Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Linda Darling-Hammond Didn’t Play Basketball

The latest to come out is an article in The New Yorker about Green Dot Public Schools and its founder and chairman, Steve Barr. The piece was written by Douglas McGray of the New America Foundation, a D.C. based policy institute which includes education reform as one of its key issues. Green Dot was founded in 1999. In 2006, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad gave Green Dot $10.5 million to open up 20 more schools. It currently operates 18 high schools, mostly in L.A.

Years ago, Barr became friends with Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix.
Hastings funded Green Dot’s launch. Hastings also helped to start the New Schools Venture Fund, an organization which additionally received $22 million from the Gates Foundation in 2003 to “create systems of charter schools through nonprofit charter management organizations.”

Hastings and Don Shalvey are the co-authors of the California Charter School Initiative introduced to the legislature by Assemblyman Ted Lempert and signed into law in 1998. This repealed the 100-school limit of
California’s 1992 charter school legislation. With the cap raised for the number of charter schools in California, Hastings and Shalvey then co-founded Aspire Public Schools and started engaging in even more pro-charter activities.

Steve Barr calls Shalvey one of his “Most Influential People,” along with former California Governor Pat Brown. Incidentally, Barr named one of his dogs “Jerry Brown.” Other connections are that Broad and Hastings donated generously to State Superintendent Jack O’Connell’s campaign, and that Jerry Brown set up two charter schools in
Oakland early during his tenure as mayor, Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute. He continues to aggressively advocate for these two schools and keeps them pumped up with extras. I’ve heard enough at Brown's public appearances to know that he despises the form of Oakland's traditional public schools.

According to the McGray article, this past March,

… Barr got a call from the new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He [Barr] flew to Washington, D.C., at the end of March, for what he expected to be a social visit. At the meeting, Duncan revealed that he was interested in committing several billion dollars of the education stimulus package to a Locke-style takeover and transformation of the lowest-performing one per cent of schools across the country, at least four thousand of them, in the next several years. The Department of Education would favor districts that agreed to partner with an outside group, like Green Dot. "You seem to have cracked the code," Duncan told Barr.

And according to the New Yorker’s abstract

This month, Barr expects to meet with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (A.F.T.), and her staff and outline plans for a Green Dot America, a national school-turnaround partnership between Green Dot and the A.F.T. Their first city would most likely be Washington, D.C.

But now let’s turn to basketball.

Luckily for him, Steve Barr played basketball in high school and playing hoops is still one of his main hobbies. He’s read Laker Coach Phil Jackson's The Last Season at least twice. Barr says, "Basketball is the perfect metaphor for anything.” This history and outlook sets him up nicely for being accepted by Arne Duncan and President Obama.

Secretary of Education, Call-Me-Arne, Duncan (see photo caption) is a former private-school attending Chicago native who graduated from Harvard in 1987 with a B.A. in Sociology. He was on the college’s basketball team, and after graduating, played professional basketball in Australia for four years.

After his oversees basketball adventure, Duncan returned to Chicago and was immediately given a job by John Rogers, a longtime friend and former Hyde Park basketball buddy who had also attended the Chicago Lab School. At that point, Rogers had become the CEO of the largest US minority-run mutual fund firm, Ariel Capital Management. Rogers is the son of the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School who then became a prominent Republican lawyer. It was she who nominated Richard Nixon.

So in 1991, Rogers placed Duncan in charge of running the Ariel Education Initiative, a non-profit set up by Rogers' firm to advance "...educational opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas.” It seemed like a good fit for Duncan, after all, he had tutored a lot at his mother’s inner-city after school program when he was a kid, he had an unused bachelor's degree in sociology, and he was Rogers' friend and a basketball player.

The rest is history. In 1998, after running Rogers’ local non-profit for several years, Duncan went to work for Chicago Public Schools, becoming Deputy Chief of Staff for former CEO Paul Vallas. In 2001, he was appointed CEO of Chicago Public Schools by Mayor Daley. At the press conference when Obama announced his appointment of Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education, Rogers was right there to praise him. Duncan was sure to thank Rogers, his "mentor" and close friend of 35 years.

Basketball happens to be a HUGE part of Rogers’ life. For years he has played in three-on-three basketball tournaments where Arne Duncan has been a regular member of his team. Rogers also recently attended a Michael Jordan basketball fantasy camp where his playing caused quite a stir; he is interviewed here. By the way, an upcoming three day camp in Las Vegas with Jordan is priced at $17,500.

Another of Rogers' regular basketball teammates for many years is Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s older brother. Both men attended Princeton and played on the school's basketball team. After graduating from college, Robinson became a wealthy businessman but gave up that work in 1999 to become a college basketball coach.

Knowing Rogers via her brother, Michelle introduced Obama to him when she started dating Obama seriously, around 1990. This would have been about the time Arne Duncan returned to Chicago and was starting to work for Rogers' non-profit, as well as playing basketball with him again. Connections made on the court, rather than on the green.

So now the relationship between Rogers, Robinson, Duncan, and Obama is explained. By the way, Rogers' ex-wife, Desirée Glapion Rogers, is the new White House social secretary. Read more about Obama's basketball life here.

This is a world where basketball means a lot, and where it is believed that important qualifications for a person are borne out on the courts. From The Audacity of Hoops:

But before matters between Barack and Michelle could advance too far, she had a test to administer. Having grown up listening to her father and her brother, a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton, insist that a man’s character gets laid bare on the court, she hatched a plan. Craig Robinson rounded up a quorum of friends of varied abilities. “I didn’t want the game to be too intimidating,” he says, because it would’ve been painful to tell Michelle the prospect with the odd name hadn’t made the grade. He needn’t have worried. Obama found that sweet spot between not shooting every time and not always passing to Craig. In campaign appearances Robinson would retell the story with a kicker: “If I could trust him with my sister, you can trust him with your vote.”

It's a cute story, but after figuring things out, it's a little scary to think that this type of thinking may have been a factor in why Arne Duncan was ultimately selected.

So let's not be surprised to imagine that Barr has also passed some sort of basketball-character test. I'd bet 20 bucks that, as of late, he's been heading for the courts so he can get himself back into tip-top shape.


The Perimeter Primate said...

I've just been informed about a few more details.

Hastings and Shalvey started the first charter in CA. Shalvey was the Sup of San Carlos, and started an "internal" charter (as we called them then. It was the first Aspire school. Hastings financed it. Hastings then became President of the State School Board, where he pushed charters and tests.

the website of the San Carlos Learning Center is

Their enrollment for years has been ~70%+ white.

Last year's demographics of their school:
FRPL - zero students
English Learners - zero students
White students - 79%
Asian students - 6%
Black students - 2%
Latino students - 7%

Average Parent Education Level = 4.60 (The average of all responses where "1" represents "Not a high school graduate" and "5" represents "Graduate school.")

Bob Heiny said...

Thanks for the straight forward review. It's easy to read and informative.

caroline said...

Important point: Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, KIPP co-founders, are basketball maniacs, acording to Jay Mathews' new book about KIPP.

To be fair about the San Carlos charter, those demographics are reasonably representative of its school district. It's an unusual case -- a charter school in an upscale, white suburb. It dates way back, from the age of innocence about charter schools.

I had an interesting online encounter. There were some falsehoods going around, put out by Envision Schools, a charter manager, after they abruptly closed their flagship school. (Long story, but they had a lot of butt-covering to do to reassure funders and prospective further clients, so they made a big campaign of blaming their chartering school district.)

I tracked the false stories online as best I could and refuted them when possible. One place I found them was posted on a blog/discussion list called the Center for Inquiry. Needless to say, it was a little ironic finding this totally bogus story, a deliberate smokescreen, posted on such a website. My response there touched off a bit of a discussion about charter schools. It turned out the moderator of the discussion was newly a parent at the San Carlos charter. She was less hostile to what I had to say than some of the other folks on the Center for Inquiry group, but it was an entirely new viewpoint to her. (She did say she planned to discuss it with her school community -- that is, the issues of the charter movement being hijacked by opponents of public education.)

Funny how someone would believe "inquiry" to be her interest, when in her own life it was more like "Center for Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell," at least until I was right in her face.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Thanks for the info, Caroline. I was planning to look up the demographics of the other schools in San Carlos to compare.

The Perimeter Primate said...

I've had a visitor from Netflix today.

Referring URL:
May 7, 2009 12:53 PM IP: ( Windows Vista Windows Vista
Los Gatos, CA, United States

Gosh, I wonder who it could be?

Anonymous said...

A couple additions:
New Schools Venture Fund received $22 million from Gates in 2003 and another $30 million in 2006. More importantly, the New Yorker article omits one key fact: Ted Mitchell is the President of the California State Board of Education, but he's also the CEO of the New Schools Venture Fund. Shalvey's Aspire Schools were one of the fund's first investments.

This is a link to Kim Smith (former CEO of NSVF) and Shalvey on the Charlie Rose show. Certainly worth watching: (

And, if you're looking for more information about the school Duncan started (the Ariel Community Academy), I did a bit of research about the school. A particular video piqued my interest: (

The Perimeter Primate said...

Kenny: Thank you for the information. I've taken a look at your blog @ and will spend some more time reading what you have posted.

For the past several weeks I've been sending emails to Michael Moore, using the address given on his website. This morning I had an unusual hit from a server in Flint, Michigan. I'm hoping this is connected.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Here's a whole website devoted to Obama and his interest in basketball.

Somehow they discovered this posting, and thus I discovered them.

nikto said...

What our cause lacks is a big-name champion who can tell the truth to lots and lots of large audiences.

Michael Moore would be wise to pick up this issue & do a film about it.
("Public Education, 9-11"?).

Without a champion, Public Education will fall to the Privatizers.

john thompson said...

Being a lousy b-ball player who still likes to bang under the boards with the high school kids, I love the analogies.

But too many "reformers" have forgoten the wisdom of Coach John Wooten, "Be quick but don't hurry."

caroline said...

I responded to the New Yorker article:

…the article reports: “Green Dot [has] blanketed the school with guards from a private security firm, club-bouncer burly, carrying handguns and pepper spray. … Guards have occasionally displayed a heavy hand. Twice this year, they pepper-sprayed students…”

I wonder what public commotion would ensue if private security guards at a public school repeatedly pepper-sprayed white middle-class students – but oh well, these are only poor minorities. And the outcry would probably be considerable if Unified hired the security guards too, but charter-school Teflong protects Green Dot.

And I’ll bet my firstborn that if Green Dot owns up to two pepper-spraying incidents, there have been far more. Gosh, how idyllic. And critics call KIPP the “Kids in Prison Program” — Green Dot is certainly mounting a challenge for that title. I know; the supporters’ view is: whatever works. Don’t tase me, bro!
This snippet also caught my eye: [Barr] “started a citywide group called the Los Angeles Parents Union, an activist alternative to the Parent-Teacher Association, in the hope of mobilizing foot soldiers for Green Dot’s escalating war against the district. He even put a school-board member on his payroll – ‘a mole,’ Barr said — to report back on closed meetings.”

“Escalating war against the district.” Gee, that’s good for our kids and schools. And is it actually legal to pay a school board member to reveal information about closed sessions? Whatever works.

If this experiment succeeds, great, and we’ll all learn a lot. Perhaps this will be the one that will transform urban public education. Will it show us that what all our schools need is to be blanketed with burly private security guards carrying handguns and pepper spray? And wage escalating wars against our school districts? What a cheering scenario. Whatever works.

Unknown said...

Why not give the demographics for aspire's other schools--only one other has stats similar to those described in San Carlos. The rest are very diverse....

The Perimeter Primate said...

John Rogers', ex-wife Desiree, the Obama's White House social secretary has resigned.