”

Michelle Alexander (b. 1968 approx.) is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court, and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic. She joined the Ohio State University faculty in 2005 and now holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Her recently released book is “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Which mind has processed the issues more, Arne's or Michelle's? For my money, I’m going with Michelle Alexander, whose message is absolutely chilling, and totally correct. Arne Duncan is an intellectual lightweight who has embraced repetition of the favored mantras of the ed deform crowd.

Consider the following facts:

1. Since 1957, the proportion of the African American population with a high school degree has increased by 300% (18.4% to 79.2%) and the proportion of the African American population with a 4-year college degree increased by almost 500% (2.9% to 17.2%). Data is from the April 2004 Kirwan Institute PowerPoint report “Social/Economic Indicators by Race: Disparity 1954 and Today.”

2. Even with the significant increase in educational attainment mentioned above, African American unemployment has consistently been about twice as high as white unemployment, at least since the 1950s. What gives with that!? [See the chart below]

3. What's worse is that the number of incarcerated African Americans has increased 800% since the 1950s! Despite only small fluctuations in the violent crime rate in the past 35 years, we’ve gone from 300,000 people in jails and prisons in 1972 -- to 2.3 million today, with an additional 5 million on probation and parole. A grossly disproportionate number of the incarcerated have been people of color. Families and communities have been devastated.

4. We are the worldwide incarceration champions. The U.S. is #1 in the number of prisoners per capita at 715 people per 100,000. To put this in perspective, Russia is #2 at 584, Canada is #73 at 116, and Japan is #126 at 54.

So that's what Michelle Alexander is talking about.

What is problematic for the United States of America is not our public schools and school teachers. THE problem is that our national character has some major flaws.

And now that the men are in jail and/or unemployed and families are in continual chaos, and now that neighborhood schools have been utterly neglected for years, are popularly called "failures," and are being 'innovatively disrupted' by the ed deformers, the state is going after the mothers and grandmothers: 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The state of California would hold parents responsible if their children are chronically truant under a bill the state Senate approved Thursday.

The bill would let prosecutors charge parents with misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine if their kids miss too much school. Judges could delay the punishment to parents as an incentive to get their children to class.

It applies only to parents or guardians of children age 6 or older in kindergarten through eighth grade. Prosecutors would have to prove the parents failed to reasonably supervise and encourage the student to attend school...

This tough love idea will be sure to affect low-income African American women disproportionately, but given our compulsion to incarcerate people of color, it makes perfect sense.

These are other things to consider:
  • People in this country chose to disinvest in urban public education long ago.
  • They/we chose to tolerate high and chronic unemployment in urban minority communities.
  • They/we chose to corner inner-city residents into needing to resort to an underground economy.
  • They/we chose to adopt policies that would incarcerate huge numbers of African American men.
  • They/we chose to turn the other way when the tradition of marriages and two-parent families in these communities started heading to extinction.

So any failures of the schools are BECAUSE of the consequences of these other things. Our domestic problems were never caused by the schools, and our schools never be able to fix them.

*If they can lock up the moms for this offense, shouldn't they also be locking up some of the crooks from Goldman Sachs?


When looking at the "Prison Admissions by Race" graph below, please note that the figures indicate in numbers, not percentages. And be aware that the African American population in 1930 was about one tenth (1/10) the size of the White population. In 1997 it was about one sixth (1/6).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Aspire primer

Aspire Public Schools is a major California Educational Management Organization based in Oakland. The Gates Foundation just recently secured Aspire’s continued growth by backing its “efforts to secure $93 million in tax-exempt bonds to help them expand,” as well as providing “$8 million in unfunded guarantees to Aspire Public Schools to back the charter organization's bond financing for new school buildings.”

Of course, it didn’t hurt Aspire that its co-founder, Don Shalvey, started working for the Gates Foundation in March 2009.

So Bill Gates, a Washington state resident, is pumping his money into making my state get more and more charters. And he lives with his family in a state which won’t even permit them!

Here’s the piece about Aspire. Additional information about the EMO’s schools in Oakland is below:

Foundations help Aspire charter network expand (AP) – May 6, 2010

SEATTLE — The Gates and Schwab Foundations announced Thursday they will back a California charter school network's efforts to secure $93 million in tax-exempt bonds to help them expand and serve more than 4,000 new students. The unique financing arrangement is known as a Program Related Investment.

Both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation have provided $8 million in unfunded guarantees to Aspire Public Schools to back the charter organization's bond financing for new school buildings.

The nonprofit charter school network operates 25 schools educating more than 7,600 students in grades K-12 in six California communities, East Palo Alto, Modesto, Oakland, Stockton, Sacramento, and Los Angeles By 2020, the organization hopes to have more than 60 public schools in its network.

Aspire was founded in 1998 and focuses on communities with a large percentage of low-income and minority students. In state test scores, Aspire schools went up 30 points on average this past year, the charter organization said. California's growth target for Aspire students is 3 points a year.

Aspire is one of five California-based charter management organizations that worked as a team to win a $60 million grant from the Gates Foundation for a new teacher training initiative.

Allan Golston, president of the U.S. Program at the Gates Foundation, notes that state and local governments do not provide buildings for public charter schools, so expansion was difficult even before the economic situation tightened credit markets.

"Access to facilities financing is a critical barrier for even the highest-performing, most creditworthy charter schools," Golston said in a statement.

The foundations' credit support helps Aspire access the bond market at more favorable terms.

Golston said the bond guarantee will deepen the impact of the foundation's investment in Aspire by lowering the cost of expansion.

NCB Capital Impact, a nonprofit lender to charter schools, will act as a financial intermediary and program facilitator for the Program Related Investment. The Gates Foundation is giving NCB a $959,000 three-year grant and the lender is contributing $1 million in a funded guarantee.

* * * * * *

More about Oakland’s Aspire-operated charter schools (currently enrolling nearly 2000 students)

Monarch Academy (K-5): Located at 1445 101st Avenue (site formerly ?)‎. Monarch opened in 2000 and was the first Aspire school in Oakland. Its charter expires in 2012.

Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy (6-12): Located at 400 105th Avenue (site formerly ?)‎. Lionel Wilson opened in 2002 and was the second Aspire school in Oakland. Its charter expires in 2012.

Millsmont Academy (K-5): Located at 3200 62nd Avenue (site formerly St. Cyril’s School)‎. Millsmont opened in 2004 and was the third Aspire school in Oakland. Its charter expires in 2014.

Berkley Maynard Academy (K-7 + expanding): Located at 6200 San Pablo Avenue (site formerly OUSD’s Golden Gate Elementary)‎. Berkley Maynard opened in 2005 and was the fourth Aspire school in Oakland. Its charter was renewed this year.

CA College Prep Academy (moved): CA College Prep was a middle school that opened in 2005 as the fifth Aspire school in Oakland. In 2008 it closed, moved over the border into Berkeley, and was granted a new charter by the Alameda County Office of Education. While in Oakland, it was co-located with the Berkley Maynard campus.

Millsmont Academy Secondary (6-11 + expanding): Located at 8030 Atherton Street (site formerly St. Benedict’s Academy)‎. Millsmont Secondary opened in 2008 and was the sixth Aspire school in Oakland. Its charter expires in 2013.

ERES Academy (K-8 + expanding): Located at 1936 Courtland Avenue, the site of the former Dolores Huerta Learning Academy charter school. Huerta surrendered its charter in February 2009 and the school closed in June 2009. Aspire submitted its petition for its school in March 2009 and it was approved in late May 2009. ERES’s charter expires in 2014.

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Aspire’s Board of Directors

Since Aspire is privately-operated using public money and foundation grants, positions on its board are acquired via personal connections (rather than as with public schools where the board members are elected by the community). Therefore, Aspire’s board members are not necessarily members of the communities in which their schools are located.

Don Shalvey: Co-Founder and Board Co-Chair, Aspire Public Schools. Prior to starting Aspire with Reed Hastings (CEO of NetFlix and major supporter of Green Dot), Shalvey was Superintendent of the San Carlos School District (approximately 2,600 students and six elementary schools). Shalvey also worked in the Merced School District, a rural district of approximately 11,000 students, and in the Lodi Unified School District, a district of approximately 28,000 students that includes a portion of Stockton. Shalvey co-founded Californians for Public School Excellence, the organization that sponsored the California Charter School Initiative that raised the cap on the number of charter schools.

Bill Hughson: 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. She’s probably Shalvey’s friend from Shalvey’s San Carlos days.

Bill Huyett: Superintendent, Lodi Unified School District. He’s probably Shalvey’s friend from Shalvey’s Lodi days.

Melvin J. Kaplan: CEO of Wellington Financial Group, an entity that invests in commercial real estate nationally.

Steven L. Merrill: Venture Capitalist, most recently Partner with Benchmark Capital. Currently, Steven is devoting more time to civic and non-profit activities as well as his private investments. Steven is also a past president of the Western Association of Venture Capitalists and a past director of the National Venture Capital Association, and has been a director of numerous privately held companies.

Louise Muhlfeld Patterson: HR executive and trustee of college-preparatory schools. She was Vice President of Human Resources for American Express.

Richard C. Spalding: Founder, Thomas Weisel Healthcare Venture Partners. This company focuses on life science investing. 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.

NOTE: Joanne Weiss, former Partner and COO of the NewSchools Venture Fund and another business person/non-educator , was on Aspire’s Board of Directors until Duncan tapped her to be his senior staff person as Director of Race to the Top.

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A story

My teacher-friend visited an Oakland Aspire school as part of a school assignment. She told me the kids were on task filling in worksheets, and that from room to room to room the teachers (almost all young, white females) were using the exact same curriculum and behavioral approach. Also, the principal complained to her about having high teacher turnover.

My friend told me the environment felt to her like something out of the Stepford Wives and couldn't imagine herself, or any middle-class parents, wanting to subject their children to such bland instruction.

Along with KIPP, this seems to be the cutting edge model of education that's now emerging as being best for low income kids.

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Just a little extra funding to give the Aspire schools that extra competitive edge...

Broad Foundation

NewSchools Venture Fund

Gates Foundation

Walton Family Foundation







$1,800,000 (part of the Foundation’s $4,680,000 commitment)







$1.75 million






















$2.9 million over three years

see article above

In 2003-04, Aspire’s total enrollment was 2294 students. By this time the EMO had received $7,685,295 from the above four foundations. This works out to be an extra $3350 per pupil. Aspire also receives additional funding from other sources.

To me this seems like an awful lot of money to give an EMO that’s serving so few students (at this point estimated at about 7,600 kids). Where’s it all going?

As you can see, the plutocrats’ main interest is investing a lot of start-up money in their pet charters, so a critical mass of families get wooed away from the chronically-underfunded less sparkly, more financially-stressed public schools. They sometimes refer to this as “whole systems change” and it is a strategy to bring about the demise of the public school system. It is very telling that the venture philanthropists, all of whom exited the public system long ago, express no serious vision of a bigger picture that would help the 5,966,394 remaining non-charter/public school students in California.