They Cared!

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Over a year ago I posted “Does District 103 Mater?”  In it I rhetorically asked if the good people in Lyons Elementary School District 103 cared that the mayor of Lyons had taken over the school district.  Well they did care, because two days ago three of Mayor Getty’s hand-picked school board members were voted out – they now have a minority of seats!

I can’t tell you how the news of this election buoyed my spirits.  After watching the worst kind of self-serving and anti-individual-rights politics for the past few months, it is refreshing to find out that people still care enough about their schools to vote for those who care about children.

Democracy still works in America for those who stand up for what is right.

Snollygoster in District 103? It’s Your Choice

 

 

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Graphic Courtesy of the HikingArtist.com

Snollygoster (Def.): A politician who puts politics ahead of principle

On April 4th the good people of Lyons, McCook, Stickney, Forest View and Brookfield will be voting to elect school board members for Lyons Elementary School District 103.  I endorse Sharon Anderson, Shannon Johnson and Marge Hubacek.

Why? Because for the past 2 years the board members that snollygoster Chris Getty put in place haven’t made decisions that are good for children.  In fact, they made decisions that are good for Getty, which are ultimately bad for children.

When you hire Getty’s buddy at $1,000+ per day and hire a bunch of unneeded custodians you are taking money away from children.  That’s what snollygosters do – they make decisions that are good for themselves and not for the good of the children.

If the people of Lyons want to continue voting Getty in as mayor, that’s their choice.  But do the people of Stickney, Forest View, McCook and Brookfield want Getty and his henchmen to continue making poor decisions regarding their children?  I hope not.  I would urge them to vote for Anderson, Johnson, and Hubacek.  Their commitment is to the children, not to the politicians.

 

PS – I had an old D103 friend contact me the other day and asked why I haven’t been writing any Education Under Attack articles.  I told her I’ve been retired and away from District 103 for almost five years now.  It’s not my fight anymore – it’s the community’s.  I hope they take their responsibility for their children seriously and vote in school board members who will put children first.

Quotes From the NPE Conference

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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

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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

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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 DonorsChoose.org $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.

Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Part 1

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My wife and I had a great discussion after my last post about the Gates Foundation’s instance that U.S. poverty could be overcome by better schools and teachers instead of a broad-based approach (like the Foundation uses overseas).  She led off by saying, “Isn’t Gates a good guy?  He’s giving away his money trying to help people.”  My response was that putting money into bad ideas doesn’t necessarily help people.  With all the publicity about philanthropy lately this has been a topic of discussion (see the New York Times Op-Ed piece “Good Charity, Bad Charity“).  To be fair, I really couldn’t tell my wife if all the K-12 education projects the Gates Foundation funds are good or bad ideas.

To their credit, the Gates Foundation maintains a list of all the projects they have funded on their website.  I cut and pasted information about the 128 “College Ready” (K-12 education) projects they funded in 2014 into a spreadsheet (ironically a MicroSoft product).  Note: K-12 education projects are not limited to public schools, as will be discussed in Part 2.

So to start with, Wow!  $93.3 million was given out in support of K-12 education projects in one year.  That’s a lot of money but let’s look at it in context.  According to Wikipedia the Gates Foundation has a $42.3 billion endowment ($28 billion from Gates, billions more from Warren Buffett).  Assuming the endowment funds are properly invested, let’s say that portfolio grows at 10.3% per year (the average historical increase of the markets).  That means that the Foundation’s portfolio should increase by $4.4 billion per year.  That Wow! of $93.3 million is only 2.1% of the possible earnings of their portfolio and only .2% of the entire endowment.

Two brief thoughts about $93.3 million.  First, when you spend that kind of money every year it’s going to make a difference – good or bad.  Second, if they really wanted to change (good or bad) K-12 education they could be spending a heck of a lot more.

In order to get a better understanding of what the Foundation was supporting I categorized each of the 128 projects according to the blurb provided on the Foundation’s website (or if that was too vague I went to the project recipient’s website to see what their mission is).  I ended up with 12 major categories plus an “other” category.

Want to know what the top-funded category was?  You’ll be surprised – I think it falls in the “good” category.  Read all about it in my next post.

Reflections on Cody’s Book The Educator vs. The Oligarch: The Poor Get Poorer

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Pew Research Center

In the book The Educator And The Oligarch Anthony Cody critically examines the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts to reform education and describes a series of blog posts written by Cody and high ranking officials in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which focused on five mutually agreed upon issues.   To me, the key issue was the role of education in the elimination of poverty.

According to Chris Williams, author of the Gates Foundation’s response,

When Bill and Melinda Gates started their foundation more than a decade ago, they made addressing the impact of poverty its central philanthropic mission. They looked at what kept people in poverty around the world, and focused on the challenges that were the biggest obstacles to families moving out of poverty, but were not high enough on the global agenda.  Today the foundation’s top priorities are a reflection of that approach—vaccines that save children from serious illness and death, more resilient and productive seeds that allow families to feed themselves and earn a living, access to contraception to ensure that women can decide when to have children, and a great teacher who can make a dramatic difference in the life of low income students in the United States.

Well said.  But Williams immediately backtracks, saying that that the Gates Foundation doesn’t have enough money to solve the problems of poverty here in the U.S.  They had to “make decisions about how to focus our resources…”  Their decision?  “In the U.S., we focus on giving teachers the tools they need to be most effective.”

In his book Anthony Cody rightly states that the underlying issues keeping people in poverty need to be addressed – that focusing on teacher quality alone (through the analysis of student test scores) will not be enough to move many students out of poverty.  The Foundation’s Williams dismisses the big picture and states “a good education is one of the best avenues out of poverty.”  Why doesn’t the Foundation even want to try to make a difference outside of the classroom?

The Sargent Shriver Center for Poverty Law website cites six Policy Agenda items they are working on.  They include issues such advancing fair statutes for educational and employment opportunities, integrating job training with economic development, expanding access to food and nutrition programs, quality child care, ensuring fair workplaces, and improving access to quality education and skill building opportunities.  Many of these are policy issues, not resource issues.  The Gates Foundation seems more than willing to support policy issues related to the proliferation of charter schools, the expansion of student testing, and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers – but not poverty.

In his post Williams said, “What we can’t do, however, is address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.”  Look back up at Williams’ overview of the Foundation’s mission.  He said, “addressing the impact of poverty [is] its central philanthropic mission” and then talked about what they are doing globally to support that mission.  It doesn’t seem that they are willing to provide the same type of supports here in the U.S.  Couldn’t they throw a few million earmarked for the Common Core implementation or teacher evaluation toward supporting policies in America that save impoverished American kids from “serious illness and death”, guarantee better nutrition for impoverished American kids, and access to contraception for impoverished American women?

Why the laser focus on “improving” American teachers?  It’s not to eliminate poverty here since the Gates Foundation won’t support the same antipoverty policies in the U.S. that they do elsewhere.  In his 2012 Annual Letter Bill Gates said, “Our work in U.S. education focuses on two related goals: making sure that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and that young adults who want to get a postsecondary degree have a way to do so.”  By not working to address the broader range of issues that keep kids in poverty, Gates is implicitly promoting a further widening of the wealth gap.  If successful in improving teacher quality the Foundation will get more middle- and upper-class American kids into college – and better jobs.  The heck with those poor kids.

Cody 1:Gates 82Billion… Cody Wins!

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Anthony Cody’ book The Educator And The Oligarch meticulously documents the efforts of Bill and Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation’s efforts to “reform” public education.  But more than a well-researched book, Cody documents how his criticism of the Gates Foundation led to a public dialogue (through online posts) with the foundation about the efficacy of the Foundation’s intent to change public education.

If you’re looking for evidence about the Gates’ plan to reform schools, this is an excellent resource with 350 references to articles, books, public speeches, YouTube videos, online documents, and personal communications.  Cody does an excellent job of weaving in these references with classroom-based insights about what might happen to public education if Gates is successful.

In 2012 Cody “received an email from a highly placed individual in the Gates Foundation” (p. 55).  This opened a dialogue with officials in the Gates Foundation and led to a series of five blog posts with each side giving their perspectives about public education.  Cody reprints large portions of his blog posts in the book and comments on what the Gates Foundation officials wrote.  He gives links to the Foundation’s posts, but I would have liked to read more of what they wrote – I like to hear both sides of an argument.

Toward the end of the book Cody makes some predictions about what public education might look like if Gates is successful.  I found these predictions entirely plausible and very scary.  Everybody concerned with the direction of public education should read those predictions and ask, “Is this where we want to go?”  If your answer is “No”, then use the information in the book to push back against these changes: if your answer is “Yes” or “I don’t know” then you’ll be using this book 10 years from now when researching “How did we get ourselves into this mess?”

Thank you Mr. Cody for taking the time to present to us a clear view of what Bill and Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation have said, done, and funded and where they are leading us.  Will we follow?

I Love Cartoons – about Charter Schools!

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore created a short cartoon about little Timmy and his experiences with a charter school.  You can see the YouTube video by clicking here:  Profitship!  Cashing In On Public Schools

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The cartoon has an interesting backstory.   There actually is a for-profit charter school chain called Rocketship.  As published in the online newspaper The Progressive:

Rocketship (see Barbara Miner’s report from our new Save Our Schools issue) uses computer programs to teach children for a significant portion of the day, and eschews “extras” like school librarians, art, gym, and social studies, which further reduce staff costs. This combination of real teachers and online programs, dubbed “blended learning,” is the fastest-growing sector of the burgeoning charter school industry.
“The call for public schools to be replaced by such tech-heavy, teacher-light operations comes from some of the most powerful actors in local and national politics,” Lafer wrote in his report.

If you would like to read The Progressive’s entire article, click here: ProfitShip Learning | The Progressive.

Should You Read the Book “Losing Our Way”?

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I read the book Losing Our Way by Bob Herbert over Thanksgiving.  Several of my fellow bloggers recommended it so I was eager to begin reading the book when it arrived.  After finishing the book I was at a loss as to how to write about it.  Then last weekend I saw the movie “Interstellar“.  The movie had beautiful scenes, complex characters, an interesting plot yet I came out of theater scratching my head knowing I missed something.  I had that same experience after reading Losing Our Way.

When I first heard about Losing Our Way I was excited to think that someone had put their finger on the malaise that seems to surround us now.  I was hoping Herbert could trace the roots of some of America’s biggest problems and provide some magical formula as to how to put America back on the right course.  Perhaps that was too much to expect.  It wasn’t until after reading the book that I took a closer look at the cover and saw that Herbert sub-titled his book “An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America”.   That’s what he did a good job at – superbly documenting some of the troubles we are experiencing.

Don’t get me wrong – Losing Our Way was a very enjoyable book to read.  Herbert was an op-ed writer for the New York Times for many years and is an excellent writer.  He delves deeply into the lives of a few people and tells their story, using them as exemplars of some of the troubles America has.  His stories are compelling and written with compassion.

So what troubles do we have?  SPOILER ALERT!  War is bad.  Killing and maiming people during war is bad.  Our infrastructure is bad.  Fewer people in the middle class is bad.  Wealthy people are bad.  Education reformers are bad.

Suffice it to say, a very liberal agenda.  I could just imagine my dad reading passages like:

The recklessness of the nation’s approach to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was underscored by the federal government’s willingness, even as the troops were pouring into harm’s way, to dramatically cut taxes and sharply increase nonessential domestic spending. (p. 74)

With its Walmart fortune, the Walton clan alone was worth more than the collective wealth of the bottom 125 million Americans.  These are the kinds of distortions that used to alarm people when they were associated with thuggish third-world dictatorships.  Now they’ve become the norm in a country that for many long decades had pointed proudly to its vast and prosperous middle class as its defining characteristic. (p. 116)

To his credit, Herbert did and excellent job of describing the attacks on education.  If you’re wondering why I am concerned about public education I would suggest reading Herbert’s book as he told the story much better than I have.

Should you read Losing Our Way?  I think you should.  My more conservative friends have now been forewarned that some of the judgmental language will put you off.  That shouldn’t stop you from reading the poignant stories of people who have been hurt by some of the mistakes America has taken.  My more liberal friends will have many of their beliefs about America validated.

Herbert did a great job of documenting some of the problems we Americans are experiencing.  He wants us to get mad enough about those problems to do something.  He left it up to us to come up with the solutions.