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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Chicago money man behind Rahm

Michael Sacks, far right, then-Deputy Mayor Mark Angel. 
I call Rahm the "Little Emperor" because of his bullying approach to management. But the emperor doesn't say boo without getting the nod from his big-money patrons in the Civic Committee. Chief among those is behind-the-scenes operator Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, one of the world's largest hedge funds.

Sacks has known the Little Emperor since Rahm left the Clinton White House in the late 1990s to become an investment banker.

Word is, he's the link between Mr. Emanuel and the Daley camp, "alert to potential friction when the mayor, while not mentioning predecessor Richard M. Daley by name", shifts blame for problems he inherited, from the “rotten” meter contract to underfunded pensions. Sean Conroy, Mr. Daley's son-in-law, is a director at Grosvenor, where he has worked since 2004.

Sacks, who actually brokered Rahm's latest parking meter deal, is featured in a recent Chicago Tribune piece.
When Chicago aldermen wanted answers on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new parking meter deal, they heard the details not only from a City Hall lawyer and administrator but from a rich and influential businessman who has no official city job at all. 
People tied to Sacks' Grosvenor Capital Management firm donated nearly $450,000 to help get Emanuel elected, including $100,000 from Sacks personally. He has paid for sports tickets, meals and transportation for his friend since then, though neither man will detail the gifts.
Sacks is the Vice-Chairman of World Business Chicago board  and is also a big player in managing the $39 billion teachers pension fund. Grosvenor has provided investment management services for Illinois teacher pension funds as well as Los Angeles County public employee retirement funds. Grosvenor's fund of funds is second in size only to New York-based Blackstone Group L.P.'s. It routinely vies with the likes of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. for the business of big pension funds and other institutional investors.

There's also a revolving door between city and county government and Grosvenor. When Kurt Summers left his job as Cook County Board Pres. Tony Preckwinkle's chief of staff last November, he was immediately hired by Grosvenor as senior vice-president.

Sacks is a big promoter of charter schools and serves as a mayoral adviser on the topic. He also sits on the board of After School Matters, Mayor and Maggie Daley's cash-cow after-school program which was used as back entrance to the old City Hall patronage system.

According to the Tribune:
He is vociferous in his praise of Emanuel's leadership, but always vague when asked to describe his own role in city affairs.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Student college loan rates will double next week. Another win for Wall St.

Despite all the big talk coming from administration ed bureaucrats about college readiness, 21st-Century learning, and Common Core Standards, a college education is becoming a more distant possibility for all but the wealthiest students and their families. 

Congressional action that would keep student loan rates from doubling on July 1 seems ready to die on the Senate floor, blocked by Dem. Majority Leader Harry Reed. Barring a last-minute breakthrough, 7.4 million university students will see rates on their federal Stafford loans jump to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent on July 1.
Democratic leaders, once convinced they could win a clear victory over Republicans, were reduced Wednesday to arguing that allowing interest rates to double would be better than fixing loans to fluctuating market rates.\
“I don’t know,” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, said with a shrug. “Student groups said: ‘Let it double. We’d rather see it double to 6.8 than the alternatives we’ve heard.’ ”
Student groups???

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Is this the face of the future of public ed?

Deborah Duazzo

Chicago Magazine's headline on Whet Moser's piece, reads: "The New School Board Member Is a Glimpse at the Future of Education." They are referring to Deborah Quazzo, Rahm Emanual's latest hand-picked school board member. 

Quazzo, a white, wealthy investment banker, replaces billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker, Obama's new Commerce Secretary.

Quazzo's company, GSW Advisors has this view of education:
In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.
The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.
Moser's takeaway:
Quazzo is merely one vote, and comes from a similar background as Penny Pritzker, who was heavily invested in the school reform movement. Instead, it's more interesting as a look at the broader state of the education industry—how the rise of the technology and financial sectors, along with governmental interest in privatization during a time of strict budget cuts have integrated with school reform, creating a burgeoning market that's not limited to the hip MOOCosphere, but is making inroads in public education.
He's right.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How many more of these studies do we really need?

Well, it's another week and there's another study showing once again that charter schools fail to perform better than the traditional public schools they are being touted to replace.  Of course the whole premise behind comparing and rating large categories of schools, based on a selected group of standardized test scores makes no sense and needs more debunking.

This latest study, coming out of Stanford's CREDO group finds:
56 percent of the charters produced no significant difference in reading and 19 percent had worse results than traditional public schools. In math, 40 percent produced no significant difference and 31 percent were significantly worse than regular public schools.
Charters actually come out slightly better in this year's CREDO study then they did in 2009. But charter school cheerleaders like Scott Pearson, are downright giddy over reportedly (I always add in that word when talking about D.C. test scores in the post-Rhee era) improved charter reading and math scores in the District. Pearson, who comes out of Arne Duncan's Dept. of Education, gets paid $180,000/year to say stuff like this:
“We’re popping the champagne corks here,” said Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. “We think it’s a very strong affirmation of the power of charter schools when they’re done right.”
Yes, Mr. Pearson. All schools do better when "done right". Such are the research-based inanities of the champagne-popping charter hustlers.

Side note about Pearson -- he's a former executive at Mitt Romney's Bain Capital. Perfect!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Privatization and the Snowden affair

With all the talk about Snowden, it's easy to lose sight of the real issue here --- the surveillance and collection of massive amounts of information on US citizens – from emails, to telephone calls, to videos, under the Prism program and other Fisa court orders.

As juicy to the media as the Snowden escape story, or his pole-dancing girlfriend  might be, his story is just a sideshow to the real debate his whistle-blowing has opened up around the government's violations of its own citizens constitutional rights vs. national security requirements.

The Guardian, which has done most of the heavy lifting and risk-taking (especially ace reporter Glenn Greenwald) on this story, is also doing some of the best analysis. An excellent piece by Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson appears in today's Guardian ("The NSA's metastasised intelligence-industrial complex is ripe for abuse"). You might remember them from Plamgate, where CIA Operations Officer Plame had her identity leaked by conservative journalist Robert Novack and State Dept. official Richard Armitage as payback for her husband's role in debunking the WMDs rationale for the invasion of Iraq.

Plame and Wilson make an interesting assessment of the trend towards privatization and government sub-contracting of its most essential public-sector functions, ie. security and education.
The roots of this trend go back at least as far as the Reagan era, when the political right became obsessed with limiting government and denigrating those who worked for the public sector. It began a wave of privatization – because everything was held to be more "cost-efficient" when done by the private sector – and that only deepened with the political polarization following the election of 2000. As it turns out, the promises of cheaper, more efficient services were hollow, but inertia carried the day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

More problems with N.Y. testing privatization madness. T(est) for Texas

Columbia University's Teachers College held two Masters convocations on May 21. During the ceremonies students held up signs that read "I am not a number" and "not a test score."   Photo by George Joseph

From today's Daily News 
McGraw-Hill will pay overtime to teachers to work nights and weekends to catch up on grading the high school exams after a scanning glitch prevented the educators from scoring the tests soon after they were taken. The Education Department said that seniors who haven’t received their scores can still participate in graduation ceremonies, but won’t be able to immediately receive their diplomas. 
 The city awarded a three-year, $9.6 million contract to McGraw-Hill to run the operation — but the company failed to pick up the exams from a warehouse and upload them into a computer system to be scored on time.
This is the first year city teachers were barred from grading their own students’ Regents exams as part of a statewide effort to crack down on inflating scores.
Pearson rules 

In 2010, when the state, long known as a beacon for its strong curriculum standards, was formulating its new standardized “Common Core” program, lawmakers handed Pearson a, $32 million contract to administer tests, in addition to another $1 million for helping the state Education Department with testing services. Having seized control of standardized testing in states like New York, Pearson has also made its own costly textbooks essential for teachers under pressure to turn out high-test scores, thereby turning additional profits while transforming classrooms into Pearson test-prep centers.

Last month the city was considering severing ties with Pearson after it was revealed that the gaffe-prone agency made yet another scoring error on the entrance exams to gifted and talented programs that affected more than 300 students. Also, nearly 3,000 were told they did not qualify for such programs, only to later learn that they did.

T for Texas Testing 

But none of this has stopped Texas from agreeing to pay Pearson $90 million/year to run their state testing program, top-to-bottom. Texas’ $468 million contract with Pearson dwarfs the company’s contract with New York State by more than ten times. New York’s contract, also lasting five years, is worth a paltry $32 million.

By the time a current student in Texas public schools graduates, she will have taken at least fifteen standardized tests. This means Texas has the most frequently tested students in the nation.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Another attack aimed at colleges of education

That great "revolutionary" thinker Arne Duncan, set the stage back in '09, when he discredited all colleges of education, labeling them as "mediocre" and calling for "revolutionary change—not evolutionary tinkering."

Now the National Council on Teacher Quality has taken Duncan's cue and has come out with what it's calling "the first comprehensive review" of university-based teacher ed programs, which it labels as "an industry of mediocrity," that churns out teachers ill-prepared to work in elementary and high-school classrooms.

But a look at who's running NCTQ should raise flags about the political intent of the study and who such degrading language really serves. A brief scan of the board of directors and advisers brings up a host of names associated with current corporate-style "reform" efforts, ownership-society politics and privately-run charter schools, with the likes of Chester Finn, Joel Klein, Wendy Kopp, Eric Hanushek, and Michael Feinberg on board. Bankrolling the study are some of the major anti-teacher, pro-privatization foundations, like the William Penn Foundation, Broad, Dell, Kaiser, Anschutz, Bradley and on and on.

If Kopp's 5-week-wonder program at Teach For America is the standard-setter, it's no wonder that 99% fail to meet it. And that's a good thing, in my book. The broad-brush debasement of nearly all of the country's colleges of education opens the door for the new cottage industry of so-called alternative certification programs like TFA and those currently  flourishing in Texas. 

It's not that I think teacher preparation in this country is all that, or that big improvements couldn't or shouldn't be made to the ones with which I'm familiar. It's just that NCTQ's study focuses mainly on written materials, like course syllabi, rather than considering what the graduates do in the classroom once they become working teachers. It rates colleges of ed with a 1-4 star system, like you might rate a movie or restaurant. The ratings are based upon a simplistic evaluation of syllabi, textbooks and other teaching materials. Only four programs, Vanderbilt, Furman, Ohio State and Lipscomb (a private Christian college in Nashville) in the entire U.S. received four stars.

The study also echoes the unsubstantiated claim that poorly-trained teachers are to blame for poor student performance and ignores the influences of poverty on measurable student achievement. Of course the study offers no explanation for how this same teaching force has produced such high results in the nation's wealthy schools.

Yes, prospective teachers need to spend more time outside the classroom and out in the field (as do all students), coupled with experienced mentors. Yes, teacher preparation programs need to recruit the best and the brightest (I would add, with special emphasis on African-American and Latino candidates). But to attract and sustain these pre-teachers, there must be stronger tuition assistance programs with emphasis on support for urban and rural teachers. Teacher programs must become more community-based (a point ignored by NCTQ). The study calls for more selectivity in admission of students to teacher training programs, and I agree. But "selectivity" now is based on ability to afford skyrocketing tuition. We don't need more of the same.

The NCTQ study, like Duncan's waving the red flag of revolution, is simply a bash job on nearly all colleges of ed. In response, officials from 35 education schools sent a letter to NCTQ prez Kate Walsh, criticizing the study's evaluation tool for some of the same reasons I listed above. Many colleges refused to cooperate with the study, which limited the number of schools the council could rank to fewer than half the roughly 1,450 institutions of higher ed that have teacher training programs.

Hopefully, the study will prompt some real discussion about how best to prepare the nation's teachers. A good start would be dumping the NCTQ study in the circular file and picking up works by Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Sir Ken Robinson, Bill Ayers, Dennis Littky, Elliot Washor, and Pedro Noguera, just to name a few.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

From the Wall Street Journal: 'The marriage between companies and the state'

The June 10th WSJ calls the Snowden affair, "a wake-up call for Booz Allen and us." I'm not sure who the us is here, but they do make some great points.
In the increasingly intimate marriage between companies and the state, Mr. Snowden is emblematic of many things: For business, he signifies the liabilities that companies doing intelligence work for the government have inherited. For government, he's an example of what can happen when operations become so complex, and technical capability so constrained, that agencies must outsource key intelligence analysis to contractors.
 And for the rest of us, he raises this question: Exactly where does government end and business begin?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

J.P. Morgan: The Portuguese connection

Marching against austerity
I just got back from Portugal where austerity imposed by the IMF and other international creditors is crashing peoples' standard of living and destroying public space, including public education. As usual, the alternative to public space and public decision making is privatization and Portugal is no exception.

Guess who's pushing privatization and re-engineering Portuguese society? It's J.P. Morgan, the same investment bankers and hedge-funders who helped crash the economy here.

Reuters reports:
Portugal appointed J.P. Morgan as financial advisers in the planned privatization of the national postal service...The privatiszation is part of a wider state property sell-off by Lisbon ordered under the country's 78 billion euro EU/IMF bailout.
There a strong Chicago connection in all this. It's Bill Daley, brother of the ex-mayor, who just announced he's running for governor. Daley was a V.P. for J.P. Morgan who made a cool $8.7 million the year before becoming Obama's chief-of-staff.

I'll be looking for news about the upcoming general strike called by the country's biggest unions on June 27th. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Booz Allen Hamilton helped set Chicago on its path to corporate school 'reform'

If anyone doubts the power of an individual taking the high moral ground when confronting injustice, look no further than Edward Snowden.

Snowden, by all accounts an ordinary guy working for the powerhouse consulting group Booz Allen Hamilton, reached the point where he could no longer accept his role and the role of this giant corporate entity and his own government in violating the rights of his fellow citizens. At the risk of  his career and his freedom, Snowden turned working-class hero like Pfc. Bradley Manning did before him, and leaked details of the National Security Agency's secret PRISM data-mining program to the Guardian, (see this morning's great interview with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald), helping to expose the administration's secretive and duplicitous role in depriving all of its citizens of their basis rights.


But with all the talk and debate about Snowden, I couldn't help but think back to the days in the early '90s, when the same Booz Allen Hamilton firm was brought in by the Civic Committee and the big ed foundations to help "re-engineer" Chicago Public Schools. They did a lot of the early financial analysis that led to the reorganization of the CPS central office.

Obama's Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper,  is a former Booz Allen exec.
At the time, Chicago was becoming a laboratory for corporate-style school reform, including mayoral control of the schools. There was lots of debate about where the power should lie to make decisions about the construct and conduct of public schools. Many of us favored the downsizing of the bloated and dysfunctional  public school bureaucracy, including the passage of the 1988 School Reform Act which decentralized the system and created the popularly-elected Local School Councils.

But to the corporate reformers, the financial crisis and organizational mess that was CPS, wasn't a disaster --it was an opportunity. That first wave of school reform was soon taken over by the corporate reformers and privatizers. Booz Allen Hamilton was one of the major consulting groups that helped design and engineer corporate-style reform and set Chicago Public Schools on its current path.

The company had cut its teeth on privatization work in the former Soviet Union. It would grow globally, reaping enormous profits while taking advantage of the trend towards privatization and government subcontracting (which we described in our book, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society).

Soon they would become to national security what Halliburton and Blackwater were to the war in Iraq.

As the New York Times reports:
Booz Allen Hamilton has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States...Thousands of people formerly employed by the government, and still approved to deal with classified information, now do essentially the same work for private companies.
As evidence of the company’s close relationship with government, the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen.
Booz Allen Hamilton is now in many ways more powerful that the governments with which it contracts. The company is now majority owned by the Carlyle Group, a giant US-based investment fund with $176 billion in assets. Edward Snowden revealed that at Booz Allen, he had the authority to spy on any U.S. citizen, including the President.

But it's worth noting that they got their real start in corporate-style school reform right here in Chicago.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A look at Philly layoffs from Lisbon

At Lisbon University: "General Strike"

It's a strange feeling sitting here in Lisbon, reading about austerity in Philly.
Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced Friday that the School District had begun mailing layoff notices to 3,783 employees, informing them they will lose their jobs July 1 because of the district’s financial crisis. The list includes 676 teachers, 283 counselors, 127 assistant principals, and 1,202 noontime aides. -- Inquirer
Change the names of the cities and the school administrators and the same story can be read in papers here, or in Madrid, or in Athens. Why would anyone think this has anything to do with education reform?

Mass school closings along with thousands of teacher and staff firings are part a global crisis which the one-percenters are taking advantage of to reshape society. Their goal is nothing less than the erosion of public space (including public education) and public decision-making.

Here in Portugal, in Greece and Spain -- not to mention Turkey -- there are signs of sharp resistance. The unions in Portugal have called for a general strike on June 27th. What will the response be in Philly, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles?

It was Frederick Douglass who said it best:
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

In L.A. a shift at the top of school takeover group

Broad-trained Sullivan takes over as head of L.A. "turnaround" group
Outgoing Mayor Villaraigosa pulled a fast one on newly-elected mayor Eric Garcetti. He brought in a new manager, trained by the Broad Foundation, to run the corporate reform/school privatization group,  Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, less than a month before Garcetti was to be sworn in as mayor.

Joan Sullivan, currently Villaraigosa's deputy mayor for education will replace the embattled Marshall Tuck, as head of the group. Sullivan comes out of the Broad Institute and was at one time, the head of a New York charter school.
PLAS is a big-money player in the school turnaround business, taking over struggling neighborhood schools and turning them over to private management companies.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

While public ed suffers, private D.C. contractors ask, 'What sequester?'

Life in the Ownership Society

Public education and the public sector in general is being devastated by sequester's budget ax.

But today's WSJ reveals how private sector federal contracting has created a new "gilded age" and  a new class of super-rich in and around the nation's capital. Journal writer Elizabeth Williamson describes an incredible mansion built in the suburbs of D.C. by technology billionaire Frank Islam who shrugs at the word sequester.
The sprawling compound is a product of Washington's Gilded Age—a time of lush business profits initially fueled by government outsourcing and war. Some demographers predicted the boom here would ebb as federal spending shrank amid troop withdrawals from the Middle East and efforts to trim the deficit...The explosion in government outsourcing has shoveled federal dollars from Capitol Hill to mirrored high-rises dotting the Beltway.
 Seven of the nation's 10 wealthiest counties are now in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, compared with only two in the New York metropolitan area, and none in Silicon Valley. Census data from 2010 show median household income was $84,523 in the D.C. area, compared with $83,944 for Silicon Valley's wealthy San Jose region. D.C.'s inner city is being whitenized as public housing is leveled, public schools closed and privatization replaces public sector jobs.

'Illinois is open for business...' No revenue for pensions. Millions for new basketball stadium.

“Today, with this bill, Illinois is open for business,” said state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields), the chief Senate sponsor.of the $173 million DePaul basketball arena bill. 
With the failure last night, to pass a bill that would have given Chicago Public Schools another pension holiday, the IL State Legislature ended it Spring Session failing to do anything to provide either the state or Chicago with any new revenue to solve its ongoing pension crisis. But it had no problem finding  $173 million to help pay for Rahm Emanuel's latest boondoggle, (that's what Sports Illustrated is calling it) a new 10,000-seat basketball arena for DePaul, the nation's largest private Catholic university.

According to Crain's, Rahm is counting on the sale of 22 luxury suites in the arena at $45,000 each per year and 300 club seats to account for near $500,000 in operating income. But there's little hope of filling the new arena with city basketball fans. DePaul's program abandoned Chicago back in 1980. This year's team roster included not one player recruited from Chicago's public schools.

CTU V.P. Jesse Sharkey calls the boondoggle yet another reason why we need an elected school board in Chicago and an end to mayoral control of the schools:
The mayor has demonstrated a lack of leadership and his appointed Board of Education has done a miserable job governing the district. They have closed 50 elementary schools without a plan and now they will have to deal with a looming budget issue. But rather than finding additional revenue, the mayor pushed through spending for the DePaul basketball arena, millions for Navy Pier development, and extended TIFs that were set to expire. Now more than ever we must demand an end to mayoral control and push for an elected representative school board. -- Fred Klonsky's blog