"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Nation Exposes Obama's Cynical Education Gambit

Broad Inauguration Party in Washington D.C., Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. (Photo/Stuart Ramson)
While many of us were out busting our humps to gather up a few dollars and votes for the change we thought we could believe in, the Harvard boys were cutting backroom deals with the multi-billionaire oligarchs to fully engage their plan to corporatize American public education, beginning with the urban schools.

There is no wonder that Spellings and Paige were running around breathless and wild-eyed, even as it became clear that McCain was going down. The insiders knew the Bush charter plan would not only go forward under Obama, but it would be slammed into overdrive by the clan of vulture capitalists and tax credit leeches who paid plenty to play the high stakes game for control of American schooling.

From The Nation's Dana Goldstein, where the story picks up on Obama's decision to invite the three stooges to the White House recently to proclaim the new post-partisan victory for philanthro-capitalism, disguised neatly under the banner of civil rights--with one particularly well-paid civil rights advocate getting a half-million for his time:
. . . the single-mindedness--some would say obsessiveness--of the reformers' focus on these specific policy levers ["free market competition"] puts off more traditional Democratic education experts and unionists. As they see it, with the vast majority of poor children educated in traditional public schools, education reform must focus on improving the management of the public system and the quality of its services--not just on supporting charter schools. What's more, social science has long been clear on the fact that poverty and segregation influence students' academic outcomes at least as much as do teachers and schools.

Obama's decision to invite representatives of only one side of this divide to the Oval Office confirmed what many suspected: the new administration--despite internal sympathy for the "broader, bolder approach"--is eager to affiliate itself with the bipartisan flash and pizazz around the new education reformers. The risk is that in doing so the administration will alienate supporters with a more nuanced view of education policy. What's more, critics contend that free-market education reform is a top-down movement that is struggling to build relationships with parents and community activists, the folks who typically support local schools and mobilize neighbors on their behalf.

So keenly aware of this deficit are education reformers that a number of influential players were involved in the payment of $500,000 to Sharpton's nearly broke nonprofit, the National Action Network, in order to procure Sharpton as a national spokesman for the EEP. And Sharpton's presence has unquestionably benefited the EEP coalition, ensuring media attention and grassroots African-American crowds at events like the one held during Obama's inauguration festivities, at Cardozo High School in Washington.

"Sharpton was a pretty big draw," says Washington schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, recalling the boisterous crowd at Cardozo. Rhee is known for shutting down schools and aggressively pursuing a private sector-financed merit pay program. Some of the locals who came out to hear Sharpton booed Rhee's speech at the same event, despite the fact that her policies embody the movement for which Sharpton speaks.

The $500,000 donation to Sharpton's organization was revealed by New York Daily News columnist Juan González on April 1, as the EEP and National Action Network were co-hosting a two-day summit in Harlem, attended by luminaries including Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan. The money originated in the coffers of Plainfield Asset Management, a Connecticut-based hedge fund whose managing director is former New York City schools chancellor Harold Levy, an ally of the current chancellor, Joel Klein. Plainfield has invested in Playboy, horse racetracks and biofuels. But the company did not donate the money directly to Sharpton. Rather, in what appears to have been an attempt to cover tracks, the $500,000 was given to a nonprofit entity called Education Reform Now, which has no employees. (According to IRS filings, Education Reform Now had never before accepted a donation of more than $92,500.) That group, in turn, funneled the $500,000 to Sharpton's nonprofit.

If one person is at the center of this close-knit nexus of Wall Street and education reform interests, it is Joe Williams, who serves as president and treasurer of the EEP's board and is also the executive director of Education Reform Now. But it is through his day job that Williams, a former education reporter for the Daily News, exerts the most influence. He is executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a four-year-old PAC that has gained considerable influence, raising $2 million in 2008 and demonstrating remarkable public relations savvy.

The group's six-person team works out of an East Forty-fifth Street office donated--rent-free--by the hedge fund Khronos LLC. In recent months, DFER has had a number of high-profile successes, chief among them a highly coordinated media campaign to call into question the work of Obama education adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, once considered a top contender for the job of education secretary. During the same week in early December, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe published editorials or op-eds based on DFER's anti-Darling-Hammond talking points, which focused on the Stanford professor's criticisms of Teach for America and other alternative-certification programs for teachers. Less than two weeks later, Obama appointed DFER's choice to the Education Department post, Chicago schools CEO Duncan.

During campaign season, DFER donated to House majority whip James Clyburn, Senator Mark Warner and Virginia swing district winner Representative Tom Periello, among others. The organization regularly hosts events introducing education reformers like Rhee and Fenty to New York City "edupreneurs," finance industry players for whom education reform is a sideline. DFER is focused on opening a second office, in Colorado, a state viewed as being in the forefront of standards- and testing-based education reform. The group successfully promoted Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennett to fill the Senate seat vacated when Obama named Ken Salazar as interior secretary. Bennett led the school system with the highest-profile merit pay system in the nation.

During the Democratic Party's national convention in Denver this past August, DFER hosted a well-attended event at the Denver Museum of Art, during which Fenty, Booker, Klein, Sharpton and other well-known Democrats openly denigrated teachers unions, whose members accounted for 10 percent of DNCC delegates. With Clyburn and other veteran members of Congress in attendance, many longtime observers of Democratic politics believed the event represented a sea change in the party's education platform, the arrival of a new generation. While progressive groups such as Education Sector, Education Trust and the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights have long attempted to push free-market education reforms to the Democratic Party, it is only with the arrival of DFER that the movement has had a lobbying arm with an explicit focus on influencing the political process through fundraising and media outreach.

"For a lot of groups that are dependent upon both private money and government money, there's a tendency not to want to get involved in the nitty-gritty of politics," Williams said in a March 31 phone interview from Denver, where he was meeting with Colorado politicians, setting the stage for DFER's expansion there. "Our group--what we do is politics. We make it clear: we're not an education reform group. We're a political reform group that focuses on education reform. That distinction matters because all of our partners are the actual education reform groups. We're trying to give them a climate where it's easier for them to do their work."

The education reformers who came to prominence in the 1990s, including the founders of Teach for America and the Knowledge Is Power Program, the national charter school network that fought unionization in one of its Brooklyn schools, often went to great lengths to portray themselves as explicitly apolitical. Nevertheless, "a lot of those people are, politically, Democrats," says Sara Mead, a DFER board member and director of early childhood programs at the Washington-based New America Foundation. "One of those things that DFER does that's really important is to help give those people a way to assert their identity as Democrats. It's important for those groups' long-term success, but also for Democrats, to the extent that some of these organizations are doing really good things for the kids whose parents are Democratic constituents. It's important that those organizations are identified with us rather than being co-opted by Republicans, as they were in the past." . . . .
So let's see, if I am working for a an outfit like KIPP or TFA, and I don't want to proclaim my political allegiance, I can funnel money through DFER to pay off the politicians who will make the decisions that favor the benefactors and oligarchs who are funding my programs. Is this what you might call non-identity politics??

I think this must signal the end of the two party system, since it no longer matters which party you belong to--in the end, the oligarchs will buy either.

Has Howard Dean announced for 2012 yet?? As an Independent?? He's a shoo-in.

Tennessee Democrats: Tell Arne Duncan to Take His $100 Million and Go to Hell With It

The squeeze is on. Duncan has begun using the $5 billion federal slush fund to bribe his way to the successful corporate takeover of urban schooling in America. With the Feds now acting as front men for the Oligarchs (Gates, Broad, Waltons, etc.), the decision to be faced by state and local governments alone is simply this: to reenergize the public responsibility to offer humane public schools to all children or to turn the education of poor children over to corporate welfare schools that offer two tracks: test prep chain gangs or prison prep chain gangs.

There is no evidence to demonstrate that the corporate solution being proposed offers any pedagogical or social advantage over a renewed commitment to public schools. The KIPP cult-for-culture model being held up as the exemplar for can never work on a large scale, and Duncan knows it.

The short-term advantage of accepting the Duncan bribes signals a capitulation of public responsibility in a democratic state to provide for the equal education of its citizens. To accept the Duncan bribes is to invite the advancement of publicly-sanctioned, corporate-controlled apartheid schools for America. Don't do it.

From the Tennessean:
. . . .Democrats blocked a bill last week that would have made thousands of impoverished students in the state's 11 largest school districts eligible to enroll in charter schools. Lawmakers said they felt the expansion was too much too soon.

But the Obama administration disagrees. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday that Tennessee's stance could jeopardize the state's shot at millions of dollars set aside to encourage school innovation.

"We want to reward those states that are willing to lead the country where we need to go and are willing to push this reform agenda very, very hard," Duncan told The Associated Press. "And the states that don't have the stomach or the political will, unfortunately, they're going to lose out."

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of local school boards, giving them more flexibility with staffing rules and school curriculum.

Under state law, charters can accept only low-performing students, students from low-performing schools and, in some cases, low-income students in early grades.

A bill introduced this year would have opened charter schools to any students receiving free and reduced-price lunch in the state's 11 largest districts, making about 73 percent of Metro Nashville's 75,000 students eligible. Currently about 20,000 Nashville students, or 27 percent, are eligible to attend charters, though less than 1 percent are enrolled, according to the Tennessee Charter Schools Association.

President Barack Obama has specifically called for changes to enrollment rules and said he believes restrictions hamper innovation. Opponents say charter schools cherry-pick the best students and siphon resources from regular schools because taxpayer dollars follow the student. . . .

Friday, May 29, 2009

One News Story = How Many Good Science Lessons?

For civilization to survive, we must adjust our focus from yammering on about preparing children to compete in a global economy to something that is inclusive of preparing children to cooperate in the global ecology. There will be no global economy or any other economy unless CO2 emissions are scaled back to a sustainable level.

Here is one news story that could spark a half-dozen related science lessons, that could who knows, help to make it possible for our grandchildren to build happy lives for their children, rather than hope to survive an anguished hell on earth. From HuffPo:

Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu recently made headlines by calling for the widespread use of "cool roofs" as a smart way to combat climate change.

The idea was oversimplified in the news media as simply "painting the world white," but that is not what Secretary Chu suggested. In fact, it is a caricature of what could be an important way to offset our carbon emissions. Secretary Chu is correct in suggesting we pursue cool roofs, and I hope more people will learn about this new strategy and consider adopting it for their homes and businesses.

If nothing else, a white or cool roof will save you up to 20 percent on your air conditioning bill and it's hard to argue with that. Over its lifecycle, a new white roof costs no more than a traditional roof.

The basic idea behind cool roofs is simple and recognized for centuries by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Dark colors absorb more heat than light colors. It's for this reason that people living in the tropics wear light-colored clothes and the same reason you don't lean on a black car on a hot day. Similarly, darker colored roofs retain more of the heat from sunlight within our atmosphere. But light roofs reflect more of that light straight back into space. Therefore, making roofs lighter in color increases their solar reflectivity and directly offsets CO2 emissions.

The potential savings are both huge and surprising. My colleagues and I have estimated that replacing urban roofs with solar-reflective materials in tropical and temperate regions of the world would offset 24 billion tons of CO2.

Let me explain. The average US roof is approximately 1,000 square feet and lasts for about 20 years. A white roof produces a one-time offset of 10 tons of CO2 and would eliminate emissions from one car for more than 2.5 years. Considered on a national scale, the equivalent would be eliminating two billion tons of CO2 emissions or removing 20 million cars off the road for 20 years. From a global perspective, replacing dark roofs with cool ones would be equivalent to taking half the world's cars - 300 million vehicles -- off the road for 20 years or reducing 24 billion tons of CO2 emissions for the same period.

That may sound too good to be true, but it is possible.

Because most large, modern cities have dark roofs, roads, and parking lots, they tend to run 5-10% hotter and create the "urban heat island" effect. Cool roofs mitigate the "urban heat island" effect and improve outdoor air quality and comfort. Light-colored roofs have other benefits. Most importantly, they lower temperatures inside of homes and businesses, thereby reducing the need for air-conditioning during the hot summer months. That translates to additional savings in CO2 emissions.

Since 2005, California building standards have required that any flat roof on a new building be a white roof. The California will soon also require new residential roofs to have cool colors as a way to reduce cooling costs. In an effort to cut its power costs, the city of Phoenix recently invested $28,600 of its $4.3 million in housing funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to apply reflective white paint on the roof of a public housing complex.

Simply put, a cool roof will save money for homeowners and businesses through reduced air conditioning costs. The real question is not whether we should move toward cool roof technology: it's why we haven't done it sooner.

Kudos to Dr. Chu for examining the science and embracing this sensible approach in combating climate change.

Dr. Art Rosenfeld is a member of the California Energy Commission.

A look at Chicago schools under Duncan

also posted elsewhere

Every now and then it is useful to step back from the hype and the spin and see what people on the ground have to say about important issues. In the case of education policy, we should not forget that George Bush gave us Rod Paige and the so-called Texas Miracle (which never was) as the argument for passing into law No Child Left Behind.

Obama has chosen his basketball buddy Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan is an exemplar of several things (1) mayoral control of the school system; (2) a non-educator put in charge of education. The track record of both is not particularly sanguine.

But rather than merely my saying so, perhaps you will take the words of someone on the ground in Chicago. Wade Tillett is a Chicago public school parent and teacher who also blogs about Chicago schools. The piece below appeared on his Bubble Over Network, the name of which comes from the ubiquitous use of bubble-in mass produced tests. I have Wade's permission to reproduce the entire piece, and I will add a few comments of my own at the end.

Flunk, retain, drop out

Written by Wade on May 27th, 2009

Soon scores from a small portion of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) will come back.
The booklet sent out with ISAT says “No person or organization shall make a decision about a student or educator on the basis of a single test.” (1)
Despite this, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) trusts this test to override our own teachers in deciding the future of our children.
For third, sixth and eighth graders, our promotion policy automatically flunks at least one in four children based on a thirty or forty question test. (2)
At the end of summer school, CPS is five times more likely to retain a child for the next year if they are African-American than if they are white. (3)
By retaining a student, CPS increases that child’s chance of dropping out by 29%. (4)
Chicago Public Schools spends $100 million dollars every year on this policy. (5)
Extensive research shows that it DOES NOT WORK. Repeating a grade does not help children succeed. (4)
Why do we continue to threaten eight-year-olds and tell third-graders they are failures? Why do we make students cry, throw-up, and finally quit?
Chicago Public Schools should use the $100 million it spends every year on holding back kids to instead provide what students really need: caring professionals with the time and resources to find out what works for each of them. Our children need advocates, not inflexible policies spit out of a machine.
CPS should stop using standardized test scores to override all other considerations in making student grade promotion decisions. I encourage anyone who agrees to sign the petition. And I encourage other parents to contact Parents United for Responsible Education if your child is forced to go to summer school.

1. 2009 ISBE ISAT Professional Testing Practices for Educators booklet

2. CPS policy sends any student below the 24th percentile to summer school.

3. http://pureparents.org/data/files/retentionreport09.pdf

4. http://www.fairtest.org/chicago-research-criticizes-retention-test-driven-improvement

5. $10,000 per student per year times approximately 10,000 students retained

Here's what is scary. Chicago is the model for what Duncan wants to do to American education. What has been done in Chicago since Richie Daley got mayoral control of the schools, first under Paul Vallas (who also imposed his "magic" on Philadelphia and New Orleans, but who is really interested in elective public office) and then under his one-time assistant Arne Duncan, has NOT addressed issues like the achievement gap that plagues poor, minority students. There is extensive evidence in the peer-reviewed literature of the negative consequences of retention, and that is without even considering the scope of retention system-wide in Chicago. The use of one-shot high-stakes multiple choice tests - which may or may not truly be standardized - to make the determination of who is retained is contrary to what the psychometricians responsible for the creation of the tests say is appropriate use of their tests.

The idea that anyone at below the 24th percentile is automatically required to attend summer school is also troublesome, unless there is an independent determination that at such a level the student is unable to function at the appropriate level for the next grade. It seems like an arbitrary cutoff without sufficient justification. Even if one presumes that the test is an accurate measurement of meaningful skills and knowledge, by that rationale we are assuming that just under 1/4 of all of our students are not succeeding sufficiently in regular school settings. If that is true, perhaps the answer is to address the deficiencies in the schooling received during the school year. Of course, the track record in Chicago has been instead to reconstitute troublesome schools, then not include their performance in the evaluation of the system on grounds that it is a "new school" so comparison with previous years' test scores is meaningless. Thus the Chicago Public Schools mask the lack of progress under many years of mayoral control.

That we are doing this to relatively young children, marking a significant portion as failures early in the school career is an abomination - the failure is not theirs, it is ours, all of us, for allowing this to occur.

I will not attempt to rationalize the disparate impact of these policies by race. Wade points that out clearly.

Testing, then analyzing test results and applying punitive sanctions has not yet proven successful within cities and state nor across the nation. While some advocates of the NCLB approach brag on "improved" scores at the elementary level in NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), such improvement is tenuous at best. The amount of improvement at the elementary level is less than in the previous cycle, that previous cycle having covered a period most of which occurred before NCLB. There is no improvement demonstrated at the upper grades. And even in the lower grades, the so-called achievement gap has not closed - minority children still lag behind as they did before - for this it is worth remembering that the ostensible purpose of NCLB was to close those gaps, to ensure that poor and minority children were not shortchanged on their education.

People in Chicago have been trying to warn the rest of us since before Obama became a candidate for president. Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) has done yeoman's work in documenting the real story behind the supposed success of the various initiatives in Chicago.

Wade Tillett's piece is but one of a series of alarums to which we should pay heed. As Arne Duncan continues on his listening tour around the nation, people should be prepared to challenge him on the real record in Chicago.

In the last presidency we learned how badly our nation's educational system could be damaged by propagating a failed model. I fear we confront a similar challenge right now.

Learn, and then speak out, for the future of our public schools.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Philanthrocapitalists in Philadelphia; Arne Smiles

     According to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Martha Goodall, the KIPP Philadelphia program has received a $4.6 million grant from the Charter School Growth Fund, a non-profit funded by leading philanthrocapitalists.  Backed by many of the same funding sources, KIPP is also negotiating with the district:
KIPP officials are talking with the Philadelphia School District about playing a possible role in Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's academic-reform initiative, Imagine 2014. Her plan includes the option of converting more troubled district schools into charter schools with successful operators such as KIPP.
Somewhere, Arne Duncan is smiling at Philadelphia's attempt to grab some of his "Race off the Cliff" funds.  In the future, grants like these can also be matched dollar-for-dollar by the "Innovation Fund" in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  Schools the philanthrocapitalists deep appropriate for urban minorities get their own slice of corporate welfare while public schools face the chopping block. 
     The grant certainly appeases the guidelines set by the Coalition for Student Achievement's guidelines for using the stimulus dollars and the Philanthropy Roundtable's guide for charter schools (cleverly titled "Charter Schools 2.0," a tribute to the data-idiots driving education reform).  
     The philanthropic community plays by their own rules and operate outside the realm of accountability.  Like young KIPPsters, the American public is trained to dream of wealth and riches; questioning the wisdom of the wealthy is hardly permitted.  But there are certainly reasons to be skeptical of the philanthropic community, as outlined in this article by Joan Roelo.  It may take another round of philanthropic failures before the general public begins to collectively question their reform efforts.  The business model of reform - competition, merit-pay, union-busting, and data-driven - might be a great system for programming computers but it's a terrible system for an inherently humanistic endeavor.  
     Gates is looking to the future.  Here is his dream of childhood.  Does it match yours?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bloomberg's School Dictatorship Challenged

From Arthur Goldstein, writing in the Daily News:
Sunday, May 24th 2009, 4:00 AM

As a teacher in an A-rated school, I believe mayoral control has been an absolute disaster.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Our federal and state governments have checks and balances so no one person has total control, which is a synonym for dictatorship.

City kids need reasonable class sizes and decent facilities. Under Mayor Bloomberg, class sizes just took their biggest leap in 10 years.

Some people say class size doesn't matter, but even the best teachers can give more attention to 20 kids than 34. The fewer kids I have, the more individual attention each one gets.

Under this mayor, charter schools get the best of everything, including small classes and new technology.

My high school was built to hold 1,800 but enrolls 4,450 students. My kids sit in a crumbling trailer, with no technology and often no heat in the winter. So much for efficiency.

The mayor says it's his way or "the bad old days." That's a false choice. We need a system that works better than what we have.

We need a chancellor who works for the kids, not the mayor. The chancellor needs to fight for what's best for kids whether or not the mayor agrees. He can't do that if the mayor can fire him for not following his orders.

A few years ago, the mayor fired two members of the Panel for Educational Policy who had the nerve to disagree with him.

Consequently, the PEP is a mayoral rubber stamp. No mayoral appointee dares to stand up for kids.
This mayor boasts about accountability. Teachers are accountable. Principals are accountable, but the only time the mayor is accountable is once every four years.

That's not enough, particularly for a man who is prepared to spend $100 million to buy reelection and who scoffed at the voters by changing the term limits law they twice affirmed.

Four more years of this system guarantees the privatization and destruction of public education in New York City. That's a prospect we should all oppose.

Arthur Goldstein teaches English as a Second Language at Francis Lewis High School in Queens.

Update on NCLB and Military Recruiters

A clip from an informative post by Rachel Natelson at Huffington Post:

. . . .To be eligible for federal funding under the terms of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), public high schools must offer military recruiters "the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post-secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers." Far from equalizing access, however, this policy has authorized military personnel to wage aggressive and unmonitored recruiting campaigns in the schools least likely to promote college and civilian employment opportunities. Targeting schools in high-poverty districts, which lack the resources to advise students on alternative options, military recruiters do not so much complement civilian representatives as supersede them.

Federally funded schools not only must offer recruiters access to their premises, but also must provide the military with household contact information for all students. While the law grants students and parents the right to "opt out" of the latter requirement by withholding their personal information, this safeguard rests entirely on the efforts of local school officials and provides no meaningful enforcement mechanism. It also fails to regulate the manner in which recruiters interact with students in the hallways, cafeterias, and classrooms of their schools.

A 2007 survey conducted by the NY Civil Liberties Union paints an especially worrisome portrait of military recruiting under No Child Left Behind. According to its findings, 40% of high school students polled failed to receive recruitment opt-out forms from their schools and an additional 33% were unsure if their schools made such forms available. More disturbingly, 21% of freshman, sophomore, and junior respondents and 27% of 12th graders reported the use of class time by military recruiters. Nearly half of respondents at selected schools reported that they did not know to whom they could report recruiter misconduct, and a third were unable to identify a school official to advise them of the risks and benefits of military enlistment.

. . . .

On-campus recruiting practices, meanwhile, continue to beg for increased oversight. One Army recruiting pamphlet, for example, explicitly instructs recruiters to "coordinate with school officials to eat lunch in the school cafeteria several times each month," and to "deliver donuts and coffee for the faculty once a month... [to] help in scheduling classroom presentations and advise teachers of the many Army opportunities." While "tangible inducements" to minors may now be a forbidden tactic in credit card marketing, military recruiters continue to ply students with key chains, hats, and t-shirts in pursuit of their goals. . . . .

Michelle Rhee's Crystal Ball Worth $27 Million

After 49 years of declining enrollment in DC Schools, Michelle Rhee is finding it difficult to make the case for her projected increase in enrollment next year. Particularly since she has left D. C. Council entirely out of the loop in her murky deliberations and arbitrary decision making.

With charter schools having established a predictable history in DC of siphoning off public school students every year since they began, Rhee now wants City Council to buy into her crystal ball gazing that has projected an increase in public school enrollment next year, even as the charter schools expect to add another 3,000 or so of DC's public school students.

And if she doesn't get the extra $27 million she wants for her invented reality, Rhee has publicized plans to make cuts in individual schools, rather than tamper with the corporate bureaucracy that she has constructed around her at central office. From WaPo:

. . . . The council voted May 12 to hold back $27 million of the system's $760 million budget for 2010, claiming that Rhee's enrollment forecast -- which calls for an increase of 373 students to a total of 45,054 after years of steady decline -- has been inflated to squeeze more money out of the District. The council's projection, based on the downward trend of the past three years, puts the student population at 41,541. The District's burgeoning public charter schools estimate that they will enroll 28,066 students, up from 25,363 this year.

The council is not challenging the charter estimate. It presumes that much of the charter growth is continuing to come at the expense of traditional public schools, which is why it doubts Rhee's projection.

"I am simply asking, where are 3,000 new students going to come from?" chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said at the May 12 hearing. "I am going to go out this afternoon and look to see if there are 3,000 parachutes coming out of the sky."

Rhee has waged an aggressive public and private campaign to roll back the council's decision. She has lobbied members individually and targeted local school budgets -- rather than central offices -- for cuts should the $27 million reduction stand. Spreadsheets posted on the D.C. schools Web site break down the potential impact school by school.

That has turned the heat up on council members, who are getting anxious calls and e-mails from constituents. But it has also strained Rhee's relations with local school communities, which worked for months with Rhee's staff on developing the 2010 budget and wonder why she hasn't looked more closely at the central office bureaucracy for cuts.

. . . .

Negotiations between the two sides are expected to continue this week.

The dispute is playing out in an atmosphere of escalating tensions between the council and Rhee's boss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), over virtually everything from board appointments to baseball tickets. There is particular resentment with what many members regard as a lack of transparency and responsiveness from the chancellor's office. Although the 2007 mayoral takeover of the schools vests power in Rhee and Fenty, the council feels it has been cut out of its oversight role.

The work that Rhee commissioned from the think tanks was completed weeks ago but not shared with the council this spring when it was deliberating the school budget. The study was made available to members and staff last Monday.

"Why is it that it takes us setting aside money to get them to come to the table and explain things?" asked council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). "How can we possibly exercise oversight when we don't have accurate information?" . . . .

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bloomberg/Klein CEO Model Flunks Test

It only takes someone who knows nothing or cares nothing about the learning needs of children to dream up this capitalist version of the principalship, where school leaders pore over endless test data most of the day looking for ways to manipulate meaningless numbers in order to project enough confidence in their bottom line to continue their bonuses and the iron-fisted control of the two-bit oligarchs who decide their futures. The American public school: meet Wall Street.

Well, the early numbers are in for those who only believe in the numbers, and Bloomberg's experiment may only be described as a bust by anyone outside the sanitized ether of the Broad-Gates think tank, where the whitest and the brightest of Harvard and Yale MBAs hatch their monstrous little ideas for poor children they only know through freshman sociology texts they once rushed through on their way to make the world safe for next generation of greed merchants.

The New York Times has the story. Here are a few of the most telling chunks:

One of Mr. Klein’s proudest achievements is luring promising candidates to the toughest schools by providing more autonomy in exchange for accountability through test scores and other data.

But an analysis by The New York Times of the city’s signature report-card system shows that schools run by graduates of the celebrated New York City Leadership Academy — which the mayor created and helped raise more than $80 million for — have not done as well as those led by experienced principals or new principals who came through traditional routes.

A separate Times analysis shows that since 2002, opening hundreds of new schools and raising salaries have swelled the principals’ payroll 43 percent after adjusting for inflation. The average salary among the current 1,500 school leaders tops $133,000, 10 percent higher than their 1,200 counterparts in 2002 in inflation-adjusted dollars, even as the median household income nationally has risen only marginally.

An average of 649 students are under each principal’s purview, compared with 879 six years ago; pay per pupil, then, has jumped to $205 from $138 in 2008 dollars.

. . . .

As New York State lawmakers consider whether to renew the 2002 mayoral control law, which expires June 30, one proposal on the table would revive the district superintendents, now largely powerless, to more closely supervise and support principals.

For all of New York’s recent focus and investment in school leadership, more than a quarter of teachers said in city surveys last spring that they did not trust their principals or consider them effective managers, and more than a third of those leaving the system cited the quality of school leadership as among the main reasons. “Perceptions of principal leadership skills are drivers of attrition,” an internal report concluded.

Teacher turnover has been higher at schools run by Leadership Academy principals — over the summer of 2007, nearly a quarter of these principals lost at least a third of their teachers, compared with 9 percent of other principals — though some see that as evidence the new leaders are shaking things up. Iris Blige, a graduate of the first class of the Leadership Academy, has seen at least eight assistant principals and dozens of teachers leave the Fordham High School of the Arts since she took over in 2004; she was the subject of an angry protest in March.

In interviews with three dozen principals, former principals and education experts, many said the newfound ability to select faculty was invaluable, but painted a portrait of a job that has grown complex and unwieldy.

. . . .

But while Ms. Gaines Pell’s school earned an A from the city this fall, The Times’s analysis shows that Leadership Academy graduates were less than half as likely to get A’s as other principals, and almost twice as likely to earn C’s or worse. Among elementary and middle-school principals on the job less than three years, Academy graduates were about a third as likely to get A’s as those who did not attend the program.

While Academy graduates do tend to be placed in some of the city’s lowest-achieving schools, the report-card system has built-in controls to account for that, emphasizing progress over performance and comparing schools with similar demographics. Still, Sandra J. Stein, chief executive of the Leadership Academy, said the cards — the city’s primary accountability measure — are not a fair gauge of her graduates because, as she put it, “it takes time to reverse a downward trend.”

. . . .

Peter McNally, executive vice president of the principals’ union — which has generally supported the mayor’s reforms — said the biggest complaint from members was “that they spend more time looking at the data than in classrooms observing and supporting instruction.” Indeed, many had deep reservations about a system in which, as one principal put it, “my report card is my boss.”

“If teaching and learning become about credits and grades, it’s not about learning,” said Jill Herman, who retired last year after three decades as a teacher, principal and network leader.

. . . .

Peter McNally, executive vice president of the principals’ union — which has generally supported the mayor’s reforms — said the biggest complaint from members was “that they spend more time looking at the data than in classrooms observing and supporting instruction.” Indeed, many had deep reservations about a system in which, as one principal put it, “my report card is my boss.”

“If teaching and learning become about credits and grades, it’s not about learning,” said Jill Herman, who retired last year after three decades as a teacher, principal and network leader.

. . . .

Elana Karopkin left Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice last summer, at 32, for a charter school group, saying she was physically and emotionally “exhausted” from what she described as a “Herculean task.”

And Michelle Harring, 62, retired last year after nearly a decade as principal of the Earth School on the Lower East Side, complaining of too much time spent “belaboring the testing statistics” or on the computer as well as bureaucratic reshufflings that left her scrambling to figure out whom to call for what.

“The job had many more pressures coming from lots of different directions, that I often felt took away from my time as a person who supported both teachers and the children in the classroom,” she explained. “I think of C.E.O.’s as people for whom the bottom lines are numbers and profit lines. I don’t think principals should be C.E.O.’s.”. . . .

Monday, May 25, 2009

Non-Profit Charter Schools Want Public Dollars, Private Operations

Dunc was in San Francisco this past weekend for another of his rousing speeches, this time as open pitchman for the oligarchs who now own the U.S. Department of Education.

According to Arne, the "dramatic reform" of American public education will depend upon the assistance of "non-profit organizations." What he means, of course, is that the only public schools the oligarchs are willing to support with their massive campaign contributions are ones that make money for the corporate sleaze who want to do their dirty work and thievery on the public dime but out of public sight.

The most popular tactic for achieving non-transparency among the non-profit charter scammers is to hire a for-profit EMO to run the charter school, and then to claim that bookkeeping and personnel records are beyond public scrutiny.

This is just what happened at the largest "non-profit" charter school in Pennsylvania, the Chester Community Charter School. Had it not been for a new a new state agency created by the state government, reporters for the Inquirer would probably still be waiting for records they requested, while the corporate vultures continue to stage their blocking actions in the courts.

Here's the whole story:

By Dan Hardy
Inquirer Staff Writer
Chester Community Charter School, the state's largest nonprofit charter, must make public a wide range of information about pay and profits going to its for-profit management company, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records has ruled.

The decision by the new state agency created to hear Right-to Know Law cases came this month in response to an appeal The Inquirer filed after the Delaware County school with 2,150 students denied a request for the information.

Randi J. Vladimer, Chester Community Charter's attorney, wrote Friday in an e-mail that the school "is still exploring its options with respect to this matter," which could include an appeal to Delaware County Court. For that reason, "it would be inappropriate for the charter school to make any statement at this time," she wrote.

The ruling was among more than a dozen recent decisions that break new ground under the state's new Right-to-Know Law, defining public access to information from private companies and other nongovernmental entities performing work for public agencies, according to Gayle Sproul, president of the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The statute, which took effect in January, explicitly grants public access to records created and held by private companies and nongovernment entities doing government work, which had not been expressly covered under the old law.

The new law, Sproul said, creates "a sea change - there's a great

The decision in The Inquirer case is the latest development in a legal battle over the newspaper's contention that it has the right to review the charter school's financial records.

In January, The Inquirer filed a Right-to-Know Law request with Chester Community Charter, asking among other things for names, titles, salaries, and all other payments or expenses and benefits paid to all employees of Charter School Management Inc. from 1998 to the present. Charter School Management is
a private, for-profit company owned by Vahan H. Gureghian, a lawyer and Republican fund-raiser who serves on the boards of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority. His management company has a contract with Chester Community Charter to run virtually all aspects of the school.

The newspaper also asked for records showing payments to Gureghian and other top Charter School Management officers, as well as records showing the company's profits.

Because Charter School Management is a private company that hires all school employees and manages the school's finances, it has been able to keep many details of its financial operations secret.

That contrasts with most charter schools, which don't contract out all operations and typically disclose extensive information about their finances through their federal nonprofit earnings statements, which all nonprofits must make public.

Vladimer, the charter school's lawyer, opposed The Inquirer's
Right-to-Know claim, arguing to the Office of Open Records that "these requests seek information regarding the salaries, benefits, expenses, and business transactions of a private management company, not a public charter school."

But the office rejected her argument, saying in a May 8 decision that Charter School Management "has contracted with the charter school to provide what is otherwise a governmental function" and "any records it maintains in performance of or directly related to that function are public records and must be provided."

The case has been complicated by a defamation suit that Gureghian and his company filed against The Inquirer in January and by the bankruptcy filing by the newspaper's parent, Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C., in February.

Gureghian alleged in the defamation suit that failed business talks between him and Inquirer publisher Brian P. Tierney motivated articles late last year that questioned the school's use of public funds.

In the articles, The Inquirer cited state records showing that of $60.6 million in public subsidies paid to Gurgehian's company since 1999, the portion going to business and administration was consistently among the highest for charter schools in Pennsylvania, and its spending percentage on instruction was
among the lowest.

Inquirer editor William K. Marimow defended the paper's coverage "on an issue of public importance" and said Tierney had no involvement in the stories. Tierney's attorney, Scott K. Baker, general counsel for Philadelphia Media Holdings, called the suit baseless and denied that Tierney had been in negotiations regarding a business transaction.

For this article, The Inquirer e-mailed written questions to several Gureghian representatives, seeking comment.

A. Bruce Crawley, a spokesman for the Chester Community Charter School and for Charter School Management, did not respond. Neither did Clifford E. Haines, a lawyer representing Charter School Management in the defamation suit.

After a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in April, Judge Jean K.
Fitzsimon agreed to suspend several lawsuits against the newspaper, including Gureghian's, pending resolution of the bankruptcy case. Her order had the effect of halting the legal discovery process in the case.Vladimer, the charter school's lawyer, subsequently wrote to the Office of Open Records, saying that The Inquirer's information request was "a blatant and improper attempt to circumvent the discovery process" by seeking information that the newspaper wanted for its use in the lawsuit.

She asked the Open Records Office to quash The Inquirer's request.The office rejected that argument, noting that the Right-to-Know Law request had been filed before the bankruptcy and that Judge Fitzsimon had said she would not enjoin reporters from reporting on school activities.

In a later bankruptcy hearing, when the matter came up again, Fitzsimon told Edmond M. George, another attorney for Gureghian and Charter School Management, that she said did "not know why you felt compelled to send" a transcript of the earlier hearing to the Office of Open Records, "other than to serve as an interference in their reporting."

George said that was not the filing's intent.

The Right-to-Know Law dispute was not the only time the management company has claimed that the newspaper's reporters should not be allowed to look into the school's activities.

Aileen Campbell, a lawyer for the management company, tried to bar an Inquirer reporter from an April 28 arbitration hearing in Delaware County over a contractual dispute between the charter school and a former teacher.

Stephen H. Gold, the arbitration panel chairman, replied: "He has an absolute right to be here. This is an open courtroom," and rejected the request.

Aussies Ready for Failed American Testing Model

From theage.com:

Philip Riley
May 25, 2009
EDUCATORS appear to make the worst learners. Evidence for this can be found in the recent decision by the National Curriculum Board (Education, May 18). The board has decided that all students will now be judged by a single standard every year — a one-size-fits-all approach. The effect, if not the aim, of this decision will be to limit the influence of individual teachers on students. It will force teachers to conduct tests for external examination, and just as happened in the US the tests will
become the curriculum.

Sensible teachers will adopt a "teach to the test" instruction method because their job and promotion prospects will rely on these scores. And, just as in the US, our version of "no child left behind" will widen, not lessen the educational gap between the haves and have-nots. So instead of following the US model, why don't we learn from its mistakes and follow a better educational approach?

Educational scholar David Berliner from Arizona State University recently presented studies showing the failure of the "teach to the test" method of instruction. Across America, schools with the most disadvantaged children have been abolishing recess and shortening lunchtime to 15 minutes in an attempt to lift test scores by direct instruction. And the result? On 46 of 47 measures studied by Professor Berliner, achievement has been slower than before it was introduced.

His conclusion is that education based on high-stakes testing is counterproductive. Why, then, has our NCB opted for the US model?

Imagine for a minute what life will be like if we adopt the wrong national curriculum and force compliance through high-stakes testing. In 10 to 20 years we will realise that we made a mistake by putting all our eggs in one basket. Where is the evidence that uniformity equals quality? Not in nature, not in business, not in research.

The overwhelming evidence from history shows that diversity, not uniformity, equals strength and sustainability over the long term. Diversity allows species to survive unforeseen circumstances, and diversity offers new possibilities which had not, perhaps could not, be imagined.

Forecasters suggest that a child in his first year of school this year will be employed in a job, and probably an industry, that does not yet exist. What specific knowledge (curriculum) does that child need to learn next year? Which, if any, tests will help that child to develop and when should they be applied? And, who should make these decisions? What can we learn from other countries' answers?

Finland, which topped the latest round of international comparisons (PISA), succeeded by training, trusting and supporting their teachers — and by less, not more, testing. Finland only takes the cream of its graduates into teacher training. Nine out of 10 who apply do not gain entry. Then they train them well. Every teacher has a master's-level qualification. On graduating, teachers are trusted to get on with the job they have been employed to do.

That Finland is monocultural and therefore advantaged against other countries in the PISA results must be considered, but may be somewhat of a straw man. For example, multicultural Tower Hamlets, until recently the most underperforming borough in the UK, is now the most improved and sits above the UK average. Its fortunes changed by doing pretty much what Finland did. It filtered teachers at the point of entry, and supported them to do their work.

Another monocultural country, China, has an inflexible curriculum based on the "uniformity equals quality" assumption. The laws of probability suggest that if a prescribed curriculum is the right way to go, China should be collecting the most Nobel Prizes by the sheer weight of numbers of students produced. In fact it has won only four. The same number as Finland. Australia has nine Nobel laureates.

The lessons learned from diversity tell us that it is likely that no one has the right answers for education. So let's not put all our eggs into one basket but create many baskets tailored to the needs of the students in the classrooms around the country by the people who know them best: their teachers. And, properly fund teacher training and continuing professional development so that our current education system can produce the best teachers for the next generation. Then we should leave it to principals to get on with the job of finding, encouraging and supporting the best teachers for their schools and their contexts. This is what Tower Hamlets did and we might do better by following its example.

Dr Philip Riley is a lecturer in the faculty of education at Monash

Obama Taps Former Broad Fellow for High-Ranking Position; Ex-Gates Officials Make Room for Her at the DOE

     The Obama Department of Education already contains a number of former Gates officials.  Wouldn't it be a more well-rounded department if there were, say, some Broad fellows?  But just a few days ago...  (From the White House press room, May 19, 2009):
Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Education
Dr. Thelma Melendez is currently serving as the Superintendent of Schools in the Pomona Unified School District in Pomona, CA. Her work on improving teaching and learning, and accelerating student performance, also includes work with the Stupski Educational Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation. She has written numerous articles for national education publications, and is an accomplished speaker on the role of school administrators, the achievement gap, women in education, and the issues of race and class.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude, at UCLA, a Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Southern California, participated in several graduate programs in school administration and leadership, and was a Broad Urban Superintendents Academy fellow. [My bold]
As the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Melendez will report to Duncan about "all matters relating to elementary and secondary education."  Her training as a Broad Fellow will come in handy as she advises Duncan on  No Child Left Behind; maybe she'll help Arne come up with a new name for the law while he's trekking across the country on his Magical Listening Tour.  

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Nike School Innovation Fund - Corporate Philanthropy, Corporate Tax Breaks, Corporate Socialism

[Cross posted at SchoolsMatter and OurGlobalEducation.com]

     Nike, the global athletic giant based in Oregon, announced a $9 million "School Innovation Fund" back in January of 2007. The Portland Public Schools received $1 million a year over three years, "the largest contribution by a business in the history of PPS." The grant directed $250,000 for a five week "summer kindergarden academy," half a million for "Leadership Teams" in the middle and high schools, and $250,000 to "support a pilot project to recruit and train school business managers" (all quotes from Nike's site).
     How nice of Nike to give away their hard-earned profits. After paying their shareholders, paying taxes, and paying their employees, the company still manages to find $9 million to give to schools (Portland, Beaverton, and Hillsboro public schools). Wait a second, did I say taxes?
     See, Nike doesn't really pay their fair share of taxes. Sure, they gave away $9 million over three years but they also managed to not give to public funding in other ways. Other very significant ways.
     This all has to do with tax policy and how Oregon determines taxable income. I'll let Michael Leachman of the Oregon Center for Public Policy explain:

January, 2007

"Single-Sales" - A Modern Robber Baron

by Michael Leachman

When your W-2 form arrives, think of this: Certain multistate corporations are paying much less in corporate income taxes today because Oregon has changed the way multistate firms calculate state income taxes on their profits. That means you pay more than your fair share.

Multistate corporations make profits in more than one state, so there needs to be a way to decide how to allocate their profits for state taxation purposes. States have different rules around this. Most states use a formula that considers the state’s share of a corporation’s total property, payroll, and sales.

Prior to 1991, Oregon used a formula that equally weighted the three factors – property, payroll, and sales. In 1991, Oregon switched to a formula that “double-weighted” the sales factor. The change produced a tax break for companies that had a high share of their property and payroll in Oregon but a small share of their total sales in the state. Companies with sales in Oregon but little property and payroll here saw their taxes increase.

In 2001, Oregon began phasing in a “single-sales factor” formula. Under this formula, only in-state sales relative to all US sales matter in determining how much of a company’s profits are apportioned to and thus taxable by Oregon; it doesn’t matter how much of their property or payroll is based in Oregon. The Legislative Assembly in 2005 cut short the phase-in process and fully phased-in the “single-sales” formula for tax years starting on or after July 1, 2005.

How much did this tax change save Nike? (From Leachman):
Take Nike, for example. Nike lobbied for the switch to single-sales factor apportionment and it’s easy to see why. At the Oregon Center for Public Policy, we conservatively estimate that Nike's 2006 tax cut from "single-sales" was over $16 million. Other prominent, profitable firms such as Intel also received a massive tax break from "single-sales." When large, profitable businesses reduce their tax obligations, small businesses and individuals get stuck with paying more of the cost of state services.
The link in Leachman's article shows how Nike managed to avoid paying between $16 million and $23 under the "single sales" tax policy in 2006 alone. This saved Nike a bundle of cash while stripping Oregon's state budget of the same amount of funding. The state used 42.5% of our general fund to support public education between 2005 and 2007 while Nike continued to give less and less.
     But this is more than Nike not paying state taxes. Nike can lobby for laws that limit their contribution to the state's operating budget (which is by far the biggest financial supporter of public education, far more than federal support and local support) and then turn around and announce that they've decided to give away $9 million to support public education in ways they see fit. This brand of corporate philanthropy is used mostly as a marketing tool, as described here in an article written by Beaverton teacher Rachel Clouse that details her experience with Nike (the article is from the 2004/2005 winter issue of Rethinking Schools, so Clouse's experience was probably from the 2003-2004 school year).
     Who wins in this setup? Nike, hands down. Oregon gets screwed out of millions of dollars, our schools suffer, and Nike gets great publicity. Portland's media members are too busy coddling up to district officials to connect these kinds of dots, instead focusing on isolated pieces of information. As an added kick in the pants for those of us working in the PPS district: our newly elected board member, Pam Knowles, served on the advisory committee for Nike's corporate giving program (Knowles comes to the board after serving as the COO of the Portland Business Alliance). The revolving door linking the business community and the corporate school reform community continues.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Duncan's Testimony

Duncan's testimony is largely a summary of previous statements.  He begins the session with a discussion related to the recent report about student safety (this GAO report, released Monday, outlines).  "I was deeply disturbed by some of the testimony coming out of yesterday's hearing," Duncan said.  Was he disturbed by the reports about KIPP Fresno?  The physical safety of our children is certainly important; the psychological and emotional safety should be a deep concern as well, a concept ignored by the charter chain gangs and philanthrocapitalists.  We've banned pedagogical approaches that employ corporal harm; I hope we eventually outlaw pedagogical approaches that are psychologically and emotionally degrading, the kind of education designed to break children down instead of recognizing our human capacity and inherent value of every child.
This testimony is only what Duncan hopes to do - but he'll be backed by philanthrocapialists and the business community.  His endless stream of bogus statistics and questionable logic needs to be demystified so that the rest of America can see that the Education Emperor is not wearing any clothes:
Secretary Arne Duncan Testifies Before the House Education and Labor Committee
May 20, 2009
Speaker sometimes deviates from text.

Thank you Chairman Miller, Representative McKeon, and all the members of the committee for the invitation to be here today. It is my pleasure to share with you President Obama's plan for American education. It is a comprehensive plan that meets the educational needs of our youngest citizens from cradle to career. If we are going to be successful in rebuilding our economy, our early childhood programs need to prepare our youngest children for kindergarten so they're ready to start reading and learning, our K-12 schools need to make sure our students have all of the academic knowledge and skills that they need to enter college or the workforce, and our higher education system needs to offer whatever advanced learning students need to be successful in a career, whether they will become a plumber, a teacher, or a business executive. As federal policymakers, we need to improve preparation for college and expand college access and completion by increasing financial aid so that students of all income levels can pay for college without taking on a mountain of debt.

I'm proud to work for a President who has created a comprehensive agenda that addresses the needs at every level of our educational system, from expanding access to high-quality early childhood programs to improving the rigor of the academic programs in our K-12 schools to making college more affordable and accessible.

We have gotten off to a fast start. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we have laid the groundwork for reform on the K-12 level and made an early down payment on expanding access to early childhood education and increasing student aid for college students. The law made available almost $100 billion for education. That money will help prevent layoffs, fill holes in state and local budgets, and provide financial aid to college students. The money is needed to help our economy in the short term, but reforms efforts driven by these funds will be the key to our long-term economic success.

Under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, states will receive $48.6 billion to supplement their own budgets during these difficult economic times. The Recovery Act says that states must spend most of that funding on education. $39.8 billion of that should go to schools.

I want to assure you that I will be scrutinizing how states spend their stabilization money to make sure they are focused on education. I have heard that some states plan to use their stabilization money so as to maintain their rainy day fund and that others may rely on their stabilization grants to pay for tax cuts instead of investing in reforms. I will do everything in my power to reject any schemes that would subvert the intended purpose of the Recovery Act, which is to help schools through the economic downturn and push reform, thereby ensuring our economic prosperity in the future. When reviewing applications for the Race to the Top Fund, we plan to consider whether a state used their stabilization money to aggressively push reforms.

In addition to helping states solve their budget problems, the stabilization fund lays out a path to reform. To receive their money, states must make four commitments that are essential to reforming our K-12 schools. They will improve the effectiveness of teachers and make sure the best teachers are in the schools that need them the most. They will promise to improve the quality of their academic standards so that they lead students down a path that prepares them for college and the workforce and global competitiveness. These standards need to be aligned with strong assessments. In addition, states must work to ensure that these assessments accurately measure the achievement of English language learners and students with disabilities.

Under the third assurance, states must commit to fixing their lowest-performing schools. Finally, states must build data systems that can track student performance from one year to the next, from one school to another, so that those students and their parents know when they are making progress and when they need extra attention. This information must also be put in the hands of educators so they can use it to improve instruction. Right now, according to the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah are the only states that are reporting to have comprehensive data systems meeting the basic elements of a good system. With $250 million in the stimulus and another $65 million in our annual budget for fiscal year 2009 and again in fiscal year 2010, we expect these numbers to continue to grow, which is vital for reform.

In addition to the stabilization money, the Recovery Act gave us $5 billion to spur innovation in states and districts. Through the Race to the Top Fund, we will be awarding $4.35 billion in competitive grants to states built around the four pillars of reform outlined in the stabilization fund. Through the What Works and Innovation Fund, we also will be awarding $650 million in competitive grants to districts and non-profit organizations to scale up successful programs and evaluate promising practices.

Our fiscal year 2010 budget will expand our commitment to reforms in several important ways, addressing the needs from early childhood through K-12 education.

Under the Title I program, we will provide $1.5 billion for the School Improvement program. This money is vital for helping states and districts address problems in schools in the most trouble. We already have $3 billion for this program from the Recovery Act and another $545 million from fiscal year 2009. By adding $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2010, we'll have more than $5 billion to address the problems of our lowest-performing schools. I'd like to set a goal to turn around 1,000 low-performing schools a year for each of the next five years. I don't want to invest in the status quo. I want states and districts to take bold actions that will lead directly to the improvement in student learning. I want local leaders to find change agents who can fix these schools. I want them to provide incentives for their best teachers to take on the challenge of teaching in these schools. And where appropriate, I want them to create partnerships with charter school operators with a track record of success. I want superintendents to be aggressive in taking the difficult step of shutting down a failing school and replacing it with one they know will work. We've proposed a $52 million increase in funding to develop and expand successful charter schools.

Many of you have heard me say that I believe education is the civil rights issue of our time. I truly believe every child is entitled to a high-quality education. I will work closely with the Office of Civil Rights to make sure that we properly review compliance in all programs and policymaking.

The fiscal year 2010 budget starts new programs and expands existing ones to address our priorities in early childhood education and literacy. We will create the $300 million Early Learning Challenge Fund that will award grants to help states set up the support and services necessary to build quality early childhood education. We will provide $500 million in grants through Title I to help districts use their Title I money to establish and expand preschool programs. We will expand the Striving Readers program from a small $35 million program focused on middle school and high schools to a $370 million program that addresses the reading needs of children in elementary schools as well. The program will take a comprehensive approach to reading instruction, ensuring that students develop the basic skills as well as the reading comprehension that is so vital to their success in high school and beyond.

We also continue our focus on promoting the teaching profession. With $517 million in our fiscal year 2010 budget, we will continue and expand our support for local efforts under the Teacher Incentive Fund to develop comprehensive strategies for recruiting, preparing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers. We also request $10 million to plan new Promise Neighborhoods, modeled on the successful Harlem Children's Zone. We are committed to acting on the evidence. And we request $72 million more for the Institute for Education Sciences, so we can identify what works based on rigorous research.

Our agenda from early childhood through 12th grade is focused on helping states do the right thing. And that's appropriate because States are responsible for establishing systems of education through the 12th grade. It's our role to make it a national priority to reform schools and help states and districts do that.

For more than 40 years, the federal government has played a leading role in helping students pay for college. Continuing this vital role, the total amount of aid for students has increased by $32 billion since President Obama has taken office. By subsidizing loans and by providing work-study programs and, most importantly, giving Pell Grants to low-income students, the federal government is fulfilling the dreams of students who want to go to college but might not be able to pay for it. President Obama has set a goal that, by 2020, the United States once again will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That's an achievable goal but, to do that, we have to make college affordable.

The Recovery Act made an important down-payment on our plans to expand student aid. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $17.1 billion so we could raise the maximum Pell award from $4,731 to $5,350. It also added $200 million to the Work-Study program, providing colleges and universities with additional money to provide jobs to students to help with their college and living expenses.

In our fiscal year 2010 budget, we make three important and permanent changes to ensure students have access to student aid and loans. The first thing it will do is move the Pell Grant program from a discretionary program into a mandatory, appropriated entitlement. This approach will provide more certainty to students and families applying for student aid about the aid that's available to them. In addition, the Pell Grant amounts will grow annually at a rate higher than inflation so that it keeps up with rising college costs.

The second thing this budget does is address the problems with the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. I think we can all agree that the FFEL structure is broken and the federal student loan programs are in need of a dependable, cost-effective way of providing college-bound students and their families with the resources they need to meet the growing cost of postsecondary education. The direct lending program is the best way to do that. Through it, we are able to leverage the government's lower cost of funds to finance and originate student loans and private-sector expertise to service the loans. The President's proposal provides a comprehensive and reliable solution for today's students while saving taxpayers over $4 billion a year. It will be more stable and efficient – reducing risk for students and lowering costs for taxpayers.

The third thing we are doing is boosting the Perkins loan program from $1 billion to $6 billion per year. The number of students served will rise from 500,000 to 2.7 million – and the number of schools that can participate in the program will increase from 1,800 to 4,400, which also means that we will serve more students. Also, to help keep college affordable our Perkins proposal allocates funds to schools based on their role in keeping tuition down and providing grant aid to needy students. This further builds upon Congress' recent mandate to create watch lists of colleges with high or excessive increases in tuition.

In closing, I'd like to remind you of one thing the President said when he addressed Congress in February. "In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity -- it is a prerequisite."

Thank you for your support so far in ensuring that our children and young adults have the education they need to ensure they enter the workforce with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful and to help rebuild our economy.

Philanthropy Gathering

ABC news and IrishCentral.com both published news reports about a secretive gathering of billionaires in New York City.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet extended the invitations to their fellow billionaire pals (including Eli Broad) to discuss the economic climate and share about their work in philanthropy.  From ABC news (link here):

Meeting of America's Richest About 'Need,' Attendee Says

Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett Discuss Coming Together 'to Do More'


May 20, 2009—

Under a cloak of secrecy, some of the world's wealthiest people gathered in an unprecedented meeting early this month in New York City "to see how they can join together to do more," according to one attendee.

Invited by the world's two richest men Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, along with David Rockefeller, a Who's Who of American wealth and influence gathered around a long table in a window-lined private room overlooking the East River on May 5.

"The overwhelming reason for the meeting was need -- that was the issue that galvanized everyone to participate," Patricia Stonesifer, senior advisor to the Gates foundation's trustees, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, told ABCNews.com. "This was a group very committed to philanthropy coming together to see how they can join together to do more."

Gates and Buffett were joined by billionaire moguls Oprah WinfreyTed Turner and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg along with heavyweight philanthropists George Soros and others.

Together the attendees have donated more than $70 billion to charity since 1996, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.


"It was meant to be a private exchange but it wasn't a secret really, just a private meeting," Stonesifer said.

First reported by IrishCentral.com, ABCNews.com confirmed each of the attendees' presence at the meeting held at the residence of the Rockefeller University president on the campus of the Manhattan medical school.

It lasted about five hours, beginning in mid-afternoon and continuing through dinner, Stonesifer said.

"This particular group had never come together as a group before but many of the attendees had met in the past either individually or in smaller groups -- but never all at once," she said. "This was a great discussion and they agreed to continue the dialogue and meet again in the future. There were a lot of good ideas."

She said that the discussion "ranged from emergency relief efforts to scholarship efforts, to U.S. education efforts to global health." Another attendee who asked to remain anonymous described the meeting as "a private gathering of friends and colleagues to share their history and excitement about their philanthropy. [It was] a group together discussing a range of things they are working on."

When again asked about the meeting following ABC News.com's initial report Mayor Bloomberg said he sometimes holds private meetings that are "not going to be on the public schedulues. There are meetings all over this city and there are some very powerful people in this city."

Gates already has a number of his education buddies working in the DOE.  The $650 million "Innovation Fund" is headed former LearnNow co-founder and CEO Jim Shelton (the for-profit LearnNow was sold to Edison just before Edison's stock tumbled).  The $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund is headed by former New Schools Venture Fund partner Joanne Weiss (NSVF was an early supporter of LearnNow and made a couple of loans to the company before Edison took over) and Gates is the biggest supporter of NSVF (over $50 million donated).  
More importantly, this congregation of wealthy businesspeople has the financial power to sway policies in ways that can run counter to the democratic process.  For all their talk of accountability in education, Gates & Co. remain accountable to no one but themselves. Gates came to my home city of Portland, Oregon in the early 2000s to reform our high school system (in the poor neighborhoods at least) with the help of our then-superintendent Vicki Phillips - who is now heading Gates' domestic education programs.  Phillips and her like-minded reformers swooped into Portland, shuffled schools around (converted to the K-8 model in the poorest neighborhoods), and left town for greener pastures.  Phillips listened to no one but the business community.  For all their work, Gates now declares the "small schools" model a failure and has moved on to the charter school movement.  These decisions were not made with public input; Phillips listens just as well as Arne "Change NCLB's Name but Not the Details" Duncan.  
We all have a right to closed-door meetings, but only a very small handful of us have the financial capital to sway public policy.  When monied interests can align themselves in ways that multiply their strength, we end up with a class of oligarchs.  As Justice Brandeis said, "We can have a democratic society or we may have the concentration of great wealth in the hands of the few.  We cannot have both."  This rings particularly true in the realm of education policy.