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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Protesting Arne at Harvard

From WickedLocal Cambridge:

Traditionally, the Chief Marshal for Harvard Commencement is elected from the class that is celebrating its 25th reunion, according to the Harvard News Service. Duncan, who graduated in 1986, was elected to the post by his classmates.

But for a handful of educators and activists just outside the university gates, the event wasn’t a reason for celebration.

Close to 60 protesters gathered in Harvard Square to speak up against Duncan’s policies as secretary of education — policies, they said, that depend too much on standardized testing.

“We are here to let the world know about the problems that he’s caused for our teachers and our families,” Liza Womack said. Womack — herself a Harvard alum, an elementary schoolteacher and an organizer for Speak out for Public Education — emceed speeches by educators, activists and local politicians.

Many of the speeches were critical of the federal Race to the Top program, which awards grant funding to states that meet certain criteria, including developing testing standards to evaluate teacher performance.

In his speech, Alfie Kohn called the program “operation discourage bright people from wanting to teach.”

“There’s so much more to education and public education than what you can measure in a standardized test,” Cambridge School Committee member Marc McGovern said just before the protests started. “We are losing creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills. We have to focus on all the things that don’t fit into a nice, neat little box.”

In a fiery speech of his own, former City Councilor and current council candidate Larry Ward urged the crowd to “keep fighting, keep fighting and keep fighting.”

“Arne, get out of our lives and get out of education,” he said.

Darling-Hammond to Every New and Old Educator on Graduation Day

From The Nation, a big chunk of Darling-Hammond's commencement speech to the graduates of TC.  It is honest, brave, and hopeful, and may every educator, new and old, take a few minutes to read it, and heed it:

Monday, May 30, 2011

A T-Shirt for Arne Duncan

A T-Shirt for Arne Duncan

Sent to the NY Daily News, May 30, 2011

The Daily News mentioned that school officials at the East New York Middle School are requiring children to wear a T-shirt saying "Not Yet" for children considered unprepared for regular classes ("Parents say administrators are siccing ACS on them to retaliate for complaints," May 30).

I would like to order a "Not Yet" T-shirt to be sent to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, whose total lack of real teaching experience and extremely narrow knowledge of educational research qualifies him as "not yet" prepared to be Secretary of Education.

Stephen Krashen

Are Books Obsolete? An analysis of data from Titles in Print

Are Books Obsolete? An Analysis of Data from Titles Printed

Stephen Krashen

A common view is that books are obsolete, and for two reasons: People just aren't interested in reading these days, and for those who are, ebook readers, such as the Kindle, are taking over.

Not according to at least one indication. The number of new book titles printed each year continues to increase, and the increase over the last decade is dramatic. Bowker, an information service company, reported that 215,138 book titles were published in 2002. This increased to 302,410 in 2009, and the projected total (based on preliminary data) for 2010 was 316,480.

The increase in titles published holds even when we consider the increase in the population of the US. The population in 2002 was estimated to be about 288,600,000. In 2010 it was estimated to be about 318,750,00 million. The ratio of books per person in the US has increased: In 2002, there was one book published for every 1342 people, in 2010, there was one book published for every 1007 people.

This analysis only includes books published in each year in the traditional way. Non-traditional publications, on-demand and downloaded, increased incredibly, from around 32,000 titles in 2002 to nearly 3 million in 2010.

There is some indication that pleasure reading is doing well. In 2002, fiction made up 12% of all titles; in 2010, it was estimated to make up 15%. Poetry and drama titles were 2.7% of the total in 2002 and in 2010 they were projected to be 3.6%. Biography was 3.2% of the total ten years ago, in 2010, 3.8%.

Combining all these categories results in overall increase of about 4% in titles aimed at pleasure readers, and a huge increase in the number of titles published (from about 39,000 titles published in 2002 to about 69,000). The only negative news was that book titles categorized as "juvenile" were a smaller percentage of the total published in 2010 (10%, compared to 14%), the total number of juvenile titles increased only modestly, from 30,504 to 32,638; it went as high as 38,000 in 2004.

Old-fashioned book reading seems to be doing OK.


Title printed data available at bowker.com

Population estimates from www.census, gov.

Plumbing the Depths of the White Hat Charter School Sewer

A really fine piece from Tom Beyerlein writing for the Springfield News-Sun:

David L. Brennan’s White Hat Management, whose 46 charter schools include one in Springfield, is being sued by the boards of nine northeast Ohio schools who say the for-profit company won’t reveal how many taxpayer dollars go for educating kids and how many end up in its corporate coffers.

But if the Ohio General Assembly approves legislation pushed by Brennan, White Hat may not have to worry about the pending court case. The legislation, which passed the Ohio House of Representatives, would allow charter school operators like White Hat to do an end-run around their nonprofit governing authorities.

Critics say it’s an attempt by Brennan to use his political influence — he’s contributed millions to GOP election campaigns — to decrease oversight of his 31 Ohio schools, 20 of which are in academic emergency or on academic watch.

Earlier this month, Brennan successfully lobbied the GOP-led Ohio House for a amendment that would allow White Hat to keep secret details of how it spends the public money it receives to run its K-8 Hope Academies and its LifeSkills Center high schools, including Life Skills Center-Springfield at 1637 Selma Road. The legislation, contained in the House version of Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget bill, is now before the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, where seven of the eight members of the Republican majority have received campaign contributions from Brennan.

Akron-based White Hat is the state’s largest charter school operator and one of the nation’s biggest for-profit charter chains.

Last year White Hat’s Ohio schools received more than $78 million from the state, records show. Officials of the left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio estimate White Hat schools have collected $500 million in taxpayer money since 2000.

“It even makes the supporters of charter schools blush — and they’re hard to embarrass,” said think tank spokesman Dale Butland.

Innovation Ohio said Brennan and his family have made $3 million in campaign contributions, mostly to Republican candidates and GOP accounts. Public records show Brennan, a wealthy former tax lawyer and industrialist, owns a $500,000 home in Akron and a $6 million home in Naples, Fla.

White Hat operated 31 Ohio charters as of the 2009-10 school year.

Eight were in academic emergency, including LifeSkills Centers in Dayton, Middletown and Springfield; 12 were on academic watch, nine were rated continuous improvement and two were rated effective. None was rated excellent.
Do read on--this is just the beginning.

And how are schools like pizza shops?  Let Governor Kasich explain:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Challenging Charter School Segregation Almost 60 Years After Brown

Once considered hothouses of educational innovation, charter schools have become corporate-run testing sweatboxes of segregation and subjugation of minorities in America's urban centers.  In suburban areas of the South and Southwest, charters remain segregated, too, but in the form of milky white dream schools with rich curricula, highly-qualified teachers, and new facilities bristling with technology.  Just like in the heyday of Jim Crow.

The question remains: will white neolibs like Duncan and Gates continue to ignore the chance to incentivize desegregation, and will the half-million dollar a year black executives like charter CEO Geoffrey Canada continue to support segregation, and will the Wall Street hedge funders continue to drive wedges between black parents and the NAACP with their phony astroturf groups?

A piece from the New York Daily News on a recent epiphany for a charter supporter:
About 90% of students attending charter schools in New York City are minorities. This has provoked some to accuse charter schools of creating "racial isolation" and rolling back the integration efforts that started with the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling of 1954.

At the national level, UCLA's Civil Rights Project issued a report lamenting that "charter schools enroll a disproportionate share of black students and expose them to the highest level of segregation."

As a charter school trustee and husband of a charter school operator, my first reaction to hearing this was disbelief: How could anyone complain about giving too many minority kids a good education? But perhaps these critics have a point.

Charter schools justify high minority enrollment as helping close the racial achievement gap. Seats in good schools shouldn't be "wasted" on white students, who usually already have access to the better public schools in any given geographic area. It's a logical argument; however, the counterarguments are stronger.

Minorities who attend diverse schools are more likely to attend college. And as Michal Kurlaender noted in a report to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, "black students who attended racially isolated schools obtained lower paying and more racially isolated jobs than whites."

Integrated schools are also better for white students: Anyone who is uncomfortable with those from a different ethnic background is ill-equipped to function in today's diverse workplaces.

Designing schools for minorities also advances the notion that "they learn better when they're with each other," a belief often ascribed, falsely, to charters. The problem minorities have isn't being unable to learn at the good schools white kids attend; it's that they are often unable to attend these desirable schools in the first place.

It can also be problematic when an all-white charter school board decides to open a charter school to serve minority children: In such a case, charges of paternalism are understandable. As WNYC reported earlier this year, Bronx City Councilwoman Helen Foster confronted white panelists from the Harlem Children's Zone, telling them: "I thought maybe there would be someone talking to me who looked like the kids and the families that we're saving."

Maybe we'd serve minority students better if, instead of creating good schools for minorities to make up for the bad schools minorities have had for so long, we just created good schools for everyone. As the Supreme Court has said, "he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.". . . .

National Research Council Finds High School Exit Exams Increase Dropouts Without Increasing Achievement

Conclusion 2: The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.  The best available estimate suggests a decrease of 2 percentage points when averaged over the population. In contrast, several experiments with providing incentives for graduation in the form of rewards, while keeping graduation standards constant, suggest that such incentives might be used to increase high school completion.

Friday, May 27, 2011

National Research Council Rebukes NCLB (Duncan-Gates-Broad) Policies Based on "Primitive Intuition"

After ten years of test, punish, and push out policies and hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent for the benefit of the education industry and corporate foundations, American schools have been blown up and children are less educated than their counterparts in countries with sane education policies.  Even as measured by their gains on American tests, comparisons show students' scores are just .08 of a standard deviation higher than they were 10 years ago.  That amounts to moving from the 50th percentile to the 53rd percentile.  Rod, Maggie, Arne, Bill, and Eli: heckuva job. 

This last dose of reality therapy comes from another report issued by the National Research Council.  Here is a good introduction from HuffPo, even though there is much more to say:

NEW YORK -- Education policies pushing more tests haven't necessarily led to more learning, according to a new National Research Council report.

"We went ahead, implementing this incredibly expensive and elaborate strategy for changing the education system without creating enough ways to test whether what we are doing is useful or not," said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and member of the committee that produced the report.

Heavily testing students and relying on their scores in order to hold schools -- and in some cases teachers -- accountable has become the norm in education policy. The No Child Left Behind Act, the largest piece of education legislation on the federal level, for example, uses performance on math and reading exams to gauge whether schools are failing or succeeding -- and which schools are closed or phased out.

"Incentives are powerful, which means they don't always do what they want them to do," said Kevin Lang, a committee member who also chairs Boston University's economics department. "As applied so far, they have not registered the type of improvements that everyone has hoped for despite the fact that it's been a major thrust of education reform for the last 40 years."

The tests educators rely on are often too narrow to measure student progress, according to the study. The testing system also failed to adequately safeguard itself, the study added, providing ways for teachers and students to produce results that seemed to reflect performance without actually teaching much.

"We're relying on some primitive intuition about how to structure the education system without thinking deeply about it," Ariely said.

Increasing test scores do not always correlate to more learning or achievement, the study authors said. For example, Lang mentioned that high school exit test scores have been found to rise while high school graduation rates stagnate.

"None of the studies that we looked at found large effects on learning, anything approaching the rhetoric of being at the top of the international scale," Lang said. He added that the must successful effects the report calculated showed that NCLB programs moved student performance by eight hundredths of the standard deviation, or from the 50th to the 53rd percentile.

The report, released Thursday and sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, recommends more rigorous testing of reforms before their implementation. "Before we did welfare reform, we did a lot of experiments at the state level," Lang said.

"We tried different ways of doing it and we learned a lot, instead of deciding that on the basis of rather casual theorizing that one set of reforms was obviously the way to go," Lang added. "There has not at this point been as much experimentation at the state level in education."

The 17-member committee responsible for the study, according to Education Week, is a "veritable who's who of national experts in education law, economics and sciences." The National Academies -- a group of four institutions chartered by Congress to consult on various issues -- launched the committee in 2002, and since then, it has tracked the effects of 15 programs that use tests as teaching incentives.

The report comes as congress works to reauthorize and overhaul No Child Left Behind, and as states countrywide pass laws that link the hiring and firing of teachers to their students' performance on standardized tests.

"It raises a red flag for education," Ariely said. "These policies are treating humans like rats in a maze. We keep thinking about how to reorganize the cheese to get the rats to do what we want. People do so much more than that."

This reductive thinking, Ariely said, is also responsible for spreading the notion that teachers are in the profession for the money. "That's one of the worst ideas out there," he said. "In the process of creating No Child Left Behind, as people thought about these strategies and rewards, they actually undermined teachers' motivations. They got teachers to care less, rather than more," he added, because "they took away a sense of personal achievement and autonomy."

The report's findings have implications for developing teacher evaluations, said Henry Braun, a committee member who teaches education and public policy at Boston College. When "we're thinking about using test-based accountability for teachers, the particular tests we're using are important," he said. "But just as important is the way it's embedded into the broader framework. The system as a whole, as it plays out, determines whether we end up with better teachers."

School Librarians Are Being Interrogated by LAUSD Lawyers

School librarians, or teacher librarians as they referred to in Canada, must have both teaching certification and library-media certification.  Most have Masters in Library and Information Science on top of their teaching credentials. 

In urban schools that do not have active middle class parent groups who insist on libraries on librarians, school libraries are being shut down by bean counters and technofools whose virtual brains tell them that poor children in their segregated and computerized testing camps don't deserve a library or a librarian to guide them in research skills and in choosing good literature, either fiction or non-fiction.  And thus, the caste system adds a new level of inequality and indignity on top of crippling poverty.

This scary story is from AlterNet:
Last night, the Canadian radio broadcast, "As It Happens," featured a remarkable story about what's going on in Los Angeles public schools, as officials grapple with a budget crisis. Librarians -- more specifically, teacher-librarians, are being escorted to the basement of an administration building, where they are made to sit on lawn chairs while being interrogated by school district lawyers who are seeking to prove that the librarians don't actually qualify as teachers. From the "As It Happens" Web site:
Teacher-Librarians in Los Angeles are under threat.
The Los Angeles Unified School District wants to lay off eighty-five middle- and high-school teacher librarians to reduce costs. As a result, school librarians across L.A. are being interrogated by lawyers working for the School District to see if their qualifications are up to scratch.
Laura Graff, a teacher librarian at LA's Sun Valley High School, has been on the receiving end of one of these questionings. We reached her in Los Angeles, California.
That description hardly does justice to the process that Graff recounts, which she characterized as very adversarial. Graff said that her job requires both a teaching certificate and a library science degree, and suggested that administrators themselves have their eyes on the teacher-librarian jobs, saying they want to replace libraries with some sort of high-tech schemes.

Hmmm...The librarians in the public school systems that nurtured me taught me pretty much how to do the job I do now. They taught me how to research, how to cross-reference sources, and guided me to books that encouraged me to dream. We really wouldn't want that for the children of L.A., now, would we?
Well worth a listen; archived on the show's Web site in Part 2 of the program.
By Adele M. Stan | Sourced from AlterNet

Posted at May 26, 2011, 4:15 pm

Ohanian's Supplement to NYTimes Piece on Bill Gates

From Susan O.:
This is a supplement to Sam Dillon's front-page New York Times article Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates, May 22, 2011.

Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.

--Sam Dillon, The New York Times, front page, May 22, 2011
What Good News: Sam Dillon at the New York Times has discovered that "local teachers who favor school reform" are actually operatives for a national organization, Teach Plus, financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

What Bad News: For years, a number of us have been screaming about Gates buying up education policy but nobody would listen.

But let's celebrate what has happened. This story revealing Gates funding everything from the development (and evaluation) of Common Core Standards to the promotion of the public school-bashing "Waiting for 'Superman'" film was front-page news in the paper of record. And until this happened, the Gates' Foundation's wealth has put it beyond criticism--except by those of us marginalized as the lunatic fringe. In a spirit of collegiality, I offer a few notes to flesh out Dillon's account.

For starters, take a look at the way the Gates Foundation is commonly portrayed: Paul Hill's A Foundation Goes to School, in Education Next, Winter 2006.

Although the Hoover Institution publishes Education Next, the business office is at Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard Kennedy School. Paul Peterson,Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, is the editor-in-chief. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution is senior editor. Finn also lists himself as "public servant." The Next mission statement takes the high road, professing that the publication "partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points." That said, in February 2010 the Gates Foundation gave Next $224,030 to support their Charter Initiative.

On June 7, 2007, Bill Gates, at the time, the world’s richest man, received an honorary doctorate from Harvard.

Few Degrees of Separation
Gates operates in a small world of kissing kin. Everybody is inter-connected. Dillon doesn't mention that Monique Burns Thompson, President of Teach Plus, is a co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools. Before that, she was assistant brand manager at Quaker Oats. Heather Peske, National Director of Programs, was formerly Director of Teacher Quality at Education Trust. She launched her career in education as a Teach for America corps member.

There are plenty of Ivy League graduates on their Board of Advisors, which means:
1) They have the connections to make things happen; 2) They have both of Barack Obama's ears. Obama can't seem to say no to Ivy League pundits.

Teach Plus Advisory Committee Members
• Margaret Boasberg, The Bridgespan Group [worked extensively on strategies to increase the philanthropy of high net worth individuals]
• Stacey Childress, Harvard Business School
• Rachel Curtis, Human Capital Strategies for Urban Schools [paid $2,000 a day for services on human capital for Chicago Public Schools when Arne Duncan was in charge]
• Ben Fenton, New Leaders for New Schools [cofounder and chief strategy and knowledge officer; formerly at McKinsey & Co]
• Ethan Gray, The Mind Trust [After college, worked as a research assistant at Education Sector in Washington, DC; at Mind Trust he's in charge of "spreading entrepreneurship nationwide"]
• Ellen Guiney, Boston Plan for Excellence [Executive Director of BPE, which now focuses its efforts on "the use of formative assessments to help teachers tailor instruction to individual students, and increased data analysis to inform instructional decisions and professional development"
• Amanda Hillman, Teach for America
• Joanna Jacobson, Strategic Grant Partners
• Jason Kamras, District of Columbia Public Schools [2005 National Teacher of the Year, now director of human capital strategy for teachers in D.C. Public Schools, which includes enthusiastic support of "pay for performance"; former Teach for America corps member]
• Sandra Licon, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [Program Officer, Education Advocacy; office located in Washington D. C.
• John Luczak, Joyce Foundation [conservative foundation gives "innovation grants" to charter schools; previously worked at US Department of Education]
• Julie Mikuta, New Schools Venture Fund [partner focusing on the firm's human capital investment strategy as well as management assistance for a variety of portfolio ventures. She serves on the board of directors of Bellwether Education Partners, Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), KIPP DC, New Teacher Center (NTC), Pacific Charter School Development, and Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC); led trainings for school board and superintendent-teams of large urban districts at the Center for Reform of School Systems, through an initiative supported by The Broad Foundation; Vice President of Alumni Affairs for Teach For America]
• Talia Milgrom-Elcott, Carnegie Corporation [previously Project Director of System Transformation at the New York City Department of Education, working as part of Chancellor Joel Klein's team]
• Lynn Olson, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [one of participants in SMART OPTIONS: INVESTING THE RECOVERY FUNDS FOR STUDENT SUCCESS; former senior editor of Education Week and project editor of their Quality Counts report]
• Elizabeth Pauley, The Boston Foundation [former Teach for America corps member]
• Ari Rozman, The New Teacher Project
• Cara Delzer Stadlin, New Schools Venture Fund
• Mary Wells, Connect the Dots
--reported at http://susanohanian.org/show_nclb_atrocities.php?id=4014 Aug. 9, 2010

NOTE: In "Michelle Rhee is 'Not Done Fighting' against public school teachers and unions,” Adam Neenan reported for Substance, Dec. 16, 2010, on one Teach Plus data-collecting strategy as they hosted a by-invitation-only discussion with educational entrepreneur Michelle Rhee.

The unnamed Washington Post blogger referred to by Dillon is, of course, Valerie Strauss. She revealed some of Gates Foundation shady funding in Gates spends millions to sway public on ed reform. She included hot links to important documents in this operation. You won’t want to miss the Confidential Letter.

Don’t you wonder why journalists are so reluctant to acknowledge the good work of other journalists? Why does Valerie Strauss remain unnamed?

In June 2006, Joshua Benton of the Dallas Morning News reported that within the Texas Education Agency, contracts often were not competitively bid but depended on whom one knew at the Gates Foundation.

Diane Ravitch was on target in a July 30, 2006 Los Angeles Times piece: "In light of the size of the foundation's endowment, Bill Gates is now the nation's superintendent of schools. He can support whatever he wants, based on any theory or philosophy that appeals to him." This was positioned as an opinion piece and there was no follow-up from the education press.

Nor was there any media mention of my heavily documented piece in Extra!, September 2010, "'Race to the Top' and the Bill Gates Connection: Who gets to speak about what schools need?"

Wanting to see which "independent experts" reporters called upon to explain Race to the Top and the Common Core standards, I examined over 700 articles published between mid-May 2009 and mid-July 2010. I eliminated cites from state ed officials, union officials and politicos. This left me with 152 outside experts quoted in 414 articles. Of the 23 experts quoted five times or more, 15 have connections with institutions receiving Gates funding and 13 with strong charter advocacy institutions. Who doesn't gets cited, raised very troubling questions. [See Appendix for whom Sam Dillon quoted in this time frame.]

Dillon's mention that National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CSSEO) received "millions of dollars" is rather like identifying half a dozen root canals as "a dental procedure." Since January 2008, Gates has shelled out more than $35 million to the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the two primary organizations charged with drafting and promoting common standards. Daniel Goldman's Bill Gates' School Crusade (Bloomberg Businessweek, 7/15/10) was one of two articles I found revealing that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "bankrolled the development of the common curriculum standards." Golden observed that our U. S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation "move in apparent lockstep" on an agenda which is "an intellectual cousin of the Bush administration's 2002 No Child Left Behind law." As I said on my website, this kind of detail separates the real reporter from those who crib from press releases and call it a day.

In the Lowell Sun (7/18/10), Matt Murphy provided dollar amounts of Gates funding received by the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practice, Achieve, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, provoking Sam Smith of the Progressive Review to offer this headline (7/23/10): Is the Gates Foundation Involved in Bribery?

Sam Smith seemed to be the only one who noticed.

Vulture Philanthropy

Please Note: We--you and I--are paying for Gates' pet projects. Kenneth Saltman points out something few people seem to realize: For every ten dollars given by the Gates Foundation, four dollars is lost from the public wealth in taxes. The philanthropist’s dollars would otherwise go to the public in the form of taxes. So a big chunk of all that money Gates is spending to get teachers on script, destroy tenure, and standardize curriculum is actually OUR money; Bill Gates is using our tax dollars to mold America. And part of the plan--well on its way-- is to de-professionalize teachers. Saltman calls on readers "to stop applying business metaphors and logic to educational thinking derived from discredited market fundamentalism." Such terms as choice, monopoly, turnaround, efficiency need to be dropped in favor of public language and assumptions. Taxpayers are subsidizing (as tax-free) an organization bent on undermining their best interests. [See Kenneth Saltman's The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy and Philip Kovacs' edited collection, The Gates Foundation and the Future of U. S. "Public" Schools.

You can see for yourself where your money goes: The New York Times has put excerpts from the Bill and Melinda Gates 2009 Tax 990 Form online along with Dillon's article.

Why only excerpts? The form runs 263 pages and includes about 360 education grants. If you want more details, watch for Ken Libby's work. His expertise on foundation largess is acknowledged in Dillon's article.

Dillon calls Gates' work "assertive philanthropy," surely a euphemism of our time. Usage: the Obama-Duncan era:he U. S. Department of Education holds hands with assertive philanthropists.

Dillon says another Gates pet project, the Education Equality Project, is "less well known." It did turn out to be pretty much small potatoes, but not because the usual suspects didn't try. Dillon doesn't point out that this outfit was founded by Reverend Al Sharpton and then-New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. In his June 12, 2008 story on this new group, Democrats Offer Plans to Revamp Schools Law, Dillon called "the principles" involved "prominent educators and lawmakers."

• Andres A. Alonso, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO
• Cory A. Booker, Newark, NJ Mayor
• Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone President and CEO
• Kevin P. Chavous, attorney, author, and national school reform leader
• Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools CEO
• Howard Fuller, Former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent, Education Professor and Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University
• Peter Groff, Colorado Senate President
• Kati Haycock, The Education Trust President
• Joel I. Klein, New York City Schools Chancellor, Education Equality Project Co-chairman
• Marc Lampkin, Strong American Schools �" ED in ’08 Executive Director
• James Mtume, KISS FM Radio "Open Line" Host
• Michelle Rhee, Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor
• The Honorable Roy Romer, Strong American Schools �" ED in'’08 Chairman
• Andrew Rotherham, Education Sector Co-founder and Co-director
• Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network President, Education Equality Project Co-chairman
• Joe Williams, Democrats for Education Reform Executive Director
• J.C. Watts, Jr., Strong American Schools �" ED in '08 National Spokesman

More Gates Awardees
Education Trust, another Gates favorite, needs no introduction. They received $1.5 million and change in 2007 and another million in 2010.

The National PTA received $1 millon grant to mobilize parents for the Common Core Standards in four states. -- Dec. 2, 2009

The May 18, 2011 Education Week (which gets its own Gates funding, as in $2,534,757 in 2005, another $100,000 in 2005, and $1,997,280 in 2009.) ran a ¾ page ad from ASCD. It was presented in the form on an opinion piece by Executive Director Gene R. Carter offering strong support of the Common Core. The ad doesn’t mention that The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $3 million to ASCD> "to support that group's efforts to help education leaders and educators themselves understand the standards and implement them." -- The Journal, April 5, 2011

Stand for Children Leadership Center
Date: December 2009
Purpose: to support the grassroots organization, policy development, and coalition work of Stand for Children Leadership Center focused on advancing common policy priorities in early learning and college ready
Gates lists support of the Common Core as "college-ready education."
Amount: $971,280

This was reported as a three-year grant, but the next year, Stand For Children was back with a $3,476,300 grant “to support education reforms, training, technical assistance, and tools designed to increase teacher effectiveness.”
Substance has had plenty of coverage on this outfit’s union-busting activities. Here are a few:

Jonah Edelman, identified as "intense leader of reform group Stand for Children," was the subject of an April 2011 New York Times puff piece which does not mention any Gates funding.

April 2011
Purpose: to invest in projects related to the Common Core and to assist in carrying out a Standards Rollout
Amount: $1,000,000
Term: 1 year and 3 months
Topic: College-Ready Education

July 2010
Purpose: to continue the American Federation Of Teachers Innovation Fund’s efforts to support local affiliates that engage in research-based, union-developed teacher quality initiatives and to work with a consortium of local and state affiliates�"the Teacher Excellence Collaborative�"to create and implement a comprehensive development and evaluation system based upon the American Federation Of Teachers framework
Amount: $3,421,725
Term: 2 years and 1 month
Topic: College-Ready Education

June 2009
Purpose: to support the work of a teacher evaluation task force, which is made up of progressive local and state leaders who will develop a comprehensive framework for teacher evaluation that focuses on research-based instructional practices and how to incorporate student-achievement results, to support the work of the task force, the publication and widespread dissemination of the final report, and a national conference dedicated to the framework, with some technical assistance to interested districts
Amount: $250,000
Term: 1 year and 2 months
Topic: College-Ready Education

A link to the 2008 AFT report Sizing up the State Standards is posted on the Gates website.

The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education
Date: March 2010
Purpose: to support an in-person meeting of the Planning Committee of the NEA Foundation Institute for Local Innovation in Teaching and Learning
Amount: $38,420
Term: 2 months
Topic: College-Ready Education

The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education
Date: October 2009
Purpose: to support training for local NEA affiliates to take on a leadership role in improving teaching practice and student achievement in their districts
Amount: $358,915
Term: 11 months
Topic: College-Ready Education

Just a Coincidence
In Nov. 2009, the Hillsborough County Public Schools received $100 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to radically change teacher practices. This Gates plan also involves Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Denver, District of Columbia, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Prince George's County, Rochester, and Seattle. They operate under the aegis of the Gates-funded Aspen Urban Superintendents Network, which has been made possible by generous grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation.

In 2009, Gates alone gave the Aspen Institute $3,878,680.
Purpose: to continue support for Human Capital Framework, Senior Congressional Staff Network, and the Urban Superintendents Network to address common issues of teacher effectiveness, standards, and assessments

AFT President Randi Weingarten offers the AFT congratulations for the Hillsborough, Memphis, Pittsburgh seduction on the Gates website: "These Gates Intensive Partnership grants will show that when dedicated adults engage in true collaboration, the real winners are the students."

Further Reading
For those of you gasping for breath, I suggest subscribing to http://www.susanohanian.org, where such information comes regularly but in smaller doses.

Joanne Barkin's brilliant summary of the Gates-Broad chicanery,"Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools," published in Dissent Magazine, January 2011 offers a substantial and damning read. Barkin sees fit to put on her short identifier that she is a graduate of Chicago public schools.

Christopher H. Tienken's Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making," from AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Vol. 7, No. 4 Winter 2011, offers a readable, coherent look at the Common Core--even with good lines as well as good research:
Size matters because size brings complexity. Finland, the country that usually ranks in the top five on international tests has 5.5 million people. In the U.S. we call that Wisconsin.
I offer a suggested topic for Mr. Dillon's next front page expose: We produce more researchers and scientists and qualified engineers than our economy can employ, have even more in the pipeline, and we are one of the most economically competitive nations on the globe.

It's staggering to realize that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had an endowment of $33 billion as of June 2010, with an additional $30 billion from Warren Buffett, spread out over multiple years in annual contributions. This makes a lot of people lose hope. Some of us don't even operate on a shoestring but on Social Security stipends. But when we don't keep shouting, when we don't insist on government of the people, by the people and for the people, then we let thugs like Bill Gates triumph. Writing in Undernews, Is the Gates Foundation Involved in Bribery? longtime political commentator Sam Smith noted:
If an individual were to influence governmental decisions with this sort of money, it would be clearly a criminal offense. Why should it be any different for a foundation?

Gates has opened the door to a manifestly corrupt approach to government where a handful of well funded groups and individuals override the democratic legislative process by the prospect of funding or the threat of losing it. If you can't go to jail now for doing this, there should be laws that make it clear that you do from here on out.
Here's who Dillon quotes as experts on the issue of Race to the Top and/or Common Core Standards�"and how he identifies them. As you read the identifiers, remember these appeared in articles meant to inform the public about education policy.

Michael Cohen
• president of Achieve, a Washington-based organization that is coordinating the effort (Sam Dillon, "New Push Seeks to End Need for Pre-College Remedial Classes," New York Times, May 28, 2009)
• Education Department official in the Clinton administration who is president of Achieve. (Sam Dillon, "Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools," New York Times, March 11, 2010)
Timothy Daly
• president, New Teacher Project, which advocates for improved educator evaluation systems (Sam Dillon, "Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition," New York Times, Jan 19, 2010)
• president, New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group (Sam Dillon, "States Create Flood of Bills To Overhaul Education," New York Times, June 2, 2010)
• president, New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that has pressed for changes in the way teachers are evaluated (Sam Dillon, "New Tension In Obama's Tie To Teachers," New York Times, July 5, 2010)
Chester Finn
• former assistant secretary of education who has been an advocate for national standards for nearly two decades (Sam Dillon, "Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools," New York Times, March 10, 2010)
• president of an education research group in Washington (Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin, "Education Chief Vies to Expand U.S. Role as Partner on Local Schools," The New York Times, May 3, 2010)
• a Republican, writer of influential education blog, Flypaper (Sam Dillon, "New Tension In Obama's Tie To Teachers," New York Times, July 5, 2010)
Frederick M. Hess
• education director at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research policy group (Sam Dillon, "States Rush to Prepare For School Grant Contest," New York Times, Nov. 11, 2009)
• a director at the American Enterprise Institute (Sam Dillon, "In School Aid Race, Many States Are Left Behind," New York Times, April 5, 2010)
Jack Jennings
• former Democratic Congressional staff member who is president of the Center on Education Policy, a research group (Sam Dillon, "Array of Hurdles Awaits New Education Agenda," The New York Times, March 16, 2010)
Carl Kaestle
• education historian at Brown University (Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin, "Education Chief Vies to Expand U.S. Role as Partner on Local Schools," The New York Times, May 3, 2010)
Michael W. Kirst
• Stanford University professor emeritus who has studied the proliferation of remedial courses on American campuses (Sam Dillon, "New Push Seeks to End Need for Pre-College Remedial Classes," New York Times, May 28, 2009
Richard D. Kahlenberg
• senior fellow at the Century Foundation (Sam Dillon, "New Tension In Obama's Tie To Teachers," New York Times, July 5, 2010)
Leah Lechleiter-Luke
• Spanish teacher from Mauston, Wis., who is that state's 2010 teacher of the year (Sam Dillon, "States Receive a Reading List: New Standards for Education," New York Times, June 2, 2010)
The New Teacher Project
• a nonprofit group (Sam Dillon, "Dangling $4.3 Billion, Dangling $4.3 Billion, Obama Pushes States to Shift on Education," New York Times, Aug. 17, 2009)
Paul Pastorek
• state superintendent of education . (Sam Dillon, "Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition," Jan 19, 2010)
Rick Perry
• Governor of Texas (Sam Dillon,"Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition," Jan 19, 2010)
Mike Petrilli
• A vice president at Thomas B. Fordham Institute who served in George W. Bush's Education Department (Sam Dillon, "Array of Hurdles Awaits New Education Agenda," The New York Times, March 16, 2010)
Susan Pimentel
• consultant in New Hampshire who helped write the English standards. (Sam Dillon, "Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools," New York Times, March 10, 2010)
Diane Ravitch
• Education historian (Sam Dillon, "Dangling $4.3 Billion, Dangling $4.3 Billion, Obama Pushes States to Shift on Education," New York Times, Aug. 17, 2009)
• education historian (Sam Dillon, "Education Standards Likely to See Toughening," New York Times, April 15, 2010)
John Schnur
• education adviser to the Obama campaign who helped design Race to the Top. (Sam Dillon, "States Create Flood of Bills To Overhaul Education," New York Times, June 1, 2010)
Van Shoales
• executive director of Education Reform Now, a national advocacy group (Sam Dillon, "In School Aid Race, Many States Are Left Behind," New York Times, April 5, 2010)
Jim Stergios
• executive director, Pioneer Institute, a Boston nonprofit group that helped Massachusetts revise its state benchmarks in the 1990s. (Sam Dillon, "Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools," New York Times, March 10, 2010)
Kate Walsh
• president of the nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality who has advised several states on Race to the Top strategy (Sam Dillon, "States Rush to Prepare For School Grant Contest," New York Times, Nov. 11, 2009)
Grover "Russ" Whitehurst
• director of the Department of Education's research division under President George W. Bush, now at the Brookings Institution. (Sam Dillon, "Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition," Jan 19, 2010)
• senior fellow at Brooking Institution (Sam Dillon, "Array of Hurdles Awaits New Education Agenda," The New York Times, March 16, 2010)
Gene Wilhoit
• executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonpartisan association of state superintendents of education (Sam Dillon, "States Rush to Prepare For School Grant Contest," New York Times, Nov. 11, 2009)
• executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. (Sam Dillon, "Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools," New York Times, March 10, 2010)
Joe Williams
• Executive Director, Democrats for Education Reform (Sam Dillon, "Dangling $4.3 Billion, Dangling $4.3 Billion, Obama Pushes States to Shift on Education," New York Times, Aug. 17, 2009)
• executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group often critical of the teachers' unions (Sam Dillon, "After Criticism, the Administration Is Praised for Final Rules on Education Grants," New York Times, Nov. 12, 2009)

Now ask yourself this: Who's missing? For starters, noted researcher (and former New York Times education columnist) Richard Rothstein was not quoted in any of the 700 articles I studied.

Item: Let's do the numbers: Department of Education's Race to the Top Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Line by William Peterson and Richard Rothstein, EPI Report, April 20, 2010, documents that the Race to the Top picks winners arbitrarily.

Item: A blueprint that needs more work by Richard Rothstein
EPI Policy Memo #162, March 27, 2010

That’s just for starters. Rothstein, the author of very influential work, is an acknowledged expert, and he's prolific--books, reports, papers--all relevant to the topics at hand. Yet reporters ignore him.

Likewise, David Berliner wasn't cited once in during the time period studied. So the question remains open: Why would the press shut out an expert, the co-author of the acclaimed Manufactured Crisis and Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing  
Corrupts America's Schools and Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success --while calling up Joe Williams and his cohort Charles Barone of the Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee (PAC) tied to hedge fund interests, for 40 citations?

I name only two of the missing. Think of all the other experts who are missing from every press account of education policy. My "expert" tally showed Education Week sometimes quoting people from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute three times in one issue.

Duncan created a firestorm among bloggers when he told Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin of the New York Times

Progressive Texas journalist Molly Ivins once warned (in her George W. Bush biography Shrub), "People who have read only one book can be quite dangerous." Consider the danger of allowing one foundation to dominate our education policy. I worry about the press's very deliberate avoidance of this issue, and I fear I might have found the answer in the movie Three Days of the Condor, where Joubert, the contract assassin, sums things up: "I don't interest myself in 'why.' I think more often in terms of 'when,' sometimes 'where'; always 'how much.'... The fact is what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay."

--by Susan Ohanian, who was invited to write a commentary for the New York Times-- and then dis-invited because she would not withdraw her one-word criticism of Times columnist Thomas Friedman. The editor insisted that Friedman has nothing to do with education policy.
— Susan Ohanian
(5/4/10) that his policies encounter no opposition: "Zero. There's just an outpouring of support for the common-sense changes and the unprecedented investments we're making." This outrageous claim was left to stand unquestioned in the newspaper that still claims "All the news fit to print" on its masthead. No comments were accepted online.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mother Jones Compilation of Econmic Inequality in America

Plutocracy Now

It's the Inequality, Stupid

Eleven charts that explain everything that's wrong with America.
Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.

A huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

Aevrage Household income before taxes.

The richest controls 2/3 of America's net worth

Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.

member max. est. net worth
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) $451.1 million
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) $435.4 million
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) $366.2 million
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) $294.9 million
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) $285.1 million
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) $283.1 million
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) $231.2 million
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) $201.5 million
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) $136.2 million
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) $108.1 million
combined net worth: $2.8 billion
10 Richest Members of Congress 100% Voted to extend the cuts
Congressional data from 2009. Family net worth data from 2007. Sources: Center for Responsive Politics; US Census; Edward Wolff, Bard College.

Note: The 2007 data (the most current) doesn't reflect the impact of the housing market crash. In 2007, the bottom 60% of Americans had 65% of their net worth tied up in their homes. The top 1%, in contrast, had just 10%. The housing crisis has no doubt further swelled the share of total net worth held by the superrich.

A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it’s more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.

Why Washington is closer to Wall Street than Main Street.

median net worth of american families, median net worth for mebers of congress, your odds of being a millionaire, member of congress's odds of being a millionaire 

For a healthy few, it's getting better all the time.

Gains and Losses in 2007-2009, Average CEO Pay vs. Average Worker Pay

A millionaire's atx rate, now and then. Share of Federal Tax revenue

How much income have you given up for the top 1 percent?


Income distribution: Emmanuel Saez (Excel)

Net worth: Edward Wolff (PDF)
Household income/income share: Congressional Budget Office
Real vs. desired distribution of wealth: Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely (PDF)
Net worth of Americans vs. Congress: Federal Reserve (average); Center for Responsive Politics (Congress)
Your chances of being a millionaire: Calculation based on data from Wolff (PDF); US Census (household and population data)  
Member of Congress' chances: Center for Responsive Politics
Wealthiest members of Congress: Center for Responsive Politics
Tax cut votes: New York Times (Senate; House)
Wall street profits, 2007-2009: New York State Comptroller (PDF)
Unemployment rate, 2007-2009: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Home equity, 2007-2009: Federal Reserve, Flow of Funds data, 1995-2004 and 2005-2009 (PDFs)
CEO vs. worker pay: Economic Policy Institute
Historic tax rates: Calculations based on data from The Tax Foundation
Federal tax revenue: Joint Committee on Taxation (PDF)

Read also: Kevin Drum on the decline of Big Labor, the rise of Big Business, and why the Obama era fizzled so soon.

More Mother Jones charty goodness: How the rich get richer; how the poor get poorer; who owns Congress?
Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. Get Dave Gilson's RSS feed.

Betsy Devos in the Running for the Billionaire Boys' Club Most Corrupt Member

When you're a billionaire woman in a billionaire man's world, the best way to get attention sometimes is to out-boy the boys.  That's what Betsy Devos's of All Children Matter fame did a few years back when the astroturf group run by Amway's exploitation queen pumped tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of illegal dollars into the 2006 election pushing corporate education reform (vouchers and charters). 

In fact, she was nailed by the Ohio Election Commission, which handed a $5.2 million fine to the sister of the dark Eric Prince of Blackwater fame (now building in the UAE mercenary armies for hire to the despots of the Middle East whenever the urge for democracy needs to be crushed).

Now Betsy has a new astroturf group called the American Federation of Children (get it?) that she uses to front the revival of school vouchers.  With the containment vessel's lid blown off of political contributions by the Citizens United Decision and by the creation of Super Predators Pacs, Betsy is on a roll again, sending money any place she can find legislators or governors for sale on privatization issues close to that thing is in her chest that pumps blood.

Betsy's most reliable client right now has to be Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett and the Keystone State's corporate-controlled State Legislature, where back room deals and under the table exchanges have pushed the school voucher back to the center of the table for those who would have have been reformers during the 1960s when the school voucher became the school reform choice for segregationists hoping to escape the mandate of the Brown Decision.  That bit of history does not stop these antiquarian relics from clinging to the reformer label.

Great report here from Will Bunch for PhillyNews.com:
FOR WEEKS, deep-pocketed advocates for school vouchers - tax dollars to help students attend private or religious schools - in Pennsylvania sold their scheme as the only way for poor children to escape failing urban public schools.
Then some leading tea-party groups objected to the legislation slowly snaking its way through Harrisburg.
Their objection: The plan was too generous to poor children.

The head of the tea-party group UNITEPA wrote to lawmakers that the then-version of Senate Bill 1 wasn't helping middle-class families enough but was "creating another government program which gives a small segment of the population special rights."

A short time later, Gov. Corbett - a leading voucher advocate - and Senate leaders reached a new compromise that critics say is designed to reduce the amount of vouchers in low-income districts like Philadelphia and give the excess dollars to families in more affluent districts.

The little-noticed change is typical of what has become a mega-million-dollar stealth push - heavily funded by out-of-state, right-wing millionaires and billionaires - to make Pennsylvania into a national proving ground for school choice.
In little more than a year, activists like Michigan's Betsy DeVos, of the Amway fortune; the heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton; and three wealthy Main Line hedge-fund traders have doled out an astonishing $6-million-plus in campaign cash to top Harrisburg pols, while they and allies have spent millions more on rallies, inflammatory mailers and lobbyists.

In doing so, they've managed to put a voucher program, which would take hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools and shift them to private or parochial schools, on the political front burner - even as those same public schools are facing draconian budget cuts.

Earlier this month, supporters of the state Senate's ambitious voucher program postponed a vote on the plan - perhaps until the fall - as they struggled to work out differences with the state House, where leaders would rather expand a less ambitious tax-credit program.

But critics of the voucher proposals don't expect it to go away - not with the enthusiastic backing of Corbett, whose campaign has received at least $50,000 from the pro-voucher Students First PAC, and from other lawmakers drenched in political dough.

They say that in wooing tea-party activists and rural and suburban lawmakers, Harrisburg has increasingly moved the voucher plan away from what advocates say it is - a last-ditch rescue plans for students in troubled schools in Philadelphia and other cities - and toward a cash giveaway to middle-class kids who would have attended religious or private schools anyway.

What's more, they charge that some of the wealthy backers of vouchers don't want to help struggling public schools. They want to destroy them.

"The driving force is the big money from the free-marketeers," said Rob Boston, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who has been monitoring the pro-voucher movement for years.

"Betsy DeVos says she supports public education, but she would much prefer to see a privatized model," Boston said of the former Michigan Republican Party chair, the head of the American Federation for Children. Devos' husband, Dick, told the conservative Heritage Foundation that advocates could whip up opposition to public schools by calling them "government schools."

In addition, he said, DeVos and other advocates would like to take down the teachers' unions. Maybe it's not surprising that some of the key proponents of vouchers in Pennsylvania have also donated to Wisconsin's outspoken antiunion Gov. Scott Walker. Many of the interlocking ties between right-wing advocates for school vouchers were reported last month by freelance journalist Rachel Tabachnick.

The spokesman for DeVos' AFC, Andrew Campanella, scoffed at the idea that supporters of vouchers want to wreck public schools.

"We want public schools to be as strong as they could be, and well funded," said Campanella, who argues that overhauling public education will take time and that vouchers give students and their parents a chance to escape violent or academically inferior schools right now.

In Pennsylvania, national voucher advocates seem to believe they've found the perfect state to make a major stand. For one thing, the voucher issue has been kicked around in the past and has since been bolstered with prominent black supporters like state Sen. Anthony Williams and state Rep. Dwight Evans. Then last fall came the election of Corbett and a more conservative Legislature, more willing to listen to the tea party and conservative activists like DeVos.

And there's something else that the wealthy backers of school choice seem to find appealing about the Keystone State - the lack of limits on political donations. As was widely reported last spring, three pro-voucher founders of the Bala Cynwyd-based hedge fund Susquehanna International Group gave a whopping $5 million to Williams' failed gubernatorial campaign.

The local multimillionaires include Joel Greenberg - who later joined the board of DeVos' AFC and served as cochair of the education committee on Corbett's transition team - and his partners Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchick, who both have ties to conservative advocacy groups and think tanks.

With less fanfare, the Bala threesome also gave $1.3 million to AFC's political fund in the fall; the AFC group then donated some $1.2 million to a virtual Harrisburg's Who's Who of political leaders, including Corbett; Williams; Evans; Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican; and the Senate President Pro Tempore, the GOP's Joe Scarnati, of Western Pennsylvania.

Opponents of vouchers, like state Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat, find the massive infusion of campaign cash by the other side unsettling. "When you see folks spend an exorbitant amount of money to transform a system - that clearly needs work - you get a little concerned," he said.

But pro-voucher advocates have no qualms about the large donations, saying that such contributions are necessary to counteract the political influence of teachers' unions, which have been pumping contributions into Pennsylvania's body politic for years. "They have to compete with the amount of money that the other side's been giving out for 20 years," Williams said. "It's unfair to only talk about one side."

But opponents say that there's one thing that groups like Students First and AFC aren't telling voters: That evidence that vouchers lead to higher student achievement is lacking. Critics note a 2010 study from Milwaukee - which has the nation's longest-running major experiment with vouchers - that found that test scores were no different from peers who did not use vouchers to attend private or religious schools.

"African-American students in Milwaukee have scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress that are below those of African-American students in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana," said Diane Ravitch, a former high-ranking education official in the George H.W. Bush administration who once favored vouchers but now opposes them. "Vouchers helped no one."

In opposing vouchers, Hughes said that he'd like to spend precious dollars for education on proven methods that would make public schools better for all students - things like smaller class sizes, a longer day and summer classes - rather than a program that would benefit only the small group that would use vouchers.

"We cannot have a minimalist concept of how to deal with challenged schools," Hughes said, referring to vouchers. "We have to dive in full bore."

In Pennsylvania, analysts said that there's another reason to question whether the proposal now before the state Senate will do a lot for poor urban kids: Lawmakers keep changing the plan to attract more votes by skewing the benefits more to the middle class.

The anti-voucher Education Law Center, in looking at Senate staffers' own "Fiscal Note" analyzing the current voucher bill, estimated that over the first four years of the program, only 7.6 percent of the dollars would go to kids now in the state's 144 failing schools. Nearly two-thirds of the money would go to kids already enrolled in private or parochial schools.

And Baruch Kintisch, an analyst with the group, said that that was before Corbett and Senate leaders agreed to a new funding formula, designed to woo balking lawmakers and to appease tea-party activists, which would place a tighter cap on voucher money to kids from the poorest schools.

Kintisch said he's concerned that imposing a voucher program could destroy the most challenged schools by steering state money toward private or religious schools.

"The end result could be the end of public education in Philadelphia as we know it," he said. "There is a tipping point at which school districts cannot sustain the operation of public schools, and school districts like Chester-Upland and Philadelphia are close to that tipping point already."

But even though the voucher push seems temporarily stalled, few expect the crusade to disappear.

Corbett will be in the governor's mansion for three-and-a-half more years. And there's no sign that supporters of the concept are running out of checks.