Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Friday, July 31, 2015

McGraw-Hill folds it cards. Can't compete in current high-stakes testing market.


McGraw-Hill/CBT is pulling out of the $1.1 billion high-stakes testing market. The reason? Too much volatility. It seems that the wave of political protests and the parent opt-out movement have forced McGraw to move to greener more peaceful pastures. And, as the common-core tests have rolled out, the overall market for state assessments has largely flatlined

According to EdWeek:
The market has also proved volatile, fraught with legal protests, mounting opposition from parents and politicians to testing, and major disruptions in online assessments for which vendors, including McGraw-Hill Education/CTB, have been blamed.
“Let’s be clear—people in the assessment industry are not living in poverty,” said Scott Marion, the associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, which consults with states and districts on testing. Yet the profit margins, he said, are “thinner than a lot of people want to believe.”
McGraw-Hill apologized in 2013 for interruptions after its digital testing service disrupted exams in Indiana and Oklahoma. About 3,000 students in Oklahoma lost their connections to the testing provider’s servers. And nearly 80,000 out of a half million Indiana students who took the company’s tests in the spring had their testing postponed and about 30,000 were kicked off of the testing platform on a single day of testing. One Indiana charter school has said the errors are to blame for its F grade from the state.

Twenty years ago, McGraw-Hill Education, Harcourt, and Riverside Publishing controlled large portions of the summative-testing market. Today, all of those companies have either largely abandoned that market or been absorbed by other testing entities.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Svigos buys another closed Chicago school

Svigos Assets bought Peabody. Put a charter in it. 
After they sat as empty blights on the community for nearly three years, the sell-off of closed CPS neighborhood schools has begun in earnest. Board members on Wednesday approved the sale of three vacant schools that were shuttered in 2013, providing "a small windfall of cash for its struggling budget".

Liza Balistreri is in charge of real estate at Chicago Public Schools and is running the sales of Near North Elementary in Noble Square, Overton Elementary in Bronzeville, and Von Humboldt Elementary in Humboldt Park.

Among the developers looking to make a profit on CPS real estate is Svigos Asset Management Corp. based in suburban Buffalo Grove. Svigos specializes in developing and managing commercial and residential properties, and owns apartment buildings in Lakeview, Logan Square and Albany Park.

Svigos is buying Near North for $5.1 million and plans to turn the school into "residential and commercial development". His company previously purchased the old Peabody Elementary for $3.5 million in 2014 only to turn around and sell space back to Rowe Charter School. Previously, district officials had said no closed school would be used as a charter school. The former Peabody was also developed as market-rate housing.

Paul Svigos has been a regular campaign contributor to Rahm Emanuel. The well-connected Svigos family has also made big contributions to the Daley's and other Democratic Party candidates.

Svigos was a former top Merrill Lynch stockbroker who the firm fired in October 1992. He hasn't been allowed to practice brokering since. But he recently won a huge settlement in his court battle with Lynch over the firing.

Svigos also runs the Fresh Farms grocery chain.



Friday, July 10, 2015

Wall St. public school strategy: Loot, pillage, burn...

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va). - Reuters
The Senate has passed an amendment to new proposed federal legislation, which would steer hundreds of millions of dollars intended for impoverished school districts and classrooms, into the pockets of Wall Street consultants. The legislation, authored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) was tucked into the Senate version of a massive K-12 education funding bill currently up for congressional reauthorization.

Among the chief proponents of the congressional bill was the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington, D.C., think tank that is closely associated with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Bank of America, which made fees off of school district swap deals made in Chicago and Denver, has donated at least $50,000 to the Center for American Progress. Other major donors to the Center for American Progress include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given at least $500,000, and the Walton Family Foundation (of the Walmart fortune), which has also given at least $500,000 to the think tank. Both the Walton and Gates foundations have partnered with the Boston Consulting Group.

David Sirota at IBT is hot on the trail. He writes;
As budget-strapped Chicago follows a mass school closure with a new plan to layoff more than 1,400 teachers, one set of transactions sticks out: the city’s moves to refinance $1 billion in debt through complex financial instruments called swaps. The deals were spearheaded over the last few years by financial advisory firms brought in by the city to help find money saving efficiencies. Instead of saving money, though, the Windy City took a big hit: The school system has lost more than $100 million on the transactions and has paid millions in fees to its financial consultants.
 Chicago is not alone. School districts across the country have been increasingly relying on high-priced consultants and Wall Street firms for financial and management advice. While proponents say many of the ensuing consultant-driven initiatives have resulted in cost savings, critics note that other initiatives have resulted in investment losses, layoffs and school closures. What is clear is that school districts’ reliance on outside advisers has created business opportunities for the financial industry. And now, thanks to an amendment to federal education legislation moving through Congress, that lucrative market for financial and consulting could become even more flush with cash -- specifically, with federal money meant for impoverished school districts.
The amounts that consulting firms can earn for work on public school policy can be eye-popping. In Philadelphia, the Boston Consulting Group was reportedly paid $230,000 per week for its work pushing for privatized education services and closures of up to 88 schools in the city. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

No wall left between corporate world and venture philanthropy

“There’s a reason why corporate America exists, and there’s a reason why philanthropic organizations exist,” said David Cornfield, a professor of pediatric pulmonary medicine at Stanford University. “When that distinction becomes invisible, it becomes very difficult to know where philanthropy ends and venture capital begins.” -- Washington Post

Cornfield was responding to the rise of venture philanthropy in the field of medicine and pharmaceuticals where non-profits like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation have earned billions through their investments in drug companies. While such investments have sometimes led to research breakthroughs, the trade-offs raise serious question about the power and politics of big philanthropic organizations.

Robert Beall, now in his fourth decade at the CF Foundation and one of the top-earning chief executives in the nonprofit world (Beal makes more than $1 million/year), says he is aware of the concerns and criticism prompted by his $3.3 billion Kalydeco deal last fall. Among them: that such a financial bonanza might discourage future contributions from supporters; that the foundation should be sharing its billions more directly with patients; that the group should have pushed harder to lower the price of Kalydeco and subsequent drugs.

There's no bigger player in the field of venture philanthropy that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has used its public investments to unduly influence public education policies. But it's the foundation's' profitable private investments in giant global corporations, many of which have done great harm in the world, that have drawn the greatest scrutiny.

HERE'S THE LATEST... The Gates Foundation is under investigation in a 2014 India Supreme Court case for funding Merck’s HPV vaccine trials of Gardasil, despite knowing the serious adverse reactions, injuries and deaths caused by treatment. According to a report by published by Narayana Kumar in The Economic Times of India, several tests had been conducted in 2009 on 16,000 school girls between the ages of 9 and 15 in Andhra Radish, India. Through the vaccine trials, 120 girls became seriously ill and seven died. Those who fell ill suffered from adverse reactions to the vaccination and experienced symptoms including seizures, severe stomachaches, headaches and mood swings. Consent forms to oversee the HPV vaccination were illegally signed by wardens from the hostels where the young girls resided or by illiterate parents via their thumbprint. Many young girls and their parents did not understand the tests or the risks entailed until they were significantly involved in the trial.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

CPS is "broke" but money keeps flowing to Chicago tech consultants

LEAP CEO Phyllis Lockett chats with Gov. Rauner, venture capitalist Howard Tullman, and French Ambassador Gerard Araud.

Chicago is having trouble meeting next month's teachers payroll but that doesn't mean there aren't big profits to be made and consulting contracts to be handed out to company's with CPS ties.

THE LATEST...The Gates Foundation just awarded $5 million more to Phyllis Lockett's tech consulting group, Leap Innovations. I know, $5 million is a small piece of change for the world's richest man. But don't worry about Leap. They are getting plenty more from CPS contracts and from the likes of The Chicago Public Education Fund, Northern Trust, and the Joyce Foundation.

Leap is another of those education tech start-ups bellying up to the CPS trough. This one is run by Lockett, the former President and CEO of New Schools for Chicago, the group running charter school expansion is the city. While in the employ of CPS, Lockett was mainly a pitch woman for ed-tech companies.

Even though Leap just got started a year ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is already crediting the company with Chicago's miraculous school turnaround.
“In 1987, then Secretary of Education Bill Bennett called Chicago’s public schools the worst in the nation,” said Rahm. “Today, I am proud to say we are leading the country in education innovation. Thanks in large part to LEAP Innovations.”
But the last we saw of Lockett, she was standing with a group of so-called  “Democrats and Independents for Rauner”.

Sitting on Leap's board as you might have guessed, some of Chicago's richest and most powerful of the LaSalle St. crowd including, Michael Alter, president of the Alter Group; Leo Melamed, chairman emeritus of CME Group; John Rowe, chairman emeritus of Exelon; and Timothy Schwertfeger, chairman emeritus of Nuveen Investments.

Former LEAP Board Chair Mark Furlong, retired CEO of BMO Harris Bank was just appointed by the mayor to sit on the school board. And so it goes.

A year ago, when LEAP was started, Melamed, whose CME Group runs the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, noted that it only took his organization 4 minutes to commit the $1 million to support LEAP.

Lockett claims Leap will "analyze education software and pair it with the needs of educators". Translation -- LEAP will be a conduit for tech companies competing for public school business.

According the Crain's:
 “The grant will go toward Leap advising other cities to replicate and scale our model and will allow us to serve more schools in the Chicago area.” The organization operates in 15 Chicago schools, and Locket hopes to see that grow to 100 schools in the next five years.
Note to all you grant writers: replicate and scale are the magic words to Bill Gates' ears. Oh, did I mention, 21st Century learning?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Gov. Haley: 'No CEO's complained' about Confederate flag. But how many black CEOs were surveyed?

“I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.” -- Gov. Haley
Following the racist, terrorist attack by Dylann Roof which left 9 African-Americans dead in a Charleston Church, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the Statehouse. In response to the growing demand that the flag be taken down, Haley responded that the Confederate flag was a “sensitive issue.”

“What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state,” the governor noted. “I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.”

Her comment was revealing, not only about Haley's gross insensitivity to the victims and their families, but also about who the governor considers to be her constituents.

It also left me wondering just how many CEOs had Haley actually surveyed and if any of them were African-American. Or to put it differently, just how many black CEOs are there in the state? No, no make that the nation?

The retirement of McDonald's CEO Don Thompson last January left just just two CEOs who are African-American in the elite Dow 30. A broader sample shows an even more dismal diversity picture within the ownership society. A mere five CEOs are black at the nation's 500 largest companies.

None in South Carolina. This in a state with a population of over 4 million, 30% of them African-American. It has a rising rate of children under 18 living in poverty.  S.C. now stands in 45th place in the nation in the well-being of its children in the annual Kids Count report, with poverty and education being the main factors that kept the state five spots from the bottom for the second year in a row.

That's not too say there aren't some successful black-owned businesses in S.C. There are. But I doubt that Gov. Haley surveyed any of their owners about the flying of the Confederate flag.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Gates $2.3B driving Common Core as a 'de facto and de jure national school curriculum'


The new curriculum driven into law by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Common Core Standards, is a product of massive spending on an unprecedented historical level by Bill Gates.

Guerin Lee Green at the North Denver News reports that Gates has spent $2.3 billion pushing the Common Core. More than 1800 grants to organizations running from  teachers unions to state departments of education to political groups like the National Governor’s Association have pushed the Common Core into 45 states, with little transparency and next to no public review.
The Common Core now represents a de facto and de jure national school curriculum, something theoretically prohibited by federal law. But the Common Core comes with common high-stakes tests and common textbooks, making the standards far more than standards.
The Gates involvement, profiteering by testing publishers like Pearson and the heavy-hand of federal coercion in the Common Core has aroused political opposition from right and left, as well as from education experts who have called the standards inappropriate developmentally, pushing young children into material they aren’t ready for.
According to NDN, private groups like the Aspen Institute, the Colorado Legacy Foundation, Colorado Children’s Campaign, and Stand for Children received millions in Gates grants at a time when Colorado schools were facing massive budget cuts.

The Colorado Department of Education is one of the largest Gates recipients in the nation, receiving more than $22 million to push the new standards, text books, PARCC testing and charter schools.

*Also see Lyndsey Layton's Washington Post piece: How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Man from Gates navigates across the edu-corporate complex.

Shelton
One of the key players in the Gates Foundation's Common Core drive was Jim Shelton. It was Bill Gates who placed Shelton as Arne Duncan's deputy at the D.O.E. in 2009. He followed a well-trod path from the foundation to the Obama administration.

Duncan’s first chief of staff, Margot Rogers, came from Gates; her replacement as of June 2010, Joanne Weiss, came from a major Gates grantee, the New Schools Venture Fund; Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali worked at Broad, LA Unified School District and the Gates-funded Education Trust; and general counsel Charles P. Rose was a founding board member of another major Gates grantee

But now Shelton's off to the corporate world, using his connections to sell technology to higher ed. He's been hired as 2U, Inc's (NASDAQ: TWOU) "chief impact officer" (whatever that is).

Pres.Obama had pledged to prohibit government employees from doing business with former employers. However, Shelton was granted a waiver to deal with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for which he worked for more than five years prior to joining the Obama administration.

At the D.O.E., Shelton led the Investing in Innovation Fund and a number of other grant programs. Before that, he was education program director at the Gates Foundation where he oversaw a portfolio worth between $2 billion and $3 billion. He also previously worked for the NewSchools Venture Fund and co-founded LearnNow, a school management company that later was acquired by Edison Schools. Before entering the education world, he worked at McKinsey & Company advising corporate CEOs.

Shelton's departure is just the latest in a wave of high-profile exits from the department as the Obama administration takes its final lap. Weiss, Ann Whalen, Carmel Martin, all of whom had a significant impact on the administration's education agenda, have moved in within the last year.

Whalen is off to join another Duncan deputy, Peter Cunningham at the Broad-funded Education Post. Weiss, who also came out of the NewSchools Venture Fund, was Duncan's Chief of Staff and directed his Race to the Top program. Now she calls herself, "an independent consultant". And Martin now serves as Executive Vice President for Policy at American Progress.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

How Wall St. billionaires built charter movement in Conn. Bought a governor.

Gov. Malloy speaks at charter rally paid for by hedge-funders
The recent pro-charter school rally in Hartford was organized by ConnCAN and Families for Excellent Schools — two of the top lobbying spenders this year. Tax filings and donor reports reveal that both groups receive funding from people who spent on Connecticut Democratic campaigns in the past election cycle. Also, Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter school political action committee primarily funded by hedge fund managers contributed heavily to the campaigns. 

Gov. Malloy’s insistence on increasing funding for charter schools has more than a dozen Democratic legislators questioning whether they can support the next state budget if it means their neighborhood public schools are flat-funded or cut.

Malloy's campaign is already under state investigation for misuse of campaign funds. The State Elections Enforcement Commission has issued subpoenas to the Democratic State Central Committee as it investigates the committee using money from a federal fund to pay for a mailer benefiting Gov. Dannel Malloy’s re-election race.

The Hartford Courant's Jenny Wilson reports:
Wall Street billionaires who have invested heavily in the expansion of charter schools contributed more than $200,000 to Democrats in the 2013-14 election cycle, helping Gov. Dannel P. Malloy secure re-election.
The campaign contributors earned their fortunes as hedge fund managers and private equity investors before earning reputations as "education philanthropists." They have helped bankroll charter school movements throughout the country, spending to influence elections and to support advocacy movements.
The campaign contributions last cycle came from board members at and top donors to pro-charter school groups such as the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), Achievement First, Families for Excellent Schools and others that have spent nearly $800,000 lobbying the legislature this year.

Malloy pushes charter expansion in CN legislature.
They include hedge-funders and Wall Street-ers like:

•Jonathan Sackler, an investment manager from Greenwich, the founding chairman of ConnCAN, and an Achievement First Inc. board member. Sackler, his wife, and his mother and father gave a combined $91,000 to state Democrats last cycle in contributions to various party and political action committees.

•Greenwich hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel, the founder of Lone Pine Capital, and his wife gave a combined $40,000 to the state Democrats' federal account in the past election cycle. Mandel, a Teach for America board member, is a top donor to local and national charter school advocacy groups through his Lone Pine Foundation. The Lone Pine Foundation funds three public policy fellowships in Malloy's office; it also has awarded grants to Families for Excellent Schools.

•Alexandra Cohen gave $20,000 to state Democrats in the past cycle. Cohen is the wife of embattled hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, whose SAC Capital paid $1.2 billion in a security fraud case last year. The couple's Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation is a top donor to ConnCAN.

•Arthur Reimers, a former Goldman Sachs partner who is on the ConnCAN board of directors, gave $20,000 to the state Democrats' federal account.

•Another ConnCAN board member, Andrew Boas, gave Democrats $10,000 last year to the state Democratic account.

•Petra Real Estate CEO Andrew Stone, a board member at the Success Academy, a New York-based charter school management company, gave $10,000. The Success Academy has worked closely with Families for Excellent Schools; it closed all of its schools in New York earlier this year to bus students and parents to a rally.

•ConnCAN donor Mariana McCall, a trustee in the McCall-Kulak Foundation, gave Democrats $10,000.

Connecticut is not the only target of these lobbying efforts: Some of the same donors contributed to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's campaign prior to a record-expensive charter school lobbying push they helped fund in that state.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Charter billionaires buy L.A. school board election

Charter billionaires Walton, Hastings, Bloomberg & Broad buy school board election in L.A. 
"We've sunk to a level where there is no viable discourse and no moral conscience when it comes to public education and control of the school board." -- LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer
It's happened again. A PAC of billionaire charter patrons spent millions and virtually bought a school board election. This time in L.A. According to the L.A. Times,
Contributors to PACs that took part in the campaigns on behalf of charter supporters included Netflix founder Reed Hastings, $1.5million (to the charter group only); former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $550,000; Walmart heir Jim Walton, $375,000; and philanthropist Eli Broad, $205,000.
The victory of charter school co-founder Ref Rodriguez over progressive Bennett Kayser, gave charter privateers the seat they needed to open up the district to what they hope will be unfettered charter expansion. Rodriquez also had the backing of anti-union groups like Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst. His endorsement list includes the operators of charters that L.A. Unified tried to close because of low test scores and other problems. The charters appealed to other agencies and were able to remain open. No district in the nation has more charters, or more students enrolled in them, than L.A.

But despite spending millions on L.A. board campaign, they fell short of a clean sweep. In the west San Fernando Valley, incumbent Tamar Galatzan, who had been a close ally of disgraced former Supt. John Deasy and had the support of charter advocates and other well-funded groups, lost to challenger Scott Schmerelson, an ally of the teachers union.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In L.A., Deasy gone but leaves in his wake, feds, grand juries, and litigation

This is getting to sound repetitive. Post-Deasy L.A. is sounding a lot like post-Byrd-Bennett Chicago. 

Former LAUSD Supt. John Deasy is gone. They've provided a soft landing for him at the Broad Leadership Academy. That's where school superintendents like Barbara Byrd-Bennett learned how to dole out no-bid contracts to companies like SUPES and Pearson. It's also where public education and democracy go to die. 

But look at Deasy left behind when he got out of Dodge.

Governing reports:
Today, LAUSD is exploring possible litigation against Apple and Pearson, the world’s largest education publishing company, to recoup millions of dollars; a criminal grand jury is investigating possible ethics violations by district officials; the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Securities and Exchange Commission have launched their own inquiries into possible wrong-doing; and Deasy resigned... 
...The SEC in April also launched an inquiry into whether L.A. school officials complied with legal guidelines in the use of bond funds to finance the iPad deal. Using construction bonds to purchase Internet infrastructure is common, but the LAUSD also used money from the bonds to purchase the iPads, which break down after a few years. Some critics of the plan have said LAUSD should have set aside a sum from its operating budget to purchase the tablets...
...Meanwhile, LAUSD took action of its own in April, announcing it would seek to recoup millions of dollars from Apple because it was “dissatisfied with their product.” The district’s demands for a refund stem from materials that didn't adapt well for students who weren't proficient in English and a lack of software tools to analyze how well the curriculum functions.
How many more urban districts will be stuck with the tab of corporate reform after the Broad superintendents flee the scene?

Friday, April 24, 2015

The real Common Core curriculum decision makers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (NASDAQ:HMHC) is a global learning company dedicated to changing people’s lives by fostering passionate, curious learners. -- Business Wire
If you are wondering about how Common Core curriculum decisions are made and how agendas are set, this news might interest you.

From Edweek:
A major portion of Scholastic Corp.'s educational technology and services business will be purchased by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for $575 million in cash, in an agreement Scholastic announced today.
Scholastic's ed-tech business has been operating at a loss. In the last quarter reported, the company's ed-tech revenue declined 4 percent, to $34.3 million, while Scholastic's overall sales increased 2 percent in that quarter, according to results announced by the company on March 26. The ed-tech segment's operating loss increased by $1.7 million to a loss of $12.4 million, compared to an operating loss of $10.7 million in the prior year. 
The company attributed the decline mostly to lower math product sales and lower consulting revenues in its International Center for Leadership in Education unit. Sales of core literacy publishing product were essentially flat compared to the prior year; however, both new business and expansion sales of READ 180® stages, along with technology support services, were higher in the current quarter as compared to the prior year period, the company said.
Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is buying up- everything in sight related to Common Core. They've already acquired Channel One and Curiosityville. HMH is one of the biggest text/testing publishers cashing in on the booming Common Core market, along with Pearson and McGraw-Hill.

Perarson, a British conglomerate, continues to tout itself on its website as the world’s leading education company that operates in 80 countries, employs 40,000 people and generates 60 percent of its sales in North America.

Scholastic Inc., which bought the Weekly Reader from Readers Digest in 2012 only to end its publication a short time later, has been on the ropes the past few years. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Billions at stake as testing profiteers collide

Pearson is the "800-pound gorilla" in state testing. -- Barry Topol, the managing partner for the Assessment Solutions Group,
EdWeek reports:
Two of the biggest names in testing are locked in a dispute over one of the most coveted jewels in the K-12 market: the right to oversee a suite of assessments in California, a state with about one-eighth of the country's students.
$1.2 Billion Market

California is one of 18 states giving tests created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of states that has designed exams aligned with the common-core standards.

Smarter Balanced is leaving the administration of those tests to individual states. California asked vendors to bid to administer its common-core exams in English/language arts and math, and for testing work in science and other subjects over the next three academic years, starting in 2015-16.

The overall market for summative assessment—typically defined as tests designed to measure student academic progress at the end of a school year or a course—stands at about $1.2 billion a year, said  a Danville, Calif.-based company that consults with states on testing. So a California contract potentially worth up to $80 million a year represents a big piece of that pie.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Feds looking for big fish in mother-of-all Chicago schools scandal

Rolling Over: Rauner claims it was Rahm, not his foundation, that brought SUPES into town and gave them a $20.5 million no-bid contract.

I told you...Once the feds start turning over rocks, there's a lot of things crawling around down there.

OK, BBB is toast. She's grabbed the money and run. Left without a trace. Spending more time with the fam? Maybe she joined some secret underground group. No one seems to know. But she was small potatoes anyway.

Rahm is also MIA. He's become quiet as a mouse. Yes, he bought the election, but what did he really win? The city's credit rating is plummeting once more, making it almost impossible for him to continue borrowing against a gigantic mountain of debt, doing more debt-swaps, or solving the city's pension crisis.

Seems like every time there's a crisis, he ducks out of town and lets his underlings dangle in the wind. But Rahm is definitely scarred by all of this.

Now the feds seem to have set sights on the big boys in the world of power philanthropy, the Chicago Public Education Fund (CPEF). They're naming names. Subpoenas are flying and if they need a part-time server, I happen to be available.

The result has been exactly the one the feds wanted. Apply a little pressure and even Napa Valley Wine Club members like Rahm and Rauner will roll over on one another. Now Gov. Rauner, the Fund's biggest player and its former board president, is telling media, it was Rahm, not us (CPEF) that brought Solomon and SUPES into town.
"My experience with the public education fund has been mostly good. Although I will say this, the fund didn't make many of its own decisions as much as it was a facilitator for what the mayor or the schools or the leadership wanted to do," the governor said. 
No-bid contracts with kickbacks are no big deal in this town. It's like everyone has just discovered pay-to-play (the motto engraved over the mayor's office door on the 5th floor of City Hall. What's really behind the feds' invasion of Rahmville? Nobody I ask seems to know for sure. Lots of guesses though.

Rahm & Holder.
Is this Eric Holder's last hurrah, or what? Is revenge really a meal best served cold? (Think winter in Chicago).  It couldn't be something from way back in Rahm's White House days, could it? Remember Rahm telling him to STFU on gun control? Could it have something to do with being stonewalled by Arne Duncan in Louisiana?

Wasn't Holder just in town this summer, helping to kickstart Rahm Emanuel's re-election campaign, hailing the “amazing” turnaround in school safety? Obviously, he was doing a lot more than that.

Or is this the Obama administration making a preemptive strike on a Republican governor who seems bent on pushing the school system into bankruptcy and rewriting the state constitution? Will Illinois break another record for corruption by sending its fifth governor to prison? Or will Holder be content with naming the names of the entire Chicago ruling class before he backs off?

If you haven't done so already, check out Carol Felsenthal's piece in Chicago Mag. She writes:
Remember all the talk during the April 7 mayoral runoff of the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent? It would be difficult to assemble a board that screams 1 percent louder than CPEF’s—from the schools its members attended to jobs held to marriages made.
Among CPEF’s board members:
Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel, hedge fund genius, and widely reported to be “the richest man in Illinois.”
Penny Pritzker, billionaire heir to the Pritizker fortune, former member of the CPS board, now an emeritus member of the CPEF board, which she once headed as chair.
Susan Crown, principal of the family business Henry Crown and Company and chairman of the Susan Crown Exchange, “a social investment organization” with a focus on education.
Mellody Hobson, president, Ariel Investments and wife of billionaire George Lucas.
Helen Zell, philanthropist, executive director, Zell Family Foundation, and wife of real estate billionaire Sam Zell.
Jana R. Schreuder, Northern Trust Company COO—the first woman in that position—and a past Teach for American advisory board member.
There are educators on CPEF’s board. They include:
Tony Smith, Rauner’s just-appointed superintendent of Illinois schools, formerly head of the school district in Oakland, California, although never a classroom teacher and a long-time advocate of charter schools.
Timothy Knowles, Director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Labs, chairman of the Urban Education Institute. Knowles is also a former deputy superintendent of the Boston Public Schools and the “founding director of Teach for America in New York City.
Laura Bilicic, former classroom teacher, the co-founder and former head of a New York City private school for children with “significant learning challenges.”
Penny Bender Sebring, a former high school teacher and current senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago and co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research.
But there's still some big names missing from this Rogue's Gallery of power philanthropists and corporate-style school reformers. For some reason, none in the press will dare say his name. But I'll give you a hint. He's Gary Solomon's old partner. He just ran a losing campaign for Lt. Governor on Pat Quinn's ticket. He recently was run out of Bridgeport, CT. And his initials are PV.

More to come on him. I promise.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

It's Magic: Big profits to be made in Chicago's alternative schools

Magic: Panning for gold
Magic Johnson has joined up with Edison Inc., school board member Deborah Quazzo and other profiteers who are panning for gold in the growing dropout market.

WBEZ reports that Magic keynoted a conference in Arizona to which Chicago school board member Quazzo had flown a small contingent of some of Chicago’s most powerful education officials. Deborah Quazzo's investment firm Global Silicon Valley Advisors paid the freight.

The conference was all about the potential for profits in Chicago's growing alternative schools business.
At a press conference in Chicago in February, Johnson said he was approached by EdisonLearning because the company wanted to draw inner-city students into its schools. “What they needed was a guy like myself to come in to more or less brand it,” he said. When asked how much he makes per school, he told WBEZ and Catalyst: “That is all you need to know.”
One month after Quazzo, Hines, another CPS board member Andrea Zopp, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s then-education deputy Beth Swanson attended the conference, the Chicago Board of Education approved another $6 million in startup money for for-profit alternative schools. It was the second round of a multi-year expansion. (Quazzo has also come under fire in recent months after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation found that companies she invests in have tripled the amount of money made through contracts held with CPS schools.)

WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago also found that many of the for-profit companies running alternative schools stand to make millions off the deals. Other findings:
  • On average, some of the companies spend more than half of their budget on consultants, advertising, technology and fees to affiliated companies.
  • Companies can maximize profit by running two or even three sessions a day, serving double the number of kids, yet only hiring the same or fewer staff as a normal school. (One of the for-profit companies, Camelot, is an exception. It operates an eight-hour school day with little online work.) 
  • Since the companies are privately owned, the public has no way of knowing who is making money from investing in them or whether they have any connections to district or city officials. 
  • In at least one case, CPS contracted with a company that was, at the time, under investigation in California.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bogus 'Parent Trigger' petition rejected by Anaheim board


Last month I wrote about an attempt in Anaheim, CA to privatize the management of another public school, using the so-called Parent Trigger law.

The law, which turns parent against parent in a community, gives a temporary majority, who are willing (often cajoled) to sign a petition, the power to hand their public school over to a private company. That company can then fire the principal and all the teachers as well as abrogate the district's collective bargaining agreement. It doesn't matter if next week, or next year, the majority shifts. The school can be privatized and there's little district parents and taxpayers can do about it.

Well, there is something they can do and they did it Thursday in Anaheim when the school board found that the petition submitted by a group of Palm Lane Elementary School parents failed to collect enough valid signatures to privatize the school.

According to a story in the Orange County Register, about 130 of the Palm Lane Elementary parents' signatures were determined to be invalid or unverified. Some parents signed the petition twice or two parents of one student signed the petition.

The privatization move at Palm Lane was backed by former State Sen. Gloria Romero's consulting group. the California Center for Parent Empowerment. Romero, a Democrat, has become the darling of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Bros. and receives funding from Walton, Broad and other powerful anti-union, pro-privatization foundations.

The discredited petition effort was also aided by the Hesperia, Calif.-based privatization consulting firm, Excellent Educational Solutions.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reed Hastings drops another $2M on his favorite charter


Netflix billionaire Scott Hastings, the teacher union hater who brought us the Vergara decision, announced he is giving $2M to a privately-run, Palo Alto-based charter school network.

According to SeattlePI.com:
The $2 million will jumpstart a $17 million fundraising campaign that Rocketship is launching in order to open new schools over the next three years to serve thousands more “Rocketeers,” as the non-profit refers to its students.
Rocketship is a low-budget charter operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty, reduces its curriculum to a near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day. What supposedly set Rocketship apart from other charters was a financial model that allowed it to operate on government payments without continual infusions of cash from private donors. Most charters require additional funds to cover the costs of a longer school day, intensive tutoring and other expenses.

But facing a drop in student enrollment, the company recently announced it had scaled back its ambitions of rapidly enrolling 1 million students in 50 cities and went begging to their billionaire patrons like Hastings. Rocketship has been around for eight years and was celebrated early on for its ability to produce high test scores from a predominantly minority and immigrant student-base, but test scores have fallen in recent years. CEO and Co-Founder Preston Smith indicated that this was one of the reasons for slowed expansion.

Rocketship is organized as a 501C3, with a separate land holder, Launchpad LLC. The company suffered through a leadership transition after the exit last year of co-founder John Danner, who began a firm to supply software to schools. In the business world, it's called vertical integration.

"What happens when you have a relatively secretive organization that has an unelected board and has large growth plans?" asked Brett Bymaster, of San Jose, who organized his Tamien neighborhood to oppose a proposed Rocketship school there, filed a successful land-use lawsuit that has slowed the charter network and now runs a "Stop Rocketship" website that has attracted a local and national following.

Hastings is a powerful philanthropist for charter schools, currently serving on the board of the California Charter Schools Association and KIPP. He has also leveraged his power and money to push anti-immigrant legislation, including more English language testing on non-English-speaking students.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Adding charter schools to their investment portfolios

There's a couple of good Schooling in Ownership Society pieces in the media today. The first comes from my favorite education writer, Valerie Strauss (The Big Business of Charter Schools) in her Answer Sheet column, in today's Washington Post. 

Valerie Strauss
She has a link to one of my favorite headlines of all time at The Motley Fool investment blog. 
From Waterparks to Charter Schools, EPR Properties Has You Covered
 Are you looking to invest in giant water slides or movie theaters? How about charter schools and wineries? EPR Properties (NYSE: EPR  ) owns properties in all of these businesses and more.
Valerie helps make my case that public education has been a profitable business for the charter profiteers at the expense of students, families, communities and taxpayers.

When I first offered up that notion a decade ago, I was ridiculed by the very profiteers themselves.
"Trying to make a killing in the charter school business"?! Yeah, that's right, the charter school business is so profitable that I'm telling all my friends in the hedge fund business that they're in the wrong business. My message: "If you really want to make a lot of money, start a charter school!" LOL! -- Whitney Tilson 
LOL! indeed. In 2007, hedge-funder Tilson chided me for implying that there was a profit to be made in the charter school market while he and his group DFER were pursuing exactly that course.


Then there's the story of former football great, "Neon Deion" Sanders who tried to make a killing in the charter school business with Prime Prep Charter only to fail, fall into disrepute, and disgrace the once viable brand he worked so hard to create. Prime Prep was recently named by non-profit Children at Risk as the worst academic institution in North Texas. Don't miss this excellent piece (The Miseducation Of Deion Sanders) on his fall from grace, by Caleb Hannan at DeadSpin.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pearson's Power Philanthropy

An investigation by POLITICO finds that testing giant, Pearson Foundation’s charitable work repeatedly has been intertwined with the Pearson corporation’s business interests, potentially in violation of tax laws. Pearson now says it will shut down the foundation, permanently and move all of its philanthropic giving in-house. This after having to pay millions in fines stemming from their unethical and illegal funding practices in New York.

The Pearson Charitable Foundation was set up as an independent nonprofit with a mission to improve teaching and learning around the globe. But it has depended almost entirely on tens of millions in contributions from its parent, global publishing giant Pearson.

According to POLITICO's Stephanie Simon, Pearson foundation has worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop online courses aligned with the Common Core with the intent of letting Pearson sell most of them nationwide.

Does Pearson's foundation gambit sound a bit familiar? A little like Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, maybe? Or Walmart and the Walton Fund? It should. Increasingly these mega-corporations are using their foundations, not only to hide profits from the tax man, but to push a political agenda that benefits their ideological pursuits as well as their bottom line. Who pays for all of this? We do.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Quazzo's desperate letter to her troops. She's a walking billboard for an elected school board.


Rahm's hand-picked school board member Deborah Quazzo is pissed. She gives a bunch of "no comments" to Sun-Times reporters Lauren Fitzpatrick and Dan Mihalopoulos, in their latest expose of her companies. They reportedly raked in another $1.3 million from CPS-funded charters, including: Noble Network of Charter Schools, Urban Prep Academies, KIPP Chicago Public Charter Schools, LEARN Charter School Network and Perspectives Charter Schools.

She says, she can't talk about it because she is under investigation by the IG. But in private, she's making plenty of noise.

"Enough is enough", she threatens in a letter to her corporate friends and supporters as she tries to rally the troops in her behalf. I got a copy of the letter this morning. In it, she blames all her "unwanted publicity" on the Chicago Teachers Union, and a well-coordinated media conspiracy to defame her.
That said, with another story in Monday’s Chicago Sun-Times, I have now been featured in that paper seven times (including three front page stories) since December 22nd – as well as having had my office picketed by the Chicago Teachers Union.  The ink was not even dry on the initial cover article before an editorial was published the very next day calling for my resignation.  It is likely no coincidence that there is a City Club debate on the issue of an elected school board on Monday.  The seeming coordination is remarkable. 
She is a "private person", she says, "who has never sought publicity – favorable or otherwise" and is only serving on Rahm's board because she wants to help "all children". I don't blame her for wanting her dealings with CPS schools to remain in the dark. But maybe she should have thought of that before assuming a public position on the mayor' appointed board.

Most of Rahm's corporate backers protect their city and school board contracts simply by tossing a few grand into his already over-stuffed campaign fund or super PAC. They don't feel the need, as Quazzo obviously does, to sit on a board where they will attract public scrutiny.

She closes the letter with a paean to the mayor, an attack on "adult agendas" and a call for her hedge-fund friends to write angry letters on her behalf to the Sun-Times.
 Under the passionate leadership of Mayor EmanueI and the leadership at Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Public School students have a longer school day, access to full day kindergarten, and expansion of STEM and IB education among other initiatives.  Great progress is being made, as is seen in virtually all measures, but we still have a long way to go.  
I believe it is time for Chicagoans, and, individuals who care across the country, to stand up united against any force that distracts from our core mission – a better future for all Chicago’s children.  Adult agendas are driving focus away from what we should all care deeply about – the welfare of and future opportunity for ALL of Chicago's 400,000 students and for that matter all children in our country.  As an initial step towards that goal, I would so appreciate it if you would take a minute and express your views to the leadership at the Chicago Sun-Times.
She includes their names, pictures and contact information. 

Quazzo sounds pretty desperate. I think she's toast. Too much baggage for Rahm to carry. She should do the right thing and step down. Right now she's a walking billboard for an elected school board.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Schools Venture Fund creates new group for ed school deans pushing corp agenda

A small group of ed school deans are forming a new group called Deans for Impact, to push the corporate-reform agenda on new teacher training. The new group is being underwritten by the New Schools Venture Fund (see my January 26th post on NSVF).

Based in Austin, Texas, the group with about 18 members, launches this month with a $1 million grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Edweek's Stephen Sawchuck describes the group this way:
The new group's embrace of data-informed changes to teacher-preparation curricula—even, potentially, based on "value added" information—is likely to generate waves in the insular world of teacher preparation. 
 The idea of Deans for Impact was generated through informal conversations over a two-year period led by Benjamin Riley, a former director of policy and advocacy at the Oakland, Calif.-based NewSchools Venture Fund; David Andrews, the education dean at Johns Hopkins University; and Tom Stritikus, a former education dean at the University of Washington. (Mr. Stritikus now works for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)
Gee, what a surprise.
 ________________________________________
 AERA 2015 Annual Meeting Theme "Toward Justice: Culture, Language, and Heritage in Education Research and Praxis"Chicago, Illinois Thursday, April 16 - Monday, April 20
_________________________________________
I'll be curious to see how the ed faculties as well as the students at these 18 schools respond to their dean's actions.

This might be a good time for a group of progressive college deans to get organized around promoting good teaching theory and practice (which doesn't include the discredited VAM or test-and-punish "accountability" models). Maybe something to think about for the upcoming AERA meeting in Chicago.

Monday, January 26, 2015

New Schools Venture Fund bankrolling Ownership Society education

Ted Mitchell, one of the founders and former  chief executive of the NewSchools Venture Fund, was named by President Obama to become the Under Secretary of the Department of Education.
The New Schools Venture Fund is one of the biggest backers of ownership society education, school privatization and corporate-style "reform." They were one of the conservative, anti-teacher groups that backed last year's Vergara suit against teacher tenure and collective-bargaining rights in California. The legal costs for Vergara were covered by  by Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch, a founder of the NCVF and a powerful force behind the growth of privately-run charter schools.

Milwaukee blogger, educator and long-time school activist, Larry Miller, has done his homework on the NSVF and its board of directors. His latest blog post reveals an organization which claims to be about school improvement and innovation but which is actually,
...seeking "public money to be diverted from public schools leading to investment gains in technology, real estate, curriculum, corporate charters, high paid “non-profit” charter managers and the growing education “consulting” industry.
Included in Miller's account of NSVF is a run-down of its "all-white, 10 member board of directors, whose combined portfolio reaches deep into U.S. corporate and entrepreneurial investment endeavors".

• Brook Byers, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
• John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
• Chris Gabrieli, Co-Founder and Chairman, Massachusetts 2020
• Dave Goldberg, Chief Executive Officer, SurveyMonkey
• Laurene Powell Jobs, Founder and Chair of the Board, Emerson Collective
• Joanna Rees, Founder and Managing Partner, VSP Capital
• Jon Sackler, Managing Partner, North Bay Associates and Kokino LLC
• Kim Smith, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Pahara Institute
• Rob Stavis, Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners
• Dave Whorton, Managing Director, Tugboat Ventures

 Good post, Larry.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rangel interview paints clearest picture yet of UNO and their machine charter school patrons


Chicago Magazine ran an interview this week with UNO's “Patron 2” Juan Rangel. It paints the clearest picture yet of the corrupt political sewer that is Chicago's system of privately-run charter schools.
Meanwhile, the school network was handing out its own contracts to more familiar names. Monterrey Security, a firm that was previously co-owned by Danny Solis’s brother Santiago, won a $75,000 security contract. Phil Mullins’s wife, Mary Quinn, came away with an HR contract; so did firms that had contributed to Burke and Madigan. Says an UNO insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “There was a point where I began to wonder, Is it about the schools? Or are the schools the means to another end?”

Monday, January 12, 2015

Former schools CEO Huberman bellies up to the Chicago charter feeding trough


You might remember Ron Huberman. He was the former CTA chief bureaucrat  who ran the system into the ground and who then replaced Arne Duncan as Chicago schools CEO (why not?) under Mayor Daley and went down aboard Daley's sinking ship.

He is notable for little else besides his "data-driven" reforms -- like claiming he could predict in advance, which CPS kids would likely be murdered and which ones wouldn't. He was also the guy who cut foreign language programs (they weren't on the test) and who called in the police to bust the parent protests to save Whittier School's field house.

Most importantly, Huberman was a dear friend of the city's aspiring privately-run charter networks, like UNO, Noble Street, and Chicago International. And after his dismal tenure at CPS, things began looking up for Huberman. He was able to parlay his school system connections and knowledge of procuring insider contracts into an executive position at Chicago Growth Partners and Prairie Capital. Then he started his own firm, and began reaching for some payback in the form of contracts from some of the same government-financed charter-school operators he championed as Daley’s schools chief.

According to today's Sun-Times:
Huberman, who is a member of Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner’s transition team, founded TeacherMatch LLC in 2011.
The company has since gotten contracts worth a total of more than $200,000 from two of the largest Chicago Public Schools-funded charter operators — the Noble Network of Charter Schools and the United Neighborhood Organization’s charter network — and also has gotten work from some schools in the Chicago International Charter Schools network.
TeacherMatch, which provides software to help schools screen job applicants, reported total revenues in 2013 of more than $286,000, according to school contracting records.
That same year, it got an infusion of nearly $1.9 million from investors, the records show — a sign of confidence in its future growth.
Huberman continues to serve as the company’s executive chairman, though records list its primary owner as Prairie Capital, the Chicago private-equity firm where Huberman has been a top executive since 2011.

In 2013, Huberman lobbied UNO’s then-CEO Juan Rangel and other officials, who say they had reached a “preliminary agreement” with TeacherMatch. But Rangel quit in December 2013 amid a scandal prompted by Sun-Times reports on millions of dollars in government-funded deals given by UNO to two brothers of Rangel’s top aide.

Asked how its charter network ended up doing business with TeacherMatch, an UNO official said, “It is not known who initiated those conversations.” Noble officials and Rangel declined to comment.

Huberman says, Charters “help provide options for families". He might have added the words, "especially mine".

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Chuy Garcia: Rahm treating CPS as a 'profit center'

Quazzo  (F. Klonsky)
Mayoral candidate "Chuy" Garcia accused Rahm of treating education "as a profit center for people with powerful connections." He couldn't be more right. Latest case in point in the mayor's defense of his hand-picked board member, Deborah Quazzo, who uses her board seat to protect her ed-biz investments.

According to the Sun-Times:
Quazzo, a millionaire venture capitalist, has invested in five educational technology companies that have been paid about $3.8 million by CPS since 2010, $2.9 million of it since June 2013, when she replaced Pritzker.
Quazzo is the “founder [in 2009] and managing partner of GSV Advisors—part of GSV Capital Corp., “a publicly traded investment fund that seeks to invest in high-growth, venture-backed private companies. GSV Advisors is “a firm that provides advisory services to companies in the education and business services sectors.” In plainer language, GSV Advisors invests in firms that that bring high-tech to solving problems in education. An example is GVS-backed DreamBox Learning, online individualized math instruction that, the company claims, “improves early educational outcomes for every child—regardless of zip code.”

She's also an ex officio board member of KIPP Chicago (Knowledge is Power Program), a charter school operator; New Schools for Chicago, an organization that raises money for charters.

NEEDED--An elected school board.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reason 1001 Why We Need an Elected School Board in Chicago

Quazzo flies Byrd-Bennett out to Arizona for her annual ed investment conference
“It’s my belief I need to invest in companies and philanthropic organizations who improve outcomes for children,” Quazzo says.

Companies that Chicago Board of Education member Deborah Quazzo has an interest in have seen the business they get from the city’s schools system triple since Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her to the board last year, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
Quazzo’s companies have gotten an additional $2.9 million in Chicago Public Schools business in the year and a half since the millionaire venture capitalist joined the board to fill a vacancy left by Penny Pritzker when President Barack Obama named Pritzker commerce secretary.
In all, five companies in which Quazzo has an ownership stake have been paid more than $3.8 million by CPS for ACT prep or online help with reading, writing and math. One of them stands to collect an additional $1.6 million this year from a district contract.
Quazzo says she has recused herself from school board votes on contracts with companies in which she has a stake, including a $6 million, two-year deal with one called Think Through Math. But, of course, nearly every vote of the board in unanimous.

On the website for GSV Advisors, Quazzo lists five companies she has invested in that do business with CPS — Academic Approach, Dreambox Learning, MasteryConnect, Think Through Learning and ThinkCERCA and touts her “dozens of personal investments in dynamic education companies, demonstrating her commitment while deepening her expertise and relationships in this important and fast-growing sector.”

Quazzo also co-hosts an annual education investment conference in April in Arizona with GSV Capital, which is owned by venture capitalist Michael Moe. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CPS’ chief executive officer, and Quazzo’s fellow school board members Andrea Zopp and Mahalia Hines are among past speakers at the conferences.

Byrd-Bennett’s airfare and hotel bill were paid for by conference organizers, as were Hines’, according to McCaffrey.

Another reason for an elected school board in Chicago.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

RACE TO TOP IS GOING BUST. BUT PEARSON HANGS ON.

"Pearson is the McDonald’s of education." -- Sir Michael Barber, Pearson Chief Education Adviser
It's too early to tell what kind of impact the latest $1.1 trillion spending bill will have on education funding in general. One thing we know is that Arne Duncan's Race To The Top funding to cut down to zero. There is also no funding in the bill for Common Core standards. That's not good news for all those politically-connected companies that have bellied up to the DOE trough for the past six years to cash in on Duncan's and RTTT's testing and charter school mandates.

The biggest is Pearson, the British conglomerate that dominates Common Core testing and text book publishing fields. But Pearson is having troubles of its own. Alan Singer, writing at Huffington (Pearson Education Can Run, But It Cannot Hide), reports that Pearson Education is closing its foundation, is under investigation by the FBI for possible insider dealings in the Los Angeles John Deasy/iPad scandal, that the company is being sued by former employees for wrongful termination and that its PARCC exams are losing customers.

But don't pass the hat for poor Pearson just quite yet. A report out of Dubai has Pearson, despite the dark cloud over its head, winning a competitive bid by the OECD to develop the frameworks for Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018. PISA is widely recognized as the benchmark for evaluating education systems worldwide by assessing the skills and knowledge 15-year-old students will need in their further academic education or for joining the workforce, said a statement. The PISA exam has become the scoring mechanism to determine which of dozens of competing nations supposedly have the best education systems. The exam is administered every three years in around 70 participating economies world-wide. So far neither Pearson nor OECD is saying how much money is involved in the deal.

A blockbuster contract Pearson signed earlier this year to deliver the new PARCC Common Core exams based its pricing on a minimum of 5.5 million students nationwide taking the tests next spring. But several states dropped out, leaving just under 5 million students to take the exams. (Another 325,000 children in Louisiana will take a modified test that uses PARCC questions but is delivered by another vendor.)

At that volume, Pearson will earn a minimum of $138 million in the first year of the contract. But because the contract was crafted in anticipation of a higher revenue flow to Pearson, PARCC member states have agreed to scale back the amount of work the company must do on the exams.

Monday, December 8, 2014

More on Charter Schools USA and the takeover of schools in York, PA

A few weeks ago, I posted this piece about Charter Schools USA and their attempt to take over the York, PA school district. Charter Schools USA is based in Ft. Lauderdale and is one of the biggest for-profit operators. It's founder and CEO, Jon Hage comes out of the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank funded by the Koch Bros., as well as the  Foundation for Florida Future, another conservative group founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Here's a corporate profile of Charter Schools USA, posted at the Cashing in on Kids Blog.

And this from the York Dispatch...
Attorneys representing teachers, cafeteria workers, parents, state-level education officials - and probably more to come - have filed petitions to join the York City School District in opposing the state's attempt at seizing control from the locally elected school board.

The district's motion alleges that receivership "and the imposition of a district-wide charter school system will fully and unalterably bind the incoming administration to the education policies of the outgoing and 'lame duck' governor for years to come."

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, who defeated Gov. Tom Corbett in his re-election bid last month, has said he is opposed to the charter plan and would like an opportunity to make decisions about the district's future.

A hearing for the case is set for today.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dope farming, a new source of revenue for charter schools?

John Loevy

Let me begin by saying that I have long favored the total and complete legalization of marijuana. I see it as a a potentially huge source of public revenue and a way to radically decrease the prison population. Sales revenues could help restore state dollars to the pension fund which has been badly depleted through years of the state neglect. All this, not to mention removing a part of the market fueling international drug wars which have killed hundreds of thousands.

But as legalization becomes a reality in several states, as always, the devil's in the details. In Illinois, the prospect of even partial legalization for medicinal purposes has opened up a new gold rush of venture capitalists, political cronies, profiteers and other assorted quick-buck hustlers.

Today's Sun-Times reports that attorney Jon Loevy hopes to get his plan approved to open a marijuana farm downstate. Loevy pitch is that he's different that the other dope privateers in that he's getting into the business, not to make a buck, but to support education.... Sorry, it took me a minute to stop laughing and climb back onto my chair.
“Illinois has created a real opportunity for profits, and a lot of the groups chasing this are hedge funds and private equity firms trying to get rich,” Loevy said. “We see this as an opportunity to reroute millions of dollars to education in Illinois when it’s really needed.”
By supporting education, Loevy means that instead of paying taxes, he may funnel a chunk of his tax-exempt profits into the state's networks of privately-run charter schools which he claims will,  "improve educational quality.”

Loevy’s partners include Michael Kanovitz, Loevy’s partner at the Loevy & Loevy law firm, and Rich Silverstein, a real estate developer. Following the lead of the privatized prison industry, they plan to open a $5 million to $7 million, 20,000-square-foot medical marijuana farm in Edgewood, a town of just over 400 people in Effingham County.
A trustee in Edgewood, Ervin Yocum, said the town is looking at the proposal as if it were a regular business. “We need the jobs down here,” said Yocum, who owns the plot of land the cultivation center would be on and would sell it to the group if they get the state license. “It’s a medicine.”
Yes, it's a medicine and will ultimately be part of big pharma. But the thought of public schools, or even  privately-run charters, being dependent for funding on the good will and political orientation of drug privateers is antithetical to democratic education.

If Loevy and his investors are allowed to grow marijuana in Edgewood, there needs to be strict control over conditions and pay for labor on their farm and their profits should be taxed appropriately with funding for education and other public needs being directed by public decision making.