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Weekly Update, Part 2: The Gates Foundation, a smart ALEC and more charter school abuses

There was so much to report this week that I decided to break down the update into two parts.

So on to Weekly Update, Part 2:

 As I stated in a previous post, there was an Innovation Schools bill that passed through Olympia this year and was heralded by both sides of the aisle as a step forward in school innovation and was also seen as a way to sidestep the issue of charter schools.

What many did not realize is that what was passed was legislation written by ALEC. We didn’t get “charter schools” but we got the next best thing as far as members of ALEC were concerned.

This bill disconnects teachers working in Innovation Schools from the coverage of their unions and there is to be no oversight by a democratically elected local school board. As we have learned from Wall Street, the last thing that these privatizers want is oversight or regulation of any sort. That is why public school boards are not part of their equation. The ideal for these folks is to have mayoral control over public schools and a school board that is selected by the mayor. That way, there is control of one person which can be managed rather handily through campaign financing. Los Angeles, where Eli Broad has befriended two mayors so far and New York City with Bloomberg at the helm, have mayoral control and these mayors are taking their marching orders from the money brokers.

There has been an overwhelming proliferation of charter schools in both cities where there is no oversight in terms of adherence to the rules and regulations that would at least gain the notice of an elected school board, everything from financing to ethics.

The following article describes in detail how ALEC is all about destroying public education through privatization:

A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education

Coordinated efforts to introduce model legislation aimed at defunding and dismantling public schools is the signature work of this conservative organization

A legislative contagion seemed to sweep across the Midwest during the early months of 2011. First, Wisconsin legislators wanted to strip public employees of the right to bargain. Then, Indiana legislators got into the act. Then, it was Ohio. In each case, Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures had introduced substantially similar bills that sought sweeping changes to each state’s collective bargaining statutes and various school funding provisions.

What was going on? How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?

The answer: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Its self-described legislative approach to education reads:

Across the country for the past two decades, education reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at different times in different places. As a result, teachers’ unions have been playing something akin to “whack-a-mole”—you know the game—striking down as many education reform efforts as possible. Many times, the unions successfully “whack” the “mole,” i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce comprehensive reform packages. (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 108)

ALEC’s own “whack-a-mole” strategy also reveals the group’s ultimate goal. Every gardener who has ever had to deal with a mole knows that the animals undermine and ultimately destroy a garden. ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.

Further into the article:

ALEC in Tennessee

Recent legislation in Tennessee provides a vivid example. ALEC created and provided members its model Virtual Public Schools Act. Two large for-profit corporate providers of virtual education, Connections Academy and K-12 Inc., had heavy involvement with the model bill’s creation. Mickey Revenaugh, a lobbyist for Connections Academy, was the corporate chair of ALEC’s Education Task Force and Lisa Gillis, with K-12 Inc., chaired its special needs education subcommittee that created the bill. Tennessee’s State Rep. Harry Brooks and State Sen. Dolores Gresham, both ALEC Education Task Force members, introduced the bill to their respective houses nearly verbatim, even using the same title. For example, the following passage forms the preamble of the adopted statute. Underlined portions were taken directly from ALEC’s model.

• WHEREAS, meeting the educational needs of children in our state’s schools is of the greatest importance to the future welfare of Tennessee; and

• WHEREAS, closing the achievement gap between high-performing students, including the gap between minority and nonminority students and between economically disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers, is a significant and present challenge; and

• WHEREAS, providing a broader range of educational options to parents and utilizing existing resources, along with technology, may help students in our state improve their academic achievement; and

• WHEREAS, many of our school districts currently lack the capacity to provide other public school choices for students whose schools are low performing; now, therefore

• The purpose of this part is to provide an LEA with an alternative choice to offer additional educational resources in an effort to improve academic achievement. (Virtual Public Schools Act, 2011).

The bill passed both houses on a party-line vote on June 16, 2011. Shortly thereafter, K-12 Inc.—one of the creators of the model legislation—won a no-bid contract from Union County School District to create the Tennessee Virtual Academy and will receive about $5,300 per student from the state for the 2011-12 school year (Humphrey, 2011). Connections Academy does not yet offer a virtual school in Tennessee, but its web site reports that it “is actively working with parent groups, education officials, and others to launch a school in this state.”

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that about 2,000 students applied for enrollment in the Tennessee Virtual Academy for fall 2011. Recent reports raise concerns that the program’s popularity with home schoolers may “drain taxpayer funds” while enriching the corporation actively and aggressively recruiting students to enroll (Locker, 2011). Locker also reports that “K-12 Inc. compensated its CEO more than $2.6 million last year, its chief financial officer more than $1.7 million, and other top executives several hundred thousand dollars each, according to its latest annual report to shareholders.”

(By the way, watch for this type of legislation to pop up in Olympia in January.)

The authors continue:

By elevating parental choice over all other values, the ALEC push for privatization supports schools that can be segregated by academic ability and disability, ethnicity, economics, language, and culture. They would be the natural outgrowth of parents’ unfettered choices in a free-market system. Increased racial isolation would likely result, exacerbating current trends toward resegregation (Orfield & Lee, 2007). In addition, as seen in Tennessee, a fully realized ALEC agenda would undoubtedly result in more public education dollars bolstering the balance sheets of for-profit education vendors.

To read this article in full, go to Education Week.

Here is an example of mayoral control in New York City by billionaire mayor Bloomberg and his buddies:

Opportunity Locked

Two eighth grade students sat at a table in their school’s hallway, trying to concentrate on their speech therapist’s iPad screen. Elevator doors opened in front of them. Students walked in and out of restrooms less than five feet away. This was the regular “classroom” for therapy at Harlem’s Opportunity Charter on West 113th Street, where more than half its 420 middle and high school students have special needs.

It’s distracting, because you hear a lot of people talking,” said 13-year-old Senay Mejia, “and I’m trying to work back here.”

Making matters even more frustrating, one floor below are two empty, locked classrooms – one for dance, another for speech therapy. Those rooms belong to Harlem Success Academy 4, another charter school in the building with some 300 kindergartners through fourth graders.

In the recent past, most of the contentious battles over school space in the city have erupted when a charter school has tried to share the same floor with a traditional public school. In this case, the space crunch is between two charter schools, both of which are very different models. “It’s charter versus charter here,” said Vice Principal Shantè Spivey about the space battles.

The space crunch is not about to end. In April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plans to close 24 more public schools and open 54 new ones—24 of them charters. In Opportunity’s case, the education department had threatened to close it last December because of its rocky test scores, but at the last minute gave it a two-year reprieve.

The worse part of this is that the students working at the table in the hallway are special ed students trying to focus on their school work.

So much for “innovation”.

To read this article in full, go to School Stories.

In Hawaii, the graft and greed have gone unregulated and out of control. See:

Audit finds ‘little or no oversight’ of charter school spending

A review panel hasn’t held charter schools accountable for student performance, and in many cases the schools are “free to spend public funds with little or no oversight,” a scathing audit of Hawaii’s public charter school system charges.

The state performance audit, released today, also found Myron B. Thompson Academy, which was the focus of a nepotism probe earlier this year, failed to “adhere to ethical fiscal management principles … (leading) to $133,000 in overpayments to staff.”

Further into the article:

Some spending at Thompson Academy was characterized as “possibly fraudulent,” including salary overpayments that resulted in some employees being paid twice or three times what they should have been earning. The audit said that in the 2009-10 school year, the school’s elementary and secondary vice principals, part-time school administrative services assistant and part-time registrar were paid lump-sum amounts through temporary employee contracts in addition to their regular salaries.

For example, the audit notes, the school’s part-time registrar got an “administrative differential” that boosted his salary to $55,200 annually, a 212 percent increase.

To read this article in full, go to the Star Advertiser.

Then there is this:

Fired head of state’s largest charter school under scrutiny for spending

WAIPAHU, Hawaii – The fired former head of Hawaii Technology Academy and his vice principal spent about $100,000 in state school funds on travel in one year, and an auditor found that “abuse, waste or fraud” likely occurred at the state’s largest charter school.

To read this article in full, go to Hawaii News Now.

And finally:

Charter school sues to block ethics query

Connections Public Charter School and an employee who is accused of violating ethics laws have sued the state Ethics Commission as well as the Charter School Review Panel.

The Hilo charter school and its administrative assistant, William Eric Boyd, filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Hilo against the commission and its executive director, Les Kondo, demanding that it drop its investigation of Boyd. They claim that because he works for a charter school, Boyd is not a state employee and therefore not subject to the state Ethics Code.

To read this article in full and not have to pay for it, go to this saved pdf of that post.

For additional listening and viewing this weekend, there is our very own Jesse Hagopian speaking on Education Radio. This week’s topic is:

Strings Attached: The Gates Foundation and the Buying & Selling of Public Education

Here is the introduction:

In this week’s program, we take a closer look at the role of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in funding and promoting corporate education reform. The Gates Foundation is one of a handful of venture philanthropists – along with the Broad and Walton  Foundations – who have spent billions of dollars in the last decade to change the face of public education in the United States. Gates’ agenda for reform is essentially identical to that of the U.S. Department of Education, namely increasing the use of high-stakes standardized tests at all levels, standardizing curriculum, creating a de-unionized system of merit-based pay for teachers tied to student test scores, and disinvesting in neighborhood public schools in favor of opening new charter schools. As we’ve explored in previous episodes of Education Radio, all of these reforms can be tied to a larger ideology of free-market competition and a corporate agenda of deregulation and privatization, and are actually leading to greater social and economic inequalities.

We talk with Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle public high school History teacher, writer, and founding member of the activist group Social Equality Educators, about the effect of Gates-funded reforms in Seattle.

We speak with Kenneth Saltman, Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Research at DePaul University about the nature of venture philanthropy and its tremendous influence in privatizing public education.

We also hear from Denver Public Schools board member and activist Andrea Merida about the effects of Gates- funded initiatives in Denver. A native of Southwest Denver, Merida has worked tirelessly for social and economic justice within her community, and to ensure meaningful civic engagement in the direction of public education. A freelance web designer and social media consultant by trade, she is a founding member of both Parents Across America and Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood School Education, organizations working towards truly equitable public education. Merida has shown incredible courage and integrity in her resistance to corporate school reform.

David Hursh, Associate Professor of Teaching & Curriculum at University of Rochester Warner School of Education, speaks to us about the ways in which the Gates Foundation marginalizes other voices in determining the direction and shape of public education.

Finally, we speak with Leslee Grey, teacher educator at Queens College of the City University of New York, and contributing author to the book, The Gates Foundation and the Future of U.S. ‘Public’ Schools (Routledge, 2010).

You can listen to the program on Education Radio.

And for an interesting watch, check out Diane Ravitch at the Netroots Nation conference. The topic was:

What Progressives Can Do to Stop the War on Public Education

One comment on “Weekly Update, Part 2: The Gates Foundation, a smart ALEC and more charter school abuses

  1. David Fisher
    June 17, 2012

    Dora, I find it interesting that the two corporate charter companies you mentioned in the Tennessee legislative manipulations by Alec were both players in the Hawaii charter schools scandals. “Connections” was the corporate charter school involved in suing the state to stop an ethics probe, claiming administrators at the school were private employees and not accountable to the state. And the other school, Hawaii Technology Academy, run by the virtual education company K12 Inc., was exposed in its audit as a most likely perpetrator of “abuse, waste, and fraud.”

    David

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