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The Weekly Update: The corporate empire of public education and where that leaves the rest of us, ALEC, Gates and charter schools

So much news, so little time.

From Real News:

U.S. Student Homelessness Up 10% Since Last Year

 Highest increases of homeless children seen in states like North Carolina where austerity policies predominate.

All those people we come in contact with daily, the sales clerk, that friendly person at the bank, the barista…they’ll all hurting, quietly, and I never knew they were in such pain, not until the strikes began to happen. Then I realized that these workers get paid so little that we are subsidizing the overhead of the 1% by providing workers with food assistance and healthcare, ensuring that the wealthy few can maintain their standard of living while the rest of us stoically suffer:

From the Real News, 1 out of 3 Bank Tellers in NY on Public Assistance

New report finds bank executives receive big bonuses, while 39% of frontline bank employees must rely on welfare because of insufficient wages

Remember that many of these employees have families, children in school, and they are barely able to make ends meet.

On the other hand, from Mother Jones:

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Can’t touch this

  • The Army uses more than twice as much building space as all the offices in New York City.

  • The Pentagon holds more than 80 percent of the federal government’s inventories, including $6.8 billion of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable stuff.

  • The Pentagon operates more than more than 170 golf courses worldwide.

  • 70 percent of the value of the federal government’s $1.8 trillion in property, land, and equipment belongs to the Pentagon.

…the Pentagon has once more gotten a reprieve from the budget ax: Under Murray and Ryan’s congressional budget deal, the Pentagon will get an additional $32 billion, or 4.4 percent, in 2014, leaving its base budget at a higher level than in 2005 and 2006. (The Department of Defense expects its total 2014 budget, including supplemental war funding, to be more than $600 billion.)

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost $1.5 trillion, about twice the cost of the Vietnam War when adjusted for inflation. Those funds came entirely from borrowing, contributing nearly 20 percent to the national debt accrued between 2001 and 2012. And that’s just the “supplemental” military spending passed by Congress for the wars—the regular Pentagon budget also grew nearly 45 percent between 2001 and 2010.

One out of every five tax dollars is spent on defense.

Too big to audit

Where does the Pentagon’s money go? The exact answer is a mystery. That’s because the Pentagon’s books are a complete mess. They’re so bad that they can’t even be officially inspected, despite a 1997 requirement that federal agencies submit to annual audits—just like every other business or organization.

The Defense Department is one of just two agencies (Homeland Security is the other) that are keeping the bean counters waiting: As the Government Accountability Office dryly notes, the Pentagon has “serious financial management problems” that make its financial statements “inauditable.” Pentagon financial operations occupy one-fifth of the GAO’s list of federal programs with a high risk of waste, fraud, or inefficiency.

Critics also contend that the Pentagon cooks its books by using unorthodox accounting methods that make its budgetary needs seem more urgent. The agency insists it will “achieve audit readiness” by 2017.

 Defense_4Web.indd

To read this article in full, go to Mother Jones.

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So what does the 1% do with their money? Well, they would like to rule the world, at least control what they haven’t gotten already.

One of the vehicles used to do that is through ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Let’s see what they’re up to now.

From Education Alchemy:

“Big Brother” Has an Ugly Corporate “Big Stepsister”!

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There’s a lot wrong with ALEC legislation, now, in the past, and undoubtedly into the future. I could fill volumes of pages of such concerns. But for the sake of focus, today’s blog drills down into their most recent “model” legislation aimed at selling our schools to the edu-tech industry. It’s so blatant it’s painful. I would have expected more subterfuge from ALEC. They’re getting lazy. Or their getting bold. Their agenda is too clear. Kind of disappointing really. They took all the fun out of having to dig for it.

I am pasting snap shots of their latest rounds of policies. The rest speaks for itself.

From the “Early Intervention Act”

“…to provide interactive computer software for literacy or numeracy instruction, or both, and assessments for students in kindergarten through grade 3.”

Really? Because nothing screams “developmentally inappropriate” like putting a five year old in front of a computer in lieu of a real live caring and experienced teacher during the most vulnerable and formative stages of cognitive development. But of course, this is a boon for the software industry!

In order to receive the early intervention funds for the “enhanced kindergarten program” described in this model bill, a school district must agree to contract with software companies to provide online learning programs.

“In addition to an enhanced kindergarten program described in Subsection (B), the early intervention program includes a component to address early intervention through the use of an interactive computer software program.”

To read this post in full, go to Education Alchemy

And speaking about the 1% buying what they want, for Bill Gates it’s the privatization of our schools by way of charter schools and the standardization/homogenization of our children through Common Core Standards and all those tests.

Recently Gates provided the League of Education Voters with $4,200,000to build capacity for a state-wide public charter school support organization in Washington State”.

burning bucks

Continuing on  the theme of privatization, there is this from The Nation:

Ted Mitchell, Education Dept. Nominee, Has Strong Ties to Pearson, Privatization Movement

Ted Mitchell, the chief executive of the New Schools Venture Fund, was nominated in October by President Obama to become the Under Secretary of the Department of Education.

As the administration continues to reshuffle its team, and confront new regulatory challenges, some view Mitchell’s nomination as a move towards greater privatization. In the coming months, the Department of Education will release “gainful employment” rules to rein in for-profit colleges, an experiment in proprietary education that many see as an unmitigated disaster.

As head of the NewSchools Venture Fund, Mitchell oversees investments in education technology start-ups. In July, Zynga, the creators of FarmVille, provided $1 million to Mitchell’s group to boost education gaming companies. Mitchell’s NewSchool Venture Fund also reportedly partners with Pearson, the education mega-corporation that owns a number of testing and textbook companies, along with one prominent for-profit virtual charter school, Connections Academy.

Jeff Bryant, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, says it seems likely that Mitichell will “advocate for more federal promotion of online learning, ‘blended’ models of instruction, ‘adaptive learning’ systems, and public-private partnerships involving education technology.”

Mitchell did not respond to TheNation.com’s  request for comment*.

His ethics disclosure form shows that he was paid $735,300 for his role at NewSchools, which is organized as a non-profit. In recent years, he has served or is currently serving as a director to New Leaders, Khan Academy, California Education Partners, Teach Channel, ConnectED, Hameetman Foundation, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Silicon Schools, Children Now, Bellwether Partners, Pivot Learning Partners, EnCorps Teacher Training Program, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Green DOT Public (charter) Schools.

In addition, Mitchell serves as an adviser to Salmon River Capital, a venture capital firm that specializes in education companies. Mitchell sits on the board of Parchment, an academic transcript start-up that is among Salmon River Capital’s portfolio.

Salmon River Capital helped create one of the biggest names in for-profit secondary education, Capella University. “As a foundational investor and director, [Salmon River Capital’s] Josh Lewis made invaluable contributions to Capella’s success. From leading our landmark financing in 2000, when Capella was a $10 million business operating in a difficult environment, through a successful 2006 IPO and beyond, he proved a great partner who kept every commitment he made,” reads a statement from Steve Shank, founder of Capella.

The Minnesota-based Capella heavily recruits veterans and has received $53.1 million from the GI Bill in the past four years. The Minnesota attorney general is currently investigating several unnamed for-profit colleges in her state.

To read this article in full, go to The Nation.

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By the way, Bill Gates provided the New Schools Venture Fund with $30M recently to support  NSVF in their “Efforts to Provide 200 High-Quality Charter Schools for 100,000 Low-Income Students”.

And while on the subject of the Gates/Gates Foundation investments, check out this article from grist:

The Gates Foundation’s hypocritical investments

With an endowment larger than all but four of the world’s largest hedge funds, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is easily one of the most powerful charities in the world. According to its website, the organization “works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives.” So how do the investments of the foundation’s $36 billion investing arm, the Gates Foundation Trust, match up to its mission? We dug into the group’s recently released 2012 tax returns to find out.

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 The Gates Foundation did not respond to requests for comment; however, its investment policy says the trust’s managers “consider other issues beyond corporate profits, including the values that drive the foundation’s work.”

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In its most recent annual report to investors, private prison company GEO Group listed some risks to its bottom line, including “reductions in crime rates” that “could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences,” along with immigration reform and the decriminalization of drugs. Military contractor DynCorp, meanwhile, has faced allegations of fraudmismanagement, and even slavery from the Middle East to Eastern Europe.

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Moving on to charter schools, what Bill Gates and the Waltons want for the rest of us, from alter net:

Major Charter School Chain’s Classrooms Look Like Cubicles for Telemarketers

As Bill Gates once said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”

The Rocketship chain of charter schools is hoping to expand across the country. It’s backed by some of the biggest names in the tech world and claims high test scores.

Rocketship leaders brag that they think outside the box. Teachers, for instance—who needs them? The company says it saves half a million dollars a year by using fewer teachers, replacing them with non-certified instructors at $15 per hour.

These instructors monitor up to 130 kids at a time in cubicles in the schools’ computer labs. Rocketeers, as students are called, sit looking at computer screens up to two hours per day, supposedly learning by solving puzzles.

Business leaders such as Bill Gates often stress the need to train kids for the jobs of the future—digital animators, nanotech engineers? But it looks more like the Rocketeers are being prepared for online “microtasks” at Crowdflower, which contracts out data categorization and de-duplication.

According to a recent wage and hour lawsuit, these microtaskers are often paid as little as $2 an hour.

Overall, the growth these days is not in skilled, middle-class jobs like public school teaching—which is shrinking, thanks to charter chains like Rocketship—but in low-wage jobs.

It’s no coincidence that Rocketship employs the same kind of de-professionalized, non-union workforce it seems to be training. Half its teachers have less than two years’ experience; 75 percent come from Teach for America.

Screen Time

Critics of the Rocketship model cite the American Association of Pediatrics, which recommends less than two hours of screen time per day—total.

When you figure in that kids will be on computers and phones when they aren’t in school, too—they spend on average seven hours a day on various devices as it is—it raises a red flag.

Skeptics say the Rocketship test scores just demonstrate the schools are focusing on test preparation at the expense of arts, languages, and real learning.

Rocketship’s board and advisors represent the Gates, Walton, and Broad Foundations—familiar faces in corporate “education reform.” Benefactors include Facebook, Netflix, and Skype.

Rocketship’s schools are in California, Wisconsin, and Tennessee with plans to expand into Indianapolis, D.C., and New Orleans: 25,000 students by 2017.

Guinea Pigs

Rocketship targets low-income students, making them the guinea pigs for the cubicle model of education.

Who doesn’t like their kids being experimented on? As Bill Gates once said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”

In fact, the chain is already scrapping the 100-cubicle learning labs for its older students, fourth and fifth graders. Students weren’t always engaged, and sometimes were just staring at the screen and guessing.

To hear their enthusiasm, you might imagine the tech elites would be dropping their kids off every day for these cutting-edge education experiments. But instead, many Silicon Valley leaders send their kids to private schools like Waldorf Peninsula—whose philosophy is to avoid computers, arguing that they hurt children’s development and attention spans.

Those who can afford private schools choose those that offer creative, hands-on learning, small classes, arts, and teacher-student interaction. But apparently the cubicle is good enough for everyone else.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that these business leaders’ model spends public education dollars on their own products. Education is a half-trillion-dollar industry. See here for another example: L.A. schools give every student and teacher an apple—an iPad, that is.

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And this from Scathing Purple Musings (listen up Seattle):

Shaky Grant From For-Profit Charter School Ensnares Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores

Auditors say both the grant and a problematic lease they scrutinized are evidence of a larger issue created when the independent governing boards tasked with overseeing charters share close ties with the companies paid to run the public schools, often for a profit. In the Doral case, several board members of the school and college serve in various other capacities for charter school giant Academica, which manages both schools

Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) never met a piece of legislation that benefited the for-profit charter school industry she didn’t like. Just pay no attention to the little matter that she works for one. This week’s revelations that the one she works for  received a tax-payer funded grant marks the beginning of another episode in the shady relationships between Florida legislators and the for-profit charter school industry. Miami Herald reporter David Smiley reports:

Fledgling Doral College got a $400,000 windfall two years ago that helped the small start-up open its doors. The “grant” came from Doral Academy Charter High, a publicly funded school run by the same company.

The deal helped Doral College stay in the black and furthered a joint effort with the charter school to establish an in-house dual-enrollment program. But the transaction also caught the eye of Miami-Dade school district auditors, who have spent the last year questioning why and how a school funded by the state could hand hundreds of thousands of public dollars to an unaccredited, private college.

“The authority and legality of said expense is also not clear to us,” investigators wrote in an audit presented Tuesday.

Auditors say both the grant and a problematic lease they scrutinized are evidence of a larger issue created when the independent governing boards tasked with overseeing charters share close ties with the companies paid to run the public schools, often for a profit. In the Doral case, several board members of the school and college serve in various other capacities for charter school giant Academica, which manages both schools.

Academica president Fernando Zulueta declined to comment Tuesday when approached by a reporter.

But in a biting response to the audit, an attorney representing the school said the grant was a legitimate transaction between partners in education, which existed under the same company when the charter school first set aside the $400,000 for the college. The district’s critical audit, attorney Eleni Pantaridis argued, omitted crucial facts and was the flawed work of a biased investigator who “does not support the charter school system.”

“They’re picking and choosing the facts that benefit them and ignoring the facts that don’t,” she said Tuesday during a hearing

To read this post in full, go to Scathing Purple Musings.

Today, I will leave you with Bill Moyers and Henry Giroux Zombie Politics.

Giroux touches on the subject of education quite a bit in this discussion.

Submitted by Dora Taylor

4 comments on “The Weekly Update: The corporate empire of public education and where that leaves the rest of us, ALEC, Gates and charter schools

  1. hn a
    December 29, 2013

    Better late than never to post the Moyer’s/Giroux discussion. Giroux has been a brilliant – yes, really brillisnt – critic of American culture and schooling since the early ’80s. His prodigious scholarly and polemic output has been thoroughly ignored by mainstream liberal critics of ‘reform';and it is their loss. Giroux offers a coherent alternative narrative and understnding of the ideological, pedagogical under pinnings of the liberal-conservative-right wing private discouse that drives our converstions and that represses any alternative discourse.

    Get ready for the ‘Red-Baiting’ and ‘know-nothing comments from those who are ignorant of Giroux’s writing.

    No matter, yo have raised thre level of discussion and that, in itself is a worthy effort.

    • seattleducation2011
      December 29, 2013

      I have posted other quotes and comments from Giroux and do it as it fits within the context what I am writing.

      Dora

  2. John Young
    December 28, 2013

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  3. Todd Smekens
    December 28, 2013

    Reblogged this on Middletown Voice.

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