First a little background on The Quiet Revolution, from New York Times columnist David Brooks October, 22, 2009:
A few weeks ago, “Saturday Night Live” teased President Obama for delivering great speeches but not actually bringing change. There’s at least one area where that jibe is unfair: education.
Brooks goes on to describe the brilliance of Secretary Arne Duncan”s Race to the Top (RTTT) plan. States would compete for 4.3 billion dollars in federal funding from stimulus dollars. He talks about the evil teacher”s unions shutting down reform and people like Bill Gates and Jeb Bush leading the way real reform. The DOE said that many states would not qualify unless they changed their laws tying teacher evaluation to students standardized test scores. Former Governor Jeb Bush”s state stands to gain hundreds of millions from (RTTT). Why is Florida so favored? Why do we already know that they will be among the winners? Could it be because Bill Gates and Jeb Bush say so?
“I’ve been deeply disturbed by a lot that’s going on in Washington,” Jeb Bush said on Thursday, “but this is not one of them. President Obama has been supporting a reform secretary, and this is deserving of Republican support.” Bush’s sentiment is echoed across the spectrum, from Newt Gingrich to Al Sharpton.
Over the next months, there will be more efforts to water down reform. Some groups are offering to get behind health care reform in exchange for gutting education reform. Politicians from both parties are going to lobby fiercely to ensure that their state gets money, regardless of the merits. So will governors who figure they’re going to lose out in the award process.
But President Obama understood from the start that this would only work if the awards remain fiercely competitive. He has not wavered. We’re not close to reaching the educational Promised Land, but we may be at the start of what Rahm Emanuel calls The Quiet Revolution.
When Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich gush over the plan, and say the President is on the right track, we should take a second look. Let”s start with Imagine Schools, a non-profit, for-profit (???) corporation that operates in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Nevada, Missouri, Michigan, Maryland, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Distric Of Columbia, Colorado, Arizona, many of which are favored to win RTTT funding.
Multi-billionaire Dennis Bakke, former CEO of AES Corporation, a global energy provider, was a key player in the government deregulation that brought down Enron. He left AES in 2002. In 2005, he founded Imagine Schools, which he claims to be a nonprofit organization.
We applied for nonprofit status in August 2005, and we are expecting an official designation as a nonprofit organization from the IRS soon.
Even with the dubious tax-exempt status, Bakke has been awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding. What”s even more curious about that money is the way it is spent by Imagine Schools. The organization does not behave like a nonprofit organization, buying up properties and then charging one of it”s school in Las Vegas $1.4 million in rent or about 40% of the school”s state funding. This is not in the best interest of children. Bakke buys schools and property, largely with government dollars, and then rents the property back to his own schools at premium prices. According to the Imagine School annual report, in only five years, Bakke, or Imagine Schools, has acquired assets of over $400,000.
Just in case you have any lingering doubts about Bakke”s benevolence and about who he thinks owns his charter schools (and their board members) you may want to read this memo sent by Bakke to Imagine administrators — leaked and posted by the Colorado Charter Schools which stated in part:
What are we learning about the selection and care of board members for our schools? Most Board members become very involved in the life of the school. Often, even before the school begins operation, the Board members have taken “ownership” of the school. Many honestly believe it is their school and that the school will not go well without them steering the school toward “excellence”. They believe they are the “governing” Board even if that adjective to describe the board has never been used by an Imagine School person. Many become involved in the daily life of the school, volunteering and “helping” teachers and and other staff to get things done. Even those who are not parents, take “ownership” of the school as if they started it. Initially, they are grateful to Imagine (especially Eileen and me) for helping them start the (their) school. I have been to 3 school openings in the last month where I was thanked for helping the local board start the(our) school. In none of these cases did the board have a major role in “starting” the school. They didn’t write the charter. They didn’t finance the start up of the school or the building. They didn’t find the principal or any of the teachers and staff. They didn’t design the curriculum.
In some cases, they did help recruit students.
Why does it matter? Don’t we want local boards to be grateful and helpful and take ownership of the school? “Yes” and “No”. I do not mind them being grateful to us for starting the school (our school,not theirs), but the gratitude and the humility that goes with it, needs to extend to the operation of the school. In all three cases of the new schools I visited this past month, I started my talks by responding to the flowery introduction thanking Eileen and me for helping to start the XYZ school, with a thank you to the Board and others for helping Imagine start ITS school. Most people probably missed the serious point I was making. Besides, it was probably too late in most cases to correct the misconception that we had given to Board members and other volunteers about the nature of governance of the school Imagine had created.
I highly suggest reading the entire email. Then, cringe.
As confounding as all that is, perhaps the most disturbing fact is that Dennis Bakke is a member of The Family or The Fellowship. An in depth study of the group can be found in Jeff Sharlet”s The Family. Rachel Maddow has given The Family considerable exposure on her show, also.
Jeff Sharlet refers to Bakke”s involvement with The Family during an NPR interview which alludes to his power with the organization. Because of the secrecy that envelops the group, it is difficult to say just how much influence Bakke has in The Family. Does his fundamentalist vent play a role in Imagine Schools? If placing his book, Joy at Work at the center of the curriculum, the answer is most likely “yes”. The title Joy at Work loosely translated means “the Christian religion at work.”
If the prospect of money-grubbing billionaires taking over our public schools and indoctrinating our children with their religious beliefs is as frightening to you as it is to me, please get involved in protecting our public schools. You can start by checking out Great Schools for America. Study our Education Watch section to find out how our public education system is being co-opted by political insiders and the very rich. Currently, we are an all volunteer organization dedicated to saving our public schools from the very rich.
Will Dennis Bakke win RTTT as Bill Gates is sure to? We won”t know until April when the first round awards are granted.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos.