Thursday, June 30, 2011

Alicia Brossy de Dios Reports Back from First Save Clay MS Community Meeting

"Any vote for Green Dot is a vote for deform... You are playing with the lives of children — not cars, not bicycles." — The Honorable Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte (LAUSD District 1)

Hello, everyone!

Yesterday I attended a great meeting regarding Clay Middle School and LAUSD's give away of Clay to Green Dot Charter. Congresswoman Maxine Waters was there to listen to concerns surrounding the give away. She said she agreed to this meeting because she had received so many phone calls from concerned parents and teachers who felt like their voices were not being heard by LAUSD.

Parents and teachers talked about intimidation and harassment (some regarding Clay MS, some regarding other schools and Public School Choice). They talked about being disrespected and misinformed (or not informed at all) by LAUSD. Teachers at Clay were given flyers to hand out to their students regarding the change from public school to a Charter run by Green Dot. Parents never received official notification via U.S. mail. Congresswoman Waters was not happy about that. Monique Epps from LAUSD's Charter office was in attendance. Waters politely but sternly questioned her about the way parents had not been properly informed about the changes at Clay. She asked what parents could do if they chose not to send their kids to the Green Dot Charter. Epps said parents could fill out an opt out form at her office and she would try to find them another school but that parents would be responsible for their own transportation. Waters was not happy about that either. She said she could think of a whole lot of lawsuits after all she heard at that meeting. At the end of the meeting a mother mentioned that when Locke was turned into a Charter, the district did provide transportation to those who chose not to attend the Charter.

One woman spoke about the Board's decision to do away with the advisory vote. She mentioned that she is in her 50's and was born in the 50's. She made reference to voting rights and African Americans. With the elimination of the advisory vote, she felt disenfranchised and she said it was an attack on the spirit. There was a lot of emotion. At the end of the meeting Waters said "the organizing is on!" She made a reference to any Green Dot or LAUSD people who were in the audience without introducing themselves to make their presence known. She said "there is a new sheriff in town!" She agreed to meet again next Saturday the 25th at 10 am at Clay MS. She asked Epps if that would be a problem (yesterday's meeting was held at a neighborhood church). I will send any information if it turns out to be somewhere else. I think it would be great if some of us could attend to help the Clay community, but also to see what we can learn from them.

Alicia Brossy de Dios is a public school teacher in Los Angeles and a member of the UTLA Board of Directors


Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Conversation With Dr. Diane Ravitch at Lesley University

In conversation with President Joseph Moore at Lesley University, Dr. Diane Ravitch discusses the effects of school choice and voucher plans on public schools, the new emphasis on testing, and a new market-based educational environment on community schools.

[Click here if you can't view the video]


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A voice for community and public education - Robert D. Skeels

"I don't hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and originality. I don't hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don't hear any of them putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test scores and a demand to tie teachers' evaluations to those test scores. That is not going to improve education." — Dr. Diane Ravitch (celebrated education professor and author)

Celebrated education professor and author Dr. Diane Ravitch appears here with Robert D. Skeels is a social justice writer, public education advocate, and immigrant rights activist.
After decades of being ignored by the corporate mainstream media, public education activists are beginning to get heard, here and there. The dominant narrative, of course, are the corporate voices that are pushing through austerity measures and privatization with a vengeance. However, just as the recent Johnathan Alter and Arne Duncan vicious attack article on Dr. Ravitch shows, the plutocrats and privatizers are starting to feel the heat.

In Los Angeles we have a tough series of battles ahead, but we've seen some minor victories. A moral, if not significant, victory came when LAUSD District 5 candidate Bennett Kayser narrowly edged out the corporate privatization camp's hand-picked successor Luis Sanchez in the May 17, 2011 runoff election. This despite Sanchez spending nearly ten times more per vote than Kayser, and having the backing of some of the wealthiest tycoons around. The plutocrat privatization putsch-makers Coalition for School Reform spend over a quarter million dollars trying to get Sanchez elected. This quote from KCET's Catherine Cloutier really puts things into context:

But the nearly $255,000 spent by the Coalition for School Reform to support Sanchez makes it one of the key players in this election, which is now just a day away. And among the coalition's biggest spenders is Phil Anschutz of the Anschutz Corporation, whose sister company AEG has plans before the city for a $350 million football stadium in Downtown Los Angeles (which could top $1 billion when factoring in interest repayment).

So, what links a major corporation with dreams of building an NFL stadium to a candidate for LAUSD school board? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

While the privatizers still hold a four to two (there's another equivocating vote that adds to seven), defeating the juggernaut mayor and his billionaire backers was somewhat of watershed moment in Los Angeles politics, where the privatization pushers and poverty pimps have had free reign for some time now. Kayser had broad based community support in addition to that of local teachers and their working class organization, United Teachers Los Angeles.

Typically the only voices heard during a critical runoff elections are those of the wealthy and powerful. That said, KPFK Pacifica Radio, well known for fairly progressive programming, featured a dissident voice to that of the corporate narrative — mine! The news feature can be heard in this post: Robert D. Skeels on KPFK Pacifica Radio, my introduction to the recording is reproduced here:

I was interviewed for this story by Ernesto Arce of KPFK News on the day of the LAUSD District 5 runoff election, Tuesday May 17, 2011. The voices of social justice and public school advocacy are beginning to be heard!

Mr. Arce told me that the interview was due to the uproar and interest my Echo Park Patch article The Importance of Tuesday's Runoff for LAUSD District 5 Board Seat caused. I was circulating a message that was missing from the corporate mainstream media.

Did I mention Echo Park Patch? I was asked to start blogging for them in May of this year because of my high profile as a community education activist. Now, instead of hearing only the voice of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation employees like Yolie Flores, there's a social justice voice in the equation.

Even more astonishing is when the Los Angeles Times' Teresa Watanabe interviewed me for an article she was writing on a wealthy and controversial corporate charter CEO. Watanabe is one of the few objective and honest reporters at Russ Stanton and Jim Newton's bastion of privatization propaganda, and to my surprise, she did quote me in the article. For a better take on the incident than that of the right-leaning Hutchinson that Watanabe quotes, instead see this Op-Ed by Erin Aubry Kaplan. Many social justice activists, my self included, would have assumed that hades would have become an arctic region long before the Times would begin quoting community members. Bravo to Teresa Watanabe for acknowledging that there's widespread grassroots opposition to corporate charters, and for letting our voices be heard.

There are a number of unprincipled opportunists that pose as progressives, but then proffer right wing policies. I wrote a polemic against just such an individual providing cover for the most reactionary aspects of corporate education reform and as a result was invited to start writing for the prestigious Schools Matter site alongside luminaries like Dr. James Horn, Dr. Stephen Krashen, Kenneth Libby et al. Although I don't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as them, it's nice to know that all my research and writing is being recognized. Plus it gives our local issues a wider platform, since Schools Matter is read worldwide. My first piece there challenged the validity of the NCTQ LAUSD report in terms of being a one hundred percent Gates Foundation product from start to finish.

What started this article today? Aside from a little shameless self promotion, which I'm never above, a woman wrote the following on my facebook page today.

Thank you for your contributions to education!! We are living in scary times.

I, like so many other public education activists, believe in the value of real public education. I believe in the tenets of social justice and the teachings of Paulo Freire. Our communities have long been victimized by decades of neoliberalism. I believe that our struggle strikes at the very heart of the most important issues of our age, to democracy and fairness. Our voices have been ignored by LAUSD while we've seen unlimited access granted to the lucrative charter voucher industry.

The fundraising window for 2013 school board candidates starts in September of 2011. I am very serious about running for school board because the voice of the community has been ignored for so very long. Every time a school is given away to a private charter corporation, we see a failure of democratic ideals. Every wealthy charter executive is living off money that should have been spent in classrooms. There's no room in public for plutocrats. I don't get paid for activism, never have. All of my activism, research, and writing have been a labor of love for my community and belief in the public commons.

I want to be a voice for my community. I want to represent District 2 of Los Angeles Unified District as member of the Board of Education. Please consider supporting me.


Resist the hostile Green Dot takeover of Henry Clay Middle School!

"The lowest-performing, based on test scores, is the large Green Dot chain." — Los Angeles Times

Under the deceptively called PSC 2.0 process, the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education decided to give Clay Middle School (a long-existing middle school) to the Green Dot Corporation against the will of that community. It is tantamount to a hostile takeover and continues a corporatization and privatization trend, flouts State Education Code, has completely marginalized parents and community, and was a direct attack on the Board Member who has most stood up against PSC privatization process, the highly regarded Marguerite P. LaMotte.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 11:30am
Imperial Heights Church of the Brethren
1909 W. Imperial Highway, Los Angeles, CA 90047
Special Guest: Congresswoman Maxine Waters, 35th Congressional District

This is a critical moment in the effort to push back against this turn-over, as it will come into effect on July 1, 2011. While UTLA's legal case on it will be heard soon, communities can't depend on the legal system. Clay parents and teachers have formed a coalition with US Congresswoman Maxine Waters to push back at the grassroots — it is very politically significant that the Congresswoman is involved.
Please attend a community meeting this Saturday, the Congresswoman will be there, along with many others. Hope to see you there in this fight that will set precedent for all of us.

For full details see the event flyer.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Schools Matter: NCTQ's LAUSD report's highly questionable veracity shows Bill Gates' pervasiveness and perniciousness

First published on Schools Matter on June 12, 2011

Reformers appeal to the urgency of confronting "failing schools," but the logic of their argument leads inevitably to students' dependence upon parents who know how to maneuver within the system to gain private advantage. This is an abandonment of the goal of a comprehensive public sector that provides equitable, universal opportunities. Such consequences are anathema to progressives when free-market ideas are applied to health care; there is no reason they should be welcome when applied to the education of the nation's children. — Kevin G. Welner (professor of education and director of the National Education Policy Center)

Early this week the Los Angeles press was awash with news trumpeting the findings of a report from an organization called the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). The report, entitled Teacher Quality Roadmap Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD was heralded by the corporate education reform junta as a definitive report that contained all of the answers to Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) problems. Among the biggest cheerleaders of the report was the privatization minded Mayor Villaraigosa who said of the NCTQ "I look forward to turning their research into reality..." Other agents of the corporatization of public schools weighed in as well. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation employee and LAUSD board member Yolie Flores called the paper a "a powerful road map." LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, a former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation employee and Broad Residency in Urban Education graduate, praised the report. One would think that amidst all of the press coverage and glowing endorsements that there would be more discussion on the background of the paper itself, the organization that created it, the organizations that ostensibly commissioned it, and ultimately who funded it and to what aim. That's what this essay intends to do.

What the report is

First, let's look at what it isn't. This is not a peer reviewed or refereed report from a university or even an unbiased source. The fact that it isn't peer reviewed is very important in that it means that no experts have been able to look at the data, assertions, and conclusions contained in the paper. How do we know it's not peer reviewed? I contacted NCTQ directly to verify. Their District Policy Director, Emily Cohen, responded to my inquiry by stating "No. It is a policy analysis." In fact, it isn't even a preliminary report, which are often published by other right wing think tanks and funding biased academics to generate media buzz, but will never be scrutinized by academics and others. The Walton Family Foundation often employs this latter technique, as seen with a recent preliminary report extolling the virtues of some other profitable corporate school reform. No, a policy analysis has all the academic authority of someone's strong opinion. In other words there are no academic credentials or even of shred of credibility behind NCTQ's findings.

Even the NCTQ press release reveals how biased and dishonest the report is. One the leading bullet points:

Only 52 percent of students graduate high-school on time; In contrast, 70 percent of students statewide graduate

Yes, let's use the phrase "on time" in order to create an intentionally woeful unbalanced comparison of percentages. As of 2009 LAUSD's graduation rate is 72.4 percent, which compares favorably to the statewide figure NCTQ and United Way's Elise Buik cite. Since they don't say how many of the 70 percent of students statewide are graduating on time, the obvious effect is duplicity and rhetorical trickery. Real investigative reporters should have picked that up right away and turned on a modicum of skepticism.

The organization that created the report

NCTQ is a right of center think tank immersed in neoliberal policy promotion. While not as reactionary or as far to the right as say The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, or the Manhattan Institute, they are nevertheless ideologically charged and strongly biased. NCTQ releasing an unreviewed paper like the one on LAUSD has all the legitimacy of a policy analysis recommending the repeal of all civil rights legislation by The John Birch Society.

Dr. Kevin G. Welner of University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education recently published an important paper entitled Free-Market Think Tanks and the Marketing of Education Policy, warning of the dangers of organizations like NCTQ being able to publish non-peer reviewed papers. This quote speaks directly to so-called "reports" like Teacher Quality Roadmap Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD:

Think tank reports have become widely influential for policymakers and the media. Their influence is due not to the superiority of their research but rather to the think tanks' proficiency at packaging and marketing their publications—many of which are of very weak quality. We have found that these advocacy reports have often attained greater prominence than the most rigorously reviewed articles addressing the same issues published in the most respected research journals. This should be a matter of concern. If all documents labeled "research" are indiscriminately received and reported as of equal worth, without review or critique by independent experts, their value is obviously not dependent on quality or rigor. These attributes are beside the point. Value is instead tightly linked to the ability of the researchers to gain attention and influence policy. Private think tanks, which produce their own in-house, non-refereed research, accordingly become sensible investments for individuals and groups hoping to advance their agendas.

The fact that none of the mainstream media are calling out the NCTQ's report as being non-peer reviewed speaks volumes to the point of the above Welner quote. It doesn't matter if the research is illegitimate. If it supports preconceived notions, the current dominant narrative, and political aims, then treat it as if it's true. The Los Angeles Times and the Daily News are quoting and discussing the report as if it was actual legitimate research. Now that's newsworthy.

NCTQ of course, is funded by the usual suspects. Prominent corporate education reform pushers the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation are front and center, as are fringe right benefactors like the Searle Freedom Trust. NCTQ's Board of Directors and staff are pretty scary, but the real eye opener is their Advisory Board chock full of reactionaries, profiteers, neoliberal darlings, and corporate education reform luminaries. Just a few names should suffice: fringe right American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess, billionaire Bloomberg's former hatchet man and New York City pariah Joel Klein, discredited and disgraced leader of the District of Columbia's "erasuregate" scandal Michelle Rhee, reactionary The Hoover Institution's Eric Hanushek, and so many more. Although there are one or two nominally liberal organizations thrown in for good measure, these advisors are by and large right wing think tanks, companies and individuals that make money off of education, anti-union advocacy groups, and a few foundation representatives like Stefanie Sanford of the, you guessed it, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

So now we know what the report is — a non-peer reviewed report, written by an highly biased organization funded by ideologically charged plutocrats that attempts to support a priori ideas already held by free market worshipping corporate education reform proponents. We also know about the organization that created it. The legitimacy and authority of the report and NCTQ should at this point be universally questioned with the highest degree of skepticism.

The organizations that ostensibly commissioned the report

NCTQ states that the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and "civil rights" groups commissioned the report. They also mention near the very end of the press release that "Funding for this study was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation." Now let's bear in mind that Gates' funding of phony grassroots activity is so widespread and blatant, that even the school privatization friendly The New York Times recently published a piece entitled Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates. In this case, we will invariably see that nearly every group involved with this NCTQ "report" is also funded by Gates.

Far from the benign charity that many of us used to consider the United Way, United Way of Greater Los Angeles is a reactionary agent of the corporate agenda. They are essentially a front group for the political positions of their largest plutocrat funders. There was a time where they avoided outright public advocacy of right wing ideas, but these days they openly lobby. Recently they were at the LAUSD board meeting advocating to disenfranchise parents by taking away the modicum of input they had in an already antidemocratic measure entitled Public School Choice (PSC). PSC was the brainchild of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation employee Yolie Flores, a woman who used her tenure on the LAUSD board to enact wholesale privatization and further enrich her wealthy connections in the lucrative charter-voucher school sector. The advisory vote was the only part of the process in which communities, parents, and other stake-holders had a voice. Although the votes weren't binding, since all those concerned were voting against the corporate charters in droves, the privatization minded LAUSD board members needed to eliminate what was becoming a public relations nightmare every time they gave away public schools to private charter corporations. They created a motion to eschew the advisory votes.

On May 24, 2011 many parents and community members pleaded with the LAUSD board members to retain the advisory vote. The one entity that argued that we should lose our fundamental right to self determination? United Way of Greater Los Angeles. The move was so reactionary and overtly in service of their corporate benefactors, that Professor Ralph E. Shaffer wrote a scathing Op-Ed entitled United Way's school stance is mistake where he rightfully lambastes them and asks the cogent question:

By what logic does United Way engage in an activity that is shunned by all the other charities?

Of course, we know what logic. They're funded by the same folks that funded the NCTQ "report" and the NCTQ itself. It will take some hours pouring through 990 forms to figure out all of the United Way's income sources, but it's clear that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation are the impetus behind all of this. To say Bill Gates and his foundation has unprecedented sway over the United Way is to really understate the situation. The Gates family gives so much money to the United Way's Tocqueville Society, that they were awarded the 2007 United Way Tocqueville Society Award. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation are no slouches, they are listed as members of the "Million Dollar Roundtable" of the Tocqueville Society.

United Way of Greater Los Angeles, their shameless president Elise Buik, and her staff have become in effect, unapologetic proxy spokespersons for the Gates/Broad agenda in Los Angeles. It's no wonder that they'd be championing a non-refereed policy report from a right wing think tank to further that agenda. Rather than "creating pathways out of poverty" United Way of Greater Los Angeles is creating pathways to privatization. Poverty pimps on the highest level.

United Way also boasts of their membership in the L.A. Compact along with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Villaraigosa. Among L.A. Compact's near term "big focus?" From their website:

We will be working together to jointly advocate for state and federal funding, including federal i3 and Race to the Top funds. We will be very involved in supporting and assisting the "School Choice" resolution, providing help through LASDI to help groups submitting plans to operate new schools.

The L.A. Compact works to privatize public schools in order to vie for Secretary of Education Duncan's blackmail funds, and supports a Gates Foundation employee's LAUSD resolution that gives public schools away to private institutions.

The other supposed "civil rights" groups associated with the United Way are also of interest. In fact, some of them have a well established reputation in Los Angeles of being anything but supporters of civil rights. The claim was so specious that I contacted the NCTQ again with the following question: "NCTQ's introductionary overview page for the report lists Families in Schools, and Alliance for a Better Community, and Parent Organization Network as civil rights groups. Was that how the groups described themselves to NCTQ, or was that moniker attributed to them by NCTQ?" Their District Policy Director, Emily Cohen, wrote back:

That was how the groups and our partner organization, the United Way, asked to be described. 

I wonder if I wrote NCTQ and asked to be described as the foremost education writer in the world, if they'd do that too? Let's take a brief look at these Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded groups claiming the mantle of civil rights. I've had many opportunities to write about Families in Schools (FIS), here's a quote from a recent article of mine:

Families in Schools (FIS) is a far right-wing school privatization advocacy group with deep ties to and ample funding by the lucrative charter-voucher school industry. They are outspoken advocates for former President George W. Bush's discredited and destructive No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. As part of their campaign to eliminate all vestiges of public schools, they were one of the leading voices in the corporate din pushing LAUSD's Yolie Flores-Aguilar's corporate charter giveaway motion, deceptively named Public School Choice (PSC).

Rather than expend too much space here on FIS, I recommend reading the above quoted article.

Alliance for a Better Community (ABC) is another charter-voucher proxy group that has orchestrated vicious smear campaigns against our local teachers' union. Their former CEO, Veronica Melvin, was the recipient of the Coors 2009 Líderes Program Award. The Coors family, like the DeVos, Walton, and Koch families are notoriously racist, reactionary, and vehemently opposed to both public education and public sector unions (actually unions of any sort, for that matter).

Parent Organization Network is actually a component of the Los Angeles Multicultural Education Collaborative (LAMEC), which is funded by British Petroleum (BP). Lastly, Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) takes money from Fox, Anschutz Entertainment Group, and Wal-Mart. LAUL's CEO Blair H. Taylor describes himself as an entrepreneur and often works with the Milken Institute — founded by junk bond felon Michael Milken — a right wing think tank that proudly boasts "For 20 years, the Milken Institute has used capital-market principles and financial innovations to address social and economic challenges."

A clear picture should be beginning to emerge. All of these so-called civil rights groups are right-leaning astroturf organizations funded by the same corporate backers of corporate school reform. School privatization propagandists pushing policy under the guise of civil rights is nothing new. The illustrious Brian Jones, of The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman fame, deals with this phenomenon in two powerful articles, Charter Schools and Civil Rights: What Kind of 'Movement' is This? and Using "civil rights" to sell charter schools.

What the report contains

It's really outside of the scope of this essay to discuss the entire contents of the "report," and would be overly ambitious to try to argue against each and every aspect of it. Pro-public education writers like Michael Dunn are already writing rebuttals to individual points in the report, and there's sure to be more to follow. That said, the report is rife with inane opinions, outright speculation, and neoliberal conclusions. There were a few things that really stood out on first blush, that I'd like to mention in passing here.

NCTQ mentions "significant teacher layoffs and furloughs" (page 1) but doesn't question why teachers are being laid off in unprecedented numbers. They just decry policies like seniority, tenure, and such since younger teachers are cheaper teachers. Meanwhile the budget crisis in California is a direct result of the lack of political will to tax the wealthy and corporations. Obviously a neoliberal organization like NCTQ would recommend a frontal attack on working class people like teachers as a solution for a crisis created by many of the NCTQ's funders. Here's a novel idea for the NCTQ, instead of removing all protections for public school teachers in the name of retaining younger ones, lets stop slashing education budgets and we can keep all good teachers.

The report is chock full of corporate and business jargon, apropos to the real audience it was written for. For example, a teacher's educational background is referred to as "academic capital" (page 12). I know it's hard for those that look down at all working class people as a means to profitability as anything other than commodities, but human beings are not capital. Such language belies the real motives and intentions of the NCTQ and those that intend to use the report to wage a scorched earth policy against public schools in Los Angeles.

It shamelessly plugs the reactionary and elitist Teach For America (TFA) program (page 13). You'd think the smug well heeled Ivy League product Wendy Kopp was on NCTQ's Advisory Board... oh, wait, she is.

The report lauds the highly discredited LA Times Value Added Method (VAM) (page 19), only mentioning that it was controversial to publish the data online. The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder (which publishes peer reviewed papers) effectively put the VAM issue to rest, but right wing ideas seem to keep surfacing no matter how many times they are disproved. Perhaps NCTQ is suggesting that we "teach the controversy" with VAM, which is about as absurd as some of the other ideas from the fringe right. Turns out the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds those folks too.

Better still the report constantly quotes other, non-peer reviewed studies, published by none other than the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (pages 23 and 31). Is that some form of right wing corporate think tank nepotism? Given the utter lack of academic rigor by the NCTQ this isn't too surprising, but is the concept of transparency that foreign to these people? Are they that obtuse?

On page 34 the report talks about a lack of selectivity in teacher recruitment, going as far as to provide a table of the United States versus what are considered better performing counties while making no mention that low pay and constant disrespect, like that generated by the report itself, play a preponderant role in not attracting the top students from the most prestigious universities. NCTQ's reports will go a long way towards ensuring that situation is exacerbated. Not surprisingly, Finland, featured at the top of NCTQ's table does the opposite of all of the NCTQ's recommendations.

The report makes the bold assertion that "Research concludes that graduate coursework does not make teachers more effective," (page 38) which has now become a major theme in the corporate mainstream media. However, in very tiny print below their so-called "meta analysis" we find a fact they probably wanted to omit altogether: "The few studies that have shown a positive correlation between a teacher's degree status and student achievement are when teachers complete a degree in the subject they teach; the finding is particularly striking for mathematics degrees." You can be sure that the corporate reformers and the press will ignore that with extreme prejudice. Hopefully someone will have time to research whether the studies they cite in their "meta analysis" are actual peer reviewed academic studies, or like the NCTQ report, are just more propagandistic sensationalism.

Funding and aims

A recent Los Angeles piece on the NCTQ "report" said:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa strongly backs suggestions in the report, whose research was paid for largely with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In a word, that statement sums up the entire situation — this will get complicated, but here goes:

A report is commissioned by both the United Way, who is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and several other school privatization groups posing as civil rights champions, who also happen to be funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The non-peer reviewed report on LAUSD is paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. NCTQ is the right of center think tank that created the report, and they are not only funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Director of US Program Policy and Advocacy Stefanie Sanford sits on the NCTQ's advisory board. The report's ultimate aim is to enable the LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, a former executive with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to rationalize and justify an all out war on our public schools, the hard working teachers therein, and the working class organizations that provide them a modicum of protections. Do we see a pattern here? Could the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation be any more heavy handed?

Furthermore, we see Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine in its full glory here, with the neoliberal enemies of public education seizing on the manufactured budget crisis to destroy the last vestiges of the public commons. Note the timing on this "report," just before summer break, right before United Teachers of Los Angeles' contract renewal. The timing is the only thing more cynical than the specious and vapid report itself.

Despite all this, we that believe in public education must to continue to fight. Please spread the message of this essay far and wide, but remember that speaking truth to power alone will not save public schools. We have to organize on a community level to combat the overwhelming resources the privatizers bring to bear. Only through struggle can those of us that embrace social justice overcome the corporate yoke of neoliberalism. In the battle between communities versus corporations one must choose a side, like the prophet Paulo Freire said "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral."


Sunday, June 05, 2011

OpineRegress: Matthew Yglesias' reactionary education policy pandering

"In the long run, charter schools are being strategically used to pave the way for vouchers. The voucher advocates, who are very powerful and funded by right-wing foundations and families, recognize that the word voucher has been successfully discredited by enlightened Americans who believe in the public sector. So they've resorted to two strategies. First, they no longer use the word "vouchers." They've adopted the seemingly benign phrase "school choice," but they are still voucher advocates." — Jonathan Kozol

Defend Public Schools from Corporate Charter-Voucher Charlatans
I've been following the exchange between Rachel Levy and Matthew Ygelsias online. Levy's latest post, which sums up their previous exchanges in the first paragraph, is well reasoned and written from the standpoint of someone who understands basic pedagogy. You can also tell that she is growing weary of arguing with someone whose actual knowledge of education is limited to the talking points put forth by the plutocrat funded Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Ygelsias' posts reek both of white privilege and, what Paulo Freire calls, "the false generosity of paternalism." Moreover, Yglesias is a huge proponent of neoliberalism as we will see below.

Yglesias is a marginally left of center political pundit whose supposed "progressive" leanings have allowed him to provide cover for some of the most reactionary education policies we've ever seen. His stalwart defense of erstwhile fringe ideas like "choice and competition," ideas that originate from right wing think tanks like the Hoover Institution and Manhattan Institute, are fair indicators of his thinking as much as Rachel Levy's attributing it to his "superficial knowledge of how education works."

Yglesias unabashedly supports school privatization by way of charters, pseudoscientific measures of teachers' abilities like VAM/AGT, standardized testing and other false methods of "accountability," so-called "merit" pay, school closures and reconstitution, removal of the modicum of teacher protections like seniority and tenure, and a host of other things that have made up the reactionary wish list of organizations like Cato, AEI, Hudson, and others for decades. Frankly Yglesias' stated ideas are no different than those of the most right wing education privatization pundits like Andy Smarick, Robert Holland, Ben Boychuk, and Rick Hess. Where he does differ from them, it's only a matter of minor nuance.

Even Yglesias' notions of what constitute a good school reveal both his privilege and ignorance. Here's a quote of his:

"KIPP schools are "good schools" in that KIPP students perform better than one would predict from the demographics, and we've got the sophisticated studies to back it up."

That so-called sophisticated study was conducted by none other than the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored Mathematica Policy Research, a pay to play think tank whose studies start from a conclusion and then scramble for possible evidence to support those conclusions. Preliminary reports, like the one Mathematica published on KIPP aren't subject to peer review, but that doesn't stop Yglesias from citing it as authoritative. "Preliminary studies" are a favorite of the corporate education reform junta, and Yglesias is no exception.

Fortunately, Professors Gary Miron and Kevin Welner's recent paper on KIPP's attrition fiasco should put to bed any arguments that KIPP's methods get anything right. Scholars like Western Michigan University's Jessica L. Urschel and Nicholas Saxton, and Georgia State University's Brian Lack have also contributed to our understanding of KIPP's many wrongheaded methods and their drastically overstated results. Dr. Jim Horn's frequent writings on KIPP are also a joy, his phrase "cultural sterilization" for how KIPP treats inner city students has become part of my canon of phrases apropos to privatization.

Journalist Caroline Grannan once responded to my sharp criticisms of Yglesias by saying he suffers from a well known condition of being from "The Village." That is beltway bloggers whose politics are right of center, but claiming progressive credentials. She discusses this in a piece entitled In The Village, no one can hear you scream. This quote from her essay describes Yglesias perfectly:

"[T]he term 'Villagers' denotes a kind of small-minded refusal to think outside an 'acceptable' center-right consensus ... [T]he 'Villagers' include, in part, Democratic elected officials and consultants who insist that their party can't succeed unless they ally their party with that center-right consensus..."

A plausible explanation, as is the reality that Yglesias' positions are a natural consequence of decades of neoliberalism. DFER was spawned from the same tradition.

Yglesias' ability to provide cover for neoliberalism, reactionary policies, and right wing ideas is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this whole discussion. At least when we see something from troglodytes like Andy Smarick, we know it will smack of Ayn Rand market fantasies and other sociopath ideologies. Yglesias, on the other hand, has a following of well meaning liberals and even moderately progressive people who are being abjectly misled into supporting education policies that are anathema to the principles of social justice. Yglesias' cover is just as harmful as the recent charter school propaganda feature film by that smug mendacious hipster Davis Guggenheim — whose production was financed by the arch-reactionary Philip Anschutz, and distribution was financed by ideologue Bill Gates.

Here's a local anecdote to show how Yglesias' unqualified views on education are utterly insidious. In Los Angeles there is a well financed group called Parent Revolution, a charter-voucher school advocacy 501C3 funded by the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate. They and their right leaning leader, the pariah Ben Austin, are infamous for the law that allows corporate charters to seize public schools, it's often referred to as the "parent trigger." Parent Revolution is so far to the right, that they frequently host events with extreme right wing groups like The Heartland Institute (I like to say The Heartland Institute is essentially the John Birch Society with a budget). In addition to quoting Andy Smarick and Ann Coulter, Parent Revolution's Ben Austin and Gabe Rose often evoke Yglesias' posts to cloak their nefarious activities. They claim Yglesias while carrying out The Heartland Institute agenda. Like their funder Eli Broad says "We have our cake, and are eating it too."

Real progressives, public education advocates, and social justice activists need call out those trying to provide a progressive veneer to reactionary right wing education policies.

I want to end with a quote by my favorite thinkers on this subject.

"We need to say no to the neoliberal fatalism that we are witnessing at the end of this century, informed by the ethics of the market, an ethics in which a minority makes most profits against the lives of the majority. In other words, those who cannot compete, die. This is a perverse ethics that, in fact, lacks ethics. I insist on saying that I continue to be human...I would then remain the last educator in the world to say no: I do not accept...history as determinism. I embrace history as possibility [where] we can demystify the evil in the perverse fatalism that characterizes the neoliberal discourse in the end of this century." — Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo, "Ideology Matters"


Friday, June 03, 2011

Naomi Klein on Democracy vs. Neoliberalism (or how charter schools and corporate edreform got their foothold)

[Click here if you can't view this video]


Vik Chaubey: Comments on Avaricious Andre Agassi's Charter Ponzi Scheme

"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." — Warren E. Buffett (Plutocrat)

Profit has been and always will be the paramount reason for corporate charter-voucher schools — even for those hiding beyond the guise of 501C3 non-profit tax status.Profit has been and always will be the paramount reason for corporate charter-voucher schools — even for those hiding beyond the guise of 501C3 "non-profit" tax status. The bevy of lucrative ways for charter executives, investors, and board members to enrich themselves further at the trough of public tax money is their raison d'être so to speak. Charter swine can squeal all they want about it being "for the kids," but articles like Former tennis star Andre Agassi teams with L.A. bankers to finance charter school construction remind us that it's all about the profit. The insatiable greed of these charter charlatans exceeds all imagination, and should strike fear into anyone concerned that public education is about to become a legend of a bygone era.

Today social justice educator Jose Lara posted the above Los Angeles Times link on his facebook profile, which drew a lot of commentary. Those by activist Vik Chaubey struck me as so interesting and compelling, that I obtained his permission to reprint them here for a wider audience. — rds

Vik Chaubey: Comments on "Former tennis star Andre Agassi teams with L.A. bankers to finance charter school construction"

Very good post this is stuff I have discussed on facebook a lot charter schools a big business this is taking place all over the country in New York city, Washington D.C. and Chicago. I am familiar with New York city a lot because I went school there as a kid from first grade to 9th grade.

Villaraigosa talks to mayors from NYC and Chicago every week. New kind of urban machines are created big business, non-profits and public unions. Gentrification is the key principle behind charter schools all over the country and gentrification is key to urban policy in US. In the LAUSD District 5 race recently in Los Angeles we saw this play out with Sanchez supported by the Los Angeles Times, Vilaraigosa, money hot shots in LA, public unions, non-profits, latino political operatives, supporters of gentrification and people who push charter schools. They spent 3.3 million on Sanchez he lost the race to Bennett Kayser the candidate that had community support, grass roots support and UTLA support.

I obtained documents on the supporters of Sanchez, yeah billionaires and money makers, public unions and non-profits. Non-profits such as Inner City Struggle who have sold out just want power and charter schools are their game so many people on facebook have no understanding of how dishonest Inner City Struggle is I guess this is Inner City Struggle alliance with billionaires and gentrification? A total fraud. I obtained information on how Sanchez got his money. I mean LAUSD District 5 just think of it represents Maywood, Southeast Los Angeles cities, Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Northeast Los Angeles to Loz Feliz. We are talking mainly low income areas and some of the poorest areas in Los Angeles like Maywood and Boyle Heights spending 3.3 million to win a LAUSD race? I mean the candidate that won was outspent by at least 3 to 1 but had support of community activists like Carlos Montes [1] and others.

Villaraigosa is the key to everything in this you would not see billionaires, public unions, non-profits and supporters of gentrification together. The good thing is they lost due to a real good grass roots campaign by Kayser and his supporters. But you will never hear about this in Los Angeles media I talk to one of my friends that was part of this campaign I had encouraged him to get involved and challenge this charter school/gentrification alliance. The stuff with Andre Agassi is tip of the iceberg the money machine and gentrification alliance is growing all over the country. I mean in NYC they want to close down 22 low income schools so money makers can build charter schools. These are issues I have been looking at since 2007 when I ran into Inner City Struggle in Boyle Heights when I was organizing in Boyle Heights around anti-gentrification that is when I found about this.

People should pay attention to this simply amazing 3.3 million in a district that is one of the poorest districts for LAUSD? Why is this happening well the article tells you why this is about power and privilege. Villaraigosa has a education machine and they are good at exploiting first generation immigrants who do not have the info what they are all about they use non-profits and public unions to do this. Boyle Heights is ground zero on this stuff this is where you see the education gentrification alliance big time. I mean they just built a charter school in East Los Angeles. Torres High School with basically the same alliance that supported Sanchez meaning money makers, non-profits, public unions, and supporters of gentrification/charter schools. People need to pay attention at what is taking place.

[1] {note from rds} longtime immigrant rights and public education activist Carlos Montes was recently victimized and arrested by the FBI's repressive COINTELPRO. Please visit this article and see how you can help.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

Millionaires, Mendaciousness, and Miserable English Scores: the false Locke success story

"The lowest-performing, based on test scores, is the large Green Dot chain." — Los Angeles Times

Orchestrators of the Locke hostile takeover, Green Dot has in Arne Duncan's words 'Cracked the Code.' Cracked the code to poverty pimping that is. Marco Petruzzi is stacking major paper while 'graduating' students with single digit proficiency.
Green Dot Corporation Cheerleader Alexander Russo handles softball questions from KPCC's Madeleine Brand in a recent radio interview, where Brand is mildly skeptical, but Russo gushes about his favorite privatization pushers and poverty pimps. The real story regarding the hostile takeover of Alain Leroy Locke High School reads much different than Russo's account. If anybody were to subpoena former Locke principal Frank Wells, and force him to answer questions about his participation, and possible payola involving the takeover, there'd be scandal of epic proportions.

Back to the exaggerated reports of the supposed Locke "turnaround." Astute readers will remember how Green Dot Corporation has used an additional $15 million from plutocrat donors to "turn the school around." This is documented in the New York Times' "School Is Turned Around, but Cost Gives Pause." If public schools had access to those kind of additional funds and resources, who knows what progress could be made. At the very least, there wouldn't have been "counseling out" of the most vulnerable students.

Moreover Locke, like every other Green Dot school, sports some of the worst remediation rates in LAUSD. Green Dot's teaching to the test to boost their APIs and graduating students not proficient is exposed, in full, when we look at how Locke's students do on the proficiency exams entering college. For Fall 2010 Locke Senior High Admissions into the California State University system: 88% were NOT proficient in mathematics and an astonishing 98% were NOT proficient in English. So much for Green Dot Public [sic] Schools' Locke miracle: they get millions in extra funding, weed out most of their students with disabilities and students with disciplinary problems, but still only manage to get two percent of their students ready for college level English. What do they have to offer again? I suppose it's making Marco Petruzzi rich to the tune of nearly a quarter million dollars a year, [1] and that's the point of privatized charter schools to begin with, right?

[1] According to their 2009 Form 990, Part VII Sec. Aaa, Marco Petruzzi pulls down a whopping $215,742 in base pay alone.
* Yes the title of this article is a parody on Alexander Russo's new book.


Robert D. Skeels on KPFK Pacifica Radio

I was interviewed for this story by Ernesto Arce of KPFK News on the day of the LAUSD District 5 runoff election, Tuesday May 17, 2011. The voices of social justice and public school advocacy are beginning to be heard!

Bennet Kayser vs. Luis Sanchez, LAUSD Board | by Ernesto Arce KPFK News

[click here if you can't listen to this audio]


LAUSD's Nury Martinez Slanderously calls an Echo Park Mother a Racist

Ms. Martinez's response to this parent's impassioned speech is so despicable and deplorable, that I will need time to calm down and write an article speaking truth to her corporate power and vicious vindictiveness. To call this mother, who embodies multiculturalism, inclusiveness, and community, a racist goes far beyond the pale. In fact Ms. Martinez should seriously consider stepping down from her position. Unconscionable, but the LAUSD Board Members serving the privatizers and corporate charters have no scruples whatsoever. While the video shows Ms. Martinez tried to backtrack from her initial vicious slanderous attack, it's clear what she said and what her intentions were. Deasy and company want our communities' voices silenced and want us to accept the imposition of privatized schools without any dissent.

I'm a founding member of the Southern California Immigration Coalition, I've stood on the border in Campo California against vile Minutemen, Klansman, Birchers, and other assorted white supremacists. I've dedicated a good portion of my life defending undocumented peoples from racism, xenophobia, and nativism. To hear Ms. Martinez accuse one of our community members, whose dedication to all the people in our diverse community is second to none, of racism breaks my heart and sickens me beyond belief. Look for an article by me on this horrendous incident soon.

[click here if you can't view this video]