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The Weekly Update: So much money, so little time, creationism in voucher schools and who’s holding Arne Duncan accountable?

The Weekly Update for news you might have missed.

President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Race-to-the-Top Duncan.

Obama has become the darling of a whole new world of financiers and entrepreneurs in education who are making riches off of our educational system with his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Race to the Top  program that includes common core standards, non-union teachers, testing of anything that moves, charter schools and now school vouchers.

Today we’ll start with Stephanie Simon’s article:

Privatizing Public Schools: Big Firms Eyeing Profits From U.S. K-12 Market

The investors gathered in a tony private club in Manhattan were eager to hear about the next big thing, and education consultant Rob Lytle was happy to oblige.

Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they’re as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.

“You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up,” said Lytle, a partner at The Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting firm. “It could get really, really big.”

Indeed, investors of all stripes are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education.

The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors.

Traditionally, public education has been a tough market for private firms to break into — fraught with politics, tangled in bureaucracy and fragmented into tens of thousands of individual schools and school districts from coast to coast.

Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They’re pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.

The conference last week at the University Club, billed as a how-to on “private equity investing in for-profit education companies,” drew a full house of about 100.

OUTSOURCING BASICS

In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.

The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.

“It’s time,” Moe said. “Everybody’s excited about it.”

Not quite everyone.

The push to privatize has alarmed some parents and teachers, as well as union leaders who fear their members will lose their jobs or their autonomy in the classroom.

Many of these protesters have rallied behind education historian Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University, who blogs and tweets a steady stream of alarms about corporate profiteers invading public schools.

Ravitch argues that schools have, in effect, been set up by a bipartisan education reform movement that places an enormous emphasis on standardized test scores, labels poor performers as “failing” schools and relentlessly pushes local districts to transform low-ranked schools by firing the staff and turning the building over to private management.

To read this article in full, go to the Huffington Post.

Next up, accountability demanded of Arne Duncan. What a concept!

It is interesting how no one is making Arne Duncan accountable for all of the debacles around the country in terms of the privatization of our public schools, the over emphasis on test scores, the use of recruits with 5 weeks of training populating our most impoverished (minority) schools and the belly flop of merit pay, at least until now:

U.S. Rep. Castor calls on feds to investigate FCAT

Florida Representative Kathy Castor

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, has asked U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to step in and investigate Florida’s school accountability system, and particularly the state FCAT tests.

“We need some accountability for Florida’s accountability system,” Castor said. She said the high-stakes nature of the test — which is tied to promotion and graduation decisions, school grades and teacher pay — means it needs to be above reproach. She said she was building on an anti-testing resolution created by the Florida School Boards association that calls for an outside audit of the testing system. Some version of the resolution was adopted by all 67 school boards in the state.

During a press call announcing her request, Castor was backed by Joie Cadle, who is president of the Florida School Boards Association as well as an Orange County School Board member, and Christine Bramuchi, a co-founder of the Orlando-based pro-education group Fund Education Now.

Cadle said the FSBA supports Castor’s push “to have an independent set of eyes” on the state testing system in light of problems with writing scores and school grades in the last few months.

Bramuchi said the testing system is losing credibility among parents and that something needs to be done to make it more transparent.

Castor said that the departure of state education commissioner Gerard Robinson makes an outside look even more timely. Read her letter to Duncan here: Castor letter to Duncan

Mr. Accountability

Speaking of accountability, where’s Arne Duncan when you need him? Like when public money is being spent to teach students creationism?

From Diane Ravitch’s blog:

Science As Taught in Some of Bobby Jindal’s Voucher Schools

Some of the schools getting voucher students–not all, but a significant number–use textbooks that teach creationism.

Jonathan Pelto posted what is found in a science textbook used to teach creationist “science”:

  1. “Biblical and scientific evidence seems to indicate that men and dinosaurs lived at the same time…. Fossilized tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas, also give evidence that men and dinosaurs existed simultaneously. Fossilized human footprints and three-toed dinosaur tracks occur in the same rock stratum…. That dinosaurs existed with humans is an important discovery disproving the evolutionists’ theory that dinosaurs lived 70 million years before man. God created dinosaurs on the sixth day. He created man later the same day.”
    The ACE, (Accelerated Christian Education®) curriculum is being used in a number of Louisiana schools that receive public funding as a result of Jindal’s publicly funded voucher program.

For the full post, go to Diane Ravitch’s blog.

As an FYI, the same folks in Louisiana who pushed for charter schools are the same ones who pushed for school vouchers. Same thing happened in Florida. Let’s not allow that to happen in our state. See:

Florida’s For-Profit Charter Schools and Pro-Voucher Groups Have Merged

As profiteers suck the life’s blood out of our school systems, Marian Wright Edelman reminds us that poverty is a significant indicator of how a child will manage in life. The balance that we can provide as citizens are well funded schools.

Here is an excerpt regarding the Children’s’ Defense Fund Report written by Marian Wright Edelman:

The State of America’s Children 2012

This report is a portrait of where our children are right now and a tool to spur us to set the vision of where we need to go to stop the downward mobility of our children and grandchildren and the diminution of America’s future.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” When we look at the state of our union and the state of America’s children in 2012, his words ring very true. It’s impossible to deny that our nation’s economy, professed values of equal opportunity, future, and soul are all in danger right now.

There are 16.4 million poor children in rich America, 7.4 million living in extreme poverty. A majority of public school students and more than three out of four Black and Hispanic children, who will be a majority of our child population by 2019, are unable to read or compute at grade level in the fourth or eighth grade and will be unprepared to succeed in our increasingly competitive global economy. Nearly eight million children are uninsured. More children were killed by guns in 2008-2009 than U.S. military personnel in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date. A Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime; a Latino boy a one in six chance of the same fate.

Millions of children are living hopeless, poverty- and violence-stricken lives in the war zones of our cities; in the educational deserts of our rural areas; in the moral deserts of our corrosive culture that saturates them with violent, materialistic, and individualistic messages; and in the leadership deserts of our political and economic life where greed and self interest trump the common good over and over. Millions of our children are being left behind without the most basic human supports they need to survive and thrive when parents alone cannot provide for them at a time of deep economic downturn, joblessness, and low wage jobs that place a ceiling on economic mobility for millions as America’s dream dims. Unemployment, underemployment, and economic inequality are rife and will worsen if massive cascading federal, state, and local budget cuts aimed primarily at the poor and young succeed. Homeless shelters, child hunger, and child suffering have become normalized in the richest nation on earth. It’s time to reset our moral compass and redefine how we measure success.

The Children’s Defense Fund has just released The State of America’s Children® 2012 Handbook. This report is a portrait of where our children are right now and a tool to spur us to set the vision of where we need to go to stop the downward mobility of our children and grandchildren and the diminution of America’s future. It provides key national information in a range of areas to help inform and enable anyone who cares about children to effectively stand up for them. State tables show how children are faring state by state and how each state compares to other states in protecting children. For example, when we looked closely at poor children across the nation, ten states plus the District of Columbia had child poverty rates of 25 percent or higher: Mississippi was the highest at 32.5 percent, followed by D.C., New Mexico, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Only New Hampshire had a child poverty rate of 10 percent or lower. When it comes to ensuring equal chances for children everywhere in our country we have a long way to go. And when we realize that nationwide a child is born into poverty every 29 seconds it should sound alarms from coast to coast.

To read this article in full, go to Common Dreams.

“Representation without taxation.”

This weekend I will leave you with Democracy Now.

As Mary Wright Edelman states in her introduction to the Children’s Defense Fund report:

A transforming nonviolent movement is needed to create a just America. It must start in our homes, communities, parent and civic associations, and faith congregations across the nation. It will not come from Washington or state capitols or politicians. Every single person can and must make a difference if our voiceless, voteless children are to be prepared to lead America forward. Now is the time to close our action and courage gaps, reclaim our nation’s ideals of freedom and justice, and ensure every child the chance to survive and thrive.

And where do we start? By demanding that funding go to our children and not to more weapons of mass destruction. By demanding that the wealthy pay at least at the same tax rate that the rest of us do and that corporations do not use loopholes to pay little to no taxes. In the state of Washington that would apply to Boeing and Microsoft.

From the introduction of Democracy Now’s report:

Exhaustive Study Finds Global Elite Hiding Up to $32 Trillion in Offshore Accounts

The conservative estimate of $21 trillion—conservative estimate—is as much money as the entire annual economic output of the United States and Japan combined.

A new report reveals how wealthy individuals and their families have between $21 and $32 trillion of hidden financial assets around the world in what are known as offshore accounts or tax havens. The actual sums could be higher because the study only deals with financial wealth deposited in bank and investment accounts, and not other assets such as property and yachts. The inquiry was commissioned by the Tax Justice Network and is being touted as the most comprehensive report ever on the “offshore economy.” It also finds that private banks are deeply involved in running offshore havens, with UBS, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs handling the most assets.

Dora

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