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Rotten Apples? 0

Posted on November 02, 2014 by dmayer

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For this teacher, the November 4, 2014, TIME magazine cover is intimately personal and painful. I view it from an unique perspective. I feel that gavel pounding my head just as surely as if the judge were standing above me. I have been deemed a “rotten apple” by a court of law. Because of a court ruling that you may find as unbelievable as I do, I have lost my job, my career, my dignity. I struggle to survive. Even though the original incident happened over a decade ago, it effects cast a lingering pall over the teaching profession.

Many other outraged teachers have voiced informed, indignant replies to TIME demanding an apology. Only a tiny fraction of the public who saw that cover and subliminally absorbed the “TEACHERS ARE ROTTEN APPLES” message, will know about the teacher responses. I’m adding my voice to the outrage machine which will also, most likely, be ignored. Speaking from personal experience, I’m making the case that it is exceedingly easy to fire a teacher — even if the court must make new law to do so.

In his letter that does not appear on the TIME website, Thomas L. Good, Professor Emeritus at the College of Education, University of Arizona writes:

Consider the front page cover that brazenly and in bold print decries (and implies that our teachers are) Rotten Apples and graphically displays a gavel that is about to smash an apple that looks healthy. Why? . . . Clearly I do not know the motives behind Time’s depiction of the issue nor will I pretend to know them.

I think I do know TIME’s motive, and unlike many employed educators, I have nothing to lose by speaking my mind. The intent of the TIME cover is to implant the BAD TEACHER message into the American psyche. As Vergara copycat lawsuits against teacher tenure wind their way through our court system, parents and the public will be reminded in a myriad of ways just how bad teachers are. The “bad teachers are impossible to fire” meme will become prolific with periodic boosts from major media outlets and incessant mimicking via social media. Members of an uninformed, unduly influenced public will far outnumber the educated few who will be powerless to stop this billionaire scheme. Unless we all become wise to this scam, the teaching profession and our publicly owned, publicly governed, publicly beloved schools are doomed. They will become the property of the wealthy elite.

The following video exchange between an Indianapolis TV news reporter and me and my attorney, Michael Schultz, tells my story succinctly. Note that even during a press conference to announce my appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, I struggle to be heard. The case is Mayer v. Monroe County Consolidated School Corporation, aka the Honk for Peace case.  (Other relevant documents including the text of the TIME for Kids article and the petition to the Supreme Court may be viewed at the Free Speech Nation website.) A transcript follows each video clip.

Reporter: What brought you here today?

Deb: The original incident happened in January of 2003 when I was teaching a current events lesson to my class that had to do with Iraq. And I was using Time for Kids which is a magazine that was provided by the school. (Construction noise from the street nearby interrupts. Deb, who had already asked that the interview be moved to a quieter place, waits for the noise to subside a bit. Even at a press conference, Deb stuggles to be heard. Ironic.)

Reporter: You were teaching what?

Deb: I was teaching a current events lesson using Time for Kids which is a magazine that was provided by the school. It was approved curriculum. The issue was about Iraq. There were articles about weapons of mass destruction, about UN inspectors going in, and there was one little article about peace demonstrations being held in Washington, D.C., so we discussed that and one of my students asked if I would ever march in a peace march. And I said that peace demonstrations were going on all over the country, even in Bloomington, Indiana. When I drive past the courthouse square where the . . . (Again noise drowns out Deb’s voice.)

Reporter: Sorry, you don’t want to get drowned out.

Deb: I know.

Reporter: Okay, when they asked you, “Would you march . . .

Deb:… would you march in a peace march? I said when I drive past the courthouse square, where the demonstrators are, I honk for peace because they have signs that say, “Honk for Peace.” And I didn’t think too much about it. I thought it was a good common sense thing to say. I also went on to say that I thought we should seek out peaceful solutions to problems, and we teach kids to be mediators on the playground so they won’t fight and hurt each other. And that was the extent of the conversation. I had a student who went home to complain to her parents that I was encouraging the kids to protest the war which hadn’t even started yet. And the parent was very angry and eventually demanded that I not mention peace in my class again. I was told, the entire school was told not to mention peace in relationship to the war. I was intimidated from that time on, harassed, and eventually lost my job.

Attorney Michael Schultz:

The question we are actually putting to the United States Supreme Court is whether and under what circumstances do public school teachers have a right to free speech in class, or stated a little differently, whether or not the First Amendment limits a public school board’s power to punish a teacher for expressing an opinion on a matter of public concern. We’ve not taken the position that teachers should always be able to just go into class and spout out their opinions on issues. This was a class of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. The curriculum was approved. It was Time for Kids magazine. It talked about current events. It had articles in it about differing opinions on the war. The article actually talked about protests of what President Bush was doing in December of 2002 — January of ’03, and the students naturally wanted to ask about the teacher’s opinion. She made her opinion in a very limited, very professional, appropriate way and got fired for it.

Reporter: What kind of message do you hope to send with this law suit?

Deb: Well.

Reporter: I mean, you’ve already lost.

Deb: I’ve already lost.

Reporter: You’ve lost the appeal.

Deb: I’ve lost the appeal.

Reporter: Now you’re going to the Supreme Court.

Deb: At this point the . . . (Noise from jack-hammering on the street beside us interrupts again. Deb is obviously frustrated by the noise and had already asked to move the interview to a quieter place, but the reporter insists on having the image of the courthouse in the background.)

Reporter: Hold on. Oh well. Okay. Sorry. Let’s go through this.

Deb: The court has ruled that basically the Constitution and several landmark decisions involving free speech at school are irrelevant. They’ve said that teachers have no right of free speech, and that means that a teacher can be fired for any little random comment that she makes. And the court has also said that a teacher’s speech is a commodity that she sells for a salary to the school which I think is a very dangerous concept, and I don’t think we should let that stand because I think free speech is an inalienable right, and I don’t think teachers should lose their rights as a citizen whenever they go to work.

Attorney Michael Schultz:

The law is always made by the losing battle and it is always the cases lost in trial court that eventually end up making new law or clarifying the law, and what we’re trying to do is get the United States Supreme Court to finally clarify the law in this area. We have all the circuit courts are sort of all over the place on how they deal with on whether or not a teacher’s in class speech is protected. In some circuits it is protected. We say in our petition that if Ms. Mayer had been – if this had happened to her in Ohio, for example, she’d probably still have her job. Even if it had happened in Texas, she’d probably still have her job.

On the day I learned the Supreme Court declined to hear my case, Personnel Pitfalls in Cyberworld, written by the attorney for Monroe County Schools, Thomas Wheeler, II, was published on the American Association of School Administrators website. From the article:

Assume Mayer applies for a teaching position in your district. Before the common use of keyword searches on the Web, a school probably would have received limited information regarding her discharge from the Monroe County School Corp., but probably would not have received any information relating to her lawsuit or anti-war activities. If you declined to hire her based on that information alone it would probably be well within your rights to do so.

However, in this Internet age, what if you perform a Google search showing her litigation and anti-war activities. Assume you take the exact same action, declining to hire her based on her prior discharge. Unfortunately, given the knowledge of her anti-war activities and lawsuit, your school district may very well be subject to legal action by Mayer alleging you violated her First Amendment rights by refusing to hire her based upon her anti-war protests.

I haven’t worked since.

My attorney, Michael Schultz, still receives requests from teachers with free speech issues. He explains that he can’t help them because of the Mayer decision.  It seems that in fighting for my own rights, the rights of many others were lost. For me, that’s a heavy burden to bear.

You might wonder where the teachers’ union was during this time. The National Education Association, of which I was a member, and the America Federation of Teachers refused to support me. I travelled to Washington, D.C. twice and literally begged for help. Michael E. Simpson, assistant general counsel for NEA, refused to support me. His reasons were arcane and absurd, and I have never been entirely sure whether they were the union’s or his own. Let’s just say his reasoning reflected badly on the union. Organizations, after all, are the people who constitute them.

Another case, decided while the Honk for Peace case was crawling through the system, is Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006). It abolished the free speech rights of government workers while at work, tentatively making an exception for educators. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Thomas E. Wheeler II wrote an amicus brief for Garcetti and then used the verdict in that case to argue against my petition to the Supreme Court. Both my case and the Garcetti case were decided without regard for the evidence or the law, but according to a predetermined opinion of the court. Mayer v. Monroe County Consolidated School Corporation (2007) meant to challenge the Garcetti ruling, but the Supreme Court declined to hear it. You may wonder why you don’t hear more from civil service workers exposing government corruption. My guess would be because of the Garcetti ruling.

Even when teachers do win one as in Renee v. Duncan where the California Supreme Court ruled that alternative certification teachers (Teach for America types) do not meet the definition of “highly qualified” teachers, the victory is short-lived. Because of generous contributions and lobbying efforts from billionaire-funded Teach for America, the United States Congress lost no time in posting a “temporary amendment” declaring “alt certs” highly qualified teachers.  The amendment is continually renewed in the Continuing Resolution that is guaranteed passage, thus preventing a national debate about whether poor and minority students deserve actual teachers. This Congressional end run around the court is another blow to teachers and their supporters. President Obama weighed in early against teachers when he applauded the firing of teachers in Rhode Island. Arne Duncan, promoting Race to the Top and Common Core, hasn’t been teacher friendly either. So, let’s recap, all three branches of government with support from billionaires and their foundations are waging a devastating public war on teachers. Why? Why? Why?

Let’s be clear about one thing. Vergara is not at all about employing the best teachers for our children. It’s about destroying the teaching profession and teachers’ unions. As Campbell Brown and her cronies proceed with their Vergara-like cases, there will be more covers and more stories about bad teachers. She, along with Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee,  Wendy Kopp, and other public relations darlings who have nary an authentic education credential amongst them, will make the rounds on talk shows, maybe visit The Colbert Report again and The Daily Show, and act as the true voices of education. Actual teachers, on the other hand, will be silent. Not because they aren’t screaming at the top of their lungs to be heard, but because no one in the mainstream media will invite them to the conversation. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

There are some bad teachers, it’s true. It is the job of administration to fire bad teachers. It isn’t impossible. A system is in place, and the rules should be followed. Laws and tenure protect the rights of good teachers so they can’t be fired capriciously. The next time you see a “bad teacher” story, replace that descriptor with a mental picture of your favorite teacher, or your child’s favorite teacher. Recognize that the gavel will indiscriminately fall on the head of a real person — not a meme. This could get messy.

Deb Mayer is a former teacher. Before teaching at Clear Creek Elementary School where free speech died, she taught at the prestigious Key School in Indianapolis, best known for introducing multiple intelligences into the classroom and instituting other educational theories into practice. She served as a faculty member at Indiana University (IUPUI). She is the recipient of the Defense of Academic Freedom Award. Currently, she is the director of the volunteer-run nonprofit, Great Schools for America, where she maintains Edwatch. She also maintains Teachers United Against Teach for America.

 

The Gates Foundation Education Reform Hype Machine and Bizarre Inequality Theory 0

Posted on October 10, 2014 by dmayer

Copyright, TruthOut.org. Reprinted with permission

Special thanks for the scholarship and insight from: Diane Ravitch (Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools); Anthony Cody (The Educator and The Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation, forthcoming); Paul Thomas (Social Context Reform: A Pedagogy of Equity and Opportunity); Mercedes Schneider (A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education); Joanne Barkan (See her must read investigative series in Dissent Magazine).

This comic accompanies a two-year long Truthout supported series illustrating the education reform debate from an alternative perspective, both ideologically and visually. For previous graphic essays on education by Adam Bessie, see also

“This School is Not a Pipe” (with Josh Neufeld); “The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform” (with Dan Archer: “Part I: Washington D.C.”; “Part II: New Orleans”; “Part III: Finland”) and “Automated Teaching Machine: A Graphic Introduction to the End of Human Teachers” (with Arthur King).

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Teachers United Against Teach for America 0

Posted on April 26, 2014 by dmayer

Teach for America, Inc. is the flagship of the education reform movement. The organization replaces professional teachers with unqualified college grads in the classrooms of some of our nation’s most disadvantaged children. This practice harms students and the teaching profession. It must stop!

For years I have implored NEA to support a professional recruiting organization to rival Teach for America which is nothing more than a glorified temp agency with Billionaire Boy support. At the Network for Public Education conference in Austin, Texas, leaders of both unions, NEA and AFT, agreed to give the idea consideration. So far, I’ve heard nothing from either organization.

So, I’m starting without union support and asking for yours instead. You don’t have to be a teacher to join this group. Parents, students, and everyone who cares about education justice is welcome here! Please “like” our Teachers United Against Teach for America Facebook page as we expose the harm TFA does to kids, teachers, and schools. Follow our progress as teachers begin to stand up to the dastardly behemoth of an organization that poses as an advocate for poor minority children while robbing them of the education they deserve.

The cost of KIPP 0

Posted on April 06, 2014 by dmayer

Bipartisan charter school legislation introduced in the House will allow states to “receive grants to develop and expand high-quality charter schools under a new bipartisan bill recently introduced in the House. The legislation—co-authored by House Education Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and ranking Democrat George Miller (CA)—would allow states to use federal funds to grow and replicate existing high-quality charter schools. Previously, federal charter school funding could only be used to open new schools.”

The fact that this is bipartisan legislation should raise red flags immediately since Republican and Democrats can’t seem to agree on anything of substance. But when little kids, teachers, and families are the target, Congress can get their act together. Big money speaks to both sides of the aisle on the topic of education.

According to ASCD:

Another provision of the bill would allow charter management organizations (such as KIPP and Uncommon Schools) to receive grants to open new schools, even if the organizations are located in states that do not receive federal charter school funding.

Is KIPP a high quality charter network? You be the judge.

Is public school for sale? This is the topic of Bill Moyer’s recent interview with Diane Ravitch. On this week’s Moyers & Company, she explains, ”I think what’s at stake is the future of American public education. I believe it is one of the foundation stones of our democracy. So, an attack on public education is an attack on democracy.”  She has become the nation’s fiercest opponent of charter schools and the movement to privatize our public schools. While Ravitch gives an overall view of the public school crisis, it seems prudent to look at the most revered charter school network, up-close and personal — KIPP.  What is KIPP like? How much has it cost students, parents, teachers, communities, the country and our democracy? Let’s take a look at KIPP.

KIPP celebrates its 20th anniversary this year (2014). KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of 141 charter schools now serving over 50,000 students. For comparison, think of a school district the about the size of Seattle Public Schools spread out across the country.  In the early 2000’s, with virtually no track record for excellence, KIPP gained national attention when it was praised by then Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, Rod Paige. Charter schools were clearly on the agenda, and KIPP was chosen to be the flagship charter management organization. KIPP Foundation was formed to support KIPP schools shortly thereafter. KIPP has been thriving off private charity and public dollars ever since. In addition to the per pupil expenditure provided by the government to all public schools, KIPP schools receive millions more in public support.

Now may be the opportune time to reflect on the darling charter school network of the reform movement. As KIPP leads the charge to the tipping point that will signal victory to the billionaire bullies on a quest to privatize our public schools, shouldn’t we ask hard questions about KIPP? Are we sacrificing the quality of life of poor minority children in order to promote an education regime we wouldn’t want for our own children? Are we pouring millions of dollars into a school network that cheats children out of childhood? If KIPP is the model to which all schools should aspire, will millions more be invested into all other public schools?  What is the moral and financial cost of KIPP?

A Little Background on KIPP

This is a chant students are required to repeat in unison at KIPP. What lesson are they learning?

Knowledge is power
Power is money
And I want it.

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Ready for a field trip kids?  Pile in!

Shamelessly promoting KIPP schools in Work Hard. Be Nice, author Jay Mathews regales us with tales about how co-founders Michael Feinberg and David Levin, originally Teach for America corps members, began their careers by lying about their credentials to get  teaching jobs. Soon, they courted low-income Hispanic parents to enroll children in their two KIPP classrooms by promising “field lessons” to students. When Levin and Feinberg finally did take their students on a field trip at the end of the school year, half of them were transported to an amusement park in a U-Haul type van – that’s right, the kind of truck that has no windows or seats; the kind of truck used to move furniture. The two faux teachers hadn’t raised enough money for transportation so they stuffed students into a moving van and trucked them to the park.

While professional teachers would likely have lost their licenses for such outrageous conduct, Levin and Feinberg suffered no consequences. Their blatant disregard for what is best for students is a tradition that continues at KIPP today, even as it is hailed as a model school and receives millions and millions of foundation and tax dollars to scale-up the program. Is KIPP worth the cost?

Before examining the financial cost of KIPP, spending a moment to assess the toll exacted on its students may be warranted. A day in the life of a KIPP student (KIPPster) has been well documented. For example, in Outliers Malcolm Gladwell tells the story in a chapter called “Marita’s Bargain,” explaining that poor kids need longer school days accompanied by hours of homework, Saturday school, and year-round school in order to succeed. Many rich people agree with Gladwell’s assessment that KIPP is a bargain for kids living in poverty . (I have written about Gladwell’s view on KIPP in an open letter to President Obama.) Privileged people seem to have peculiar and perplexing perspectives on what is best for underprivileged minority children.  From Outliers about a young KIPP student:

She had the hours of a lawyer trying to make partner, or a medical resident. All that was missing were the dark circles under her eyes and a steaming cup of coffee, except that she was too young for either.

Marita’s life is not the life of a typical twelve-year-old. Nor is it what we would necessarily wish for a twelve-year-old. Children, we like to believe, should have time to play and dream and sleep. Marita has responsibilities . . . Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends – all the elements of her old world – and replace them with KIPP. . .

It should be noted that neither Levin or Feinberg, nor co-conspirators Richard Barth (KIPP Foundation) and his wife Wendy Kopp (Teach for America), who supply KIPP with leaders and teachers, send their kids to the neighborhood KIPP school. Perhaps their lottery numbers just never came up. Or, could they prefer that their own children have time to “play and dream and sleep”?

Among other troubling features of KIPP are its preferences for apartheid as demonstrated by segregating poor black and brown children into separate schools, for totalitarian corporate governance, and for implacable treatment of teachers, but these are topics for another discussion.

To say that the KIPP philosophy is amoral would be an understatement. To say that KIPP management has no sense of what is best for children would be euphemistic. To say that most KIPP staffers are not educators would be the truth. KIPP has created 50,000 “Marita’s” this year, many as young as six years old — that’s 50,000 stolen childhoods. Is that too dear a price to charge children for what should be their right to a free and equitable education? If the billionaire bullies, who are perpetuating this farcical charter scheme, had to compensate poor children for the misery they’ve caused them, they’d all be paupers.

KIPP by the Numbers

What about the money? What does Kipp do with all those millions of extra dollars that traditional schools do without? An examination of KIPP 990s submitted to the Internal Revenue Service reveals some puzzling answers while posing some interesting questions.

Assets

  • KIPP Foundation, headed by Richard Barth, became a tax exempt corporation in 2007 and has amassed net assets of more than $31 million.
  • KIPP NYC, David Levin’s enclave of charter schools in New York City has accumulated nearly $18 million in net assets.
  • KIPP, Inc., Michael Feinberg’s charter empire in Houston, Texas has net assets of over $22 million.

Not to mention assets belonging to the hundred or so other KIPP schools. Much of KIPP’s assets come from the generosity of Uncle Sam — that is, you and me. For example, KIPP Foundation was awarded a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010. That’s in addition to other government grants and to the millions KIPP gets in per pupil expenditures each year. KIPP also receives millions from private charitable foundations. Except for the fact that it is supported by government funds and some quirky governance rules made specifically for charter schools, KIPP is a private corporation. It is called a public school only because some elite politicians and businessmen say it is. Assets that would normally be owned by the public have fallen prey to private organizations like KIPP that are formed, not with the altruistic ideal of a great education for kids, but with the greedy aspirations of acquiring more wealth for their already wealthy benefactors. If KIPP is indeed a public school, as its originators proclaim, who owns it? How and why have its assets grown so substantially in a relatively short period of time? Why isn’t more of the wealth spent on supporting its students instead of its management? Has Seattle Public Schools (or any other school district) accumulated assets so quickly?

Salaries and Such

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Michael Feinberg, David Levin, Wendy Kopp, and Richard Barth are collectively paid nearly $2 million annually for their contributions to KIPP. 

  • Michael Feinberg works 30 hours a week for KIPP Foundation at San Francisco for $196,117; 50 hours at KIPP, Inc. in Houston for $216,865 for a total of 80 hours and  $412,982 annually.
  • David Levin works 30 works hours a week at KIPP Foundation in San Francisco for $175,000; 50 hours at KIPP New York City for $243,189; 5 hours at Uncommon Knowledge and Achievement for $50,000 NYC; and an unspecified amount at Relay Graduate School of Education NYC for a total of  85 hours+ and $468,189+ annually.
  • Wendy Kopp works for Teach for America (also Teach for All, Teach for China, and Broad Center for Management of School Systems) supplying uncertified corps members to serve as teachers at KIPP for which she is compensated $468,452 annually.  KIPP schools would not be sustainable without the overworked, underpaid faux teachers provided by TFA. Wendy’s a busy girl and extremely well-compansated for having zero education credentials.
  • Richard Barth works 60 hours a week at KIPP Foundation in San Francisco (while living in New York) and is compensated $374,868 annually. He, too, has zero education credentials.

All are members of various other education organization boards that promote the reform agenda. One might wonder when they sleep. One might also wonder if the commute from their homes in New York City and Houston to the KIPP Foundation in San Francisco is a regular one for Richard, Mike, and Dave. Or, do they just phone it in? Barth, Levin, and Feinberg aren’t the only ones at KIPP taking home big, fat pay checks. Many KIPP employees make more than $100,000 a year, but sadly, only a piddling are teachers. And, what are all those $25,000 donations to individuals all about? Does Seattle Public Schools pay their staff comparably?

Travel

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Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotel (top) and Red Rock Hotel and Casino have served as accommodations for KIPP teachers and leaders during training times.

Over the past six years, since receiving tax-exempt status, KIPP Foundation has spent nearly $16 million on travel.  You are probably thinking, “WOW!  That’s more than $300 per KIPPster!  They can go on several great trips doing field lessons each year.  And, they can travel in real buses, trains, and planes.” Sadly, that is not the case.  Millions of dollars are spent each year accommodating KIPP faux teachers and leaders at exclusive resorts:  Opryland Hotel and the Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotel in 2012; Rio Suite Hotel and Casino in 2011; Marriott in 2010; Hyatt in 2009; Scottsdale Fairmont, Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas, Chicago Hilton in 2008; and Marriott, Palmer House, Fairmont, and Red Rock Casino in 2007.

Consulting 

In recent years, KIPP Foundation has hired Mathematica Policy Research for consulting and research purposes.  In the world of education reform, Mathematica provides the best research money can buy. KIPP started out small offering only a half-million-dollar contract in 2009 and then another in 2010. They upped the ante to a million in 2011 and sprung for a whopping $3,000,000 contract in 2012. From the KIPP website:

In 2013, Mathematica released the second report from their multi-year study of KIPP middle schools. This report represents the most rigorous and in-depth research on KIPP to date. The report stated that the magnitude of KIPP’s achievement impacts is substantial.

Surprised?

KIPP also pays out millions in consulting fees which are usually neatly hidden away on their tax returns as “Other” expenses. According to 2007 KIPP Foundation 990s here and here, David Levin was being paid a six-figure salary as co-founder of KIPP Foundation, another six-figure salary for consulting with KIPP Foundation, and yet another six-figure salary for acting as superintendent of KIPP schools in New York City. Nice work if you can get it, especially for the man who grades students on character. In 2008, form 990 was changed to merge the five highest paid professional contractors with other contractors. Since other contracts for construction, technology, and, apparently, travel are usually higher than professional fees, it’s difficult to say whether the practice of consulting for your own organization continues or how widespread it is.

KIPP Foundation does give grants to its schools. After all, its mission is to support KIPP schools. Often times, funding provided to the schools goes to pay consultants as well. It is taxing to figure out how much of the KIPP budget is spent on consulting, but it is safe to say that it is much more than is spent directly on KIPPsters.

Audit Anyone?

As Diane Ravitch points out in the interview, charter schools market themselves as public schools when they depend on tax dollars for support, but claim to be private corporations when an audit looms near, often escaping scrutiny. Nevertheless, not all KIPP schools have escaped as some audits have revealed. David Levin has had an aversion to audits since 2007 when the New York Daily News reported that an audit showed his charter had spent $68,000 on staff retreats.

A Bronx charter school spent nearly $68,000 on “staff development” retreats in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, a scathing new audit shows.

Although officials at the KIPP Academy Charter School insist the trips were educational and paid for by private donations, state Controller Thomas DiNapoli said his office couldn’t verify the claims because of sloppy bookkeeping. DiNapoli questioned why the high-achieving school – part of a national franchise – would splurge on trips to the Caribbean.

“Money intended for education should be spent on education,” DiNapoli said.

KIPP still spends big money on retreats and travel and such, but management takes care to make sure the spendy good times don’t make headlines.

KIPP is only one charter network. There are many, many more, but they all operate in much the same way: declare public schools to be failing; shut them down and replace them with charters; bust teacher’s unions by churning unlicensed teachers in and out every couple of years; teach to the test; test, test, and then test some more; evaluate teachers based on student test scores; collect tons of student data; repeat.

All KIPP schools have not been listed and/or updated on EdWatch — they keep springing up like Starbucks. To glean more information about KIPP through 990s submitted to the IRS, you may first look up the KIPP school you are interested in and then visit  GuideStar or Foundation Center Online to access financial documents.

So, Are Our Public Schools for Sale? 

Now more than ever, our public schools face the ultimate threat that could spell doom. The week following the Moyers-Ravitch interview hailed the United States Supreme Court decision on McCutcheon v. the Federal Elections Commission. Five conservative justices gutted the the already fragile campaign finance law to allow the mighty rich to handsomely bankroll more candidates. In the future schools board elections will likely be fraught with big money allowing the billionaire bullies to fund candidates who will be more than willing to close public schools and replace them with charters. This phenomenon is already happening across the country and gained national attention in 2011 when former President George W. Bush campaigned against Emily Sirota in Denver, Colorado. According to Emily, who entered the race by hosting a pizza picnic and going door-to-door to solicit contributions as she talked to neighbors, she was flabbergasted when money from big oil and big banks flooded into her opponent’s campaign coffer.

So, are our public schools for sale?  At this point, FOR SALE is an euphemistic term. For sale implies that we, the public, have made a decision to sell.  For sale means we own something of value, and we don’t want it anymore so we are willing to sell it; that we will consider all offers and sell to the highest bidder and maybe even make a profit on the deal. Turnarounds and closures resulting in the creation of a charter school do not involve the public in any kind of meaningful discourse. Our public schools are being given away as fast as reformers can shut them down and open a charter in their place. The public collects nothing in return except disillusioned students, displaced teachers, and broken communities. We lose a little bit of democracy each time a transaction is made without public participation. Our public schools are not being sold, the public is being sold out.

Isn’t it time for reformers to recognize that charter schools aren’t working — that the cost is too great. They are harmful to poor, minority children and novice teachers. They are harmful to our democracy. They bleed money away from public schools. Isn’t it time for reformers to take stock and say, “We were wrong. We have no business in education.” Literally.

Below is the dynamic interview with Bill Moyers and Dianne Ravitch plus the web-extra which has even more intriguing information. In closing Bill asks the toughest question, and Diane responds with the bravest answer. Watch the entire interview to know what we’re up against, and then join in Network for Public Education to get involved.

BILL MOYERS: When you were in the Bush administration, Assistant Secretary of Education, you were critical of public schools. You were beginning to say, “We should have choice in education.”

And you were with all those conservative think-tanks for a number of years, thinking through these issues. And then you come out so strongly, having changed your mind. Was there a moment, an experience, an “aha” drama that turned you around?

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, there wasn’t a single moment. And it wasn’t in a flash that it all came to me that it was all wrong. In the early 2000s, after No Child Left Behind was enacted, starting about, well, 2005, 2006, I realized No Child Left Behind’s not working. And, from that point forward all the misgivings I had began to come together. It was a process really of years of saying, “I was wrong.” And in these times, in this society, it is so unusual to have somebody say those three words, “I was wrong.” And, it didn’t happen overnight, but I was wrong, and I’m going to do the best I can for what time remains for me to try to set things right.

Public Schools for Sale? from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.


Web Extra: Public Schools for Sale? from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

 

If Bill Gates did this one thing, student test scores would soar 0

Posted on February 03, 2014 by dmayer

For decades Bill Gates and his billionaire buddies along with high ranking government officials have been “reforming” our public schools. They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars creating charter and virtual schools, de-professionalizing teaching, manipulating standards and curriculum, eliminating libraries and art, music, and P.E. classes, promoting larger class sizes, and legislating policy initiatives that defund schools. Have these interventions produced higher scores on competitive tests and improved the education experience of students?  No.

Here’s a suggestion for Bill and his buddies who want to reform our public schools: FEED THE CHILDREN. Concentrating on this one thing would cause test scores to soar.

 photo foodscale_zps91155b79.jpg
Feeding students good food without unhealthy additives, preservatives, and fats leads to high achievement.

On January 30, 2014, America learned that, “Up to 40 kids at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City picked up their lunches Tuesday, then watched as the meals were taken and thrown away because of outstanding balances on their accounts — a move that shocked and angered parents.”

Apparently this is not the first time children at that school have been denied food because as school officials pointed out, “The children were given milk and fruit instead of a full lunch — the meal that the school says it gives any child who isn’t able to pay.”

This isn’t the first time a child has been denied food by school officials. Just a few months earlier, according to KTRK the same Dickensian behavior was witnessed in Dickinson (irony noted), Texas, “A 12-year-old Dickinson student’s breakfast was tossed in the trash, because his account was short by just 30 cents.” He didn’t ask for more; he just asked for some.  Even though children in America aren’t forced to work off their debts in poorhouses as English children were centuries ago, many students come from poor houses where scrounging up as little as 30 cents for a meal is often a struggle. As families are faced with food stamps cuts, they must spend more of their income for food at home.

Both schools defended their actions by hiding behind policy. One might wonder how many school districts have such policies and how many children across the nation go hungry each day because they can’t afford to pay for food at school. In this age of education reform, when a student’s fate rests on how high he or she scores on a standardized test, shouldn’t we insist that all students be fed and fed well? The inhumanity of this intervention is undeniable. Shouldn’t any intervention taken on by the school be one that leads to student success instead of failure? Suppose instead of denying students food, schools provided them with nutritious and delicious meals. Wouldn’t that make a difference in student achievement? Yes.

The ideas of Donella Meadows, known for Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, are overlooked in today’s education reform climate. Education reformers prefer to replace the whole system with one of their own liking, one they can ultimately own. Reformers, who are not educators themselves, are prone to believe that scholarship is irrelevant to the education profession. Their process is to ignore tried and true strategies that work, and instead to propose a hodgepodge of punitive initiatives using students, teachers, and even entire schools as guinea pigs while they determine which ideas are most profitable for them.

If sustained high student achievement is in fact the goal of true education reform, feeding children nutritious meals at school might be considered a small shift that could produce big changes. According to Meadows:

Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in “leverage points.” These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.

Leverage points and interventions are ignored by reformers who insist, without a shred of credible evidence, that teacher quality as measured by student standardized test scores is the sole valid indicator of learning at school. The agenda and policy set by wealthy non-educators and government officials is so narrowly focused on the teacher/test correlation that it eliminates consideration of all other small interventions that might produce huge positive results, the nutrition – hunger/achievement correlation for example.

Fortunately for us, a study measuring the effects of a nutritious diet on student achievement has already been conducted. Before holding-teachers-accountable-for-every-single-ailment-of-our-education-system became fashionable, school districts experimented (in the true sense of the word) to find data to support the hypothesis that poverty and achievement are related. It’s hard to believe that just 30-some short years ago we cared enough about kids to try a jaw-droppingly innovative experiment like this one. Even though it was conducted some three decades ago, the results are every bit as valid today as they were then.

According to the New York Times, the experiment was initiated as a result of a lawsuit filed in 1978:

A settlement has been been reached in a three-year-old class action suit brought by Consumers Union in an effort to force the City of New York to improve the nutritional quality of its school lunch program. In light of the Reagan Administration’s recent proposals to lower the requirements for the national school lunch program and the improvements already made in the city’s program, however, the settlement may be moot.

The suit, based on a 1978 audit conducted by the General Accounting Office, found that 40 percent of the lunches served did not provide adequate amounts of food or the variety required by law.

Elizabeth Cagan, director of the Board of Education’s Office of School Food Service had already joined together with researcher Dr. Stephen Schoenthaler on The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools to determined the effects of a healthy diet on student achievement.

In the spring of 1979, New York City’s public schools ranked in the 39th percentile on standardized California Achievement Test scores given nationwide. That means that 61 percent of the nation’s public schools scored higher. They had been in the lower half of the country for years. However, for a few years in the 1980s, these same 803 schools ranked in the upper half of the nation’s schools. They went from 11% below the national average to 5% above it. What happened?

The introduction of policy based on the Feingold diet which lowered sucrose, synthetic food color/flavors, and two preservatives (BHA and BHT) over 4 years in 803 public schools was followed by a 15.7% increase in mean academic percentile ranking above the rest of the nation’s schools who used the same standardized tests. Prior to the 15.7% gain, the standard deviation of the annual change in nation percentile rating had been less than 1%.

All schools and all children showed improvement, but not all children made a 16% improvement. Rather, the lowest achievers improved the most. That bears repeating: the lowest achievers improved more than the mean average of 16%. The children who had not been helped by any other intervention improved the most. Incredible, but true! Literally a recipe for success! (Click here for a clearer image of the graph below.)

Feingold Diet and CAT Scores photo FG3_zps570a533a.jpg

So, what happened next? Why did the high test scores last for only four years? The reforms instituted by Cagan were not preserved. Soon the improvements made in the NYC lunch menu were altered to again include foods with unhealthy sweeteners, flavors, preservatives, food dyes, and fats. Children stopped eating or ate the cheap, poor quality food. Test scores dropped. Cagan’s tenure at NCY Food Services is a testament to the difference one person can make in the lives of millions. That her legacy was not preserved is a travesty for the children of New York City.

So, Bill Gates, and you, too Arne Duncan, I challenge you to a noble experiment. Feed the children. No more harmful sugar additives, flavors, food dyes, preservatives, or fats. None of that genetically modified stuff, either. Feed the children well, and they will achieve more, much more. This must be a nationwide systemic intervention, not a competition where some kids get good food and some kids don’t.  This isn’t The Hunger Games, after all, and besides, we can afford it. Feed all the children well. Then, install safeguards to keep  this fine intervention in place for years to come. Your goal of improving education will be a successful and sustainable one!

Don’t know how to get started? The Feingold Association is an all volunteer organization that offers nutrition education about healthy eating. If you watch nothing else, view the slide show, LET’S DO LUNCH! It seems to have been prepared especially with you in mind. Watch the whole thing — it’s long but worth it. Then, view the videos below. I’m sure you can take it from there. Let me know if you need help. I know of about three million others who will be happy to assist. And, after the Feed the Children Well project is up and running, we have some other suggestions for you.

Teach for America is not like the Peace Corps 0

Posted on July 13, 2010 by dmayer

The Billionaire Boys Club headed up by Bill Gates and Eli Broad has spent millions on public relations and media imaging in an attempt to portray the Teach for America as something it is not. For years, mainstream media has acquiesced to their hype by repeating the myths without question. This series of articles will attempt to set the record straight on the many misconceptions about Teach for America (TFA).

Myths abound to hype Teach for America. A favorite: Teach for America is like the Peace Corps. It’s not your daddy’s Peace Corps. It’s not your mama’s, either. In fact, it in no way resembles the Peace Corps. So why does the media keep hyping Teach for America this way? In his New York Times column, Michael Winerip comments on “”A Chosen Few Teaching for America and takes a step in the direction of laying this myth to rest.

From the column following a discussion of job opportunities and career choices:

In contrast, the Peace Corps (to which Teach for America compares itself) pays a cost-of-living allowance adjusted for each country where volunteers work and a $7,500 stipend when the 27-month stint is finished.

Members of the mainstream media take note. Teach for America is nothing like the Peace Corps. Reiterating that claim is a slap in the face to Peace Corps volunteers who have served over the past twenty years.

That Wendy Kopp, alleged founder of TFA,”” espouses the organization to be “”””like the Peace Corps”””” confirms that she either knows nothing about the Peace Corps or is callous toward those who unselfishly use their talents to serve their country.

The facts:

  • TFA relentlessly recruits college students who are not education majors. The organization spends millions on this task. TFAers freely admit that their service is a resume builder. Also school districts are charged a recruiting fee for each TFA corps member they hire, anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000. Peace Corps members volunteer. Peace corps volunteers seek out the Peace Corps. They are altruistic at heart seeking an opportunity to serve.
  • TFA corps recruits (who are not teachers) travel to major urban or rural areas in America and are paid a regular teacher’s salary of about $30,000 to $50,000. Peace Corps members (who are real teachers) travel abroad to live the lifestyle of natives in the poor villages they serve. They are paid a meager cost of living wage comparable to that of the villagers. They are paid as little as nine dollars a day or the lump sum of $7,””500 upon their return home after 27 months of service.
  • TFA recruits freshly graduated college students to do a job they are not trained or qualified to do. The Peace Corps requires that its members have knowledge, skills, and experience in the occupation they are to perform abroad.
  • TFA members are entitled to about $5,000 at the end of each of their two years teaching from Americorps, originally set up by our government to sponsor volunteer programs in poor neighborhoods. Peace Corps workers are not given this funding.

Any newscaster or reporter who makes the Teach for America/Peace Corps comparison without challenging it is guilty of irresponsible reporting and perpetuating a myth that was falsely manufactured by TFA at its inception to misrepresent Teach for America and appeal to unsuspecting youth who believe the hype.

According to Kopp, TFA was created to send teachers to hard to staff schools. Today TFA has extraordinary access to teaching jobs even many when fully-certified, highly qualified teachers are available. It’s time for TFAers to step aside and let real teachers do their jobs.