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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

PARCC TEST MEMBERSHIP DOWN TO SIX STATES AND D.C.

I'm remembering back to 2015 when Arne Duncan's SUV took a wrong turn on the way to Ariel Community Academy in Chicago, and he was forced to get out and walk through a large group of anti-PARCC protesters, who were there to express their opposition to the new common-core-aligned exams. Duncan did not stop to speak to them.

Duncan had already launched tirades against parents who wanted their kids to opt-out of PARCC. Remember this one?
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” -- Washington Post
Fast-forward to today. Duncan's gone and apparently so is PARCC -- at least from most states. The PARCC consortium, apparently feeling the burn, has chosen a new nonprofit to manage the business of maintaining and administering its test: New Meridian Corp., a brand-new organization led by people from various strands of the assessment world.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, has lost most of its original state members. Only six states and the District of Columbia are using the test this year, and that number will drop by one more next year.

EdWeek reports: 
Its president and CEO, Arthur VanderVeen, who has spent the past 14 years at Compass Learning, the New York City Department of Education, and the College Board, told Education Week that he and his team interviewed the leaders of 14 states—current and former PARCC states, some who use Smarter Balanced, and some who haven't used either consortium test—to get a sense of their testing priorities.
 Sustainability has been an issue for both consortia as the end of their federal funding near drew. That $360 million was meant only to support the design of the tests. Once they made their operational debut, in 2014-15, financial responsibility for sustaining the tests shifted to the states. Both consortia have lost membership, but Smarter Balanced has maintained a larger stable of states using its test—14 this year—than has PARCC.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Billionaire hedge-fund fraud and charter school patron gave $1M to Trump inaug

Steven Cohen, chairman and CEO of Point72 Asset Management, big Trump donor.
Scandal-ridden billionaire hedge-funder and charter-school bank-roller Steven A. Cohen is back in the news again. Turns out Cohen was among the million-dollar donors to the Trump inauguration, according to a federal filing. He wasn't the biggest donor. That honor belongs to right-wing creep Sheldon Adelson.

While he has been a big contributor to conservative super PACs like Chris Christie's America Leads, Cohen has also been a big backer of Dem. candidates, including Connecticut Gov. Malloy.

Cohen is not in jail. But he should be. Federal prosecutors in New York decided against criminally charging Cohen for fraud. Instead, they charged his investment firm (remember, corporations are people now) SAC Capital. SAC Capital pled guilty and paid a total of $1.8 billion in fines.

Cohen is one of the major underwriters of privately-run charter schools. The couple's Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation is a top donor to the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), Achievement First, Families for Excellent Schools.

He has also given $40 million to support his six charter schools operating in the Bronx. The Cohen's are sponsors of the Amistad Academy in New Haven, which is described here as, "a charter school serving minority students...using chants, rewards, and consequences."

I'm not sure what it is about hedge-funders like Boykin Curry of Eagle Capital, Whitney Tilson of T2 Partners, David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, Michael Novogratz of Fortress Investment Group, Carl Icahn and the rest that attracts them to the charter world. But I suspect it has more to do with free-market ideology than anything to do with teaching and learning.

According to the Hartford Courant:
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.
If you want to know more about Cohen, read New Yorker writer Sheelah Kolhatkar's book, Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (Random House, 2017).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Rahm's Infrastructure Trust, a failed privatization scam.

Rahm Emanuel flew in Randi Weingarten  to support the Infrastructure Trust. 

The BGA's Alejandra Cancino writes in Crain's, that Rahm Emanuel's grand PR stunt, known as the Infrastructure Trust, has done nothing to rebuild Chicago's infrastructure nor to build any trust. In short, it was a sham and a humbug, a facade under which to carry out even more failed privatization deals.

Writes Cancino:
...the infrastructure trust that Mayor Rahm Emanuel once hailed as a model of out-of-the-box thinking to jumpstart public works has proved anything but.
 Launched five years ago this month, the Chicago Infrastructure Trust has accomplished little and done so at a snail's pace. None of the $800 million in financing that Emanuel claimed he had lined up from institutional investors to bankroll city projects ever materialized, with resources so tight that the trust on several occasions has been late by more than a month in paying staff and once by several months.
What's more, city records reviewed by the Better Government Association show trust operations and projects have been largely dependent on public financing even though Emanuel sold the idea as an innovative financing scheme to free taxpayers from cost and risk.
As of October, the trust still owed money to some former employees, consultants and contractors, according to its most recent audit report.
Sounds like one of Trump's deals. Doesn't it? And there were more. Like the the failed privatization of Midway Airport.

I warned about the Trust back in 2012 when Rahm first touted it as a model for other cities to follow and claimed that it would bring thousands of jobs to Chicago. And I wasn't alone.

Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, (yes, there are a few honest ones on the council) opposed the trust's creation pushed for more transparency and City Council oversight.

Ben Joravsky, writing in the Reader, called Rahm the "trust fund mayor" and warned of the lack of transparency around IT.

But warnings fell on deaf ears. Why? Because there were the big banks, like Citibank and big Democratic Party backers singing the Trust's praises. Namely, Bill Clinton who stood shoulder to shoulder with Rahm when IT was rolled out. .

And then there was AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten who Rahm flew to Chicago so she could offer her union's support of the Infrastructure Trust at Bill Clinton's Global Initiative Conference.
“People want to work,” Weingarten said. “And what we’re seeing, whether it’s the mayor’s infrastructure program here in Chicago or everything else we’re doing around the country, is that when labor and business start working good together on trying to put people back to work with good jobs, when we start building things again, it builds huge hope around the country.”
To her credit, Randi had been in town a few weeks earlier to support and march with thousands of rallying union teachers. If you followed my blog at the time, you know that I gave her props for that.  But now, here she was rallying support for Rahm's great privatization scheme, cheering it on with the very forces that were attacking the CTU in a massive media campaign.

She wasn't alone among union leaders either. The Mayor had put Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, on the board of the Trust. The promise of jobs, no matter how illusory, is pretty enticing. Just ask the sell-out union leaders who have drunk Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" kool-aid.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Former CPS Liar-in-Chief lands on her feet at Midway


I doubt you are, but if you're worrying about the fate of former CPS Liar-in-Chief, Becky Carroll,  you can stop now.

After serving as J.C. Brizard's and prison-bound Barbara Byrd-Bennett's Kellyanne Conway and then as the head of Rahm Emanuel's Super PAC, "Chicago Forward", Carroll has hit it big as a Midway Airport contractor. In other words, she's landed (see what I did there?) on her feet. Take heart Kellyanne. There's life (and profit) even after a failed career of mendacity and prevarication.

The Sun-Times reports:
A 15-year, $75 million makeover of Midway Airport concessions was cleared for takeoff Wednesday on a runway crowded with clout-heavy contractors. The contract with a group known as Midway Partnership LLC was approved at an action-packed City Council meeting dominated by business legislation.
 The $248 million Midway overhaul will give the Southwest Side airport 1,400 more premium parking spaces, a Taste of Chicago-style concession makeover with more space, and 27 security lanes — up from 17 — to unclog a notorious passenger bottleneck.
Did you know that "broke Chicago", where school budgets are being slashed to ribbons, had $248M laying around to put at the service of wealthy airport concessionaires? This, after years of failed Rahm attempts to sell off poorly-run Midway to any taker who wanted it.

And as I scroll through the article, I come upon Becky's name. She's hit the jackpot as a member of the "winning team" of contractors -- all Rahm political loyalists of course.

And here, I thought Becky's area of expertise lie in school closings and CPS corruption cover-ups. How was I too know she was an airport food concession maven as well?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Billionaire charter backers clash. Broad vs. DeVos

Billionaires DeVos vs. Broad
Power philanthropist Eli Broad is urging senators to vote against confirming fellow billionaire and right-wing school "choice" advocate, Betsy DeVos.

The growing grassroots resistance to Trump's choice for Ed Secretary has split the charter/voucher movement and its wealthy backers. Pro-choice groups and think tanks have been thrown into a dither with some like BAIO's Howard Fuller endorsing DeVos while others, distance themselves for fear of being associated with Trump and the Alt-Right.

According to EdWeek:
In comparison to DeVos' philanthropic work, the Broads belong to a class of donors that prefer a much more managed approach to school choice, investing in charter school models that can scale up and measure their performance. They are strong supporters of charter management organizations—nonprofit networks of charter schools (think KIPP)—whose rapid growth has been propelled by the federal government and a handful of wealthy donors. 
Eli and his wife Edythe Broad are among some of the most influential backers of charter schools nationwide. Their foundation has given over $150 million to charter schools nationally. Of that, $79 million has gone to charters in Los Angeles. He's also used his money to influence local school board elections in favor of pro-choice, anti-union candidates.

He's also a big Democratic Party campaign donor who personally bankrolled many of Arne Duncan's ed initiatives and currently is underwriting Education Post, the pro-charter, anti-teacher union project run by Duncan's former assistant, Peter Cunningham.

But Broad has no real problems with Trump or the Republicans. In 2013 he was exposed for secretly funding a right-wing, anti-union group connected with the Koch Bros. He formerly helped run the failed giant AIG Corp., once the world's biggest insurer, into the ground.

DeVos and her husband Richard on the other hand, are free-market evangelical conservatives who favor vouchers and for-profit charters as opposed to, what she calls, "government schools". Her appointment has far less to do with her competencies or lack thereof as a department head, but rather as an ideologue and an important piece of the Trump/Bannon move to take over and demolish the institutions of government, including the Dept. of Education.

Broad's letter to McConnell and Schumer urging them to dump DeVos, came on the same day as two Republican senators announced that they plan to vote against DeVos' confirmation. Both Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska hail from rural states. Both raised concerns over DeVos' hyper-focus on school choice and her overall knowledge of public schools.

Only one more Republican needs to break with the party to sink DeVos' nomination, but GOP leaders say they are confident DeVos will ultimately be confirmed as the next secretary of education.

We'll soon see if Broad has enough juice to swing one-more Republican vote away from DeVos. I doubt it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The language of reform. Corporate 'Collectives' for the Elite.

Collective Pres. Laurene Powell Jobs
Over the years I've gotten used to the way corporate reformers appropriate the language of radical social change to give themselves a progressive facade.

Take the word, collective, for example, as in socialist collectivism, collective bargaining, collective farming, anarchist or Marxist collectives, which is usually associated with the left-wing, labor movements. In the late 60s and early 70s you also had the rise of feminist collectives and so on. In other words, grassroots organizations synonymous with social change.

Can top-down, corporate reformers now take ownership of the terminology? You bet they can.

Sign of the times... Crain's Chicago Business recently launched its CEO Collective. No, it has nothing to do with socialism, street-protest affinity groups, or going off the the country to start a commune.

Listen to the way they describe it to potential recruits, using lots of ed reform jargon.
An exclusive year-long program for Chicago CEOs and founders, Crain’s CEO Collective offers participants an opportunity to work alongside their new professional network and dive deep into their most pressing challenges – empowering them to transform their organization.
This facilitated peer-learning program will include modules on issue resolution, leadership development, strategic thinking and innovation. Plus, members will be introduced to guest speakers that will enrich, inspire and energize their journey. CEOs will also gain a renewed awareness of issues and opportunities in Chicago.
Wow, peer-coaching, professional development, innovation -- this sounds like it came directly out of the school reform movement of the 1990s.

What they don't offer in their ads, but I'm sure is included in the Collective's membership fee, are workshops of how to undermine unions and get rid of, or around collective bargaining.

Another new corporate collective that caught my eye is the so-called Emerson Collective, started by Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire widow of Apple founder, Steve Jobs. After reading the Collective's mission statement, I'm ready to join up, if they'll have me as a collective member. But I doubt it.
We are an organization dedicated to removing barriers to opportunity so people can live to their full potential. Established by Laurene Powell Jobs, we center our work on education, immigration reform, the environment and other social justice initiatives. We use a wide range of tools and strategies—partnering with entrepreneurs and experts, parents and policymakers, advocates and administrators—to spur change and promote equality.
Unlike her husband Steve, who didn't believe in philanthropy, Powell Jobs is president of the Collective, which doubles as an LLC of course. That means, instead of a tax-exempt 501(c)(3), like the Gates or Walton Foundations which bankroll privately-run charter schools, the Emerson Collective can make grants, for-profit investments and political donations — and does not have to publicly report its donations as a foundation does.

Get the picture. If you call your personal tax shelter a "collective" and give it social -justice window dressing, you can operate free from public accountability or oversight.

Yes, better to operate in the shadows, or as the collectivists might say, "with flexibility".

Duncan joins the Collective
Latest to join the Collective is none other than the king of corporate school reform, Arne Duncan. Well maybe join isn't the proper term. He's not called a collective member but rather, a "managing partner". Duncan will oversee the XQ Institute and the XQ Super School Project, a $50 million national grant competition  that proposes to "re-imagine" high school.

One can only imagine what he and his collective are re-imagining. A new race to the top, perhaps? More testing madness? Unregulated and re-segregated charters?

I couldn't find out Duncan's salary at the Collective or how much Jobs pays in taxes. No public accountability, remember?

Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Pricilla Chan, have done something similar. Except that they don't call their power philanthropy a collective. Rather, it's the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Yes, it's an initiative rather than a collective. And their LLC focuses on --wait for it-- "personalized learning and underserved communities".

Zuckerberg's version of Duncan is former U.S. Education Department deputy secretary and Gates Foundation refugee Jim Shelton.

Among the missing from these top-down reform collectives, initiatives, innovators, and school re-imaginers, are the teachers themselves. After all, what would they know about personalized learning in underserved communities?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

From Davos to DeVos


As the world's super-wealthy and super-powerful gather this week in Davos for the World Economic Forum, the spotlight is once again on the widening chasm of wealth inequality. It's virtually impossible to talk meaningfully about education reform, privatization, charter schools, testing, deseg, etc... without taking the growing wealth gap into consideration.

Oxfam reports that the gap between the super-rich and the poorest half of the global population is starker than previously thought, with just eight men, from Bill Gates to Michael Bloomberg, owning as much wealth as 3.6 billion people, or half the world.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, says:
“It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day.  Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.  
“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.”
Public anger with inequality is already creating political shockwaves across the globe. Inequality has been cited as a significant factor in the election of neo-fascists and populists like Donald Trump in the US, President Duterte in the Philippines, and Brexit in the UK.
The world’s 8 richest people are, in order of net worth:    
  1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
  2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
  3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
  4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
  5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
  6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
  7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)
  8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)
To make the point about wealth inequality and public education, consider this. Except for the Spaniard Ortega and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, all are directly or indirectly involved in U.S. corporate-style school reform, charter schools, and in various projects and in policy setting. All have graced the pages of this blog. 

Ironically, one of the strongest voices on education at Davos, comes not from the mighty 8, but from singer Shakira, suggesting an antidote for violent conflict and divisive populism: Get more kids in pre-school.

The Colombian singer is using her distinctive voice to lobby the world's rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum for more spending on early childhood education.

Asked if she had a message for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, she urged solid education policies that instill "inclusiveness and tolerance" for future generations.

Recalling a childhood in Colombia marred by war, she said: "If we really want peace, we need to invest in education."

While the high and mighty gather in Davos, the Senate is holding hearings to consider the appointment of billionaire Betsy DeVos.

If you're confused about DeVos and Davos, this, from brother Fred, might help...