Sunday, January 30, 2011

“IT MAKES NO SENSE”: Puzzling over Obama’s State of the Union Speech

by Yong Zhao | |

Yong Zhao is currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where he also serves as the director of the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE). He is a fellow of the International Academy for Education.

30 January 2011 |  “It makes no sense” is perhaps President Obama’s favorite phrase, using it twice in his 2011 State of the Union speech. I like the sound of it and what lies behind it—a simple way to point out the obviously illogical things that need to change. That is how I feel about the education section of his speech. It makes no sense.

President Obama wants to win the future by “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” “[I]f we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”

How to win the race to educate our kids?

More math, more science, more high school diplomas, more college graduates, more Race to the Top, more standards and standardization, more carrots and clubs for teachers and schools, and no TV.


Because China and India “started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science;’” because “[t]he quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations;” and because “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.”

None of these makes much sense to me because they are either factually false or logically confusing. For one, President Obama suggested that parents make sure the TV is turned off. If every parent followed his suggestion and turned off the TV, there would be no one to watch his State of the Union next year. As with everything else, there is good TV and there is bad TV. More seriously, I did some fact checking and logical reasoning and here is what I found out.

Is it true that “China and India started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science?”

No, China has actually started to reduce study time for their children, with less emphasis on math and science

I am not familiar with education in India so I will stick to China and I assume President Obama meant education in schools, not education at home. Unless he meant 50 years ago, the statement is completely false. The school starting age in China has remained the same at age six since the 1980s when China’s first Compulsory Education Law was passed in 1986. Since the 1990s, China has launched a series of education reforms aimed at reducing school hours and decreasing emphasis on mathematics. According to a recent statement from the Ministry of Education (in Chinese):

Since the implementation of the “New Curriculum,” the total amount of class time during the compulsory education stage (grades 1 to 9) has been reduced by 380 class hours. During primary grades (grades 1 to 6), class time for mathematics has been reduced by 140 class hours, while 156 more class hours have been added for physical education. In high school, 347 class hours have been taken out of required courses and 410 class hours added for electives. (People’s Daily,

Is it true that “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations?”

It depends how one measures quality. If measured in terms of test scores on international assessments, yes, but these test scores do not necessarily indicate the quality of math and science education and certainly do not predict a nation’s economic prosperity or capacity for innovation.

When he says that “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations,” President Obama ignores the fact that American students performance on international tests have been pretty bad for a long time, and believe it or not, has got better in recent years. In the 1960s, America’s 8th graders ranked 11th out of 12 countries and 12th graders ranked 12 out of 12 countries on the First International Mathematic Study. America’s 12th graders’ average score ranked 14th out of 18 countries that participated in the First International Science Study. In the 1970s and 80s, America’s 12th graders did not do any better on the Second International Mathematics study, with ranks of 12, 14, 12, and 12 out of 15 educational systems (13 countries) on tests of number systems, algebra, geometry, and calculus respectively. On the Second International Science Study, American students’ performance was the worst (out of 13 countries with 14 education systems participating, America’s 12th graders ranked 14th in Biology, 12th in Chemistry, and 10th in Physics) (Data source, National Center for Educational Statistics). In 1995, America’s 8th graders math scores were in 28th place on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. In 2003, they jumped to 15th , and in 2007, to 9th place.

Obama also said in his speech:

Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers — no workers are more productive than ours.  No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs.  We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

So who has made America “the largest, most prosperous economy in the world?” Who are these most productive workers? Where did the people who created the successful companies come from? And who are these inventors that received the most patents in the world?

It has to be the same Americans who ranked bottom on the international tests. Those 12th graders with shameful bad math scores in the 1960s have been the primary work force in the US for the past 40 years. The equally poor performers on international tests in the 70s and 80s have been working for the past 30 years now. And even those poor performers on the 1995 TIMSS have entered the workforce. Apparently they have not driven the US into oblivion and ruined the country’s innovation record.

Is it true that Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of public education in a generation?

Again, it depends. It depends on how one defines “meaningful.” If defined as the scale of impact without questioning whether the impact is beneficial or not, it may be true but considering the actual consequences, Race to the Top is neither meaningful nor flexible. It does not focus on “what’s best for our kids” nor spark “creativity and imagination of our people.”

I wonder if Obama knows what Race to the Top actually does because it is just the opposite of what he asks for. He says:

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny…It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea?  What would you change about the world?  What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world” perhaps explains why the American students scored poorly on tests but have been able to build a strong economy with innovations.

But Race to the Top is about killing ideas and forcing students to memorize equations by imposing common standards and testing in only two subjects on students all over the nation; by forcing schools and teachers to teach to the tests; and by forcing states to narrow educational experiences for all students to a prescribed narrowed defined curriculum.

Race to the Top is precisely what he said it is not: “We know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.” It is nothing but a top-down mandate. Race to the Top applications required states and schools to be innovative in meeting the top-down mandates: adopting common standards and assessment, linking teacher evaluation/compensation with student test scores, offering more math and science learning, and allowing more charter schools. In the first round of competition, Massachusetts was penalized for not wanting to rush to adopt the common standards. Pennsylvania was penalized for proposing innovative practices in early childhood education (Source: Let’s Do the Numbers: Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Lin By William Peterson and Richard Rothstein)

Race to the Top is anything but what Obama says “the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.” States that were desperate for cash had to use all means to coerce teachers, principals, and school boards to sign on to the application because participation of local schools was a heavily weighted criterion. And if teachers and school leaders did not agree, they risked being accused of not supporting children’s education.

And with regard to common standards, while it is true that they were not developed by Washington, but Washington definitely helped with billions of dollars to make them adopted nationwide.

Is it true that “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree?”

It depends for a number of reasons. First, different countries have different definitions of a college degree. Second, not all college degrees are of equal quality. Third, the changes in rank do not necessarily indicate America’s decline. It could simply other countries have caught up.

President Obama may be drawing the figures from a report published by the College Board recently. The report cites OCED data and suggests that “the educational capacity of our country continues to decline.” But the data actually do not support the statement.

According to the report, in 2007, America ranked sixth in postsecondary attainment in the world among 25-64-Year-Olds. It ranked fourth among those ages 55 to 64. But for the 25-34 age group, America ranked 12th. Simply looked at the rankings, America is indeed in decline. But looking at the percentages of postsecondary degree holders shows a different picture. For the age group of 25 to 64, 40.3% of Americans held a college degree. The two countries that were immediately ahead of America, Japan and New Zealand, had a lead of less than 1% at 41%. The other three leading countries were Russia (54%), Canada (48.3%), and Israel (43.6%). For the young age group (25-34 year olds), America had 40.4% and five out of the 11 countries led by about 2%. The countries with over 10% lead were Canada (55.8%), Korea (55.5%), Russia (55.5%), and Japan (53.7%). For those ages 55 to 64, America ranked fourth, but the percentage was 38.5%. The countries ahead of America were Russia (44.5%), Israel (43.5%), and Canada (38.9). Based on this data we can draw two conclusions. First America was never number one. Second, the percentage of college degree holders in America has actually increased.

How many more math and science graduates does the US need?

President Obama wanted “to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.” This is driven by the belief that America does not prepare enough talents in these areas. But according to a comprehensive study based on analysis of major longitudinal datasets found “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever before.”  The study was conducted by a group of researchers at Georgetown University, Rutgers University, and the Urban Institute. “Our findings indicate that STEM retention along the pipeline shows strong and even increasing rates of retention from the 1970s to the late 1990s,” says the report. However, not all STEM graduates enter the STEM field. They are attracted to other areas.

“Over the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities graduated roughly three times more scientists and engineers than were employed in the growing science and engineering workforce,” one of the study’s co-author Lindsay Lowell was quoted in the study’s press release, “At the same time, more of the very best students are attracted to non-science occupations, such as finance. Even so, there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs.”

What America really needs?

President Obama actually got the destination right when he said “the first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” But he chose the wrong path.

To encourage American innovation starts with innovative and creative people. But a one-size-fits-all education approach, standardized and narrow curricula, tests-driven teaching and learning, and fear-driven and demoralizing accountability measures are perhaps the most effective way to kill innovation and stifle creativity.

What America really needs is to capitalize on its traditional strengths—a broad definition of education, an education that respects individuality, tolerates deviation, celebrates diversity. America also needs to restore faith in its public education, respects teacher autonomy, and trusts local school leaders elected or selected by the people.

In addition, America needs to teach its children that globalization has tied all nations to a complex, interconnected, and interdependent chain of economic, political, and cultural interests. To succeed in the globalized world, our children need to develop a global perspective and the capacity to interact and work with different nations and cultures, the ability to market America innovations globally, and the ability to lead globalization in positive directions. That includes foreign languages and global studies.

Even the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), a direct result of Sputnik and a product during the Cold War, was broader in terms of areas of studies than conceived in Race to the Top and the blueprint for reauthorization of ESA. It included funding for math, science, foreign languages, geography, technical education, etc. Moreover, it did not impose federal mandates on local schools or states.

Heading north for south: A Chinese story for the President

A Chinese story best illustrates the danger of choosing the wrong path for the correct destination. This story was recorded in Zhan Guo Ce or the Records of the Warring States, a collection of essays about events and tales that took place during China’s Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Here is my recount of the story.

The king of the state of Wei intends to attack its neighboring state of Zhao. Upon hearing the news, Ji Liang, counselor to the king rushes to see him. “Your Majesty, on my way here, I met a man on a chariot pointed to the north,” Ji Liang tells the King, “and he told me that he was going to visit Chu.

“But Chu is in the south, why are you headed north?” I asked.

“Oh, no worry, my horses are very strong,” he told me.

“But you should be headed south,” I told him again.

“Not to worry, I have plenty of money,” he was not concerned.

“But still you are headed the wrong direction,” I pointed out yet again.

“I have hired a very skillful driver,” was this man’s reply.

“I worry, your majesty, that the better equipped this man was,” Ji Liang says to the King, “the farther away he would be from his destination.”  “You want to be a great king and win respect from all people,” Ji Liang concludes, “You can certainly rely on our strong nation and excellent army to invade Zhao and expand our territory. But I am afraid the more you use force, the farther away you will be from your wishes.”

GOT DOUGH? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

By Joanne Barkan | Dissent Magazine / Winter 2011 Issue  |

Can anything stop the foundation enablers?

After five or ten more years, the mess they’re making in public schooling might be so undeniable that they’ll say, “Oops, that didn’t work” and step aside.

But the damage might be irreparable: thousands of closed schools, worse conditions in those left open, an extreme degree of “teaching to the test,” demoralized teachers, rampant corruption by private management companies, thousands of failed charter schools, and more low-income kids without a good education.

Who could possibly clean up the mess?

All children should have access to a good public school.

And public schools should be run by officials who answer to the voters. Gates, Broad, and Walton answer to no one. Tax payers still fund more than 99 percent of the cost of K–12 education. Private foundations should not be setting public policy for them. Private money should not be producing what amounts to false advertising for a faulty product. The imperious overreaching of the Big Three undermines democracy just as surely as it damages public education.

- from the conclusion to the essay.

The cost of K–12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy—where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision—investing in education yields great bang for the buck.

Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K–12 education, most of it directed to schools that serve low-income children (only religious organizations receive more money). But three funders—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with road) Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation—working in sync, command the field. Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher. Other foundations—Ford, Hewlett, Annenberg, Milken, to name just a few—often join in funding one project or another, but the education reform movement’s success so far has depended on the size and clout of the Gates-Broad-Walton triumvirate.

Every day, dozens of reporters and bloggers cover the Big Three’s reform campaign, but critical in-depth investigations have been scarce (for reasons I’ll explain further on). Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that the reforms are not working. Stanford University’s 2009 study of charter schools—the most comprehensive ever done—concluded that 83 percent of them perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools; a 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students; a National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately. Gates and Broad helped to shape and fund two of the nation’s most extensive and aggressive school reform programs—in Chicago and New York City—but neither has produced credible improvement in student performance after years of experimentation.

To justify their campaign, ed reformers repeat, mantra-like, that U.S. students are trailing far behind their peers in other nations, that U.S. public schools are failing. The claims are specious. Two of the three major international tests—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study—break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school. The tests are given every five years. The most recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math. When the poverty rate was 10 percent to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science. But as the poverty rate rose still higher, students ranked lower and lower. Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent. The average ranking of American students reflects this. The problem is not public schools; it is poverty. And as dozens of studies have shown, the gap in cognitive, physical, and social development between children in poverty and middle-class children is set by age three.

Drilling students on sample questions for weeks before a state test will not improve their education. The truly excellent charter schools depend on foundation money and their prerogative to send low-performing students back to traditional public schools. They cannot be replicated to serve millions of low-income children. Yet the reform movement, led by Gates, Broad, and Walton, has convinced most Americans who have an opinion about education (including most liberals) that their agenda deserves support.

Given all this, I want to explore three questions: How do these foundations operate on the ground? How do they leverage their money into control over public policy? And how do they construct consensus? We know the array of tools used by the foundations for education reform: they fund programs to close down schools, set up charters, and experiment with data-collection software, testing regimes, and teacher evaluation plans; they give grants to research groups and think tanks to study all the programs, to evaluate all the studies, and to conduct surveys; they give grants to TV networks for programming and to news organizations for reporting; they spend hundreds of millions on advocacy outreach to the media, to government at every level, and to voters. Yet we don’t know much at all until we get down to specifics.

Pipelines or Programs

The smallest of the Big Three,* the Broad Foundation, gets its largest return on education investments from its two training projects. The mission of both is to move professionals from their current careers in business, the military, law, government, and so on into jobs as superintendents and upper-level managers of urban public school districts. In their new jobs, they can implement the foundation’s agenda. One project, the Broad Superintendents Academy, pays all tuition and travel costs for top executives in their fields to go through a course of six extended weekend sessions, assignments, and site visits. Broad then helps to place them in superintendent jobs. The academy is thriving. According to the Web site, “graduates of the program currently work as superintendents or school district executives in fifty-three cities across twenty-eight states. In 2009, 43 percent of all large urban superintendent openings were filled by Broad Academy graduates.”

The second project, the Broad Residency, places professionals with master’s degrees and several years of work experience into full-time managerial jobs in school districts, charter school management organizations, and federal and state education departments. While they’re working, residents get two years of “professional development” from Broad, all costs covered, including travel. The foundation also subsidizes their salaries (50 percent the first year, 25 percent the second year). It’s another success story for Broad, which has placed more than two hundred residents in more than fifty education institutions.

In reform-speak, both the Broad Academy and Residency are not mere programs: they are “pipelines.” Frederick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, described the difference in With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy Is Reshaping K–12 Education (2005):

Donors have a continual choice between supporting “programs” or supporting “pipelines.” Programs, which are far more common, are ventures that directly involve a limited population of children and educators. Pipelines, on the other hand, primarily seek to attract new talent to education, keep those individuals engaged, or create new opportunities for talented practitioners to advance and influence the profession.…By seeking to alter the composition of the educational workforce, pipelines offer foundations a way to pursue a high-leverage strategy without seeking to directly alter public policy.

Once Broad alumni are working inside the education system, they naturally favor hiring other Broadies, which ups the leverage. A clear picture of this comes from Los Angeles. The foundation is based there and exerts formidable influence over the LA Unified School District (LA Unified), the second largest in the nation. At the start of 2010, Broad Residency alums working at LA Unified included Matt Hill, who oversees the district’s Public School Choice project that turns schools over to independent managers (Broad pays Hill’s $160,000 salary); Parker Hudnut, executive director of the district’s innovation and charter division (Kathi Littmann, his predecessor, was also a Broad resident); Yumi Takahashi, the budget director; Marshall Tuck, chief executive of the nonprofit that manages schools for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Mark Kieger-Heine, chief operating officer of the same nonprofit; and Angela Bass, its superintendent of instruction. In June 2010, the Board of Education hired Broad Academy alumnus John Deasy as deputy superintendent of LA Unified (he’s a likely candidate for the superintendent’s job). At the time of hiring, Deasy was deputy director of education at the Gates Foundation.
Broad casts a long shadow over LA Unified, but other foundations also invest. A $4.4 million grant from the LA-based Wasserman Foundation, $1.2 million from Walton, and smaller grants from Ford and Hewlett are paying the salaries of more than a dozen key senior staffers in the district. They work on projects favored by the foundations.
Philanthropists Are Royalty
On September 8, 2010, the Broad Foundation announced a twist on the usual funding scenario: the Broad Residency had received a $3.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to Broad’s press release, the money would go “to recruit and train as many as eighteen Broad Residents over the next four years to provide management support to school districts and charter management organizations addressing the issue of teacher effectiveness.” Apparently Broad needs Gates in order to expand one of its core projects. The truth is that the Gates Foundation could fully subsidize all of Broad’s grant-giving in education, as well as that of the Walton Family Foundation. Easily—it’s that outsized. Since Warren Buffett gave his assets to Gates, the latter is more than six times bigger than the next largest foundation in the United States, Ford, with $10.2 billion in assets.
Now is the moment for me to address the inevitable objection. Many people, including leftists, consider it unseemly, even churlish, to criticize the Gates Foundation. Time and again, I’ve heard, “They do good work on health care in Africa. Leave them alone.” But the Gates Foundation has created much the same problem in health funding as in education reform. Take, for example, the Gates project to eradicate malaria.
On February 16, 2008, the New York Times reported on a memo that it had obtained, written by Dr. Arata Kochi, head of the World Health Organization’s malaria programs, to WHO’s director general. Because the Gates Foundation was funding almost everyone studying malaria, Dr. Arata complained, the cornerstone of scientific research—independent review—was falling apart.
Many of the world’s leading malaria scientists are now “locked up in a ‘cartel’ with their own research funding being linked to those of others within the group,” Dr. Kochi wrote. Because “each has a vested interest to safeguard the work of the others,” he wrote, getting independent reviews of research proposals “is becoming increasingly difficult.”

The director of global health at Gates responded predictably: “We encourage a lot of external review.” But a lot of external review does not solve the problem, which is structural. It warps the work of most philanthropies to some degree but is exponentially dangerous in the case of the Gates Foundation. Again, Frederick Hess in With the Best of Intentions:
…[A]cademics, activists, and the policy community live in a world where philanthropists are royalty—where philanthropic support is often the ticket to tackling big projects, making a difference, and maintaining one’s livelihood.
…[E]ven if scholars themselves are insulated enough to risk being impolitic, they routinely collaborate with school districts, policy makers, and colleagues who desire philanthropic support.
…The groups convened by foundations [to advise them] tend to include, naturally enough, their friends, allies, and grantees. Such groups are less likely than outsiders to offer a radically different take on strategy or thinking.
…Researchers themselves compete fiercely for the right to evaluate high-profile reform initiatives. Almost without exception, the evaluators are hired by funders or grantees….Most evaluators are selected, at least in part, because they are perceived as being sympathetic to the reform in question.

Hess found that the press, too, handles philanthropies with kid gloves. One study reviewed how national media outlets (the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, and Associated Press) portrayed the educational activities of major foundations (Gates, Broad, Walton, Annenberg, and Milken) from 1995 to 2005. The study revealed “thirteen positive articles for every critical account.” Hess had three explanations for the obliging attitude of the supposedly disinterested press: a natural inclination to write positively about “generous gifts,” the routine tendency to affirm “professionally endorsed school reforms,” and the difficulty of finding experts who will publicly criticize the foundations.
The cozy environment undermines all players—grantees, media, the public, and the foundations themselves. Without honest assessments, funders are less likely to reach their goals. According to Phil Buchanan, executive director of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, “If you want to achieve the greatest possible positive impact, you've got to figure out how to hear things from people on the ground who might know more than you about some pretty important things” (Seattle Times, August 3, 2008).
No Silver Bullet
The sorry tale of the Gates Foundation’s first major project in education reform has been told often, but it’s key to understanding how Gates functions. I’ll run through it briefly. In 2000 the foundation began pouring money into breaking up large public high schools where test scores and graduation rates were low. The foundation insisted that more individual attention in closer “learning communities” would—presto!—boost achievement. The foundation didn’t base its decision on scientific studies showing school size mattered; such studies didn’t exist. As reported in Bloomberg Businessweek (July 15, 2010), Wharton School statistician Howard Wainer believes Gates probably “misread the numbers” and simply “seized on data showing small schools are overrepresented among the country's highest achievers….” Gates spent $2 billion between 2000 and 2008 to set up 2,602 schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia, “directly reaching at least 781,000 students,” according to a foundation brochure. Michael Klonsky, professor at DePaul University and national director of the Small Schools Workshop, describes the Gates effect this way:
Gates funding was so large and so widespread, it seemed for a time as if every initiative in the small-schools and charter world was being underwritten by the foundation. If you wanted to start a school, hold a meeting, organize a conference, or write an article in an education journal, you first had to consider Gates (“Power Philanthropy” in The Gates Foundation and the Future of Public Schools, 2010).

In November 2008, Bill and Melinda gathered about one hundred prominent figures in education at their home outside Seattle to announce that the small schools project hadn’t produced strong results. They didn’t mention that, instead, it had produced many gut-wrenching sagas of school disruption, conflict, students and teachers jumping ship en masse, and plummeting attendance, test scores, and graduation rates. No matter, the power couple had a new plan: performance-based teacher pay, data collection, national standards and tests, and school “turnaround” (the term of art for firing the staff of a low-performing school and hiring a new one, replacing the school with a charter, or shutting down the school and sending the kids elsewhere).
To support the new initiatives, the Gates Foundation had already invested almost $2.2 million to create The Turnaround Challenge, the authoritative how-to guide on turnaround. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called it “the bible” for school restructuring. He’s incorporated it into federal policy, and reformers around the country use it. Mass Insight Education, the consulting company that produced it, claims the document has been downloaded 200,000 times since 2007. Meanwhile, Gates also invested $90 million in one of the largest implementations of the turnaround strategy—Chicago’s Renaissance 2010. Ren10 gave Chicago public schools CEO Arne Duncan a national name and ticket to Washington; he took along the reform strategy. Shortly after he arrived, studies showing weak results for Ren10 began circulating, but the Chicago Tribune still caused a stir on January 17, 2010, with an article entitled “Daley School Plan Fails to Make Grade.”
Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to improve the educational performance of the city's school system, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.
…The moribund test scores follow other less than enthusiastic findings about Renaissance 2010—that displaced students ended up mostly in other low performing schools and that mass closings led to youth violence as rival gang members ended up in the same classrooms. Together, they suggest the initiative hasn't lived up to its promise by this, its target year.

Last fall, Daley announced that he wouldn’t run again for mayor; Ron Huberman, who replaced Duncan as schools CEO, announced that he would leave before Daley; and Rahm Emanuel, preparing to run for Daley’s job, announced that he would promote another privately funded reform campaign for Chicago’s schools. “Let’s raise a ton of money,” he told the Chicago Tribune (October 18, 2010). Eminently doable.
Investing for Political Leverage
The day before the first Democratic presidential candidates’ debate in 2007, Gates and Broad announced they were jointly funding a $60 million campaign to get both political parties to address the foundations’ version of education reform. It was one of the most expensive single issue efforts ever; it dwarfed the $22.4 million offensive that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth mounted against John Kerry in 2004 or the $7.8 million that AARP spent on advocacy for older citizens that same year (New York Times, April 25, 2007). The Gates-Broad money paid off: the major candidates took stands on specific reforms, including merit pay for teachers. But nothing the foundations did in that election cycle (or could have done) advanced their agenda as much as Barack Obama’s choice of Arne Duncan to head the Department of Education (DOE). Eli and Edythe Broad described the import in The Broad Foundations 2009/10 Report:
The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. Secretary of Education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.
With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time, and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.

Arne Duncan did not disappoint. He quickly made the partnership with private foundations the defining feature of his DOE stewardship. His staff touted the commitment in an article for the department’s newsletter, The Education Innovator (October 29, 2009):
…The Department has truly embraced the foundation community by creating a position within the Office of the Secretary for the Director of Philanthropic Engagement. This dedicated role within the Secretary’s Office signals to the philanthropic world that the Department is “open for business.”

Within weeks, Duncan had integrated the DOE into the network of revolving-door job placement that includes the staffs of Gates, Broad, and all the thinks tanks, advocacy groups, school management organizations, training programs, and school districts that they fund. Here’s a quick look at top executives in the DOE: Duncan’s first chief of staff, Margot Rogers, came from Gates; her replacement as of June 2010, Joanne Weiss, came from a major Gates grantee, the New Schools Venture Fund; Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali has worked at Broad, LA Unified School District and the Gates-funded Education Trust; general counsel Charles P. Rose was a founding board member of another major Gates grantee, Advance Illinois; and Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement James Shelton has worked at both Gates and the New Schools Venture Fund. Duncan himself served on the board of directors of Broad’s education division until February 2009 (as did former treasury secretary Larry Summers).
How to Set Government Policy
Nothing illustrates the operation of Duncan’s “open for business” policy better than the administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top (RTTT). The “stimulus package” included $4.3 billion for education, but for the first time, states didn’t simply receive grants; they had to compete for RTTT money with a comprehensive, statewide proposal for education reform. It is no exaggeration to say that the criteria for selecting the winners came straight from the foundations’ playbook (which is, after all, Duncan’s playbook). To start, any state that didn’t allow student test scores to determine (at least in part) teacher and principal evaluations was not eligible to compete. After clarifying this, the 103-page application form laid out a list of detailed criteria and then additional priorities for each criterion (“The Secretary is particularly interested in applications that…”). Key criteria included
(C)(1) Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system
(D)(2) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance [this is followed by criteria for evaluating performance based on student test scores]
(E) Turning around the lowest-achieving schools
(F)(2) Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools

States were desperate for funds (in the end, thirty-four applied in the two rounds of the contest). When necessary, some rewrote their laws to qualify: they loosened or repealed limits on the number of charter schools allowed; they permitted teacher and principal evaluations based on test scores. But they still faced the immense tasks of designing a proposal that touched on all aspects of K–12 education and then writing an application, which the DOE requested (but did not require) be limited to 350 pages. What state has resources to gamble on such a venture? Enter the Gates Foundation. It reviewed the prospects for reform in every state, picked fifteen favorites, and, in July 2009, offered each up to $250,000 to hire consultants to write the application. Gates even prepared a list of recommended consulting firms. Understandably, the other states cried foul; so did the National Conference of State Legislatures: Gates was giving some states an unfair advantage; it was, in effect, picking winners and losers for a government program. After some weeks of reflection, Gates offered the application money to any state that met the foundation’s eight criteria. Here, for example, is number five: “Does the state grant teacher tenure in fewer than three years? (Answer must be “no” or the state should be able to demonstrate a plan to set a higher bar for tenure).”
Who says the foundations (and Gates, in particular) don’t set government policy?
On October 9, 2009, Edward Haertel, chair of the National Research Council’s Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA) sent a letter-report to Arne Duncan to express BOTA’s concern about the use of testing in RTTT’s requirements.
Tests often play an important role in evaluating educational innovations, but an evaluation requires much more than tests alone. A rigorous evaluation plan typically involves implementation and outcome data that need to be collected throughout the course of a project.

REFLECTING “A consensus of the Board,” the nineteen-page letter went on to review the many scientific studies that demonstrate the pitfalls of using standardized test scores as a measure of student learning, teacher performance, or school improvement. BOTA recommended that the DOE use these studies to revise the RTTT plan. Unfortunately, as Haertel explained in his cover note, “Under National Academies procedures, any letter report must be reviewed by an independent group of experts before it can be publicly released, which made it impossible to complete the letter within the public comment period of the Federal Register notice [for RTTT’s proposed regulations].” The scientists needed a peer review of their work, so they missed the Federal Register deadline, and that meant Duncan could ignore their recommendations—which he did. Haertel’s letter ( makes for poignant reading in the twenty-first century: science imploring at the feet of ideology.
Other Ways to Invest for Political Influence
Private foundations are not allowed to lobby government directly, but they can, and all do, “share the lessons of their work” with lawmakers and their staffs. As the RTTT story shows, the Big Three also intervene more directly in policy and politics in ways available only to the mega-rich.
Consider the case of school reform in Washington, D.C. Former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee battled the teachers’ union in acrimonious contract negotiations for more than two years; she wanted greater control over evaluating and firing teachers. Her breakthrough move was to get $64.5 million from the Broad, Walton, Robertson, and Arnold foundations to finance a five-year, 21.6 percent increase in teachers’ base salary. The union took the money in exchange for giving Rhee some of the changes she wanted. The money came with a political restriction: the foundations could withdraw their pledges if there was a “material change” in the school system’s leadership. When critics challenged the legality of the arrangement (Hadn’t Rhee negotiated a deal that served her personal financial interests?), the chancellor found a way to shuffle funds and spend on a schedule that made the leadership clause irrelevant. The foundations’ attempt to dictate who would be D.C. schools chancellor failed, but their investment paid off with highly publicized (and, the foundations hoped, precedent setting) concessions in a union contract.
On the question of who controls public schools, the Big Three much prefer mayoral control to independent school boards: a mayor with full powers can push through a reform agenda faster, often with less concern about the opposition. On August 18, 2009, the New York Post quoted Bill Gates on mayoral control: “The cities where our foundation has put the most money is where there is a single person responsible.” In the same article, the Post broke the news that Bill Gates had “secretly bankrolled” Learn-NY, a group campaigning to overturn a term-limit law so that Michael Bloomberg could run for a third term as New York City mayor. Bloomberg’s main argument for deserving another term was that his education reform agenda (identical to the Gates-Broad agenda) was transforming city schools for the better. Gates put $4 million of his personal money into Learn-NY. “The donation helped pay for Learn-NY's extensive public-relations, media, and lobbying efforts in Albany and the city.” The Post also reported that Eli Broad had donated “millions” to Learn-NY. Since Bloomberg’s reelection, however, the results of one study after another have shown that his reform endeavors are not producing the positive results he repeatedly claims.
In its “advocacy and public policy” work, the Gates Foundation also funnels money to elected officials through their national associations. The foundation has given grants to the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, National Conference of State Legislatures, United States Conference of Mayors, National Association of Latino Elected Officials Education Fund, and National Association of State Boards of Education. They’ve also funded associations of high nonelected officials, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers (see
Ventures in Media
On October 7 and 8, 2010, the Columbia Journalism Review ran a two-part investigation by Robert Fortner into “the implications of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s increasingly large and complex web of media partnerships.” The report focused on the foundation’s grants to the PBS Newshour, ABC News, and the British newspaper the Guardian for reporting on global health. Of course, all three grantees claim to have “complete editorial independence,” but the ubiquity of Gates funding makes the claim disingenuous. As Fortner observes, “It is the largest charitable foundation in the world, and its influence in the media is growing so vast there is reason to worry about the media’s ability to do its job.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, too, questioned the foundation’s bankrolling of for-profit news organizations and its “growing involvement with journalism” (October 11, 2010). Neither publication mentioned that Gates is also developing partnerships with news and entertainment media to promote its education agenda.
Both Gates and Broad funded “NBC News Education Nation,” a week of public events and programming on education reform that began on September 27, 2010. The programs aired on NBC News shows such as “Nightly News” and “Today” and on the MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo TV networks. During the planning stages, the producers of Education Nation dismissed persistent criticism that the programming was being heavily weighted in favor of the Duncan-foundation reform agenda. Judging by the schedule of panels and interviews, Education Nation certainly looked like a foundation project. The one panel I watched—”Good Apples: How do we keep good teachers, throw out bad ones, and put a new shine on the profession?”—was “moderated” by Steven Brill, a hardline opponent of teachers’ unions and promoter of charter schools. The panel did not belong on a news show.
Gates and Broad also sponsored the documentary film Waiting for Superman, which is by far the ed reform movement’s greatest media coup. With few exceptions, film critics loved it (“a powerful and alarming documentary about America’s failing public school system,” New York Times, September 23, 2010). Critics of the reform agenda found the film one-sided, heavy-handed, and superficial.
In 2009 the Gates Foundation and Viacom (the world’s fourth largest media conglomerate, which includes MTV Networks, BET Networks, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and hundreds of other media properties) made a groundbreaking deal for entertainment programming. For the first time, a foundation wouldn’t merely advise or prod a media company about an issue; Gates would be directly involved in writing and producing programs. As a vehicle for their partnership, the foundation and Viacom (with some additional funds from the AT&T Foundation) set up a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization called the Get Schooled Foundation. The interpenetration of foundations and the spawning of new ones is endless. In July 2010, Get Schooled hired Marie Groark, then senior education program officer at Gates, as its executive director. Among its initiatives, Get Schooled lists Waiting for Superman, which is produced by Paramount Pictures, a subsidiary of Viacom. This is how the New York Times (April 2, 2009) described the Gates-Viacom deal:
Now the Gates Foundation is set to expand its involvement and spend more money on influencing popular culture through a deal with Viacom….It could be called “message placement”: the social or philanthropic corollary to product placement deals in which marketers pay to feature products in shows and movies. Instead of selling Coca-Cola or G.M. cars, they promote education and healthy living….Their goal is to weave education-theme story lines into existing shows or to create new shows centered on education.

The Hubris That Comes from Power
On June 15, 2010, Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes announced the results of the “Grantee Perception Report,” which the foundation had commissioned from the Center for Effective Philanthropy. The center, a nonprofit research group, has rattled the foundation world with surveys that show how grantees evaluate a funder and also how that evaluation compares to the evaluations of other funders. Some 1,020 Gates grantees, active between June 1, 2008, and May 31, 2009, responded to the survey. On questions relating to the experience of working with Gates, the foundation got bad grades. “Lower than typical ratings,” Raikes wrote.
Many of our grantee partners said we are not clear about our goals and strategies, and they think we don’t understand their goals and strategies.
They are confused by our decision-making and grant-making processes.
Because of staff turnovers, many of our grantee partners have had to manage multiple Program Officer transitions during the course of their grant, which creates more work.
Finally, they say we are inconsistent in our communications, and often unresponsive.

The report intrigued me because it shows another aspect of how Gates operates on the ground. More important, it helps explain why the Big Three can keep marketing and selling reforms that don’t work. Certainly ideology—in this case, faith in the superiority of the private business model—drives them. But so does the blinding hubris that comes from power. You don’t have to listen or see because you know you are right. One study after another sends up a red flag, but no one in the ed reform movement blinks. Insanity, defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, applies here.

Can anything stop the foundation enablers? After five or ten more years, the mess they’re making in public schooling might be so undeniable that they’ll say, “Oops, that didn’t work” and step aside. But the damage might be irreparable: thousands of closed schools, worse conditions in those left open, an extreme degree of “teaching to the test,” demoralized teachers, rampant corruption by private management companies, thousands of failed charter schools, and more low-income kids without a good education. Who could possibly clean up the mess?

All children should have access to a good public school. And public schools should be run by officials who answer to the voters. Gates, Broad, and Walton answer to no one. Tax payers still fund more than 99 percent of the cost of K–12 education. Private foundations should not be setting public policy for them. Private money should not be producing what amounts to false advertising for a faulty product. The imperious overreaching of the Big Three undermines democracy just as surely as it damages public education.

Joanne Barkan, who graduated from public schools in Chicago, lives and writes in Manhattan and on Cape Cod. Her next article on education will focus on teachers and their unions.

  • The Broad and Walton foundations had endowments of about $1.4 billion and $2 billion, respectively, in 2008 (the latest available figures, according to the Foundation Center).
  • The Gates Foundation had an endowment of $33 billion as of June 2010, with an additional $30 billion from Warren Buffett, spread out over multiple years in annual contributions (from
    • The Broad endowment comes primarily from the sale of SunAmerica to AIG in 1999;
    • the Walton endowment from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.;
    • and the Gates endowment from Microsoft.

DUNCAN, KEY SENATORS SING OFF SAME PAGE ON ESEA RENEWAL: The Bipartisan Ship is still sailing the day after the State of the Union.

Posted by Alyson Klein to the EdWeek Politics  K-12 blog |

January 26, 2011 at 11:00 AM  - Three of the four members of the U.S. Senate's "Big 8" on education policy, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, told reporters today that they intend to move quickly and collaboratively on a bill that fixes some of the key issues with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose current incarnation is the nine-year-old No Child Left Behind lAct.

All three lawmakers on the media call—Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo, the top Republican; and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the ranking member of the subcommittee overseeing K-12 policy—said they want to see changes to the law's system for labeling schools.

All three said that if there isn't a change soon, the law is going to deem too many schools that are performing well as failures. And they all said they want to see changes to the law's signature yardstick, Adequate Yearly Progress. They weren't specific, though, about whether a change to AYP would mean an actual change to the schedule of testing students in reading and math in grades three through eight, or something more along the lines of the changes suggested in the administration's ESEA blueprint, which called for gauging individual student progress toward readiness for college or a career.
Harkin said there's bipartisan agreement that the federal government should focus on the needs of the lowest-performing schools and advance "teacher evaluation and improvement systems."

And he wants to ensure that the new version of ESEA allows schools to spend time on subjects other than reading and math, such as the arts. All three seem to want to keep in place the system of disaggregating data by subgroups (for example, racial minorities and particular populations, such as students in special education).

Harkin reiterated his wish to get a bill ready to mark up by the Easter recess, and on the floor by the summer. He said the committee is going to get right into the writing of legislation, with no more hearings. (The Senate committee had 10 last year.)

And he said he wants a comprehensive bill in the Senate, while the House seems more inclined to move smaller, targeted pieces of legislation.

I asked the senators and Duncan how they planned to deal with the intra-party divisions among Democrats on issues such as teacher quality—and among Republicans on issues like whether there should even be a U.S. Department of Education.

Harkin said there's a lot of expertise in both chambers on K-12 issues, and that can help move things along. "I think with good will and perserverance, we'll overcome those little squabbles," he said.

Alexander acknowledged he has, at various times, taken every possible position on the federal role in education. But he added, "I think the way we avoid getting hung up on that is that we're focused on fixing the problems that exist with NCLB ... We take them one by one, step by step ... we get down to basics." He said he'd like the new version of the law to "leave the decisions that divide Washington" to be decided by states, district superintendents, and others operating at the local level.

That statement, plus Speaker of the House John Boehner's stated aversion to big, complicated bills, leads me to guess that Congress will be working toward a lean, streamlined reauthorization—a path Alexander pushed for last year.

That may actually make sense from the administration's perspective. The department got a lot of what it wanted to accomplish done through the Race to the Top program and the rest of the federal economic stimulus, including the move toward more common, rigorous academic standards, a new focus on turning around low-performing schools, a rethinking of teacher evaluation practices at the state level, better state data systems, and common, uniform assessments.

Those things didn't happen everywhere, of course, but they were pretty widespread. The question now is whether they can continue if Congress doesn't provide at least a little more funding for the Race to the Top carrot.

But Duncan doesn't seem to think money needs to be a big part of the reauthorization discussion.

"Those are two totally separate issues, and one should not hold up the other," he said. "There's no price tag for fixing NCLB, it won't cost a nickle."

It also sounds like there is still bipartisan agreement (at least among the lawmakers, not neccessarily Duncan) that there needs to be at least some revision to the four School Improvement Grant models. Enzi reiterated his view that he doesn't think the options work for remote rural schools. Duncan, though, reminded folks that, before the four models were in place, most foundering schools chose not to do much of anything.

"I'm open to any conversation that is part of raising expectations," he said.

Alexander commended Duncan for encouraging states to work together on more rigorous uniform standards. But he made it clear he doesn't want to see a "federal" standard.

"We just can't do that, we don't have the right to do that," he said.

There wasn't a lot of discussion of teacher quality, which sort of surprised me. But there was some discussion about changing the No Child Left Behind name. Enzi wants to go back to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which even he acknowledged is "bland." And Harkin suggested something along the lines of Every Child Counts.

Alexander sounded a note of caution amidst all the good feeling, saying "I don't want to make it sound like it's going to be a piece of cake or too easy," he said. But he added "I look forward to coming up with a consensus to fix the problems with NCLB."


Themes in the News for the week of Jan. 24-28, 2011 by UCLA IDEA |

1-28-2011 In his State of the Union address (full text), President Obama spoke at some length about education. It was one of the few elements of the speech that received enthusiastic support from both Republicans and Democrats (Education Week, Educated Guess, Education Week).

The speech portrayed a foreboding educational crisis that the administration is addressing with productive education policies. Inevitably, there are points of tension and contradiction in such a portrayal:  a crisis that is serious enough to mobilize interest and force action accompanied by solutions that provide comfort and hope in the face of education failure.

For example, the president represented open-ended and critical questions as strengths of American education. He said, “. . . our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’” In fact, many educators worry that the competitive discourse of racing to the top and winning the future is not just about America’s position in the world, but intended for individual schools and children. Such learning environments with their inevitable losers to go along with the winners are not compatible with thinking about big ideas, changing the world, or with the full scope of what children aspire to be.

Calling Race to the Top the “most meaningful reform” of the generation (Washington Post), Obama praised its support for local control and ownership. However, the federal program exerts a powerful influence on local education standards, reform strategies, teacher evaluations and charter school expansions. State proposals that won the competition for funds were those most closely aligned to the centralized guidelines (New York Times). The president was clear about how Race to the Top was intended to work:  a small federal investment to leverage large-scale change across America’s schools—most of which will have to finance improvements in ways the president did not specify.

Obama also highlighted the importance of teachers: “…to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child—become a teacher.” He set a lofty goal of 100,000 new science and math teachers. Clearly, policy reform is needed to create the conditions that attract and retain those quality teachers, such as adequate supply of books and other materials, small classrooms, informed and supportive school leadership, school and community cultures that value rigorous academic pursuits, and community involvement. Lastly, there is nothing inconsistent with “making a difference” and earning a competitive salary—a matter that also boosts prospective teachers’ enthusiasm for entering the field.

The president did not mention poverty or the link between children living in poverty and their chances for educational success (Washington Post). There were opportunities to do so. One unmentioned program that has receded from public attention and perhaps from administration priorities is “Promise Neighborhoods.” This program which links school improvement with community development efforts is intended to “significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of all children in our most distressed communities.”

“Yes, we want to ‘win the future,’ but for many the concern now is surviving the present,” said IDEA Director John Rogers (COLORLINES). Twenty-two percent of children below 6 currently live in poverty, and families are at risk of losing critical social services as local governments strip social safety nets from next year’s budgets.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


by smf for 4LAKidsNews

School buses from across the city (Downtown, the San Fernando Valley) are busing in charter school parents - with instructions on how to vote taped to the window: Bus1 for one (PUC School) of the two charter schools and four Pilot on the High School #13 Public School Choice ballot. There are only five small schools, one will get left out!

The bused-in-parents – often accompanied by children - are off loaded, lined up and shepherded by charter folks and school district staff into the polling place, often with their instructions in hand.  The buses refill with  the recently-voted and go back for another load. The League of Women Voters election monitor says it’s OK because the rules for who can vote based on where they live was changed/clarified on Thursday. The first day of voting was Monday!

“We just keep voting”, the character played by Edward G. Robinson says to the character played by Humphrey Bogart in ‘Key Largo’, “until we get the results we want.”

It’s like a finely oiled machine – if the machine is in a Chicago or Florida  – Election!

Bus2 And if one should try to take a picture of a bus the bus driver cites chapter-and-verse about how it’s illegal to take a picture of a school bus. 

  • The fact that it’s a school bus during school hours and a charter bus when it subverts (or perhaps augments) democracy is lost on the angry driver.  
  • The law that school buses when acting as charter buses are supposed to cover the words “School Bus” and cover their red lights is conveniently ignored.

The driver doesn’t take up the photographers suggestion to call the cops.  I think “You call the cops!” was her snappy reply!  I was cut to the quick.


LA Times: “…that's why the restructuring of Belmont High School is such a befuddling decision even for the inconsistent Los Angeles Unified School District

An LA Times editorial cited on Google News from ‎15 hours ago‎ (6PM Friday) critical of LAUSD : has been pulled from the Times website and doesn't appear in the Times print or online edition. What’s with that? 

Maybe Sunday? – smf

Friday, January 28, 2011


by Howard Blume | LA Times/LA Now |

January 27, 2011 | A nonprofit that examines the authorization of charter schools gave good marks Thursday to the Los Angeles Unified School District -- a finding that may surprise some local charter school operators who have long battled the school system.

The thumbs-up comes from the Chicago-based National Assn. of Charter School Authorizers, which is “devoted exclusively to improving public education by improving the policies and practices of the organizations responsible for authorizing charter schools.” The organization is regarded as pro-charter schools; in fact, its board chair, James Peyser, is a partner in the NewSchools Venture Fund, which has provided funding to propel the growth of charters.

Charter schools are free, publicly funded schools that are managed independently of the education agencies that allow them to open.

The researchers noted that L.A. Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, has authorized more charter schools than any other school district.

The largest five authorizers in the nation are, in order, the Texas Education Agency, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Chicago Public Schools and the North Carolina Department of Education, according to the report. All told, these five agencies oversee 26% of all charter schools.

The commendation for L.A. Unified goes beyond just allowing charters to operate.

L.A. Unified lands in the “top quartile” based on its overall “best practices,” said Courtney Leigh Beisel, a spokesperson for the organization. These include how the school district handles its application process, contracting procedures and performance evaluations as well as its general monitoring and oversight of charters.

The caveat is that the finding is based entirely on survey information provided by the district itself.

Charter operators have credited the district with some recent improvement, but some also have sued L.A. Unified, claiming that the school system has violated a legal obligation to provide sufficient classroom space to charters. And this week, once again, many charters were unhappy over the amount of school space the district said it could offer.

At the other extreme are critics of charter schools, who contend the school system has kowtowed to charter advocates at the expense of traditional schools and failed to hold charters accountable for poor performance and a legal obligation to provide services to all students.


Carson High School Trailblazer Staff Editorial (student newspaper from |

Friday, January 28, 2011 LAUSD, the second largest school district in the nation, needs help improving. A new superintendent might just do the trick.

Come April 15th, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Ramon C. Cortines, 78, will be retiring his post as superintendent to John Deasy.

Cortines’ successor was announced on January 11th. However, the decision-making sparked up some disapproval from certain unions and one LAUSD Board member. That member, Steve Zimmer, abstained in the 6-0 vote believing that, though capable, Deasy was hired too easily—he had no competition! Under normal circumstances, the district would conduct a public, nationwide search for the next superintendent, something the United Teachers of Los Angeles believed should have happened. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, taken with Deasy, had a large influence over his appointment but Deasy, who joined LAUSD in July of 2010 as deputy superintendent, was long expected to be superintendent-in-waiting. There was also the issue that LAUSD is already money tight as it is and a search would be both unnecessary and time-consuming.

Despite the lack of competition, Deasy’s capabilities won over the District Board, the Los Angeles mayor, and us. In his years of experience, the man was the leader of three different school districts including the Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District worthy of note. It was there he was among the first to break up large campuses and create smaller academies—an idea that traveled along to Carson High and our establishment of SLCs. Among his colleagues, he’s also been known to be a character of practicality and assertiveness: always approaching problems with an attitude determined to fix it. Deasy’s national reputation came to be as the “public education reformer.” And to top it off, he’s already been shadowing Superintendent Cortines for months and therefore couldn’t be more prepared. A nationwide search would have been trivial compared to the reasonable and efficient decision to hire Deasy .

Deasy has already set to getting involved. After the recent Gardena High Shooting, Deasy plans to review the district’s safety policies. He also makes a point about treating both schools and the students in the schools with dignity.

Deasy’s contract grants him a one-time bonus if he achieves the following three tasks: increase the percentage of third graders who can read at grade level, increase the percentage of ninth graders scoring proficient in algebra by four, and increase the percentage of high school students that graduate within four years by six.

The Superintendent-to-be is also a supporter of using student test scores to evaluate teachers. He does not, however, think that the hire and fire method will get us to succeed.

Deasy’s main reform is to turn around chronically low performing schools, and possibly make them chartered. It seems Carson isn’t out of the charter school haze yet, folks. Deasy supports proven highly effective charter schools in which the faculty focus is so unyielding, no student falls behind. Either way, it seems Carson and the rest of the district may be in better hands this coming April.


by Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer -Eastside Sun / Northeast Sun / Mexican American Sun / Bell Gardens Sun / City Terrace Comet / Commerce Comet / Montebello Comet / Monterey Park Comet / ELA Brooklyn Belvedere Comet / Wyvernwood Chronicle / Vernon Sun   |


●●smf 2¢: what is described in this article as "CHAOS at the polls last year…" was described in the League of Women Voters report on last year's PSC election [] as: “…a SUCCESS because voting occurred as planned and useful data were collected in five categories. The advisory vote process awakened these constituents to the impending changes in the governance structure for these schools. Future attempts to assess public opinion should involve adequate voter education, including an independent pro-/con-analysis of applications. This is the single most important tool to empower eligible voters to act in their own best interest.  A longer planning period would be essential.”

Perhaps the "eligibility Loophole" tightened was not a loophole at all  …but a strand of nascent democracy and community engagement?

  • Certainly the "adequate voter education, including an independent pro-/con-analysis of applications" didn't happen.
  • As didn't the "essential longer planning period."


28 Feb 2011 - Chaos at the polls last year had prompted rumors that advisory voting by parents, students, and other stakeholders under the Public School Choice reform could be eliminated for the second round of the initiative, but last week Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials informed parents and stakeholders that voting would continue, with some changes to the eligibility rules.

While the voting guidelines have been tightened in some areas, one of the areas that caused the most controversy during the first round of voting in 2010 will once again be allowed. The “community member” category—defined as anyone who is not a parent, student or teacher in the voting boundaries — who can demonstrate a connection to the community, such as residency or church attendance, can still vote.

Last year, children of any age were allowed to line up with their parents and to cast a vote. According to the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles (LWVLA), the agency contracted by the district to run the election for the second year in a row, the only minors eligible to vote this time around in “any category,” are high school students currently enrolled at schools that will be relieved of overcrowding by a public school choice high school.

There were many other changes in the second round of the reform’s advisory vote process in order to ensure a clean election, Elizabeth Ralston, acting chair of the League of Women Voters told EGP on Monday.

“We had protocols last time, [this year] we created the Bill of Rights to let eligible voters know what they are entitled to,” Ralston said.

The Bill of Rights is a page-long document clearly defining who is eligible to vote, that voters have the right to cast a secret advisory ballot free from intimidation, and how to solicit more information or report fraudulent activity.

Besides the change to eligible student voters, parents/guardians of students at current, feeder or relief schools can vote, as well as parents of charter school students from the neighborhood. PSC employees—feeder and relief schools included—are only eligible to vote once, even if they qualify as employees, parents and community members.

The point of the document was to make it clear that one person can vote once, eliminate confusion, and make sure people weren’t surprised, Ralston said.

The district wide Advisory Vote process began last week, and many people have been turned away, said Ralston. Over the weekend, there were two attempts to bus people in to vote at different sites, she said, noting the applicant teams were not pleased when their supporters were asked to produce identification.

Community members, whose names do not appear on the lists provided by LAUSD, will be asked to show identification, non-governmental IDs are accepted, or proof of address.

Last year, electioneering was allowed to go on 50 feet from the polling place—at times turning into shouting matches between competing groups.

Entire campuses are now off limits to electioneering, however groups can handout information on the sidewalk. Applicant teams were also allowed to contact stakeholders via Connect-Ed, a robo call system, send or mail flyers to homes at their own expense and participate in door-to-door canvassing.

Other changes include orientation sessions to explain the PSC process to parents and stakeholders followed by brief presentations by applicant teams. Voting is now scheduled to take place following the full applicant presentations; the morning-weekday voting has been eliminated. Saturday voting was previously 8 am to noon, this time the polls will operate from 9 am to 3 pm in order to ensure more access, Ralston said.

Education centers have also been set up at each voting place to answer questions, and United Way and Families in Schools are collaborating with the League of Women Voters to make materials more parent-friendly, facilitate presentations and answer questions at polling places.

The district currently has 13 PSC advisory vote elections underway, each with its own ballot, said Ralston.

Voters can report perceived “illegal or fraudulent activity” by calling the League of Women Voters’ election management hotline at (213) 368-1616.

NORTHEAST L.A. HIGH SCHOOL BRINGS EXCITEMENT, UNCERTAINTY: Last chance advisory vote for ‘Taylor Yard’ high school is this weekend

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer | Eastside Sun / Northeast Sun / Mexican American Sun / Bell Gardens Sun / City Terrace Comet / Commerce Comet / Montebello Comet / Monterey Park Comet / ELA Brooklyn Belvedere Comet / Wyvernwood Chronicle / Vernon Sun |

Jan 28,  2011 - Excitement and high expectations were an underlying current as parents, students and stakeholders on Monday listened to presentations from groups hoping to run a new high school that will open in the Glassell Park area of Northeast Los Angeles in August as a Public School Choice (PSC) campus.

They were also there to vote for the groups—there will be five academies in all—whose plans seem to best fit their vision for what Central Region High School #13, often referred to as Taylor Yard High, should be like.

About 300 people attended Los Angeles Unified School District’s meeting held at Irving Middle School in Glassell Park. The new high school will draw students from the attendance areas for Benjamin Franklin, Marshall and Eagle Rock high schools, and is expected to relieve overcrowding at the three Northeast L.A. area schools.

Rendering of Central High #13

Parents of students at local charter schools, feeder schools and the three high schools were among the stakeholders at Monday’s meeting.

Concepción Castillo and Veronica Aparicio arrived early and bypassed the presentations: They already knew how they would vote.

Accompanied by their children, both women voted for the charter school applicants.

Castillo’s daughter, Angie Lopez, a 10th grader at the “Environmental Science and Technology High School” on Fletcher Drive, a charter school operated by Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools. Aparicio’s daughter currently attends Milagro Elementary School, a Partnership for Uplift Communities (PUC) school in Lincoln Heights.

“I think everyone came to vote for their school,” Castillo said.

Both Alliance and PUC submitted applications to run one of the five schools at Central High.

“We both have girls at charter schools, but ours is better,” said Aparicio jokingly.

Aparicio hopes PUC will be one of the five schools selected for the campus; “That’s her future right here,” she said.

An orientation on the public school choice process was held on Jan. 20. It included brief presentations by the six applicants. It was not well attended.

Monday night’s meeting focused on providing more information and more time for questions-and-answers from stakeholders to help them make a choice.

Advisory voting began at the same time as the presentations, however, and attendees entering the premises encountered the voting center before the auditorium where the presentations were being made. Many attendees lined up to vote and left; others voted then went to hear the applicant presentations.

Glassell Park resident Marciel Moran has a son at Irving Middle School and a daughter at Eagle Rock High. His daughter will be a senior next year and will not be affected by the opening of the new high school, which will not have a senior class during its first year.

“It’s very close to my home, it’s going to be a very good school,” he told EGP after voting, and just before heading into listen to the presentations.

His son, Ruben Moran, 14, asked his father to vote for two pilot schools, The Los Angeles River School and the ArtLab School.

“I don’t want a charter because I don’t want to wear a uniform, and because they are stricter,” Ruben told EGP.

Other parents were also willing to vote for the schools their children selected. Isabel Ochoa, a mother of three, was standing outside the voting room hoping someone would inform her about the voting options. Her 13-year-old son Norbert Pineda wanted her to vote for Eagle Rock High School because he wants to play football, but Ochoa knew the high school would not appear on the list. “I keep asking him what [other] schools I should vote for,” she said, frustrated that her son had not selected any of the applicants on the ballot.

Her daughters, Raquel and Karina Pineda, both students at Eagle Rock High, listened to their mother’s frustration but had their own problems to worry about; “It’s going to be kinda weird to go to another school,” said Raquel, 15. Ochoa and her daughters decided to go to the school fair held in the auditorium lobby before voting.

Scott Folsom, Mt. Washington resident and a long time LAUSD parent leader, was pleased with the turnout.

Folsom has been attending meetings on the public school choice reform and recalled the long line of advisory voters at Burbank Middle School in the middle of a rain storm, during the first round of school choice last year.

“It’s a good turn out, however the district has not done its best to outreach,” he told EGP while the presentations were being held. “I’m cynical enough to believe that the district is not interested in a huge turnout.”

Folsom said he believes the charters were more organized and had more resources to send mailers to homes, but he noted that the pilot schools had the backing of the teachers’ union. Folsom noted the process was not free from politics, but said he was happy with the reform at the schools that underwent the process last year. “It’s about time, the kids deserve it,” he said.

Advisory voting rules changed this year, limiting minors eligible to vote to high school students at directly relieved campuses. The change didn’t fit well with Miguel Trujillo who called EGP to complain that PUC’s CALS Early High School students, like his grandson and many others who reside in the Northeast area, were not being allowed to vote.

Veronica Alonzo, CALS teacher, told EGP that students felt it was unfair because their neighbors were allowed to vote but they could not.

PUC has complained to the district and is awaiting a response, according to Celia Ramirez, office assistant for the charter school based in downtown Los Angeles. The charter operator says it was told, since the PSC2 process started 8 months ago, that their students would be allowed to vote and they have documentation as proof, she said.

LAUSD does not consider CALS to be an impacted school.

Questions at the end of Monday’s presentations focused on extracurricular activities, the admission process—there are no entrance requirements for any of the schools—and whether uniforms would be required.

According to Alliance President and CEO Judy Burton, Alliance will require students to wear uniforms for their proposed Technology, Math and Science High School and will provide one uniform free of charge; parents can decide if they want to buy additional uniforms.

The four proposed pilot schools—The Los Angeles River School, The School of Technology, Business & Education, The School of History and Dramatic Arts and The ArtLab School (Arts & Community Empowerment)—have formed a collaboration to share some costs and electives. However, all the applicants for Central High School #13 have expressed some degree of interest in working together to share operational expenses, such as campus security, if selected.

While each school selected will have its own identity and program, the campus as a whole will have one name, one set of school colors, one mascot and shared athletic programs, according to interim principal Philip Naimo. Meetings in February will address these topics as well as attendance boundaries, he said.

Under the LAUSD reform, any schools selected, including charter applicants, will be required to admit students from the attendance area, with local students being given priority. In addition, all of the schools will be required to offer A-G college preparatory requirements, accept and support English Learners and students with special needs and Individual Educational Plans (IEPs).

The new school will draw students from Atwater Village, Cypress Park, Elysian Valley, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Eagle Rock and Mount Washington.

The League of Women Voters is overseeing the advisory vote, and will present the results to Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who will review it and two advisory committee reports to form his school choice recommendation to the School Board on Feb. 22; the board will make their selection at the same meeting.

Final advisory voting will take place this Saturday, Jan. 29 from 9 am to 3 pm in the Irving Middle School cafeteria: 3010 Estara Avenue, Los Angeles, Ca 90065.

For more information, call (213) 241-2547 or visit


-- Richard Winton, Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein la tIMES/la nOW |

January 28, 2011 | 11:45 am

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said there were early questions about Los Angeles School Police Department officer Jeff Stenroos' claims that an assailant shot him outside El Camino Real High School last week.

"There were some inconsistencies that emerged early on," Beck said Friday. "It was just recently that we were able to get accurate information."

Police announced Thursday that Stenroos' story of being shot was a concocted. Stenroos has been booked on a felony charge of filing a false police report and was released on $20,000 bail Friday morning.

Beck said officials are trying to sort out what actually happened. The officer's vest was hit by a bullet, but it's unclear if the shooting took place near the school. Beck would not say whether detectives thought it was an accident.

"The entire city was led down a path of misinformation," the chief said.

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ramon Cortines issued an apology, noting that the shooting case caused thousands of students to be under lockdown for hours.

"On behalf of the thousands of dedicated professionals that comprise the Los Angeles Unified School District, I would like to apologize to the public for the hoax that was perpetrated by a rogue officer of the Los Angeles School Police," Cortines said in a statement. "Thousands of people were inconvenienced by the actions of this one man. I want to again apologize to everyone who was alarmed, who worked long hours and who were adversely affected by his actions."

Cortines said the LAUSD has relieved Stenroos of duty and begun the process of firing him.

"Although Jeff Stenroos was an eight-year veteran of the Los Angeles School Police, his actions in no way reflect the professionalism and integrity of the men and women who protect and serve this District every day," he added.

Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said Stenroos was a "disgrace."

"The law enforcement community is disgusted," Weber said in a statement. "While Mr. Stenroos is a disgrace to the badge, his individual and dangerous actions should not reflect on the hard-working men and women in law enforcement."

Police had said Stenroos was shot in the chest Jan. 19 after he confronted a man who was attempting to break into vehicles near the eastern boundary of El Camino Real High School campus. Stenroos' bulletproof vest absorbed the impact of a single gunshot, which Los Angeles Police Department officials said could easily have killed the officer.
The incident sparked a massive police response that inconvenienced thousands of people for the day as officers blocked roads, locked down schools and refused to let people in or out of a 7-square-mile area.
Authorities arrested Stenroos after he allegedly admitted to fabricating the story, a senior LAPD official close to the investigation told The Times.

L.A. CATHOLIC SCHOOLS TO ADD 20 DAYS TO ACADEMIC YEAR: The switch to a 200-day calendar will give campuses run by the archdiocese in L.A., Ventura and Santa Barbara counties one of the longest school years in the nation. LAUSD has 175 days

By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times |


Cardinal Roger Mahony, joined by pupils at Nativity School in South Los Angeles, details a plan to extend the academic year at elementary and middle schools in the archdiocese. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times / January 27, 2011)

January 28, 2011 - As public school students in Los Angeles adjust to a shorter academic year, Catholic school pupils face a different sort of transition. Beginning this fall, most elementary schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will add 20 days to their schedules, making their school year one of the longest in the United States.

In announcing the expansion to a 200-day calendar, Cardinal Roger Mahony insisted Thursday that the archdiocese was not trying to gain a competitive advantage over the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has cut its school year to 175 days this year. He said the Catholic schools which serve 52,000 elementary and middle school children in three counties, were simply trying to step up their performance to ensure that students would become globally competitive.

"We're not in competition with LAUSD, nor is this aimed at LAUSD," the cardinal said during a news conference at Nativity School in South Los Angeles. "What we're trying to do is focus on the group that we're entrusted with, and we believe that more time in the classroom is beneficial to the students."

National studies have long pointed to the benefits of a longer school year, and education reformers have noted that U.S. schools have a shorter school year than their counterparts in other developed countries. Despite that, few schools have attempted to significantly lengthen their instructional year, largely because of the increased cost.

Los Angeles Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he would lengthen the public school year "in a minute" if he had enough money. "I think it's wonderful for the students," he added.

"This is a pretty bold action," said Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the National Center on Time and Learning, a Boston-based organization that advocates a longer school year and day. He said he could think of no school system as large as the one run by the Los Angeles Archdiocese that had attempted to significantly lengthen its academic year.

"It'll be an important experiment to watch," he said.

Probably the largest school system to operate on an extended calendar is that run by the KIPP charter school group, which operates 99 schools across the country, including five in Los Angeles. The KIPP year varies by school, with many staying open for more than 200 days. They also have a significantly longer school day than most schools, and have been praised for their academic achievement.

With 210 elementary schools spread across Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the archdiocese runs one of the largest school systems in California, larger than the public school districts in San Francisco or Sacramento. It has earned accolades for operating well-run, academically rigorous schools that serve many low-income students.

There also are 50 Catholic high schools in the archdiocese serving some 30,000 students. They are not included in the schedule change.

The expansion was announced jointly by Mahony and Coadjutor Archbishop Jose Gomez, who will succeed him in a month. It comes as Catholic schools nationally are coping with serious setbacks. Large settlements in sexual abuse lawsuits have left the church struggling to maintain financial support for schools in some jurisdictions. In others, the schools have been hurt by a decline in the Catholic population.

Both Mahony and Kevin Baxter, superintendent of elementary schools for the archdiocese, said most extra costs for the longer school year would be borne by individual schools, with help from the nonprofit Catholic Education Foundation and the archdiocese's Together in Mission fundraising arm. Baxter said he was also seeking additional foundation support.

Tuition, which is charged on a monthly basis, will increase by one month. Amounts range from about $200 a month at schools in very poor neighborhoods to about $800 a month in more affluent areas, Baxter said. He said the archdiocese was committed to helping any families that couldn't afford the higher cost.

"We want to ensure that no family leaves any Catholic school because of the increase in tuition," he said.

Teachers will receive a 10% raise for the extra month of work. Most schools are expected to adopt the new schedule in the fall, with the rest following in the fall of 2012.

A few schools, including Nativity, have already gone to a longer school year. Nativity switched eight years ago and has seen its students thrive, according to its principal, Sister Judy Flahavan. By the time students finish eighth grade, she said, they are working at a ninth-grade level in most subjects and an 11th-grade level in English. With 324 students, 95% of them Latino, the school serves a low-income population that includes many nonnative English speakers, she said.

Antonio Felix, a teacher who became the school's director of marketing and development this year, said one key to its success has been its relatively short summer vacation, from late June until mid-August. "We're not just giving them more time in school to learn," he said. "We're giving them fewer days out of school to forget."

Juanita Vasquez, the mother of a fourth-grader and the president of Nativity's parent committee, said most parents like the longer school year, both because their children learn more and because they know their children are safe in school.

She said she doesn't find the extra month of tuition — $205 a month at Nativity — excessive. "I'd rather spend it on my kids' education than on other things," she said.