Saying No To Naviance: Active Non-Cooperation Is The Best Form of Resistance

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

free library

Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

John Trudell espoused a policy of non-cooperation. To his way of thinking, when confronted by oppression, it is our responsibility look for ways to gum up the system. This week my wrench-throwing target was Naviance, a subsidiary of Hobsons, a company that promotes itself as a college and career readiness solution.

The Philadelphia School District entered into a five-year, $1.5 million contract with Naviance in 2015. The William Penn Foundation and the Philadelphia School Partnership, both proponents of school privatization, pitched in with $750,000 to cover half the cost. An article from Inside Philanthropy stated the software is “essentially, a high school guidance counselor in a website form.”

It is a program that seeks to replace human interaction with digital ones, which is bad enough, but the company also builds its bottom line collecting data mined from students’ tender, just-forming identities starting as early as middle school. The software deploys intrusive surveys and “strengths assessments” to develop robust profiles used to track kids into career pathways.

I would have fared poorly in such a system. I was a humanities-loving art history student, who took up a graduate degree in historic preservation with a focus on cultural landscapes. Over time, and with the guidance of friends who helped me open my eyes and look hard at the world, I developed an analysis that led me to become a radical researcher intent on exposing purveyors of predatory digital disruption.

Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

But now, as a senior, she had to figure out how to get transcripts to apply to college. In a growing number of school districts Naviance holds families hostage. If they refuse to set up an account and complete all the surveys their children cannot graduate, request letters of recommendation, or have transcripts sent. Naviance, a private company whose profits are manufactured from the student data they collect, is becoming a gatekeeper to college admission. Plus, our district paid them $750,000 (plus the $750,000) for the privilege! Below is a comment on a recent blog post to that effect.

After several email exchanges with school district officials and a productive meeting with our daughter’s lovely human (not web-form) guidance counselor, we came up with a plan to do the application process sans-Naviance. We’d do it the old-fashioned way with embossed seals, paper copies, signatures across envelopes and snail-mail postage. Sure, she’ll have to pull her submissions together a bit sooner to give us a buffer in case something gets lost along the way, but in exchange we’ll enjoy the peace of mind knowing her “strengths” remain beyond the reach of Hobson’s predictive analytics.

Below are two emails I sent to the Chief Information Officer of our district with Superintendent Hite copied, as well as the Head of Student Support Services. It explains our thinking and affirms the stance we took was not just for ourselves, but to keep the door open for others who desire to pursue the same course.

If you can opt out of Naviance at Masterman, you should be able to opt out of Naviance anywhere in the School District of Philadelphia and be supported in your decision to do so. Support your school’s guidance counselor. Opt out and demand funds used to pay these data-mining companies instead be used to reduce counselors’ caseloads and free them up to spend more quality time with their students.

Our concerns about Naviance:

Email dated September 20, 2018

Dear XXXX,

I think you were looped in later, so I wanted to make it clear to all involved that our desire to opt out of the Naviance platform is grounded in concern over:

1) use of student data to create profit streams for private companies

2) use of data to generate profiles of students that may in fact cause them harm, especially given its use of surveys and strengths assessments

3) outsourcing student services to private companies when public funds would be better spent expanding access to HUMAN counselors in our schools

4) Naviance, a private company, becoming a de facto gatekeeper for access to post-secondary opportunities

See the excerpt from a market report for Hobson from 2013.

“Hobson is also developing a third business line – data and analytics – which focuses on this data, much of it proprietary, that flows through its solutions at both K-12 and HE (higher education). The recent acquisition of National Transcript Center (NTC) from Pearson enables Hobson to capture data along the student lifecycle by facilitating e-transcript exchanges…The company’s acquisition of Beat the GMAT in October 2012, together with its College Confidential business, also supports Hobson’s strategy in creating communities with strong underlying data, which has a value to HE institutions and CAN BE MONETIZED.”

Most people don’t take the time to dig into the corporate underpinnings of the online platforms their children are supposed to use, but in this case it does merit serious consideration. Naviance is owned by Hobson, a division of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. Lord Rothermere, former owner of the Daily Mail, consistently gave positive press to Hitler throughout the 1930s link.

Hobson is also based in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is quite interesting in that that is also the corporate headquarters of Knowledgeworks, one of the primary advocates for a shift to a learning ecosystem model. This model seeks to replace schools with drop-in centers, badged credentials, and a combination of digital and out of school time learning opportunities. I have seen the data fields for Naviance, and it appears this platform is aligned to such a model. As a person who values the importance of neighborhood schools as physical places, this worries me greatly.

Among the primary responsibilities of public school districts is the management of student records and support of students in accessing those records. I feel strongly this is a responsibility that should not be delegated to a for-profit, third party company that has a stated interest in expanding their market share through data-mining children. While some families may find this “service” a convenience, we do not.

Our daughter has two institutions to which she intends to apply early action. Those deadlines are the first of November. She is in the process of finalizing her materials now, but we need to know how we can transmit official copies of her transcript and her letters of recommendation to the institutions to which she is applying outside of Naviance. We need to have this information by the end of September.

I very much appreciate the School District leadership’s assistance in helping us with this matter.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

Post-Meeting Follow Up Email

September 20, 2018

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to share an update. XXX and I had a very productive meeting with XXX this morning. There is indeed an embossing stamp of approval for printed transcripts and provisions to obtain paper copies of letters of recommendation in sealed envelopes. I very much appreciate the school’s flexibility in accommodating our desire to pursue the college application process outside this platform, and we have a plan over the next month to pull everything together for her early action forms.

That said I want to re-emphasize that the School District of Philadelphia would do well to revisit its contractual agreements with Naviance, given the fact that their business model is fueled by student data. The amount of data being poured into this company, including sensitive behavioral data, is extremely troubling given its historic origins. It is imperative that adults do all they can to protect the children in their care from being harmed or used as a profit center. Many families do not have access to the background information I do and may not be aware that they have the option to apply to colleges outside of this third-party platform. I hope the district would extend the same level of support to other families that choose to opt out of Naviance.

As a parent and taxpayer I would prefer to see public funds used to reduce caseloads for school counselors so they have more time to spend with students. XXX has been great to work with over the years.

Once again XXX, thanks for your time today and your knowledgeable input.  We look forward to coordinating with you as we plan XXX’s next steps.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

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Big Picture Learning Off Limits

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

Big Picture Learning Off Limits

In December 2016, the School District of Philadelphia signed onto a $23 million contract with Big Picture schools. The organization, based out of Rhode Island (on track to become the first “personalized” learning state) presently operates in 24 states. The size of the Philadelphia contract indicates a major expansion of Big Picture is on the horizon here. The organization is going to occupy Vaux, which was shuttered during a wave of devastating closures that took place in 2013.

The introduction to this piece including a discussion of ImBlaze can be found here.

Big Picture Learning students spend two days a week outside of school pursuing their “passions.” Although I’ve heard off the record that not all student end up with placements and instead languish in front of computer screens killing time. I imagine budget-conscious reformers must be salivating at the prospect of scaling a “school” model where you could outsource 40% of a student’s instruction to community partners. Imagine the cost savings! You don’t have to feed students on those days. You could reduce teaching staff. You could cram more students into the building staggering the classes. Put aside those pesky child labor considerations for a few moments and contemplate the possibilities. It’s would also be a way to begin to normalize the learning ecosystem “anytime, anywhere” model learning by app and competency-based badges. You might think there would be more to the process than getting the kids a log in for what is essentially a Yelp for education; a counselor perhaps? Of course the real imperative behind this digital solution is about data collection. In Future Ready schools students are defined by their data. As the article states “Data Tells the Story for Big Picture Learning.”

In December 2016, the School District of Philadelphia signed onto a $23 million contract with Big Picture schools. The organization, based out of Rhode Island (on track to become the first “personalized” learning state) presently operates in 24 states. The size of the Philadelphia contract indicates a major expansion of Big Picture is on the horizon here. The organization is going to occupy Vaux, which was shuttered during a wave of devastating closures that took place in 2013.

The community of Sharswood in which it is located is being “redeveloped” in using incredibly heavy-handed, predatory, 1960s urban renewal tactics. The ribbon cutting for the new Vaux Big Picture School took place today. The community members and education activists who tried to attend and voice their concerns were kept behind barriers far from the ceremony. Apparently no one was allowed within a two-block radius of the school without “necessary credentials.” Protesters included representatives from the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, ADAPT and the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Barbara McDowell Dowdall, a retired English teacher and former yearbook advisor who had worked at Vaux from 1974 to 1981 brought a yearbook along and shared fond memories of the school, reflecting on how much has been taken from the community in the intervening years. The event was monitored by a number of squad cars, bike patrol police and members of the civil affairs unit.

-Alison McDowell

Big Picture Off Limits 2

The Weekly Update: Eli Broad’s how-to guide on closing schools and disaster capitalism up close and personal

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This has been a ghastly and heart wrenching week in education around the country but particularly in Philadelphia and Chicago where hundreds of schools are slated for closing.

The dream of a charter school in every pot, or rather every community, is coming to past for Eli Broad and his ilk. Just  close the public schools and open up charter schools. Mission Accomplished. Squeeze out the funding for public schools, grade schools with an A through F, label schools as failing and voila! You have closed as many public schools as necessary to keep those charter schools afloat. But unfortunately, the reality is much different. Communities lose their anchor when the public school closes, students have to leave their neighborhoods to find another, possibly “failing” school, and a part of one’s history and ties with a school and its surrounding community dissipates and eventually disappears.

In Chicago:

119 of the 129 CPS schools on the closing list are in Black communities.

CTU President Karen Lewis and Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization’s Jitu Brown. Photo: Substance.
CTU President Karen Lewis and Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization’s Jitu Brown. Photo: Substance.

“The racial breakdown of the schools that are eligible to be closed is really an indictment on the fact that the district has operated without accountability in a two-tiered education system.

“What we should be saying instead of blaming parents, instead of blaming teachers or having low expectations, is, ‘Why can the school district set up excellent public schools on one side of town because it wants to keep that demographic there but starve out neighborhood schools in another community that’s African-American, and after the district neglects those schools, say ‘Look your schools are under-utilized, your test scores aren’t where they should be.”

– Jitu Brown, Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization

An analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times shows that 88%, 119 of the 129 schools that are on the list for possible closing are in Black neighborhoods.

That compares with 41.7% of CPS students district-wide who are African-American.

For more, go to Fred Klonsky’s blog.

In Pennsylvania:

If Rosa Parks were alive today, she would be standing with the good people of Philadelphia and not having a “Rosa Parks moment” with Arne Duncan who brought all of this upon communities around the nation.

I have a hard time with the following title, particularly “rational decisions”. The NY Times is blurring the lines between objective journalism and corporate propaganda but for me, the photo says it all.

Rational Decisions and Heartbreak on School Closings

Students and staff members from University City High School in Philadelphia reacted to news that their school was closing.
Students and staff members from University City High School in Philadelphia reacted to news that their school was closing.

Students and staff members from University City High School in Philadelphia reacted to news that their school was closing.

At an often-heated and sometimes tearful hearing on Thursday night where 19 protesters, including Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, were arrested, school district officials said they needed to shut down schools to close a gaping budget hole.

“In my heart, I didn’t want to accept it,” said Glen Casey, 18, a senior, at the end of the school day Friday. “It broke my heart, it hit me hard.”

Around the country, districts including Chicago, Newark and Washington have been echoing that rationale, with officials citing budget gaps as they draw up lists of schools to close at the end of the school year. District officials also say they need to close underperforming schools so that students can move to schools where they have a better chance of succeeding. (Charter schools)

But critics say that while the spreadsheets or test scores might say one thing, even lower-performing, underused schools can serve as refuges in communities that have little else.

“The school is one of the foundations of the community,” said Rosemarie Hatcher, president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council, which represents local home and school associations. “It’s like a village. The schools know our kids and they look out for our kids.”

In emotional speeches on Thursday night to Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, more than 30 teachers, students and parents said that children at schools scheduled for closing would have to walk long distances through dangerous neighborhoods to reach their new schools, some of which have poor records on academics, discipline and safety. In Chicago, where about 100 schools have been closed since 2001, Professor Lipman said that all but two were in low-income communities, and that 88 percent of the students affected were African-American.

According to Parents Across America Founding Member Helen Gym who lives in Philadelphia and has battled the closing of schools:

Among the impact of the closings are nine high schools and a whole neighborhood (historic Germantown) being wiped out of all but one middle school. The SRC had originally put one of two elementary schools, the middle school AND the high school on the closings list. It spared only the middle school. The second elementary school in the neighborhood is being converted to charter in September, leaving no public elementary school for Germantown.

A study by Research for Action found that 75% of the 9,000+ students impacted by school closings will move into a school that’s no better or worse in reading, and 84% will move into a school no better or worse in math. What’s clear is that none of us – whether we were in a school that closed or not – will have any level of substantial or adequate resources next year…

And in Florida:

Lawsuit against Brevard school closures claims civil rights issue

A press conference was held Monday afternoon at the Harry T and Harriette V Moore Justice Center in Viera to announce lawsuit seeking injunction to stop Brevard school closures -- alleging discrimination and civil rights issues. After Orange County attorney Shayan Elahi addressed the media, Rev. Glenn Dames, pastor of St. James AME Church in Titusville spoke to the media.
A press conference was held Monday afternoon at the Harry T and Harriette V Moore Justice Center in Viera to announce lawsuit seeking injunction to stop Brevard school closures — alleging discrimination and civil rights issues. After Orange County attorney Shayan Elahi addressed the media, Rev. Glenn Dames, pastor of St. James AME Church in Titusville spoke to the media.

VIERA — A lawsuit filed today seeking to keep open three Brevard schools slotted for closure claims that the matter is an issue of civil rights.

Closing Gardendale and South Lake elementary schools and Clearlake Middle School would disproportionally affect low-income minority students, it says – while keeping a school in a more affluent area open.

“Today we have sought the protection of the judge,” said Attorney Shayan Elahi during the press conference held at the Moore Justice Center after the lawsuit was filed.

“We’ve asked the judge to stop these closures and give everyone involved some time to look into exactly what is going to behind the scenes.”

The lawsuit names two South Lake students and their guardians, a grandmother and mother. It seeks to prevent all three schools scheduled for closure, including Gardendale Elementary and Clearlake Middle.

“It seems to us, and my clients, that there is some ulterior motive behind rushing and bulldozing these changes through,” said Elahi, a prominent civil rights attorney based in Orlando. “We all know that once these changes take place, it’s very hard to reverse them.”

Rev. Glenn Dames of St. James AME Church in Titusville said that the closures will have a “profound and distressing impact” on the community. About 30 parents, grandparents and community members, dressed in red to symbolize a “human stop sign,” came to support the lawsuit.

To read this article in full, go to Florida Today.

This from Tim Slekar:

School Closings: The dislocation of America’s unwanted.

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Last night I attended the “People’s Board Meeting” in Chicago and heard powerful testimony from parents concerning school closings.

Why do we move poor and minority kids out of neighborhood schools and then turn the buildings into Charter schools?

This school closing thing just smells of racism/classism.

Broad’s school closure guide: Just another tool in the ed reformer’s toolkit.

And finally Kenzo Shibata breaks it down for us.

If you haven’t read the Shock Doctrine, at least read the introduction. It explains why we are going through these school closings.

Disaster Capitalism in Chicago Schools

Charter operators weaken teachers unions and force schools to leave some students behind.
Charter operators weaken teachers unions and force schools to leave some students behind.

Chicago’s Board of Education creates a crisis, and charter school operators reap the benefits.

In public policy circles, crises are called “focusing events”—bringing to light a particular failing in government policy.  They require government agencies to switch rapidly into crisis mode to implement solutions. Creating the crisis itself is more novel.

The right-wing, free market vision of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman informed the blueprint for the rapid privatization of municipal services throughout the world due in no small part to what author Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.” Friedman wrote in his 1982 treatise Capitalism and Freedom, “When [a] crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around”

In Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, she explains how immediately after Hurricane Katrina, Friedman used the decimation of New Orleans’ infrastructure to push for charter schools, a market-based policy preference of Friedman acolytes. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was the CEO of Chicago Public Schools at the time, and later described Hurricane Katrina as “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” Duncan is of the liberal wing of the free market project and a major supporter of charter schools.

There aren’t any hurricanes in the Midwest, so how can proponents of privatization like Mayor Rahm Emanuel sell off schools to the highest bidder?

They create a crisis.

Each year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) projects a billion dollar deficit. The announcement grabs headlines and the Board of Education announces that they must make serious cuts. These cutbacks are never at the top. The Board cuts education programs, after-school activities, and forces more classroom costs onto its employees.

School closings are announced tangentially to the deficit announcement. In years past, the manufactured budget crisis was used as an excuse to lay off teachers. People were fired, class sizes swelled to epic proportions and—after the budget was reconciled—CPS miraculously found a surplus. This past year’s final audited budget showed a surplus of $344 million.

The Chicago Board of Education announced that it must close “underutilized” schools and consolidate students into “receiving schools” to save the district from the projected deficit. The Board argues that some schools simply do not enroll enough students to stay open. A local teacher and parent published ten questions to Chicago Public Schools regarding how much can actually be saved by closing these schools. The Board’s responses revolved around the idea that previous administrations have let the problem get so bad they must act fast and close these schools or else the district will fall over a fiscal cliff—sorry, wrong manufactured crisis—but you get the idea.

So now we have a crisis. Schools closed and students shifted around the city. Many of them may have to cross gang territories to get to their receiving schools. School violence spikes. As Rahm Emanuel said in 2008, “You never want a good crisis to go to waste.”

If only there were a solution “lying around” to attach to this crisis.

At the end of 2012, the Chicago Board of Education approved additional charter schools. The Walton Family Foundation provided seed money for some of these schools. Charter school proliferation can take part of the blame for schools being “underutilized,” as they draw students from other schools, but the Board’s metric for calculating utilization is also suspect.

Charter schools become the “solution” lying around for parents who want to keep their students close to home in a school that will not be closed the following year. Many charter schools have been infused with additional resources, making their facilities look shiny and new. Parents, through the market-based “choice” system (which is revered by Friedmanites), may enroll their children in these new schools. That is, unless their children have special needs, are learning English, or are simply bad at taking tests. Reuters recently published a report that showed how charter schools “cream” students to get the kids they want.

Charter schools that invest heavily in public relations campaigns receive positive press, but when stacked against magnet schools, which are public schools (staffed by union teachers) with barriers to access, they do not outperform.

Students with special needs, limited English proficiency, or without a regular place to call home are forced to fight over limited resources in the public schools.

This scene is playing out at school closing hearings held by CPS, underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation. School communities are forced to make the case for keeping their schools open. At a recent meeting on Chicago’s north side, schools that take in homeless students from the blighted Uptown community were pitted against schools with programs that address special needs. Some observers likened the scene to the young adult novel-turned-film The Hunger Games, where children are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the 1%.

In real life, our rulers don’t bother to stick around and watch the fruits of their policy. But they’re more than happy to benefit. The Chicago elites’ charter schools are self-perpetuating gifts. The recent UNO Charter School Scandal shows how people connected to charters can dole out contracts to friends and family. The UNO network was the recent recipient of $98 million in state aid to build more schools.

The head of UNO, Juan Rangel, was co-chair of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s election campaign. Members of Rangel’s organization are now in the business of installing Illinois state representatives, the very people who hold the purse strings of these state grants. This is the face of the new municipal political machine.

Charter operators push back on any efforts of their staffs to unionize. When public schools close and charters open, teachers unions become weaker. Teachers unions are democratic institutions with ties to the communities they serve.  When the public is disempowered, the small patronage army of the mayor becomes more entrenched.

The sale of public schools to charter operators cannot be done slowly. The fast pace of crisis management obscures the graft from the public. UNO specifically needs to operate under these crisis management conditions.

UNO operates under $67,800,000 in outstanding debt. The $98 million state gift cannot be used to pay back this debt because it has been earmarked for capital projects, namely building or improving schools.  The only way to keep the UNO patronage train rolling is by continuously expanding and opening schools, with construction contractors serving as potential allies come election time.

The free-market think tank American Enterprise Institute recently praised this particular brand of charter school. The use of patronage in government hiring was a major argument Friedmanites used for privatizing public services. AEI praises UNO’s “assimilationist” philosophy of teaching immigrant youth so perhaps AEI finds more merit in diluting non-European cultures than in ending patronage. I’m not exactly sure where that fits into the free market orthodoxy, but then again, the contradictions in the philosophy far from end there.

Friedmanites often criticize redistributive policies as “picking winners and losers.” From the manufactured schools crisis to the market-based solution of charter schools, it appears that the “free market” model picks winners and losers; the winners being the politically connected and the losers being the rest of us.

Posted originally at In These Times.

Let’s hope this coming week is a better one.

Up next will be the opt out update with some good news.

Stay tuned.

Dora Taylor

The Weekly Update: The fate of Philadelphia schools is our fate as well; poverty in America and Rupert Murdoch gets into the action. Oh yeah, and ALEC.

The Weekly Update: The news you might have missed.

We’ll start with Reuters this morning:

Smaller U.S. budget for smallest citizens – report

Over the next decade, the report predicted, the largest drops in federal spending will be in education. The cuts have left states scrambling to make up the loss of federal funds or let certain programs languish.

Among developed countries, the United States ranks 15th in education spending as a percentage of gross domestic product and 32nd in public spending on family benefits in cash, services and tax measures, according to 2007 data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The report continues:

The economic crisis reshaped spending, shifting funds to social safety net programs such as food stamps and income security for families with children and away from education, the report said. It warned of potentially damaging consequences.

“People sometimes think that you should just look at how much you’re spending on childcare, or child welfare, or something that has the word ‘children’ in it,” said Julia Isaacs, a lead researcher on the report. “But unless you look across the broader programs, you miss what’s happening to children.”

Overall federal outlays and tax expenditures for children fell by $5 billion, to $445 billion in 2011, for the first time since the early 1980s.

The report classifies spending on children as programs designated wholly for children, such as education or the children’s portion of Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance program for low-income families; family benefits that grow with each additional child; or programs that benefit only families with children.

Children’s share of the federal budget dropped to 10.4 percent from a three-decade high of 10.7 percent in 2010, while total government spending rose to $3.6 trillion from $3.52 trillion.

To read this article in full, go to Reuters.

And more about ALEC from truthout.

The Other ALECs’ K-12 Education Agenda Exposed

This is the fourth and last article in Sarah Blaskey’s and Steven Horn’s series, “The Other ALECs Exposed.”

For over 30 years, corporate America and its allies on both sides of the political aisle have carried out an assault on US workers, pushing down wages, slashing benefits and busting unions.

But after decades of repeated and near-fatal assaults, the US labor movement has waged a fight back, with teachers in the forefront of the battle. Public schools have become the centerpiece of the struggle. Through an array of recent policy initiatives, influential policy wonks are attempting to restructure education fundamentally. According to Jesse Hagopian, a teacher and union activist in Seattle, part of this restructuring process is happening through model bills being enacted systematically in statehouses nationwide.

“Most famously ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council] has been ghostwriting bills and passing them out to astroturf organizations around the country to put forward legislation that undermines teachers’ unions and helps in this effort to restructure education based on test scores,” Hagopian told Truthout.

But ALEC is not the only organization using model bills to push the corporate-friendly education agenda in the states. Rather, a few corporate-funded “Groups,” or “Other ALECs,” significantly influence education policy in every statehouse nationally. Aside from ALEC, the most influential Groups are two bipartisan trade associations, the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

These entities ensure that teacher-blaming and union-busting policies constitute the “reform” agenda in the vast majority of states. Dozens of reports of cuts to states’ education budgets accompanied by privatization campaigns demonstrate the effectiveness of this coordinated attack on public education.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 34 states and the District of Columbia cut education funding between 2008-2011. For public schools, the financial situation is indeed dire and has worsened in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. The Groups have used the crisis to accelerate the implementation of so-called “reform” policies.

“Eighty-four percent of school districts describe their funding as inadequate and the number of teachers laid off since the economic crisis began is likely to top three hundred thousand without federal assistance to the states,” wrote Gillian Russom in the newly released book, “Education and Capitalism.”

The economic crisis has created a rationale for ALEC and other stealth lobbyists to push privatization campaigns while claiming that they are necessary “reforms” for improving our failing education system, according to Brian Jones, a teacher and New York-based activist featured in the education documentary “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.”

“For the charter operators, ‘reform’ means more money, bigger salaries, etc. For the politicians, it means they get to shout to working and poor people about how they’re reforming education, while doing a huge favor to wealthy, powerful interests,” Jones told Truthout.

The article continues:

A Battle Brewing in the Windy City

CTU President Karen Lewis.

In early June, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which represents more than 26,000 of the city’s teachers and other school employees, called a strike authorization vote. The vote took place in the immediate aftermath of what many see as labor’s drubbing in the Wisconsin recall elections, which failed to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Adding to the challenge for CTU, in 2011, the Illinois legislature passed SB 7, which mandates that 75 percent of a teacher union’s membership vote “yes” to authorize a strike, rather than a simple majority of voters. To put that into perspective, when the CTU organized a 91 percent voter turnout, it needed at least 83 percent of those members who voted to vote “yes” for its potential strike to be legal.

Though they might not have realized it at the time, the Chicago teachers, who ultimately voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if they do not reach an agreement with the school district on a raise to compensate for an increase in their working hours, were directly challenging the corporate model for education that CSG and ALEC have both promoted in recent legislative cycles.

To read this article in full, go to truthout.

Earlier this year, I posted information about the takeover of Philadelphia schools through privatization. See Philadelphia and the attempted coup of their school district and The push to privatize education in Philadelphia and beyond. During that time, Bruce Dixon, editor of the Black Agenda Report, asked the question:

Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News? Where Is the Black Political Class?

On February 14, 2012, Pennsylvania public school students, parents and teachers converged at the Capitol Rotunda to denounce Governor Corbett’s education plans and demand better schools. (Photo: karathepirate)

If some racist made an inappropriate remark about the First Lady or her children our national “civil rights leaders” Obama fans all of them, would be all over that. But standing up for ordinary black children is something our leaders just don’t do much any more.  When was the last time you heard Sharpton, Jealous or any of that tribe inveigh against school closings and the creeping privatization of our schools?

In what should be the biggest story of the week, the city of Philadelphia’s school system announced Tuesday that it expects to close 40 public schools next year and 64 by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of current enrollment to charter schools, the streets or wherever, and put thousands of experienced, well qualified teachers, often grounded in the communities where they teach, on the street.

Ominously, the shredding of Philadelphia’s public schools isn’t even news outside Philly. This correspondent would never have known about it save for a friend’s Facebook posting early this week. Corporate media in other cities don’t mention massive school closings, whether in Chicago, Atlanta, NYC, or in this case Philadelphia, perhaps so people won’t have given the issue much deep thought before the same crisis is manufactured in their town. Even inside Philadelphia the voices of actual parents, communities, students and teachers are shut out of most newspaper and broadcast accounts.

The black political class is utterly silent and deeply complicit. Even local pols and notables who lament the injustice of local austerity avoid mentioning the ongoing wars and bailouts which make these things “necessary.” A string of black mayors have overseen the decimation of Philly schools. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous and other traditional “civil rights leaders” can always be counted on to rise up indignant when some racist clown makes an inappropriate remark about the pretty black First Lady and her children.

But they won’t grab the mic for ordinary black children. They won’t start and won’t engage the public in a conversation about saving public education. It’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they care very much about their funding, which comes from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation, from Wal-mart and the Walton Family Foundation, from the corporations that run charter charter schools and produce standardized tests.

To name just one payment to one figure, Rev. Al Sharpton took a half million dollar “loan” from charter school advocates in New York City, after which he went on tour with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newt Gingrich extolling the virtues of standardized testing, charter schools and educational privatization. Bill Gates delivered the keynote speech at the latest gathering of the National Urban League. And the nation’s two big teachers’ unions, NEA and AFT have already endorsed Barack Obama’s re-election, and will funnel him gobs of union dues as campaign contributions, despite his corporate-inspired “Race To The Top” program which awards federal education funds in proportion to how many teachers are fired and replaced by inexperienced temps, how many schools are shut down, and how many charter schools exempt from meaningful public oversight are established and granted public funds.

To read this post in full, go to the Black Agenda Report.

I also ask the same question.

And from another writer on the subject of Philadelphia schools…

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Quiet Drama in Philadelphia

Last week, the city of Philadelphia’s school system announced that it expects to close 40 public schools next year, and 64 schools by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of its current enrollment, and thousands of experienced, qualified teachers.

But corporate media in other cities made no mention of these massive school closings – nor of those in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York City. Even in the Philadelphia media, the voices of the parents, students and teachers who will suffer were omitted from most accounts.

It’s all about balancing the budgets of cities that have lost revenues from the economic downturn. Supposedly, there is simply no money for the luxury of providing an education for the people.

Where will those children find an education? Where will the teachers find work?  Almost certainly in an explosion of private sector “charter schools,” where the quality of education – from the curriculum to books to the food served at lunch — will be sacrificed to the lowest bidder, and teachers’ salaries and benefits will be sacrificed to the profits of the new private owners, who will also eat up many millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies.

Why does there always seem to be enough money for military expansion, prisons, bank bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthy, but not enough for education—or for jobs, housing, healthcare, or old age pensions?  These are not “welfare” but are part of the social contract for which we pay taxes and make social security payments.

In an article reprinted on Truthout on May 10th titled “Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?,” Bruce Dixon posed this answer:

The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don’t want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don’t need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making “educational entrepreneurs” are the way to go.

“Lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor or prison”—this is very close to the “indentured servitude” that was abolished along with slavery by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865.  The freed slaves are being recaptured by debt, beginning with the debt of school loans, followed by credit card debt, mortgage debt, and healthcare costs.

As was cynically observed in a document called the Hazard Circular, allegedly circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts in July 1862:

[S]lavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages. This can be done by controlling the money. The great debt that capitalists will see to it is made out of the war, must be used as a means to control the volume of money. . . . It will not do to allow the greenback, as it is called, to circulate as money any length of time, as we cannot control that.  [Quoted in Charles Lindburgh, Banking and Currency and the Money Trust (Washington D.C.: National Capital Press, 1913), page 102.]

The quotation may be apocryphal, but it graphically conveys the fate of our burgeoning indentured class.  It also suggests the way out: we must recapture the control of our money and banking systems, including the issuance of debt-free money (“greenbacks”) by the government.

To read this article in full, go to The Web of Debt Blog.

The vultures are continuing to circle around the last bastion of our public trust, the public school system. This time it’s Rupert Murdoch.

News Corp Rebrands Its Education Division, But Is It Enough for Schools to Trust It?

News Corp and Education: Some Background

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp made two important acquisitions in November 2010: paying $360 million for a 90 stake in the educational content/assessment company Wireless Generation and hiring New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. These were the first signs that News Corp was making a foray – clearly a political and a technological one – into the education sector. But there were plenty of questions about what exactly the publishing/news company had in mind.

Since then, News Corp has made a few more moves, including hiring Diana Rhoten, the co-founder of education startup accelerator Startl, teaming up with the College Board to make education an important issue in the 2012 Presidential campaign, and sending Murdoch and Klein to speak at various events about the “failures” of the current education system and the promises of technology to fix things.

Whatever the company’s plans might have been, they were sidetracked in 2011 by the phone hacking scandal at its News of the World tabloid – revelations that the paper had hacked into phones of politicians, celebrities, and British citizens.

Joel Klein set aside his leadership over the company’s new education division to lead the internal investigation. (British prosecutors filed charges against 8 of the organization’s editors yesterday.) The New York state comptroller yanked a no-bid contract that had been granted to Wireless Generation, citing its association with News Corp following the phone hacking scandal. (The state did not, however, sever ties for the contract given to the Shared Learning Collaborative, a Gates Foundation-funded initiative for a nation-wide educational data infrastructure with software built by Wireless Generation. New York City is one of the pilot districts for that project.)

Despite what looks to be an ongoing criminal proceeding against News Corp, the company hopes that its announcement late last month to split the company in two will help assuage fears about its ethics and its future. One company would focus on the newspaper and publishing business (including The Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins); the other on entertainment (including Fox News). And yesterday News Corp unveiled the new brand for its newly formed education division: Amplify.

To read more about Amplify and Murdoch’s vision for our children, go to Hack Education.

This week, I will leave you with Bill Moyers and Chris Hedges on “The Sacrifice Zones”. To follow is the introduction.

There are forgotten corners of this country where Americans are trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed. Journalist Chris Hedges calls these places “sacrifice zones,” and joins Bill this week on Moyers & Company to explore how areas like Camden, New Jersey; Immokalee, Florida; and parts of West Virginia suffer while the corporations that plundered them thrive.

“These are areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. We’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed,” Hedges tells Bill.

“It’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings… And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from creating essentially a corporate oligarchic state.”

Dora

Weekly Update: The charter school debacle in New Orleans, eight year olds grading their teachers in Georgia and more on Bill Gates

The Weekly Update: News you might have missed.

With Initiative 1240, the charter school  initiative backed by Bill Gates who has provided $1M to the cause, looking like it will be appearing on the ballot this fall, more folks are starting to talk about charter schools in our state.

Fortunately the word so far is that most people don’t want charter schools, just like the last three times it was voted on in a general election. Folks in our state want their schools to be adequately funded. Period.

Someone sent me this comment that was posted on the Seattle Schools Community Forum that brings it home for us in Seattle:

 Anonymous said…

I would vote for charter if the legislation was tightened (less loopholes and more accountability) and we had better funding of basic ed. My fear is with the passing of this charter bill, it provides an easy out for our politicians, civic leaders, and philanthropists. It gives them a pass to avoid addressing full funding of basic ed and tackle the behemoth inept bureaucracy and management which rule so many of our school districts. As it is, the benefits of charter are iffy and to spend all that money and attention to oversee and implement a new law/bureaucracy that may help a few thousand kids while we struggle to educate nearly a million kids in this state is unsupportable.

That’s why my vote for BEX is up in the air and will be based on the charter outcome and SLU school proposal. The liberal conversion and trigger rules will have a major ripple effect on BEX and overcapacity problems. It’s hard to believe that people who drafted this legislation did not foresee the potential disruption and adverse effect this will have. This is not a bill that envision the public good in mind and even if its vision is to provide better education, it falls short as it helps only a few kids while leaving out nearly a million others to flounder. That’s not innovation, but a creation of another elite subset. It doesn’t really level the playing field, but reinforce the increasing inequity of our society.

voter

And speaking about the cost of these charter schools, see:

Charter expansions may cost Philadelphia schools $139 million

The charter school expansions approved by the School Reform Commission so far this year could cost the nearly insolvent Philadelphia School District $139 million over five years – a full $100 million more than officials said at a public meeting Friday.

The School District faces a budget deficit of as much as $282 million for the 2012-13 school year. If left unchecked, its five-year shortfall would be $1 billion.

And once a charter school opens, it’s difficult to close these enterprises.

 A Charter Battles for Right to Remain Open

 In Florida, where charters spring up like wildflowers in shopping malls, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to close down Rise Academy charter school.

Rise appealed to the state board, and the state board reversed the local board’s decision.

The Miami-Dade board went to court, and the court overturned the state board’s decision. That is, the court ruled that the local board was right to cancel Rise Academy’s charter. The charter school plans to sue the Miami-Dade board for damages.

One of the Founding Members of Parents Across America, Karran Harper-Royal, who has a son in a charter school in New Orleans, is featured in this article published in truthout:

Murky Waters: The Education Debate in New Orleans

In our first episode of The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform, we exposed readers to the corporate philosophies and practices that compose “education reform,” or G.E.R.M – The Global Education Reform Movement.[1] The current movement to reform our schools forwards a neoconservative economic agenda, one that strives to dramatically reduce the government’s role in schooling and ultimately turn schools over to private enterprise. At the same time, these marketplace policies are carefully cloaked in the progressive rhetoric of social justice, with privatization of public education presented as the only path toward equality and civil rights for children in impoverished neighborhoods. As education advocate and parent Karran Harper Royal asked: “Who’s going to argue against policies that supposedly help the minority kids?”

Indeed, most mainstream reporting has not gone beyond the social justice surface of G.E.R.M., especially in Royal’s hometown of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.[2] In our second installment, we hope to go beyond the hype of post-Katrina New Orleans. This report distills three extensive original interviews, including one with Royal, who has been actively involved in improving New Orleans schools since well before Hurricane Katrina hit.

To see this “episode” about the disaster of privatizing a school system, go to truthout.

Cyber charter schools will be the next big thing that the League of Education Voters  (LEV) and Stand for Children (SFC) will be pushing in the state of Washington. There are those waiting in the wings to make their next big fortunes on our children. Here’s why:

Those Cyber Charter Cash Cows in Ohio

The Ohio Virtual Academy is making lots of money. And why not? It has a teacher student ratio of 51:1 even though the state pays it for a ratio of 15:1. Only 10% of its state funding went to teachers, and they cleared a profit of 31.5%. What a cool business! Corporate headquarters is bullish; it projects that this will one day be a $15 billion industry. The results aren’t that good, but who cares?

And this cyber charter district is one of the worst performing in the state of Ohio. Its test scores and graduation rates are so low that if it were a public school it would have been shut down by now. But its owner makes big political contribution so no turnaround for this district! Even more important, Governor Kasich spoke at its graduation ceremonies (were they online?) and urged the students to serve their Creator. Because it is such a great school, whose owner “gives back,” the graduation speaker this year was the State Superintendent Stan Heffner.

My friend on Twitter, Greg Mild, posted the following information about the school where Governor Kasich and State Superintendent Heffner spoke:

“ECOT in Ohio 2010-11. Enrollment: 12,000+; Withdrawals: 6,738; Dropouts: 3,045; Turned over 81% of students in single year.”

To read this post in full, go to Diane Ravitch’s Blog.

And from Susan Ohanian, another one for the category of “You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!”

Georgia’s Data Source for Evaluating Teachers

(Go to the original site to see the test question that shows happy and sad faces for the answers.)

This sort of thing is a requirement for obtaining U. S. Department of Education Race to the Top funds, your tax dollars at work. Georgia asked for a modification from the US DOE, feeling that children in K-12 are too young to make such judgments. But they think 8-year-olds and older kids are very capable of evaluating their teachers’ ‘deep knowledge’ and ‘teaching strategies.’

Not only has the educational system in this country been woefully underfunded for at least the last forty years, but now we have more children in poverty since the Great Depression. 21% of our children live in poverty and the numbers continue to climb as more parents lose their jobs or remain unemployed. According to one source, the United States has one of the highest poverty rates among all of the industrialized countries.

And, our schools and teachers are expected to manage not only teaching children who are ready to learn but also do what they can to ease the suffering caused by poverty, at least enough so that the students who have so little might be able to focus and learn what they need to be successful in the classroom. A tall order for anyone. particularly because our social systems are being cut to the bone along with financial support of our schools.

To give you an example of what schools are expected to counter, read:

The Fallen: The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class

Janis Adkins lives in her van at the Goleta Community Covenant Church in Santa Barbara

They had good, stable jobs – until the recession hit. Now they’re living out of their cars in parking lots.

By the time Adkins goes to bed – early, because she has to get up soon after sunrise, before parishioners or church employees arrive – the four other people who overnight in the lot have usually settled in: a single mother who lives in a van with her two teenage children and keeps assiduously to herself, and a wrathful, mentally unstable woman in an old Mercedes sedan whom Adkins avoids. By mutual unspoken agreement, the three women park in the same spots every night, keeping a minimum distance from each other. When you live in your car in a parking lot, you value any reliable area of enclosing stillness. “You get very territorial,” Adkins says.

And the children? The public schools, the teachers and staff try to do what they can to help these children learn as best they can.

To read this excellent article in full, go to the Rolling Stone.

And then there is this story that ran on npr:

Cycle Of Poverty Hard To Break In Poorest U.S. City

In the middle of the night, most children are home in bed. But at the Second Street Learning Center in Reading, Pa., a half-dozen tiny bodies are curled up on green plastic floor mats, fast asleep.

Conversations are hushed. The lights are dim. At 1:30 a.m., day care worker Virginia Allen gently shakes two little sisters, snuggled under the same blanket, to tell them that their mother is there to pick them up.

“Let’s go. Mommy’s here,” she says, telling these children what they already know: It’s time to get up, so they can go home for a little more sleep before they have to get up again and get ready for school.

It’s another day — or in this case night — at a center where parents can bring their children at any hour of the day or night. And they do, coming and going from round-the-clock work shifts, school or another job search.

To see the video and hear the story, go to npr.

I believe it would be impossible for anyone with a conscience to rationalize spending more money on bombs and weapons of destruction rather than on our children and their families. Until that changes, we will have failed our children and we are seeing the product of that failure in front of us.

Billions of Tax Dollars for Drones While Kids Starve and Cities Go Broke

A PBS disturbing report aired the other night about families in the state of Nevada that lost their jobs and homes. The children of these families were pocketing free ketchup packages from their school lunches because they’re hungry at night. In this state alone, there are thousands of parents with children in this situation. Beyond Nevada, millions of families have fallen into despair and poverty. It is embarrassingly shameful, and worse, it’s unnecessary. These economic problems could be solved if it weren’t for the out-of-control defense spending over the last decade.

To read this article in full, go to truthout’s buzzflash.

And the money that isn’t going to create massive destruction is going to banks and corporations. Check out:

Dear Mr. Dimon, Is Your Bank Getting Corporate Welfare?

When JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon testifies in the U.S. House today, he will present himself as a champion of free-market capitalism in opposition to an overweening government. His position would be more convincing if his bank weren’t such a beneficiary of corporate welfare.

To be precise, JPMorgan receives a government subsidy worth about $14 billion a year, according to research published by the International Monetary Fund and our own analysis of bank balance sheets. The money helps the bank pay big salaries and bonuses. More important, it distorts markets, fueling crises such as the recent subprime-lending disaster and the sovereign-debt debacle that is now threatening to destroy the euro and sink the global economy.

$14B in subsidies to pay for bonuses. That’s us paying for the bonuses of the 1%.

To read this article in full, go to Bloomberg News.

And then there is this excellent segment by Bill Moyers:

How Big Banks Victimize Our Democracy

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s appearances in the last two weeks before Congressional committees — many members of which received campaign contributions from the megabank — beg the question: For how long and how many ways are average Americans going to pay the price for big bank hubris, with our own government acting as accomplice?

Speaking of hubris, check out this great article about Bill Gates.

The Gates Foundation’s Education Philanthropy: Are Profit Seeking and Market Domination a Public Service?

The Gates Foundation favors a charitable model known as a public-private partnership, which appears at first to be an enlightened model for corporate engagement. For-profit ventures are “partnered” with the government for funding, to drive positive social change.

The problem is that apparent charities are actually spending public funds, often without our knowledge or consent, and public private partnerships in education have shown themselves to be vulnerable to outright fraud as well as wasteful insider dealing. There’s no open or democratic mechanism to determine public benefit, or regulation to protect public education funding from financial pillage for services it doesn’t want or need.

Some for-profit corporations directly set up their own non-profit intermediary to divert government funding. For example, the Pearson Education Foundation is a philanthropy which is under investigation for its work as an intermediary on behalf of its parent corporation, global giant Pearson Education, whose 2010 US sales totaled £2.6 billion (British pounds).

In April 2011, the Gates Foundation announced a partnership with the Pearson Foundation to produce resources for its Common Core State Standards project, and Pearson simultaneously announced it was developing a complete digital curriculum to support the proposed standards. The alliance was described in this NY Times story, Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools.

To read this article in full, go to Living in Dialogue on Education Week.

And from Diane Ravitch:

What the Microsoft Culture Is Doing to Education

Paul Thomas has written a blog that explores the destructive nature of the Microsoft culture and how that culture is now affecting and demoralizing public education. Thomas is reacting to an article in Vanity Fair that is a must-read.

The “cannibalistic culture” that Thomas critiques is derived from a method of employee evaluation called “stack ranking,” where every unit is required to rank everyone in the unit, to identify the best, the average, and the worst, no matter how good everyone might be. By design, someone loses.

This competitive culture has not been good for Microsoft and is wreaking havoc on American public education, whose goal is equal educational opportunity, not the survival of the fittest. It is ruinous for collaboration, on which good schools depend.

It turns out that “stack ranking” is also known as “forced ranking,” and that it is a common practice in some big corporations. It was popularized by Jack Welch of GE. The idea was that you rate your employees from best to worst, and fire the worst. If all of them are really doing a terrific job, that’s too bad, you fire the bottom batch anyway, and repeat the process again next year.

One of the reasons I strongly recommend that you read the article in Vanity Fair is for the comments that follow. Here are a few samples:

I worked for IBM for a long time, and I definitely agree that “stacked ranking” in a company immediately and effectively kills all creativity in a team. No matter how brilliant anyone (or even everyone) on a team is, the majority of them will be relegated to mediocre-to-poor ratings year-after-year, while one or two of their higher-profile counterparts take the top rankings. Depending on the team, these top-ranked may truly be the best in the group, or they may just be more friendly with the manager or have a role within the team that gives them more exposure to their superiors. These rankings, as meaningless as they are, then affect every aspect of an employee’s career, from raises and bonuses to advancement opportunities, to job security during periods of layoffs. When I left IBM I promised myself I would never work for another company engaging in this absurd practice.

Go to Diane Ravitch’s Blog to read the post in full.

That’s it for now.

Have a great rest of the weekend.

Dora

Post Script: A special thanks to Diane Ravitch who continues to update us with information on her blog.

Thanks Diane for all that you do.

Philadelphia and the attempted coup of their school district

By now you hopefully know what is happening in Philadelphia.

There is a plan underfoot to privatize as many schools as possible in the district.

Here is an excerpt from an article that I posted previously, For Philly public schools, barbarian is Gates :

Into the Philadelphia School District’s state of fiscal desperation rides Bill Gates. Who can say “no” to free money when you are so deep in the hole? But the money is not free, and the price is the democratic procedure in the city and the state under which the community and its elected leaders make informed decisions about its schools.

Helen Gym

Then in a Weekly Update, this article written by Parents Across America (PAA) Founding Member Helen Gym was posted. To follow is an excerpt from Please help Philadelphia: Poster child for disasters of corporate reform :

It’s taken me a while to talk about what’s happening in Philadelphia because of the destructive forces threatening public education in our city.

In case you haven’t read the news, Philadelphia’s Chief Recovery Officer – a gas industry executive paid $150K over six months – hired the Boston Consulting Group for a cool $1.4 million to create a “Blueprint for Reform”. The Blueprint sets out a five year course of action which calls for closing one-fourth of Philadelphia’s schools, 40 alone next year (64 total), placing 40% of students into charters, and dividing up the remaining schools into NYC-inspired “achievement networks” run by third party operators under a five year performance contract.

There are of course the standard union-busting threats, the exclusion of parent and community voices, and the consolidation of political interests, large charter operators, and voucher supporters. There is also terrible shock and awe rhetoric to silence Philadelphians into accepting this plan. Our Mayor for example said the school district was on the verge of imminent “collapse” and said the plan was something Philadelphians needed to “grow up and deal with.” Our Chief Recovery Officer just last week stated that schools may not open in September unless Philadelphians funded the plan with $94 million in increased property taxes.

And all of this is happening in a state where a Republican Governor has slashed $1.1 billion from public education in the last two years.

In the same Friday update, this article was also posted Who’s Killing Philly Public Schools?

Yesterday I posted an interview with Amy Goodman and Daniel Denvir, reporter for the Philadelphia City Paper, regarding the attempt to take over Philadelphia schools and the push back.

These articles and posts will get you up to speed on what has been happening in Philadelphia. Now, Helen Gym has written a commentary on what is happening now in Philadelphia and what should have occurred. To follow is the article in full from The Notebook,  Commentary: Put the Boston Consulting Group where it belongs – before the public.

It’s hard to imagine a worse debut in Philadelphia for the Boston Consulting Group.

The Massachusetts-based multinational firm scored $1.5 million for a six-week gig that produced the publicly and academically scorned “Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools.” The hardline rhetoric in the plan around school closings, charter expansion, and so-called “achievement networks” has drawn out thousands of upset parents and community members to gatherings around the city.

And yet, as Dale Mezzacappa reported this week, BCG is continuing its role in Philadelphia for $1.2 million more, money raised specifically from private donors and funneled through the United Way outside public scrutiny.

Boston Consulting Group’s contract should have been put before the School Reform Commission as a public resolution. But because it’s being funded through an outside entity, there’s no public review of a firm with an unprecedented role in shaping the SRC’s reform plans.

Even if you are for this plan, you cannot be for this process.

Had BCG gone through public channels, the SRC would be required to make BCG’s contract public. BCG’s specific findings and recommendations, which have never been released, would have been subject to public review. Questions could have been asked about the bidding process, criteria, and scope of work. Questions could have been asked about BCG’s past work in cities like Memphis and Cleveland, whose plans aren’t terribly dissimilar from ours.

Questions could have been asked about why BCG’s plan contrasted so sharply with Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon’s plan for school autonomy, which was based on many weeks of work with District staff, principals, and other stakeholders.

Maybe we would have learned that the rollout for the BCG plan came with its own communications team – also paid for by outside foundation support. Instead, there’s no attempt to distinguish between the District’s communications team and the PR done by a firm whose client no one really knows – BCG? William Penn Foundation? Individual donors? The United Way?

We could have asked important questions about the role of single donors funding BCG’s $1.2 million – philanthropists like H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and newer organizations like the Philadelphia School Partnership, which promotes religious schools and charters. Lenfest is a wonderful philanthropist and PSP has the right to promote whatever ideology it chooses, but when private money funds a public process – especially one as divisive as this one – we can’t evade questions and transparency in the name of philanthropy. Surely the fiasco around the mayor seeking private donations for Arlene Ackerman’s golden parachute can’t be that far from the public memory?

Finally, if BCG came before the SRC as a resolution, each member would vote and the public would know where the SRC stood on the direction of the district before outside entities crafted those plans, not after. When commissioners have major decisions made for them without a vote, they risk losing the public trust.

The Boston Consulting Group reminds me of the 2001 fiasco with Edison Schools. A little more than a decade ago, Edison Schools was paid $2.7 million to “study” the Philadelphia public schools and provide a report – a report Edison wrote that resulted in a plan to turn over the entire management of the District to, you guessed it, Edison Schools.

Today, BCG – funded by private interests – is engineering its own long-term role behind closed doors to remake the District into an image that has polarized important public dialogue on our schools.

The SRC needs to put the Boston Consulting Group where it belongs: before the public eye.

Philadelphia and the privatization of a school system

We first made note of what was going on within the Philadelphia school system last year with the post Who Will Run Philadelphia’s Schools? Bill Gates?

Then in the Weekly Update : The Philadelphia horror story this month, I described how the schools in Philadelphia were to be privatized by closing neighborhood schools and populating the urban landscape  with charter chains. This wringing of hands over the economy and finding that enough of a reason to close public schools and replace them with the corporate vision of sanitized and privatized education has become the model for the takeover of our school systems starting in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina and continuing on to Chicago and New York. For more on that subject, read the introduction to the Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein Blank is Beautiful: Three Decades of Erasing and Remaking the World.

To follow is a portion of an article written by Ellen Brown, titled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Quiet Drama in Philadelphia.  Ms. Brown not only writes about the devastation wrought by closing neighborhood schools but also offers one solution of many in terms of providing greater financial power to states, cities and communities.

“You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.

You will not be able to skip out for beer during commercials,

Because the revolution will not be televised,

The revolution will be live.”

– song by Gil Scott-Heron

Last week, the city of Philadelphia’s school system announced that it expects to close 40 public schools next year, and 64 schools by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of its current enrollment, and thousands of experienced, qualified teachers.

But corporate media in other cities made no mention of these massive school closings — nor of those in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York City. Even in the Philadelphia media, the voices of the parents, students and teachers who will suffer were omitted from most accounts.

It’s all about balancing the budgets of cities that have lost revenues from the economic downturn. Supposedly, there is simply no money for the luxury of providing an education for the people.

Where will those children find an education? Where will the teachers find work? Almost certainly in an explosion of private sector “charter schools,” where the quality of education — from the curriculum to books to the food served at lunch — will be sacrificed to the lowest bidder, and teachers’ salaries and benefits will be sacrificed to the profits of the new private owners, who will also eat up many millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies.

Why does there always seem to be enough money for military expansion, prisons, bank bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthy, but not enough for education—or for jobs, housing, healthcare, or old age pensions? These are not “welfare” but are part of the social contract for which we pay taxes and make social security payments.

In an article reprinted on Truthout on May 10th titled “Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?,” Bruce Dixon posed this answer:

The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don’t want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don’t need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making “educational entrepreneurs” are the way to go.

“Lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor or prison”—this is very close to the “indentured servitude” that was abolished along with slavery by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865. The freed slaves are being recaptured by debt, beginning with the debt of school loans, followed by credit card debt, mortgage debt, and healthcare costs.

As was cynically observed in a document called the Hazard Circular, allegedly circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts in July 1862:

[S]lavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages. This can be done by controlling the money. The great debt that capitalists will see to it is made out of the war, must be used as a means to control the volume of money. . . . It will not do to allow the greenback, as it is called, to circulate as money any length of time, as we cannot control that. [Quoted in Charles Lindburgh, Banking and Currency and the Money Trust (Washington D.C.: National Capital Press, 1913), page 102.]

The quotation may be apocryphal, but it graphically conveys the fate of our burgeoning indentured class. It also suggests the way out: we must recapture the control of our money and banking systems, including the issuance of debt-free money (“greenbacks”) by the government.

To read the article in full, go to Common Dreams.