Monday, November 28, 2011

Deception 101 - Charter Schools: from co-location to astro-turf parent groups

[click here if you can't hear this audio]

Public School advocates Cheryl Ortega and Robert D. Skeels on KPFK's Politics or Pedagogy with John Cromshow November 17, 2011. Posted on November 20, 2011 by #occupyLAUSD


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tonight on 90.7FM KPFK's Politics or Pedagogy: Cheryl Ortega and Robert D. Skeels

Essentially we have a school board that was elected primarily with money from the Coalition from School Reform, which is Eli Broad, Jerry Perenchio, Philip Anshutz... all of these people represent the 1%. Their ideas and their policies are being implemented, while the 99% are being ignored. Parents, community members, students, and educators are shut out of LAUSD. — Robert D. Skeels

Keep the PUBLIC in public schools

8:00-9:00 PM, Thursday, November 17, 2011
Politics or Pedagogy? with John Cromshow
KPFK 90.7 FM and online @

CALL-IN: (818) 985 -5735. That's (818) 985-KPFK
GUESTS: Cheryl Ortega and Robert D. Skeels
TOPIC: Deception 101 - Charter Schools from co-location to astroturf parent groups


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Schools Matter: Parent Trigger charlatan Ben Austin booted off The State Bar of California

First published on Schools Matter on November 9, 2011

"Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high-stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity." — Sen. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002) quoted on Alfie Kohn's site

Defend Public Schools from Corporate Charter-Voucher Charlatans like the foppish millionaire from Benedict Canyon, parent trigger pusher Ben AustinApparently the right wingers at Parent Revolution are immune to cognitive dissonance. How else could we explain an organization that frequently co-hosts meetings with The Heartland Institute calling the National Educators Association (NEA) teabaggers? In a desperate attempt to preserve George W. Bush's fringe right-wing No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB), the Parent Revolution reactionaries claim that anyone opposed to Rod Paige's vicious anti-public school project are teabaggers, and somehow opposed civil (read corporate) rights.

The basis for these wild and specious claims? Parent Revolution doesn't want to see what they term "accountability" removed from ESEA/NCLB. Never mind that NCLB's false forms of accountability were never intended to do anything other than make it easy for the neoliberal consensus in Washington to push the corporate agenda. That agenda includes forced school closures, reconstitutions, and ultimately the privatization of the whole system for the benefit and profits of Wall Street hucksters like Whitney Tilson, real estate moguls like Eli Broad, and convicted predatory technology monopolists like Bill Gates. Indeed, in defending NCLB, Parent Revolution wants to maintain the standardized testing status quo.

All their astroturf blather about "accountability" got me thinking. When I think of paragons of accountability, Ben Austin and Parent Revolution are poles apart from those thoughts in every sense. Let's look at the facts. California Parent Trigger author Austin was under investigation by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission (Case # 2010-36) because he was collecting a check at the City Attorney's Office while at the same time he was a full time charter school advocate (and part time Green Dot consultant) at Los Angeles Parents Union (aka LAPU or Parent Revolution). Besides double dipping, he used his city employee connections to host closed meetings with his political connections garnered from his City job, like with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Those connections also brought lucrative business to his wife, Tracy Austin, who makes a fortune as a fundraising consultant for the very same politicians that gave Austin a pass on his ethics violations. Where was the accountability in all of that?

Of course, Austin's conflicts of interest while working at the City of Los Angeles pale in comparison to when arch-reactionary Milton Freidman acolyte Schwarzenegger appointed the Parent Revolution chief to the California State Board of Education (SBE) to join the rest of the charter-voucher profiteers the SBE was stacked with. Austin used his SBE seat to push through the California Charter Schools Association agenda. He also used the seat to lobby for and manipulate the implementation of his and Gloria Romero's hideous charter takeover law entitled the Parent Empowerment Act, but most often referred to by culturally loaded name Parent Trigger. Austin's unethical and illegal behaviors on the SBE earned him a letter of censorship from the SBE demanding he stop breaking the law. Where was the accountability in all of that?

Ben Austin's latest foray into the realm of accountability?

Parent Trigger charlatan Ben Austin booted off State Bar of California

I'll reproduce my original take on this situation:

Parent Trigger author, Benjamin Benchley Lain Austin, aka the Beverly Hills Barrister, aka the Foppish Millionaire of Benedict Canyon is not eligible to practice law in California because of his failure to take a LEGAL ETHICS course as part of Minimum Continuing Legal Education. It's no small irony that a charlatan that claims to know so much about education doesn't keep up with his own, and more importantly, avoids taking classes on ethics!

I suppose we can't blame Austin for avoiding classes on ethics, since ethics are anathema to him. So next time the slick charter school spokesman and his band of pernicious privatizers prattle about accountability, we can remember that they have no understanding of the word whatsoever.

Special thanks to Lisa for bringing Austin's current State Bar of California status to our attention.

Addendum: A reader chastised me for not noting another form of accountability Parent Revolution astroturfers are guilty of shirking, and that's keeping their paperwork for tax exempt status in order. I'm a little embarrassed that I neglected to mention this, but in Trigger Happy Parent Revolution Refuses Form 990 Request, we explored how the Parent Revolution scoundrels weren't accountable to the tax paying public. The IRS sent me a letter explaining that they are investigating these poverty pimps.

While we're at it, let's not forget wealthy white Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution, has the dubious distinction of being caught posing as a Compton parent when he has never lived in Compton, nor been a parent.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Occupy United Way! Group founded and manifesto published

"By what logic does United Way engage in an activity that is shunned by all the other charities?" — Professor Ralph E. Shaffer

Occupy United Way facebook group

Occupy United Way twitter hashtag: #OccupyUnitedWay

Occupy United Way! Group founded and manifesto published
Whereas United Way Greater Los Angeles actively lobbied LAUSD to eliminate the democratic mechanism of the PSC parent advisory vote.

Whereas United Way Greater Los Angeles CEO Elise Buik receives a staggering six figure salary to smear and slander public schoolteachers at every opportunity she gets.

Whereas United Way Greater Los Angeles commissioned the corporate reform policy paper for LAUSD from the right wing think tank National Council on Teacher Quality.

Whereas United Way Greater Los Angeles is the leading organization in the so-called Don't Hold Us Back Coalition which advocates for anti-community and anti-teacher policy positions that are nothing more than overt union busting.

Whereas United Way Greater Los Angeles receives funding from some of the most notorious anti-public education foundations around, including the Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, and others.

Resolved that public education advocates, grassroots organizations, community members, students, parents, and educators will actively boycott and campaign against anyone providing material support to the United Way Greater Los Angeles in terms of donations or volunteer work.

Any organization that actively uses its resources to destroy public education and undermine teachers is not only unworthy of our support, but shouldn't enjoy tax exempt status.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Schools Matter: Vander Ark getting cranky regarding negative NEPC report

The true path to higher test scores is reading. — Dr. Stephen Krashen

Perhaps no one is less qualified to discuss education than Gates stooge Tom Vander Ark.
My latest Schools Matter short: Vander Ark getting cranky regarding negative NEPC report examines how preposterous it was for disreputable businessman and former Gates Foundation executive Tom Vander Ark to try and criticize the distinguished professors of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education.

Vander Ark, who is making a fortune on the entirely unregulated and somewhat shady world of online "learning," attacked the NEPC after a recent paper that observed there isn't sufficient research into the effectiveness of online schools, and moreover, that since they receive public funds, they should be subject to public oversight. As always, when businessmen try to match wits with academia, they demonstrate their profound ignorance, and Vander Ark doesn't disappoint in that regard.

Published 2011-11-01 on Schools Matter, please read it there and share widely.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Caprice Young: You can define me however you'd like and it still won't change the fact that we both want students to succeed

Caprice Young took issue with my recent article about her on Schools Matter. She asked for an opportunity to publish her account of her career, and with quite a bit of misgiving, I relented. One thing about her rebuttal, she conflates my writing in the beginning of the my recent article with the anonymous letter that appeared in the second part of my article. The entire section of my article in block-quote that discusses EnCorps is, as explained in the original article, a letter from one of my readers. Although I do make some observations following that letter, the letter itself is not my prose, which should have been evident to Young by the change in narrative and style — alas. So wherever Young says "you say" in that section of her essay, she's really referring to the author of the email as opposed to me. As with the recent fact-free polemic against me by Mike McGalliard, I will have to wait to respond to Young's piece here since I have several other writing deadlines to focus on. Unlike the corporate deformers, who get paid to destroy the public commons, I actually have a day job and do all of my education activism for free on my own time. That said, there are many things in Young's essay I'm astonished at, like the inference that Gloria Romero is anything other than a rank opportunist or that monsters like Fisher, Walton, or Poizner have redeeming qualities of any sort. It's clear by the tenor and tone of Young's writing that she accepts the fatalism of class society, and that she actually believes that the ruling class shares some common interests with the working class. More on that and this whole essay in the future. — Robert D. Skeels

You can define me however you'd like and it still won't change the fact that we both want students to succeed 
Your quote:
"We are told that this 'reform' alliance of everyone from Rupert Murdoch to the Walton family to leading hedge funders spends huge amounts of money pushing for radical changes to public schools because they suddenly decided that they care about destitute children, and now want to see all kids get a great education." — David Sirota
They’ve tried for decades to get things done through the existing hierarchies and have seen no improvement. Anyway, what is wrong with people wanting to see all kids get a great education?

I knew John Walton well and consider myself lucky to be able to call him a mentor. He worked tirelessly for decades to improve the lives of inner city kids. He was a Ranger and a medic who served selflessly in the Vietnam War—as a medic, he rescued fallen soldiers and brought them home. I remember him best for his basic purpose: to ensure that children from poverty have the same educational opportunities as rich kids. He believed that the divide in this country between rich and poor, and between those with educational opportunities and those locked in terrible schools, is destroying our democracy. He never made a penny from his work in education. On the contrary, he gave away hundreds of millions to community based non-profit organizations serving low-income families. I am proud to be able to call him a mentor.

I was raised by a special education teacher and a juvenile probation officer/Unitarian Minister who took in more than 24 foster kids before I went to college. Childcare in our family was licking stamps for McGovern. I learned organizing and protest by the time I was six. After serving as a US Senate Page for SI Hayakawa, I received a letter of recommendation for college from Democrat William Proxmire, a man I greatly respected. After I graduated from college and completed my Coro Fellowship (during which I did not work for Riordan because he hadn’t yet been elected Mayor), I was the Director of a community non-profit program serving high risk kids. A Coro mentor convinced me to come work in transportation instead of going to law school (I had been accepted to the Carter Center at Emory). Making lots of money has never been my primary motivation. I have moved consistently into positions where I could make the biggest positive difference for the community. If I had wanted to make a ton of money, I would have stayed at the MTA, where by now I would be making $150,000+ and have more than 20 years into a pension system that would pay me my full salary and health benefits from the time I reached 55 on. Then, I could have a whole extra career with no financial worries. If I were to save enough money to have an equivalent pension, I would need more than $5 million in the bank… Clearly the life of a serial do-gooder hasn’t gotten me anywhere close.

I did work for Mayor Riordan later on and am proud of the work I did to put city information online and to provide the political support for smart career civil servants to get their ideas implemented. Later I was the board president of a home for abused and neglected children and a principal consultant for IBM when I decided to run for the school board. I ran because I was enraged at the lousy treatment foster children were given in the schools and horrified at the tremendous overcrowding and long bus rides endured by LAUSD students. I quit my job at IBM just as I was getting out of debt (my condo collapsed in the Northridge earthquake) in order to serve as a board member. It was a huge financial hardship for my family. I gave birth twice while serving on the board and never missed a meeting. I did vote against teacher raises in 2000 because I knew the economy was moving into the first recession of the decade (I worked in the tech sector so it hit all our jobs first). I didn’t want us to repeat the mistakes of 1988 when teachers were given huge raises only to see them rolled back when the economy tanked in 1991. I’ve never been anti-labor. I do believe that you can’t spend money you don’t have—to do so would weaken our vital institutions. The past 10 years have proven my point, unfortunately.

I’ve never been pro-privatization. I have enough experience in the private sector to know that the grass there isn’t necessarily greener than government run institutions. However, I do believe that an education that prepares students to be successful economically and to participate thoughtfully and actively in democracy is a basic civil right—and if it takes collaboration among the various sectors of our society to ensure that right, I’m for it. To believe otherwise is to accept a deeply racist, classist and defeatist condition in our cities. Our children deserve better.

For my vote against the teacher’s contract, the union got me completely redistricted from an urban seat into a West Valley seat. They left me with fewer than 15% of my original constituents and then spent more than $1.1 million dollars to vilify me. They never bothered to note that because I served, we ended school overcrowding and forced bussing, or that I insisted on funding for the arts and college counselors, or that we radically expanded afterschool programs, supported school site health centers, and taught hundreds of thousands of elementary students to read that wouldn’t have been successful otherwise. Did I end poverty in Los Angeles? no—although I would like to have done that. I suppose if I had stayed in the private sector longer I could have made more progress creating meaningful jobs. I had tremendous support from the business community and families—but it could not overcome the outright lies (which were documented in the Daily News) of John Shalman, my opponent’s campaign guy—who later had the nerve to ask me how to get his kid into a charter school. The deepest pockets were the union’s, and they won—that saved my marriage and kept us from losing our house because I could go back to a full time job.

I was approached by charter school leaders running non-profit organizations on shoe-string budget serving kids from high poverty neighborhoods with failing schools, and the philanthropists who backed their work, to start CCSA in order to keep charter schools focused on student success. You can say what you want about those philanthropists: Don Fisher, John Walton and Steve Poizner—but I know that their focus was completely on ensuring that students got high quality public schools. All of them had spent years making contribution to school district projects, only to see nothing get better. My job was to create the space for talented educators to get the support they needed to create great schools for kids. I was proud then to do that, and still am. There is nothing stopping traditional schools from being brilliant in their education of children—they choose to accept the limits of tradition, bureaucracy and hopelessness. Some of us don’t.

I did get paid well. By then I had a master’s degree, experience raising millions of dollars for good causes and a solid managerial track record. If someone else had been willing to take the job, I could have happily gone back to IBM, but I wanted to serve. And I worked hard. I worked 80-90 hour weeks and traveled up and down the state constantly seeking out educators and parents who wanted to create great schools. I am proud to have been able to develop resources for them and to be their political shield while they served the kids.

My board was carefully balanced to include school leaders, community leaders and funders. The give and take was fierce and very valuable. The give and take led to kid-centric strategies. We made tough calls to hold our own charter schools accountable for their ability or inability to educate kids. And, we advocated for all charter schools to be fully funded and fairly treated.

After five years, I went to work for Knowledge Universe because I wanted to work in education internationally and because it gave me the opportunity to integrate my two loves: technology and education. I took a small failing company and made it profitable by improving student outcomes. Principals like implementing programs that help students succeed so that’s what we did. Among the hundreds of thousands of students we served, more than 1,000 students graduated from the Chicago Public Schools that wouldn’t have without our help. It seems so simple, serve kids well, work closely with educators and you win the right to stay in business. When the company was transferred to K12 in a stock swap, I didn’t get rich because I had no ownership stake in the company. I won’t make that mistake again. Live and learn. I was happy to return to Los Angeles to help save the ICEF public schools. We sent hundreds of seniors to college last summer because we refused to let the schools go under financially.

I did work as a guest lecturer and teacher in the Broad program for school boards and was once a guest speaker for the Broad Residency. It’s great to meet talented people, and preparing them for public service in schools is insanely difficult.

The fact that you believe my husband has made “boatloads of cash” because of my career is ridiculous. His career has consistently suffered because of mine. He has had to turn down great job offers to lead in his field—land use planning and public affairs—because my work caused him conflicts of interest. He is enormously talented and under-appreciated. My career choices have rarely been in his best interest and I owe him a great debt because of that.

You reference that entities like Goldman Sachs and other major financing enterprises are attracted to the charter school movement. I wish more were because charters are running their schools on far less money that traditional schools—even including very respectable philanthropy. The real money is in financing school districts, where they have made billions, but you don’t seem concerned about that.

I am really glad that Democrats for Education Reform (on whose founding board I served) was lucky enough to attract Gloria Romero. She is a fighter for the rights of inner city and rural families, especially immigrant kids, and a constant fighter for their right to a high quality public education. She has proven that improving public education is not just a concern of Republicans. That's a Kids first agenda.

You expressed concern that I have de-professionalized the teaching industry. I believe I have done just the opposite. Teachers choose to teach in charters because they have a real say in the management of the school and the instructional strategies, and are willing to take responsibility for educating their kids. The charter leadership teams that have failed to keep that promise to teachers have found it increasingly difficult to recruit teachers and have sometimes seen their schools close. Charters are not just schools of choice for families, but also teachers. I am working right now with AJ Duffy to extend that collaboration to union represented teachers. That’s a volunteer thing for me and I am happy to support him and the teachers creating the Apple Academy schools.

I also am CEO of EnCorps—we recruit and train new math and science teachers who we find among scientists, finance people, techies and engineers looking to switch to a career where they can make a more direct positive impact on their communities. The teaching layoffs have not been a barrier because there is still a shortage of qualified math and science teachers, and that shortage will get worse as our current generation of math and science teachers retire. Our teachers serve in LAUSD schools (Westchester and West Adams HS, for example) as well as charters. Our teachers earn the same wages as other teachers in their schools once they reach a similar level of seniority. Our non-profit doesn’t work on labor contract issues. We just help talented professionals with relevant experience get their teaching credentials so they can teach.

Our teachers are anything but “desperate, compliant, cheap labor that can teach those hard-to-place subjects of Math and Science.” They are seasoned professionals who know how hard it is to find engineers, mathematicians, scientists and techies with creativity and strong technical skills to invent the products and solutions our word needs. They have left often high paying positions to start over as newbie teachers to learn a new craft and help train the next generation.

We are not TFA, although I have great respect for TFA and have hired TFA teachers over the years. Our program is supporting the development of teachers who want to teach as a career, not “just a community service stint like the peace corps.” You stated that we are sending unqualified people with no experience to teach and chided me for not accepting people who already have teaching certification into the program. If you already have a teaching credential, you don’t need to be an EnCorps fellow because the whole point of being a fellow is to GET A TEACHING CREDENTIAL and experience to be a great secondary teacher in inner city schools. I’m sorry you find that shocking, but, as you say, “WTF???!!!” If you know anyone who is a qualified math or science teacher who knows how to teach inner city kids well, I’d be happy to help them find jobs—but most likely they already have jobs because of the shortage.

You say,”There are thousands of fully-credentialed MATH/SCIENCE teachers without a job right now in California.” Well, there are plenty of schools looking for them so send them my way and I’ll see what I can do. I can’t get them a job, but I can put them in touch with schools that are hiring. Lots of schools are looking for special education teachers too.

At our Boot Camp training, we focus of helping the future teachers to learn classroom management skills, to set high expectations, to hold students’ interest and to help students to succeed. We help teachers to lead their classrooms of students to academic success. When we use the metaphor of training teacher to be the "CEO's of their classroom,” we mean that they are in charge and responsible for student learning. Is that a bad thing? As a parent, I want my kids to be taught by expert teachers with real life science experience. That means that the more we can get teachers supported by science industries and get scientists to become teachers, the better. It’s a chocolate and peanut butter thing. We also work with math and science teachers with no industry experience to help them get access to science and math professionals as guest teachers, as well as to industries and labs to enrich their teaching.

And, our program lasts two full years, although some can do it in 18 months. They have to do the same university courses and internships as any other teacher AND another 20 weeks of specialized pre-service.

As for Dr. Diane Ravitch, I was really bummed that she called in to speak at your event and then wasn’t allowed to speak. I’ve heard so much about her since I now sit in her former seat on the Fordham board. I was looking forward to hearing her. 
My point is simply this. I am not your enemy. I care about education all students and am frustrated that our 120 year old industrial education system isn’t up to the task anymore. We’re in the information age now and our kids shouldn’t be held back. They understand that many of the schools are simply obsolete—not working for kids, families or teachers. I believe that the talent we have in public education should be teaching a broad, rigorous curriculum in new and old ways doing whatever works to educate kids. I do think it is a problem that the institutional reaction to testing is a narrowing of the curriculum. That doesn’t need to be the case—just read Dr. Seuss’ last book if you don’t believe me. No great conspiracy theory, just education.
We should all be working together wherever we can find common ground. Life is short.