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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Shelby County's Mayor, Mark Luttrell, Leading Public Effort to Privatize Head Start in Memphis

In 2010 State Democratic Chairman, Chip Forrester, said this about Shelby County mayor,  Mark Luttrell:

"He's a right-wing ideologue whose two planks are to build a bigger jail [now #10 in the U.S.] and to out-source county jobs. He's attempting to cozy up to Democrats, and he's not clear about his Republican pedigree. There's a sense that Mark Luttrell is a moderate, somebody who stays in the middle. That's not the case."

The bigger jail, Luttrell got as sheriff.  A really big one.  Forbes, in fact, lists Shelby County Jail as #10 largest in the nation.  Luttrell is now leading the charge in Shelby County to have the county school board take over the annual $23 million federal Head Start grants in order to find "someone who can enhance and expand this program to meet the needs.”

"The needs" that Luttrell refers to obviously have something to do with further chopping of public employees to benefit a corporation headed up by a Luttrell crony, John Threlkeld, who is not only President of the Chamber of Commerce in Bartlett, a Memphis suburb, but who is also President of the Board of Directors of Porter-Leath, a tax-sheltered corporation that is standing by to take over early childhood education in Memphis.  Oh yes, one of Porter-Leath's corporate partners is KIPP Memphis, Inc.:

The mission of KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools is to provide high performing schools in the Memphis area that will equip all students with the necessary academic and life skills needed to succeed in college and the competitive world beyond. Porter-Leath partners with KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools to provide pre-school services to 100 children in North Memphis.

From the Daily-News on September 23, quoting Mayor Luttrell:

“I would hope this school system, through the leverage they have, that they would certainly tie into the pre-kindergarten program as well as early childhood and elementary education programs,” Luttrell added. “We’re not nimble.

Things don’t move fast in government by design. When you are talking about Head Start … you need to consider that.”

Yes, nimble, that key corporate term for being able to turn an intentional disruption and manufactured crisis into immediate corporate profit.

We shall see how nimble taxpayers are, who are facing a second referendum (the last one failed miserably) to increase the sales tax by a half-cent to almost 10 percent.  With Luttrell and his ilk planning to collect almost $50 million if the referendum passes, want to guess where the money is intended to go?  

That's right--$30 million will go to a privatized early childhood program run by Luttrell's cronies, and $17 million to reduce property taxes for those who can afford property--not those people who will pay 10 cents on the dollar for milk and eggs.

More from the Daily News (my bolds):

The seven commissioners in committee last week agreed on the idea of the school system taking over Head Start. But beyond that they had different opinions about other options including alternatives, such as Porter-Leath getting the contract. 

Luttrell said he is open to a Porter-Leath plan or another private provider. 

“I certainly think the school system is very qualified to do this, and Porter-Leath has a very convincing package to sell,” he said.

Now was that a convincing package, or an impressive bundle?  Semantics.

Mike Pence’s Faith-Based Quest to Corporatize Preschool

By Doug Martin

Even though Indiana does not fund preschool and even failed to pass a law for a preschool pilot program recently, Mike Pence has a newly-formed early childhood learning advisory committee which doesn’t seem to be meant to help the situation. In fact, the advisory committee reflects a free-market biblical capitalism and should shock true Christians and parents alike.  Instead of funding full public early learning initiatives in Indiana, this committee appears to be Pence’s faith-based quest to corporatize preschool and hand out taxpayer money to Christian Right groups running church and in-home daycare centers.  Although the advisory board does not have anyone who is an early childhood learning expert on it, it does give a voice to Eli Lilly, the drug-maker behind many corporate school initiatives in Indiana.

The Board

Although an Indiana Head Start Program leader is on Pence’s early childhood advisory board, the state doesn’t even give money to Head Start and isn’t in any hurry to supplement the federal program, as some states do.  

One board member is Wabash College-educated Alonzo Weems, a vice president at Eli Lilly’s bio-medicines unit.  For some reason, Eli Lilly officials believe they should be allowed to call the shots on Indiana education.  The drug company and its nonprofits, by far, are big players in the corporate school movement in Indiana, and current and past board members sit on a whole slew of boards and fund the people and groups out to privatize our schools.

Lilly’s illegal marketing of Zyprexa to nursing home residents has killed off more than a few senior citizens and hurt thousands of people of all ages, as I detail in my soon-to-be-released book Hoosier School Heist.  And yes, anti-psychotic drugs for toddlers is the next big “in” thing for the pharmaceutical giants.  Not to mention the A.D.H.D drugs from Lilly and other companies doctors are prescribing to preschool kids, as the New York Times recently highlighted.  There is no evidence that Lilly plans to use its voice on Pence’s board to promote its pills, but Lilly has too much power in the corporate school movement in Indiana, as is.

There may be hope in Pence’s selection of Weems, however. Weems has spent time working with United Way’s Success for 6 child care program, so let’s hope this wins out over his pharmaceutical role.

Pence’s board chair for the early childhood learning advisory committee is the private-college Presbyteran educated and former drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb representative Kevin Bain who comes from the Southwestern Indiana Business Leaders Roundtable and the Welborn Baptist Foundation.  First off, it is safe to say that any group with the phrase “Business Roundtable” in its name is unfit for school children, as Susan Ohanian and others have noted more than twice, including the business-loaded education roundtable in Indiana. The Business Roundtable's national goal is to use the public schools to train workers, force-feed kids standardized tests, and it's been at it since State Farm's Ed Rust ran the show several decades ago.

Then there’s Pence’s board member Tammy Veselsky from the Traders Point Christian Academy, which runs its own preschool program, receives taxpayer money through school vouchers, and takes kids to the Creation Museum where the dinosaurs and the Sarah Palins roam hand-in-hand.  Traders Point Christian Academy is associated with Traders Point Christian Church which helps Focus on the Family give anti-gay conferences and perform gay conversion therapy.  The school’s former headmaster is J.K. Stevens, who now teaches at Lincoln Christian University, which Veselsky attended.  Eli Lilly’s Lilly Endowment, in fact, funds Lincoln Christian University’s World View Eyes, a program to “expand” the minds of youth to the ways of spreading a Christian worldview that Traders Point Christian Academy is involved with (page 8 in pdf box).

The Abuse

Pence’s goal to fund Christian Right preschool for Hoosiers could become horrific if it lacks regulation and supervision.  Lack of regulation has caused preschool deaths nationwide and in Indiana.  Indiana currently has 730 faith-based daycare centers.  After a one-year-old boy drowned in an Indy church’s daycare center, the Associated Press wrote this:

State law allows religious nonprofits to register their daycares with the state, but the facilities avoid much of the oversight that licensed daycares face. Only about 5 percent of church daycares are licensed through the Family and Social Services Administration.

The differences in requirements for licensed and unlicensed faith-based ministries are vast. Licensed centers must follow 192 rules; the unlicensed faith-based ministries, 21. Licensed centers must have one adult for every four infants and every five toddlers. There is no ratio requirement for unlicensed centers.

Religious nonprofits have fought repeated legislative efforts to eliminate the licensing disparity.

Recently, Indiana changed the law so that background checks have to be done on people who work at the Christian daycare centers, but not enough has been done.  There is still no ratio requirement of staff to toddler. In February of this year, the Journal Gazette wrote that:

If Indiana lawmakers need more evidence that church-based child care programs need stronger regulation, they can look to a recent incident in Greenwood. An inspector found a church official previously involved in a substantiated case of child sexual abuse at the Little Angels Daycare and Preschool.

Even with new laws, faith-based daycare centers in Indiana could slip into the same condition as Christian Right boarding schools. Even though Christian Right educators in Indiana boarding schools have a dangerous track record, the state did nothing to close them for years.  Some, in fact, are still in operation.

As I’ve detailed before, New Horizons Youth Ministries’ staff have had numerous allegations of abuse and the ministry finally lost its license as a boarding facility in Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois to board wards of the state.  Lifeline Youth and Family Services and Crosswinds took over the schools but have kept directorial staff  members who have been employed with the abusive facility for as long as 20 years. But they are not the only ones. Indiana is rife with Christian schools known nationally for their harsh and inhumane ways of disciplining kids. 

Mike Pence’s school voucher/gay bashing friends at Advance America illustrate this.  Governed by lawyer Eric Miller and his handpicked Baptists, Advance America’s board once included Roger Voegtlin.  Voegtlin is known for  giving sermons on beating kids with hickory sticks and was featured in Cooper Anderson’s UnGodly Discipline show which detailed Indiana Christian school abuse, and should be a warning on what to expect from Pence’s preschool and school voucher program plans.

Students from Voegtlin’s Fairhaven Baptist Academy in Chesterton have allegedly been humiliated, spanked until they bled, and even raped.  Voegtlin himself did jail time after he started the school in 1970. In the Anderson program, Voegtlin’s adopted son and daughter, who no longer have any connect with the pastor, highlight his abuse, and former students describe how the pastor would paddle them in front of the class. 

Jeremiah Souza told CNN’s Gary Tuchman, in a follow up show on September 22, 2012, that “I was raped for three years straight there. And I was told it was my fault. I went and told the pastor. He asked me if I was tithing and giving money to the church at that time. He said it was because I wasn't giving money that I was violated.” Souza says since his parents are still members of the church, they have cut him off, and he has no contact with them now.

Fairhaven alumni are producing a movie, the Darker Side of God, to detail these abuses. Calling the school a cult that forces child labor, waterboards, brainwashes, intimidates, and beats to indoctrinate its students to the ways of Christ at its $80 million complex, survivors of the school, with hundreds of others, protested a few days after Anderson’s show aired. 

Describing the alleged rape of her 13-year old sister, Alison Lavery told the Chicago Sun Times that “(The church leaders) called it ‘an affair’ and blamed her, so my family left the church because that wasn’t right. But I had just transferred into the (church’s school) dorms, so they put me on grounds arrest, meaning I couldn’t leave the property or talk to anyone outside of the church. And they told me if I ever left, my life would be destroyed.”

In a state where 15 percent of high school girls report having been raped, all of this is not reassuring. Christian Right leaders have no business raising kids in daycare centers or boarding schools in this state.

Christian Fascism in Hoosierville

And here lies the problem.  Jesus, in Indiana and America, is now Milton Friedman with a beard.  Besides working with dictators to steal from and kill the poor throughout his long career, Milton Friedman—a dead economist and 1 percent con-man—is savior to Mike Pence.  

Pence got his start working for the 1 percent Friedmanites by leading the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a think tank whose pseudo researchers spread propaganda in newspapers weekly around the state.  Indiana Policy Review Foundation’s Cecil Bohanon, in referring to school vouchers, writes this:

Full disclosure: I have a dog in this race. I am on the board of Delaware Christian Academy (DCA), a private Christian school that uses a traditional curriculum and accepts state-financed vouchers. I have long advocated educational vouchers as a means for improving educational quality. I agree with Dr. Milton Friedman, who would have been 101 years old on July 31 of this year; I think competition in K-12 education is healthy.

Milton and Jesus have become one.  The true message of Jesus has been co-opted by the 1 percent and the whackos who carry their message. Chris Hedges, the award-winning journalist and scholar on the death of the liberal class, has warned about the Milton Friedman Christ and its role in American fascism for some time.  In a 2004 article, he writes:

Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, told us that when we were his age, he was then close to 80, we would all be fighting the "Christian fascists."

The warning, given to me 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.

Adams was in Nazi Germany and barely escaped Hitler.

Closer to home, socialist and Hoosier union leader Eugene V. Debs wrote this from his jail cell in 1919, imprisoned for speaking out against the war:  

I told my friends of the cloth that I did not believe Christ was meek and lowly but a real living, vital agitator who went into the temple with a lash and a krout and whipped the oppressors of the poor, routed them out of the doors and spilled their blood and got silver on the floor. He told the robbed and misruled and exploited and driven people to disobey their plunderers, he denounced the profiteers, and it was for this that they nailed his quivering body to the cross and spiked it to the gates of Jerusalem, not because he told them to love one another. That was harmless doctrine. But when he touched their profits and denounced them before their people he was marked for crucifixion.

Christ would not like Pence and the New World Theocratic Corporate Order.  If Christ were alive today, he’d be in the federal prison in Terre Haute, labeled a traitor to America.  Let’s hope the true Christians in Indiana come out and say this.  Let’s hope the real Christians in Indiana come out in full force against Pence and his early learning advisory committee and pray for the best for Indiana children.




Sunday, September 29, 2013

Protests Spread Against Huffman Among Tennessee School Administrators

In the most recent outbreak of protests against Kevin Huffman's mis-leaderership of Tennessee schools,
The Marshall County Board of Education has formally endorsed a letter recently submitted to Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly that expresses discontent with the current leadership in the Department of Education.
The eight-member school board approved the single page resolution Tuesday at a meeting, stressing the need for various student programs, frustrations with mandated programs and concerns of not being heard by Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman.
“We want Marshall to be number one in the state, but we have to have time to do that,” Marshall County Director of Schools Jackie Abernathy said. “Rigor is not always more.” . . . .

The protests were solidified in early September by almost half of Tennessee superintendents who signed a letter of protest against the former TFA executive.  From the Timesfreepress.com:
NASHVILLE - State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman today said he has not moved too quickly on school reforms despite a letter signed by some 60 local school superintendents calling for his boss, Gov. Bill Haslam, and state lawmakers to rein him in. 
Huffman said he has yet to see a letter that more than 60 of the state’s 136 school directors or superintendents have written to Haslam. 
The local school chiefs charge Huffman’s office “has no interest in a dialogue” with them and that policies, rules and legislation have sapped their attempts to improve schools due to low morale. . . .
The petition below:
September 9, 2013
The superintendents who have chosen to sign this document have enjoyed hundreds of years of experience and have led schools in the state of Tennessee to accomplish tremendous outcomes. Each signee aspires to accomplish more and utilize state and community resources to continue with the challenging task of comprehensive and sustained school improvement. The schools we are working to improve are in the communities where we live and serve our children. 
As leaders, we have participated in some of the most comprehensive reform efforts in our nation. Our participation has been intentional with a goal of providing a brighter future for the children in our charge while improving increased economic, educational and social opportunities in our state. 
During the last year, the signees have developed a belief that the office of the Commissioner of Education in this administration has no interest in a dialogue with those of us providing leadership for school systems. We have begun to feel that the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education considers school teachers, principals and superintendents impediments to school improvement rather than partners. While no superintendent will have all the answers, we are confident that many of the efforts underway by our state would be enhanced by our active voice and genuine participation in the decision development process. 
Superintendents have attempted to accomplish participation in the decision making process through the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, through the Superintendents Study Council and through more informal measures. Instead of a receptive ear, our overtures have been met with scripted messages and little interest in accomplishing great change by changing culture. 
It has become obvious to the signees that our efforts to acquire a voice within this administration is futile. We have been patient, professional and focused on the needs of each of our communities but the expertise we have and the passion we feel must become a part of the efforts to improve Tennessee education. 
The superintendents signed hereto have been willing to take this extraordinary step not as an act of resistance rather as a plea out of a sense of responsibility for each of the communities we serve. Today we feel that we are not respected or valued and that the unique culture of our state is not valued. Today we feel that we are unable to lead many improvement efforts due to our charge of attempting to address morale issues of many of our employees who feel voiceless and powerless. 
We are not content with the current leadership and feel that we are not best serving our state in this manner. We request that Governor Haslam and members of the Tennessee General Assembly consider carefully and prayerfully the future of free public education in our state and address our concerns and the concerns of many of our parents, teachers and principals.

Michael Goldenberg's Review of The Mismeasure of Education

This review posted at Amazon.

THE MISMEASURE OF EDUCATION pays homage in its title to Stephen Jay Gould's classic MISMEASURE OF MAN, a book that exposed much of the sordid history of intelligence testing in the United States and how it became almost from its inception tainted by racist assumptions and an obsession with rank-ordering human beings in order to both justify and preserve social and economic injustices and inequities. Horn and Wilburn take great pains in the opening section of the book to review much of Gould's work (including a correction of one error Gould's fervor to expose and undo a host of entrenched wrongs and disinformation probably led him to too quickly take as fact. Nonetheless, the authors make clear that Gould's work is seminal in understanding some of the shaky assumptions upon which a great deal of current American educational policy is built, not the least of which is the belief that intelligence is a well-understood "thing" that can be and has already been identified and measured in individuals and groups.

If the book ended with that opening section, the authors would have already provided invaluable service to both readers new to the subject and those familiar with Gould's book as well as other aspects of educational testing and measurement. It is unfortunate in that regard that both Gould's book and many of the books of Gerald Bracey, a tireless analyst and debunker of bad educational research are not required reading for everyone from the local school building to the US Department of Education who wishes to understand, let alone attempt to make, educational policy. But this book will give those who don't have time to explore that larger body of work a solid basis to think about contemporary education policy initiatives on both the state and national level. And that is an absolute must as the United States is struggling with probably the most radical and yet reactionary set of educational programs in its history: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core State Standards initiative.

In order to help serious readers better understand the history that has gotten us to the current state in which private, corporate, obscenely moneyed interests are virtually dictating educational policy-making, academic standards, assessment, funding, teacher evaluation, firing and hiring, shutting down and opening schools, as well as the rampant growth of for-profit charter schools and for-profit management companies simultaneously feeding at the public trough and avoiding the same sorts of accountability (in terms of student learning and growth, teacher quality, and financial responsibility and transparency that those promoting these schools demand of traditional neighborhood public schools), and the relentless push for vouchers, the authors devote the bulk of this volume to analyzing the history of education "reform" (or as I prefer, the more honest term, "deform") in Tennessee. Tennessee is chosen for several reasons, most prominently because it was far ahead of the curve in inviting private interests to help it shape state educational policy to serve the interests of profiteers, opportunists, politicians, charlatans, and others eager to gain access to the public money devoted to educating children in free, open, public schools. In many ways, as Horn and Wilburn make clear, Tennessee became a voluntary laboratory for various experiments and manipulations of public schools that are now becoming the law of the land in all but a handful of states.

The insistence on marginalizing teachers, parents, and students, promoting standardized tests as the only valid measure of educational effectiveness, the blind trust in data as THE solution to all problems of teaching and learning, the even more thoroughly blinkered faith in "the free market" in education as the proper way of ending the so-called learning gap (and ignore the more difficult and embarrassing poverty gap, social and economic injustices of our entire system, and other factors far outside the sway and control of schools, administrators, and teachers, all the while placing the entire blame for shortcomings and failures anywhere but on those most responsible for and positioned to address the problems the system has inevitably caused.

The case of Tennessee thus serves as both a microcosm of most of the policy initiatives promoted by both the administration of conservative Republican George W. Bush and that of ostensibly progressive Democrat Barack H. Obama, and a chilling warning of how ineffective these policies have already been and are likely to be when expanded to other states and the nation as a whole.

Along with Diane Ravitch's recently published REIGN OF ERROR, this volume belongs not on the shelf, but in the hands of anyone who thinks she understands what's wrong with our public schools and how to go about fixing them, who takes at face value that our schools are failing and that the solution is to do more testing and bring in private for-profit companies to make education hum. Ignore these books at your peril and that of your children and grandchildren.