More Charter Schools Coming to Illinois


Illinois’ new Governor Bruce Rauner wants more charter schools, that much is clear.  His first move in this area was to hire Tony Smith as the Superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education.  He was a proponent of charter schools as superintendent of the Oakland, CA school district.

Now word comes out that Rauner is paying $250,000 per year to his education secretary, Beth Purvis.  Ms. Purvis was the CEO of the Chicago International Charter School network, which has 16 campuses with 9,222 students enrolled.  Read more about how Governor Rauner tried to hide Purvis’ salary within an agency whose budget he intends to slash here.  Two-Hundred Fifty Thousand dollars is a lot of Illinois taxpayer money – Rauner justifies paying a consultant that kind of salary by stating you have to pay good people good money.  That money will be used to find ways to siphon more of Illinois’ taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into the pockets of private investors.

Governor Rauner is pro-business; he has disclosed his net worth is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Read about what Rauner thinks about how charter schools should treat ELL students and students with disabilities here.


News From the Future

Graphic courtesy of

June 1, 2095.

White House, Washington, D.C.

Today President Jeb G. H. W. Bush V held a press conference in the Rose Garden to discuss his concerns about America’s educational system. Here’s an excerpt of his opening remarks:

My fellow Americans, it has become abundantly clear that our system of educating American’s children is not working.  Yesterday the Charters Are Delightful Schools (CADS) corporation announced from its headquarters in the Cayman Islands that it would be closing all of its schools in Newark, Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Akron leaving millions of American children without a school and hundreds of thousands of staff without jobs.  CEO of CADS, Emily Broad-Gates, said they closed the schools because they were losing money.  This is hard to believe, given Ms. Broad-Gates’ salary of $45 million/year (plus stock options).  This is not the first time our children have been left school-less. You’ll recall ten years ago when Connecticut Charters shut down mid-year after they sold all their buildings to real estate investors and last year when the San Jose, California schools had to get  parents to teach the last 26 days of school because their charter school operator refused to pay its staff, who had recently tried to unionize.

I am very concerned about this trend – companies that promise to educate our youth, then abandon them a few years later.

President Bush announced that Vice President Charlotte H. Clinton III would be chairing a blue-ribbon committee which will look into alternatives to charter school systems, which educate 97% of the nation’s school children.  He went on to suggest that some schools could be turned over to concerned local citizens, “like in the good old days.”

Vice President Clinton took the podium and said, “Our nation is in peril.  When children can’t count on their schools being open, well it’s like some foreign country conspiring to hurt this great nation .”  She went on to say, “This committee will look at every means possible to assure that schools will be there for American kids.”  She even suggested cutting back on the number of federally-mandated testing days (currently 54) as a way to reduce the testing fees schools are being charged, thereby saving schools billions of dollars per year.   House Speaker Paul Pearson immediately issued a statement condemning the use of that kind of “logic without metrics.”

Questions from the press turned quickly to Vice President Clinton’s grandmother’s role in Benghazi.  She said that she would not comment until the results of this year’s congressional investigation are released, just before the fall elections.

Chicago Tribune Doesn’t Get It

Graphic courtesy of

The editorial in the May 4, 2015 Chicago Tribune was titled, “Backsliding on school choice*.”  The opening paragraphs:

Across the country, many states are pushing aggressively to expand educational opportunities for students trapped in low-performing schools.

You’ll hear about state-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, education savings accounts that help parents pay some school expenses; tax breaks for parents for private-school tuition and expenses, even credits that allow companies to direct part of their state taxes to nonprofits that provide student scholarships.

There’s strong momentum to expand school choice: Some 39 states are mulling laws to give students more alternatives to neighborhood schools, up from 29 states last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What’s the problem?  We’re not pushing charter schools enough for them.  We’re getting behind other states.  “Don’t let the nation outpace us,” they cry.   Here’s the evidence – The Illinois House voted 60-40 to disband the Illinois State Charter School Commission.  In Illinois a charter school operator has to get permission from the local school district they want to open a school in.  If rejected, the charter school can go to the Charter School Commission to overturn the local school board’s wishes.  The Tribune says the commission is a “venue of last resort” for charter school operators.  Let’s see – the democratically elected school board says “no” to a charter school, then the charter school gets an expensive lawyer and appeals to people on a commission who don’t know anything about the school district, thereby skirting democracy.  It is interesting to note in the online version of the article there is a link to another editorial, “Make democracy work for Chicago Schools.”  Make up your mind – do you want democratically controlled schools or not?

The editorial does point out some of the charter school failures – the United Neighborhood Organization charter network* in particular. It even states, “Some of Chicago’s charters have a poor performance record – and they should close.”  So they recognize that charter schools can fail – that’s OK, just close the schools and send the kids somewhere else.

The Tribune doesn’t get it.  Charter schools are not the solution – see the report from the National Education Policy Center.  Allowing charter schools to operate where local school districts don’t want them removes local control.  The people in the district would no longer have a say in what their children are learning – the charter school management team would.

* You may have to register with your email to read these articles on the Tribune website

A Sad Vision of Charter Schools for Illinois


Tony Smith – charged with implementing the governor’s vision of charter schools in Illinois

During the closing keynote of the Network for Public Education’s conference, Diane Ravitch shared with the audience a story about an exchange she had in 2012 with Bruce Rauner when she was in Chicago to receive the Kohl Education Prize award. The exchange took place during dinner that evening. Below is a transcript of what Ravitch told us:

 “… I was seated across from Bruce Rauner and I had no idea he was going to run for governor. And we began to have a heated discussion about charter schools because the Noble Network, which he is a part of, names schools for individual rich people so there’s a Bruce Rauner Charter School, there’s a Penny Pritzer Charter School… I don’t know of other rich people in Chicago but they all have their own names on charter schools.

So I said ‘Do you think it’s right that your school doesn’t accept kids with disabilities? He said, ‘Why would we?’

I said, ‘What about the kids who are English Language Learners?’

He said, ‘Those kids are not my problem.’

He said, ‘I want the kids who are going to succeed. I want the kids who are motivated. I want the kids who are going to be successful. I don’t want those kids.’

I said, ‘What are we going to do with them?’

He said, ‘I don’t know, it’s not my problem.’

That’s the governor of Illinois.”

Ravitch is the pre-eminent historian of the American education system so I have no reason to doubt her recollection of the conversation. Rauner just had his buddy Anthony “Tony” Smith hired as the head of the Illinois State Board of Education. Smith was superintendent of the Oakland, CA school district but has never been a teacher or school-level administrator. While in Oakland Smith worked hard to increase the number of charter schools there. He’ll be the perfect state school chief to implement Rauner’s vision of charter schools in Illinois.

Quotes From the NPE Conference


This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Network for Public Education’s (NPE) second annual conference in Chicago.  It was like a revival meeting!  Activists from across the U.S. were there to cheer each other on and to learn how others are supporting public education.  When speakers got up to talk about the Opt-Out movement in New Jersey, hundreds of people got up and cheered.  When Diane Ravitch pointed out the students who occupied the offices of their school superintendent to protest the onerous PARCC testing, the audience cheered and raised their fists in a show of support.

Over the two days of the conference I had the opportunity to attend a wide variety of sessions.  Some I will elaborate on later, but for now here are some quotes I jotted down during the two days:

“Our children are [being used as] instruments of profit.” Jitu Brown
“Stop calling these people ‘reformers.’  They are ‘colonizers.’ ” Jitu Brown
“Teacher colleges are seeing a reduced enrollment due to the state [Michigan] teacher test.”  Western Michigan Professor/attendee
“The extreme right is looking to undermine the fundamental properties of democracy.” Presenter unknown
“Media Matters did a study of education stories on television.  They found that teachers are interviewed 9% of the time.”  Hilary Tone
“We have bad test scores.  Why is America still here?” Yong Zhao
“I had to raise $70,000 to run for the school board.” Shanthi Gonzales
“I don’t know of any school that has improved by being closed.” Diane Ravitch
“Stop Arne Duncan from being the H.R. office for every school district in America.” Randi Weingarten
“The Florida Department of Education refused to agree that no teacher should be evaluated on the results of a student they’ve never met.” Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
“They [ed reformers] have the ‘Stepford Child Syndrome.’  They think every kid is the same, can learn from the same curriculum and do the same on the standardized test.”  Lily Eskelson Garcia
“Teachers have terrible character flaw – you’re humble.  Get out there and brag about what we do.” Lily Eskelson Garcia
“We [teachers] are the ‘first responders’ to poverty.”  Randi Weingarten
“We opted our daughter out from state testing.  So far she has been home seven of the nine days of testing.” Steve Baker

PS – Sorry to all 31 of my loyal followers who have been sitting on the edge of their seats for the past few months waiting for my next post.  The NPE has re-energized me so look for more posts soon.

Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Final Thoughts


David Tyack and  Larry Cuban’s book Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform is one of my favorite books.  They chronicle how Americans have viewed public education as a means to building a better society.  From one-room schoolhouses in the 1800s to the influx of immigrants in the early 1900s to the response to Sputnik in the 1950s, Americans have shaped the purpose of public education.  Americans – not just one person. Not a foundation.

When did we, as a society, give up our responsibility to determine the purpose of public education?  I can remember back in 1985 when the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) went hat-in-hand to the Illinois legislature (again) for a bigger budget and the response was, “If you want more money, you’re going to have to show us that you’re worth it.”  State-wide student testing began shortly thereafter.  The purpose of education then became, “Earn your keep by showing me how good your schools and teachers are” which was not a societal need but an economic one.  Building a better society using public education doesn’t exist in the American consciousness today – and as we know, nature abhors a vacuum.

So if we are unwilling to fill the vacuum of societal purpose for public education, who will?  Bill and Melinda Gates along with Warren Buffett.  They said “College Ready” is American’s societal need and they have defined for public education how to meet that need:

  • Create a standardized “American” curriculum
  • Provide professional development to teachers to ensure they teach to that standard curriculum correctly
  • Evaluate teachers to see if they are teaching the standard curriculum correctly, and if they don’t, remove them from the classroom
  • Use technology to implement the standard curriculum

America didn’t set this agenda.  Recognizing this, the Gates Foundation hedged their bet that American public schools might not want to accomplish their agenda so they support charter schools and alternative schools to demonstrate how it should be done.  They pour money into national professional organizations and to the Council of Chief State Officers to get the Foundation’s agenda done.

“College Ready” is America’s need?  Those kids in Naperville and Winnetka were born “College Ready”.  What a frickin’ joke to the kids in Chicago who are just hoping to survive long enough to make it to the safety of their school tomorrow.

Why did we allow them to control the conversation about the educational needs of America?  How did it come about that the Gates Foundation is telling us, the education professionals, how to do our business?  The sad part is, we let them do this to us because we wouldn’t do it ourselves.  We, as a profession, have been reluctant to get involved in politics, to write the newspapers about what schools need, to stand up and tell someone outside of the teacher’s lounge what our kids need.  Until we, as a profession, are willing to tell everybody what America’s kids need, the billionaires and their foundations will fill the void.

Next time: Vision 2020 tries to fill the void

Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Part 3


I began to write this series (see Part 1 and Part 2) because I wanted to learn more about the Gates Foundation and see for myself if the projects they were funding in the U.S. under the area of “College Ready” (i.e. K-12 education) were supporting public education. In Part 2 I shared my analysis of the 128 projects funded by the Foundation in 2014 and I identified 13 categories of funding – over $93 million spent.

The top recipients of Gates Foundation Funding for 2014:

Rank Grantee Total Granted # Grants
1 New Venture Fund $13,170,152 4
2 Council of Chief State School Officers $6,148,749 1
3 Educause $5,100,000 1
4 Tulsa Public Schools $4,421,847 1
5 Lake County Schools $4,390,766 2
6 Alliance for Excellent Education Inc. $4,287,530 2
7 National Assoc. Of Charter School Authorizers $4,000,000 3
8 Pacific Charter School Development Inc. $3,998,633 1
9 $3,600,000 2
10 WestEd $3,457,786 1

As can be seen the New Venture Fund (NVF) was awarded 4 grants which totaled $13.2 million – over 14% of the total funding in 2014.  In 2013 the NVF received $5.2 million.  According to NVF’s website:

NVF was established in 2006 in response to demand from leading philanthropists for an efficient, cost-effective, and time-saving platform to launch and operate charitable projects. We execute a range of donor-driven public interest projects in conservation, global health, public policy, international development, education, disaster recovery, and the arts.

Note that NVF is used to “launch and operate” projects.  So my assumption is the Gates Foundation went to NVF and said, “Here’s a bunch of money and these are projects we want you to launch”.  As Anthony Cody astutely observed, “One grant that jumps out is one for just over $10 million to the New Venture Fund. The purpose? ‘to support the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards and related assessments through comprehensive and targeted communications and advocacy in key states and the District of Columbia.’ (emphasis added [by Cody]). Communications and advocacy. Not research and development.

That communications and advocacy was in full play in 2013, too.  The NVF reported on their IRS Form 990 (page 2) that its Education Programs goals included “ADVOCACY FOR EFFECTIVE TEACHING PRACTICES”, “SUPPORT FOR THE COMMON CORE INITIATIVE”, and that their work “… PRIMARILY INCLUDES GRANTMAKING, CONVENING, AND STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS SUPPORT.”  One way they did this in 2013 was to provide $75,000 to 12 state department of education offices and $575,104 to the Council of Chief State School Officers (the organization that the head of each state department of education belongs to).   So when the Gates Foundation wants to get their agenda up and running the New Venture Fund is used to get the work done.

Speaking of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) notice that it was the second-highest funded organization, receiving over $6.1 million.  In some respects CCSSO acts like the NVF for the Gates Foundation – they were given a bunch of money to get the Foundation’s agenda up and running.  The CCSSO is the organization that is implementing the Common Core Standards.  Since we are well into implementing the Common Core Standards the CCSSO didn’t need as much money in 2014.  In 2013 the Gates foundation gave them $11 million.

The Gates Foundation awarded grants to six national professional organizations:  National Council for the Social Studies, The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Learning Forward, American Association of School Administrators, and American Architectural Foundation.  If you want to influence millions of teachers, get the leaders of their professional organizations thinking the Gates’ way.

One of the more interesting categories funded by the Gates Foundation is “Supporting Philanthropy”.  Although not a large total ($1.3 million) funding in this category seems to be used to support organizations that promote philanthropy.  The Giving Back Fund ($50,000)  “provides philanthropic consulting, management, and administrative services to individuals and corporations.  The Foundation Center “is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide.”  Since the Gates Foundation categorized these grants under “College Ready” is it possible that their intent is to help more gazillionaires learn how to fund their own ideas on how public education should be run?

There were 11 grants in 2014 that fell into my “Other” category.  They just didn’t fit in anywhere else and seemed a bit wacky.  The Institute of Play was given $300,000 to “create learning experiences rooted in the principles of game design”.  The National Geographic Society received $10,000 for “students in low-income neighborhoods to [attend] the National Geographic Live! Speaker Series…”  Kind of off the wall from the usually focused funding the Foundation usually provides.

As you can see the Gates Foundation’s $93 million went to a lot of different organizations and multiple purposes in 2014.  Some were Good Charity.  Some were Bad Charity.  In my next post I’ll have some final thoughts about the Gates Foundation and its effects on public education.