Saturday, August 27, 2011

Schools Matter: Occupation of Logan Street School Rooms by a Corporate Charter Continues

"[C]reating a 'separate and unequal' education system through the co-locations of charter schools in public school buildings." — NYC Parents' Lawsuit

Gabriella Charter Corporation dumped the contents Logan Street Public Elementary School's room 32 into room 31 without asking or notifying anyone.
Photo by Lisa Baca-Sigala
A day after the Echo Parque community learned that Gabriella Charter Corporation had ended their week long occupation of Logan Street Elementary School's auditorium, evidence that Gabriella had merely taken over another room and moved their furniture into that room once they had emptied it of its existing contents came to light. Moreover, it looks like wealthy white Wendy Kopp's Teach for America (TFA) missionary corps is establishing a beachhead in our neighborhood. For the whole sordid story see: Occupation of Logan Street School Rooms by a Corporate Charter Continues.

For a background on this story please see: Gabriella Charter Corporation further encroaches Logan Street Public Elementary School. There is a gallery of photos related to these articles.


On Democracy Now! "Poverty Is the Problem": Efforts to Cut Education Funding, Expand Standardized Testing Assailed

The Democracy Now! team discusses recent developments in New York's assessment plans, the U.S. Department of Education's controversial No Child Left Behind waiver extortion scheme, and other topics with celebrated education professor and author Dr. Diane Ravitch and New York City schoolteacher Brian Jones (The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman).

[click here if can't view this video]

I first posted the above on Schools Matter, but want to add that I just got done reading the transcript on Susan Ohanian's site, and was struck by the fact that the following exchange sums up the entire corporation education reform thrust in a nutshell:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Brian Jones, you're a teacher in the trenches. Can you talk about the pressures on teachers these days with this emphasis on standardized testing and what it means actually to the kind of work that you do?

BRIAN JONES: Well, to me, the students are cheated even before the test is taken. Look, the cheating, the real social cheating, happens in the way that the high-stakes standardized testing distorts school itself.

Let me tell one story. I was doing a science experiment with a group of fourth graders. We were in the middle of a week-long science experiment, and we had--everyone had trays out on their tables, and they were pouring and mixing and investigating. We were having all kinds of rich discussions. And an administrator came in and said, "You have to stop what you’re doing right now," handed—put down a pile of workbooks and said, "You have to begin doing this right now." I begged her, in front of the students, "Please, let us just finish this experiment right now, in the next few minutes, and then we’ll do that." She said, "No, you have to put all this away right now and get working on the workbooks." So, the kids are cheated ahead of time. It teaches teachers to jump through these hoops, to not encourage critical thinking. It teaches all of us that knowledge is somewhere produced by Pearson or by one of these test companies, and you can’t create it, you can't investigate it, you can't do any of that. All you have to do is, more or less, remember it.

Here's another way students are cheated. In elementary school, which I teach, we tend to go through genre studies. We take a genre of literature at a time and go through it. Well, now what more and more schools are doing is teaching the test itself as a genre--that is, studying the features of a test, as you would a novel, or as you would historical fiction or mysteries. You’re laughing, but this is very serious. Any teacher watching this knows what I'm talking about, that you, in elementary school, in many schools, especially the schools where that gun to the head is already cocked--in the poorest schools, in the schools that teach the most disadvantaged students, students of color, in schools in Harlem--you have to teach students how to take a test. You have to tell eight-year-olds about multiple choice, right? And the thing that gets me is that the, you know, wealthy individuals who promote these policies send their own kids to schools that look nothing like that, where inquiry is promoted, where they don't spend all day obsessing about how they’re going to do on someone else's test.

The entire transcript is worth reading, but both Ohanian and I were struck by Jones' powerful words.


EDUCATION AND CAPITALISM: Struggles for Learning and Liberation

"This book is a breath of fresh air! The chapters take on central issues in education with a clear vision of what could be. Class, race, language and culture become not just educational 'problems,' but tools with which to rethink the future. A stellar addition to books in our field." — Jean Anyon, author of Marx and Education

"At a time when the capitalist class and their corporate allies in the media have waged an all-out assault on teachers, students, and public education, Education and Capitalismr esponds by speaking truth to power.... Drawing from the lived experiences of the editors and their students, and informed by cutting edge sociopolitical critique, Education and Capitalism clears the path for new understanding of the current assault on public schooling and points towards important directions if we are to save it." — Peter McLaren, author of Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution

EDUCATION AND CAPITALISM: Struggles for Learning and Liberation, available from Haymarket Books.
EDUCATION AND CAPITALISM: Struggles for Learning and Liberation


In the first decade of the twenty-first century, a conservative, bipartisan consensus dominates about what's wrong with our schools and how to fix them. In each case, those solutions scapegoat teachers, vilify our unions, and promise more private control and market mentality as the answer. In each case, students lose--especially students of color and the children of the working class and the poor.

This book, written by teacher activists, speaks back to that elite consensus. It draws on the ideas and experiences of social justice educators concerned with fighting against racism and for equality, and those of activists oriented on recapturing the radical roots of the labor movement. Informed by a revolutionary vision of pedagogy, schools, and education, it paints a radical critique of education in Corporate America, past and present, and contributes to a vision of alternatives for education and liberation. Inside are essays that trace Marxist theories of education under capitalism; outline the historical educational experiences of emergent bilingual and African American students; recap the history of teachers' unions; analyze the neoliberal attack on public schools under Obama; critically appraise Paolo Freire's legacy; and make the historical link between social revolution and struggles for literacy.

Sarah Knopp is a public high school teacher in Los Angeles and an activist with United Teachers Los Angeles.

Jeff Bale is assistant professor of second language education at Michigan State University. Their work has appeared in Rethinking Schools, International Socialist Review, and CounterPunch.

Available Fall 2011 | Trade paper | $17.00 | 220 pages | ISBN: 9781608461646
Published by Haymarket Books | | | 773-583-7884
For review or desk copies, contact Sarah Macaraeg,


The unnamed corporate ed-reform "uber-hipster" has a name, Mike McGalliard

"I'm not going to accuse you and John Holcomb of white savior syndrome per se, but I will go on record as saying that your ideas and actions, no matter how well intentioned, are the epitome of what Freire called 'the false generosity of paternalism.'" — Robert D. Skeels

LAsPromise is yet another Corporate Reform Agent funded by plutocrats and run by charlatans like Tom Vander Ark and Mike McGilliard.
Dr. Ravitch recently spoke about being in a "Twitter debate with someone," and I immediately identified having been in an ongoing one myself with an unlikely opponent — Mike McGalliard of LA's Promise (née MLA Partners). Seems he took exception to my comments on the Los Angeles Times regarding his corporately backed project and wrote a blog post saying as much. I wrote a response on Schools Matter entitled Open note to LA's Promise former CEO Mike McGalliard regarding what he terms my pithiness. We spent about a week going back and forth on Twitter. He went as far as to accuse me of being a defender of the chimerical "status quo," to which I sent him here, and me calling him out on having arch-charlatan Tom Vander Ark on his board. McGalliard, a guy who doesn't seem to mind being called an uber-hipster, was described to me by an ex-employee of a local corporate reform 501C3 as a "child of privilege."

For the most part I can't speak to peoples intentions, and perhaps the wealthy white McGalliard really has good intentions. That said, he says:

Even if Howard's narrow assessment of CST data is a fair view of school performance, and even if his dubious collection of comparable schools is a legit comparison, what's there to celebrate? Our best reforms are failing and teensy adjustments to the status quo is all we can hope for at LAUSD?

I am going to write my own assessment of the Los Angeles Times piece, which will in a round-about way defend the corporate reformers. I say that because these business types don't have a clue, and now that their own scores aren't improving like they claimed they would, they are in a quandary. The truth is that standardized testing, charter school accelerated segregation, and our plutocratic overlords telling us that the purpose of education "college preparation" or "career readiness," are all parts of the malady that McGalliard and his ilk buy into and propagate.

Once we accept the true purpose of education, as put forth by Freire, we can begin looking to real solutions to education ills. Rather than a bevy of idiotic business buzzwords that are part of the problem, including blended, distance, disruptive, and innovative, we can look for solution oriented phrases like desegregation, fighting poverty, equal resources, and liberation. I gave McGalliard the last word on Twitter. Ironically he misapplied a Freire quote in response to me telling him to read Freire. I suppose his class affiliation doesn't allow him to see what he is doing, and we all know how Freire stood on neoliberalism and corporatization.

Ultimately, we don't need education reform, we need economics reform. When we address that, everything else will fall into place.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Matt Damon speaks truth to power and advocates for authentic reform

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

Valerie Strauss posted a transcript of this cogent and inspiring speech.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Economic Justice L.A. Calls Urgent Action: Tax Big Oil = Fund Education

This seemed worthy of publicizing.

California is the only state that does not tax oil extraction, we need to fund education.
What if we could get the oil companies to give schools kindergarten through universities 3 billion dollars a year? We can, if we get Proposition 1481 on the ballot. Authored by Cypress College Professor Peter Mathews, Prop 1481 is the ballot initiative that would tax oil extraction to fund education. California is the only state that does not tax oil extraction.

We can:
  • Make higher education affordable to all
  • Improve funding for K-12, reduce class size and prevent layoffs of teachers and staff
  • improve quality of education

To help with the signature gathering effort here in Los Angeles, Economic Justice L.A. is asking folks to participate in one of two major mobilizations:

  1. Saturday, August 27th 10 am-3pm the L.A. Sports Arena: 13th annual Family Back to School Health Festival Mothers in Action, and the Watts Times are some of the sponsors of this annual gathering where children can receive free hair cuts, immunizations, health screenings and school supplies. Thousands of working class families are expected to attend.
  2. Monday August 29th: Back to School at Community Colleges all over L.A. As students return to their community colleges, they will be facing the most recent rounds of fee increases and class reductions: let's help them do something about it by signing the petition and circulating it among their friends. Students (or non students with free time that day) are needed at L.A.C.C., Trade Tech, Pasadena College, Harbor College, Southwest College, West L.A. College and others.

Here's how you can help: contact Economic Justice L.A. at 310-568-9622 and let us know which event you'd like to help out with. Or come to the next meeting of Economic Justice L.A. Sunday August 21 at 3p.m.

2617 S. Hauser Blvd.
Los Angeles 90016
(Between La Brea and Fairfax, 4 doors S. of Adams)


Friday, August 19, 2011

Robert D. Skeels on The Mind Of A Bronx Teacher BlogTalkRadio

"We demand equity in our schools!" — Robert D. Skeels

Listen to internet radio with Bronx Teacher on Blog Talk Radio

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

I want to thank Bronx Teacher for the opportunity to voice the social justice viewpoint on authentic education reform and to critique the corporate plutocrat's view of reform.

References for some of the topics we discussed during the show.

My first education article was published in 1991.

For Steve Barr's vicious potty mouthed attack on the former UTLA President, see the quote and link at the beginning of this essay.

On the big business of standardized testing and test preparation: Professor Michael Moore: Cornering the education market

On the corporate charter-voucher school real estate bonanza.

For cogent discussion of KIPP's abysmal attrition rates, militarism, and, narrowing of curriculum see this from one of my recent Schools Matter pieces:

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 Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools 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.

Update on KIPP Attrition: (Added 2011-08-25) On the radio show I mentioned that KIPP's attrition rates are sometimes as high as 40-45 percent. If those figures aren't outrageous enough, there is a KIPP middle school that bleeds between 60-70 percent of it's low achieving students! Teabaggers can attribute KIPP's "success" to "caring teachers, better management, longer hours, etc.," but those of us dealing in reality can point to this shameful example of a "high performing charter." Discredited is the word that comes to mind when I think of anyone holding these factory school models up as something we should emulate.

Charter-voucher schools avoid educating every child, but are somehow credited with success. In other words, success equals skimming, or more to the point, discrimination.

Pilot Study of Charter Schools' Compliance with the Modified Consent Decree and the LAUSD Special Education Policies and Procedures Executive Summary

Pilot Study of Charter Schools' Compliance with the Modified Consent Decree and the LAUSD Special Education Policies and Procedures Data Tables

Key Findings:
  • Students with low incidence disabilities attended charters representing 1.11% of the total charter enrollment, while students with low incidence disabilities made up 3.09% of the DO school population of SWD. Based on this, the relative risk ratio for students with low incidence disabilities to be enrolled in charter schools is 0.36, which means that students with low incidence disabilities enrolled at LAUSD charters are significantly under-represented.
  • SWD attending charter schools made up 7.6% of the overall charter student population, while SWD consisted of 11.3% of the overall student population attending DO schools which indicates that SWD are disproportionately under-enrolled at charter schools.
  • During the 2008-2009 school year, 12 of 148 (8.1%) charter schools offered a special day program as an option for serving SWD. In contrast, 87% of DO schools provided this same program option. Collectively, the lack of such programs indicates a disproportionate availability of special education services offered at charters.

Recent post by Dr. Krashen on attitudes towards schools: Opinions about American schools: Experience outweighs rhetoric


Professor Daniel Willingham on Merit Pay, Teacher Pay, and Value Added Measures

The private sector rewards only true merit - not! — Caroline Grannan (Journalist, Editor, Educator)

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


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Open Letter to DFER's Gloria Romero regarding her recent reactionary letter to the AFT

I think about former Senator Gloria Romero comparing Compton educators to "batterers" and wondered whether the writers of those words ever stop to think about the consequences of their prose. — Martha Infante

Gloria J. Romero, Queen of California School Privatization, head of reactionary DFER, darling of the CCSA.
Photo by Mark Warner (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Sen. Romero:

Here are some questions I'd like to ask you for an upcoming Schools Matter article I'm writing regarding your recent letter to the AFT:

Why did you find the AFT slide show offensive?

Why does the Parent Empowerment Act only contain the punitive portions of NCLB? Why nothing to help existing schools improve? Why nothing that would actually empower parents?

You mention "bake sales," in reference to supposed parental power at public schools. Are you aware that charter corporations have nothing like Governing School Councils, School Site Councils, or Governing boards like Pilot, Traditional, and ESBMM schools have. Why no efforts to increase the existing decision making power parents have in those venues, and why don't you advocate for charter schools to provide similar mechanisms for their disenfranchised parents?

You authored SB-191 and SB-592 on behalf of the deep pocketed trade group California Charter School Association. No apologies for helping the CCSA increase market share and the already considerable wealth of their executives? Any explanation from Democrats for Education Reform as to how privatizing schools empowers parents or communities?

Lastly, what's to stop cynical charter-voucher proxy groups like Parent Revolution from using the "trigger" law to increase charter school market share? Also, were you aware that Ben Austin broke the law when he lobbied at the State Board of Education? Did you know he received a letter of admonishment for his illegal activities? There's a copy of the letter in this article: "Parent" Trigger co-author Austin knew he was breaking laws while he lobbied the California State Board of Education.

I appreciate your prompt response to my questions

Advocating public education and social justice

Robert D. Skeels


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Robert D. Skeels shows Staples Center shooting prowess at Sparks game

"Miller also did it with a style and attitude that forced people to reconsider their own ideas of what women could do on the court." — Dave Zirin

Robert D. Skeels (far right side) drains the three point shot during the break at the Sparks Game. Photo by Yoon Jung Lee.
At the August 16, 2011 Los Angeles Sparks game I was asked to participate in the Trader Joe's neighborhood basketball challenge shooting contest. You have thirty seconds to make a lay up, free throw, three pointer, and a half-court shot to win the grand prize.

I made the lay up, free throw on the second attempt, three pointer on the first try, but despite six or seven attempts at the half-court shot I only came close once (in and out of the rim in fact). Still won some very cool stuff though. All of my years of basketball playing and practice paid off last night. That's me (Robert D. Skeels) having just drained the three pointer to the right of the line in the photo on the right.

From what I understand, only one participant ever made the half court shot to win the grand prize during a Sparks game.

My wife and I are long time Sparks season ticket holders, WNBA fans, and avid Title IX supporters. While Dave Zirin certainly is the authority and best social justice writer on sports beat, I have penned short pieces on Bush's attacks on Title IX and Don Imus' despicable comments aimed at Rutgers' Scarlet Knights women's basketball team.

By the way, Yoon Jung participated in the very same contest two years ago, and won a gift certificate by making the lay up! Here she is in action:

Yoon Jung prepares to shoot in May of 2008


Monday, August 15, 2011

Gabriella Charter Corporation further encroaches Logan Street Public Elementary School

"Colocation is eviction... It doesn't mean sharing, it means displacement." — NY State Sen. Bill Perkins

Gabriella Charter School Corporation has illegally occupied the Auditorium the public school community at Echo Park's Logan Street Elementary School
Gabriella Charter School Corporation continues to blatantly disregard the rights of the public school community at Echo Park's Logan Street Elementary School. Not content with having exceeded their allotment of space by several rooms, last week the well heeled executives of the corporate charter decided to forcibly annex Logan's entire auditorium. Here's an excerpt from one of the witnesses:

[We] looked into the school auditorium to discover that the Gabriella Charter School had moved its entire front office into the Logan auditorium. That includes desks, sofas, file cabinets, end tables and other various office paraphernalia. It was not there for storage. It was set up for business.

Set up for business indeed. As one can see from the photograph taken by a witness, this isn't furniture placed temporarily as if being rearranged, these desks are set up for use with lamps plugged in, papers and such at the ready. Moreover, none of Logan's administrators had been notified that their school's auditorium was appropriated by the adversarial charter corporation.

This egregious act by the corporate charter currently leaves Logan Street ES with no assembly space for their students or parents, and is part of a pattern of encroachment and disregard for the public school community that Gabriella occupies. Gabriella Corporation already caused Logan ES to cease offering any pre-school program because the charter took the two pre-kindergarden rooms. While LAUSD's legal department did contact the corporate charter and told them they needed to move their "office" out of Logan's auditorium, such notifications haven't done much in the past, as Gabriella has systematically violated its space cap several times in the past.

Shockingly, when Los Angeles Unified School Board President Monica Garcia was contacted regarding Gabriella Corporation's latest violation, she claimed she:

"Had to stay neutral in a case like this."

Community members and social justice activists are curious as to why our LAUSD trustee, whose district encompasses both Gabriella Charter Corporation and the public school it occupies would need to remain neutral when the charter is clearly violating the civil rights of all the public school families at Logan Street Elementary School. Echo Parque community members are encouraged to contact President Garcia at (213) 241-6180 or and discuss this incident with her.

Gabriella Charter School Corporation originally was able to gain a foothold on our neighborhood public school's campus under the insidious colocation provisions of Prop 39. Prop 39's colocation provisions were created by the deep pocketed California Charter Schools Association and their plutocrat backers in order to help undermine public schools and saddle taxpayers with the expenses of privately run charter schools over which they have negligible say or oversight.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Gabriella Corporation's governing board (Gabriella Axelrad Education Foundation) sports several dubious non-educators with some experience with displacing the public commons in favor of private interests. Anyone familiar with the tragic tale of urban farm destruction documented in the Academy Award nominated film The Garden, will recognize the names of those board members responsible.

While Los Angeles communities and social justice activists are just beginning to learn how to fight back against charter school colocations (read occupations), in other cities there are established movements actively doing so. In New York City, groups like the Grassroots Education Movement engage in this struggle, and there have even been lawsuits against charter encroachments. Some of these struggles are documented in the inspiring film The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, a must see for public school supporters. In our local struggles, we need to place political pressure on Gabriella Charter School Corporation to stop encroaching on our public school, and to pressure LAUSD to enforce the civil rights of all the families enrolled at Logan Street Elementary School.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Daily Censored: Elmo isn't Gramsci for kids and the mythical soft bigotry of low expectations

We address the soft bigotry of low expectations so that we may ignore the hard racism of inequity. — John Kuhn

Defend Public Schools from Corporate Charter-Voucher Charlatans
What do Ben Shapiro, Whitney Tilson, The Heartland Institute, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, The Hoover Institution, Wendy Kopp, The Manhattan Institute, and Democrats for Education Reform all have in common? They all shamelessly use the meaningless and hackneyed phrase "soft bigotry of low expectations."

Elmo isn't Gramsci for kids and the mythical soft bigotry of low expectations looks at the far right's bizarre assertions that Sesame Street is indoctrinating children in some sort of insidious left wing plot and that Children's Television Workshop's providing additional educational resources for children that "did not have reading literature in the house" is somehow tantamount to bigotry.

In the end, we know that access to books in the home is a major indicator of academic achievement and impoverished families have very limited access to books. That is where we should focus our efforts.

Published 2011-08-11 on The Daily Censored, please read it there and share widely.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Obama and the Charter School Sugar Daddies

"Hedge funds and bankers have become the Sugar Daddies of charter schools." — Glen Ford

Black Agenda Report's executive editor Glen Ford speaks truth to corporate charter power!

[Click if you can't listen to the audio]

In addition to listening to the radio show, check out the full transcript of Ford's incredible commentary: Obama and the Charter School Sugar Daddies

As hedge funds spin their financial webs to spur charter school expansion and President Obama bullies states to lift caps on charters, 'right-wing foundations are attempting to swallow whole the entire school district of Washington, DC.'
When it comes to the public schools, the Obama administration is allied with the most rapacious sectors of Wall Street and far-right foundations. That political reality is most evident in  the administration's campaign to establish a parallel national network of charter schools, with a heavy emphasis on inner cities. Obama and his education chief, Arne Duncan, have spent their first year and a half in office coercing states to expand charters or lose out on more than $4 billion in federal education moneys. Obama's allies on Wall Street invest heavily in charter schools, tapping into the public money stream to build their own vision of corporate education.

Black Agenda Report's coverage of the corporate onslaught against public education has been peerless. Simply searching for the word charter on their site produces a wealth of articles in which they name names and call things what they really are.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

John Kuhn at SOS March

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

Speaking truth to power.


Schools Matter: Is CNCA Charter Corporation Poaching Parents and Pillaging Privacy?

"Parents having decision making power over a budget is not a sustainable model." — Ana F. Ponce (CEO, CNCA Corporation)

Shannon Leonard and Hoa Truong. Truong is a businessman and has no education experience. He is a graduate of the vile Broad Residency in Urban Education.
I wrote my newest Schools Matter essay: Is CNCA Charter Corporation Poaching Parents and Pillaging Privacy? after revelations from local parents. As we began looking into their concerns it became clear that grave violations of privacy have occurred in that Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA) Corporation has somehow obtained the contact data of families who are not in their attendance boundary. Many parents have expressed that they are being harassed and harangued by CNCA Corporation to enroll, or even that they've already been enrolled without their consent. We've come to expect nothing but scandalous behavior from the fast growing charter corporation, but their latest malfeasance lowers the bar, even for them. Hopefully a the California Department of Education or some law enforcement agency will look into how the corporate charter charlatans obtained peoples' private contact information.

The piece also looks at how CNCA Corporation has employed weasel words and onerous conditions to insure that they won't need to follow their agreement to offer language programs outside of their inflexible one size fits all transitional bilingual education program. I provide the information necessary for families to file formal complaints with the district regarding CNCA Corporation's intransigence on this issue.

Published 2011-08-06 on Schools Matter, please read it there and share widely.


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Schools Matter: LAUSD Creates Calamity for Crescendo Corporate Charters

"I knew I needed to be an example to my scholars." — Lisa Sims (Crescendo Teacher)

Criminal mastermind John Allen, founder and executive director of the Crescendo corporate charter chain, ordered principals at his campuses to break the seals on State tests. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times).Many people are familiar with the sordid tale of Crescendo Charter Schools in Los Angeles. But for those that haven't been following, here's a recapitulation. Crescendo's inexplicable, but rapidly rising scores qualified them for "miracle school" status, when stories of possible cheating on standardized tests leaked.

Turns out criminal mastermind John Allen, founder and executive director of the Crescendo corporate charter chain, ordered principals at his campuses to break the seals on California Standards Tests (CST) and use the questions therein to prepare students for those selfsame tests.

Surprisingly, it was Los Angeles Times that broke the story that put pressure on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board to take some action other than a mild scolding. This must have been very hard on the typically intransigent Times, who lauded Crescendo and other corporate charter chains back in January of 2010. Public radio station KPCC held an interview with then UTLA President A. J. Duffy discussing the revelations the same day as the Times article.

Thank Goodness for Unionized Teachers

Cresendo's corporate culture of cheating never would have been exposed to the light of day if were not for the fact that part of their faculty were members of a real teachers union — United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA).

A small minority of LAUSD charter schools are what's known as affiliated charters, which unlike their counterparts — the essentially wholly unaccountable independent charters — affiliated charters have a smattering of accountability to the public. Another key difference between LAUSD affiliated and independent charters, is that the former honor the district's labor agreements, meaning some of Crescendo's teachers were UTLA. Since these unionized teachers have a modicum of protections like due process, they felt there might be just enough safeguards in place to blow the whistle on Allen, his executives, and administrators.

Had Crescendo's teachers been the de-professionalized "at will" hired help common at charter schools, the disincentive to report the cheating would have been too great, the threat of job loss too daunting, to turn Crescendo's corporate charlatans in. Considering that corporate charter schools fire teachers for things as innocuous as bumper stickers on their cars, one can imagine the fear and uncertainty that non-union teachers work under.

The immediate fallout of the scandal was Allen being suspended and then demoted to director of facilities. Heck, even ICEF's Mike "where's the money" Piscal had the good sense to skip town once millions of public funds went missing. To add insult to injury, Crescendo's well heeled corporate board of directors remained intact. In fact, their corporate board was so arrogant, that their then Board President Leah Bass-Baylis had the unmitigated gall to say:

"While such a breach was not authorized or condoned, the fact that regulations exist to address such breaches suggest they do happen."

The principals were suspended for ten days each.

California Charter Schools Association lackey, Jose Cole-Gutierrez, LAUSD's director of charter schools felt that these meek measures were more than enough:

"We did feel when we raised the issues ... that the board did respond appropriately and took some swift action."

However, when even LAUSD Board Member and fringe right Coalition for School Reform favorite Tamar Galatzan surprisingly questioned letting the wealthy executives and well heeled board members of Crescendo off the hook so easily, the LAUSD Board reconsidered and voted to shut the corporate charter chain down, at which point Crescendo had to make some serious choices.

On March 4, 2011 Crescendo's trustees terminated John Allen. They let all of their principals go, and they then removed five of their seven member corporate board. These moves, were in the eyes of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, sufficient to keep the schools afloat. LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia exclaimed "They have made changes and have earned the right to stay open."

Supt. Deasy: cheaters often prosper, except when they cheat me

One of the things not mentioned in the corporate media account regarding the agreement to keep Crescendo open was the bringing in another corporate charter chain to manage Crescendo. They chose none other than the plutocrat funded Celerity Charter CEO Vielka McFarlane, whose dubious claim to fame was dismissing institutional racism by declaring children of color merely need to "dress for success..." rather than "focus on how the history of the country has been checkered." McFarlane also worked with the lawless Ben Austin to seize McKinley Elementary School in Compton under Schwarzenegger's vile trigger law.

Part of that deal to bring in an even more notorious Celerity charter chain included a clause that none of Crescendo's terminated administrators be hired by either Crescendo or Celerity. McFarlane patently ignored that stipulation and promptly hired Principal Sheryl Lee, one of the cheating ringleaders for Crescendo. The slick and evasive McFarlane later tried to claim that they knew nothing about the Crescendo scandal that had been playing out in the news for over a year, and that she hired Lee before the agreement with the district.

Deasy, in a brief lapse of lucid honesty and non-corporate-speak spoke to McFarlane's mendacity by saying [1]:

"The second fact is that if Celerity was unaware of the issue at the time, then they would be the only human beings in LA County unaware of the issue at the time."

Deasy had no problem with the cheating [2], but as soon as he realized that the arrogant and mendacious McFarlane was using a technicality to flout her agreement with LAUSD, he grew furious and recommended not renewing the charters of two of the Crescendo charter schools that were up for renewal, and revocation of the remaining four in the near future. The Board then didn't renew the charters of the two Crescendo schools up for renewal. Essentially Crescendo and Celerity had broken their contract with the District by hiring the principal involved with the scandal.

Dr. Dick Vladovic speciously blaming teachers instead of criminal mastermind John Allen and his well heeled board.The Dick Directive

Dr. Richard "Dick" Vladovic was also elected to the LAUSD Board with arch-reactionary Philip Anschutz, AIG bailout recipient Eli Broad, Jerry Perenchio, and Reed Hastings' money in the guise of the astroturf Coalition for School Reform.

Earlier in the Board Meeting, the news that somehow the brave teachers that blew the whistle on the corporate decision to cheat were facing five day suspensions under the new Crescendo Corporate board came to light. This unconscionable punishing of teachers for telling the truth and doing the right thing might seem extraordinary, but corporate charter boards are like that.

All of the other LAUSD Board Members praised the teachers that came forward and exposed the corporate plot to cheat. All of them expressed grave concern that the private board of Crescendo would punish them for the wrongdoings of their supervisors. All of them except for one. Dr. Vladovic, instead of looking at Crescendo's Board and executive staff for culprits, tried to shift blame to the hardworking teachers who had the courage to report their orders by saying: "If you cheat by following orders, it's still cheating" [3]. In other words, even though the teachers blew the whistle on the scandal, he is shifting the entire blame on to them.

Aside being an insubstantial argument on its face, Vladovic's "logic" absolves the real criminals in this instance: the charter school board of directors and their executive staff including John Allen.

Without suggesting an alternative for teachers to follow in the future when teachers are faced with similar situations, teachers will have doubts on whether or not they should report their bosses' malfeasance. Board Member Zimmer defended the fact that those teachers were whistle-blowers. But Vladovic, whose sole allegiance is to wealthy charter corporations, was clearly and deliberately laying the ideological groundwork to silence future teacher whistle-blowers.

When discussing this chilling doctrine with several teachers, they expressed concern that Vladovic's public statements might be taken as a new directive. They went further to say that in line with the publicly stated Vladovic [or Dick] Directive, that in the future union members would follow Vladovic's direction and walk out when anything they deem improper is requested of of them. Of course, we know how that would turn out. The corporately sponsored Board Member has placed teachers in quite a dilemma.

Crescendo and Celerity's executives foster and celebrate cultures of cheating and apparently Vladovic admires that fact, vindictively lashing out against the brave teachers who courageously stood up to orders from their charter executives to systematically cheat with nary a word about John Allen or the wealthy charter executives and board members who all have close connections to the individuals who funded Vladovic's campaign.

Aftermath and Social Justice Solutions

At the end of the day, the LAUSD Board essentially voted to close the six schools. From as social justice standpoint, this is unacceptable. No school should ever be closed as a punitive measure, not even a charter school. Given my principled stance against corporate charters, many might question my sincerity on that, but remember who fought to keep Ánimo Justice charter open, and it sure wasn't Ben Austin's astroturf revolutionaries. Instead of closing Crescendo, the schools should have been returned to the public commons under the Expanded School Based Management Model (ESBMM) or Pilot models, which would have made them real public schools with control by the teachers, parents, students, and community instead an unelected corporate board. The Crescendo schools could have then retained their faculty and curriculum that made them unique and an asset to those families enrolled, while discarding the market based corporate charter model.

The celebrated Professor Diane Ravitch makes an eloquent argument against school closures:

"Closing schools should be considered only as a last step and a rare one. It disrupts lives and communities, especially those of children and their families. It destroys established institutions, in the hope that something better is likely to arise out of the ashes of the old, now defunct school. It accelerates a sense of transiency and impermanence, while dismissing the values of continuity and tradition, which children, families, and communities need as anchors in their lives. It teaches students that institutions and adults they once trusted can be tossed aside like squeezed lemons, and that data of questionable validity can be deployed to ruin people's lives." (Ravitch, 2010, p. 165)

Closing schools causes irreparable harm to communities. While the corporate "market" model depends on disrupting the lives of working people and keeping them in a state of uncertainty, social justice has altogether different demands.

As for the cheating, the only discussion that should be held about Crescendo's entire board, executive, and administrative staff is whether they should be going to Folsom or Pelican Bay. Period. These charter criminals epitomize one of the biggest problems with school privatization, in that the lack of genuine public oversight opens up multiple vectors not only for cheating, but for a whole series of malfeasance.

The principled and ever vigilant LAUSD Board Member Marguerite P. LaMotte, who knows that cheating is rampant in the charter industry, asked the Superintendent to prepare a public presentation of all charter schools known to be participating in cheating in our district. More importantly she wants a public accounting of who monitors testing at charter schools. We'll wait to see if the Broad Academy graduate follows through on Ms. LaMotte's request.

More importantly, all of the recent cheating scandals should be a powerful catalyst in forcing meaningful dialog and discussions about why high stakes testing must be eliminated and that resources must used to help schools instead of punishing them.

At the same time, Dr. Richard Vladovic's vicious scapegoating of one of the victims in this incident, the whistle-blowing teachers, speaks volumes to the duplicity of the corporately sponsored members of the LAUSD Board. He had no such grandstanding for the masterminds of Crescendo's cheating. Perhaps the fact that he gets his campaign funds from the same plutocrats bankrolling the lucrative charter-voucher sector explains his outrageous outburst.

We must draw the right conclusions from this entire episode. The Crescendo chronicles are a stark reminder of everything that is wrong with the corporate education reform model. Every indicator shows high stakes tests undermine education. Systematic cheating is just one symptom of the testing malady. Corporate charter schools lack democratic mechanisms and the modicum of oversight to prevent scandalous behavior by charter executives prone to stuffing public money into their pockets. We need to have consequence free channels for whistle-blowers, and obviously unionized, professional teachers with the protections of due process are the only way to go. The brave teachers that risked their careers to expose John Allen's schemes should be celebrated, not chastised. Lastly, school closures are an anathema to community. The closure of Crescendo schools, rather than returning them to the public fold, truly constitutes a calamity.


Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books., 2010. p. 165

[1] Items 15 and 16 on the July 12, 2011 LAUSD Board Meeting see 07-12-11RegBd accessed July 30, 2011. Time Mark 02:51:45

[2] He's a Broad Superintendents Academy Class of 2006 graduate, and therefore was trained in the three core business practices (lying, cheating, and stealing) espoused by the Broad Foundation. From their FAQ: "[P]rivate sector experience is important because there are business best practices which can improve the way the education organizations are operated."

[3] Items 15 and 16 on the July 12, 2011 LAUSD Board Meeting see 07-12-11RegBd accessed July 30, 2011. Time Marks 3:04:45 and 3:08:50


Stop the Criminalization of our Communities

Stop the Criminalization of our Communities
Come to the next “Public Safety Walk” and Call for an End to the Safer Cities Initiative

WEDNESDAY, August 3rd at 5:30pm

As most of you know, last summer the City Attorney launched an aggressive assault against organizers and activists who were actively engaged in protest and dissent against human rights violations against immigrants, young people, homeless and very poor people, low-income tenants, transit riders, and other oppressed people in Los Angeles and beyond.

Because of this and other continuing criminalization efforts against our communities, organizations convened/re-convened under the umbrella of the Coalition against State Violence to develop a broad response and provide solidarity support for individual organization or community issues.

Out of these discussions, one of our first joint campaigns was to protest the City Attorney and business community’s supposed “public safety walk” in the Skid Row community – and demand that it end and be replaced with resident-led community safety efforts.  The public safety walk is comprised of business representatives, especially the Central City East Association, elected officials such as the City Attorney and Councilmember Perry, and some large missions including Midnight and Union Rescue.  Long-time, low income and homeless residents believe that the leaders of the Walk come into Skid Row pointing the finger at them for the community’s problems and using these problems to justify the ongoing criminalization under the Safer Cities Initiative.  The Walk happens on the first Wednesday of every month at 6:00 pm – so the next one is this week!

Besides specifically opposing the format and composition of this public safety walk, we have made three basic demands to the elected leaders who participate: 
  • End the Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row
  • Stop all Unjust Criminalization of our Communities
  • Ensure our Rights to Dissent

While our protest and engagement with Walk participants has led to a decrease in participation, leaders have refused to stop this monthly event and instead are now being accompanied by even more LAPD officers than usual.  Last month, LAPD told organizers we did not have a right to protest this Walk or to even chant on a public sidewalk.  They arrested Pete White of LA CAN and threatened arrest of everyone else.  We cannot allow our First Amendment rights to be summarily shut down.  We cannot allow LAPD and the City Attorney to so blatantly prioritize the business community’s right to engage in this Walk and simultaneously violate low-income residents, organizers and supporters’ right to dissent.

LA CAN, Dream Team L.A., Critical Resistance, Youth Justice Coalition, Labor Community Strategy Center, IDEPSCA, ¡Comunidad Presente!, International Socialist Organization and other human rights activists urge you to support next week’s protest, to get involved with the emerging Coalition Against State Violence, or – at a minimum – to contact us to get updated and find ways to support our ongoing work. 
Note: The Safer Cities Initiative in LA’s Skid Row community has criminalized homelessness and poverty at a level never before experienced in the United States.  When Mayor Villaraigosa launched the Safer Cities Initiative (SCI) in September 2006, Los Angeles’ Skid Row became home to the largest concentration of standing police forces in the country. In a community with a population of approximately 12,000 – 15,000 residents, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) made over 19,000 arrests and issued roughly 24,000 citations in the Initiative’s first two years. In 2007, a UCLA study found that the number of citations issued in the first year of SCI came at a rate up to 69 times higher than those found in other parts of a city already notorious for intense police activity.  Additionally the study found that the cost of the 50-officer SCI task force focused on 50 square blocks ($6 million) exceeded the amount LA officials spent on homeless services in the entire 469 square miles of the City ($5.7 million).