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

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Ferebee, Edtech Billionaires, and Indianapolis

(by Doug Martin)

As IPS seeks to close three high schools and Indianapolis opens more charter/blended learning schools, Indianapolis parents, teachers, and community members should know a few things about IPS supt. Lewis Ferebee and the edtech players promoting the so-called personalized learning/computer-based movement in Indianapolis. 


Following in the footsteps of past Indiana and Florida state school supt. Tony Bennett, Lewis Ferebee, in May 2016, became a member of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellent Education’s offspring, Chiefs for Change, the virtual, blended, and personalized learning promoting group where Tony Bennett, as a member, became known nationally before crashing after the Indiana grade-changing scandal.   

Like Bennett who championed school reform ideas his doctoral dissertation proved wrong (as I note in my book Hoosier School Heist), Ferebee  supports school choice, although for his dissertation, as Scott Elliott points out, “Ferebee had studied the effect of the promotion of school choice as a school improvement strategy in the federal No Child Left Behind law and concluded it had little impact on student learning.”  As a believer, Ferebee recently helped IPS land $100,000 from the Gates Foundation (a key personalized learning promoter) to partner with charter schools. 

With Chiefs for Change lately having an uptick of new members alongside Ferebee, the group last month received a personalized learning grant (amount undisclosed) from  limited liability company the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, led by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, for a “Transforming Schools and Systems Workgroup” to spread the “anytime, anyplace learning” of personalized learning across the United States, a plan which, by the way, the Mind Trust’s Education Cities has been selling the last few years through its Harbormaster Network.  

Zuckerberg, besides running Facebook, is best known for his $100 million “gift” to the Newark, New Jersey state-controlled schools to help expand charter schools as public schools collapsed and were closed down by supt. Cami Anderson.


In May 2017, Ferebee joined a panel discussion on “ESSA opportunity” at the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit (sponsored by the Walton and Gates foundations and the Zuckerberg Initiative), where personalized learning was the buzzword since NewSchools, last year, released “an aggressive call” for corporate ed reformers “to direct $4 billion in philanthropy toward creating, studying, and promoting” innovative schools and personalized learning.  

NewSchools Venture Fund is a Silicon Valley nonprofit/for-profit investor in edtech startups and personalized learning and has its thumbprints all over Indianapolis, investing $200,000 in Phalen Leadership Academy and $105,000 in Mitch Daniels’s Purdue Polytech High School.  

Among the NewSchools Venture Fund board and its donors are several wealthy edtech leaders who also funded the IPS school board race in 2014 and Democrats in Indiana recently: 
  • Lauren Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs' widow, who gave Mary Ann Sullivan $5,000 in 2012 and John Gregg and the Democrats’ ActBlue $5,000 each in 2016.
  • Tony Bennett funder, edtech investor, and Oxycontin producer Jonathan Sackler, who handed Mary Ann Sullivan $2,500 for her IPS race.  Jonathan Sackler is a heavy investor in the blended learning edtech company Education Elements, which partnered with MSD Warren Township schools in Indy after it won  a $28.5 million Race to the Top grant.  
  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, a NewSchools donor, who gave Mary Ann Sullivan $2,000 while she was a candidate for state office (see here,  here, and here).  Sandberg's late husband, Dave Goldberg, was a NewSchools Venture Fund board member. 
  • Billionaire edtech investor and LinkedIn’s CEO Reid Hoffman and his wife Michelle Yee each gave $1,000 to Kelly Bentley (page 6), $1,000 (page 4) a piece to LaNier Echols, and $1,000 each to Mary Ann Sullivan’s IPS board campaigns (page 2). Hoffman, who has also funded Democrat Tim Delaney’s campaign, is a NewSchools Venture Fund backer.
The NewSchools Venture Fund has popularized the phrase “Innovative Schools,” which is very similar to IPS’s “Innovation Schools” term.  The Mind Trust’s David Harris was part of the NewSchools Venture Funds Entrepreneurial Leaders for Public Education Program in 2007, and former Indianapolis mayor, Bart Petersen, along with Michelle Rhee, is a past recipient of the NewSchools Change Agent of the Year Award. 

Rooted School, one of the new Mind Trust “seed investment” schools set to open in Indianapolis, has been praised by the NewSchools Venture Fund. 

Donors to the NewSchools Venture Fund include a who’s who of edtech/corporate reformers, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Walton Family, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (which gave $588,000 to support Enroll Indy and “school equity efforts”), and the Gates Foundation. 
Personalized learning is one step beyond blended learning and seeks to get rid of as many teachers as possible and even eventually school buildings themselves.  Indianapolis born Kevin Chavous, a main player in Hoosier School Heist and a board member of the DeVos and Walton American Federation for Children, recently said:  The end game … is personalized learning.  We are going to get to this place where as opposed to every child being shepherded into a schoolhouse where they sit in a classroom and where a teacher stands and delivers, and then they regurgitate back … those days are not going to be the future.”


  1. Anonymous7:35 PM

    More specifically, state superintendent Cami Anderson was instrumental in the closing of many Newark public schools.

    Abigail Shure

    1. Thanks, Abigail. I added Cami's name in the article above.

  2. Anonymous12:07 PM


    Thanks for making the correction. Newark is under state control. Therefore, the correct
    title is state district superintendent. Sorry to
    be a pain in the neck. I am a Newark teacher.

    Abigail Shure

    1. Thanks, Abigail. I cleared that up now in the article. Yes, I just read that book The Prize. I learned a lot. Still, I wish it would have went into Booker and Cerf's past a bit more. Booker has been involved in the corporate school movement for a long time. Hope everything is going as well for you there as possible.