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The preposterous and predominant proposition of private school progressives

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There is an intimate, truthful moment in Davis Guggenhiem’s “Waiting for Superman” when he admits guilt for driving his child past by three inner city schools on their way to a more privileged school. It motivated him to create a documentary to expose public education dysfunction, but also connect a wide audience to solutions.

He says

I passed three public schools, and I live in a good neighborhood. And my parents sent me to a private school because the schools were broken. It’s been 40 years. So I said, “What if I make a more personal approach, in that I betrayed the ideals I lived by?” The key line is “I betrayed the ideals I thought I lived by—my kids are okay, but I’m a part of this big problem.

Guilt may be a good thing. It drove him to find solutions, and when he found them they were byproducts of school reform; better teachers, charter schools, and whole community programs like the Harlem Children’s Zone. Putting those solutions in a slick feature length movie was indeed a betrayal of the white progressive world frame. Good for him.

I appreciate an honest progressive. It’s good when one understands his privilege and his conceits. I only wish there were more like him.

My experience with progressives, especially those who are private school parents, or their cousins who attend deceivingly exclusive “public” schools, is that they often are the preachiest of all.

Whether it’s MSNBC host Melissa Perry-Harris trading boilerplate anti-school reform  bullet points while her child attends the second most expensive private school in New Orleans; or author and television commentator David Sirota who sings from the teacher unionist hymenal even though he attended America’s oldest charter school (which is now private); or actor Matt Damon – the beloved son of a teacher – who gave public school teachers a big Hollywood kiss in pro-union rally speeches, then without hint of irony selected a private school for his children; the volume of progressives with private school ties is equal to the number who are coldly inimical to school reform.

The above list should include people who locate “public” schools in privileged residential enclaves so exclusive they should admit their schools are publicly funded, but private.

Yesterday the issue came into sharp focus again. I saw a blog post by a private school parent, Diane Ravitch, who reblogged a post by a private school worker, Seton Hall professor Daniel Katz, which was reblogged by a private school parent, Washington Post liaison to the anti-reform movement, Valerie Strauss.

The topic?

Ironically, Katz’ post is about how school reform groups funded by private interests are not grassroots enough, and how they push a billionaire’s agenda of testing, chartering schools, and privatizing education.

Ravitch says…

The key is, as always, follow the money. If the group is funded by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the John Arnold Foundation, or the Helmsley Foundation (among others), you can bet there are no grassroots. If they not only have said funding but an expensive location and grow rapidly, and if they advocate for charter schools and test-based evaluation of teachers, there are no grassroots, only faux reform roots that are part of the movement to privatize public education. The “reform” movement likes to pretend that it has a broad base so it funds numerous “front” groups. We have not seen so many front groups since the 1930s. Today, as then, they represent no community, no one but the funders and the elites and those with a hidden but anti-democratic agenda.

Katz argues that groups like Educators 4 Excellence, Education Post, and Students for Education Reform (SFER) have all the looks of grassroots outfits, but they are more grass than roots. As evidence he offers the fact that major foundations like Walton, Gates, and Broad fund these groups to expand faster than non-funded community groups ever could.

One problem with today’s education reform environment is that a number of groups exist that call themselves “grassroots” organizations, but which have expanded rapidly because of large infusions of cash from corporations and foundations invested in pushing charter schools, mass high stakes testing, data mining students and the Common Core standards.  These groups do not exist to represent the organically derived priorities and shared interests of students, teachers and parents; they exist to put a more credible face on the priorities and shared interests of a very narrow but astonishingly influential set of repeating characters.

I take Katz’ analysis personally for three reasons.

The first is easy: he names me in the post.

That’s pretty damn personal. Of course, he doesn’t know me or my story or the fact that my voice comes from experience and struggles.

Such is life.

Second, I know many of the people he criticizes. Almost none resemble the mindless money drones he paints them to be.  Just last week I met with many of them and I participated in thoughtful conversations about improving school reforms. I heard reflections about where reform has fallen short. People are wrestling honestly with critical questions in education.

The majority of reformers I’ve met are technical people, education geeks, often apolitical, and often motivated by a story in life this is far more interesting than Katz’ use of intellectual shortcuts and logical fallacies to explain them.

Finally, it’s concerning that professors like Katz and Ravitch argue so poorly. It would be possible for the entire education reform movement to be run by banking magnates and also present sound arguments worthy of consideration.

Who funds you?

Katz has a job. He is paid. Shall we give his employer the same combing he gives reformers?

One could make the argument that as an assistant professor for Seton Hall University, he is an education privatizer. His employer has more than insignificant connections to America’s kings of commerce. Seton proudly lists over 40 corporate funders that include UBS Wealth Management, American Express, JP Morgan Chase, PNC Bank, Bank of America, and Chubb Group. Additionally, there are 29 family and corporate foundation funders too.

And, Seton’s board of trustees includes leaders from hedge fund and wealth management companies. Didn’t see that coming. I wonder what they expect of Katz for their money?

Should we discount his ideas about education because his employer takes money from Koch Foundation, a philanthropy that funds over 100 private schools with the express mission of assisting “resource-poor areas where Catholic schools are the only means of evangelization”?

And, what about the fact that in communities across the country the American Federation of Teachers, and Big Labor in general, are setting up astroturf, and afroturf organizations to push a predefined agenda against school accountability, testing, teacher evaluation, charter schools, Teach For America, and many of the innovations proposed to lift student achievement?

The preposterous and predominant proposition of private school progressives (and their “public school” cousins) is that they are qualified to assess who is grassroots enough to help us, and who is not.

That’s an utterly ridiculous belief.

Are Harris-Perry, Sirota, Ravitch, Strauss, Damon, Katz, and the other private school progressives really down with poor?

Please.

As they drink a steady diet of stupid from the blazing firehose of a progressive media that chews their intellectual food for them, and then serves them a dim sum of pro-union romance stories, the world of real children waits for justice.

That justice won’t be found in the locked cars of private school progressives who drive past schools they want open only for other people’s children.

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.


And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.


“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.


Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.


The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.


And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.


And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.

Why?

In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.

 

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