Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hey Oakland, you’re being duped!

I’ve been studying this for the past several years and here’s the story.

In the 1990’s businessmen started to imagine the profit potential if businesses could take over the public education system. They hatched a plan that would maximize the flow of tax dollars into the hands of a few. They weren’t alone with such an idea; the same era also saw the privatization of prisons and military companies.

In order to acquire the public schools, they needed to be destabilized first. A national campaign was launched to discredit and undermine them as rapidly as possible. The primary strategy was to direct the nation’s focus onto a single measure of student success – test scores. Clever and consistent use of the media would help accomplish their goal, as testing failures make great headlines. Businesses immediately began to profit as public school systems started pouring money formerly destined for students into increased testing, test prep products, “consultants,” and other opportunists. Simultaneously, the need for decent levels of public education funding was continuously minimized and brushed aside.

To force a rapid loss of confidence in the public schools, a law was implemented which ensured that all of the public schools would eventually be labeled as “failing.” You must understand how NCLB works to understand that this is true. Even Piedmont Unified is considered by the Federal government to have “failed” for the past three years.¹ No one with a brain ever really believed that schools alone would be able to raise the achievement of our nation’s most-disadvantaged kids to that of the most-advantaged within the short time span of 12 years, but this is the fantasy they wanted us to believe.

These business people manufactured the crisis of confidence in the public schools (and the teachers working in them) in order to produce an exodus of those schools by the most anxious families. Voucher programs and charter schools were created which stood by with open arms to capture them. Vouchers ultimately proved problematic because of church vs. state issues, so the focus was turned on expanding charter schools.

Charter schools permit individuals and businesses to receive public money, but to exclude members of the public at the same time. From one school to the next, these schools obtain, or reject, students from particular types of families, both passively (self-selection and indirect pressure) and actively (targeted recruitment and elimination, as with “maybe this school’s not a good fit for you”). The regular public schools must accept and serve all students, even the most-difficult-to-educate ones, but charter schools are not held to that same standard.

If charter organizations could market their schools and make them seem better than the regular public schools (like selling soap by calling it “new and improved”), and if enough new charter schools could be sprung up every year, perhaps momentum would build which would make the regular public schools extinct, which is of course the ultimate goal. No more unions, fewer regulations, less transparency, etc. all sound good from the business point of view.

Enter Eli Broad, courtesy of Jack O’Connell (California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction).

Billionaire Eli Broad is one of those eduphilathropreneurs who thinks schools should be operated like businesses. Not coincidentally, he also loves charter schools. In 2001, he started training really smart people to run school districts according to his grand plan. He needed a destination for his first graduating classes (The Broad Academy and Residency) so they could implement his ideas. The timing of OUSD’s financial troubles was perfect for him.

What happened next is revealed in a Tribune article of 8/03 which stated, “Brown [Jerry] and Broad are longtime allies, and O'Connell is a major recipient of Broad campaign contributions.” Take a guess at who owed whom a favor?

The rest is history. Since the state takeover, there has been a string of Broad graduates operating our district through a pet project called “Expect Success!” Instead of meaning to help steady OUSD, they wanted to create more disarray. Broad's henchmen did his bidding by undermining our established traditional public schools, all the while greasing the way for more and more of the charters they favored. Now OUSD has one of the highest levels of charter school enrollment in the country (at over 16%). Most of those schools popped up during this time.

It is not clear to me that charters need any more money. They are already supplemented by pro-charter philanthropic organizations and sympathizers, either directly (with donations), or indirectly (as in the case of providing website support, marketing, and who knows what else). Their principals and boards of directors have time to actively pursue these extras.

In 2007, the Walton Family Foundation donated $230,000 EACH to four charter schools in Oakland. Who knows how it was spent, but if it was spent on students for American Indian Public High School it meant an additional $2300/pupil, and for Oakland Charter High it meant an additional $7667/pupil. A county approved charter located in Oakland (Envision) also received $230,000 for 113 kids, and a start-up called the Oakland Health Science Academy received $230,000, too. Undoubtedly there is more to discover, but I’m just one very annoyed person doing the best I can.

And remember that pro-charter report recently released by the California Charter Schools Association? The Walmart family (Jim, Robson, Alice & Christy with a total net worth of 93.1 billion dollars) gave that organization $1,200,000 in 2007, and probably other hefty sums each year. Think how public opinion about OUSD could be swayed if it had funding like that to pay for propaganda of its own!

Oakland has been Eli Broad’s play thing for the past several years. His toy, our public school district, was handed to him by Jack O’Connell. For a person who supposedly cares about public education in Oakland and other urban areas, it’s funny that Broad has never been seen in our town. He hasn’t tried to connect with us as human beings and never will. This man has unimaginable wealth and must enjoy an extraordinary amount of power. Broad is so rich that $1,340,000 to him is like $10 to someone who makes $50,000!² Why does this person get to be the decider for what our city needs?

It’s a funny thing about the timing of O’Connell’s demand.³ As total control of OUSD is about to be turned over to our elected-by-the-people school board, can you think of anyone (especially someone who might be interested in a higher political office) who might still be thinking it would be wise to do favors for someone else?

In conclusion:

1. Oakland’s charter schools don’t need anymore money!

2. The OUSD school board needs to put a cap on them today!

3. We need to get the foul Broad stench out of Oakland, NOW!


¹ The City of Piedmont is an extremely wealthy separate city within the borders of Oakland. It’s students, not surprisingly, are very high achieving.

² Eli Broad’s wealth is listed at $6.7 billion. A salary of $50,000 is to $6,700,000,000, what $1 is to $134,000. His oh-so-generous $2,000,000 Broad Prize which he gives to urban school districts he approves of is like a person who earns $50,000 giving $15 to an organization they like. Whoop-dee-doo. Of course, everything is relative!

³ State Superintendent Jack O’Connell placed a parcel tax proposal on Oakland’s recent November ballot which would have boosted teacher salaries and provided about 15 percent of the tax revenue to our city’s charters. It failed. Yesterday, O’Connell sent a letter to Vince Matthews, his Broad-trained Oakland appointee who is in charge of the district’s finances. He directs Matthews to give the city’s charter schools $60 per student — about $480,000. O’Connell couldn’t tax our city, so he thought he’d get the money directly out of the district’s coffers.

ADDENDUM: Oakland is not alone; this billionaire-driven take-over-education-of-America's-children campaign is happening in other places, too. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (another billionaire) has acquired total control of the school district, appointed Joel Klein to be his chancellor, and is using his gilded lubricant to ram charter schools down the public’s mouth. One of the recent local stories about this is here.

If we had been smarter – and if we had cared – we would have realized the 2003 Tribune article was the writing on the wall when it said: “I think we’re going to see more and more of what we call non-traditional superintendents,”’ Broad said, citing New York City and Chicago as examples of major cities where non-educators were put in charge of public schools.” And, “Broad played a key role in former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein’s appointment as New York schools chancellor.”

But of course, who else?

Something is really wrong with this picture. If the billionaires had our (the People's) best interest at heart, they could have oh-so-easily found ways to improve the schools within the context of our democracy. If the billionaires had our best interest at heart, they wouldn't have felt it was necessary to completely obstruct public input while they revised our public education system. If the billionaires had our best interest at heart, they wouldn't have felt the need to grab democratic power away from American citizens in order to take absolute control of the education of our children.

What is going on is NOT how a democracy works. An especially worrisome thing is that Obama and Duncan are likely to have been duped by them, too. Oh America, sleeping soundly and oh-so-trusting, please WAKE UP!

In the meantime, I think it will be a good idea for me to read up on ancient feudalism and the more modern concept of self-determination.


caroline said...

My general approval of this post aside, here's a small point. You say:

"...the same era also saw the privatization of prisons and military companies..."

It also saw the privatization of mental hospitals. The book "Crazy" by Pete Early details the results. Well-meaning advocates got laws passed requiring that mental hospitals not hold patients indefinitely if they couldn't provide effective treatment. The privatized mental hospitals went "gosh, we're not providing effective treatments!" and cut their costs drastically by releasing the most severely ill, expensive-to-hold patients to the streets. (The patient on whose case the original law was based died in the gutter, Early writes.)

Yeah, privatization has worked great!

Anonymous said...

Privatization=Highway Robbery

This fact, not opinion.

Wake up, America!


ed notes online said...

Great stuff PP. We're reading in NYC.
Shoot me an email so we can share some strategies we are working on here in NYC.- Norm

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post.
Here in NYC we are dealing with the same issues: aggressive privatization financed by many of the same people who brought about the economic crisis, and manipulating the naivete and idealism of young teachers. Despicable.

Keep up the good work.

Michael Fiorillo
Public School Parent
UFT Chapter Leader, Newcomers High School

The Perimeter Primate said...

To check the accuracy of my posting, I asked an experienced education academic acquaintance to review it. This is the feedback I received and wanted to share w/you:

"I would not argue with your some of your main points, but the history is more complex. I would recommend Tyack and Cuban, Tinkering Toward Utopia and Berliner and Biddle, The Manufactured Crisis as resources.

The current push to challenge the 'public school monopoly' started with Reagan, who argued that the Civil Rights movement had been responsible for the decline of the schools. His solution: back to basics, accountability, and school choice in the form of vouchers. Charters came into the picture in the early 90s with the Baltimore experiment from Education Alternatives, Inc. That experiment flamed out in 95, but the charter movement was not going away. When Bush came to town with NCLB based in the Houston Miracle lie, the ed industry knew their day had come. Elizabeth Debray's book, Politics, Ideology, and Education, provides the best legislative history of NCLB, offering Judd Gregg's admission that the testing would demonstrate the failure of public schools, thus opening the door for privatization.

Another important name in this literature is Gerald Bracey, whose books have been making many of these points for more than a decade. See also Susan Ohanian's website."

We've all got a lot of reading to do!

Anonymous said...

Keep up the great work, PP! Your voice is needed. NCLB is to education what Haliburton and Blackwater are to defense. We need to save public education..... as a teacher, I am amazed at how quickly and dramatically the public school system has been destroyed in our country.

citymom said...

Great work PP-I was tipped off about your column by Caroline Grannan. Here in Washington DC, we've got our own Broad/Walton/charter problem growing every day. Charters can add expansion campuses without any proof of fiscal responsibility, achievement or even the enrollment! Some charter operators deem themselves "superintendents" of their charter school "system" of three or four campuses and pay themselves accordingly. And it doesn't help that our new president talks about the great innovations in charter schools and the need to encourage more, at every opportunity. DC has always been the guinea pig for any number of ill-fated reform movements, but from my vantage point the charter experiment has been the most destructive, and we may never recover.

Gina Arlotto
DCPS parent

The Perimeter Primate said...

Thank you for your comments, all.

Anonymous said...

Great summation of the issues, and good points from Anonymous about military privatization, but it is more than just schools and military, there are a host of formerly public functions that were privatized around the world since 1980. In the simplest terms, privatization is a weapon of class warfare designed to streamline the flow of community resources upwards to an unaccountable business elite. This privatization is usually accompanied by gross corruption.

KitchenSink said...

I wouldn't disagree with your central thesis, and I think all families and educators should be aware of the governance issues in school districts.

But I will say this: the charter school movement is a big tent, and while all the big movers and shakers make a lot of noise, there is an increasing mass of small potatoes mom-and-pop charter schools that were started by communities who realized that they could be free of the educational bureaucracy that you're complaining about.

I don't think these one-off charter schools should be painted with the same brush. They are and they operate as public schools, but with the autonomy to make their own curriculum and staffing decisions that best suit their school communities rather than listening to some middle-manager at the district level.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Hi KitchenSink,

Certainly my perspective is colored by what I am seeing in my city's school district. Looking at the list of charter schools here, there are very few, if any, which fit into that category. A small, private Christian school just tried being sneaky to make the switch but their petition was denied.

I wonder what a tally of charter schools across the land would reveal. Do you have any good links to share?

The Perimeter Primate said...

Re: O'Connell using the opportunity of having acquired OUSD to sell off its most highly desirable property to developers.

Excerpt 12/06:
"State Superintendent Jack O’Connell is currently negotiating the sale of 8.25 acres of OUSD property—including the district’s administrative headquarters and five adjacent schools and early childhood learning centers—to the east coast-based development team of TerraMark/UrbanAmerica.

"The developers want to put a high-rise luxury condominium development on the site. The Oakland school board, the Oakland Education Association, the Oakland City Council, the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees, Swanson, Oakland Mayor-elect Ron Dellums and numerous community groups have all come out in opposition to the proposed sale."