Race to the Tots: Universal (for profit) Pre-K, DFER, KIPP and the suits

Money (2)

First, a bit of background about my family and why I am concerned about preschool and what “Universal pre-K” really means.

As I have mentioned before, my family is African-American. My mother grew up in South Carolina in the early 1900’s with four siblings, a mother who was a music teacher and a father who was a train porter.

In my family it was understood that the way to succeed was to have as much education as possible.

My mother received her Master’s Degree in Child Psychology and Early Childhood Development from the University of Southern California during the Depression. Something that to this day puts me in awe.

My dad, Brice Taylor, was the Director of Head Start for Southern California. He came from a very difficult background in Seattle. He played on the football team at Franklin High School where his coach saw his talent and supported his efforts to get into college (Thank goodness for teachers!). My dad went on to become the First All-American in football at the University of Southern California. Sometime after graduation, he became President of Bishop College in Texas until folks there decided he was too outspoken… for a Black man. (And moi didn’t fall too far from that tree.) He and my mother moved to Los Angeles where my dad became a teacher and the football coach at Jefferson High School, a school in a neighborhood called “Watts”. He worked seven days a week. When not teaching and coaching during the week, he kept the school gym open on Saturdays so the students would have a safe place to be and on Sundays, he was a minister at the First African Methodist Episcopal church in Los Angeles. After retiring as a teacher and receiving the Golden Apple award and other honors, he was appointed Director of Head Start for Southern California by Governor Reagan. My dad believed in Head Start and the benefits of the program. It was a place where children received at least one hot meal each day, learned their ABC’s and colors and played. They learned how to work together and get along with each other, sometimes termed “socialization”. My dad believed Head Start made a difference in the lives of children and so do I.

These kinds of programs are essential in providing young children with an opportunity to start out on as level a playing field as possible.

With this understanding of my background and beliefs, let’s take a look at the Universal pre-K program that we’re hearing so much about these days.

Red flags began to wave for me when I went to a Seattle City Council meeting in February regarding Universal Pre-Kindergarten. Before the presentation began, in filed a line of men and women in business suits with laptops in hand. It wasn’t surprising to see people in business attire prepared to make a presentation to the Seattle City Council. What was surprising to me were the number of suits in the audience and the size of the audience. Even Council President Tim Burgess remarked at how many people were attending the meeting. I looked around and saw no familiar faces. I didn’t see any educators or concerned parents or community citizens as I had expected to see. No, this was a different crowd, well-heeled and looking very serious, almost business-like. Who were all of these (white) people who were so interested in Universal pre-K for minority children?

That was my first red flag and I had a lot of questions such as, who paid for these consultants and their trip to Seattle? Where is the money coming from to set up these proposed centers in Seattle? Why isn’t this called preschool rather than pre-K? And, who paid for a total of 40 public employees including council members to visit Boston and tour examples of Universal pre-K centers?

In terms of funding for this trip, the Seattle Metro Chamber had something to do with paying expenses although it is not clearly spelled out in the article Chamber coordinates with city leaders on trip to study high-quality preschool education.

Here is a blurb about the Seattle Metro Chamber in the article:

Education remains a top priority for the Chamber, which has repeatedly supported investments and reforms at both the City of Seattle and state levels. In 2011, the Chamber supported reauthorization of the Families and Education Levy, and in 2012 it supported the successful passage of Initiative 1240, allowing for the implementation of a limited number of charter schools in the state. In addition, the Chamber’s President & CEO, Maud Daudon serves as chair of the Washington Student Achievement Council, which provides strategic planning, oversight and advocacy for the state’s education system.

And so it goes.

Of course we need to have pre-school for all children but so many questions come to mind. Why not fund Head Start? What’s so special about this particular idea that Burgess, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and “business leaders” have been touting about “Universal pre-K??

The presentation made to the Seattle City Council on Universal pre-K was a slick package similar to the NCTQ presentation made to the public several years ago but without the sandwiches. There were about 10 staff members flown in from Boston for this presentation which included a limp power point presentation and a video with, of course, smiling happy children. The presenters used the word “quality” so many times you could have a good drinking game just on that word. Then the other words started to tumble out like “evidence based programs”, “evidence based curricula with periodical coaching”, “regular monitoring of children’s progress” and “assessments”. This sounded more like pre-K boot camp to me than the pre-school my daughter experienced, but let’s see where this goes.

My other concerns were that the Head Start program was being downplayed during the presentation and didn’t seem to be a part of this program and the cost in Boston for Universal pre-K program was stated as being $12,000 per student per year.

Boston was being compared to Seattle because the size of the populations and the demographics were similar.

I was beginning to pay attention to what was being said about Universal pre-K and by whom after the presentation but still wasn’t sure about what was happening and why until I received an e-mail with an attached pdf. The title was Achievement Gap: How Charter Schools Can Support High-Quality Universal Pre-K and authored by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Second red flag. This one waving wildly in the breeze.

What stood out in this Policy Briefing Memo, besides the blurb at the end thanking KIPP charter schools for all of their input, was how the terms Universal pre-K and charter schools co-mingled many times in this report, so I took a closer look at the relationship.

This is what I found thanks to information that was sent ot me from various sources.

Frist of all, KIPP is already on the money trail.

Preschool primer: Porter-Leath, KIPP partner to add early education at old Caldwell site

Porter-Leath will open a free preschool for 100 children in North Memphis this summer, but won’t provide busing.

“That’s by design,” said Sean Lee, Porter-Leath president. “We like our families to come every day and speak to the teacher.”

Porter-Leath, which started in Memphis as an orphanage, is partnering with KIPP Memphis to reopen the former Caldwell Elementary at 230 Henry.

“It will be first-come, first-served,” Lee said. “We are hoping to serve all low-income families but if someone applies and we have openings, they will get accepted.”

Hmmm, no transportation provided, they want parents to talk to the teachers every day and it isn’t really about minority students because it’s first come, first served. How about parents who work and can’t visit the school every day? No busing? Just what fairy tale world are they living in? Or, do they think we’re going to believe this fairy tale ourselves?

And this in Education Week: KIPP’s Entry Into Pre-K World Takes Some Adjustment:
A Model Built on Rigor, Structure Adapting to the Schooling Needs of a Younger Group of Students

At LEAP Academy, a public charter school in Southeast Washington, a roomful of 4-year-olds hunched over tables, quietly practicing their writing skills. Most can’t actually write entire words yet, so they scrawled the first letter and supplemented their stories with pictures.

When one boy instead covered his page with fierce black scribbles, Principal Laura Bowen leaned over his shoulder and told him to stop. “I don’t want any more scribbles,” she said. “I want a story.”

LEAP is part of the nonprofit KIPP chain, which started with just one middle school in Houston 15 years ago and now is the largest charter operator in the country. LEAP is among dozens of D.C. charters now offering preschool and pre-kindergarten classes.

And this letter to the Editor in the New York Times written by JACK McCARTHY, president and chief executive of the Apple Tree Institute for Education Innovation, which runs several charter schools with preschool programs, Allow Pre-K at Charters

Then there is the negation of Head Start:

Per the article regarding the City Council meeting I described earlier, Council Starts to Move on Universal Pre-K:

Among the researchers’ conclusions: 
• Head Start and pre-K programs that are sponsored by the city or state, as opposed to private interests, are only of “average” quality, and “only [a] small minority of programs [are] of excellent quality”; 

Am I starting to hear the drumbeat of Universal pre-K privatization here?

Burgess never did take a stand on charter schools. In fact, he seemed oddly silent on the matter particularly since he is the Chairman of the Education Committee for the City Council.

Tomorrow there is to be a vote by the Seattle City Council on approving an Ordinance regarding Universal pre-K.

As per the ordinance, much of the money is to come from a city Levy. Quite frankly, I don’t want to see public money used to support charter chains such as KIPP. There is little to no oversight of any charter school at this time in the country even though tax dollars are used to fund the schools and pay the CEO’s salary.

Here are additional concerns that several of us have:

  • The Seattle Public School district is listed as a crucial partner for this program but given no oversight.
  • Oversight, instead, is given entirely to a department within the City of Seattle. The bureaucracy would be horrendous and is starting to sound too much like mayoral control.
  • There is an emphasis on assessments (testing).
  • There is wording that implies a waiver for teachers who aren’t fully certified. KIPP uses Teach for America, Inc recruits to staff their charter schools, is this what is meant in the Ordinance about non-certified “teachers”?
  • There is frequent reference to “partnerships”, implying private enterprises will be running the pre K’s.
  • There are references to using Head Start funding as well. Will that divert federal funds from existing SPS pre-k s to this new project?
  • Data sharing mentioned.

About that “data”, which is another word for private student information, from Politico:

PRE-K DATA VARIES ACROSS STATES: Thirty states say they’re securely linking early education child-level data from some programs to their state’s K-12 data system, but 49 states say they aren’t connecting that child-level data across all early childhood programs to the K-12 system. Pennsylvania is the exception, according to a new study released by the Early Childhood Data Collaborative. Twenty states are linking early childhood data to social services data and 12 are linking that data to state health data. The report also finds that 36 states collect state-level childhood development data across early childhood programs and 29 are collecting kindergarten readiness data. If a bipartisan congressional preschool expansion titled the Strong Start for America’s Children Act were to become a reality, states would have to tie early childhood data to their state’s K-12 systems.

This is a time to research and reflect on what we want preschool/ pre-Kindegarten to be for children in Seattle.

Valerie Strauss posted an article by Alfie Kohn on Universal pre-K recently in the Washington Post:

The trouble with calls for universal ‘high-quality’ pre-K

Whenever policymakers talk about universal preschool — and that is happening more frequently these days — they always say that it must be “high quality,” but they never explain what that actually means. Here author Alfie Kohn explains why the absence of definition may be troubling. Kohn is the author of 13 books about education and human behavior, including “The Schools Our Children Deserve,” “The Homework Myth,” and, due out later this spring, “The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting.” He lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at http://www.alfiekohn.org.

By Alfie Kohn

Universal pre-kindergarten education finally seems to be gathering momentum. President Obama highlighted the issue in his 2013 State of the Union address and then mentioned it again in this year’s. Numerous states and cities are launching or expanding early-education initiatives, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made this his signature issue.

Disagreements persist about the details of funding, but a real consensus has begun to develop that all young children deserve what has until now been unaffordable by low-income families.

But here’s the catch: Very few people are talking about the kind of education that would be offered — other than declaring it should be “high quality.” And that phrase is often interpreted to mean “high intensity”: an accelerated version of skills-based teaching that most early-childhood experts regard as terrible. Poor children, as usual, tend to get the worst of this.

It doesn’t bode well that many supporters of universal pre-K seem to be more concerned about economic imperatives than about what’s good for kids. In his speech last year, for example, the president introduced the topic by emphasizing the need to “start at the earliest possible age” to “equip our citizens with the skills and training” they’ll need in the workplace.[1] The New York Times, meanwhile, editorialized recently about how we must “tightly integrate the [pre-K] program with kindergarten through third grade so that 4-year-olds do not lose their momentum. It will have to prepare children well for the rigorous Common Core learning standards that promise to bring their math, science and literacy skills up to international norms.”[2]

The top-down, test-driven regimen of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiatives in K-12 education is now in the process of being nationalized with those Common Core standards championed by the Times — an enterprise largely funded, and relentlessly promoted, by corporate groups.[3] That same version of school reform, driven by an emphasis on global competitiveness and a determination to teach future workers as much as possible as soon as possible, would now be expanded to children who are barely out of diapers.

That doesn’t leave much time for play.[4] But even to the extent we want to promote meaningful learning in young children, the methods are likely to be counterproductive, featuring an emphasis on the direct instruction of skills and rote rehearsal of facts. This is the legacy of behaviorism: Children are treated as passive receptacles of knowledge, with few opportunities to investigate topics and pose questions that they find intriguing. In place of discovery and exploration, tots are trained to sit still and listen, to memorize lists of letters, numbers, and colors. Their success or failure is relentlessly monitored and quantified, and they’re “reinforced” with stickers or praise for producing right answers and being compliant.

This dreary version of early-childhood education isn’t just disrespectful of children; decades of research show it simply doesn’t work well — and may even be damaging. The same approach has long been over-represented in schools that serve low-income African-American and Latino children; indeed, it was described by the late Martin Haberman as the “pedagogy of poverty” and it continues to find favor in inner-city charter schools.[6] If we’re not careful, calls to expand access to preschool will result in more of the same for younger children whose families can’t afford an alternative.

That doesn’t leave much time for play.[4] But even to the extent we want to promote meaningful learning in young children, the methods are likely to be counterproductive, featuring an emphasis on the direct instruction of skills and rote rehearsal of facts. This is the legacy of behaviorism: Children are treated as passive receptacles of knowledge, with few opportunities to investigate topics and pose questions that they find intriguing. In place of discovery and exploration, tots are trained to sit still and listen, to memorize lists of letters, numbers, and colors. Their success or failure is relentlessly monitored and quantified, and they’re “reinforced” with stickers or praise for producing right answers and being compliant.

To read this article in full, go to the Washington Post.

And if you’re still not convinced that the direwolves are circling preschool education, see the list of folks participating in the Mayor’s Conference in Austin this year on Education and Pre-K.

Italics are mine.

Educational Excellence Task Force
Mayor of Denver
(There was a school board trip to Denver a few years ago to look at charter schools.)

MR. KEVIN (I’ll do anything for money) JOHNSON, Mayor of Sacramento (And husband of Michelle Rhee)
President, The United States Conference of Mayors

Bezos Family Foundation

Building an Early Learning Nation
KEVIN JOHNSON Mayor of Sacramento
President, The United States Conference
of Mayors

Secretary United States Department of Education

Mayor of Denver (Denver, where the Seattle School Board traveled to a few years ago to see the wonders of charter schools)
Chair, Education Excellence Task Force
The United States Conference of Mayors

JACKIE BEZOS (huge financial supporter of Initiative 1240 which is now the charter school law in Washington State)
Bezos Family Foundation


Remarks: Education
Former Mayor of Los Angeles (2005-2013) (and Eli Broad’s man in LA)
Past President, The United States Conference of Mayors (2011-2012

Let’s be careful where we tread when it comes to pre-school in Seattle.

Dora Taylor


9 thoughts on “Race to the Tots: Universal (for profit) Pre-K, DFER, KIPP and the suits

  1. Its amazing how the privatizers continue to get their hands into the pie. I guess every singly politician is bought and sold. Bright Horizons likes to hire recent education graduates for its pre-k schools and pay them $8/hour, and crappy to non-existent benefits (despite what is extolled on its website). Kipp is amazingly good at situating itself where the money flows. Even tho we keep connecting the dots, we can’t seem to thwart these disgusting for-profits who keep getting richer while our kids get, intentionally, dumber.

    1. The question remains: Does the City Council have the appetite to withhold dollars from Charter School operators? Will Councilmember Tim Burgess support such an amendment?

  2. This move explains the Obama agenda’s timeline.

    1st: Common Core announced on June 1, 2009 and hidden in this fairy tale fix all promise was the Machiavellian bubble tests that would judge teachers based on standardized student test score averages. Then teachers would be fired and schools closed based on almost impossible benchmarks that actually measure nothing in regards to teaching ability. Bill Gates, now Obama’s partner in the destruction of the public schools, spends Billions greasing the palms of the leaders of teacher labor unions, state legislatures, U.S. Congress, the White House, etc. Gates also sets up and fund a PR campaign to beautify the Common Core as the solution to everything including poverty—without a product, because the Common Core hasn’t been written yet and no documents exist, fourty-four states sign on.

    2nd: January 19, 2010: Race to the Top with $4.35 billion in incentives for the states to sign on, and the impossible mandated 100% college/career ready in less than five years for all 17/18 year olds. The deadline to meet the impossible goals is set for 2014–meaning teachers without any material and no way to know what would be on the CC bubble tests, had to have 100% of children who are even reading at 2nd grade level in 2010 caught up in four years no matter what their age or home/community environment.

    3rd: The Obama administration made plans early in his presidency to propose in 2015 a ten year $75 billion dollar early childhood education program. They are waiting for the private sector for profit Pre-K Charters to become established so that $75 billion goes directly to them, and you can be sure that these schools will be brutal, boot camps for little people to frighten the child out of them and get them ready for the new world that’s coming.

    What you witnesses was the corporate storm troopers marching in as they get ready to go after that $75 billion and any other money from the states and federal governments that now goes to Headstart and other early childhood education programs.

    4th: The recent move to go after public colleges and the taxes that fund teacher education programs. But I don’t think it will stop there. I think the end-goal will be to eventually turn over all public colleges to corporate Charter colleges.

    When the pirates and vampires are done, there will be no public education system left in the United States, and the taxpayers will be stuck with the bill—unless you are among the 1%—that funds education in the control of opaque corporations—and the per student average cost will start to climb across the country until education equals health care in cost crippling a working class mostly being paid poverty wages. In addition, parents will lose most of their parental power on how to raise and educate their own children. They will be cut out of the process totally with the threat of having their children taken away.

    Eventually, America’s children will mirror the Hitler youth and Mao’s Little Red Guard. Parents, teachers and adults who are turned in for crimes (yet to be written by the oligarchs) will end up in private sector, for profit prisons owned by the same corporations that own the health care system and education system.

    It isn’t the government we should fear. We should fear the oligarchs and the power of their corporations. Look closely at the Construction and the Bill of Rights and you will see that almost every protection we have is from the government—not Bill Gates and the other olygarcks, who will care up the United States into fiefdoms. Where you live will decide what billionaire has power over every aspect of your life.

    Some will be under the thumb of Eli Broad or Michael Bloomberg or the Koch brothers or the Walton family, etc.—all depending on where you live in the United States.

    And each of these billionaires will have a private army to enforce their corporate laws with no Bill of Rights to get in the way.

    Opaque Private sector Pre-K > opaque K – 12 private sector Charters > opaque private sector universities and/or vocational training and/or opaque private sector prisons—all operating outside the Bill of Rights that was written to protect American’s from their government, which will only be a puppet government at this point and will have nothing to do with the private sector courts and legal system that will replace the government one.

    I predict that eventually, the public courts will be next alone with public police forces and fire departments—-if you don’t pay the corporate bill for protection against crime and fires, your house will burn and anyone may break in and rape and murder your family because the private sector corporate police will look you up in a data base when you call 911 and if your monthly payments aren’t up to date, they will hang up on you and let you die.

    The neo-liberals will get what they want.
    The neo-conservatives will get what they want.
    The fundamentalist Evangelical Christians will get what they want.
    The libertarians will get what they want.

    The rest of us will be stuck in a hell of their making.

    1. You make a good point regarding Head Start funding. Seattle Public Schools receives millions of dollars to provide pre-k opportunities to children. Is it the intention of the city to take these millions of dollars?

  3. Thank you, Dora.

    The person leading this endeavor is Councilmember Tim Burgess. Burgess refused to take a position on I 1240. As the Chair of the Ed. Committee this is odd.

    **Burgess needs to take a position of charter schools and whether or not he intends on using local tax dollars for pre-k charter schools.

    Secondly, The legislation is silent on school board oversight. The city expects Seattle Public Schools to be a vital partner, but our school board would not have the ability to oversee this project.

    Third: The oversight “Committee” will be those managing the Family and Education Levy. I find it odd that the mayor appoints the remainder of the committee. Why not allow another member of the council to appoint a few members?

    Fourth: The Family and Education Levy Committee has withheld funding from high poverty schools such as Hawthorne Elementary. Then, we find-out that voter approved F&E Levy dollars will be used for pre-K.

    Fifth: Section 11- The city needs to clarify “partnerships”. Will the city partner with KIPP and o;ther charter schools?

    Sixth: Seattle Public Schools does not have space.

    Seventh: We need to be concerned about special ed. students that need space within Seattle Public Schools for preschool. We can not displace special ed. students with students receiving services from “private partnerships”.

    Eighth: Legislation needs to be improved to assure there is local oversight. Any “private parthership” that is overseen by an appointed state agency should be removed from consideration.

    Ninth: Burgess would not allow a public discussion regarding unions/ pre K in public discussion. This discussion was taken behind closed doors:


    I’m votng NO.

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